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A gazetteer is a dictionary of placenames. Gazetteers may describe towns and villages, parishes and counties, states and provinces, rivers and mountains, and other geographical features. They usually include only the names of places that existed at the time the gazetteer was published, but may reference name changes. The placenames are usually listed in alphabetical order, similar to a dictionary. Common German words for gazetteers include "Ortsverzeichnis" (listing of places) and "Topographie" (usually more descriptive; may also contain historical information).
Gazetteers may also provide additional information about towns, such as:
- The population size.
- The different religious denominations.
- The schools, colleges, and universities.
- Major manufacturing works, canals, docks, and railroad stations.
Gazetteers can help you find the places where your family lived and determine the civil and church jurisdictions over those places. For example, Sande, Germany, was a rural community in the state of Oldenburg. It had its own civil registration office and Evangelical parish, though those of the Catholic religion traveled to nearby Jever for worship and record keeping. If your ancestor was a Catholic from Sande, a gazetteer can tell you where to look for your ancestor's civil and church records.
Some places in Germany have the same or similar names. You will need to use a gazetteer to identify the specific town where your ancestor lived, the government district it was in, and the jurisdictions where records about him or her were kept.
Gazetteers can also help you determine county jurisdictions used in the FamilySearch Catalog.
Finding Place-Names in the FamilySearch Catalog
German placenames used in the "Place Search" field of the FamilySearch Catalog are based on the German Empire as it existed in 1871. Use either "place search" or "keyword search" to search for pertinent catalog entries. The state or province is listed as part of the place name heading. If a village did not have its own parish, it may only be listed in the notes of a catalog entry for the civil or parish jurisdiction it belonged. Such entries can be found using "keyword search" rather than "place search".
The Family History Library uses one gazetteer as the standard guide for listing German places in the catalog. Regardless of the various jurisdictions a place may have been under at different times, all German places are listed by the jurisdictions used in the following reference:
Uetrecht, E. Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs(Meyers Place- and Traffic directory of the German Empire). Fifth Edition. Leipzig, Germany: Bibliographisches Institute, 1912-3. (FHL book Ref 943 E5mo; films 496,640-1; fiche 6,000,001-29.)
Meyers Gazetteer (often referred to as Meyers Orts) lists the names of places as they existed in Germany from 1871 to 1912. It gives the name of the state or province where each town was located at that time. The gazetteer is written in Gothic print, which can be hard to read.
Meyers Gazetteer is available in digital form in the following places:
- FamilySearch: A digital copy of Meyers Gazetteer is in two volumes and is found at: part 1 A-K, FamilySearch Books Online; part 2 L-Z , FamilySearch Books Online. See "Step-by-step guide: Using Meyers Gazetteer Online" for detailed user instructions. An abbreviated guide to locating place names and jurisdictions in Meyers Gazetteer is found here.
- Ancestry.com: Meyers Gazetteer of the German Empire. This version is also searchable. (For best results, use the Keyword rather than the Location search box.)
- The HathiTrust: Volume 1: A-K and Volume 2: L-Z . This digital version provides bigger, clearer images, and most city maps are in color. It is possible to download each volume as a PDF.
The first volume of this gazetteer contains an explanation of the many abbreviations the gazetteer uses. For example, Meyers indicates where to find the civil registration office [Standesamt]. If a comma or semicolon follows the abbreviation StdA (Standesamt), the town had its own civil registration office. If it does not have a comma or semicolon, the town name that follows the abbreviation and has a comma or semicolon after it is the town where the civil registration office is found.
The gazetteer also indicates if the town had its own parish by using the abbreviation ev. Pfk. for a Lutheran parish [evangelische Pfarrkirche]; reform. Pfk. for a Reformed parish [reformierte Pfarrkirche]; or kath. Pfk. for a Roman Catholic parish [katholische Pfarrkirche]. A Jewish synagogue [Synagoge] is indicated by the abbreviation Syn. If no parish is indicated, you must check a regional gazetteer or parish register inventory to find the parish. Frequently Meyers only gives a “see” reference, indicated by the abbreviation s (lowercase S) which stands for the command "siehe" or "see". For example, if you look for the village of Filge, county Lübbecke, the gazetteer refers you to the larger village of Levern, Westfalen for more information.
