Germany - Genealogy Research

The Anatomy of the German Empire 1648-1918

by Friedrich R. Wollmershäuser, 2000

The Holy Roman Empire: "Neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire" (Voltaire).

From the middle ages onwards, the Holy Roman Empire (HRE) was divided into about 300 entities each with practically sovereign rights, which were represented in the imperial parliament (Reichstag), and some 1500 minor lordships that had no other sovereign than the emperor.

There was a general trend to the enlargement of the major territories by taking over smaller ones. This is especially true for Hohenzollern, they took over Cleve, Mark and Ravensberg in 1614, the Duchy of Prussia in 1618, Lingen and Moers in 1702, the principality of Neuchatel and the county of Valengin in 1707, the county of Tecklenburg 1707/29, part of Pomerania in 1720, East Friesland in 1744, Silesia in 1763, large parts of Poland in 1772, the two margraviates of Ansbach and Bayreuth in 1795.

Sovereign territories 1648-1792/1803/1806

Secular states:

  1. Kingdom: Bohemia.
    Elevated to a kingdom: Prussia (1701).
  2. Duchies: Arenberg, Bavaria, Berg, Braunschweig-Calenberg, B.-Grubenhagen, B.-Lüneburg (since 1692 part of Hanover), B.-Wolfenbüttel, Bremen (1648 ceased to Sweden, 1715 to Hannover), Cleve, Farther Pomerania, Holstein, Jülich, Carinthia, Carniola, Lorraine (partially French), Magdeburg (1648/80 to Brandenburg), Mecklenburg-Güstrow, M.-Schwerin, Austria, Saxony, S.-Altenburg, S.-Coburg-Gotha, S.-Weimar-Eisenach, S.-Lauenburg (1702 to Hannover), Savoy, Silesia (1675 Austrian, 1763 Prussian), Styria, Verden (1648 to Sweden), Hither Pomerania (1648 to Sweden, 1720 largely to Brandenburg), Württemberg.
  3. Palsgraviate: The Palatinate.
  4. Principalities: Anhalt, Brandenburg-Ansbach, Dietrichstein, Halberstadt, Henneberg, Hersfeld (in Hesse-Kassel), Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, H.-Hechingen, Lobkowitz, Minden (1648 to Brandenburg), Nassau (united in 1743), Neuburg (divided in 1614, the three lines eventually took over the Palatinate, Jülich-Berg and Bavaria), Ratzeburg (1653 to Mecklenburg-Schwerin, 1701 to M.-Strelitz), Simmern (1685 to Neuburg), Sternstein, Sulzbach (Neuburg-S., 1742 to Bavaria), Tyrolia, Veldenz (1694 to the Palatinate, 1715 to Hanover).
    Elevated to principalities: Blankenburg (1707), Friedberg-Scheer (1787), Fürstenberg (1664), Isenburg-Bürstein (1744), Lamberg (1707), Löwenstein (1711), Mörs (1707), East Friesland (1654), Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt (1710), S.-Sondershausen (1697), Schwarzenberg (1670), Stolberg-Geldern (1742), Tengen (1664), Waldeck (1682), Wertheim (1711).
  5. Margraviates: Baden-Baden, B.-Durlach (these two reunited in 1771), B.-Hochberg (1535 to B.-Durlach), Brandenburg (including the Duchy of Prussia outside of the HRE), Br.-Kulmbach, Moravia.
  6. Landgraviates: Baar (in Fürstenberg), Hesse-Darmstadt, Hesse-Kassel, Klettgau (1687 to Schwarzenberg), Leuchtenberg (1712/14 to Bavaria), Stühlingen (1637/39 to Fürstenberg).
  7. Realms of counts: 71 of them, including Erbach, Hanau-Lichtenberg (partially 1697 to France, the rest 1736 to Hesse-Darmstadt), H.-Münzenberg (1642 to H.-Lichtenberg, 1736 to Hesse-Kassel), Hohenlohe, Leiningen, Mark, Montbeliard (part of Württemberg), Oldenburg, \ttingen, Ravensberg, Sponheim, Stolberg, Wied, Wittgenstein.
  8. Dominions: 76 of them, mostly parts of other territories.
  9. Imperial Cities: 54 of them, ranging from the size of villages (Zell, Buchhorn) to large cities with the sovereignty over extended territories (Ulm, Augsburg, Hall, Rothenburg, Nuremberg).

