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# Tuesday, 03 May 2016
Organized Genealogy Research: Matching Up Two Theresas
Posted by Diane

My new favorite genealogy accomplishment is figuring out whether the  Theresa Seeger Kolbeck whose 1937 death announcement I found by chance in a newspaper index on the Kenton County Public Library website was the sister of my great-great-grandfather, German immigrant Heinrich Arnold ("H.A.") Seeger.

All I had on H.A.'s sister was her baptismal record from Steinfeld, Germany, with her date of birth and parents' names.

A little research into the local Theresa—actually Mary Theresa—uncovered a death certificate with her birthday as Feb. 18, 1949 (three days after H.A.'s sister's birthday) in Germany. She and her husband Herman Henrich Kolbeck immigrated May 16, 1873, and settled in Covington, Ky. The 1900 census reported they'd been married 27 years, putting their marriage in 1873. 

Following tips Drew Smith will share in our Genealogy Organization Tips and Strategies webinar on May 19, I planned out some steps:
  1. From previous research in Steinfeld, Germany, marriage records, I knew they usually name the parents. I added a to-do list item to view the records covering 1873 at my local FamilySearch Center. So many folks around here have roots in that part of Germany that the film is in the permanent collection of my FamilySearch Center. Getting out to research requires all kinds of scheduling acrobatics for me, so I knew it'd be awhile before I could visit.

  2. I looked up the Kolbecks in other databases on the Kenton County library website. and found church record index entries for the baptisms of several children. The library has the records on microfilm, so I ordered digital copies through its fee-based request service.

    A few were the Kolbecks' children, with Theresa's maiden name as variants close to (but not exactly) Seeger. One baptism had a sponsor Frances Säge. Frances was the name of H.A.'s wife. Other baptisms were the children of another Kolbeck couple, with Theresa a sponsor in one. 

  3. Also from the Kenton County library, I ordered a copies of two newspaper death announcements for Theresa. Neither named her parents or birthplace in Germany. 
Finally the stars aligned and I could get to the FamilySearch Center to view the Steinfeld church records. Within 15 minutes, I found Theresa's and Herman Henrich's April 23, 1873, marriage record. Theresa's parents had the same names as on her baptismal record, and the same names as H.A.'s parents.

Yay! I could add all those Kolbecks into my family tree.
Drew Smith recommends organizing your genealogy research around goals, and I have two new ones for this family:
  1. Figure out whether Theresa and Herman Henry were cousins. You probably noticed that Theresa's mother was born a Kolbeck.

  2. Figure out if and how that other Kolbeck couple in the Covington, Ky., baptismal records was related to Herman Henrich. That family later moved to Ford County, Kan.
Our Genealogy Organization Tips and Strategies webinar on May 19 will help you manage your research process, so you can take a focused approach to solving genealogy problems. Learn more about this online event in

German roots | Research Tips | Webinars
Tuesday, 03 May 2016 15:18:13 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, 05 April 2016
Raise a Glass: Connecting With German Genealogists Online
Posted by Diane

In some ways, what has happened to online German genealogy in the last few years reflects what’s been going on in the wider family history world: more instant communication and loads of ways for people to connect. Guest writer and author of The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide and the newly released Trace Your German Roots Online, James M. Beidler, shares how collaboration made possible by the internet has affected his genealogy research.

Two correspondents who the internet figuratively brought to my doorstep stand out to me when I think about my experience with online German research.

The first crossed my path a dozen-plus years ago, when I was trying to track down a female ancestor for whom I (frustratingly!) had an exact birth date but no maiden surname. Her married name was Gertraut Rauch, and I knew her husband had been born in the northeastern section of Berks County, Pa., but all the information I had on her came from her tombstone. I was prowling online bulletin boards, having just realized that these were replacing the “queries” of my first years of doing genealogy (now most people have moved on to online family trees).

In any case, within hours of posting a Rauch query, a researcher named DelLynn Leavitt from Idaho Falls, Idaho, replied saying he knew Gertraut was the daughter of a man named Jacob Sicher. With that small fact, my brick wall came tumbling down. And this type of connection would have previously taken months or years to form, but it took less than a day for us to connect thanks to the internet!

Fast-forward to 2010: After many years and a dozen trips to Salt Lake City’s Family History Library, I finally unearthed the German hometown (Gerolsheim) of my surname immigrant ancestor, Johannes Beÿdeler. Coincidentally, I had already made plans to go to Europe that year to take in the once-in-a-decade Passion Play, so I simply added Gerolsheim to the itinerary. I tried to contact Gerolsheim officials in advance through the town's own website—but there was no email contact listed. Instead, I contacted the local tourist bureau (which did have an e-mail address, and a few days I had a response from the town’s deputy mayor, Klaus May.

I still think Klaus and his wife would have put us up for our entire stay in Germany if we had just asked! Klaus showed us around the town and introduced us to the Ortsbürgermeister (village mayor). With Germany’s largest wine festival in full swing in nearby Bad Dürkheim, we toasted a local Riesling wine with Klaus, his wife, and the mayor to celebrate our newfound friendship. What a great connection to have made through the internet!

Learn more about what the web can do for your German genealogy research in James M. Beidler's Trace Your German Roots Online, available now on; order between now and April 28 to get free shipping.

German roots | Social Networking
Tuesday, 05 April 2016 13:35:19 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, 29 March 2016
German Resource Spotlight: Hamburg Passenger Lists
Posted by Diane

Immigrant ancestors tend to capture researchers’ imaginations more than others. We’re enchanted by the idea of our ancestors coming to a foreign land with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a dream of better things to come.

Fortunately for those with German ancestry, researchers have access to more than one resource to help document their ancestors’ incredible journeys. In addition to passenger arrival lists in North America, German researchers can also find embarkation lists that record Europeans as they left the continent. Guest writer and author of The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide and the upcoming Trace Your German Roots Online, James M. Beidler, looks at the Hamburg Passenger Lists, one of the major German assets on

The resource, which is actually a collection of the scanned passenger lists and a collection of handwritten indexes for these records, are from emigration departures from the port of Hamburg in northern Germany. Hamburg was the number-two exit point from Europe from 1850 to 1934, so you’ll likely want to search these two resources if you have ancestors who left Europe in the second half of the 1800s or early in the 1900s.

You'll need an subscription to search the passenger list collection, which offers images of the lists from 1850 to 1934 but is only searchable through 1923. However, the handwritten indexes collection is only browsable, so you’ll want to focus on a specific time period. While you can’t search through the handwritten indexes, they can help cover defects of the passenger lists, which can have bad handwriting that prevents you from finding your ancestors.

These Hamburg lists can provide valuable context for your research when used with other resources. For example, I searched for my ancestor, Rosina Friedrika Wibel, on the Hamburg lists. From other resources, I knew she was born in 1829; A Rosine Wibel (note the spelling difference) was identified in the Hamburg lists as departing Hamburg on the ship Harmonia on 28 Feb 1857. Reviewing stateside passenger lists, I found that she arrived in New York almost a whole month later, on 26 March 1857. And if I couldn’t find Rosina in the searchable embarkation lists, I could have used her arrival date from the US passenger list to pinpoint when to browse for her in the Hamburg’s handwritten indexes.

Here’s a quick timeline of the Hamburg Embarkation Lists:

  • 1850: Embarkation lists begin, initially with just the passengers’ names, but later with additional details.
  • 1855: Handwritten indexes are first created for embarkation lists.
  • 1854–1910: The lists and handwritten indexes are separated into “direct” (passenger who weren’t going to change ships before their ultimate arrivals) and “indirect” (those who did change ships). After 1911, the lists and indexes are no longer categorized this way.
  • 1915–1919: No lists are kept during World War I.
  • 1934: Passenger lists cease to be created for Hamburg.

Learn more about how to research German immigrant ancestors in James M. Beidler's Trace Your German Roots Online, due out on April 1.

