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Beyond History

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Read about a tragic story behind a big name.
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Currently politicians around the world are thinking about ways to end hunger in many parts of the world. Today on World Food Day we give you some of the creative recipes our ancestors' used during hard times...
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Read this story about an inspiring powerful woman who made history 89 years ago today!
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In June 2015 we had the pleasure of accompanying the lovely couple Vaughan and Noelle Smith from Australia to the places where his ancestors lived. This emotional adventure was filmed by a camera team of Deutsche Welle TV. On Saturday, July 11, 2015 the film will be shown in the Deutsche Welle program "Discover Germany". Please visit for showtimes and to watch the program. After July 11, 2015 the film can be watched anytime at  in the section "on demand". 
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The heat wave that currently traverses Europe often causes severe weather and thunderstorms. The fear of thunderstorms is called Astraphobia and it has a long history - which is understandable when we take into account that while we today are startled by thunder and lightning our ancestors not even had an explanation for this natural spectacle...

Although he was considered the protector of families and homes people in ancient Greece were convinced that it was Zeus on Olympus who cast thunderbolts to earth. In Northern mythology it was Thor (also Donar = Thunder) throwing his stone hammer and thus caused thunder while thunderbolts dashed from his eyes.

The explanation that colliding clouds produce thunder goes back to the philosophical school of the Stoics. Another attempt to explain events was that fumes in the air ignited and led to thunderstorms. Even in 1805, people were advised not to sweat too much in summer because perspiration is combustible.

If there was a thunderstorm despite these precautions, bell-ringing seemed to be an appropriate remedy. The sound of sanctified bells should avert evil powers and bad weather. Thus it was that sextons climbed the church towers at the first sign of a coming thunderstorm and started ringing the bells. As may be imagined this measure not only was an uncomfortable work but it was also dangerous to life.
How did I get onto this subject after all?
Not long ago I found a church book entry from Bavaria in which "ringing churchbells to avert a thunderstorm" was registered as the cause of death; this at first seems strange but it was less rare than we think. After all, apparently 103 people were killed in 33 years through so-called "Wetterläuten" (literal translation "weather ringing") with "only" 186 lightning strikes.

In 1752, Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning arrester and therewith proved that thunderbolts consist of electric charge. In Hamburg, the first lightning arrester was installed very soon afterwards. Mathias Andreas Mettlerkamp climbed the tower of the St. Jacob church to mount the new implement there in 1769. By way of comparison: in Bavaria it took until 1784 before "weather ringing" was prohibited by Elector Karl Theodor.

On that note, I wish you a nice day, hopefully without rain and thunderstorms!

PS: For all who suffer from Astraphobia it can be said that the probability to die from a lightning strike is very low. Around 1950, there were about 100 deaths per year, today only 3-10 people per year die from lightning strikes.
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International Archive Day

Today is International Archive Day! In the family research business, we depend on archive inventory and communication with archivists on a daily basis. Therefore we know well about the immense importance of archives for our society – archivists preserve our history and at the same time make it accessible for us. This is a vital service, without which we wouldn’t have been able to solve half of our research cases.

This year, the International Archive Day is all about democracy – and social media! Archivists share stories and inventories that are related to democracy and justice on twitter using the hashtags #IAD15 and #democracy. Search for #followanarchive on twitter today and you can read questions and answers of and to archivists or ask what you always wanted to know about archives yourself.

With this project, archives worldwide try to correct the wrong image most people have about them. Researchers and interested persons know that archives are so much more than dark basements full of dusty books: in fact, they are treasuries full of historical evidence that waits to be discovered with helpful, motivated staff that helps you with any question and keeps an overview of what seems to be unmanageably complex. Too few people know about this…

Have you ever had an astonishing experience at an archive? Did you ever gain groundbreaking insights through archive inventories or an archivist’s help? We’d be happy to hear about your story!
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R.I.P. Paternoster

What did I have to read today? As of yesterday, June 1st 2015, the operation of paternoster lifts in public areas is prohibited by German law. It seems to be time for an obituary…

Did you ever have the opportunity to take a paternoster? It is an elevator system without doors that is permanently moving in a circular shaft (like this:, and you enter and leave the cabins while they are in movement. It was always more of an adventure than taking a normal elevator, I have to admit – but it also was so much more fun! 

