In today’s digital age, genealogy is easier that it has been in the past. We do not have to travel to every place our ancestors lived to find out about their lives. Over the years I feel like I have learned so much about the lives of my ancestors. Learning about the lives of my German ancestors has been so much harder for me, but the reward for my hard work and persistence has been so wonderful. I thought I would share the tips that have helped me with make my German research easier. I am not a professional genealogist, but I have been doing Genealogy for 12 years and have helped many others along the way. My hope is that by sharing what I have learned as an amateur genealogist, it will help even more people with their own research.
You can read the documents!
I have attended several genealogy conferences and taken several classes on how to read Old German Script. I have also bought several books to help. This has really prepared me for when I did find documents. The names and dates are usually the easiest to read, although that depends on the hand writing. There have been some I can not read at all and had to get help. There are also lots of resources out there to help when you cannot read everything. There are several Facebook groups –which I talk about more below — where you can post an image, and someone will help you translate. The Facebook groups are a wonderful resource, but it can take some time for documents to be translated and most of them have rules you have to follow, like only posting one document a day. This is been a wonderful help to me. You can also hire someone to help with the translation. However, I have not personally hired anyone to help read my German documents.
I love books and reading so I tend to buy every German genealogy book I can get my hands on. They have been very helpful in reading Old German Script and how to research. I could write all day about each book and why I love them. I have also bought books thinking they would have helpful information in them, and they were not. I am a little pickier today about the books I buy and try to verify that they will be helpful in my research by checking that it has the information I am looking for before purchasing it.
German genealogy and translation Facebook groups!
Another treasure I have found are the German genealogy Facebook groups. My Grandmothers family is from the State of Hesse in Germany and there is a Facebook group for this area. Since knowing which state your ancestor came from is so important and each area can be different to research it has been very helpful to have these groups where I can ask questions and get answers.
I have taken many German genealogy classes over the last 10 years and these have been very helpful. Learning from someone who has researched in Germany and has experiences that I may not have had. I remember when I first started trying to research my German Ancestors and I was at the BYU Genealogy Conference and someone mentioned Kassel, Germany, where my grandmother’s family was from, I asked him if he had found records and he had. I had hope, since my Grandmother always insisted that all documents were destroyed during the war.
I think the most important thing you can do is remember to be patient, which I am not very good at on some days. When I was in Kassel, Germany at the family history library to get help on my family research, they suggested family search, I was so disappointed and was ready to give up. I had finally got the opportunity to go to my Grandmothers home town and tried for months to set up appointments to visit the archives with no success so I made an appointment with the family history library, thinking that since it was in Kassel they would be able to help. There I was in Germany and I still was not finding anything new about my Germany family. I do not think that I could put into words my disappointment that day. I was ready to throw in the towel and give up, but I did not and have been overwhelmed at times with all the ancestors I have been able to find since then.
Do an internet search of where your ancestor came from, learn all you can about the town. This has been helpful to me in my research especially in Germany. It helped me understand why my grandmother thought all the records were destroyed but I also knew from taking genealogy classes that sometimes especially the Lutheran Church would copy records and keep them in different locations. I have a couple of ancestors that I have two different records for the same baptism, marriage or death record. I have also found that some records are no longer available because they were destroyed during the war. Googling helps you see what happened at different times in history.
It doesn’t have to break the bank!
Genealogy is not a free but does not need to be expensive. While there are many free sights and ways to use sights like Ancestry for free, most public libraries and family history centers, have them available for you to search for free. My favorite website for doing Germany Genealogy is www.archion.de . It is a German Lutheran Church Book website. You can create a free account and see what record are available for your area in Germany but to see any of the records you will have to pay for it. I feel it is not too expensive, less than $25.00 for 30 days and 50 downloads. When I first learned of Archion and started finding documents it did not take long to get to 50 downloads. I have been using Archion for a little over a year and it has been well worth the money.
This is one that I was intimidated by in the beginning. There are archives for both Lutheran and Catholic church books all over Germany and I have received help from them both at no charge. This may not be the case everywhere in Germany, but what does it hurt to ask. I had an email for the Catholic archives (I knew my 3rd Great Grandmother was Catholic) for about 6 months before I emailed looking for information about my 3rd Great Grandparents marriage record. It took about 2 ½ weeks and the email I received back was amazing. While it was not their marriage record, I did receive baptism records for 5 children I did not know they had, a death record for her mother and several death records for some of their children. I even emailed them back offering a donation which they politely responded it was not necessary. I also emailed the Lutheran archives asking for help locating the same marriage record, since my 3rd great grandfather was Lutheran, and they help me locate where in the Archion records the marriage record was located. Mostly they seem willing to help, but I am always prepared to pay a fee if I do ask.
Expect the unexpected!
I think this one might be my favorite tip. I have learned in genealogy that you can not hide anything. I remember calling my Dad and asking him what his grandfather, my great grandfather, had done to get arrested in a small town in Oklahoma, apparently, he was the town drunk. I remember my dad asking how I knew he had been arrested, some things you can not hide. Also, in the German research I found a death record and had it translated and it stated he died of mental illness in 1871, and I’m still not exactly sure what that meant. This came as a shock to me! Genealogy is full of surprises.
Enjoy the journey!
I think it is important that when doing genealogy that we enjoy the journey. There will be so many ups and downs, there will be times where you want to give up and there will be times where you are so overjoyed with your discoveries. Each of our research experiences are different and there may be brick walls, but we learn from each of these. I am grateful for all my downs because it has made me enjoy the ups so much more.
These are just a few of the things that have helped me along the way, I hope they help and inspire you in your German genealogy research!