German Genealogy Research with Meyers Gazetteer: Finding the Place After You’ve Found the Place (Guest Post by Bryce H. Rogers & Paul Vernet, Lost Generations Genealogy)

German Genealogy Research: Meyers Gazetteer

Finding the place after you’ve found the place

A tricky aspect of German genealogy is locating your ancestor’s hometown and figuring out where to look for more records. Gazetteers help us on our way to find more records about our ancestors.

What is Meyers Gazetteer?

A gazetteer is a dictionary of place names. Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs (Meyers Gazetteer for short) lists places that existed in the German Empire from 1871 to 1912. If you know the name of your ancestor’s hometown in Germany, Meyers can help you figure out where to look for records about your ancestor.

Meyers lists every city, town, hamlet, village and backwater of pre-World War I Germany along with interesting but heavily abbreviated details about each place. Meyers was printed in German using the blackletter Fraktur typeface, a script very foreign to most U.S. readers (see example in Fig. 1 below).

Why Use Meyers Gazetteer?

Meyers can show you where to look for records about your ancestor! After civil registration began in Germany , vital events (births, marriages and deaths) were recorded by the Standesamt — the civil registry office. Before civil registration, local parishes and rabbinates were official government recordkeepers. Larger towns had one or more civil registry offices, parishes, or rabbinates. Smaller towns and villages without a registry office, parish, or rabbinate were covered by one located in a larger nearby town. Meyers Gazetteer tells us about about civil registration jurisdictions and provides ecclesiastical information which leads you to your ancestor’s vital records.

Where do I find Meyers Gazetteer?

The best and most user-friendly version of Meyers Gazetteer is currently available at www.meyersgaz.org. Originally printed in the difficult pre-1941 German Fraktur typeface, the authors at www.meyersgaz.org converted the important parts of each of the over 200,000 entries to our familiar Roman alphabet and translated those vital portions into plain English!!! Essentially, they’ve turned important details from this entry:

Fig. 1: Example  entry from Meyers Gazetteer for Winsen an der Aller; image courtesy of www.meyersgaz.org

into this:

Fig. 2: Extract of genealogically relevant info about Winsen an der Aller; image courtesy of www.meyersgaz.org

Enhanced with beautiful digitally scanned historical maps, ecclesiastical data, and town lists to aid in radial searches, town entries in this web iteration are very fun and very useful.

Fig. 3: Full color historical map of Winsen an der Aller, integrated with Google’s digital mapping technology; image courtesy of www.meyersgaz.org

Fig. 4: List of towns near Winsen an der Aller, Germany, showing their distance from Winsen as well as numbers and types of religious congregations in each; images courtesy of www.meyersgaz.org

Especially helpful is the “Ecclesiastical” tab (shown above), which gives a list of locations within a twenty-mile radius of your town as well as a tally of religious congregations located in each town on the list (Roman Catholic and Protestant parishes, Jewish synagogues and so forth).

No subscription or registration is required to access this handsome and valuable resource.

When and How Should I use Meyers Gazetteer?

Use Meyers Gazetteer when you think you know the specific place your ancestor came from. You may also search using the first few letters of a place name (Wins, for Winsen), or using the wildcard asterisk “*” in place of one or more letters at the beginning or in the middle of a place name (W*sen, or *nsen for Winsen). “The Homepage: Search the Meyers Gazetteer” heading on www.meyersgaz.org’s “Help” tab describes these strategies. (Click through on the link above for further explanation.) At the bottom of your search results, or in the case of no search matches, you may also click a “sounds like” option at the bottom of the page.

Fig. 5: “Sounds like” option returns results that may sound like your place name, based on data you put in

Knowing the kingdom or state where your hometown lies is helpful. There were many towns in different parts of the German Empire with the same name (see case in Fig. 6 below). The gazetteer will give you the information for each match. Knowing the city’s kingdom or state may save you searching other towns of the same name for your ancestor’s records.

