Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines Palatine (among other things) as: "a native or inhabitant of the Palatinate" or "a feudal lord having sovereign power within his domains". It defines "Palatinate" as: the territory of a Palatine". So much for dictionaries... its no wonder the term is not understood.
Generally speaking, a "Palatine" is someone who came from the region of Germany called "The Palatinate". Germany as a country has not existed very long. Prior to 1871, what is now Germany was a number of separate states, such as Württemberg, Prussia, Bavaria, etc., whose boundaries changed frequently as a result of war and other causes. The Palatinate was one of these states, and was located along the Rhine River, roughly where the modern German state of Rhineland-Pfalz is located.
In the 18th and early 19th century, the term "Palatine" was used in America to describe immigrants from "The Palatinate" and other adjoining German-speaking areas. Finding an American reference to someone being from the "Palatinate" may not point to a specific place of origin, but rather an approximate location in or near western or southern Germany.
Palatines to America is an organization for people researching the origins of their German-speaking ancestors, no matter where they originated. Many of the German-speaking people that came to North America did not come directly from what is now Germany. Many of them came here after spending time (from a few months to a few generations) in other countries, such as Switzerland, England, Russia, Ireland, France and other countries. Our members are researching immigrants from many of these areas.
A More Technical Description of the Palatinate
(as posted to soc.genealogy.german newsgroup by Robert Sminkey)
Palatinate, Or German PFALZ, was, in German history, the lands of the count palatine, a title held by a leading secular prince of the Holy Roman Empire. Geographically, the Palatinate was divided between two small territorial clusters: the Rhenish, or Lower Palatinate, and the Upper Palatinate. The Rhenish Palatinate included lands on both sides of the Middle Rhine River between its Main and Neckar tributaries. Its capital until the 18th century was Heidelberg. The Upper Palatinate was located in northern Bavaria, on both sides of the Naab River as it flows south toward the Danube, and extended eastward to the Bohemian Forest. The boundaries of the Palatinate varied with the political and dynastic fortunes of the counts palatine.
During the War of the Grand Alliance (1689-97), the troops of the French monarch Louis XIV ravaged the Rhenish Palatinate, causing many Germans to emigrate. Many of the early German settlers of America (the Pennsylvania Dutch) were refugees from the Palatinate. During the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the Palatinate's lands on the west bank of the Rhine were incorporated into France, while its eastern lands were divided largely between neighboring Baden and Hesse.
After the defeat of Napoleon (1814-15), the Congress of Vienna gave the east-bank lands to Bavaria. These lands, together with some surrounding territories, again took the name of Palatinate in 1838.
The Palatine Project is an ongoing effort, using sources from German speaking countries as well as early colonial American sources, to annotate and/or reconstruct the passenger lists of Germans who came to America in the first large wave of emigration in the 18th century. These annotated lists will provide a "bridging the gap" tool for identifying the original emigrants to America while identifying sources that indicate where they came from in their ancestral country. This is an ambitious project and will require many years. Its success will depend on contributions of information, finances, and other assistance from the public and genealogical communities. http://www.progenealogists.com/palproject/http://www.progenealogists.com/palproject/