Finding German Ancestors: Tips from James Beidler

If you've had challenges finding your German ancestors, don't despair. It can be difficult, due to a lack of nationwide records and a language that gets garbled on this side of the pond. German genealogy expert James Beidler shares his tips for narrowing down where to look. 

Finding German Ancestors


James Beidler is the author of The Family Tree German Genealogy Book and Trace Your German Roots Online. He is also a columnist for German Life magazine and is editor of Der Kurier, the quarterly journal of the Mid-Atlantic Germanic Society

(Click the "play" arrow to watch this short video with Jim.)

Key Takeaways for Finding German Ancestors:

  • It is "crucial" to identify your ancestor's town or village of origin; most records are based on that location. (You need to know the town to get into the correct records.)
  • Examine "every potential American record," including church records.
  • Researching your ancestor's siblings can yield great results. (Jim has a great example from baptism records illustrating this point.)
  • Many villages in Germany have the same name (much like there are numerous towns named Springfield in the U.S.) Jim shares methods for sorting them out and identifying the right one. 
  • A new online resource is, an online annotated version of Meyers Gazetteer, an indispensable guide for locating German towns and information about them. 

(Note: The Amazon links are affiliate links, meaning that Amazon pays me a little bit when someone purchases through them.)

Posted: November 30, 2017.

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  • The key take-aways are spot on. However, even doing all of that I still didn’t know what town my German immigrant ancestors came from; I had a larger town, but they didn’t actually live there. It wasn’t until Ancestry added an Index of some Germany Church books and I got a hint for these ancestors. Doing some digging, I was able to find what Church records these indexes were made from and ordered the films of these images from FamilySearch.
    I had FINALLY found my ancestors!

  • Anna Berehel is my great grandmother I have her picture and know she lived in germany in the mid to let 1800 I can’t find anything