Fig. 6: Search results returned when searching “Winsen” at www.meyersgaz.org; note that two “Winsens” existed in the same governmental Regierungsbezirk and a third marked a forest

Conclusion

Meyers Gazetteer and www.meyersgaz.org are excellent resources to use when you are researching a person from Germany. They help identify records and jurisdictions for German towns – small and large – and give us clues as to where specific records can be located. Finding your ancestor’s hometown in Meyers Gazetteer is one more important step to learning more about your ancestry, family history and genealogy. For more information, tips, links and free consultations, fill out our contact form at www.LostGenerationsGenealogy.com.

Lost Generations Genealogy is dedicated to helping as many people as possible learn about their ancestry, family history and genealogy. They offer a free library of genealogy self-help articles, tips and links (work in progress), free consultations, and professional research services. Give us a call, visit our website, or drop us an email at www.LostGenerationsGenealogy.com. Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LostGenerations/

What’s in a Name?: 10 Popular Boys’ and Girls’ Names in German Genealogy (with handwritten examples!)

Image result for name quotes

Names, along with dates, are a genealogist’s treasure.  Yes, they are the key to filling in our family trees, but they are also much more than that. Names are windows to the past, providing us with hints of the person our ancestor could have been, offering us a small glimpse into his or her life. But alas, as with many things in German genealogy, these names are often written in the old German script – and thus hard to decipher.

In cases like these, it often helps to be familiar with what kind of names you may come across. Our German ancestors weren’t always the most creative in naming their children – names were supposed to have meaning, after all – and thus the same names tend to pop up again and again in German genealogical documents. If you are familiar with what these common names are, deciphering your ancestor’s name becomes that much easier. Below, I’ve compiled tables for you of the ten most common boys’ names and ten most common girls’ names in German genealogy (in my translating experience).  I’ve also included real-life samples of how these names could look – but remember, everyone’s handwriting was different, so your ancestor’s name may be a slight variation on the name provided below. And finally, make sure to read to the bottom for three more tips about names!

Boys’ Names

Girls’ Names

Three More Tips

  1. Names were sometimes written in the “normal” Latin script (the script we use) instead of the old German handwriting. You may have a document that’s written entirely in the old German script, but with your ancestor’s name written in  a script that looks like our modern cursive. In that case, deciphering it should be no problem – as long as you’re older than ten years old (I’ve heard they’ve stopped teaching cursive in schools! Will our cursive become a thing of the past as well?)  
  2. If you see a name underlined in your document, that means that this name was the Rufname, or the name your ancestor was called. Below, the child listed is “Johann Gottfried”. As “Gottfried” is underlined, this would have been the name his family called him.
  3. If there is a straight line above an “n” or an “m”, this means that you should double that letter. For example, the name below is written “Johan Gottfried”, with a straight line above the “n”. Since the straight line means that you should double the “n”, the name is therefore “Johann Gottfried.” 

Do you have a favorite name in German genealogy? I’d love to here. Let us know in the comments below.

15 Sneaky Latin Words in Your German Documents

As if it’s not enough of a challenge that you need to know some German to find your ancestors, the scribes of yore now want to challenge you just a little bit more – by throwing in some Latin words in your otherwise German document. Of all the nerve! Luckily, there are Latin words that appear over and over in the German documents of the past. Over my years of translating, I’ve collected the words I come across most frequently, now summarized in a table for you below with their English equivalents and and an example of the word in the old German script.  If you have any common Latin words to add, please say so in the comments!

For more Latin words in genealogical documents, see here for a great list.  

Jewish Genealogy, DNA and Brick Walls: An Interview with My Family Genie’s Dr. Adina

I recently had the chance to sit down and chat with Dr. Adina, founder and owner of My Family Genie. Dr. Adina, a member of the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, GeneaBloggersTRIBE and the Virtual Genealogy Association, uses her doctoral level research and analytical skills to build family trees, uncover missing or previously undiscovered records, and find lost and unknown family members with the ultimate goal of connecting her clients to their past, present and future. In this article, Dr. Adina explains some of the aspects of Jewish genealogical research to us, delving into the intricacies of DNA and providing tips on helpful websites and overcoming brick walls in genealogy research. Even if you don’t have Jewish ancestors, no worries – many of her tips can apply to a variety of backgrounds!


