soc.genealogy.german Frequently Asked Questions List, Part 1/4
Copyright (c) 2005 by Jim Eggert, EggertJ@crosswinds.net
Version 2.9, 1 Jan 2005. All Rights Reserved.
Subject: 1. Subject and intent
This FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) list was written to help
genealogists who are interested in German and German-American
genealogy. It is oriented to those who are getting started,
either with genealogy or with the Internet. "German" here
means the German language, so this list should be useful for
researchers of German, German-American, Austrian, Swiss,
Alsatian, Luxembourger, Liechtensteiner, and Eastern European
The latest version of this FAQ is available
a) on WWW:
b) via eMail:
message body: send faqs/genealogy/german-faq/*
c) via anonymous FTP:
ftp> cd /pub/usenet-by-group/soc.genealogy.german
ftp> mget soc.*
Subject: 2. Table of Contents
-- Part 1
1. Subject and Intent
2. Table of Contents
3. How can I start researching my German or German-American family?
4. What introductory or general books should I read?
5. Can you help me with surname ABCDEF?
6. Where can I register/find my surnames?
7. What are the rules for given names?
-- Part 2
8. Where is the town/village Xyz?
9. How do I find an address or phone number?
10. How can I find out what village my ancestor came from?
11. What about the German census?
12. How about German cemeteries?
13. What does my German surname mean?
14. Is my family from a town with a name like their surname?
15. How can I learn about German noble families?
-- Part 3
16. Where can I find German military records?
17. How do I write to a German Standesamt, parish, or archive?
18. How do I find German postal codes?
19. I don't know German. What should I do?
20. I can't read German handwriting. What should I do?
21. What is the basic German genealogical vocabulary?
22. What are the German umlauts and genealogical symbols?
-- Part 4
23. How can I send money to Germany?
24. What is the IGI?
25. Where can I find passenger lists or ship information?
26. What is _Germans to America_?
27. What German archives and/or genealogical organizations are there?
28. How do I find a book about abc or xyz?
29. Should I buy a surname/crest/family history book sold by mail?
30. Where do I go on the Internet for German genealogy?
31. What are soc.genealogy.german, soc.genealogy.surnames.german,
32. Are there other online resources for genealogy?
33. How can I possibly repay you for all your help?
Subject: 3. How can I start researching my German or
Beginners should do two things first: interview elderly or infirm
relatives and read a good book on genealogy. The importance of
talking to relatives before they pass away cannot be over-
emphasized. Your local library probably has several books on
genealogy. Check out the ones that seem best to you and read them.
Don't ask how to do two things first, just do them.
Then you should gather and organize all the information you have
from various sources. You may want some genealogical software to
help in organizing your information. Document all your sources.
Organization allows you to develop an overview of what you have so
that you can better direct your research.
Next locate your local LDS (Mormon) FHC (Family History Center(tm)).
The genealogical collection of the LDS Family History Library (FHL)
is unsurpassed, and much of it can be used at your local FHC. You
need not be Mormon. You can probably find the LDS church in your
phone book. A list of FHCs and some of FHL resources are at
A partial list of FHCs can also be found at
You should also consult the online documents available on the
German genealogy server at <http://www.genealogy.net/> and may
want to monitor the messages on the Usenet newsgroup
<news:soc.genealogy.german> or its mirrored mail list gen-de-l.
The easiest way to make fast progress is to connect with research
already performed by others. When possible, such information
should always be verified from original sources. To find such
research, go online, go to your local LDS FHC, go to your library,
and join genealogy clubs.
Eventually your major information sources are likely to be German
civil records and German church registers. German civil records
start 1792 in Rheinland, 1803 in Hessen-Nassau, 1808 in Westfalen,
in 1809 in Hannover, 1 Oct 1874 in Prussia, and 1 Jan 1876 in all of
Germany. German church records start as early as the 15th century,
but for many areas extant records start only after the end of the
30 Years' War in 1648, or later. Some older civil records and many
church registers are available through the LDS FHC. Otherwise you
must write to the German Standesamt (civil records office) or parish
of interest or to the appropriate archive.
Other important sources include Ortssippenb"ucher, which list
all the families in a town, typically using church records as
the source; the IGI, which is an index of extracted records;
passenger lists; the ASTAKA, a collection of German genealogies;
German state censuses; and Geschlechterb"ucher, which is a series
of published genealogies.
Further documents are also available in German archives. Examples
of available documents include tax rolls, emigration papers,
land registers, wills, and court cases. Most of these have not
been filmed by the LDS and are available only at the appropriate
archive. Catalogs of the holdings of some archives are available
in printed form in some US research libraries.
