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.

2022-2023 Meeting Schedule

Welcome back to GRIVA’s German SIG. Starting this fall, we will be continuing our tour of the German states, with the following schedule and registration links:

As you can see, the January and May sessions will require your input! Send samples of handwriting and/or records that you have questions about, and we’ll try to tease out some answers from them. Samples (with links if you have them) can be sent to mail@griva.org no later than December 10, 2022, and April 10, 2023, respectively. BTW, if no one submits samples, there will be no meeting for December or May!

November 2022 – Schleswig-Holstein

Schleswig-Holstein is the northernmost German state. From the 1400s until 1866, it was under Danish rule. The First War of Schleswig occurred in the mid-1800s in a push for alignment with Prussia. At this point, Denmark retained both duchies. The Second Schleswig war happened after the death of Frederick VII in 1863. Austria and Prussia joined forces and this time were victorious over Denmark. Prussia took over Schleswig, and Austria took Holstein. This lasted until the Austro-Prussian war of 1866, after which Prussia took over both duchies and combined them as the province of Schleswig-Holstein. Over time, the Duchy of Lauenburg was also incorporated into the province, as was the Free City of Lübeck. In 1920, the northern portion of Schleswig was officially returned to Denmark.

Because of the intertwined history with Denmark, researchers will have to look both in German and Danish archives to find records of their ancestors. The records may be in Danish or in German. It is also possible, depending on the location, for records to be written in some dialect, e.g. Frisian or Low German.

Language will not be the only challenge – naming patterns are also of concern. Until 1771, Schleswig Holstein used patronymics – that is, a person’s last name was based on the father’s first name. So Peter Jensen is the son of Jens, and Peter’s son Hans is called Hans Petersen. Cathrin, married to Tim, was called Cathrin Tims; and Cathrin, daughter of Peter was called Cathrin Peters or Petersdotter. Although a 1771 law ended this naming practice and required a standard surname to be carried forward, it took some time for patronymics to die out completely.

Church records for Schleswig Holstein can be found at FamilySearch, Ancestry, Archion, and other sites. Check Die Kirchenbücher Schleswig-Holsteins for a summary of existing records for Schleswig-Holstein. This volumes lists BMD with years available, sorted by state, and parish within the state.

Civil registration records started in 1874 for this area. Some (Steinburg district) are available at FamilySearch, others (Flensburg) are at Ancestry. Check Danish archives for further availability.

City directories (Adressbücher) are available for Kiel (the capital of Schleswig-Holstein) for the years 1799-1990 (with some gaps), and for Lübeck from 1798-1993. Miscellaneous years for other cities are also available at the Staatsarchiv Schleswig-Holstein.

For the period when Schleswig-Holstein was under Danish control, censuses were created roughly every five years. Digitized censuses are available for 1769, 1803, 1835, 1840, 1845, 1855, 1860, and 1864. The 1769 census only lists the town and the number of people in various age brackets, similar to the US censuses from 1790-1840; it also breaks down population by occupation. Later censuses list every name in the household, as well as age, marital status, occupation, etc. For more information on how to research these censuses, see the FamilySearch tutorial, as well as 3 video lessons.

Census images can be found in various places online. Remember that if you don’t find your person in one place, look at one of the other sites to see if you can find them there.

Most emigrants from Schleswig-Holstein left between 1880-1893; between 1871-1925, more than 150,000 emigrated from Schleswig-Holstein. Emigration resources include the following:

Other resources for Schleswig Holstein research include:

October 2022 – Bremen

This month we took a look at the city-state of Bremen, including Bremerhaven, which played a significant role in the history of emigration from Europe. The city itself dates back to 787 AD, when it became the site of a Catholic mission. From there it developed into a center for trade, becoming at various times a member of the Hanseatic League. In 1827 the city bought land from the Kingdom of Hanover to create the port of Bremerhaven, and it is from here that emigrants departed.

In terms of emigration information, Bremen started collecting data about emigrants as early as 1832. Sadly, these records were all destroyed because of a lack of space! In 1874, a new law decreed that only the current year and the previous two years should be retained. Earlier records were then also destroyed. In 1909, the city started keeping records for every year again. But then came two world wars, and only a handful of records survive – 1907-1908, 1913-1914, and 1920-1939. The last passenger ship left Bremerhaven in May 1974.

Consult the FamilySearch Wiki for record types that are available online for Bremen and Bremerhaven, including the following:

General information about Bremen and its history and culture can be found at the following sites:

For emigration-specific information, use one of the following links:

September 2022 – Hamburg

Unlike the other German states that we looked at last year, Hamburg is in a special category of city-states, along with Bremen and Berlin. It was founded in the ninth century as a mission settlement, but grew from there to become an important port city. Along with Lübeck, it was one of the founding cities in the Hanseatic League, and rose to great prominence in shipping on the Baltic and North Seas. Over the course of its history, it was occupied by the Danish and by Napoleon. After WWII, it was part of the British Occupation Zone, and then became part of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949.

Today Hamburg is the second-largest city in Germany, and the third-largest port in Europe. It is the home of Germany’s oldest stock market, and the oldest merchant bank in the world.