German roots | immigration records
Tuesday, 29 March 2016 09:40:45 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, 23 March 2016
German Resource Spotlight: The German Genealogy Facebook Group
Posted by Diane

Few can argue that reaching out to other genealogists on social media can be helpful to researchers. Guest writer and author of The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide and the upcoming Trace Your German Roots Online, James M. Beidler, talks about one particular Facebook group that sees a lot of activity from genealogists with German lineage, the German Genealogy group.

The group, classified as a “closed group” that users can ask to be accepted in, is a typical moderated social media thread. Those approved for the group can post relating to German genealogy—sometimes including historical photos and other times “just for fun” items they’ve found in their research.

The group, boasting more than 15,000 members, describes itself as a forum for “networking with those conducting German genealogical research, in order to provide help and resources to others researching German genealogy.”

Members also use the forum to request transcription and translation help for documents written in German. To do so, users can follow four quick steps provided by the group:

  1. Post your image with a translation request.
  2. See which members offer help.
  3. Contact those members privately and ask if they can assist you further. Give basic details of how much you need translated, etc.
  4. When you find someone who agrees, send images straight to them one at a time, either by email or by Facebook message.

From looking at the feed on German Genealogy, note that many people jump in when an image of a record is posted and the accuracy of their transcriptions and translations varies, often with an inverse relationship to how certain the individual claims to be. Many people think they’re an expert in the German Genealogy Facebook group, but not everyone’s right about that!

However, it’s an excellent way to crowd-source opinions on a record or document—you just need to be able to sift throughout the many responses you get!

Learn more about how to use social media in your research in James M. Beidler's Trace Your German Roots Online, due out on April 1.

German roots | Social Networking
Wednesday, 23 March 2016 11:41:05 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, 15 March 2016
German Resource Spotlight:
Posted by Diane

Everyone searching for German ancestry—both German-Americans and their forebears in Europe—researches church records, as the registers of baptisms, marriages and death can often replace unavailable or nonexistent civil vital records. These valuable German church records have become more and more accessible as they've been made available in large numbers in the past couple years., a new site that will eventually offer scans of most of Germany's Protestant church books, is the standard-bearer of these new resources. Guest writer and author of The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide and the upcoming Trace Your German Roots Online, James M. Beidler, discusses some of this great new site's basics: is run by a non-profit organization called Kirchenbuchportal, which was established in 2013 by the umbrella Protestant church (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland) and eleven of its regional churches. The Evangelische Kirche came about as a union of the Lutheran and Reformed churches in the Kingdom of Prussia in the early 1800s, and therefore includes the historical registers of most mainstream Protestant village congregations.

The site already has millions of pages digitized. While not all of the member churches of the Protestant union are participating, those that are involved have already digitized about a quarter of their church registers; see the map for a listing of which districts have contributed to the project. Digitization is made possible by funds from the regional churches and subscription fees paid by users, ranging from monthly “passports” that allow a certain number of register pages to be downloaded to costly professional subscriptions.

Some of the regional churches have loaded information about parish registers (such as the dates for which the various types of records exist) even if those registers have not been digitized yet.

The registers that have been digitized are not searchable by name; their individual pages are “browsable,” though, so you’ll want to have at least a hypothesis (if not actual evidence) that an ancestor was from a particular parish.

The project continuously digitizes these church registers and will add greater capabilities to its English version this year. Kirchenbuchportal also hopes that additional Protestant state churches will join the Archion effort. For records not yet digitized, the site has a list of church archives and contact information.

Check out James M. Beidler's Trace Your German Roots Online, due out on April 1, for more information on how to use this valuable resource. James will also be hosting a one-hour, live webinar on How to Trace Your German Ancestry Online on Mar. 24.

Church records | German roots
Tuesday, 15 March 2016 16:02:58 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Thursday, 09 July 2015
Johanns and Marias Everywhere! Naming Traditions German Genealogists Should Know
Posted by Diane

The German Empire, 1892, David Rumsey Map Collection

Does your German family tree seem to be overloaded with Johanns and Marias? I have Johann Henrichs, brothers named Johannes Caspar and Johannes Franz Caspar, Maria Catharinas, a Maria Teresia, Anna Marias and more.

Our German Genealogy 201 Family Tree University course, developed by Family Tree German Genealogy Guide author James M. Beidler, explains why this is—and what it means for your German record searches:

German children were given two names. Boys commonly were baptized with the first name Johannes (or Johann, often abbreviated Joh). German girls were baptized Maria, Anna or Anna Maria. This tradition started in the Middle Ages.

So a family could have five boys with the first name Johann. You can see the potential for confusion until you understand that the first name doesn't mean a thing.

The second name, known as the Rufname, along with the surname is what would be used in marriage, tax, land and death records.

So in a family with boys Johann Friedrich, Johann Peter, Johann Daniel, etc., the children would be called by (and recorded in documents as as) Friedrich, Peter and Daniel. Usually, the name Johannes in these records marked a "true John" who would continue to be so identified.

By the 19th century, more Germans gave their children three names. Again, typically only one of the middle names was used throughout the person's life. Roman Catholics often used saints' names, while most Protestant groups also included names from the Old Testament or even nonChristian mythology.

A second naming tradition involves nicknames, often called Kurzformen. In English, most nicknames are created by dropping the end of the given name (Christoper becomes Chris). But Germans often shorten a name by dropping the first part. Examples include:
  • Nicklaus >> Klaus
  • Sebastian >> Bastian
  • Christophel >> Stophel
  • Christina >> Stin or Stina
  • Katharina >> Trin
Note that these familiar forms are used in church or other records, even though by today's standards we might expect formal names to be used.

In German-speaking areas, children were almost always named for one or more of their baptismal sponsors. The most common pattern would be for sons to be named in this order:
  • first born, for father's father
  • second born, mother's father
  • third born, father of the child
  • fourth born and on, uncles of the child
The same pattern applies to daughters but using the mothers' names (father's mother, mother's mother, etc.). Families would reuse given names for children who died young. There are even documented instances of families using the same name for two children who both survived.

The German Genealogy 201 online course helps you tackle research in records of Germany. The next session starts July 13. See a course description and sign up at

Family Tree University | German roots | Research Tips
Thursday, 09 July 2015 09:59:10 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Friday, 03 April 2015
Free UK, German and Canadian Genealogy Records This Weekend on Ancestry International Sites
Posted by Diane

Several of's international sister sites are offering free genealogy records from now through this weekend:
Scroll down to the bottom of each of the pages linked above to see a list of records included in the free search, as well as when the site's free access period expires. Registration is required to view search results (I was prompted to register right after I ran a search). | Canadian roots | German roots | UK and Irish roots
Friday, 03 April 2015 12:17:31 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, 01 April 2015
Working on My Last-Name Problem: When Genealogy Records Disagree
Posted by Diane

I was doing a casual online search in the Northern Kentucky Newspaper Index when the name "Kolbeck, Theresa Seeger" jumped out and smacked me in the face. It was among a list of deaths announced in the Feb. 23, 1937, Kentucky Post.

The Theory
Recently, I learned that a Teresa was the sister of my immigrant great-great-grandfather Heinrich Arnold Seeger (spelled Seger in Germany). Kolbeck is the maiden name of Heinrich's and Teresa's mother, and it's the surname of seemingly every other person in their birthplace of Steinfeld, Germany (at least according to the church records I viewed at the Family History Library in February).

Could Theresa Seeger Kolbeck be Heinrich Arnold's sister, who married a possible cousin and settled in the United States near her brother? Here's what I've discovered so far in researching this question:

1. Mary Theresa (Seeger) Kolbeck 2. Maria Teresia Seger
Feb. 18, 1849, Germany Feb. 15, 1849, Steinfeld, Germany
Herman Henry Kolbeck (probably before date of immigration)
1873 (probably May 16)
Feb. 22, 1937 unknown

The death certificate for Theresa No. 1, which asks for parents' names, should've helped clear it up. But the informant, Mrs. Ben Schlarman (Theresa's daughter Mary, born about 1884), didn't know their names:

The Last-Name Problem
But then something made me question whether Seeger is even Theresa's correct maiden name:

This passage is from a profile of George Heuer, husband of Theresa's daughter Elizabeth, in the biographical section of History of Kentucky, vol. 3 (available on Google Books). It says that Theresa's maiden and married names were both Kolbeck. The writer takes care to point out that Elizabeth's parents weren't related before marriage.

