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Learn from Experience

I tried to put information from my own experience into this chapter. Simple, pragmatic and easy to understand but surely not complete.

Some of the genealogist are thinking very small-minded. Often there is a high attention on adding every source and conform to the scientific standards. Everybody who is not according to this has failed! I say: Most important is, that you have FUN! Not everybody want to write a doctoral thesis. On the other hand, to add sources afterwards is not that easy and takes some extra time.

Failures are annoying but unavoidable – even also here are people with a different opinion … Here you need often help from others. To this line of thought, I have also some additional information in chapter “Sources” and “Database”.

Chapter on this page:

1. How and where to begin?
2. Which sourches are available and how to find them?
3. Databases
4. Read sources - Tips & Tricks
5. Professional help
6. Safe the information
    6.1. Orginals
    6.2. Computer
    6.3. Genealogy program
7. Pictures
8. Publish

1. How and where to begin?

How do I came to this hobby? Surely there are hundreds of reasons how to come to this hobby. My key experience was during primary school. I had the task from school to write down my ancestors. I asked my mother and grandfather. Both wanted to tell. And I was interested and I listened. I had 4 or 5 generations, which was far more than my classmates had: From now on this hobby was in my blood.

Some information came via some more or less close relatives. I would say in the most families there are people, searched in this direction in the past. Then I there were some proofs of ancestry from the 1930s. That means, in the first period I put together that what was existing. And I was writing down my genealogy tree on a typewriter. I had a serious volume of information in quite a short time. Then I was asking questions at the one or other registry office. At the end I went to the parish offices, equipped with a to-do-list, pens, printed forms and camera. And started working with the old, smelly church records, which were closely written with quill pen. At the beginning it was not that easy to read these types. But it worked after some time quite well.

Today I am searching online at the church book portal Archion, visiting local archives, talking with otheSourcesr people that are doing researches, looking in the internet and asking questions at some forums. My focus: where are the biggest gaps, where the chance at highest of getting results and what is very important for me.

In the meantime I can look back to a quite long list of ancestors. And I was lucky to have ancestors from areas where the church books are available also before the 30th years’ war. That is the reason, why some branches reach back to the 16th century. On the other side 1/8th of my ancestors coming from Pomerania. There the research is extremely difficult and often not successful.

2. Which sourches are available and how to find them?

Here a small choice of sources. Fore sure there are existing much, much more sources. Also the places of storage is just an indication and based on my experiences.

  • Relatives – also distantly related – have maybe already researched. They have partial results and know something to tell…
  • Family bibles: If they are available, the contain sometimes information about family relationships.
  • Pictures of relatives ► Here you should be very precise in handling. Collecting everything that has a name. Do not forget labelling! See also chapter „Pictures“ below.
  • Registry (from 1870) ► civil registry office
  • Church records (before 1900) is the most important source before 1870. They content sacraments (baptism, confirmation, marriage, burails) with references to their parents. And there are family register where whole families are included ► parish offices, centralized church archives or Archion
  • Military lists contain all people they are fit for military service ► state / national archive
  • List of citienship ► Local archive or state / national archive
  • Tax documents ► according to origin state / national archive, local arcives or church archives
  • Buying and selling documents for properties ► local archives
  • Inventory lists for legacy reasons ► local archives
  • Internet data bases ...

3. Databases

The source should be divided into two groups:
1. Primary sources (copies from church records, certificates, documents, person registry etc.)
2. Secondary source (family trees, pedigree trees, family books etc.)

Primary sources are better than secondary sources. There are more and more sources available in the internet for looking or downloading. For church books in Germany should be named This is the official site from the centralized German protestant church archive and contains thousands of German – mainly protestant – church books. The quality is quite good. Searching for the villages and books is for free, you pay only for looking at it – according to the time (days, weeks, months etc.). Compared to a journey, the costs are really low. Beside of Archion there are also other databases available. E.g. offers a huge international database, which contains muchz more than only church books. E.g, documents from registry offices, travelling/emigration/immigration documents.

