Saturday, 24 June 2017

Researching abroad: Finding British Isles and European Ancestors

In the month of August there will be the chance for family historians to hear two international speakers in a series of seminars held in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth. Chris Paton from Scotland will talk about researching ancestors from the British Isles and Dirk Weissleder from Germany will talk about researching German and European ancestors.

Click here for details of the program at the various venues.

This is a great opportunity to come and learn and have your questions answered!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

DNA matches to German families - is it possible?

My wife and I have been researching our respective families for some thirty years. Back in the "old days" research meant walking through cemeteries looking for headstones, visiting the Queensland State Archives looking through microfilms, card indexes, and dusty bundles of Land Selection or Probate files, or visiting an LDS Family History Centre to read microfiche or microfilms. There were no online indexes then that could be viewed from the comfort of the home.

Of course things have changed and so much more information is readily accessible, although those of us who are used to visiting archives realise that 'it's not all online' by any stretch of the imagination.

Recent years have seen aggressive marketing of DNA testing, which the advertisements seem to imply, will use your genetic makeup to identify the places from which your ancestors came. Our thirty or so years of research had identified our ancestral places of origin, so we saw that aspect of DNA research as a sideline only. In fact it would be interesting to compare the speculation of our origins with the hard documentary evidence that we had painstakingly assembled.

We thought that the greatest benefit would be through the ability of the programs to compare our DNA samples with the millions of other samples and so to find other people who might be (distantly) related to us. We knew that small matching segments of DNA might match by chance rather than there being any real relationship.

Ethnicity Estimate

So how do my results from the test with Ancestry stack up against the research? Its Ethnicity Estimate is shown here:

Ethnicity Estimate for Eric Kopittke from
How do these values compare with the evidence?
  • My father's parents were both born in the former eastern parts of the Kingdom of Prussia, one in Pomerania, the other in West Prussia. Since World War 2, these areas have been in Poland. They were settled by slavic peoples with later German migration from the west. Since "Europe East" includes Poland as well as other areas, 48% is close to the documented 50%.
  • My maternal grandfather was the son of migrants from the northern and western parts of Germany, one from Schleswig-Holstein, the other from North Rhine-Westphalia. I can therefore trace 25% of my ancestry to parts of modern day Germany. Since 'Europe West' includes Germany, the 30% is probably a little high.
  • In Schleswig-Holstein there was a mixing of German, Danish, and Friesian peoples, and some of the ancestors of my great-grandmother had Danish names - perhaps that is where the 10% Scandinavian came from.
  • Both of my maternal grandmother's parents were from Sussex in England, with their ancestral roots from villages near Lewes. They constitute 25% of my ancestry so is interesting that 'Great Britain' has only 6% listed.
Those values can be misleading, however. On clicking on each, the following ranges are revealed:

Europe East
36% – 58%
Europe West
7% – 54%
0% – 28%
Great Britain
0% – 21%

There is a large uncertainty with the quoted 'Ethnicity Estimate' values and that must always be kept in mind when looking at such results!

Genetic Communities

Ancestry explains its recently introduced Genetic Communities in these words:
Genetic Communities™ are groups of AncestryDNA members who are connected through DNA most likely because they descend from a population of common ancestors, even if they no longer live in the area where those ancestors once lived. For example, some Genetic Communities trace their roots back to groups of people who were isolated geographically. Mountains, rivers, lack of roads, or other barriers made it likely that each new generation would marry someone who lived close to home. Others have their roots in a groups who typically married others of the same religion or ethnic group. In each case, these groups came to share a significant amount of DNA. Modern-day descendants who inherited some of that DNA make up Genetic Communities.   
Ancestry has identified two Genetic Communities that match my DNA.
Genetic Communities for Eric Kopittke
A map is produced to illustrate these communities.
Map of Genetic Communities for Eric Kopittke
Clicking 'Eastern Europeans' produces a more detailed map along with a general description of the history of the region.
Eastern European Genetic Community
There is also a CONNECTION button which when clicked allows you to display the details of the others in the same Genetic Community. Three of my matches were estimated to be '4th - 6th cousins' and twelve at '5th - 8th cousins'. Unfortunately most had not supplied a family tree so there was no easy way to see whether the matches were real or just a random chance.

One had a tree with 4,904 names, and on checking the tree, I found mention of Caroline LATZ, a daughter of my grandmother's cousin. Caroline had married John RUHWEDEL in Queensland and it now became obvious that they had migrated to the Chicago area in the USA. That solved a mystery for me, and I could then provide details of Caroline's ancestors who were from small villages and estates in the former Prussian province of West Prussia. It turned out that my match was my third cousin three times removed - there is also a match to the parent of this person but interestingly that match does not appear in my genetic communities.