Other general gazetteers
Other general gazetteers include:
• The Genealogisches Ortsverzeichnis (GOV) on the website of the German Society for Computer Genealogy (CompGen).
• For the areas east of the Oder-Neisse rivers see Kartenmeister
• For phonetic searches in the area covered by today’s Germany, use the “fuzzy gazetteer” . Uncheck the "all countries" box to linit the search to a specific country.
• The JewishGen gazetteer has several search options, including “contains”. Be sure to change the country and choose a search option.
•The Deutsch-Fremdsprachiges Ortsnamenverzeichnis - place name changes for formerly German localities as of June 1919.
• For latinized place names use the Orbis Latinus. Several volumes/editions are available on multiple websites. Examples include a copy of volume one, published 1909 (with an English interface) and the four-volume combined set published in 1972 (in German).
The "Fuzzy Gazetteer" is a good tool for decoding misspelled place names. Results provide phonetically close current locality names. Use this if the place is likely located within the borders of modern Germany.
Various books and databases can be used to determine additional information about a locality. See a list of online regional gazetteers.
The Gemeindelexikon, based on a 1905 census, is the standard gazetteer used for Prussia:
Book: Königlich Preußisches Statistisches Landesamt. Gemeindelexikon für das Königreich Preußen. Berlin : Verlag des Königlichen Statistischen Landesamts, 1907-1909. (FHL book 943 E5kp.) - multiple volumes.
Online: This gazetteer is also available online at Ancestry.com in the database Gemeindelexikon für das Königreich Preußen. Enter place names into the "keyword" field for best results, and ignore diacritical marks (Umlaute) or browse images by volume. Various volumes are also available on GoogleBooks and the DigiBib (Digital Library) on Compgen.de. To see translations of the Hessen-Nassau headings for this gazetteer click here. For headings for the other Prussian regions click here
Historical Civil Registration Offices
The following source lists the 1930 German civil registration offices:
Höpker, H. Deutsches Ortsverzeichnis: unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der zuständigen Standesämter (German gazetteer of civil registration offices). Frankfurt/Main: Verlagfür Standesamtswesen, 1978 reprint of a 1930 edition. (FHL book 943 E5h.) In part one (pp. 1-310), any locality with an asterisk (*) has a civil registration office. The civil registration office for towns without the asterisk is shown immediately following the double ring (4). In part two (pp. 313-66) the civil registration offices for areas Germany lost after World War I are shown.
- Online German Gazetteers includes links to regional gazetteers and parish register inventories by historic state
- This older research guide includes a list of published German gazetteers with FamilySearch microfilm numbers: BYU Research Guide for Germany Civil & Parish Jurisdictions & Maps
For some research purposes, such as correspondence, you need to know the modern jurisdictions for the place where your ancestor lived. This may also help you find the ancestral town on modern maps. This information can often be found online by using a German-language specific search engine, such as Google.de.
The following post- WWII gazetteer is available through family history centers and may also be found at some large public libraries:
Müller, Friedrich. Müllers Großes Deutsches Ortsbuch (Müllers German gazetteer). 12th Edition. Wuppertal-Barmen: Post und Ortsbuchverlag Postmeister A.D. Friedrich Muller, 1958. (FHL book 943 E5m 1958; film 1,045,448; fiche 6,000,343-54.)
This work alphabetically lists place names in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) as they existed before it was reunited with the German Democatoc Republic in 1990. The last part of each entry is the abbreviation for the German state.
In cases where more than one town has the same name, each is listed separately. The district [Kreis] name usually follows the town name and is printed in bold type to distinguish the towns with the same name. Müller's gazetteer is printed with modern type, making it easy to use. However, it does not reflect the many boundary changes resulting from the large-scale community-consolidations of the 1970s and later.
