The Ultimate List of Months in German Genealogy

When analyzing  your ancestors’ documents, you are likely looking for two things – events and dates. Being able to read these dates, therefore, is of the utmost importance for your genealogy research. In an ideal world, all you would need to do would be to memorize the 12 German words for the months (German: Monate) of the year. and you’d be good to go. But because we are talking about documents of the past, there were often multiple words used for the same month, depending on the time, the region, the scribe, etc. So it’s important to be familiar with all these variations. But no worries – I’ve got you covered!

Two different words for January – Jänner and Januar 

In the table below, I’ve summarized for you the different possibilities of German words you may run into for each month. The “regular” – and most common – translation of the month in German is first, and this word is provided for you in the old handwriting as well. The words that follow are the less common – but no less important – variations, as sometimes this will be the only month word you find in your ancestor’s record.

You’ll notice that September – December are denoted 7, 8, 9, and 10ber/bris (you may also see December written as Xbris). This numbering of the months dates back to the time of the Romans, when the calendar began in March, making September the 7th month of the year. So don’t get confused and think 7bris means July!  Most of the other month words are descriptions – March as “Wind Month” and October as “Wine Month” for example – and are rather interesting in their translations. So if you run into one of these less common words, just refer to this table, and you should be good to go. Happy transcribing!

The Ultimate List of Months in German Genealogy

 

My 5 Favorite Books for Deciphering German Records

The Association of Professional Genealogists recently asked me about my favorite books for German genealogy, and it got me thinking – I should share them with you as well! I always include a slide in my presentations at conferences about the books I’d recommend, but I’ve never written them on the blog before, so I’d say it’s high time I did so. Check out the books that I use in my translation work below (in no particular order).

This post contains some  affiliate links, which does not affect you at all, but does helps support my business as I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases as an Amazon associate. This in turn helps me to continue supporting you with educational (I hope!) genealogy content. That being said, I personally own – and personally love – all of these books, and hope that they help you as much as they have helped me. I couldn’t translate without them!

My 5 Favorite Books for Deciphering German Records

  1. German to English Genealogical Dictionary by Ernest Thode

  

I only discovered Ernest Thode’s dictionary two years ago, and I wish I had known about it so much sooner. It would have saved me hours of Internet research trying to figure out what obscure and old-fashioned German words mean. Do you remember my blog post 10 German Words You Won’t Find in a Dictionary? Well, you actually will find a lot of those words in this wonderful dictionary! Focusing on genealogy-specific words, this almost-300-page dictionary is a must-have for anyone researching German records. It’s sitting on my desk as I type right now! 

2. If I Can, You Can Decipher Germanic Records by Edna Bentz 

 

Edna Bentz’ book was one of the first books I bought when I started learning the old German handwriting.  Filled with lists of genealogy terminology plus what these words look like in the old German script, this book is extremely helpful for someone beginning their German genealogy journey. From common abbreviations and months of the year to illnesses and occupations, this book will save you a lot of time and frustration as you decipher your documents. 

3. Deciphering Handwriting in German Documents by Rogert Minert

This book was the first book I bought when I decided to become a genealogy translator. Minert teaches you the individual letters of the German script, explaining how to recognize each one, and also provides numerous examples of various records with their transcriptions and translations. Truly a great resource for anyone looking to decipher records themselves.

4.  The Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germany by James M. Beidler 

This newest book by James M. Beidler is another must-have. Filled with over 100 full-color maps, this atlas is both incredibly beautiful and educational. The maps in the book allow you to see the border changes of Germany throughout the centuries – making it much easier to find your ancestors’ hometown and where their records may be kept. Plus, it looks pretty on a coffee table! (For more of Beidler’s great genealogy books, see here: www.JamesMBeidler.com). 

5. Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting by Katherine Schober

I can’t let you go without mentioning my own book, can I? Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting is everything I wish I would have known when I was first starting to learn the old German script. During those first few years of starting my genealogy translator career, I spent a lot of frustrating time on the Internet, trying to find the answers to all of my questions as I ran into them on various documents. This book summarizes all of those answers for you, which I hope will save you a lot of time and frustration yourself. It’s all of my best secrets, summarized in book form!