But Mrs. Virginia Eilers, the Heuers' daughter born in 1908 (and not mentioned in the above bio), believed that Seeger was the right maiden name. That's the name she supplied on the 1946 death certificate of her mother and the 1947 death certificate of her aunt, the aforementioned Mrs. Ben Schlarman:


What to Believe?
So which should I believe? The death certificates of Theresa's daughters, for whom the informant was a granddaughter (who also might've provided the information for the death announcement indexed in the database where I first found Theresa No. 1)?

A death record is a primary source—created at the time of the event by a person who witnessed it—but it's usually a secondary source for the deceased's parents' names. The informant wouldn't have firsthand knowledge of those names (unless a parent was the informant, such as on a child's death certificate).

Or should I go with the biography in History of Kentucky, by William Elsey Connelley and E. M. Coulter, Ph.D., edited by Judge Charles Kerr, published in 1922 by the American Historical Society? This is a secondary source, compiled well after the reported events by those without firsthand knowledge.

Biographical collections are known for their potential for inaccuracy: Families might exaggerate their relatives' accomplishments or provide mistaken information, which could become further distorted in editing.  (Maybe Theresa read the published bio and said, "No, no, no! I said my mother's last name was the same as my husband's.") 

My Answer
I won't believe any of these records for now, and I'll keep looking for the parents of Theresa No. 1 and the spouse and later life events of Teresa No. 2.

I should get the full death announcement from the Kentucky Post, and rent the microfilm of Steinfeld's church records to look for a marriage for Teresa No. 2. The Northern Kentucky Genealogy Index lists the baptisms of several children of Theresa and Herman Kolbeck, so I can go to the library to view the church records on microfilm.

  If you're trying to solve a genealogy question like this one, we'll help you create a step-by-step research plan with our Road Map to Your Roots guide.

The Family Tree Problem Solver: Tried and True Tactics for Tracing Elusive Ancestors is another great source of strategies and examples for answering tough genealogy questions.

FamilySearch | Genealogy books | German roots | Research Tips
Wednesday, 01 April 2015 09:32:52 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Monday, 16 March 2015
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Josh Groban Explores His German Roots
Posted by Diane

This post is brought to us by guest blogger and our "Who Do You Think You Are?" special correspondent, Sunny Jane Morton:

Josh Groban didn’t sing his way through last night’s episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" But the multiplatinum singer still commanded center stage as he pursued the story of a distant grandfather, eight generations back.
The story starts with a widow and her children arriving in Pennsylvania in the late 1600s, according to the Passenger and Immigration Lists Index. This resource, searchable on and in print at many large libraries, is helpful for tracing early immigrants. The index transcribes information from a variety of resources, such as emigration lists and genealogical journals.

Groban followed the trail of the missing husband, his eighth-great-grandfather, back to Germany. Here he discovered that Johann Zimmermann was an educated Lutheran church deacon, astronomer and singing instructor. It was easy to see how pleased Josh was to hold a music textbook from which Johann would have taught.
Then Johann’s story turned sad. He observed Halley’s Comet in the night sky, which he thought forecast doom for a corrupt Lutheran church. He published this opinion under a pseudonym, but was found out and got in big trouble with the church court. He pleaded to keep his job, mentioning his "heavily pregnant" wife in a letter to the duke. With each German document or book he viewed, Groban also received a neatly typed English translation.

Desperate to hold onto his beliefs without causing his family more suffering, he headed for Quaker Pennsylvania. He didn’t make it, but they did. (Here's some behind-the-scenes, cutting-room-floor info on Johann's burial site in Rotterdam.)
In the episode, Groban took a whirlwind tour of German church and university archives, where he paged through 17th-century books and held documents written by his ancestor. He stood in the courtyard of Johann’s university dormitory. He climbed to the belfry where Johann may have stood to examine the night sky.
It was clear Groban wasn’t sure what to make of his ancestor’s radical opinions. Many genealogists can relate to having ancestors whose value systems differ markedly from our own. He didn’t try too hard to judge the distant past by today’s standards. Instead, he looked at other indicators of the man’s character, like his willingness to sacrifice for his beliefs and his desire to take good care of his family.
Until his "WDYTYA?" appearance, Groban had no idea he had German roots—a heritage he shares with around 50 million Americans. German-Americans played a major role in populating the United States and constitute the largest single ethnic group in the United States today.
If you're tracing German ancestors (and you aren’t a celebrity guest on "WDYTYA?"), check our popular  Family Tree German Genealogy Guide by James M. Beidler. It has advice on discovering where in Germany your immigrant ancestor came from, as well as on researching in the records of Germany. Our German Genealogy Cheat Sheet is a handy quick reference, with a German alphabet guide to help you read old records, a word list and more.
» Sunny Jane Morton

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | | Celebrity Roots | German roots
Monday, 16 March 2015 09:18:05 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, 13 March 2015
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Josh Groban Traces Ancestry in Germany
Posted by Diane

This Sunday's episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" features singer Josh Groban and his genealogy search on his mother's side of the family. That journey takes him to Germany and his eighth-great-grandfather, a deacon and accomplished author on astronomy, mathematics and science. 

Here's a short peek at the episode:

Now I'm getting jealous—my dream trip is a visit to the little towns in Germany where my ancestors came from. The episode airs this Sunday, March 15, at 10/9 Central on TLC.

Also, don't forget to enter the Be a "Who Do You Think You Are?" Star sweepstakes, with a prize package that lets you discover your roots like a celebrity.

Celebrity Roots | German roots
Friday, 13 March 2015 08:41:31 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 11 March 2015
Bad News and Good News: Update on My German Genealogy Mystery
Posted by Diane

I wrote awhile back about plans to solve my German ancestral mystery at the Family History Library.

I'd discovered the Ladenkotter family's place of origin, so I knew the right church records to look for (more below about finding German immigrants' birthplaces with help from our upcoming Trace Your German Immigrant Ancestors webinar).  

Well, that search didn't pan out.

I found the German baptismal records for brothers Joan Caspar Ladenkotter and Johannes Franz Caspar Ladenkotter, but they gave no clues as to which brother is my fourth-great-grandfather, or any indication that the older Caspar died as an infant (my sneaking suspicion).

On the other hand, my search for Seeger relatives went swimmingly. Scrolling through unindexed church records on microfilm, I found the marriage record for my third-great-grandfather Johann Henrich Seger and his wife Maria Catharina Kolbeck, which also gives their parents' names:

In baptismal registers, I also found the names of three siblings to my great-great-grandfather Heinrich Arnold Seeger. Only one, sister Maria Theresia, appears to have lived beyond childhood. These registers were full of death dates, like so:

In the Ladenkotters' hometown, either everyone was exceedingly healthy or noting deaths in baptismal records wasn't the practice.

Sprinkled throughout the records were surnames that matched my ancestors', so I need to spend more time with the film to figure out how and whether I'm related to all those folks. 

I also noticed that the Seeger surname was consistently spelled Seger in these German records. That could explain why Heinrich spelled his name that way when he applied for a passport to return to Germany in 1907, after having used Seeger in his other US records.

To find your German ancestors' church records, you need to know where in Germany they're from. In our March 19 webinar, Trace Your German Immigrant Ancestors, German research expert Michael D. Lacopo will tell you about records that can reveal a German place of origin (including lesser-known published resources), as well as the best new German genealogy resources and websites.

Everyone who registers for the webinar will receive access to view it again as often as they want. Find out more today in!

German roots | Webinars
Wednesday, 11 March 2015 09:43:26 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 03 March 2015
Tips for Using the Free David Rumsey Historical Maps Website
Posted by Diane

Old maps can help you locate an ancestor's hometown and bring it to life. Comparing maps of a place published over time can help you see changing borders and jurisdictions.

