East Prussia Civil Registration
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Finding Birth, Marriage, and Death Records for East Prussia
Most of your genealogical research for East Prussia will be in three main record types: civil registration, church records, and, when available, a compiled town genealogy ("'Ortssippenbuch" or "Ortsfamilienbuch" in German). These articles will teach you how to use these records on digital databases, as microfilms, or by writing for them.
- 1 Finding Birth, Marriage, and Death Records for East Prussia
- 2 Definition
- 3 Time Period
- 4 Information Recorded
- 5 Accessing the Records
- 6 Archives
- 6.1 1. Online Finding Aids and Databases
- 6.2 2. Civil Registration information in Berlin and Poland
- 6.3 3. East Prussia/Genealogical Sources
- 6.4 4. Holding Lists Provided by Archives
- 6.5 4. Lithuanian Area Archives
- 6.6 Writing a Letter to Archives
- 7 Reading the Records
- 8 Search Strategy
Civil registration became mandatory in all German states on 1 January 1876.
Until recently, stringent rights-to-privacy requirements in Germany limited access to all civil registration records created in 1876 or later to the subject of the document and their parents, siblings, and direct-line descendants.
A law passed in February 2007, the Personenstandsrechtsreformgesetz, makes civil registration records more accessible for family history research. Since 1 January 2009 the records are accessible to any researcher after these time periods have passed:
- births: 110 years
- marriages: 80 years
- deaths: 30 years
A direct relationship to the subject of the record sought will only be required in cases where the required time period has not yet elapsed. Even then, the records may be accessible if it can be shown that all "participating parties" have died at least 30 years ago. Participating parties are both parents and the child in birth records, and both spouses in a marriage.
Birth records usually give the child's name; sex; and birth date, time, and place. The father's name, age, occupation, and residence are also usually listed. The mother's maiden name, age, and marital status are usually given, although her age is sometimes omitted. The names, ages, and residences of witnesses are usually provided. The parents' religion is also listed in some states.
Marriages (Heiraten, Ehen, or Trauungen)
Marriages were usually recorded where the bride lived. After 1792 a civil marriage ceremony was required in areas of Germany under French control. In 1876 this law was applied to all of Germany. Most couples also had a church wedding, so records may exist for both the civil and church ceremonies. The civil marriage records may include more information than the comparable church records. When possible search both the civil registration and church records.
You may find the following records documenting civil marriages:
- Marriage Registers [Heiratsregister]. Marriage registers give the date and time of the marriage. They list the bride's and groom's names, ages, birth dates, birthplaces, residences, occupations, and whether they were single or widowed. The registers also give the parents' names, residence, occupations, marital status, and whether they were living at the time of the marriage. Witnesses' names, ages, and relationships to the bride or groom are supplied. Often a note is made as to whether a parent or other party gave permission for the marriage. The couple's religion is often mentioned, especially after 1874.
- Certificates [Heiratsscheine]. Some couples were given a marriage certificate or a book [Stammbuch] with the marriage entry and space for entering children's births. The certificate or book may be in the possession of the family or the civil registrar.
Intention to Marry
Various records may have been created to show a couple's intent to marry:
- Proclamations [Aufgebote or Eheverkündigungen] were made a few weeks before a couple planned to marry.
- Marriage Supplements [Heiratsbeilagen] were often filed by the bride or groom to support their marriage application. Information included may document their births, their parents' deaths, and the groom's release from military service. Sometimes the records contain information about earlier generations.
- Contracts [Ehekontrakte] are documents created to protect legal rights and property of spouses. These may give the same information as the marriage supplements noted above. They also list property and are usually found in court records rather than in civil registration records.
- Marriage Permission Papers [Verehelichungsakten] are documents created in the process of obtaining permission to get married. Some states required prospective spouses to get permission fom the local city council or mayor before they could be married.
Deaths (Sterberegister or Totenregister)
Death records are especially helpful because they may provide important information on a person's birth, spouse, and parents. Civil death records often exist for individuals for whom there were no birth or marriage records. Deaths were usually registered within a few days of death in the town or city where the person died. Early death records usually give the name of the deceased and the date, time, and place of death. The age, birthplace, residence, occupation, and marital status of the deceased may also be given, along with the name of the parents or spouse and their residences. The informant's name, age, occupation, residence, and relationship may also be listed. Post¬1874 death registers also include the person's religion. Information about parents, the birth date, the birthplace, and other information about the deceased may be inaccurate, depending on the informant's knowledge.
