Indiana Chapter of Palatines to America
State of Indiana
Basic Strategy for Locating Records
  1. Develop your family tree back to your immigrant ancestor and consider tracing down the lines of other descendants of the immigrant–especially if the German village is unknown.
  2. Locate the German home village in records
  3. Verify the home village
  4. Locate the parish for the home village
  5. Locate the parish records
  6. Trace generations back as able through parish records and town family books known as Ortsfamilienbücher (OFB) (also known as Orstssippenbücher, Familienbücher) if available
  7. Consider other records
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As with most areas of genealogy, it is best to start with yourself and work backward without skipping generations (to make sure that you are truly climbing your family tree).  Use American sources without overlooking relatives including newly located DNA cousins who may possess different family stories or even the coveted family Bible.  You may need to branch out to your immigrant ancestor’s siblings and trace their descendants.  The location of siblings' births or marriages might also provide an improved timeline for immigration.  Not only will the family composition verify that you have located the correct family, but that elusive German home village might also only be mentioned in the sibling’s child’s marriage or baptismal record.   After discovering a village name, you may realize that Germany has many towns with the same or similar names.  Additional clues gleaned from American records are likely to narrow the possibilities.  Also be aware that even unusual names may be shared with several cousins around the same age due to German naming patterns.  Pay particular attention to occupations, religions, sponsors, witnesses, and neighbors to distinguish among these relatives.  While you are accomplishing these steps, make sure that you cite your sources so that you can easily locate them in the future.  Using a research log with a research plan makes your search more methodical, successful, and organized.

Last Updated: 23 September 2022  [Located in Category: Where Do I Start?]

One of the first obstacles to overcome in German research is to locate the home village of your ancestors.  Unfortunately, there are few centralized records in Germany (since technically Germany didn’t even exist until 1871) so the home village name is essential.  Where can this elusive information be found?


Family sources including family Bibles, postcards, pictures (including the photography studio stamp), and letters (including the envelopes) are wonderful clues in your search for your ancestral village.  Don’t forget to contact DNA matches or distant cousins to see if they might have some of these family items or have heard different family stories.


German church records in the United States can be another excellent source for pinpointing exact home villages in Germany.  Often, the direct line ancestor may not provide the information, but the record of their sibling or even their sibling’s offspring might. 


Vital records, censuses, tombstones, military records, naturalization records, and passenger lists might also contain valuable clues, especially if you find a rogue census taker who listed more details than instructed!  Do keep in mind that a nearby larger town might be mentioned instead of their tiny village.  Also realize that boundary and name changes were frequent in the Germanic areas.


Newspapers, especially the German-language newspapers in the United States, might also contain some detailed information.  Obituaries might provide clues.  Some towns and counties in the United States published local histories with biographical information.  Published genealogies might also contain a home village.


Online genealogical services such as My Heritage, FamilySearch, FindMyPast, and Ancestry provide access to many records.  There is always a chance that entering your ancestor’s information might lead to indexed German parish records or a passenger list.  Don’t forget to use wildcards and other search strategies to narrow or expand your search.  Libraries and Family History Centers often have subscriptions to these sites with access to international records.  Family trees on these sites might also provide clues to the home village.  It never hurts to utilize Google to see what other clues might be online.


One recommendation by Kent Robinson in his Key Essentials of German Genealogy: From Basics to Success is to start by searching indexed German resources including CompGen databases and Staat Archive (if known) since there are so few German sources available.  Geogen may also help narrow the region for unusual surnames.


If you have exhausted these sources for your family, you might want to focus on other names that keep appearing around them.  This is the FAN club concept that was described by Elizabeth Shown Mills and includes their friends, associates, and neighbors that might have come from the same area in Germany.

Last Updated: 4 September 2022  [Located in Category: Where Do I Start?]

