Finding Aids for German Records

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Finding Aids for German Records

This article will teach you about some geographical reference aids that will help you find the location of genealogical records for your ancestors' town in Germany.

Important Questions

There are important details you will need to know about your ancestors' town before you can actually find the records. Once you have learned the name of the town in Germany where your ancestors lived, there are several questions you need to answer:

  1. Are there several towns with that name, and if so, which one is the correct one?
  2. If you are looking for civil registration records (anything after 1876, and in some states sooner), where was the Standesamt (civil registry)? Where is it today?
  3. Where are the Lutheran church and the Catholic church that would have records for the town?
  4. |If the churches have placed the records in archives for safekeeping, which archives have jurisdiction for the area?

Why are these questions important?

  • So you went through a variety of United States records, and finally found the name of the town in Germany where your ancestors lived. Hopefully, along the way, you saw other clues to the region of that town, such as Saxony, Prussia, Hessen, or Bavaria. Sometimes those regions are easier to find than the town, and they can be important if there are several towns of the same name. But your job might not be done.


  • The town name you found, might be a small village that had no church of its own. You might have to figure out where the people in that village went to a nearby larger town to attend a Catholic church, and yet a different town if they were Lutheran. There might be a Catholic church in the village, but the Lutherans had to travel to another town.


  • Your town might have had a civil registration office of its own, or it was too small and had to report births, marriages, and deaths in another closeby town. Your town might have had its own civil registrar until the 1970's when all the offices were consolidated into fewer offices to save money. So to continue with your research, there is a little more detective work you need to do about your town.


FamilySearch Catalog--Online Records

  • One of your eventual questions is whether the records you seek have been microfilmed or digitized by FamilySearch. You can just by-pass all this geography and jump to checking to see if FamilySearch has the records. Go to the FamilySearch Catalog and enter the name of the town in the "Place" search field. If there is an item there for any town of that name, the catalog will bring up a list, automatically adding country and province information. Click on the town and see what civil registration and church records are already available. You might not even have to use the rest of this article!

Your Research Community--Online Advice

This can be an intimidating process. Help is available! The members of the Central Europe Genealogy Research Community can help you along the way.

Towns With the Same Name

Are there several towns with that name, and if so, which one is the correct one? Two great online gazetteers will help you find details about any location in Germany: MeyersGaz Online Gazetteer and Kartenmeister. Here are two online classes that will teach you how to use these: Meyer's Gazetteer Now Online, Indexed and Fully Searchable! and Finding Places in the Former German Areas of Poland Using the Online Gazetteer Kartenmeister.com

Find All the Towns of That Name in Meyers Gazetteer

Once you know the town name you need, the other facts you need are contained in Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs, the gazetteer on which the FamilySearch catalog for Germany is based. This covers Germany as it existed in 1871, recently unified from its former existence as many small countries.

At first a list will appear of every town with that name:

Meyers neudorf listScreen Shot 2018-01-30 at 16.33.09.png

You can choose to filter the list by province:

Meyers neudorf with filter.png


Go back to the records you have found for your ancestor in the United States to look for clues to the province (state, duchy, kingdom, etc.). Actually, it is more likely that this information showed up in your earlier searches than that the town showed up. If you still need to search those records for more clues, see Germany Gathering Information to Locate Place of Origin.

  • If you cannot find other clues to narrow down the list of towns, you might have to check each town until you find the records you need.

Finding the Civil Registry Office

If you are looking for civil registration records (anything after 1876, and in some states sooner), where was the Standesamt (civil registry)? Where is it today?

Standesamt records in the FamilySearch collection will be listed by the Standesamt of the town in 1871, as found in Meyer's Gazetteer. For records never microfilmed or digitized, and for more recent records, you will need to write to the current Standesamt. Several offices have been merged to save money. So you will have to find the current Standesamt with jurisdiction over your town.

Determine the Standesamt (Civil Registry Office) Location

  • In MeyersGaz.org the location of the Standesamt is indicated by the abbreviation "StdA". This will be the location used in the FamilySearch Catalog.


Meyers standesamt.png

  • For towns covered by Kartenmeister, the Standesamt is listed in every entry:


Kartenmeister standesamt.png

Finding the New Consolidated Standesamt

  • However, some of the offices were merged in 1970's, so the record location might be different than that listed in MeyersGaz.
    • For a municipality:
  • To find the current Standesamt, go to the German Wikipedia, and enter the name of the town in the search box. An article about the town will start with a first line such as: "Besse with about 3200 inhabitants is the largest district of the municipality Edermünde in Hessian Schwalm-Eder-Kreis ." It is probable that the Standesamt is now located in the municipality (in this example Edermünde).
  • Email the municipality to verify that the civil registry for your town is there. From the town article, click on the name of the municipality that links to that article. There will usually be an infobox on the page that lists the address and the website of the municipality. From the website, look for Kontakt (Contact) information with an email address.
  • For a town:
  • Follow the same instructions as for a municipality. However, in this case, the first line will read, for example: "Borken is a town in the Schwalm-Eder-Kreis with about 13,000 residents.
  • The infobox with the website will appear directly on a town page.


