Berlin Church Records
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Finding Birth, Marriage, and Death Records for Berlin
- 1 Finding Birth, Marriage, and Death Records for Berlin
- 2 Church Records (Parish Registers) Definition
- 3 Time Period Coverage
- 4 Information Recorded in Church Records
- 5 Accessing Church Records
- 6 Research in Church Archives
- 7 Other Religious Groups
- 8 Reading the Records
- 9 Research Strategies
Church Records (Parish Registers) Definition
Church records (parish registers) are excellent sources of sufficiently accurate information on names, dates and places of birth / baptism, marriage and death / funeral. They are the most important source of genealogical information for Germany before 1876. Most of the people who lived in Germany, were recorded in a church record. Church records contain records of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials. In addition, church records can contain financial account books (charges for toll bells, fees for masses for the dead, and so on), lists of confirmation, penance register communion lists, lists of members and the family register.
Duplicate Church Records
Unfortunately, some of Germany's church records were destroyed in wars or when parsonages burned. Concerns about such destruction led authorities in some areas to require the pastor to create a copy of each year's baptism-, marriage-, and burial entries, mostly beginning in the late 18th century. These copies were either stored separately or sent to a central archive each year. Local governments often found it helpful to have access to the birth-, marriage-, and death records kept by the clergy. Soon local pastors were required to provide the town administration with a yearly copy of these records. These copies are called transcripts or duplicates [Kirchenbuchduplikate], and most are housed in central church archives or state archives. Use duplicates, where available, to supplement parish registers that are missing or illegible. Keep in mind that duplicates often differ slightly from the originals.
Time Period Coverage
The first surviving German Protestant records are from 1524 at St. Sebald in Nürnberg. Lutheran churches in general began requiring baptism, marriage, and burial records around 1540; Catholics began in 1563. By 1650 most Reformed parishes began keeping records. Many church records were destroyed in the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). In addition, records for some parishes in the Pfalz and Rheinland were interrupted for several years when the French controlled those areas of Germany from 1792 to 1815 and introduced civil registration.
Information Recorded in Church Records
Children were usually baptized a few days after birth. Baptism registers usually give the infant's name, parents' names, status of legitimacy, names of witnesses or godparents, and baptism date. You may also find the child's birth date, the father's occupation, and the family's place of residence, the names of godparents, their residences, and occupations. Death information was sometimes added as a note or signified by a cross. Because of social conditions in Germany, the birth of illegitimate children was not uncommon. Illegitimacy is usually noted in baptism records, sometimes by a note in the margin or an upside-down or sideways entry.
Marriage registers give the marriage date and the names of the bride and groom. The registers may also indicate whether they were single or widowed and give the names of witnesses. Other information about the bride and groom is often included, such as their ages, residences, occupations, birthplaces, and parents' names. In cases of second and subsequent marriages, the registers may include the names of previous partners and their death dates. A note was often made if a parent or other party gave permission for the marriage.
Marriage Banns or Proclamations [Aufgebote]
For two or three weeks before the marriage, marriage banns (announcements of the intention to marry) were read and/or posted in church. This gave community members a chance to object to the marriage. Most proclamations took place on consecutive Sundays. If the future spouses were from different parishes, the banns were read in each church. Before the marriage ceremony could take place, the non-local party was required to present the officiating pastor with a paper stating that the proclamations had been read and there were no objections. A note stating that this person had been "dismissed" to marry elsewhere may be found in the marriage register.
The marriage registers of some churches give the dates on which the marriage banns were announced. The marriage banns themselves may exist in a separate record. Some parishes kept the marriage banns and other marriage information instead of marriage registers.
If a couple needed to get married quicky, permission to skip the proclamations could be obtained for a fee. This special permission is called a dispensation. Common reasons for a hasty marriage include pregnancy and imminent emigration.
Formal engagements were often associated with a celebration that required the families to purchase a certain amount of alcoholic beverages from the local pub. This custom was known as the "Weinkauf". Engagement dates may be given in the parish register as " der Weinkauf" or "weinkaeuflich ".
Burials were recorded in the parish where the person was buried. The burial usually took place within a few days of death.
