In the second session of my Newberry class “Discover Your German Ancestors’ Origins,” I talked about historical gazetteers for finding the jurisdictions that define the ancestral home town. What is a gazetteer? It’s “a geographical dictionary” according to Merriam-Webster.
As genealogists, we use gazetteers to determine the jurisdictions to which a town belonged historically. Why do we care? Because the records created about our ancestors were often created by the rulers of these jurisdictions. Think of the town where you live. If in the United States, your town probably belongs to a county or parish, the state, and finally to this country. Records may be created about you at each of these levels. It’s the same with our ancestors.
One of the most important gazetteers for German research is Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs- Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs. Most just call it Meyers. Recently this two-volume German work was placed online for free with an English interface. MeyersGaz.org makes finding information on German towns much easier. The strength of Meyers is that it describes the jurisdictions as of 1912. These same jurisdictions are used in the Family History Library Catalog for describing its German collection. If a town has a church in it, Meyers will tell you the number of parishes for each denomination. The weakness of Meyers is that if the town has no church, Meyers does not tell you what church residents would have attended. You need a different gazetteer for that.
Map Guide to German Parish Registers
Kevan Hansen is publishing a series that is almost complete. Map Guide to German Parish Registers is a multi-volume work that will tell you the town where the church is located. Each volume or subset of volumes covers a historic German state or Prussian province. This series will ultimately contain sixty-two volumes. The unpublished volumes will cover free and large cities. Libraries with significant genealogy collections often carry this work. Check WorldCat for a library near you.
If you don’t have access to Hansen’s books, and your town was in Prussia, then you have another option. The Gemeindelexikon für das Königreich Preussen, published in 1905, contains fourteen volumes (one for each pre-1919 Prussian Province). It identifies the Catholic and Lutheran parishes to which a town belonged. Written in German and gothic print, it is digitized at FamilySearch and also on HathiTrust. It is also digitized on Ancestry with the World Explorer Subscription or with Ancestry Library Edition.
Other Online Gazetteers
In a prior blog post, I talked about the Geschichtliche Orts-Verzeichnis (GOV).
The JewishGen Gazetteer is free and great for finding a town when you know how the name sounds, but are not sure of the exact spelling. It covers all of Europe and some other areas. It does not give historical jurisdictions for the town, but it does allow you to link to its location on Google Maps.
Kartenmeister covers areas east of the Oder and Neisse Rivers. You can search by the German or Polish name. For each town, it will give the Catholic or Lutheran parish, the historical jurisdictions; and the modern Polish province.
Gazetteers often exist for individual historic states or regions. Search the FamilySearch Wiki for the name of the German province or region plus the word “gazetteer.” You can also search on “German gazetteer” and review the result list. The beginning of each volume in the Hansen series gives resources that sometimes include gazetteers for the region. Many of these gazetteers are not online. You will need to find a library that carries them.
My next blog post will explain how to find the church records once you know where the church was.
 Merriam-Webster, online dictionary http:// https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gazetteer , entry for gazetteer.