Secondary sources – especially from the internet – should always handled with caution. They are not always right. You can read this everywhere, but due to the fact, that the amount of available data is bigger and bigger, it seem to be quite easy to take over everything without asking beyond. On the other side, this option is a big relief for those people, they have no access to the original sources. One exception is in my experience the database of online family books at They are generally quite good.

Fuzzy and wrong information are spread via the internet as fast as correct ones as they are mostly taken over without asking. That is the reason why you can find same wrong information in different databases. This has to be noted. Not everything which is in the internet more the once must be correct.

One possibility in that case could be, to not the information from the internet and re-check at the originals. The owner of the information should be asked. This has the advantage beside of the propriety, that the data owner has often more or updated information as published. Only in very few cases you will be refused, if you ask gentle. Even you do not get in contact to the data owner, you should name the original source.

That means: Collecting data yes, but document and proof.

4. Read sources - Tips & Tricks

Which sources: As already spoken, primary sources should generally be preferred compared to secondary sources. The more close the source is made to the original event, the more the chance, that the information is correct. Primary sources are baptism, marriage, burial or confirmation records. Secondary sources are beside of secondary literature (family books, internet information, like family trees etc. also family records, transcriptions or age dates in buying- or court documents etc.

Source collection: Basically all sources should be written down – word by word. As the sources were more and more difficult to reach, I started to collect more and more detailed information. This can be very important to recap afterwards, especially if there is a need to find failures. Important for all sources, also those from internet or orally.

16 Oct

Transcribing: Perfect to copy literally and keep this information. Important, if inconsistencies coming up. Mostly the failure is based by a wrong transcription from the original document. One example: At the picture above you can read in the Großheppach baptism church book from 1670:

[Month and day] 16.t[th]. 8bris. [the child:] Anna Maria. [the parents:] Hanß Jerg Knauß Margaretha.“

An inexperienced person or by a carless failure the 16. October (= 16. 8bris) is easy the 16.08. [October]

Unfortunately I have seen this need only later and took the original source quite late. The revenge is coming later and to build-up the original source once is very time-consuming, if you have reached a certain volume of data.

Read old scripture: I must agree, at the beginning it is not easy to read the old writing styles. But after a while it is going better and better. But even you are an expert, not every writing can be readed by 100%. Some type examples you will find here.

Interpretation: There will be a moment when the facts/sources cannot proof without doubts or if the sources inconsistent. Then you need an interpretation. What is most likely. But this interpretation should be marked. In my experience, once an interpretation is made it is very hard to turn it around afterwards.

5. Pofessional helpFamily tree

There are enough genealogists they are offering their services. I have not that much experience with this. I have only used twice professional help. The costs are either success-oriented or based on the used time. Somebody, who want to cover everything with professional services need to invest really a good amount of money.

To let draw an individual family tree is also not really cheap. Reason for it, is the time consumption. Somebody who want to create a nice present, can also do it on its own. By the way. With this you have also a nice present for other people by copying the original. I have done this in the past several times. For that reason I bought a endless paper for plotter (180g/m², matt). I cut the needed amount of paper and start drawing (see picture).Lebenslauf

6. Safe the information

Saving of the information looks trivial at first glance. You take a computer and save everything – ready. But when you look deeper into it, it is not that easy any more: Which format? Database? Pictures? Backup? Originals? Family trees?

Therefore step by step:

6.1. Originals:

If you have originals, please store them dry, away from danger of mold and dark. If you need some more information at your next local archive. They will tell you competent and free of charge, I am sure. Originals should be saved also in a digital way (digital picture or scan, min. 200 dpi) and store it independent from the originals. To safe data space is the saving at a wrong place. I have ancestor passes. The information inside can never be figured out any more, if the documents are not there anymore. The church books were destroyed during the Second World War and copies are not existing. Therefore these documents are unique and the last official source.

6.2. Computer:

Today, computer are absolutely needed and a good tool for the genealogy. But beside of the enthusiasm you may can diskask, how the data will be read in future. As a (hobby) genealogist you are searching data in documents they are hundreds of years old. This information would not be available any more, if the ancestors would save it on computer discs.

