This page contains one person's advice about the best resources for researching our ancestors from Alsace. Much of the material is written from the point of view of researchers like me, whose ancestors immigrated from Alsace to the United States and Canada sometime during the 1800's.
Many records from Alsace are available, and for most communities they date back to the 1600's. For most of us, the most convenient source for these records are the Family History Library (FHL), as described below.
The biggest problem with these these fine detailed records is that almost all of them are organized by community. This means that before you can look up the records of your ancestor, you must know the name of the community in which he or she lived. Many of us don't know this information, when we are first beginning our family history research. Through verbal family tradition, we may know, or suspect, that an ancestor originated in Alsace. Unfortunately, there are over one thousand communities in Alsace. Which one is hiding your ancestor?
(Some people suspect that their ancestors came from Alsace, but are not sure. If you discover records such as the U.S. Census, stating that your ancestor is from France, while other records show him or her as being from Germany, this is a big hint that he or she originated in either Alsace or Lorraine. Alsace and Lorraine, often collectively referred to as Alsace-Lorraine, are the two regions of France that are traditionally German-speaking. During the 1800's these regions were part of France until 1870; after that, until 1919, they belonged to Germany. The shifting borders account for some of the "France or Germany" ambiguity that appears in the U.S. records of our Alsace-Lorraine ancestors.)
If you know that your ancestor originated in Alsace, here are several techniques for trying to learn the name of the community of your ancestor's origin:.
Copies of many records from Alsace, and from the rest of the world as well, are available from microfilm through the Family History Library (FHL). This includes the civil records -- births, marriages, and deaths -- from most if not every community in Alsace. Although the FHL microfilm records are not available for viewing on the internet, you can search the FHL catalog online, and locate a Family History Center (FHC), hopefully near your home, where you can view the microfilms.
You can browse the FHL catalog online at their website, www.familysearch.org. For example, follow these steps to view the list microfilms available for the village of Soufflenheim:
Once you have found the list of microfilms for your community, a good one to look at first is the one named "Tables décennales," if it is available. The "tables décennales" are indexes, alphabetical by surname, of the births, marriages, and deaths, in a community, which were compiled every ten years -- 1793-1802, 1803-1812, 1813-1822, etc.
For more tips about how to use the FHL catalog for Alsace research, see the article at http://valoriez.blogspot.com/2004/03/make-family-history-library-catalog.html.
In some cases, the "tables décennales" for all of the communities in a canton are available together on a single set of microfilms. This can be convenient if you don't know the community where an ancestor lived, but are fairly sure of the region. For example, if you search the FHL online catalog for "Bischwiller", and follow the link for "France, Bas-Rhin, Bischwiller (Canton)," you will see that the the "tables décennales" for all twenty-one communities in Canton Bischwiller are available together, spanning seven microfilms.
The FHL microfilms are stored at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. The FHL has branch facilities, the Family History Centers (FHC's), all over the world, where you can view the FHL microfilms. To locate a Family History Center near you:
The Département du Bas-Rhin, which covers the northern half of Alsace, has made many records from its archives available on-line. Their home page is http://archives.bas-rhin.fr. The site is in French, with an English introductory page at http://archives.bas-rhin.fr/scripts/accueilanglais.asp.
The on-line records are:
A "License" page is the entry page for the records. To translate the license page (or any web page) from French into English, there are many translation tools available on the internet, such as Google Translate. Click the checkbox labeled "J'accepte ces conditions" ("I accept these conditions") to gain entry. Then click the link that appears labeled "Accéder à la version graphique" ("Go to the graphic version"). From here, you reach a second entry page in which you must type in the name of a community by clicking buttons on an image of a keyboard (presumably to guarantee that you are a human user and not some automated image-grabbing software).
The Département du Haut-Rhin, which covers the southern half of Alsace, has made many records from its archives available on-line. Their home page is http://www.archives.cg68.fr/Services_Actes_Civils.aspx.
From the home page, make the following selections:
Then click the "Rechercher" ("Search") button. After that, a line may appear lower on the page, where you click the magifying glass icon labeled "Visualiser" to view the records.
