German SIG

Fall Program for German SIG

September 2019

Herzlich Willkommen im Deutschen Stammtisch – or welcome (back) to the German SIG!

Our goal for this fall is to understand more about German emigration – what factors caused people to emigrate, where did they come from, when did they come, what ports did they leave from and arrive at? The answers to these questions may vary, depending on the timeframe your ancestors came to America.

Review of the 3 September 2019 Meeting

In September, we reviewed the 1600s and 1700s – more about that below. For October we’ll be looking at the 1800s, and in November the 1900s. There will be no meeting in December – gotta bake Christmas cookies and Stollen!

The earliest German settlers (in the 1600s) usually came as individuals, sometimes as part of another larger group. To find out more about these adventurous souls, read The First German Immigrants to North America.

The earliest permanent German settlement in the US was Germantown in Pennsylvania – now actually a part of Philadelphia. For more information about this settlement, read any of the following:

If you’d like to know more about Johann Christoph Sauer – the man who took all the German printing business away from Benjamin Franklin, check out this page.

In 1709, there was a great exodus of Germans – mostly from the southwest area that included the Palatinate, Baden, and Württemberg. About 14,000 Germans left for England via Rotterdam. Over 3000 of them were sent from England to New York in 1710. The Simmendinger Register lists many of the Germans who settled in the Mohawk Valley there.

The next permanent settlement of Germans was right here in Virginia. Governor Spotswood imported 13 families of miners from Siegen and Müsen in 1714. This group founded the colony of Germanna, and other settlers followed in later years. For more on Germanna, read here:

Another large group of settlers in the 1700s was the Hessian soldiers who fought with the British in the Revolutionary War. Congress offered these soldiers 50 acres to desert, and many took them up on it. In all, about 5000 soldiers stayed behind and settled in the US and Canada. For more information on the Hessian soldiers, read here:

Two valuable sources for early German passenger lists are Strassburger & Hinke, Pennsylvania German Pioneers 1727-1808 (3-volume set) , and J. Daniel Rupp, A Collection of 30K Names etc . (it’s a crazy long title!).

And finally, other useful links for this time period:

Next Meeting of the German SIG will be in September at Monument Avenue LDS Church

My plan for the Fall is to talk about immigration and naturalization, as well as migration paths from Europe to the US. I need input from you on specific topics that you’d like me to address within this larger framework.

I’d also like feedback from you as to whether we should have an afternoon or evening session starting in the Fall. Marcy Elliott-Rupert will be resuming her GenChat sessions, so the Tuesday at 7pm time slot will be unavailable for us.

You can contact me with suggestions and feedback at Or come see me at the FHC on Wednesday or Thursday evenings.

Review of Info from 7 May Meeting

First of all, let me thank all of you for participating in the German SIG – aka Deutscher Stammtisch – this Spring. I hope the information presented was helpful to you. Some people have already indicated that they were able to make progress with their German lines; I hope others will have similar success in the future.

This time around we covered non-FamilySearch and non-Ancestry websites for German research. Of course there are way too many such websites to cover in such a short meeting, so I restricted myself to a handful that I consider the most valuable: ( ) is probably the best free website for German research (after FamilySearch). It includes everything from a wiki for German research topics, to mailing lists and databases. If the town you’re researching has a local heritage book (also known as Ortsfamilienbuch or OFB) online here, then your work is pretty much done. Be sure to also check the list of printed OFBs. Many pages on Compgen have been translated into English, but of course, more information is available in German. Don’t forget – Google Translate is your friend!

Archion ( ) is the website of the Evangelical Church in Germany. Several years ago it created this website with the goal of making as many church records as possible available online. The website is updated regularly, but there are still many gaps in coverage, e.g. Saxony is still woefully under-represented. Archion is a fee-based service; monthly and annual subscriptions are available. The website is available in English and German.

ANNO ( ) is the website of the Austrian National Library, and contains both newspapers and magazines online. It is regularly updated, and offers full-text search across the collection. ANNO covers publications from 1689-1947; over one million pages are digitized each year. The website is free, and is available in German and partly in English.

