Scandinavian Genealogy Records and More

It’s a Scandinavian genealogy dream come true: over 135 million new free records at FamilySearch! Also new (and free): church records for England, France, Germany; Italian and Mexican civil registration; archival indexes for The Netherlands; South African court records; Kentucky death records; Michigan births and Utah delayed birth records.

Featured: Free Scandinavian genealogy records

The free Genealogy Giant FamilySearch recently announced the addition of 135.4 million free digital historical records from Denmark, Finland, and Sweden. “These new collections were digitized in partnership with MyHeritage and the National Archives of Denmark and Finland and can now be accessed at FamilySearch.”

Denmark: over 55 million new records added. These include census records (1834-1930); browse-only church record images (1686–1941); browse-only land record images of deeds and mortgages; browse-only estate record images (1436–1964) and estate record indexes (1674–1851); civil marriages (1851–1961) and another collection of Copenhagen civil marriages (1739–1964; indexed 1877–1964). Search all Denmark records at FamilySearch for free.

Finland: over 34 million new records added. These include nearly 300 years of church census and preconfirmation books (1657–1915) and 100 years of tax lists of Suomi-Henkikirjara (1819–1915). Search all Finland records at FamilySearch for free.

Sweden: nearly 47 million new records added. These include Sweden household examination books (1880–1920) and church books (Kyrkoböcker) from Kopparberg (1604–1860), Örebro (until 1860), and Östergötland (1555–1911). Search all Sweden records at FamilySearch for free.

More free records at FamilySearch

England. There are more than 2.5 million indexed records in a new collection, England, Leicestershire Parish Registers, 1533-1991. According to the description. “The records found in this collection span over 400 years and include: Banns, 1637-1931; Baptisms, 1533-1916; Burials, 1533-1991; and Marriages, 1533-1931. While the vast majority of the records include images of the original parish registers, there are transcripts that do not include images. The images captured by FamilySearch were provided by the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland. The indexes were provided by Findmypast.”

France. Nearly 30,000 records have been added to the collection, France, Haute-Garonne, Toulouse, Church Records, 1539-1793. “Church records (registres paroissiaux) of baptisms, marriages, and burials within the custody of the Municipal Archives of Toulouse (Archives municipales de Toulouse). Includes marriage banns (bans de mariages). Most records are for Catholics, although there are a small quantity of available records for Protestants. Availability of records is largely dependent on time period and locality.”

Germany. More than 1.3 million indexed records have been added to Germany, Bavaria, Diocese of Augsburg, Catholic Church Records, 1615-1939. These include baptisms, marriages and burials. Another 43,000+ indexed records have been added to Germany, Rhineland, Diocese of Trier, Catholic Church Records, 1704-1957, as well.

Italy. FamilySearch continues to add to its Italian civil records collections. More than 20,000 records each have been added to the free collections, Italy, Brescia, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1797-1943 and Italy, Pescara, Civil Registration (State Archive), 1809-1929.

Mexico. There a new browse-only collection with more than 1.4 million images! It’s Mexico, Sinaloa, Civil Registration, 1861-1929. The records include “births, marriages, deaths, indexes and other records created by civil registration offices” in Sinaloa.

Netherlands. More than 5.4 million indexed records have been added to the collection, Netherlands, Archival Indexes, Public Records. “Archives around the Netherlands have contributed indexes which cover many record sources, such as civil registration, church records, emigration lists, military registers, and land and tax records. This collection will cover events like notarial records, emigration and immigration, military enrollment and more. These indexes were originally collected, combined and published by OpenArchives.”

South Africa. More than a million indexed records have been added to South Africa, Cape Province, Probate Records of the Master of the High Court. These come from the original records kept at the Cape Archives Depot in Cape Town, South Africa.

United States. Two new collections have been added and one has received significant updates:

Genealogy Giants partnerships benefit everyone

The Genealogy GiantsAncestry.com, FamilySearch, Findmypast and MyHeritage-participate in partnerships now and then that lead to more online records for us. In this report, you see collaboration between the free site FamilySearch and subscription sites Findmypast and MyHeritage. We {heart} these win-win situations! Learn how these sites compare (and cooperate and compete) on our dedicated Genealogy Giants webpage.

