Lessons from Old Letters: Words of Wisdom Through the Ages

As a genealogy translator, I’ve translated my share of old letters. While many of these letters simply speak of family matters, farming information, financial issues, etc., every once in a while, sage words of wisdom seem to jump out at me from across the page. Of course, these words of wisdom are  meant for the letter’s recipient – but I choose to think of them as voices from the past, sharing their advice with all of us who may very well need it today.

Below, I’ve collected some of these words of wisdom from the letters I’ve translated the past few years. Dating from 1874 to 1945, on topics such as love, health, clothing, and life in general, it’s fascinating to see how, while the world around us has changed, humanity in general remains much the same. Read on and see what you think. What quote do you think most applies to us today?

On Love: 

1. Love is our most important weapon and nothing can resist it forever.

– Family friend to teenage girl, June 1920

Liebe ist unsere wichtigste Waffe und nichts kann ihr auf die Dauer wiederstehen.

 

On Relationships:

2. Since you’ve been friends for a year already, you should know where you stand. There is no reason for you to be treated like a toy; he’ll simply get rid of you one day if he so desires. If you aren’t courageous enough to have a serious conversation with him, and you think it will lead to you two splitting up, then the relationship was never a good one anyway.

-Mother to daughter, April 1940

Nachdem die Freundschaft schon bereits ein Jahr besteht, solltest du eigentlich wissen woran du bist, es hat doch keinen Zweck daß du dich Jahr u. Tag hinhalten lassest zum Spielzeug, u. wenn es ihm einfällt hängt er eines Tages ab. Wenn du den Mut nicht hast zu einer ernsten Aussprache u. denkst daß es daran zum scheitern kommt, denn ist das Verhältnis ohnehin doch eine Aussichtslose Sache.

 

On Health: 

3. We are all still healthy, which I wish for you all from the bottom of my heart – as health is the best thing in this world, better than money and property.

– Father to son, August 1924

Wir sind soweit noch gesund, was ich Euch von Härtzen Winsche thun, den die Gesundheit ist ja doch das Beste auf dieser Weld, beser den Geld u. Gut. 

 

On Children:

4. I was more with the children than ever and never enjoyed them so much, and never so clearly realized that now is the time to enjoy them, if I am ever going to – for they will soon, if they live, have other things that will take them from me. 

– Father reflecting on trip with children, June 1880

Original in English.

 

On Clothing: 

5. Always be well-dressed – people judge a great deal based on appearances.

– Mother to daughter, July 1939 

Gehe nur immer gut gekleidet, man urteilt viel nach dem Aüßern.

 

On Life: 

6.  It is only when times … are so hard and a person grants help to other people during such times that one can hope to be saved from the current bleak situation. We emerged from the chaos of the Thirty Years’ War; we will also need to raise ourselves out of today’s hardships if we don’t want to be completely destroyed.

– A suitor to his sweetheart, December 1919

[German no longer available.] Wir sind aus dem Wirrwar des 30 jähr. Krieges herausgekommen und werden auch aus dem heutigen Elend herausmüssen, wenn wir nicht ganz untergehen wollen.

 

7. Don’t despair. We’ve pulled through other bad times and we’ll pull through these times as well.

– Husband to wife, during World War II 

…nicht verzweifeln. Wir haben schon … andere schlimme Zeiten überstanden und werden auch dies überstehen. 

 

8. Keep your head up high and don’t lose your courage; just think, if something doesn’t work out, then you are gaining more and more experience.

–  Mother to daughter, October 1938

Nur Kopf hoch u. den Mut nicht verlieren u. denke wenn etwas nicht klappt, du bekommst immer mehr Erfahrung.

 

9. Don’t think that our life here on earth should always be filled with joy and pleasure; no, it wouldn’t be good that way. That would make us arrogant, because pain, displeasure and want – if they are not too great – simply test us, influencing both this world and the eternal afterlife; that is why we shouldn’t despair in times of adversity and why we shouldn’t be arrogant in times of happiness.

