How does one find free online German records (I'm on Ancestry, but I need to provide free sources here)?

+8 votes
I'm having problems finding records that are free (not from a site one pays to use) for my German ancestors, and I have no clue where to begin with that. I do not speak German, but I'm learning some core words (baptism; legitimate; marriage), but on this site, we strive to provide resources that are accessible to all. Does anyone know where I may find German records that have (partially been translated), so I may take that branch of the tree further back? I just joined the German group, but I thought I'd ask here, too. Thank you!
in Genealogy Help by Tamara Murdock G2G6 (8.4k points)
retagged by Kylie Haese

Yes I too have been running into this problem, because I can't read German. 

I was given, from a helpful wikitreer, the Bertler family free but in German and I added it to family profile on wikitree. I was then lucky to find someone on Ancestry that was working on the same family line and he was able to give me that family line but the sources were off line and in German. My problem now is to find sources for those profiles in English.


Thank you so very much for responding. Yes, it's the German thing --not knowing how to read it well enough--and I have found many sources on Ancestry, but I was kindly scolded , and appropriately so, for using Ancestry as a reference (I joined this site about three days ago). But Ancestry the only place I know where I can get records of German ancestors who remained there (and I can use google translate).

You have an interesting problem. It's somewhat the same issue, but in your case... I know nothing. Okay, the German group can/may help you. I'm having issues with joining because a certain college is taking supremacy over my gmail/google events. Maybe you need to join the German group, too! As soon as I figure out what I need to do with this computer (that doesn't matter), then I shall put my question with them, and I do believe someone will be able to help.

Richard, I wish you the best of luck. And I'm certain, considering the German issue, you and I shall encounter one another again.

Thank you for your encouraging words.

I'm not sure who scolded you or for why, but using a source behind a pay wall is OK on Wikitree and is welcomed, as long as you add the data you found to the profile page. Give enough information on what you found so people without access to the site can verify what you are entering into Wikitree. Images and format on those sites are copyrighted and should not be copied to Wikitree but the data is not (if they got it from public/government sources). 

Here is a simple example of how I do it. 1930 Census - Arthur Devlin have many German records for free with great sourcing.


The information you include for this 1930 census entry for Arthur Devlin is great.  The only thing I would add would be to include the info in the citation that someone would need to easily find the record without clicking into Ancestry.  If you scroll down on the Ancestry record you will see:

Source Citation

Year: 1930; Census Place: Ottumwa, Wapello, Iowa; Page: 16A; Enumeration District: 0016; FHL microfilm: 2340421

With this info it is easy to go to familysearch or another provider of census images and navigate to the entry.  Sometimes even once I've found a census entry on Ancestry I can't find it by searching on familysearch because it was indexed incorrectly, so I need to use the full citation to navigate to it there.

I think you're right, but I think it's about navigating the system.  With another family member, I had found a will on Ancestry, and this did not show on FamilySearch, so I googled the record name and person and the year, and Family Search popped up, and they had the record. But, I had to find the page for my ancestor's will, but I was able to do that fairly easily because I already had the page from the Ancestry site, so I was able to add a source to family search for that person (Warren Murdock), even though the will was not readily available.

I explained research and this applies to anything one researches with this sentence, and I believe it's true: "one must be relentless, and yet patient." I think that's the one real message I have learned as I research the family, and locations... so I may be able to find some of these records on family search. I just have to be creative in how I search for them.

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.
I liked how you formatted everything, and I see how you successfully incorporated information from Ancestry without making it necessary for the person to have a paid subscription to the site. That's a lovely page, and thank you for sharing it.

I suppose I can use what I've learned from Ancestry--the German records--as placeholders so the page doesn't get wiped out by a cleaner while I take the time to learn how to find and utilize other sourcing sites aimed for helping people identify and source their German ancestors who did not come to this country (though their children did!).

Again, that's a lovely page, and thank you for your encouraging words and also for the example. I appreciate that.
Tamara -- using ancestry to access actual scans of records is not a problem -- it's just taking random info off of family trees that people haven't really truly verified and just grabbed from somebody else's tree, etc..... but if they have actual scans of the records you need, then there's no reason not to utilize them.

14 Answers

+13 votes
Best answer

Can you give us citation information for one such source? That would help determine if it is freely available.

You didn't ask, but I feel like saying: there is absolutely nothing wrong with using Ancestry as a source, and you shouldn't have been scolded for it. (For context, I have never had an Ancestry membership and I'm still writing this.) If you were truly not scolded but rather just encouraged to avoid it, then that is okay. Wikitree does encourage people to put links to freely available sources when possible. But having *any* source on a profile is acceptable under Wikitree policy, including if it is hosted behind a paywall. The hope is that people will come along later and provide more options and detail.

