Finding ancestry records in foreign countries can be difficult: there is of course the language barrier, but also there is the issue of where to find the records we need. Not every society stores vital and state records the same way, and if you do manage to locate a repository, it can be hard to understand the technical terminology of records. For instance church records are called Kirchenbucher, or church “books” as opposed to records. Where we can we’ll include the German terminology in this article, but keep in mind that this is not an in-depth piece that completely explains the German language. Related matters to that subject will be addressed separately in another article. The purpose of this section is to first show you where to find German ancestry records.
German Archives and Libraries with Ancestry Records
German archives like any others collect and preserve ancestry records. Libraries in Germany usually contain published sources such as maps, microfilm and books. They are valuable resources for accessing ancestry records, but if intending to visit one of these establishments it is wise to first ask about any possible fees, and also who may access the records, as privacy laws in Germany can be quite strict regarding ancestry records.
The major types of repositories where you will find German genealogical records are; State and Town Archives, Civil Registration Offices, Church Parish Offices, and Historical and Genealogical Societies such as the German Center for Genealogy. The Federal Archives of Germany have very few ancestry records that are useful to genealogists, however the state archives are much more modern, and preserve many valuable ancestor records such as court records, church records, military records, civil registration records, emigration lists, and land records. State archives are also generally more accessible to the general public.
Civil registration of births, deaths, and marriages began in Germany in the early to mid-nineteenth century, but some records can be found dating from 1792. Some have been given over to state archives, but most are kept in local and regional offices. The populations of smaller communities usually registered in the closest town or city, which in turn are divided into civil registration districts. You must be a direct descendant of the person whose records you seek to receive an abstract or photocopy of these ancestor records, but usually the staffs are very helpful, and if they don’t have the ancestry records you require, will direct you to where you can find them.
There are many locally based and national genealogical and historical societies in Germany that collect and archive ancestry records. One such organization is the German Center for Genealogy. It was especially founded as an archive for genealogical records, and has an extensive collection of German church records, as well as records of German settlements throughout Eastern Europe. Generally genealogical research must be conducted at their facility in Leipzig, but for a fee staff will attempt to locate documents for you.
Archives Outside Germany that Contain German Ancestry Records
Because of Germany’s expansion prior to and during the Second World War, many German ancestry records can be found in the archives of other European countries. The State Archives of Poland has records from the areas of Pommern, Schleisen, Ostpreiussen, Westpreussen, and Posen, as these areas were returned to Poland after the war. As an added benefit, there are certain parts of the website that are available in English. If you are searching ancestors from the Lubeck, Oldenburg, or Schleswig-Holstein areas of Germany, you may find ancestry records in the State Archives of Denmark. Their website is in English, and for a small fee you can receive help from a staff researcher.
Although this is merely a basic summary of where to find ancestry records in Germany, it has hopefully provided you with a foundation from which to begin your search. Remember that you should generally know the name of the town where your German ancestor was born, married, or died, as most records are kept at a local level. Ask your family members for any information they might have, especially older ones, as they may able to pinpoint the location in which to search for the ancestry records you seek.