I chose Locating Places in Germany as my second German course from the National Institute for Genealogical Studies and I am happy I did. This course is packed with information to help you track down where in Germany your ancestor came from and how to locate the records for that location.
Thumb Tack On Map - Berlin by Mister GC/ Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net
Module 1 explains some of the pitfalls when trying to identify where in Germany your ancestor came from. It is easy to make a bad assumption. Some towns have the same name as other larger jurisdictions and there might be more than one town with the same name. This makes sense considering we have the same thing here in the United States. There is an Appling, Georgia (town) and an Appling County, Georgia. Appling the town isn't even in Appling County, it is in Columbia County. I live in Harlem, Georgia, not to be confused with Harlem, New York. Another thing to consider is the name of the town could have changed when another country took over that area. The borders were constantly changing. To learn more about this consider taking Introduction to German Research for North Americans which gives a great basic history of Germany and the jurisdictional changes. You can learn more about this course in my previous blog post.
Module 2 goes on to explain the different jurisdictional levels and it covers all of the German-speaking areas of Europe. Knowing the political divisions and at which level records are held will save you a lot of time.
Being able to read a gazetteer is an essential skill and that is covered in Module 3. The most useful gazetteers are in German and you will need to be able to interpret the German abbreviations used. To make it even more challenging, the old gazetteers are in gothic typeface (Fraktur). Reading the entries is not an easy task even for me but this course gives you all the tools you need.
The most comprehensive German gazetteer is the Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs, 5th ed., compiled by E. Utrecht. This is available in its entirety for free on Ancestry.com. If you don't already have an Ancestry.com account you will need to register for a free guest login. I have to say, it is fun to try and figure out what the Meyers gazetteer is trying to tell you about a location. It is almost like putting a puzzle together. The reading materials for Module 3 provides all the tools you need to work it out.
Modules 4 and 5 cover the location specific gazetteers for Germany and the other German-speaking countries. These are important because unlike the Meyers Gazetteer they also contain the church/parish information you will need to locate church records.
Module 6 goes into more detail about when and why a place might have changed names. This module gives you specific resources you can use to track down a name change. These are available in book form or on microfilm/microfiche.
By Michele Simmons Lewis, Student