Previous German SIG Posts

March 2022 – Saarland

This month we talked about the Saarland, the smallest state in area in Germany, other than the city-states. It is also the smallest in population other than Bremen.

Prior to 1793, the area that is now Saarland may have been part of :

  • Principality of Nassau Saarbrücken
  • Duchy of Pfalz-Zweibrücken
  • Imperial rulers of Dagstuhl, Illingen, and Kriechingen-Saarwellingen
  • Electorate of Trier
  • Kingdom of France (Duchy of Lorraine)
  • Reign of von der Leyen

During the Napoleonic Era (1793-1816), the area was divided among three different Departements – Saar, Donnersberg, and Rhin-et-Moselle. The Congress of Vienna variously reassigned parts of the land to Prussia, Bavaria, and the Grand Duchy of Hessen. After 1871, the area was totally under Prussian rule. Further reorganizations occurred after World War I, the area was renamed Territory of the Saar Basin, and was administered by France and Great Britain. By 1935, it was reincorporated into Germany as the Gau Westmark. After World War II, it became the Saar Protectorate, once again administered by France until 1957, when it was finally reincorporated into the Federal Republic of Germany.

Given the recurring ties to France, it should come as no surprise that many of the records for this area will be in French or German. If you’re looking at Catholic records, they will be in Latin as well. One thing to look out for in records from the Napoleonic Era is the use of the French Republican Calendar. You’ll have to convert dates like the 18th of Vendemaire in the Eighth Year of the French Republic – also known as 10 October 1799. (Date converters are available on the Internet.)

In terms of emigration, most of the early Saarland emigrants were subjects of Prussia or Bavaria – so look at the notes for the Rheinland-Pfalz presentation in November 2021 for more details. Other resources specifically for the Saarland include:

  • Emigrants from Dillingen, Pachten, and Diefflen
  • Burgert, Annette Kunselman. Pennsylvania pioneers from Wolfersweiler Parish, Saarland, Germany (c 1983)
  • Mergen, Josef. Die Auswanderungen aus den ehemals preussischen Teilen des Saarlandes im 19. Jahrhundert (c 1987) – vol. 2 lists emigrants from former Prussian sections of Saarland
  • Hacker, Werner. Auswanderung aus Rheinpfalz und Saarland im 18. Jahrhundert (c 1987)
  • Goelzer, Bernd. “Saarland Emigrants 1709-1799” (c 1985; In The Palatine Immigrant, v.9, no. 3)
  • Krebs, Friedriech and Yoder, Don. “Emigrants to America from the Duchy of Zweibrücken” in Pennsylvania Folklife – v. 21 (1971) – v. 21, no. 4 (summer 1972)
  • List of emigrants from Zweibruecken to Amerika, 1728-1749

There are some digitized newspapers available on Google Books for Zweibrücken, Homburg, and Cusel. There are only two towns in Saarland (as of this writing) for which there are Ortsfamilienbücher available – Niederbexbach and Südlicher Hochwald. A list of printed OFBs for Saarland is available at CompGen.

Many of the resources listed for Rheinland-Pfalz may be applicable for Saarland research as well, depending on the timeframe. Other possible resources for Saarland research include the following:

February 2022 – Nordrhein-Westfalen

The current German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhine Westphalia) was created in 1947 from three distinct areas – the former Westfalen, Lippe-Detmold, and the northern part of the former Rheinprovinz. Since the Rheinprovinz was previously covered in November 2021, this month’s presentation focused on the other two areas that make up this state.

We’ve already seen areas that have evolved from one type of political jurisdiction to another, and Westfalen is no exception. With settlements as early as 1 AD by the Romans, this area was initially part of the Duchy of Saxony, then came under the control of the Holy Roman Empire. The Duchy of Westfalen was created in 1102, and lasted until 1803, when it became part of Hesse-Darmstadt.

The Kingdom of Westfalen existed from 1803-1813. It was created as a “model state” under Napoleonic rule from numerous territories, and was the first German state to have its own constitution. During this time, Napoleon conscripted many German soldiers for his Russian campaign. He also taxed the Kingdom heavily in order to finance his efforts, which bankrupted the country and had a long-lasting detrimental economic impact. In 1813, the Russians dissolved the Kingdom, and the land came under Prussian rule.

The Province of Westfalen was created by the Congress of Vienna in 1815; again, it was a conglomeration of various previous territories. It was made up of 3 administrative districts with 36 counties; most of the area was very rural prior to 1850.

The Lippe district was first mentioned in 1123. It became a Kreis (equivalent of a county) by 1528, and a Fürstentum (principality) by 1789. It remained independent during the Napoleonic era, and was not a part of Prussia. Under the Weimar Republic it was a Freistaat, then was incorporated into Nordrhein-Westfalen in 1947.

In terms of records availability, church records for each of the three areas are available on FamilySearch; some are also available on Ancestry and MyHeritage. Protestant records can also be found at Archion ($); Catholic records for the Bishoprics of Paderborn and Fulda are available at Matricula; records for the Bishopric of Essen are not yet available.

There are civil registration records, which began in 1792 for Rheinpfalz, 1874 for Westfalen (with some in 1808-1815 as well), and 1876 for Lippe. Some of the Napoleonic civil registration records are available at the NRW archive; use keywords Standesamtregister, Zivilstandregister, or Personenstandregister to find these records. Also, death records for Münster and Arnsberg districts 1874-1938  on MyHeritage.

Emigration to America from this area mostly happened after 1849/50. Most went to the Midwest – Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota – to become farmers there. There were numerous laws and regulations regarding emigration. For example:

  • Male emigrants had to complete military service.
  • The emigrant had to make provisions for people and property left behind.
  • Minor males were subject to military service if they ever returned.
  • Shipping agents had to keep accurate registers of emigrants for state authorities.

Another type of emigrant peculiar to this area is called the Hollandgänger. These were migrant workers who went to Holland (hence the name) for 6-12 weeks every year to work on farms, in shipping, and numerous other occupations. The income they earned from this work was often necessary to carry them through a year. Some of these migrants eventually stayed in the Netherlands, so it’s a good idea to look further than NRW when researching your ancestor.

Emigration resources for this area include the following:

One of the peculiarities of this area is the “Genanntnamen.” The family name (surname) may be connected to the farm that they lived on. When the husband died and the wife remarried, thee new husband would take on the name of the wife. Many records – whether church records, civil registration, land records, etc. – will refer to the Genanntnamen. For researchers, this represents a particular challenge . A man who was initially known as Johann Georg Schmidt and had children with his first wife who had the surname Schmidt, might then marry Anna Maria Keller. He would subsequently be known as Johann Georg Schmidt genannt Keller, and children from this marriage would have the surname Keller. If he remarried a third time, official records would record him as Johann Georg Schmidt oder [or] Keller oder Fischer. So if you don’t find your person with the surname he was born with, keep looking for other marriages!

