Mark S. Painter
I have a few tips I have found while researching the Bender - Painter lines.
When you get back to whom you thing may be the immigrant ancestor pay attention to others in the same local with the same surname or a variant thereof. People travelled in groups and when cousin Johannes made good others from the area followed. Y-DNA showed 5 of the 8 Bender lines of Lancaster County, PA, to be related plus many neighbors found in the village of Kirchardt, Baden, such as the Kleins, Barths, Lines, Weidlers, and other emigrated also.
When they left their village to come to American they left in groups from the villages of the same area, so by looking up other passengers on the ship you believed your ancestor came on you can narrow the search for the area of Germany your family came from. By doing the opposite it is possible to narrow the ship lists to find the one your ancestor came on.
One of the best assets is familysearch.org, which offers free online records and indexes for many of the villages with their German births, marriages and deaths. They give their microfilm numbers so you can now order the microfilm online and now view them at many local libraries.
The old German church books are written in old German script. Purchase a few aids or find a good website, start writing the alphabet several times a day until you have it memorized then write your ancestors name in script then the key words and you should know enough to do a basic translation, the more you do it the easier it will become.
I like to work out all of the families in a geographical area to sort them out and the German villages from 1650 to 1800. By looking at the big picture you get a better view of your family and related lines.
Y-DNA is an excellent tool if you can find people willing to participate and we have had surprising results and knocked down brick walls that stood for over 20 years. Familyfinder is interesting, but I'm not sure how accurate for working with pre-1800 families.