One of the historical map resources you can learn more about in our Historical Maps of Europe Premium Collection is the David Rumsey Map Collection website, which I used recently to find maps of my great-great-grandfather's birthplace: Steinfeld, Germany.

Here, I'll share a few tips that might make it easier for you to find maps of your ancestral places:
  • Try to find out as much as you can about your ancestral hometown. The names of the country, state, district, other geographical divisions, and/or nearby towns are clues to help you find the right place on a map. And a county, district, or other towns might share the name of your ancestral town. Other Steinfelds in Germany are in the districts of Main-Spessart, Bavaria; Stendal, Saxony-Anhalt; Schleswig-Flensburg, Schleswig-Holstein; and others. I want Steinfeld, Vechta, Lower Saxony (aka Niedersachsen).  It's near the city of Oldenburg, and today it's often written as Steinfeld (Oldenburg).
  • Search for maps using the search box at top right. The site search box located below that looks at web pages and blog articles, not the maps collection.

  • Search not only for your ancestral town, but also for nearby towns and other geographical divisions. Not every place named on a map is part of the site's search: Searching for Steinfeld gets no results. But searching for Vechta found this highly detailed map (with a legend here) that includes large-farm names, churches, windmills, meadows and more:

    Vechta, Reichsamt fur Landesaufnahme, 1904

Lower Saxony found this:

Lower Saxony, D. Lizars, Edinburgh, 1831

Oldenburg found this:

Nordwestiches Deutschland, Justus Perthes, Gotha, 1821

There's a lot more you can do with these maps, including georeference with a modern map so you can see an overlay, download hi-res versions, order professional prints, and import into Google Earth.

Historical Maps of Europe Premium Collection

Get tips for using this and other online map resources, plus The Family Tree Historical Maps Book: Europe and other map goodies in the Historical Maps of Europe Premium Collection. Find out more about it in!

German roots | Maps | Research Tips
Tuesday, 03 March 2015 13:30:44 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Tuesday, 20 January 2015
Hoping to Solve a German Genealogy Mystery at the FHL During RootsTech/FGS
Posted by Diane

I have a couple of questions I want to answer while I'm at the RootsTech/Federation of Genealogical Societies joint conference in Salt Lake City Feb. 12-14, and have access to the Family History Library (FHL) just down the road:

1. Which Caspar is it?
One of my fourth-great-grandfathers was Casparus Ladenkoetter (or Ladenkotter, the spelling in most American records), according to the birth record of his son Franciscus Josephus (he went by Joseph), born July 1, 1814.'s online index to German baptismal and marriage records includes Rheine, Germany, where they were from, and one afternoon I mapped out a working tree on my kids' coloring paper with as many Ladenkoetters as I could find in records. The circled area is Joseph's branch:

Here's a close-up:

My problem is the German tendency to name siblings similarly. According to the records, Joan Caspar Ladenkotter was born March 27, 1780, and his brother, Johannes Franz Caspar Ladenkoetter, born March 7, 1781.

I don't know which one is the right guy to be Joseph's father (searching FamilySearch doesn't turn up a death record for either one). Maybe Caspar's microfilmed marriage record gives his full name or birthdate, or maybe Joseph's or a sibling's baptismal record gives the father's full name.

2. If I get that done ...
My second-great-grandfather Heinrich Arnold Seeger was born in Steinfeld, Germany, Feb. 26, 1852. The FHL has microfilmed church records from there, and I want to find Heinrich's baptismal record, his parents' marriage record, and any siblings.

I have these jobs and the relevant microfilm numbers in my research log in Google Drive, which I can access on my phone, and I'll print out the info just in case. My research time will be tight, so I want to make sure I can hit the ground running.

The FHL has extended hours during the conference:
  • Tuesday through Friday, Feb. 10-14:  8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Saturday, Feb: 15: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
RootsTech/FGS exhibit hall hours are
  • Thursday, February 12, 2015, 10:00 a.m.–6:00 p.m.
  • Friday, February 13, 2015, 10:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 14, 2015, 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.
If you're going to RootsTech/FGS, stop by Family Tree Magazine's booth No. 1238 in the exhibit hall (feel free to ask if I found my Caspar).

Looking for German ancestors? Get the advice and resources you need in The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide.

Genealogy Events | German roots | RootsTech
Tuesday, 20 January 2015 13:36:33 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Friday, 24 October 2014
How to Find the New German Genealogy Civil Registration Records on
Posted by Diane

Subscription genealogy site just added 31 new databases for researching German ancestors. The 11.7 million records cover civil registrations (government birth, marriage and death records) for various places in Germany, dating between 1874 and 1950. There's no single link to search just these 31 collections, so you could do a few things:
  • Searching one database at a time is your best bet if you know it covers the area in Germany where your family lived. Go to the card catalog and use the filters on the left: Under Filter by Collection, narrow the database list to Birth, Marriage and Death Records; and under Filter by Location; narrow by Europe, then by Germany.

    Then at the top of the list, use the Sort By dropdown menu to choose Date Added, and the new German databases rise to the top of the list. Click a title to search that collection.

  • You also can view a list of all German birth, marriage and death records by going to the Search All Records page and scrolling down to Explore by Location. Click the Europe tab, then click Germany. Under Germany Birth, Marriage & Death, you'll see a few databses listed; if you click the "View other" link at the end of that short list, you'll see all the German birth, marriage and death records. This list is arranged by record count, though, and you can't sort it in other ways.
  • If you want to search all the German civil registration records at once, run a global search for your German ancestor from the Search All Records page. (At the bottom of the search form, make sure the box for Historical Records is checked.)

    Then narrow your results  on the left: In the Collection dropdown menu, choose Germany and click the green Update button. Next, under the All Categories heading, choose Birth, Marriage & Death.
    If you still have too many results, look at the top of your results list, click the Categories tab and choose the database titles that most relate to your search.

For more search strategies, see our book Unofficial Guide to

My third-great-grandfather Joseph Ladenkötter was born in 1814 in Rheine, Steinfurt, Germany. Rheine is not among the areas covered with this records addition, but I thought I might find a relative who was born, married or died elsewhere.

I searched on the surname Ladenk*tter (with the asterisk wildcard to pick up both Ladenkotter and Ladenkoetter), and found a 1911 marriage record for Auguste Gertrud Ladenkötter (it looks like her birth surname was different, so she may have been a widow) and Wilhelm August Friedrich. The records are in German, of course.

German Genealogy Records

The Ladenkötter surname is pretty unusual, so I suspect that Auguste Gertrud was married to one of my relatives before she married Wilhelm. (I see the record mentions Rheine.) My next step is figuring out what the record says, which should help me find out if my hunch is correct.

Are you researching Germans? Visit to find out more about our German Genealogy Premium Collection. It contains six terrific research tools, including the Family Tree German Genealogy Guide and the German Genealogy Cheat Sheet (which will be the first thing I get out when I'm ready to start on the marriage record). | German roots | Research Tips
Friday, 24 October 2014 12:30:07 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, 30 September 2014
Genealogists Celebrate German-American Heritage Month
Posted by Diane

In addition to being Family History Month, October also is German American Heritage Month—or at least the second half of it. The commemoration actually runs Sept. 15 to October 15, roughly corresponding with Oktoberfest.

German is America’s largest ancestry group. According to the Census Bureau, nearly 50,000,000 Americans claim German ancestry.

Do you fit into that group? I certainly do. My Germans arrived in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area mostly in the early to mid-1800s. They were near the beginning of the era that saw the largest influx of German immigrants, between 1820 and World War I, when nearly 6 million of their countrymen immigrated to the United States.

The first significant groups of Germans arrived much earlier, in the 1670s, and they settled primarily in New York and Pennsylvania. A wave of political refugees called the “Forty-Eighters” arrived after 1848 revolutions in the German states.

