Journey to the Past: A Guide to German Genealogy and Ancestry

German Genealogy Overview

Welcome to the Germany Genealogical Research Center. This page is intended to be a compilation of all the information needed for German research in one easy to use tool. The page has been organized into a few sections. In the overview section, information has been divided into Germany’s historical background, religious background, general document information, and some basic regional history. In the geography section, it is divided into detailed map information as well as boundary changes, jurisdictional help, and language information. The record section includes detailed information about record types and their descriptions, as well as a summary on German ‘lost records’. The archive section includes specific archive and repository names/locations as well as general repository information. Next, research tips and pointers are compiled to help novices, experienced researchers, and even professionals perform expert genealogical research. The final section includes instructions on how to get professional research help should the need arise using, the world’s most comprehensive genealogy researcher network.


This section focuses on record jurisdictions, maps, and language. For comparison, jurisdictions refer to the separation of record types (ex. In the United States, records are separated into federal, state, county, and city records). In the maps portion, geographical maps demonstrate how boundaries have changed over time. Finally, the language portion contains an index on specific words that will be helpful in determining German record types, as well as tips on reading German handwriting.

Historical Background

Germany is a vibrant country with a rich history and heritage. As with many countries of Europe, Germany has seen dramatic changes to its borders and even its internal regions. Over the centuries, Germany consisted of numerous independent kingdoms, duchies, principalities, and states. Then in 1871, all German-speaking states except the Austrian states were consolidated into the German Empire.
The area that is now called Germany, originally was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Baptisms, marriages and burials began to be recorded by the Roman Catholic Church after the Council of Trent in (1545 – 1563).
It is important when conducting research to determine if the ancestors were Catholic or Protestant and to identify the dominant religion at the time in that specific locality within the German Empire (or what the current government was called at the time).
Germany wasn’t unified as a nation until 1871. Before this, the German Empire consisted of 26 states, most of them ruled by royal families. Both World Wars impacted the boundaries of the states drastically, as well as caused record destruction, especially among the Jews.
Civil registration began in Germany around 1803, when Napoléon gained influence in Germany. Additionally, the German regime enacted the marital status law of 1937, which was meant to have greater control over the citizens and distinguish between Arians and non-Arians, and healthy and not healthy persons, which led to the death of millions of Jews.
It is likely that the area the ancestor is from has experienced boundary changes over time, due to changes in government power, growth in the area, or other reasons. It may be important to search surrounding counties and/or countries for records pertaining to the research subject (s).
To read more about German history, read the Trace blog post here.

Religious Background

To accurately assess in which records to search for an ancestor, it is imperative to understand the religious history of that locality. For example, Roman Catholicism has remained predominant in southern Germany but not in northern Germany. The adverse is also true, with Protestantism being more popular in northern Germany, than southern Germany. Depending on the locality the  ancestor was from, best practice may lean towards first searching the dominant religion records of that area.

Roman Catholic

The Roman Catholic faith was accepted in parts of Germany from the fifth century after Christ onward. In the 1200s, German Crusaders, called the Teutonic Knights, conquered pagan Prussia (Preußen) and converted it to Catholicism. Catholicism remained the predominant faith of Germany until the 1500s, when the Reformation movements of Martin Luther and the Swiss religious reformers began to take hold.

There was much conflict between Catholics and Protestants. In the 1550s, the Catholic Church began a counter reformation movement. The Thirty Years' War, which swept across central Europe from 1618 to 1648, had its origins in religious conflicts between rulers of parts of Germany and Austria.

After the war, the Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed churches were the only recognized state churches. Smaller religious groups, such as Jews, Mennonites, and Huguenots, were still persecuted by the Protestant and Catholic churches. In the early part of the nineteenth century, minority religions were required by law to register their information with either Catholic or Lutheran parishes. Either this, or prepare their own civil transcripts of births, marriages, and deaths.

Evangelical (Lutheran) and Evangelical Reformed

Beginning in the 1500s, many Germans accepted Luther's teachings. The Evangelical, or Lutheran, Church was formally established by 1531. Despite persecution by both the Catholic Church and some governments, the Lutheran Church spread throughout Germany and became a prominent religion. Lutherans are more predominant in northern Germany than in southern Germany.

Protestants who accepted the creed of the Swiss Calvinist reformers became members of the Evangelical Reformed Church. This group was strong in some areas of Germany, especially in the Pfalz, Baden, Hessen, and near the Dutch border, but it had far fewer followers than the Lutherans.

General German Record Information

Before beginning research in Germany, the town of origin needs to be known. Otherwise, it makes the search nearly impossible. It is helpful to research the entire family as a unit, instead of only focusing on one individual in time. It is likely that you may need to follow each child from their birth to death in order to confirm which one is your ancestor.