– Father to son, October 1874

Denkt nicht daß das irdische Leben allezeit nur Freude und Genuß gibt, nein das sollte nicht gut sein das sollte uns übermüthig machen, denn auch Schmerz Verdruss und Entbehrung wenn dieselbe nicht ja hart eintreffen stellen uns auf die Probe und entscheiden über ein dieseits und ein einigest Jenseits; deswegen in Widerwärtigkeiten nicht verzagt und in Glück und Wohlleben nicht übermüthig. 

10. In any case, my beloved, we are right to hope, as we are both still young enough and are only standing at the beginning of this uneven road called life.

– Marie Lustgarten to Isadore Colle, sweethearts, January 1898

In allen Fällen mein Geliebter, haben wir vor zu hoffen Recht, denn, wir sind beide noch jung genug und stehen daher erst beim beginne dieser unebenen Strasse, Leben genannt. – Irene Kaplan, January 1898, Marie to Isidor

And one final quote – while this isn’t exactly sage advice, it did make me laugh to think our stereotype of Germany hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years!

Germany in general is terrible regarding the drinking habits of the young and old, tall and short, rich and poor, everyone is yearning for beer, can’t live without beer, and is completely undone by beer.

– Man visiting Germany from America, July 1900

Es ist überhaupt mit Deutschland etwas Furchtbares betreffs des Trinkens Jung & Alt, Groß & Klein, Reich u. Arm, alles strebt nach Bier, kann ohne Bier nicht leben und geht noch völlig in Bier auf.

In closing, I leave you with a poem written by my German ancestor Wilhelm Müller (1881-1945), a pastor in Germany during World War I and World War II. The poem, entitled “Die alten Briefe”, or “The Old Letters”, seems to sum up this blog post on old letters well – Wilhelm writes of how important old letters are, and how we should treasure them for years to come.  See his poem (my English translation) below: 

 

Wilhelm Müller, as a WWI chaplain on the French front, 1915

The Old Letters

I rummage through old letters

that have slept for decades long

about to toss them to the flames

I realized that was wrong

as I began to read

of all that once had been

I knew, I couldn’t do it

couldn’t burn these words of men.

How those yellowed papers

so warmly spoke to me

A soul shining through the page

I couldn’t let it be.

Letters from a mother,

seeped with her selfless heart

her endless care for children

apparent from the start.

I read her loving words

so loyal, kind and true

Such good they did to me,

my sense of safety grew.

And touching notes from children –

forming letters wide-eyed

Seeing their little faces

shining with joy and pride

and, the writing over

on paper oh so fine

I see their bitter tears as well

when missing a stroke or line.

Adoring letters of friendship

from old romantic days

swearing to a lover

to keep one’s heart ablaze.

How soon this passion fades away

as time does take its course

This token of remembrance

recalls the relationship’s source.

I cannot part with these letters,

which speak to my very soul.

These letters are the hearts of men

To the flames, they shall not go.

9ea89324fa9b8401e1b7798e14f75701

Die Alten Briefe

Ich kramte in alten Briefen,

die seit Jahrzehnten schliefen,

den Flammen woll’ ich sie weih’n.

Doch dann begann ich zu lesen

von allem, was einst gewesen,

Da wußt’ ich: es kann nicht sein!

 –

Wie’s doch aus den alten Papieren

so warm und so traut zu mir spricht!

Sie haben ja eine Seele;

nein – ich zerstöre sie nicht.

– 

Da sind die Briefe der Mutter,

von selbstloser Liebe durchtränkt,

von nie ermüdender Sorge,

die nur ihrer Kinder gedenkt.

Und las ich die lieben Worte,

voll Andacht, wie tut mir’s so gut!

Ich fühl mich noch einmal nach Jahren

geborgen in treuer Hut.

– 

Und rührende Kinderbriefchen –

die Buchstaben sorgsam gemalt!

Ich seh, wenn die kleinen Gesichter

in freudigem Stolze gestrahlt,

wenn Ihnen das Schriftstück gelungen

auf Briefpapier herrlich geziert,

ich seh’ noch die bitteren Tränen,

wenn Ihnen ein Unglück passiert.