So the Ethnicity Estimate results are interesting but with the large uncertainty should not be taken too seriously. On the other hand the Genetic Community results can potentially point you to other distant relatives, but discovering what the relationship is depends on the other party posting enough of a family tree to allow connections to be made.

Monday, 20 February 2017

German family history from Poland

Significant numbers of Germans have been migrating to Australia since the 1830s. In 1838 some “Old Lutherans” landed in Adelaide seeking the right to worship the way that they believed in. The same year, the pioneer Presbyterian minister, John Dunmore Lang, brought a party of German missionaries from Berlin to Brisbane. As well, on 23 April 1838, the barque Kinnear arrived at Sydney carrying six German families, the first German vinedressers in Australia. They were from the Rheingau area of Hesse.

At the end of World Wars 1 and 2, large areas that had been under German control were lost to its neighbours. In the east, these became part of Poland, Russia and Lithuania. After World War 2 in particular, millions of people who were considered to be Germans were expelled from these areas.

One of the problems in researching family history from these areas involves name changes. Throughout this region some people considered themselves German while others considered themselves Polish. Naturally many places had both a German and a Polish name. For some, the German and Polish names were pronounced similarly but spelled differently. The town of Stuhm (German) or Sztum (Polish) is a case in point – some knowledge of German and Polish pronunciation helps here. For some, the names might be translations of each other. The village of Schönwiese (German) or Krasna Łąka (Polish) – describing a meadow – is an example. In others, the names were quite different – for example the city of Breslau (German) in Silesia is now Wrocław (Polish), and the former capital city of East Prussia, Königsberg (German), is now Kaliningrad (Russian). A further complication is that some of the places where the German name was too “Polish” were changed in the Nazi era. For example, Pachutken (German) or Pachutki (Polish) was changed to Tönigesdorf in the 1930s.

Most likely, for those of our ancestors who were born before the disruption of the World Wars, the names of the places of birth that were recorded would be the German names rather than the Polish names. This is a problem because the names to be found in today’s atlases and road maps are the Polish (or Russian or Lithuanian) ones.

Given such a problem, is it possible to research any family history from this area? As with all German research, it is necessary to identify the civil registry office (the Standesamt) that was responsible for registering births, marriages and deaths, and/or the church parish that was responsible for recording baptisms, marriages and burials. A number of websites are available to assist in this process:
·      Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs- lexicon … was a two-volume publication from the first decade of the 20th century, listing almost every locality in the German Empire of the day. An easy way to use this invaluable resource is by the Meyersgaz website (see which shows the relevant entry and provides an explanation in English of the significant abbreviations. The Standesamt at the time of publication is listed, and sometimes the Catholic or Protestant parish and Synagogue. As well, it is usually possible to view an historic map and overlay this on a modern map.
·      Kartenmeister (see is a website set up by Uwe Krickhain which lists almost every location within the former German eastern territories, together with details of the Standesamt and the Catholic and Protestant parishes and Synagogue.
·      Ehemalige Ortsgebiete (Former Eastern Territories – see is a website giving the names by which different towns and villages were known at key times over the past 100 or so years.

Putting this to use
A friend was interested in finding out about his mother’s birthplace. He had been told it was Escherlin in what is now northern Poland but had been in Pommern (Pomerania) and that the town had undergone a number of name changes. Furthermore the church records had been destroyed.

Unfortunately the Meyersgaz website had no entry for Escherlin and neither did the Kartenmeister site, but the Ehemalige Ortsgebiete site noted that it was known as Gryzlin in the district of Löbau before World War 1. 

The Meyersgaz site then showed that Gryzlin was a Rittergut (an estate) and that further details were available under Grischlin, Gryzlin being the former name. Grischlin was in the Kreis (county or shire) of Löbau in the Regierunsbezirk (government district) of Marienwerder Provinz Westpreussen (West Prussia); its Standesamt (civil registry office) was 4.7 km away at Jamielnik, it had a population of 279 and was the seat of a Protestant parish. 

Between the World Wars, Grischlin lay in the Polish Corridor, which gave Poland access to the Baltic Sea, and was named Gryźliny under Polish control. The Ehemalige Ortsgebiete site showed that in 1939 under German control, Grischlin was named Escherlin and after World War 2, once again under Polish administration, Gryźliny.

