In previous posts of this series, “Tracing Your 19th German Ancestors,” we began searching in America to learn everything possible about our ancestor before researching in Germany. In part 4 we learned steps for reading German-language records. In part 5 we will finally take a virtual trip to Germany. We will first show how to search Archion, the German website for Protestant records, in hopes of finding the baptism record for Burkhard Schlag (our example German-American). Next, we will explore the German mega-site, CompGen.de to locate German Genealogical Societies, German State Archives, OFBs (town family books) relevant to our German, and learn how to research the jurisdictions of the hometown.
U.S. based databases for German Church Books
In Part 4 of this series, we talked about how to use Meyer’s Gazetteer to discover the early 20th century jurisdictions of your German’s village. In our example, the names of those jurisdictions were used to search for Burkhard’s Züntersbach Lutheran records in Ancestry and FamilySearch, but Züntersbach’s Lutheran church records were not found in either database. Here is a webinar that gives an overview of which church records Ancestry and FamilySearch are likely to have: At Home With German Records. What if your village was not found in those U.S.-based databases?
German Based Kirchenbücher
Not every German church record still exists, and not every existing record is online yet, but many have survived and are online. If you have researched American websites without success, here are two German-based online church records websites to check: Archion.de ($) for Protestant records and Matricula for Catholic records. Archion will let you check to see if they have your parish’s records for free, but you will need to pay a reasonable fee to look at the kirchenbücher (i.e. church books). Matricula is totally free. Here is a how-to video for Matricula in German. For this German-language video, select to display subtitles and change them to English. They will be roughly Google Translated, but it’s amazing to have access to German genealogy how-to videos!
Figure 1 shows Archion has baptism (Tauf), death (Tote), and marriage (Trau) records starting in 1830 for Züntersbach. It also details where the source of those records – the Kurhessen-Waldeck (Lutheran Church of Hesse) Landeskirchliches Archiv Kassel (Regional Church Archive in the district of Kassel) > Schlüchtern (kries) > Züntersbach, so I knew I was in the right place.
Would I find Burkhard’s Züntersbach church records? No, the baptisms started in June of 1830, three months later than Burkhard’s 6 March 1830 birthdate (listed in his American records). Sigh. As mentioned in Part 4, Meyers Gazetteer detailed that Oberzell was the village closest to Züntersbach that had a Lutheran church. Oberzell also did not have Burkhard nor very many Schlags at all.
The good news was that Burkhard had a FAN club (friends, family, associates, and neighbors). Several younger Schlag’s were closely associated with Burkhard in his American hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. One was buried in Burkhard’s cemetery plot, and some of Burkhard’s children worked for a company that these younger Schlags owned. Further research into the descendants of these younger Schlags revealed DNA connections between them and Burkhard’s descendants. Available evidence suggested that these younger Schlags were Burkhard’s nieces and nephews. Since Züntersbach’s church records did not have Burkhard’s baptism record, these other Schlags needed to be researched to see if Burkhard’s parents might be found indirectly through these likely nieces and nephews.
Part of Burkhard’s FAN club was Charles B. Schlag, whose 1920 U.S. census record said he was born in “Zenterbach.” His American death certificate said Charles was born on 21 July 1871, and his parents were John Schlag and Elizabeth Zarkel. Charles’ Züntersbach baptism record (Figure 2, no. 482 above) column 5 said the baby’s name was Karl Burkhard Schlag. Column 6 said that Charles’ parents were Johannes Schlag and Elisabeth Zirkel. Column 4 said he was baptized on 30 July 1871 (column 4), and born on 20 July (column 3 here- see also Figure 4 of Part 4 of this blog series).
Looking in Archion.de for these younger Schlags resulted in baptism records that matched their American reported birthdates (e.g. Charles). This gave me confidence I had found the correct German records for my German-Americans. Further Züntersbach records could be used to research records of their father, Johannes Schlag, and find his parents. Since Burkhard and Johannes were likely brothers, Burkhard’s parents could indirectly be found in this way.
Above is the Züntersbach marriage record for Johannes Schlag and Elisabetha Zirkel on 13 November 1859. Column 1 shows the groom in red, and column 2 the bride. In yellow are parents, and pink are birthdates for each. Johannes,’ and therefore likely Burkhard’s, parents were Heinrich Schlag and Elisabeth Müller. These parents could be confirmed via other siblings’ records as well. Researching the other family members in this village revealed yet a further generation back: the parents of Heinrich and Elisabeth. This was possible because German records helpfully often list female birth names. Fully researching the collateral lines of Burkhard’s family really paid off in this case.
What if I still cannot find my ancestor’s parish records?
Züntersbach’s online records could be found, but what If your parish is simply not online? There are two strategies to try before boarding a plane to Germany.
1. Try looking for an OFB, ortsfamilienbuch, or town family book. Some towns in Germany have put together genealogies of their residents using church books and other local records. If you have the right parish and an OFB exists for the village, your ancestor has an excellent chance of being found there. We will use the German genealogical mega-site, Compgen.de’s GenWiki to search for OFBs and genealogical societies in the next section.
2. Try contacting a local genealogical society covering the area of your parish and asking them for help. They may help you or give you information for a local genealogist who you can hire.
Navigate CompGen.de’s GenWiki
CompGen.de is the portal today’s Germans use to research their ancestors. Similar to how the Research Wiki is a part of FamilySearch, GenWiki is part of CompGen.de. This site is huge and a challenge to navigate for English-speaking researchers. I will be sharing a few features of GenWiki that are worth dipping your toe into.
I highly recommend watching the webinars on Legacy Family Tree ($) by Teresa Steinkamp McMillin, especially the one on CompGen.de. In addition, here is the FamilySearch page on CompGen.de. Lastly, here is CompGen.de’s FAQ specially written for German-Americans with helpful introductions to GenWiki.