Major records types that can be used for genealogy research in Germany include, but are not limited to:

* Heraldry records circa 1100s to present
* Court records from 1300s, including wills, mortgages, loans, and trials
* Church births, marriages, and deaths from late 1400s, with most beginning 1550
* Land records were kept by the districts from the time they were settled
* Ships’ passenger lists (Canada, Australia, Ireland, UK, and U.S.)
* Ship passenger lists from early 1800s for the ports of Hamburg, Bremen, Antwerp (Belgium), and Le Havre (France), Stettin (Poland), and other ports
* Census records from 1800s
* Military records from before 1867 to present
* Civil births, marriages, and deaths from 1871
* Newspapers were written in many areas and time periods which contain information such as notices of marriages, notices of death, and obituaries
* Town and county histories were written that record information about the settlers and their families; many family genealogies of the settlers of Germany have also been written


This section focuses on record jurisdictions, maps, and language. For comparison, jurisdictions refer to the separation of record types (ex. In the United States, records are separated into federal, state, county, and city records). In the maps portion, geographical maps demonstrate how boundaries have changed over time. Finally, the language portion contains an index on specific words that will be helpful in determining German record types, as well as tips on reading German handwriting.


For much of Europe’s history, boundaries were in constant motion. An individual may have claimed on a record to have been from Prussia, but only a few years later it was annexed into the German Empire. It is critical to know both the location of origin, as well as the time they were born there to determine where the records are located. For example, if an ancestor claimed to be from Bavaria and were born in 1860, research would require going to the modern state of interest that corresponds to the boundaries of the historical state to obtain the proper documents. In this sense, it isn’t enough to know where they were from. Effective research requires both the historical location, as well as its corresponding modern civil state.

Historic Regions of Germany

Below, you’ll find a list of the 26 member states of the German Empire.

Duchy of Anhalt - The Duchy of Anhalt was a historical German duchy. The territory is now part of the federal state of Saxony-Anhaly (Sachsen-Anhalt). Anhalt’s origins lie in the Principality of Anhalt, a state of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1806, Napoleon elevated the states of Anhalt-Bernburg, Anhalt-Dessau and Anhalt-Köthen to duchies. These duchies were united in 1863 to form a united Anhalt.

Grand Duchy of Baden - Baden came into existence in the 12th century as the Margraviate of Baden and subsequently split into various smaller territories that were unified in 1771. Upon the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, Baden became the much-enlarged Grand Duchy of Baden. In 1815, it joined the German Confederation. The Grand Duchy of Baden remained a sovereign country until it joined the German Empire in 1871. After the revolution of 1918, Baden became part of the Weimar Republic as the Republic of Baden.

Kingdom of Bayern (Bavaria) - The Kingdom of Bavaria (German: Königreich Bayern) was a German state that succeeded the former Electorate of Bavaria in 1805 and continued to exist until 1918. Most of Bavaria's present-day borders were established after 1814 with the Treaty of Paris, in which Bavaria ceded Tyrol and Vorarlberg to the Austrian Empire while receiving Aschaffenburg and Würzburg. With the unification of Germany into the German Empire in 1871, the kingdom became a federal state of the new Empire and was second in size, power, and wealth only to the leading state, the Kingdom of Prussia. In 1918, Bavaria became a republic, and the kingdom was thus succeeded by the current Free State of Bavaria, after the abolition of monarchy in the aftermath of World War I.

Duchy of Braunschweig (Brunswick) - The Duchy of Braunschweig remained sovereign and independent and was never part of Prussia. It joined first the North German Confederation in 1866, and in 1871, the German Empire. At the end of World War I, in 1919, the enclaves of Calvörde and part of Blankenburg became part of the Province of Saxony (Provinz Sachsen), which in 1946 merged into the current state of Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt), part of East Germany, until the re-unification of Germany in 1990.

Free City of Bremen
- At the unwinding of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, Bremen became a sovereign state officially titled Free Hanseatic City of Bremen. The Vienna Congress of 1815 confirmed Bremen’s independence. In 1827, the state of Bremen bought the tract of land from the Kingdom of Hanover (Hannover), where future Bremerhaven would be established. Bremen became part of the North German Confederation in 1867 and became an autonomous component state of the new-founded German Empire in 1871. In 1935, Bremen became a regular city at the de facto abolition of statehood of all component German states within the Third Reich.

Imperial territory of Elsass-Lothringen (Alsace-Lorraine) - The Imperial Territory of ‘’’Elsass-Lothringen’’’ was a territory created by the German Empire in 1871, after it annexed ‘’’most of Alsace and the Moselle department of Lorraine' following its victory in the Franco-Prussian War.

Free City of Hamburg - Hamburg, (officially the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, was a fully sovereign city state before the 1871 unification of Germany. Before 1919,Hamburg formed a civic republic, headed constitutionally by a class of hereditary grand burghers or Hanseaten. Hamburg was briefly annexed by Napoleon I to the First French Empire (1804–1814/1815). Russian forces finally freed the city in 1814. Hamburg re-assumed its pre-1811 status as a city-state in 1814. The Vienna Congress of 1815 confirmed Hamburg's independence and it became one of 39 sovereign states of the German Confederation (1815–1866). Hamburg became a member of the North German Confederation (1866–1871) and of the German Empire (1871–1918), and maintained its self-ruling status during the Weimar Republic (1919–1933).

