I recently attended an all day seminar with one of the leading German experts. Lectures were very interesting as were the questions the audience asked, they ranged from complicated to basic. It reminded me that when you are starting out with German research its helpful to know a few things going in. A few months back I asked my German research group to give some examples of things they learned they wished they knew when they were starting out. We would love to have any other ideas you may have. You can add to the list (add them in the comments below) for Germany or any other research you think may be helpful to those starting out. Thanks!!
#1. ALWAYS LOOK AT CHURCH BOOK RECORDS (HERE AND THERE)
Church books are the most important resource you will have to find more information on your German immigrant. Since a lot of immigrants went to German parish churches when they came to the States and the pastors did the books in the style of the Old Country, you have a good chance of perhaps finding a place of birth in a marriage, child’s baptism, confirmation entry or a death record. Then when you find your hometown your next step is always to look at the church books there to verify your family was from there, get more generations back and to see if a previous generation originally came from another village.
#2. THERE IS NO NATIONAL CENSUS IN THE 18TH OR 19TH CENTURY IN GERMANY
Germany was not a unified country until 1871 and they have no census like we know it. There are census records in a few places but for the purpose of finding an indexed census to find where YOUR person lived there isn’t any. Ancestry has a few census for Mecklenburg-Schwerin & Lübeck city.
#3. IF YOUR SURNAME HAS AN AE, OE, OR UE IT COULD MEAN YOUR SURNAME HAD AN UMLAUT
If your name is written Mueller in the U.S. it could Müller in Germany or Droege, could be Dröge. Be open to looking for them under these names also.
#4. HAVE A LIST OF COMMONLY USED GERMAN WORDS USED IN CHURCH BOOKS AND THEIR TRANSLATIONS.
Here is a link for a German and Latin word lists: https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Germany_Resources
#5. HAVE A LIST OF COMMONLY USED LATIN WORDS USED IN CATHOLIC CHURCH BOOKS
#6. DON’T EXPECT NAMES TO BE SPELLED THE SAME EVERY TIME – BE FLEXIBLE.
Try not to assume or be adamant that your people ALWAYS spelled it one way. You must try to search all variants of your surname and remember that in the 19th century most Germans had 3 names (a Christian name, a second name (call name) and a third name in addition to surname. They may have written any one of these names on documents.
#7. ONLY KNOWING PRUSSIA IS NOT ENOUGH – YOU WILL NEED TO KEEP LOOKING FOR A MORE SPECIFIC AREA.
Google German maps in different time periods (like 1815 or 1874) to see what all area Prussia encompassed. This may be the hardest wall to break to find what area of Germany your ancestor came from if they say Prussia, since it was a large area at different times. You will have to continue to search U.S. documents to try to get something with a town name.
#8. YOU PROBABLY WON’T BE ABLE TO SEE YOUR GR-GR-GRANDPA’S GRAVE IN GERMAY. GRAVES ARE RECYCLED EVERY 20-30 YEARS.
This is one of the most asked questions from people going on our tours and I hate to have to disappoint them to say that there are few 19th century gravestones left as the grave plots are leased to the family for 20-30 years and if they don’t renew it can be leased to a new family. You will have to check church books for a recording of your ancestor’s death.
#9. IF YOU HAVE A HOMETOWN NAME, YOU MUST ALSO KNOW THE STATE IT IS IN AND THEN FIND IT ON A MAP, THERE MAY BE MORE THAN ONE TOWN BY THE SAME NAME.
If you have a hometown name you should also make sure to find it on a map! You will need to know a State (Bavaria, Baden, Hessen etc) and a Kreis (County) would be extremely helpful as there are many towns with the same name. You should always prove you have the right town by searching the church books for that town for your ancestors name and birth/baptismal date.
#10. EVERYTHING IS NOT ONLINE, YOU MUST USE BOOKS, MICROFILMS AND GAZETTEERS.
Enough said, please don’t only search online.