Conducting Better German Research

Recently, I have received numerous queries on how to get started or better conduct German genealogy research.  Rather than simply email folks one at a time, I thought a post on the subject might be useful.research

By way of background, I ought to state that almost everyone I hear from tells me that they are:

  • German (of German descent)
  • the neither read nor speak German (or just very little)
  • few are aware of much German history
  • fewer are aware of their family’s cultural background in Germany

Having provided the little list above likely provides clues as to items researchers need to pay attention to:

  1. If you do not speak the language and decide to use translators, like Google Translate, beware that machine translation can be extremely inaccurate. One small example, Google translate almost always translates Reich to rich rather than to empire.  When looking at a record this DOES make a difference.
  2. Learn your history.  Germany was not unified until 1871.  Before 1871 there were numerous Duchies, Kingdoms, etc. Each region has its own history, governments, records, customs, etc.
  3. Additionally some 30-40% of German lands were cleansed of almost all indigenous German populations after WW2; these lands do not fall under German control today and record searching can be quite interesting.
  4. If your family lives in a non-German speaking country today, your family name may not be spelled in a Germanic fashion.  Try to determine more traditional and true spellings for the names you seek.  A good example of this is evidenced by a German-Jewish descended friend of mine, today his family surname is Rock; in the old country, it used to be Stein.
  5. Before WW2, Germans used Gothic print and script.  Most Americans find German Gothic script to be difficult.  The LDS Church provides cheat sheets for these.(You will find a few helpful links listed under Language Tools on our Links page).

As I get the inclination, I’ll post other thoughts on this subject. In the meantime, feel free to send me any questions you might have and I’ll include them in a future post on this subject.