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.

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