Question of the Week: Do you have German ancestors?

+58 votes

Oktoberfest is right around the corner. Tell us about your German roots!

Check out the German Roots project and see what resources they have to help you learn about them.

Genieße das Leben ständig! Du bist länger tot als lebendig! Prost!

(Always enjoy life! You are dead longer than you are alive! Cheers!)

asked Sep 22 in The Tree House by Julie Ricketts G2G6 Pilot (210,910 points)

Patty, I got a glimpse of a suggestion of a german name in your line--which led me here, but where? Reinhimer was what caught my eye. Think of the German language. In Germany it would have been spelled in the  original German way. Have you tried in your searching to go for such spellings as Rhein (like the river) and heimer as All one word or end of a name or a noun. that is, Someone who lives along the Rhein River, his home (das Heim). Germans are famous for using what I think of as Word-crowding, sometimes making words far longer than a simple two or three of them linked together. 


Hi Roberta:

Thank you for your thoughts on our Rinehimer family.  Actually, there have been a number of researchers, including myself that have uncovered numerous spellings of this name - one or two the same as you suggested. The original to our shores was a Conrad Christopher Reinheimer.

 Now we are at a "get over the ocean" point and believe our Reinheimers may have come from the Hesse region near the Rhine - possibly in Darmstadt.  

Our other little problem is that we are not sure Conrad Christopher's son, Conrad II was actually his son as family legend says his actual parents died on board the ship.  We would need to find Conrad C's hometown, church and any children baptized in Germany to help eke out the truth to this matter.

It's one of those complex lines indeed!

Again my thanks

Patty Almond
Well, Patty, I got the Rhine river spelled incorrectly and the word-squeeze part spelled right. Thanks for the correx.  I've always wondered about those family legends. I suppose CCReinheimer is too distant a relative to do an auDNA test on both lines to clear up the question of "real" relationship.

I'm a little late to this question, but I still wanted to contribute and with luck, learn something.  My great grandfather, John Pieschke, and my great grandmother, Bertha Koeppen Pieschke, came to the United States (separately as far as I know) from Germany sometime in the 1890s.  I have never been able to find immigration documentation or anything about their parents or life prior to them being in Chicago as of 1900. I'm hoping to get some ideas from this thread on where to turn to continue my search.  To add to the mystery, I did DNA testing which indicated a central European origin centered around Poland although I know my great grandfather spoke German and not Polish.  Any ideas to help me break down this brick wall are appreciated!

For many centuries prior to your ancestors' emigration, "Germany" extended well to the east of where it is now, into what is now Poland.  There is a good chance that your ancestors lived in this part of what was then Germany (Brandenburg, Silesia, Prussia, Pomerania) and perhaps inter-married with Polish people.
Yes.  The Romans built a wall so that the "Barbarians" could not get in.  I visited the wall with the Volknerrs, my hosts in Germany.  Read the history of the wall.  I have pic but cannot figure out how to attach.

At least half of my mother's ancestors were of German ancestry, but my DNA shows no German roots.  I've been told that aspect of DNA info is highly unreliable.



I have Lowther fin Lowther, England then to Ireland.  they are thought to have immigrated to England from Nordic countries i e Norway, Finland, Denmark?  McWhorter Scottish but in Armagh, Ireland to America, Grimes found in Armagh, Ireland. Irish, Scottish?????  Hardman spelled Hartmann is German but they came from the Barbarians from the North.i. e. Denmark.  Check this artilcle on wikipedia out of pre-Roman Iron Age 2 BCE to 1 AD. These are the peoples that Roman Empire built a wall to keep them out. So Hardmans--a germanic people, Lowthers, a gemanic people. before Germany was Germany.  This is like the counties of West Virginia--Once the county was Augusta and over time became 55 counties.  Remembering the maps at the time of our ancestors lives will help us know who we are and from whence we came.
Most of my ancestors are from Germany or various Prussian areas and the rest are Swiss. I knew that the Reuszer (also spelled Russer) family in my mother's line was Swiss, but now I have found others. Most of these seem to be from the Canton-Bern area.

I need to update the surnames I follow, for I have found quite a few. My own  surname, Bode, is one I am most interested in because I hit a brick wall a few generations back.

Some of these people are hard to document accurately, so I am trying to slowly pull things together for the people I've identified in the 1700's and before so that I can apply for pre-1500 certification. I have some ancestors I have been unable to enter here because I lack that certification.

