Monday, April 29, 2013

The Passing of Helmut Doll

I was sad to hear about the passing of Helmut Doll, my third cousin, in Moesbach, A. Achern, Germany. He was part of the Moesbach church choir. He died at the age of 70 on March 27, 2013. Attached to this blog entry is the image of the ancestor chart of Helmut's mother, Josefine Panther.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sharing Documentation Files with BitTorrent Sync

This is meant to be a blog about genealogy, my projects and tools and techniques I've found helpful in my genealogy hobby. This entry does fit that description because it is focusing on a tool that I am just now beginning to use to backup my data. Forgive my segways into technological descriptions. I'm a technology geek at heart and I'm excited about this new piece of software.

I have about 60 gigabytes of scanned images from the church books of Ulm and Moesbach, A. Achern area of Baden, Germany. It took six months of work to scan in virtually all of their church book images. I have the images backed up onto my external hard drive but I definitely don't want to have to rely on one piece of hardware. What if my external hard drive fails? All my hard work would be gone. In addition, there are at least a couple of people, likely several more, that would be interested in having access to these files. What can I use to solve both of these problems?

First, I'd like to give a quick lesson in BitTorrent technology. BitTorrent is a piece of software you can install on your computer. You then find BitTorrent "seeds", which are files served up from a web server that tells the BitTorrent software about the file. The trick to this technology is that once the download starts for several people, they start downloading different bits of the file. Then new clients wanting to download the file using the BitTorrent software download bits of the file from all the other clients downloading it. This means that the first clients will download a portion (but different portions) of the file from the first server, then all the other clients will download from the initial host machine and from each other. This takes a load off of the originating server and spreads the workload and bandwidth use around to all the clients downloading the file.

The sad part is that this wonderful piece of software is mostly known for pirating large files such as movies, not for its other (legal) uses.

Now, BitTorrent has released a new piece of software, known as BitTorrent Sync. With this software, I have shared up the folders of my church book scans. Anyone that would like a copy of them just needs to install BitTorrent Sync and give it the secret key set up on my share. This will allow you to download a copy of my scans for your own use. Just as important, it provides a backup for all my hard work.

If you are interested in the scans of the Ulm A. Achern church book scans from 1654 to 1788 (for births) and from 1654 to about 1900 (for marriages and deaths) and the Moesbach A. Achern church book scans from 1811 to about 1900 (for births, marriages and deaths), please let me know. I'll give you the key to my share and you can begin downloading a copy for yourself and do me a favor by acting as my backup.

A couple of notes about this software and how I've set it up:

First, NEVER share anything of confidential nature. No matter how secure you believe it is, someone someday will hack into it. I'm sharing what is essentially public knowledge with this share. Anyone could have access to it if they put in the effort to access the books or the microfilm of the books and scanning it in themselves. I want to make it easier for them.

Second, be sure to go into the configuration options of the software. You'll want to limit the amount of bandwidth it uses. Most Internet service providers have some sort of cap on their data usage, even if they don't publicize it. The size of these files is like downloading 13 high quality DVD movies. That's a huge amount of data. I've capped my upload and download speed for this software. Yes, this means it will take a very long time for it to be fully uploaded, but it's better than the speed I had prior to today, which was zero. Given some time, all these scan files will be backed up to the hard drives of others that would like to see them. Depending on how things look going forward, I may increase or decrease this speed. This is new software and I'll need to keep an eye on on it to make sure things work out smoothly.

Let me know what you think by commenting below or dropping me an email. Thanks!


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Family History Center Presentation

This post is essentially the presentation I made at my local Family History Center last summer. I had had such great success tracking down my Panther ancestors, they wanted me to give a presentation showing how it happened, hoping to give pointers to others trying to find their ancestors in Germany. This is slightly changed due to one BIG mistake I made in my research. This one has the correct information on the ship, the SS Hanover. My initial research had found the Hanover, but it ends up it was the Hanover IV, which is of a completely different era of ship travel. Thankfully (and embarrassingly) there was a ship expert in attendance who pointed out my mistake and helped me find more information about their voyage.

I’ve been interested in my family history since grade school. I’ve always been interested in my Panther family history but we could never find anything about them.

Here is a photo of my great-grandfather’s family. Grandpa Benedict Panther looks just like my brother.
Elizabeth, my great-grandmother is the second wife of Aloys Panther. His first wife, Monika Hanle, died in 1877 after giving birth to three sons. Now that the Panther research is done, Elizabeth is one of my ongoing projects.
Aloys and both of his wives are buried in Franklin Township, Iowa. No sort of records we’ve found in Iowa show anything about where Aloys or his brother, Ferdinand may be from. Family stories say they were from Baden-Baden.
This photo was passed down in the family in another branch of the tree. The writing on the side says “Panthers in Germany”.

