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German Genealogy

History of Germany

Before the late 1800s there was no single country called Germany. There were German people and there was a German language, but they lived in a number of different kingdoms, principalities, duchies, etc. Each of these had its own local rulers and laws. Each of these is like a country of its own with its own customs, records, and particularities. 

  • 370-568: The Great Migrations (Die Völkerwanderung)
  • 768-814: Charlemagne and Frankish expansion
  • 962-1806: Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation, or Das Alte Reich)
  • 1806-1815: Confederation of the Rhine (Der Rheinbund)
  • 1815-1866: German Confederation (Der Deutsche Bund)
  • 1866-1871: North German Confederation (Der Norddeutsche Bund)
  • 1871-1918: Second German Empire (Das Deutsche Reich) - 13 Prussian provinces and 29 independent states.
  • 1918-1933: The Weimar Republic (Die Weimarer Republik)
  • 1933-1945: Third German Empire (Das Dritte Reich)
  • 1949-1990: German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) - East Germany or the DDR.
  • 1949-    : Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland)

Below are some key dates and events in German history that impact genealogical research:

  • 1517     Protestant Reformation. The first significant non-Catholic religions began in Germany.
  • 1524     Protestant church records began in Nürnberg.

  • 1545-1563     Council of Trent. Catholic priests were ordered to start keeping baptism and marriage records.
  • 1583     Catholic areas began using the Gregorian calendar.
  • 1618-1648     Thirty Years' War. Many records were burned. The Pfalz suffered great destruction.
  • 1683     The first permanent German settlement in the United States was founded at Germantown, Pennsylvania.
  • 1700     The last German Protestant areas finally switched to the Gregorian calendar.
  • 1709     Large numbers of emigrants, called Palatines (Pfälzer), left the Pfalz region of Germany for England and America.
  • 1722     Austro-Hungarian monarchs began inviting Germans to settle parts of their empire.
  • 1763     Catherine the Great began inviting Germans to settle in Russia.
  • 1771     Patronymic naming was abolished in Schleswig-Holstein (then part of Denmark).
  • 1792     France started civil registration west of the Rhein. Some church records were interrupted.
  • 1814     Napoleon weakened. German states began to reorganize under the leadership of Preußen.
  • 1848-50     German Revolution. Emigration to the United States increased.
  • 1850     The Hamburg passenger lists began to document the origins or places of residence of Europeans leaving for the Americas, Africa, and Australia.
  • 1864     Preußen conquered Schleswig-Holstein.
  • 1871     Franco-Prussian War. Elsaß-Lothringen came under German rule.
  • 1874     Preußen introduced civil registration
  • 1876     Civil registration was required throughout Germany and began wherever it was not already in effect.
  • 1914-1918     World War I. Elsaß-Lothringen was returned to France. Northern Schleswig-Holstein was returned to Denmark. Posen and parts of Schlesien and Westpreußen were ceded to Poland. Northern tip was given of Ostpreußen goes to Lithuania.
  • 1939-1945     World War II. Ostpreußen was divided between Poland and Russia. Most of Pommern, Westpreußen, Brandenburg, and Schlesien came under Polish administration.

Some Online Resources:

Some Print Resources:

  • Blackbourn, David. _The long nineteenth century: A history of Germany, 1780-1918. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • Blanke, Richard. Prussian Poland in the German Empire (1871-1900). Boulder: East European Monographs; New York: Distributed by Columbia University Press, 1981.
  • Detwiler, Donald S. Germany: A Short History. 2nd ed. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989. (FHL book 943 H2dds; computer number 557580.)
  • Dorwart, Reinhold August. The Prussian Welfare State before 1740. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1971.
  • Evans, Richard J. and W.R. Lee, editors. The German Family: Essays on the Social History of the Family in the Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century Germany. Totowa, New Jersey: Barnes & Noble Books, 1981.
  • Evans, Richard J. The Third Reich in Power. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.
  • Fest, Wilfried, editor. Dictionary of German History, 1806-1945. London: George Prior, 1978.
  • Ford, Guy Stanton. Stein and the Era of Reform in Prussia, 1807-1815. Gloucester, Massachusetts: P. Smith, 1965, c1922.
  • Gray, Marion W. Prussia in Transition: Society and Politics under the Stein Reform Ministry of 1808. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1986.
  • Grimmelshausen, Johann Jakob Christoffel. Der Abentheurliche Simplicissimus Teutsch [1669]. Edited by Rolf Tart. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1984. Historical fiction from the days of the Thirty Years War.

  • Hagen, William W. Ordinary Prussians: Brandenburg Junkers and Villagers, 1500-1840. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. This book is about ordinary villagers and landlords (Junkers) in the Prussian-German countryside, from the late middle ages to the nineteenth century. It is distinguished by its concentration on first-person testimony, and focus on the lives and fortunes of ordinary people during the era of the rise of capitalism and the modern state. The book is a major contribution to fundamental debates in German history on the origins of modern political authoritarianism.

  • Historical Background Affecting Genealogical Research in Germany and Austria. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1977. (FHL book 929.1 G286gs ser. C no. 19; fiche 6000035; computer number 327119.) This work emphasizes religious minorities and emigration.
  • Holborn, Hajo. A History of Modern Germany. 3 volumes. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1982. An excellent English language history of Germany for the period 1517 to 1945.
  • Jensen, Larry O. and Norman J. Storrer. The German Empire of 1871. Salt Lake City: Graphic Reproduction, 1975. Description of the political units that constituted the German Empire from 1871 to 1918.
  • Nipperdey, Thomas. Germany from Napoleon to Bismarck. 1996.
  • Pollock, James K. and Homer Thomas. Germany in Power and Eclipse: The Background of German Development. New York: D. Van Nostrand Co., Inc., 1952.
  • Reinhardt, Kurt Frank. Germany: 2000 Years. Rev. ed. 2 vols. New York: F. Ungar, 1989. (FHL book 943 H2rk; computer number 283736.)
  • Rich, E.E. & C.H. Wilson, editors. The Cambridge Economic History of Europe, Vol. 4, The Economy of Expanding Europe in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. London: Cambridge University Press, 1967.
  • Shanahan, William Oswald. Prussian Military Reforms, 1786-1813. New York: AMS Press, 1966, c1945.
  • Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of the Third Reich. New York, Fawcett Press, 1950.
  • Simms, Brendan. The Struggle for Mastery in Germany, 1779-1850. 1998.
  • Treitschke, Heinrich von. Deutsche Geschichte im neuzehntenJahrhundert. Treitschke's History of Germany in the Nineteenth Century. Translated by Edan & Cedar Paul.  London: Jarrold & Sons, 1915.
  • Treitschke, Heinrich von. Deutsche Ordensland Preussen. Origins of Prussianism (the Teutonic Knights). Translated by Eden & Cedar Paul. New York: H. Fertig, 1969.