Grand Duchy of Hessen (Hesse) - The "Grand Duchy of Hesse" was originally formed on the basis of the Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt in 1806. After the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, it changed its name in 1816 to distinguish itself from the Electorate of Hesse, which had formed from neighboring Hesse-Kassel. Colloquially, the grand duchy continued to be known by its former name of Hesse-Darmstadt. In 1867, the northern half of the Grand Duchy (Upper Hesse) became a part of the North German Confederation, while the half of the Grand Duchy south of the Main (Starkenburg and Rhenish Hesse) remained Independent. It joined the German Empire in 1871. It became a republic after German defeat in World War I in 1918.

Principality of Lippe - The history of the Lippe dynasty really began with Bernard II, edler Herr von Lippe (Lord of Lippe). His territory was probably formed out of land he acquired on the destruction of the Duchy of Saxony in 1180. Lippe is also referred to as Lippe-Detmold. On 12 November 1918, it became the Free State of Lippe.

Free City of Lübeck - The Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck was a city-state from 1226 to 1937, in what is now the German states of Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. From 1811 to 1813, Lübeck was formally annexed as part of the First French Empire. Lübeck reassumed its pre-1811 status in 1813. 
The 1815 Congress of Vienna reconfirmed Lübeck's independence and it became one of 39 sovereign states of the German Confederation.
 Lübeck joined the North German Confederation in 1867. 
In 1871 Lübeck became an autonomous component state within the newly founded German Empire.

Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin - The Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin was a territory in Northern Germany held by the House of Mecklenburg residing at Schwerin. The Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin was created in 1701, when Frederick William and Adolphus Frederick II divided the Duchy of Mecklenburg between Schwerin and Strelitz. It was a sovereign member state of the German Confederation and became a federated state of the North German Confederation and finally of the German Empire in 1871. After the fall of the monarchies in 1918, resulting from World War I, the Grand Duchy became the Free State of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz - The Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was a duchy in northern Germany, consisting of the eastern fifth of the historic Mecklenburg region. The 1701 Treaty of Hamburg established Mecklenburg-Strelitz as a duchy in its own right. The 1701 provisions were maintained with minor changes until the end of the monarchy.  After the fall of the monarchies in 1918, resulting from World War I, the Grand Duchy became the Free State of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

Grand Duchy of Oldenburg - The Grand Duchy of Oldenburg (German: Großherzogtum Oldenburg) (also known as Holstein-Oldenburg) was a grand duchy within the German Confederation, North German Confederation and German Empire which consisted of three widely separated territories: Oldenburg, Eutin and Birkenfeld.
As a result of the Greater Hamburg Act of 1937, Eutin passed from the Free State of Oldenburg to the Prussian Province of Schleswig-Holstein.

Kingdom of Preussen (Prussia) - Originally "Preussen" referred to the geographical area that had been settled by a Baltic tribe, the Pruzzen. This area later became the Duchy of Preussen (Prussia), a Polish fiefdom, which was obtained by the Margrave of Brandenburg in 1618. In 1701 the margrave of Brandenburg assumed the title of "king" for himself and his successors. Thus, Prussia became a kingdom, and eventually included all the property controlled by this dynasty. Land holdings expanded steadily to include the area around Magdeburg and Halberstadt in Saxony, and western areas such as Kleve, Mark, and Ravensberg.

Principality of Reuss-ältere-Linie (Reuss-Greiz) - called the Principality of the Reuss Elder Line (ältere Linie) after 1848, was a sovereign state in modern Germany, ruled by members of the House of Reuss.
In 1919, in the aftermath of World War I, the territory of the Elder Line was merged with that of the Junior Line as the People's State of Reuss, which was incorporated into the new state of Thuringia (Thüringen) in 1920

Principality of Reuss-jüngere-Linie (Reuss-Gera) - called the Principality of Reuss-Gera until 1848, was a sovereign state in the German Empire. It was one of the successor states of the Imperial County of Reuss. The territories of four separate branches of the Reuss Younger Line ((jüngere Linie) amalgamated between 1824 and 1848.
In the aftermath of World War I in 1919, the territory of Reuss Younger Line ((jüngere Linie) merged with that of the Elder Line as the People's State of Reuss, which became part of the new state of Thuringia on 1 May 1920.

Kingdom of Sachsen (Saxony) - The area of Saxony (Sachsen) in the German Empire should not be confused with "Old Saxony," the area inhabited by Saxons. “Old Saxony” corresponds roughly to the modern German states of Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and the Westphalian part of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Duchy of Sachsen-Altenburg (Saxe-Altenburg) - Saxe-Altenburg (German: Sachsen-Altenburg) was one of the Saxon duchies held by the Ernestine branch of the House of Wettin, now in present-day Thuringia. The territory of the duchy consisted of two non-contiguous territories separated by land belonging to the Principality of Reuss. Saxe-Altenburg became part of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg until the extinction of that house in 1825, when Gotha and Altenburg were divided up. The duchy ended in the course of the German Revolution of 1918–19. The succeeding Free State of Saxe-Altenburg was incorporated into the new state of Thuringia in 1920.

