German and Prussian Genealogy
Plus websites for other European Countries
Prior to 1871 there was not a single unified Germany. The German empire consisted of a series of kingdoms, duchies, principalities, individual cities and an imperial territory. At this time, Germany was larger than it is today. At the end of both World Wars, the boundaries of Germany changed dramatically. Regions of Germany were distributed to France, Belgium, Poland, Russia and Lithuania.
There is no single, overall central German archive or repository that contains all of the genealogical records. The records can be found in the archives of different regions (states) or cities.
#1 - Begin your Search
In order to begin your search for German genealogical records, you MUST know the NAME of the city and REGION where your ancestor was born in.
Why is this important? - For example, there are two cities in Germany named Rothenberg. One is in the region of Hesse and the other in Bavaria (Bayern). If you don’t know the city and region, you might be researching the wrong family line.
There are 16 Regions (States) in Germany: Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt), Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) Saxony (Sachsen), Bremen, North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen), Hesse (Hessen), Thuringia (Thuringen), Rhineland-Palitinate (Rheinland-Pfalz), Saarland, Baden-Wurttemberg, Bavaria (Bayern).
Note: Tips for discovering the city and region your ancestor was born in can be found at www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Germany._Finding_Town_of_Origin
#2 – German Records
The churches in Germany kept family records dating back to the 1500s and more in depth records beginning in the 1800s. There are millions of German records, for various regions, on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, especially for the Lutheran churches. However, most of the records, especially those for Catholic churches, are contained in various archives located throughout Germany, and are not available online.
Once you have discovered your ancestor’s town and region of origin, it will be important to know if they were Catholic or Protestant, as the records are kept in separate archives.
A Google search can be done on the town and region to find the names of the parishes in your ancestors’ town of origin, and to determine the location and name of the archive where the records are kept.
#3 – Online Records
Ancestry.com – contains church records, as well as WW1 and WW2 records which list the names of parents and town of residence.
Genealogy.net (compgen.de) – German site
My Heritage.com – Appears to be the choice of German people for conducting research and building family trees.
#4 – German Archive Records
If you haven’t been able to find records for your German ancestors online there are various ways to continue your search. The majority of German genealogical records are located in the many local and regional archives across Germany. There are two ways to access these records:
*The first would be to locate the archive where your ancestors’ records are located. To obtain those records send an email with a written request for baptism, marriage and death records for a specific ancestor. There will be a fee for the research and a copy of the record. This will be a slow process but a workable solution for finding the records that are not online.
Keep in mind that, depending on where your ancestor is from, records might be found in archives in France, Belgium, Poland, Russia or Lithuania as areas of Germany were distributed to these countries throughout history. (For instance, I have found my ancestor’s records in the archives for the Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin in Alsace, France which are online.
*The second option would be to hire a professional genealogist, who is located in Germany, to perform the research and obtain the records for you. To locate a professional genealogist refer to the Association of German-speaking Professional Genealogists (https://berufsgenealogie.net.) Locate the area where you ancestor lived on the ‘map’ (https://berufsgenealogie.net/english/map.html) and choose a genealogist who lives near that archive.
#5 – Family History Books
Another alternative would be to search for a Orsfamilienbucher (OFB) loosely translated as a community genealogical history book which contains records for a specific town or city. Many towns have listed the history and records for their area which might contain several generations for a family who lived in that particular town. Genealogy.net contains more than 600 searchable OFB’s. Search FamilySearch.org’s catalog via ‘place-names’ for their collection of OFB’s at: https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog. An additional listing can be found here: Kirchenbuch Portal: www.kirchenbuchportal.findbuch.net.
Articles on “how to” search for German Genealogical Records:
Family Search ‘German Genealogy Wiki’ - https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Germany_Genealogy
Family Tree ‘Tips for Tracing German Ancestors’ - https://www.familytreemagazine.com/premium/tips-for-tracing-german-ancestors/
Legacy Tree ‘3 Essential Websites for German Family History Research’ - https://www.legacytree.com/blog/3-essential-websites-german-ancestors
YouTube videos on German Genealogy:
Crista Cowan (Ancestry.com) ‘Top Tips for Beginning German Family History Research’ - https://youtu.be/5G7quTs_zno
James M. Beidler – ‘Finding German Villages for Genealogy and Family History’ - https://youtu.be/lj_nACJZt94
James M. Beidler – ‘Finding German Ancestors: Tips’ - https://youtu.be/1FfS7XS5EZI
James M. Beidler – ‘Step-By-Step Guide to MeyersGaz.org for German Genealogy’ - https://youtu.be/h2aLSvE_upY
Compgen.de – ‘German Genealogy’ - https://youtu.be/7r-p55scBOc
The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide ‘How to Trace your Germanic Ancestry in Europe’ - https://youtu.be/FZy_SS2Ht28
Additional Germany Genealogy Resources:
Old Germanic Script (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Germany_Handwriting
Google Translation to decipher words or sentences on German records (http://googletranslation.com)
Facebook – German Genealogy Records Transcription - https://www.facebook.com/groups/1454015278205406/
Facebook – The German Genealogist - https://www.facebook.com/GermanGenealogy/
Genealogy Websites for other Countries:
These websites may not be in English. To read them look for the English translation (either EN, English or a British flag) or download the Google Translate app in Chrome.
A comprehensive listing of archives around the world: www.archivschule.de/DE/service/archive-im-internet
A master search engine of European Archives: www.archivesportaleurope.net
French Archives (more than half of the French vital records on available on FamilySearch.org): The National Archives: www.archives-nationales.culture.gouv.fr
Department Archives: www.francearchives.fr/annuaire/departements
German Archives: FamilySearch.org has partnered with German Archives. You can find an index of the records available on FamilySearch.org and then go to the specific Archive to find the record.
German Center for Genealogy: www.staatsarchiv.sachsen.de/index.html
Church Parish Registers:
Archion: www.archion.de – Protestant
Matricula: www.data.matricula.info – Catholic
Wie Was Wie: www.wiewaswie.nl
Amsterdam Archives: www.archief.amsterdam
Open Archive: www.openarch.nl
Austrian Archives: www.archivnet.at
Italian Archives: www.antenati.san.beniculturali.it/en
Partial census from 1821 to 1851 and the 1901 and 1911 Census: www.census.nationalarchives.ie
Birth, Marriage and Death (church records): www.irishgenealogy.ie