This state has primarily rural and agricultural roots (although mining was also a common occupation). Although in English there are few synonyms for “farmer,” you will find many terms for it in German, each with a specific meaning. The following list identifies some of these terms, as well as other farming concepts that will be important in your research:

  • Bauerschaft – farming community or cooperative
  • Colon – colony or estate = hereditary leasehold
  • Partible or inpartible inheritance – customs vary by region
  • Farmers with full rights – Vollspann, Vollbauer, Pferdner; Kötner, Hintersiedler…
  • Farmers without full rights – Häusler, Einlieger, Beisitzer

The website Westfalenhöfe is in the process of compiling farm histories in this area. While this is a work in progress, many estates have already been documented, and can provide a wealth of information about these properties.

More information about Westfalen land records can be found in the FamilySearch wiki. This article also contains numerous terms that can be used when searching for digitized images at the NRW archives. Some of these terms include Lagerbuch, Hypothekenbuch, Flurbuch, Kataster, Bauerschaft, and many others.

More information for NRW can be found here:

January 2022 – Handwriting and Records

Thanks to all of you who sent is samples of records that were giving you trouble for various reasons. We’ll be doing a similar exercise for the May meeting, so send your samples to by 4/15/22, and we’ll try to make sense of it all.

For anyone who has looked at old German records, of course the biggest challenge is probably not the language itself, but rather the handwriting. So we looked at the three types of fonts that you might encounter in any given document.

The first is Fraktur, which is that “gothic” type with all the extra squiggles.

Fraktur type

Viewed alphabetically in a chart like this, it might seem fairly straightforward. But when you’re looking at words in sentences, maybe at a document where the ink is smeared for part of the page is faded, suddenly there may be some challenges! Things to look out for in Fraktur:

  • Upper-case B, P, and V may look similar
  • Upper-case A and U may look similar
  • Upper-case I, J, and T may look similar
  • Lower-case k and t may look similar
  • Lower-case f, l, and the long s may look similar
  • Lower-case r and x may look similar

The next font to consider is Kurrentschrift, which is the handwriting you’ll see in all those church registers through the early 1900s.


What you see in this chart is, of course, the ideal. And if you’ve ever looked at a single document in German handwriting, you know that the reality is far more challenging. Everyone has their own handwriting, just as we do today, with the added twist of unfamiliar letter shapes.

The third font type is Sütterlin, which was prevalent in the early 1900s, until 1941. After this date, Germany used what is termed “Latin” handwriting, i.e. the same as we use today.


There are a lot of things to look out for in both of the latter fonts. Consider each group of letters below, and compare them to the chart above. It’s easy to see why it can require some effort – worth it! – to decipher the handwriting.

  • c, e, i, m, n, r, u, v, w, x
  • mm, nn, u
  • a, o
  • b, d, l
  • f, h, s
  • k, t
  • g, j, p, q, y, z
  • ck
  • sch
  • st
  • ss
  • sz
  • N, St
  • B, C, L
  • K, R
  • 1, 7 8

For instance, the only thing distinguishing the c and the i is the dot above the i. The only thing distinguishing the n and the u is the little arc above the u. And that little arc is not to be confused with a straight line above an m or an n – that straight like indicates that the letter below it is to be doubled. Look at the word Zimmermann (carpenter) and you’ll see why a writer would want to use the shortcut of the straight like above the m and n. Also look at how similar the e and the r are, or even the e and the n. One trick that might help is to count the “peaks” of the letters – an m has three peaks, an n only has two, an i only has one. So those four peaks together at the end of the word should be 2 n’s, rather than mi or im or un, because there’s no dot or arc above either of the letters. Simple, right?

There are numerous script generators available for each of these fonts:

How can these help you? At a very basic level, use the script generator to write out the name of the ancestor you’re looking for. This can make it easier to spot the (sur)name among all the other handwriting on the page. You can also use these tools to write out key words for the type of document you’re searching. For a birth record, you might want Vater/father, Mutter/mother, Sohn/son, and Tochter/daughter.

Which brings me to another helpful aid – FamilySearch word lists. FamilySearch has created genealogy word lists for many languages. For our purposes, the most helpful would be the German and Latin word lists. If you’re researching in another country that used to use German but now uses a different language, e.g. Poland, you can also search for those word lists on FamilySearch.

Other resources that can help you with your German research:

  • If I can You Can Decipher German Records by Edna Bentz. I would probably rank this as THE most helpful volume you can have when doing German research. Ms. Bentz spent years collecting and recording variations in the formation of each upper- and lower-case letter in the Kurrentschrift alphabet. That alone is worth the price of this volume. Also in this volume are symbols for the days of the week (page 19 in my edition), occupations, illnesses, ecclesiastical calendar, and more.
  • German-English Genealogical Dictionary by Ernest Thode. If the FamilySearch word list isn’t enough, try this comprehensive volume of definitions.
  • Deciphering Handwriting in German Documents by Roger Minert. This volume not only describes the handwriting, but also examines each of the major types of entries in church registers – birth, marriage, death.
  • Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting by Katherine Schober. Useful volume that goes into more detail about some of the handwriting challenges I listed above.
  • German Church Records – Beyond the Basics by Kenneth L. Smith (out of print – check WorldCat for library availability).
  • BYU German script tutorial
  • FamilySearch 3-part video lesson and 10-part paleography seminar

December 2021 – no meeting

November 2021 – Rheinland-Pfalz

This month we discussed the current German state of Rheinland-Pfalz, which (like Hessen last month) has deep roots and a long history. At the time of the Holy Roman Empire, there were up to 45 separate entities in this area, from duchies and principalities, to independent cities and bishoprics. The specific areas that were covered this month include the following:

Because of its geographic location, this was an area that was hard-hit by wars over many years. The 30 Years’ War from 1618-1648 and the ensuing plague epidemic wiped out two-thirds of the population. Rulers anxious to repopulate and get their economies moving again invited people from other places to settle here. Swiss, Austrians, Italians, and Huguenots were among those who came. From 1689-1697, King Louis XIV of France invaded the area and burned much of it – resulting in tremendous property loss, but also a loss of records that might have been valuable to us as genealogists. In 1707 the War of the Spanish Succession had much the same result.

In 1709, for various reasons, there was a mass emigration of about 14,000 people from this area to England. Some of these emigrants then moved on to settle in the Hudson and Mohawk valleys of New York; others settled in Ireland. In later years, emigration was not only to North America, but also to the east, with settlements founded in Galicia, Russia, and Hungary, among others.