Immigrants before 1850 were mostly farmers. After 1840, many headed for cities and established "Germania," or German-speaking districts.

This 1872 map, part of the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, shows America’s German population from the 1870 census. Note the dark shading over the northeast and southwest corners of Ohio, along Lake Michigan, and in New Jersey. By 1900, the populations of Cincinnati, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Hoboken were more than 40 percent German.

We can thank our German ancestors for the Christmas tree, chicken fried steak (whose origins are supposedly in wiener schnitzel), the hot dog, “Here Comes the Bride” (composed in 1850 by Richard Wagner) and of course, a variety of beers.

Are you interested in tracing your German ancestors, finding their old records in the US and Germany, and discovering where they fit into this history? Our German Genealogy Premium Collection has the guides you’ll need:
  • Our popular Family Tree German Genealogy Guide—signed by author James M. Beidler
  • A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your German Ancestors e-book, a classic by S. Chris Anderson and Ernest Thode
  • Find Your German Roots Family Tree University Independent Study Course download
  • German Genealogy Cheat Sheet download
  • German Genealogy Crash Course on-demand webinar
  • 2015 German Genealogy Calendar
Learn more about the German Genealogy Premium Collection now in

German roots | International Genealogy | Sales
Tuesday, 30 September 2014 09:49:48 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Tuesday, 25 March 2014
What Does Your Last Name Mean? How to Find Out
Posted by Diane

Our Unpuzzling Ancestral Names Value Pack made me curious about my family surnames and whether things I heard growing up about where a name is from or what it means are true. Here's how I checked out a few of the names I'm researching:
  • Haddad: My maiden name, inherited from my great-grandparents who immigrated in 1900, is the Lebanese equivalent to Smith. I Googled surname Haddad and one of the results was this Wikipedia page.
  • Seeger: I looked up this name, which comes from my German ancestor H.A. Seeger, in the last name search on, which uses surname meanings and origins from the Oxford Dictionary of American Family Names (a reference you also might be able to find in a library). It also maps where in the United States most people with that name lived. The name is German and Dutch, "from the Germanic personal name Sigiheri." 
  • Norris: This name, which belonged to my Irish third-great-grandfather Edward Norris, is a place-based name for someone from the North or who lived on the north side of a settlement. It also could be a French occupational name for a nurse. According to the Irish Times' mid-1800s surname distribution search, most Norrises lived in County Waterford, with next-door Tipperary and Kilkenny as runners-up. Family lore says Edward came from County Cork, which also is on the list and borders Waterford.
  • Frost: This surname, from my English third-great-grandfather, gives me fits in online searches. Besides all the weather reports, it's a pretty common name. It helps to add place names, genealogy and -weather or -winter to my searches. The name could be English, German, Danish or Swedish, and it's based on a nickname for someone "of an icy and unbending disposition or who had white hair."
  • Reuter: Google wants to show me Reuters news reports if I forget quotation marks (as in "Reuter") when searching for this name online. It's a German name, possibly for "someone who lived in a clearing or an occupational name for a clearer of woodland." 
  • Ladenkotter/Ladenkoetter: Does anyone have ideas about this German name? It's not in the Oxford Dictionary of American Family Names or on surname sites, and web searches turn up mostly my own posts. I even tried typing the name into Google translate to see if it means anything in German (it doesn't). On the plus side, it's unusual, and just about any Ladenkoetter records I find are for a relative. Update: If you have German roots, the comments about this name's origins (including one from A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Germanic Ancestors coauthor Ernest Thode) are insightful. Thank you to Mr. Thode, K. Hewett and Fawn!

Here are seven more surname research tips from

The Unpuzzling Ancestral Names Value Pack has resources for searching names, understanding naming patterns, figuring out how surnames changed over time, and discovering surname origins and meanings. Learn more about it in | German roots | Research Tips
Tuesday, 25 March 2014 14:57:22 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Monday, 17 March 2014
Talking in German Genealogy, Digital Libraries & More in Our Free March Podcast
Posted by Diane

In the March 2014 free Family Tree Magazine podcast, host Lisa Louise Cooke talks with German genealogy expert James M. Beidler about tracing German-speaking ancestors. Jim shares tips from his new book, The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide.

Podcast listeners also can tour of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) website with DPLA executive director Dan Cohen, and get tips on unpuzzling US county boundary changes with Family Tree Magazine contributing editor David A. Fryxell.

Lisa also chats with Family Tree Magazine publisher Allison Dolan and myself about solving genealogy research problems.

This Family Tree Magazine Podcast episode is sponsored by EpiGenealogy, a research service for tracing family health history. Host Lisa Louise Cooke is the founder of the Genealogy Gems website and podcast.

You can listen in iTunes or on

Click here for show notes, which include handy links to the websites mentioned.

Family Tree Magazine's Podcast

↑ Grab this Headline Animator

Genealogy Web Sites | German roots | Research Tips
Monday, 17 March 2014 10:38:40 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 25 February 2014
11 Things I'm Looking Forward to in the Winter 2014 Virtual Genealogy Conference
Posted by Diane

Our Winter 2014 Virtual Genealogy Conference starts this Friday, Feb. 28, and goes through Sunday. Now's the time to register if you haven't already!

In no particular order, here are 11 things I'm looking forward to about this weekend:
  1. Watching 16 genealogy video classes on the laptop when it's convenient, which for me means during naptime (my kids', not mine) or after bedtime. Or downloading classes to watch later. They cover ethnic research, records (including land, tax and occupational records), strategies, online genealogy and more.

  2. Sneaking downstairs to go to live chats with genealogy experts. Six are scheduled on topics from translation tools to forensic genealogy, and I'll be able to download transcripts for any I miss.

  3. The Find Your German Town of Origin class with James M. Beidler: I've found hometowns for some of my German ancestors, but a bunch more still have "Germany" or "Prussia" as a birthplace. I'm hoping to learn new strategies from the author of The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide.

  4. The conference Message Boards, where people share surnames, ancestor stories, research questions, favorite websites and resources, family recipes and embarassing library stories.

  5. The Female Ancestors and the Law chat with Judy G. Russell of the Legal Genealogist blog: Half of me wants to learn about the legal hooey my female ancestors put up with, and the other half doesn't want to know. But I'll go with the first half, because those laws determined what kinds of records were created about women.

  6. Rick Crume's No Index? No Problem: Tricks for Browsing Records class: I'm eager to get my paws on the records FamilySearch puts online even before you can search them by name. Browsing these unindexed records is time-consuming (I'm looking at you, Ohio, Hamilton County Records, 1791-1994), so I need these tricks.

  7. The Mobile Genealogy Apps and Hacks chat with Kerry Scott: Kerry is a riot (check out her Clue Wagon blog), so this will be informative and fun.

  8. The Pain-Free Family History Writing Projects class with Family Tree Magazine contributing editor Sunny Jane Morton: Gathering my family history research into a book is a long-term goal, and I'd love to learn about small steps that can get me on the path.

  9. The Brick Wall Busters: Solve Your Stumpers chat with Family Tree Magazine contributing editor Lisa A. Alzo: It's a chance to ask questions and get input from Lisa and others in the group. There are always pretty smart cookies at the Virtual Conference, and someone might have dealt with a similar problem to yours. 

  10. Not packing a bag, getting on a plane, having sore feet at the end of the day, or missing my family.

  11. Doing all of the above wearing my sweats.

Here's the link to the Winter 2014 Virtual Genealogy Conference program—just click the blue Register button on that page to sign up.

FamilySearch | Genealogy Events | Genealogy Web Sites | German roots | Social History
Tuesday, 25 February 2014 15:47:37 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 08 January 2014
Four Ways I've Found German Ancestors' Birthplaces
Posted by Diane

Finding a birth place for your ancestors from Europe is the genealogical Holy Grail, because it opens up the possibility of finding overseas records, particularly church records.

For German ancestors, our German Genealogy Crash Course webinar next Thursday, Jan. 16, has information about resources that can help you trace your roots back to Germany. It also gives attendees a chance to ask questions of presenter James M. Beidler.

