Serendipity down the rabbit hole

The research week started off with a plan to translate a document about one of the Dorfprozelten families: simple enough with a very large dictionary to one hand, or so I thought. Throw in some rather archaic terms about 18th century events, and my extremely rusty German, and it all went downhill rather quickly. I did manage to sort the families into clusters and reached the conclusion that there were two men by the same name in the village, at the same time….complicated. Now I have to compare notes with the local historian for the village.

Down we go: where will there be more carrots?

Some of the archaic terms defeated my dictionary, so back to my trusty friend Google where I found some other old translations. Before I knew it I was off down the rabbit hole chasing information following one lead at a time. However:  the research diversion was definitely serendipitous!  Last week I mentioned that the German emigrants were supposed to advertise their departure in the newspaper. I also commented that I didn’t know if any were online. Well Google Books answered that question with a bang, and my occasional whimpers.
So here’s the good, bad and ugly of the research process (stories and translations to follow later).

THE GOOD GREAT

  1.  I found some ground-breaking information on my George Kunkel’s family in Dorfprozelten which has made me think completely differently about why he might have emigrated (story will be forthcoming).
  2. As you know I pursue a group of about 30 families from Dorfprozelten – I’ve managed to track down the advertising for about 70% of them. Woo hoo!
  3. The advertisements provide an opportunity to do a timeline for each of these immigrants: notification of departure from village; departure date (sometimes); departure information from the Hamburg shipping lists and then arrival in Australia (mostly Sydney) and mostly via Port Philip.
  4. The Christian names on the departure advertisements sometimes vary from those on the immigration records because they were using their second name: this confirms which of the villagers I’m looking at. In one case, this is particularly helpful because while he arrives as Franz Zöller, he leaves Germany as Ignaz and appears in Australian BDM and newspaper reports also as Ignaz. Bingo!
  5. A small group of Dorfprozelten single people arrived in Australia in 1862. The advertisements revealed they were planning to go to Brazil! How the change occurred we may never know, but it makes a big difference, especially in the case of one family whose story was already particularly tragic and is now much more so. (again, more anon)
  6. Google Books search does a “good” job of reading the Gothic print and finding your search term.
  7. My new best friend in terms of web sites is the Reverso dictionary which quickly lets me translate from German to English (or vice versa). I’m in love with it and it’s so much less weighty than my real-world dictionary and equally effective.
  8. The newspapers of most use to me have been those based in Aschaffenburg and Würzburg as Dorfprozelten as situated between the two.
  9. I learnt/reconfirmed that some of the emigrants were not married when they left Dorfprozelten. As they had to arrive as married couples in Australia, they must have been married somewhere en route, perhaps Aschaffenburg, Frankfurt or Hamburg.
  10. My advice is to limit your search to the 19th century in Advanced Google Book search as that brings up “hits” that don’t appear when you restrict it by a block of years.

 THE BAD

Dorfprozelten am Main (click to enlarge).

  1. Google MAY find the term you’re looking for, but like any OCR on old books or newspapers it is decidedly unreliable. I found more “hits” going in a convoluted way rather than directly.
  2. The page may/may not be able to be enlarged and the search term may/may not be highlighted. Both of which can make it challenging.
  3. Once inside the “book” further searches are unreliable/unpredictable.
  4. You can’t print off the page (as far as I can tell)
  5. You can download the file but some are huge.
  6. I tried my usual strategy of searching by a header that was regularly associated with these ads eg Bekanntmachung or TerminKalender. Somewhat bizarrely this proved to be even less reliable than just searching for “Dorfprozelten” or perhaps “Prozelten”.
  7. General unreliability: it seems a bit harsh to carp about this, given the hoops Google is jumping through, but if you get a negative result I encourage you to be lateral in your search terms.
  8. I also eventually had the sense to use advanced google books search and limit the time frame.

 THE UGLY

I do look a bit bug-eyed right now!

  1. Between relearning Gothic script which we used to do occasionally at school and reading it in a foreign language, my brain is suffering from overload and my eyes are out on stalks. ( I knew I should have done that calligraphy class).
  2. My strategy has been to retype the Gothic print into normal print German. Phase 2 is then to translate the German to English. This is partly underway but see (1) above.

Hopefully I’ve given you some sense of how exciting, as well as how tiring, these discoveries have been. I’m thrilled to bits with it and know there’s going to be hours of exploration and translation ahead. Perhaps time to swap to the external monitor like a sensible person?