Saturday, January 14, 2017

German Genealogy - Using Social Media

Gooood Morning! It's a beautiful day down here in South Florida. The forecast is for sun and in the mid 70s all weekend. Our plans for today are to go to the farmer's market at the beach and then to the home show at the fairgrounds. But before I get out and about, I figured I would get another blog post in. Today's post is about using social media to help in your German research. These tips are good for any type of research on social media but I will be focusing specifically on those pages and groups that deal with German research.

First off, if you aren't using Facebook for your research you are missing out on a treasure trove of information. I know some people aren't comfortable using social media, but you have control over what you post and who you friend. So, be selective of your interactions if that is your concern. Others may not be comfortable because it is a new world for them. But how many times have you tried something new just to realize that you have been missing out on the benefits because of your fears. Social media is the new world for genealogy research and we should embrace it and learn to use the tools that are available.

So, let's get started. Why should you use social media for your genealogy research? The answer is that there are over 1.3 billion people using Facebook and you have the ability to interact with every one of them. That is nearly 20% of the world's population! For the developed countries, the percent participation in Facebook is much higher, sometimes over 50% of a country's population. Your chance of running into someone who can help you in your research are extremely large. And of course, with all those people online, there are a large number of groups that they have created. I won't be able to discuss them all, but Katherine Willson has tried to build a directory for all the genealogy related pages. This directory now has over 10,000 Facebook groups listed that deal with genealogy. You can find this list by going to her blog and clicking on Genealogy on Facebook List. Be aware that this list is now nearly 300 pages long, so you might not want to print it out. For Germany alone, she has over 50 groups listed.

How do you find a group that can help you? Groups and pages are set up by administrators and deal with specific topics. Some groups may address research techniques like using a specific software program. Other groups may address specific record types like photographs. While others may specialize in a certain region such as a town, county, state, or country. I suggest that after you log into Facebook, you do a search for the term you are interested in. One thing to remember though, is always read the purpose and guidelines/rules for the groups. Some admins are very strict on what they allow to be posted or the number of posts you can do in a day. If you violate these rules they can kick you from the group. So, always read the rules.

First, let's start in the United States. If you search your immigrant ancestors' home county you will find many possible groups to join. If they lived in a larger community you may want to search for that location also. My ancestors settled in Auglaize, Shelby, Darke and Mercer counties in Ohio. These counties are all adjacent to each other in the west central part of Ohio along the Indiana border. So, knowing that I have joined the following groups: Auglaize County Ohio History & Genealogy, Darke County Ohio History & GenealogyMercer County History & Genealogy, and Shelby County Ohio History and Genealogy. In these groups you can ask questions about your ancestors, discover new cousins, and discover research tools that fellow researchers in your area use. Once you join, you should post an introduction of yourself and something about your research interests. Now that you have your local area covered, you should expand and possibly join state groups; for Ohio there is the Ohio Genealogy Network, Ohio Genealogy, and the Ohio Genealogical Society. There are also regional genealogy groups such as the US Midwest Genealogy Research Community.

Now, that you are a member of your local, state and regional genealogy groups, be active. Post queries about your research. Let people know who you are researching by posting specific information about your ancestors. Ask for help in finding a specific record or learning about a new site that the group believes may be helpful. The more active you are, the more information you will receive.

Jumping across the Atlantic, you will find a large number of groups focused on German research. One of the site you can start with is the German Genealogy group. Since many of the people I have been researching came from the Baden-Wurttemberg region I use the Baden-Wurrtemberg Genealogy group often. One thing I was able to learn from this group is how to effectively use the Baden-Wurttemberg Archives website. Also, you might want to join the German Family Book (Ortsfamilienbuchen) group if you want to learn about the German family books. These books can be a treasure trove of information for your German research. But now that you are over in Germany, what do you do with the German records that you find, especially if you can't read German. You need to find a translator to help you, but that can be costly. Well, Facebook has a fix for that also. There are groups, including Genealogy Translations and German Genealogy Records Transcription, where you can find volunteers to help you translate your documents.

There are many, many other Facebook sites that can help you discover your ancestors. Try them out, be actively involved in conversations, use the tools they present, and you will discover new information at every turn. Good luck, and get social!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

German Research - Using Maps

I'm back again with another post on tips for researching your German genealogy. I have three previous posts: one from last year on the German census records, and two over this weekend addressing the basics of starting your German research, and immigration and emigration records. This post will provide some tips on finding your ancestor's home region and possibly finding potential relatives in Germany who can assist in your research.

As you do your genealogy research you should always be asking yourself the following questions:

  • When did my ancestors immigrate?
  • Where did my ancestors live?
  • When did they live there?
  • What were the borders at that time?
  • Which religious denomination were they?

