You may be asking yourself, “What is a gazetteer and why do I care?” A gazetteer is like a dictionary of place names. It tells you valuable information about the place in question. There is not necessarily a map component in a gazetteer. A historical gazetteer, such as the GOV, tells about places that historically existed. The GOV contains over one million entries that encompass historical and modern-day Germany, as well as other places in Europe, the United States, and Australia. It does link to various sources for maps. A “place” in the GOV could be a city, small village, a Kreis (kind of like a county), a large estate, or a geographical feature, to name a few examples. If you are not familiar with this tool hosted by CompGen, join me to take a tour.
Access GOV by clicking on the menu item with that name:
You may recall from one of my earlier posts that my 2x great grandfather was born in a small place in Baden called Butschbach. Let’s use that as an example. Once you click on the GOV link, you see a screen with a blank field labelled “Ortsname,” which means place name. Enter Butschbach into that field and click the “Suche” (Search) button. The following screen appears:
The first item you see is a map showing this town’s current location. Butschbach no longer exists as an independent location. Instead it has been incorporated into the city of Oberkirch and is known as a Stadtteil (literally translates to city part). The map shows Butschbach’s historical location.
Below the map is a listing of all locations named Butschbach. In this case, there is only one. See the arrow on the left side, above. The third column shows the modern jurisdictions of that Stadtteil. Oberkirch belongs to the Landkreis Ortenaukreis; the Regierungsbezirk (a mid-level administrative district) of Freiburg; the state of Baden-Württemberg; in the country of Germany. The remaining columns show its postal code and Butschbach’s unique GOV identifier. Stick with me. We haven’t gotten to the good stuff, yet.
Notice that the town name is a hyperlink. Click on the link “Butschbach-Hesselbach, Butschbach.” This is where the real information is. From this page, we see more detailed information. For example, this place was known as Butschbach in 1803, when it was a “scattered settlement.” From 1816–1970, it was a municipality. It was known as Butschbach-Hesselbach beginning in 1837. In 1971, it became a Stadtteil, as it remains today. This location has its own webpage, which may be accessed by clicking the link. A link is also given to its GenWiki article, which in this case does not provide a lot of new information. The GenWiki is another area of the CompGen website. Sometimes GenWiki articles are very detailed.
Notice also that GOV offers multiple online mapping tools to view your town’s location. It also offers the geographic coordinates so you can find it using any mapping tool.
The part that I like most about GOV is the graphical representation of the historical jurisdictions. This is kind of like a genealogy of the town’s history. Why should you care? Because records may have been maintained by any of those earlier jurisdictions. If you are looking for anything other than church records, this information becomes helpful. In my mind, this is one of the best reasons to use GOV. Searching for non-church records is a very broad topic that I will not cover in this post.
The GOV is also very helpful if you do not know the exact spelling of a town. The search field allows for wildcard searches. An asterisk (*) substitutes for multiple letters and a question mark (?) substitutes for a single letter. Do be careful when substituting an asterisk at the beginning of a word, especially if that word ends with *bach or *haus. You will get many results! Try adding more letters or putting the asterisk in the middle of the word.
One drawback of the GOV is that it does not give the ecclesiastical jurisdictions for a town. In other words, you need to use other gazetteers to determine what church residents attended if the church was not in their town. In most cases, I recommend Kevan Hansen’s Map Guide to German Parish Registers series of books for determining the church. This series is almost complete and may be found in libraries with good genealogical collections.
Meyers Ort- und Verkehrs-lexikon des Deutschen Reichs (aka Meyers Gazetteer) is the primary gazetteer used for German research. This resource shows jurisdictions as of its publication in 1912. The advantage that GOV has over Meyers is the fact that it shows how jurisdictions changed throughout time. It also helps to find exact locations of a place. This does not mean that you should not use Meyers. There are advantages to each. Stay tuned for a future post about Meyers.
I hope you find this helpful. Happy Hunting!