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German Genealogy

German Church Records

Church records are the most important sources of genealogical information available for German research. Most provable lineages, outside of noble ones, rarely can be traced back further than the early church records. Since German unification did not take place until 1871, most civil recording of birth, marriage, and death information did not begin until after that date. Therefore church records are the source of earlier genealogical information needed by the researcher.

The principal records are the birth, marriage, and death registers for Lutheran, Reformed, and Catholic congregations. Among smaller sects, such as the Anabaptists, church records were not always kept, probably because such records would have exposed their membership to possible persecution.

A few church records (Kirchenbücher) date back to the end of the 15th century, but most begin during the Reformation, usually around 1550. The Council of Trent (1545-47) ordered local parish priests to begin recording all marriages, births, and deaths. Protestant records tend to predate Catholic records. The earliest records tend to be in the western Germanic areas. In the German Baltic areas they begin early in the 17th century, but many of these records are missing. In the German enclaves in southeastern Europe and Russia, church records begin even later. During the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), many records were destroyed. Because of this reason, for many German churches records begin around 1650.

The baptismal records (Taufregister) record baptismal date, sometimes the birth date, the names of the parents and the child, and the godparents (Paten). The godparents were often relatives or close friends of one of the parents. Related records can also be used to determine birth dates: the Patenzettel (invitation of the godparents to attend the baptism; more common to nobility than peasants); records of the special municipal tax levied on the celebration of the baptism; and the birth certificates issued when the child applied to learn a trade or profession. Births of stillborn or unbaptized children only appear in the death registers.

It has been estimated that illegitimate births may have comprised around 15% of overall births, depending on living arrangements, on laws relating to marriage, on poverty rates, on customs concerning women's work, and other social factors. Many of these illegitimate births were legitimized by the subsequent marriage of their parents. Christening records may have the abbreviation pmsl, standing for per matrimonium subsequens legitmata (or legitmatus, depending on the gender of the child). This notation indicates that the premarital child of a couple was legitimized by the subsequent marriage of its parents. Generally, the mother's name was crossed out and the father's name substituted, a procedure frequent in the 19th century. The Church considered illegitimacy to be immoral, and recorded all deviant behavior. Often ridicule, shame and mockery were aimed at the mother. At times, clergymen recorded illegitimate births/christening upside down in the church books.

Marriage registers (Trauregister) recorded the marriage in the bride's church, where the nuptials took place. They normally contain the name and profession of the groom, with or without the names of his parents, the name of the bride, and usually those of her parents. Widows used the surnames of their deceased husbands. Churches also had a register of proclamation of banns (Proklamationsbuch) in the groom's church. A final proclamation was entered on the Sunday preceding the day of marriage. Marriage celebrations were also subject to municipal taxation and such records may be found among the municipal records.

The death registers (Sterberegister) give the name of the deceased person and ordinarily the profession, age, and cause of death.  The age of the individual is often inaccurate. Additional death information may be found in the death knell book (Totengeläutbuch), which recorded the tolling of the bell, usually the third day after death. Among Lutherans, particularly in the upper classes, it was customary from about 1550 to 1800 to have the funeral sermons (Leichenpredigte) printed and distributed to friends and relatives. These publications included information on the life of the deceased, listing the names of his near relatives and his ancestors.

Other church records include confirmation, communion, and confession lists, family registers (Familienregister), and notes on penances (Kirchenstrafen). As there were no requirements for these records, they were infrequent and inconsistent. Records on Lutheran ministers are especially complete.

Garrison towns in German normally maintained marriage and death records for soldiers separately. The birth records of the children of soldiers may be found in the ordinary baptismal records or among the military chaplaincy records (Militärkirchenbücher). (Smith, Clifford. Encyclopedia of German-American Genealogical Research).

Languages found in German church records include:

  • German -- using Gothic handwriting.

