Shirley Hornbeck's This and That Genealogy Tips on German Records

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire was formed and lead by Germanic people for several centuries leading to stable trade and general prosperity. However as European trade lead to world trade, Germanic forces fell behind the French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch, who used ocean exploration as well as land.

It was during the latter part of this period that records of individuals and families began to be kept by various churches and was the main source of government information. It was also during this latter period that religious differences contributed to economic ones in causing the eventual breakup of the Germanic domain during the Thirty Year's War beginning in 1618-1621. Political disruption coupled with a sharp economic setback, partly due to the devastation and tremendous depopulation from the Thirty Year's War (some sources say that disease, war and emigration lead to a 2/3 drop in Germanic population that did not recover until the mid 1800's) and a long term shift in European economic bases saw the Germanic kingdom divided into 360+ small states and free cities by 1648. These small states went by the names of Achbisopric, Bishapric, Duchy, County, Electorate, Landgraviate, Margaviate, City, and Principality, so being confused about names is certainly understandable. Today's Germany is about twice the size of the state of Wisconsin. Bavaria (Bayern) was one of the largest land pieces and one of the few to retain a relatively stable governing family for 1000 years. Other larger ones were Wurttemberg, Saxony, Brandenburg later Prussia), Pomerania, Munster, and Mecklenberg.

The general population was living as "serfs" and were under the direct authority of the ruler in this feudal system. Laws were different in each state and changed at the will of the leader(s) in most cases. A person or family often had to request permission to move or even visit outside of their place of residence and report to authorities upon leaving and arriving. Education was restricted. Religion of the population was determined by the state leader(s) and often depended on political alliances.

Since the size of each state was small, revenue was generated through taxes and fees on all goods that were transported through the state to markets. This sometimes meant that several times more taxes and fees were paid than the actual value of the product, leading to economic stagnation.

It was during this period that emigration from Germanic lands began of a serious nature, at first to neighboring countries such as Hungary, Romania, Poland, Russia, and later, as transportation improved and became available to the general public, the Americas, Australia, India, Africa among others.

Wars between these small states and with major powers such as France, Austria, and Russia, both political and religious, continued throughout the 1700's and early 1800's, leading to further disease, death, economic depression, and serious emigration. In the early 1800's the entire area was conquered by Napoleon Bonoparte who seized power in France from 1799 to 1814. It was during this time that the Napoleonic Settlements of 1797-98 was developed and combined the then 234 independent Germanic states into 40 and a separate Austria. Poland was again made an independent state as well for the first time since the early 1600's. Other changes were a society based on wealth and merit rather than prescription and privilege which was introduced into the Rhineland (west side of the River Rhine). German states that remained independent such as Prussia, Brandenburg, Hanover, Saxony, Thuingian states, Hesse, Pomerania and Oldenburg made some important changes in this direction. The feudal system was collapsing and there was gradually more individual freedom making emigration somewhat easier and more available.

After the fall of Napoleon, Prussia, through economic and military development, became the dominant power in the Germanic states and eventually unified the country in 1871 into what we see as modern day Germany. Today the country is divided into areas called Lower Saxony (northwest), NorthRhine-Westphalia (west central), Rhineland-Palatinate (west), Baden-Wuttemberg (southwest), Bavaria (southeast), Hesse (westcentral), Thuringia (central), Saxony (eastcentral) Brandenburg (northeast), Saxon-Anhalt (northcentral), Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (northeast, and Schleswig-Holstein (north).

Germans arrived in America during 3 broadly-drawn periods:

This emigration was largely caused by religious persecutions following from the changes wrought by the Thirty Years War, and by economic hardship. Many were Protestants from the Palatinate area of Germany.

Economic hardships, including those caused by Unemployment, crop failure and starvation, was the primary cause of emigration during this period, in combination with wars and military service. Most of the emigrants came from Alsace-Lorraine, Baden, Hessen, Rhineland, and Wurttemberg.

Emigration became more affordable during this period, as well as much more common. All areas of Germany contributed, including Prussia.

