If your new to researching your ancestors in the 19th or 18th Century (and further back) you will quickly learn that as a country Germany was not unified until 1871. Part of that explanation is a decree that was made in 1356, at Nuremberg and Metz (Diet of Metz (1356/57)) headed by the Emperor Charles IV which fixed, for a period of more than four hundred years, important aspects of the constitutional structure of the Holy Roman Empire. It was named the Golden Bull for the golden seal it carried.

The Golden Bull finalized the impact of how elections of leadership would be decided in the middle ages into the 19th century. It also has an impact on how we do research on our German-American ancestors. As a result many genealogy records are not located in one national archive. The electors who represented the city states, republics and noble families across the region of Germany held the power. Through the Golden Bull decree Germany for a few centuries was a dualistic state in which power was shared between the crown and the nobility, with the balance shifting in favor of the nobility or as some say tribal concerns for the local regions.

1) Wikipedia
2) Michael Hughes book, Early Modern GErmany, 1477-1806. Published 1992 by MacMillan Press