Keep Yourself Updated!

Are you looking for online information on your German ancestors on German  websites? Or do you find it hard to keep up with  the many daily updates of online information coming from German archives, the Society of Computer Genealogy, the German genealogical societies and the many private genealogical pages?   Then working with Google Alerts might be the answer!

Find Out More!

Katherine R. Willson  from Social Media Genealogy gave a great lecture on this subject at this years’ Rootstech and it is available online here!   In this lecture she explains how google alerts works, how to define your search words  and will even give tips on what to do if you don’t speak a single work of German.  Definitely a must-see!

And if you are looking for facebook groups, Katherine has all of them on a list with more than 10,600 entries!


Meet Me in Minneapolis!

Have you already heard of the International Germanic Genealogy Conference, taking place at the Minneapolis Marriott Northwest Hotel in  Brooklyn Park in the wider Minneapolis area from July 28 – 30, 2017? It  is organized by the  International German Genealogy Partnership  and hosted by the  Germanic Genealogy Society. Don’t miss this great  opportunity to learn more about German genealogy, make connections with other researchers and share information with other participants.  You will have the choice between 70 presentations on many interesting topics from German parish  and census records to  German newspapers and directories and getting to know more about  your   ancestors’ social status in the old world. Find out  more about this exciting event in the brochure.

Our Ursula C. Krause will be giving the following presentations:

  • Friday, July 28, 2017, 9:30 a.m. – Finding Your Ancestors In German Directories (Intermediate)
  • Saturday, July 29, 2017, 3:30 p.m. – Off to America! (Beginners)
  • Sunday, July 30, 2017, 8:00 a.m. – The Godparents Thing – Overcoming Brick Walls in Your German Research (Advanced)

Registration opened on February 1, 2017! Don’t wait too long to register – it might be sold out soon!

Looking forward to meeting you there!


Finding Your German Cousins

Are you planning on going to Germany in 2017? And are you looking for the graves to visit and for cousins to say hello? Things might turn out to be a bit difficult for both.


I wrote about the difficulties of finding your German ancestor’s grave on August in my blogpost “Finding your Ancestor’s Grave (Or Not)”. But finding relatives actually isn’t that easy either.


Germans  and  Privacy

The main reason for the difficulty of finding German relatives simply is privacy. Not only are the privacy laws in German very strict and it is complicated, time consuming and sometimes simply impossible to find information on living people. But even when you manage to find them, you might not be able to get in touch with them or even be invited to their house. The reason for this is that Germans like to keep their privacy. They like to stick with their own family and friends and are rather reserved with getting in touch with people they do not know. And most of them simply aren’t looking for new found cousins, be it first, second or third.

Another reason is that in Germany genealogy is a more or less exotic thing to do. Remember, Germans usually stayed put and think they know where they come from. There simply doesn’t seem to be a need to know more and dig deeper. Therefore, most Germans aren’t even aware that they have relatives abroad. It happens quite often that I find relatives but they simply are unfriendly and hang up, making it very clear that they aren’t interested.

Often, there are no relatives in that area, their ancestors simply moved and their descendants are impossible to trace. The earlier emigration took place, the harder it is to find relatives.


With A Little Bit Of Luck

But there still is hope and it is in fact possible to find relatives that know about the emigration and welcome you to Germany (which does not mean to their house). These are some examples where I found family members:

The emigrating ancestors had come from a small village close to the Dutch border with a very active Historical Society. They had information on everything a genealogist could ask for and knew directly which family member had emigrated and what became of the siblings. And as it was a Historical Society of a small village, many of its members were related. It only took one phone call and the research was more or less completed. And within 2 months about 200 family members from all over Germany met and welcomed their new found family member from America!

The emigrating ancestors came from a small village in Baden. I found out that there was a journalist living in the village, who also wrote about the old houses in this area. He agreed to meet my client and it turned out that they were distant cousins.

The family moved overseas in the 20th century; therefore the memory of them simply was alive and the remaining cousins knew about each other and wanted to meet (but not in their home). I was only able to find them, because I turned every (and I mean EVERY!) stone around.

Once, I found the name in an online family tree; a sibling had married into this family. The researcher had more information and put me in touch with the lady who had provided him with that part of information. It turned out that she not only was a distant cousin of my client, but also a genealogist and archivist who had actually wondered what had happened to the cousin who all of the sudden vanished.

So, you see, it is possible to find relatives, but you really need time, know your way around, be creative, and, most of all, you need luck! Without luck you will not be able to get there!


