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Germany is made up of different kingdoms, duchies, and Prussian provinces. Within these areas, emigration records were usually kept on a county seat or district level of government. To find your ancestor's emigration record you must first know the town he was from. Then consult the Meyers gazetteer to determine the county seat or district the town was in. If you already know the town information then go directly to Meyers gazetteer.
In order to research your family in Germany, it is essential that you have identified the place where they came from. It is not enough to know only ‘Germany’ or ‘Prussia,’ as these were quite large entities. You must know the city, town, or parish that they came from. In many cases, it will be difficult to identify the place of origin by going directly to German sources. Therefore, you will need to search in American sources first.
Searching in US sources
There are many American sources you can consult to help you find the place of origin of your German ancestor.
First, you might want to start by consulting family members who might know where your family came from. If they do not know, they might be in possession of records or documents, such as old family Bibles or letters, that indicate place of origin.
Second, you should also check local newspapers and periodicals for such events as wedding announcements, obituaries, or other important life events.
Third, you should check US and state censuses. These usually will state only that the person came from ‘Germany’ or ‘Prussia,’ but they can be used to determine when a family immigrated. This information can be very helpful when you search in passenger arrival/port records.
Fourth, you should check naturalization records which often give specific place of origin. Finally, there are many books about states or towns that have large populations of Germans.
Searching in German sources
One source to determine place of origin is in a passenger departure list. Hamburg was a major port of departure for Germans and the records from there usually give the place of origin. You can also check other immigration books, such as Germans to America. Records from other ports, however, tend to be very sparse. If the surname is an uncommon one, you might find its origin in a surname book.
As you can see, more information is given about US sources than German. That is because most of the work in finding an ancestor’s place of origin will be done in the US.