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Resources for German Genealogy

Posted by Sean Daly on Oct 6, 2022
Ahnenfest logo German monuments

It’s German-American Day! To celebrate, here are some resources for German genealogy which will help you with your research. Many are free of charge!

Ahnenfest — October 3 is Tag der Deutschen Einheit (Germany Unity Day) and October 6 is German-American Day. To celebrate, we are offering open access to our German records including the Genealogy Library of books and newspapers, with all advanced search options activated, to free accounts this week extended through Sunday, October 9, 2022! Reminder, no payment information is ever required for a free account (although of course we do hope that you consider becoming a Premium member). It’s a great time to start researching your German roots!

German genealogy is complex, for several reasons. Borders of the Holy Roman Empire, the states of the German Confederation, the German Empire, and its successor states, changed often over the previous centuries (Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Alsace & Lorraine, North Schleswig, and Königsberg, today’s Kaliningrad). There is no central repository of civil vital records (births/marriages/deaths since 1876); these are held in local municipalities, in each Standesamt (civil registration office) — which means identifying the town of origin is extremely important. Privacy laws are quite strict; except for immediate family descendants, birth records are closed for 110 years, marriages for 80 years, and deaths for 30 years. And even family members may encounter roadblocks, as listed persons in a register (parents of a child in a birth record, or a spouse in a marriage record) must all be deceased for at least 30 years. Church records (Lutheran, Calvinist, Catholic) exist only at local level; Jewish records are a special case due to the Holocaust. An understanding of paleography will come in handy to decipher registers handwritten in Kurrent or Sütterlin script (and occasionally in Latin cursive), as well as books, newspapers, and documents printed in Fraktur typefaces (Germany’s blackletter Gothic variant).

Geneanet is available in German and many of our members are from Germany. Consider putting up your tree at Geneanet — a free account offers unlimited tree size and 1 Gb of space for your tree’s documents and photos. You may find matches in a German member’s tree!

Prof. James Retallack’s detailed map of the states of the German Empire can be found on the “German History in Documents and Images” site listed below.
Fraktur, Kurrent… get to know the German printed and written styles which can be challenging to read!

German genealogy resources

Here is a (non exhaustive!) list of resources for German genealogy which will help you with your research. If you know of a good resource we missed, let us know in the comments!

