Tuesday, April 24, 2012

You Must Go Home Again

When you are researching your German ancestors don’t forget to mine all the resources from the towns they lived in.  Perhaps before they settled someplace permanently they lived in several states and there were major life events that happened in that town.  Marriages, births, deaths or maybe just a mention in the local paper, these are all things you need to check out for the mention of a past hometown in Germany. 

Your first objective is to find them in every U.S. and State census since they arrived in the country.  This will show you all the places they lived and give you the town, county and state. (Find census images at Ancestry.com or your local library may have a subscription to Ancestry or Heritage Quest, also FamilySearch.org has free access to US census records).   I would then do a Google search for the town’s local Historical Society or Genealogy Society and see what is available on their website.  A lot of these societies are putting indexes and even some documents online. They also give information on local resources, perhaps where the vital records are kept, or links to other resources in the area.  These societies also have a wealth of information that probably is not online. For years people have donated their time to index local records or the people that volunteer there have lived in that town all their life and know many family names.  It is worth the time to contact them.

You may try your local library. Do they have a genealogy section?  Maybe you live near a larger library that does.  These institutions may have collected books or microfilms from other states and counties that are genealogy related and you can find what you are looking for close to your home.

Another great find is to do some searching on Google Books.  I did some searching for Germans in Ohio, and found some great books available on line to read.  One was Franklin County, Ohio history, which gives the founding of the county plus early settlers and hometowns.  So I suggest playing at this site with family names, county names, German immigration etc.  You may have a fantastic find.

The internet makes it easy for us to travel the world from our living room but you also must remember to look for printed items that are not on the internet yet.  You need to work the town they lived in for all possible resources.  Good luck!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Finding Your German Ancestral Hometown in Church Records

In our first blog in this series we gave an overview of different ways to find your Ancestral hometown but one thing I want to go into more depth about is the importance of looking at all church records your ancestor may have created. Especially look for those first immigrants. Where they married in the U.S.? Check the church record for this entry. Many of the early immigrants would have gone to a church that others of German heritage would have belonged to. This makes sense as they wanted to hear their own language and feel comfortable with people probably from their same village or area.

A lot of times in these first marriage documents they may give their hometown. Some cities have early marriage indexes for marriage licenses but don’t stop at these, get the license and see who married them. It should give either a pastor’s name or the dreaded Justice of the Peace (probably no more info if he married them). Then find the church that pastor was at and check the church books. Or if there is no marriage index, you will have to check churches around where they lived. Find them in a census and then start looking for churches in the area where they lived. Maybe the local library or historical society could help you with finding a church more popular with a certain ethnic group.

Also, always check for the children’s baptisms. In some cases they may have asked where parents were from or of course you need to get the sponsor’s names. They could be a sibling of your immigrant or a family friend from the old hometown village, you should research them if all else fails. If your ancestor came as a child and they were born in Germany but in the States by the time they were old enough to be confirmed, make sure to check the church books for confirmations (about the age 12-14). A lot of times it is just a list of names but some pastors asked where they were baptized, so there could be a hometown.

And lastly, make sure to always check church records for death entries too. Not only the civil record (death certificate) or obit will tell a hometown the church record could also say. I have a friend whose gr-gr-grandfather’s place of birth was mentioned in his death entry even though he had been in the country for over 50 years. So you just never know.

Hometown information is more prevalent in Protestant records but by no means should you not look at Catholic records too. They are usually written in Latin but may give you parents’ names if not a hometown. This is one of the most important steps in German research and not to be overlooked.

Happy Hunting.

Resources for Finding Your German Ancestral Hometown

Today I would like to start a small series of postings on German resources and how to find your hometown. Often people say to me: “I know that my ancestors emigrated from Germany and I would love to go on a trip, but I don’t know how I can find their hometowns. "

I was telling my German business partner about this and he offered to write his thoughts on some ideas of where to check for that elusive hometown.

Before you think about doing research in German records have you looked at everything that is available in the U.S.? Have you looked in the local church records where your ancestors went to church? Often at the Protestant churches (especially in death records and marriage records) the Pastor may have written down, from what area or town come they came from. But be prepared that this church book can be written in German. The following page gives you a little bit help with that. http://narafriends-pittsfield.org/gechurch.htm

Also if the hometown or area is not given don’t be upset. Often people from the same area in Germany moved to the same settlement in the U.S. You must imagine what a big step it was to move to a new country by yourself or with your family. To settle next to other family members, friends and neighbors who had emigrated before made the start and life in the new world much easier. You could still speak your mother language, local dialect, keep your traditions and got help with the papers for the government etc. Keep this in the back of your mind and with this knowledge look again at the church records. Where did the other people in there come from? Is there any information given for that? If your ancestors lived in the parish with all these folks, could be that he came from the same area or town. Try to map the towns you find in the church books on a map, to get an idea where the people came from.

Take a look at your local library. Have they got microfilms for the local newspapers, possible a German one from early years. Try to find the obituary for your emigrant. Have you ever taken a look at his gravestone, the funeral home or cemetery records to find more information? What about the death certificate and family bible. Try to find the family member who has the family bible of the emigrant. Maybe this person also has old letters that will you give more information. Don’t forget the probate records.(Kathy: Even for the women too, I found a hometown mentioned in a great-grandmother’s will when she left her clothes to her oldest daughter still living in Germany. Even down to the street address.)

If your ancestors owned land look at the land records of course, or military records, you never know what surprise you will find there. Try also to locate the papers for citizenship and if you can the ship records. Often groups and families from the same village emigrated together. If you are lucky the ship records tell you the hometown and not only Germany, but be prepared always for misspelling in every record. Again, it might be a good idea to research some of the other people on a ship’s record to find where they came from as they may have been your ancestor’s neighbors.

I hope this gives you a fast overview of where you could find information to help you find your ancestor’s hometown.