Begin Your Search
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Look in the Census
- Start with yourself and your family
- Look for family heirlooms such as bibles, letters and photo albums
- Gather as much information as you can from your parents, grandparents and other living relatives
- Concentrate on names, dates, and places
- Record the information in a computer program or by using standard pedigree charts and family group sheets
- You can download free printable PDF pedigree charts, family group sheets and blank census forms at Ancestry's Website here
- You should record the sources of the information you gather.
- A genealogical society in your area or in the area where your ancestors lived may be helpful.
- Familiarize yourself with the resources available where you live. Try your local library or see if there is an LDS Family History Center nearby.
- Census records group families together and provide valuable clues for further research.
- Clues in Census Records will tell you what you can find in census records 1790-1940, along with links to online indexes (and online census images).
- What Census Records Are Online? - this webpage has links to numerous online census indexes and images.
- Year of immigration is provided in the 1900, 1910, 1920 and 1930 censuses.
- Be aware that census records occasionally contain errors.
- US Census records from 1790-1840 only name the head-of-household. Other family members are grouped together by age and gender, but not named. When researching in this time frame, other records besides the census become increasingly important. See the next section for examples.
Do a place search in the FamilySearch Catalog for your ancestor's county and/or city of residence and look to see what other kinds of records they may have such as...
Find your Immigrant Ancestor (tips for finding your ancestor's German hometown)
- Probate Records - wills list heirs (often spouse and children) and can help determine family relationships.
- Land and Property Records
- Church Records - you can sometimes find baptism, marriage and death listings.
Before taking your research back to Germany you will need to find the name of the specific place (city, town or village) where your immigrant ancestor lived. Here are some suggestions for finding a German place of origin for your ancestor.
Locating a German Place
- Ship Passenger Lists and Records
- "Last residence" (name of town) for each passenger is given on passenger arrival records generally starting about 1893 (this varies by port). New York passenger arrival records starting with June 1897 and later should have this information for each passenger. Earlier passenger records sometimes list the town of residence for the passengers, but most do not.
- Ship Passenger Lists Guide, 1820-1960s a basic research guide for finding ship passenger lists from Europe (and other places) to the USA
- Finding Passenger Lists before 1820 lists many sources for finding immigration-related material before 1820
- Germans to America may be helpful if your German ancestor arrived between 1850 and 1897. Also see Germans to America Series II: the 1840s
- Ship Passenger Lists Guide, 1820-1960s research guide with tips for finding your ancestor(s) on ship passenger lists
- The Hamburg Passenger Departure Lists 1850-1934 (some gaps)
If your ancestor's ship departed from the German port of Hamburg then you may be able to find the departure list for that ship on microfilm or online. These records usually give the last residence for each passenger.
- Other Sources
- American church records sometimes give the place of origin of immigrant
- Sometimes church records for German churches in America will list the place of birth of the parents in the baptismal records of their children
- If you don't know which church your ancestor attended look for churches near the address of where he or she lived - you can sometimes find addresses in census records and city directories
- Death Certificates usually give place of birth (sometimes just the country, but sometimes the town is given)
- Obituaries - search the local newspaper(s) where your ancestor died a day or more after the date of death
- Obituaries in American German language newspapers - check at a library in the area your ancestor lived. Also see...
- Grave markers - this is not very common, but occasionally you will find a person's birthplace on his or her gravestone
- Naturalization Records (especially if Naturalized after Sept. 1906; pre-Sept. 1906 naturalizations generally do not name the town)
- County Histories and Biographies
- Family tradition - ask your relatives
- World War I Draft Registration Cards (for men born from Sept 11, 1872 to Sept 12, 1900) Nearly 11 million (men born about June 1886 to June 1897) of the 24 million total draft cards asked for location of birth (town, state, nation).
- World War II Draft Cards have place of birth ("town or county" and "state or country").
- Locating a Place of Origin in Germany from FamilySearch is a helpful resource
- Germany Births and Baptisms 1558-1898, Marriages 1558-1929, and other records at FamilySearch
- German Emigration Lists (lists of people who applied to leave Germany)
- International Genealogical Index (IGI) from FamilySearch
Once you know the name of the German town or city, you might try locating it on a map and determine the German state it is in.
Records in Germany
- This website's Finding Places Webpage has links to helpful information about German towns and villages, including an online Gazetteer.
After you have determined the town or village where your ancestor lived in Germany, you might check to see what records are available online or in the FamilySearch catalog (some of these have been digitized).
- Types of Records to Look For
- Church Records
- Civil Registration Records (birth, marriage and death)
- Other Records such as emigration lists
- German Genealogy Records and Indexes Online
- To find records in the FamilySearch Catalog, do a "place search" for the village or place you are looking for.
- Look for topics such as "church records" and "civil registration," but always look at every topic to see what kinds of records they have that may help you.
- Look for the camera icon to see if the records are viewable online. Some records may only be viewable at an LDS Family History Center or affiliated library.
- Reading These Records
You will find that some German church records are in German, while some Catholic records will be in Latin. The records are ususally written in the old German script, which many researchers find difficult to read.
- Writing Letters or Emails to Germany
If the records you need are not online or available from FamilySearch, then you might have to write or email the appropriate place in Germany.
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