To counter the loss of people to other countries, some rules put in place rather draconian measures. For example, a person with an estate valued at more than 200 guilders was forced to pay one-fifth of their assets in order to leave. If they left without permission, they were likely to forfeit their entire estate.

There is no shortage of information about emigrants from the Palatine. This is a short list to get you started:

Other opportunities for research in the Palatinate include the following:

  • Pfälzische-Rheinische Familienkunde e.V. – this organization offers a Pfarrerlexikon (directory of Lutheran ministers), and well as a three-part Mühlenlexikon (directory of mills, miller families, and milling technology and terminology). Other digitized works are available to members only.
  • Westdeutsche Gesellschaft für Familienkunde e.V. – offers a database of death notices dating back to 1582 (although realistically, most are from the 19th and 20th centuries), as well as an emigration database with over 105,000 names from 159 sources. Their digital library is a benefit for members only.
  • Ortsfamilienbücher – there are a dozen or so OFBs for the Pfalz available online at Compgen. However, there are also many more printed volumes for you to explore here.
  • Adressbücher – or city directories are available from several sources, including FamilySearch and Dilibri. A list of digitized volumes can be found here.
  • Military conscription records – may be a way to find those elusive ancestors for whom no emigration records can be found. Some of these are available at FamilySearch, others can be found at the Landesarchiv Speyer. These records are usually organized by “class” – i.e. records for the year 1809 will be for people born in 1790-91, or whatever the age criteria was at the time.. You may also find lists of deserters or people who did not show up when they were drafted in a local Amtsblatt or similar publication.
  • Amtsblatt – has been mentioned numerous times in conjunction with emigrant information. People generally placed an ad in this type of publication to take care of their debts before leaving the country. But as mentioned above, the Amtsblatt may also be a source of information about military matters. A third possibility is listing of estate matters – who the deceased and heirs are. Many of these can be found at Dilibri under the subheadings Journals and Newspapers.
  • Staatskalender – this is not a calendar as implied by the name, but rather an annual volume summarizing anyone in a government or (royal as opposed to judicial) court capacity in the respective area.
  • Institut für Pfälzische Geschichte und Volkskunde
  • Landesarchiv Rheinland-Pfalz – civil registration
  • Landesarchiv Speyer – civil registration
  • Apertus – portal for Pfalz archives
  • Dilibri Rheinland-Pfalz – address books, maps, newspapers
  • Landesbibliothek Rheinland-Pfalz
  • Rheinland-Pfalz – GenWiki portal page
  • Deutsches Wörterbuch by Jacob Grimm und Wilhelm Grimm (Uni Trier)
  • Pfalz-related books on Google Books
  • Palatines to America

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 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 is a portal that can also take you to individual towns.

June 2021 – Habsburg Empire

This month we were very fortunate to have a guest speaker, Günther Ofner of Familia Austria, to talk about the Habsburg Empire. His presentation included an overview of the countries that at one time were part of the Empire, as well as information about the demographics, religion, and languages spoken in each of these countries. Herr Ofner also outlined the types of records that may be found online for each of these areas, and where records may no longer exist after two world wars. Many thanks to Herr Ofner for his willingness to present to the German SIG this month.

For further research in any of the countries that were once part of the Habsburg Empire, consider these websites:

  • Familia Austria – this is the website that Herr Ofner helped found 11 years ago, and it is now the largest genealogy society in Austria. Consider this your starting point for research in these countries. On the page labeled Matrikenverzeichnisse, you can find links to archives and online resources for these countries.
  • ANNO – stands for AustriaN Newspapers Online, and is a website created by the Austrian National Library. Full-text search is available across all the newspapers and periodicals in the database; searches can also be made within a single title, or for a specified time period. Even though the acronym says “Austrian,” newspapers from countries in the former Habsburg Empire are included.
  • Matricula – this website links to online church registers for a number of countries in Europe, with the majority being from Austria and Germany, and the majority of those being Catholic church records.

You may have noticed in some of the examples that Herr Ofner showed that the old German handwriting is not like ours! There are many tutorials available online to help you with this – Google “Kurrentschrift tutorial” to find some. Or you can join me in the fall for some workshop sessions on deciphering this script. The German SIG program for 2021-2022 will include these workshops, as well as a tour through each German state and the resources in each for finding your ancestors.

I’m taking the summer off to do more research, and so should you. See you in September!

May 2021 – no meeting

April 2021 – Baltic States

This month we covered nations and states along the coast of the Baltic Sea. Although these areas had their own languages, German was often used as the official language for government and trade.


Parts of the current German state of Schleswig Holstein have variously belonged to both Germany and Denmark. So if your ancestors are from this area, it’s worth it to look both at the German and Danish archives – and maybe even Dutch or French archives, because emigrants from those countries arrived in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Sources for records include the following:

Pommern aka Pomerania

The Prussian province of Pomerania was created with land taken from Sweden, Poland, and Brandenburg. Today it lies mostly within Poland. All Germans were expelled from Pomerania after WWII.

Sources for records include the following:

Ostpreussen aka East Prussia

When you see “Prussia” as the place of origin on a US census report, you always have to ask which Prussia is meant – it could be the province of (west) Prussia, East Prussia, or the Kingdom of Prussia. So if you’re not finding records where you expected to, you may have to dig a little deeper for that town – and location – of origin.

After WWII, the land of East Prussia was divided between Russia and Poland. As with Pomerania, the German population was expelled from the area. The present-day Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship in Poland roughly correspond to southern Ostpreussen. Northern Ostpreussen was divided: Kaliningrad Oblast (Königsberg) went to Russia, and the Klaipeda region and Memel to Lithuania.

Sources for further research include the following:


At one point in the 14th century, Lithuania was the largest country in Europe. After years under Soviet control, it became an independent country in 1990. Over 350,000 Lithuanians have come to the US, starting around 1865.

Sources for further research include the following:


This area has variously been under German, Swedish, Polish, and Russian control over the centuries. It has been an independent country since 1991, after years under Soviet control.

Sources for further research include the following:


Like other Baltic nations, Estonia has belonged to Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Russia, and Poland over the centuries. Since being under Soviet control after WWII, it declared its independence again in 1992. The earliest Estonian emigrants came to New Jersey in 1627.

Estonian resources include the following:

March 2021 – Poland

Of all the countries we’ve looked at so far, I think Poland presents some of the greatest challenges for a genealogist. A brief look at the country’s history will help to explain why.

The first Polish state was established in 966 A.D. The Kingdom of Poland was established in 1025 – interestingly, the role of king was not hereditary but elected. The kingdom expanded somewhat over the centuries and prospered. In 1569, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was created by the Union of Lublin. This new area was one of the largest and most prosperous countries in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Because of various political conflicts and uprisings, the Commonwealth gradually fell into decline.

