Just because your relatives spoke German doesn't mean they came from Germany. Learn how to research the millions of Germans from Slovakia, Romania, Russia and other places beyond Deutschland's borders.
Your family says Great-grandpa Henry spoke German, but your research says he came from Russia. Or maybe a Deutscher forebear's town is frustratingly absent from any map marked Germany. What's a genealogist to do? Two words: Look east. That's because Germany was a fatherland whose “children” included enclaves scattered throughout Central and Eastern Europe in areas that never were part of any German empire.
Occupants of these places were known by unmistakably German names such as Donauschwaben, Karpatendeutsche, Gottscheer and Siebenbürger Sachsen. They retained — in some cases for half a millennium or more — a sense of “German-ness” while surrounded by a variety of other peoples, including Hungarians, Slovenes, Romanians and Ukrainians. Wars (with resulting boundary changes and ethnic reshufflings) have rendered most of these German enclaves extinct in Central and Eastern Europe, but some groups have created new homes back in Germany or other parts of the world. Their descendants include hundreds of thousands of Americans. If you're one, you might find yourself playing an ancestral game of tag, chasing your ancestors across Europe and around the globe. But we're here to help you rein in those out-of-bounds relatives with advice for tracing Germans who didn't live in Germany.