By Rhonda R. McClure
By Rhonda R. McClure
Learn how to research your German ancestors! This subject guide provides a listing of essential resources available at NEHGS and other repositories, information on locating and using records, and how-to tips.
Beginner’s Guide to Germanic Genealogy by Lois Hemmeter Edwards
NEHGS, 1st Floor Stacks CS614.E39 2005
Deutsches Namenlexikon: Familien-u. Vornamen nach Ursprung u. Sinn erklãrt by Hans Bahlow
NEHGS, 1st Floor Stacks CS2541.B3 1985
Dictionary of German Names by Hans Bahlow; trans. by Edda Gentry
NEHGS, 7th Floor Reference CS2541.B34 1993
In Search of Your German Roots by Angus Baxter
NEHGS, 7th Floor Reference CS614.B39 2015
Deciphering Handwriting in German Documents by Roger P. Minert
NEHGS, 7th Floor Reference Z115.G4 M56 2013
An Atlas of German Migration and America by Carrie Eldridge
NEHGS, 5th Floor Atlas G1912.21.E27 E5 2002
German-American Names by George F. Jones
NEHGS, 1st Floor Stacks CS2487.J66 2006
German-English Genealogical Dictionary by Ernest Thode
NEHGS, 7th Floor Reference CS6.T46 1992
Finding Your German Ancestors: A Beginner’s Guide by Kevan M. Hansen
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks E184.G3 H36 1999
Ancestors in German Archives: A Guide to Family History Resources by Raymond S. Wright
NEHGS, 1st Floor Stacks CS614.W75 2004
German Unification & Place Names
When doing German genealogy, it is important to remember that the Germany of today is different from the German Empire 1871–1918, which is different from the various duchies of pre-1871. For more information consult:
There may also be more than one place with the same name. Also, it may be necessary to identify civil registration offices. Consult:
Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs by Raymond S. Wright
NEHGS, 4th Floor Reference DD14.W75 2000
How to Read & Understand Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs by Wendy K. Uncapher
NEHGS, 4th Floor Reference DD14.U63 2009
Begun primarily in 1876, most civil registration records, including geburts (births), heiraten (marriages) and sterbe or tote (deaths), will be found at the standesamt or local civil registration office. To find out if FamilySearch has microfilmed the civil registration, it is necessary to know the town of interest, which can then be searched in the FamilySearch catalog. Learn more at FamilySearch Wiki on German Civil Registration.
If you cannot find a marriage record, you may need to search for one of the records showing the intention of a couple to marry, which include:
- Proclamations (Aufgebote or Eheverkündigungen)—similar to marriage banns
- Marriage Supplements (Heiratsbeilagen)—could include documents of the couples’ births, their parents’ deaths, and/or the groom’s release from military service
- Contracts (Ehekontrakte)—a marriage contract is similar to a prenuptial agreement today
- Marriage Permission Papers (Verehelichungsakten)—documents generated showing a couple had permission from the city council or mayor to marry; not required everywhere
Some of the legal documents like marriage contracts and permission papers may be cataloged at FamilySearch under other subject headings besides “civil registration,” including “court records” and “public records.” For larger cities, there may be more than one civil registration districts. The use of city directories may assist in identifying the civil registration district in which an ancestor lived.
The largest religious groups in Germany are the Catholics and the Evangelical Lutherans. To research your family in church records, it is necessary to know the town and in many cases the parish (for larger towns). To facilitate the location of church records, there are two portals that researchers will want to investigate. Not everything can be viewed in English.
Map Guide to German Parish Registers by Kevan M. Hansen
NEHGS, 1st Floor Stacks CS614.H36 2004
Note: This is an ongoing project, with new volumes added frequently.
Two useful databases on FamilySearch (with extracted entries from records) to aid in the identification of town of origin include:
FamilySearch currently offers the images of the church and civil registration for those registers deposited in the Marburg State Archives, 1701–1875. These are not searchable, but are part of their “browse images” availability at present.
Includes digitized records for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bistum Passau and the Evangelical Lutheran records of Kurhessen-Waldeck and Rheinland.
