germans, german genealogy

German Genealogy – “The Germans and Germany”

Editor’s Note: This 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. This excerpt is part one of two we will share with our readers. 

The development and coalescence of the German nation took many centuries. The word “Deutsch” (German) was first used in the eighth century, but it only referred to the spoken language of the area known as eastern Franconia. This empire reached its height of importance under the Emperor Charlemagne (Karl der Grosse), and after his death in 814 it disintegrated. The western section eventually became the area we now know as France. The eastern section varied in area over the centuries, but the main area–the heartland–became known as the Deutschland (the land of the Germans). By 911 the Duke of Franconia was elected King of the Franks, and later King of the Romans. By the 11th century the area became known as the Roman Empire, and by the 13th the Holy Roman Empire. In the 15th century the words “German nation” were added. Continue reading…

historic german newspapers online

Historic German Newspapers Online

When researching your German heritage, utilizing historic german newspapers is just as useful as using an English language counterpart. There can be additional challenges should your research need to be conducted with some German language familiarity (though there are resources to make that easier too! See our post But I can’t speak German! The challenge of German Genealogy for more information), so we like any tools that will make research easier. Author Ernest Thode’s new guide, Historic German Newspapers Online can serve as an invaluable key to a mother lode of information found in German-language papers. As the author explains below:

“Few historic German newspapers have been digitized until the past few years, though most current German newspapers have published electronic editions for more than a decade. As I began collecting information, [on papers with a history of at least 50 years] I was astounded to learn how many German papers are digitally online. They are truly worldwide, from Tanunda, Australia; Morogoro, Tanzania; Zhelezhnodororozhny, Russia; Tsientsin, China; and El Reno, Oklahoma, USA. Mostly they are accessible, put online by national libraries, universities, and museums, even international consortia such as Europeana. Some sites have more than 100 titles, such as Compact Memory and ANNO (hosted by the Austrian National Library), with titles from the entire Austro-Hungarian Empire. I have found 2,000 digitized titles online at numerous public, private, and commercial sites . . . .”

What sorts of genealogical information can you find in these newspapers? To quote the author, “You can sometimes find baptisms and weddings from churches, especially in capital city papers; births, marriages, and deaths from civil registrations; intentions to emigrate, especially in governmental papers; auctions; wanted criminals, police gazettes; general advertisements; trade news in trade journals; lists of church donors; lists of compensation paid to fire and storm victims, in governmental papers; lists of spa visitors (in papers in spa cities); lists of appointments to office, promotions, transfers, retirements, and deaths; estate sales; lists of hotel guests; lists of pupils (and their parents) in annual school reports; and a multitude of everyday notices. There are also unexpected finds pertaining to the USA, such as a list of Waldeck soldiers in North America found in a Waldeck government paper; the engagement in Newark, New Jersey, of a couple from Kesmark, Slovakia; and a description of emigrants headed for Cincinnati in an emigration paper. These are gems you cannot afford to miss. You need to look for the regional paper for your ancestor’s German county seat, the government paper (Bavaria, Baden, Hessen, a Prussian province, etc.), and the daily paper of the closest large city for your ancestor.”

Ernest Thode’s Historic German Newspapers Online indicates newspaper title, place of publication, date range, and website; you’ll be amazed at the range of information available to you online in German-language newspapers. Even better, these newspapers not only contain clues relating to the whereabouts of your forebears but also provide context for the life and times of your ancestors.

Image Credit: By German newspaper, 1834. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. The cartoon reads: “Is it the wagon that is too big or the Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe that is too small? German cartoon from 1834 pocking fun at the number of micro states and customs barriers before the adoption of a German custom union (Zoolverein).”

German Genealogy, Double-page from the baptismal record of the catholic St. Johann church in Sigmaringen, 1851 # 23-31

But I can’t speak German! The challenge of German Genealogy

Editor’s note: The following post on the challenge facing an English speaker deciphering his or her own German Genealogy is written by professional genealogist Ernest Thode. Mr. Thode is an author, columnist, librarian and German translator with degrees from Purdue and Stanford.