  • Latin -- in Roman script (in Catholic areas until about 1806; in Protestant areas until the mid-16th century or later)

  • French -- in Alsace-Lorraine, Rhineland, Palatinate, and Hessen before 1815, after which the language changed to German

  • Dutch and Frisian -- in Hannover and the Netherlands

  • Danish -- in Schleswig-Holstein

  • Polish -- in Posen, West Prussia and Silesia

  • Wendish (Sorbian) -- in Saxony

  • Czech -- in Bohemia and Moravia

  • Slovenian -- in Austria

  • Italian -- in Tirol

  • Hungarian and Croatian -- in Austria

  • Swedish -- in Pomerania and eastern Prussia


  • Bär, Max. Die Kirchenbücher der Provinz Westpreußen. Danzig: Sauniers Buchhandlung, 1908. (Family History Library 943.82 B4a; microfilm 1045433 item 5; microfiche 6000826)
     
  • Catholic Churches in Germany

  • Cerny, Johni. A Guide to German Parish Registers: In the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988-
     
  • Church books from the Evangelisch Church of Rappenau (now Bad Rappenau, Baden-Württemberg, Germany) 1731-1802 - The second church book of the Evangelisch Church of Rappenau (now Bad Rappenau, Baden-Württemberg, Germany) dates from 1731-1802. An inscription on the old cover indicates that this parish register replaced the first volume (1652-1731) because it was full. The church book includes seven sections in 561 pages: 1) ab. Anno 1654, 2) Kiftengen, 3) Taufregister, 4) Confirmationsregister, 5) Eheregister, 6) Todenregister, and 7) Haftmallregister.
     
  • Deutsche Bischofskonferenz. Catholic church archives are listed on the Web sites of the respective Bistum, yet in an inconsistent way and mostly in German.
     
  • Diözesan-Archiv Berlin. Diocesan archive of Berlin. Contact information. (In German)
     
  • Duncker, M. Verzeichnis der württembergischen Kirchenbücher. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1938. (Family History Library Ref943.47 K23d 1938; microfilm 492889 item 1; microfiche 6053528).
     
  • Eger, Wolfgang. Die protestantischen Kirchenbücher der Pfalz. Landau: Verlag des Prot. Landeskirchenrates der Pfalz, 1960. (Family History Library Ref943.43 B4vp v.8; microfilm 845166 item 2).
     
  • Eisenberg, Erich. Kirchenbuchverzeichnis der Evangelischen Kirche von Kurhessen-Waldeck. Kassel: Verlag Evangelischer Presseverband, 1973. (Family History Library Ref943.41 K23e).
     
  • Endler, Carl and Edm. Albrecht. Mecklenburgs familiengeschichtliche Quellen. Hamburg: Richard Hermes, 1936. (Family History Library 943.2 A5e; microfilm 496473 item 8).
     
  • Evangelical Churches in Germany. Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland .Click on "Gemeinden A-Z" for a list of parishes. (In German)
     
  • Evangelisches Zentral-Archiv in Berlin . Archiv der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland und der Evangelischen Kirche der Union.  Evangelical Church Central Archive in Berlin (EZA). Catalogue of parish books of the eastern church provinces of the evangelical church of the old Prussian union. Includes a listing of Pommern church books sorted by town. Evangelisches Zentralarchiv, Kirchenbuchstelle, Bethaniendamm 29, 10997 Berlin, Germany. (In English and German) Email: archiv@ezab.de
     
  • Family Names of the Prussian Mennonites. .Compiled by Adalbert Goertz.
     
  • Ferguson, Laraine, "Locating Church and Civil Registration Records," German Genealogical Digest, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 202-2003, 1985.
     
  • Franz, Hermann. Die Kirchenbücher in Baden. 3. Auflage. Karlsruhe: Braun, 1957. (Family History Library Ref943.46 B4ns; microfiche 6000833).
     
  • Garbe, Fritz. Die Kirchenbücher in der Ev.-luth. Landeskirche Hannovers. Hannover: Carl Albrecht, 1960. (Family History Library Ref943.59 K23g; microfilm 1181595, item 5).
     
  • German Genealogical Research Before The Church Records Begin
     
  • German-American Religious Groups - The Church-German-Americans
     
  • German Lutheran Records in Chicago
     
  • Göppingen, Württemberg, Germany and surrounding villages
    This is a database from the Church books of Göppingen beginning in 1808. This database is one large family tree; everyone is connected by birth or marriage. Many of the families have been inputted from the family books which were compiled by the pastors of each village beginning in 1808. Villages include Heiningen, Bartenbach, Gruibingen, Faurdau, Schlat, Hattenhofen, Eislingen, Holzheim, Auendorf , Dürnau, Bezgenriet, Ebersbach , Maitis, Gammelshausen, Börtlingen and others.
     
