Today 100 years ago, World War I ended. The armistice of 11 November 1918 ended the fighting. However, formally World War I ended with the Treaty of Versailles. Signed on 28 June 1919, it became effective on 10 January 1920. On this occasion, we compiled some sources for researching German soldiers of World War I.
Due to technical developments and military strategies, Word War I had a new quality in cruelty. The war did change international relations permanently and can be seen as breeding ground for World War II.
From today’s point of view, it is hard to say what it must have meant to fight in this war, to maybe even volunteer happily. Most genealogists will however be interested in what their ancestors experienced during the respective wars.
Sources on World War I in Germany
Many personal records from World War I were destroyed in World War II. Among them most of the documents of the Prussian Army that provided the majority of the German troops in World War I. Whatever had been preserved is often incomplete. The following sources might however help to find out more about male ancestors who fought in World War I:
In 1945, the Potsdam Army Archive was destroyed and with it most of the files regarding the Prussian Army, including the personnel files of the soldiers. Aside from few preserved documents and the personnel files of the admirals of the Imperial German Navy, the Federal Archive Freiburg also holds the unfortunately also incomplete military hospital files for the birth cohorts up to 1899 (from 1891 to 1899 only the birth months January to July). The files of the later born soldiers are at the Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt) in Berlin. For a research, you will however need the exact birth date.
The WASt, well known for research possibilities for soldiers of World War II, also has documents on World War I. For example: personnel files of members of the Prussian and Imperial German Navy (without admirals), military hospital files for the birth cohorts starting 1900, information on war graves, clarification of the fate of casualties and missing persons, information on war captivity of German soldiers.
Federal State Archives
While documents of the Prussian Army were, as mentioned, almost completely destroyed, there are still documents on the Armies of Bavaria, Saxony, Württemberg and Baden. However, you have to anticipate war related losses here as well. The respective Federal State Archives hold these files. Those of Bavaria can also be examined for a fee on Ancestry.
Sometimes, it makes sense to ask at the local City Archive as well. They may have helpful documents, too.
The casualty lists include 31,000 pages and are the official releases on casualties, wounded people, missing persons and prisoners. In a major project and with the help of hundreds of volunteers the casualty lists were digitalized and indexed by the Verein für Computergenealogie e.V. They can be searched online free of charge.
On the website of the International Red Cross, information on prisoners of war prisons can be searched via an English or French interface.
This organization attends the war graves of both World Wars worldwide. You can look online for graves free of charge.
Further online sources
There are further interesting offers online. Here is a small selection:
You are interested in researching the fate of your ancestors during World War I, but do not have the time or opportunity to do it yourself? We are happy to make you an offer for our genealogical services.