  • FamilySearch’s German Genealogy page. Geneanet partner FamilySearch has an extensive wiki in English for German genealogy which is a great starting point for an overview of German genealogy. There are maps, links, tips, and seminars, all free of charge.
  • Archion. This project associates Germany’s principal Protestant denominations with over 100,000 digitized parish registers.
  • Kartenmeister. In German genealogy, it’s vital to identify your ancestor’s town of origin, a difficult task if the town is no longer in Germany (Poland, Russia, Lithuania) and has a different name! Kartenmeister has been a go-to resource for German place names for 20 years.
  • Meyers Gazetteer. This rich resource can help you find a German town or village which was located in the German Empire (1871-1918). be sure to read the help page. You may have a town name from an immigration document or an obituary, but do you know which is which if there are several towns with the name? This site provides maps and administrative information for towns and villages and will help you identify the correct one before you contact the local Standesamt.
  • Bremen Passenger Lists. Over 690,000 passengers who embarked from Bremen between 1920 and 1939 are in this collection.
  • Holland-America Line Passenger Lists. 2.6 million persons emigrated from Europe on the Holland-Amerika Lijn (HAL) in the 20th century; many were from Germany. This project by the Dutch Centrum voor familiegeschiedenis (CBG) and Stadsarchief Rotterdam came online earlier this year.
  • Matricula. This site has thousands of church registers (baptisms, marriages, funerals) from Germany but also Austria, Poland, Serbia, Luxembourg, and Slovenia.
  • The archives départementales of Alsace and Lorraine. These two provinces of France changed administration between Germany and France in 1648 (the Peace of Westphalia), in 1871 (the Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen following the Franco-Prussian War), in 1919 (the Treaty of Versailles which returned Alsace and Lorraine to France), in 1940 when Alsace and the Moselle valley of Lorraine were annexed to Germany (with young Alsatian men including French Army veterans drafted into the Wehrmacht, the “malgré-nous”), and in 1945 at the end of the war. Today, five French départements (counties) of the Grand Est region are of interest in German genealogy: Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin (Alsace), and Moselle, Meurthe-et-Moselle, and Vosges (Lorraine). Each département has vital records (“état-civil”) free online as well as censuses and other documents — as in Germany, it’s very important to find your ancestor’s town or village. Many of these registers are indexed at Geneanet; don’t be surprised to find an ancestor’s birth record in French, a marriage in German, and a death record in French, all in the same town!
  • German Genealogy Group. The GGG in New York has useful indexes of New York City vital records (and not just Germans). Members of the association provide genealogy tips and assistance about German genealogy.
  • Zeitungsportal NRW. Funded by North Rhine Westphalia, this historical newspaper project offers over 12 million pages from 1.8 million editions from that state from 1801 through 1945.
  • Compact Memory. Goethe Universität in Frankfurt am Main offers a rich collection of over 60,000 Jewish newspaper editions between 1768 and 1938, in both German and Hebrew.
  • Datenbank Bauforschung/Restaurierung. The focus of this German-language site is land and buildings in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Cadastral landowner registers starting in 1900 are of interest to genealogists.
  • CompGen. This German-language site is run by Germany’s largest nonprofit genealogy association. There is a print magazine in addition to online resources. Beginning genealogists are welcome.
  • Germanology Unlocked. Katherine Schober’s popular courses, webinars, and cheatsheets are goldmines for German genealogy. She also does translations of German documents.
  • Facebook groups. For those who use Facebook, there are a number of groups where helpful and knowledgeable people assist genealogists researching their German ancestors. “German Genealogy”, “German Genealogy – Prussia, Austro-Hungary, Russia, Denmark, Swiss & more”, “German genealogy & cultural history” are popular and informative groups. Search the platform for these groups and be sure to understand each group’s rules!
  • JewishGen German Collection. This premier site for Jewish genealogy has key resources concerning Germany. Note that in searches, diacritical umlaut characters ä/ö/ü should be replaced by their English double character equivalents ae/oe/ue.
  • Arolsen Archives. This is a comprehensive archive on the victims and survivors of National Socialism, with over 17.5 million individuals indexed. Perhaps your ancestor was a displaced person after the war? International Refugee Organization (IRO) questionnaires often included photos of refugees.
  • Deutsche Handschrift. Michael Nülken’s Deutsche Handschriften site (in German) is packed with information about German handwriting styles and printed typefaces. He has an innovative script font generator: paste in a German word, and see what it looks like in eight different writing and printed styles!
  • Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. The BSB, Bavaria’s State Library in Munich, announced just yesterday that they have topped 3 million digitized documents! Nearly all are copyright-free open access. The document work is done in-house at the Munich Digitization Center (MDZ). There also 15 million photos available.
  • Deutsche Zeitungsportal. Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek launched this year a German newspaper portal with over 4 million pages from 600,000 editions from 1671 to 1950.
  • German History in Documents and Images. The GHDI project of the German Historical Institute in Washington DC has an excellent overview of German history from the Reformation to the present, illustrated with documents, images, and maps. All German-language documents have English translations. A good resource for teachers!

There you have it — some resources to get you started, or new ones to look into if you have been doing genealogy for a while! Have we forgotten any? By all means let us know in the comments! And don’t hesitate to ask for help in our forums; Geneanet members are helpful and questions are monitored by support.

12 comments

Ich suche meinen Grossvater Lajh Tomas der nach USA ausgewandert in der Zeit zwischen 1912 und 1920 ist.

Answer from Geneanet: There was very little immigration to the US during the war years, so it is likely your ancestor emigrated in 1912-1914 or 1919-1920. I suggest you search FamilySearch for the 1920, 1930, and 1940 US federal censuses. The 1920 census for example has three columns (13, 14, 15) about immigration & citizenship status: year of immigration, whether naturalized as a citizen or not, and year of naturalization. With the year of immigration, you can find your ancestor’s ship, see our article here. Don’t hesitate to visit our forums for assistance in your research!


I am looking for my 4th generation Vetterman


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