In the heart of Europe sits the homeland of the largest flow of immigrants to America between 1820 and World War I, during which time nearly six million Germans entered the United States. From 1840 to 1880, they were the largest group of immigrants to America. Today, more Americans have German ancestry than any other type of foreign or ethnic heritage. Many of the descendants of these immigrants are now wanting to find their ancestors and ancestral homelands in Germany.
If you don’t know your ancestors’ specific place of origin in Germany, you will need to research first in the U. S. Some of the federal censuses may give the province of birth for your ancestor. A marriage or death record may even give the town name. If the family arrived in 1906 or later, a passenger manifest would list the last place of residence. But most German immigrants came to America before that point in time, so other strategies must be employed. Family members might have letters, a family Bible, photographs, or other items that provide clues to the specific place of origin.
Germany consisted of several loosely allied independent kingdoms and states before 1871. At that time, they became provinces within the German Empire. Some underwent name changes, complicating the research process. Each province has an archive where records are made available to the public. But it is still important to know the city or town of origin for your ancestors.
After gathering clues for the specific place, another important point to determine is the ancestors’ religion. Most Germans were either Catholic or Lutheran. Since church records in Germany are a key genealogical source, it is imperative to know which church to search. Whatever denomination they attended in the U. S. would reflect their affiliation in the homeland. Church records contain births or baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials. These often provide the names of parents of the subject in a record entry. FamilySearch.org launched an ambitious project of digitizing and indexing parish records from the microfilm collection. If your family is found there, then research has achieved a major victory. But some parish records were never microfilmed, as permission was denied by the local clergy. In such cases, we can contract with a researcher in the area to personally visit a parish church or regional archive.
Heritage Consulting has on staff some excellent German researchers, skilled in the language and systems of record keeping. They can navigate the old handwriting, the jurisdictional name changes, and so forth. Our experienced professional genealogists can utilize a variety of tools to solve difficult problems in Germany. They also travel to Germany occasionally, and can research onsite for our clients.