To make sure, that the data will be available also in future there are some basic rules I recommend:
- Safe data: Data have to keep saved. You need at least one copy. Store the copy not there, where your computer is (fire, thunder storm, thievery etc.).
- Program: Programs and formats should be used, they are very common. This raises the chance, that the files can be read over a longer period. If there are new formats, that are wide spread, do not forget to re-format.
ZIP- Storage medium: The same with storage medium. If there is a change in storage medium, migrate to the new media on time. I kindly remember on 5 1/4'' (Flopies) or 3,5'' disk. But also Zip-drives etc. were used as a storage media – who can read it up
to now?  Quite apart from DAT-cassette or magnetic tapes. By the way magnetic tapes. Recordings from magnetic tapes should be digitalised immediately. They are getting worse from day to day.
- Hardware: Do not do everything on computer. Data of a life-work can be deleted in a second. This was hard ti imagine in the past. Therefore I recomend to print the intermediate results from time to time, even it has not been finished. By the way, this can be shown to somebody!

6.3. Genealogy program:

The information in a database (genealogy program) makes sense. Also because data can be shared easily with others in the standardized format (GEDCOM). There are several provider of these programs. To give a recomendation is almost not possible, as I do not know every program.

Fundamentally you should think deeply which program you are using as the main program. In my experience, changing from one program to another is always with problems and  hand in hand with missing data. So, changing over from one to another program it is always high risk and a lot manual work or the data is gone forever. So the binding on a program is quite high. Personally I am using different programs, but one program is my lead program, where I put all my data in. Then I am using programs for different tasks. I am using one for priting big family trees (Stammbaumdrucker). This program is specialized in this kind of task.

My main program was PAF4 (freeware) in the past. As this program is not getting a further development, I changed over to another one. Here I decided for Ages!. In the meantime there are Apps for mobile phones available to have your data always with you. Furthermore I am registered at This also can help as your data will automatically be analyzed for a match with data from other registered people at And they have a lot of registered people.

In addition, I am putting all the data into a Microsoft Word document. Here I am safe, that this format can be read also in 50 years. And I have a backup copy in a different format and can double check during conversion from one genealogy program to another.

In the past there was a system to do a new data sheet for every family. You can do this also at the computer. You can add additional sources, pictures,  videos, scans etc. imported.

7. PicturesPicture

The main problem with old pictures is the missing data. When it is not clear who or what is at the picture, this picture is mostly useless for genealogic researches. Therefore here at this point my appeal: Collecting data and store together with the picture. It helps mostly to talk to other relatives or friends.

Collecting and retaining information!

Second problem is the storage of the pictures and the corresponding information. So, how to safe.

Digital pictures should be stored in a common format. There the chance is high to get it read also after decades. When coming to labeling, this is much more difficult. There are program available, but the picture formats are not common. So the chance is high, that the information is getting lost. DO NOT DO THIS. So that means either you put the information directly on the picture (but this changes the picture itself) or in a copy of this picture.

Then you should also print the pictures to prevent data losses. See also above, chapter
6.2 Computer.

On the right side you can see a possibility to name people on group photos.

8. Publish?

One target of the work should be, to let known other people. There are different methods:

- Database in the internet: This is the easiest possibility. Uploading your information to one or more of the well-known genealogic databases. Ready. You will get some feedback, but not that much.

- Book: Do an own book. Then you have also always a present! There is no limit in design. Printing on demand allows also small numbers for a reasonable price. Offers are available in the internet.

- Own Homepage: You are in front of one. Here you need some more additional knowledge. But even I managed it! Also here you have almost no limit in design.

- Family meeting: These happenings should be used to show the collected data. There you may find some new “colleagues” they are also go in this direction or have done researches in the past and can add something. And maybe you can find some new sourcs. And pictures are can easily be marked with the necessary information.

Content is the data, for sure. Who, where, when, how long, with whom. Beyond this limited data, there is much more to tell. It is the small stories, which makes the life interesting. And anecdotes are everywhere available. Pictures from relatives, common clothes, about villages, how they worked and lived. Or you add some statistics. How many children they had, life expectancy, how old during the marriage, which profession and, and, and. Also here, almost no limits.

Ont thing should b clear. Data from living persons only with their agreement.

And now: have a lot of fun on searching!

Your Wolfram Callenius 

Family day