Dr. Adina, My Family Genie

1. Hi Dr. Adina! Thank you for talking with us today. Can you tell us a little about your business to get us started?

Hello! Sure, no problem. As a genealogist, I use both traditional and genetic genealogy in my research. My most popular services have included helping people find records to overcome brick walls and making sense of DNA results. Besides looking into the past, I’m also pretty adept at using social media to locate living people, which especially helps in NPE (non-paternal event)  or adoptee situations.

2. I see you specialize in Jewish genealogy. How did you get involved in that field in particular?

By default! I am fully Ashkenazi Jewish, so in order to understand my own genealogy, I needed to learn necessary skills and strategies related to Jewish genealogy. In my own search, I uncovered several resources that now allow me to help others in their pursuit to understand their own Jewish roots.

3. That sounds really interesting. Could you explain to us a bit how history has affected Jewish genealogy, in addition to the more obvious World War II?

For one, Jewish surnames are a fairly new phenomenon. Historically, Jews went by the “son of” or “daughter of”, and this is still reflected in religious practices and on Jewish graves. Although some German Jews adopted surnames as early as the 17th century, Eastern Europe did so much later; the Austro-Hungarian Empire began in the late 18th century. Parent/child and siblings may have had different surnames, especially when coupled with assimilation, which adds to the obstacles. In one example, family lore states that my great-grandfather purchased his surname to escape the Czar’s army. His brother adopted his wife’s surname. Recently discovered grandchildren of this brother’s line had no idea their grandfather had taken their grandmother’s surname, so they were shocked to learn that they had incorrectly been researching their grandfather’s line for years. Researching Y-DNA can also be particularly difficult because even relatively close matches according to genetic distance will have completely different surnames.

Additionally, due to worsening conditions and hope for a better life, major Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe and Germany occurred in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, so fairly recently. Families lost touch and were scattered throughout the world. As an example, I have found family members who immigrated to areas all around the United States, Canada, Uruguay, Argentina, UK, Soviet Russia, and Israel.

   My great-grandparents; They were first cousins that went by the name Michelson. The name was changed from Stikan (although the story goes that my great-grandfather was the one who purchased the Michelson last name to escape the Czar’s army, his uncle/father-in-law adopted the name  when he came to the U.S.)

4. You mentioned DNA. How is Jewish DNA unique? And how does that affect genealogists who are searching for their Jewish ancestors?

Jews are an endogamous population, which means they married within their own group. In the case of Ashkenazi Jews, we have thousands of DNA matches, most being distant and untraceable after centuries of endogamy and pedigree collapse. Any match past second cousins needs to be explored with additional scrutiny. This contributes to making the search for Jewish relatives overwhelming and more difficult than standard genetic genealogy research.

5. That does sound complicated. What one piece of advice would you give to the beginning genealogist looking for their Jewish ancestors?

Upload your DNA everywhere. Not just for ethnicity estimates, but also for more opportunities to find matches to build your family tree. AncestryDNA is the best place to start because it has the largest database. You can also upload your raw DNA data to gedmatch, Family Tree DNA, and MyHeritage. The 23andme V5 chip isn’t compatible with most sites (although MyHeritage just recently began accepting transfers), but it does have the second largest database.

A MyHeritage match with a found 2c1r. Notice the largest segment. I look at this first to determine whether a match is likely traceable. Although I don’t have matches that high that I haven’t solved, I have several starting around the 130cM mark that are comprised of smaller segments I am unable to trace.

An AncestryDNA match with my known 2nd cousin. Elevated cMs are an example of how endogamy can affect your matches, although it usually becomes more of an issue further out.

6. Good to know! What about more advanced genealogists? What would you tell them?

When looking at Jewish matches, sort by largest segment (sections of DNA that are identical between two individuals), not total cMs (units to measure genetic distance). If you have significant Ashkenazi DNA and thousands of matches, focus on those that are a total of at least 100cMs, a longest segment of at least 23cMs, and preferably 1 or 2 more that are 10-20cMs or longer.

7. What are three of your favorite online genealogy tools?
              1. Ancestry.com – (Mostly AncestryDNA; I check matches daily!)
              2. Familysearch.org – Best central repository for records, including many in Eastern Europe and New York City (the latter where many Jews at least started out when they immigrated to the U.S.).
              3. DNA Detectives group on Facebook. Great place to learn about how to dissect DNA matches.