Ecclesiastical territories (with the sovereignty over their lands):

  1. Archibishoprics: Cologne, Mainz, Trier, Salzburg.
  2. Bishoprics: Augsburg, Bamberg, Basel, Brixen (Bressanone), Eichstätt, Freising, Hildesheim, Konstanz, Lübeck, Lüttich, Münster, Osnabrück, Paderborn, Passau, Regensburg, Schwerin, Speyer, Straßburg, Trient (Trento), Worms, Würzburg.
    Elevated to a bishopric: Fulda (1752).
  3. Abbeys/monasteries: Baindt, Berchtesgaden, Buchau, Cornelimünster, Corvey, Elchingen, Essen, Gengenbach, Gernrode, Gutenzell, Heggbach, Herford, Irsee, Kaisheim, Kempten, Lindau, Malmedy, Marchtal, Neresheim, Ochsenhausen, Ottobeuren, Petershausen, Prüm, Quedlinburg, Roggenburg, Roth, Rottenmünster, Salmannsweiler (Salem), Schussenried, Stablon, Thorn (Torun), Ursperg, Weingarten, Weingarten, Weißenau, Werden.
  4. Provostships (Probsteien): Ellwangen, Odenheim, Weißenburg.

Non-sovereign territories 1648-1792/1803/1806

The territories of the Imperial Knights (Reichsritterschaft) were immediately depending from the emperor (as kind of a protector). The Imperial Knights were divided into several chapters (Kreise): Swabia, Franconia, Rhenish, Alsatian chapter, the chapters were divided into cantons (Kantone).

In addition, there were many ecclesiastical institutions with limited sovereignty within the secular territories; they practised jurisdiction and collected taxes in their small territories.

The changes in the Napoleonic age


1789 Outbreak of the French revolution.
1792 France occupies Germany west of the Rhine and incorporates it into the French Empire (acknowledged by the German princes in 1797 and 1801).
1803 Final Recess (Reichsdeputationshauptschluß): all ecclesiastical territories are waived and incorporated to secular territories as a refund of the losses west of the Rhine, the same is done with numerous small territories and most Imperial Cities.

Prussia (for example) acquires the bishoprics of Münster, Hildesheim and Paderborn, Erfurt and the Eichsfeld area of Mainz. Hesse-Kassel, Baden, Württemberg and Salzburg are elevated to Electorates.

1805 Treaty of Schönbrunn: Prussia cedes Wesel, Neuchatel, Ansbach and Bayreuth and obtains Hanover as a refund.
1805 Treaty of Pressburg: Austria cedes Venetia to Italy, cedes Tyrolia, Vorarlberg, Eichstätt, Passau, Burgau, Brixen, Trient and the Imperial City of Augsburg to Bavaria, obtains Salzburg in reverse. Bavaria and Württemberg become kingdoms, Baden and Hesse-Darmstadt become grandduchies.
1806 Confederation of the Rhine (with 39 member states by 1808). Emperor Franz II lays down the imperial crown - end of the HRE.
1807 Peace of Tilsit: Prussia looses almost half of its territory, including most of the Polish possessions and all lands east of the Elbe river to the newly-formed Duchy of Warsaw. Formation of the Kingdom of Westfalia under French sovereignty, covering extended lands in northern Germany.
1809 Peace of Vienna: Austria cedes Salzburg to Bavaria, western Galicia to the Grandduchy of Warsaw, the Adriatic Coast to France.
1810 Holland, Oldenburg, East Friesland and the cities of Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck are incorporated into the French empire.
1813 Dissolution of the Confederation of the Rhine.
1814 Reconquest of Germany west of the Rhine.
1815 The Congress of Vienna creates a new political order in Central Europe which endured half a century and longer: Austria cedes Belgium to the Netherlands and the Breisgau to Baden, and Austria is given back Tyrolia, Vorarlberg, Carinthia, Carniola, Trieste, Galicia, Milan, Venetia, Salzburg and the Inn quarter.

Prussia cedes Ansbach and Bayreuth to Bavaria, East Frisia, Hildesheim, Goslar and Lingen to Hanover, the territories of the Third Polish Division to Russia; instead, Prussia obtains parts of Hither Pomerania from Denmark, the Rhine Province (formerly French), parts of Westfalia, almost half of Saxony (to form the Prussian province of Sachsen).

Bavaria obtains Ansbach, Bayreuth and the cities of Augsburg and Nuremberg. Bavaria, Saxony and Württemberg remain kingdoms, Hanover is elevated to become a kingdom. The rank of an emperor is not restored.

The German Confederation consists of 35 soverein territories and 4 free cities.


The German Confederation

At its dissolution in 1866, the German Confederation consisted of the following states:

  • Empire of Austria.
  • Kingdoms of Prussia, Bavaria, Württemberg, Hanover, Württemberg, Saxony.
  • Grandduchies of Baden, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Hesse, Oldenburg, Luxemburg with
  • Duchy of Limburg, Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach, Mecklenburg-Strelitz.
  • Electorate of Hesse.
  • Duchies of Nassau, Braunschweig, Sachsen-Meiningen-Hildburghausen, Anhalt,
  • Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha, Sachsen-Altenburg.
  • Principalities of Lippe-Detmold, Waldeck, Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, S.-Sondershausen, Reuß j. L., Schaumburg-Lippe, Reuß ä. L., Liechtenstein.
  • Free Cities of Hamburg, Lübeck, Bremen and Frankfurt.

