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. 

1 comment:

Jacquie Schattner said...

The meyersgaz website is SOOOOO helpful. Thanks for letting us know about this wonderful website.