The U.S. census in the year 2000 showed that 25 per cent of the population claimed some German ancestry. If you are among this group, or researching it, there have been some interesting developments in the ability to search for German information online. This is important since the time to write postal letters is considerable, there is sometimes a language barrier, and transatlantic phone calls are still a novelty for researchers.
Some words to remember -- some sites and information are available in English, but many are not. The searcher is looking for family and historical information here, not discussing abstract philosophy, but expect to have to translate some pages. Usually there is a small British flag indicating if there is a version of the page available in English; clicking on the link gets you to that version.
There are the standard ways to search - using family heirlooms, checking the FamilySearch databases, using North American and Germanic church records on microfilm. But there are also novel new ways of looking for data. However don't expect everything to be in English, or to have a consistency in the amount of information. Websites vary considerably in completeness since some are maintained by well-run clubs and some simply by individuals. The following examples are tilted towards the Danube Swabians simply because I have been helping a lot of researchers in that area recently.
There are Germanic home interest groups, such as the Donauschawben -- Danube Swabians -- who have put bibliographies of items online especially at the Federation of East European Family History Societies (FEEFHS) Site. Also worth mentioning are the items to be found on Germanic language sites such as the Verein fuer Computergenealogie (Society for Computer Genealogy). On that site, you will find a number of databases that may assist you in your attempts to find more data. Some GEDCOM databases are to be found in the area named GedBas. The link to FOKO is a link to those persons interested in searching particular name; that's why it stands for Forscher Kontakt, or researcher contact. This section does not have a complete ancestor list, but rather the format of this person is searching this name at this place during this time. At the time of writing there are in excess of 1 1/2 million name entries and the reports indicate that each successful hit generates about 10 leads. The pages here tell you how to make further contact.
The GOV database is a database of locations in German-speaking countries. The DFB albums contain the data from whole church registers or places Many family researchers and associations are compiling this gradually. The Ortsfamilienbücher section links to over 50 online place books with names, giving in excess of 500,000 names. (These were formerly known as Ortssippenbücher ). It is worth your time to explore the pages here to see what might be linked to the names and places contained there. I know of one searcher who made contact, and found that his cousin was not only the local historian and interested in genealogy, but also was searching his family name and had been wondering how to make contact in the USA with researchers of that name! Again, polish your high school German in case your contacts are not ready to write to you in English.
One example of a fine compilation is that for the village of Bladen in Silesia. The page gives a few drawings of the location (check Google for pictures!); describes the lay of the land -- there is a Catholic church, and the place is located in the area of Silesia near the Czech border. The online database has about 17,500 people in 3250 families, and the dates covered by the information cover from 1686 to about 1800. The information is available in German and English; and can be searched and displayed by clicking on boxed which provide families and members alphabetically, listed by surname, first name, birth, death and birthplace, by birth places of foreigners death places of emigrants from the area.
The last example we will look at the is the Donauschawben village helping hand site -- in English -- where you can plug into information on families, villages etc. and perhaps make good contacts. I recognized a number of contributors there as being active in this region for more than 15 years, so it is not all new users asking each other for help. There are some fine items there.
It should also be mentioned that it is worthwhile to check search engines like Google, Vivissimo, and others to see what information you can find on an area (email to the town hall or church?); use Rootsweb for it's name and area mailing lists and search features; and select some sources which you can check regularly to see what's new -- I use some German language ones such as the Computergenealogie site.
Web sites mentioned:
1. German research http://www.genealogienetz.de/db/index.html
2. Federation of East European Family History Societies - The Federation of East European Family History Societies (FEEFHS)
3. Verein fuer Computergenealogie - http://www.genealogienetz.de/vereine/CompGen/
4. For Bladen - : http://db.genealogy.net/ofb/bladen , and also http://db.genealogy.net/ofb/bladen/index_en.html
5. Danube village helping hands. - Donauschwaben Villages Helping Hands
See also: Computergenealogie: Magazin fuer Familenforschung. (http://www.genealogienetz.de/cg)