German SIG

May 2020 – Finding Town of Origin in US Records

First things first – since I haven’t had any feedback from you, there will be no German SIG for June – we’ll resume in September with a new series of (hopefully!) interesting presentations.

Information and links from the program on 5 May 2020 are as follows:

I showed a table from FamilySearch for a search strategy for finding your foreign-born ancestors. You can find that process at

One of the things I spent a good deal of time on was Roger Minert’s multi-volume work called Germans in American Church Records. Dr. Minert has explained his work and the process he’s used for selecting the information in these volumes in a couple BYU webinars. You can find them here: – and Also check out his web sites at and

Remember that county histories published in the late 1800s can be a great source for finding the town of origin for your immigrant ancestor. Many of these volumes have been digitized and are available on the web in places like, Hathitrust, FamilySearch, and so on. Or just Google the name of the county, using search terms like “Clay County History and Biography.”

Always keep in mind that things change! Even though a record says a person was born in Rothau, that place is now called Rotava. History matters, geography matters, handwriting is always a challenge – so don’t be discouraged if you find the name of a place and it doesn’t seem to exist. I showed a census example for Cattaraugus NY in 1910. One of the place names listed could either be read as Suxeweiner or Luxeweiner. (There’s that pesky handwriting again!) Of course I couldn’t find either place by Googling or looking at maps. Instead, I turned to This is a great tool for finding place names that were current in the German empire from 1871-1918. Typing those two potential town names into the search field produced no results. However, this web site allows the use of wild cards, so by typing in “Suxe*” or “Luxe*” or “*weiner.” I was able to find a a likely suspect – a small town called Luxenweiler in Württemberg. (BTW, “Weiler” in German means village or hamlet, so this is a good clue that we’re on the right track with this town name.) Sadly, there is no corresponding place in the FamilySearch catalog. However, Meyers tells us that this village is affiliated with Biberach, and there are records for Biberach at FamilySearch. And frustratingly, these are records that can only be viewed at your local FHC. So as soon as this quarantine is over, we’ll go poking around to see if we can find that family!

When we meet again in September, I’ll be looking forward to hearing about your research successes!

April 2020 – Some Suggested Activities

Life in the times of corona virus and everything gets disrupted. Hopefully you are all doing well and staying healthy. GRIVA is working on options for distance learning and distance meetings – watch your email for updates on that. In the meantime, I’m going to post some links here for webinars and e-learning opportunities:

Legacy Family Tree Webinars is offering a number of free webinars, with a couple of interest to you German scholars – Emigration from Hamburg, and Hessian Soldiers. You can find the complete list of available webinars here.

The BYU Family History Libary offers a wide variety of webinars, including several related to German research. I highly recommend the one with Roger Minert as he explains GIACR – watch it yourself and find out what that acronym can mean for you! A full listing of their webinars is available here:

BYU also offers an independent study course for German research that includes 8 lessons, each with multiple sub-pages. But pay attention – there are quizzes! The course is free, and available here –

The FamilySearch wiki for German research has enough information and links to keep you busy for a long time. Check it out here –

The Germanic Genealogy Society offers webinars on a variety of topics. Upcoming ones are free to attend, but you have to be a member to look at archived webinars. For more information, go to

One of the German genealogy mailing lists that I subscribe to offered this link which is full of suggestions for free amusements during the corona crisis. I personally subscribed to free concerts by the Berlin Philharmonic – lovely! The links aren’t specifically for genealogy, but there may be something useful in there for you anyway. The list is in German, but many of the words you can probably figure out without the help of Google Translate – Filme for films or movies, Museen for museums, Datenbanken for databases.

For May, I’ll be looking at avenues to explore in US records to help you find where your German ancestors came from.

March 2020 – Immigrant Case Study

This month we went through a case study of George Theobald (who happens to be my husband’s great-grandfather). Unlike previous months, I have no links or further reading to add to the blog here. But maybe this is a good opportunity to look at the steps I took to find George in Germany, and some lessons learned.

Even though I had lots of documents, there were plenty of areas where the data presented just didn’t add up. So in addition to searching for records, I had to really evaluate what I was seeing in order to piece together an accurate picture of George and his family. The steps I took aren’t necessarily the same ones you’ll follow to find your person, but just remember that good research practices will always apply, whether you’re searching here or abroad.

Some lessons learned:

  • Those stories that you grew up hearing may or may not be true, but they may have a “germ of truth” that can be a starting point for your research. The same thing holds true for family pictures, heirlooms, etc., that might hold clues when reexamined.
  • Don’t just look at at one census report – look at all of them for your person and evaluate the information on those pages. Don’t just look at the page your person is on, but go back and forward a page or two to see who is living around them. These might be people they came to America with, or families that they’ll intermarry with.
  • Cross-reference to other possible sources, for example city directories, newspaper reports, occupational newsletters or annual reports.
  • Look for German-language newspapers in the area where your immigrant settled. They will often have more or different information that the English-language paper. In fact, they may be the only source of information!
  • I couldn’t find any for George (St. Louis is a big city and he kept moving around!), but look for church records. German Protestants in the US generally kept their records in German, and often these records will mention the town of origin, not just the state or duchy or whatever other larger jurisdiction.
  • If you have old documents from your immigrant, be sure to look on both sides of the page. Even if the form looks complete on the front side, you never know what might be on the reverse that could help further your research.
  • Just because you’ve found an indexed record on FamilySearch or Ancestry, doesn’t mean you’ve gotten all the information from that record. Remember that the indexing process is designed to make a person findable, and so only extracts a minimum of data to make that possible. ALWAYS look at the original record if possible to see what other information can be gleaned.
  • When you get a search result that you’re not sure about, save it anyway. You never know how your future research may help tie back to that record – or allow you to eliminate it as a possibility.
  • Don’t limit your search to sources only on the Internet. Field trips to a local record repository may be the only way to get that one record you’re looking for.
  • And even though I didn’t talk about this for George’s case study, don’t just blindly copy from trees that you find on the web. In this case, the old saying applies – “Trust, but verify!”