After finally locating the name (or a couple of different names) of your German village, your work is not done.  Your next step is to verify the name of the village as there may be several villages with the same name or the name may be misspelled. is a great place to start (instructions from their help page).  This is the handy online form of the Meyers Gazetteer (Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs).  This Gazetteer focuses on the German Empire between 1871 and 1918 which is conveniently also the time frame used in FamilySearch’s catalog. allows the use of an * as a wildcard to replace one or more letters if you cannot quite decipher a portion of the name.  It will list multiple places with similar names and allow you to filter your results by region.  The map tab will allow you to easily view nearby towns that might also provide clues to the correct village.  If you can narrow the village down to a certain region, that may pinpoint or exclude a few locations.  If the village name does not show up in Meyersgaz, then there is probably an issue.  You might Google it and see if there are any search suggestions or play around with wildcards on  An old-school method is searching the index of a German atlas for misspelled place names.

Last Updated: 4 September 2022  [Located in Category: Where Do I Start?]

Once you have located your village, the next step is to locate the most likely parish for your village. is again a wonderful resource as it may tell you which parish your village is in.  If it doesn’t name the parish on the Ecclesiastical page, go to the Map page and hover over the “toggle historical map” to display Catholic or Protestant parishes.  While the Ecclesiastical page provides the distances to parishes, the map visually displays which parish might be easiest to travel to.  Another great resource is the series of Map Guides to German Parish Registers by Kevan Hansen.  Many genealogy libraries have these and they not only provide maps of the parishes but also include FamilySearch microfilm numbers if available.

Last Updated: 4 September 2022  [Located in Category: Where Do I Start?]

Start at by selecting the Catalog under the Search tab.  After entering the village that contains your ancestor’s parish, a list of available records will be displayed.  The format column will let you know if the images are available for viewing from home (camera icon).  If there are viewing restrictions (camera icon with a key), clicking on the icon will describe the restrictions (for example, the record may need to be viewed from a family history center, a FamilySearch affiliate library, or a partner site).  Even if the images are restricted, a magnifying glass next to the camera icon indicates that the records are indexed.  This means that you may be able to locate certain information without being able to view the actual page.


The major websites like Ancestry and MyHeritage contain some German records.  Even if you do not have a subscription to these sites (or access to the World Subscription), many libraries and Family History Centers have access.  In Ancestry, you may want to locate certain collections through the card catalog or search within a person’s profile and use filters to view certain collections.


Two other options for German parish records include Matricula and Archion.  Matricula is a free site that contains church records from Austria, Germany, Poland, Serbia, and Slovenia and includes mostly Catholic records.  Archion contains mainly Protestant records from different regions of Germany.  It is expensive, but different subscription options (one month, three months, one year, and twenty separate days within a year) with a varying number of downloads are available.  You can search to see if your parish is digitally available without a subscription.  They continue to add more records by obtaining high-quality scans from the original records.


German archives are also digitizing records and would be another good source to check. You can locate archives by using sites such as Archivportal for some German Archives, Archion and Archives Portal Europe also maintain a list of archives.  If you are still unable to locate an archive, you might also want to try using the term “Archiv” in a Google search.


Googling the parish name and “Kirchenbücher” might also be worth a try.  You never know what you might find online!  Make sure that you keep checking back as sites continue to add new records.

Last Updated: 4 September 2022  [Located in Category: Where Do I Start?]

Unfortunately, not all German parish records are available online.  If you are wealthy and have plenty of vacation time, this presents a wonderful opportunity for a research trip to your ancestral homeland.  For those of us lounging in yoga pants and muttering at our computer screen when the online parish records stop two years before our ancestor was born, there are other options.  FamilySearch maintains an inventory of parishes and the number in the Archive column corresponds to the information on this list of repositories.  FamilySearch also has a letter writing guide for local parishes if you are unable to locate the records in an archive.  Try to be clear and avoid extraneous information.

Last Updated: 4 September 2022  [Located in Category: Where Do I Start?]