There are a number of message boards and mailing lists dedicated to Alsace genealogy. The two best in English, in quantity and quality of dialog, are:
How to subscribe to the RootsWeb Alsace-Lorraine Mailing List ("ALSACE-LORRAINE-L"), or to search through its past messages:
How to view and post messages on the Ancestry.com Alsace Message Board:
These resources described in this section contain alphabetical surname lists of people in Alsace. They might help you to locate the community where your ancestor resided. Unfortunately, each has its shortcomings. The first two are not comprehensive; they list only a fraction of the population. The third does cover the entire population, but it does not list given names (a problem if you are dealing with a common surname like Schneider), and it goes back only to 1891 (so it won't pick up your ancestor if he or she was born prior to that year).
The Alsace Emigration Book is actually two books: Volume I and Volume II. The author is Cornelia Schrader-Muggenthaler. The books were published in 1990 and 1991, respectively, by Closson Press.
Each book appears to be a computer-generated surname-sorted table of people who emigrated from Alsace, drawn from various emigration records. There are about 23,000 listings in the two volumes altogether. The principal information given is name, town, and date of emigration (or maybe date of application to emigrate). In many cases birth year is available.
The main value of the books is the possibility that they might identify the town of origin of an ancestor. I estimate that the books list perhaps 10% of the emigrants who left Alsace in the first half of the 19th century. This may seem like a small number, but the books are nevertheless probably the best surname index available. (I don't know how many people emigrated from Alsace during the 1800's, but I'd guess it is a lot more than 23,000. The book says that 125,000 emigrated during the 1840's alone.)
The books can be purchased directly from the publisher:
257 Delilah Street
Apollo, PA 15613-1933
Closson Press publishes other books that may helpful to your genealogical research.
As an alternative to purchasing the books, if you post a request to one of the mailing lists or message boards described above, giving as much information as you know about your emigrant ancestor, someone may do a lookup for you.
The 1836 census, available on CD as a searchable database. Currently available are
To purchase and for additional information, visit www.census1836.com.
As an alternative to purchasing the CD's, if you post a request to one of the mailing lists or message boards described above, giving as much information as you know about your emigrant ancestor, someone may do a lookup for you.
The original documents from which the CD database has been derived, are available in the On-Line Records of Bas-Rhin, described in a section above.
"La France de votre Nom de Famille 1891-1990" is an online database. It shows how surnames were distributed among communities in France. It is based on an analysis of birth records going back to 1891. For example, it reveals that the surname Staebell appears among the birth records of Stundwiller in Bas-Rhin (northern Alsace) more often than in any other community, during the period 1891-1915.
Since your emigrant ancestor was probably born before 1891, the value of this database might not at first be apparent. But since your ancestor may have left behind relatives with the same surname, and those relatives may have had children born after 1891, this database may be able to identify your ancestor's town of origin, unless they have a very common surname such as Schneider.
How to search for a surname on this website:
"Localisation des patronymes dans le Bas-Rhin en 1851," published by the Section Ile-de-France du Cercle Généalogique d'Alsace, is a list of surnames and the communities in which they appear, based on lists of 21-year-old men in 1851. This book is available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Call number 944.3835 D4L. (Thank you to Robert Behra for identifying this resource.)
Maps of Alsace are available on the internet in a variety of styles. Here are the two map sites that I return to the most often, plus a photo site.
@lsabase provides maps of Alsace and its cantons and communities. In the past it was located at www.alsabase.net, and today it is at http://ddebus.free.fr. To find a community on the maps:
Google Maps provides maps of the entire world, including Alsace. For example, search it for "Stundwiller, France" to see a map of Stundwiller. Zoom in to see the streets of Stundwiller, or zoom out to see the location of other towns in the region. Click the "Satellite" button to view satellite photos of the town.
Photographs of 148 communities within Alsace.
This is by no means a comprehensive set of links to Alsace genealogy sites -- there would be hundreds of them. Several of the sites below do attempt to provide links to "all" or "all the best" sites. Here they are:
General information about Alsace, with a genealogical focus. Many links.
A large collection of web pages with various types of genealogical information about France. Part of the WorldGenWeb project. Of particular interest within it are
In addition to maps (described above), this site offers various aides for Alsace genealogists, including lists of people who are researching specific surnames and communties.
Links to other sites pertaining to Alsace Genealogy.
More links, and links to other pages with links.
"A WikiWikiWeb is a site where everyone can collaborate on the content."
An alphabetical listing of the communities of Lorraine.