soc.genealogy.german Frequently Asked Questions List, Part 2/4
Copyright (c) 2005 by Jim Eggert, EggertJ@crosswinds.net
Version 2.9, 1 Jan 2005. All Rights Reserved.
Subject: 8. Where is the town/village Xyz?
The best places to look are:
Genealogisches Orts Verzeichnis (GOV)
For modern and historical Germany. Gives geographical,
historical, archival, and bibliographical information.
For modern Germany only.
Send email to email@example.com with the message body
the name of the village you are looking for. Further
instructions can be received by using INFO as the name
of a village, or from the German genealogy server at
GEOnet Names Server (GNS)
For modern placenames anywhere outside the USA.
ShtetlSeeker, for central and eastern Europe,
gives German and local names
For formerly German places east of the Oder and Neisse rivers.
Atlas des deutschen Reiches
1883 edition by Ravenstein with index. View at 400%.
Rademachers deutsch-"osterreichisches Ortsbuch 1871-1945
Includes Germany and Austria.
Falk (formerly RV) Autoatlas (volumes for Germany and Poland)
1:200,000, about 16 Euros
ADAC ProfiAtlas Deutschland
1:100,000, spiral bound, about 25 Euros
Excellent modern and historical maps are published by the
Landesvermessungsbeh"orden (geodetic survey offices)
the Bundesamt f"ur Kartographie und Geod"asie in Berlin
the Bundesamt f"ur Landestopographie in Switzerland
the Bundesamt f"ur Eich- und Vermessungswesen in Austria
and others, and are available at German bookstores or through
The FEEFHS has an online maproom at
Old city and town maps are available from Generations Press at
1912 _Meyers Ortslexikon_ (Meyers Gazetteer)
For towns in Germany or lost by Germany after either 20th-
century world war. Probably at your local LDS FHC.
_Ortsnamenverzeichnis der Ortschaften jenseits von Oder und
Neisse_ (Gazetteer of Localities East of the Oder and Neisse)
If the town was lost by Germany after the Second World
War, this will give you the current name.
Sometimes a country-wide street listing can find a street
named after a lost village.
Subject: 9. How do I find an address or phone number?
For German phone numbers, the best resources are CD-ROMs
or the DeTeMedien website.
DeTeMedien, Das Telefonbuch, PC/Mac/Linux.
G-Data, PowerInfo 2005 und zur"uck, Windows 98/ME/XP/NT4/2000
For Austria, telephone listings are available on CD-ROM or the web:
Herold Telefonbuch CD home, PC
For Switzerland, try the online directories at
<http://tel.search.ch/> and <http://www.weisseseiten.ch/>
Several CD-ROM listings are also available:
Telinfo (Win 95/98/NT/2000/ME/XP, Mac 8.6/9/OSX)
TwixTel (Win 98/XP/2000), and
Directories CD (PC, MacOSX10.2+).
French (including Alsace-Lorraine) addresses and telephone
numbers can be had at
Enter the following departement numbers:
Alsace (Elsass) Lorraine (Lothringen)
67 Bas-Rhin 54 Meurthe-et-Moselle
68 Haut-Rhin 55 Meuse
For the Netherlands (Holland), try
For Poland, use
US addresses and telephone numbers can be found at
There are also many online directories at
Subject: 10. 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:
o Narratives from older relatives
o Previous family research, notes, etc., if available
o Family documents or mementos from the old country
o US census (1920 and earlier) - can learn immigration and/or
o IGI, for uncommon names, if the birth or marriage date is
known, or if two names in combination are known
o Passenger ship records, both arrival lists and embarkation
lists, and indexes like _Germans to America_
o Naturalization records - usually held at the county level
in the US
o Obituaries, especially in German-language newspapers
o American church records
o County histories/genealogies
o Local historical/genealogical societies
o Local fraternal and other ethnic or cultural organizations
o Tombstones or cemetery records
o 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
o US Social Security records, for individuals living after 1935
Note that the Social Security Death Index is only a start.
o Probate records
o US Civil War pension or other military records, if appropriate
o Ahnenstammkartei (ASTAKA)
o 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
o Neighbors in America, because sometimes unrelated families
o 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.
Subject: 11. What about the German census?
The German central government conducted censuses in 1871, every five
years from 1875 to 1910, 1919, 1925, 1933, 1935 (Saar), and 1939.
West Germany had censuses in 1946, 1950, 1961, 1970, and 1987. East
Germany had censuses in 1945, 1946, 1964, 1971, and 1981. Except
for the 1939 census, these censuses are not useful for genealogical
purposes; available data are of a statistical nature only.
Each of the states conducted their own censuses at other times.
Some of these censuses are available via your local LDS FHC and
are quite useful genealogically.
The central German census authority can tell you if certain
censuses exist and where they can be found:
Gustav Stresemann Ring 11
Subject: 12. How about German cemeteries?
German cemeteries are not as useful for genealogical purpose as
those in the US. Normally gravesites are leased for 20-25 years,
after which they may be renewed or usually revert to the cemetery
owner (church or town) and are reused. Some gravesites are sold
to a family and used for generations, but even then the site is
reused within the family. Some gravestones of historic importance
are retained for the long term. Gravesites are maintained by the
families. Sometimes cemeteries are converted to parks, but retain
their cemeterial nature. Graves in 20th-century military
cemeteries are not reused, but are maintained by a commission as a
reminder of the honor of soldiers and the horror of war.
Subject: 13. What does my German surname mean?
The meaning of a German surname can often be found in a German-
English dictionary (e.g., Schmidt means smith, M"uller means
miller). Sometimes spelling modifications, pronunciation shifts,
or dialectal origins hide the original meaning. In such cases,
a general or specifically German name lexicon can be useful.
Three standard German works are
_Deutsche Namenkunde_ by Max Gottschald,
_Deutsches Namenlexikon_ by Hans Bahlow,
also available in English as _Dictionary of German Names_,
_Das grosse Buch der Familiennamen_ by Horst Naumann, and
_dtv-Atlas Namenkunde_ (Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag).
Please note that name interpretation is often speculative.
Subject: 14. Is my family from a town with a name like their surname?
Assuming that the family name is a place name perhaps with the
common suffix -er (as in Oberheimer), then it is very possible that
the family did indeed come from that place (Oberheim) originally.
But they probably left that place before they acquired the surname,
which was probably before the earliest extant records, so you will
likely never be able to prove it. Also note that place names are
often shared by several towns, and that a surname may be related
etymologically but not genealogically to a place name.
Subject: 15. How can I learn about German noble families?
The standard series of books on German nobility is the Gotha
series, which has appeared under various titles since the late
18th century. Look in your library catalog for a title similar
to _Gothaisches genealogisches Taschenbuch der adeligen H"auser_
or _Genealogisches Handbuch des Adels_. The latter has an online
surname index at <http://www.rootsweb.com/~autwgw/sgi/index.htm>
Herbert Stoyan has an excellent online resource for noble
genealogy called WW-Person at
Paul Theroff has an online Gotha at
Please be advised, however, that stories of noble relations in
American families are often exaggerated.
Suggestions for additions or improvements should be sent to
the author, Jim Eggert EggertJ@crosswinds.net.