peter zenger, german ancestry, german genealogy, Schegel

Schlegel’s American Families of German Ancestry in the United States

It’s an irony of German-American genealogy that what some consider the single greatest collection of family histories in this field is barely known to researchers. The work in question is Carl W. Schlegel’s four-volume American Families of German Ancestry in the United States, published between 1916 and 1926. Each of Schlegel’s four volumes was limited to 200 numbered and registered copies; consequently, only a dozen or so sets can be located today. In fact, only a handful of experts are even aware of the existence of the fourth volume, published in 1926, eight years following Volume 3.

Schlegel’s stated purpose was “to present in concise form the origin of German-American Families in this country,” to preserve a record of their descendants up to the time of the work’s original publication, and to demonstrate the German-American contribution in the U.S. – an objective no doubt influenced by the sentiments fostered during World War I.

In meeting these objectives, Schlegel assembled the largest collection of German-American genealogies ever published. Fittingly, the first volume starts with the life and family of such legendary German-Americans as Jacob Leisler, the 17th-century German who briefly became Governor-General of the colony of New York; and Peter Zenger, proprietor of the first newspaper in America. Beyond a handful of celebrities, however, the author’s 225 separate essays feature linked genealogies of families like Biertuempfel, Dittenhoefer, Haussling, Kleinert, Marquardt, Nungesser, Reppenhagen, Seyfarth, von Bernuth, and Zobel, and touch on thousands of individuals.

Unlike other great compendia, Schlegel’s American Families doesn’t just start out with the immigrant ancestor; rather, each family history usually begins two or three generations back, examining the family in its historic setting before bringing it forward to the immigrant ancestor and his descendants in America. Averaging about ten pages in length, sometimes including portraits and coats of arms, the family histories are no mere catalogues of births, marriages, and deaths but are rich biographical and genealogical studies, each depicting the education, service, achievements, life, and career of the various family members, and each tracing the roots of the first four or five generations in America, usually commencing in the 18th or 19th century, naming thousands of related family members.

For all of these reasons, we believe that Schlegel’s American Families should be the very first collection for anyone researching German-American ancestry. It is now available to researchers for the first time in nearly a century.

If you have been tempted to buy the Schlegel collection before, don’t wait—Genealogical Publishing Company only has 25 sets in inventory at present.

Image credit: Andrew Hamilton defending John Peter Zenger in court, 1734-5, via Library of Congress.

 

 

germans, german genealogy

German Genealogy – Tool for Locating Ancestors

If you find a ship’s passenger record for a German ancestor, will you automatically know where to look for your ancestor’s records in Germany? If you cannot find the passenger record, does this mean that you will never learn where your German ancestor came from? According to the authors of Ancestors in German Archives: A Guide to Family History Sources, Raymond S. Wright III, Nathan S. Rives, Mirjam J. Kirkham, and Saskia Schier Bunting, the answer to both of these questions is “No!”

First some background: the German Territories, and later the German Empire, provided more emigrants to America than any other European national group. When they came to America, German immigrants left behind a trail of records familiar to everyone in genealogy from births, marriages, and deaths, to citizenship and census records, and from land and tax records to emigration records. The key to German genealogical research, of course, is to find out where these records are located, but since there are more than 2,000 national, state, and local repositories in Germany, to say nothing of church repositories and other private archives, such an undertaking is daunting if not downright impossible. We know there are records, but what good are they if we can’t find them? And these records stretch back to the Middle Ages, encompassing family history sources so vast in number and so scattered that the mind reels.

To overcome this challenge, Brigham Young University (BYU) launched its Immigrant Ancestors Project in 1996. The principal mission of this undertaking at the time was to identify the records of German emigrants and to create Internet-accessible databases describing emigrants’ birthplaces, occupations, spouses, and children. Ancestors in German Archives: A Guide to Family History Sources is the direct outgrowth of that ambitious project.

Under the supervision of Professor Raymond Wright, BYU mailed questionnaires to approximately 2,000 national, state, and local German government archives, as well as private archives. The questionnaires asked archivists to identify their archives’ jurisdictions and to describe the records housed in their collections and the services provided by their staff. The questionnaires asked specifically for information about each archive’s collections of vital records, religious records, military records, emigration records, passport records, censuses, and town and county records. Archivists were also asked to describe any published guides or inventories to their collections. The returned questionnaires, supplemented by Internet searches, were used to create summaries of each archive’s jurisdictions, holdings, and services.

