James Beidler

PO Box 270
Lebanon, Pennsylvania 17042

Phone: 717 507-7237

Email: james@beidler.us


Winner of two second-place and two third-place awards in the columns division of the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors contest since 2003.


Pennsylvania and Germans


Tips for Beginning Genealogists A starting-point lecture talking about: primary vs. secondary sources; family traditions; spelling variations; the importance of time and place; and the proper place for Internet genealogy.

Pennsylvania Family History: The Search for Identity Genealogy has changed radically in recent years. Today’s unprecedented access to records ranging from family diaries to business account books to obscure court documents is giving those interested in family history a new opportunity to add substance to their knowledge of their ancestors and how they lived.

Beginning a Search for Pennsylvania Roots The “Keystone State” is chock full of records and repositories to help the genealogist with PA roots. A review of the chronology of PA records; their impact on genealogy; and where to find them.

Exploring Pennsylvania’s State Archives and State Library The Pennsylvania State Archives and State Library of Pennsylvania are well worth a research trip, but even more worthwhile with advance planning.

Courthouse Research in Pennsylvania Whether it’s commonly known records such as wills and deeds or less-used documents such as divorces or “Miscellaneous Deeds,” Pennsylvania’s county courthouses hold the solutions to many genealogical problems. This lecture describes the types of records available there.

Before It Was a County A custom-designed lecture that takes the Pennsylvania county of interest and profiles what types of records exist for that county from the time period before it was erected – and where those records can be found. Good for orienting genealogists to the “time and place” concept.

Philadelphia Research: Repositories and Records Philadelphia is not only Pennsylvania’s largest city; it is also the home of some of its most important genealogical repositories. Profiled are Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, Free Library of Philadelphia, City Archives, and the National Archives (Mid-Atlantic Region).

Searching for a Pennsylvania German Ancestor Applying genealogical basics to the peculiarity of searching for the rich records relating to America’s first large ethnic minority population.

“They Wrote It Down …”: Pennsylvania German Documents Germans, including those who immigrated to Pennsylvania, are famous for their meticulous approach to life. This often translated into voluminous record keeping, which greatly benefits descendants researching family history. The presentation discusses resources such as decorative baptismal certificates and detailed tombstone inscriptions.

Germany to Pennsylvania: 18th Century Odyssey There are many stereotypes about the immigrants who came from German-speaking lands to Pennsylvania in the 1700s. This lecture uses the personal memoirs of the immigrants themselves to dispel the myths about why they came, what the voyage was like, and how they liked America.

Pennsylvania German Church Records An in-depth lecture talking about one of the richest ethnic record groups – the baptisms, marriages, burials, and confirmations recorded by the pastors of the Germans who came to America in Colonial times.

Contrasting German Migrations: 18th Century vs. 19th Century Waves The 1700s “Pennsylvania Germans” were a different breed than the “German Americans” who immigrated in the 1800s. This presentation shows the differences in geography, economic class, religion, and aspirations of – as well as sources about – the two great waves of German immigration.

Success Story: Finding a European Village of Origin The case study of Johannes Dinius, a 1765 immigrant to Pennsylvania, is used to show how scraps of evidence properly deployed can lead to the discovery of a European hometown.

German for Genealogists A skills course going over the basic vocabulary and formats to enable the participants to read tombstones, church records and simple documents of German-speaking people. (Note: Session must be held in a classroom setting to allow space to transcribe and translate documents)

What’s a Palatine Anyway? All about the area of Germany that has been an emigrant hotbed for three centuries. Handout of article by the same name from Family Chronicle magazine included with talk.

Hunting a Homestead Using Land Records Two options: 1) Three-hour session in which land records are described and the method for drawing land maps for a written description is explained and practiced; 2) A lecture and deed-drawing session followed by a second day in a courthouse or Pennsylvania State Archives to put theory into practice. (Note: Session must be held in a classroom setting to allow participants room to draw the deeds)

Newspapers and Genealogy The perils, pitfalls and frequent rewards of researching local and regional newspapers of general circulation for tidbits about your ancestors.

Organizing (or Reorganizing!) That Family Reunion There’s no place as good for a family’s history as a reunion, but the gatherings come and go – learn how to organize one that will last or reorganize one that’s fading.

Genealogical Roundtable: Case Studies and Discussion This is meant for a small group setting. Two case studies involving intermediate level genealogical methodology are presented followed by problems from the participants.

Lineage Society Seminar Ever wondered how to get into Daughters of the American Revolution? Or Mayflower Society? Or more obscure groups such as the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick? This seminar goes over the qualifications for various groups and the types of documentary proof needed to complete applications.

Preparing for Salt Lake City Research This session goes over the major resources of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), including which ones can be used at home or locally as well as those that only exist at the Family History Library in Salt Lake. (Note: Available either as a standalone lecture or as an orientation for a group trip to Salt Lake)

Secondary Uses for Primary Sources Learning how to use whole data sets rather than individual records can blast open genealogical roadblocks by exploring the interrelationships of a whole community. Case studies show how this works.

“Duplicate” Documents That Aren’t the Same A discussion of how multiple sources may overlap but seldom duplicate exactly the same information – making it essential that researchers check records that may at first blush seem to be the same.

Genealogy’s Lighter Side Anecdotes and cautionary tales of the people and situations one encounters during a decade-and-a-half of searching for roots on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Hints and Helps: My List of “Top Tens” A personal list of the best: ways to start; books to get; Web sites to look at; societies to join; habits to break!


James M. Beidler writes “Roots & Branches,” an award-winning weekly newspaper column on genealogy that is the only syndicated feature on that topic in Pennsylvania. He is also a columnist for German Life magazine and is editor of Der Kurier, the quarterly journal of the Mid-Atlantic Germanic Society. He is Vice President for Development for the Federation of Genealogical Societies, President of the Pennsylvania Chapter, Palatines to America, and is the former Executive Director for the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania. He served as national co-chairman for the 2008 Federation of Genealogical Societies conference in Philadelphia. Beidler is also frequent contributor to other periodicals ranging from scholarly journals such as The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine to popular-interest magazines such as Ancestry and Family Tree Magazine. He also wrote the chapter on genealogy for Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth, published jointly by the Penn State Press and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. As a lecturer, he has been a part of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council’s acclaimed Commonwealth Speakers program since 2002, and has been a presenter at numerous conferences. In addition to being a member of numerous genealogical, historical, and lineage societies, Beidler also sits on Pennsylvania’s State Historic Records Advisory Board as well as the selection committee for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Project. Beidler was born in Reading, PA, and raised in nearby Berks County, where he currently resides. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Hofstra University in Long Island, NY, with a BA in political science in 1982.

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