About the Author: Sunny Morton

About the Author: Sunny Morton

Sunny is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Premium Podcasts. She’s  known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Finding Hard-to-Find WWI Era German Ancestors

This surprise discovery of a WWI German ancestor on a free website can inspire your own family history research discoveries. Bonus: watch a free video on how to find your German ancestor’s home village!

Following Our German Expert’s Advice

Not long ago, I made a surprising military record discovery. It came about because I was looking at the e-book we put together of handouts of all the sessions we presented in the Genealogy Gems booth at FGS 2016. I was reviewing the notes from one of Jim Beidler’s sessions. (These handouts really are a wonderful benefit of coming by our booth at the big conferences!)

In the handout, Jim recommends des.genealogy.net and I didn’t recall having searched that site before. Here you can search among several kinds of records that have been transcribed or indexed by volunteers, including tombstones, memorial cards, World War I casualty lists and directories.

my first find: WWI German casualty list

Following Jim’s advice, I performed a search and, sure enough, I found a one-of-a-kind digitized document. At first glance it wasn’t clear what I was looking. The result contained a VERY rare surname in my family tree, Sporowski, that appeared alongside the name of my great-grandfather’s tiny home village of Kotten, which is rarely mentioned anywhere. The document was a World War I casualty list dated December 22, 1914! Aside from my great grandfather’s naturalization papers, this was the first time ever I had found the name Sporowski and the town of Kotten on the same page of any document. Just seeing them together gave me goosebumps!

Reading German Gothic Script

In order to confirm that I was reading the German Gothic script correctly, I turned to Google for a quick search of German Gothic Script Guide and quickly found several reliable options. I used the Foundation for East European Family History Studies German-Gothic Handwriting Guide available here

The guide helped me confirm my suspicions that the first letter of the first word was “G”, and that I indeed had the first letter of the surname correct, “S”. The entry reads:

“Gren. Emil Sporowski – Kotten”

While this document was not for my great grandfather, I had found the first documentation of his brother Emil! (Gustav also served in the military. Here’s his picture, below.)

Understanding WWI German Military Terms

So what did “Gren.” stand for? I suspected “Grenadier,” but I returned to Google and conducted a search of German Military Abbreviations to be sure. 

Google did not disappoint. The search led to several very helpful documents including one entitled German Military Abbreviations which was prepared by the War Department during World War II.  
Because it was a long PDF document I shaved off a lot of time by using Control + F to find the term “Gren” in this 246 page document. This found the answer instantly on page 72:  

WWI Germany Military Uniforms

I’m a very visual person, so I bee-lined back to Google to get my first glimpse of a Germany Grenadier Military WWI soldier:

WWI German Genealogy Research Success!

What a find in just a few short minutes! And what a lead that may result in additional records that exist for Emil’s military service. (This is the brick-wall family that Legacy Tree Genealogists helped me with recently.)

It was a good reminder that when searching online you never know what you’ll find. Leave no stone unturned — or in this case, no website unsearched — when an expert recommends it, especially if it’s free! And remember to take extra time to familiarize yourself with the sites you search and the collections you find: their original intended purpose, how they are organized, and where they may lead you next.

Learn More Like this 

Genealogy Gems will be rolling out the red carpet and more mini training sessions (like the one Jim gave at our booth) at the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree (May 31 – June 2, 2018, Burbank, CA) and FGS 2018 (August 22 – 25, Fort Wayne, IN). Come by the booth to check out the schedule and learn how to get the handouts.

How to Find the Germany Villages of Your Ancestors

Here at Genealogy Gems we’re devoted to helping you be successful in uncovering your family history. Here’s a bonus for you below: a videotaped version of Jim Beidler’s RootsTech 2018 Genealogy Gems booth presentation, “How to find your German ancestral village.” Enjoy!

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa is the Producer and Host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, Mobile Genealogy, How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series, an international keynote speaker, and producer of the Family Tree Magazine Podcast.

Denmark Church Records and More Now Online

New online! Denmark church records, Yorkshire parish records, English and Irish estate records, French church and civil registration records, German vital records, Irish townland indexes, and U.S. collections for Georgia, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. They’re all new at the Genealogy Giants: Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com.