In the second half of the 19th century, Hamburg became the second largest port for emigration, after Bremen. With the advent of railways and steamships, as well as reforms for emigration conditions, Hamburg became the embarcation point for more than 4 million people between 1830 and 1914. Ninety percent of Eastern European emigrants left via the port of Hamburg.

Starting about 1850, the port authorities were required to keep records of departing passengers on ships with 25 or more passengers. These records list the passenger’s name, age, other family members, hometown (not necessarily the birthplace!), and occupation.

Hamburg passenger lists are among the most important tools for finding the origins of emigrant ancestors. They come in two forms –

  • Direct – passengers who left from Hamburg and went directly to a destination city, e.g. New York, are listed here.
  • Indirect – passengers who left from Hamburg but stopped at another European port e.g. Hull/Liverpool, before continuing on to their final destination; about 20% of all travelers took the indirect route, possibly because the fares were cheaper.

Emigration resources for Hamburg include the following –

Civil registration records for Hamburg can be found at Ancestry:

Birth, marriage, and death indexes are available from Staatsarchiv Hamburg.

Other resources for Hamburg research include the following:

May – August 2022 – No meeting

April 2022 – Niedersachsen (aka Hannover)

The current state of Niedersachsen is made up of pieces of the former territories of Hannover, Braunschweig, Oldenburg, and Schaumburg-Lippe. As with other states that we’ve looked at this year, these areas evolved over time, and date back to the original Duchy of Saxony, about 1000 A. D.

Hannover was originally an Electorate, formally known as the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg as of 1692. The electorate was legally bound to be indivisible (it could not be split among various heirs of the ruler), but it could add other land to its territory. The succession followed the rule of male primogeniture, which becomes significant later in its history.

Due to various royal intermarriages, George I of England inherited Lüneburg and Duchy of Saxe-Lauenburg in 1705. In 1719, he also purchased the Duchies of Bremen-Verden from Denmark. In 1803, the

Due to various royal intermarriages, George I of England inherited Lüneburg and Duchy of Saxe-Lauenburg in 1705. In 1719, he also purchased the Duchies of Bremen-Verden from Denmark. In 1803, the Prince-Bishopric of Osnabrück was added as well. Hannover changed hands several times during the Napoleonic Wars – in 1810 it was made part of the Kingdom of Westfalen, and in 1814 it was restored as the Kingdom of Hannover by the Congress of Vienna. After 1837, when Victoria became queen of England, Hannover was no longer part of the personal union with England.

In 1866, Hannover was annexed by Prussia. in 1885, it was divided into six Regierungsbezirke – Aurich, Hannover, Hildesheim, Lüneburg, Osnabrück, and Stade. After WWII, the state of Hannover was created under British administration, and in 1946, it was merged into the new Bundesland of Niedersachsen.

The •Duchy of Braunschweig-Lüneburg existed as far back as the 1200s. After the Congress of Vienna, it became a sovereign state called the Duchy of Braunschweig. It joined the German Confederation in 1866, and the German Empire in 1871. After WWI, part of the territory was ceded to Saxony, and part became the Free State of Braunschweig. In 1946, it was merged into Niedersaschen.

Oldenburg was a duchy until 1810, when it was annexed by France. It consisted of three geographically disperse territories – Oldenburg, Eutin, and Birkenfeld. It joined the German Empire in 1871, and in 1918, became a free state in the Weimar Republic. In 1937, it lost Eutin and Birkenfeld, and in 1946, it was merged into Niedersachsen.

The principality of Schaumburg-Lippe was created in 1807, from an area that dates back to 1647. In 1871, it became part of the German Empire. In 1918, it became the free state of Schaumburg-Lippe. In 1945 it was part of the British occupation zone, and in 1946, it was merged into Niedersachsen.

Since each of these areas (and areas in the other German states as well) had different names depending on the type of ruler over time, I thought it would be helpful to add this table for clarification:

German TitleGerman AreaEnglish TitleEnglish Area
GrafGrafschaftEarl or CountEarldom or Countship
HerzogHerzogtumDukeDuchy
FürstFürstentumPrincePrincipality
KurfürstKurfürstentumElectorElectorate
KönigKönigtumKingKingdom

Niedersachsen today is the second-largest state by land area, and the fourth largest based on population. It regained some territory from the former East Germany in 1993.

Historically, the state religion was Lutheran. in 1842, Hannover granted equal rights to Jews, with four regional Land-Rabbinates. In 1866, the Lutheran Church of Hannover was formed.

Civil registration started at different times in each of these areas; records area available at Ancestry and FamilySearch.

  • 1876 in Schaumburg-Lippe
  • 1876 for Oldenburg (also 1799-1814)
  • 1876 for Braunschweig
  • 1874 for Hannover (also 1806-1811)

Between 1820 and 1930, over 700,000 people emigrated from Hannover; 95% of these went to North America. Emigration resources include the following:

Unlike Saarland, there are many online Ortsfamilienbücher available for Niedersachsen on the Compgen website. Printed volumes can be found here, if your town of interest is not (yet) online.

City directories for Hannover are available for 1798-1975 (with gaps). They are also available for 72 other locations in Niedersachsen.

Other resources for research in Niedersachsen include the following:

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.