Territorial changes 1815-1866:

  • The Duchy of Limburg joins Belgium in 1839.
  • Schleswig is acquired from Denmark in 1864.
  • Prussia takes over the principalities of Sigmaringen and Hechingen in 1849.
  • Coburg cedes the principality of Lichtenberg to Prussia in 1834.
  • Several changes within Germany by the extinction of princely houses.

Territorial changes 1866-1871:

  • Prussia annects Hanover, the Electorate of Hesse, Nassau and Frankfurt, obtains a small part of Hesse-Darmstadt in 1866.
  • France cedes Alsace and Lorraine to the newly-founded German Empire in 1871.
  • Liechtenstein and Luxemburg left the German confederation in 1867.

1871: Declaration of the German Empire with no territorial changes until 1918.

1914-1918 First world war.

1919 The northern part of Schleswig-Holstein is ceded to Denmark, Alsace-Lorraine is ceded to France, several eastern lands of Prussia become parts of the newly-founded Polish state.


Several books and maps show to which territory a given places belonged at a given time:


Encyclopedia Britannica 15th ed. vol. 8 pp. 92-115 (with maps).

Gerhard Köbler. Historisches Lexikon der deutschen Länder. (München: C.H.Beck 1988)(short and longer articles about the German territories, even the tiny ones).

Larry O. Jensen. A Genealogical Handbook of German Research. (Pleasant Grove, UT: Privately published by the author, 1978)(with a chapter on 19th-century gazetteers).


Erwin Hölzle. Der deutsche Südwesten am Ende des alten Reiches. (Stuttgart: Württ. Statistisches Landesamt 1938)(a list of the dominions in 1789 and what happened to them, with a detailed map).

Albert Krieger. Topographisches Wörterbuch des Großherzogtums Baden. 2 vols. (Heidelberg: Winter 1904, reprint Walluf: Sändig 1972) (very detailed information about all places in Baden).

Landesarchivdirektion Baden-Württemberg (ed.). Das Land Baden-Württemberg.Amtliche Beschreibung nach Gemeinden und Kreisen. 8 vols. (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer 1977-1984) (general description of the state, statistical notes, detailed local history information).

Historischer Atlas von Baden-Württemberg. (Stuttgart: Landesvermessungsamt) (includes 120 maps, several of them how the historical territories).


Gertrud Diepolder (comp.), Max Spindler (ed.). Bayerischer Geschichtsatlas.(München: Bayerischer Schulbuchverlag 1969) (numerous maps, including one about the southern German territories in 1789, pp. 31-32).

Willi Alter (ed.). Pfalzatlas. (Speyer: Pfälzische Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften 1974)(maps 58, 59: the territories in 1750, 1789).

Prussia (only a few provinces are discussed here):


Wilhelm Fabricius. Erläuterungen zum geschichtlichen Atlas der Rheinprovinz.Band 2: Die Karte von 1789. Einteilung und Entwicklung der Territorien von 1600 bis 1794. (Bonn: Hermann Berendt 1898, reprint Bonn: Hanstein 1965) (very detailed!).

Franz Irsigler (ed.). Geschichtlicher Atlas der Rheinlande. Map V.1: Herrschaftsgebiete im Jahre 1789. (Brauweiler: Rheinland-Verlag). Westfalia:

Stephanie Reekers. Die Gebietsentwicklung der Kreise und Gemeinden Westfalens 1817-1967. Veröffentlichungen des Provinzialinstituts für westfälische Landes- und Volksforschung, Heft 18. (Münster: Aschendorff 1977).

Geographisch-landeskundlicher Atlas von Westfalen. (Münster: Aschendorff 1985 and continued) (the first delivery contains maps about the territories in 1590, 1804, 1809, 1811, 1818 and administration borders until 1967).


See Baden for the book by Hölzle, the Landesbeschreibung and the Historischer Atlas.

K. Statistisches Landesamt (ed.). Beschreibung des Oberamts ... (Aalen-Welzheim). (Stuttgart: first series 1824-1856, second series -1930) (descriptions of the general and local conditions in all former counties of Württemberg, with local history chapters).

Das Land Baden-Württemberg. Amtliche Beschreibung nach Kreisen und Gemeinden. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 8 vols. 1977-1984. (For every town, the former dominion and district are indicated).


(800) 596-3230