I've done the DNA (R-Z1 and J1a1b1) and the Family Tree DNA map claims I would be English, but the heatmap and description show me as German. I have yet to find a single person in my tree who did not live in Germany or Switzerland or immigrate to the USA from there.

  I'm awaiting mitochondrial results.
Patty, I have the same problem with my DNA-results. My DNA results say that my ancestors are mainly scandinavian and british and a little Italian and Greeke.

I am German and my ancestors in my tree are all Germans. The reason must be that there are a lot of people from Britain tested who have the same roots as Germans have a long time ago.

If you are searching places in Germany you can use "GOV":

Here I found two villages called Rheinheim.

123 Answers

+14 votes
For the longest time I thought I was basically 3/4 German.. BUT turns out quite a few of my lines just made their way to America via Germany after living there at least one generation. I do think my Schindler's are German but haven't been able to get past the farthest out I have to find that out. :)
answered Sep 22 by Charlotte Shockey G2G6 Pilot (426,990 points)

Ohhh, any chance you're related to Oskar Schindler?

Not sure... I've only got so far in on my Schindler line before it gets into German written documents. :) LOL
+12 votes
While the majority of my ancestors is Dutch, a few Germans show up in my tree mid 18th century.
answered Sep 22 by Joke van Veenendaal G2G6 Mach 1 (12,390 points)
+13 votes
Short answer is yes for some lines.....Federlechner, Schiffhauer, et al.
answered Sep 22 by Doug Lockwood G2G Astronaut (1,795,030 points)
+15 votes
My father always told me his great grandfather Bernhard Bach migrated in 1890 from Brandenburg,Germany well I started trying to research the Bach side and it’s been one of the hardest, most frustrating task....researching someone who obviously didn’t want to be researched. As far as I know it’s just me and my dad, his sister & my brother. I’m still searching for information although just last week I did find the village Bernhard was born in but if any of you wikitreeiers have any information pertaining to Bernhard Bach is greatly appreciated. Just a side note on my newly confirmed reserch my fathers mother: Germaine Seward is a descendant of Byrum and Abigail Pitney-Seward. I really hit the information jackpot when my father passed his mother’s private vault to me , he had never gone through it and had no idea just how much his ancestors mother/father’s side had a great deal to with the way our America is today.  We literally had a Seward fighting a Bach in the war of 1812...❤️
answered Sep 22 by Stephanie Bach G2G3 (3,750 points)

I noticed you have Braunschweig as origin on your Bernhard's profile. While today that is a city in Niedersachsen, in 1861 that could refer to the country Herzogtum Braunschweig. It never was part of Preußen (or Brandenburg).

That is very valuable information and appreciate your reply. I don’t have a whole lot of information on Germany and it’s way of life so any and all information is welcomed
Stephanie--Very interesting. I'm so curious about your next to last sentence! Please tell us more!!
Stephanie Bach:  I hope you will remember to tell us how much "his ancestors. . .had a great deal to do with the way our American is today" !!

We'd love to know. Truly.
+13 votes
I have German on both sides of my family--Palatinate, verging into Czech territories, through different branches of the Huffman/Hoffman lines. The most prevalently known among them are those who settled eastern North Carolina, where most of them still reside. They were largely physicians and professors prior to coming to the US. After, they were farmers and landowners. I'm still learning about my Pennsylvania Huffmans.
answered Sep 22 by Kelley Harrell G2G6 (7,570 points)
Your Physicians and professors likely had big educations that they weren't willing to redo in the American style. The farmers had the job of feeding America. I have a friend who was disappointed that her relatives were farmers. I look at them as knowing a valued occupation and sticking with it.Bravo, to the farms and the people who visioned them and worked them.
My grandpaarents raised apples in PA and shipped them to markets by train. Hardworking folks. Grandma built a springhouse to keep milk, garden produce, and eggs cool. Grandpa built a smokehouse and purchased extra barrels for salting down the pigs and calves they raised each spring. Mom said the hams ftom that smokehouse were wonderful. Grandma bragged she was the only lady to have eggs for cakes at the church Christmas and New Years dinners.
Where would we be without farmers?
Mary --the answer is we would not be alive. While the small farm farmer is my hero, I don't feel like supporting the agribusiness farmers much at all.

