If you have German ancestors, you will need to know the name of the specific place (city, town or village) where your German immigrant ancestor lived. Then you can take your genealogy research back to Germany and look for German genealogy records. Here are some suggestions where you might find the German place of origin for your ancestor who came to America from Germany.
Ship Passenger Records (arrivals)
- "Last residence" (name of town) for each passenger is usually given on U.S. passenger arrival records starting about 1893 (this varies by port). All New York passenger arrival records starting with June 1897 and later should have this information for each passenger. Earlier passenger records (beginning with 1820) sometimes list the town of residence for the passengers, but most do not.
- Finding Passenger Lists from 1820 to the 1940s lists many of the available indexes and where to find them
- Finding Passenger Lists before 1820 lists many sources for finding immigration related material before 1820
- Germans to America indexes German immigrant passengers for the major ports (New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston and New Orleans).
- Germans to America 1850-1897
- Germans to America Series II: the 1840s
- The 1850-1897 period can be searched online at: National Archives - Access to Archival Databases - Passenger Lists
- The Ellis Island Online Database covers New York arrivals 1892-1924
- Also see: What Passenger Lists Are Online?
If your ancestor's ship departed from the German port of Hamburg then you may be able to find the departure list for that ship. These records usually give the last residence for each passenger.
Other Sources - Death Certificates, Obituaries, Naturalization Records, Biographies, more...
- Church Records...
- American church records sometimes give the place of origin of immigrant families - the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City might have some of these on microfilm - check their catalog
- Sometimes church records for German churches in America will list the German place of birth of the parents in the baptismal records of their children (try the FHL).
- If you don't know which church your ancestor attended look for churches near the address where he or she lived - you can sometimes find addresses in census records and city directories.
- Death Certificates usually give place of birth (often just the country, but sometimes the town is given).
- Online Finding Aid: Directory of Online Death Records Indexes and Death Certificates
- Obituaries - search the local newspaper(s) where your ancestor died a day or more after the date of death
- Obituaries in American German language newspapers - try checking at a library in the area your ancestor lived
- Naturalization Records (especially if naturalized September 27, 1906 and later; Naturalization records before Sept. 27, 1906 generally do not name the town, but a few occasionally will have this)
- The 1900-1930 federal censuses tell whether a person was naturalized. The 1920 census gives year of naturalization.
- Types of Naturalization Records describes declarations of intention, petitions, certificates, etc.
- Suggested Book: Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States by Christina Schaefer
- County Histories and Biographies
- Online Finding Aid: Online County Histories, Biographies and Indexes
- Family tradition - talk to your relatives
- Family documents, photo albums, family Bibles...
- World War I Draft Registration Cards nearly 11 million (men born about June 1886 to June 1897) of the 24 million total draft cards asked for location of birth (town, state, nation).
- German Emigration Lists (lists of people who applied to leave Germany)
- Germany Births and Baptisms 1558-1898 and Marriages 1558-1929 at FamilySearch click on "Europe" under "Browse by Location" when you get there; these collections are not complete, but they may contain clues to help further your research in German records
- Determining a Place of Origin in Germany from the FHL is a helpful resource
This outline was derived from the "Find your Immigrant Ancestor" section of the Basic Reasearch Guide for German Genealogy. It was created for the Germanic Genealogy Society of Colorado.
You can download a printable PDF version of this outline from: Genealogy Roots Blog Files: Finding Your German Ancestor's Hometown
Next Article in this Series: Tips for Finding German Genealogy Records for your German-American Ancestor