Real trouble came to Poland at the end of the 1700s – this is when the so-called Polish Partitions occurred. In 1772, Russia, Austria, and Prussia seized a third of Polish territory. In 1793, Russia took half of the remaining Polish lands, and Prussia took the area called Posen. In 1795, Russia, Austria, and Prussia split the remaining Polish lands between them, and Poland ceased to exist as a nation for the next 123 years! Not until the end of World War I did Poland regain its independence.

What does this mean in terms of finding records of your Polish ancestors? At a minimum, it means you might be looking at records in German, Polish, or Russian, and since 92% of Poland’s population is Catholic, you will also be looking at records in Latin. And that’s probably the easy part. You might be looking for a German name – like Schmied or Schmidt – only to find that it’s suddenly been translated into its Polish equivalent – Kowal(ski). The same holds true for American records – Kowal(ski) might have been changed to Smith at some point.

The bigger challenge is finding the town of origin and knowing which country it belonged to at the time prior to emigration – and what the Polish town name is rather than the German or Russian name for the same place. Tools such as GeoNames or Kartenmeister can help you with the town names current and past. But just as there is a Springfield in just about every state in the union, there may be multiple towns with the same name in Poland. Before you go looking for records, you have to be sure you have the correct town of that name. The Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland can help you with this. This 15-volume set is similar to Meyer’s Gazetteer for German towns. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the nice English-language interface that Meyer’s does.

The types of records that you will be looking for are similar to those discussed previously for other countries – church records for birth, marriage, death, and possibly confirmation; civil registration; census; possibly land, resident registration, and court records, depending on the jurisdiction. Your starting point (beyond FamilySearch) for looking for any of these records is the main portal for the Polish Archives system. Type in the name of the town you’re looking for, and a list of records will appear. Note that not all record collections are available in digitized form! (On the left-hand side of the page, there’s a tiny little check box that lets you specify only record collections with digitized images.) And if your town is a common name that might exist in several areas of Poland, make sure you’re looking at records for the correct town!

In terms of Polish emigration, there was essentially none to speak of before the 1800s. In the 1820s, there was a wave of emigration from Poland to the US, Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand, and South America. Most of these early immigrants came from the Prussian-held portions of Poland, Earliest emigrants from Russian-governed Poland were from Suwalki and Łomża – many were Jewish. In the 1850s, Poles from Silesia began settling in Texas. Another wave of Poles came starting in the 1870s. May of these were from Galicia and Russian Poland, and settled in Chicago, Wisconsin, Illinois, and other areas in the US. From 1870-1914, about 3.6 million people left Poland: 53% Russian Poles, 43% from Galicia, and 4% Prussian Poles.

There are many websites that can help you with your Polish research. Here is just a sampling:

February 2021 – Czech Republic

Happy New Year! We’re continuing our swing through German-speaking (or former German-speaking) countries this month by taking a look at the Czech Republic. This is the area that encompasses the former kingdoms of Bohemia and Moravia. (I’m not talking about Slovakia or Silesia in this presentation.)

The history of this area dates all the way back to the year 833, with the Great Moravian Empire. Successive rules included the Premyslid Dynasty, the kingdom of Bohemia, rule by the Hapsburgs, the Holy Roman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until finally in 1918, the country of Czechoslovakia was formed from Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia, and the sub-Carpathian region. Today’s Czech Republic is made up of the former Bohemia and Moravia, plus a small part of Silesia.

One of the things that characterized this land, aside from the many different rulers and political constructs over the years, is its religious orientation. One of the first people who sought to reform the Catholic Church was John Hus in the early 1400s. Many people converted to Protestantism; but the country was forcibly re-converted to Catholicism in the 1500s. In 1645, the Treaty of Linz recognized 4 religions – Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, and Unitarian. This is distinctly different from other places at the time, where people were forced to accept the religion of the local ruler.

The impact from a research standpoint is that, up to that time, the Catholic Church was the official record-keeper of the kingdom. After 1740, Catholic records were to include non-Catholics as well. In 1784 and 1787, Protestants and Jews, respectively, were allowed to keep their own records – under the supervision of the Catholic Church – and later were allowed to keep records independent of oversight.

Another related impact for researchers is language. When the Catholic Church was keeping the records, the default language was Latin. Protestant records might keep some Latin terms, but were essentially kept in German. In 1877, Czech was recognized as the official language of Bohemia (1905 for Moravia), so records began to appear in both German and Czech. Eventually they were kept in Czech only. Google Translate is a very useful tool to help you understand the contents of these records. There are also online Czech, German, and Latin dictionaries that will be helpful to you.

Records that will be helpful to you in your Czech research include the following:

  • Civil Registration – officially began in 1921, but some areas began earlier. FamilySearch has some of these to search online.
  • Census records – The earliest census for this area was taken in 1651 (available from the National Archives in Prague). Some later censuses were taken for tax purposes, others for military. Decennial (every name) censuses start in 1880. Many of these are available online at FamilySearch; others can be found in Czech state archives.
  • Separate Jewish censuses were done periodically. The National Archives in Prague has published several volumes with these names.
  • Einwohnermelderegister – aka resident registers – are available online for the city of Prague, and may be available in regional archives for other cities as well.
  • Military records – Bohemia and Moravia were required to serve in the military for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so many records can be found in the Austrian archives. (See December 2020 for details.) However, separate records were also kept for Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia; these can be found at FamilySearch.
  • Church records – the earliest church records date back to 1441, but only fragments exist; the earliest intact records start in the 1590s. Church records can be found, respectively, at the 8 regional archives for the Czech Republic:
  • Emigration – some of the earliest settlers who came to the US were the Moravian Brethren, who settled first in Pennsylvania, then also in Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio. Others followed, especially after the abolition of feudalism in 1848. By the beginning of the 20th century, 1/16th of all Czechs had emigrated to America. The 9-volume set Czech Immigration Passenger Lists by Leo Baca may help researchers find their Czech ancestors arriving in the US.

Helpful links for Czech research include the following:

Here are some websites that can be helpful for locating town names in the Czech Republic. Many of the records may have been created with a German place name, but must now be found by the Czech place name.

December 2020 – Austria

After skipping November because the meeting would have been on election night, we resumed in December to talk about genealogy in Austria the country today, not more broadly as in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is important to remember that records stay with the location that created them regardless of shifting political boundaries. So even though parts of Northern Italy were once a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the records remain in Italy, not in Austria.

