08 May 2009

Phone Books: One ringy dingy in Berlin

When the transporter is invented and we decide to visit 1930 Berlin, we can call Albert Einstein at Berlin 2807 - or my cousin, Dr. Josef Talalay, at Oberbaum 7617.

Ancestry's new collection of 20th century German phone books with more than 35 million names covers Berlin, Hamburg , Munich , Frankfurt am Main and Leipzig from 1915-1981.

This resource is valuable as we will be able to trace our Jewish families and other Members of the Tribe's movements around Germany, before World War I and up to World War II - needless to say that most of our numbers will be missing from the books later on, until augmented by increasing numbers of Soviet Jews who resettled there much later.

As I flipped through the pages and read all the names that I knew were obviously Jewish, I felt a great sense of foreboding and wanted to shout at them to leave as soon as possible, as I knew what was coming.

I found our cousin Dr. Josef Talalay in the 1932 Berlin book (the family, originally from Mogilev, had lived in Moscow before going to Berlin. They left for London in 1933):

However, the search wasn't easy. Talalay did not come up in any search. Instead, I had to manually flip through the images of the Berlin book to get to the proper alphabetical page.

I never found a long-time Berlin branch that I knew had a tobacco shop and had left for then-Palestine in 1930. There's always the possibility that they didn't have a phone.

I typed in Talalay, Talalai and even Talalaj. Not one hit resulted. For some reason, it kept coming up with Taffel (not as a surname, but within a listing).

Once I found the listing manually, I wondered what would happen if I entered his first and surnames in the search box. This time, that one listing did come up (but only that one and not the others below). It appears to be some sort of a glitch.

I next tried searching with wildcards. Talal* and Talala* returned zero possibilities. Using Tala* at least brought me to the correct pages in the various books and produced a long list of possiblities but only a few real listings. In 1929 Berlin, I found him again:

And again in 1930, when it appears the phone number exchange had changed:

He was there once more in 1931, with the Oberbaum number as the only one. And the first image I found was the family's last in Berlin before moving to London.

You might have the same experience, so remember to search the books manually and also use wildcards, which will at least save some time going from frame to frame.

The paper books are at the German National Library and were digitized and made available online.

Few countries in the 20th century have experienced the scale of social and economic change that Germany has, as many Germans moved around the country and the world before and after the two world wars,” said Josh Hanna, senior vice president of Ancestry.com International. “These directories will play a vital role for those with German heritage trying to trace their family to a particular place and time.”
Combining phone book data with such documents as passenger lists and censuses can help trace your ancestors' movements around the world.

The link is German Phone Directories, 1915-1981 to see the images if you have an Ancestry subscription. It will also be available on a 14-day free trial, and many libraries also provide access to the site.

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