  • Hansen, Kevan. Map Guide to German Parish Registers. Bountiful, Utah: Family Roots Publishing Co., 2004-2007. Forty-volume series eventually covering all of Germany.  Each volume is 200 to 300 pages.
     
  • Haury, David A. Index to Mennonite immigrants on United States passenger lists, 1872-1904 / compiled and edited by David A. Haury. North Newton, Kan. : Mennonite Library and Archives, 1986. Ship lists of Mennonite immigrants, with a name index.
     
  • Humphrey, John T. Understanding and Using Baptismal Records. Washington, D.C.: Humphrey Publications, 1996.
     
  • Index of Some Surnames of Windheim Parish (includes the villages of Windheim, Ilse, Joessen, Haevern, Rosenhagen, Neuenknick, Seelenfeld & Doehren)
     
  • Jensen, Russell C. Parish Register Latin: An Introduction. Salt Lake City: Vita Nova, 1988. All you want to know about Latin church book entries.
     
  • Jensen, Wilhelm. Die Kirchenbücher Schleswig-Holsteins, der Landeskirche Eutin und der Hansestädte. 2. Auflage. Neumünster: KarlWachholtz, 1958. (Family History Library Ref943.512 D2q v. 2 1958).
     
  • Kirkham,  E. Kay. A Survey of American Church Records: Major Denominations before 1880. Volume 1. Logan, Utah: Everton Publishers, 1971.
     
  • Kirkham, E. Kay. A Survey of American Church Records: Minor Denominations. Volume 2. Logan, Utah: Everton Publishers, 1969.
     
  • Köhler, Hermann. Verzeichnis der Kirchenbücher und der übrigen für die Sippenforschung wichtigen Amtsbücher. Dresden: Ungelenk, 1938. (Family HistoryLibrary Ref943.21 K23k; microfiche 6053524).
     
  • Kraut, D.H. Handbuch Kirchen-Statistik für den Freistaat Sachsen. Dresden: Leipsch & Reichardt, 1930. (Family History Library 943.21 E4k 1930).
     
  • Krudewig, Anton. Neues Verzeichnis der Kirchenbücher der ehemaligen Rheinprovinz. Köln: Westdeutsche Gesellschaft für Familienkunde, 1977. (Family History Library 943.42 K23k; microfiche 6053535).
     
  • "Lessons in Punishing Illegitimate Births." Der Blumenbaum 24, 4 (April, May, June 2007): 166.
     
  • Lutheran Records in East Prussia - Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe
     
  • Lutheran Records in Pomerania & Brandenburg - Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe
     
  • Lutheran Records in West Prussia - Society for German Genealogy in Eastern Europe.
     
  • Map Guide to German Parish Registers. Bountiful, Utah: Heritage Creations, ongoing. Vol. 1 - Grandducy of Hessen; Vol. 2 - Grandducy of Baden; Vol. 3 - Grandduchies of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz; Vol. 4 - Province of Schleswig-Holstein- Kingdom of Prussia; and Grandducy of Oldenburg; Vol. 5 - Kingdom of Württemburg I - Jagstkreis; Vol. 6 - Kingdom of Württemburg II - Neckarkreis & Province of Hohenzollern; Vol. 7 - Kingdom of Württemburg III - Schwarzwaldkreis; Vol. 8 - Kingdom of Württemburg IV - Donaukreis; Vol. 9 - Province of Hessen-Nassau I - Kingdom of Prussia; Vol. 10 - Province of Hessen-Nassau II - Kingdom of Prussia; Vol. 11 - Province of Rheinland I - Kingdom of Prussia; Vol. 12 - Province of Rheinland II - Kingdom of Prussia; Vol. 13 - Province of Rheinland III - Kingdom of Prussia. (Forthcoming: Prince of Posen - Kingdom of Prussia, 2 vols.; Province of Westfalen - Kingdom of Prussia, 2 vols.; Thüringen; Province of Sachsen - Kingdom of Prussia, 2 vols.; Elsaß-Lothringen; Kingdom of Sachsen, 2 vols.; Kingdom of Bayern, 5 vols.; Province of Hannover - Kingdom of Prussia, 2 vols.; Province of OstPreussen - Kingdom of Prussia, 2 vols.; Province of WestPreussen - Kingdom of Prussia; Province of Brandenburg - Kingdom of Prussia, 2 vols.; Province of Pommern - Kingdom of Prussia, 2 vols.; and, Province of Schlesien - Kingdom of Prussia, 3 vols.) Identifies the church parishes and gives the Family History Library microfilm number for the parish; identifies nearly every city, town and place that included residents; identifies Lutheran and Catholic parishes in district; identifies neighboring parishes; etc.
     