– 

Und schwärmende Freundschaftsbriefe

aus alter romantischer Zeit,

in der man begeistert geschworen

auf Treue und Unfehlbarkeit.

Wie schwanden die Ideale

dann vor dem erwachenden Blick!

Ein kleines Erinnerungszeichen

ruft alles Entzücken zurück.

– 

Ich trenne mich nicht von dem Briefen,

aus denen so viel zu mir spricht.

Sie haben ja eine Seele! –

Nein, ich verbrenne sie nicht.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ortssippenbücher: Important Sources for German Genealogical Research (Guest Post by Scott Holl)

Church records are a vital source of genealogical information, and this is certainly true for German family history research. Once you discover your ancestor’s place of origin, the local parish registers can take your as far back as the mid-16th century. Such research has challenges. Besides the language barrier, you must also be familiar with the handwritten script used in various periods of record keeping. If only there was a short cut!

Luckily, you might find one in the form of an Ortssippenbuch (OSB). Ortssippenbuch (plural: Ortssippenbücher) translates as “local clan book.” You may also see them under the names Ortsfamilienbücher or Familienbücher, and some titles use the phrase, “Die Einwohner von… (“Inhabitants of…”), as in the OSB, Die Einwohner von Oppau und Edigheim, 1480–1813. Regardless of what term is used, OSBs feature concise genealogical information about inhabitants of a specific village or parish, based primarily on surviving local church records. They cover the period from the beginning of church records (as early as the mid-16th century) to about 1900. Some OSBs use local civil records, such as tax lists and court records, to expand and supplement the vital information found in the church books.

Format

OSBs present genealogical information by family groups. Their use of a standard format and common symbols, terminology, and abbreviations makes the entries easy to decipher, even if you do not know German. Families are listed alphabetically by surname, and some include surname and place-name indexes.

Let’s look at an example from Ortsfamilienbuch Heinersreuth, 1559–1900 mit Denzenlohe, Flur, Vollhof und Tannenbach: eine Familiengeschichtliche Untersuchung (Genealogical Register of Heinersreuth, 1559–1900, including Denzenlohe, Flour, Vollhof, and Tannenbach: A Family History Investigation). Heinersreuth is a village near Bayreuth, a city in northern Bavaria.

This OSB uses standard symbols commonly used in German genealogical sources:

* = birth

~ = baptism

† = death

The symbol for marriage (∞ or oo) is not found in this example, because individuals are listed by marriage date within the surname.

Each individual is assigned a reference number for cross-referencing purposes. The text for individual no. 791, the first entry above and shown in detail below, would read as follows:

791—Marriage: 21 July 1646 in Bayreuth

Hacker, Johannes; Protestant (ev.); stockman in Mosing; born on 15 Nov. 1610 in Unterpreuschwitz; baptized on 15 Nov. 1610 in Bayreuth; died in Aug. 1666 in Heinersreuth; buried (begrab.) on 22 Aug. 1666 in Bayreuth.

­

[Wife] Popp, Margaretha; Protestant; born on 19 Jan. 1611 in Laineck; baptized on 19 Jan 1611 at St. Johannis Church in Bayreuth; buried after 1653.

In this case, Margaretha does not have a reference number, which indicates that no information about her baptism or parents is available in records used in for this OSB.

Information about their children follows, and you will find more information elsewhere about them under the reference numbers in brackets.

Let’s look at their son, Andreas.

3) Andreas, born on 11 Dec. 1650 in Heinersreuth, died on 3 June 1710 in Heinersreuth. [793]

Further down the page you will find under no. 793 the individual entry for Andreas Hacker with information about his marriage and children. In this case, Andreas married Anna Weigel, who appears as a child of the couple listed at no. 3226.

Other Possible Information

Genealogical information is the main feature of OSBs, but many also include histories of the community, the church, the school, and civic organizations. Some include lists of emigrants with their destinations, information about “non-locals” (Ortsfremde) or refugees (Flüchtlinge, Exulanten), and rosters of soldiers killed in war.

