Researching an unusual surname like Wolkersdorfer

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Debbie Greer <dbbgrr@yahoo.com> recently asked:

I am looking for information on my

great-great- grandfather Christoff Wolkersdorfer born, Dec 16, 1859 Germany, came to USA around 1875.

and great great grandmother Katherine (Eirich) Wolkersdorfer born, March 7, 1862 Germany, came to USA unknown when.

They were married in 1881.

Baerbel's answer:

Having an unusual surname like Wolkersdorfer can really be helpful, because it is easier to broaden your search.

My guess is that your ancestor was Kristof Wolkersdorfer, who is living in Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife and children in 1910. The ages fit. The 1910 Federal Census states that Kristof arrived in the U.S. in 1874 and had been naturalized. His wife arrived in 1881. They had been married for 28 years at that time and had seven children.

I don't have easy access to the naturalization records of Cuyahoga county, Ohio, here on my computer, but I can use the Internet. A search for Wolkershofer on http://www.ancestry.com did not produce a passenger list entry for Christoff. However, close to 1900 and afterwards it became more common for emigrants to return to Germany to visit their families, and for German family members to visit them in the U.S., since travel times and conditions had greatly improved. So I tried http://www.ellisisland.org and found Christoff and his family returning from a trip to Germany in 1906 and his wife and children returning from an earlier trip in 1904. Unfortunately the lists only stated that they were U.S. citizens, leaving the birth place/last residence information blank. However, the family in Germany reciprocated the visits and at least two nephews (I didn't check the entire list), Heinrich Wolkershofer in 1906 and Georg Wolkershofer in 1909 came to Cleveland to visit their uncle Christof. Both listed their place of birth and last residence as Abenberg, Germany (misspelled as "Abendorf" in one place and "Abendberg" in another) and their father in the old country as "Johann Wolkershofer".

So now you have a likely town of origin for your ancestor Christoff Wolkershofer.
The next step is to check out Abenberg. Here, too, one of the lists gave a helpful hint (the entry for Georg in 1909) by specifying "Abenberg bei [=near] Roth". According to "Meyer's" gazetteer of the German Empire, this town is located in Bavaria, Bezirksamt Schwabach, Mittelfranken, and has its own Catholic parish. In 1912 this town had 1487 inhabitants.

The Family History Library has not yet been able to microfilm church records in this area, so you will need to write to the archive that holds the Abenberg parish register for a copy of your ancestor Christof [possibly spelled Christoph] Wilkersdorfer's baptism record. The address is:

Eichstätt ArchivesLuitpoldstr. 185072 EichstättGermany

The archive will charge you for this information and for a copy of the document. Genealogical requests are a source of income for many archives.

Bavaria had the strictest marriage permission laws in the German Empire until 1918, which resulted in lots of paperwork about couples applying for a marriage licence and permission to take up residence in a certain town. THese strict laws, designed to keep the poorer classes from having families, also resulted in a lot of illegitimate births. THis is something to keep in mind. Often a woman and her illegitimate child, as well as the child's father, emigrated to America separately and married once they got here.

One more note: If there hadn't been relatives who came to visit your ancestors, you could have checked the U.S. passport applications to see if your ancestor had written down his town of birth in that record. THe passport records have all been filmed and can be ordred to a family history center in your area. There are both indexes and records on separate films. An easy way to locate the film numbers is to go to www.genealogy.net, click on "English", then "emigration". On the "Emigration" page you'll find a link to the list of Family History Library film numbers for the U.S. passport applications.

Good luck!

Baerbel K. Johnson, International Reference [1]

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