Featured: Denmark church records

Genealogy Giant MyHeritage.com has published an exclusive new collection, Denmark Church Records, 1813-1919. According to the site, these are “records of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths, burials, and other records kept by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark. Church records are extremely important for Danish research as vital events of virtually every individual who lived in Denmark during the time period covered by this collection were recorded in these parish registers or church books (kirkebøger).”

The records include the typical birth or baptisms, confirmations, marriages, deaths and burials but also may include the following, as described on the site:

  • “Vaccinations (Vaccinerede) – The vaccination mandate began in 1810 required everyone to receive the smallpox vaccine, unless the person at already had the pox. Vaccinations typically occurred when children were quite young. These records usually list the name of the person receiving the vaccine, date of vaccination, their father’s name, and their age or birth date. A person’s vaccination date could also be recorded in their confirmation record, and if they ever moved, could be noted in their moving in or moving out record.
  • Moving In (Tilgangsliste) and Moving Out (Afgangsliste) Records – Began in 1812 and list individuals moving in or moving out of a parish. These records may contain name, age or birth date, occupation, residence, vaccination date, moving date, and where moving to/from.”

England parish records

Subscription giant Ancestry.com has published a new collection of indexed images, Yorkshire, England: Church of England Parish Records, 1538-1873. According to its description, “Parish records–primarily baptisms, marriages, and burials–provide the best sources of vital record information in the centuries before civil registration. Baptismal records generally list the date of the baptism, the name of the child being baptized, and the name of the father. Marriage records generally include the date of the marriage and the names of the bride and groom. Burial records generally list the date of the burial and the name of the deceased individual. Occasionally burial records will include other bits of information, such as where the individual was from or if he/she was a widow. Records from various parishes throughout Yorkshire will continually be added to this database for the next couple of months.”

UK subscription site Findmypast.com has published Prerogative Court Of Canterbury Administrations 1660-1700. Subscribers may “search over 88,000 transcripts and images of Index slips and related documentation created from original Prerogative Court of Canterbury administrations held by The National Archives at Kew. This collection includes a high volume of mariners; approximately a third of these records refer to a mariner. Each record will reveal the date of your ancestor’s will, the value of their will, the archive reference number and any additional notes.”

England and Wales electoral registers

Findmypast.com has released an exclusive new collection, England & Wales, Electoral Registers 1920. According to the site, “Electoral Registers are lists created annually of people who are eligible to vote and include their reason for eligibility, such as their residence or ownership of a property. These records from 1920 will include the men and women who first gained the right to vote in 1918….These newly indexed records can be searched by name, year, constituency, polling district and keyword.”

France church and civil records

Nearly 8 million records comprise a new, free collection at FamilySearch.org: France, Dordogne, Church and Civil Registration, 1540-1896. Among the documents included are baptism, birth, marriage and death records. According to the site, these can be an incredibly rich resource for identifying your French ancestors:

  • Birth records often include the child’s name, gender, birthdate, birthplace, parents’ names (including mother’s maiden) and marital status, father’s age, father’s occupation and residence and the names of witnesses or godparents, along with their ages, occupations, and residences.
  • Marriage registers may include the names, ages, birthplaces, occupations and residences of the bride and groom; marriage date and place; marriage certificate and banns date; names of the bride’s and groom’s parents (including mother’s maiden); and the witnesses’ names, occupations, and ages.
  • Death records may include the deceased’s name, age at death, cause of death, gender, marital status, death and burial date and place, birth date and place, name of spouse, and father’s name and occupation.

For help reading these French-language records, click here.

Germany vital records

Ancestry.com has recently published or updated several new collections of German vital records:

Ireland wills and townland indexes

Ancestry.com has published a new collection spanning nearly 300 years: Ireland, Index to the Prerogative Wills, 1536-1810. The source of this collection is a previously-published volume by the same name (ed. Sir Arthur Vicars; originally published in 1897, Dublin, Ireland; Genealogical Publishing Co., 1989). The collection description explains the historical process of proving wills in Ireland. This particular collection relates to a specific type of estate: “The Prerogative Court of the Archbishop of Armagh, latterly established at Henrietta Street, in Dublin, proved the wills of testators dying with assets of value greater than £5 (“bona notabilia”) in at least two Irish dioceses. This court was also abolished by the Court of Probate Act 1857.”

