Posted by Juliana Szucs on October 27, 2014 in Collections, Website
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Dresden, Germany

Ancestry has just launched more than 11.7 million new German records, the majority of which are birth, marriage, and death records. Initially, registrations of births, marriages, and deaths were kept by religious denominations, but a civil registry modeled on the French system was implemented on 1 October 1874 in Prussian provinces, and throughout the German Empire on 1 January 1876. Here are some tips to help you get the most from these new civil registration records.

Determine Your Ancestor’s Place of Origin in Germany

You’re going to have an edge if you know where in Germany your ancestors lived. While you can search all of the new German collections through this page, being able to zero in on a location will make your search more effective. Search extensively in U.S. records for places of origin that will help you to determine where to focus your search in the German records. You may find locations in naturalization records (typically only post-1906), passports, passenger lists (post-1890s), World War I and II draft registrations, obituaries, and vital records here in the U.S.

If the family was here in the U.S. by 1880, the enumerator instructions for that year’s census state that if the birthplace was Germany, the enumerator was to specify the State, as Prussia, Baden, Bavaria, Wurtemberg, Hesse-Darmstadt, etc.

Note, these new collections are not all-inclusive for Germany but do include many locations around the country. To see what birth, marriage, and death collections are available for various locations in Germany, click here. Below is a summary of the collections that were added.

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Get to Know the Whole Family

The more you know about the family, the easier it will be to correctly identify your ancestor in the records. For example, if you don’t know the parents’ names, but know the names and ages of siblings, it may help prove you have the right record when the parents’ names on your ancestor’s birth match those of their siblings. In marriage records, often you’ll find family listed as witnesses to the marriage as well, again providing supporting evidence that you have the correct record.

Familiarize Yourself with German Names

Obviously, your ancestor’s German records will be in German and your ancestor will be going by the German version of his given name. The German Research Center on Ancestry has a list of German given names that you can reference. BehindtheName.com is another good resource. Note that sometimes you may find diminutives listed as well (e.g., Max for Maximilian, Willy or Willi for Wilhelm, etc.), so keep that in mind as you search. Wildcards can help in that respect (e.g., Max* or Wil*).

Surnames may be different than the names you’re used to seeing here in the U.S. as well. During both World Wars, there was a backlash against Germans and your family may have anglicized their name around that time. This guide to Finding Your German Ancestors on Ancestry has some tips for zeroing in on your ancestor’s surname.

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Interpret the Entire Record

Once you’ve identified your ancestor’s record, you’ll want to glean every detail. To help you get the most from these records, we’ve created a guide with sample records that can help you translate the information found in these records. Beyond the details that have been indexed, you’ll also find important information like occupation, religion, names of witnesses, and more.

You can download the free guide here.

Creative Searching

Get creative with your searches by getting familiar with what fields are indexed. For example, try a search for just a surname in the name fields of birth records, and add the names of one or both parents in the fields for Family Members to return records of all the children born to that couple.

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Need More Guidance?

Our German Research Center has some very helpful tools, like this PDF with German alphabet samples and this guide to symbols you may find in German records. There are also word lists and record samples from other German collections.

For more tips on research your German ancestry, download the free PDF Finding Your German Ancestors on Ancestry.

View all German Birth, Marriage & Death records. 

Best of luck with your searches!

Juliana Szucs

Juliana Szucs has been working for Ancestry.com for more than 20 years. She began her family history journey trolling through microfilms with her mother at the age of 11. She has written many articles for online and print genealogical publications and wrote the "Computers and Technology" chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Juliana holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program.

8 Comments

  1. Sebastian

    The city archive of Rostock has recently digitized its civil records. As I understand it they just want to create new books, so they can leave the originals in their depot. With Rehna, Grevesmühlen and Berlin as an argument, you may ask them for copies. They also have the parish registers for Rostock, originals and duplicates *hint* 😉

  2. Monika

    Helpful hints! Thank you! To remain politically accurate one has to remember that, when you refer to the “Germany” of the 18th century, you are referring to dozens and dozens of regions that were controlled by dukes and counts, etc. There was no Germany as we know it today. (Just as it is historically incorrect to say that someone who was born in Massachusetts in the early 17th century was born in the USA.) The other thing that might be helpful is that in some German regions naming patterns were very prevalent. This is how I tracked down the birth place and birth record of my husband’s g-grandfather who according to U.S. census records was born in Baden. I knew his birth date from the tombstone. Sometimes the fictional stories that exist in the family can lead you so astray. Familylore claimed that g-grandpa’s father was a ship’s captain who traveled the Rhine river, etc. etc. After years of effort I could not trace back where in Baden g-grandpa was born. However, based on the census records I found on ancestry.com, I was intrigued to find that–while g-grandpa lived in Kentucky–another man with the same name lived there in the same town. He too came from the Baden region. And, interestingly enough, many of his children had the same names (e.g., both named their first daughter and their fourth daughter the same name). After finding a family tree for this person on ancestry.com I discovered that these tree owners knew the village their ancestor came from. So I started to explore the records in that village. What did I find but a child that was born on the same day as g-grandpa, with g-grandpa’s name, who happened to be the cousin of this other person by the same name. When I found g-grandpa’s birth record it told me that his father was a fisherman who caught fish in the Rhine river in his own boat. So, I guess he was the captain of his own ship!! 🙂

    • Juliana Szucs

      Good reminder and great tips Monika. We refer to Germany as a whole in this post because the civil registrations we’re discussing are post-unification in 1871. Thanks for sharing the tip about naming patterns. Very helpful!

  3. Lichter, Werner J.

    In that Prussian Counties of Provinz Niederrhein Kater knien as the Prussian Rhine Province, the civil registration started with the French occupation in 1798. This registration neger stopped until the above named civil registers. But about 100 former Luxemburg towns that came in 1815 ti Prussia started the civil registers in 1796. These towns got a part of the Prussian province of Niederrhein as written above. I saw a lot of those records.

  4. Alie

    J. I have family coming from Brandenburg, is that included in the Berlin collection. I amjust discovering ancestry and I love it, thank you for the helpful tips.
    Alie from the Netherlans

  5. Thanks for the info. A couple of questions:

    1. How does ancestry work with Umlauts ? Does it recognise them in search terms, does it prioritise results that have an umlaut over one that doesn’t (e.g. Böll against Boll) and does your search engine recognise the “Anglicisation” of umlauts (e.g. ü as ue)

    2. How do you handle territories that are no longer part of Germany e.g. Schlesien/Silesia. I assume that Prussian records for Silesia are included in the German collections, but are other records e.g. address books, parish records included or excluded ?

    Thanks

  6. Andrés

    Dear Ancestry friends:
    Firstly, I would like to thank you for adding the Civil Registration records for Berlin, they have helped me immensely in my research. One question though, I noticed there are some Berlin Civil Registration offices missing from your upload, such as Berlin XI, XII and XIII, will you be adding these soon or at all?

    Once again, thanks a lot for your superb efforts in gathering all these records.

    Greetings,
    Andrés

  7. mel

    i’am trying too fin info on a gustov gottlieb constantin bahl born approx. 1775 in mecklenburg area can you provide me any info on where to look thanks

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