Roots & Branches is an award-winning, weekly newspaper column begun in 1998 that currently is published in the Altoona Mirror. It’s the only syndicated column on genealogy in Pennsylvania!

Posted March 5, 2018 by  |  No Comments

Niels Witkamp is a devoted “Roots & Branches” reader who is also my go-to guy for Dutch genealogy, so I guess it’s natural that he decided to return the favor when it appeared that his Witkamp line was going to extend into Germany.

“I am stuck with my Witkamp line and was wondering if you could give me your opinion of where I should check next,” he wrote. “Jan Hendrik Witkamp (weaver by trade) married (Catholic) in Utrecht in The Netherlands in the year 1710. In the civil record of the marriage it mentions that he was born in Salm.”

This “Salm” seemed likely to be the name of an area now in Germany but over time has been in France, Belgium and Luxembourg.

His second clue was shown at the baptism of a child of Jan Hendrik in 1724, the baptismal witness was “Anna aunt from Westphalia.” Since Jan’s wife was from the Utrecht area, he assumed the child’s aunt was probably Jan’s sister.

So, Witkamp’s initial question was trying to figure out what area was covered by both Salm and Westphalia in the early 18th century to figure out in which towns he should concentrate his search.

As studious readers will recall, I like to call the political history of Germany “non-linear” because it’s not like America’s – in which, with few exceptions, new counties are broken off old counties, new townships created from part of older ones.

Germany’s political history, instead, involves many more complex permutations as its constellation of micro-states were divided, re-divided and joined to non-contiguous territories over the centuries. Because of these changes, determining in which political units’ archives and church parishes that records will be found is dicey proposition.

Essentially, Witkamp was trying to “triangulate” the area of Salm and Westphalia to find common territory (realizing, that the Dutch records might be garbled in some way, too) during the time period of the late 1600s to early 1700s.

Some ideas that I had for Witkamp were the following:

  • Even though it was a century-and-a-half after his time period, I recommending starting with the website, just to see how many villages named Salm that there were (as it turned out, there was only one in the area of Westphalia).
  • I also recommended Gerhard Köbler’s Historiches Lexikon der Deutschen Länder, which is an encyclopedia of the historical German states and their changes over time. This confirmed what Witkamp already knew – that the Salm area went through frequent political realignments.
  • Checking out Kevan Hansen’s Map Guide to German Parish Registers for what later became the Prussian Rheinland to see the area’s Catholic parishes was also a good idea.

Witkamp was grateful for the ideas, and armed with them, went a-searching in online resources relating to the Salm area.

Beidler is a freelance writer and lecturer on genealogy. Contact him either at Box 270, Lebanon, PA 17042 or by e-mail to Like him on Facebook (James M. Beidler) and follow him on Twitter, @JamesMBeidler.


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