Q. My husband’s ancestors are from “old Prussia.” With all the wars and resulting changes in place names, how can I find a map that shows the locations of their towns?
A. Before German unification in 1871, the Kingdom of Prussia was the most powerful of the many independent German states. Old Prussia refers to former Prussian provinces that are now mostly in non-German countries.
First, find out whether the towns you seek are still in Germany — you’ll need to use a German road map or atlas for that. The most detailed one, according to Larry O. Jensen of the Family History Library (FHL) is Der Grosse ADAC Jubilaeums-Atlas Deutscbland. A less-detailed map book found in many libraries is Auto Atlas 1995/96 Bundesrepublik Deutscbland. Families often change the spelling of ancestral places with succeeding generations, so try variations of the town names.
Finding places no longer in Germany takes a few extra steps. Since most of the once-German villages are now in Poland, first “translate” the old German place name into the modern Polish name, then pinpoint it on a modern-day map.
Check the 1912 Meyers Orts-und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs (also called Meyers Gazetteer) to confirm the old name. It’s available at many large genealogical libraries, on microfilm at the FHL and from Genealogical Publishing Co.
Determining the Polish name depends on when Germany lost the village. For towns that became Polish after World War I, consult Deutsch-Fremdsprachiges Ortsnamenverzeichnis. For territories ceded after World War II, use Amtliches Gemeindeund Ortsnamenverzeichnis der Deutschen Ostgebiete unter Fremder Verwaltung. Both of these resources are available as books and microfilm from the FHL.
The best modern Polish maps are in the 1997 edition of Polska Atlas Drogowy. It’s available at the FHL and in some academic libraries.
A version of this article appeared in the June 2004 issue of Family Tree Magazine.