Family Research/For beginner

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On this page you will find general informations and tips for your search of your ancestors in Germany. The spreading of the internet in the last years, that includes also the participation of many family-researchers, makes a total new technology possible, Internet-Genealogy, to which is attached much significance on this www-site.

However our genealogy-team isn’t of the opinion that the genealogy in the Internet is an answer to all your questions of research. Some questions can be answered in the easiest way with the traditional research method (some only in this way), but other questions can be answered faster with the help of the Internet. In our opinion an integrated access to your research will be the best and efficient way to complete your search results fast, exactly and completely. The following steps should be read with this philosophy in the background. Please consider that the details in your questions must be just as exact and precise formulated as, for example, in an inquiry to a parish. It is not enough to write "Friedrich Schiller, born in Württemberg" – the exact location is recommended absolutely to get an answer, otherwise the inquiry is just like the look for a needle in a haystack.

Step 1: What do you know about your family?

Write down all the informations about your ancestors, especially the complete names, dates of birth, marriage and death, also the belonging place names and other places of residence. Ask older relatives and add the new informations to your notes. Search for old, still existing documents. Do you or your relative have some of these following exemplary listed objects, perhaps in the loft or in a drawer of an old piece of furniture?

  • Family-bible (often with family-chronicle)
  • Documents of birth, marriage and death (or the according church events), changing of denomination
  • Gift documents
  • Newspapers, magazines
  • Letters
  • Military documents (also lists of medical examination for military service)
  • Obituaries
  • Photos (passport photos)
  • Reports
  • Notebooks, diaries
  • Wills
  • Genealogical tables and family trees written by others, ancestral passports, documents of Aryan proofs, ...

Document all your sources. If your relatives dont want to give away the documents, make copies of them. With system you obtain an overall view of the dates you just have, so you can align your research more well-directed.

Step 2: What do You want to research?

Choose one of Your ancestors and think about what You want to know about him/her. It is necessary to know the name of the ancestor, at least an estimated year and an accompanying place of residence (exact name – but at least the parish) in Germany. Helpful would be the denomination (especially in case of Jewish people) and names of other family members in the same area – often they are witnesses or sponsors. If there weren’t enough dates about the ancestor, even with the sources of Step 1, American researcher should inform themselves in the article about Emigration.

Step 3: Choose and follow research method

If you just have the name of a location, You have to find it. Try this with the help of the Internet or in traditional way. For the Internet look at Ortslexika and maps and index of the regions, or if You prefer, look in an atlas or location list in Your local library or the nearest Family History Center of the Mormons.

If You found the location, inform yourself about the history of the area, so You can understand the scheme of emigration, events, dispensation of justice and so on. Often You will find informations in a regional site on our WWW-Server, on the homepage of the village of in published village-chronicles (mostly to order directly from the municipality). Take also a look in the part History of this side. Otherwise You can try to find some informations in a historic encyclopedia or history book.

Now You should be able to continue with Your research. There are many ways to do this. The best results You probably will get by the combination of several possibilities:

Genealogical associations in Germany, Austria and Switzerland

You can write a letter to a genealogical association, which is specialized for the area You are interested in. Please always add enough return postage (international reply coupon, but no foreign stamps). In the part translations you will find sample letters in several languages and informations how to get help for free with the translation of the reply.

Local Heritage Books (Ortssippenbücher)

One of the most important jobs of the Ortssippenbücher (OSB) is to stimulate the reader to learn about and work out his own family history. – First he should research his own ancestors. If he belongs to a family, which is spread in the native village and the area around, he soon will ask himself whether and in which way they were related. Or he has a striking ancestor and wants to know which other contemporaries have the same ancestors, so he can recognize them as relative, normally with other family name. So he can, for the descendant research complied from past to present, choose this ancestor as progenitor and compile his descendants. (B.Oertel)

For all this jobs the OSB are very helpful, unfortunately they exist for only a few villages until now.

In these books You will normally find all births, marriages and deaths of a village, compiled in families. Because of their easy reading (typewriting) and the compiling in families they offer many advantages in the opposite to the microfilms. Unfortunately many of the OSB are out of print and difficult to get because of their small number of copies.

Registry offices (since 1876), rectories

Responsible is always the registry office, in which competence the event took place. Only direct ancestors or descendants will get informations from a registry office, otherwise You have to proof a believable legal interest.

In many areas the parish register are centralized in diocese archives (catholic) or in the belonging Oberkirchenrat (protestant) . Otherwise there were mostly microfilms.

Please notice the characteristic of the home village (citizen village) in Switzerland. Here are collected all dates concerning registry office of the person/family.

Family History Center of the Mormons

The huge stock of the Family History Centers are a place, where You probably will find documentations of the village Your ancestors come from. Try a place search to see if there exist microfilms of this location. Therefore You need the name of the responsible parish, several small villages often were summarized to one parish. During waiting for the arrival of the microfilm You also can take a look at "Ancestral File" and IGI, whether another researcher just had conducted about Your ancestors. Possibly You can spare yourself much work by establishing contact with him. But be careful: There are some mistakes in this databases too.

If You want to read the microfilms, you must be able to read the old handwriting, therefore You will find a separate instruction. The spelling of today exists since 1901, so You must take into consideration the old spellings for example Thal for Tal. In 1998 there was a further spelling reform in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

In Germany the Family History Centers weren’t allowed to hand out microfilms of German Villages without the agreement of the responsible parish or archiv, where the original parish register were kept safe. This doesn’t concern the microfilms of former German village (for example today’s Poland ).


Post Your names and research locations in the newsgroups and check the archives to see if someone has just posted this surname .

  • soc.genealogy.surnames.german
  • soc.genealogy.german (bilingual deutsch/english)
  • de.sci.genealogie (deutschsprachig)

Telephone directories

If You wear an unusual surname you should check the telephone directories to find other people with this name, who possibly have researched their or your ancestors.


If there exists a mailinglist for the native area of Your ancestor, join it. Use this source sensibly to obtain best results. Do not only send surnames and locations, like You would do in soc.genealogy.surnames.german . In this mailinglists You should add the belonging dates, religion, and –very important- Your former research attempts. Imagine this mailinglist as an expert for family research, although probably not exactly for Your own family. This "large advisor" can, in the best case, tell You more about Your family, but at least he can propose You some promising methods for Your further research. In the general sense this is also valid for genealogical newsgroups.

Step 4: Use the informations

Now You should analyze Your results. Did You find what You were looking for? Are the dates complete and without inconsistency? Are the sources reliable? The results now must be analyzed, compared and corrected and brought back in their structure. The next step should be (possibly) the purchase of a genealogical software. The input of Your informations in such a system can be helpful for the structuring, documentation and presentation. The choice among the large number of programs isn’t easy - just ask other members of Your genealogical association about their experiences. Perhaps they also can show You “Your” program and help with initial difficulties.

If You did all these things, thank all those who helped You by sharing Your informations with other researcher, too. Correct and complete Your informations about Your ancestors in soc.genealogy.surnames.german. Help the other members of the mailing lists with Your knowledge. Many genealogical association collect the pedigrees of their members. Share Your dates in Ancestral File of the Mormons. And finally – don’t forget to choose a new ancestor and repeat this procedure.

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