 No one knew who they were or where the photo was taken.

We were told that Ferdinand and his eventual wife, Amelia Traub moved to New York together in 1854 before getting married in Pennsylvania, and eventually moving to southeastern Iowa. We were told that Aloys and Monica married in Germany and had their first child there before coming over on a steam ship in 1872, through New Orleans, then up the Mississippi to live near his brother, Ferdinand.

I searched Baden-Baden church records and found nothing there. I searched the villages south of Baden-Baden one by one. I found some people with the last name of Panther but not my great-grandfather or his brother.

This map is about 30 miles by 30 miles. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of villages south of Baden-Baden. I started searching their church records, one by one. I searched on for anyone with the last name of Panther. If I found one, I ordered in the microfilm for that village. I actually found relations in the village the family originated in (Stadelhofen) with the correct last name but didn’t know they were related because I hadn’t found my great-grandfather’s records yet.

This is a message on my family's Internet message board from Allison, my first cousin-once removed:
Last night I was a modern-day Archimedes running around shouting "Eureka!" and this morning I'll tell you why. I finally found out where the Panthers came from in Baden. It's a small town called Mösbach [] which is known for its cherries and wine. Do not confuse it with a larger city in Baden called Mosbach. Today you can find Mösbach as part of the city (Stadt, in German) Achern, which is located in Landkreis (similar to a township) Ortenaukreis, Regierungsbezirk (similar to a county) Freiburg, Baden-Württemberg, Deutschland.
Archives are typically held in the district seat. In this case, the archives are held in Freiburg, a bit northwest of Moesbach.

This is how she tracked down the village they were from.

The web page (in German and English) allows you to search for individuals who migrated out of Baden-Wurtemburg. It shows the villages they were from.

She tried Alois Panther in all the various spellings and didn’t find anything. She entered Ferdinand Panther and found…

Since she knew Ferdinand came to America in 1854, that told her she likely had the correct Ferdinand Panther. At worst, she’d look in Moesbach and she’d be wrong, no harm done. At best, she’d have had the breakthrough we’d all been searching for.

Once she knew the village, she found the website,, which is housed on the same servers as the Baden Wurtemburg Auswanderer page. It is the website for the District Archives of Baden-Wurtemburg.

On this site, you can find digitized records of the duplicate of the church books of the various villages, including Moesbach.

She knew Aloys Panther’s birth date, so looked at that date and found his baptismal record on the correct date.

Just to make 100% certain that she had the correct Aloys Panther, she looked at Ferdinand’s birth date and found…

…Ferdinand Panther, baptized on the correct date. These baptismal records listed their parents, Moriz Panther and Elizabeth Birk. They had the same parents listed which confirmed one thing we were pretty sure about but hadn’t been able to confirm before. Aloys and Ferdinand were indeed full brothers. Better yet, it gave us the beginnings of a major family history breakthrough and the beginnings of my 2 ½ year project.

After she discovered the village my ancestors came from, I looked at the village in Google Earth.
Google Earth has a plug-in that comes with it called Panaramio. It inserts photos into your Google Earth view showing them in the location the photo was taken. (You can also go to
Here is the northern part of Moesbach on Google Earth and one of the photos showing from Panaramio. I clicked on it and found…

…what looks like a headstone with the name M. Anna Panther and the year 1880 on it.
I posted a message on the page for this photographer asking him details about it. He didn't know any details. He lives a couple of hours down the road, happened to be passing through, and took this photo. He told me he'd swing back through the village and ask questions. He later learned that this is a prayer stone, put up by the sister of my great-grandfather during a troubling year in the village. I don’t know all the details but at least the church steeple toppled over. She apparently put up this prayer stone as a prayer to help the village. The person that took this photo took other photos of the village for me.

…including of the home my great-grandfather was born in. He spoke with the town historian who is interested in my family history research and discovered that the city manager is a relative of mine.
When you find the town or village your ancestors are from, open Google Earth or  You may stumble upon a photo of something surprising!

A previous family historian had found the name of the ship Alois and Monika had come to America on. I found the website, which had photos of many ships. I originally thought I found a picture of the Hanover here but I eventually met up with Lynn Fahr, fellow genealogist and ship expert in Omaha, who got me a drawing of the SS Herman, which is a ship of the same design and the same timeframe as the Hanover.

