Saturday, January 7, 2017

German Genealogy Research - The Basics

Wow, it's a new year - 2017 - and time to get back to business. I have been thinking about how to include a research plan for German genealogy as one of my blogs. Of course, everyday I have a different idea on how to organize it and each day I forget what that plan was. So now I decided to just start writing, my typical solution to everything, and see how it turns out. This was inspired by a discussion I was involved in on the German Genealogy group on Facebook. I plan on doing a multi-part blog post stepping you through the resources that I know about for German genealogy and how they can be of help. So, let's get the year off to a start.

Over the last couple years, I presented two talks on German genealogy at various venues. One dealt with German immigration and the other was about German research in general. This series of posts will be based on those talks and the resources I discussed as well as a lot of other sources that are available. There is some duplication in these presentations but they were given for different audiences. If you are interested in seeing the actual presentations you can find them here:

The first thing I suggest to researchers is that they learn the basics of the native language, especially those words that are important for genealogy research. You need to know if you are looking at a birth record or a death record. You need to learn to read the dates. You also need to be able to tell the difference between locations and people's names. I had a person come into the Family History Center the other night who told me she had mistakenly thought the town name was a person's name for quite a while. This led her on a wild goose chase looking for records on a person who didn't exist.

So, what words should you know? First, start with some of the basics like:
  • Born - Geboren which is often abbreviated as Geb. This could also be used to indicate the maiden name of a wife.
  • Baptism - Taufen
  • Confirmation - Konfirmationen
  • Died - Gestorben - often abbreviated as Gest. This may be indicated by a cross (+).
  • Wedding - Trauungen - This may also be indicated by interlinked circles.
  • Funeral - Beerdigungen
  • Protestant - Evangelische
  • Catholic - Katholisch
With those words under your belt you now will be able to determine the type of record you are looking at, and if it is a church record, what religion it is.

The next set of words that are important are the numbers. Many records write out the dates long hand and since we are used to looking for numbers we may miss them when they are spelled out. You should start with the basics (1-12). The teens (13-19) are usually built off of the base numbers and then adding ten. For example 3 is drei, 10 is zehn, and 13 is dreizehn. When you get into the 20s-90s the numbers are based on the base number drei (3) with zig added to the end. So, 30 is dreizig, 40 is vierzig, etc. Numbers like 31 become 1 (eins) + (und) 30 (dreizig) or einunddreizig. Hundred is hundert and thousand is tausend.

You should also be able to recognize the days and months along with the words for year, month and day.  Year is Jahr, month is Monat, and day is Tag. Often, a person's age is given as 45 Jahr, 3 Monat, 14 Tag meaning 45 years, 3 months and 14 days. The days of the week are Montag, Dienstag, Mittwoch, Donnerstag, Freitag, Samstag, and  Sonntag. While the months are Januar, Februar, Marz, April, Mai, Juni, Juli, August, September, Oktober, November, and Dezember. I do think the months are the easiest part of the language. 

Now that you know a few words you need to learn to read the writing. German has several fonts and writing styles or scripts, all of which may make it difficult to read various records. My suggestion is to learn the various writing sytles or schrift. FamilySearch has a great German handwriting tutorial in their wiki ( From there you can find examples of script, online lessons, and other advice for reading your documents. There are also several websites that you can type a word into and it will be shown in various scripts. Two of these sights are and

Now that you are able to read the script you will still need translations. Google Translate ( is a great place to start. Even if you can't figure out all the letters, Google Translate will provide suggestions of possible words to insert into the text to translate. Another great site for translating your records is the Genealogy Translations group on Facebook ( The volunteers on the Genealogy Translations group are wonderful and are able to translate almost any language and document type. As a final resort, you could always get your own translator. I have a guy in Germany named Fritz who does a lot of my translating. We met on social media and he uses the opportunity to brush up on his English while translating my German records.

I hope this basic introduction to German research techniques has been helpful. I foresee several more posts in this series including using social media, immigration resources, using FamilySearch, and possibly even more since this is such a large topic. Also. please see my previous post on German census records at Good luck and best wishes for 2017!


Meta Brown said...

Oh my word, thank you. I can read German, but the old documents I'm finding are a challenge to say the least. I'm going to investigate the handwriting tutorials immediately.

Miles Meyer said...

Great. Glad I could help.