It is necessary to find out exactly from where ones ancestors originate in order to do research in the correct church books, books of courts or administrations etc. Quite often, it is difficult to locate a place on a modern German map. Not always were all residences in one village, now and then an ancestor could have lived outside the village boundaries. Some of these little settlements do no longer exist, were reduced to street names, or absorbed into another community. Other reasons could be a name change, the spelling of a place name has changed, the village was destroyed or deserted, the village does no longer belong to Germany.
There are numerous gazetteers online, German and American, which could render help. The website fuzzy gazetteer allows you to search for 7 million place names worldwide. Another one is GEOnet Names Server (Click on GNS Search –Text). Again, enter your place name and choose the search options. This website will provide even topographical features and render coordinates. For instance, if the word “Bungsberg” is entered in the name field, the search results are two. One of them designates a mountain in Schleswig-Holstein at 54 12 00N and 010 44 00E which is the feature searched for. At the same time one can click on Google Map about its exact location. This website also gives the names of places formerly German, but no longer belonging to Germany.
If an ancestor originates from formerly Eastern German territories, now in Poland, Kartenmeister can prove very helpful and will provide names in German and Polish with jurisdictions, maps, and parish references.
A good online German gazetteer is GOV. Various websites featuring regional and local gazetteers can be found via Google by entering “Regionales Ortsverzeichnis” and then enter the German state. Also, you can enter “Historisches Ortsverzeichnis von” and then enter the German state. For example, the search “Historisches Ortsverzeichnis von Sachsen” will lead you to Das Historische Ortsverzeichnis von Sachsen. Click on “Orte” and a whole lot of information will become available, including how a place was spelled in previous centuries, where the people went to church and who the secular administrator for this particular village was.