Genealogist’s Library

Genealogist’s Library

(Annotated Bibliography for German Research)
Note: Some books are available in more recent editions, but these are the ones I own. Many are available from and genealogical book sellers. You can find them with a search engine.

General Bilingual Dictionaries

For present-day German, I like the HarperCollins German-English English-German Unabridged Dictionary for accuracy, clarity, completeness, and ease of use. I have the Fourth Edition (1999) but a Fifth Edition is available. It includes more illustrative phrases than other dictionaries in its class that I have seen.

In translating texts from past centuries, I’ve found that my 1958 New Cassell’s German Dictionary is more likely to contain an antiquated word or usage. If I don’t find it there, I reach for my more fragile copy of its forerunner, Heath’s German Dictionary (1888). However, all my print dictionaries are now superseded by use of the Internet and electronic dictionaries, such as the 1906 Muret-Sanders Legend (G-E) and 1909 Köhler Classic (G-E and E-G). For information about these, please contact me.

Language and Deciphering Aids


Bentz, Edna M. If I Can You Can Decipher Germanic Records. Guide to reading German script, aimed at readers with limited knowledge of German.

Minert, Roger P. Deciphering Handwriting in German Documents. Analyzing German, Latin, and French in Vital Records Written in Germany. Excellent resource for researchers with little or no knowledge of German; clearly organized, with detailed explanations and examples. Appendices include a comparison of alphabets and German, Latin, and French genealogical vocabularies in reverse alphabetical order, useful when you can read the final letters but not the first.

Thode, Ernest. German-English Genealogical Dictionary. Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., Baltimore, 1992. The only work of this scope I have seen. Very useful, though some definitions are incomplete or oversimplified. Good front material, including a reverse suffix index (suffixes spelled and alphabetized backwards). I’d love to find a gazetteer arranged that way!

German (*starred item also available in English)

*Bahlow, Hans. Deutsches Namenlexikon. Suhrkamp Taschenbuch 65, Munich 1967. Origins of German personal and family names, including many variant spellings. Good general introduction. Helpful for verification of hard-to-decipher names. Also available in an English translation by Edda Gentry under the title Dictionary of German Names, which I have not seen.

Grun, Paul Arnold. Leseschlüssel zu unserer alten Schrift [Key to reading our old script]. C.A. Starke Verlag, Limburg/Lahn 1984. Reprint of a 1935 edition in fraktur. Handbook covering many old Germanic and Roman scripts. Technical and detailed; information on abbreviation forms not found elsewhere; format difficult to follow, but recommended for those who read German well.

Haberkorn, Eugen, and Joseph Friedrich Wallach. Hilfswörterbuch für Historiker [Auxiliary dictionary for historians]. 2 Vols. 6th Ed. Francke Verlag, Tübingen, 1980. Entries are detailed but highly condensed and abbreviated; much cross-referencing; not easy to use, but contains many terms not found elsewhere, and former definitions of words whose meanings have changed.

Ribbe, Wolfgang, and Eckart Henning. Taschenbuch für Familiengeschichtsforschung [Handbook for family history research]. Verlag Degener & Co., Neustadt an der Aisch 1980. Includes glossaries of old occupation terms, family relationships, time and dating terminology, abbreviations etc. If used along with a bilingual dictionary, these parts can be useful even to those who don’t know German. Addresses of archives and genealogical societies listed are probably outdated.

Verdenhalven, Fritz. Familienkundliches Wörterbuch [Genealogical dictionary]. Verlag Degener & Co., Neustadt an der Aisch 1969. Contains abbreviations, regional dialect and Latin terms; very good value, virtually no overlap with words found in general dictionaries.


Weidler, Wilhelm, Paul A. Grun and Karl H. Lampe. Latein I, Latein II für den Sippenforscher [Latin for the family researcher]. C.A. Starke Verlag, Limburg/Lahn 1969. Vol. I: general vocabulary for genealogy; Vol. II: occupations, towns, personal and geographical names. Useful in combination with a German/English dictionary.


Shea, Jonathan D., and William F. Hoffman. Following the Paper Trail: A Multilingual Translation Guide. Language & Lineage Press, 1991. Covers German, Swedish, French, Italian, Latin, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Czech, Polish, Russian, Hungarian, and Lithuanian. Very useful for basic information.

Dates and Places

Bukke, Inger M., Peer K. Kristensen, and Finn A. Thomsen. The Comprehensive Genealogical Feast Day Calendar. Thomsen’s Genealogical Center, Bountiful, Utah (1983). Conversion key for dates entered in genealogical records as feast days rather than as calendar dates. For example, if your ancestor was christened on the 4th Sunday after Trinity in 1703, the conversion table will pinpoint that date as June 20. Also includes a conversion key for the French Republic Calendar and the dates of the changes from Julian to Gregorian Calendar in the various European countries or states.

Deutsche Bundespost. Das Postleitzahlenbuch. Postal code book. Includes street index for larger cities. Two volumes, one sorted alphabetically, one numerically. The latter is handy for deciphering illegible town names: If you know the postal code of one town, it will show you what is nearby.

Höpker et al. Deutsches Ortsverzeichnis [German Gazetteer]. Verlag für Standesamtwesen, Frankfurt am Main 1978 [reprint of 1930 edition]. Guide to the location of cities, towns, agricultural estates, and other administrative entities of the former German Empire, as well as former German territories that were already part of neighboring countries to the East, North, and West by 1930.

Kaemmerer, M. Ortsnamenverzeichnis der Ortschaften jenseits von Oder und Neisse [Gazetteer of towns east of the Oder and Neisse Rivers]. Verlag Gerhard Rautenberg, 1988. Cross-indexes Slavic names of former German towns in Eastern Europe.

RV Verlag. Auto Atlas Deutschland 1:200,000 (I have 1993/94 edition). Indexed, very detailed and user-friendly. Includes street indexes and maps of larger city downtown areas. Out of date for modern travel but useful for locating an ancestral village and surveying what is nearby.

Thode, Ernest. Address Book for Germanic Genealogy, Fifth Edition. Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1994. Indispensable resource for anyone doing extensive research in German-speaking areas. Includes religious and secular archives, libraries, associations, researchers, research guide and sample German form letters. A sixth edition (2001) is available. I would use the book as a general guide to what is out there but check online for current contact information.