So my friend was correct, Escherlin had been renamed many times, although for at least some time it had been in the Prussian province of West Prussia not Pomerania.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Geogen – a “geographical genealogy” website

Geogen – a “geographical genealogy” website

The free Geogen website ( can be used to create maps showing the distribution of surnames in Germany based on entries in the telephone directory. A large concentration of surnames in a particular area could indicate where the name originated.
Enter the surname of interest in the input field and click the research button. The German special characters (ä, ö and ü) are distinct letters, so Müller, Mueller and Muller must be looked for in separate searches. As well as producing attractive maps that could be a conversation starter, Geogen may provide the clue to allow the researcher to break down some brick walls. Enjoy its use!
An example: my great grandmother Christina E. F. Brohmann was born in a rural area near Eckernförde in Schleswig-Holstein. While I have been able to find baptisms, marriages and burials for her family, I have not been able to go back further than her great grandfather Claus Bromann who was mentioned briefly when his son, Christina’s grandfather, Claus Wilhelm Bromann was baptised in 1792. Searches for other references to the older Claus have been unsuccessful!
Entering the Brohmann name into Geogen revealed the main cluster of people by that name in Altmarkkreis Salzwedel in the Federal State of Saxony-Anhalt with other individuals scattered across Germany. A similar result came when the variation Bromann was used. It could be that some Brohmann/Bromann family members moved to the Salzwedel area years ago in search of work and became established there, or perhaps the roots of my Brohmann/Bromann family might actually be near Salzwedel. Further research is clearly called for.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Using Meyers Orts … has become easier!

Using Meyers Orts … has become easier!

For many years Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs- Lexikon … has been recommended as THE source to go to for information about the location of localities in the pre-World War 1 German Empire, and for details of their jurisdictions. In fact, the entries in the FamilySearch catalog are largely based on those jurisdictions.
Originally available on microfilm or microfiche through FamilySearch, more recently Meyers … has been available in digitised form through Ancestry. However, this valuable resource has remained difficult for many researchers to use because it was printed in the German language in the old German script (Fraktur font) with many abbreviations. 
A new website has become available that makes the use of Meyers Orts … much easier! This is the Meyers Gazetteer website
The name of the place that you are looking for should be entered. Note that it permits the use of wildcards so that it becomes possible to locate places for which only some of the letters are known. A list of place names that fit the supplied information is given and the correct one can be selected.
Let's look at the second Diedenshausen:
The site then shows the relevant extract from Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs- Lexikon … together with a small map showing the approximate location and the significant information extracted and explained.

Clicking on the “Map” tab (above the extract from Meyers…) displays a scalable, historical map.  “Toggle Historical Map” changes between the historical map and a modern Google map and allows the transparency of the historical map to be altered. Protestant and Catholic parishes and Jewish Synagogues can also be displayed on the map.
If a location is the seat of a Protestant or Catholic parish, or a Jewish synagogue, Meyers Orts … indicates that fact; but otherwise no indication of the relevant parish or synagogue is provided. However the Meyers Gazetteer website partly overcomes this problem through the “Ecclesiastical” tab which gives a list of Protestant and Catholic parishes and Jewish Synagogues within 20 miles of the chosen place along with their distance away.
An additional feature allows people to add their email address to those places with which their family was associated. 
The Meyers Gazetteer website is an excellent site to investigate to learn more about the towns and villages of your ancestors.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Hamburg emigration lists

The Hamburg emigration lists
Bremen and Hamburg were the main German ports through which 19th and early 20th century emigrants left for new lives in the Americas, Africa and Australia and New Zealand. The authorities in Hamburg compiled lists of the emigrants who departed from that port and these cover the years 1850-1934 but with a gap of 1915-1919 because of World War 1. On the other hand, most equivalent lists from the port of Bremen were destroyed. makes the claim that “The lists include approximately 5 million records of individuals, approximately 80% of whom were destined for the United States. Ca. 475,000 traveled to South America, ca. 214,000 to Canada, ca. 100,000 to Africa, ca. 54,000 to Australia, and ca. 10,000 to Asian countries.”

Voyages from Hamburg were either direct or indirect. Direct voyages took the emigrants from Hamburg to their destination (possibly with visits to intermediate ports) whereas indirect voyages took the emigrants to another port (usually in Britain, sometimes in France, Netherlands or Belgium) where they transferred to another vessel that then took them to their destination. From 1855 to 1910, emigrants travelling directly and indirectly were recorded in separate sets of lists.

On arrival at their destination immigrants’ details were usually recorded again. Obviously differences can be expected between the departure and arrival lists because of deaths and births that occurred during the voyage. Where both lists are available it is always useful to check both.

