4 sources for German WW1 military research
Level : Advanced
Time to read : 4 mins
During World War 1 (WW1) German casualties totalled more than 7 million people killed, wounded, missing, or taken prisoner. For non-German speaking family historians, searching for information about German military ancestors who were injured or killed during World War 1 can be challenging - not least due to the foreign language records.
I have been successful in using the following sources when researching WW1 German military and naval records of soldiers and sailors who were killed or injured during that conflict.
1. Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e. V.
The Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e. V. (the Volksbund) is a humanitarian organization which works on behalf of the German government to record, maintain and care for the graves of German war casualties overseas. The Volksbund looks after the last resting place of approximately 2.7million war casualties in 832 war cemeteries across 46 countries.
The organisation also provides information to relatives on all matters related to war graves. Their help is free of charge and enquiries relating to war dead or missing persons from the First World War (1914-1918) can be made directly to the Volksbund.
The Volksbund’s cemeteries database is online and has an English version of the homepage. Google will translate any German-only pages to English. The database includes:
date and place of death;
original burial place;
last known military unit.
It also contains information on soldiers missing in action or soldiers who were killed but whose burial location is unknown. The Volksbund’s contact details and online database can be found at:
2. Deutsche Verlustlisten 1914 bis 1919 (German World War 1 Casualty Lists 1914-1919)
These casualty lists are available on Ancestry ($) and include soldiers who died, were injured, or missing in action during the war.
The records are images of the original documents and:
were published in chronological order;
are grouped by date (usually corresponding to a battle);
The lists can be searched by name and list date or browsed by casualty list number.
The documents are in German however once you find a soldier’s name you can quickly use Google Translate to convert words pertaining to the individual into English. For example:
Gefallen – fallen
Vermisst – missing in action
Verwundet - wounded
Leicht verwundet – lightly wounded.
A list may include casualties from multiple dates, battles, and regiments. Each entry provides the soldier’s name (usually both given and surname), rank, and status (missing, wounded, or killed). Some records also include the soldier's residence.
3. Germany, Navy Casualty Lists, 1914-1919 (in German)
Available online at Ancestry.com ($), these records are from the Naval Academy at Mürwik and Military History Research Institute and are useful records for researchers with German ancestors who served in the Imperial Navy in WW1.
The records include casualty lists from the German Imperial Navy from 12 August 1914 to 27 December 1915 and from 19 Oct 1916 to 4 May 1919. The lists provide names of the dead, wounded, and missing.
As well as names, the casualty lists will include some or all of the following information:
city and state of residence;
rank and unit;
whether the person was dead, captured, or missing in action;
the severity of injuries (light or heavy); or
whether the injury was ascribed to illness.
Only in rare cases is the death date and actual location listed.
As with the soldiers’ casualty lists, these records are images of the original records and are in German. So Google Translate will again be an essential tool to determine what happened to your sailor once you have found your his name.
4. German Parish Registers
Details of a soldier’s regiment are crucial to finding relevant military records. German church records normally indicate social standing, including active military service. These records also usually indicate the regiment in which the soldier served. German Parish Registers will often include the location a WW1 soldier died as well as their burial location.
It is well worth contacting the soldier's home parish to ask if their registers contain any military information.
If you cannot write in German, I suggest you draft the letter/email in English then convert the text to the other language using Google Translate. Even if the recipient speaks fluent English, it is polite to communicate in their native language wherever possible, even if you include an English version as well.
Do you have any favourite German military sources? Perhaps you would like to share them in the Comments section below.
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