Burial registers give the name of the deceased and the date and place of death or burial. Often the deceased's age, place of residence, and cause of death and the names of survivors are also given. Occasionally the deceased's birth date and place and parents' names are given. However, information about parents, birth dates, and birthplaces may be inaccurate, depending on the informant's knowledge.
If the burial record mentions a sermon, you may be able to find a printed copy at a local library or archive. Funeral sermons often mentioned several generations of ancestors. See Germany Obituaries for more details.
Protestants were usually confirmed around age 14, Catholics about age 12. Some confirmation registers merely list the names of those being confirmed and the confirmation date. Other confirmation registers give additional information about those being confirmed, including their ages or birth dates, birthplaces, and fathers' names.
Family Registers [Familienbücher]
Some parishes kept family registers that give information about each family group in the parish. Family registers are more common in southern Germany, especially in Württemberg and Baden after 1808. These registers list the names of the husband and wife and their birth dates and places, marriage date and place, parents' names, occupations, and residence. If a second marriage is listed, details about the parents of the new marriage partner are often included.
Children are usually listed in chronological order. Names, birth dates, confirmation dates, marriage dates, and death dates may be listed. In some registers, when a child married and remained in the same parish, the register gives a “see” reference and a page number where that particular child appears as the head of a household.
Some family registers indicate whether the family moved to another village or emigrated to another country.
Parish Genealogy (Ortssippenbuch)
Pastors or genealogists sometimes compiled a village lineage book (Ortssippenbuch), which included each family in a parish. For details see Germany Town Genealogies and Parish Register Inventories on the Internet.
Accessing Church Records
Church records were kept in the local parish of the church. The term parish refers to the jurisdiction of a church minister. Parishes are local congregations that may have included many neighboring villages in their boundaries. To use church records, you must know both your ancestor's religion and the town where he or she lived. You must also determine in which parish the town was located. Some gazetteers indicate parish jurisdictions.
Church Record Inventories
Church record inventories are essential tools for finding German records. They identify what records should be available for a specified parish and where to write for information on these records. They list the church records, their location, and the years they cover. Sometimes inventories explain which parishes served which towns at different periods of time.
- Gemeindelexikon für das Königreich Preußen: Berlin and Brandenburg
- The new Kirchenbuchportal (church book portal) has been created by the Association of Church Archives, ecumenical organization, to facilitate access to German-language church records. As of July 2010 several archives have posted detailed inventories of the parish registers in their collections. Details about the participating archives, including links to posted inventories, are found here. A database of all inventoried records, arranged by archive, is found here.
Church Records on the Internet
- Many parishes in Berlin have been indexed and names appear in the International Genealogical Index.
- Archion: Land Archive Archive in Berlin. Lutheran digital parish records.
- 1558-1898 - Germany Births and Baptisms, 1558-1898 at FamilySearch Historical Records. Index.
- 1582-1958 - Germany Deaths and Burials, 1582-1958 at FamilySearch Historical Records. Index.
- 1558-1929 - Germany Marriages, 1558-1929 at FamilySearch Historical Records. Index.
Records at the Family History Library
Many of the church records for Greater Berlin have been microfilmed. They are listed in the FamilySearch Library catalog. Parish records for municipalities in the state of Berlin outside the central city, will be listed in Places within Germany, Preußen, Brandenburg with a "Berlin-" prefix. Try to find records in the collection of the FamilySearch Library. Many microfilms have been digitized for online viewing. Gradually, everything will be digitized, so check back occasionally. Some have viewing restrictions, and can only be viewed at the Family History Centers near you. To find records:
- a. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
- b. Choose the correct record type and time period for your ancestor. "Taufen" are baptisms/christenings. Heiraten are marriages. "Toten" are deaths.
- c. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the microfilm listed for the record. . The magnifying glass indicates that the microfilm is indexed. Clicking on the magnifying glass will take you to the index. Clicking on the camera will take you to an online digital copy of the microfilm.
Most church registers are still maintained by the parish. You might obtain information by writing to the parish. Parish employees will usually answer correspondence written in German. Your request may be forwarded if the records have been sent to a central repository.
For a list of addresses of churches in Berlin this is a helpful site.