Findmypast.com also has new Irish records: Ireland, Alphabetical Indexes To The Townlands and Parishes 1851-1911. Browse “2,900 records taken from indexes of townlands and parishes in Ireland spanning the years 1851 to 1911. In addition to townlands and parishes, discover details of baronies and electoral divisions in Ireland for a given year.”

U.S. genealogy record collections by state

Georgia. A new, free collection, Georgia, Houston County, Marriage Records, 1832-2015 is available at FamilySearch.org. According to the site, “Marriage records usually include: the name of the groom, the maiden name of the bride, the names of the officiator and witnesses, the marriage date [and] the marriage place.” The collection link above goes just to the index, but you can also click here to see a full list of the various digitized volumes in this collection in the FamilySearch Catalog (with links to the digital images).

The site also offers an important tip: “Many marriages recorded in the South are separated by race in volumes, books, or registers. Be sure to check to determine if you have the right set of marriage records.” For example, there is a volume dedicated to “Marriage certificates (colored), 1891-1951,” which you’ll find in the above-named list of volumes in the FamilySearch Catalog.

United States genealogy records by state

New York. Subscription-access giant MyHeritage.com has added over 6 million records to its collection of New York City Marriage License Index 1908-1972, bringing the index to nearly 10 million names. According to the site, This collection is an index to marriage licenses filed at the New York City Clerk Offices from the five boroughs from 1908 to 1972. The index contains the given names and surnames of both the bride and the groom, the date of the license application, and the license number. Images provided by Reclaim the Records.”

Ohio. FamilySearch has added over 150,000 free indexed records to Ohio, County Naturalization Records, 1800-1977. The collection includes images of naturalization records from county courthouses in Ohio and a growing number of indexed names. According to the site, “The record content and available years vary by county, though most content falls between 1818 and 1954.” You can either search indexed names on the collection page or scroll down and select the option to browse through over a million images that may not have been indexed yet. (These images are grouped by county, then by record type, year range and volume, making it relatively easy to find the records you want. Click here for a tutorial on browsing records on FamilySearch.org.)

Pennsylvania. Over 200,000 records have been added to the free FamilySearch.org collection, Pennsylvania, Eastern District Petitions for Naturalization, 1795-1931Again, this images-and-indexed names collection is not yet completely indexed, and you may search it by browsing. Petitions are arranged by year and petition number.

Millions of records on the Genealogy Giants

Ancestry.com, Findmypast.com, MyHeritage.com, and FamilySearch.org publish millions of new historical records online every month. Keep up with the new collections of these Genealogy Giants with me here at Genealogy Gems. Bring focus to your research: click here to learn what sets apart each of the Genealogy Giants, and learn strategies for getting the most out of them.  

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

About the Author: Sunny Morton

About the Author: Sunny Morton

Sunny is a Contributing Editor at Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems; her voice is often heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast and Premium Podcasts. She’s  known for her expertise on the world’s biggest family history websites (she’s the author of Genealogy Giants: Comparing the 4 Major Websites); writing personal and family histories (she also wrote Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy); and sharing her favorite reads for the Genealogy Gems Book Club.

Deciphering Place Names Just Got Easier

When you need help deciphering place names in hard-to-read genealogy documents, two free online tools may have great suggestions for you. Use them to take the guesswork out of identifying great-grandpa’s hometown!

Thanks to guest blogger Katherine Schober, expert German translator and author of the new book, Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting, for this article on deciphering place names (or anything else) in hard-to-read old documents.

There are times when you know from the context of an old document that a certain handwritten word is a city or town–but you aren’t sure of the exact letters the scribe has written. Perhaps you can make out most of the name, but not the first letter. Or maybe you can’t tell whether you’re looking at an “r” or an “n” in the middle of the word. Other times, you can read the place name, but this particular spelling doesn’t appear on a map.

Deciphering place names with a simple trick—and 2 free online tools

Two online resources that are very helpful for identifying town names are Google’s search engine and Meyer’s Gazetteer. At both sites, you can enter what you do know and have these sites help suggest possible place names.

Google search suggestions

Type your transcribed town name into Google—along with any other known place clues, such as the county/province or country name–and see if you get any search results for the region you are researching. If you do, congratulations, you likely transcribed it correctly!