Finding Out if an OSB is Available for Your Ancestral Place of Origin

OSBs are not available for every village, and they are more common for some areas than others. Many are available for places in Baden-Wuerttemberg and the Rhineland, for example, but few exist for Lower Saxony (outside of East Frisia) or Schleswig-Holstein. Many have been published for German-speaking villages outside of Germany, such as in Alsace and Lorraine in France, and in the Donauschwaben settlements in present-day Serbia, Romania, and Hungary (Banat and Batschka).

No comprehensive name index for OSBs exist. It is therefore absolutely necessary to know your ancestor’s place of origin. Once you have the location, consult the OSB lists on the GenWiki website. Villages are listed alphabetically.  Clicking on the village name will return the title of the OSB and relevant bibliographical information.

Finding an OSB

Once you have the OSB title, look for a library that owns it. The St. Louis County Library History & Genealogy Department has one of the largest collections of OSBs in the U.S. A list is available here. OSBs cannot be checked out or requested through interlibrary loan, but the library staff will do lookups and copy up to 30 pages. Send requests to genealogy@slcl.org. A limit of three requests per email applies.

The Family History Library, New York Public Library, and some academic libraries also collect them. The Peoria, Illinois Public Library has many for East Frisia. You can also check WorldCat  to find a repository that has the OSB you are looking for.

OSBs as Secondary Sources

The information in OSBs were extracted and compiled from original records and are therefore subject to the accuracy, interpretation, and criteria of the person doing the work. OSBs are reliable, but you should take the additional step of checking the information against the original records yourself, if possible. OSBs include a list of sources (Quellen) from which information has been extracted. Online access to German church records is increasingly available and bring the task into the realm of possibility as never before.

Further Information

More information about OSBs and aids for using them are available on the St. Louis County Library History & Genealogy Department website.

 

About the Author

Scott Holl is manager of History & Genealogy at St. Louis County Library in St. Louis, Missouri. He holds a BA in German from Fort Hays State University, an MA in Theology from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and an MLIS from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois.

Finding Your German Ancestors in Chicago (Guest Post by Bob Rettammel, Rettammel Genealogy)

Finding Your German Ancestors in Chicago – Late 19th Century

If you are researching German ancestors who were in the city of Chicago or surrounding suburbs after the Civil War (1861-1865), then you may face challenges in finding records. Factors affecting your research can include destruction of records in fires, changing city boundaries and street addresses, and laws related to vital records collection.

Despite these challenges, there are helpful resources available for researching German settlers in late 19th-century Chicago. Before searching Ancestry or FamilySearch on-line databases for Germans who came to Chicago, it is helpful to have a basic knowledge of available source materials.

Question 1: Where Did My Ancestor Work and Live in Chicago?

Using time and place is a key strategy in establishing a genealogy foundation to tell your ancestor’s story. When direct evidence from a letter, newspaper, or another source shows that your ancestors lived in Chicago during the 19th century[1], finding an address can help you learn more. For example, it may lead you to find relatives with the same surname living nearby.

One place to find an address is in city directories. City directories can also lead you to find where your ancestor worked, if you know the occupation.  By establishing a location, you may also learn where the closest places of worship were, and this could lead to finding religious records. Below are my initial search findings for my own paternal ancestors.

Chicago City Directories

Figure 1: 1875 August Rettammel – r. 56 Hooker, work for Kastens and Company[2]

Sanborn Insurance Maps

One of the most interesting references for research in urban areas like Chicago are Sanborn Maps. The maps provide a picture at the neighborhood level of where homes, businesses, and other features (i.e., lakes, ponds) existed at the time period of interest. Sanborn Insurance Maps were created in the 1860s as aids to help insurance companies determine risk of fire and set insurance rates. Now, the maps are invaluable for doing family history research in the city of Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Each of the Sanborn Maps has a key to help the viewer understand the annotations and colors.

While doing genealogical research on my paternal great-grandfather, I was able to learn through city directory searches, voter registration records in 1888 and 1890, and correlated primary records that he lived with his family at 351 N Southport Ave., Lakeview District. A lookup of Sanborn Maps (Figure 2)  in the Library of Congress Digital Collections (http://www.loc.gov/collections/sanborn-maps) provided the following street-neighborhood view of the area in 1894.