8. Are there any resources specific for Jewish genealogy that you’d recommend?

It depends on the country, but Jewishgen.org is the go-to (and also my actual favorite online genealogy tool), with thousands of records related to the Jewish world (many available to view on FamilySearch). The Central Database of Shoah Victims’ names through Yad Vashem has provided me with a plethora of information about my family who perished in the Holocaust.A page of testimony on the murder of my great-grandfather’s half-brother, found in the Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names

9. If one of your clients hits a brick wall, what tips and tricks do you have for them?

What I’ve found is that usually a client is trying to conquer too much at one time. Genealogy is a marathon. I always ask a client exactly what they want to find, which focuses the research and makes it less overwhelming. I had one client who was trying to find more information about an ancestor, but couldn’t find him in a ship manifest. Knowing that Ancestry can be finicky with spellings, I tried certain variations and uncovered the record, which helped her overcome the brick wall.

Genealogy also isn’t a solitary activity. Speaking with other relatives or encouraging them to take DNA tests can only provide more information to overcome any brick walls.

Finding Your Ancestors in Passenger List Records: Guest Blog Post by Melanie McComb, The Shamrock Genealogist


 Melanie McComb, The Shamrock Genealogist 

Immigration is a common theme among my family, particularly for my Eastern European ancestors. They travelled from countries like Poland, Romania, and Lithuania before coming to the United States. Recently, I was chasing my maternal great grandfather Anton Gailunas across the ocean. Until recently, I could not find his arrival passenger list record in America. I learned some valuable tips along the way to help you locate your ancestors in passenger list records.

1. Locate naturalization records

 

In the U.S., your ancestor would file a document called “declaration of intention” (otherwise known as first papers) if they were planning on becoming a citizen (not all immigrants filed). Then a petition for citizenship was filed.  If your family member arrived via ship, the name of the ship would be listed on these documents. This is your first big clue that you will want to research further in addition to the arrival date noted.

2. Research the ship

Researching the ship can give you a lot of insight into the route your ancestors took before coming to a new country. You will want to research the county the ship was owned by, what ports they travelled to, as well as what type of ship it was. Great grandfather Anton didn’t come to the U.S. on a passenger ship – he came on a merchant ship called the S.S. Northwestern Bridge. This is important to note since I had to look in separate records as crew lists are recorded separately from passenger list records. 

3. Research departure and arrival ports

Your ancestor’s journey likely involved separate ports. Look for the largest ports near where your ancestor lived – that’s where they likely departed. Their journey could have taken a few days before they were able to board the ship. 

Great-grandfather Anton came to America from Lithuania and went through several ports. First he departed from Bremen, Germany and then ended up in Hull, England. He eventually made it to America from England on a boat that arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana.

4. Research passenger list records

Now it’s time to look for your ancestor in passenger list records. Given everything you know about their route, you can see if records are still available. Check for records at both the departure and arrival ports. For example, many of the Bremen, Germany departure records were destroyed so I can only go off the arrival/departure records in England and America. 

You will want to expand the years your ancestor may have travelled to see if they were on different ships. In researching my great-grandfather, I found a crew list record from Hull, England where his line was crossed out. It looks like he was a sailor scheduled to show up on the boat but probably missed it for some reason. That explains why he came over to America at a later point. The record is significant because his father’s name is noted as the departure contact. I had verified his father’s name with Anton’s marriage license application and it matched. It also listed a sailor’s home as an arrival address, giving me more insight into how Anton worked his way to America (vs. buying a ticket for a ship). 

I highly recommend using stevemorse.org. This site has a wonderful collection of passenger list records and list of ships by ports. You can look up specific dates and ships to review the passenger list record. In addition, you can research on sites like Ancestry and FamilySearch for naturalization records and some passenger list records.

Following these steps will give you more insight into learning about your ancestor’s journey and hopefully help you to break through some brick walls. Best of luck!

