If you are an American who doesn’t speak German, finding a grave in Germany may be tricky. After all, the language barrier alone would cause you to have to take additional steps in finding even a modern grave.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Information Will You Need Before You Try to Find a Grave in Germany?
- German-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave
- Reasons You Can’t Find a Gravesite in Germany
- Steps for Finding a Grave in Germany for Free
However, if all of the stars align, you could be minutes away from seeing a photograph of the headstone you are seeking in Germany. Here are some tips for making that happen.
Before we begin, you need to complete some research on the person’s grave you are seeking. A bit of knowledge regarding the geography and history of Germany may help as well.
What Information Will You Need Before You Try to Find a Grave in Germany?
You’ll have to do a bit of homework before you are ready to find the headstone in Germany you are seeking. The more information you have about the deceased, the more likely you will find the grave in Germany. Here’s information that will assist you in your search.
Of course, the best way to begin your search for a grave in Germany is to find out everything you can about the person’s name, including their given name, nickname (or shortened version of the name), maiden name, or alternate spellings.
It’s helpful to know a bit about German naming traditions if you are trying to find a grave in Germany for an ancestor. At one point in the country’s history, German boys were often baptized with the name Johannes, and German girls were often baptized Maria, Anna, or Anna Maria. In some families, the boys and the girls may have all been given the same first name.
The second name was the one often used in official records. However, it was common practice in Germany to give a child two middle names.
As you can imagine, knowing the deceased’s full name may help you with your search, but German names are tricky. For example, your ancestor, Johannes Christophel Ferdinand, may have used the name Christophel or Ferdinand, or they could have used a shortened version of one of those names. (In German, the shortened version of Christophel was often “Stophel” instead of “Chris”).
So, yes, knowing the name is essential, but it might help if you know additional facts about the deceased to help you narrow down your search.
Knowing the birth and death date may help you find a grave in Germany. These details are essential if you aren’t sure of what name is used on the headstone. It’s also helpful to know the birth and death dates if the name was common to the area.
How do you find those dates?
In Germany, births, marriages, and deaths are recorded at the civil registry office. German terms for these records include “standesamtsregister,” “zivilstandsregister,” or “personenstandsregister.” The records in Germany began in some areas in 1876 when Germany established civil registration. These life events may have been recorded in the church records as well.
Location of death
Another helpful piece of information that may help you find a grave in Germany is the location of the death. This information may be available on the person’s death record, which you might uncover at the civil registry office.
In addition, the death records may also include the age, birthplace, residence, occupation, and marital status of the deceased; the name of the parents or spouse and their residences; and the person’s religion.
The location of death may help you narrow down the place of the grave. For example, if you are searching for the grave of a German ancestor, it would be helpful to know the region where the person died, as that may be near the burial location.
German-Specific Resources to Help You Find a Grave
Once you have gathered as much information as you can about the deceased, you’re ready to utilize online resources that will help you find a grave in Germany for free.
Find a Grave calls itself the “world’s largest gravesite collection.” Find a Grave allows users to search for the headstone using the person’s name(s), the year they were born, the year they died, and the location of the death. In addition, you can add other names to the search, such as the deceased’s parents, siblings, or children.
If your search doesn’t reveal anything, you might consider searching with fewer restrictions. For example, if you aren’t sure of the name that may have been used on the headstone, consider searching with only the last name of the deceased or mark the birth and death date as “approximate.”
Your search may yield an actual photograph of the headstone, taken by a volunteer who visited the German cemetery to record the information for Find A Grave.
Billion Graves is a competitor of Find a Grave, and both websites work the same way. Volunteers take photos of the headstones and enter the information for these websites. Like Find a Grave, Billion Graves allows you to search for the gravesite using the deceased’s name, the approximate birth and death years, and the place of death.
From personal experience, it seems as if Billion Graves has recorded more German headstones than Find A Grave. Billion Grave will also give you the GPS coordinates of the burial site. However, if you use another source that offers you the cemetery’s name, you might be interested in learning how to find a grave within a cemetery.
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You might be able to find the burial site for your ancestor in Germany using Interment. This website has a page specifically for German cemetery records. So, if you know the state in Germany where the person died (or was buried), you can browse through cemetery records for the specific region in hopes of finding the burial site of your ancestor.
However, there are only three German state cemetery records currently available.
If you can’t find the burial site from Find a Grave or Billion Graves, the next best resource is Ancestry. Ancestry allows you to connect with others in your extended family tree. If your distant relatives set their trees to “public,” you’ll have access to all the data and records they posted about your joint family member.
Additionally, Ancestry has a lot of resources available to paid subscribers. In fact, you’ll be amazed by the millions of German-specific records that are available. For example, you can search over 45 million German birth, marriage, and death records; German immigration and emigration records; German directories; German legal documents (such as wills and land records); and more.
Having a working knowledge of the German language may be needed to utilize the available records. If you need additional assistance, you can hire a genealogy expert to help you with your search.
“U.S. Veterans Buried in Germany”
We found this resource on the Interment website. If your ancestor was a member of the U.S. military who died in Germany, you might be able to find additional information about their death from this resource.
One other beneficial resource that we uncovered is a website called German Roots. On it, you will find dozens of links to online German genealogy records and databases. Unfortunately, not all of the resources are available for free.
Reasons You Can’t Find a Gravesite in Germany
We’ve given you a lot of resources for finding a grave in Germany, but you may not have found any record of the burial. Here are some reasons that your search was unsuccessful.
The person is still living
Could it be that the grave you are searching for does not exist because the person is still living? Verify the person’s birth date to see if that is possible, and then learn more about how to find out if someone is still alive.
The cemetery records aren’t online
Find a Grave and Billion Graves rely on the work of local volunteers. Perhaps no volunteers have visited the German cemetery where your loved one is buried.
The headstone is difficult or impossible to read
Old headstones are often difficult to read. As a result, the volunteer recording the data may have been forced to guess what was engraved on the stone – especially if no official cemetery records are available.
The grave wasn’t marked because of the wars
Of course, your ancestor’s gravesite may not have been recorded because of Germany’s involvement in both World War I and World War II.
Steps for Finding a Grave in Germany for Free
If you aren’t ready to give up your search for the grave in Germany, you might consider seeking the assistance of a genealogical researcher from the country. However, here are some other options for finding a grave in Germany for free.
Seek help from members of your family currently living in Germany
Consider contacting a member of your extended family tree who is currently living in Germany. You might be able to find such a person if they have a public tree available on Ancestry. Use Google translate to help you with communication barriers.
It’s not a free option, but consider traveling to Germany
We know this isn’t a free option, but you might be able to find the gravesite of your ancestor if you travel to Germany.
Did You Find Your Loved One’s Grave in Germany?
If you found the gravesite in Germany and are considering a visit, you might want to leave a gift at the gravesite to honor your loved one. Visiting gravesites can be an emotional experience – even if you never met the deceased in person, having something to leave on the grave may feel appropriate.