Figure 2: 1894 Sanborn Map of Lakeview District, Chicago, Il.

Question 2: When did My Ancestor Arrive in Chicago?

Reviewing voter registration records is key.

Voting Registration Records

Cook County voting records from the 1880s and 1890s are a good source replacement for the 1890 US census that was destroyed in a 1921 fire in the basement of the Washington D.C. Commerce Building. Voting records can also provide information about naturalization status at the time of voter registration.

Figure 3: This excerpt from 1890 Chicago voter registration records indicates Aug. Rettammel was born in Germany and registered to vote October 9, 1888.[3] He has resided in Illinois for 26 years, in Cook County for 26 years, and in Precinct 1 of Ward 2 for 9 years. He was naturalized in 1875 in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois.

Question 3: What about Vital Records in Chicago? [4]

Starting with these Records

Compulsory recording of vital records (birth, marriage and death records) did not begin until January 1, 1916 for residents of Cook County. However, many previous vital records were registered with Cook County officials prior to 1916. Vital records collected prior to October 1871 were destroyed in the Chicago Fire of 1871, thus alternative sources are needed. Church records are often the key to finding vital record information. Also remember to search newspapers, military draft registration for WWI, and cemetery records for vital record information.

Birth Records

In the 19th century, many births were at home, with only a midwife in attendance. The birth would be recorded in the county by a doctor who made a later visit and saw the child. A typical Chicago birth recording in the 1870s provided the child’s name, number of children of mother, race, sex of child, date and place of birth, nationality and place of birth of each parent, full maiden name and residence of mother, full name of father and occupation, name of medical attendant, and date of registration of certificate.

Figure 4: My own search for my grandfather born on 4 June 1876 at 56 Hooker St., Chicago, Illinois. [5] Born to parents August Fredrick Rettammel and Louise (nee Felix) Rettammel.

Death Records

Death certificates are accessible from 1871 and some of the records can be found on Ancestry.com or the indexes in FamilySearch. The records were issued by the Cook County Bureau of Vital Statistics and the original provides the full name of deceased, age, sex, marital status, occupation, date and time of death, cause, and the duration of illness or disease that was noted.

 Figure 5: The author’s great-grandmother’s certificate of death record in 1890.[6]

Also in the form was the street address for place of death with ward, nationality and place of birth, and the length of residence in state. The place and date of burial and the name and address of the undertaker are other items noted. All of these notations are important as you continue to learn more about your ancestor’s life in the past. In 1910, the names and birthplaces of the deceased’s parents were included on the death certificates.[7]

Marriage Records

Marriage records in Chicago began in 1871[8]. The names and ages of the bride and groom, their respective town or city of residence, and the officiant are listed on the license. In the example below, the name of the minister is listed as W. Bartling [sic], that will help with the Rettammel family religious records and potentially lead to learning about the family in 19th century Chicago and other family members not known at this time.

Figure 6: Illinois Marriage Index – August Rettammel marries Mrs. Louise Fischer (widow) on August 7, 1892.[9]

Question 4: How Do Religious Records Help?

Church records are a key source for learning more about individuals, as they can highlight details that a family historian may not otherwise find. For example, church records can include vital records and place of origin information. Since Chicago was a key destination for many German immigrants in the 19th century, key information for a researcher to find is what religion the family practiced during the date and time of the research focus. Sanborn Maps can then identify affiliated churches in the area where your ancestor lived. It is also key to learn if the church exists today, and if not, was the churched merged and records transferred and available today. Other resources for identifying churches and finding church records include those assembled by archivists at Newberry Library in Chicago.

 

Hello, my name is Bob Rettammel, M.A., a professional genealogist based in Madison, Wisconsin. I became interested in family history in the summer of 1978 when I discovered a box of old family photos in my paternal grandparent’s house.

I am currently President of the Dane County Area Genealogical Society (DCAGS), and also a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), National Genealogical Society (NGS), and Wisconsin State Genealogy Society (WSGS). I also was part of an 18-month professional study group called ProGEN, which I completed in November 2018.

