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"But Who Are You?"

This German ancestry book encouraged Germans to document the so-called purity of their genetic heritage.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Nazi Party was obsessed with the supposed "racial purity" and "hereditary health" of the German people. Nazi ideology had absorbed and built upon widespread ideas of eugenics—the idea that human society could be improved through selective breeding.1 Nazi authorities tried to transform Germany by enacting laws and policies inspired by Nazi ideas about race and biology. Anyone who hoped to join the Nazi Party and its related organizations, perform military service, or practice law or medicine had to document "ancestral proof" of "Aryan" descent.2 After the adoption of the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, "Aryan" couples seeking to marry had to prove that neither spouse had Jewish ancestry or so-called "hereditary illnesses."

Official policies around the concept of "ancestral proof" greatly increased interest in genealogical research. Germans could certify their “racial purity” through the birth certificates, baptism records, and marriage certificates of their ancestors.3 Titled "But Who Are You?," the featured brochure assisted citizens with such research. It also promoted the sale of a publication called "My Book of Ancestors," which was designed to collect and organize all of a person’s genealogical data in one convenient place.

"But Who Are You?" shows how the Nazi regime viewed the individual in relation to the family and the nation. According to Nazi ideology, every German was a single unit within the so-called "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft"). German citizens were supposed to learn about their families' racial and medical histories in order to preserve and improve the so-called "hereditary health" of the German nation as a whole. The perceived value of individual family members became linked to their ancestry. According to the brochure, "the real task of the genealogical to sharpen our awareness of the value of the genetic material inherited from our ancestors and the need for painstaking care of it."4

To learn more about Nazi eugenics policies, see Götz Aly, Peter Chroust, and Christian Pross, Cleansing the Fatherland: Nazi Medicine and Racial Hygiene, translated by Belinda Cooper (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994); and Melvyn Conroy, Nazi Eugenics: Precursors, Policy, Aftermath (Stuttgart: Ibidem-Verlag, 2017).

For more details, see Eric Ehrenreich, The Nazi Ancestral Proof: Genealogy, Racial Science, and the Final Solution (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007).

Although Nazi racial ideology was supposedly based on scientific theories of heredity and eugenics, the regime relied on records of ancestors' religious affiliations—such as marriage and baptismal certificates—to indicate degrees of "racial purity.”

For more primary sources related to Nazi views on reproduction, see the Experiencing History collection, Targets of Eugenics.

German: Volksgenosse.

German: Deutsches Reichsgebrauchsmuster; this term means that the design or function of the product was officially registered throughout Germany, not just locally.

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But Who Are You?

Why and How One Engages in Family and Kinship Research:

A Concise Summary

Because proof of Aryan descent is demanded by the State and the Party, family and kinship research has become an important matter for every member of the German nation.1 Reich Minister Dr. Frick, among others, expressed this fact when he said, “We want every fellow German, in days to come, to take an interest in his ancestry and to realize what value his ancestors hold for him personally, for his family, and thus for his people, his race. This is essen[tial, if we are to know, in the new Germany, who is a member of the German people and who is not.” More than ever before, it has thus become the duty and responsibility of every fellow German to concern himself in depth with research on his family history. It is the aim of this short instruction booklet to provide him with expert advice in this pursuit.

Our German nation does not consist of larger or smaller numbers of individuals, but rather of families, generations, and kinship groups. Therefore, if we want to establish, on the one hand, which aptitudes and diseases are detrimental and deleterious to our nation and, on the other hand, which hereditary strains are useful to it, we first have to find the families in which the former or the latter genetic predispositions occur with greater or less frequency. This implies that, without family research, successful maintenance of hereditary health is not possible. The insight “Your blood, your greatest asset!” is of fundamental importance for all racial-biological measures, and hand in hand with it goes the answer to the age-old question, “Who are you?”

In addition, ancestry in terms of blood can be proven only by means of family research, and anyone who wants to furnish this proof must not limit himself to determining just his paternal forebears; rather, he must prepare a chart or list of his ancestors that shows all the persons, men and women, from whom he, the subject or starting point of the study, is descended in terms of blood.

One begins the preliminary work for compiling such a family tree in an expedient manner by writing down one’s own biographical data. As a basic principle, this information is written down in the following order: Surname or family name – all given names (underline name normally used) – date of birth (day, month, and year) – place of birth – religious affiliation – occupation or current position – path in life, schooling, vocational or professional training, positions, and sphere of activity, all with indications of the years and places. Space is to be left for subsequent entry of the date and cause of death and the burial place.

After recording your own biographical data and those of your spouse and children, write down, in the same way, the biographical data of your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents, if you know this information. For married persons, the place and date of the marriage are indicated above the bracket that links the fields of the two spouses. For family members who are no longer alive and for antecedents, the date and place of death, cause of death, and burial place are also to be provided.

Now, arrange the material thus obtained in order by generation, in this way: 1. Subject, 2. Parents, 3. Grandparents, 4. Great-grandparents, 5. Great-great-grandparents, etc.

and then enter in an ancestor table the names and dates you have determined, leaving any still-existing gaps for the time being.

