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Tips for locating ancestors in Germany

Grandfather with his arm around grandmother.

(Photo: Flickr/J.Nathan Matias)

Tips for locating ancestors in Germany

September 06, 2012

Q: I continue to hit stone walls in trying to locate my maternal grandfather's home in Germany, and I don't speak German. He emigrated from Bremerhaven, Germany, and arrived in New Orleans via the "United States" on Nov. 12, 1844. The ship's manifest lists his occupation as "blacksmith." Try as I may, I cannot find any more information further back, including sources I found through Ancestry.com. Can you point to me to sources that might help me solve this mystery?

A: First I want to direct you to the very helpful Family Search article on Germany genealogy.

It's good to read the whole article about general research in Germany, but there is also a specific piece about Hannover. The city of Hannover does sound like a good place to start; however, at the date you are researching larger cities can sometimes be more problematic than if you had the name of a smaller town, as you want to really try to narrow down the parish records that need to be searched.

Familysearch.org allows you to search by name, but it also lets you search the catalog of the Family History Library to learn what documents they have that you might be able to access. You can search for records by location and order films to be sent to your local Family History Center to be viewed.

I would really encourage you to also try to get a copy of his actual death certificate. It may not have parents' names on it, but it is certainly worth it to verify your suspicion on father's names and get a possible name of his mother. Also, you might wish to check with an area library to see if the community of New Diggings has a history book that included biographies of local families. Many smaller communities sometimes did this when it became clear that the local township was not going to expand and they wanted to preserve their history. There may even be a county-wide history that may include that info.

The other thing to do is to cast your net broadly and not forget to use Google, Ask.com, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo and all the other search engines you can think of to search for your name. I know that this seems like an odd strategy, but things are always being added to the Internet, and these search engines will eventually locate them for you. You can even set up search parameters to notify you when something new under your search terms comes up.

The good thing for you is that you have Hannover (which was also listed in the ship's records as where he originated from).

-- Answer from Kari Petersen, a genealogy specialist on JustAnswer.

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