Guest Post - Researching a French Ancestor of Berlin
30 August 2018
We have received a wonderful guest post from Loyal FGB Reader, Monsieur C, detailing his research of French ancestors in Berlin and Mainz.
My success story for today: I have an ancestor Peter Franz Nicolas Bello (1743-1821), who lived in Berlin, married twice, had eight children, and died, all in Berlin. But, his origins were not known. No baptism could be found for him in Berlin. His marriage records did not mention his parents’ names. A few of his records, including his burial, used French forms of his names, Pierre or Francois, so I suspected he might have been French.
Another cousin and I have been working on this problem for nearly 50 years. We both hired separate researchers in Berlin, but no one could find anything. Most of the French in Germany at that time seem to be Huguenots, but most of them arrived closer to 1685, so his baptism should be in Germany, right? What to think or do?
I don’t usually subscribe to ancestry.com at the International level, as for so long they were so limited for the extra money. But, every few years I get tempted to try again, to see if anything new turns up which is of value in my research.
Subscribing anew, I saw that Ancestry now has a lot of pertinent Berlin records to this case, so I thought I would try to find them all and look them over for any possible clues which might point to new research.
After successfully finding the records for his two marriages, baptisms for his eight children and his burial, one thing among them drew my attention: in the 1802 baptism for his eighth child, there was a witness, Catherine Mathee, born Bello. Aha! Perhaps an aunt or a sister. Another witness was Joseph Mathee of Mainz. Perhaps her husband or son? Perhaps researching Catherine might reveal new information.
Searching ancestry.com for Catherine Mathee in Mainz, I was pleasantly surprised to find an 1806 Mainz death record for Catherine Matheo. Better, it was linked to the actual record. Better yet, the record was in French (Napoleon’s France controlled Mainz from 1795-1814, which they called Mayence), so I could mostly read it.
It said she was 65 (so born about 1740/41, so probably Pierre’s sister), she was born in Metz, Dept. of Moselle, and that her parents were Francois Bello and Catherine ___.
Finally, I had a new place to look for Pierre’s baptism, records were available on-line, and possible parents’ names. OK, maybe they weren’t Huguenots, but they were French.
Metz had 15 parishes, and it took me more than a week of paging through 1740-1743 records, looking for Pierre and Catherine, and I finally found Pierre’s baptism in the 14th parish, Saint Simplice (his mother’s name was not Catherine, though it turns out that was his paternal grandmother’s name).
It is so pleasing to finally know his name as baptized was Pierre Nicolas François Bello, to know his birthplace of Metz, his birthdate of Dec. 8, 1743, and his parents’ names: Nicolas François Bello and Elisabeth Evrard.
After a concerted effort, I also found sister Catherine Bello’s baptism in 1741, born Jan. 7, even though it had eluded me and a later-discovered previously-published work on archive.org because the extracted “margin” name was wrong (Catherine Francois instead of Catherine Bello). It would have saved me a many hours if I had had this reference before. I also found via filae.com that there were also two later children not mentioned, Joseph and Pierre, who were baptized some distance from Metz.
This case also included an interesting scenario where Pierre’s father Nicolas Francois also had a 13-years younger brother with the same name, Nicolas Francois. I have found that usually when another child in a family is given a name previously used, it is because the earlier child died. But, this is my second case where an elder child was given the responsibility of being the godparent, so the new infant received the same name. Luckily, his younger brother had a different profession, and married three times with the record always giving either his age or his previous wife’s name, so I could distinguish them.
I also found that Pierre’s father, Nicolas Francois Bello the elder, referenced in Catherine Bello’s death record above, also died in Mainz in 1801. I am still working on what happened to his mother Elisabeth Evrard. Maybe the entire family left France, perhaps during the French Revolution, I don’t know.
I used both archives.metz.fr and archives57.com, especially the former with mostly original registers and it being a little easier for me to navigate. Lovely that they have color images of originals, and not scanned poor b/w microfilm images. Image resolution on archives.metz.fr is limited but quality is still usually OK.
I have since spent many more hours paging through some of the Metz registers and the 2 Protestant registers, with occasional help from filae.com indexes, I have managed to build his tree back another 4 to 6 generations, with more work that can be done.
Once again, patience and persistence paid off. Fifty years of.
This break-through in this story is another example of why I like to see actual records myself, to see if maybe someone else misread or ignored something which might turn out to be important.
Other: without any good indexes yet (filae has an extremely limited number for Metz from CG Moselle), the register scanning process (which I have done in about 12 French cities now), usually seems to involve some degree of looking at the same register pages repeatedly as one learns of more family names to keep track of, it becoming necessary to repeat the review process to find the records which were not noted during the first pass. Many times, I have been tempted to try to make some sort index of all names in order to greatly facilitate locating any of them again, though I haven’t thought of an efficient method which might turn out to be worth the effort. Thoughts welcome! :-)
I have also thought of trying to organize the various parish registers in a city (and nearby) by years, maybe in a spreadsheet or table, with links, but again, I see no clear elegant path, especially as some registers are B only, some are BM, some are BMS, some are MS, some are S only. As it is, I gradually compile pages of cheat sheets as to what vue (image) number each year begins for each parish or the rare yearly index, which often turn out to be very handy in saving time later, here and there.
Monsieur C has shared with us a good example of cluster research, (what Elizabeth Shown Mills calls the FAN club principle) here and we are most indebted. Read the comments below to see that we are not alone in saying :Merci!
©2018 Anne Morddel