Duchy of Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha (Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) - Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, was an Ernestine duchy ruled by a branch of the House of Wettin, consisting of territories in the present-day states of Bavaria and Thuringia in Germany. It lasted from 1826 to 1918. In November 1918, Charles Edward, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, was forced to abdicate. Saxe (Gotha) was subsequently merged into Thuringia, whereas Coburg merged into Bavaria.

Duchy of Sachsen-Meiningen (Saxe-Meiningen) - Saxe-Meiningen was one of the Saxon duchies held by the Ernestine line, located in the southwest of the present-day German state of Thuringia. It was established in 1681, by partition of the duchy of Saxe-Gotha among the seven sons of deceased Duke Ernst der Fromme. In 1866, Saxe-Meiningen was admitted to join the North German Confederation. Since 1868, the duchy comprised the Kreise (districts) of Hildburghausen, Sonneberg and Saalfeld as well as the northern exclaves of Camburg and Kranichfeld.

Grand Duchy of Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach (Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach) - Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach) was created as a duchy in 1809 by the merger of Saxe-Weimar and Saxe-Eisenach. It was raised to a Grand duchy in 1815 by resolution of the Vienna Congress. In 1903, it officially changed its name to the Grand Duchy of Saxony, but this name was rarely used. The Grand Duchy came to an end in the German Revolution of 1918–19 with the other monarchies of the German Empire.

Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe - Schaumburg-Lippe was created as a county in 1647. Schaumburg-Lippe was a county until 1807 when it became a principality; from 1871 it was a state within the German Empire. In 1913, it was the smallest state in the German Empire in terms of population. The capital was Bückeburg, and Stadthagen was the only other town. It became a free state in 1918, and was until 1946 a small state in Germany. It is located in the present day state of Lower Saxony, with its capital at Bückeburg. It should not be confused with the principality of Lippe

Principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt - Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt was a small historic state in present-day Thuringia, Germany, with its capital at Rudolstadt. In 1597, the two counties of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt and Schwarzburg-Sondershausen were established by the 1599 Treaty of Stadtilm. It joined the Confederation of the Rhine in 1807, the German Confederation in 1815, and the German Empire in 1871. On 23 November 1918, during the German Revolution of 1918–1919 and the fall of all the German monarchies, Prince Günther Victor was the last to abdicate. The former principality became a "Free State" in 1919, that was merged into the new state of Thuringia in the next year.

Principality of Schwarzburg-Sondershausen - Schwarzburg-Sondershausen was a small principality in Germany, in the present day state of Thuringia, with its capital at Sondershausen. In 1597, the two counties of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt and Schwarzburg-Sondershausen were established by the 1599 Treaty of Stadtilm. Schwarzburg-Sondershausen was a county until 1697. In that year, it became a principality, which lasted until the fall of the German monarchies in 1918, during the German Revolution of 1918–1919. After the German Revolution, it became a republic. In 1920, it joined with other small states in the area to form the new state of Thuringia.

Principality of Waldeck-Pyrmont - Waldeck was a county within the Holy Roman Empire from about 1200. In 1625, the small county of Pyrmont became part of the county through inheritance. The independence of the principality was confirmed in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna, and Waldeck and Pyrmont became a member of the German Confederation. From 1868 onward, the principality was administered as part of Prussia, but retained its legislative sovereignty. In 1871, the principality became a constituent state of the new German Empire. Waldeck was formally absorbed into the Prussian province of Hesse-Nassau in 1929, which is today in the modern state of Hesse (Hessen).

Kingdom of Württemberg - The Kingdom of Württemberg (German: Königreich Württemberg) was a German state that existed from 1805 to 1918, located within the area that is now Baden-Württemberg. The kingdom was a continuation of the Duchy of Württemberg, which existed from 1495 to 1805. Prior to 1495, Württemberg was a County in the former Duchy of Swabia (Schwaben). As Germany underwent violent revolution near the end of World War I, the Kingdom of Württemberg was transformed from a monarchy to a democratic republic (the Free People's State of Württemberg) without bloodshed; its borders and internal administration remained unchanged.

Modern Civil States

Modern States of Germany:

•Bavaria (Bayern)
•Hesse (Hessen)
•Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern)
•Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen)
•North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen)
•Rhineland-Palatinate (Rheinland-Pfalz)
•Saxony (Sachsen)
•Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt)
•Thuringia (Thüringen)

Modern German States



This section includes critical record information, how privacy restrictions may affect research, and detailed information on specific record types. This section also focuses on ‘lost records’ or records that are unavailable due to burnings, lootings, natural disasters, or other kinds of record destruction.

