What do you do if your immigrant ancestor was Lutheran and came from a large city in Germany that had more than 50 Lutheran churches? How do you find the church where your ancestor's records would be kept?
The first step is to identify your ancestor's street address in Germany. There are< many ways to help you find this information. You may have old letters from family and friends in Germany who had written to your ancestor living in America. The address found on these letters is usually close to the same area of the city where your ancestor was from. If you do not have any letters, try checking with other relatives who may have such information in their possession.
If you cannot find letters, search an old address book from the German city your ancestor was from. Use address books dated near the time your ancestor emigrated to find the street where he once lived. Even modern phone directories can be checked to identify family members that may live in the same area in Germany as your immigrant ancestor. This may seem far-fetched, but it is possible in Germany. Once while researching records from Württemberg, Germany, I wrote a letter to a parish requesting information. In return, I received a letter informing me that ancestors of the man I was researching still lived in the same house he had lived in before immigrating to America in the late 1800s. In some cases, there are existing family members who still live in the same area where your ancestors once lived. This knowledge can help you narrow down the area in the city where your ancestor may have resided.
Emigration records may also be searched to find this information. If your ancestor obtained permission to leave Germany before emigrating, an emigration record may exist. These records may identify the street address of your ancestor.
After determining the street address, your next step is to find the nearest parish. This is usually a simple process. You can do this by using an old German map. I recommend using the Meyers Orts und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs, a German gazetteer, but this process could be followed using other resources. Meyers has old city maps and street indexes for the largest cities in Germany based on the German Empire in 1871. This street index will give you coordinates for the street you are looking for. You can then turn to the city map and use these coordinates to find the street. Most people attended the church nearest to their home. Churches on the map are shown as crosses with the name of the church next to that symbol.
After you have found the parish, you can then try to get access to the records of that church through the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or by writing to the parish archives. If you do not find your ancestor in the records of the parish nearest to their street address, you may need to check the records of a couple different parishes in the area. The parish boundaries may have been formed in a way that placed your ancestor in another nearby parish.
The methodology is simple. Despite the number of parishes in a large city, you now know one way to determine which parish to search for your ancestor's records.
Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.
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