As you can tell from many of my previous posts, I like to use maps to aid in my research. Maps provide a visual representation of the world as my ancestors may have seen it. They also allow me to see relative locations of different families. There are many great mapping websites available. One site that all German researchers should know about is the Meyers Gazetteer. You can find this Gazetteer on several sites but I like the site the best since it translates the descriptions into English, provides a view of the map, and also lists all the ecclesiastical parishes in the area. You can also leave your e-mail and a list of the surnames you are researching for each town. 

Here is an example of how the information on the website can be helpful.

My wife's family is from the small village of Ellmendingen, Pforzheim, Karlsruhe, Baden, Germany. The Meyers Gazetteer has the town described as follows:

Ellmendingen entry in Meyers Gazetteer

Below you can see the contemporary map of Ellmendingen provided by the Meyers Gazetteer website.

Map of Ellmendingen

You also can get the list of churches in the area.

List of local churches.

As you can see, this area was heavily Protestant. Since the only church in the village was Protestant we started our search in those records. We were able to find the birth record of many of my wife's ancestors in the Protestant church records in Ellmendingen. 

Surname mappers allow you to see where the family name is concentrated today. These surname mappers use various algorithms but usually rely on phone books or other civil register information. Below are a few examples of the results I received searching for Woessner, the way the name was spelled in the mid 1850s. Today the family goes by Wessner.

As you can see, all three sites indicate that the Woessner name is most common in the southwest part of Germany in Baden-Wurttemburg. The Geogen map also provides alternative spellings of the name that can be displayed.

The maps that I have provided links to can be used to see what the area was like when your ancestors lived there as well as track down potential relatives in Germany. One additional map that many of us may use regularly but not for genealogy is Google StreetView Maps. Google StreetView Maps allow you to travel virtually in your homeland. It is pretty cool to see what the area looks like today and can be used to familiarize yourself with an area before travelling there. But let's go one step beyond StreetView. Did you know that there is an app available for your VR goggles? Do you have VR goggles or do you know what they are? VR is virtual reality. These goggles use apps to fully immerse you in the virtual world. They are a full 360 degree view in 3-D. The VISO Places app translates Google's StreetView Map into a virtual world, where you can see everything with just the turn of your head or the movement of a controller. I have used them to "walk" the streets all over the world. It is incredible.

Well, that is enough for tonight. I hope you have fun exploring the maps of your ancestors world and have the opportunity to look into the future with the VR apps. 

German Research - Getting From Here to There

Hello again. I am continuing my series of blogs on German research, but these tips can be used for any nationality. Today I will present ways to discover when your ancestors came to the US and from where they originated with a focus on immigration and emigration records. But before I start that discussion, I wanted to talk briefly on a little project I did last night. Yesterday my wife and I went to the Vero Beach Antique Show and found a vendor who was selling antique cabinet card photos. For a brief history, cabinet card photos originated in the 1860s and were approximately 4" x 6" photographs on heavy card stock. These photos were common through the 1890s and faded in popularity early in the 20th century. I picked up 8 photos and brought them home to research who they were and possibly reunite them with their families. Five of the photos were of the Haycraft family taken in Louisville, Kentucky; Des Moines, Iowa; and Ocala, Florida. The pictures ended up being of a father, his wife, one son, a 6 month old granddaughter, and a nephew. Two other photos were of the Wood family from Dayton, Ohio. These ended up being a mother and son. The last photo belonged to the Helm family from Huntington, Indiana. I was able to link them all to their respective person and add their pictures to FamilySearch. Now I am waiting for replies from the messages I sent to see who is interested in having the original photos.

Now, back to the topic at hand. Almost all of us have immigrant ancestors somewhere in our lines. Some will be easier to find than others. I will be focusing on the time frame of the mid to late 1800s when there was a large influx of European immigrants, especially the Germans. German-Americans are the largest ancestral group in the United States with approximately 15% of Americans claiming German ancestry.

There were several waves of German immigration. The first significant influx of German immigrants was in the 1680s to New York and Pennsylvania. These were the Quakers and Mennonites who were seeking religious freedom. They were predominantly from the Lower Rhine region.

The next major wave of German immigrants was the Palatine migration which took place in the early 1700s with the majority occurring in 1709. This wave accounted for approximately 15,000 immigrants. These immigrants came from the Palatine region in southwest Germany. They cited poverty as their main reason for leaving German and settled predominantly in New York and North Carolina.

About half of the immigrants between 1728 and 1820 were "redemptioners". These were poor Germans who came to America as indentured laborers. They worked to pay off their debts.