GenWiki has an English version but like most German genealogy sites, it is better to use it in German, because too much information is left out of the English version. You can use the Chrome browser for the German version and it will use Google Translate to automatically translate whatever page you look at from German to English. I like to use GenWiki by having Chrome translate it on one window and have the same page up in a second window in German, just to make sure Chrome has not switched me to the English site. This also helps me begin to understand basic German genealogical terms.
Circled in red in Figure 4 below are four parts of the German version of GenWiki worth exploring:
1. OFBs – ortsfamilienbücher or village family books
2. Vereine – (genealogical) societies
3. GOV- Genealogical gazetteer (i.e. tool for finding jurisdictions)
4. Regional- Regional research portal (i.e. archives)
1. Find your ancestor’s OFB
In Figure 4 below, you will see the tab, OFBs, circled in red. Clicking on that will get you to a page listing all GenWiki’s online OFBs. They are organized by German state, so you can fairly quickly see if your village’s OFB is online. For example, looking for Christine’s Nordhemmern (or associated localities like Hille, Hahlen, Hartum) in her state of North Rhine Westphalia showed that her OFB was not online. However, searching for these communities on FamilySearch revealed there was an OFB for her locality in a book version at the Family History Library in Salt Lake (some copies were also on Amazon.com). Doing all this for Burkhard revealed there probably is no OFB covering his village.
2. Vereine: German Genealogical Societies
Do you want to network with Germans interested in your ancestral village? Try exploring the genealogical society’s website that covers their village and consider contacting them for advice or a list of local researchers you can hire. Clicking on the “Vereine” tab on the far right of Figure 4, will bring you to a long list of German genealogical societies. This narrows things down to existing societies. Finding yours may take some time, however less time than trying to google “genealogical society” and your area of interest. I tried this and it was very unfruitful in English or German.
A second avenue for clickable links to German genealogical societies is here in the German version of FamilySearch: Deutschland Vereine – FamilySearch Wiki. This past Family Locket blogpost discusses success with contacting a German genealogical society in Osnabrück (Lower Saxony). You can email a German genealogical society or archive to ask for help in researching your ancestor. Germans interested in genealogy often seem very willing to help, so it is worth a try. Here is a German Letter Writing Guide from FamilySearch.
3. GOV: German Jurisdictions Current vs. Historic
Meyer’s Gazetteer details the jurisdictions of localities frozen in the year 1912 when the last version of the gazetteer was published (see Part 4 of this series). FamilySearch uses Meyers’ jurisdictions to organize their German record sets. Alternatively the GenWiki, GOV tab will show the jurisdictions of your village over time. This allows you to identify archives by jurisdictions contemporaneous with when the record was made. You can also view the locality’s current jurisdictions since records could be found at any repository in the chain of your village’s jurisdictions over time. This will be key to finding records in German-based archives.
3.1. See Figure 4 above. On the homepage for GenWiki, click on “GOV,” circled in red, along the top. Once you do that you will get the search box below Figure 5:
3.2 Enter your village into the Ortsname (placename) search box seen above (Figure 5). I entered Nordhemmern, which was Christine’s hometown. This will get you to a list of localities with this place name below (Figure 6).
3.3 This page (Figure 6) is what you will see next for Nordhemmern. I clicked on the third one with the Dorf (village) with the postleitzahl (postal code).
3.4 Lastly you arrive at this graphic (Figure 7), which you can zoom in on when you are on the page. It shows the history of the jurisdictions of Nordhemmern. In this case, it says that the Nordhemmern was a part of the larger towns of Hille and Hartum. Christine’s family was found in the Nordhemmern section of the Hille parish church books.
4. Regional: German State Archives
Do you want to find and search the German Archives where your village’s records are? Like finding the German genealogical society that pertains to your village, the trick is to find the particular archive that holds your ancestor’s village records. This section will show how to find archives by the German state. Remember there will also be archives at more local levels than the states. Here is the helpful FamilySearch wiki page: Germany Archives and Libraries. Also, German genealogical societies may help you find archives with closer jurisdictions. Some archives will have online recordsets, but also some need to be searched in person by yourself or an on-site researcher, which may be found by asking the archive for a list of researchers you can hire.
The National Archives are called the Bundesarchiv. But just like in America, you are more likely to find records for your ancestors in archives with closer jurisdictions (i.e. state and city) than our National Archives in Washington D.C. The German Wikipedia (wikipedia.de) page for state archives has a good clickable list of all 16 state archives: Staatsarchiv. Be sure to do your German research (e.g. your village) on the German version of Wikipedia. It is much more complete and detailed than the English version.
Here’s how to use GenWiki to navigate to their state archives page using the German language site:
1. GenWiki has a portal into German state archives under the “Regional” tab circled in Figure 4 above.
2. After clicking Regional, on the right side of the next page you will see the heading “Archive.” Beneath that heading, click on “Archiv.”
3. On the next page look for “Archiv nach Standort,” or archive by location.
4. Lastly, on the next page, you will find under D, ”Archiv in Deutschland.” This page will also show you the neighboring countrys’ archives. Clicking on “Archiv in Deutschland” will bring you to a page with clickable German archives, listed by state.
5. Alternatively, on the GenWiki homepage (Figure 8), you can find the search box in the upper left titled “Suche im GenWiki.” Enter “Staatsarchiv” (state archive) there and that will also get you to a page of clickable links to German archives by state: Staatsarchive in Deutschland – GenWiki.
I hope you enjoyed our trip to German archives! Learning to navigate German genealogical websites may lead you to discover more of your ancestor’s stories beyond church records. In Part 6 we explore using DNA in searching for our German ancestors.
Other parts of this series: