How can I locate the birth parents and birthplace in Germany of Charles A Schuman (my paternal gr grandfather)?

Arrived in US 1868, age 18, recorded on 1900 census.

2 May 1875 Charles, age 25 married Caroline "Carrie" Wetzel, also known as Catherine Wetzel age 20 in Macon County, IL Carrie parents were also from Germany, found their passenger list in New York. Ludwig Wetzel and Miss Mary Hornstein married in Ellmira, New York, at Trinity Church rectory by Rev Mr. Hull on 02 Apr 1854 from item in the Elmira Republican newspaper dated 06 Apr 1854, Carrie was born in Elmira, New York on 4 Dec 1854.

16 Jun 1880 census - Harristown township, Macon, IL. Charles age 30, birth date abt 1850, birthplace Wettenberg. Listed as head of house with wife Caroline age 23 with 3 children, Mary age 4, Luy (Lewis) age 2 and Charles age 7 months. Occupation was farmer.

16 Jul 1884 daughter Anna born, she died 1 May 1900 thus she wasn't on any census.

28 Aug 1886 naturalized at Decatur, Macon County, IL., attested by Jacob Schneider and John H Travis. I have copy and it is one page only. Wilhelem 1st, Emperor of Germany stated on record.

1-2 Jun 1900 census - Long Creek Township, Macon, IL. Charles age 50, birth date Jan 1850, birth place Germany, listed as head of house with wife Carrie age 45, Louis age 22, William age 17, Edward age 13, Henry age 10, John age 8 and Louise age 4. Occupation was farmer. Between 1880 and 1900 he moved from Harristown township to Long Creek township but still in Macon County, IL. Harristown was on the west side of Decatur and Long Creek was on the east side of Decatur.

7 Dec 1908 Charles died and is buried in North Fork Cemetery, Long Creek township, Macon County, IL. Have not found a death certificate yet. Only an obituary...Charles was 58 yrs., 11 months and 6 days old. Cause of death was TB. He left wife and 7 children and 1 preceded him in death. I have checked with Macon County death records and they couldn't find any record.

Also, grandson Albert Sheets was born 25 Dec 1908. Albert's original birth certificate listed birth as 25 Dec 1909. That date is wrong as his father died Feb 1909. When signing up for Social Security, Albert found out he was born in 1908 not 1909. He had to get a delayed birth certificate.

  • 1
    Hi, Phyllis -- welcome to G&FH.SE! You don't need to sign your posts, because SE does that automatically by including your user card. While you are waiting for an answer, you may be able to find some ideas in the related question, Help tracing ancestor back to germany.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Mar 3, 2015 at 22:45
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    Make sure it's Wettenberg not the much bigger Wittenberg. If born in Wettenberg, try the Standesamt which will have birth records: wettenberg.de/city_info/webaccessibility/… Commented Mar 3, 2015 at 23:24
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    @user3310902 There was no Standesamt in 1850, church records are the only way to trace a birth.
    – lejonet
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 0:27
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    To help in your search: If he called himself Charles in the U.S., his name was probably Karl in Germany. Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 7:08
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    @lejonet Civil registration began in Hesse in 1803 so it is worth a look - although I agree it was patchy or non-existent across Germany till 1876. Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 0:45

2 Answers 2


I can't provide you a definite birthplace, but do the following simple research steps if you have a German surname and a possible place of birth:

  • Make sure your transcription of the surname is right. Schuman might be the name used in the United States, but it is an extremely – if even existing – rare form of the surname Schumann in Germany. You can also spell this name Schuhmann. This single letter difference matters here, as the geographical distribution of each form differs significantly. (Another prominent example is the name Meyer/Meier/Maier/Mayer/Mayr.) Let’s assume your name isn't Schuman but originally Schumann.

  • Check Geogen, a free online mapping service for German telephone book data for the name Schumann. Use Relative Darstellung (relative imaging). Schumann is common in whole Germany, but there is a clear hotspot in eastern Thuringia, eastern Saxony-Anhalt and north-eastern Saxony.

  • Check if alternate spellings share a similar distribution. In this case, they don't. Schuhmann is especially common in north-eastern Bavaria.

  • Use the Genealogisches Ortsverzeichnis (GOV), a genealogical gazetteer, to map your places: Wettenberg is either a small town in Hesse or a even smaller hamlet in Baden-Wuerttemberg. Wittenberg however has much more matches, including the city of Wittenberg, 50.000 inhabitants nowadays (and famous for Luther). This city is close to the hotspot for Schumacher from our name mapping in step one.

