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.