If not, Google may actually suggest the correct transcription of your word for you. For example, when I was translating a nineteenth-century document a few months ago, I read the letters of the town as “L-e-h-t”. I typed “Leht, Germany” into Google, and waited to see what search results would appear. As it turned out, there were no search results for “Leht, Germany,” but Google’s “Did you mean…” function actually provided four other possibilities for what I could have meant as a town name! Here’s what it gave me:

After comparing these Google suggestions with my handwritten word and the specific region of Germany, I realized that the word actually had an “r” and an “e” squeezed in and was, therefore, the German town of “Lehrte.” Taking advantage of this “Did you mean” feature of Google can be very helpful when trying to decipher city and town names.

(Learn hundreds more tips on using Google search–and all the other free Google tools–in Lisa Louise Cooke’s popular book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox.)

More help from Meyer’s Gazetteer

If you can only recognize the first few or the final few letters of a German town, Meyer’s Gazetteer is the site for you. Meyer’s Gazetteer is a free database containing names and information on pre-World War I German cities, towns, and villages (meaning that this site includes towns in present-day France, Poland, and other places). Type in the letters you recognize in your word and use an asterisk to represent the letters you don’t. Meyer’s Gazetteer will then provide you with a list of all places with your letter combination. Then you can then see if there is a town that matches your handwritten word and region.

In the example below, I recognized a capital “A” at the beginning of the word. The middle letters looked like a scribble, but I could see “e-n-b-a-c-h” as the final letters of the word. I typed this into Meyer’s Gazetteer, using an asterisk for those unclear middle letters. The website then provided me with a list of possibilities, and–by only looking at the town names in my specific German region–I was able to significantly narrow down what my handwritten town name could be. By comparing this list to my handwritten word, I was able to then decipher the remaining letters and figure out the name of the town. (Click here for more tips on using Meyer’s Gazetteer.)

By taking advantage of the resources available online, you can make your transcription process much easier and much more fun. Best of luck!

About the Author

Katherine Schober is a German translator who specializes in genealogy documents. Her new book, Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting, is available in paperback or Kindle format. Check out Katherine’s other Genealogy Gems guest blog posts:

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Beginning German Genealogy: Defining “German”

Beginning German genealogy research starts with a key question: “What does ‘German’ really mean?” A Legacy Tree Genealogists expert responds with a story about ancestors whose German identity in the U.S. census seemed to keep changing—and why that was so.

Thanks to Camille Andrus of Legacy Tree Genealogists for providing this guest post.

What does “German” really mean?

My great-grandmother Erika was German. She was adamant about the fact that she was German. After her arrival in the United States, when she was asked to fill out information about her place of birth, she indicated that she was born in Germany. Erika was born in 1921 in Waschulken. Today, this small town is located in northeastern Poland. However, at the time, it was part of Germany. Although borders have since been moved, she never stopped claiming she was German.

In the United States, many German immigrants were listed on various federal censuses and other documents generically as being from Germany. Instructions given to census takers for the 1870 census notes that the country of birth for individuals who were born outside the United States was to be listed “as specifically as possible.” In the case of those from Germany, census takers were to “specify the State, as Prussia, Baden, Bavaria, Wurtemburg, Hesse Darmstadt, [etc].” (Click here to read those instructions for yourself.) This makes sense, as the unification of Germany had not yet occurred.

Above: 1870 census for Henry Blaser household (Henry listed as from “Wuertemberg” and Christina listed as from “Hesse Darmstadt”). Click here to view on FamilySearch.org.

Instructions for the 1900 census, however, indicate that census takers should “not write Prussia or Saxony, but Germany.” Also, in the case of Poland, they were to “inquire whether the birthplace was what is now known as German Poland or Austrian Poland.” (Click to read.) Thus, at least in theory, earlier census enumerations should indicate a more specific area or region rather than the generic “Germany.” (In practice, some census takers still used “Germany” in lieu of a more specific place.

Above: 1900 census for Henry Blaeser household (husband and wife both listed as from “Germany”). Click here to view this entry on FamilySearch.org.

The unification of territories in January 1871 created the German Empire, which lasted until 1918. Prior to the merger, the area consisted of a multitude of separate kingdoms, duchies and provinces. When an individual claims to have German ancestry, they often mean that their ancestors lived within German Empire borders (although not necessarily only during the empire period). These borders were much larger than that of modern Germany, with the most striking inclusion being a large portion of northern Poland. Even after the fall of the empire in 1918, it took many years for the borders to shrink to their current position.

