According to census reports, German ancestry is the largest single ethnic group in North America, even out-pacing the English or Irish. Although the vast majority of Germans in North America are in the United States (where 15-20% of the population claim German ancestry), a significant number also settled in Canada, both before and after the American Revolutionary War, as well as other parts of the world.
Unfortunately, most of those of German descent have been reticent to begin research on those German ancestors due to perceived barriers of language, geography, and understanding the records. The purpose of this course is to begin the teaching of genealogical concepts pertinent to German research. It introduces basic concepts needed to succeed in German research and begins to dispel the notion that German research is difficult. Actually, from a research perspective, it is much easier than Canadian, American, English, or Irish research. The purpose of this course is to serve as the foundation for the German Records certificate program.
NATURE OF GERMAN RESEARCH AND SOURCES
Identifying the Immigrant(s)
KEY ELEMENTS OF GERMAN RESEARCH
Geography & Place Names
Language & Handwriting
Advanced Sources & Techniques
HISTORY OF GERMANY & GERMAN MIGRANTS
Sources for German History
Key Events in the History of Germany
Germans in North America
MIGRATION OF GERMANS: ONE LANGUAGE, MANY COUNTRIES
The German Core
More Distant Countries
GERMANS IN THE UNITED STATES
German Counties in 1790
German Cities 1850-1900
German Ancestry in 2010
GERMANS IN ENGLAND
History of German Immigration
Resources for Tracing Germans
GERMAN CULTURE & SOCIETY
Given (Fore-) Names
Occupations & Work Ethic
GENEALOGICAL DATABASES FOR GERMAN RESEARCH
Association for Computer Genetics
Other Helpful Resources
IMPORTANT REFERENCES AND INSTRUCTIONAL BOOKS
The Value of Reference Tools
Archives & Libraries
Using Church Records
Guides & Indexes to Published Genealogical Literature
Find a Professional Genealogist
GERMAN LANGUAGE FROM AN ENGLISH PERSPECTIVE
Classes of Words
GERMAN WORD LISTS & DICTIONARIES
Commercial German-English Dictionaries
German Word List
Articles & Gender
READING GERMAN CHURCH REGISTERS
READING GERMAN PUBLISHED SOURCES
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New Technology Introduced Google Translate
Other Translation Resources
All genealogical research is ultimately local in origin. Our ancestors lived in specific places, and the records about them were usually created in those places where they lived. Even records of larger jurisdictions, such as at the national level (e.g., census records), were generally written by officials in the specific place where a family lived. Further, it is through a family's location that we, in part, identify them. Not only is it important to know a person's name, birth date and relationships (parents, spouse, children), but also the place where a person lived (or was born, married, or died). All of these elements are necessary to fully, and uniquely, identify a person.
The geographic aspect of genealogical research is even more important for Germanic ancestors than it is for research in other areas. Some key records for family history research in countries outside of Germany were created at the state, provincial, or national level (such as military or census records). That is seldom the case with German ancestors. Virtually all the key records about German families were created at the local level, in the town or parish where they lived. A few were created at the district (like a county) level, but virtually none at higher government jurisdictions. Therefore, locating places in Germany is an important aspect of successful German research. For researchers, this begins with learning the correct place where a German immigrant came from; his ancestral home. From there it is essential to learn the parish where the family attended church. As research progresses, you may find persons married into families from other areas. Those locations must also be identified, so that appropriate records can be searched. The primary tools for such research are gazetteers. They will be the focus of this course. However, important aspects of German jurisdictions are also necessary to understand, as is the ability to read, and understand, place names which may not be familiar to an English or French-speaking researcher.
IDENTIFYING THE ANCESTORS’ HOMETOWN
Is it really a hometown?
Did you read that place-name right?
Former German Countries & States (Regions)
Smaller German Jurisdictions
Modern German Countries
USING MEYERS GAZETTEER
Reading the Gothic Font
Key Abbreviations in Meyers
Typical Layout of a Meyers Entry
Dependent (Reference) Entries
Identifying Jurisdictions in an Entry
Determining the Civil Registry Office
Is There a Parish in the Town?
OTHER GAZETTEERS FOR GERMANY
How to Find Gazetteers on FamilySearch
GAZETTEERS FOR OTHER GERMAN-SPEAKING AREAS
PLACE NAME CHANGES
Documentation of Place Name Changes
NOTE: This course requires compulsory materials to be ordered. Please click on the Supplies tab for details.
The primary, and often only significant original records for German research, are the registers of the local churches where German ancestors lived. This is the case wherever, and whenever, Germans lived, and wherever you are conducting research on German families.
Regardless of whether German families were living within the bounds of modern Germany, the old German Empire, or in the dozens of other countries where ethnic Germans settled, successful research requires the careful, and sometimes creative, use of church registers.
The vast majority of Germans, historically, belonged to one of three major Christian denominations—the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, or the (German) Reformed Church. The practice of keeping registers of church ordinances in German areas began with the Lutheran Church in the mid-1500s; the Catholic Church followed soon, generally shortly after the Council of Trent in 1563; and, Reformed churches generally began during the next 50 to 80 years.
Until the implementation of civil (government) registration of births, marriages, and deaths, generally in the 1870s, there are usually no other records in German areas that were designed to record virtually each and every person who lived in a given area. Therefore, for between 200 and 300 years, church registers are the records all German genealogists deal with.
This course provides detailed discussion of the use of German church (often called parish) registers. Through the numerous examples, researchers will learn not only the common formats of the key kinds of church records, but also important vocabulary terms used in the records. In addition, search strategies will help students understand how to wring the most possible information from these records.
The International Institute of Genealogical Studies is extremely pleased to be able to use, as the primary reading material for this course, an outstanding book on this subject, authored by Kenneth L. Smith, <i>German Church Books: Beyond the Basics,</i> Rev. ed. (Rockport, Maine: Picton Press, 1993). We express our deep appreciation to the publisher for making an electronic copy of this text available for our students.
Because the course reading material is not proprietary to the International Institute's course, access to the electronic text online will only be available during the term of this course as usual, but will NOT be accessible for printing. Since this reading material is an important reference tool which students will want to refer to frequently while conducting research in parish registers, the printed version is compulsory for this course.
The course instructional material will primarily serve as a guide to the content of Smith’s material. In addition, it will present some brief supplemental material, as well as the module assignments.
OVERVIEW OF GERMAN CHURCH RECORDS
Introducing the Required Reading
Accessing German Church Records
Organization of Parish Registers
Language of the Records
PERSONAL & PLACE NAMES IN CHURCH RECORDS
CHURCH MARRIAGE RECORDS
CHURCH BAPTISMAL RECORDS
CHURCH DEATH & BURIAL RECORDS
Squeezing an Earlier Generation from the Burials
OTHER CHURCH RECORDS
Church History or Minutes