The Search Overseas
Perhaps for the family genealogist with his own site it means, for example, that someone in Belgium could visit the website just as easily as someone in Kansas. There are, of course, language differences and whatever difficulties there are in tracing one’s family history through the myriad of archives available in the United States becomes even more magnified when one starts to carry the search overseas to their ancestral homelands.
All of my ancestors came over from Western Europe: the Bannon family came from Northern Ireland, the Prothro’s from Wales, the DeBacker’s from Belgium, the Kollros family from Baden (Germany), and the Gaume’s from northeastern France. In tracing my family’s roots beyond the shores of America, I have barely scratched the surface, but before any detailed information could be uncovered, I needed to learn the exact location that my ancestors called home. It was not enough to know that some of my ancestors came from Germany or France. I needed to know the name of the town and in some cases the parish that they came from. For example in the case of my German ancestors it was important to keep in mind that when they left their home in the 1840′s, Germany as the unified nation that we know of today would not exist for another 30 years or so. Germany was unified in 1871 under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck.
I grew up knowing that my great-great grandfather, Constantine Kollros, came from the Grand Duchy of Baden, which is in southwestern Germany. It was not until later when I began to study the matter in more detail that I became aware that the Grand Duchy of Baden did not come into existence until 1805. Prior to the time of Napoleon the area that my German ancestors came from was a patchwork of margraves, principalities, and bishoprics; some dating back to the time of Charlemagne.
The Gaume family and my other French ancestors came from in and around Montecheroux, France, but prior to the French Revolution the region that Montecheroux is in was not a part of the kingdom of France. In the 18th century the area was part of the principality of Montbeliard, which was owned by the German dukes of Wurtemburg – part of that same patchwork described above. Much earlier, the area belonged to the Duchy of Burgundy, which also dates back to 9th century, and the time of Charlemagne.
In the course of studying my ancestral history, it was important to learn and understand the history of the region that they came from. For one thing, it helped me to realize the extant and limitations of finding specific details regarding my ancestors. I learned that the further back in time I went the less information there would be available. The modern uniform systems of record keeping that we know of today did not begin until the early 1600′s. In some cases where there were records made and kept in the times prior to the modern era many were lost or destroyed – consumed in the flames of the many wars and revolts that plagued Europe for centuries. During the French Revolution, it was a common occurrence for the peasants to take over the castles and the manors owned by the Second Estate and to destroy the records that detailed their bondage to the lands that they now claimed as belonging to the people that had worked those lands for so many centuries.
During the Thirty Years War, many a parish church on both sides of the religious question was destroyed and along with it the baptismal and marriage records kept there. In other cases, records that had accumulated in one place were moved to another place for safekeeping or centralization and many times the records were lost in transition or their source of origin was forgotten. As a result, the extant of records differs throughout parts of Europe. In some places records have survived much longer than in others places and in some places, the people were better at making and keeping records. One such part of Europe that stands out as noteworthy is the Flemish region of Belgium, which I read once as being the envy European genealogists.