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.
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.
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.
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.
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!