My experience working with German archives has been truly a mixed bag. I have learned a lot about Germans by interacting with their archives.
My first interaction with German archives was wonderful. I contacted Landesarchiv Berlin to see whether it had information on my grand aunt, who disappeared in 1945 from Berlin. The office provided me with her date of arrival in a displaced persons camp, last address, profession, birth date and reported return to Kiev. The information only cost 20 Euros ($27 US Dollars) and later probably helped find her.
Then, I asked Landesarchiv to check for information on my great-grandparents and a grand uncle from my mother’s family. Nothing was found on my great-grandparents, but the archives found information that my grand uncle had lived with my grandparents, mother and uncle. My mother recalled her uncle was living nearby but she did not remember he lived with her.
The archives also checked for a few more relatives and sent me an e-mail message that nothing was found. This archive seemed the friendliest of all the German archives I have contacted.
Then, I tried to obtain my great-grandfather’s death certificate. I was sent around to five offices. It was so frustrating. I knew his full name, birth date, address and date of death but that was not enough to determine where I could get his record, which could have information I do not have on his family. I needed to know the hospital where he died and the hospital address. I gave up.
My search for records moved onto Bundesarchiv, the archives for the former East Germany. I received EWZ (German citizenship application) files for three relatives with relative ease. The archive employee asked I prove identity with a driver’s license or passport. I own a scanner so I e-mailed my scanned passport.
I asked Bundesarchiv to search for records on a few more relatives. The response was a long e-mail message that I need to fill out three forms. The German was so technical that I got a headache from trying to figure out how to fill out the forms even after I used Google Translate.
Then, Bundesarchiv said records are available 30 years after death or 110 years after birth. If the person whose records are being searched is alive, I needed a written consent to obtain the person’s records. I am trying other sources now to find records because this became too much work.
Lately, anytime I e-mail a German archive office, I get an impersonal e-mail message with an attached form to fill out. It is so frustrating. Not one archive office in Poland, Russia or Ukraine has ever asked me to fill out a form.
But the craziest experience I’ve had with an archive office was a local archive office in western Germany. First, I e-mailed the archive office. I never got a response so I sent a request through the website’s general contact form. Finally, the archive office e-mailed me back. The employee questioned why I was seeking the information and wanted proof I was related to these people. I sent the archive employee pictures of my grandmother’s brother and his property in the town and told the employee the family had lost contact.
I got all the information I wanted for free – places and dates of birth, marriage and death, residential addresses and maiden name of his wife, who was not mother of my cousins. My grand uncle’s widow remarried a year after his death, but the archive office would not release her married name even though she is deceased. Germans are very touchy about privacy.
I have had zero luck with the local archive for the town where my mother, uncle and grandparents lived for 8 years. I have e-mailed the archive three times. Not one response has come from the archive. It is very frustrating, especially when I cannot get information on these relatives from Ukraine.
Sometimes, German archives will not give information to you unless you are a direct descendant- child, grandchild, etc., and can prove ancestry. I haven’t had to prove ancestry yet. My main problem has been getting a response by e-mail. Some local German archive offices will not respond to foreign requests. That’s why having friends who know foreign languages is a great advantage.