Use these two simple tricks to help connect with your DNA relatives back in the “homeland”.
I’m sorry, I just got carried away with writing click-bait titles. I have just got my wife’s DNA test results back from Ancestry. Her ancestors come from “Germanic Europe” so provides a good preview of what to expect from connecting with “German” relatives. Based on this experience and my understanding of her family tree I hope that this post will help you can get “better” matches with family back in Germany. The truth is these suggestions apply to helping reconnect with relatives from anywhere, but are particularly important in the context of matching the relatively small number of Germans in the Ancestry database. So, without further ado, here are my suggestions.
Learn to love the Umlaut.
The German language has three additional letters (ä,ö, and ü) with Umlauts (the two dots above a letter). These letters have a different sound from their un-umlauted equivalents and are used in people’s names just as everywhere else in the German language. The correct way to translate them into languages without umlauts is to add an e after the letter. So, for example, Böll, would be written as Boell. If you have German relatives they will have used umlauts in their family trees. If you want to help the Ancestry “Common Ancestors” feature you should also use Umlauts. On top of this there is the Eszett (ß). This in not a capital B. In my own experience this is something you will encounter in a a lot of German records.
Know your German Geography
Ancestry has a specific format for place names. It is important to use this format to help correctly place your ancestors’ birth locations on the map that the ancestry website users. The Ancestry format is either Town, State/County, Country (Stadt, Bundesland, Land in German) or, for smaller places, Village, Municipality, State/County, Country (Stadt, Kreis, Bundesland, Land). This means the Ancestry website will understand “Bielefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany” and “Kelsterbach, Groß-Gerau, Hesse, Germany”.
In addition, if you have German ancestors, they would probably have used the German name for a place. For example the historic city of Breslau (in German) is Wrocław in Polish. You need to also be aware that some places ended up being renamed with the ebb-and-flow of history. Zabrze in modern-day Poland was Hindenburg Oberschlesien in German (after it was renamed from the Polish Zabrze in 1915). In the Silesian language it’s Zŏbrze.
These correctly-formatted place-names are important for two reasons. Firstly, the map that shows your ancestors birth locations to a DNA match needs this information. As an example, below, is a plot of my wife’s ancestors.
Secondly, you can search by the location of a DNA match’s ancestors. In both cases the better the information you provide, the more helpful it will be for other researchers looking at your family tree.
Finally, if you want to help other people with their research then try and give the best location information you know for your ancestor. If you believe that someone came from Bavaria in Germany then a location pin with the Bundesland Bavaria is way more informativethan the more-general “Germany”.
My personal preference is to put both the (German-language) name your ancestors would use and the correct, current name of their birth place. You can enter these with the non-standard name first, followed by a comma and then the current “correct” name format.
Whilst you are here
One other tip. This will not help you in connecting with your German relatives but is important for any research you do. It is helpful to know the confession of your ancestors. The Christian faith in Germany is divided into two confessions, Roman Catholic (Katholisch) and Protestant (Evangelisch). Church records (Kirchenbücher) are similarly divided. The best source for Roman catholic records is Matricula, whilst Protestant church books are available at Archion.