A facet of genealogy that interests me a lot is photo restoration and history of photographic processes. I specialize in German-American research but also work in all types of U.S. record sources and databases. I have a variety of clients including those looking for ancestry records in Dane County and other locations in Wisconsin and out-of-state archives. I have also worked on two research projects with the TV series “Who Do You Think You Are?”, Season 9 (2017), episode 5, and Season 10 (2018), episode 4.

Facebook Page for my business is Rettammel Genealogy Service, LLC. I also have a website at www.rettammelhistory.com

 

                                                                          

 

Footnotes

[1] In 1909 all residential streets in Chicago were renumbered. Prior to 1909, Chicago was comprised of divisions: North, South and West. This means you need to convert any address found if you want to see the actual property.

[2] 1875 Chicago Directory, page 834. Fold3.com, accessed 20 July 2018.

[3] Chicago, Illinois, Voter Registration, 1890. Illinois State Archives. Ancestry.com, accessed 20 July 2018.

[4] A good reference to locate vital records in Chicago and Cook County areas is https://chicagogenealogy.org/Chicago

[5] Illinois. Cook County Birth Registers, 1871–1915. Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah. FHL microfilm #1287722. Illinois Department of Public Health. Division of Vital Records, Springfield.

[6] Cook County, Illinois, Deaths Index, 1878-1922. Certificate No. 00012109. Cook County Building, 118 N. Clark Street, room 402, Chicago, IL 60602, received August 2009.

[7] Loretto Dennis Szucs, 1996, p 486

[8] Marriages in Cook County were indexed from 1871 to 1878 by the groom’s name. The Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed all records prior to that year, so oldest year civil records are after that year.

[9] Cook County, Illinois, Marriages Index, 1871-1920Ancestry.com, accessed 20 July 2018.

German Military Record Vocabulary: The Most Important Words

Deciphering military records can be hard. Filled with abbreviations, town names you’ve never heard of, and complicated military terms, these records are sure to give anyone a headache. But if your ancestor was in the military, these documents are often full of fascinating insight and incredible details about your soldier’s life – thus making them well worth the work. 

Below, I’ve compiled a list for you of the most common words on German military records (in my translating experience). I hope they will make your deciphering work a little easier. Now, off to find your soldier!

Militär Military
Schlacht Battle
Kämpfe Fights, Conflict, Battle
Krieg War
Waffen Arms
Armee, Heer Army
Amt Office
Wehrmacht Armed Forces
Truppen Troops
Marine Navy
Dienstgrad Military Rank
Kommandeur Commander
Führer Leader
Soldat Soldier
Gefreite Lance-Corporal
Grenadier Rifleman, Infantryman
Musketier Musketeer
Stab Staff
Feldwebel, Wachtmeister, Stabsunteroffizier Sergeant
Kompagnie Company
Einheit Unit
Regiment Regiment
Korps Corps
Bataillon (Batl.) Battalion
Abteilung (Abt.) Division
Infanterie Infantry
Batterie Battery
Artillerie Artillery
Ersatz, Reserve Reserves
Freiwillige Volunteer
Füsilier Heavy Infantry Unit
Luftwaffe Airforce
Flugzeug, Flieger Airplane
Flak Anti-Aircraft
Lazarett Field Hospital
Feld Field
Abwehr Defense
Kanone, Geschütz Cannon
Eintritt Joining Up
Führung Conduct
Dienst Service
Versetzt Transferred
Entlassung Discharge
Orden Medals, Decoration
Bestrafung, Strafe Punishment
Verletzung Injury
Kriegsgefangene Prisoner of War
Tot Dead
gefallen Died in Battle

For Locating Ancestral Villages, Maps in New German Atlas Come to the Rescue! (Guest Post by James M. Beidler)

It’s been said that many historians can avoid being genealogists, but that no genealogist can be effective without also being a historian.

And when the genealogy involves the German-speaking people of Europe, somebody’s going to need a map—well, a lot of maps, actually!—and fortunately many of them have been collected in the new tome I’ve compiled, The Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germany, currently in preorder (A note for those who’ve heard and are wondering: Yes, this publisher—Family Tree Books, a division of F+W Media—is going through Chapter 11, but the books are being printed!).

