German SIG

Welcome! The German Special Interest Group, led by Sylvia Elchinger, meets the first Tuesday of most months at 7pm, virtually via Zoom while we’re still social distancing. Come join us! Watch your GRIVA newsletter for registration links a week or two before each meeting.

October 2021 – Hessen

Our focus for October was the current state of Hesse (English version) or Hessen (German version). As you are probably aware, at a minimum from seeing the name on various census reports, there used to be numerous entities with Hesse in the name – e.g. Hesse-Darmstadt, Hesse-Nassau, Hesse-Kassel, Kurhessen. At one time or another, there were duchies, principalities, electorates, and other names for these territories. As genealogists, our goal is to understand both the geographic boundaries and the timeframes for each. This is a challenge!

The states that were covered in this presentation include the following, with links to Wikipedia for greater details. Most of the maps that were used in the presentation can be found at LAGIS. A family tree for the House of Hesse can be found here.

Many early emigrants came from this area. in 1709, there was a mass emigration of about 13,000 people to England. These came from the Palatinate area, but also many from the various Hessen territories. Some of the transplants to England then later moved to the colonies, especially to settlements in New York State. In the 1700s, many emigrants left in search of more and cheaper farmland. In the 1800s, they also left because of the many political upheavals, especially the Revolution of 1848. Records that may have been created in these periods include the following:

  • 18th century
    • Abzugsgeld (tax to leave)
    • Manumissions (release from serfdom)
    • Church registers
    • Notarial records
  • 19th century
    • Official emigration records
    • Newspapers (official notices of departure, lists of army deserters, summons to heirs)

The best places to find emigration records for Hessen are the Hessisches Landesarchiv (with instructions) and the LAGIS website. Both have links to the Auswanderer-Nachweise (emigration database), with over 223,000 entries. Other possibilities include:

Of course there is a special category of emigrants from Hesse, and that is the Hessian soldiers who fought for the British in the American Revolution. Between 30-34,000 troops were recruited, not all from Hesse though. It is estimated that some 5000 troops stayed in the US or Canada after the war. The best place for finding information about these soldiers is HETRINA, but other possibilities are:

Available online records include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Church records – FamilySearch, Ancestry, My Heritage, Archion, Arcinsys, LAGIS, Matricula
  • Civil registration 1874-1927 – FamilySearch, Ancestry, LAGIS
  • Court records  – FamilySearch
  • Military records – HETRINA, Hessen Regiments
  • Naturalization and citizenship (Bürgerbücher) – FamilySearch
  • Ortsfamilienbücher – FamilySearch, CompGen
  • Newspapers (Anzeiger or Amtsblatt) –digiPress, EuroDocs

Of course, there are many resources available to the individual researcher, depending on the town or area in question, so it’s impossible to list them all in this short blog entry. Some resources to consider as a starting point include the following:

September 2021 – Baden-Württemberg

This month kicked off our series on the history, geography, and research opportunities in the modern German states. I’ve started with Baden-Württemberg, because that’s where I was born. In the coming months, I’ll be going through other German states based on the feedback you provided in our recent interest survey. In October, I’ll be reporting on Hesse.

BW is a conglomeration of three historical areas in southwest Germany – Baden, Württemberg, and Hohenzollern. Each has its early roots in the Holy Roman Empire, and underwent minor geographical changes over time, but had numerous shifts in government, from duchy to margraviate to electorate to kingdom to democracy. Follow these links for more information about each:

BW may be important to you as a researcher, because more emigrants came from this area than any other in Germany. Earliest emigrants left from ports in the Netherlands or France. Starting in the mid-1800s, more emigrants got passage from the ports in Hamburg and Bremen. Some of those later passengers may have had a stop in England before completing their journey to America. FamilySearch provides a great deal of information about these emigrants here specifically for BW, and here more generally for German emigrants before 1820. Werner Hacker is a German author who has written extensively about emigration from Germany; many of his works are available at FamilySearch. Also of particular interest is the database provided by the Landesarchiv BW, called Auswanderung aus Südwestdeutschland, or Emigration from Southwest Germany. The website is available in English and German, and is easy to use. Remember to look for those emigration notices in newspapers, just like our legal notices today. These are often found in newspapers that have Anzeiger or Amtsblatt in the title.

In terms of records availability, again, FamilySearch provides us with a nice summary of online records here. As always, records at FamilySearch are free to access, but because of licensing agreements, you may have to visit your local Family History Center or affiliate to view the records. Ancestry is also building its collection of German records, but to date does not have as much as FamilySearch. A great source for evangelical (i.e. Lutheran, Reformed)German church records – not just for BW – is Archion. This is a fee-based service that regularly adds more locations to its database. Catholic records may be found at Matricula, a free website with records from many countries in Europe. Here are some other research opportunities to explore:

  • Church records – FS, Ancestry, My Heritage, Archion, LA BW
  • Civil registration as of 1876 – FS, Ancestry
  • Court records (marriage protocols) – FS, Ancestry
  • Military records – LA BW
  • Naturalization and citizenship (Bürgerbücher) – FS, Ancestry
  • Ortsfamilienbücher – FS, CompGen
  • Newspapers (Anzeiger or Amtsblatt) – LA BW, Baden list; Württemberg list; digiPress

If you want to research in German archives, the Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg is a good place to start, with over 16.6 million digitized pages. They make you work to find them, though! They do have a page specifically for genealogy, with pointers for areas of research. The page is in German, but just click your right-hand mouse button, scroll down the pop-up menu to the “Translate this page” option and Google will do the work for you. Catholic church records in Baden have been digitized and are available from LA BW. Jewish records for Baden, Württemberg, and Hohenzollern have also been digitized are are viewable at the LA BW.

Another offering of the LA BW is the LEO website, which allows you to search their holdings by town, person, or object. The CompGen website also offers wiki pages for Baden and Württemberg, with historical background and lots of great links. The LA BW isn’t the only place to look for online records. You should also check out the Württembergische Landesbibliothek (State Library) for digitized records such as Adressbücher,  Lehrerbuch (teachers), Leichenpredigten (eulogies),  and Pfarrerbuch (list of pastors 1525-1930). University libraries (e.g. Tübingen, Heidelberg, Mannheim, etc.) may also have special collections of digitized works.

If your emigrants are more recent, you may run into the German data protection laws. Birth records newer than 110 years, marriage records 80 years, and death records 30 years will not be accessible in any archive. So you may have to send a request to the local Standesamt for the records that you need; you’ll have to show that you’re a direct relative of the person in question. The best way to find contact information for the Standesamt is to type in the name of the town followed by .de, for example pfullingen.de. Every town in Germany has a website that lists current events and contact information for the various government offices. Some websites are more detailed than others, but it’s a good starting point. the website Meinestadt.de is a portal that can also take you to individual towns.

German SIG Posts from previous meetings…

…can be found under the header “Previous German SIG posts, which is a drop-down from the German SIG tab.