You, the family genealogist, have a dilemma. You have discovered that your ancestry is German. Those old family letters in your possession are written in some kind of hen scratching that no sane person could possibly interpret, even though you have a vague feeling that those Germans of a century or two ago may have been successfully communicating with one another. To top it off, now you have researched back to your German-speaking immigrant ancestor couple. You can’t even read the pre-printed part of that form you found in the attic that you think might be a passport, let alone the hand-written words that fill in the blanks. Why, for all you know, that passport might not be a passport at all, but a graduation certificate or a marriage license.

What do you, the designated family historian, do now? You don’t know German other than “Gesundheit” and “Auf wiedersehen.” You face a daunting task, probably an impossible task, or so it would appear to any reasonable person. Even though you have traced your English lines back to the 1600s with much satisfaction at your genealogical prowess, you are practically ready to abandon your German immigrants prior to the moment they set foot on American soil at Castle Garden in 1881 because of the language barrier.

Fortunately, there is help. Even though I had the advantage of at least knowing the German language as I did my research, I became frustrated by the many different reference books I had to look through to find explanations of the words I found in genealogical documents. I had surname books, given-name books, gazetteers for place names, German genealogical guides and word lists, Latin word lists, French word lists, lists of weights and measures, lists of diseases, and guides to the old script. With such a plethora of aids, I saw the need for a “one-stop” German-English genealogical dictionary that could be used in conjunction with a basic German-English dictionary.

For nearly a decade, I pored through records that I had translated, genealogical periodicals, passenger lists, village chronicles, and historical documents, gleaning words and definitions, exhausting numerous German genealogical word lists. Finally, I compiled a reference book that I actually still use myself (you should see the notes in my desk copy!). My reference book, the German-English Genealogical Dictionary, includes the genealogy-related words that regular dictionaries either miss or don’t define in a way that applies to genealogy. There are no etymologies, pronunciation guides, parts of speech, etc. – just pure meanings for somebody translating, literally, word by word. It is just what someone needs to make sense out of a German genealogical document.

Image credit: By baptismal record of the catholic church in Sigmaringen 1851 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Early settlers

Early Settlers of Pennsylvania

Because of its unique immigration policy, Pennsylvania led the way in colonial America in the ethnic diversity of its early settlers. Among early settlers of Pennsylvania, we find English, Irish, and Dutch Quakers; German and Swiss Mennonites, Anabaptists, and Pietists; and Ulster Presbyterians, the Scotch-Irish frontiersmen.

The first “ethnic migration” to be officially documented – mainly in the form of ships’ passenger lists, records of indenture, naturalization records, land records, tax lists, and sundry church records – began in southeastern Pennsylvania between the 1680s and 1720s. These early records include the earliest passenger arrivals in Philadelphia in 1683, the Swiss and Rhineland arrivals in Philadelphia and a host of other groups. Immigrants from Germany’s Rhineland area and the German-speaking cantons of Switzerland arrived in southeastern Pennsylvania by the thousands.

Looking for the most authoritative works on Pennsylvania’s German and Swiss immigration? Eshleman’s “Historic Background and Annals of the Swiss and German Pioneer Settlers of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and of their Remote Ancestors,” explores the background of the great sectarian movements in Germany, Switzerland and Holland, and focuses attention on the Mennonite families who later emigrated to Pennsylvania. As many as 300,000 German and Swiss immigrants and settlers have been identified in this work. In addition, all three volumes of “Pennsylvania German Church Records” can be found here, with volumes one, two and three also available individually. These records refer to approximately 91,000 individuals and include births, baptisms, marriages, and burials. They identify people and their relationships to one another–not only parents and children, husbands and wives, but witnesses and sponsors as well.

A more overarching resource on Pennsylvania’s immigration, the Family Archive CD provides a wealth of information on the earliest settlers of the Keystone State. This particular CD contains data on places of origin, dates of arrival, places of residence, ages, occupations, names of wives and children (with details of births, marriages, and deaths), and a host of other details derived from nine respected Pennsylvania reference works. This collection also contains a single electronic name index of 200,000 entries, which allows you to search all the volumes quickly and effortlessly.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, “Pioneer Settlers building Adventure Galley on the Youghiogheny.” This image is from the publication, “History of the Ordinance of 1787 and the Old Northwest Territory.”