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I've searched the internet quite a bit, but I'm still unable to usefully find any information on my German relatives - mostly due to the language barrier. I'm looking for records around the early 1900's and back.

In the English speaking world there are a few big names in Genealogy such as the Ancestry sites, but does the same apply for German records? Is there a well stocked website that can help me?

Berlin is the only area I know for definite that I have ancestors, but I'm told that there have been some in the south of Germany too.

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If you know the area in Germany where you are searching, please don't hesitate to add that to your question. –  GeneJ Oct 16 '12 at 21:06
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Okie dokie, Updated :) –  Ben Griffiths Oct 16 '12 at 21:14
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5 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

As Gene suggests, Family Search is an often over-looked source for non-US records. Although its global search box is very prominent, you can be far more selective in your use.

At the bottom of the landing page is a map (and list of regions) that allows you to focus your search. Select the country (and in some cases state or province), time period and type of records on which to operate.

FS menu screenshots

From there you can search (if the record in indexed) or browse images (if it is not).

For assistance on dealing with the particular characteristics of a region, go to the ResearchWiki (under Learn on the FS menu bar). Here is a direct link to the Germany section in English (there are versions in other languages).

There are also online tutorials sourced from Brigham Young University.

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+1, although I would challenge the notion that "FamilySearch is an often over-looked source for non-US records." I think your answer would have been just as strong without the statement. –  GeneJ Oct 17 '12 at 2:27
    
@GeneJ What's wrong with that statement? –  JustinY Oct 17 '12 at 14:36
    
I used Family Search for UK records (I'm UK myself), never thought about it covering non English records though. That research wiki looks great though! –  Ben Griffiths Oct 17 '12 at 15:28
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@JustinY, "often overlooked." –  GeneJ Oct 17 '12 at 16:06
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I'm surprised no one has mentioned what is known as "Special Interest Groups" abbreviated with the acronym of SIG. While I am not involved in the German SIG, you might check it out for yourself:

http://www.jewishgen.org/gersig/

SIGs are a terrific place to post your questions when you get stuck. If you are not yet a member of JewishGen, I suggest that you register (no charge!) and there will be an amazing world of information open to you.

Good luck with that!

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Is this specific to Jewish Germans, or all Germans? –  American Luke Oct 25 '12 at 0:52
    
This would of course be for Jewish Germans. Sorry, I thought I was responding to someone researching Jewish ancestry, but there should surely be something similar for Germans in general. Here are some other possibilities: familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/German_Genealogical_Societies. Depending where you live, you might want to check German SIGs for a local branch. –  Madeleine Oct 25 '12 at 2:16
    
Thanks, I'll check it out :) –  Ben Griffiths Oct 25 '12 at 7:01
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A large (free) German genealogy site is http://www.genealogy.net/.

It includes number of sub-domains, including a wiki, mailing-lists, genealogicial society pages, publications, and all kinds of databases. (It's much like Rootsweb used to be). Mostly in German, but there are English pages or you can use a translation app with your browser.

You will have a much easier time finding your people if you can narrow down a when and where to look. You mentioned Berlin, but as a major city and capitol, it attracted people from everywhere. Also many US records say "Germany" although the person meant they were ethnically German but born outside Germany itself.

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This looks really interesting, thanks! –  Ben Griffiths Oct 25 '12 at 7:01
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My favourite (most visited) section is "Online Heritage Books" ortsfamilienbuecher.de. A map shows shows current coverage geographically; check the summary page of any linked location for details - dates, surnames, etc. –  bgwiehle Oct 25 '12 at 17:01
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Jewish German ancestors are easier to trace than non-Jews if you don't read the language, because the US site JewishGen is very informative, also the documentation was extensive.

I've also found quite a lot of German birth and marriage records on FamilySearch.

Ancestry.com Public Family Trees give clues if you know the names you're looking for, but are often not corrected when errors have been made.

You really have to work harder to research ancestors in Germany, even if you do read the language.

Lots of German immigrants to the US have written autobiographies which start with an account of their forebears and are worth searching out. I live in England, but some of the family went to USA, so their books are still relevant.

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Welcome to the site, Eva. I've edited your answer, only to add some spacing breaks. Great tip about the autobiographies! –  GeneJ Oct 24 '12 at 20:35
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Two thoughts come to mind:

  1. Check the records at familysearch.org. They have a great collection of German parish records on microfilm.

  2. See the answer to an earlier question about records in Berlin. German laws are more strict that US laws on matters of privacy, and so these kinds of records will be harder to get online.

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That second point with the link to a previous answer doesn't fill me with lots of hope :( Looks like FamilySearch will have to be my primary focus to begin with :) –  Ben Griffiths Oct 17 '12 at 15:29
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