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.