Record Keeping

There is no central repository of records in Germany.

Most of your research will be done in local records.

Hint: Look for individual town websites. Most have links to local churches, where you can write to for more information

Boundaries & Territories

Boundaries and territories have varied greatly over time.

Meyer’s Gazetteer lists all towns in Germany as they existed prior to 1914. This is a free database on Ancestry. A full entry has three sections:

  • Political Jurisdictions,
  • Population Data, and
  • Rail, postal, telephone, telegraph service, civil registration offices, and other governmental, business, cultural, or industry information.

The secret to deciphering Meyer’s Gazetteers are the commas and semicolons, which create complete segments of information.


During the period of heaviest immigration, there was no standard of what records were kept and preserved.

Note: Many of the departure lists for the Port of Bremen have been destroyed. Search here for remaining records

  • German Immigrants: lists of Passengers Bound from Bremen to New York by Zimmerman and Wolfert includes many names of passengers from 1847-1871 taken from other sources.
  • “From Bremen to America in 1850: Fourteen Emigrant Ship Lists” by Smith contains 1840’s and 1850’s Bremen passenger listings gleaned from emigration newspaper sources.

The Palatine Emigrant Index – consists of thousands of index cards that reference records in an attempt to show where emigrants came from and went. It is unpublished. However, The Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center has a photocopy.


Ancestry has German specific records including the Wurttemberg Emigration Lists and the Germans to America volumes.

FamilySearch Many Germany Church records have been microfilmed. The Family History Library has a microfilm copy of Die Ahnenstammkartei des Deutschen Volkes (The Master File of the German People) which contains about 2.7 million names.

Note: Graves are re-used in Germany; you are unlikely to find tombstone inscriptions.

Click here for an intersting article about German Names and naming conventions.

Useful Websites
  • American Historical Society of Germans from Russia is a valuable source but you will need to visit in person to use their library.
  • Bavarica newspaper collection
  • Bremen Passenger Lists
  • GenWiki
    • FOKO – entries from researchers interested in surnames from different time periods, locations, and religious denominations.
    • GEDBAS – genealogical database of user submitted information from German genealogists.
    • GOV – historic gazetteer with place names of geographical locations as of November, 2014.
    • MetaSearch – a name search of all GenWiki databases.
  • Geogen Surname Mapping shows where a surname may have lived. Uses modern borders of Germany, and shows variations of names.
  • German Archives Website is in German. A relatively new site used to search German archives. Searches can be made geographically or by keyword.
  • German Roots Links you to resources for passenger lists, census indexes, birth and marriage indexes, naturalizations, military records and more.
  • Kartenmeister pinpoints and identifies information about an ancestors hometown. It includes places that were once eastern Prussia.
  • $ Kirchenbuchportal — “church book portal” — Offers digitized records of all state protestant churches. The website is in German
  • Meyers Gazetteer lists the location of every German place name from 1871-1918.
  • Roots In Germany has links to a lot of good databases including passenger lists.
  • ZEFYS Zeitungsinformationsystem newspaper collection


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