German American Newspapers for Genealogy at GenealogyBank

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary provides search tips to help you find family history information in GenealogyBank’s online collection of German American newspapers.

America has long been a prized destination for immigrants. In the case of our German American ancestors (known as Deutschamerikaner), many arrived during the early years of the British colonies—with evidence dating to the 17th Century.

This long history of German Americans in America can be researched in the many German American newspapers, or “Deutsch-Amerikanische Zeitungen,“ found in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Early German American immigrants were especially drawn to New York and Pennsylvania, with families typically settling among those of their same origins. Later there were westward migrations, most notably in Midwestern areas such as Cincinnati, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee and northern Kentucky. In many of these areas, you can still find strong German influences on the culture, customs and food. In Cincinnati for example, where I attended elementary school, I remember that the cafeteria often served sausage and sauerkraut—a dish we no longer encountered when our family moved south.

Immigrant community names are often reminiscent of their homelands, as demonstrated in this 1732 estate notice from the American Weekly Mercury:

“To be Sold by Richard Martin Executor of William Harmon of Upper-Dublin, in the County of Philadelphia, deceas’d…a considerable Quantity of clear’d Land and good Meadowing in Dublin-Township; and One Hundred and Ten Acres of Land near Germantown…”

estate sale ad for William Harmon, American Weekly Mercury newspaper advertisement 30 March-6 April 1732

American Weekly Mercury (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 30 March-6 April 1732, page 4

This estate notice was published in the same year that Founding Father Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) published the first German-language newspaper in America, the Philadelphische Zeitung.

Although Franklin’s newspaper didn’t last even a year, publishers recognized the need to communicate with the German-speaking population. So it is common to see bilingual papers with the placement of foreign language articles and advertisements side-by-side with those printed in English.

collage of various ads, Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper advertisements 3 March 1742

Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 3 March 1742, page 4

In the above example from the Pennsylvania Gazette we see a German-language notice regarding an Evangelical Conference; followed by an English-language estate notice for Joseph Woollen, late of Germantown Township; and an English-language ad for the The Pocket Almanack. Note the reference in the last ad to Poor Richard’s Almanack, another of Benjamin Franklin’s publications, which appeared from 1732-1758.

There was such a desire to publish newspapers in German that in 1775, one of the Committees of Correspondence resolved that their notice should “be published both in the English and German news-papers,” as reported at the end of the following article.

notice about a meeting of the Committee of Correspondence, Pennsylvania Evening Post newspaper article 10 June 1775

Pennsylvania Evening Post (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 10 June 1775, page 242

Their concern was that the British Ministry was “fully determined and bent upon the total extinction and utter destruction of American liberty.” These Committees, as noted in a Wikipedia article, were an integral part of the colonists’ resistance to British rule, providing coordinated efforts to distribute information for their safety.

Clearly, there is a lot of good family history information in German American newspapers—so how does one begin one’s search for German ancestors in historical newspapers?

How to Search & Read German-Language American Newspapers

It helps if you are fluent in German, but if not, don’t despair—try the following strategies.

Familiarize yourself with common Germanic words found in ancestral birth, marriage and death notices. Numerous lists can be found on the Web, but here are some commonly-used terms:

  • Familial relationships: wife (frau, gattin), mother (mutter), father (vater, väter), son (sohn), daughter (tochter)
  • Genealogical events: birth (geburt), born (geboren), married (verheiratet), death (tod, todesfall), died (starb, gestorben), buried (begraben, bestatten)
  • Days of the week (in order): Montag, Dienstag, Mittwoch, Donnerstag, Freitag, Samstag, Sonntag
  • Months (in order): Januar, Februar, März, April, Mai, Juni, Juli, August, September, Oktober, November, Dezember

Use a language translator, such as Google Translate (at translate.google.com) to translate German to English. If a word or phrase doesn’t translate exactly, try breaking it into parts. For instance, the newspaper Volksfreund doesn’t translate, but if you separate the two parts into “Volks” and “freund” the translator will respond with “people friendly,” indicating that the translation of the newspaper’s name is something like People’s Friend.