  • Minert, Roger P., editor. German Immigrants in American Church Records. Volume 1: Indiana Protestant. Picton Press, 2006. This book is the first of a series of compilations of names and personal data of immigrants from Germany found in parish records in various states in the US. The state of Indiana was chosen for this first volume since it is located along three major migration routes.  Contains 78 Protestant churches in Indiana.
     
  • Minert, Roger P., editor. German Immigrants in American Church Records. Volume 2: Wisconsin Northwest Portestant. Picton Press, 2007. The volume has records from 55 churches from the following counties: Barron (3), Buffalo (7), Chippewa (4), Clark (10), Dunn (4), Eau Claire (12), Pepin (1), Pierce (2), Polk (3), Rusk (1), St. Croix (7) and Trempealeau (1). The compilers from Brigham Young University used microfilm from the Family History Library and church archives.
     
  • Müller, Anton. Die Kirchenbücher der bayerischen Pfalz. München: Ackermann, 1925. (Family History Library Ref943 B5az; microfilm 415618).
     
  • OMII Genealogy Project and Kidron Heritage Center. Information about a Swiss Mennonite and German Amish genealogy project, and access to three databases containing information about more than 425,000 persons.
  • Die Organisation der Kirchen in Deutschland 1871-1945.  Churches in Germany, 1871-1945.
     
  • Otterberg Genealogical Database. Data from the Otterberg, Germany French Reformed Church Register from its start in 1657 through 1675.
     
  • Praetorius, Otfried. Kirchenbücher und Standesregister für alle Wohnplätze im Land Hessen. Darmstadt: Historische Kommission für das Land Hessen, 1939. (Family History Library Ref943.41 K23p; microfiche 6053529).
     
  • Protestant Churches in Germany. In German, with some English. It has a page for every "church province" and the addresses and web sites of church communities by location.
     
  • Provincial Websites of Catholic Churches in Germany

  • Provincial Websites of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Germany and Europe
     
  • Randt, Erich and Horst-Oskar Swientek. Die älteren Personenstandsregister Schlesiens. Görlitz: C.A. Stärke, 1938. (Family History Library Ref943.85 K2r; microfilm 862039).
     
  • Schwartz, Paul. Die Kirchenbücher der Mark Brandenburg. 2 vol. Landsberg/W: Schaefer, 1900. (Family History Library 943.15K23s; microfilm 1181819 item 1).
     
  • Smith, Kenneth Lee. German Church Books: Beyond the Basics. Camden, Maine: Picton Press, 1989. Descriptions of the contents of certain types of vital records, as well as some cultural details related to vital records in Germany.
     
  • Suess, Jared H. and Petra Suess. Reading Genealogical Records of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. 2 volumes. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1995. Designed to be definitive for German research.
     
  • Verband kirchlicher Archive.The Web site of the Evangelical Church in Germany lists the member archives which are listed by cities and regions. The church records may not necessarily be kept in these centralized repositories but may be kept in local church offices.
     
  • Wehdem Evangelical Church Records (includes the villages of Wehdem, Oppendorf, Westrup & Oppenwehe)
     
  • Wehrmann, M. A. "Die Kirchenbücher in Pommern," Baltische Studien, Gesellschaft für Pommersche Geschichte und Alterthumskunde, vol. 42. Stettin: Saunier, 1892. (Family History Library Ref943.81 K23w; microfiche 6053534).
     
  • Weil Schoenbuch, Wuerttemberg Lutheran Marriage Records 1591-1700 - More than 1700 marriage records have been extracted from the Evangelical (Lutheran) church in Weil im Schönbuch, Württemberg, Germany, from 1591 to 1705. There are 6400 names and more than 450 different German, Swiss, Austrian and French towns in this database.
     
  • Weisner, Frederick S. Marriages & Burials from Frederick, MD Evangelical Lutheran Church. Washington, D.C.: National Genealogical Society, 1972.
     
  • Wright, F. Edward, editor. 18th Century Records of the German Lutheran Church at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (St. Michael's and Zion) Volume 1: Baptisms 1745-1769. Translated by Robert L Hess. Lewes, Delaware: Colonial Roots, 2004.