Before 1871, Germany consisted of independent kingdoms, principalities, duchies and states. The borders of
all have changed considerably over time. In 1871, all of the German states were consolidated, with the exception of the Austrian Empire, into one. Because of these changes, you might not be able to locate your ancestral village with modern maps.
This Wikipedia page has detailed maps of historical German provinces as well as links to the indi
vidual provinces, duchies or kingdoms.
In European German speaking countries, most families remained within a ten mile radius (~16 kl) of their hometown. A detailed map of that area could be very useful in identifying the Kleinstadt (small towns) that make up a parish. Maps can supplement gazetteers and geographical dictionaries by showing the physical distance between known ancestral towns and newly discovered towns. They also show relationships between the larger towns often mentioned and used for civil registration and the smaller towns associated with your ancestor. For example, a person can be born in a smaller town, but the parents will register that record in the larger civil registration office. Both names of towns will be on the birth certificate, but your ancestor was born in the smaller town. Many times towns with common names, can be differentiated by referencing the larger registration offices.
Google maps and other online map collections can also be very helpful, but often fail to recognize the historical changes in place names.
Euratlas has maps of Europe beginning in 1 A.D. This can help you determine which country your research should begin, which can change over time.
Generalkarte von Mitteleuropa are very detailed maps and have maps from parts of Germany, Poland, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Italy, Yugoslavia Bulgaria, Albania, Greece and Turkey. To determine correct longitude from Greenwich, subtract 17º40' from the longitude coordinates shown on these maps.
Google Maps is a quick and easy way to see distance and location of a city.
Meyers Gazetteer has a large collections of maps associated with the website. Once you have found the place name, click on the map section to see if your Kleinstadt is close to the larger Stadt. (Insert Map)
Place Name Indexes When reading a historical German document, using a Reverse Alphabetical Index to locate the village might be necessary. Dr. Roger Minert has both forward and reverse indexes to help when only a partial name of the village is legible. It is also helpful for American German research when the priest or scribe has not actually been to Germany and is guessing at the spelling of your ancestors home town. These are available in Family History Centers or on Dr Minert's website.
The Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germanyby James M. Beidler is a collection of maps both historical and modern which includes roads, political boundaries, topography and demographics. This is only available in book form.
Ravenstein Atlas des Deutschen Reichsby Ludwig Ravenstein is a collection of maps of Germany in 1883 and includes German speaking areas in Western and Eastern Europe. An important part of this Atlas is that small towns and villages are included and can be located. It also has locations of churches and statistics on religious denominations.
SwissTopo.com gets it's data from the topographic map of Switzerland from 1856. It is a comprehensive collection of all first editions and revised versions of the official Dufour Map, the Siegfried Map and the series of national maps.
Mapire also has the Liechtenstein 1816-1821 Second Military Survey of the Hapsburg Empire map.
Created out of the old Hapsburg realms, between 1804-1867, Austria was known as the Austrian Empire and was the third most populous Empire in Europe. This website has a list of all the lands of the Austrian Empire After 1867, it was know as Austria-Hungary.
FamilySearch catalog has many Austrian maps from many different time periods. Many are in book or microfilm however and need to be viewed at a Family History Library.
Alabamamaps.ua.edu has a large collection of detailed Austrian Empire maps online from 1891-1905.
FEEFHS also has a great collection of Austria-Hungary Maps.
Easter European German Settlement Maps
Germans From Russia Settlement Locations: This website gives the modern day placement of German settlements in the Imperial Russian and Austria-Hungary empires that began in the 1700s and continued into the early 20th century just prior to WWII. Theses maps include present-day countries of Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. This should be considered a starting point, but due to name changes and border changes, you may need to consult a historical map of gazetteer for the historical place name. Link to Gazetteer page.
The University of Texas at Austin has a wonderful army map collection from WWII. This links to the Eastern European army maps from 1954. These maps are more recent than most you will need to find historical hometowns that have changed their names, but many times you will need to work backwards in time to find the historical name and this is a great place to start.
FEEFHS has a collection of Volga Germans from Russia settlements, as well as maps of the Russian Empire and the Russian Empire Asia. Many Germans that did not leave with the German army in WWII, were relocated to Siberia and later settled there. Due to closed immigration policies for ethnic Germans after the war, many did not leave until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many people with Germans from Russia heritage could still have relatives in modern day Siberia, Russia or Ukraine.
For more help with Russian research, go to the Script Tutorial Russia page.
Like Germany, Poland also has a long history of border change, including being partitioned out to surrounding countries between 1795-1918, only to receive their statehood again after WWI. Poland was Poland-Lithuania between 1648-1764.
Due to the Partitions of Poland between 1795-1918, depending on your area, you will need to search in maps of Russia, Prussia and Austria. Topographic Maps of Eastern Europe has great map collection from this time to help narrow down your ancestral area.
German migration into North America includes: Belize, Canada, Mexico, United States and Guatemala and Costa Rica in Central America. In South America, Argentina and Brazil had significant German populations, although German descendants can be found in almost every South American country.
German craftsmen began migrating to what is now the United States as early as the settlement of Jamestown in 1607. But the first significant family migration began with William Penn when he settled Pennsylvania in 1683. A group of Quakers and Mennonites from the Krefeld region in the Rhineland had followed Penn there after he went to the Rhineland to invite religious dissenters. By 1710 German immigration had increased, with most of the immigrants coming from the South-West Regions of modern day Germany.
German American (Map of German Americans)
Add table of numbers?
This website has a current list of German populations in the United States, which is a good indication of the patterns of German immigration.
If you suspect the hometown of your ancestor has disappeared or been incorporated into another town, the website GhostTown.com gives a thorough explanation of how to find lost towns as well as how to read a topographical map in the United States.
For a quick overview of German migrations to Canada, read this German Canadians on Wikipedia.
edmaps.com has historical maps of Canadian migrants beginning in the 16th Century.
South and Central America
German migration to South American countries began in 1529, with a German colony in Venezuela alongside the Spanish and Portuguese, although most were soldiers, priests or craftsman. Since then there has been a semi-regular migration from German speaking countries, with the largest migration beginning in the early to mid 19th Century. Volga Germans and Mennonite colonies from Russia began to migrate to South America in 1870 and consist of a large portion of modern day German immigrants to Brazil, later continuing on to Argentina or the United States or Canada. Germans spread throughout South America and today their descendants can be found in almost all South and Central America countries. Many of the Volga and Mennonite Russian migrants had close relatives that migrated to North America.
If you find you have German ancestors in Central or South America, start with the Spanish Script page for help with all Latin America research questions including geographical dictionaries and language.
Here is a couple of websites to help with Volga and Mennonite colony research.
The above listed countries have the most significant German migrations, but in the 19th Century for a multitude of reasons, including lack of inheritable land, Germany encouraged settler colonies all over the world, including Africa, Asia, Australia, and even Pacifica. Don't be surprised if you find your ancestors or German records in almost any country.
Here is a map of the many countries that Germans have colonized
German Diaspora Map: By Doneafterday - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=102851674