This distinction between Austria and the Austro-Hungarian Empire will have a distinct impact as you research your Austrian ancestors in US records, especially the census. Regardless of where your ancestor was from in the AH Empire, the census taker here might just have written “Austria” and been done with it. So you need to apply your best research skills to determine if that means the Austria we know today, or Bohemia, Moravia, Italy, Hungary, etc. Given names and surnames can provide a clue – are they Germanic or Slavic? Places where they settled in the US might also give a clue – did many people of the same ethnicity congregate in the same area? Timeframes are important as well – did the immigrant arrived in the 1800s or 1900s? How does this fit with emigration patterns?

  • In 1734, 50 Protestant families emigrated to Georgia and founded the town of Ebenezer. Surnames include Boltzius, Treutlen, Schweighoffer, Reisser, Zoller, and Florl.
  • Less than 1000 emigrated between 1800-1850, mostly farmers from Tirol.
  • Between 1850-1900, about 275,000 Austrians came to US (IL, IA, MI, PA, LA).
  • By 1900-1910 over 2 million Austrians were in America; many worked in Chicago stockyards and PA steel mills.
  • In the timeframe 1919-1924, about 20,000 emigrated, mostly from Burgenland.
  • Between 1860 and 1974, 4.3 million Austrians emigrated to US – this included ethnic German, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Slovene, Romanian, Italian, Croatian and Serbian people.

Now let’s look at the records that you may find helpful once you’ve determined the Austrian place of origin.

  • Civil registration – began in Austria in 1938 for marriage records and 1939 for birth and death records. Because of European privacy laws, these are not available online.
  • Census records – the first census was taken in 1754 under Empress Maria Theresia. There are decennial censuses for 1880, 1890, 1900, and 1910; then for 1923, 1934, 1939; and again since 1945. Very few of these censuses are available on-line; some of those that are may only have summary data rather than name-by-name listings.
  • Einwohnermelderegister – this long word translates into “resident register.” Many larger cities had resident registration requirements for people who were staying in a place for more than 90 days. When someone arrived in town, they had to register with the police within 24 hours; when they left, they had to notify the police of their departure. Information for each entry may include birth date and place, place of former residence, spouse’s name, birth date and place, and children’s names, birth dates, and places. Even if a person just moved within the same city, a new registration form had to be created to record where the person came from and where he was going. Vienna Population Cards 1850-1896 are available at FamilySearch.
  • Military records – because the Empire had to be defended, military service was required for life prior to 1802 (though not always on active duty). Military records may be referred to as Grundbücher, Stellungslisten, Grundbuchblätter, Militärakten. The Kriegsarchiv is major repository for records from 16th century to WWI.
  • Court records – some seigniorial records (also called Herrschaftsakten) are available at FamilySearch. Depending on the location, these records can provide BMD, land records, wills, marriage bonds, and other information.
  • Church records – Catholic records began in 1533, Protestant records in 1563. Before you get excited about this, remember that many of these records were destroyed during the 30 Years War and other conflicts. Most Catholic records, some Protestant records available at Matricula. Catholic records for Oberösterreich and Gurk are available at FamilySearch.

There are two websites in particular for Austrian researchers to be familiar with. One is Familia Austria. This is a subscription web site that is dedicated to research in the areas of the old Hapsburg empire. The other website is GenTeam, a free website (but requires registration) that is focused on modern-day Austria and neighboring countries.

Other helpful sources and websites include the following:

October 2020 – Switzerland

This month we talked about tracing your roots in Switzerland, which offers a few interesting differences from other places of origin. One of the differences is that records may be kept in four languages – German, French, Italian, and Romansch – or five if you include Latin for Catholic church records.

The most interesting difference, however, is the concept of citizenship. Unlike in the US, there is no birthright citizenship. But more important, a person born in Switzerland becomes a citizen of a town through the paternal line – but it doesn’t matter if the person is living in that town at the time of birth. In fact, the family may not have lived in the town of citizenship for several generations, but is still counted among its population.

In terms of looking for records, this means that, depending on the type of record – birth, marriage, death – the information is recorded in at least two places, and maybe as many as five places! In fact, until the 1920s, each town kept two sets of records – one for the people actually living in the town, and one for its citizens who lived elsewhere.

Because of this method of recording citizenship, the task of tracking down the town of origin can be somewhat easier than for other countries. The Register of Swiss Surnames provides a comprehensive listing of surnames, town of origin, date of origin, and in some cases also place of origin prior to 1962. This is a wonderful starting point for researching your Swiss ancestors. It has a minor drawback in that the website does not include names that have died out.

For the most part, access to records in Switzerland is restricted after 1876, except for direct descendants. FamilySearch offers a table of available records, which may help you determine how to pursue your research. Church recordscivil registrationcourt records, and census records are available online for some cantons, but not all. Church records for the canton of Lucerne are available online here.

Much of Swiss emigration to the US during the colonial period was to Pennsylvania and the Carolinas. Mennonites and Amish who were persecuted in Switzerland may have moved elsewhere first – e.g. the Palatinate – and then went on to America. In the 1880s, 82,000 Swiss emigrated to America, with another 30,000 in the following decade.

Sources for further reading and research:

September 2020 – Alsace Lorraine

Our theme for the next few months will be to look at countries besides Germany where you might find German-language records. For September. we’ve started with France – and specifically, with the Alsace-Lorraine region.

As with any area in which you plan to research, it helps to know a bit about the government entities and therefore where you can expect to find records. For France, the highest level (after the country, of course!) is the province. For the Alsace, the respective province is Grand Est. The next level is the departement – in this case, Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin, etc. Departements are further subdivided into arrondissements, which are subdivided into cantons. At the lowest level is the town or commune. The records you’re looking for may be found at one or more of these levels. Also, don’t confuse political boundaries with ecclesiastical boundaries. If a town is too small to have its own church, you may have to look for records in surrounding towns.

And speaking of church, roughly 75% of the population in this area was Catholic, so be prepared to find church records in Latin. To help you figure these out, make liberal use of the Latin genealogical word list at FamilySearch. Since Alsace-Lorraine was variously under German or French control over the years, records may be in either language, or maybe even a combination. FamilySearch also provides French and German word lists to make your life easier.

Civil registration – what we would call vital records – started in France in 1793 under Napoleon. The types of records you can find at the commune include:

  • Tables Decennales – decennial tables that summarize births, marriages, and deaths for the previous 10-year period – index level only
  • Tables de Naissances – birth records with details
  • Tables de Mariages – marriage records with details
  • Tables de Deces – death records with details

From 1792 to 1805, these records used dates according to the French Republican Calendar. This was another Napoleonic innovation, but did not survive the test of time. Each month of the year was renamed, days of the week were renamed, the number of days in a month was changed, and the beginning of the year was moved from January 1 to 22 September, among other things. You can read more about the calendar here.

When you come across a date like “the 13th of Messidor in the Year of the Republic IV,” obviously some sort of conversion is required in order to understand it in modern terms. (As an aside, you should record the date in its original format in your records, along with its conversion.) There are numerous conversion aids available, including one at FamilySearch.

