I am looking for my father Herman Albert Zimmerman, who was born Oct 13, 1896, in Magdeburg, Germany.

I found his World War I and II draft papers and have done much research with census and, on the Saxony sites and found nothing more about his parents. I am in the process of backtracking his steps where he boarded the Arnoldus Vinnen ship. I believe, in 1916-1917 I have the newspaper article where he was talking to congressman Donn Bonker and have also found a book (Worldcat catalogue entry) to read more about the ship's purpose and sailing days. Nothing in his adventures tells me who my grandparents are. I do know that he was born and his name and I remember seeing a picture of him with another boy and his parents, but no name on the back of the picture.

I do know he said he was of Lutheran faith. That is all I do know from his own words. I am very proud of my father he was a good man with a good heart. Thank you all for helping me. I gave my child his last name to carry his name forward.

My question is now how do I find my grandparents in Magdeburg and or parishes where there might be a birth record, or census in Germany?

  • Welcome to G&FH SE! As a new user be sure to take the Tour to learn about our focussed Q&A format which is quite different from bulletin boards, discussion forums and other Q&A sites you may be used to. Please try to ask a single focussed question rather than just asking for "any help". I've edited your question and hope it still reflects your main question.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 5:15
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    I assume you mean Magdeburg? It was "Provinz Sachsen" and thus not (Kingdom of Saxony) but a Prussian province.
    – lejonet
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 7:22
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    I looked at the edits and got so confused, I rolled the question back to its original state. IMHO the Q is asking for help with making a research plan and I can answer that. I am hoping we can make this less duplicate-like by focusing on the time period his grandparents must have come to the US, thus my rewrite of the title. I will be busy for the next few hours but will come back and answer it later today.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 16:56
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    @JanMurphy yes, that's correct
    – lejonet
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 10:52
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    Terry – thank you for coming back to clarify your question. You posted the additional information in the answer section, so we've moved it up into the question and deleted your answer. You can edit your question at any time, just click the edit button right below your question. I'll also add that the WorldCat entry you linked to is not a book, but a photo, and here is a link to that photo: handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/14615
    – Harry V.
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 12:46

2 Answers 2


Much of the advice given in the previous question Tracing US ancestor back to Germany? will also apply to this question -- in this answer I will add information specific to immigrants to the US during the early 20th Century.

The first thing I do with any research question is to start with a review of all the records I have collected so far. I make a list of everything I have, either by making a list in my research journal, or by creating a Genealogy Source Checklist like the one demonstrated in this video by Crista Cowan, or both.

Next I extract the information found in the records and I place all the information on a timeline for my research subject, with a note reminding me which source on my list had that information. I refer to Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Analysis Process Map as needed when I apply this information to specific research questions.

As I review my information, I work backwards chronologically from the records which are created most recently to the ones which are the oldest. I do it this way because the picture of a person's life at their death gives us the most complete view of their life. This helps me separate records that may belong to two different people (or more) who may have the same name, living in the same location. (I have one German immigrant family with three generations all living in the same household, so I've learned to be careful.) Knowing about someone's entire life gives you more identifiers to use when examining the earlier records.

I make note of the names of other family members, friends, neighbors, and associates that I find in each record (see Mills' QuickLesson 11: Identify Problems and the FAN Principle for an example of how studying people in a group makes it easier to answer questions about people with common names). For some families, it isn't possible to work backwards to the previous generation using the records of a single person -- you have to fill in gaps by using the records of siblings instead.

As I review the sources, I make a list of research questions that occur to me, and a "records wantlist" of records that might hold more information. For any immigrant who was of the right age to register for the draft in WWI, but was born in Germany, these questions might be:

  • Did this person become a naturalized citizen later in life? If so, finding his naturalization papers might give me more information, including the answer to the next question:
  • When did this person arrive in the United States?
  • Were there other people from his family who arrived on the same voyage?

Each new historical record can yield more information that will help you narrow down when someone emigrated and clarify exactly when he came from. It is always better use the basic principle to start with what you know, and work outwards in small steps, rather than taking big leaps. I also keep in mind the five elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard -- because I want to search widely enough that I don't miss information, and I want to be sure I am understanding and interpreting all the information I find in the right way.

Let's use as an example the alleged birthplace of Magdeberg/Magdeburg.

First, we need to remember -- it is very likely that the person registering for the draft did not write the information down himself -- he dictated the answers to the question to a registrar, who wrote down the answers. The registrar may not have been a German speaker, so we can't take the name of the birthplace at face value.

