Finding Your German Ancestors

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How do I get started?

Obtain a good, detailed map from the time period in which you wish to start: Meyers Ortslexikon; out of print but available online at:  [vol. I] [vol. II]

Bundesamt für Kartographie und Geodäsie,

     e.g. Ostpreussen, ISBN:  3-88648-105-0
  • Höfer Verlag, Postfach 1203; 63112 Dietzenbach Michelin Road Maps Map Section of an university library in the United States
  •    Das Postleitzahlenbuch (Directory of German Zip Codes, available for sale at most post offices in Germany or on the Internet at:
     [But useful only for localities within present day Germany]  
  • Have a fresh new binder with separators and tabs A section dedicated to copies of correspondence both sent and received A section for taking digital photographs of original documents A section for print outs from PAF and/or the New FamilySearch
  • Get a large, oversized pedigree chart
  • Get a digital camera
  • Get a book or a table listing Old German Script Deciphering Handwriting in German Documents, Roger P. Minert, GRT Publications, 2001 ( or and then click on Research Helps and then click on Handwriting Guide: German Gothic and then download the PDF File in the top right corner of the screen
  •  Obtain a good Reference Book on Basic German Research
  •         Taschenbuch für Familiengeschichtsforschung, Wolfgang Ribbe + Eckart Henning, Verlag Degener & Co., Neustadt an der Aisch, 2001
  • The Atlantic Bridge to Germany, Charles M. Hall, Everton Publishers; Logan, Utah, 1974 Online Reference Helps FamilySearch Wiki GenWiki

Work from the Known to the Unknown

Examine written documentation

  • Family Bibles Old Letters from the Old Country
  • Social Security Death Index
  • Any Existing Church Records
  • Family Histories Old Passports and Immigration Records
  • Military Records
  • Cemetery Records

Considering Oral Histories

What is the family oral tradition? Have I interviewed my great-aunts or uncles? What do my first, second, third, fourth cousins living in the United States know that I don‘t know about my ancestor? Do I have any heirlooms (native costumes) that might determine where my ancestor came from?

What does my ancestor's surname tell me about him/her?

Was my ancestor‘s surname changed before or after arrival in the United States? Where do other Americans with the same surname (not necessarily related) believe that there family came from? Have I looked at the Deutsche Telekom‘s listing on the Internet for all persons registered in Germany with this surname? Can I discern a concentration of these people in a particular town or area? For a very interesting website, see,

How do I get free help from the LDS Church?

Talk to your local ward family history consultant Live Telephone consultation (toll-free number) 00 800 1830 1830 within Germany using local civilian telephone system with a Family History Church Service Missionary E-Mail: Regular Mail: Family History Support Office, Steinmühlstrasse 8, 61352 Bad Homburg

Searching for records not in the hands of relatives

  • Standesamt has civil registration records in Germany back about 100 years
  • Write letters to the parish where you believe your ancestor came from and then click on Research Helps; then click on German Letter-Writing Guide; then click on How to Write A Letter in German and download the PDF File (located in the top right corner of the computer screen)

Finding the „right film“ using the Family History Library Catalog

  • Start with general search terms and then narrow the search
  • Usually easiest to search by „Place“
  • Type in the name of the locality desired and select the option which best matches your objective (there can be several localities with the same name!)
  • Click on the hyperlink (underlined entry for either „Church Records“ or „Civil Records“)

In Germany, civil records generally only go back to 1875 unless the locality in question is a part of the French occupation (Alsace-Lorraine, Saarland, Pfalz, Baden) and then the records can go back to c. 1790, whereas Church records can go back as far as 1550 A.D.

Where to find the address of the parish you want to write to?

Look online in the White Pages for Deutsche Telekom Look in the Internet under the name of the locality and the church (e.g. Google, Firefox, Yahoo, etc.) Check the reference books already listed above. Call the mayor‘s office (Bürgermeisteramt)in the locality where you are looking and ask for the address and telephone, e-mail of the parish office, where the church records are kept.

Let‘s not reinvent the wheel!

These search engines replace the old IGI, Ancestral File and Pedigree Resource File but always verfiy the information contain therein because the submitters are not always accurate

Civil Records versus Church Records: which is best?

  • Both kinds of records have their advantages and disadvantages
  • Civil records are often easier to read and more complete. Civil records will contain the records of everyone including: German Reformed (Hugonotts), Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Jewish inhabitants – so you don‘t have to know (or guess) what your ancestor‘s religious affiliation was.
  • Drawbacks to Civil Records are that they usually only go back to 1875 (except in regions along the French border) and due to Archival Privacy Laws (Datenschutz) you may have difficulty obtaining access to records on persons unless you can aduce valid reasons for looking at the records or the period of protection has expired. Civil registration of births: 1874-1898, civil registration of marriages: 1874-1928; and civil registration of deaths: 1874- 1965. 
  • Church Records can go back as far as 1550 A.D. unless destroyed or lost due to warfare
  • Church Records are divided up into: christening records, confirmation lists (Lutheran only for 14 year olds), marriages, and deaths.
  • Sometimes the minister recorded addition information about the person in question beyond the required minimums
  • Drawbacks are:

that the Genealogical Society of Utah is still in the process of negotiating for permission to film parish registers (Kirchenbücher) in Germany
Most parish registers were destroyed during The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) not to mention the French Revolution and the many subsequent wars. Natural disasters like fires, earthquakes and floods have also taken their toll.
Some parish registers are in private hands, the Black Market, the Standesamt in Berlin, or in the hands of private historical and genealogical societies (Vereine)
Parish Registers can have sloppy and messy handwriting.
Many churches require researchers to pay fees for looking at their records and some will not allow Mormons to look at their records at all.

Use every available resource

  • Use the Internet to find out which regional genealogical societies exist in the area you are researching. Some have original records, others have been permitted to copy and transribe records from the local churches –including records which have not been microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah.
  • Many towns have compiled „Ortsfamilienbücher“ using civil and church records to link up entire communities into kinships. The local society or the mayor‘s office will know if there is an Ortsfamilienbuch and how to purchase a copy at a reasonable price or at least obtain access to read it. For an online listing of Ortsfamilienbücher see,
  • Sometimes family histories are published and other times deposited as manuscripts in local libraries, archives, and with historical societies. Those still living are usually eager to share their findings.

Sharing Information: a bargaining chip

Many Scandinavian and German researchers are fascinated to learn about those members of the family who emigrated to American during the 19th and 20th Century and what became of them. Almost universally they sense a need to fill in the gaps in their own complied records. Sharing knowledge and data from your own „American branch of the family“ can be used as a bargaining chip in exchange for data from the „Old Country.“

Exhausting other opportunities

If your ancestors came from upper middle class or nobility there will likely be additional records at your disposal which can extend well back into the Middle Ages: Wills and Probates Land Records Nobility and Peerage Lists (Heraldik) Matriculation Lists at German Universities Membership Lists from guilds (Zünfte) But even if your ancestors were common folk, there are other records to consider: Tax Records Search under „Kopfsteuerbeschreibung“ in Google in combination with the name of the locality you are researching Court Records somtimes contain additional information about the families of the buyers and sellers. Permission granted by the prince to emigrate to America Passenger Lists at the habours in Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck, etc. of those persons departing Germany for America. Census Records on a municipal or county level in some places as far back as the 1500‘s.