Sunday, January 19, 2020

SEMINARS ~ A Day with Warren Bittner at the San Diego Genealogical Society

Warren Bittner, C.G.
There are many reasons to join a genealogy society.  Attending seminars and classes ranks high on that list.  To read more about why I believe it is important to belong to and support our genealogical societies read this post SEMINARS, WEBINARS, SOCIETIES–WILL THEY HELP YOUR RESEARCH?

Yesterday I attended our annual January seminar.  The San Diego Genealogical Society has been putting on twice a year seminars for, at least, the 10 years I’ve been a member.
Here’s the thing about classes or seminars.  Even though you may think the subject matter is not of interest, or not pertinent to your own research, you will ALWAYS learn something of value.

This seminar was the perfect example.  The subject was all about researching in German records.  I only have ONE line that is German.  At least so far.  That would be my 7th great grandparents Johannes WUNDERLICH and Anna Barbara DENSLER.  Read more about my Wunderlich family Family History Library Trip - Day 2 - A Red Letter Day! or Surname Saturday - Wunderlich - Johannes (1700-1760) my 7th great grandfather 

Here’s what I learned and why it’s of value and can be applied to other regions of the world.

Session 1 – Meyer’s Gazetteer:  Gateway to Germany 1871-1918
  • This Gazetteer lists all towns in Germany as they existed in 1910
  • You can find population data, political jurisdictions, transportations and communication information and whether the towns included “dependent” villages.
Mr. Bittner explained in excellent detail how to use this information and helped us to understand the various German words.  Decipher the colons and semi colons and break down all the great information included in this resource.
Here’s a new website that can help you get started.  And…the good news, all the levels of jurisdiction are given in English
  • Because Gazetteers can be found in many countries, including the United States – we learn the value of one, we are learning the value of all of them.  Certainly an underused resource in my genealogy journey.
Session 2 – German Maps and Territories (You can’t do research without them)
  • An overview of German boundary changes – And let me tell you there have been plenty.  How do they affect your research?
  • Techniques to find where any village would be on a map, even the very small villages.
  • How to find a Nobility Region of a town
  • And, Mr. Bittner gave us a list of 10 sources for locating Maps & Territorial Histories.
Session 3 – German Marriage Laws and Customs
This was the after lunch session.  You know, that time when all of us are full and perhaps a little sleepy.  Let me tell you.  There was no sleeping during any of the sessions as Mr. Bittner kept us all intrigued and interested.I’ll condense this session as follows: 
  • There were so many forces that had input into whether a couple was allowed to marry, it was incredible!  I never suspected there could be so many outside sources that would influence a couple’s right to marry.
Here are examples of some of them:
Noblemen, Parents, Church, Town or Village, Courts, Craft Guilds and Territorial States 
And a big influence was your “place” in the particular town or village.  A couple was supposed to marry within their own social class.  Weddings went on for as long as 3 days, with engagements, posting of banns, exchange of vows, feasts, a procession of the bride’s dowry, the “bedding” event (not something that was the actual consummation of the marriage), the feasts and various other traditions.
The control and restrictions of marriages went on until 1918 with the end of the second empire.  Just think.  Until just over 100 years ago, a couple could not decide for themselves to get married.
  • We also learned that there are dozens of places you can find marriage records.  Not always in churches or courts. 
Another subject that was discussed was the many illegitimate births that were common place.  Is it any wonder that many of us are discovering that our DNA tests are leading us to unexpected turns in our family trees?
Session 4 – The Fisherman Who Wanted to Marry the Executioner’s Daughter
This was a true story.  The Fisherman was in a class above the Executioner’s daughter and everyone from parents to the Fisherman’s Guild, the courts and the Town Council objected to this union.  They were finally allowed to marry, but only after both attempted suicide.

Warren Bittner, our SDGS President Diane Lott and me

In closing.  If you get a chance to hear Warren Bittner, C.G. speak, I would highly recommend you attend.  Whatever subject he may be speaking about, you will find him very knowledgeable, affable and entertaining.
I have an entirely new outlook now on what may have influenced my ancestors in their journey through life.  Whether or not they were in Germany or another part of Europe, Canada or even here in the U.S. I know I can be a better researcher with this information.

I’d love to hear about the classes, seminars, conferences or webinars you’ve attended or watched that have changed or influenced your research strategies.

Happy hunting,
Michigan Girl

Copyright ©  2010-2020   Diane Gould Hall



  1. Sounds like a wonderful seminar Diane!

    1. It really was Jana. I wasn’t terribly excited about the subject, given my few ancestors from Germany. However, I had heard that Warren was a very good speaker. Additionally, I enjoy being with other society members and friends for a day taking about genealogy. Turns out it was a win win all the way around.

  2. Don't forget the cost of a marriage was prohibitive. Some couples married after children had been born and that would legitimize those children. So not all illimitable children stayed illegitimate. If the parents later married they became legitimate.

  3. He's come several times to our society, too, in Sacramento. I always attend a Warren Bittner lecture because I learn so much.

    1. He was very informative and I thoroughly enjoyed the entire day. I will definitely attend any future seminars or classes where he is the speaker.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  4. I always enjoy listening to Warren and learn something new each time. Nice job!


I look forward to reading your comments. If you have any connection to the people mentioned in this blog, please let me know. I write about mine and my husband's ancestors and would welcome new information or meeting a new cousin or two. Thanks for visiting and come back soon.