Genealogical Research



Introduction - The kind of sources

Most of the families who emigrated to the New World were members of the German peasantry. It is astonishing how often you can discover their origin and their history. Normally, the first and most important hints to find out the origin of your emigrated German ancestors can be found in your old private family documents (e.g. old birth or marriage certificates, census reports, emigration or immigration data). The emigration data (the passenger lists from American Immigration Authorities) are also available in some German Universities and Museums (as microfiches) and in the World-Wide Web.

However, this information is only the first step into the past of your ancestors' history. Meanwhile there are several computer database and countless webpages which can be helpful to investigate the origin of your ancestors. So, why do you need me as professional researcher? World-Wide Web database and other genealogical webpages give you only a first orientation and provide you with a lot of useful hints and contacts (e.g. or But different families with the same names or a different spelling can lead to wrong conclusions. And don't forget: Compared to all the parish registers in Germany only a few of the data are available in the World-Wide Web or in different databases. As a rule you have to spend a lot of time in archives or in front of microfiche terminals if you want to investigate your family history in a precise and reliable way. As mentioned before sometimes you even have to look into the original church books in the parish offices. In any case you must be able to read the German handwritten entries which may only be poorly legible. Sometimes you have unclear additions such as comments or abbreviations.

The most important source for birth/baptism, confirmation, marriage and death/burial data and therefore for all genealogical and family researchers are the German parish registers from both the main Christian denominations (Roman Catholic and various Protestant religious groups). Usually these entries are available as photocopy for a small fee. Records vary greatly from one parish to another in quality and legibility. In the parish registers you normally can find only data and only sometimes some additional information. As a rule the human beings behind, their fates you will not see. But with the help of a lot of other sources you may find additional, new and interesting information concerning your family history.

One of the sources to mention are the record resources in governmental, communal, and private archives. They can give information about the living conditions of families, occupational activities, inheritance matters, economic or health crisis, criminal offenses, too. Tax lists and citizen records were often started earlier than the parish registers.

The first emigrants were mainly from rural areas of Germany, peasants with various forms of land tenure and tenancy. As a rule these people were in a dependent relationship to secular and clerical landlords. If one can find such resources in the archives it is possible to trace back the living conditions and everyday life of a peasant family over a long period.

If you are interested in details about the numbers of Germans who emigrated to the United States in the 19th century please click here.


It is not possible to describe here the very wide range of other sources which might be used in my family history investigations. But I will give you some examples of the most interesting and important sources: Land register inventories, tombstone inscriptions, old farmhouses and farm buildings, sometimes with inscriptions and initial letters of the builder, old furniture with inscriptions, too, heraldic figures etc.