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How to Trace Your German Ancestry

  • Written by | 2 Comments2 Comments Comments
    Last Updated: June 10th, 2011

    Find ancestors from Germany

    Germany has a more fragmented history than most nations; it first became recognized as a unified country in 1871, and before that was comprised of loosely associated kingdoms, cities, and private estates. This can make tracing German ancestry more difficult than it seems at first glance, as some records for individuals or families with Germanic heritage may not be associated with Germany at all!

    Finding Immigrant Ancestors

    The best place to start tracing German ancestry is your own birth certificate. Where were you born? Where did your parents come from? These first steps require little deductive reasoning, and will hopefully lead most people back to the name of their first immigrant ancestor. Because Germany was separated into smaller sections for much of its history, German birth and death records are not centralized, and it is vitally important to determine an immigrant ancestor’s place of birth for genealogical purposes. Without this information, further research may be impossible.

    Determining Dates and Times

    If a German ancestor immigrated to America after 1892, it may be possible to locate his or her information in the passenger arrival log of the ship used for travel. If your ancestors immigrated somewhere else and you are able to locate the port from which they sailed, German passenger departure lists may also contain useful information. In any case, the time period during which families and individuals left Germany will make a difference in the number and accuracy of the records available, and research should be done with this in mind.

    Locating a Place of Origin

    Once the town or village in which an ancestor lived has been determined, steps should be taken to discover whether it still exists today. If possible, attempt to locate the name on a modern map. Online German gazetteers, or place name dictionaries, may be able to help determine the German state in which the town is situated. If an ancestor’s town does not appear to exist anymore, historic German maps may be able to show where it used to be, and a comparison on a modern map will help determine the name of the modern location.

    Fragmented Records

    Parts of Germany have been historically recognized as belonging to Prussia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the USSR. In addition, Germany was once identified as separate duchies and kingdoms, including Saxony, Wurttemburg, Bavaria, and Baden. This disjointed history makes for equally disjointed records, and consequently each individual family history will require different research methods depending on the geographical location and time period during which they lived. The records of an individual town will likely be more useful than the records of the country to which it currently belongs.

    Although the task of tracing German ancestry may seem daunting at first, it does not need to be complicated. Simply trace your family line back to a geographical location via parish registries and ship passenger logs, rather than relying on national German records. Whether your ancestors lived in Bavaria or Hamburg may not seem significant today, but knowing the difference will save considerable time and footwork when researching the past!

    My Ancestry Guide - The Complete Guide to Uncovering Your Ancestry

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2 Comments

  1. #1
    Bathke
    November 29th, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    Looking for names Bathke, Block, Lucht, Ludtke. They are from the Kreis(County) Neustettin in old Prussia. It is now in Polish control. The Germans were displaced after WWII as the area became part of Poland. Would like to find any information about any of these families, their church, cemeteries, civil or military records or just plain family records. Even WHERE do I look would be hlepful. It’s my HUGE wall, please help if you can. Thanks! CC

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  2. #2
    Jenny Evans
    February 23rd, 2016 at 9:13 am

    I would sign up for free trial or annual subscription if I had a bank card. So I won’t be able to search your site. Thanks

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