Try alternate spelling variations (don’t expect standardization). If the translator fails, experiment with changing a few letters. Local dialects affect spellings, and over time the accepted way to spell words has changed. FamilySearch’s German Word List, located at https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/German_Word_List, will give you a head start. Some of its suggestions are to interchange: p for b; a for e; and t for d or dt.

“Americanize” spellings. Although German words typically have umlauts applied to letters, such as ä or ü, GenealogyBank’s search engine may perform better if you ignore them.

Let GenealogyBank’s search engine identify what type of article is on a newspaper page.  If you are struggling with the description presented, expand the page information on the left-hand side of the screen, where GenealogyBank’s search engine notes the types of articles found on the newspaper page. In this example, the content of this newspaper’s page two is listed with many German descriptions—but the search engine also explains, in English, that there are advertisements, mortuary notices, and matrimony notices on this page—helping you to better understand the content you are looking at on page two.

screenshot of GenealogyBank showing an article from a German American newspaper

Finally, it’s useful to learn as much as you can about a particular German American newspaper publication. Where was it published? Who was the editor? When did it initiate and cease publication? Were there gaps in coverage, and was it ever published under an alternate name?

In this example, I expanded an article to view the nameplate of the 16 March 1801 (16ten Merz) edition of Die Harrisburger Morgenrothe. With this expanded view, we can read that this newspaper (diese zeitung) was published every Monday morning (Montag morgen) in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

masthead for the German American newspaper Die Harrisburger Morgenrothe 16 March 1801

Die Harrisburger Morgenrothe (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 16 March 1801, page 1

Some of this information can be confirmed at the Library of Congress’s website U.S Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present, located at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/search/titles/. Not only is it a comprehensive list of every known newspaper, but it also serves as a target list for potential research.

screenshot of the Library of Congress website, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

Credit: Library of Congress, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

For example, this is the information I found about the German American newspaper Die Harrisburger Morgenrothe using the Library of Congress Newspaper Directory site:

  • Title: Die Harrisburger Morgenrothe und Dauphin und Cumberland Caunties Anzeiger: (Harrisburg [Pa.]) 1827-1839
  • Alternative Titles: Harrisburger Morgenrothe, Morgenrothe
  • Place of publication: Harrisburg [Pa.]
  • Publisher: Wm. Boyer und J. Baab
  • Dates of publication: 1827-1839; Nr. 1476 (11 Aug. 1827)-Nr. 2142 (9 Mai 1839)
  • Frequency: Weekly
  • Language: German

Examples of German American Newspaper Mastheads

masthead for the German American newspaper Erie Tageblatt 8 January 1910

Erie Tageblatt (Erie, Pennsylvania), 8 January 1910, page 1

masthead for the German American newspaper New Yorker Volkszeitung 17 August 1804

New Yorker Volkszeitung (New York, New York), 17 August 1804, page 1

masthead for the German American newspaper Readinger Adler 8 July 1800

Readinger Adler (Reading, Pennsylvania), 8 July 1800, page 1

Example of a German American Newspaper Obituary (Gov. Frank Higgins)

obituary for Frank Higgins, Erie Tageblatt newspaper article 13 February 1907

Erie Tageblatt (Erie, Pennsylvania), 13 February 1907, page 1

For more information, read Mary’s earlier Blog article:

How to Do Genealogy Research with German-Language Newspapers

German American Newspapers at GenealogyBank

Discover a variety of genealogy records and news stories in these 33 German American newspapers:

Click on the image below to download a printable list of the German American newspapers in GenealogyBank for your future reference. You can save the list to your desktop and click the titles to go directly to your newspaper of interest.

German American Newspapers

Embed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):

How to Do Genealogy Research with German-Language Newspapers

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about resources and techniques to help you find family history information in foreign-language newspapers, even if you’re not familiar with that language.

GenealogyBank’s recent announcement that it is adding Italian American newspapers in 2013 is a welcome addition—but it may also concern family history researchers who are nervous about navigating foreign languages.