To reduce the amount of paperwork, the following genealogical symbols are commonly used:

* born

~ baptized

° engaged

∞ married, also X

ο+ο divorced

ο-ο unmarried

† died

χ killed in war

χ† died of war wounds

ℑ buried

∏ cremated


ο female

Δ gender not known

It is self-evident that all records of family history absolutely must be true and verifiable. Therefore, make all entries, as a matter of principle, by referring to the relevant documents, such as birth certificates, baptismal certificates, marriage certificates, and death certificates, that is, the same documents that are to be submitted as proof of Aryan descent.

If these documents are not available as originals or certified copies, they must be requested from the appropriate civil registry offices that have existed everywhere in Germany since January 1, 1876. Certifications of births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths that occurred prior to January 1, 1876, will be issued by the relevant Protestant or Catholic pastoral offices.

In all requests to the civil registry offices and pastoral offices, be concise, and state the dates already known to you. Pre-printed forms for such inquiries are available in stores. The fees for a certified copy of a document are generally 60 pfennig, for short certifications 20 pfennig. In exceptional cases, for example, in the event of unemployment, which must be confirmed by the appropriate police authority or an office of the NSDAP, the fees will be waived upon request.

Where requests to the civil registry offices and pastoral offices fail to produce the desired result, an attempt must be made to obtain the missing proof in another way. For example, by asking relatives, and by looking through old family papers, journeyman’s logbooks, journeyman’s certificates of competence, master craftsman’s certificates, and all possible official documents, one will be able to determine many a missing date.

The church registers, as the most important sources for research on family history, generally report only the overall life cycle, that is, the birth, baptism, marriage, and death of forebears. Where those registers fall short or are no longer to be found, old books listing citizens, directories of trade-guild members, administrative records, and court records, as well as council minutes, sales contracts, records of inheritance taxes showing land ownership and other pertinent information, university matriculation records, wills, eulogies, and the like, can provide many a clue. Such lists and files, preserved in the state and municipal archives, libraries, courts, and town halls, are therefore to be examined closely.

It is this activity of searching in archives, libraries, and pastoral offices, like all tracing of ancestors’ steps in general, that makes family research so exciting and challenging, and therefore no one should have another party undertake this work for him. Only in particularly difficult cases should one avail oneself of the help of an experienced family researcher. The addresses of such researchers are available from the Reich Association for Kinship Research and Heraldry, Berlin NW 7, 26 Schiffbauerdamm.

For all those who want to undertake such research in greater detail, excellent textbooks and reference works are available for further instruction and for use in investigating family history. There are too many such works to list them all here. These texts and reference works can be consulted in all major libraries, and librarians and booksellers will gladly help anyone looking for advice. Information on tracing certain ancestors can also be provided, in exchange for reimbursement of the postage expenses, by the Reich Office for Kinship Research, Berlin NW 7, by reference to the large German Genealogical Index located on the premises.

To encourage serious research work, it is advisable to join one of the family-history associations, such as the Herold Society for Heraldry, Sigillography, and Genealogy in Berlin, or the Center for German Personal and Family History in Leipzig. There, in addition to good professional journals, the future researcher will find advice and guidance on all points of uncertainty that concern him, and the more advanced researcher will find multiple suggestions in the collections available.

From the statements above, it is readily evident how extraordinarily important it is for the novice in the field of family research to be presented at the outset of his work with a tool that enables him to enter his findings right away, in the proper place and clearly visible. As a result, from the very beginning he gets a clear idea of the structure of a family tree and, at the same time, a good overview of the current state of his discoveries about his family history.

This booklet, now already in its third edition, is such a tool for all those engaged in exploring their family history.

"My Book of Ancestors" 

D.R.G.M.2 1 295 736

Third, improved edition                                                                                             81,000 – 130,000

Price: only 25 pfennig

More detailed information about the form, contents, and price of the practical booklet are found on the last page of this publication and may be consulted there.

Filled out and with its factual data supplemented and confirmed by addition of the aforementioned documents, "My Book of Ancestors" is not only an extremely valuable collection of materials for one's own kinship history, but also the conclusive proof of descent for its owner and his descendants.

But the booklet’s chief value derives from the fact that it encourages everyone who makes use of it to engage more powerfully with research on family history in general. Thus it contributes to making the race-policy measures of the Reich government truly popular, and to spreading and deepening in the widest sections of our people an understanding of the great significance of fostering hereditary health.

For one thing is clear: Merely gathering and compiling names and dates and putting together a family tree is not enough! Rather, the real task of the genealogical chart, supplemented by notes containing genetic and sociological information, is to sharpen our awareness of the value of the genetic material inherited from our ancestors and the need for painstaking care of it, and, conversely, our awareness of what consequences of inherited harmful genetic material are to be mitigated and eradicated. But where this knowledge of the laws of the transmission and further development of inherited genetic material is present and their manifestations for better and for worse have been recognized, there will also be understanding for the insistence that everyone has a sacred obligation to his kin, and thus to his people, to keep his blood free of racially adverse influences and intermingling.

Very accurately, the well-known and admirable kinship researcher and deputy head of the Reich Office for Kinship Research, Erich Wasmannsdorf, says: "Researching one’s family tree is not just playing; if it is properly understood, the burning desire to serve the race and the people must always stand above it as its guiding star!"

Of lasting value for every member of the German nation!

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 2008.56.1
Date Created
Author / Creator
Verlag Karl Kaupisch & Co.
Hamburg, Germany
Document Type Pamphlet
How to Cite Museum Materials

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