Obtaining & Translating an 1853 German Marriage Certificate
July 01, 2013
During my research, I recently sought the marriage certificate for John Vanderstay and Gertrude Koenen in 1853 in Germany, my great, great grandparents. The first step was finding them in an index of marriage records for 1853 in Germany on www.familysearch.org. I then ordered the microfilm ($7.50) from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and had it sent to 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 there was a new challenge. I had a giant two-page, legal paper sized marriage record, but it was in "old" German. Aside from the two last names of my ancestors, I couldn't read a word. This challenge presented yet another new problem – getting the record translated and bracing for what could be a very large fee.
Fortunately, the Midwest Genealogy Center came to the rescue. MGC has 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? If you have a library card, she will do the translation for free. Free!
Here's a snippet of the translation:
On the 15th of April, 1853, at 2:00 p.m., 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 breadth of the information unlocked in this genealogical treasure. Here are a few highlights about this 1850s, German family:
- We know where their parents were from and their occupations.
- We know that they had to provide EIGHT documents with dates, events, and locations listed proving their pedigree - their parents AND grandparents birth & death records, which gives any good genealogist goose bumps.
- Oh, and we know when and where they were married which seems almost incidental after all of this.
- 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.
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, the Midwest Genealogy Center has talent and resources you wouldn’t expect to bring life and color to your family tree. Tons of excellent information came springing from the pages of the marriage certificate, which would have been lost (even though I had the document in my hands) if not for the excellent translation provided by staff at the Center.
MGC Instructor & Volunteer