The “Do’s and Don’ts” of Visiting Your Ancestral Heimat

By James M. Beidler

Let’s get one thing clear first: Heimat in German simply means “homeland” but often is used more specifically as “home village”. While that’s what a lot of genealogists search many a day for, they often aren’t familiar with the word, which this columnist knows because of having used the word in a lecture title—resulting in several questions.

Now that we’ve established that—and having written often about the searches for such a Heimat—let’s give a word to those who’ve already established an immigrant ancestor’s home village and are ready for the next step: to visit. While the exact “formula” for these visits will vary by individual case, I think I can give a few tips to prospective travelers.

The most important one is to strip away any assumptions you have that Germany will be exactly like America. Whether your trip will involve researching or just soaking up the atmosphere, a great book to orient you to what you’ll encounter is Researching in Germany: A Handbook for Your Visit to the Homeland of Your Ancestors by Rogert P. Minert, Susan E. Sirrine, and the late Shirley J. Riemer.

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