German-speaking people have a long history of migration, movement, war and border changes. When researching in Germany, it is important to have a basic understanding of these to know where to begin your research. Gazetteers will most likely be a necessity for German genealogical research.
One reason for the necessity of a good German gazetteer is because the same town name could be used in multiple in one region or in many different regions. German settlers tended to name their new settlements after their old villages. For example in Meyer's Gazetteer, if you search for "Königsberg" there are twenty-three places listed. The first step in Germany research is to determine which town is the correct home town.
For these reasons, and others, gazetteers are particularly useful to a German researcher. Not only do they provide lists of place names, which is helpful when comparing spellings, but they also can help narrow down the region your ancestor came from.
Information from a Gazetteers can include: 
  • Name of place.
  • Place type (small city or large city)
  • Name of state or province to which it belongs.
  • The population size.
  • Boundaries of civil jurisdiction.
  • Distances and direction from other from cities.
  • Schools, colleges, and universities.
  • Different denominations and number of churches.
  • Major manufacturing works, canals, docks, and railroad stations.
This article can explain how and when to use a Gazetteer
Many Gazetteers, especially those published in the last half of the nineteenth century, can be very helpful in determining the existence of a parish listed in an old record, or in confirming the spelling of a difficult place name. Today many place name lists and even digital copies of nineteenth-century geographical dictionaries ​can be found online, for example:
      • FamilySearch Wiki has a list of the different German gazetteers with an explanation of what time periods and geographical areas they cover.
      • The Genealoger also has an extensive list of gazetteers and maps.  
      • Regional German Gazetteers can be used once you know the region your ancestor is from and may give you more information than a national gazatteer. 

Using a gazetteer for the first time can be overwhelming with all of the information given. In order to understand your Gazetteer better it is important to find and study the index. The index can be located either in the front or back of the gazetteer. In order to be thorough, most gazetteers use abbreviations. For example, "Standesamt" will be commonly abbreviated to "StdA." The Index might list the different abbreviations, but if not, look in Shirley J. Riemer  and Dr. Roger Minerts "The German Research Companion."  

A Brief History of German border change
The same town most likely belonged to different sovereign states or jurisdictions throughout it's history. When it is necessary to find and verify a town name, it is done by using gazetteers..... 
To better understand when to use a gazetteer, a brief history of the Germanic people is necessary .
Before 800 A.D., Germanic tribes with no unity populated what is today Germany. After 800 A.D., the Holy Roman Empire began under Charlemagne and incorporated all of the Germanic states. This was a loose ruling, with little or no involvement from the Holy Roman Empire. German records began during this time, although the earliest ones were court records and were usually in Latin. Most of these records will not be useful for a genealogical purpose. 
Relevant Germanic records began with the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500's. Church records began soon after the Reformation with the newly formed Protestant Churches who needed to keep track of their congregations. Protestant records were written in German, whereas Catholic records continued to use Latin up until the early 19th Century. Church records be the basis of German genealogical research until mandatory Civil records began in 1876. Before this, the church kept records for the state. 
In 1806, Napoleon created unified Germanic States out of the previous hundreds of small kingdoms. This new unity under Napoleon, which he called the Federation of the Rhine, consisted of 35 German states, 4 Kingdoms, 5 Grand Duchies, 13 Duchies, 17 Principalities and the Free towns of Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen. In those areas mandatory, formulaic state record keeping began. The Confederation of the Rhine included approximately 15 million people. German-speaking Austria, Prussia, Danish Holstein and Swedish Pomerania were not included. This lasted until 1815 when Napoleon lost his campaigns, but a lot of the new states kept the new way of record keeping. It is not unusual to find the French Republican Calendar and French records during this time, especially in the states bordering France. If you find these, referring to the French Script page would be helpful. 
After Napoleon's defeat, the German Confederation was formed in 1815 and consisted of a loose confederation of 39 German states. This Confederation was meant to replace the Holy Roman Empire, and lasted until 1866.
This North German Confederation was formed in 1866 under Prussia, and left out the whole southern German States, excluding the southern most German speaking countries of Baden, Bayern and Austria. 
Germany as a united country began in 1871, when all the contiguous German speaking states, except Austria, unified into the Second German Empire under Prussia. In 1876, Civil Registration began for all the states in the German Empire, although some states had kept this from the Napoleonic codes.
After WWI, in 1918, the Weimar Republic was created and lasted 1933.
The Third Reich began in 1933 and lasted until the end of WWII in 1945. Germany was then split into four political zones, managed by the United States, Britain, France and Russia. Although most famously, the was the division between the East and West Germany, which lasted until 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today, the German Republic is organized into sixteen states. To learn more about the Geography of German speaking countries, go to our German Maps and Atlases page on this website.  
  • Meyers Gazetteer of the German Empire covers the period from 1871 until 1912. Although it was created during the Second German Empire period, it is still the most widely used and standard for German gazetteers and should be the first one you consult. It has been translated and digitized and is available for free here. It is also available on with an account here,  Meyers on Ancestry is the original version and is written in German. There are also the original colored maps on this version. A guide to using the Index for Meyer's is located here and a list of abbreviations is located here on the FamilySearch Wiki. For further help read the Help page on the Meyers Gazetteer link above or this article by FamilyTree Magazine.
  • Gemeindelexikon für das Königreich Preußen is used for Prussian and East German research and is based off of the 1905 Census. Be aware that it is only in German and is typed in the Gothic font. The Gemeindelexikon is available on Ancestry with a membership or in book form in the Family History Library but can only be viewed online in a Family History Center. This is the link through FamilySearch books here.
  • Kartenmeister is used for the German provinces east of the Oder and Neisse rivers in the spring of 1918. This includes East Prussia, West Prussia, Brandenburg, Posen, Pomerania, and Silesia. Searches must be done in the German and the use of umlauts is necessary (instead of Koenigsberg use Königsberg). They also have an online dictionary of common German genealogical words. 
  • The German Research Companion by Shirley J. Reimer and Dr. Roger Minert, has a list of German Gazetteers both in print and online. 
  • Genealogisch-historisch-statistischer Almanach: fünfter Jahrgang für das Jahr 1828, by Dr. G. Hassell. Printed in Fraktur German, this genealogical Almanac from 1828 Weimar has statistics relevant to German-speaking countries and their allies prior to 1828. Useful information includes leaders of each state, populations sizes, universities, what religions are in each area and the populations of them, and even Biblical figures timeline for fun. 
  • Because there are so many different German-speaking historical jurisdictions, FamilySearch Catalog is where to start for specific places. Just scroll down to Gazetteers and find one that is specific to your hometown.
The Second German Empire post 1871-1918. 
If Meyer Gazetteer is not in-depth enough for your research purposes, it might be helpful to look at gazetteers that are province specific. FamilySearch Catalog is a great source for gazetteers. Here is a list of jurisdictions that are available.
Germany before and after the World Wars
Many of the smaller German towns were destroyed in World War II. It might be necessary to have a Gazetteer from before and after World War II to locate the ancestral town or village. It is important to note that some of the town names have changed from German to Polish or Russian due to border changes after the war. These are some gazetteers that can help:

Here is a list of Prussia Province Gazetteers, before and after WW I:

Prussian Province 1908 1930
Brandenburg Film #806635 item 1  ​Film #806636 item 2
Hannover ​Film #806634 item 2  ​Film #806637 item 4 
Hessen-Nassau Film #1187921 item 4  ​Film #806637 item 6
​Hohenzollern Film #1187921 item 5  ​Film #475862 item 1
Niederschlesien   Film #806636 item 5
Oberschlesien   Film #806637 item 1
Ostpreußen (East Prussia) Film #1186701 item 3; 1187911 item 2   
Pommern (Pommerania) Film #806634 item 4  Film #806636 item 3
Posen Film #806635 item 3  
Rheinprovinz Film #1186702 item 2  
Sachson (Saxony) Film #806634 item 2  Film #806637 item 2
Schlesien (Silesia) Film #806633 item 4   
Schleswig-Holestein Film #806635 item 3 Film #806637 item 3
Westfalen (Westfalia) Film #491042 item 11  Film #806637 item 12
Waldeck and Pyrmont Film #491042 item 11  
Westpreußen (West Prussia) Film #1186701 item 4; #1187921 item 3   
The official language of the Austria is German, and most of the records in Austria will be in German, but can be in Hungarian, Polish of Czech. Like Germany, the borders of the Austrian empire were frequently changed.  A helpful place to start for general Austrian family history research is at the FamilySearch/Wiki for Austria.  
Austrian Empire 1805-1867


  • has a basic overview of Liechtenstein.  
  • Administrative atlas and gazetteer of Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland by Marc A. Schindler 1954
    • Only available in the Family History Library. 
  • Liechtenstein: sources for genealogical research and gazetteer compiled by Jared Suess and Daniel M. Schlyter
    • Only available on microfilm or a book in the Family History Library. This is a guide to genealogical resources for research in Liechtenstein. Includes a gazetteer of the localities in Liechtenstein giving the Commune/ Gemeinde for each and the parish for each
  • Liechtenstein Name Book 
    • A collaboration between the Historical Association for the Principality of Liechtenstein and student assistants under the direction of Felix Marker. This is an extensive six volume PDF list of field name maps with location, definition and description and include field names for all eleven Liechtenstein municipalities. There is also a four volume surname and family name list on the website. 
Jewish Gazetteer
  • JewishGen and JewishGen Communities contains the names of one million localities in 54 countries in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, including information about 6,000 Jewish communities in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East
Germans in Diaspora 
Germany was not a country until 1871, due to migration, colonialism, war and border changes, these are some other places throughout the world you will find your German ancestors and German speaking communities: 
Eastern Europe Gazetteers
Many Germans migrated to Eastern Europe including Poland, Russia, Ukraine and the Baltics to name a few. If your ancestors were migrants, you will need an Eastern European Gazetteers. This FEEFHS page on Germans from Russia is a good place to start when trying to understand the extensive Eastern European localities. These are some of the German Gazetteers in East Europe. 

North and South American German Records

North America-every state in the United States and Canada has had some German immigration. The first Germans in North America were some of the settlers of Jamestown, and from there an estimated 7.2 million Germans have settled in North America. The United States Census', which began in 1790 and were available every ten years until 1940, is the first place to look for your ancestors hometown. Gazetteers can be used to verify the place, but also to find names of obsolete towns and villages.

South America

Almost all South American countries will have German immigration. German-speaking people came for many different reasons, but don't be surprised to find almost every religion, including Mennonite, Catholic, Agnostic and Protestant. Immigration to South America began in the 1500's, but really picked up in the 19th century and after World War II, when almost every other country had closed borders to ethnic Germans. 

  • The German Maps LInk!!! page is a good place to begin when determining a German/South American home town. It has a more detailed history of Germans in Central and South America, along with maps to show exactly where you might find them. 
  • If you find you have German ancestors in South America, the Portuguese or Spanish Script pages is a great place to begin. 
The list above is only a list of Countries that had the most significant German populations. This Map shows some of the other places that German communities were created during their colonialism period, but is not extensive. 
Wikimedia Commons contributors, "File:Deutsche Kolonien.PNG," Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, 

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