The following is the address to write for information on German immigrants coming from Hamburg, Germany: Historic Emigration Office, c/o Tourist Information AM Hafen, Bei den St.Pauli Landungsbrucken 3, D-20359 Hamburg, Germany. When you request genealogical information they will include tourist brochures and a note stating how much it will cost. When I requested it the charge was $30 for each year researched so needless to say, the closer you can come to the date your ancestors immigrated the better. You may receive a copy of the ship's manifest showing their names, the city in Germany where they lived, the ship's captain's name, the ship's name, and port of entry in the US.

RESEARCH IN GERMANY is a complex matter requiring study of methods and history. Germany was made up of various principalities prior to about 1870 when Prussia began to consolidate larger areas. The Family History Library has many microfilms of German records which you can access once you know where your ancestor was born, married or left from to come to America.

You must know which town in Germany your ancestors came from AND THE KINGDOM OR PRESENT DAY STATE. If you don't, then start at the passenger lists. If there passage occurred between 1850 and 1887, there is a collection of indexed passenger lists called Glazier and Filby "Germans to America" probably available at most genealogy libraries. If your ancestors came through Hamburg, they may have stayed there a few days and if so, were required to register with the German police. Those records still exist and the town of origin is often mentioned.

Once you know when your ancestors arrived in America, add five years and start looking for their Naturalization Certificate and/or the Declaration of Intent. Sometimes the declaration has more details than the Naturalization Certificate and may list the town of origin.

If your ancestor obtained a Social Security number, get the original application Form SS-5 from the Freedom of Information Office and possibly you will find something there to help you.

In the 1850's Bavaria was a separate kingdom as was Baden and Wurttemberg. This is some what analogous to our referring to the states of New York, and Ohio and Kentucky. In the years 1850 to 1860 Wurttemberg was an independent kingdom inside Germany. Later it is combined with the duchy's of Baden and Hohenzollern to the actual state Baden-Wurttemburg in Germany.

Beginners should do two things first: interview elderly or infirm relatives and read a good book on genealogy. The importance of talking to relatives before they pass away cannot be over emphasized. Your local library probably has several books on genealogy. Check out the ones that seem best to you and read them.

Then you should gather and organize all the information you have from various sources. You may already have enough to induce you to get some genealogical software to help in organizing your information. Document all your sources. Organization allows you to develop an overview of what you have so that you can better direct your research.

Next locate your local LDS (Mormon) FHC (Family History Center). The genealogical collection of the LDS Family History Library (FHL) is unsurpassed, and much of it can be used at your local FHC. You need not be Mormon. You can probably find the LDS church in your phone book.

Eventually your major information sources are likely to be German civil records and German church registers. German civil records start in the Napoleonic times in regions west of the Rhine River, in 1874 in Prussia, and 1876 in all of Germany. German church records start as early as the 15th century, but for many areas extant records start only after the end of the 30 Years War in the 17th century, or later. Many church registers existed in original (Kirchenbuch) and a nearly contemporaneous copy (Kirchenbuchduplikat). Many church registers and some older civil records are available through the LDS FHC. For those that are not, you must write to the German Standesamt (civil records office) or parish of interest or to the appropriate archive.

Other important sources include Ortssippenb"ucher, which list all the families in a town, typically using church records as the source; the IGI, which is an index of extracted records; passenger lists; the ASTAKA, a collection of German genealogies; German state censuses; and Geschlechterb"ucher, which is a series of published genealogies.

Further documents are also available in German archives. Examples of available documents include tax rolls, emigration papers, land registers, wills, and court cases. Most of these have not been filmed by the LDS and are available only at the appropriate archive. Catalogs of the holdings of some archives are available in printed form in some US research libraries.

Keep in mind a general rule of genealogy is to go from the known to the unknown, and not the other way around. For example, if your name is Bauer, you should concentrate on expanding the tree of Bauers related to you by examining documents that refer to them. You should probably not research the genealogy of some other Bauer to see if he is related to you, because the chance of success is slight. Note that this general rule does not apply if you are researching a rare surname, or if you can pair the surname with a town or another surname.

Another general rule is to do as much research as possible locally. Use your local LDS FHC, library, interlibrary loan, genealogical society, etc. to their fullest extent before you write or travel to distant archives or churches. It is usually cheaper and often more efficient, and it will make subsequent research more productive.

Prussia was part of Germany. In fact Prussia became the Germany of 1871 when Bismarck was able to get Bavaria, Hesse, Baden, Wurttemberg, Hannover, Oldenburg completely absorbed into the German Empire either through political, conquest or deception.