Postal Code Book. On 1 July 1993 Germany significantly revised its postal codes.The German postal code book lists all towns with post offices in alphabetical order . Part two of the book lists a postal code for each street address in cities with more than one post office. You can use the book's maps to find post office towns and the approximate location of city streets. Das Postleitzahlenbuch (The postal code book). Bonn, Germany: Postdienst, 1993. (FHL book 943 E8p1993.) This book is available for purchase in the United States from Genealogy Unlimited. This information is also available online at: www.deutschepost.de. On the home page, click on "PLZ suchen".
German Places in Foreign Countries
A supplement to Müller's gazetteer (described above) lists localities that were formerly in German territory but that were placed under the administration of another country after 1945. The place-names are listed both in German and in the language of the other country:
Müllers Verzeichnis der jenseits der Oder-Neiße gelegenen, unter fremder Verwaltung stehenden Ortschaften (Müllers gazetteer of foreign localities beyond the Oder-Neiße). Wuppertal-Barmen, Germany: Post und Ortsbuchverlag Postmeister A.D. Friedrich Muller, 1958. (FHL book 943 E5m 1958 Supp.; film 1,045,448; fiche 6,000,343-54n.)
The following source lists German localities that were placed under foreign control in 1918, at the end of World War I, with their name changes ("German to foreign" and "foreign to German"):
Kredel, Otto, and Franz Thierfelden. Deutsch-fremdsprachiges (Fremdsprachig-deutsches) Ortsnamenverzeichnis (German-foreign [foreign-German] gazetteer). Berlin, Germany: Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft, 1931. (FHL book Q 940E5kt; film 583457.)
Another place to find foreign names of former German localities is:
Bundesanstalt für Landeskunde. Amtliches Gemeinde- und Ortsnamenverzeichnis der deutschen Ostgebiete unter fremder Verwaltung (Gazetteer of Eastern German areas under foreign administration). Three Volumes. Remagen, Germany: Bundesanstaltfür Landeskunde, 1955. (FHL book 943.8 E5b; film 824,243 and 1,045,449 item 5; fiche 6,053,256.)
For an explanation of how to use the above gazetteers, see pages 57 to 84 of Larry O. Jensen's A Genealogical Handbook of German Research.
Many German place-names and boundaries have changed or no longer exist. Historical gazetteers that describe places as they were known earlier may help you. Use gazetteers published during the time period you are researching to find the names and boundaries that existed during that time. Some places that used to be part of Germany are now part of another nation, such as France, Denmark, or Poland. These are described in Germany Historical Geography.
Eastern European Place Names and Changes
Kartenmeister, is a website that contains 88220 locations with over 38.200 name changes once, and 5,500 twice and more. All locations are EAST of the Oder and Neisse rivers and are based on the borders of the eastern provinces in Spring 1918. Included in this database are the following provinces: East Prussia, including Memel, West Prussia, Brandenburg, Posen, Pomerania, and Silesia.
Additional gazetteers and similar guides to German place-names are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:
GERMANY - GAZETTEERS
GERMANY, [STATE] - GAZETTEERS
Michael Rademacher's site is based primarily on gazetteers from the period 1880-1925, but also includes later information, especially regarding territory absorbed by the Nazis before the beginning of WW II. It is organized alphabetically and hierarchically. The structure of the http://www.verwaltungsgeschichte.de/kirchen.html#evangelischekirchen Evangelical-Lutheran] and Roman Catholic churches is also provided.
- gov.genealogy.net features tree diagrams showing the jurisdictional structure of a place as it changed over time.
territorial.de gives jurisdictional changes within Germany in minute detail for the period 1874-1945.
