Your Guide to Finding German Ancestors

Many German ancestors did not reside in present day Germany. German boundaries have fluctuated over time and the hardships associated with these power changes sometimes caused Germans to settle in non-Germanic neighboring countries.

Your first goal will be to identify the name of the town (Stadt), or at least the district/county (Kreis) from which your ancestor emigrated, then determine the family's church affiliation her faith [normally, Lutheran (Evangelisch/ Evangelical) or Catholic (Katholische/Catholic). You may also have to find a different family name, as the Americanized version may differ from that of the family in Germany.

Wikipedia: Germany includes a brief historical summary. For each portion there will be a link to the main article. If you click that link you will get a great deal more information about that specific time period.

Wikipedia: German Empire 1871-1918

ProGenealogists.com: The Anatomy of the German Empire 1648-1918

Guides * Family History Library * Maps * Place Names* Surnames *
* Comprehensive sites * Libraries and Archives * German Language Aids

* Resources * More Links

Guides to doing German Research

German research guides on the internet:

Books, articles etc. on doing German research


  • "Out of Bounds" Family Tree Magazine, December 2006 pp. 43-49 (discusses Germans who lived outside German boundaries)
  • German Roots: Trace Your Immigrant Ancestor in Six Easy Steps in Internet Genealogy July 2008
  • "Coming to Light" in Family Tree Magazine May 2007, pp. 8-9 discusses German ancestor charts filled out by those who wanted to join the SS or be employed by the by the federal, state or local governements.

Find out what is available from the Family History Library.

Bookmark or print out these general guides:

Search the Family History Catalog: Germany to identify German records that have been filmed. As always, click "view related places" in the upper right hand corner to get a list of German states, then once you have a list of the records for the state, another click of "view related places" will show you if there are any records at the town, city or village level. You want to check all three jurisdictions. In the FHL catalog the German collection is organized according to the political boundaries that existed between 1871 and 1918, as described in Uertecht. Meyers Orts-und Verkehrs-Lexicon des Deutschen Reichs. For more information see the FamilySearch Wiki entry Gazatteers Germany

Search the IGI Region: Germany State: select from the dropdown: All, Unknown*, Baden, Bayern (Bavaria), Hessen (Hesse-Damstadt), Preussen (Prussia), Sachsen (Saxony), Thurengen (Thurengia) or Wuerttemberg.

  • *I think that the "unknown" section is the equivalent of the Miscellaneous section of the IGI on microfiche and thus includes the minor states: Anhalt, Braunschweig (Brunswick), Lipe-Demold, Oldenburg, Schaumburg-Lippe, Waldeck, Mecklenberg-Schwerin, Mecklenburg-Strelitz and the Free Cities of Bremen, Hamburg and Lubeck. If your ancestors were from Alsace-Lorraine, they will be found in the IGI Region France, even though that area was a part of Germany from 1971-1918.

Gazatteers and Maps

Place Names


German surnames -- extensive article in 8 parts or print the complete article as a pdf. Also offers maps showing the distribution of a specific surname.

Comprehensive Sites

  • Genealogy.net: the German genealogy internet portal (many pages only in German)
  • FamilySearch Wiki Portal: Germany. Some portions of this Wiki will contain more information than others. A Wiki is constantly evolving; check it often to see if information you need has been updated.
  • German Genealogical Society of America (collection now combined with the Southern California Genealogical Society )

Libraries and Archives

For an overview, with advice about contacting, see the Family Search Wiki: Archives and Libraries Germany


German Language Aids: Translations and Transcriptions

Bookmark or print out these three FHL booklets.

On the internet

Consult one of these books:


Church Records

Passenger Lists:

More Links







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This page last updated April 13, 2014