So there you have it! These are the five books that I have in my office right now, and every one of them is helpful in a different way. What about you? Do you have any of these books, or would you add any to the list? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

5 Tips for Deciphering Town Names on German Records

Your ancestor’s hometown is one of the most important finds you will make on your genealogy journey. Unfortunately, a town name can also be one of the hardest words to decipher on a historical record. Why? Because towns exist in the thousands, and, technically, the town name can be made up of any combination of letters that make sense within the German language. A bit overwhelming, to say the least!

So how do you go about deciphering the town name if you can’t read all the individual letters? Read on to find out all the tricks that I use when I am translating my clients’ documents:

1. take advantage of Google’s suggestion features

The first tip is the most obvious, but it is definitely worth mentioning. Try typing your transcription guess into Google Search, with the country or state where your document comes from after it (for example, type “Obertraun, Austria” into the search box). If an entry comes up, you then have verification that your transcription is correct.

If you are one or two letters off, however, Google’s “Showing Results For” or “Did You Mean?” features are very helpful. If you typed “Obertrun, Austria” into the search box, Google may correct you, saying “Showing results for Obertraun, Austria”. You can then double check the handwritten word on your document, along wit the location of Google’s suggestion, and verify that the suggestion is correct. If it is, mark it down, and continue transcribing. Nice when a search engine is so helpful!

 

2. use Meyer’s Gazetteer’s wildcard tool

If your town is in Germany (or used to be), then Meyer’s Gazetteer is the website for you. This collection of pre-WWI towns, villages, cities, estates, and more is a wonderful tool for deciphering towns – especially if you can’t read all the letters. Simply type the letters you recognize into the website’s search engine – and use an asterisk for the letters you don’t. Meyer’s Gazetteer will then give you a list of all towns with that letter combination.

Have a long list? Narrow your search by selecting the state (if known) where your document comes from (“Filter Results by Region”). You will then get a list of only the towns in that region, and can go back to your handwritten word and see if any of these towns match up with your word on your document.

3. Toggle the Meyer’s Gazetteer Map

No luck with the list? If you know another town name on your document (where the document comes from, the groom’s town name, etc.), then type that town name into Meyer’s Gazetteer’s search engine. Click on it, and it will take you to the entry for that town. Next, click on the map to the left of the entry, and the modern map will toggle to the historical map (pretty cool, right?). You can then drag the map around and see what towns are in the surrounding area. Does one of those nearby town names match up with your handwritten word? I have found a lot of town names using this historical map!

4. play with Google Maps

Just like the old-fashioned map on Meyer’s Gazetteer, Google Maps also works well for this trick. Type in the town you know related to your document, and drag the map around to see if any other towns nearby match up with your mystery word. (If you can’t find it on the Meyer’s Gazetteer map, try Google, and vice-versa – I sometimes have more luck with one, and sometimes with the other, depending on the town. Always good to have two options!).

5. Use the Record itself

Last but not least (although perhaps this should be first – it’s a good trick), use the record itself! More times than I care to admit, I have struggled and struggled over what a town name could be, only to find a stamp with that town name – in printed text! – at the bottom of the document. So before you start deciphering, scan your entire document, and look for other components of the document that might include the town name. These might include:

  • Stamps
  • Column Headings
  • Document Titles
  • Margin Notes (perhaps the town name is easier to read there)
  • And More – every document is different!

So there you have it! With these five tips, deciphering the towns in your German documents should become much easier and easier. And if you want more help reading the German handwriting, check out my new self-paced handwriting course here! You’ll be reading the script in no time.

Any other tricks that you use? Let us know in the comments!

FREE Webinar: Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting

Frustrated with the old German handwriting? You’re not alone!

Come learn from professional German genealogy translator Katherine Schober how you can easily recognize certain letters in the old German handwriting, what those pesky abbreviations mean in historical documents, the spelling variations you need to know to decipher the words of your ancestors, and much more. If you’ve missed this presentation at conferences, now’s your chance to see a good part of it!

When: Thursday, July 25, 1:00 p.m. EDT

Cost: Free!

I want free German handwriting tips – sign me up!

 

Photo Credit; Teri Cusamano 

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)

*This post contains some affiliate links, which does not affect you at all, but does help support James Beidler’s business as he earns a small amount from qualifying purchases as an Amazon associate.

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 (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 here – get your copy today.

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.