When Germany is not Germany

+10 votes
While I am pretty confident that I had ancestors in the Palatinate, others I have no idea. Since Germany was so fractured at the time (1500s-1700s, even 1800s!), what do I put in the place of birth field? Any help is greatly appreciated!

So much genealogy, so little time!
in The Tree House by Pip Sheppard G2G Astronaut (2.8m points)
Most of what is now Germany and what is now the northern half of Italy were independent kingdoms within the Holy Roman Empire until Napolean conquered them.  Switzerland, of course, became independent before then, but it too had been part.  Afterwords, Prussia and Austria were formed.  Italy too took time to coalesce.

5 Answers

+11 votes
Best answer
Prior to 6 Aug. 1806 all states that could be considered Germany at some time in history except East Prussia were members of the Heiliges Römisches Reich.

From that time until 6 June 1815 there existed three separate political entities: 1. the Rheinbund with the official name États confédérés du Rhin, a confederation of German states which were satellites of Napoleon's France. It started falling apart after Oct. 1813. 2. the Königreich Preußen, and 3. the Kaiserthum Oesterreich.

From 6 June 1815 until 24 Aug. 1866 the political entity was The Deutscher Bund.

After it's end Austria which changed it's name to Österreichisch-Ungarische Monarchie on 21 Dec. 1867, the Groussherzogtum Lëtzebuerg or Grand-Duché de Luxembourg, and the Fürstentum Liechtenstein became independent states outside Germany. The Königreich Bayern, Königreich Württemberg, Großherzogtum Baden, and the Großherzogtum Hessen-Darmstadt were independent states for a while and the remaining German states formed the Norddeutscher Bund on 1 July 1867.

The independent Southern German states joined the rest 1 Jan. 1871 in the Deutsches Reich.
by Helmut Jungschaffer G2G6 Pilot (617k points)
selected by Pip Sheppard
This is better. Thanks, Helmut. Can I put “Heiliges Romisches Reich” in the place field for ancestors born there in the 1500s to the early 1700s? Will that work?
If there is no other indication for the component state I would say yes.
Again, many thanks, Helmut. By the way, you have a magnificent family tree. The picutes add so much.
Uh... make that pictures, not picutes. Hate auto spell.
Some of the German-speaking people who emigrated to colonial North America in the 1600s and 1700s -- and are identified (in records or in family lore) as "German" or "Palatine" -- were from Switzerland.
Ellen, I have found this to be true among German settlers west of the Catawba River in North Carolina in the mid 1700s.
I know that Palatine became somewhat of a general term for German immigrants eventually but my familiarity with this use does not go far enough to know whether this use of Palatine for German immigrants extended to the time before 1710. But since Pip is talking about 1500s even Switzerland was de jure part of the Holy Roman Empire until 1648.
+7 votes

Use the names that people at the time used, even if they now no longer exist

From the Wikitree Location Field Style Guide 

Our guiding principle is the same as the one for Name Fields: "use their conventions instead of ours."

Applied to locations, this means using place names in native languages and using the names that people at the time used, even if they now no longer exist.

Place names, and even boundaries, change over time. They also have different names in different languages. We aim to use the name that was used by the people in that place, at the time of the event you're recording. This standard is often difficult or even impossible to apply, but it is an ideal that members from all over the world can agree upon.

For example, when recording the birth place of someone born in Port Royal, Acadia, in the 1600s, you should use "Port-Royal, Acadie" rather than the English "Port Royal, Acadia" or the present day "Port Royal, Nova Scotia, Canada".

Use the full place name for counties, states, provinces, départements, etc. Examples: Rhode Island, not RI; New Brunswick, not NB; Hampshire, not Hants; Seine-et-Marne, not S-M. Abbreviation of country names is acceptable as long as the abbreviation is standard and is recognizable.

Tip: If you're unsure of the name in the native language, look it up on Wikipedia. Every place page will say in the first line what the name is in each of the official languages of that country

by Haleigh Craven G2G6 (7.1k points)

Thanks, Haleigh. Helpful, but.... if I know my ancestor was from what is now Germany, but I don’t know where in Germany, what or I put? I know that my immigrant and her parents were from the Palatinate in the early 1700s, but further back? I just don’t know.

This was from me, Pip. Answered the email and forgot to log in first.

