With German Americans being America’s largest self-reported ancestral group, chances are at some point in time you will come face to face with German records. Unfortunately, too many of us are scared away by the language, handwriting and nuances of German research. This does not need to be the case. A multitude of resources and reference materials, which if studied and applied, will help lead us across the ocean and into the hearths and hearts of our German ancestors.
One does not need to speak fluent German in order to experience success in German research, though it does require an investment of time to gain an understanding of the German genealogical process, history, geography, language, vocabulary, handwriting, etc. Below are listed some resources that will assist you as you begin this exciting journey.
Free internet resources regarding the nuances and basics of German research:
BYU Independent Study: Brigham Young University Independent Study Online offers general Genealogical Research classes and an entire German Family History series at no cost.
FamilySearch Wiki: Patterned after Wikipedia this online-library is community based where everyone can share something to assist in genealogical research. There are hundreds of articles on basic genealogical research and articles specific to Germany.
Jensen, Larry O. Genealogical Handbook of German Research. Pleasant Grove, Utah, 1980; available at FamilySearch - go to previous site - Research Helps - Articles - “G” - Genealogical Handbook of German Research. This book has 22 chapters of priceless information and instruction.
ProGenealogists: A genealogical site containing several training articles regarding German research and also has German gazetteers.
Language and Archaic Terms
You will need a good modern German dictionary and at least one dictionary containing the archaic terms.
A German Genealogical wordlist is available at FamilySearch Wiki. Also available are word lists for Latin, French, Danish, Dutch and Polish – languages that often appear in German records.
Google Translate is a good source for both small translations and entire websites – be aware that any word for word translation prepared by a computer program is going to have some errors!
Online Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid is available through the Notre Dame University Library
Online Latin Word List published as a reference to medieval studies.
Leo.org is an online German/English dictionary good for individual word definitions.
Rudy's List of Archaic Medical Terms includes common phrases found in German birth and death records, glossary of causes of death and archaic medical terms, German anatomical terms and terminology found in death and burial records.
The German-English Genealogical Dictionary by Ernst Thode (Baltimore, Maryland; Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. c 1992.), is a wonderful hands on archaic dictionary and is available to purchase through many different outlets online.
Once you have determined the place of origin and have found searchable records, you will need to familiarize yourself with the various types of German script. In addition to the resources already listed, additional help is available at:
Minert, Roger. Deciphering Handwriting in German Documents, analyzing German, Latin, and French in Vital Records Written in Germany; Woodscross, U.S.A., GRT Publications, c 2001. FHL Intl Ref Area 417.7 M662d
Research Courses at FamilySearch. Free online research classes including German, French, Polish, Dutch, Scandinavian and Russian Handwriting Courses.
FamilySearch Wiki - search by keywords German Script for various training articles.