Record Info

Privacy Restrictions on Records (for 3rd party)

When acquiring civil registration records there are different privacy restrictions and laws surrounding what an individual can access. Birth records in Germany are made public after 110 years, marriages after 80 years and deaths after 30 years. Participating parties are both parents and the child in birth records, and both spouses in a marriage. A direct relationship to the participating parties will be required in cases where the required time period has not yet elapsed. In some locations, proof of relationship must be provided along with the limited power of attorney. Even then, the records may be accessible if it can be shown that all "participating parties" have died at least 30 years ago. It can be helpful in these cases to work with a professional genealogist to perform the German paperwork correctly to access the record you are seekling.

Record Types

Cemetery Records -  Many of the older German graves have been repurposed for those who are recently deceased. New German tombstones have been installed as well, meaning that old German gravestone inscriptions are no longer available except in the recorded copies; especially for private or church cemeteries. The civil registration death records, funeral sermons, parish register burials, and bell tolling accounts are typically easier to find than German tombstone inscriptions.

It is very possible that the ancestor of interest has been moved from their burial location. In this case, best practice in discovering what happened by talking with local living relatives about those family members that were once buried there.

German cemetery records - can contain the individual’s name, age, birth date/year, death year/date, burial date, and marriage information. Occasionally, these records reveal religious preferences, occupation, organization membership, military service, or residence at the time of death, as well.

Census - Census records are a count and description of a population. The early German census was not distributed nationally, so local regions and cities often contain the vital census information that is useful.

German census information is not often helpful in German research, because it is not as extensive as census records in other countries. Further, most census information is not available to researchers. Because of this, census information is not often the most reliable, or sought-after information in German genealogy research. However, local governments did occasionally have accurate census records that could be useful.

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Church Records  -  Church records are the most important information source for early German research. Germany did not begin civil registration until much after churches began recording birth and death information. Churches recorded details on baptisms, marriages, deaths, burials, social standing, and more depending on the record. Almost the entire country either belonged to the Catholic or Protestant churches, so information on nearly every German citizen can be found in the German church records. Additionally, church records can contain financial account books, confirmation lists, and family lists and the family register.

Church records often included local minority faith populations as well. For example, German Jewish records and Mennonite records, and other religious records were often stored and recorded at local Catholic and Protestant churches.

When looking for church records, it is important to know the religion of the ancestor. Lutheran churches began requiring records around 1540, while Catholic parish records were mandated by the pope in 1563 and by 1650 most Reformed parishes began keeping records. The main religious division in Germany was between Catholics (Katholische) and Protestants, comprised mainly of Lutherans (Evangelisch) and Reformed (Reformierte). Catholic records are usually written in Latin or German, while other records will be written in the local language. It can be difficult to read Old German or possible Latin handwriting, when accessing these records. A professional Germany genealogy researcher can be extremely helpful in deciphering handwriting and identifying documents.

If you are interested in reading more about Church records in Germany, click here:
Genealogy in Germany: Church Records

Sample Church Record

Civil Records  -  Civil registration records include birth, marriage, and death records that are kept by the government. German terms for these records include Zivilstandsregister, Personenstandsregister, or Standesamtsregister.

Civil records are a great place to look for names and dates and places of birth, marriage, and death. The German civil registrar keeps these records in the civil registry office (Standesamt). Civil records contain about 98% of the population, and the information is often more accurate than church records as well. Though church records are a great piece of information, after 1876 (when Germany established civil registration) civil records became a much more reliable source of German genealogical information.

Court Records -  German court records are available at many different levels. According to the jurisdiction (community, district, or higher), the types of records, and their functions, will be different. Marriage records are the most common type of early record available, but other records such as permission papers, probate records, land records, property transfers, and guardianship records are also available for German researchers.
In the German states, before 1870, there were over fifty kinds of courts, each with a different jurisdiction. Because these court records aren’t typically indexed, research may require a manual search through available documents. It is very possible that a professional German researcher will be required to take access German court records with confidence. German genealogists are a great resource to verify personal research, obtain ‘hard to reach’ documents, and break through genealogical barriers.
Though rare, when a court record is found it will often be a great source for multiple data points. Age, political allegiance, debts, criminal records, taxes, adoptions, guardianship, residence, and other common information can be found in German court records. Divorces may be found as well, but they are rarely recorded before the 1900s.

Emigration and Immigration -  If someone from Germany has emigrated to another country (to the United States for example), the research for that individual may begin there instead of their native country. In order to perform research in German records for these individuals, the town of origin needs to be known. Often, this will be mentioned in the immigration records of the country they traveled to.

When professional genealogical researchers discover that an individual may have emigrated from Germany to the United States, research almost always begins in the United States to verify the town of origin before going back to Germany to conduct further research.

Emigration and Immigration records can often convey more than just the town of origin or location of departure. They can contain the names of parents, other family members, age, ethnicity, and more.

