Almost 50 million people in the U.S. claim German ancestry. Researching your own German family tree comes with some challenges (like reading old Fraktur script!), but you’re in luck. There are plenty of resources out there that can make your research much easier.
You might start by consulting a Deutsche Schrift (German writing) “cheat sheet” — a resource showing how German letters were generally handwritten in different eras. They varied widely, and this can be a really useful tool. Have a look, too, at some German symbols that were often used in record keeping. Would you know what “(*)” represents on a German birth record? (It could mean an illegitimate birth.) There are symbols for a stillborn baby, someone who died on the day of their birth, a common-law marriage, betrothals, and many others.
Here are German glossaries of words frequently used in German genealogical records.
- German to English
- English to German
- Occupations (German to English)
- Family Relationship Terms
- Latin Genealogy Terms (common in German records)
It might be helpful to see example pages from Germany records, showing what key information they include and where to find it. You can mouse over the columns in these images to learn, in English, what they contain.
- Bremen 1845 Ships’s Crew List
- Bavarian WWI Personnel Rosters – left side
- Bavarian WWI Personnel Rosters – right side
- Hamburg Passenger List, 1899
- Hamburg Passenger List, 1907
- Mecklenburg Parish Baptisms, 1879
- Schwerin 1890 Census Form A
- Schwerin 1890 Census Form B
You can peruse common German names and learn what some of them mean. If you’re a Nussbaum, for just example, your family’s surname means “nut tree.”
- German Last Names
- German First Names
- Last Name Meanings
Would your ancestor be in a German phone directory between 1915 and 1981? “Einstein, Albert, Professor Dr.” is. You might find information about your ancestor’s profession and address listed, in addition to his or her phone number.
Maybe it would help you to consult a map of Germany in 1912.
You can go to the Schools, Directories & Church Histories search page on Ancestry and look for your German ancestors and their locations there. You could also search for articles that apply in their Learning Center, post a question (or follow the discussions) on the German message boards, or find articles about Germany in the Ancestry Wiki.
Viel Glück! (Good luck!)