The departements in Alsace-Lorraine have digitized many of their records, which are available for free at the web sites listed below. Please note that the websites are in French only, no English site versions available. To figure out what you’re looking at if you don’t speak French, you can make liberal use of Google Translate.

There are numerous published works about emigration from Alsace-Lorraine. These are some you might be interested in checking out:

  • Alsace Emigration Book by Cornelia Schrader-Muggenthaler
  • 18th Century Emigration from Northern Alsace to America by Annette Kunselman Burgert
  • Emigration from Lorraine from the 18th to the 20th century by Norman Laybourn (in French)
  • Immigrants to America from France (Haut-Rhin Department) and Western Switzerland, 1859-1866 by Clifford Neal Smith

Websites of interest for Alsace-Lorraine research include the following:

May 2020 – Finding Town of Origin in US Records

First things first – since I haven’t had any feedback from you, there will be no German SIG for June – we’ll resume in September with a new series of (hopefully!) interesting presentations.

Information and links from the program on 5 May 2020 are as follows:

I showed a table from FamilySearch for a search strategy for finding your foreign-born ancestors. You can find that process at

One of the things I spent a good deal of time on was Roger Minert’s multi-volume work called Germans in American Church Records. Dr. Minert has explained his work and the process he’s used for selecting the information in these volumes in a couple BYU webinars. You can find them here: – and Also check out his web sites at and

Remember that county histories published in the late 1800s can be a great source for finding the town of origin for your immigrant ancestor. Many of these volumes have been digitized and are available on the web in places like, Hathitrust, FamilySearch, and so on. Or just Google the name of the county, using search terms like “Clay County History and Biography.”

Always keep in mind that things change! Even though a record says a person was born in Rothau, that place is now called Rotava. History matters, geography matters, handwriting is always a challenge – so don’t be discouraged if you find the name of a place and it doesn’t seem to exist. I showed a census example for Cattaraugus NY in 1910. One of the place names listed could either be read as Suxeweiner or Luxeweiner. (There’s that pesky handwriting again!) Of course I couldn’t find either place by Googling or looking at maps. Instead, I turned to This is a great tool for finding place names that were current in the German empire from 1871-1918. Typing those two potential town names into the search field produced no results. However, this web site allows the use of wild cards, so by typing in “Suxe*” or “Luxe*” or “*weiner.” I was able to find a a likely suspect – a small town called Luxenweiler in Württemberg. (BTW, “Weiler” in German means village or hamlet, so this is a good clue that we’re on the right track with this town name.) Sadly, there is no corresponding place in the FamilySearch catalog. However, Meyers tells us that this village is affiliated with Biberach, and there are records for Biberach at FamilySearch. And frustratingly, these are records that can only be viewed at your local FHC. So as soon as this quarantine is over, we’ll go poking around to see if we can find that family!

When we meet again in September, I’ll be looking forward to hearing about your research successes!

April 2020 – Some Suggested Activities

Life in the times of corona virus and everything gets disrupted. Hopefully you are all doing well and staying healthy. GRIVA is working on options for distance learning and distance meetings – watch your email for updates on that. In the meantime, I’m going to post some links here for webinars and e-learning opportunities:

Legacy Family Tree Webinars is offering a number of free webinars, with a couple of interest to you German scholars – Emigration from Hamburg, and Hessian Soldiers. You can find the complete list of available webinars here.

The BYU Family History Libary offers a wide variety of webinars, including several related to German research. I highly recommend the one with Roger Minert as he explains GIACR – watch it yourself and find out what that acronym can mean for you! A full listing of their webinars is available here:

BYU also offers an independent study course for German research that includes 8 lessons, each with multiple sub-pages. But pay attention – there are quizzes! The course is free, and available here –

The FamilySearch wiki for German research has enough information and links to keep you busy for a long time. Check it out here –

The Germanic Genealogy Society offers webinars on a variety of topics. Upcoming ones are free to attend, but you have to be a member to look at archived webinars. For more information, go to

One of the German genealogy mailing lists that I subscribe to offered this link which is full of suggestions for free amusements during the corona crisis. I personally subscribed to free concerts by the Berlin Philharmonic – lovely! The links aren’t specifically for genealogy, but there may be something useful in there for you anyway. The list is in German, but many of the words you can probably figure out without the help of Google Translate – Filme for films or movies, Museen for museums, Datenbanken for databases.

For May, I’ll be looking at avenues to explore in US records to help you find where your German ancestors came from.

March 2020 – Immigrant Case Study

This month we went through a case study of George Theobald (who happens to be my husband’s great-grandfather). Unlike previous months, I have no links or further reading to add to the blog here. But maybe this is a good opportunity to look at the steps I took to find George in Germany, and some lessons learned.

Even though I had lots of documents, there were plenty of areas where the data presented just didn’t add up. So in addition to searching for records, I had to really evaluate what I was seeing in order to piece together an accurate picture of George and his family. The steps I took aren’t necessarily the same ones you’ll follow to find your person, but just remember that good research practices will always apply, whether you’re searching here or abroad.

Some lessons learned:

  • Those stories that you grew up hearing may or may not be true, but they may have a “germ of truth” that can be a starting point for your research. The same thing holds true for family pictures, heirlooms, etc., that might hold clues when reexamined.
  • Don’t just look at at one census report – look at all of them for your person and evaluate the information on those pages. Don’t just look at the page your person is on, but go back and forward a page or two to see who is living around them. These might be people they came to America with, or families that they’ll intermarry with.
  • Cross-reference to other possible sources, for example city directories, newspaper reports, occupational newsletters or annual reports.
  • Look for German-language newspapers in the area where your immigrant settled. They will often have more or different information that the English-language paper. In fact, they may be the only source of information!
  • I couldn’t find any for George (St. Louis is a big city and he kept moving around!), but look for church records. German Protestants in the US generally kept their records in German, and often these records will mention the town of origin, not just the state or duchy or whatever other larger jurisdiction.
  • If you have old documents from your immigrant, be sure to look on both sides of the page. Even if the form looks complete on the front side, you never know what might be on the reverse that could help further your research.
  • Just because you’ve found an indexed record on FamilySearch or Ancestry, doesn’t mean you’ve gotten all the information from that record. Remember that the indexing process is designed to make a person findable, and so only extracts a minimum of data to make that possible. ALWAYS look at the original record if possible to see what other information can be gleaned.
  • When you get a search result that you’re not sure about, save it anyway. You never know how your future research may help tie back to that record – or allow you to eliminate it as a possibility.
  • Don’t limit your search to sources only on the Internet. Field trips to a local record repository may be the only way to get that one record you’re looking for.
  • And even though I didn’t talk about this for George’s case study, don’t just blindly copy from trees that you find on the web. In this case, the old saying applies – “Trust, but verify!”