Germany Has Complicated History

The reason for needing this book is that the history of German lands is complicated—and that’s before you hone in on the details! But those details are essential to be able to have a shot at tracking down every last record of your ancestors because it is your German village of origin’s political and church affiliations in the past that likely have an impact on where the records of particular villages are archived today.

This can be somewhat challenging because Germany has what I call a “non-linear” political history. In the United States, new municipalities and counties are generally created from existing entities – a “linear” political history. Germany, on the other hand, was a collection of small, independent states that were constantly being sliced, diced and otherwise disconnected as noble dynasties went extinct, lost wars or were divided amongst sons.

Three Time Periods Crucial

Truthfully, you often need to know at least three of the political and church allegiances for a village: during the era when an ancestor lived there; during the Second Empire period (since those affiliations are found in MeyersGaz.org and the Family History Library Catalog on FamilySearch.org); and today’s boundaries, both to help find villages on the modern map as well as what the current archives are.

Indeed, researchers should play what I call “Heimat Tic Tac Toe” and create a grid with sites of a village’s political jurisdiction, church parish and civil registry locations.

What’s in the Atlas

This publication brings together more than a hundred maps from Roman times through the present day, with an extra focus on the nineteenth century when peak immigration to America took place. It includes closeup two-page maps of every German state and Prussian province from this period. In addition to the partial index of cities and immigrant hotspots included in the print-version of the atlas, there will be an every-place index available online.

For each area of Germany, there is also at least one detail map for the pre-Napoleonic era to show the smaller states; other chapters include modern-day German state maps, as well as some showing demographics such as religion and dialects and also a few maps showing German-speaking Austria and Switzerland.

History of Germany Included

The book begins with a history highlights section that covers the main themes of German history as they relate to genealogy, including an explanation of how German boundaries became so complicated.

In part because of the German preference for following the Salic Law of partible division (in which all male children get a share of an inheritance), what is today Germany became a crazy quilt of small states. Other causes of disunity included the elective nature of the Emperorship (candidates offered bribes of territories and enhanced status).

In many cases all of the territory of a small state wasn’t contiguous; there abounded many enclaves (a territory, or a part of a territory, that was entirely surrounded by one different state) and exclaves (a portion of a state or territory geographically separated from the main part). It was only during the Napoleonic time period in the early 1800s when many of the small states and all of the religious states (ruled by so-called “Prince-Bishops”) were annexed into larger neighbors; this remained the rule after the defeat of Napoleon, with only the region of Thuringia remaining a spot with many small states.

Case Study: Hessen

Here’s an example of how maps and the political boundaries they show (as well as that historical background knowledge genealogists’ need) can help narrow down the focus of research even when a village of origin isn’t known.

Researcher Melissa Dunkerley has been trying to find the origins of Ernst Scharff, whose birthplace is variously identified as Hesse-Darmstadt and later as Prussia—and sometimes as the entirely unhelpful “Germany.”

While censuses just can be plain wrong, there’s a map of Hesse (Hessen in German) that gives Dunkerley a decent theory on how to square the circle of these various assertions of Scharff’s birthplace.

The map “Hessen bis 1866” shows the boundaries before they were adjusted by a Prussian land grab that occurred in a war that year. The red boundaries on this map show Hessen-Darmstadt before that war; among the changes as a result was that the thin arm centered on Biedenkopf was ceded to Prussia, making the relatively small number of villages in that “arm” the prime suspects for Scharff’s Heimat, since that would be consistent with him showing Hessen-Darmstadt as his place of birth in records before 1866 and Prussia afterwards.

To Order the Atlas!

The Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germany is available from Family Tree Books at the URL, https://www.familytreemagazine.com/store/historical-atlas-of-germany

Beidler is a freelance writer and lecturer on genealogy as well as a research-reports editor for Legacy Tree Genealogists. Contact him by e-mail to james@beidler.us. Like him on Facebook (James M. Beidler) and follow him on Twitter, @JamesMBeidler.