Those baptismal records we found on the Freiberg archive site led to the marriage record of Moriz Panther and Elizabeth Birk.

They were married in 1832. It lists their parents as Joseph Panther and Genovefa Schindler and Elizabeth’s parents as Johannes Birk and M. Ann Klumpp. From here, I estimate that they were 18 years old when they were married and start searching baptismal records at that point and earlier.

…and found the baptismal record of my great-great-grandfather, Moriz Panther. Once I find the birth/baptismal record of someone, I start searching this date and earlier in the marriage records to find their parents' marriage record.

And found the marriage record of Moriz Panther’s parents, my great-great-great-grandparents, Franz Joseph Panther and Genovefa Schindler. Notice that it includes their signatures. Some of them are just an “x” showing that they were illiterate.

There are no family photos prior to my great-grandfather so I extracted signatures of some of my ancestors to place along with their entry in the book since I didn’t have photos. When something didn’t fully make sense, included a copy of the documentation and the way I understood it. Leave it to the reader to form their own opinion. I included an introduction talking about some of what I’ve discussed here.

This is a pattern to follow when you find birth, marriage and death records. One leads to the next, which leads to the next. Birth records lead to marriage records, which lead to birth records, which lead to marriage records.

Found Franz Joseph’s baptismal record in 1768, 20 years prior to his marriage. He as born to Nicolai Panther and Anna Maria Limbler. Another thing to keep in mind is the way they used first and middle names. MANY boys were named Joannes and MANY girls were named Maria. They also had a second name. This second name is what they went by. In this case, Franz’ middle name was Joseph and that is the name he typically went by. Also, last names are interesting in that the last names of females frequently have “-in” added to the end of the last name. In addition, they didn’t care about spelling. As long as the pronunciation was correct, they didn’t care how you spelled it. Here, her name is listed as Limblerin. She was born to Joannes Lumple and Salomea Danhauser in 1724. With these two spellings, I figure the correct pronunciation of their last name as Luemple.

Franz Joseph Panther’s death record in 1829. When you have more than one person with the same name living close to the same period, many times the only way you can determine which one is which is through a process of elimination. I found many Joannes Birks living in the same time period. I put all of their birth, marriage and death records in one place and started grouping them by which ones belonged to the same person. This can be determined by who is listed as their parents in their marriage or death records, who is listed as their spouse in their death records or even occupation, which is found occasionally in the records. Eventually, you can narrow it down to one birth, marriage and death record for the person you’re looking for.

The is about what my family tree looked like before finding the Panthers in Moesbach, only I didn’t have Hugh Kelly, Katherine Murphy, Moriz Panther or Elizabeth Birk.

This is the Aloys Panther ancestor chart going back 4 generations. You can see by the arrows that I have more information on the ancestors beyond most of these. Once I figured out how extensive this was going to be, I started scanning every single page. It took about 6 months of 2 hours a day, once per week to get all the films scanned. This allowed me to spend hours on end searching and documenting relations in my spare time at home.

I still haven’t found everything as I know there are descendants in these films I haven’t documented yet. In fact, I just received an email from someone that we believe is a distant cousin. His relation is a Panther that lived in Stadelhofen. I don’t have the more recent records of Stadelhofen so I can’t pinpoint how he is related but I’m quite sure he is. One of these days I’ll be able to document all the descendant trees also and figure out how he’s related. - Note: This was Norbert Reininger and I've since pretty much exhausted all the information we will be able to find for his ancestors in this area. See a couple of other posts for more information.

I use One Page Genealogy to generate charts like this one in color. You’ll notice that there are more ancestors at the furthest generations back on the female side. If your records go back to a certain point in time, this will be typical as the female lines generally marry earlier than the male lines. Add this up among 7 generations and it makes a significant difference.

Of course, visiting where your relative came from can be a great option. My second-cousin, Mike Panther, heard about my family history research and called me on the phone. He has visited the Black Forest region of Germany every five years because he loved the area but also because he knew his ancestors were from the area. He just didn't know exactly where. He was preparing for his next trip, coming up in just a couple of weeks. I told him everything we had discovered and I emailed him detailed information.
His visit coincided with the blossoming of the cherry trees the village is known for.

He visited with the village historian and also with the city manager, our third-cousin, once removed, Sonja Schuchter. He also did what no one expected.

He tracked down the home of the "Panthers in Germany" postcard and spoke to the family that now lives there. They are not related to us. They are recent immigrants from Turkey. He found that this house is immediately next door to the house my great-grandfather was born in. This house came down through the family by way of my great-great-grandmother’s parents. The house next door by way of my great-grandfather’s parents. My great-great-grandfather married the girl next door, Elizabeth Birk.

