My earliest German immigrant ancestors, the Reinhardts, emigrated about 1839 to New York City. My 4x great grandmother, Barbara Reinhardt was born there, although they moved to the Weehawken, New Jersey area when she was a child and most of the family ended up there. I know a lot about the Reinhardts and their time in America, but nothing from before then. I had records that my 5x great grandparents, John Reinhardt and Magdalena Engelmann, came from Bavaria. No idea where in Bavaria, and so no way to trace them further back. All of their children were born in New York, except for their oldest, John, who was born in 1838 - in France. This always stuck out as a bit of an anomaly to me, but I never really followed up on it. I recently found baptismal records for his children that clarified that he was most likely born in Le Havre, France, which is a port city, and I realized, I might finally have a lead to trace to see if I could find out more about the Reinhardts on the other side of the Atlantic. The Reinhardts, like many German families in that time period, made their way to America and other destinations via port cities in France, and some of these families temporarily settled in these seaside locations while they waited to emigrate. I don't know when the Reinhardts arrived in Le Havre, but they were there long enough for John to be born their in 1838, and I THINK they came to New York in 1839, so they were probably living in France for about a year.
Anyway, I had recently done work for a client looking up records in this same region of France, Seine-Maritime, and so I knew there were online records available to look at here: http://recherche.archivesdepartementales76.net/?id=recherche_guidee_etat_civil. It's a wonderful, extremely helpful resource, but of course - it's unindexed. Some of the databases have indexes inside of them, which helps, and there are 10 year index records you can scroll through, but you can't just type a name into the search function and pull up the page with your relative's name...you actually have to dive into the database and look for these and then look through these indexes yourself. I lucked out, big time. Pretty much every single record I had on Barbara's brother John told me he was born between 1837-1839 - a two year window is easy-peasy. In one of the 10 year indexes, I found a "Jean Eduard Reinhardt" born March 4, 1838 in Graville, France - same department as Le Havre, and just east of that city. When I pulled up the record itself, it listed his parents - "Jean Reinhardt" and "Madeleine Eingelmann," the French version of my 5x great-grandparents' names (because, obviously, the records are in French). The names matched. Their ages matched. And, lo and behold, it also stated that John and Magdalena were married April 27, 1837 in Göllheim, Bavaria - for the first time for this branch of my family, I had a place! A German village! AND a marriage record I could look for! This literally just happened today and I was so excited I had to pass it along. Now I have to plot my next moves - the records I need are not online but they ARE available to view at a Family History Center, to try to find that marriage record and then maybe their birth records and parents' names. This whole branch has opened up for me, and I guess my advice to anyone reading this is: think outside the box. My Reinhardt family is German but my breakthrough record was a French record. Be familiar with history. I knew a lot of German families passed through that way and there was a chance that John had been recorded there. Check out the other branches of your tree. I couldn't trace that line backward from my direct line, Barbara - I had to look to her brother, John, to move the line further back. I have so much luck advancing lines backward when I take siblings into consideration - don't have such a narrow focus on your direct line that you inadvertently box yourself out of making important family history discoveries. I'm riding high right now...I can't wait to get back at it. That feeling is what I wish for all of you! :)
Websites I used for this research: