Knowledge about the places in which your ancestors lived is key to genealogy research. With it you can fit the ancestor in appropriate historical context and search for the correct locations for additional records. Ancestry has two guides that will assist researchers with Germanic origins, particularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, although clues found in the materials will also help researchers of other time periods. The guides, available to Ancestry members with World Deluxe or Ancestry.de memberships, are:
- Meyers Gazetteer of the German Empire (or Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs in German)
- Germany, Topographic Maps, 1860-1965
Getting the Most from the Databases
Getting the most from any database requires the user to become more familiar with the database, particularly the purpose and organization of the original record.
Letâ€™s start with Meyers Gazetteer, or Meyers Orts as it is commonly called. Gazetteers are geographical directories, and you wonâ€™t find a map in Meyers Orts. Read its description on the database to help you to use the gazetteer. A more detailed usage guide is also available through FamilySearch.org. This reference provides information on the gazetteerâ€™s original format and assistance in reading the Gothic script.
Meyers Orts on Ancestry can be searched for place names appearing in the book and some of the names in its place descriptions. I searched for the village of Wiesens, which is in the north of Germany. A keyword search for â€œwiesensâ€ quickly located the entry. There is only one matching result that appears to be the village of interest.
The actual entry in Meyers Orts reads:
â€œWiesens, D., Pr., Hann., RB. Kr. AG. Bkdo. P Aurich, E 3 km Holtrop; 549 E., StdA., ev. Pfk., Ml. — Dazu Koln. Neu Blockhaus 32, Wiesenser Mooraecker 64 E.â€
Using the abbreviation guide that can be found at the beginning of Volume I, and in the FamilySearch guide, the abbreviations are filled out:
â€œWiesens, Dorf, Preussen, Hannover, Regierungsbezirk, Kreis, Amtsgericht, Bezirkskommando, Postanstalt Aurich, Eisenbahnstation 3km Holtrop; 549 Einwohner, Standesamt, evangelische Pfarrkirche, Muehle â€“ Dazu Koln, Neu Blockhaus 32, Wiesenser Mooraecker 64 Einwohnerâ€
â€œWiesens, a village in Prussia, Hannover, the government district, Kreis (akin to United States counties), court, district military office and post office are in Aurich, the railroad is 3km away in Holtrop; the population is 549; it has its own civil registration office and an evangelical parish and a mill; it also includes the colony of Neu Blockhaus with 32 inhabitants and Wiesenser Mooraecker with 64 inhabitants.â€
German Topographical Maps
The other resource I mentioned, the German topographic maps on Ancestry cannot be searched by place names–at least not completely.
The German Empire is broken into a grid in this database. First time users of the German topographical maps are encouraged to view the Ãœbersichtsblatt. (Overview information sheet–There is a link to it at the very bottom of the database description.)Â
It provides a map of the entire region covered with the grid. Each box in the grid has a name and a number. The only place names that come up under keyword searches on the topographic maps are those places that are used as titles on this overview. For this reason, searches of many places names in the topographic maps will be unsuccessful. A search for Wiesens on the German topographical maps database brought up no results because it does not appear on one of the grid squares.
Note: These maps are large files and may take some time to load.
Before I can use the German topographical maps at Ancestry, I really need to have a good idea of actually where Wiesens is located, as it will not appear on the Ãœbersichtsblatt. I can choose from a modern map site such as Mapquest or Google Maps. Having used these maps to find Wiesensâ€™ relative location in Germany, I then decide where Wiesens likely falls on the Ãœbersichtsblatt. I will start with map number 173, which is titled Aurich. This choice is supported by the fact that Aurich is listed as the post office for Wiesens in Meyers Orts. If Wiesens is not on map 173, I will search on adjacent maps.
Going back to the main page for the German Topographical Maps, I choose the sheet number range to get to map 173. (Click on theÂ image aboveÂ to see a portion of this map.)Â In the case of Aurich, there are maps from 1901, 1919, 1925, and 1941. A little looking on the map and I have found Wiesens.
Some General Comments
What does a search of the Meyers Orts actually do? First of all the location search is not a full-text search of every word in every entry in Meyers Orts. For those not convinced, a search for the location Holtrop resulted in two hits. The entry for Wiesens is not one of them even though Holtrop is mentioned in the entry for Wiesens (as a nearby town with a railstop). The search in Meyers Orts for a location is a search for the main headings and the listed jurisdictions. It does not search for names of nearby towns for the railstop, records office, etc.
Thanks to Angie P. at The Generations Network for assisting me as I wrote this article.
Michael John Neill is a genealogical writer and speaker who has been researching his or his children’s genealogy for more than twenty years. A math instructor in his “other life,” Michael taught at the former Genealogical Institute of Mid-America and has served on the FGS Board. He also lectures on a variety of genealogical topics and gives seminars across the country. He maintains a personal website at: http://www.rootdig.com