German family history research hints

Family tree magazine’s enewsletter recently offered some helpful tips when searching for German ancestors.

Changing Names. Your ancestor may have changed his surname after immigration. Also watch for regional customs, for example, patronymic surnames were common northern Germany around Ostfriesland.

Westphalians may have based surnames on farm ownership. If a man’s surname changed at marriage, that’s an indication his wife was heir to a farm.

Changing Places. European places of origin can be hard to identify and pinpoint geographically. Look for mention of the place in marriage and death records, obituaries, family Bibles and other papers, and family histories.

Research friends and neighbors in America who may have come from the same place as your ancestor. Note that European birthplaces given in US censuses are usually countries or regions, not towns.

Changing Dates. Dates in German records can be confusing: The abbreviations 7ber, 8ber, 9ber, and 10ber refer to September, October, November and December, a carryover from the Old-Style calendar, which started the year on March 25. Roman numerals also may be used: Xber and Xbr refer to December. But if the Roman numerals aren’t followed by -ber, -br, or -bris, they conform to the new calendar style, with X for October and XII for December.