However, there are certain resources and techniques you can use to find valuable genealogical information in foreign-language newspapers, even if you have limited—or no—familiarity with the language, as this article explains.

My roots include a number of German immigrants who settled in various parts of Pennsylvania. By using specific techniques, I have been able to locate information about these ancestors from the German American newspapers in GenealogyBank’s online historical newspaper archives.

Some of these German-language newspapers include:

  • Cincinnati Volksfreund (Cincinnati, Ohio)
  • Der Wahre Amerikaner (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
  • Der Zeitgeist (Egg Harbor City, New Jersey)
  • Deutsche Porcupein (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
  • Egg Harbor Pilot (Egg Harbor City, New Jersey)
  • Highland Union (Highland, Illinois)
  • New Jersey Deutsche Zeitung (Newark, New Jersey)
  • Nordwestliche Post (Sunbury, Pennsylvania)
  • Reading Adler (Reading, Pennsylvania)
  • New Yorker Volkszeitung (New York, New York)
  • Northumberland Republicaner (Sunbury, Pennsylvania)
  • Unparteyische Harrisburg Morgenroethe Zeitung (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania)

When presented with a language hurdle in your genealogy research, try not to be intimidated.

By employing a free language translator such as Google Translate and consulting foreign genealogical word lists, you may be able to determine the gist of a notice, such as the two death notices shown in the following illustration. They report that the decedents died (“starb”) on last Sunday night (“Sontag Nacht”), and on last Monday morning (“Montag Morgen”), respectively.

death notices from German-language newspapers

Death notices from German-language newspapers

Some of my family’s notices were published in the Reading Adler (Reading, Pennsylvania), which published alternately in both English and German.

Daniel Miesse obituary, Reading Adler newspaper article 14 April 1818

Reading Adler (Reading, Pennsylvania), 14 April 1818, page 2

This particular German-language obituary relates to my ancestor Daniel Miesse (28 January 1743, Elsoff, Germany to 1 April 1818, Berks County, Pennsylvania), who died in Bern Township in the 76th year of his age. This death notice was a bit more challenging to understand, since several German terms did not translate directly. For example, the first word (“Berstarb”) stumped me, but I was able to figure out that it corresponded to the term “verstarb” (died).

An interesting explanation of the interchangeability of Germanic letters can be found in Family Search’s German Word List.

Its explanation notes that “spelling rules were not standardized in earlier centuries,” so variations are common. It is best to substitute letters, if you cannot make a definitive translation, or to do a reverse look-up by querying obvious terms. For example, choose a word in English that you might assume to be in a foreign notice. Then, translate it into your target language (e.g., German).

This blog article would not be complete without noting that search engines are often type-face-challenged; being persistent and varying your queries is central to finding ancestral notices in foreign-language newspapers.

While researching my genealogy, I sometimes query with German terms whose meanings I have learned over the years: “taufe” or “taufen” helps locate christenings; “heiraten” finds marriages; and husband or wife can be found by searching on the terms “mann,” “ehermann” and “gatte,” or “ehegattin,” “frau” and “gattin.”

Generally, search software does a fine job in responding to queries, by employing sophisticated “optical character recognition” (OCR) techniques—which is the process by which the computer makes an electronic conversion of scanned images.

However, it sometimes does not produce the desired results. Reasons vary, but foreign publications often used different type styles, such as German Fraktur, Blackletter and Gothic type, and foreign languages may include letters of the alphabet which do not exist in English.

And even old English presents a unique situation—since archaic spellings changed over time. The classic example is the interchangeable use of ff and ss, as seen in this 18th century spelling of possessed.

the word "possessed" as spelled in an 18th century newspaper

The word “possessed” as spelled in an 18th century newspaper

Hopefully, by employing these techniques, you will be able to successfully navigate a variety of foreign-language newspapers. Don’t be intimidated! Plunge right in—you may be agreeably surprised by what you find out about your family history.