Anyone tracing German ancestors quickly finds themselves puzzling over maps in a region that has experienced a lot of change. Camille Andrus of Legacy Tree Genealogists recommends these 3 free German genealogy websites to help you navigate the former German empire–from Pomerania to Prussia to Poland. Here are her picks and her explanations for using them.
“For years, novice genealogists who found themselves embarking on the road of German genealogy were discouraged when needing to decipher an entry for their town in Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs (commonly known simply as Meyers or Meyer’s Gazetteer of the German Empire) due to the old German font in which the book was printed and the plethora of abbreviations that were used. To address this obstacle, the website www.MeyersGaz.org was created.
This online database not only explains the text and various abbreviations in the town entry that are found in the original printed version of Meyers, but also pinpoints the location of the town on both historic and modern maps, indicates the Catholic and Protestant parishes to which residents of the town would have belonged, and notes the distance from the town to all parishes within a 20-miles radius.
The database also allows users to search for a town using wildcards. This is especially useful when the exact spelling of a town is not known. For example, if the record on which you found the new town name indicated that the person came from Gross Gard…. where the second part of the word was smudged or illegible, you could simply put “Gross Gard*” into the database. In this case, the only two options would be Gross Garde in Pommern and Gross Gardienen in East Prussia. If you have a common town name such as Mülheim, you can filter the search results by province.”
“Kartenmeister is a database for towns which are found east of the Oder and Neisse rivers in the former German Empire provinces of East Prussia, West Prussia, Brandenburg, Posen, Pomerania, and Silesia. This area is now part of modern Poland. The database allows users to search for towns using either their German or Polish name.
Again, using Gross Gardienen as our example town, we learn that the Polish name for the town is now Gardyny and is located in the Warminsko-Mazurskie province. Like MeyersGaz.org, collaboration between users is encouraged. Individuals can enter their email address into a mailing list according to the town they are interested in and specify surnames they are researching in that town.”
3. Lost Shoebox
“This website is an index to 17 websites focused on research in Poland. The list of websites corresponds with a map of Poland divided into its various modern provinces. Each number (representing a website) is listed on the map in each province for which it has records. Some websites are listed for nearly every province, while others show up for only one or two. The 17 websites featured on Lost Shoebox include either direct access to digital images, indexes to vital records, or lists of microfilms or other archival holdings.
If we were searching for records for Gross Gardienen or other nearby towns, we know from Kartenmeister that we would need to look in the Warminsko-Mazurskie province. The map shows the numbers 3, 10, and 14.” A corresponding key sends users to the appropriate websites.
“The third website on the list for the province brings us to the website for the Polish State Archive in Olsztyn. There are a plethora of digital images for both Evangelical church records and civil registration records available on this website.”
Camille Andrus is a Project Manager for Legacy Tree Genealogists, a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. Her expertise includes Germany, Austria, German-speakers from Czech Republic and Switzerland and the Midwest region of the U.S., where many Germans settled.