Writing the Letter
Write a brief request in German to the proper church using this address as a guide, replacing the information in parentheses:
For a Protestant Parish:
- An das evangelische Pfarramt
- (Insert street address, if known.)
- (Postal Code) (Name of Locality)
- An das evangelische Pfarramt
For a Catholic Parish:
- An das katholische Pfarramt
- (Insert street address, if known.)
- (Postal Code) (Name of Locality)
- An das katholische Pfarramt
- Click here for postal code help for Germany.
How to write a letter: Detailed instruction for what to include in the letter, plus German translations of the questions and sentences most frequently used are in the German Letter Writing Guide.
Research in Church Archives
Church records at these archives may be searched in person, by written inquiry (for reasonably brief requests), or by hiring a researcher.
Archives of the Catholic Diocese of Berlin
10997 Berlin (Kreuzberg)
Phone: +49 (0) 30 22504580
Fax: +49 (0) 30 22504583
Please provide your full name and postal address for all inquiries.
Evangelische Landeskirchliches Archiv in Berlin
Online records from this archive are available on Archion: Land Archive Archive in Berlin. Do not go to the Evangelical Central Archives, Berlin. They cover Prussia, Silesia, and so on, not Berlin itself.
If you visit the archives, reservations to use the reading room must be made 2-3 months in advance.
Evangelical Land Archives Archive in Berlin (ELAB)
10997 Berlin (Kreuzberg)
Telephone:+49 (0) 30 2250 4565
Fax:+49 (0) 30 2250 4510
Communion Card Index
The communion card index stored in the ELAB is a general help tool for Old Berlin . Alt-Berlin means here the six inner city districts Mitte, Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg, Kreuzberg, Tiergarten and Wedding. These index cards contain, in alphabetical order, all Protestant baptisms in Alt-Berlin from 1750 to 1874. The garrison community and the French-reformed community are not taken into consideration. For information about requesting research, Click here. A request for a search of this index can helpnarrow down which parish the family lived in.
Other Religious Groups
- To learn how to determine the location of other religious records, namely Jewish, French Reformed, German Reformed, etc., watch Hansen’s Map Guides: Finding Records with Parish Maps beginning at 48:00 minutes, to learn how to locate these congregations. Then go back and watch from the beginning to understand how to use the reference book. This course teaches you how to use a set of reference books found at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. If you are not in Salt Lake City, use the Contact Us feature to request information from the books.
- See the Wiki article, Germany Jewish Records
Huguenots (French Protestants)
*German Huguenot Society eV , index.
- See the Wiki article, ’’’Huguenots in Germany’’’
Reading the Records
- It's easier than you think! You do not have to be fluent in French and German to use these records, as there is only a limited vocabulary used in them. By learning a few key phrases, you will be able to read them adequately. Here are some resources for learning to read German records.
- These video webinars will teach you to read German handwriting:
- Also online interactive slideshow lessons are available to help you learn to read these records:
- Reading German Handwritten Records Lesson 1: Kurrent Letters
- Reading German Handwritten Records Lesson 2: Making Words in Kurrent
- Reading German Handwritten Records Lesson 3: Reading Kurrent Documents. In this lesson, you will explore several types of German genealogical records, including birth, baptismal, marriage, and death records.
- German Script Tutorial
This converter will show you how any phrase or name might look in German script:
- Kurrentschrift Converter (enter German genealogical word, click on "convert", view your word in Kurrentschrift (Gothic handwriting)
Records of the Catholic church will usually be written in Latin:
Effective use of church records includes the following strategies:
- Search for the relative or ancestor. When you find his or her birth record, search for the births of brothers and sisters.
- Next search for the parents' marriage date and place. The marriage record will often lead to the parents' birth records.
- You can estimate the ages of the parents and determine a birth year to search for their birth records. If more than one possible candidate is found, search confirmation, marriage, and burial records to determine the correct individual. If available, census-type records or family books can be used as well.
- Try to find the parents death/burial entries, since these records may give their age at death.
- Use the above strategies for both the father and the mother.
- If earlier generations are not in the record you are using, search neighboring parishes and other denominations.
- Search the burial registers for all family members.