At many points in this country (USA), FARMING was the job most Americans were involved in, including whole families to keep the crops growing and the children thriving.
Yes, many ancestors were rich/educated/or totals of some degree but most farmed I their becoming time in the colonies/America. There are English, Irish, Welsh,  Scottish, Prussia, German, Flemish, French Dutch and native Americans in my lines. Most farmed but quickly there are trappers, doctors, inventors, car makers, musicians, and artists. Many served in different times and military capcities. Just in my sons are Airforce, Navy, and Army. Several are church ministers, missionaries, and pastors. There are professionals and trades people. History and family sure are an interesting mix.
+13 votes
I have German roots through the Smitterlou family who came to the island of Gotland in the early 1500's. The Smitterlous and the von Lübecks were mayors of Stralsund and Greifswald.
answered Sep 22 by Lena Svensson G2G6 Mach 4 (43,290 points)
+12 votes
I have lots of German ancestors!  4 of my 2nd great grandparents and 2 of my 3rd great grandparents were immigrants to the United States from Germany.
answered Sep 22 by Kristin Merritt G2G6 Mach 1 (11,280 points)
+14 votes
My great-grandfather was said to have stowed away on a ship bound from Germany to New York. That's the story. Actually, he and his sister were orphans and not well treated by relatives (still trying to find out who), so she and the other people in the village raised money for his passage to America at age 15. She was ten years older and entered a convent. He was an indentured servant and picked apples in upstate New York for seven years. Then he became a bartender. He married an Irish immigrant who was also an orphan.

My grandmother liked to tease my grandfather for being Irish and German. After doing some research, we found that she was also Irish and German. Ha! We haven't been able to prove her grandfather's family and think he may have been illegitimate. But he was a Ream and lived near Reamstown in Pennsylvania.

I thought it very interesting that both lines were from the same region in Germany. I would like to discover that they "knew" each other in the 17th century or so.
answered Sep 22 by Lucy Selvaggio-Diaz G2G6 Mach 7 (75,610 points)
Regarding your 'illegitimate' ancestor. I have the same situation, and learned that, in those days it was quite common for a couple to have a child before marriage!!! So you may find his parents very close to home!

Hope that helps.
Yes, Jerry, and Lucy!  I have many German relatives who could not get married until after they had children. There must have been rules about who was old enough and had a solid income before marrying. That would be so important especially  in the smaller villages.I wish I'd remembered more details. Sorry.
+13 votes
Very much so, but more on my paternal side than my maternal side. But I have it in both.

My paternal grandparents were both very recent immigrants. My opa was from Austria and my oma from Germany. Or that is what I told - little did I know how complex the situation was. Where my oma was born was Germany at the time, though is now Poland. My opa's ancestors' original area where they were in the late 1800s is now, I believe, Serbia. I don't speak or read German, either, so I'm at a loss on research on this side of the family. My opa's surname was Metz, my oma's was Palnau. There is also Schmidt, Henke and Bukowska as other surnames I've managed to find. The Metz side has a family history booklet that some relatives put together, but I'm unsure if this lists sources or not.

Also, my om'as father was drafted into the German army at the very tail end of World War II. He did not return and was listed as MIA - his brother said that he was blown up by a bomb. The official records for missing German troops says that he was officially listed as MIA on January 1st, 1945. He was in his 40s at the time, certainly not an ideal age for a soldier but they were likely desperate at this point.

My German heritage on my mother's side is further back. Through my maternal grandfather there is some potential that a branch of German immigrants from the 1700s mixed in with the line of Irish immigrants from New York that he descends from. This would be through a woman with the surname Meyer/Meier, but I have yet to find proper sources for her parentage beyond a few other family trees so I am taking this with a grain of salt.

The Prussian through my maternal grandmother's side is well documented, however. Te Bonins and Glomskis originally came from West Prussia. They both seem to be Catholic families. Other surnames are Schultz and Grubich. (Glomski always seemed very Polish to me, however, so I am unsure. Bonin I also tend to find more with France/Quebec, but it is definitely documented that this particular line came from Prussia.) Censuses for these family members either list themselves as Prussian, Polish German, German or Polish. They immigrated in the mid 1800s and settled in Wisconsin.
answered Sep 22 by Kristen Louca G2G6 Mach 1 (19,790 points)
OUTSTANDING ! You are the only one I have come across that has some Prussian ancestors . Mine are maternal (Neuroth) .Could you tell me where east Prussia and west Prussia meet ? In the 1700's  .
Unfortunately your guess would be as good as mine! I am unfortunately not even that clear on where in modern day Germany the places my Prussian ancestors were from. I am thinking it may most likely be Poland currently.
My 3 times great grandfather, William Peter Gerfers, was born in Westfalia in 1827, when it was a province of Prussia.