Genealogies -  German genealogies are pedigree charts, compiled family information, or societal information that researchers have made available. These genealogies should be handled with care because they are secondary sources, not primary sources. These are excellent sources of information because they can save time if they are correct, but there is always a possibility that the individual who compiled it made a mistake.

German genealogies are often best used to compare and contrast research by different individuals to see if they came to the same conclusions.

Jewish Records -  In the early part of the nineteenth century, minority religions were required by law to register their information with either Catholic or Lutheran parishes. Either this, or prepare their own civil transcripts of births, marriages, and deaths. Most Jews typically registered with the local Catholic and Lutheran registries. Though these records were recorded within a Christian parish, those Jewish citizens with records are still classified as ‘Jewish Records.’

In the later part of the nineteenth century, Germany introduced the nationwide civil registration. German Jewish births, marriages, and deaths were then recorded by civil authorities rather than local parishes.

These civil records contain most of the vital information that Jewish records at the parish record previously contained. Civil records were often kept better, and provided more information than early church records, though.

Land & Property Records  -  German land records often provide a chain of land ownership from parents to offspring (typically father to son) over several generations. This can be extremely useful to track multiple generations at a time. Land records don’t often contain much more than the names of the landowners, so it isn’t the best source of overall genealogical information. When other records do not exist, German land and property records can be a great source of information, though. During the 19th century, land and property records in Germany did not just include the landowners, but also those who rented the land or had tenure.
Though German land records can be extremely useful, they are not easily accessible. Very few of them have been microfilmed, and many will need to be searched manually. These records can be found at the state archives. Before the 19th century, land records were typically found within the archives of individual families who had stewardship over the land. These archives can be still held by the family, but also can be located within Germany’s regional or state archives. You’ll often need to hire a German researcher, or visit Germany’s archives and collections to access them because of their limited availability.

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Local Records  -  German police began keeping records of each town’s population in the 1840s. German residents were required to communicate with local police and registration offices when, and if, they moved. The records are now known as registrations (Melderegister) or resident lists (Einwohnerregister). Typically, these local records are held at the city level. Records typically tracked the head of the household, but as time progressed the records began to include the names of other family members as well.

Manumission (release from serfdom or slavery) -  It wasn’t until the beginning of the 19th century that German serfs began to be released. Once the Age of Enlightenment began, the oppression and slavery so prevalent in Germany appeared inappropriate. Experiments by the German elite also proved that the abolition of serfdom actually was advantageous to the manor lord. With increased productivity, more people were also required to advance their work, raising the standard of living for the working class around the country. Starting in the later half of the 18th century and branching into the 19th century, mass manumissions occurred in many German states. The sovereign lord over these individuals often kept some kind of official entry or record of the manumission. These manumissions were very well documented.

In some German states, the released serf was able to purchase land from the manor lord. The state also supported some in purchasing the land. Though there were a few different methods for transference of land from lord to serf, the German manumission records useful to genealogical research are well documented and available.

Military  -  German military records identify the names of those who served in the military, or who were eligible to serve. Most of German military recruits were in the army, because they had a large army and smaller navy. Most states had requisite conscription laws, so most young men were required to register for military service. A young man who had not yet served his time was required to get special permission before he could emigrate. These military records were, therefore, very extensive and well recorded. The most important of this information being the soldier’s regiment or the sailor’s ship. This will definitely confirm their military service, and German citizenship.

Other documents can provide evidence that an individual served in the military. Family records, censuses, photographs, emigration papers, probate records, civil registration records, and church records can all contain information linking an individual to military service.

German church records can also indicate someone’s social standing, which includes active military service. These records can even contain information on the specific regiment the man was serving in. Any of these sources listed may contain an ancestor’s regiment, ship, or commanding officer.

Naturalization -  The process of naturalization involves granting citizenship privileges and responsibilities to non-citizens living in the country. German citizenship was usually granted by cities to specific individuals living there. This kind of German naturalization was uncommon until the German Empire of 1871.

Those who did receive the rights of citizenship were recorded in citizenship books, also known as Bürgerbücher. There are occasional German citizenship books that date to medieval times, but a majority of these records are from later centuries. German naturalization records are of the earliest and most consistently kept records in the country. These records include information about citizens’ names, ages, birthplaces and relationships, social and economic status, and occupation or training.

There were restrictions, though, on obtaining citizenship status in Germany. Only middle or upper class males were granted citizenship, and they had to be born legitimately. This often meant that merchants and craftsmen were commonly granted citizenship.

Newspaper -  German newspaper clippings and issues are great sources of birth, marriage, or death notices. Obituaries, and war casualty notices were especially common in old German newspapers. The obituary (death notice) often listed birth and death dates, as well as the burial location. Occasionally, other relatives and their birth locations are found in the obituary as well. Since few indexes are available, the specific date of the newspaper is often required before beginning the search. German obituaries, death notices, and other local news stories were not very common until after 1855, when a targeted tax on paper was lifted.

