Communicating with Germany

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FAQ > Communicating with Germany


How do I find an address or phone number?

For German phone numbers, the best resources are CD-ROMs or the DeTeMedien website.

German telephone directory

PowerInfo Auskunft 2001

D-Info 2001

For Austria, three CD-ROM listings are available:

  • Herold ATB CD - expensive and limited retrieval methods
  • O-Info - ATS 299, similar to the Herold edition
  • A-Info - ATS 299 and very flexible

and a website at

For Switzerland, try the online directory at and Several CD-ROM listings are also available: Telecom CD (PC), TwixTel/lite (PC), and Quick 111 (Mac).

French (including Alsace-Lorraine) addresses and telephone numbers can be had at Enter the following d├ępartement numbers:

     Alsace (Elsass)          Lorraine (Lothringen)
       67      Bas-Rhin         54      Meurthe-et-Moselle
       68      Haut-Rhin        55      Meuse
                                57      Moselle
                                88      Vosges

For the Netherlands (Holland), try:

US addresses and telephone numbers can be found at There are also many online directories at

How can I find out what village my ancestor came from?

This is sometimes easy, sometimes quite difficult, and sometimes impossible. This is the general order of resources to be used in finding the German origin of German-American families:

  • Narratives from older relatives
  • Previous family research, notes, etc., if available
  • Family documents or mementos from the old country
  • US census (1920 and earlier) - can learn immigration and/or naturalization year
  • IGI, for uncommon names, if the birth or marriage date is known, or if two names in combination are known
  • Passenger ship records, and indexes like Germans to America
  • Naturalization records - usually held at the county level in the US
  • Obituaries, especially in German-language newspapers
  • American church records
  • County histories/genealogies
  • Local historical/genealogical societies
  • Local fraternal and other ethnic or cultural organizations
  • Tombstones or cemetery records
  • German state emigration records and indexes, including citizenship release papers, passports, estate and debt settlement papers, property sales, departure taxes, expulsion papers, and records for transportation of minors
  • US Social Security records, for individuals living after 1935 Note that the Social Security Death Index is only a start.
  • Probate records
  • US Civil War pension or other military records, if appropriate
  • Ahnenstammkartei (ASTAKA)
  • Individuals in Germany with the same name, but only if the name is very unusual or if you know approximately where your ancestor came from
  • Neighbors in America, because sometimes unrelated families emigrated together
  • Contemporary newspapers, which often printed passenger lists and emigrant correspondence

Search these sources not only for the German immigrant, but also his or her spouses, descendants, and other relatives. There is an excellent and concise list of resources for German-American immigration research available on the German genealogy server at The FHL also offers a good research outline entitled Tracing Immigrant Origins, available at your local FHC or online.

How do I write to a German Standesamt, parish, or archive?

For archive addresses, see the question on archive addresses. For most towns, the Standesamt or parish address would be simply

   Standesamt or ev. Pfarramt or kath. Pfarramt 
   ????? Town-name 

where the second choice indicates Protestant, the third choice Catholic. The five question marks need to be replaced by the correct postal code. For larger towns, there are likely to be several churches, but the above address will often work anyway. For cities, you will need to know the section of the city to find the correct Standesamt or church; inquiries at a main office are sometimes forwarded correctly.

You should write in German and include DM10 to cover postage and basic fees. There may be further expenses billable to you; extensive research will not usually be performed for a small fee. Make sure you indicate how you are related to the sought persons. Sample letters are available from the German genealogy server at or make use of the German genealogy volunteer translation service. There is also an excellent letter-writing guide on the LDS site.

Many local parishes have deposited their older church records in the corresponding church archives; in these cases communication with the local parish may be forwarded to the appropriate archive, answered with an indication of the appropriate archive, returned, or ignored, all at the option of the parish office. Furthermore, strict privacy protection laws in Germany very often prohibit official release of personal information to individuals unless they can demonstrate direct descendance from the person to be researched or unless there is a legal entitlement to the information, for example for matters of inheritance. Some archives may also have requirements on the age of the information before they allow release, even to direct descendants.

How do I find German postal codes?

German postal codes (Postleitzahl or PLZ, equivalent to US zip codes) are available on the Internet from and They are also listed in German postal code books. For towns with only one postal code, you can also consult the Michelin red guide, the RV Autoatlas, or Arthur Teschler's geographical server.

I don't know German. What should I do?

The best overall solution is to learn German. Often such a large investment offers rich rewards. You might consider taking courses at your local college or Goethe Institute

In the meantime, you can make use of the German genealogy volunteer translation service administered by Arthur Teschler. Send e-mail to The first line of the message body should read:

   #GER>ENG (for a German to English translation,) 
   #ENG>GER (for an English to German translation, or) 
   #S (for a snail mail/fax translation, fee by arrangement). 

The rest of your message should be the text to be translated, no more than 40 lines. For the snail mail/fax service, you mail or fax a copy of the original document to the translator, and receive a translation by e-mail. For more information see

For larger documents or for guaranteed precision, professional translation is recommended.

Computer translation programs are normally not recommended; their clumsy translations usually requires human correction.

A good German-English dictionary, available in most libraries and bookstores, is usually needed for translations. Sometimes a good German dictionary or encyclopedia is a better resource. There is an online German-English dictionary at: (US mirror) (Europe).

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