Germany Gathering Information
Before beginning research on a German ancestor, you need to know his or her German town of birth. Most of the time this information is found in a source found in the country of immigration, that is, the immigrant’s new home land. After gathering home sources and contacting relatives, research needs to continue in other records. Search the records listed below, plus any others you can find, for your ancestor and any known or suspected relatives.
• 19th Century census records, available for the United States, Canada, England, and other countries. Censuses are often taken every ten years. Try to locate your ancestor in every census during which he or she was alive. This information provides a good framework for further research. The 1850-1880 U.S. federal censuses sometimes list a German state or province as birth place. The censuses for 1900 to 1930 ask for the year of immigration and whether or not the person was naturalized. This information can help you find naturalization records or a passenger list. Many images of census records are available without charge at familysearch.org. Others can be accessed at various subscription Web sites. State census records vary in availability and the type of information they contain, but they are always useful as another source to document an ancestor in a specific locality.
• Pre-19th Century immigrants may be listed in local or county tax lists and other municipal records. Many such records have been microfilmed by FamilySearch and can be ordered to a family history center near you.
• Vital records or civil birth-, marriage-, and death records document important events in an ancestor’s life. Many states have posted statewide indexes on the Internet. The respective state- and county pages on the USGenWeb may provide the needed links.
• Church records of baptisms, marriages, and burials may provide additional information. If, for example, the civil marriage record showed that a couple was married by a minister, this marriage was probably also entered in the respective parish register. City directories and county histories may help you find the name of the congregation where the minister served. You can also “google” the minister’s name and city.
• Naturalization records may also list an ancestor’s birth place. Prior to 1906 any U.S. court could naturalize foreigners. The process involved two sets of papers: a declaration of intention to become a U.S. citizen, and a petition filed some time later. Many pre-1900 records only list “Germany” as the country of citizenship; however, there are notable exceptions, so these records should be checked routinely. Beginning in 1906 naturalization records became more detailed as the responsibility shifted to the Federal government. More information about naturalization records, along with helpful links, is found on the National Archives Web site.
• The application for the Social Security card may also contain a town of birth. These records are available for deceased individuals. More information is found here.
• County histories, newspapers, memorial books, and other printed sources may list an ancestor’s German home town. County- or state GenWeb pages may contain links to helpful articles or indexes.