In case any of you are ready to throw in the towel on finding your ancestor's place of birth, I wanted to share the places I found birthplace information (unexpectedly, in a couple of cases): 
  • My fourth-great-grandfather Edward Thoss was a founding member of the Covington (Ky.) German Pioneer Society, which I was surprised to discover on the Kenton County Public Library website through a Google search. The overview there gives his birthplace as Langenweisendorf, Schleiz. The library has a 25th anniversary book, published in 1902, which lists "Langenweizendorf Fürstentum Schleiz." I believe this should be Langenwetzendorf.
  • My third-great-grandfather Joseph Ladenkotter immigrated in 1836 from Rheine, in the district of Steinfurt. I discovered this from the Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s (it's in print at many libraries, or search it on, which in turn led me to a list of emigrants called Auswanderungen aus dem Kreis Steinfurt (Emigration From the County Steinfurt) by Freidrich Ernst Hunsche. I searched WorldCat and found this publication at the Allen County Public Library, so I ordered copies through the Genealogy Center 's Quick Search service.
  • The obituary of my third-great-grandmother (Joseph's wife) Anna Maria Weyer, printed in the German-language Cincinnati Volksfreund newspaper, gave her birthplace in Schapen. (The alphabet chart in our German Genealogy Cheat Sheet helped me read it.)
  • My great-great-grandfather H.A. Seeger was born in Steinfeld, as noted in his 1907 passport application, which I found on I had no idea he ever traveled overseas, so this was a thrilling find.
For a couple of other families, I've had luck by finding people I'm related to and contacting them about their research. Here's a map of birthplaces I've found so far. That cluster in northwest Germany is my Cincinnati ancestors; Edward Thoss is the one in the bottom right corner.

Besides the German Genealogy Crash Course webinar, we also have a couple of seats left in Family Tree University's German Genealogy 101 online course. It's starting this week, though, so you should register ASAP.

Family Tree University | German roots | Webinars
Wednesday, 08 January 2014 14:04:56 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 02 October 2013
The Family Tree Guidebook to Europe: Genealogy How-to for 13 Countries and Regions
Posted by Diane

As you might guess, I enjoy asking people I've just met where their ancestors are from. Here in Cincinnati, the answer often involves Germany, so then I ask about their surnames to see if we have anyone in common. (Then I wrap it up before people start thinking I'm weird.)

Every once in awhile, someone will answer my ancestor inquiry with, "Oh, I'm a mutt" and rattle off a bunch of ancestral homelands.

Well, this is for all you genealogy mutts: The Family Tree Guidebook to Europe: Your Essential Guide to Trace Your Genealogy in Europe.

It collects genealogy research guides to 13 countries or regions of Europe, plus European Jewish ancestors. You'll learn
  • what records are available and where they're kept
  • which records you can get from here in the US using the web, microfilm, books and other sources
  • how to get records from overseas
  • how to deal with language barriers and boundary changes
  • what websites, books, organizations and archives can help in your research
It's a good way to get expert instructions for researching ancestors across Europe in one economical package. The Family Tree Guidebook to Europe is available now in (where you'll see the list of countries covered).

You also can get The Family Tree Guidebook to Europe as an ebook.

Genealogy books | German roots | International Genealogy | Italian roots | Jewish roots | UK and Irish roots
Wednesday, 02 October 2013 14:43:52 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 27 September 2013
Why We Celebrate Oktoberfest in September
Posted by Diane

It's a question that burns inside my brain this time every year: Why is Oktoberfest celebrated in September?

Here in "Zinzinnati," where German roots run deep, we've already had our Oktoberfest. Our neighbors across the river in Kentucky have one this weekend. In Munich, Germany, home of the first and largest Oktoberfest, the two-week party wraps up the first weekend in October.

The first Oktoberfest celebrated the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on Oct. 12, 1810.

So why September? I finally decided to look it up. In turns out the informal roots of Oktoberfest started back in the 15th century, with beer, according to the German Beer Institute.

The brewing season in Bavaria ran from October to March. Beer brewed during the hot season tasted bad, so in late winter, brewers would work extra hard to make enough beer to last all summer. The high alcohol content and storage in casks in cool cellars and caves would preserve it. (You can get all the technical details on the German Beer Institute's site.)

After the summer's grain was harvested, brewers needed to empty those casks to make room for the October start of the brewing season. People were happy to help.

In 1810, by the date the royal wedding made Oktoberfest official, there wasn't much beer left. Horse racing was the main event there, and Prince Ludwig repeated the races every year on his anniversary. Over the years, the festival was extended and combined with finishing off the March beers, evolving into today's party attended by millions around the world.

Proud of your German heritage? Learn more about those roots with our Boost Your German Genealogy Value Pack, on sale for more than 20 percent off in

German roots | Social History
Friday, 27 September 2013 10:06:59 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 07 August 2013
Chelsea Handler on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Tracing German Roots
Posted by Diane

From the beginning of last night's "Who Do You Think You Are?," Chelsea Handler knew her mother's father had been a German soldier in WWII. She just wanted to know the extent of his involvement. Her Jewish heritage through her father's family heightened her curiosity.

If you missed the episode, you can watch it on the TLC website.

The Leistungsbuch ("performance book") mentioned in yesterday's post and seen here:

wasn't a military service record after all. Rather, it was a record of the grandfather's scores in the Nazi party's Sports Badge Program, part of the mandatory labor service program and a way to provide military-style training without violating the Treaty of Versailles.

A few things I liked about this episode:
  • It shows the importance of learning the historical context in which your ancestors lived. Knowing about post-WWI life in Germany helped Handler understand why many Germans supported Adolf Hitler when he first came to power. Finding out about her grandfather's experience in the Camp Algona (Iowa) POW camp revealed his likely motivation for later moving his family to America.

  • It showed a side of WWII history—the lives of ordinary Germans during that era—that I didn't know much about. 

  • The WWII historian who met Handler on the beach, and who was there serving in the Army the day her grandfather was captured. I bet he could tell some stories!
Foreign archives and languages makes the research in this episode more difficult for the average person than Kelly Clarkson's Civil War research or Christina Applegate's 20th-century research in New Jersey.

But if your German ancestors, like mine, immigrated to America in the 1800s, church records will be your main source of information in Germany. Chances are you can find German church records yourself. I know this because the October/November 2013 Family Tree Magazine will have Rick Crume's step-by-step guide to German church records. I'll let you know when it's available.

Because so many Americans have German ancestry, we have a number of German genealogy guides in
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | German roots | Research Tips
Wednesday, 07 August 2013 11:29:12 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, 06 August 2013
Tonight on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Chelsea Handler's Roots in Nazi Germany
Posted by Diane

This evening's "Who Do You Think You Are?" promises to reveal more disturbing family news from the not-too-distant past (we blogged last week about the troubled life of Christina Applegate's grandmother).

This teaser for tonight's episode gives you a glimpse of actress and talk show host Chelsea Handler's quest for information about her German grandparents' involvement with the Nazi regime:

The booklet you see in the clip is titled Leistungsbuch, which translates to "performance book." Possibly a German military record? I guess we'll find out tonight.

Watch this season's "Who Do You Think You Are?" at 9/8 central on TLC. (And if you have other plans or don't have cable, TLC has been putting full episodes on the show's website the next day.)

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | German roots
Tuesday, 06 August 2013 11:47:50 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, 05 April 2013
Genealogy News Corral, April 1-5
Posted by Diane

  • FamilySearch has added 23.9 million indexed records and images to the free, with new browsable image collections from Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, England, Italy, Mexico and the United States. Notable collection updates include the 19.2 million document images from the new collection United Kingdom, WWI Service Records 1914-1920; 2 million index records from the collection US WWI Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918; and almost the 931,000 index records from the collection US New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1925-1942. Search or browse these databases from the chart here.

