Saturday, August 20, 2011

Feeling like Hermione Granger tonight

For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, or have kids who like the Harry Potter movies, do you remember that part in the Sorcerer's Stone when Hermione says she was doing "a bit of light reading" and whips up this enormous book? That's kindof how I felt today. I felt like I needed a bit of a distraction and wanted to take on a little project, separate from the other stuff I've been working on. It turned out to be more than just a little distraction though.

I thought revisiting the possible birthplace of John Kleinert would fit the bill for what I was looking for. I have a copy of his 1885 marriage record, a registry entry from Kankakee County, Illinois, which includes a question about place of birth. For John, the village of Tauenzinow, Germany is shown. So I fired up ole' faithful, , and got to the Meyers Orts Gazetteer here . Meyers Orts is pretty much the answer to decoding all those German place names that may or may not still exist. You find a record here in the US with the name of town as it was known in the 1860s but that doesn't mean you'll just be able to find it on a map. Because of all the boundary changes and partitions of the area now covering Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland and any number of other Eastern European countries, you're going to need help finding that 19th century place name. Meyers Orts is your first step.

Now don't go thinking it'll be quite that easy though. Oh no. Meyers Orts is written in Gothic script. And it's in German. And it's full of abbreviations. So go ahead and pull up the name of your town and see what happens. Think you can do it without help on the first try? If you can, you're way better at this than I am. Luckily, I found a great guide available through It gives general information about the gazetteer as well as an immensely helpful section on deciphering the Gothic alphabet which makes up the abbreviations, followed by a guide to exactly what all those letters mean. The guide and tips can be found here (you can just click on the guide and tips tabs as you go along to help find the info you need as you need it). There's also a pretty useful wiki here

Here's what the entry for Tauenzinow looks like:

I know what I got from it, namely that this place is no longer part of Germany, but Poland. Now what can you find out about your own pre-WWI German place names? If you're anything like me, you'll find that maybe those German ancestors of yours weren't quite as German as you thought.


  1. I think Hermoine would agree that Meyers Orts resembles a textbook in Mystical Potions-lots of cryptic symbols that you have to combine just right to get what you need. Thanks for the great post putting these helpful links together. Good luck with your project!

  2. Thanks for the great post. I didn't know Ancestry had Meyers Orts. I just found the entry for Oberhundem. I also have Germans who come from Schneidemuhle which is in Posen.

  3. Yeah, the Meyers Orts on ancestry is a bit hidden, you really have to search for it. I didn't see it when I tried to manually go in through the homepage. If it's not bookmarked, I usually have to find it by doing a Yahoo search with the terms Meyers Orts and ancestry or something like that.

    Glad you found an entry you were looking for!