As I do my genealogy research and teach others how to do their research I rely heavily on the US Census records which are widely available online. As we start to go back to the original immigrants this resource becomes less helpful and we need to begin looking for records from their homelands. Many regions have great church records available in the digital collections online but finding good census records is more difficult. In my case, I need to find the records for several German states. As you look for the German census records you are told by many that those records don't exist or they were lost in the war. In some cases that may be true, but not always.
Last year I was privileged to hear a talk from Dr. Roger Minert at RootsTech2016. He had spent a great deal of time researching the German Censuses, looking in the corners and boxes of various archives, and compiling what is actually available. Earlier this year he published a book compiling the results of his research. This book, German Census Records 1816-1916: The When, Where, and How of a Valuable Genealogical Resource, is available from Amazon.com for under $35 or you can see if your local library has a copy by looking it up at WorldCat. In the book, he describes the history of German censuses and the status of the census for 34 German states.
Did you know that some German states held censuses every three years? Or that Prussia had 16 censuses between 1818-1864? Or that the German Empire held 10 censuses between 1871-1961? Just like in the US censues, the amount of information in each German census has increased over time, beginning with the haushalts bestandsliste which only records heads of household and number of residents in the earlier censuses and ending with the urlisten which provides information for each resident in the household.
But where are these records kept? Most of the censuses (~85%) are held in city and town archives. The remainder are held in state/federal archives (~5%) and regional archives (~10%). You can find some of these records in digital format on FamilySearch.org. A very few are available online in various archives. But since many are in regional archives you might need to visit the fatherland for the time being until those are digitized and made available.
How do you know where your family was from in Germany? Well, prior to 1871 when the German Empire was formed, Germany was just a consolidation of various states with constantly changing boundaries. The best way to determine where your family may have been from is using maps from their time. The Meyers-Orts und Verkehrs-Lexikon or Meyers-Ortz Gazatteer from 1912-1913 includes the farthest extent of the German Empire. This Gazatteer can be found on Ancestry. The search is by letter and is found in the Browse This Collection box to the right of the search page. But remember, everything is written in German. If you have trouble reading the original German version of the Meyers-Ortz Gazatteer it has been translated to English at www.meyersgaz.org.
|Example of a page from the Meyers Gazatteer.|
Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1867) - FamilySearch - Ancestry - MyHeritage
Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1890) - FamilySearch - MyHeritage
Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1900) - FamilySearch - Ancestry - MyHeritage
Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1919) - - Ancestry
In addition to those listed above there are a few sites in Germany that have census indexes. The Arbeitskreis Volkszahl-Register claims to have 3,188 censuses with over 1.7 million individuals indexed. The Arbeits-Gemeinschaft Genealogie Schleswig-Holstein website has an incomplete index for a variety of censuses from Schleswig-Holstein region including 1803, 1835, 1840, 1845, 1855, and 1860.
If you are interested in reading up on the older German census records, there is a good article by Rolf Gehrmann at http://www.demogr.mpg.de/papers/working/wp-2009-023.pdf.
I hope these tips help you in finding your ancestors in Germany. Viel Glück!