Obituary  -  German funeral sermons, obituaries, and eulogies were made by ministers and included information regarding the life of the deceased. These sermons were often collected and published in newspapers. The poor were much less likely to have sermons for their dead, but they can occasionally be found for soldiers, farmers, and printers. Protestants began the practice and performed a majority of the obituaries, but Catholic priests eventually followed the practice.

Between 1550 and 1750, publishing funeral sermons and eulogies became more common. These life records often contained vital genealogical information such as names, dates, residence locations, relatives, life histories, family tree pedigrees, and more. This information should be handled with care, though, because often a relative contributed the vital information. Because it is not a first hand source, it cannot always be trusted to have the correct information.

Occupation & Guilds -  German craftsmen and other professionals (such as butchers, tanners, shoemakers, tailors, etc) were organized into professional associations called guilds. The guild’s purpose was to provide training for apprentices and to regulate the occupation in the area.

Starting in the eleventh century, these guilds were a crucial part of life in most major German cities. Guild member lists include those practicing (journeymen), marriages, and rank advancements from apprentice to journeyman, and from journeyman to master craftsman. Some German guilds even kept records of children, similar to church baptismal records.

Town Genealogies -  The town lineage book or town family book (Ortssippenbuch or Ortsfamilienbuch respectively), include birth, marriage, and death data for everyone found in the local records during a specified time period, compiled into families. Sources for these genealogies can include local parish registers, civil registration records, court and land records, and other published materials.

In the printed book, the information is usually arranged alphabetically by surname and chronologically by marriage date. Family entries are identified by sequential numbers.
These town genealogies are know by many different names, including “town lineage book,” “local heritage book,” and “one-place-studies.”

House books (a variation on town genealogies) are usually arranged by house number or address, and list successive home owners and their families. Unfortunately, these documents only list home owners and not necessarily those who lived in the home; meaning the renters are often excluded from the compilation. Few of these house books have been digitized and made available online.

Periodicals -  German research periodicals (magazines, newsletters, journals, etc) can provide valuable genealogical information. Articles in these periodicals can contain:
Family genealogies and pedigrees
Transcripts or indexes of biographical sketches
Census Records, church records, migration lists, military records, obituaries, wills, etc.
Current and historical maps

Once again, family genealogies, pedigrees, and research suggestions are not first hand sources and should be researched for verification.

Probate -  German probate records and wills are court records that deal with property, land, and other estate rights after an individual dies. Probate records can contain the deceased person’s death date and occupation, relationships, residences and names of heirs and guardians. The inventory of the estate and names of the witnesses are included as well.

A majority of farmers, merchants, and artisans did not own their own farms or ships, so they would not have left wills or probates. When someone has left a will or land, probate records can be extremely helpful in clarifying information already found in parish registers and civil registrations records.

Very few German probate records have been indexed and microfilmed, so a professional german genealogist or researcher can often be helpful in obtaining German probate or will documents. These documents are often not indexed, and require relatively good reading skills. These records can be archaic, dating back to as early as the 1300’s. Probate and will records can provide information that is unavailable in any other kind of record. Because of this, these records can be extremely useful in early German research projects.

School  -  If an individual was educated in German universities, it may have been recorded in the matriculation records of their schools. School records are not available in all states, and may not be relied on as a broad source of information, but there is certainty an ancestor attended a German university or school, names, ages, residence locations, and other vital information may be accessible.

Destroyed & Lost Records

This section includes a list of lost, burned, destroyed, or otherwise unavailable, records. This can be due to archive burnings, lootings, mass loss, or other reason. [Content section to be written by professional researcher]


This section focuses on specific archives and collections that are available throughout Germany, as well as the proper etiquette when using them. The second part of this section includes specific document types and the most effective way to locate those documents. When Trace researchers are working on a project, they will often be working through these very sources. These locations are divided into public archives, state archives, church archives, out-of-country, and ‘other’.

Public Archives

• Das Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive)
•The Federal Archives hold information and records concerning the state archives of civil and military bodies from various eras since the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. It is a focused collection on official publications, documents published by political parties, associations and organizations, collections, and the estates of historically significant people from the German Reich, the Weimar Republic, Nazi Germany, the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany. Unfortunately, there has been some damage due to the ravages of war. To conduct research here, an appointment and legal forms must be filled out in advance.
• Generallandesarchiv Karlsruhe
•In English it translates to the General State Archive in Karlsruhe. This archive secures the information of the official archives of past periods for the Karlsruhe administrative district, including court files, documents from the state authorities, archives of monasteries and knightly orders, church files etc. There are also many aristocratic and private archives that are kept in the general state archive. It specifically houses the archives of the bishops of Speyer and Constance, parts of the episcopal archives from Strasbourg and Basel , archives of the knightly orders and many Archives of abolished monasteries such as Salem, Reichenau, St. Blasien, St. Peter on the Black Forest, Schwarzach or Frauenalb. Most of the approximately 130,000 documents come from these monasteries.
•Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart
•Staatsarchiv Freiburg
•Staatsarchiv Ludwigsburg
•Staatsarchiv Sigmaringen
•Staatsarchiv Wertheim
•Hohenlohe Zentralarchiv