Posen was a separate province of Prussia as was West Prussia (Westpreussen). The portion that became part of Russia and Poland was East Prussia (Ostpreussen). West Prussia was partially cut up after WWI then after WWII Poland took all that was West Prussia as well as the eastern part (Hinter-Pommern) of Pomerania, which explain why the western part (Vorpommern) is still in Germany.

Silesia, the other province was completely absorbed by Poland after WWI. Poland also took Galicia from Austria after WWI but lost much of it to Prussia in 1945 along with large part of it's own territory.

Memel was located in East Prussia, now part of Lithuania.

Konigsburg is Kallinburg now - still the part of Russia, the only part not attached to Russia because of Lithuania.

Danzig was set off as Free City that last between WWI and WWII then after 1945 changed to Gdansk.

Portion of Brandenburg also was taken by Poland after WWII.

Prussia's provinces before 1871 were: Pommern, Brandenburg, Hesse-Nassau, Rheinland, Posen, West Prussia, East Prussia, Waldeck, Westfalen (Westphalia) and Silesia.

All traces of "Prussia" was abolished by the Allied Powers after WWII in an attempt to wipe out the Prussian military mentality which fueled both WWI and WWII.

GERMAN RECORDS---Where They May Be Hiding:
If you know the city, town, or village of origin for your ancestor in Germany, you should check with your local branch of the LDS (Mormon) Family History Library to see if there are available microfilms of records for that locality. This information is accessible by visiting the branches (the Family History Centers) throughout the United States and elsewhere abroad. (It is not currently possible to determine this by using the World Wide Web, Internet, or E-mail.)

If you do *not* know the exact city, town, or village of origin for your ancestor in Germany (which is ESSENTIAL to further research in German records), you need to continue your U.S.-based research until you can determine this information. Guidelines and suggestions for this type of research are available at the following Web site:

As to the question of whether particular records for a particular locality have *survived,* the answer takes a bit of research as well. Many, many German records *have* survived (even those dating back many centuries); and some have not. However, if the LDS does NOT have microfilms of the records for the German locality you seek, it *does not necessarily mean* that there are no existing records for that place!

There are at least three *other* reasons why you may NOT find LDS microfilm of a given German locality:

1. The place in question *did not have its own parish church* for the denomination you seek. The LDS films *parish* records, not records from every single individual village or town. You must determine whether your ancestors' village or town was the same place where the church they attended was located----these are not always in one and the same place. A single parish church (Catholic or Lutheran) often served parishioners in multiple nearby communities. Check historical gazetteers (available in the LDS Family History Centers) such as Meyers-Orts (ask the staff to direct you to it, it's on microfilm) which will tell you whether or not your ancestors' village or town had a church in it of the appropriate denomination. Other gazetteers (such as "Die Kirchebücher in Baden," also available at the LDS FHC) for a given region of Germany will tell you where these parishes were located. (These are available for Wurttemberg, Prussia, etc. as well.)

2. The LDS may not have obtained permission to film records in a particular locality, for whatever reason. Sometimes, the church or civil authorities in a given place are not especially cooperative in this regard. Try writing directly to the church in question instead.

3. The LDS may not have *yet* filmed the records of the community you seek. Though a large number of German records have been filmed, not *all* of them have. You would need to consult (by phone or mail) the main LDS Library branch in Salt Lake City, Utah, for specific details about what may be slated for filming in the future.

If you have *not* first checked with the LDS library about films of available records, I strongly recommend that you do. If you are having trouble locating films at the LDS, keep the above points in mind, and try again. If you have significant problems with the library staff (who are usually volunteers, and can vary in knowledge and experience), ask to speak to your local FHC branch director, who is a paid professional. Do not "give up on" or overlook the LDS library resources if you can help it---their collection is the best and most extensive anywhere in the world.

If you know the locality you need but can't find LDS film on it (for whatever reason), you can still try writing to the church in question for the information you seek.

If you *lack* precise information about the locality (meaning the town, city, or village---not just the region, which is not sufficiently specific) from which your German ancestors came (or lived in, or were married, etc., in) you are not yet at a point in your research where you can successfully make the jump across the Atlantic---very sad and disappointing, I know, but quite true. See the Web page suggested at the beginning of this letter for suggestions.

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