Using the online Meyers Gazetteer, which is set up for researchers to enter the names without umlauts, I get two results for the spelling Magdeberg:

Mägdeberg 1) D. (Village) Mägdeberg, Niederung, Gumbinnen, Ostpreussen, Preussen

Mägdeberg 2) Hof (Farm, Manor, Courtyard) Mägdeberg, Engen, Konstanz, Baden

For Magdeburg with a U, there are more options. It may refer to

Magdeburg StKr. (City with own state government offices), HptSt. of the prussian province of Sa.

Going to FamilySearch's list of abbreviations, we can expand this as follows:

  • StKr. Stadtkreis Area included in municipal administration district, as opposed to rural or county government which would be “Landkreis”
  • HptSt. Haupt Stadt Capitol city
  • Sa. Sachsen(Staat) Saxony, (state)

The Herman A Zimmerman who said he was born on 13 Oct 1896 in Magdeburg, Germany when he registered for the draft in Tacoma City no 2, Washington, United States gives as the name of his nearest relative someone who lives in Prussia -- which doesn't tell us enough in itself to say which place is meant. Consider too that if someone is from a place near a capital city, their birthplace can be misreported as being from the big city instead of the smaller town nearby. I made this mistake about my father's hometown -- I remembered that he was from the bigger city (where he had lived later on in his life) but my older brother knew the name of the smaller town where he had grown up. So even though you have two records that agree, it might help to gather more information. This is where knowing more about the community at large may help -- some Germans during this time period were recruited for their skills in specific industries, and if your grandparents were skilled, there may be other people who were also recruited, giving you even more records to look at for clues.

If these two records were all I had, I would not attempt to leap directly back to Germany. Since his WWI draft card says he was an alien at that time, I would try to locate all his Census records to look for clues in the Census records about his naturalization and his arrival.

If your grandfather naturalized after 1906, or didn't naturalize at all, you might have a rich potential source of information in the records held by the USCIS (the successor agency to the INS). Their website gives an overview of the five different record sets which are available via the USCIS Genealogy Program. The article from Prologue Magazine (Spring 2013), The A-Files: finding your immigrant ancestor, explains what information can be found in an Alien registration (for non-citizens) living in the US between April 27 and December 26, 1940). The examples shown in the article are a good illustration of why we are often advised to work forwards in time, rather than backwards, when we are researching our families.

So when creating a research plan, it helps to set a big goal and then break the research down into smaller, more manageable tasks, keeping in mind what places your grandfather lived, and what records might have been created about him in each time and place. If you are completely new to research The FamilySearch Research Wiki has many articles about the Research Process that can help you get started.

  • 1
    Both cards actually have Ma[gd]eBURG, which is a city in Province Saxony, as lejonet said in an early comment, as well as other places.
    – bgwiehle
    Commented Jan 31, 2017 at 23:52
  • I've edited my answer to address this issue. Suggestions are welcome if you think a different edit would be better.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 4:16
  • I have studied so many records of cencus records and endless reading, to try and find more information on Herman albert Zimmerman 1896 he boarded a ship Anoldus Vinnen There is one book that was wrote about this ship. This was true with sources I found. thanks to all who helped guide me thru this What I don't have is information how to get more information from Germany when dad stepped on that ship if there would be any more records to find any statements that may lead me to my grandparents. Or his birth certificate. Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 3:43
  • @TerryJeanne could you add to your question a brief list of all the sources you have looked at so far? We might be able to point out clues you have missed. What port did the Anoldus Vinnen sail from?
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 20:34

Although difficult to find, I found original records for 4 great uncles (all became Catholic priests) and a great aunt, all of whom were born in Magdeburg, and a marriage record for their parents, my great grandparents between 1870 and 1886 on ancestry.com. It wasn't a straight forward search since it was not indexed by my great grandparents names but only the birth name of each of the children and with one exception they all altered their first and middle names. Eventually, I simply searched their surname and Magdeburg, with the best dob of each to limit the number of returns and viewed each hit to identify the parents. I'm not sure the database goes to 1896, but it might be worth a try. Unfortunately, most of Magdeburg records were destroyed in 1945 when the allies bombed the city more that 30 times. A reconstruction of the records is underway. Apparently some records were backed up, I believe, in Berlin. Good luck.

  • I found herman albert zimmerman's draft records. World War 1,World War ll. Looking through the census records i found nothing about his parents. He states to congressman Donn Bonker in a later life interview which tells his adventures aboard the ship Arnoldus Vinnen. Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 3:57

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