But even without meeting your relatives, you will meet a lot of kind and friendly people in Germany. And who knows, maybe it turns out that you are related?


Finding Your Ancestor’s Grave (Or Not)

Many of my clients come to Germany to find their ancestor’s graves. Unfortunately, in Germany graves are cleared after a few decades (20 to 30 years) to make room for new graves. Therefore, you will hardly ever find graves of your ancestors, who died some 100 years ago.

Berlin-Friedrichshain, Friedhöfe Friedenstraße / Landsberger Allee ©Angela Monika Arnold

Also, sometimes when a grave is cleared, the name is mentioned on a family gravestone, but this does not mean that this person is actually buried there. Actually they might even have been buried in a different town.


If the family had a large monument next to a cemetery wall it is often kept and sometimes even sold to other families who keep it and pay for the maintenance; they either use it as a place of burial for their own family or just to see to it that it is saved.

Berlin-Friedrichshain, Friedhöfe Friedenstraße / Landsberger Allee ©Angela Monika Arnold


Also often graves of famous people are taken care of by the municipality, this grave, for example, is kept as a grave of honor.

Therefore, before you come to Germany, it may be wise to check with the local church or, if the cemetery belongs to the local community, with the so called Friedhofsamt. You will find the way to contact them through the website of the municipality. Some municipalities (for example Berlin) do charge a fee for this kind of information, others do not. Also be aware that it might take time until they answer, in some parts of Berlin it can take about 6 months as they have to take care of burials as well, which, obviously, has first priority.

Berlin-Kreuzberg, Friedhöfe vor dem Halleschen Tor ©kvikk



The cemetery is gone

Sometimes the cemetery has seized to exist. In the past the cemetery often was close to or even next to the church. The graves were marked with either stones or wooden crosses that simply were destroyed due to the weather and then removed. Later a new cemetery was set up but the graves were not moved so you will be walking over unmarked graves.


The church of Groß Leppin, Brandenburg ©Ursula C. Krause


Historical Cemeteries

However, sometimes, if you are lucky, a new cemetery is set up and the old one in not cleared and falls into a deep sleep. Maybe the grass it cut, maybe some stones are removed, but you will still see that there once was a cemetery.

The old cemetery of Groß Leppin, Brandenburg, situated on the Mühlenberg ©Ursula C. Krause

Jewish Cemeteries

It is different for Jewish cemeteries. These graves were principally not cleared, however, many Jewish cemeteries were desecrated and destroyed during the Third Reich. Sometimes the cemetery ‘simply’ was destroyed and the tombstones knocked over, sometime the tombstones were taken and used for road construction (which was actually done with Christian German tombstones in Poland after the war). Today, many people are involved in saving the Jewish cemeteries and honoring those who were once buried there and most cemeteries are under preservation.

Berlin-Weißensee, The Jewish Cemetery ©mazbln


Even if you do not find the graves of your ancestors, do take a look at the local cemetery, often they are a beautiful place to sit down and simply take a break from all the noise and the hurry.

Stahnsdorf, Südwestkirchhof ©A. Savin

Bye Bye, Brick Walls – No, It’s Not (A Brick Wall)



Sometimes, when researching your German ancestors you reach a dead end. You have some information and checked all the sources; you have thought it through thoroughly. But you just don’t know what else to do. You have reached a brick wall. Or at least that’s what you think.



But things aren’t always the way they seem. Sometimes you are just a small step away from solving your problem and being able to find the answers you are seeking. It can simply be a misreading or a translation error that has been pointing you in the wrong direction. It might be that the information you’re looking for is there but you just don’t know about it. Maybe you are just searching the internet with the wrong search term and once you know the right word you can find out more. And maybe you simply need a tiny piece of advice to open closed doors. But where to turn?


Just Ask!

There are two places (of many more) where you can easily find help. One place is the mailing lists of the many German genealogical societies where you can place a request. Most of the lists are bilingual and all of them are free of charge. You can see what lists there are and if they are open to the public under this link; then just click on the list name and scroll down to register.

The other place is facebook with it’s many German genealogy groups. Katherine R. Willson has created a list with all genealogy related facebook groups and you can download it here:


No, It’s Not!

So what you think is a brick wall often simply isn’t one and you can easily find out more about your German ancestors by simply seeking a piece of advice from other researchers.


Do you want to know more about overcoming your brick walls? Read how knowing what information civil records hold can help! Find out more under And the Walls Came Tumbling Down!

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