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?