February 2020 – Naturalization and Passports

The subject of naturalization is closely intertwined with our topic from last month – passenger list and immigration. We talked about the various types of naturalization, the most common of which by far is by application for citizenship. We also talked a bit about the naturalization process for women and children, and how it’s varied over the years. This article from NARA offers a good overview of the challenges. women faced.

During the colonial period, naturalizations were only performed for non-British immigrants, and only for Protestants. So it’s quite possible that naturalization records may be found in Britain rather than here in the US.

So where can we go today to find naturalization records? Prior to 1906, they can be found in any court of record – federal, state, county, or local; all with varying requirements. After 1906, naturalization became regulated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), but federal, district, and state courts continued to perform naturalizations. Court names to look for – superior, supreme, district, county, circuit, court of common pleas, etc.

The INS is now called USCIS – United States Customs and Immigration Service, and offers information about researching individual naturalization records, both by time period and by nationality records. You should also explore the link (on the left side of the linked page) for other genealogy-related information from USCIS. And one more thing – they sporadically offer webinars on naturalization- and immigration-related topics, so sign up for their webinar alerts.

There are several steps required for naturalization – the time frames required to begin each step have varied over the years, but the steps are the same:

  • Declaration of intention – usually filed 3-7 years after arrival, sometimes even at port of entry; might not be same location as other steps in process; also called “first papers”
  • Deposition – affidavits of two witnesses
  • Petition – requests court to grant citizenship; also called “second” or “final papers”
  • Oath of Allegiance / Certificate of Naturalization – registers granting of citizenship

The information required for each of these steps has also varied widely over time and by location. Generally, the Declaration and Petition are the documents that should have the most information about the immigrant and may be where the town of origin is revealed. That’s “may” be, not “is.” Frustrating, I know, but that’s why we never stop researching when we find one record or the other!

Here are some naturalization websites for you to explore, as well as further reading on the topic:

Just like naturalization laws, passport regulations have been subject to change over the years. You may be surprised to learn that passports were not officially required for foreign travel until 1978! Passports have been issued solely by the Department of State since 1856. Check out these links for more information on passports:

January 2020 – Immigration and Passenger Lists

Thanks to all of you who braved the ugly weather to join me yesterday for a discussion of US immigration laws and the wonders of passenger lists. Please note that this presentation is applicant to any immigrants, not just ones from Germany.

Check Wikipedia for an overview of immigration laws and how they’ve changed over time. also has a good summary.

The United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS, formerly ICE, formerly…) has a section of their website devoted to genealogy and history, so it might be a good place to check out. There’s also a full page of featured stories that are of interest. I mentioned last night about a webinar on how some women were processed at Ellis Island, and although it isn’t specifically mentioned here, this is the place where it originated. The 2020 webinar schedule hasn’t been posted yet (as of 8 Janurary 2020), but check back later to look for topics of interest to you.

Here’s a link to the bibliography on colonial immigration sources. Sorry, none of the sources are hot-linked.

Sources of immigration information:

Ship Information:

And finally, links to some of the popular shipping lines that carried passengers to the US:

Join me next month for a look at the naturalization process in the US.

December 2019 – Emigration in 1800s, 1900s

Sorry for being a little late with posting information about this presentation – December is all about baking Christmas cookies at my house! Oh, and wrapping presents too.

Anyway, here are the major points about German emigration to the US in the 1800s and 1900s:

  • Germans who were already in the US – remember those early settlements in Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia? – were busy moving westward into Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. As time moved on, they moved even further west.
  • Germans coming into the country may have entered through ports in New York, Philadelphia, or New Orleans, but then quickly moved on to some other place, especially as land became available in the Midwest.
  • Travel routes changes as railroads rather than rivers were used to get to ports in Europe. LeHavre in France was the most likely port for people heading to New Orleans; ships from Bremen usually went to Baltimore or Philadelphia, but also New York. The port in Hamburg opened in 1850; ships originating there often made stops in England before heading to the US.
  • While most of the emigrants in the 1600s came from the Palatinate, Baden, and Württemberg, later emigrants came from other German states and duchies, as well as from German-speaking Eastern European countries (Bohemia, Moravia, etc.)

When you’re trying to find more information about your German ancestors, it’s helpful to try the following sources:

  • Church records in the original parish (if you know it) often will cite when a person or family left, and maybe where they went to.
  • Newspaper advertisements (such as the Amtsblatt for the locality where they came from) will print legal notices for the emigrant.
  • Probate records (here and there) may list people who are living in a different country than the deceased.
  • German Emigration Indexes are available online.
  • Germans to America by Filby and Glazier has known errors and omissions, but is also a useful source of information.
  • Passenger and Immigration Lists by Filby and Meyer is not limited only to German emigrations, and is searchable on
  • Compgen (Germany’s answer to Rootsweb) has an emigration page with information by destination and origin. Note – not all of this site is available in English – stretch that German language muscle!
  • The BYU Immigrant Ancestor Project has a searchable database, not just of Germans.
  • The Genealoger website has a thorough list of emigration sources, causes, timeframes, and more..
  • FamilySearch has a wiki page on German emigration,
  • The Library of Congress also has a series on immigration.

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.