Search Tips for Genealogy

The portal Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek (German Digital Library) offers extensive possibilities for family researchers. With just a few clicks of your mouse, you can search millions of objects and documents from German knowledge and cultural institutions for clues to your own family history. Research parish and civil registers, death and emigration registers, marriage announcements or files of courts or authorities in the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek throughout Germany.

Family research often resembles searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack. In this short tutorial, we'll explain how to get started with searching and show you features that can be helpful for your research. We will also show you how to make connections between different information and how to identify the locations and holdings of relevant registers and archives via our portal.

With a few exceptions, most people who have lived in Germany during the last centuries, if at all, have left only scant traces in archives and libraries. Therefore, it is not unlikely that your search in our portal will be unsuccessful. But it is definitely worth a try! In addition to the possibility to view digitized documents directly via the portal, the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek also offers the possibility to search for locations and contact details of archives and registers that may be relevant for your further search.

Searching for the needle in the haystack – how to start?

Getting started can be difficult. In most cases, at the beginning of the search, there is either a specific question – such as the history of a specific family member – or a general interest in their own family history.

In our fictional example, Mr Schulze from Düsseldorf would like to learn more about his family history.

In a first step, he enters his family name in the search bar. Previously, he removed the tick in Show only digitised objects, because he wants to see all entries recorded in the portal. The family name Schulze is widely used in Germany, so Mr Schulze receives a list of results with 46,000 hits.


Mr Schulze narrows the search further. To do this, he combines the family name with other search terms and adds first names, professions or places of origin of sought-after family members. The roots of Mr Schulze's family lie in the town of Wurzen in Saxony. In addition to Schulze, Mr Schulze now also enters "Wurzen" into the search mask and only receives 80 results – a much more manageable list.

Now it is worth taking a look at the individual search results. In addition to photographs of the Eduard-Schulze-Straße in Wurzen, there are mainly documents from the Saxon State Archive, in which the name Schulze and the city of Wurzen are referred to: estate regulations and construction disputes, purchase protocols, trial files.

In a third step, Mr Schulze now takes a closer look at individual results that are promising for him. The first object that interests him is titled "Erna Schulze im Taufkleid, aufgenommen im Atelier Max Radig in Wurzen, Wettinerstraße 7 (Erna Schulze in Baptismal Dress, recorded in the Max Radig studio in Wurzen, Wettinerstraße 7)". By clicking on the title, Mr Schulze lands on the object page, where all the information about the object recorded in the portal can be found: In this case, in addition to the title and the first and last name of the photographed child, for example, the date and place of the recording are also shown.

Objekt anzeigen

On the object page, Mr Schulze also learns which institution makes the digitised material available in our portal – here it is the Deutsche Fotothek (German Photo Library). By clicking on Show original at data provider, he will be forwarded directly to the object on the website of the respective institution. In addition to possibly further information, he usually finds the object on the website of the respective institution also in higher resolution and/or a possibility to download.

Originaldazensatz anzeigen

Mr Schulze does another search: In another search query, he enters "Erna Schulze" in order to research as many clues as possible about Erna's life and family connections. In fact, there are many more photos and information about Erna Schulze's life up to the 1960s in the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek!

Make connections

Another scenario: In our search example, Mr. Schulze clicks on a second object from the original hit list: "Schulze, Walter. born 30/01/1910 in Altenbach (near Wurzen). Death." The object page that opens now contains a large amount of information. It is the death report from the Buchenwald concentration camp of a certain Walter Schulze, born on 30/01/1910 in Altenbach near Wurzen.

However, this document is not available in digital form. The entry is only a proof of location. If he wants to learn more about the specific content of the file, he must therefore contact the data provider directly – in this case the Sächsische Staatsarchiv (Saxon State Archives). Here, the file can be viewed on site or – on request and under certain archival conditions – made available digitally.


Locations and holdings

With the help of the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek – and in particular with our archive portal D – national, regional and municipal archives can be identified in a central location, which can provide relevant information on the life of Walter Schulze. Wurzen is located in the district of Leipzig. Here, for example, the District Archive of the District of Leipzig could provide information about and, if necessary, access to registers that enable conclusions to be drawn about Walter Schulze's family in the birthplace of Wurzen. If this is not successful, the associates on site can provide further clues.

A tool for your family research

In order to be able to find out more about the life stories of family members while searching for the needle in the haystack, a lot of information often has to be connected and combined. Search paths may or may not be successful. The Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek can be a useful tool and an important starting point for researching your family history – give it a try!