Saturday, February 8, 2020

Why are Pastors Important?

Huldrych Zwingli 
Setting aside the large cities for a moment, most of Europe is made up of small villages or hamlets. There are thousands of them all across Europe. Almost every village has a church (kirche). Next to the church is the clergy's house or residence for one or more priests or ministers. Such residences are known by various names, including parsonage, manse, and rectory. The residence may be a home or, as in the case of Ottenbach, it is a building with apartments and a large meeting room. The last building is the school. Overseeing all of these is the Parish Pastor. The word "pastor" derives from the Latin noun pastor means "shepherd".

The case can be made that most of what we know about our ancestors depends on what the Parish Pastor wrote. There are five types of writing: births/baptisms, marriages, deaths, progress reports and general writings. Indeed most community life revolved around the Pastor. He knew when a child was born, and wrote down the parents names, who the god parents were, where they were baptized and the date. As a person grew up they went to school, overseen by the Pastor, where they learned to pray, the 10 commandments curriculum and the small and large Catechism books. When someone wanted to marry they came to him for permission and he looked up their pedigree in Kirche records to see how closely related they were. He performed the wedding and afterward gave them his blessing while the god parents and family held their celebration. He then recorded the event. Death's and the reason the person died were usually recorded by the Pastor. Pastors were important to the people then, as they are to us today because they provide us with a connection to our ancestors. 

When the Pastor wrote, he took his quill pen in hand, dipped it in an ink bottle and using his best German script wrote what he knew. Mistakes were sometimes made and when he was in a hurry he abbreviated. In my 2nd grandgmother’s birth record for god parents, the Ottenbach Pastor Hans Jacob Locher wrote: “Anna Sidler g. Schnebeli.”  The g is short for geborene or birth meaning birth name or maiden name. Thus we learn that Anna Sidler’s maiden name is Schnebeli. The little g makes all the difference. That makes it is easy to locate the couple who served as god parents to my 2nd great grandmother. The Pastor had no idea we would be studying these documents. He wrote them as a local church record. He must be surprised to look down on us pouring over them on our computers. 

Anna Sidler birth and baptism 1827 from Baptismal Register Zürich Archives, E_III_88_6_Ottenbach
In the same document above the place where my 2 great grandmother, Anna Sidler, was born is shown on the right side of the document. I thought it might be Maschwanden but I mistakenly thought the end would look like an "n". You need to expect Pastor’s to add a little curly cue at the end of many words. I had the word verified as Maschwanden which is three miles south of Ottenbach. An interesting point since the Sidler's lived in Ottenbach and Anna's older sister was also born 3.5 miles south of Ottenbach in Maschwanden.

Our first Sidler ancestor, Johannes Sidler b 1547 had "gnt" written next to his name with a little "sign line" or dash over it which means doubling the consonant, therefore this is an abbreviation for genannt, also known as alias. Johannes Sidler’s nickname is, "genannt Wyss" meaning also known as "the white." This is not to be differentiate from black or colored people as there were not any in Ottenbach. Johannes was nicknamed "White-y"  

Johannes Sidler death 27 Aug 1611 film 8014328 page 97

An entry below for Johannes' son says, "Heini Sydler gnt Stelin," meaning "genannt, also known as Stalin." For some reason Heinrich was nicknamed after his mother's maiden name which was Stälin. 

Heinrich Sidler death 12 January 1623 film 8014328 page 99
Sometimes the Pastor drew a little circle with a dot in the middle representing the sun, meaning the person was born on Sunday.  They drew the symbol for female which stood for Friday, which meant the day of the week the person died in the document above. Documents need to be read carefully to get their full meaning. When a Pastor dies and a new one is put in his place you'll notice the handwriting changes. Sometimes even the formatting takes a new direction.

Rudolf Hamberger was the Ottenbach Pastor from 1757 until he died in 1776. Then David Locher took over from 1776 until he died in 1796. Can you see the difference in handwriting when Pastor Locher took over on October 22, 1776?  He is using a finer quill and less ink.

Jakob Locher was Pastor from 1800 to 1834. Then Pastor Tappolet took over and again the handwriting changes:

Here is another example from 1604:

In 1604 Ottenbach Pastor Johannes Blunschli died and.
Beatus Eggstein took over as Ottenbach Pastor.
film 8014328 page 67

In the Zürich Canton Pastors were expected to write Bevölkerungsverzeichnisse or Church Census reports from 1634 to 1750. Every few years a report was made and sent to the Senior Pastor. The local Pastor listed the names of his congregation and the level of religious education each child achieved.  These Bevölkerungsverzeichnisse or BVs are very good sources of information. Dr. Pfister from the Zürich Archives said we are in a unique position in the Canton Zurich to have these. Of all the Swiss documents these are far and away the easiest to read.  You can get a birds eye view of the whole family in addition to the family it is interesting to see who else lives in the household.
The purpose of these population registers was originally to record the Protestant Reformed Church membership in the parishes of the Synod of Zürich. Approximately every three years lists of the members of all family households and those in Church service were made and sent in to the rector, Antistes, in Zürich.  In addition to the names of each member of the household, ages, and often exact baptism dates are given, especially for the children, but often for the parents as well. These BV's are accessed free on FamilySearch for many communities. They are not indexed but it only takes a few minutes to figure out how the records are organized.

These Census reports (BV) of the local protestant pastors had to be sent to the Zurich central church, Grossmünster, from 1634 to about 1740 every May (or second or third year) to the head of the reformed church, Antistes, to be discussed at the Congregation of all pastors. They served as control of how many souls there were in the local parish and their knowledge of Christian literature. The kids had to learn by heart all kinds of things according to age. Every year the pastor went to the family to evaluate them. Did they have a bible? How religious were the parents? The kids were asked test questions. 

