Local genealogist shares research tips

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From left are Claus Biehl, Mayor of Neudorf-Bornstein, Germany, and Austin Greve of Guttenberg. Biehl is a third cousin of Greve's paternal grandfather. (Photo submitted by Austin Greve)

By Caroline Rosacker

"Only who knows his past has a future." Wilhelm Von Humboldt (1767-1835)

Retracing  family ancestry has become a popular American pastime. Online search engines and the popular Iowa Public Television show Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr. have shone  favorable light on what used to be thought of as a dim topic.  

In the past, most research was done visiting local libraries to dig through old issues of local newspapers and history books. This process is still an important component to family history research, but thanks to technology most libraries offer this service as a link on their web page. 

There are a variety of websites available to researchers interested in their family genealogy.

The website About.com offers  how-to articles on research basics, online searching, sharing and preserving the past as helpful tools to get you started. 

Popular sites such as Ancestry.com and Archives.com have a wealth of information available to the investigative mind, but they come with a price tag. 

Sites such as Billiongraves.com and Atlas of Historical County Boundaries are free of charge.  

DNA testing is available through AncestoryDNA, 23andMe and MyHeritage.

Researching your roots can be similar to putting together a challenging jigsaw puzzle with one of the pieces missing. 

Greve research

Local genealogist Austin Greve   has compiled seven ancestry books. His research includes the family lineage  of: Bendix Greve, Knud Torkeldsen (Knudtson), Joseph Hefel, John Leliefeld, Joseph Jaeger, B.H. Pelzer and Johann Hingtgen.  

Inspiration for his extensive ever-changing project started  back in the 1990s when genealogy became a popular hobby for history enthusiasts. 

Greve began his journey delving into the past at the Guttenberg Public Library. "I utilized the genealogy card catalog at the library to  look through old issues of The Guttenberg Press on microfilm," he commented.

With a passion for the past the late Larene Backhaus carefully read through every back issue of The Guttenberg Press and recorded each birth, obituary, and marriage notice she found in a spiral notebook. The library staff typed up the information on cards and placed them alphabetically in a genealogy card catalog. 

Greve said, "I started with the most obvious relatives and worked backwards. I dug through old church and cemetery records and past marriage, obituary and birth certificates."

Doing research the old-fashioned way proved to be successful for Greve. He commented, "When I decided to become a member of Ancestory.com and have my DNA tested, my genetics reveled very few surprises." 

"There were some cross-over relations that were discovered through 'Ancestry' that indicated connections to the same people two and three times within the family tree,  but for the most part my research was quite accurate," he said.   

He went on to say, "The website has a wealth of information. It provides a search engine where you can locate death certificates which often indicate detailed information on the cause of death. This can be beneficial in determining a family's health history." 

"There is an option that displays on a map the exact location where your ancestors were born, their immigration path and arrival location in the United States and where they eventually settled," he added.

The information he gathered from the website inspired him to visit Neudorf, Germany where his father's side of the family originated.

With the assistance of Family Tree Tours located in Missouri, Greve and cousin Haley Kregel began making plans for a visit.

Greve shared with the Press, "I was contacted by Dr. Klaus-D Kohort through a connection at Tree Tours. Dr. Kohort gathered research of his own and organized a meeting with the Mayor of Neudorf-Bornstein, Claus Biehl, who happened to be my grandfather's third cousin."

Neudorf and Bornstein are small quaint German villages with a combined population of approximately 1500, similar to the size of Guttenberg. 

"The original Greve family home was no longer standing in the village of Neudorf. The community was a victim of arsonists and was burned to the ground in the 1970s," said Greve. 

"Finding gravestone markers in Germany is a challenge. When a loved one dies in Germany, the cemetery plot and gravestone are left untouched for 25 years. After that time the bones and gravestone are pulverized to create space for future burials. A plot can be maintained past the 25 years but the responsibility is dependent on the surviving relatives' financial commitment. You do have the opportunity to rescue the tombstones and place them on your private property. The mayor had two of them on display in his backyard," commented Greve.

Greve shared this interesting fact. "It can become very confusing when you research your Scandinavian roots. Every generation changes its last name. For instance, if a father has a son, the boy's last name is the father's first name with "son" on the end. If the child is a girl, her last name is the father's first name with "datter" on the end. To further complicate matters, some used the name of the farm they lived on as their last name. That practice was stopped in the 1900s but seems to be making a comeback,"  he said.

Greve has enjoyed connecting with his long-lost-relatives through e-mail and Facebook and will continue the process of recording the ever-changing lineage of his family's history.

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