Latinized place names can be found in Orbis Latinus online at:
German-Polish locality name changes are listed at
German States and Provinces in Meyers Gazetteer and the FamilySearch Catalog
|Meyers Listing||Locality Section Listing for a Sample Town||English Spelling|
|Anh.||GERMANY, ANHALT, HOYM||Anhalt|
|Baden||GERMANY, BADEN, ADELSHEIM||Baden|
|Bay.||GERMANY, BAYERN, DAHN||Bavaria|
|Braunschw.||GERMANY, BRAUNSCHWEIG, UFINGEN||Brunswick|
|Bremen||GERMANY, BREMEN, BORGFELD||Bremen|
|Els.-Loth.||GERMANY, ELSAß-LOTHRINGEN, SURBURG||Alsace-Lorraine|
|Hamburg||GERMANY, HAMBURG, GRODEN||Hamburg|
|Hessen||GERMANY, HESSEN, DARMSTADT||Hesse-Darmstadt|
|Lippe||GERMANY, LIPPE, ELBRIN||Lippe|
|Lübeck||GERMANY, LÜBECK, NUSSE||Luebeck|
|Meckl.-Schw.||GERMANY, MECKLENBURG-SCHWERIN, FEDEROW||Mecklenburg-Schwerin|
|Meckl.-Str.||GERMANY, MECKLENBURG-STRELITZ, KUBLANK||Mecklenburg-Strelitz|
|Oldenb.||GERMANY, OLDENBURG, GIMBWEILER||Oldenburg|
|Prandbg.||GERMANY, PREUßEN, BRANDENBURG,LENTZKE||Brandenburg|
|Pr., Hann.||GERMANY, PREUßEN, HANNOVER, MOLZEN||Hanover|
|Pr., Hessen-N.||GERMANY, PREUßEN, HESSEN-NASSAU, NORDECK||Hessen|
|Pr., Hohenzollern||GERMANY, PREUßEN, HOHENZOLLERN, OSTRACH||Hohenzollern|
|Pr., Ostpr.||GERMANY, PREUßEN, OSTPREUßEN, PÜLZ||East Prussia|
|Pr., Pomm.||GERMANY, PREUßEN, POMMERN, RUMBSKE||Pomerania|
|Pr., Posen||GERMANY, PREUßEN, POSEN, SADKE||Posen|
|Pr., Rheinl.||GERMANY, PREUßEN, RHEINLAND, THÜR||Rhineland|
|Pr., Sa.||GERMANY, PREUßEN, SACHSEN, URBICH||Saxony (Province)|
|Pr., Schles.||GERMANY, PREUßEN, SCHLESIEN, VIEHAU||Silesia|
|Pr., Schlesw.-Holst.||GERMANY, PREUßEN, SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN, WELT||Schleswig-Holstein|
|Pr., Westf.||GERMANY, PREUßEN, WESTFALEN, ZÜSCHEN||Westphalia|
|Pr., Westpr.||GERMANY, PREUßEN, WESTPREUßEN, WROTZK||West Prussia|
|Reuß ä. L.||GERMANY, REUß ÄLTERE LINIE, GREIZ||Reuss elder line|
|Reuß j. L.||GERMANY, REUß JÜNGERE LINIE, OßLA||Reuss younger line|
|Sa.||GERMANY, SACHSEN, BORSDORF||Saxony (Kingdom)|
|Sa.-A.||GERMANY, SACHSEN-ALTENBURG, SULZA||Saxe-Altenburg|
|Sa.-C.-G.||GERMANY, SACHSEN-COBURG-GOTHA, COBURG||Saxe-Coburg-Gotha|
|Sa.-M.||GERMANY, SACHSEN-MEININGEN, RIETH||Saxe-Meiningen|
|Sa.-W.-E.||GERMANY, SACHSEN-WEIMAR-EISENACH, HERDA||Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach|
|Schaumb.-L.||GERMANY, SCHAUMBURG-LIPPE, LUHDEN||Schaumburg-Lippe|
|Schwarzb.-Rud.||GERMANY, SCHWARZBURG-RUDOLSTADT, LICHTE||Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt|
|Schwarzb.-Sond.||GERMANY, SCHWARZBURG-SONDERSHAUSEN, ÖLZE||Schwarzburg-Sondershausen|
|Waldeck||GERMANY, WALDECK, TWISTE||Waldeck|
This table shows the state or province abbreviations used in Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs, a sample entry from the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog, and the English spelling of the state or province.
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