If you were not a German major who specialized in translating the obsolete old German Gothic script written by German pastors with illegible penmanship, take a deep, cleansing breath.  After this, the next steps are being able to recognize your surname in the old German Script, acquainting yourself with the format of the parish records, and finally searching for your family life events in the parish records.  


Use an online script generator like Suetterlin or other script generators to familiarize yourself with the surname appearance in old German script.  If you are lucky, surnames may be underlined in the records and may be written in the more familiar Roman script.


Acquaint yourself with the type, format, and organization of the parish records.  They may be written in paragraph or table form.  Most were organized chronologically within types (baptism, marriage, and burial) with the year (Jahr) listed prominently in the page header.  An index may be included in the original parish record, but it might only be organized to the first letter of the surname and not strictly alphabetically ordered.


Baptism is known as Taufe in German.  Although no record is standard, a baptismal record normally includes the surname, the child’s name, the legitimacy of the child (hint: more information in that column or a swoop over the “u” in the word “unehelich” may indicate illegitimacy), the father’s name, the mother’s name with maiden name, the baptism date, the birth date, and the godparents.


Confirmations (Konfirmationen) lists may just include names and the date of the confirmation.  A birth date, birthplace, and a father’s name may also be listed.  Typically, confirmation occurs around age 14 in the Protestant Church and around age 12 in the Catholic faith.


Verehelichung or Trauung or Heiraten are German terms used in marriage records.  Marriage records typically include the Groom’s name, age, occupation, and parents, the Bride’s name, age, and parents, the date of marriage, the place of marriage, and the witnesses.  A listing of the two to three dates that the marriage banns (Aufgebote) were announced at the parishes of the bride and groom may also be specified (and may identify another parish to check for records).


Burial records (Begräbnisse) may include the German words Beerdigung (burial), Gestorbene (deceased), Sterbefall (death), and Tod (death).  Burial records may include name, age at death (in years, months, days), date of death, date of burial, relatives of the deceased, cause of death, and place of burial.


Finally, armed with their life event dates from your previous genealogy research, locate your ancestor’s records.

Last Updated: 4 September 2022  [Located in Category: Where Do I Start?]

After you locate a record, pay particular attention to any symbols or notations in the margins as they may lead you to more records.  A pastor may have recorded a cross (indicating death) with a date next to an entry.


After locating a baptismal record, note the parents’ names and work backward.  Typically a couple will have a child at least every 2-3 years, so search for your ancestor’s siblings.  When the siblings stop, look for a marriage record which is normally located within the 15 years before your ancestor’s birth.  If you locate the marriage record and the parents’ ages are listed, try to locate their baptismal records and repeat the process.  If there are no parental ages listed in the marriage records, generally first marriages for women occurred between 18 and 25 years old and for men occurred in their mid-twenties.


 Also, don’t forget to look for burial records (especially if you note that a spouse remarries).  If you have been unable to locate their baptismal records, the burial record will often record their age in years, months, and days.  


Also be aware that if a young child died, their name was often reused.  And as unique as your ancestor’s name appears, due to German naming traditions there may be several cousins around the same age with similar names.  It is important to pay attention to other identifying characteristics such as occupations and the names of the spouse.

Last Updated: 4 September 2022  [Located in Category: Where Do I Start?]

These are also known as Ortsfamilienbücher (OFB), Orstssippenbücher, or Familienbücher.  These are invaluable resources and may save much time when trying to locate the original records.  A town historian collects information from the parish and other records and compiles them into family groups.  It is important to understand abbreviations, symbols, and numbering systems used within the particular book.


Many of these may be found online at (CompGen) and one of the largest collections of OFBs is at St. Louis County Library’s History & Genealogy Department.  The St. Louis County Library will do a limited amount of lookups for you.  The Family History Library and the Library of Congress also have several OFBs.


Remember to use these as finding aids and hints to locate the original sources as mistakes may occur.

Last Updated: 4 September 2022  [Located in Category: Where Do I Start?]