Accessing the Records
- Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany (Poland), Selected Civil Vitals, 1874-1945, index and images, incomplete.
Locating Records at the Family History Library
If the locality and time period you need are not included in the online records, the next step is to check for them in the microfilm collection of the Family History Library. These microfilms may be ordered for viewing at Family History Centers around the world. To find a microfilm:
- a. Click on the Places within Germany, Preussen, Ostpreussen drop-down menu and select your town.
- b. Click on the "Civil registration" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
- c. Choose the correct record type and time period for your ancestor. "Geburten" are births. Heiraten are marriages. "Verstorbene" are deaths.
- d. 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.
Several different archives have civil registration records. In fact they are "all over the place", literally. There are several "finding aids" that help with locating them.
1. Online Finding Aids and Databases
2. Civil Registration information in Berlin and Poland
Standesamt I Berlin officially holds the civil registration information for the former areas of Germany.
Standesamt I Berlin
- This civil registration office has at its disposal an index called "Standesregister und Personenstandsbücher der Ostgebiete im Standesamt I Berlin".
- Two more indexes called "Kirchenbücher und Personenstandregister in polnischen Staatsarchiven" (church books and civil registration indexes in Polish State Archives) and "Deutsche Personenstandsbücher und Personenstandseinträge von Deutschen in Polen" (Civil Registration records of Germans in Poland) give further information about ancestors who lived in East Prussia.
3. East Prussia/Genealogical Sources
These links will take you directly to a particular district (Kreis):
4. Holding Lists Provided by Archives
You can also consult holding lists and use search engines to search which records might be held at each archive. Brief inquiries by email about whether a record group for your locality and time period is available at that archive are generally honored..
German Central Office for Genealogy
Archives State Archives Leipzig
Telephone: 0341 / 255-5500
Secret State Archives Prussian
Cultural Heritage Archivstraße 12-14
Phone: 030/266 44 75 00
Fax. 030/266 44 31 26
State Archives of Olsztyn (formerly Allenstein
Archiwum Panstwowe w Olsztynie
In the state archive Olsztyn (Olsztyn), the records are available digitized over the Internet.
- Search engine for digitized records
- The third field, "Nazwa oryginalna" or "Original Name", has a drop-down list of all the localities for which there are records.
State Archives Lyck
Archiwum Państwowe w Suwalkach
Oddzial w Elku
Birth, marriages and death certificates of the Milken militia from 1874 to 1902.
4. Lithuanian Area Archives
A few of the civil registration records for the area of East Prussia now in Lithuania are found in the following archives:
Lithuanian Historical State Archives in Vilnius
Lietuvos valstybės istorijos archyvas
Gerosios Vilties g. 10
LT-03134 Vilnius Ruf.
Phone: +370 /85/213 7482
Fax: 00370/5 278 43 69
- See Kirchenbücher und andere Personenstandsunterlagen aus Ost- und Westpreussen in Ausserdeutschen Archiven : Ostpreussische Grundbücher und Personenstandsunterlagen im Staatlichen Historischen Archiv Litauens in Wilna (Church records and civil registration records from East and West Prussia located in Vilnius, Lithuania, Historical Archives. (Bommelvitte, Memel, Schmelz and Uszloeknen))
- See Kirchenbücher und andere Personenstandsunterlagen aus Ost- und Westpreussen in Ausserdeutschen Archiven : neue Angaben zu Beständen des Staatlichen Kreisarchivs in Lyck (Church books and civil registrations for East and West Prussia (various time periods) located outside German archives.)
Writing a Letter to Archives
How to write a letter: Detailed instruction for what to include in the letter, plus Polish translations of the questions and sentences most frequently used are in the Poland Letter Writing Guide.
In some cases, the records are held in archives in Germany. For letters in German, including addressing the letter, plus German translations of the questions and sentences most frequently needed, use the the German Letter Writing Guide.
Because part of East Prussia is now in Russia, this article may help: Russian Letter Writing Guide
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:
Because part of East Prussia is now in Poland, these articles will help:
Because part of East Prussia is now in Russia, these articles will help:
- Search for the relative or ancestor you selected. When you find his birth record, search for the births of his brothers and sisters.
- Next, search for the marriage of his parents. The marriage record will have information that will often help you find the birth records of the parents.
- You can estimate the ages of the parents and determine a birth year to search for their birth records.
- Search the death registers for all known family members.
- Repeat this process for both the father and the mother, starting with their birth records, then their siblings' births, then their parents' marriages, and so on.
- If earlier generations (parents, grandparents, etc.) do not appear in the records, search neighboring parishes.