Help For Researching German Roots: German-Related Resources and Strategies

Finding the ancestral town of your German ancestors is typically not easy—especially for those of us with family members who arrived before the twentieth century and no oral history or home sources still exist. Few if any US records may state their exact place of birth. Most US citizenship records for German immigrants before 1900 fail to give clues to origins beyond the country they no longer have allegiance to. Census records dangle before us the country of origin as Germany, Switzerland, or Austria but only confirm that Germanic ancestry was reported to the census enumerator.  

Complicated German Geography 

After more than two decades of research I found in an 1872 NYC Lutheran Church marriage register that my immigrant ancestor, Richard Koch, was from Bamberg, Germany. But where in Bamberg still eludes me. Bamberg is located in the administrative region of Upper Franconia (Oberfranken), in the Free State of Bavaria (Bayern), the largest German state by land area and home to a fifth of Germany’s population. Bamberg is both an independent city and a district; the district surrounds the city but does not include it. The Bamberg district covers 451 square miles made up of four towns, eight market towns, twenty-four municipalities, and twelve collective municipalities. The city of Bamberg is the largest medium-size city in Bavaria, with 54.6 square miles.

It’s a fairly daunting task to research all this area, each jurisdiction with multiple church books and civil records to seek out and search, with little to go on to narrow down the task. But at least I have a few new clues. The baptismal ledger of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan includes Richard’s parents’ names along with Bamberg as the location of his birth. My earlier searches within Bamberg City were on faded microfilm with no results. I will continue to look for sources I can access from here in New York and review every set of Lutheran church records as they come online for each area within Bamberg City and Bamberg District to find Richard Wilhelm Koch, with parents Georg and Johanna. 

This case reinforces two thoughts: keep searching religious records, since they are one of the best sources of parentage and locale; and understand the geography you are working in. 

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