Keep in mind a general rule of genealogy is to go from the known
to the unknown, and not the other way around. For example, if
your name is Bauer, you should concentrate on expanding the tree
of Bauers related to you by examining documents that refer to
them. You should probably not research the genealogy of some
other Bauer to see if he is related to you, because the chance
of success is slight. Note that this general rule does not
apply if you are researching a rare surname, or if you can pair
the surname with a town or another surname.
Another general rule is to do as much research as possible
locally. Use your local LDS FHC, library, interlibrary loan,
genealogical society, etc. to their fullest extent before
you write or travel to distant archives or churches. It is
usually cheaper and often more efficient, and it will make
subsequent research more productive.
Subject: 4. What introductory or general books should I read?
Here is a list of some useful books. Most of these works have
bibliographies that will lead you to other useful references.
Family History Library research outline, _Germany_,
inexpensive and excellent 52-page guide, also on the LDS site
Brandt et al., _Germanic Genealogy: A Guide to Worldwide Sources
and Migration Patterns_, 2nd ed., an excellent 517-page guide
Riemer, _The German Research Companion_, also excellent
Baxter, _In Search of Your German Roots_,
generally available, 3rd edition
Ribbe and Henning, _Taschenbuch f"ur Familiengeschichtsforschung_,
12th edition 2001, a standard German reference work
Friedrichs, _How to Find My German Ancestors and Relatives_
Jensen, _A Genealogical Handbook of German Research_, vols. I-II,
also available on the LDS website
Palen, _Genealogical Research Guide to Germany_
_Glenzdorfs Internationales Genealogen Lexikon_, vols. I-III
Schweitzer, _German Genealogical Research_
Thode, _Address Book for German Genealogy_
Thode, _German-English Genealogical Dictionary_
Dearden & Dearden, _The German Researcher: How to Get the Most
out of an LDS Family History Center_
Bentz, _If I Can You Can Decipher Germanic Records_,
guide to reading handwriting and script
Smith, _German Church Books: Beyond the Basics_
Barth, _Auf den Spuren des europ"aischen Amerika-Auswanderers_
Arbeitsgemeinschaft Ostdeutscher Familienforscher, _Wegweiser_,
4. Aufl., for East Germany and former German lands in Eastern
Europe. Also in English translation.
Subject: 5. Can you help me with surname ABCDEF?
Simple surname queries without any supporting information are
strongly discouraged. For most surnames, there are simply too
many individuals with the same name for a surname request to be
useful. To make success more probable, you must supply as much
information as you can, including the surname(s) and given names;
place(s) of residence (in Germany and elsewhere); dates of birth,
emigration, marriage, and death; religious affiliation; associated
family names; and any other information you may have. Include
also what sources you have consulted, successfully or not, in
your search. Be concise but informative. Make your question
clear. Use an informative subject line like this:
SCHMIDT; Neustadt i.Holstein,SCN,DEU > Boston,MA,USA; 1873-1924
Many people prefer that surnames be written in all caps to aid
visual scanning. Make your placenames unambiguous (Neustadt an der
Weinstrasse; Frankfurt am Main). Avoid imprecise dates like
"the late 1800s" (does that mean 1850-1899 or 1805-1809?).
Be advised that it is unlikely that you will find someone willing
to do extensive research for you for free unless he or she is
related to the subject of your search. However, you may receive
valuable advice that may turn your dead end into a new lead. If
you are lucky, you may find someone who is also researching along
the same lines (same family, location, event, or resource) and
then you can both profit by sharing notes.
Also, common courtesy would require that, when you receive advice
or leads, you act on them before repeating the query.
Subject: 6. Where can I register/find my surnames?
Surnames are best registered on the Internet in several fora:
the RootsWeb Surname List
and the RootsWeb WorldConnect Project
The Gedbas project collects German genealogical data:
German surname listings are also made in the German GenWeb pages
The Forscherkontakte (FOKO, researcher contacts) lists mostly
German surnames, and can be searched at
You can also register your research and interests with the LDS.
Subject: 7. What are the rules for given names?
Different areas/times/families had different naming conventions.
No general rule applies in every case. Babies are often named
for family members or baptismal sponsors, and sometimes a pattern
can be found.
Often a person does not go by his first given name, especially
if that first name is Johann or Maria. The name actually used
(termed the Rufname) is often denoted by an asterisk or by
underlining or bolding.
Suggestions for additions or improvements should be sent to
the author, Jim Eggert EggertJ@crosswinds.net.