All children attended a church school where they learned how to pray, the 10 Gebote (Commandments), Psalms, catechisms etc.  Children older than 15 were allowed to go and participate at the Abendmahl sermon and partake of the sacrament.  There was a family celebration following this rite of passage with family and the god parents in attendance. The Census right hand column lists the religious knowledge of each member of the family.  Here is an example:

1747 Ottenbach BV Census re: Jacob Sidler and Veronica Urmin, film 8126305 page 732

Did you notice the spelling of Jacob? One thing I learned from this document is that Jagli is the short form for Jakob, mostly for a young Jakob, "li" means "little" in Switzerland (in southern Germany they use "le," in Germany usually Jakoblein). Other forms for the little Jakob are Joggeli, Jacobli etc. Here is another example:

1889 Ottenbach Census film 8014133 page 336 4 children listed - Version 2

Let's look at this census in detail:

1747 Ottenbach BV Census re: Jacob Sidler and Veronica Urmin, film 8126305 page 732

On the right hand side are the abbreviations of what the children learned by heart. The Pastors sometimes changed these abbreviations slightly.

From this 1747 census we learn this Sidler family is making progress towards confirmation as follows:

1. Katharina Sidler - 15       Decal. k.h. (taking the10 commandments curriculum)
2. Melchior Sidler - 13        C.T lernet Zeug-nussen (is about to learn) so he can take the Lord’s Supper at 13)
3. Hans Rudolf Sidler -11   C.T. (has learned the large cathechism to the end, or the whole book)
4. Hans Sidler 1637  - 9      Cal. minorum (minor, small cathechism to the end)
5. Verena Sidler 1639 - 7    Decal.  (taking the 10 commandments curriculum)
6. Jakob Sidler - 5               Symb. (children that have learned the creed by heart)
7. Anna Sidler - 3

If you move down to line number 18, little Hans, 6 years old has the term "orat." meaning he can pray or he learned a little prayer.

The C.T.  The C stand for Comm. or Confirmed to take part at the Lord’s Supper. The T represents Testi. meaning the person has a testimony of the big Catechism? In other words the person has a confirmed testimony of the big Catechism and thus is able to take the sacrament? You can also say the Pastor confirms the person has a full understanding of Jesus Christ and the Bible, so the Pastor verifies the person is qualified to take the Lords Supper. Those who are at least 15 years can go to the Lords's supper (Abendmahl) and partake of the sacrament wine. After the 17th century children waited until 18 years old to receive the sacrament.

Pastor Hans Ulrich Wiesendanger (Pastor in Ottenbach from 1656 to his death in 1677) did us a great service in providing a legend for what the Latin abbreviations mean:

1670 Census, Ottenbach Pastor Hans Ulrich Wiesendanger
 tells us what the abbreviations mean in Kirche records
film 7765846 page 380

One time I was looking for documents relating to Katharina Kleiner b 1584.  I searched and searched. Finally I found one of her children's births:

Rudolf Sidler birth 16 February 1612 film 8014328 page 79

In the German script handwriting books a "K" looks like a fancy R. So that is what I was looking for. But from her son’s birth record I found, the K in her first and last name actually look like S's with a slight hook at the top of the letter.

Katharina Kleiner death 3 November 1627 film 8014328 page 177
Many times Pastors added an "in" at the end of names to signify female gender. This can be confusing until you realize he is trying to give you added information. In the document below the Pastor added an "in" to Anna Sidler last name:

Anna  Sidler and Hans Jacob Bär 1649 Church Census film 8126304 page 140

Death record:

Elisabeth (Anna) Sidler death 11 July 1762 film 8014328 page 654 

A common word when looking at death records is - starb (died - death cause) Often it is at the top of the right hand column.

Translation: den 11. Juli (11th of July) Elisabeth Sidler, Hieinrich Wydlers selig (died before) von Unter Lunnern (village in Knonauer Amt) ehelich hinterlassene Witwe (left behind widow). Alter  68 Jahr, 7 Monath, 14 Tag. Bettlägerig 4 Monath, death cause Phtisis: Auszehrung, Schwindsucht, Tuberkulosis, she lost at lot of weight, and wasted away

When looking at causes of death consider the main causes in the 17th -19th centuries. Dysentery, TB sometimes called Consumption, were very common. One in 5 children died in infancy or shortly thereafter. Usually these children don't have a death date. When a death record is missing it means they died in infancy.

1746 was an unusual year in terms of deaths in Ottenbach. It starts out with things like Apoplexy or cerebral hemorrhage but on July 31 a 6 year 2 month old child died of dysentery. From August to the end of the year 75 people died from Dysentery. It almost looked like Pastor Balthasar Zwingli was writing Dysentery for everyone. As you can see my relative, Veronica Schnebeli who was just 37 years 8 months 6 days, fell prey to the disease.

What is the letter next to the red dot?


Now compare the letter to the word next to the big red dot.

The word next to the big red dot is Joss which is a common first name. Now If you compare the "J" in Joss you see how the Pastor is making his J's.  In this case what looks like a G is actually a "J".  The word is Jagli or Jacob.

There is another great site that is very helpful. Type your word ending or beginning and it will tell you the possibilities in German of such a word. Site (Source for this entire page is the amazing Peter Bertschinger)


The book used by most English speaking researchers is called the German English Genealogical Dictionary by Ernest Thode. It is filled with words and abbreviations used in German documents and their English equivalent.

The other great book is Deciphering Handwriting in German Documents: Analyzing German, Latin, and French in Historical Manuscripts

Roger P. Minert