The first paternoster was established in the General Post Office in London in 1876, but it wasn’t yet made for people but for parcels. The first elevator for personal transportation after the British model was opened in Hamburg in the newly built Dovenhof in 1886. The commercial city of Hamburg always was the German capital of paternosters due to the many business- and office buildings. According to a counting in 1936, more than half of the 679 German paternoster installments were located in Hamburg.

The name does not, as one might think, derive from the prayers you say when you’re entering a lift cabin, but from the rosary actually. The ten smaller rosary beads stand for an Ave Maria prayer each, while the bigger bead stands for the Lord’s Prayer (Pater noster in Latin). Hence the rosary was also called “Paternoster-chain”. Due to the structure of the elevator, with the cabins hanging on a circular chain like rosary beads, the name came up. 

When in the early 1990s paternoster lifts were about to be closed down in Germany, paternoster enthusiast protested and stopped the passage of the law. Since then, in some cases using them was only permitted for people with a “paternoster license”. But this seems to be over now – safety first. Too bad! In so many office and department buildings, taking the paternoster brought some desperately needed fun to the day…
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Whose birthday are we celebrating today?

After the last riddle we posted here was solved in no time, we are again looking for a very special birthday boy that would have been 98 years old today.

Born into a rich family, his father made it clear to him from the beginning that a political career and nothing less than a presidency were in order. After having studied at several high-ranking universities and a time in military service, the charismatic young man actually achieved this goal and, in the times of the Cold War, became one of the most popular statesmen of all time.

In addition to the highest US-American political office he also had the talent of a writer that even brought him a Pulitzer prize. He was indeed very eloquent – and often quoted, not only for his inauguration speech with the famous remark “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”.

His friendly character and his charisma did not only lead to political admiration, as the New York Times once stated: “The effect he has on female voters is virtually indecent.” In his private life, too, next to his marriage to a world famous style icon, according to ongoing rumors he had more than one love affair.  Probably the most legendary birthday song ever, sung to him by no one less than Marilyn Monroe, just raised more questions.

If that was not enough, in Germany he will always be remembered for the speech he held at the Berlin Wall in which he said "ich bin ein Berliner".

Just as surrounded by legends as his life was the end of it. The circumstances of his death never brought definite answers and to this day let conspiracy theorists speculate wildly. It is not until 2017 that US authorities will release research results on his death that are still under seal…

Who are we looking for today?
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Promulgation of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany on May 23rd 1949

 “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.” This is the first article of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany that came into action 66 years ago today.

 It took four years from the end of World War II to the agreement on the law. The Parliamentary Council that was tasked with its formulation had a very important mission: After the Weimar Republic had on the one hand shown how easy a political system could be overthrown by the wrong people and the Third Reich on the other what consequences that could have for humanity, it was the time to create the foundation of a new democracy that first of all made sure that these things couldn’t happen again.  

The chairman of the Parliamentary council was a certain Konrad Adenauer, who was voted as the first chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany on May 9th 1949. At the promulgation ceremony of the Basic Law he said: “Those who witnessed the years from 1933, who lived when everything fell to pieces in 1945, who saw all of the German political power in the hands of the allies from 1945 on, those are deeply moved by the thought that with the end of this day, a new Germany comes into being.”

For the time being, that only meant West Germany though. In the German Democratic Republic (DDR) another constitution came into action on October 7th of the same year.

By the way, the Basic Law for the Federal Republic was just created as a temporary solution: With all the occupying powers in the country it was supposed to be effective only until the German people were able to freely form a constitution on their own. But this hasn’t happened yet… 66 years later, the Basic Law is known as a successful example for the redemocratization of a state. A very effective (and long-lasting) temporary solution!
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