A Visit to the Landeshauptarchiv in Koblenz

logo_klengLast Thursday I participated in another interesting visit organized by my genealogy society Luxracines. This time we went to Koblenz, Germany, and visited the Rhineland Archives (Landeshauptarchivs).

signOur group of 23 genealogists was divided into two groups for a guided tour of the premises. Currently the Landeshauptarchivs preserves 56 kilometers of documents. The tour began in an area normally not accessible to non-authorized persons.


The new addition to the archives, at right, allows very little daylight to enter the area where the archives are kept.
Entrance to the CO2 storeroom.

Our group was first shown the storeroom with the most precious books and documents. It is climate controlled and equipped with a CO2 extinguishing system. Old documents and books have several enemies. As light accelerates the aging of parchment, vellum, and paper, the building in which the archives reside has only very small windows. The storeroom is kept at a constant temperature as changing temperatures and humidity can also cause damage. The precious treasures in the storeroom are preserved in archival safe boxes or bindings. Anyone who has ever experienced flooding or fire knows water and books do not mix.  If a fire should break out, the storeroom is flooded with CO2 which, by displacing oxygen, smothers the fire.

To protect document surfaces from marks made by oily or sweaty hands our guide used thin cotton gloves while showing us several objects.

She removed a vellum document from the 12th century from its protective sleeve, unfolded it and allowed us to examine the seal hanging from it on a ribbon and make a guess about the purpose of the document and who may have had it drawn up. Usually seals are made of wax – this one was made of lead. It was a lead papal bull on a document drawn up by a pope.

She also showed us the Codex Balduini Trevirensis, a book made in 1341 telling of Henry VII’s expedition to Italy from 1310 to 1313 to obtain a papal imperial coronation. The Codex is best known for the illustrations once found in the front of the book and removed due to their historical importance. Blank pages were added in place of the illustrations which were on exhibition in the Landesarchiv in 2000.

Document Restoration and Bookbinding Department

Dry sponges and soft brush

I found this part of the tour the most interesting. It began with the first steps in cleaning up paper material. Dry sponges are used like erasers to remove dirt and grime, a soft brush is used to remove dislodged materials before the object is placed in a dusting unit where air is circulated and dust is removed by a suction system.

Damaged (upper) and restored (lower) documents

Once a document has been cleaned the damage caused over the years needs to be brought to a halt. In the background of the above photo is a document with ragged edges. In the foreground is document that has been filled in where areas where missing. On the damaged document at the top, what looks like dark smears (see arrow on right), are scraps of very lightweight Japanese papers.  They are made from long, strong, flexible fibers that produce a lasting repair. Japanese paper does not discolor or become brittle and is translucent making it suitable to repair text areas in documents.

Miniature screen

The technique used to repair missing areas on paper documents is similar to paper making. The damaged paper is placed on a screen (miniature at left used for explanation) and lowered into a water bath of the leaf casting machine. Paper or fiber scraps of similar color to the item being repaired are mixed in a blender with water and pumped over the screen. The suction is turned on and the water level recedes and the holes are filled with pulp. The sheet is then slid off of the screen onto a draining area. Covered with a blotter sheet the paper is flipped and covered with another blotter sheet and dried under pressure in a paper press. Blotter sheets are replaced on a daily basis until the document is completely dry. To stiffen and protect the paper it is then treated with a glutenous paste which is applied with a wide short-bristled brush similar to those use when wallpapering.

Draining area with sheets in process of restoration covered with blotter

Seals attached to documents with ribbons are also restored in this department. After cleaning, they fill the cracked areas with same colored wax, molding it to blend in but without reproducing the missing design. It sounds very simple but from the looks of the work space it is a slow process. Colors need to be matched and seals are hung to dry during each step before continuing the miniscule work.

Manual bookbinding equipment
Sample of a bound book with wooden cover

A short demonstration on how books are bound was given. I had recently watched a video on the subject but seeing it in person is even more fascinating, especially for a book lover.

Reading Room

Our next stop was the reading room where patrons are allowed to view the material they are interested in. Everything you bring into the building has to be locked up in a locker near the reception area. Laptops are allowed in the reading room as well as pencil and paper for taking notes. Images of documents can be saved to a flash drive purchased in the reading room.

The documents in the archives are open to persons with a legitimate interest in, for example, academic research of the past or for genealogical and private research. However you cannot drop in and request to see records. If you plan to do research in Koblenz please check out the Rheinland Archives’ very informative website which is unfortunately only in German.  Any document collection you want to view needs to be requested per email at least two weeks in advance. 

Lunch and Afternoon Activities


Following our visit to the archives we took a short walk to the Josef-Görres Square (Josef-Görres Platz) which is noted for its 13 meter high history column, Historiensäule, that tells the history of Koblenz.

DSCN2402We had lunch at a restaurant on the square before once again dividing up into two groups. The largest group went on a sightseeing tour of the city fortifications. I joined the group of five who went back to the archives to do research.

We were taken to the back room of the reading room where the microfilm readers are located. All records requested were brought in on a cart and were soon spread out on the table. I had requested birth, marriage, and death records for the towns of Ernzen and Ferschweiler. For the period I was interested in there are no civil records and the church records are housed in Trier in the Catholic archives.

As I couldn’t do research I helped one of the others in my group. He had ordered marriage records from 1900 to 1910 for Welschbillig. It was fun to see his reaction when he found a record he was searching for. As he was not familiar with the handwriting I read the important facts from the documents: names, dates and places of birth, parents’ names and residences, date of marriage, while he inputted them into his computer. The more experienced researcher (in me) cringed at his entering the data without citing the source of each fact. He did note the number of the marriage document and I hope he takes time to add a full citation.

While I was busy helping my new friend, an archive employee reviewed the list of requested material and made a note of microfilm with ten-years lists of births, marriages, and deaths for Ernzen and Ferschweiler and other material that could be ordered in advance if and when I plan on going back.

Our time ran out too soon and we had to meet our bus for the return trip home. As always the trip was well organized and everyone enjoyed a wonderful day of sightseeing and/or research.

© 2015 Cathy Meder-Dempsey