Most Germans emigrated during one of the following migration waves and for the following reasons:
- 1683–1820: Emigrated due to economic hardships, religious persecutions, the Thirty Years’ War contributed. Many were Protestants primarily from the regions of the Rheinland, Westfalen, Hessen, Baden, Württemberg, and Elsaß-Lothringen.
- 1820–1871: Emigrated due to economic hardships (including unemployment and crop failures), the avoidance of military service, the government encouraging its poor to emigrate.
- 1871–1914: Major increase in emigration as a result of affordability and continued economic and political problems in Germany. Large numbers from the eastern provinces of Preußen. Emigrants began to include Poles and Jews.
- 1914–1945: Number of German immigrants significantly reduced as a result of the U.S. quota system instituted in 1924. Emigrants included political dissenters, Jews, and those unhappy with post WWI developments.
Deutsches Auswandererhaus Bremerhaven
This site is devoted to the museum and the emigration that passed through the port of Bremerhaven.
Auswanderung aus Südwestdeutschland
This site is devoted to those who emigrated from Baden, Württemberg, and Hohenzollern.
Passenger lists are often the first step in identifying a German immigrant and may be arrival lists in the U.S. or exit lists from their port of embarkation. These lists can be found on a number of online sites including:
Arbeits-Gemeinschaft Genealogie Schleswig-Holstein e.V. (Genealogy Work Group Schleswig-Holstein) offers a place to submit information on your known emigrants from this area of Germany. You can also submit a research request. There are other resources available on this site including some census records.
This site includes the passenger lists for most U.S. ports of arrival from the beginning of U.S. passenger lists in 1820 to the mid-1900s. They also have some resources for early German immigrants and a large variety of emigration records from towns and ports in Germany (these records are in German). Note: For those from Württemburg, be sure to search the Wuerttemberg, Germany Emigration Index, which will supply a Family History Library microfilm number (identified as Number and located below the Destination on the person’s details). This microfilm number can be used to request the proper emigration microfilm from the Württemburg collection mentioned below in the FamilySearch microfilm description.
A listing, by year, that includes 10,929 names of emigrants from the areas of Pfalz and Württemberg for the years 1816, 1819, 1833–36, 1841, 1842, and 1849–1857. Selection of a year is required and then an alphabetical list of the names is displayed.
The German Emigrants Database at the Historiches Museum Bremerhaven covers research of European emigration to the United States. It comprises information on emigrants who left Europe between 1820 and 1939. It presently contains information on 5 million emigrants.
Die Maus Gesellschaft für Familienforschung e. V. Bremen
This site includes a searchable database of the Bremen emigration lists as well as other valuable online information and resources about families of Bremen (some areas may require membership in the Genealogical Society of Bremen).
This site includes the arrival passenger lists for most U.S. ports of arrival from the beginning of U.S. passenger lists in 1820 to the mid-1900s. They also include the United States Germans to America Index, 1850–1897.
Microfilm & Books
Many emigrants had to request permission to leave Germany, especially those men who may have been required to serve in the military. However, if a family was trying to avoid military service they may have left without official documents. A search of the online catalog at FamilySearch should be done for the region, amt (country subdivision), and town for possible emigration documents. Note: For those emigrating from Württemburg, see the note above about how to search for an ancestor. Use the film/fiche numbers option in the catalog to look up the film number found on Ancestry.com.
The Palatine Families of New York: A Study of the German Immigrants Who Arrived in Colonial New York in 1710 by Henry Z. Jones, Jr.
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks E184.P3.J66 1991
More Palatine Families: Some Immigrants to the Middle Colonies 1717–1776 by Henry Z. Jones, Jr.
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks F130.P2.J66 1985
Even More Palatine Families: 18th Century Immigrants to the American Colonies and Their German, Swiss and Austrian Origins by Henry Z. Jones, Jr.
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks E184.P3.J67 2002
Germans to America: Lists of Passengers Arriving at U.S. Ports by Ira A. Glazier and P. William Filby
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks E184.G3.G38 1988
Germans to America: Lists of Passengers Arriving at U.S. Ports in the 1840s by Ira A. Glazier
NEHGS, 5th Floor Stacks E184.G3.G39 2002
Germanic Genealogy Society
German Genealogy Group
Federation of East European Family History Societies—Germany
Palatines to America National German Genealogy Society
American Historical Society of Germans from Russia
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