Now What: Shifting Borders and Genealogy Records

Now What: Shifting Borders and Genealogy Records

Shifting country borders can make tracking down your ancestors genealogy records extra tricky. David A. Fryxell discusses the once disputed area Schleswig-Holstein, and where to start your records search.

shifting borders records

Question: My Danish ancestors were from the Schleswig-Holstein area, which was at times Danish, other times German. Would this influence the location of records for those periods? Might some records be in Germany?

Answer: You’re correct about the shifting ownership of Schleswig-Holstein. The area’s geographic tensions date to at least the 8th century, when the Danes ruled north of the Eider River and the Franks, to the south. In modern times, the Treaty of Prague in 1866 ceded Schleswig-Holstein to Prussia. Four counties (kreis) in northern Schleswig were returned to Denmark in 1920: Apenrade, Sonderburg, Hadersleben and Tondern. These were then known again by their Danish names, respectively Aabenraa, Sønderborg, Haderslev and Tønder. They were combined into South Jutland County in 1970 and into the Region of Southern Denmark in 2007.

You can search for places once in Germany and now in Denmark, under their German names, using the digital Meyers Gazetteer. This will give you the German county a town belonged to and the names of churches therein.

If you can’t find your Schleswig-Holstein ancestors in Denmark’s excellent church and emigration records, try German sources. For example, local emigrants might not have departed through Copenhagen, and so won’t be in police records of Danish emigration. They may have instead left through Hamburg, Germany.

Resources for Schleswig-Holstein kin in Germany include civil registration indexes and images (1874-1983) at FamilySearch, local chronicles from the holdings of the Schleswig-Holstein State Library (in German) and the website.


Those with Deutsch heritage know their “German” ancestors often didn’t actually live within the borders of modern-day Germany. Whether they hailed from territory lost in World Wars, historically disputed regions in Austria or Switzerland, or were peppered throughout Eastern Europe, you’ll learn how to track down these German-speaking expatriates. Download your copy of Boundaries and Border Changes: Follow Your German Ancestors Through Europe today!

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