  • A possible next step could be to check the church records from Wittenberg, available on microfilm by FamilySearch. You can also ask the local church archive (mail address at the bottom) to check if your ancestor was born on January 1st 1850 in Wittenberg. If you think another place is more likely, trace its church records.


Finding a birthplace

One possible source for your great-grandfather's birthplace is in his naturalization papers. The document from 28 Aug 1886 which you list in your source list is likely to be the Petition for Naturalization ("second papers"). The US National Archives' website has an overview of the process, which takes place in two steps. NARA says:

As a general rule, naturalization was a two-step process that took a minimum of 5 years. After residing in the United States for 2 years, an alien could file a "declaration of intent" (so-called "first papers") to become a citizen. After 3 additional years, the alien could "petition for naturalization." After the petition was granted, a certificate of citizenship was issued to the alien. These two steps did not have to take place in the same court. As a general rule, the "declaration of intent" generally contains more genealogically useful information than the "petition." The "declaration" may include the alien's month and year (or possibly the exact date) of immigration into the United States.

If your great-grandfather arrived around 1868, and was naturalized in 1886, then the date bounds for your search for the Declaration would be around 1870 (which would satisfy the requirement to reside in the US for 2 years) and 1883 (to meet the rule of at least 3 years in between the first and second papers).

FamilySearch does have some Declarations of Intent for local courts in Illinois. These can be browsed by choosing the link for Browse All Published Collections and choosing the category "Migration and Naturalization", or by typing Naturalization in the collection title filter. Start with the Macon County courts, but if you don't find anything there, widen the search and check the courts in neighboring counties. Just like today, sometimes people visited the courthouse of the neighboring county if it happened to be closer to their home and was easier to travel to.

The FamilySearch Research Wiki's article on Illinois Naturalization and Citizenship has an overview of holding for FamilySearch and elsewhere. That article says that some naturalizations may have taken place in the Probate Courts, so there are naturalizations mixed in with the other records in FamilySearch's collection of Illinois Probate Records, 1819-1988. If you can't find your great-grandfather in any of the indexes described in that wiki article, be aware that there are often indexes to the record books in the record books themselves, at the beginning of the volume.

You may not be able to find direct evidence for your great-grandfather's birthplace, but sometimes the area a family came from in Germany and the names of the parents can be found via the records of other siblings. Sometimes other clues can be found in the records of friends, associates, and neighbors, too, because people often migrated in groups. One quick thing to check: see if the people who were witnesses on your great-grandfather's Petition for Naturalization did attestations for others nearby in the record book.

Finding his death record

For his death record, keep an eye on the Illinois Statewide Death Index, which is an ongoing project of the Illinois State Archives. Their website gives a summary of the information that the records might contain:

Death certificates show the name, age, sex, marital status, and race of the deceased; the places of birth, death and burial; the dates of death and burial; the cause of death; the date filed; and the signature of the physician and the registrar.

Death record or register show the name, race, marital status, age, sex, and occupation of the deceased; the date, place, and the primary cause of death; contributing causes and duration; the place and date of burial; the name and address of the undertaker; and the name and address of the physician.

(Bear in mind that while a death certificate is supposed to show a place of birth, the information will only be as good as the informant's own knowledge. If the informant is a child or much younger relative than the deceased, it will be hearsay and not personal knowledge.)

IRAD's publication Local Governmental Records Listings, arranged by county, shows what holdings are in the Illinois Regional Archives Depositories and elsewhere.

Finding his parents

In my own research, I was able to find the maiden name of my husband's great-great grandmother by searching for the marriage and death records of all of his great-grandmother's siblings, and tracing the entire family group. If I had restricted myself to his great-grandmother's own records, I would not have been able to find the information.


  • Class syllabus / handout from RootsTech2015 class RT1720: "Impossible Immigrant! Exhausting Research to find an Ancestor's Origin" by F. Warren Bittner. This PDF (available for download for a limited time) gives an outline of steps you can take to look for more information about your great-grandfather. Bittner is a meticulous researcher and a good lecturer, so I have this webinar on my "be on the lookout" list.

Class handouts from the United States Research Seminar held in October 2015 at the Family History Library:

The videos for these classes will be posted at FamilySearch after they've been cleared for viewing.

The USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Service) has a Genealogy Program, from which you can request an Index Search (to see if they have records about your immigrant ancestor) and copies of the records. See their page on USCIS Webinars for the date of their next live webinar. (No recording is available, but if you can't make the live webinar, the same information is on the website -- however it's easier to understand the process when one of the USCIS staff members walks you through it.)

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