There was another major influx of German immigrants during the 1830 to 1880 period. This is the time frame that my ancestors arrived in the US. Between 25% and 37% of all immigrants arriving in the US during those years were German but their home regions varied depending on the period. Between 1830 and 1860 most of the immigrants came from Hesen-Darmstadt, Hessen- Kassel, Westphalia, Hanover and Oldenburg. Between 1870 and 1880 most of the German immigrants came from Mecklenburg and the Prussian provinces of East and West Prussia, Pomerania, Posen and Brandenburg. These immigrants were generally small farmers leaving Germany due to the political upheaval and revolutions which climaxed in 1848 with a series of revolutions in Western Europe. Most of them were destined for the Midwestern states and arrived in cities like Cincinnati, St. Louis and Milwaukee. From those cities they often spread out to acquire farm land in surrounding counties.

These German immigrants usually departed from ports in northern Germany, Belgium and France, including Hamburg, Bremen, Antwerp and Le Havre. The availability of their emigration records varies depending on which port they departed from. For example, the Hamburg emigration records are a good source of information but many of the Bremen records were destroyed by fire.

So, how do we determine which wave our ancestors belonged to and where they originated. The first set of records that you should investigate are the US Census records. These records provide useful hints as to your ancestor's place of birth as well as possible immigration dates and status. But the extent of information varies depending on which census you search. My suggestion is to look at all of the available censuses for your ancestor and use the information to help narrow your search. Here is what I consider to be the most useful census information:

  • 1870 census - This census gives place of birth of the individual. Additionally it has a column for "Male Citizens of the US of 21 years of age and upwards". If a person was of foreign birth and this column is checked he would have been naturalized prior to 1870.
  • 1880-1930 censuses - These censuses list the place of birth for the individual's parents as well as the nationality of the individual.
  • 1900-1930 censuses - These censuses list the person's year of immigration. I suggest that you look at each census to see how much the immigration year varies. It will give you a hint of the approximate year but usually varies with each census.
  • 1900-1940 censuses - These censuses list the person's naturalization status. AL=alien, PA=first papers, NA=naturalized
  • 1900 census - This census lists the number of years in the US. This can be used to help narrow down the immigration year.
  • 1920 census - This census lists the year of immigration as well as the year of naturalization.
With this information in hand you can take the next step, searching the emigration and immigration records. Many people search the immigration records but never go the next step of looking for the emigration records. So, let's discuss how each can help you in your research.

Immigration records are the records of arrival in the US. Two of the most used ports of entry were Castle Garden and Ellis Island. Castle Garden is located in New York and was open from 1855 to 1892. It was America's first official immigration center. Over 11 million immigrants came through this port. You can find the records for Castle Garden at www.castlegarden,org. Ellis Island opened for processing in 1892 and has processed over 52 million immigrants. The Ellis Island records can be searched at But these were just the most used facilities. There were many more ports of entry to the US. The National Archives has records of arrivals for various immigration centers between 1820 and 1982, with microfilm copies available up to 1955. There are also some sporadic records prior to 1820, including the Port of New Orleans (1813-1819) and Philadelphia (1800-1819). More information on the National Archives collections can be found at FamilySearch also has digitized passenger lists for the Port of Philadelphia (1800-1945) and Port of New Orleans (1800-1945). You can also search an extensive collection of online books about immigration at Another port of entry was Galveston, Texas. Records are available for Galveston from 1846 to 1948 at There is also a group of sites for German immigrants that is broken out by decade from the 1850s until the 1890s. These lists can be found at,,,, and

These immigration records may provide you with the following information:
  • Nationality or place of birth,
  • Ship name and date of entry in the US,
  • Port of departure,
  • Physical description including age, height, eye and hair color,
  • Profession,
  • Place of last residence,
  • Name, address and relationship of people they are joining in the US, and
  • Amount of money they are carrying.
Once you know the name of the ship, I suggest that you check out The Ships List database at and the Immigrants Ships database at Here you may find passenger lists, histories of the ship, and many more bits of useful information.

Now that you have the port of departure and name of the ship you can start looking to the emigrant data. There are many sites that have German emigration data. One tip you should use is searching for the term auswanderer along with the location of origin for your ancestor. Auswanderer is German for emigrant. The German Emigrants Database includes records of emigrants from 1820 to 1907. It can be found at The Bremen passenger lists can be found at Since the emigration records were usually issued from the home state in Germany, you may also want to look at individual states archives. For example the Baden-Wurttemburg Landesarchiv has their emigration information online at

These emigration records may provide the following information:
  • Physical traits, 
  • Age, 
  • Names of family members,
  • Occupation, 
  • Residence, and 
  • Many more pieces of useful information.
Additionally, many areas of Germany provided a document know as the heimatschein. This document certified a person's home village. During certain periods citizens needed permission for many of their activities including marriage, emigration, and internal relocation. The purpose of these regulations was to control the talent and services available in a given area. You may be able to find these records if they were required for your ancestor to emigrate from his home village.

