This Methodology Tip is brought to you by Timo Kracke from the German genealogy podcast “der Genealoge
My absolute number one tip for research in Germany or the former German areas is – use the power of the local societies. There are local genealogy societies all over Germany with large libraries, deep knowledge of the local conditions, available sources and great people who love to guide you through your research.
What could I find?
It really depends – there are societies like CompGen (the Verein für Computergenealogie) who follow the principles of open access and offer large databases of family trees, Ortsfamilienbücher (local heritage books), headstones, historic city directories and many more completely free of charge. Other societies only give a certain amount of information for free. There is information like databases, search guides, complete books, structured place information and more.
Do I have to be a member?
You don’t necessarily have to be a member to use many of the benefits the societies offer; several societies do have information like indexes on their websites, which can be accessed for free. That will give you an idea what is available, where to search or whom to contact.
What benefit will I have from being a member of a society?
By becoming a member of a genealogy society in Germany you will have access to their library, receive their publications and, if available, will become a member of their forum or mailing list.
The local libraries are full of guides, books and family histories. The members of these societies have enormous knowledge of the research area, places, archives or people you should talk to.
A key question might be – do I have to speak German?
Speaking German is nice and helps a lot, but there are many Germans who speak English and love to help out. You need to consider that it may be as interesting for Germans to discover emigrant relatives as it is for you to discover the family of your ancestors. Watch out for forums (message boards) or mailing lists that state “bilingual”.
But where to find these societies?
Many of the genealogical societies are organized in the umbrella society DAGV
(Deutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft Genealogischer Verbände) and can be found on the website www.dagv.org on the page „Mitgliedsvereine
“ (http://www.dagv.org/?Die_DAGV___Mitgliedsvereine). Also, GenWiki
holds an overview of all known societies
(also non-DAGV members) with links to a wiki page and the society’s or group’s website at http://wiki-de.genealogy.net/Portal:Vereine.