Beginning German genealogy research

Because the concept of who is “German” and what areas are considered “Germany” have changed frequently over time, it is vital to keep shifting historical boundaries in mind if you have ancestors who claim to be German. They may not be from the area of modern Germany.

However, even knowing the province your immigrant ancestor came from is usually not enough to begin researching in German record collections. You need to know the name of the town your ancestor came from. Although in some rare cases you may be able to identify your immigrant’s foreign hometown through indexes created from German collections, more often than not, traditional research will necessitate using church records, civil vital records, passenger lists, naturalization records, newspapers, and other such records in the country to which your ancestor immigrated in order to identify their place of origin.

Church records can be especially useful if the immigrant attended a church associated with their native language, as these records often list foreign hometowns in marriage and death entries. For German immigrants belonging to various Protestant faiths in the Midwest region of the United States, the book series German Immigrants in American Church Records is a quick source to see if your immigrant’s name appears in the extracted records. (Click here to see this book series in the FamilySearch Catalog. Look at the description for each volume, then click View this catalog record in WorldCat for other possible copy locations to look for the volume you need at a library near you.)

Newspaper articles including obituaries can also provide the name of the immigrant’s hometown. Where available, foreign language newspapers should not be overlooked as obituaries in such papers often provide additional details not listed in their English language counterparts. Check with local libraries or historical societies to see if they have copies of foreign language newspapers.

Although early passenger lists and naturalization records usually only list a province or “Germany” as an individual’s place of origin, naturalization records post-1906, as well as more modern passenger manifests, often do list exact towns of birth. On occasion, less-obvious records, such as wills, list the town of birth. So it is important to check all record types in search of the immigrant’s town of origin.

Once the town has been identified, church records and civil registration records, mandatory for the whole German Empire as of 1876, will be the most widely used sources for researching your German ancestors in Europe. (Click here to read about German census records, too.) As many of these records will be written in the antiquated German script, one will not only need to learn basic German genealogy vocabulary but also learn to recognize those words written in the old script. (Click here for a list of top German translation websites.)

Get help beginning your German genealogy

Camille Andrus is a Project Manager for Legacy Tree Genealogists, a worldwide genealogy research firm with extensive expertise in breaking through genealogy brick walls. She and their other German specialists are skilled not only in identifying German hometowns of immigrants, but also in reading and analyzing old German church and civil records. They would love to help you trace your German immigrant ancestors back to their hometowns and extend their lines there. To learn more about Legacy Tree services and its research team, visit www.legacytree.comExclusive Offer for Genealogy Gems readers: Receive $100 off a 20-hour research project using code GGP100.

Disclosure: This article contains offers with affiliate links, which may expire without notice. Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

German Census Records DO Exist

For a long time, German census records were thought not to exist. But they do! A leading German genealogy expert tells us how they’ve been discovered and catalogued—and where you can learn about German census records that may mention your family.

Thanks to James M. Beidler for contributing this guest article. Read more below about him and the free classes he’ll be teaching in the Genealogy Gems booth at RootsTech 2018 in a few short weeks.

German census records DO exist

One of the truisms of researching ancestors in America is that the U.S. Census is a set of records that virtually every genealogist needs to use. From its once-a-decade regularity to its easy accessibility, and the high percentage of survival to the present day, the U.S. Census helps researchers put together family groups across the centuries.

On the other hand, the thing that’s most distinctive about German census records is that for many years they were thought not to even exist. For Exhibit A, look at this quote from a book published just a few years ago: “Most of the censuses that were taken have survived in purely statistical form, often with little information about individuals. There are relatively few censuses that are useful to genealogists.”

The book from which the above statement was taken is The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide. And the author of that book is … uh, well … me! In my defense, this had been said by many specialists in German genealogy. The roots of this statement came from the honest assessment that Germany, which was a constellation of small states until the late 1700s and not a unified nation until 1871 when the Second German Empire was inaugurated, had few truly national records as a result of this history of disunity.

As with many situations in genealogy, we all can be victims of our own assumptions. The assumption here was that because it sounded right that Germany’s fractured, nonlinear history had produced so few other national records, those census records didn’t exist.

