I’m building an application portfolio for a Missouri’s First Families Pioneer Certificate. To obtain the certificate I need to document that one ancestor lived in Missouri between 1821 (statehood) and 1860 (pre-Civil War) and that I have a direct link to this ancestor.
1853 German Marriage Certificate
One of the seemingly toughest “gets” in the process was the marriage certificate for John Vanderstay and Gertrude Koenen in 1853 in Germany. The good news is that I found them in an index of marriage records for 1853 in Germany on www.familysearch.org. The next step was pretty easy. I just ordered the microfilm ($7.50) from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. When it arrived at the Midwest Genealogy Center (nearest library to which the Family History Library would do inter-library loan), all I had to do was pop the film in the reader spin to the record and voila!
Now I had a giant two-page, legal paper sized marriage record. Wonderful. But it was in “old” German, and aside from the two last names of my ancestors, I couldn’t read a word.
Translating the Record
Now I turned to finding someone who could read and translate the document for me. I just braced myself for what would be a sizable fee. But if I wanted to get the Pioneer Certificate, I had to go down this road. Understandably, the Certificate Committee doesn’t accept foreign language documents without translations.
What I found – and really the point of this blog post – is a little known resource at the Midwest Genealogy Center. They have a staff member at the Center, who speaks, reads, and translates German, including translating “old” German, among other Eastern European languages. What’s even better is if you have a library card, which I do, she will do the translation for free. Free, I tell you! Even if it took a little while – you can image she’s a busy lady – it was well worth the wait.
Here’s a snippet of the translation:
On the 15th of April, 1853, at 2:00 PM, appeared in front of me, Carl Then Bergh, mayor from Pfalzdorf, Province Department Düsseldorf, bachelor (groom) Johann van de Stay, 30 years old, born in Pfalzdorf, ….and a Miss Gertrude Koenen, 28 years old, born in Kessel, Administrative District of Dusseldorf, occupation – maid, resident of Gocherberg, Administrative District of Dusseldorf.
As neat as this snippet is it really doesn’t do justice to the depth and breath of the information unlocked in this genealogical treasure. Here are a few highlights that thanks to the translation, I now have about this 1850s, German family.
- We now know who their neighbors and friends were, their ages and occupations – as they were witnesses
- We know the couple’s occupations, their ages and birth places
- We know that Gertrude’s parents were deceased at the time of the marriage.
- We know where their PARENTS were from.
- We know that they had to provide EIGHT documents proving their pedigree – their parents AND grandparents birth & death records, which gives any good genealogist goosebumps.
- Oh, and we know when and where they were married. Which seems almost incidental after all of this.
The moral of the story is several fold. Don’t stop when you hit the trans-Atlantic migration, even when you face a language barrier. There are great records to be found, and they are as close as your computer and its link to the Family History Library. Second, I can’t recommend enough the wonderful efforts of the translator at the Midwest Genealogy Center. Tons of excellent information would have been lost to me, even though I had the document in my hands if not for her assistance.
Just ask. The door may be opened to you.