Do you feel like you have reached a dead end in your German genealogy research? According to one experienced genealogical researcher, a dead end is usually not “dead” but rather a terminus which cannot be resolved at the moment with the usual or obvious methods. (Volkmar Weiss. Wenn man auf den Toten Punkt gelangt und darüber hinaus. Aus: Genealogie in der DDR 2, 1990)
Most people like to do research in obvious sources, i.e., civil registration or church records. They usually give us what we are looking for: the linkage of the nuclear family over centuries. Church books are a treasure trove until we get to more laconic entries in the beginnings of church registers. Here we often find holes in the desired information. Full names as well as descriptions of professions or standing in the community is not available. Therefore, it becomes necessary to consult other sources. For research among the people of the land there is a 90% chance of an entry about them in a church book not 20 kilometers from their place of residence. For craftsmen, innkeepers, and merchants in small towns, neighboring towns should be considered. Other sources for the German researcher are land records or the records which were connected with rural life.
Considering that our German ancestors were mainly land dwellers, they did not have the right to act and move as they pleased. They were under constraints to comply with authorities in every aspect of their lives. Thus it makes sense to look for further clues about them in records accumulated by local authorities who oversaw community activities, such as Schuld- und Pfandprotokolle, Erdbücher, Amtsrechungen, Kauf- und Handelsprotokolle.
If an ancestor moved, it can become tricky to pursue him further because the most obvious sources often do not give any more clues of his whereabouts. Nevertheless, there is a paper trail to follow. It becomes necessary to gather all imaginable relative and social connections. “Dead ends” can often be resolved through minute constructions of sequential developments in the life of an ancestor.
When less familiar surnames are involved, it is recommended to gather everyone with the same name in the surrounding area, so that the connecting link can be identified and families be traced further.
The most common dead-ended research stems from variability and homonymy of given and family names as well as village names. Other causes for dead ends are false or erroneous entries in sources, but they can also stem from misreading or overlooking details on the part of the researcher himself. Therefore, clarification of dead-ended research is not so much a talent or investigative feel as it is an industrious piece of work in knowing where to look. Such a search should always concern the dead end which is closest to the present time and most important to social origins.