Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Tips for Finding Your German Immigrant Ancestor's Hometown in Germany

This article was updated on 2 August 2018.

Here are some suggestions where you might find the German place of origin (city, town, or village) for your immigrant ancestor who came to America from Germany. Knowing the name of the town can help you take your genealogy research back to Germany to look for German genealogy records.

Ship Passenger Records (arrivals)
Hamburg Passenger Departure Lists Other Sources - Death Certificates, Obituaries, Naturalization Records, Biographies, more...
  • Church Records...
    • American church records sometimes give the place of origin of immigrant families - FamilySearch might have some of these on digitized microfilm - check the FamilySearch 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 FamilySearch).
    • 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).
  • 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 Naturalization records from September 27, 1906 and later usually list the place of birth; Naturalization records before Sept. 27, 1906 generally do not name the place of birth, but a few occasionally will have this.
    • Guide to Finding U.S. Naturalization Records
    • The 1900-1940 federal censuses show whether an immigrant 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
    • Passport Applications - these usually have the applicant's place of birth (although some just have state or country). Not everyone had a passport. Passport applications are available from the U.S. National Archives for 1795-1905 (with gaps) and 1906-March 31, 1925. See the "Guide to Finding U.S. Naturalization Records" link above for information about these records.
  • County Histories and Biographies
  • 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, Marriages 1558-1929 and other records at FamilySearch These collections are not complete, but they may contain clues to help further your research in German records.
  • International Genealogical Index (IGI)
  • Determining a Place of Origin in Germany from FamilySearch is a helpful resource
Disclaimer: you may not find the place name in any of the records listed here. These are merely suggestions.

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