Pip, you are not alone in facing this problem when dealing with immigrants. Sometimes I have a record indicating that a person came from Germany (often it's recorded as the Dutch "Hoog-Duitsland") and other times I can only infer that they were from somewhere in what is now Germany (or possibly Alsace or Switzerland). Although I am reasonably sure that the place they lived probably was called something other than "Germany" or "Deutschland", the best I can do is identify that as their place of origin.

By the way, during most of the 1700s, almost all German-speaking immigrants to American colonial areas were referred to as "Palatines," but many of them were not from the Palatinate (they came from many areas). Like many others, I "learned" that my ancestors were from the Palatine region, but now I know that's not necessarily true (and some definitely were not from there). If this describes your ancestors, you might want to join us in the Palatine Migration Project (a sub-project of German Roots).

Thanks for the invite, Ellen. I was thinking of doing just that. I got lucky on a Lancaster, Penn., Lutheran Church marriage register that gave the cities where my ancestral couple were from. Beyond that I am at a loss. It was the Palatinate where they were from, but with all the wars, large and small, I know folks moved around a lot trying to stay out of harm’s way, so there’s really no way to tell the place of birth that I’ve come across so far.

I read s book some years ago on Palatine immigration. Lost the book and can’t find it on Amazon. Most of the ones there focus on immigration to New York and such. I sure wish I had that book now.

If I put “Germany” I guess the bot will pick it up and fix it. I don’t know what else to do.

Again, many thanks for your response.
I've also seen Prussia in many records, and had to determine if I was going to use Prussia, Germany, or some other variant. In the end, I generally go with whatever the records seem to indicate was the appropriate location and not what the modern equivalent should be.
Ok, Cousins, we’ve had a great discussion on places names, but the question has not been answered. (I’m not being an a** here.) My question is this: “If I know some of my ancestral families were from what is now Germany in the 1500s to early 1700s, but do not know which dukedom, princedom or other minor noble land, what do I put in the place field?” How about, “Germany: pre-Prussian unification,” or how about “Holy Roman Empire.” Maybe this: “the place where there was fighting alll the time in what is now Germany which was all of what is now Germany.” I cannot put the exact place because I just do not know (yet).

Thanks ahead of time for your help!
When a person's origins are as obscure as some of my German ancestors' origins are, I'd prefer to try to identify locations with geographic names instead of the names of the imperial powers that claimed authority over the place.
+1 vote

I know it's wrong to put 'Germany' before 1871, but I do anyway.  How many people who are not genealogists would know where 'Bavaria' is?

by Bev Weston G2G6 (6.4k points)

Since the number of native English speakers in Bavaria prior to 1871 would have been exceedingly small, both locations would be wrong following the WikiTree Location Field Style Guide:

Our guiding principle is the same as the one for Name Fields: "use their conventions instead of ours."

Applied to locations, this means using place names in native languages and using the names that people at the time used, even if they now no longer exist.

+1 vote

Pip, Start with the macro-region, and add the subdivisions as you find them,e.g., Start with "Holy Roman Empire". If you can narrow it further, say to what we call Bavaria (also in reference to Helmut Jungschaffer comment), then you would put in "Kurfürstentum Bayern", Holy Roman Empire (Heiligen Römischen Reich), which existed 1623–1806. It works the same as we do for North America, Start with with the Country, then State, then County, then City. Down side to ancient and 'across the pond' places, is they do not always fit in our 4 (5) tier place descriptions used in U.S. Genealogy. :( Wait until you have to handle a full French place name. Or even places that have been historically claimed back and forth between linguistically different govenments (as I scowl at Alsace/Elsaß/L’Alsace/Elsàss/Alsatia, sigh).

I personally keep an excel spreadsheet to track geo/political name usages throughout history as I come across them. Know I can quickly discern State of New York, United States of America, from Nieuw Amsterdam, Nieuw-Nederland.  Helps in the long run if you start early using proper "as used" names, vs. Modern assumed names (thinks back to day one on ancestry and logging colonial ancestors as born in the USA, I was such a N00b then).

by Seán Donovan G2G5 (5.2k points)
+1 vote
The CategoryInfoBox Location template (https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Space:CategoryInfoBox#Template:CategoryInfoBox_Location) allows the linking of location names at different time periods. Where this infobox is added, you can see the relevant periods for specific names.
by László Kóczy G2G6 Mach 1 (13.7k points)

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