Here is a map of Preußen in 1700. The part in green named Hinterpommern is situated in Westpreußen, the separated part to the East named Hzm. Preußen is Ostpreußen. The bulk of Westpreußen is the white area in between which was Polish.

I have Prussian ancestry as well.  Mine came from Preußen in the beginning of  the US civil war. Haase and Hermann but haven't really traced the lines any further back.
I TOO HAVE PRUSSIAN ANCESTRY in my German and Eastern Euro lines. They aren't well researched at this time however.
+9 votes

I have always been told I am half German. It turns out my mother's family are from several different groups of German speaking people.

The Kellermann's are from Coburg, Deutschland and ended up in Buffalo, NY. They are related to the Heines, the Bauers, the Gantzers, the Schaufs, the Betz, the Reitz, the Schaffers, the Schroeders and the Schmidts in Buffalo, and to the Dressels, the Crons, the Wickerts, the Ungerich and many more in Germany, mostly from Rhineland-Pfalz and Hesse.

The Versch's are from Bayern, Deutschland, but some of them are related to Austro-Hungarians from Burgenland (Eastern Austria). Some of them ended up in Buffalo, New York and some of them ended up in Herndon, Kansas and surrounding areas.They are related to the Schmitts, the Reibolts, the Kleidostys, the Niemeths (which means German).

The Schirck's are from Bas-Rhin in Alsace, but originally from Switzerland, and ended up in Pennsylvania. They are related to the Honharts, the Lessers, the Schulers, the Ruhlmanns, Dalrymples, the Kopps, the Herrmanns, the Gisselbrechts, the Lindebauers, the Mehs, etc.

The Kopps settled in East Eden, NY and we don't know what part of Germany they are from, but Freiburg has been suggested. They are related to the Apthorpe's of England

When my German males came to the USA, they tended to marry a daughter of a German immigrant. So my umbilical line is one of my earliest lines in the USA. That is probably why I have so many German families I am related to.


answered Sep 22 by Sharon Centanne G2G6 Pilot (122,320 points)
+10 votes
No.  I do, however, have Swiss ancestors who presumably spoke German.
answered Sep 22 by J. Crook G2G6 Pilot (132,180 points)
Be careful of what you presume.  There are 4 official languages in Switzerland, German, French, Italian, and Rhato-Romanish. Germans form the largest group there, but are not an overwhelming majority by any means. You need to find out which part of Switzerland your ancestors came from, but a good indication is whether their family names were of German origin.
My ancestor was this dude: Rev. Johannes Conrad Wirz, from Zurich, Switzerland, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1734.  For some reason, his sons changed the spelling of the name to Wurts.  One son fought in the Revolutionary War and thus stayed in the U.S..  Another son, my ancestor, ended up in Ontario after the war. Then my 4xg-grandfather participated in the Makenzie Rebellion and had to flee to the U.S. as a traitor to the crown. So anyway, I've always assumed that with a name like Johannes, my ancestor probably spoke German.  But I could be wrong.
You have presumed correctly. Johannes Conrad Wirz from Zürich can only be German. Wirz is a German name. Historically, ethnically, linguistically and culturally, the word German has a wider meaning that just the modern-day Federal Republic of Germany. Until very recent times, Austrians, Swiss Germans, Luxemburgers, Lichtensteiners and all the Volks-Deutsch (Germans living in places like Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, etcetera) were considered to be German. Mozart (the Austrian composer) said that he wished nothing more for himself than to be a ''good German''.
+10 votes

Yes, very much so.  My surname is German, "Stratmann", and my paternal side is solid German. They came from a small village in the Rhineland region known as Wunnenberg.  My father's maternal side is from  Baden-Württemberg, Germany.. My mother's side is solid English and Scottish which I am able to find so much more information on.  German ancestry is a lot more challenging for me.

answered Sep 22 by James Stratman G2G6 Mach 2 (29,970 points)
+8 votes
Do we count Charlemagne?