Mike also attended a concert of the village’s brass band our great-grandfather was a founding member of.
When he returned, I found some of his photos I wanted to include in the book and asked him to write up a story about his visit for the book. I also asked the local photographer for permission to use a few of his photos, which he was happy to give. I also asked my cousin Allison to write up the story of her discovery of where our great-grandfather came from. ALWAYS give full credit where credit is due.

Finally, after 2 years, the research for the book was complete. Time to start putting together the book.
Finally decided to focus on great-great-grandparents. Spelled out their descendants to two generations, which is my grandfather’s generation.

I did a section on my great-grandfather’s ancestors and the ancestors of his first wife, who was from the same village. My great-grandfather married once in Baden, then his first wife died in the US. He remarried. I’m descended from his second wife

Since I didn’t have any family stories to put into the book, it wasn’t that big. It would only be about 110 pages, plus an introduction.

I have third cousins descended from my great-grandfather’s brother. He and his wife are from the same village so I included her ancestors also. I created the book by generating the it from the Legacy Family Tree Program, exported it into Microsoft Word and edited it. I reworded the book to the way I wanted it to read, using Legacy’s layout as the guide to how the book would look.

I inserted photos from the later generations, scanned microfilm pages to show areas of interest and to show problem areas so the reader could make up their own mind. I exported my completed book from Word to an Adobe Acrobat .pdf file.

I used the online, on-demand publisher, to publish my book. They allow you to design your book cover and upload your .pdf file so you end up with your finished book online and ready to order.

Now, anyone who wants to can go to and order my book. Once you count in shipping and handling, anyone can have a copy of the book for about $31 and have it in their hands in less than a week. When you make it available, if you wish, you can add an amount to the cost of the book and have a little profit for yourself. The profit I added has been just enough to almost reimburse me for the cost of ordering microfilms and print sample copies of my book.

Once your family history gets “out there”. You may be surprised in what happens.

This is a letter that a second-cousin of mine has had in her possession for several years. At a glance, I see the name of the village in the opening of the letter. What took years to figure out was sitting right in front of someone all this time. While I know some German, I have difficulty with the old script. My wife’s aunt is from Germany and is a teacher. She is able to read the old script and she gave me a translation.

Moesbach 8 February 1913
Our Dearest Americans!

We are happy to receive a letter from Alois and family. (Difficult to read - Something about a photograph)...(something) from my brother Ferdinand... to read... and of course my brother Ferdinand.....
(Someone) said goodbye when I was still in bed this morning. We are sending 5 photographs. One for Ferdinand, 3 for Monika's children, but don't give any to Alois' other children from their mother. Alois and Ferdinand should not get their feelings hurt. If it would be possible we would have one for everyone. Aunt Luisa should have one too. Emilie wants it that way. I am also enclosing 2 pictures. The one of my daughter, her husband and children, the other is the church, school and war memorial from 1870/71. Aunt Luisa can tell you about the photograph. I think...

the young one (the maid at the left of the photo) is Braunwirth's(?) daughter, in the window is our "black Panther", my youngest daughter who still lives with us. I need the help because my wife has been ill for 10 years already. I can also tell you that we did not have a good year last year. We had almost no cherries and also no wine but the apple harvest looks okay. We'll have to wait and see. We haven't had much winter and almost no snow.
We will wait anxiously for an answer from you to this letter and also the possibility of a visit from one of you. I will close now and we are sending greetings from all of the relatives to all of the relatives.
 Donat Panther

Donat is the half-brother of Alois and Ferdinand. After Moriz died, Elizabeth married Moriz’s nephew and had two more children. Carl Ludwig died at the age of just a few months. Donat took over the family home and had 6 children.

So, new research can indeed unlock the mysteries hidden away in the past. Now if only someone could teach me something! How can I convince my relatives to tell me the stories they’ve heard or experienced and share old photos and documents?

Links: – Web page (in German and English) Allows you to search for individuals who migrated out of Baden-Wurtemburg. Shows the villages they were from. – Has some digitized records available online. This is what we used until the microfilms came in to the FHC. - Download the Google Earth Program to view satellite images and photos of any place on Earth. – See the photos shown on Google Earth only embedded on maps on a web page instead of downloading and installing a program.

One Page Genealogy - or  - Software that creates single-page family trees that don’t waste space with branches you don’t know anything about.  Can create family tree charts up to 3.5’ X 6’. - Immigrant ship information and photos – Upload family tree for others to browse. 

They also provide free web space to upload your tree and documentation