A few census records from northern German states (see below) had been microfilmed by the Family History Library, but for all intents and purposes, a greater understanding of the “lost” German census records had to wait for a project spearheaded by Roger P. Minert, the Brigham Young University professor who is one of the German genealogy world’s true scholars.

Finding lost and scattered German census records

It can be said that Brigham Young University professor Roger Minert “wrote the book” on the German census. That’s because he literally did: German Census Records, 1816-1916: The When, Where, and How of a Valuable Genealogical Resource. A sample page is shown below.

Minert had a team help him get the project rolling by writing to archivists in Germany before he took a six-month sabbatical in Europe. During this time, he scoured repositories for samples of their German census holdings (To some extent, Minert’s project had echoes of an earlier work led by Raymond S. Wright III that produced Ancestors in German Archives: A Guide to Family History Sources).

What resulted from Minert’s project was the census book and a wealth of previously unknown information about German censuses. While a few censuses date to the 18th century in the German states (some are called Burgerbücher, German for “citizen books”), Minert found that the initiation of customs unions during the German Confederation period beginning after Napoleon in 1815 was when many areas of Germany began censuses. The customs unions (the German word is Zollverein) needed a fair way to distribute income and expenses among member states, and population was that way. But to distribute by population, a census was needed to keep count, and most every German state began to take a census by 1834.

Until 1867, the type of information collected from one German state to another varied considerably. Many named just the head of the household, while others provided everyone’s names. Some include information about religion, occupation and homeownership.

The year 1867 was a teeter-totter point Minert calls it “for all practical purposes the first national census.” Prussia—by then the dominant German state and whose king would become the emperor just a few years hence—spearheaded the census effort.

After the founding of the Second German Empire, a census was taken every five years (1875 – 1916, the last census being delayed by World War I). While there was some variance in data from one census to another, they all included the following data points: names of each individual, gender, birth (year and, later, specific dates), marital status, religion, occupation, citizenship, and permanent place of residence (if different from where they were found in the census).

While some of these censuses are found in regional archives within today’s German states, in many cases the census rolls were kept locally and only statistics were forwarded to more central locations. Interestingly, there has been a lack of awareness even among German archivists that their repositories have these types of records! Minert says in his book that in three incidences, archivists told him their holdings included no census records, only to be proved wrong in short order.

Minert’s book goes through the old German Empire state by state and analyzes where researchers are likely to find censuses. For each state, there is also a chart on the pre-Empire censuses and what information they included. Researchers wishing to access these records will often need to contact local archives. If you’ve uncovered a village of origin for an immigrant, you could contact them directly by searching for a website for the town, then emailing to ask (politely but firmly) whether the archives has census records.

FamilySearch has placed online German census records for Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1867, 1890 and 1900; the one shown below is from 1867). The Danish National Archives has some census records online for Schleswig-Holstein (much of the area was Danish until they lost a war with Prussia in 1864).

Other Census-Like Lists

In addition to these censuses, many areas of Germany have survivals of tax lists that serve as a record substitute with some data points that are similar to censuses. The lists generally show the name of the taxpayer and the amount of tax paid. In some cases, versions of the lists that include the basis for the tax (usually the value of an interest in real or personal property) have survived. The lists may also include notes about emigration. Here’s a sample tax record from Steinwenden Pfalz.

Some of these tax lists are available in the Family History Library system. The best “clearinghouse” that reports the holdings of various repositories in Germany is Wright’s Ancestors in German Archives. As with the census records, the best way to contact local archives directly would be to search for a website for the town. E-mail to ask whether such lists are kept in a local archive.

In my personal research, tax records have proved crucial. For example, they confirmed the emigration of my ancestor Johannes Dinius in the Palatine town of Steinwenden. These records showed the family had left the area a few months before Dinius’ 1765 arrival in America.

James M Beidler is the author of The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide and Trace Your German Roots Online. He will be joining the Genealogy Gems team at RootsTech 2018! Come by our booth to hear him speak on Thursday, March 1 on finding biographies in newspapers and on Friday, March 2 on finding German villages. Check out the entire schedule of free Genealogy Gems RootsTech classes below and click here to learn what else will be happening at RootsTech 2018.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

Page 1 of 612345...Last »

Pin It on Pinterest

MENU