I hope these steps are helpful in your search for your immigrant ancestors and determining their home village. I will continue on soon with the next in this series of researching your German ancestors. Have a good day.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

German Genealogy Research - The Basics

Wow, it's a new year - 2017 - and time to get back to business. I have been thinking about how to include a research plan for German genealogy as one of my blogs. Of course, everyday I have a different idea on how to organize it and each day I forget what that plan was. So now I decided to just start writing, my typical solution to everything, and see how it turns out. This was inspired by a discussion I was involved in on the German Genealogy group on Facebook. I plan on doing a multi-part blog post stepping you through the resources that I know about for German genealogy and how they can be of help. So, let's get the year off to a start.

Over the last couple years, I presented two talks on German genealogy at various venues. One dealt with German immigration and the other was about German research in general. This series of posts will be based on those talks and the resources I discussed as well as a lot of other sources that are available. There is some duplication in these presentations but they were given for different audiences. If you are interested in seeing the actual presentations you can find them here:

The first thing I suggest to researchers is that they learn the basics of the native language, especially those words that are important for genealogy research. You need to know if you are looking at a birth record or a death record. You need to learn to read the dates. You also need to be able to tell the difference between locations and people's names. I had a person come into the Family History Center the other night who told me she had mistakenly thought the town name was a person's name for quite a while. This led her on a wild goose chase looking for records on a person who didn't exist.

So, what words should you know? First, start with some of the basics like:
  • Born - Geboren which is often abbreviated as Geb. This could also be used to indicate the maiden name of a wife.
  • Baptism - Taufen
  • Confirmation - Konfirmationen
  • Died - Gestorben - often abbreviated as Gest. This may be indicated by a cross (+).
  • Wedding - Trauungen - This may also be indicated by interlinked circles.
  • Funeral - Beerdigungen
  • Protestant - Evangelische
  • Catholic - Katholisch
With those words under your belt you now will be able to determine the type of record you are looking at, and if it is a church record, what religion it is.

The next set of words that are important are the numbers. Many records write out the dates long hand and since we are used to looking for numbers we may miss them when they are spelled out. You should start with the basics (1-12). The teens (13-19) are usually built off of the base numbers and then adding ten. For example 3 is drei, 10 is zehn, and 13 is dreizehn. When you get into the 20s-90s the numbers are based on the base number drei (3) with zig added to the end. So, 30 is dreizig, 40 is vierzig, etc. Numbers like 31 become 1 (eins) + (und) 30 (dreizig) or einunddreizig. Hundred is hundert and thousand is tausend.

You should also be able to recognize the days and months along with the words for year, month and day.  Year is Jahr, month is Monat, and day is Tag. Often, a person's age is given as 45 Jahr, 3 Monat, 14 Tag meaning 45 years, 3 months and 14 days. The days of the week are Montag, Dienstag, Mittwoch, Donnerstag, Freitag, Samstag, and  Sonntag. While the months are Januar, Februar, Marz, April, Mai, Juni, Juli, August, September, Oktober, November, and Dezember. I do think the months are the easiest part of the language. 

Now that you know a few words you need to learn to read the writing. German has several fonts and writing styles or scripts, all of which may make it difficult to read various records. My suggestion is to learn the various writing sytles or schrift. FamilySearch has a great German handwriting tutorial in their wiki ( From there you can find examples of script, online lessons, and other advice for reading your documents. There are also several websites that you can type a word into and it will be shown in various scripts. Two of these sights are and

Now that you are able to read the script you will still need translations. Google Translate ( is a great place to start. Even if you can't figure out all the letters, Google Translate will provide suggestions of possible words to insert into the text to translate. Another great site for translating your records is the Genealogy Translations group on Facebook ( The volunteers on the Genealogy Translations group are wonderful and are able to translate almost any language and document type. As a final resort, you could always get your own translator. I have a guy in Germany named Fritz who does a lot of my translating. We met on social media and he uses the opportunity to brush up on his English while translating my German records.

I hope this basic introduction to German research techniques has been helpful. I foresee several more posts in this series including using social media, immigration resources, using FamilySearch, and possibly even more since this is such a large topic. Also. please see my previous post on German census records at Good luck and best wishes for 2017!