If yes, then a big yes. Else hmmm To be continued at a later time
answered Sep 22 by Richard Shelley G2G6 Mach 5 (52,960 points)
Yep, you can count Karl der Gross.  The Franks were actually a tribe of German origin.  After they decided to migrate to what is now "France" during the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, they became successful warriors and empire builders who eventually started speaking a creole-ized Latin which became French.
+9 votes
My maternal grandmother's parents came from Germany (Prussia? Baden?) and settled in Iowa in the middle 1850s. I haven't yet tried to track Toepelt further back than that.
answered Sep 22 by Kay Sands G2G6 Mach 5 (54,930 points)
+8 votes
Yes, and it is my biggest brickwall....Lots of people have tried to help me over the years, but, just have NEVER been able to find the immigration of my second great-grandfather

I had a trail on a John Becker that came through Canada, but, he turned out to still be alive after the death of my gg grandfather.   I am just stumped.

My DNA says I am 28% British Isles and 68% Central and Western European....
answered Sep 23 by Robin Lee G2G6 Pilot (322,210 points)
Immigrants tended to keep their religious affiliation, at least for a while. That should help narrow down your list of candidates.

John J. makes your Johann Jost the strongest candidate. Unfortunately location makes it much harder to find him. Oberhessen is not a town, it is a province in Hessen-Darmstadt and comprises several hundred villages and towns. One would have to find him and make sure he didn't die there and there is no other mention of him after 1844 to make a reasonable argument for him.
+8 votes
My Father's mother's family the Glass family can be traced to Germany in the Rheinland area. One of their descendants named the city of Berlin, Ohio.
answered Sep 23 by Ruth Henry G2G4 (4,970 points)
+8 votes
My great great grandfather wanted to be an artist. His dad encouraged him to follow the family trade of wood carving, he had a workshop in the great cathedral in Munich, or become a doctor. After two years in medical school he immigrated to America settling in rural Minnesota. He became the country doctor and build the coffins when they died. His grandsons fulfilled his dream of being an artist. Frank Van Sloun was a talented artist with murals in the state capital in Sacramento California and elsewhere. Edward Van Sloun was an actor with major rolls in The Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein and other old horror movies.
answered Sep 23 by Phillip Jares
+8 votes
Several of my mother's lines go back to southwestern Germany (and the German-speaking parts of Switzerland, and possibly areas like Strasbourg that are currently in France); they came to Maryland in the 1700s.

My husband's grandmother was from a town in the Black Forest.
answered Sep 23 by Sharon Casteel G2G6 Mach 6 (61,020 points)
+9 votes
My great-great grandfather, William F. Hahn, emigrated from Germany in the 1850s. The story was always told that he came over when he was 3 years old. I recently found a naturalization document that suggests he was 12 or 13. I'm still trying to find him on a passenger list and figure out who his parents are.
answered Sep 23 by Auriette Hahn G2G2 (2,840 points)

Did your face-to-face family members think your gggf Wm F Hahn emigrated through Ellis Island?  If so, you can use a phone number to get to live, helpful people. They researched for me my ggm's arrival with my father in 1911, and my gm's arrival in 1907, both without charging a fee. I then bought paper documents from them, which I consider treasures for very small moneys.; (212) 561-4588;  If this isn't the research department, please ask for it.

Thanks for your response, Roberta. No one ever indicated which port William Hahn landed in. I assumed Ellis Island, but never could find him on their lists. When I found his naturalization document, I realized it would have been before E.I. opened.

I have learned that a lot of German immigrants came through New Orleans, which makes sense because he ended up in Pensacola, Florida, but so far, I haven't found him on any ship manifests through there or through New York.
+8 votes
My mom always included German as part of our heritage, but I've only found one line so far - My 6th great-grandfather Johannes John Eisenhauer that was born in Heddesbach, Darmstadt, Germany and died in Bethel Township, Dauphn, Pennsylvania.
answered Sep 23 by M Silva G2G6 Mach 7 (71,210 points)
My father's ancestor came from Germany , 1749 , they were German Lutherans that settled in PA , and started a church ..  in Westmoreland County PA , the name got changed quite a bit , Eisenmann,Eisenman, Eisamann, Eisaman, Iseman, Isemann, Iceman, Isleman ,
Eisenhauer variations: Eisenhower, Isenhower

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