This is a follow-up to a previous question Finding online parish records for churches in Werdau, Saxony, Germany. One of the answers said that a search of the town's records yield better results. At least one of the collections listed in that answer is available only at the Family History Library; the others (if available) would have to be ordered and sent to my local FHC.

Before I do so, I would like to work up a research plan (see Are there checklists or templates made for visiting the Family History Library in Salt Lake City?), so I can stay organized while I search these records.

For example -- for the town I'm interested in, the Family History Library Catalog has the following entries:

From J. Mark Lowe's webinar “Ready-Set-Plan! Developing a One-Step Research Plan,” I understand the basic process of breaking down the research process into individual questions and steps. Lowe's goal is to have a set of tasks so specified that you can hand them off to a helper to execute (not unlike writing a good question for G&FH.SE).

What I'm struggling with is the problem of how I can make a checklist for myself when I haven't seen the records yet, and don't have a list of what information is likely to be found in them. I can make up a list of people's names I want to look for in the database, and a list of surname variants, but each new discovery will generate more To Dos.

What is a good strategy for working through a set of microfilms like this? How do you make an exhaustive search and minimize the chance you will need to re-order the same film again and again?

The entry for Werdau in the online Meyers Gazeteer is: Werdau 2) Werdau, Zwickau, Zwickau, Sachsen. I also need to look for records held in the other jurisdictions.

Update to address a point made in the comments: I have taken (and recommend) the classes given by webinars from the Family History Library's International Team on reading Old German Script. Recordings of those classes are available in the Learning Center.

2 Answers 2


Here is a list of tips before visiting the Family History Library. Not exactly a checklist, but it's helpful.

It looks like you've done some explorations in the catalog on FamilySearch.org. The catalog does give a general description of the types of records in each film.

Make sure you've done as much advance work as you can before you leave. It will be especially important to know the town where your ancestors were born and lived. If you can locate obituaries in advance for your immigrant ancestor, they may give a hometown. Passenger lists also sometimes show this.

Because the records are mostly organized by location, I would make a checklist of locations. Underneath each location, make a list of films that you think will be useful. Also list names you know with birth, marriage and death dates by location. Of course you will discover more while you're there.

The last time I was there it took about half a day to get films from the vault (at no charge), so if you discover you need some that you hadn't pre-ordered, you can certainly get them reasonably quickly. The vast majority of films are available in filing cabinets that you can walk up to and pull them yourself. So I wouldn't worry too much if you have to go back and re-retrieve another film. At any rate, organizing by location should help.

Bring a printed pedigree chart with birth, marriage and death dates.

If you have a smartphone, be sure to get one of the apps for viewing your genealogy on the phone. Whatever software you use, there should be an app, or you can find one that takes a gedcom exported from your software. I don't like to bring a laptop because I find it's too much to lug around, but you may find it useful if you don't have a smartphone.

My favorite strategy is:

  1. Look for compiled family histories for your families, including printed books, Ancestry Trees, FamilySearch Tree and the online books at FamilySearch. You'll still want to do your own research, but other people's work can give you a lot of great clues. Much of this can be done before you leave, but you may also find compiled histories at the FHL that are not online.

  2. Work backwards chronologically from recent ancestors to older ones, starting with the death record, then marriage, then birth for each person in a location.

  3. Try and locate and research all of your ancestor's siblings. Probate records and vital records indexes can help with this. I'm not aware of census records for Germany, other than the 1939 minority census.

Some of the German films have been scanned and put online. Be sure you've checked them for any that might be relevant: at FamilySearch.org (Search/Records/Click on Europe on the map/Click Germany). Don't miss the "Image Only" Historical records at the bottom. Although they don't have an online index, there my be an image of an index with the record images. Otherwise, try and get a feel for how a record set is organized and work through it chronologically.

Do you have any experience reading the old German script? If not, you will want to take a class in that before leaving. Many of the larger genealogy societies offer them. There will likely be a German records expert at the FHL who can help, but you will need to be able to read the records yourself for the most part.

  • I've edited the question to make it more clear (I hope) that the numbers of rolls of microfilm from my catalog list are for the single town I'm researching at the moment. I haven't yet discovered the town of origin for everyone in my database.
    – Jan Murphy
    Jun 23, 2015 at 2:26

Learning more about each source will help me narrow down exactly which rolls I need to search.

Finding General information about the sources

The Family History Wiki Article German Word List provides a basic list of German words and an English translation, so that the user can see Bürgerbuch is a citizen register.

Searching the FamilySearch Wiki for the term "Bürgerbuch" yields articles such as Sachsen (Saxony)Königreich (kingdom) Directories which has a description of Bürgerbücher and some tips on how they can be found.

A Google image search brings up images, but a fuller explanation is in the article Bürgerrolle from de.wikipedia.org. The footer on that article says it is in Kategorien: Genealogisches Dokument -- clicking on that link makes it easy to find the article on Melderegister and to see what other documents I can learn about on de.wikipedia.org.

Finding information about the specific sources in the FHL

Scheffel's index to Certificates

For the item Heimatscheine Werdau und Umgebung : 1835-1875 (Index to certificates of origin for Werdau and vicinity, including name, birth date, place of origin, date moved, occupation, etc.), the catalog entry at the FHL says:

  • Authors: Scheffel, Stefan (Added Author)
  • Format: Books/Monographs/Book on Compact Disc
  • Language: German
  • Publication: Berlin : Familienarchiv Scheffel, 2005
  • Physical: 1 CD-ROM ; 4 3/4 in.
  • Subject Class: CD-ROM

The author makes the CD-ROM available via his website Familienarchiv Scheffel. On the page Repro-Archiv he lists the current price of the CD and kindly offers a Leseprobe (excerpt) which can be downloaded. This allows the researcher to examine a sample page and see all the fields in the index before purchase, or before using the index at the FHL.

His description of the CD-ROM's contents also includes the information that the index contains about 450 Heimatscheine, sorted by author and location.

On the same Repro-Archiv page, Scheffel offers other finding-aids for materials found in the Werdau archives, some of which may cover the other material found in the FHL library. For example, he has an index for Bürgerbuch Werdau Nr. 13 which appears to be a list of the surnames.

So even if WorldCat.org only lists an entry for a particular item at the FHL, a broader search via Google can yield results.

What I need for my checklist

So far I have identified the information it would be useful to extract from my database:

  • a list of people who have already been identified as having come from Werdau, including their birth dates (when known)
  • a list of their known associates whose origin has not been found
  • columns for when they departed Germany and arrived in the United States
  • a column for occupation (when known)
  • a list of other German surnames to look out for, with spelling variants
  • a list of all the other towns mentioned in the material I have so far, along with a map showing their location relative to Werdau

I would also like to consult Kevan Hansen's Map Guide for the area (described in this answer). Werdau is in Map Guide To German Parish Registers Vol 25 - Kingdom Of Saxony I. One of the WorldCat listings is here. (Note that the cataloging on these volumes varies, so WorldCat's usual function to find all editions does not work reliably here. Some libraries have the entire series under one umbrella listing and some have the volumes cataloged individually.)

The post Long Live The Beischreibung! on Rootseekers.com describes the records kept after 1 January 1876 by Offices of Vital Records (Standesamt) and the Beischreibung (remark) which could be used to note changes to the records. I don't know how many people in my research files were still in Germany by 1876; a checklist of birth and emigration dates would be useful to check against record creation dates.

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