Show Notes & Video: Finding your German ancestor’s village is key to finding the genealogical records you need to go further back in your family tree. In this session you’ll learn:
- How and why it is important to know the “Heimat” because many records are kept on the local level.
- How to de garble a village name that is handed down to you (a common problem!)
- Records to search for village names.
- Resources for finding those records.
My guest presenter is James Beidler. He’s an expert on German genealogy and was gracious enough to share his expertise in the Genealogy Gems booth at Rootstech a few years ago. Visit James Beidler’s website. Get the book: The Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germany. (Thank you for using our affiliate link which supports this free content.)
Watch the Video
Researching your ancestors deep into Germany simply doesn’t happen unless you know the name of the village of origin. This presentation goes over the sources to tie your immigrant to a Heimat and then find the village and its records! HIghlighted in this article are the strategies and resources referred to in this video.
German Methodologies Review:
Your first job is to find every document of the immigrant ancestor or that mentions the immigrant ancestor:
- Prepare for surname variants
- “Redundancy” is a virtue (e.g., obit may well have something tombstone does not)
- Even items such as letters and diaries might give clues!
- Be prepared for village names to be corrupted
- Familiarize yourself with German maps / gazetteers
- Look for “patterns of association” with other individuals
- Process any piece of information that might distinguish the immigrant (e.g., occupation, names of other family members, etc.)
Utilize “whole family” genealogy
- If specific records don’t exist for your ancestor, try others in family
Look for published sources
- 1700s families: Burgert / Jones / Yoder / Hacker
- 1800s families: Burkett / Germans to America / Emigration indexes
Search International Genealogical Index
- References to individual
- References to clusters of the surname if it is not common
- References to shipmates
- References to “associated persons”
Look for other sources of immigrant information:
- Heitmatstelle Pfalz immigrant card file
- Hamburg embarkation lists
- German phonebooks
- Google searches
Use the “concentric circles” strategy
- If a village is found for the above categories of people (surname, shipmates, associated persons) but your immigrant is not found …
- … work out from that village in “concentric circles” to other surrounding villages
“Things found on the way to something else”
- Machmer / Magemer / Mahomer example
- Never turn away luck!
Types of records that might yield a place of origin:
Declarations of intent (“first papers”) Naturalization petitions (“final papers”)
- Baptisms of children
- Marriage Records
- Church burial records
- U.S. Census
- Family Bibles
- Family Registers
- Fraternal societies’ records
- Enlistment papers
- Discharge Papers
- Pension documents
- Letters from relatives
- Postmarks on letters
Internet Websites Resources for German Research
The resources listed below can help us answer some of the most common questions we ask as genealogists. Some examples of the questions and Websites that will help:
1. What was the village of origin for my German-speaking immigrant ancestor?
Mecklenburg (Institute for Migration and Ancestral Research)
Northern Friesland (search Friesland)
2. How can I help untangle the garbled name of a village of origin?
Atlas des Deutschen Reichs by Ludwig Ravenstein 1883
GOV Genealogical Gazetteer (part of Genealogy.net supersite)
Comprehensive gazetteer of German places east of the Oder and Neisse rivers
3. How can I get in contact with possible relatives from my ancestor’s village of origin?
Das Telefonbuch (German telephone directory)
(Also – Google names of villages and find out which local tourist board the village is a part of – e-mail directly to them)
4. How can I find out about German archives?
FamilySearch wiki – for guides to Germany and its component states
Archivschule Marburg Portal D (list of archives)