The Austrian National Library has recently started a sister site called AKON ( ) for digitized postcards from all over the world. Over 75000 postcards cover a time range from the end of the 19th century into the 1940s.

Although I’m not going to list them all here, I encourage you to explore the websites of the various state libraries and archives in the areas you’re researching. Many have their own sets of digitized information available online. As a starting point, look at the FamilySearch page on German archives; this page also contains links to archives in former German territories, not just Germany. Don’t forget to look for digitized collections at university libraries as well.

Review of Info from 2 April Meeting

Isn’t German handwriting wonderful? Now that you’ve had this introduction to the ins and outs of Kurrentschrift, you can start exploring all those original documents that will lead you to your ancestral families.

Here are the most helpful books that I referred to in my presentation; they are all available on Amazon.

  • If I Can You Can Decipher German Records, by Edna M. Bentz
  • Deciphering Handwriting in German Document: Analyzing German, Latin, and French in Historical Manuscripts, by Roger P Minert
  • German-English Genealogical Dictionary, by Ernst Thode
  • Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting: A Translator’s Tricks of the Trade for Transcribing German Genealogy Documents, by Katherine Shober

And here are some web links with handwriting tutorials and other useful information:

Review of Info from 5 March Meeting

Thanks to all of you who were able to join me last Tuesday for a thorough review of church records available for German research. As I mentioned in both our first session and this time around, church records – whether Protestant or Catholic – will be your first line of recourse for finding your German ancestors. Because of all the little kingdoms, duchies, city-states, and other geographical/political entities, you won’t find a convenient or consistent census for the area we now call Germany. (France has Tables Decenales starting around 1790, but that’s a story for another day!)

The records you want to look for are mostly found via the FamilySearch catalog, organized by place name, then church records. Ancestry also has some German records, but not nearly to the same extent.If you want to get adventurous, you can explore some German websites as well. Here are the keywords to look for:

  • Tauf- or Geburtsregister for births and baptisms – don’t forget that illegitimate births may be listed in a separate part of the register, not necessarily sequentially
  • Heirats- or Trauungsregister for marriages
  • Todes- or Sterberegister for deaths
  • Konfirmationsregister for confirmations – in the Protestant churches, this usually happened around age 14
  • Familienregister or Ortssippenbuch – compiled family group sheets by parish or town

Beyond FamilySearch and Ancestry, here are some links for you to explore (I hope all the links will work correctly; if not, cut and paste the entire link into your browser):

Next time we’ll be talking about German handwriting, which is a key to success in your research.

Herzlich Willkommen in die deutsche SIG!

How’s that for a mish-mash of German and English? Don’t worry – the meetings will be held in English, no pre-existing knowledge of German required. By default, of course, you will be learning some German words and phrases so that you can delve into those original records and find out more about your people!

Here’s the agenda I’m going to follow for the coming four months:

February – History and Geography and Why It Matters

March – Understanding German Records

April – Deciphering German Handwriting (so you can read those German records!)

May – Helpful Websites for German Research

As was mentioned in the GRIVA email blast announcing this SIG, I want to emphasize that these meetings are not just for people with ancestors from Germany, but for anyone with ancestors in a German-speaking country. Are you surprised to know that this includes France, Poland, Denmark, Russia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and more?

Review of Info from 5 February Meeting

Thanks to everyone who came to the inaugural meeting of the German SIG on Tuesday evening. We covered a lot of information about history and geography, and I wanted to post some of the links that I showed you so you can play with them on your own, and also just review some important dates as far as record availability is concerned.

Dates to remember

  • 1524 – first Protestant records started
  • 1563 – first Catholic records for birth and marriage only
  • 1583 – 1700 – shift to Gregorian calendar (date varies by location)
  • 1792 – France starts civil registration
  • ~1806 – Familienbuch (compiled genealogies) begin
  • 1828 – patronyms abolished in Schleswig-Holstein
  • 1874 – Prussia begins civil registration of vital records
  • 1876 – civil registration required throughout Germany

Cool Links to Explore

There are too many web sites to list when it comes to history and geography of German-speaking areas of Europe. Here, I’m listing the ones we talked about this week, but I urge you to explore on your own. There are plenty of things to find out about your particular research location.