For more about Civil Registration Records in Germany, click below:

Explaining Genealogic Germany – Some notes on civil records

The Standesamt I. at Berlin and the Civil Records of the Former Eastern Territories of Germany

State Archives

• Baden Archive
• Pfalz (Palatinate) Archive
• Rheinland (Rhineland) Archive
• Thüringen Archive in Schmalkalden

For more about Civil Registration Records in Germany, click below:

Explaining Genealogic Germany – Some notes on civil records

The Standesamt I. at Berlin and the Civil Records of the Former Eastern Territories of Germany

Church Archives

•Evangelisches Landeskirchliches Archiv
•Landeskirchliches Archiv der Evangelischen Landeskirche in Württemberg
•Landeskirchliche Archiv Stuttgart
•Erzbischöfliches Archiv Freiburg
•Bischöfliches Ordinariat, Diözesanarchiv
•Kirchlicher Suchdienst
•Landeskirchliches Archiv in Berlin (ELAB)
•Evangelisches Landeskirchliches Archiv in Berlin
•Evangelisches Landeskirchliches Archiv in Kassel
•Archives of religious communities

Other Archive

•Bavaria (Bayern) Archive
•Berlin (excluding Brandenburg) Archive
•Brandenburg (excluding Berlin) Archive
•Bremen Archive
•Hamburg Archive
•Hessen Archive
•Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Archive
•Niedersachsen Archive
•Saarland Archive
•Sachsen Archive
•Sachsen-Anhalt Archive
•Library of the Vereins für Familien- und Wappenkunde
•Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart
•Badische Landesbibliothek Karlsruhe
•Library in the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen
•German Center for Genealogy [Deutsche Zentralstelle für Genealogie]Extensive collection of German church records from Posen, Ostpreußen, Westpreußen, Pommern, and Schlesien (now in Poland, Russia, and Lithuania), many records of German settlements in eastern Europe

There are also a few archives that are located outside of the country. These boundary changes can be found in the Overview section of this document. These border changes often mean that records for an ancestor are located in countries outside of Germany. The following list gives a more in-depth analysis of relevant archives both inside, and outside, of modern-day Germany.

Archive Information Center

Catholic Bishopric Archive in Bamberg
We have genealogists who perform in-depth research in the Catholic Bishopric Archive in Bamberg, Germany. The Catholic Bishopric Archive in Bamberg has many genealogical records.

Catholic Bishopric Archive in Passau
We have genealogists who perform in-depth research in the Catholic Bishopric Archive in Passau, Germany. The Catholic Bishopric Archive in Passau has many genealogical records.

Catholic Bishopric Archive in Regensburg
We have genealogists who perform in-depth research in the Catholic Bishopric Archive in Regensburg, Germany. The Catholic Bishopric Archive in Regensburg has many genealogical records.

Catholic Bishopric Archive in Wurzburg
We have genealogists who perform in-depth research in the Catholic Bishopric Archive in Wurzburg, Germany. The Catholic Bishopric Archive in Wurzburg has many genealogical records.

City Archive in Nurnberg
We have genealogists who perform in-depth research in the City Archive in Nurnberg, Germany. The City Archive in Nurnberg has many genealogical records.

Bavarian Main State Archive in Munchen
We have genealogists who perform in-depth research in the Bavarian Main State Archive in Munchen, Germany. The Bavarian Main State Archives have charts, files, and maps from as far back as 777 A.D. All records are in the German language. Visit the Bavarian State Archives site for more details to assist you in your research.

Bisphoric Archive of Munich and Freising in Munchen
We have genealogists who perform in-depth research in the Bisphoric Archive of Munich and Freising in Munchen, Germany. The Bisphoric Archive of Munich and Freising in Munchen has many genealogical records.

Civil Registration Offices (Standesamt)
We have genealogists who perform in-depth research in the Civil Registration Offices (Standesamt) in Berlin, Germany. The Civil Registration Offices (Standesamt) has many genealogical records.

Protestant Church Archive in Bavaria
We have genealogists who perform in-depth research in the Protestant Church Archive in Bavaria in Nurnberg, Bavaria. The Protestant Church Archive in Bavaria has many genealogical records.

State Archive in Munchen
We have genealogists who perform in-depth research in the State Archive in Munchen, Bavaria. The State Archive in Munchen has many genealogical records.
Palatine Genealogists

We have genealogists whose specialty is learning about Palatine records. They will find and analyze the best records available to further your family history research.

Our professional researchers can do research projects of many sizes and for many budgets. We customize the amount of research provided according to your needs.

Our professional researchers can do research projects of many sizes and for many budgets. We customize the amount of research provided according to your needs.

If you would like to learn how our genealogists can further your research, request a research quote.

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This section focuses on basic tips and essential tools for beginning research in Germany, provides steps on how to identify locations of interest, and finishes with visual tools to help know which records to use when looking for personal information.


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