However, there is a way to link to Ancestry images so that non-subscribers can see them:

So I'd encourage you to do this when possible.

Otherwise, when I come along and see an Ancestry link, as long as the author has written a long-form reference note with all of the details about the source and information you are using, then I can go search myself for that source elsewhere online and hopefully find a free version. When I do, I add the link to the profile, but I don't remove the Ancestry link! (But if all that is provided is an Ancestry link to an image behind a paywall with no other citation information, then I'd say gentle scolding is in order because part of Wikitree focus on sources is on good citation of the information in those sources.)

by Barry Smith G2G6 Pilot (135k points)
selected by Niki Tolken
+8 votes

On Family Search, you can see what record collections are available online here:  You will need to create a free account to use the site.  They have a useful collection of German births and baptisms. 

by J. Crook G2G6 Pilot (199k points)
+27 votes
Who is continuing to propagate the myth that only free online sources may be used in WikiTree????  Please erase that notion from your head.

The emphasis is on QUALITY (and on describing our sources in a fashion that will enable other people to find the source we looked at), not free online availability. Many of the best information sources are not on the Internet, and much of the best online information is not free.

Yes, if the SAME SOURCE is available for free online, it's preferable to cite the free online version..
by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
+9 votes

In addition to FamilySearch, which has a lot of transcriptions of German parish registers, you can find a lot of German Ortsfamilienbücher ( local family books), transcriptions of church and civil records for specific communities, at GEDBAS, a free German genealogy site. Go to:  and click on "local heritage books" and you can find a list of communities with books and links to them.

by Daniel Bly G2G6 Mach 4 (44.6k points)
Just be aware that GEDBAS suffers from this peculiar genealogy bug of often not providing any sources for their information. They publish anything that is uploaded and in my experience the well-sourced profiles are a distinct minority. They do, however, publish the email addresses of their submitters.

I agree, like Ancestry and Geneanet  and Geni, people can upload anything, but the Ortfamilienbücher found there are legitimate sources, and like all sources should be followed up to make sure it is accurate and includes all available information.

+6 votes

You can have a look which resources the German Roots Project collected on its site. 

by Jelena Eckstädt G2G6 Pilot (510k points)
Sorry, I knocked your response down because I was looking to comment to your response, and to thank you for it (I did upvote you again). I'm sorry, because I loved your response, so I did vote it up, but I should not have been so anxious to thank you while voting.
+8 votes

Ancestry (you are encouraged to use German spelling for best results) and FamilySearch indexes are fairly easy to use, some are linked to images, some are not. Unfortunately the indexes only give you part of the story: important information is not indexed.

There are a number books on doing German research, and these will typically explain the Church and civil records, and give examples with translation. The FamilySearch wiki will get you started. These sources will usually have genealogical word lists.

Being able to read Kurrent, aka old Germanic script, as well as printed Fraktur (a type font for printed matter) is important. It seems daunting at first, but with practice it can be done. For reading Kurrent the best source I’ve found to get started is Edna Bentz’s booklet entitled “If I Can You Can Decipher Germanic Records.” You may find it in a library; the online bookstores have it as well. You should be able to find in the $20 range; there are “collectible” versions that cost much more, I would stay away from those. Also, learn to write Kurrent, which can be a challenge as well, but if you do, reading it will be much easier. Again, it just takes practice. Edna’s book has several words lists in Latin letters and in Kurrent.

You can also get Kurrent (or Sutterlin) and Fraktur fonts for your computer. You can use these to transcribe and printout the word lists. You can also use this for names. This is helpful if you are looking for specific names in the registers. In some of the more modern civil registers, the form will be printed in a Fraktur and filled in by hand in Kurrent. Sometimes, the key names will be written in Latin letters. Having the fonts will allow you to transcribe the record as written/printed. With experience and practice you will get the point where this is no longer necessary.

If you would like a bit of practice, the LDS Family History Centers have both the German and English versions of Ancestry. So you can use the German and English versions side-by-side and pick up a bit of the key vocabulary. The two versions are quite similar.

As for Ancestry, if you find what you need there, use it. It may not be readily accessible elsewhere. Not all genealogical research is free.

Best of luck.


If you want to practice, the Matricula site has Austrian church records, which are similar to a German ones, and is FREE. There are a few (actually very few) records there from a Germany.)