February 2020 – Naturalization and Passports

The subject of naturalization is closely intertwined with our topic from last month – passenger list and immigration. We talked about the various types of naturalization, the most common of which by far is by application for citizenship. We also talked a bit about the naturalization process for women and children, and how it’s varied over the years. This article from NARA offers a good overview of the challenges. women faced.

During the colonial period, naturalizations were only performed for non-British immigrants, and only for Protestants. So it’s quite possible that naturalization records may be found in Britain rather than here in the US.

So where can we go today to find naturalization records? Prior to 1906, they can be found in any court of record – federal, state, county, or local; all with varying requirements. After 1906, naturalization became regulated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), but federal, district, and state courts continued to perform naturalizations. Court names to look for – superior, supreme, district, county, circuit, court of common pleas, etc.

The INS is now called USCIS – United States Customs and Immigration Service, and offers information about researching individual naturalization records, both by time period and by nationality records. You should also explore the link (on the left side of the linked page) for other genealogy-related information from USCIS. And one more thing – they sporadically offer webinars on naturalization- and immigration-related topics, so sign up for their webinar alerts.

There are several steps required for naturalization – the time frames required to begin each step have varied over the years, but the steps are the same:

  • Declaration of intention – usually filed 3-7 years after arrival, sometimes even at port of entry; might not be same location as other steps in process; also called “first papers”
  • Deposition – affidavits of two witnesses
  • Petition – requests court to grant citizenship; also called “second” or “final papers”
  • Oath of Allegiance / Certificate of Naturalization – registers granting of citizenship

The information required for each of these steps has also varied widely over time and by location. Generally, the Declaration and Petition are the documents that should have the most information about the immigrant and may be where the town of origin is revealed. That’s “may” be, not “is.” Frustrating, I know, but that’s why we never stop researching when we find one record or the other!

Here are some naturalization websites for you to explore, as well as further reading on the topic:

Just like naturalization laws, passport regulations have been subject to change over the years. You may be surprised to learn that passports were not officially required for foreign travel until 1978! Passports have been issued solely by the Department of State since 1856. Check out these links for more information on passports:

January 2020 – Immigration and Passenger Lists

Thanks to all of you who braved the ugly weather to join me yesterday for a discussion of US immigration laws and the wonders of passenger lists. Please note that this presentation is applicant to any immigrants, not just ones from Germany.

Check Wikipedia for an overview of immigration laws and how they’ve changed over time. also has a good summary.

The United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS, formerly ICE, formerly…) has a section of their website devoted to genealogy and history, so it might be a good place to check out. There’s also a full page of featured stories that are of interest. I mentioned last night about a webinar on how some women were processed at Ellis Island, and although it isn’t specifically mentioned here, this is the place where it originated. The 2020 webinar schedule hasn’t been posted yet (as of 8 Janurary 2020), but check back later to look for topics of interest to you.

Here’s a link to the bibliography on colonial immigration sources. Sorry, none of the sources are hot-linked.

Sources of immigration information:

Ship Information:

And finally, links to some of the popular shipping lines that carried passengers to the US:

Join me next month for a look at the naturalization process in the US.

December 2019 – Emigration in 1800s, 1900s

Sorry for being a little late with posting information about this presentation – December is all about baking Christmas cookies at my house! Oh, and wrapping presents too.

Anyway, here are the major points about German emigration to the US in the 1800s and 1900s:

  • Germans who were already in the US – remember those early settlements in Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia? – were busy moving westward into Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. As time moved on, they moved even further west.
  • Germans coming into the country may have entered through ports in New York, Philadelphia, or New Orleans, but then quickly moved on to some other place, especially as land became available in the Midwest.
  • Travel routes changes as railroads rather than rivers were used to get to ports in Europe. LeHavre in France was the most likely port for people heading to New Orleans; ships from Bremen usually went to Baltimore or Philadelphia, but also New York. The port in Hamburg opened in 1850; ships originating there often made stops in England before heading to the US.
  • While most of the emigrants in the 1600s came from the Palatinate, Baden, and Württemberg, later emigrants came from other German states and duchies, as well as from German-speaking Eastern European countries (Bohemia, Moravia, etc.)

When you’re trying to find more information about your German ancestors, it’s helpful to try the following sources:

  • Church records in the original parish (if you know it) often will cite when a person or family left, and maybe where they went to.
  • Newspaper advertisements (such as the Amtsblatt for the locality where they came from) will print legal notices for the emigrant.
  • Probate records (here and there) may list people who are living in a different country than the deceased.
  • German Emigration Indexes are available online.
  • Germans to America by Filby and Glazier has known errors and omissions, but is also a useful source of information.
  • Passenger and Immigration Lists by Filby and Meyer is not limited only to German emigrations, and is searchable on
  • Compgen (Germany’s answer to Rootsweb) has an emigration page with information by destination and origin. Note – not all of this site is available in English – stretch that German language muscle!
  • The BYU Immigrant Ancestor Project has a searchable database, not just of Germans.
  • The Genealoger website has a thorough list of emigration sources, causes, timeframes, and more..
  • FamilySearch has a wiki page on German emigration,
  • The Library of Congress also has a series on immigration.

Fall Program for German SIG

September 2019

Herzlich Willkommen im Deutschen Stammtisch – or welcome (back) to the German SIG!

Our goal for this fall is to understand more about German emigration – what factors caused people to emigrate, where did they come from, when did they come, what ports did they leave from and arrive at? The answers to these questions may vary, depending on the timeframe your ancestors came to America.

Review of the 3 September 2019 Meeting

In September, we reviewed the 1600s and 1700s – more about that below. For October we’ll be looking at the 1800s, and in November the 1900s. There will be no meeting in December – gotta bake Christmas cookies and Stollen!

The earliest German settlers (in the 1600s) usually came as individuals, sometimes as part of another larger group. To find out more about these adventurous souls, read The First German Immigrants to North America.

The earliest permanent German settlement in the US was Germantown in Pennsylvania – now actually a part of Philadelphia. For more information about this settlement, read any of the following:

If you’d like to know more about Johann Christoph Sauer – the man who took all the German printing business away from Benjamin Franklin, check out this page.

In 1709, there was a great exodus of Germans – mostly from the southwest area that included the Palatinate, Baden, and Württemberg. About 14,000 Germans left for England via Rotterdam. Over 3000 of them were sent from England to New York in 1710. The Simmendinger Register lists many of the Germans who settled in the Mohawk Valley there.

