Ortssippenbücher and Ortsfamilienbücher—Valuable Resources in German Genealogical Research

October 9, 2012  - by 

How would you like to open a book and be able to link trace 14 generations, going all the way back to 1500? In one known Ortssippenbuch (OSB) this is possible! OSBs are an underutilized resource in family history, but can be very valuable.

What is an OSB?

An Ortssippenbuch or Ortsfamilienbuch generally include birth, marriage, and death information for all persons found in a specific locality during a specified time period. Usually, a local genealogist, historian, or enthusiast has extracted information from local parish registers to compile the OSB.

Time period

OSBs usually go back in time to the earliest records of a given locality. They often extend up to the near-present. Starting dates vary considerably, but they usually begin in the 16th or 17th century, so they are an excellent source of early German family research.

How is an OSB organised and what will you find there?

An OSB is arranged alphabetically by surname and then chronologically by marriage date.  In order to save space, a number of symbols for events are used. To the beginner, all of these special symbols and abbreviations may make using an OSB difficult to use at first. But once the beginner becomes familiar with them, the books become easy to use and are a great resource. Sometimes, an OSB might be the only source in existence for some information if the original records have been lost or destroyed.

Where to find OSBs  

The Family History Library has over 800 OSBs. In the FamilySearch catalog under Place-names. You should first type the name of the town you are searching. When the list of record types for that locality appears, click on the word, genealogy.

Online Resources for OSBs 

Genealogy.net lists approximately 340 OSBs under the title Ortsfamilienbücher. The books on this website are searchable by surname or place.

The value of an OSB is clear. Of course, not every locality has an OSB, but when one is found, the researcher can gain a tremendous amount of information.

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  1. OSB are great to find a missing link or to get pointed into the right direction, but never forget that the info is transcribed from churchbooks or other sources. I have seen OSB full of mistakes and wrong transriptions. Which leads me to my biggest complaint as a genealogist: I see so many trees without sources, which should be a total no-go.

  2. Hi Barbara,
    yes, you are absolutely correct. Many people simply copy what they find in books or on the internet without verifying the info. The info in OSBs and indexes to databases should always be verified by looking at original documents whenever possible. Also, people who put hteir own info into trees should always give their sources for EACH bit of information. Just saying ‘church books’ is not enough.
    Thanks for commenting.

  3. I’m confused as to how to access ortsfamilienbucher. Must I go to the Salt Lake City history center to view them? Is there any source I can see online? I followed the link in your article, but it was all in German, so I did not know how to search further.

    1. Hi Kathleen,

      I am glad you have read my short article and have tried to use this wonderful resource. Whether you have to come to the SLC FHL to view a particular book depends on whether it is available online or in another library. The online repository I mentioned in the article, Genealogy.net, is a German outfit and only some of their pages have been translated into English. In the short article, it was impossible to give much information, so detailed instructions were lacking. In any event, go to this website:


      You should read the entire page, but the section you need is called “Step-by Step User’s Guide.” This will explain how to use the website I mentioned and give you some basic vocabulary. Here are some other terms and symbols you will probably need:

      Taufen= baptisms

      Remember that dates in German records are given in day, month, year order, e.g. 2.6.1888 means June 2, 1888, NOT Feb. 6, 1888.

      I also have an article on OFBs in a journal: “Ortssippenbücher and Ortsfamilienbücher: Valuable Resources in Genealogical Research.” Der Kurier 30:4 (December 2012): 77-79.

      If you have access to that journal, it might be worth looking at.
      You should also remember that not all places have an OSB.

      I hope this has been of help to you and please do not hesitate to write again if you need more help.


  4. The OSB is one of the most underutitilized German resource. I have 5 of these books
    at home. All of them bey different authors.The books I have cover an area of about 15 miles which is about 25 kilometers.The only drawback about these books is that they’re written in German. One MUST know the ancestors town of where they were born.
    The St. Louis County Library Special Collections Department has a listing of the OSB.

    These books are a Gold Mine

    1. Hi Werner,
      you are right–these are a goldmine, but have some limitations. You do have to know that place where your ancestors came from. However, if you are using the OSBs on genealogy.net, you can do a metasearch by last name, which will bring up all the people with that last name in all the OSBs. You might get quite a list of people. Then you could search each place given in the list.
      also, the books are in German and are filled with all sorts of symbols and abbreviations, but it’s worth it to learn a little German and what the symbols and abbreviations mean; the payoff can be very rewarding!