(Edit #2)

I just took another look at Matricula ... they have added many German Records! This is much more than I recalled. Hopefully your locations are there.

by George Fulton G2G6 Pilot (322k points)
edited by George Fulton
another good book is "Deceiphering Handwriting in German Documents" (2nd edition) by Roger P. Miner. (GRT Publications, c2013) ISBN 978-0-9716906-9-1 (...i always search for books online using the ISBN number to make sure i get the right edition etc.) it's also got information about reading german records that are written in french and latin, with TONS of scanned reproductions as examples.

i believe the book has also been translated into german for german readers trying to decipher old records. ("Alte Kirchenbücher Richtig Lesen: Hand- und Übungsbuch für Familiengeschichtsforscher," published 2004 by E&U Brockhaus, Wuppertal.)
also, BYU has a great online tutorial on german script at -- basically it gives you lessons on how to *write* it, which is a huge help in knowing how to read it.

just a note: my browser came up with a security warning on this site, but this particular warning just means that their website's security certificate is expired -- it's not likely to be full of malware.
+2 votes
If you have German farmers in Upper Bavaria, in the regions north west of Munich, I have a link to land records which is a goldmine.
by Bev Weston G2G3 (3.5k points)
+5 votes
For what it's worth, this older post by Deb Durham has circulated here several times.  It describes how to create an ancestry link that non-members would be able to view.  I'm not sure if it's 100% fool-proof and will work in every case, but those who use that site might want to give it a try:
by Dennis Barton G2G6 Pilot (378k points)

I was just coming to post this lol I had it copied to my home page here,

Copied from the G2 forum, it works great! Credit to Deb Durham

I've been asked a number of times how to do this, so I am posting instructions here for easy reference.

If you have an subscription, and you wish to add a link to a source image on a profile, you can create a link to the image that is free for all to view (with or without a subscription) by following the instructions below.

1. Open the image on

2. Click the "tools" icon on the image page.

3. Select "Share"

4. I usually select Facebook from the share menu but choose a platform where you have an account or choose email and send to yourself.

5. Close the sharing window and copy the link in the small window that remains.

6. Use the link as is or truncate it as described below.

To truncate the link:

Here is what the link you copied will look like:

To truncate it and still retain a working link remove all of the bolded portion which will leave a link that looks like this:

You can then add it to your Ancestry citation using this format Free Ancestry Image to produce this link:

Free Ancestry Image

These images are best viewed on a PC and your mileage may vary on a mobile device.

Hope it helps and happy sharing!

+2 votes

The Hessian State Archives offer free online access to 3 million archive items through their Arcinsys search machine.

Hessen is one of the member states of the Federal Republic of Germany, with these major cities.

by Jan Terink G2G6 Pilot (204k points)
+2 votes

The German Project has Regional Pages that have links to local vital records, cemeteries, local genealogy groups and the like.   You can access the pages by scrolling down to the second set of boxes where links to the various location pages are located.

by Laura Bozzay G2G6 Pilot (631k points)
+3 votes
If your German ancestors happen to be Catholic, a lot of the churchbooks are in Latin which I find much easier to read than German (perhaps because I took Latin in college).  There is still sometimes the struggle with the old script, but its not quite as hard.  Although coverage is a bit hit or miss, I hit the goldmine in freely available churchbooks on Family Search for the branch of my German families from an area a bit southwest of Speyer.  Most of the books from the villages in that area are available in images on Family Search.  

I haven't been so lucky in other areas of Germany.  The branch in Holstein has one or two relevant books online, but most of what I need is not available.
by Mary Jensen G2G6 Mach 9 (92.3k points)
+2 votes
The best sourches for protestant parish records are . But you must sign in and pay.

For catholic parish records you can use free . But some books are not avaible (you can't open them) due to German and Catholic church privacy policy.

Census records for Schleswig- Holstein are free avaible on

And this danish censuses are alos free; Schleswig-Holstein was partime under Danish control.

Also this are good for censuses and parish records .

And if you search for soldiers, who were killed in action you can use for free:

by Dieter Lewerenz G2G6 Mach 6 (62k points)
+4 votes

I haven't read everyone's responses yet, and I can't help with German sources...

But you do not have to supply free (or freely available) sources. You just have to supply sources. If people have to pay to look them up to verify, then so be it.

Yes, its great if you can provide freely available sources -- but that's not a requirement.

by Dennis Wheeler G2G6 Pilot (532k points)
I made that same point on 6 February, and so did Barry Smith, but we seem to have more than a few members who are convinced that only free online sources are eligible to be cited here. Unfortunately, that misconception leads to some atrociously bad genealogy, when members choose to write profiles based on random webpages rather then good-quality sources.
yep... TL;DR (so I was sure someone must have mentioned it already)

but clearly, it bears repeating again :)
At least this thread has generated some good advice on finding sources for Germany.
0 votes
I've been finding a lot of my family ancestors baptism, marriage, and funeral records on this website: It has records for a lot of Catholic churches in Germany. For the most part, even if you don't know the language, you can tell what's going on in the records.
by Paula Cary G2G Crew (300 points)

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