Explore Your German Heritage

Trace the roots of your family tree in Germany, and follow the routes your ancestors took to reach a new life in America. Follow the 400-year timeline of significant events in German emigration history, and see how German-Americans continue to shape the modern United States today.

From religious freedom seekers in the 1600s to one of the leading ancestry groups in the U.S. today, German immigrants have woven their stories into the fabric of American culture. Get to know the rich history of your ancestors in the Genealogy section, where you’ll find valuable links to regional archives and web resources to guide you on your German heritage journey.

In the Famous People section, learn about famous German-Americans who’ve had a big influence on American cultural identity and society. Then, build a custom itinerary with our Trip Planner to visit the historic places which tell the story of German emigrants to America.

Your Journey Begins Here

First, your research strategy should be focused on finding the last residence or at least the area in Germany your family came from. Then, identify local or regional resources in that area. For this purpose, passenger manifests, including lists of arrivals at U.S. ports, or departures from Germany often provide very helpful information. Those include established large databases, provided by commercial firms for fees, or those offered for free by societies or other institutions.

The next steps lead you to state archives, church archives, and civil registration offices of communities, towns or districts. Also, local databases, including name-lists, family and local history publications are helpful. You will notice that archives in Germany – be it church or state archives, German websites from genealogical societies, church offices or groups of volunteers – do not always provide English-language navigation or explanation. Therefore, you should contact them directly. Be advised that many institutions or organizations may not have the resources to carry out extensive research, or that they need time to work on your request, and nominal fees may apply.

The following recommendations are based on a selection of addresses, resources, institutions and tools that are helpful in a basic and practical way. Please keep in mind that even in times of electronic data and high-speed internet, historical biographical research is a complicated task that requires time and patience.

Explore the German Archives

Records on emigration archives usually relate to applications of passports, reports of public administration, correspondence or related matters. Some archives have duplicates of church books, and some have civil registration records. From 1875 onwards, civil registration and vital statistics were filed at the Civil Registry Offices (Standesamt). Addresses are available through the cities' public administration. Use may be restricted or by appointment only. Church archives keep church books, and in some cases local genealogical societies have compiled family history books from these records.

  • www.archivschule.de/content/23.html
    German archives. This site is hosted by the Deutsche Archivschule at Marburg and lists addresses of archives in Germany. Mostly in German. Some archives have English websites.
  • www.ekd.de/archive/deutsch/index.htm
    The website of the Evangelical Church in Germany lists the member archives which are listed by cities and regions. Please note that church records may not necessarily be kept in these centralized repositories but may be kept in local church offices.

Get Started: Orientation & Research Tools

These are the major websites for research and travel in Germany compiling resources of emigration, historical and biographical databases, record lists, research strategies and services, as well as biographies, articles, timelines and links to academic institutions, tourist organizations and other useful information. The sites are well established in the genealogical community and most of them are constantly updated.

  • www.roots-in-germany.de
    Website of Research and Travel. Compilation of resources and tools for emigration and historical biographical research in Germany. Many links to a variety of regional and local databases. Also links to German tourist organizations. Research and travel services are offered for fees.
  • www.germanroots.com/emigration.html
    Compilation of German emigration online records, lists, resources. Useful links, orientation and explanations.
  • http://www.cyndislist.com/germany.htm
    Well-known list with numerous links including orientation on general resources. Well established in the genealogical community, constantly updated.
  • www.germancorner.com
    Extensive German-American links and information, well-known portal including timelines, historic chapters, biographies.
  • http://www.genealogienetz.de/
    German Verein für Computergenealogie: valuable links, resources. Important: this site links to the genealogical societies in the German federal states (Bundesstaaten) and many local history sources.
  • www.ahnenforschung.net
    Directory for genealogists provided by Genealogie-Service de GmbH Germany. Links to online book shops, paid services as well as free resources.
  • www.familysearch.org
    Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Well-known website of the Genealogical Society of Utah/Mormon church. Site links to the popular International Genealogical Index (IGI) which is their widely used collection of data, mainly from microfilmed church registers, many entries for Germany.
  • www.feefhs.org
    The Federation of East European Family History Societies links to various databases which contain names in Eastern European regions including former German settlements, also genealogical aids, maps, links, etc.
  • www.ahsgr.org
    The American Historical Society of Germans from Russia website.
  • www.jewishgen.org
    Link to a special interest group for Germany: www.jewishgen.org/GerSIG which then refers to resources, databases, valuable information, etc.

Genealogical finding aids, websites, general information that covers the federal states or historic regions of Germany are provided by various genealogical societies. A list of these societies is displayed in cooperation with the ‘Verein für Computergenealogie’: wiki.genealogy.net. For more detailed listings of local databases, please refer to www.routes.de and www.genealogienetz.de

The following list provides the most popular and widely used resources on passenger lists. Some are free to use, while others require subscription or demand fees.

  • www.ancestry.com
    Ancestry.com is one of the most extensive online databases with more than 27 billion records and over 100 million family trees. It is one of the most extensive online databases with more than 80 million images of records online, more than five billion names. The U.S. Immigration Collections gives access to arrivals at New York, Baltimore, Boston, New Orleans, Galveston, Philadelphia, California and some other places mainly 1820 to 1957 (varies for ports), requires fees.
  • www.passagierlisten.de
    These are the only surviving departure lists for Bremen and Bremerhaven in the time period 1920-1939. A project by the Bremen Genealogical Society in collaboration with the Bremen Chamber of Commerce.
  • www.immigrantships.net
    The Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild (ISTG) is a long-standing group of volunteers who transcribe various ship manifests. The index page lists manifest per year, ship name, port, etc. Especially important for ships prior to 1800.
  • www.theshipslist.com
    Contains a collection of transcribed passenger manifests along with related information. Rich content and links.
  • www.castlegarden.org
    From 1855 to 1890, Castle Garden located at Manhattan's southern end was America's first official immigration center. Online database for 10 million immigrants from 1830 through 1892.
  • heritage.statueofliberty.org/passenger
    The Statue of Liberty—Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.
    The free Passenger and Ship Search databases comprise nearly 65 million arrival records and ship manifests from passengers arriving to the Port of New York from 1820 to 1957.
  • www.pier21.ca
    Pier21 – Canada's Historic Soul. Visitors may search electronically for the basic arrival information and country of residence of anyone who immigrated through a Canadian port between 1925 and 1935. Many of them continued their journey to the U.S.

Explore the Emigration Timeline

Uncover the history of your German ancestors with the help of our emigration timeline. Spanning more than 400 years, the timeline begins with the earliest German settlers arriving in North America in the early 1600s, follows the great immigration waves of the 18th and 19th centuries, and highlights notable German-Americans and their contributions to American society and culture.