5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Genealogy Translation

Genealogy can be an exciting journey, full of intriguing discoveries and amazing breakthroughs. But true genealogists know that the search for your ancestors can also mean long hours, brick wall after brick wall and months or even years of frustration. So by the time you finally get your hands on an ancestor’s document, you want to make sure to get the most out of your find. But what if this document needs translation? How can you make sure that your translator deciphers all that he/she can? Below, I’ve compiled my top tips for getting the most out of your genealogical translation: 

  1. Even if you only want a few lines translated, send the translator the entire document.

If you would like to have a part of a record translated (one church book entry, one section of a certificate, one page of a letter, etc.), you should still send your translator the entire document or all the pages you have on hand. Why? This provides a much greater sample of the scribe’s handwriting for the translator to work with. Just as my handwriting differs from yours, no two handwriting samples of the past are exactly alike – so the wider the handwriting sample, the easier the deciphering becomes for us translators. 

For example, I recently translated a record where I could not figure out the first letter of a last name – it looked a little like a V, but then had a strange cross through it. I scanned the rest of the record, but saw no more occurrences of that odd-looking letter. Fortunately, however, the client had sent me three pages from the same church book where her record appeared, and I finally found that odd-shaped letter in a first name, before the letters  “_osina”. As “Rosina” would very likely be the only name with that letter combination, I could now see that my mystery letter must also be an R – but it took three pages of handwriting samples to find it!

 In this last name, I could read the letters “eusch”, but that first letter was a mystery. After searching through other pages, I was able to identify it as an “R”, which the client then confirmed with additional records.

(Extra Tip: To save the translator time (and you money!), highlight or clearly describe which part of the record you would like translated).

  1. Scan your document in a high resolution.

Documents should be scanned in as high of a resolution as possible before you send them to your translator. Why? In the old German script, it is very important for us translators to be able to zoom in on the individual letters. Many letters look very similar to one another (see Ten Tips for Deciphering Old German Handwriting for some clues on how to tell these letters apart), and we need to be able to zoom in to see the individual lines and strokes to distinguish certain letters from one another (without the document becoming blurry when we do this).  This allows us to provide you with accurate results and spellings throughout your translation, as well as finish the translation in a much more timely manner. We look at tiny little letters all day long – you, and you alone, can save our eyes!

  1. Send any genealogical information that you already know to the translator.

You have likely done a bit (or perhaps a lot) of genealogical research before sending your record off to be translated. If so, tell us what you know – it greatly helps! Names can sometimes be difficult to transcribe, as there are many spelling variations and no grammatical context clues to fill in the blanks. But if a client has already done the research, and knows that this is a church record for his great-great grandmother Walburga Appenzeller in Unteraarmühle, this saves a lot of time in terms of letter-comparison and squinting at individual lines and dots! That being said, a good translator will always double-check a name and let you know if the word looks different from the word you provided – sometimes there are surprises!

  1. Tell the translator exactly what the translation is for.

Is your translation for publication? Are you making a family book? Is it a birthday or Christmas present? Or do you simply need the information on the record for your notes and research? Make sure you communicate with us translators exactly what your translation will be used for and how you would like the finished product delivered. For example, I often include footnotes in my translations if I find any additional information that you may find interesting (does your ancestor’s record mention a battle? I would then provide information about when and where that battle took place in the footnotes). People who have reviewed my work usually enjoy the footnotes, but perhaps you want this translation to be a bit more formal, and you don’t want my thoughts in your final product – which would be absolutely fine with me. A happy client equals a happy translator, so don’t be afraid to communicate what you want.

  1. Share your genealogy excitement with your translator.

We genealogical translators are usually avid history lovers and enjoy solving puzzles as much as you do – so that means that we are thrilled to hear about your genealogical breakthroughs once you receive the translation. I get so excited when my clients tell me that the translation helped them to find a name they’ve been searching for for years, or that their family member started crying when they opened the translated diary of their grandmother they never got to meet (well, not necessarily the crying part, but the fact that the translation meant so much to them!). These are my favorite e-mails to receive, and it makes my work feel so much more meaningful. This shared experience then helps to strengthen the client-translator bond, and we will both look forward to working together the next time as we fill in your family tree. Happy researching!