From 1850 to 1854 emigrants were listed on separate pages depending on the first letter of their surname. The following shows a section of the page for surnames beginning with ‘D’ from the year 1851. This shows entries for voyages 59 and 60 – the Hamburg ships Florentin, Captain Lofgren to New York, and the Helene, Captain Andresen, to Port Adelaide. The entries show the information typically available for this period during which usually only the head of the family was named along with his or her occupation or station.
1851 Helen D.JPG
When transcribed, the entries are easier to read [Schlosser = locksmith or mechanic or tinker; Landm (Landmann) = rural worker; Fr (Frau) = wife; Kinder = children] :

Name d. Schiffes
(Name of Ship)
Datum d. Abgang
(Date of departure)
Davidsohn Marcus
mit Fr u. Kind
New York
Dankel Chr.
und Frau
Port Adelaide
19 Aug
Döcke Peter
Döcke Andr.
Dallwitz Joh.
mit Fr. u. 5 Kinder

From 1855 emigrants were listed by ship, probably in the order in which they arrived at the ship. Individual family members were listed separately. This example, showing some families on the Fritz Reuter, which departed Hamburg 4 Oct 1878 bound for Brisbane, illustrates the sort of information available on these lists:
1878 Fritz Reuter headings.JPG
The headings on the columns are:
Nr. (Number)
Die zu einer Familie gehörenden Personen sind unter einander zu notieren und durch eine Klammer als zusammengehörig zu bezeichnen. (The persons belonging to a family are to be recorded one under another and denoted as belonging together by a bracket.)
1. Nachname   2. Vorname  (Surname  Given name)
3. Geschlecht männlich weiblich  (Sex male female)
4. Alter (Age)
5. Bisherige Wohnort (Former residence)
6. Im Staate oder in der Provinz (In the state or province)
7. Bisherige Stand oder Beruf (Former station or occupation)
8. Ziel der Auswanderung, Ort und Land (Destination of emigration, city and country)
9. Zahl der Personen (Number of persons)
Davon sind (Of whom are)
10. Erwachsene und Kinder über 10 Jahre (adults and children over 10 years)
Kinder (Children)
11. unter 10 Jahre (under 10 years)
12. unter 1 Jahr (under 1 year)

A little further down this page are two families:
1878 Fritz Reuter.JPG

When transcribed, the entries are easier to read:
11 HANSEN Peter W. m 31 Hadersleben Schleswig Landmann
12 HANSEN Catharina f 28 Hadersleben Schleswig Frau
13 HANSEN Waldemar m 4 Hadersleben Schleswig Sohn
14 HANSEN Josephine f Hadersleben Schleswig Tochter
15 LAUSSEN Carl m 8 Hadersleben Schleswig Stiefsohn
16 ERICKSEN Martin m 24¾ Hadersleben Schleswig Landmann
17 ERICKSEN Anna f 18 Hadersleben Schleswig Frau
(Landmann = rural worker; Frau = wife; Sohn = son; Tochter = daughter; Stiefsohn = stepson.) The individual members of the Hansen and Ericksen families are listed, along with ages, former place of residence and occupation or station. Note that, unlike the situation in the 1851 list where the town column was headed “Geburtsort” (Birthplace), in the 1878 list the town column was headed “Bisherige Wohnort” (Former residence). Carl Laussen is identified as a stepson (Stiefsohn) of Peter W Hansen.

It would seem that the Hansen and Ericksen families had travelled together from Hadersleben in Schleswig (now Haderslev in Sønderjylland or South Jutland in Denmark). Having two families arriving together from the same town suggests that there could be some relationship between the two and that is an aspect that could be investigated. It is always worthwhile looking for other families and individuals from the same village or district in case some relationship exists.

Although a high proportion of the emigrants were from the German states, there were many from surrounding countries such as Switzerland, Italy, Scandinavia, Russia, and even some from Britain.

The direct lists for emigrant vessels that left Hamburg between 1850 and 1879 for ports in Australia and New Zealand have been transcribed and indexed by Eric and Rosemary Kopittke and published by Queensland Family History Society Inc. See
More generally, microfilm copies of all of the lists are available through FamilySearch and may be hired and viewed at any of their Family History Centres. See has digitised all of the lists of emigrants for 1850 - 1914 and 1920 - 1934 and there is an index covering 1850 - 1914 and 1920 - 1923. See Remember, however, that in any list or index, names might not be recorded with the spelling that we might expect, so if the family does not seem to be there, try searching with alternative spellings.

It can be seen that there is a wealth of information available for the researcher, especially from 1855 onwards. Because it is not uncommon to find misspellings of or errors in the names of places of origin in documents from Australia, New Zealand or the Americas, in many cases the Hamburg emigration list can be used to identify an ancestor’s birthplace.