  • In case you missed it (and were wondering), Irish genealogy research company Eneclann has researched Tom Cruise’s roots. The actor's real last name is Mapother, but Cruise actually is a family name. His great-grandfather, born in 1876 to Mary Pauline Russell Cruise and her second husband Thomas O’Mara, took the surname of his half-siblings and thus became Thomas Cruise Mapother I. Read more and download a copy of the family tree here.

Celebrity Roots | FamilySearch | Genealogy societies | Genetic Genealogy | German roots | Military records | UK and Irish roots
Friday, 05 April 2013 13:44:27 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 27 February 2013
Learn How to Interpret German Genealogy Records
Posted by Diane

You're looking for genealogy records of your ancestors in Germany, and perhaps you've even found some. They might look like this:

And it makes you understand why everyone talks about how hard it is to understand German records: Not only are you dealing with an unfamiliar language, but the script makes the words difficult to interpret.

Most German Catholic church records are in Latin; Evangelical (Lutheran) records may be in Latin or German. Records as late as the 1930s are usually written in the old German Gothic script.

But there are tricks you can use to figure out what these church records say about your German ancestors.

Our March 14 webinar, Interpreting German Records, will teach you how to work with German genealogy records, from basic translation to decoding hard-to-read handwriting and typeface. German genealogy expert James M. Beidler will show you
  • tricks for reading German script and type
  • resources for building your vocabulary of German terms and deciphering abbreviations
  • a methodology for solving the quirks of the printed Gothic/Fraktur typeface
  • strategies for transcribing and translating the handwritten German cursive script
The Interpreting German Records webinar takes place Thursday, March 14, at 7 p.m. Eastern Time (that's 6 p.m. Central, 5 p.m. Mountain and 4 p.m. Pacific). You'll save $10 on your registration if you sign up before March 7!

Family Tree University | German roots | Webinars
Wednesday, 27 February 2013 10:23:54 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 02 January 2013
What's in a Name?
Posted by Beth

Bonne année, Gutes Neues Jahr, Xin nian yu kuai, Feliz Año Nuevo and Kali hronia … Whether you say it in French, German, Mandarin, Spanish or Greek, they all translate to "Happy New Year!" Hope yours is off to a great start!

Speaking of languages, genealogists understand and appreciate the value of names and all the family history information that they can provide. Naming patterns and traditions; spellings; pronunciations; and meanings can impact your search for ancestors from a given locale.

To provide added insight to your ancestral search, we've created 15 PDF downloadable reference guides featuring first names from around the world. Each comprehensive guide is presented in dictionary-style format, making it easy to search for names, spellings and their meanings. For example, A Genealogist's Guide to British Names reveals that the name Harry means "ruler of an estate." Rather prophetic for Prince Harry!

Get more information from your genealogical research this year with a better understanding of your ancestral names!

A Genealogist's Guide to Ethnic Given Names
A Genealogist's Guide to African Names
A Genealogist's Guide to British Names
A Genealogist's Guide  to Chinese Names
A Genealogist's Guide to Eastern European Names
A Genealogist's Guide  to French Names
A Genealogist's Guide to Gaelic Names
A Genealogist's Guide to German Names
A Genealogist's Guide to Greek Names
A Genealogist's Guide to Hawaiian Names
A Genealogist's Guide to Indian Names
A Genealogist's Guide to Irish Names
A Genealogist's Guide to Italian Names
A Genealogist's Guide to Japanese Names
A Genealogist's Guide to Jewish Names
A Genealogist's Guide to Native American Names
A Genealogist's Guide to Russian Names
A Genealogist's Guide to Scandinavian Names
A Genealogist's Guide to Spanish Names

African-American roots | American Indian roots | Asian roots | Celebrating your heritage | French Canadian roots | German roots | Hispanic Roots | Italian roots | Jewish roots | Sales | UK and Irish roots
Wednesday, 02 January 2013 12:04:21 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, 12 November 2012
Document the Lives of Your Military Ancestors
Posted by Beth

Celebrate your ancestors who served in the military or lived through historical conflicts by exploring and documenting their lives. With the Military Research Value Pack, you'll get easy-to-use tools that will guide you through:
  • What records to look for—military or otherwise—and how to locate them
  • How to find and mine online records
  • Research tips and guidance for tracing ancestors' involvement in specific US wars and conflicts
You'll find that many types of military documents—from service to pension to land records—can reveal important information about your family tree, including soldiers' widows and children. Even ancestors who didn't serve might have left behind draft records.


And, a reminder:
There's still time to register for one (or more) of the 16 Family Tree University courses that begin today, including:
Use code FTU1112 and save 20 percent!

Editor's Pick | German roots | Military records | UK and Irish roots
Monday, 12 November 2012 10:26:09 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 31 August 2012
Prepare for German Place Names
Posted by Tyler

German heritage has been the #1 most claimed ancestry in the US, so we here at Family Tree University have done our best to accommodate our Deutsch friends. In this guest post, Presenter Jim Beidler breaks down his session on German place names at Fall 2012 Virtual Genealogy Conference:

Probably the No. 1 goal of most genealogists is tracking one or more immigrant ancestors all the way to an Old World hometown, and the many folks of German descent are no different. Unfortunately, problems of history, phonetics and duplicated names often get in the way of that quest.

“Mastering German Place Names” is designed to combat these problems. I am a seasoned researcher that has been sleuthing for the Heimats of his almost entirely German-speaking ancestry for more than a quarter century, and will present my top tips in this Virtual Conference course.

Learn more about the Fall Virtual Conference.

Family Tree University | Genealogy Events | German roots
Friday, 31 August 2012 11:31:28 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Get Expert Advice for Researching German Genealogy
Posted by Diane

People claiming German ancestry still outnumber any other heritage group in the United States—which is why we're offering a new German Genealogy Value Pack that'll help you trace your German roots in the United States and in your ancestral homeland.
German genealogy value pack
This Value Pack is full of practical advice for overcoming the challenges of tracing your German ancestors.

Our German Genealogy Value Pack includes: 
  • Find Your German Roots Independent Study Course download, with four lessons to help you use genealogical records and more to determine who your German ancestors were and from where in Germany they came. 
  • A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Germanic Ancestors e-book download by Chris Anderson and Ernest Thode, with expert instruction on researching German ancestors.
  • Tracing German Ancestry in Eastern Europe download, with guidance on tracing the German ancestors from Slovakia, Romania, Russia and other places beyond Deutschland's borders.
  • Genealogy Cheat Sheet download, a quick reference designed to deliver the information you need to understand the records of your German ancestors
Plus, you'll get a coupon for 25 percent off coupon for our Family Tree University course German Genealogy 201: Strategies and Skillbuilding.

Best of all, this collection of German genealogy guidance is on sale for $49.99—64 percent off the price of buying each item individually.

Learn more about the German Genealogy Value Pack in

Editor's Pick | German roots | Sales
Tuesday, 19 June 2012 16:37:11 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, 30 April 2012
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Rob Lowe and His Revolutionary War Ancestor
Posted by Diane

In Friday's "Who Do You Think You Are?" actor Rob Lowe learned about his Revolutionary War-era ancestor.'s Josh Taylor helped Lowe find him in the Daughters of the American Revolution Genealogical Research System, which lets you search online for a Revolutionary-era ancestor on which a DAR member's application is based, or for people named in the lineages in DAR applications.

(You can download our tutorial on searching the DAR database on sale for just $1.59 from

But something was wrong: The application had been "closed" because it was discovered that Lowe's ancestor John Christopher East had been mixed up with a similarly named soldier.

Previews hinted at a twist in this episode. It came when a historian showed Lowe his ancestor on a list of prisoners who'd been part of Rohl's Regiment. A sparkle in the historian's eye hinted that he knew something, but only when he showed Lowe George Washington's personal papers did Lowe realize Rohl was a commander of German Hessian troops.

East (listed under his German name, Oeste Cristophe) was among the troops Gen. Washington defeated in the Battle of Trenton, when his soldiers crossed the Delaware River to surprise the Hessians at Christmas.

