German genealogy: Finding German ancestors, lost friends & relatives

German genealogy: Finding German ancestors, lost friends & relatives

Genealogy is becoming more and more popular every year, with thousands of people across Germany and the world looking to trace their ancestry and find long-lost relatives. But what exactly is the best way to go about mapping your genealogy in Germany? We've put together this guide. 

German genealogy & Historical records

When trying to trace family history, some of the key problems that people come across lie in navigating records and the wonderful world of German bureaucracy. But there’s no need to worry - we’ve got you covered!

German ancestry 

Genealogy is the study of family history and is often undertaken by historians, who look at historical records, oral interviews and genetic analysis. When undertaking a search into your family history, it is important to know that a variety of sources can help you track down lost relatives, from historical records to old family heirlooms - everything can tell a piece of the story! 

The Deutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft Genealogischer Verbände e.V. (DAGV) is a good place to start the search for genealogical information about your German ancestors. Though the DAGV does not do any research on its own, it can point you in the direction of specific regional institutions that can help with your search. 

German genealogy records: Birth records and death certificates

Historical records in Germany often seem confusing at first glance, but they are navigable if you can be a little patient. They are not always organised into tables, as many other countries’ records are, but instead in paragraphs. 

Though a little more tedious to sort through, the facts will still be there, and with the help of records of births, deaths, marriages and court proceedings, tracing family history in Germany really can be done. Church records can also be really helpful in tracing ancestry, since they also include baptism and marriage notices, and they can date even further back than state records. 

Useful websites for finding ancestors in Germany

In the internet era, it is easier than ever to trace ancestors in Germany, with many wonderful websites out there to help your search - some with a cost attached, and some for free! Here are some of the best free websites where you can hunt for German ancestors online:

  1. Matricula - A non-profit organisation which digitises church records. The website shows records detailing births, deaths and marriages that are recorded in German church archives.
  2. FamilySearch - Creating a free account on FamilySearch can give aspiring genealogists access to records of baptisms, marriages and burials of their German ancestors. 
  3. GeoGen Surname Mapping - This cool internet tool helps to map where surnames can be found in Germany today, which can help point towards your own German ancestors’ heritage.

German genealogy groups

There are also many worldwide groups focused on tracing German ancestry and finding long-lost relatives in Germany, such as the German Genealogy Group. 

Many groups, including the famous Germanic Genealogy Society, are based in the United States, due to the large number of German migrants that relocated to the country in past centuries. However, they can still be a useful place to ask for help in your quest.  

These groups are spaces for like-minded people searching for their German ancestors and relatives to meet and share tips, tricks and helpful advice.

German citizenship through ancestry

Many people also look into their ancestry for a chance at gaining citizenship in Germany. Though citizenship through ancestry is possible, it is not particularly straightforward. You can be given citizenship by descent in four instances:

  • You have ancestors who had their citizenship taken away under Nazi rule on political, racial or religious grounds in 1938.
  • You were born before 1975 as the legitimate child of a German citizen father.
  • You were born after 1975 as the legitimate child of a German citizen father or mother.
  • You were born after June 1993 as the illegitimate child of a German citizen father and paternity is proven before you turn 23.

Especially in the first instance, going through genealogical records can help to find whether ancestors were citizens of Germany, and can aid in the citizenship application process for those seeking it. 

Finding German relatives or friends

Finding German friends or relatives can be a lovely way to reconnect with long-lost loved ones. 

There are many ways of digging into your family history, but the best place to start is by picking the brains of any relatives you are in contact with. Ask your family if they can help provide you with names, stories, or even a glance at some family artefacts to kick-start your search. It’s always a good idea to arm yourself with as much background information as possible before you start your quest. 

Looking for somebody still living in Germany

Every person in Germany is registered at a registration office, an official authority which must be notified each time the person changes address. This keeps track of where people are living in Germany so that fewer people get lost in the bureaucratic system.

Because of the strict privacy rules in Germany, it is not possible to request this sort of information directly, except in serious cases such as where legal proceedings are involved, or if a loved one is seriously ill or has died. 

Nevertheless, German registration offices can be a good contact point if stuck in your search - they may be able to point you in the right direction. There is also the German telephone book, Das Telefonbuch, which can be a useful tool if you are looking for someone living in Germany.

Looking for an adopted child in Germany 

Searching for an adopted child can be stressful, emotional, and frustrating, but fortunately, in Germany there is an office to help with the search. 

Each German state has a youth welfare office (Landesjugendamt) and each district has its own local welfare office (Jugendamt) - these places can both help track down adopted children in Germany.

Finding an old military friend 

Many people have also made friends with people in Germany through the military. This is especially the case for many US service personnel and veterans who may have spent time posted in Germany. 

The website offers a “buddy service” finder for free and boasts access to a huge database with over 20 million records to help service personnel track down friends they served with at different posts.

Ready to become a German genealogy expert? 

So - if you’re looking for a new hobby this year, why not have a look into your German ancestry - you never know what, or who, you might find!



Emily Proctor

Former Editor at IamExpat Media.

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