The next permanent settlement of Germans was right here in Virginia. Governor Spotswood imported 13 families of miners from Siegen and Müsen in 1714. This group founded the colony of Germanna, and other settlers followed in later years. For more on Germanna, read here:

Another large group of settlers in the 1700s was the Hessian soldiers who fought with the British in the Revolutionary War. Congress offered these soldiers 50 acres to desert, and many took them up on it. In all, about 5000 soldiers stayed behind and settled in the US and Canada. For more information on the Hessian soldiers, read here:

Two valuable sources for early German passenger lists are Strassburger & Hinke, Pennsylvania German Pioneers 1727-1808 (3-volume set) , and J. Daniel Rupp, A Collection of 30K Names etc . (it’s a crazy long title!).

And finally, other useful links for this time period:

Next Meeting of the German SIG will be in September at Monument Avenue LDS Church

My plan for the Fall is to talk about immigration and naturalization, as well as migration paths from Europe to the US. I need input from you on specific topics that you’d like me to address within this larger framework.

I’d also like feedback from you as to whether we should have an afternoon or evening session starting in the Fall. Marcy Elliott-Rupert will be resuming her GenChat sessions, so the Tuesday at 7pm time slot will be unavailable for us.

You can contact me with suggestions and feedback at Or come see me at the FHC on Wednesday or Thursday evenings.

Review of Info from 7 May Meeting

First of all, let me thank all of you for participating in the German SIG – aka Deutscher Stammtisch – this Spring. I hope the information presented was helpful to you. Some people have already indicated that they were able to make progress with their German lines; I hope others will have similar success in the future.

This time around we covered non-FamilySearch and non-Ancestry websites for German research. Of course there are way too many such websites to cover in such a short meeting, so I restricted myself to a handful that I consider the most valuable: ) is probably the best free website for German research (after FamilySearch). It includes everything from a wiki for German research topics, to mailing lists and databases. If the town you’re researching has a local heritage book (also known as Ortsfamilienbuch or OFB) online here, then your work is pretty much done. Be sure to also check the list of printed OFBs. Many pages on Compgen have been translated into English, but of course, more information is available in German. Don’t forget – Google Translate is your friend!

Archion ) is the website of the Evangelical Church in Germany. Several years ago it created this website with the goal of making as many church records as possible available online. The website is updated regularly, but there are still many gaps in coverage, e.g. Saxony is still woefully under-represented. Archion is a fee-based service; monthly and annual subscriptions are available. The website is available in English and German.

ANNO ( ) is the website of the Austrian National Library, and contains both newspapers and magazines online. It is regularly updated, and offers full-text search across the collection. ANNO covers publications from 1689-1947; over one million pages are digitized each year. The website is free, and is available in German and partly in English.

The Austrian National Library has recently started a sister site called AKON ( ) for digitized postcards from all over the world. Over 75000 postcards cover a time range from the end of the 19th century into the 1940s.

Although I’m not going to list them all here, I encourage you to explore the websites of the various state libraries and archives in the areas you’re researching. Many have their own sets of digitized information available online. As a starting point, look at the FamilySearch page on German archives; this page also contains links to archives in former German territories, not just Germany. Don’t forget to look for digitized collections at university libraries as well.

Review of Info from 2 April Meeting

Isn’t German handwriting wonderful? Now that you’ve had this introduction to the ins and outs of Kurrentschrift, you can start exploring all those original documents that will lead you to your ancestral families.

Here are the most helpful books that I referred to in my presentation; they are all available on Amazon.

  • If I Can You Can Decipher German Records, by Edna M. Bentz
  • Deciphering Handwriting in German Document: Analyzing German, Latin, and French in Historical Manuscripts, by Roger P Minert
  • German-English Genealogical Dictionary, by Ernst Thode
  • Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting: A Translator’s Tricks of the Trade for Transcribing German Genealogy Documents, by Katherine Shober

And here are some web links with handwriting tutorials and other useful information:

Review of Info from 5 March Meeting

Thanks to all of you who were able to join me last Tuesday for a thorough review of church records available for German research. As I mentioned in both our first session and this time around, church records – whether Protestant or Catholic – will be your first line of recourse for finding your German ancestors. Because of all the little kingdoms, duchies, city-states, and other geographical/political entities, you won’t find a convenient or consistent census for the area we now call Germany. (France has Tables Decenales starting around 1790, but that’s a story for another day!)

The records you want to look for are mostly found via the FamilySearch catalog, organized by place name, then church records. Ancestry also has some German records, but not nearly to the same extent.If you want to get adventurous, you can explore some German websites as well. Here are the keywords to look for:

  • Tauf- or Geburtsregister for births and baptisms – don’t forget that illegitimate births may be listed in a separate part of the register, not necessarily sequentially
  • Heirats- or Trauungsregister for marriages
  • Todes- or Sterberegister for deaths
  • Konfirmationsregister for confirmations – in the Protestant churches, this usually happened around age 14
  • Familienregister or Ortssippenbuch – compiled family group sheets by parish or town

Beyond FamilySearch and Ancestry, here are some links for you to explore (I hope all the links will work correctly; if not, cut and paste the entire link into your browser):

Next time we’ll be talking about German handwriting, which is a key to success in your research.

Herzlich Willkommen in die deutsche SIG!

How’s that for a mish-mash of German and English? Don’t worry – the meetings will be held in English, no pre-existing knowledge of German required. By default, of course, you will be learning some German words and phrases so that you can delve into those original records and find out more about your people!

Here’s the agenda I’m going to follow for the coming four months:

February – History and Geography and Why It Matters

March – Understanding German Records

April – Deciphering German Handwriting (so you can read those German records!)

May – Helpful Websites for German Research

As was mentioned in the GRIVA email blast announcing this SIG, I want to emphasize that these meetings are not just for people with ancestors from Germany, but for anyone with ancestors in a German-speaking country. Are you surprised to know that this includes France, Poland, Denmark, Russia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and more?

Review of Info from 5 February Meeting

Thanks to everyone who came to the inaugural meeting of the German SIG on Tuesday evening. We covered a lot of information about history and geography, and I wanted to post some of the links that I showed you so you can play with them on your own, and also just review some important dates as far as record availability is concerned.

Dates to remember

  • 1524 – first Protestant records started
  • 1563 – first Catholic records for birth and marriage only
  • 1583 – 1700 – shift to Gregorian calendar (date varies by location)
  • 1792 – France starts civil registration
  • ~1806 – Familienbuch (compiled genealogies) begin
  • 1828 – patronyms abolished in Schleswig-Holstein
  • 1874 – Prussia begins civil registration of vital records
  • 1876 – civil registration required throughout Germany

There are too many web sites to list when it comes to history and geography of German-speaking areas of Europe. Here, I’m listing the ones we talked about this week, but I urge you to explore on your own. There are plenty of things to find out about your particular research location.

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