Bell Anthology - German Research

The Raymond M. Bell Anthology

Looking up Your German Ancestors
    This article is concerned with the German-speaking persons 
 who came to Pennsylvania between 1725 and 1775 from Germany, 
 Switzerland, Austria and Alsace (France). Some of them later 
 moved on to western Maryland and northern Virginia. 
    (It is difficult to list all the sources available, There are 
     increasing numbers of books and periodicals on both sides of 
     the Atlantic. There are excellent records at Salt Lake City: 
     Family History Library, Genealogical Society of Utah. 
     And now the internet: An adequate account takes many pages, 
     This is an outline of what can be done.) 
    It is interesting to note that these emigrants spoke "Pennsyvania 
 Dutch" - a Palatinate dialect. The language has never been recoznized 
 officially and is still in use today. 
    First, you need to know how your family name was spelled in the 
 old country. Names were spoken, but not always written the same. 
 Some German surnames have as many as 20 different spellings in 
 American records. 
 1) Some names were not changed: Geiger, Seibert, Wolf, Ensminger. 
 2) Others were anglicized: Wotring to Woodring, Hujet to Hewitt, 
    Ihli to Ely, Gotz to Gates, Eschbach to Ashbrook, Dinges to 
    Dennis, Schweinhardt to Swihart. 
 3) Some were translated: Jaeger became Hunter, Zimmerman became 
    Carpenter, Yearick became George.
    Then remember that the call name is German was the second name. 
 Men were baptized with John as a first name, women with Anna or 
 Mary as a first name. John Henry Simler was Henry Simler, and an 
 English clerk may have listed it as John H Simler. Anna 
 Margaret Wolf was Margaret Wolf. Mary Magdalena Seibert was 
 Magdalena Seibert, and so on.
    If you do not know where in Pennsylvania your ancestor lived, 
 you may have to consult the printed Pennsylvania Archives, 
 Series 3 and 5, and the federal censuses every 10 years beginning 
 in 1790. They are indexed through 1870.
    You need to find out, if possible, where your ancestor lived 
 before he came to America. You may be fortunate to find it on a 
 tombstone, in a church record, or court or family record.
    If you know the name of the village, there are good maps 
 and alphabetical lists of villages in the volumes written 
 by C M Hall, The Atlantic bridge (Everton Publishers, Logan UT). 
    Remember that families traveled in groups. You may need to look 
 up your ancestor's neighbors in this country. Maybe the place of 
 origin is listed for one of them. Otherwise, you are at a loss 
 unless the surname is rare and limited to a small area. 
    However there is hope, numerous books and periodicals (e g 
 Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine) list names of persons who are 
 shown in German records as "gone to Pennsylvania". 
    Two persons have done much: 
    1) Dr Don Yoder, who has many publications including: 
       Rhineland Emigrants, Pennsylvania German Immigrants, 
       Palatine Church Visitations - availble from Genealogical 
          Publishing Co, Baltimore. 
       His article in the Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, 
       "Problems and Resources in Pennsylvania German Genealogical 
       Research" XXXI, 1-26 is the best account available. It was 
       published in 1979. 
    2) Annette K Burgert, whose volumes and monographs tie together 
       families on both sides of the ocean - a tremendous undertaking. 
       These volumes are outstanding: 
       18th Century Emigrants from German Speaking Lands to North 
       America, I, The Northern Kraichgau, II, The Western Palatinate:
       Westerwald to America, Some 18th Century German Immigrants: 
       18th Century Emigrant from the Northern Alsace to America. 
       You may want to write to her at 691 Weavertown Road, Myerstown 
       PA 17067 for a list of her publications. 
    The Picton Press, P O Box 250, Rockport Maine 04856, is very 
 active in German publications. You will need their catalogue, 
 German-Speaking Immigrants to America. They have recently published 
 Brigette Burkett's volume on Baden Wurtemberg. 
    Where to Search: 
    1) Pennyslvania German Pioneers, 3 srols, by Strassburger & Hinke. 
       Many thousands names are listed. Immigrants from Germany had 
       to take an Oath of Allegiance when they landed at Philadelphia. 
       Check the names on both sides of your ancestor, maybe a relative.
    2) Church Records 
       Moravian (the best), 41 J Locust St, Bethlehem PA 18018 
       Reformed, E & R Historical Society, 555 W James St, Lancaster PA 
       Lutheran, Thiel College, Greenville PA 16125 17603 
       Lutheran Theological Seminary, Gettysburg PA 17325 
       Lutheran Theological Seminary, Mt Airy, 17301 
             Germantown Ave. Philadelphia PA 19119
    The baptismal records are best for German churches, with also 
 listings of marriages and deaths. Many have been published. 
    The best recent source is the Publication by John T Humphrey, 
 P O Box 15190, Washington DC 20003 of ten volumes of PENNSYLVANIA 
 BIRTHS for counties in southeastern Pennsylvanian. In each county 
 volume the names are alphabetized. This saves many hours of looking 
 through many church books or publications 
    In baptismal records the names of the sponsors are important - 
 likely a family connection. 
    3) Cemetery Records 
    4) Court Records - estate, deed, orphans court, tax 
    5) Family Records 
    6) Side Land Records, Harrisburg PA 
    7) Early Newspapers 
    8) Libraries - Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 
                   Pennsylvania State Library, Harrisburg 
                   Some college libraries
    There are many church and civil records overseas that have 
 never been published. For Alsace write: Archives du Bas-Rhin, 
 5 Rue Fischart, Strassbourg, France. For a list of German Archives 
 see Mrs. Burgert's Pamphlet #5, Aids for Pennsylvania German Research.
    The earliest baptismal record the writer has found in Germany 
 is 1569, when his ancestor was adopting a surname. Earlier than 
 this little can be found. 

This article was transcribed by Bobbi Jo Harville of Middleburg, FL in February 1998.

Raymond M. Bell Anthology     Genealogy in Washington Co., PA

Published with permission of Raymond M. Bell.