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By James M. Beidler

There’s a concept in genealogy that is one of the most crucial mistakes to avoid as it will cost much time and heartburn. It’s called “presentism,” which is a coinage worthy of definition: The false sense that customs and ways of life in the past are identical to those in the present. And related to that concept is what I’ll call “all the world’s the same”-ism, which is where we’ll need to start talking about Germany because its archival structure belies this generalization.

As has been previously written about in this column, one of the biggest contrasts between American and German genealogy is that the United States has what I’ve dubbed a “linear” history of forming political jurisdictions while Germany’s is non-linear. That is, during American history, new political units (territories and then states) were created from land previously unsettled by whites and then new political units (counties, towns, townships, cities, boroughs, etc.) were struck from the old ones and sometimes further subdivided over time.

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