I remember learning in grade school about these 30,000 men the British hired to fight the Americans, and we kids thought that was pretty bad.

But Lowe's research revealed Cristophe as a sympathetic figure: Among the youngest of eight children, he wouldn't have inherited land or even had the means to marry in Germany. He took a risk in leaving for America at age 22—then staying (as about 15 percent of the Hessians did) after his release from prison.

This story has a happy ending. Taylor's researchers found Christophe on a list of Americans who paid a tax levied to raise money for the war. Lowe is descended from a Patriot after all and he was invited to apply for the Sons of the American Revolution lineage society.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy societies | German roots | Social History
Monday, 30 April 2012 09:03:33 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 26 October 2011
Happy Triple Heritage Month: German, Italian & Polish Genealogy Resources
Posted by Diane

Did you know October is German American Heritage Month, Italian American Heritage Month and Polish American Heritage Month? That’s right. The month is almost over (that was fast!), but we can’t let it go by without sharing resources to help you trace these heritages. Here are some of our favorite online articles, sites and resources:

People with German heritage make up the largest ancestry group in the United States, according to the 2000 US census. I'm part of this statistic, at one-half German.

Those with Italian heritage make up the seventh largest ancestry group in the United States, with 15.6 million Americans claiming Italian roots in the 2000 US census.

If you have Polish ancestors, you share heritage with 9 million Americans and are part of the country's eighth largest ancestry group.

Hispanic Heritage Month (celebrating the ancestry of another big US heritage group) spanned part of this month, too, ending Oct. 15. You can see Hispanic heritage tips and resources in this blog post.

Family Tree University | Free Databases | German roots | Hispanic Roots | International Genealogy
Wednesday, 26 October 2011 14:40:33 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 22 July 2011
Genealogy News Corral, July 18-22
Posted by Diane

I'm back at it after a short vacation (which involved my first visit to a Civil War battlefield—I'll show and tell next week) to post this week's news roundup. Here goes:
  • The new Black Sea German Research site is for those tracing families who migrated from Germany, Alsace, Poland or Hungary to the Black Sea region of South Russia (now Ukraine) in the early 1800s. Search a database of names, upload your GEDCOM and share historical information at this free, volunteer-run site.
  • NBC is re-running “Who Do You Think You Are?” season 2 episodes Saturday nights this summer. Check your local listings if you missed an episode or want to watch your favorite again.

Canadian roots | Celebrity Roots | German roots | Photos | UK and Irish roots
Friday, 22 July 2011 14:14:46 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [8]
# Wednesday, 13 July 2011
If You Were a Pie Chart …
Posted by Diane

While working on an article on ethnic heritage and genealogical societies (look for it in the forthcoming November 2011 Family Tree Magazine) I was inspired to figure out what, exactly, Leo is, heritage-wise.

And by “exactly,” I mean “theoretically,” because:

  • you never know what proportion of genes you ended up with from each ancestor after the DNA-combining process
  • geopolitical developments and population shifts can mean ancestors' ethnicity is different from the country whence they came (Your ancestor from Russia would actually be German, for example, if he was one of the many “Volga Germans” who settled in Russia’s Volga River valley.)

  • nonpaternity events, such as adoption and children fathered—unbeknownst to you—by someone other than the person named in records
  • a lack of documentation or incorrect documentation about an ancestor's origins
  • all those ancestors yet to be discovered (unless you’ve found ‘em all)

With that caveat, figuring out Leo’s theoretical heritage combo involves first determining Mom’s and Dad’s percentages. Three of my husband's grandparents came from Germany and one from Hungary, so we'll estimate him at 75 percent German and 25 percent Hungarian. I'll go back to my great-grandparents’ origins: I’m half German, a quarter Lebanese (the source for my last name), and one-eighth each English and Irish. 

I just divided each of our percentages, added up the common German heritage, and came up with these numbers for Leo (I generated the pie chart online using Kids Zone): 

He’s pretty typical as far as American ancestry: In the 2000 census, German was the heritage most often claimed by Americans and by his fellow Cincinnatians. He also shares in the second- and fourth-most-commonly reported ancestries: Irish and English, respectively.

Download the Census Bureau’s Ancestry: 2000 report as a PDF here.

What's your theoretical heritage combo? 

Update: Apparently you can order a t-shirt boasting your ancestry pie chart from Great idea! (Thanks to Megan Smolenyak for mentioning.)

Celebrating your heritage | Family Tree Magazine articles | Genealogy fun | German roots
Wednesday, 13 July 2011 09:44:05 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [9]
# Monday, 14 February 2011
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Episode 2 Recap
Posted by jamie

Spoiler Alert: If you don't already know what happened during Tim McGraw's episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” you are about to find out.

Country singer Tim McGraw, after looking at his birth certificate as a teenager,  discovered the man he thought was his father was not his biological father. His birth certificate named baseball star Tug McGraw as his father, who he then forged a relationship with as an adult. Tug passed on without revealing much about the McGraw family tree, so Tim explored the paternal line of his ancestry on "Who Do You Think You Are?"

After gathering a few clues from his uncle, McGraw travels to Kansas City, Mo., to find out more about his great-grandparents Andrew and Ellie Mae McGraw. He views Ellie's death certificate and discovered she was a member of the Chrisman family, who settled that area of Missouri.

This led him to Virginia, researching sixth-great-grandfather Isaac Chrisman. Using surveying records and historical maps, McGraw discovers Chrisman lived on the boarder of Indian territory in colonial Virginia. Through a report made by a militiaman, McGraw discovers Chrisman was attacked by Indians and died.

Issac Chrisman's grandfather is Jost Hite, a German immigrant. He traveled to the colonies as an indentured servant with the Pressler family — ancestors of Elvis Presley. Hite quickly worked his way out of servitude and was awarded a massive land grant in Virginia. McGraw views Hite's deeds, and heads to the beautiful Shenandoah Valley to see his land.

The Hite trail then leads McGraw to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. There an archivist shows him George Washington's teenage journal, which indicates Washington lodged at the Hite family home. McGraw also reads a letter written by Washington to his ne'er-do-well neighbor, in which he praises the Hites as a prime example of how one should live his life.

While McGraw had professional researchers to help him navigate land plats and Virginia records, our Family Tree University Land Records 101 course and our Virginia research guides to help you find your ancestors on your own.

"WDYTYA" airs Fridays at 8pm EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief recap of each episode, and post a comment to be entered to win in our Discover Who You Are sweepstakes!

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | German roots | Land records
Monday, 14 February 2011 10:07:35 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [9]
# Monday, 20 September 2010
Exploring German Roots
Posted by Diane

Here in Family Tree Magazine’s hometown of Cincinnati, where the population in 1900 was 60 percent German-Americans and a downtown neighborhood is called Over the Rhine, Oktoberfest is a pretty big deal.

The oldest and biggest Oktoberfest, of course, starts in late September in Munich, Germany—which is celebrating its 200th Oktoberfest this year.

Oct. 12, 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen held a grand horse race in Munich to celebrate their wedding five days earlier. The successful event was held again the next year and the next, and Germans—who continue to claim the largest ancestor group in US censuses—brought the celebration to the United States.

Cincinnati’s Oktoberfest includes the Chicken Dance and plenty of goetta, aka “Cincinnati Caviar.” Supposedly, ours is the largest celebration in the United States. Other Oktoberfests take place across the country in towns such as  La Crosse, Wis.; Fredericksburg, Texas; and Tulsa, Okla.

Here’s our article about how a fellow Cincinnati genealogist unpuzzled surname variations to discover his German roots.

Our German Heritage Toolkit has helpful articles for you to explore your own German roots, including
... and more. For extra assistance, you can download our research guide to German ancestors, available from or look into our Find Your German Roots Family Tree University course

Family Tree Magazine Plus members with German roots can check out our online research guides to Prussian and Bavarian ancestors, and to Germanic ancestors who lived outside of German borders.

German roots | International Genealogy | Research Tips
Monday, 20 September 2010 14:54:22 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]