The result of this massive survey is an exhaustive guide to family history sources in German archives at every level of jurisdiction, public and private. Anyone searching for data about people who lived in Germany in the past need only determine which archives today have jurisdiction over the records that were created by church or state institutions. The Locality Index at the back of Ancestors in German Archives, moreover, makes this task even easier because it identifies every town with an archive, no matter what kind.

Let’s return to the questions we initially asked as it relates to a German genealogy search: If you find a ship’s passenger record for a German ancestor, will you automatically know where to look for your ancestor’s records in Germany? If you cannot find the passenger record, does this mean that you will never learn where your German ancestor came from?

If you find a passenger record that states when and from where in Germany your ancestor came, you still have to figure out what German state, city, parish, or other repository has control of his/her records. If you cannot find a passenger record but have a rough idea of your German ancestor’s origins (e.g., from Heidelberg after the U.S. Civil War), you may be able to skip over the missing passenger list and go directly to German vital records for your ancestor. Whichever the case, Ancestors in German Archives will make your task far easier than ever before. It is a one-stop guide to genealogical sources in Germany, and, most importantly, it answers the fundamental questions about the very existence of genealogical records in Germany and paves the way for successful research.

Image credit: Emperor Charlemagne and Emperor Sigismund, by Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Hard to find Ancestors, Irish Immigrants

Hard to Find Ancestors – Maybe They Took a Detour?

If you’re frustrated on the trail your hard to find ancestors, you may have to consider – did your immigrant ancestors detour on their way here?

The Canadian port of St. John, New Brunswick, was a magnet for Irish immigration during the 1840s, the decade that culminated in the Great Famine. A majority of these Irish immigrants eventually relocated to Boston or elsewhere in New England to rejoin other family members. Since many of the aforementioned Irish arrived in Canada in a destitute or infirm condition, however, they were required to take temporary refuge in the alms and work houses, hospitals, and asylums of St. John. (See the publication, Irish Emigration to New England Through the Port of St. John, New Brunswick,1841 to 1849 for additional information. A number of records of these institutions have survived and now serve as a surrogate record of these persons “missing” from the official passenger lists. Irish Emigration to New England Through the Port of St. John, New Brunswick,1841 to 1849 identifies some 7,000 persons of Irish birth from the records of alms houses, hospitals, parish houses, etc.)

As in the case of the Irish to St. John, an immigrant’s stopover could last a generation. For example, a number of the 17th-century pioneers of Long Island, New York, actually came from Connecticut, not directly from Great Britain. You should not assume that immigrant ancestors who lived in one place necessarily came there directly from their birth country, especially if no record of the immigrants can be found among the records of the state or colony you associate with them. Continue reading…

East Germany Border, German Genealogy

German Genealogy – Unification and Continuing Migration

Editor’s Note: The following article is condensed from the chapter, “The Germans and Germany” in the brand new 5th Edition of Mr. Angus Baxter’s classic how-to book, In Search of Your German Roots. Readers should note that, in the interest of brevity, a number of tables in the book which describe the migration and distribution of the German population and the contemporary archival holdings of other nations that have a bearing on German genealogy have been omitted from this except. Part one of the article, which can be viewed here, summarized Germanic migration and settlement patterns prior to the unification of the country in 1871. Part Two picks up the story from that point. 

The Process of German Unification

Germany only existed as an undivided country from 1871 until 1945 – in contrast with England and France, which had been unified for more than five centuries. Systems of government in the various German states ranged from absolute monarchies to the near-democracy of some of the electorates and free cities. Various forms of confederation or economic grouping took hold, flowered for a few years, and died. Each state had its own laws, archives, and system of recording events. You cannot say, for example, that “censuses were first held in Germany in 1871.” That is true for the unified Germany, but censuses were taken in Wurttemberg in 1821, in Baden in 1852, and so on. The only unified force in the Germanic area was the church–first the Catholic and later the Lutheran. Continue reading…

german genealogy, german research

Essentials for German Genealogy Researchers: Angus Baxter & Ernest Thode

This March Genealogical.com has released an updated book by genealogy expert Angus Baxter entitled In Search of Your German Roots. Fifth Edition. We’re taking this moment to provide a roundup of essentials for German genealogy research: the works of Angus Baxter and Ernest Thode.

Both of these authors and genealogy experts have work we’ve featured on this blog. We have found that not only is the information what we would consider essential, but both Baxter and Thode have a gift for accessible writing that appeals to researchers at all levels.

Please enjoy our roundup of Essentials for German Genealogy Researchers: Angus Baxter & Ernest Thode: Continue reading…