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
- Catholic Churches
- 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-
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
- 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
- Endler, Carl and Edm. Albrecht. Mecklenburgs
familiengeschichtliche Quellen. Hamburg: Richard Hermes,
1936. (Family History Library 943.2 A5e; microfilm 496473 item
Churches in Germany.
in Deutschland .Click on "Gemeinden A-Z" for a list of
parishes. (In German)
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Family Names of the Prussian Mennonites. .Compiled by
- 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,
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
- Humphrey, John T. Understanding and Using
Baptismal Records. Washington, D.C.: Humphrey Publications,
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
- Köhler, Hermann. Verzeichnis der Kirchenbücher und der
übrigen für die Sippenforschung wichtigen Amtsbücher.
Dresden: Ungelenk, 1938. (Family HistoryLibrary Ref943.21 K23k;
- 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;
- "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,
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
- Müller, Anton. Die Kirchenbücher der bayerischen Pfalz.
München: Ackermann, 1925. (Family History Library Ref943 B5az;
- 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
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
- 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
- Provincial Websites of
Catholic Churches in
- Provincial Websites of
Lutheran Churches in Germany and
- East Friesland
- East Prussia -- Klaipeda (Lithuania) and Kaliningrad
- Saxony, Kingdom of
- Saxony, Province of
- Randt, Erich and Horst-Oskar Swientek. Die
älteren Personenstandsregister Schlesiens. Görlitz: C.A.
Stärke, 1938. (Family History Library Ref943.85 K2r; microfilm
- 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
- 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.
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
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.