Here is an example of an infobox for a municipality: German infobox.png


Here is an example of the website and the contact information:
Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 11.14.17.png
And examples taken from the Contact page:
Schonsee contact page 1.png

Schonsee contact 2.png

Locating the Church Records

Where are the Lutheran church and the Catholic church that would have records for the town?

The two dominant religious groups in Germany were Catholics and Evangelical Lutherans. Your town may have been the site of the main parish church for one or both of the religions, or it might have been a village within a larger parish. So your next task is to find the parish church that kept the records for your town.

If Your Town Is Still in Germany

Here are some methods you can use to find the parishes for areas still in Germany today:

Meyer's Gazetteer

There are two ways that Meyer's Gazetteer can inform you on parish location:

In the main entry, if the town has its own parish, it will say so for both Catholic (kath. Pfk.) and Lutheran (ev. Pfk.). See an example in the red box. Meyers parish info.png

At the top of the main entry, there is an option to click on "Ecclesiastical"'. Meyers ecclesiastical.png

This will bring up a list of all the closest Catholic and Lutheran parishes and their distance from the town. You can then check those parishes for records about your ancestor.

Church list meyers.png

If Your Town Is No Longer in Germany

Remember, the town will still be listed in the FamilySearch Catalog as it was in Meyer's Gazetteer. However, if you need to write for records, you will use the address in Kartenmeister.

Kartenmeister

Study this map. If your town was in East Prussia, Pomerania (east of the Oder Neisse line), Posen, Silesia, or West Prussia, you will be able to find it in Kartenmeister. Kartenmeister covers areas of Germany that were given to other countries (Poland, Russia, Lithuania, and Czechoslavakia) in the treaties following the World Wars. Find your town in Kartenmeister.com to learn the name and upper jurisdictions that the town became known by after 1945, the location of Catholic and Lutheran parishes, and Standesamt locations.

North SchleswigMemelFree City of DanzigFree City of DanzigPomeraniaUpper SilesiaSilesiaHultschiner LaendchenPosenWest PrussiaPosenWest PrussiaSouthern East PrussiaSilesiaNorthern East PrussiaHultschiner LaendchenPomeraniaSilesiaAlsace-LorrainePomeraniaMalmedy-EupenAlsace-LorraineAlsace-LorraineCountries formerly in Germany.png
About this image

An Example of a Kartenmeister Entry

Kartenmeister Search Engine

To use Kartenmeister, simply enter the German name of the town in the search field.

Kartenmeister search.png
Notice in the Kartenmeister record on the right that the names of the Lutheran and Catholic parishes are given. Kartenmeister parish information.png

A Typical Kartenmeister Record

The most important information points here are the name of the Lutheran parish, the name of the Catholic parish, and the location of the civil registry office (Standesamt). Notice in the red box that Kartenmeister gives you this information:

Kartenmeister entry.png

Parish Register Inventories

Some parish inventories are available online. These list the Evangelical Lutheran (Evangelische) and Catholic (Katholische) parish for each local town or village:. The following illustration is of the right-hand or second page, therefore the village name is out of sight. But the point is, after you find the name of the village, you move across the page until you find these three columns:

Parish inventory.png

This is the typeface used in most of these books.

Gothic typeface.png


Map Guide to German Parish Registers

In “Map Guide to German Parish Registers”, Kevan Hansen has prepared a 53-volume guide to maps of all the parishes in Germany, both Cathoilc and Lutheran (with information about minority religious groups--Jewish, French Protestant, etc.). To learn about these guides and how to use them, watch this online course: Hansen’s Map Guides: Finding Records with Parish Maps.

  • These are available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • They can also be purchased online at bookstores such as Amazon.com. To determine which volume to use or purchase, consult Handout #2 in the online course. This might prove useful as your research takes you to other nearby communities as your family moves from parish to parish or marries into families from nearby parishes. You might need to be continually consulting the book for each new locatiopn.
  • You can contact the Central European Genealogy Research Community to see if one of their volunteers could consult the map guide for you.
  • Another option would be to hire a professional genealogist to consult the reference work for you, even though you would continue to do your own research after that

A Few Tricks to Try

Church Directories

Each Germany province page has links for current church directories under the section Writing to an Priest for Church Records. Look for this:


Church address list Germany.png



Generally, these directories are set up so that you can enter a name of a village, and the directory will give you the address for the appropriate parish. Here is an example:


Parish directory germany.png


Google Maps

  • Look for your town on Google Maps with the phrase: Churches near [your town]. You will get a map showing symbols and names for churches in the vicinity. On the left will be an actual address list for the churches. There is a possibility that the older church your ancestors used was destroyed and no longer exists, so this method has its imperfections.>



Google Maps German churchres.png

Wikipedia.de (German Wikipedia)

  • There is a dedicated German Wikipedia, which you can choose to have displayed in English, that has a great deal more detail about Germany than the English Wikipedia. Here is an example of the detail you might find there about the religious institutions within a city:

Koblenz wikipedia.png

  • If your town is a "village", there will be much less detail on it. Click on the link to the article about the community it belongs to. It is more likely that the parish seat is in the larger community.


Community vs village Germany.png


A Quick E-mail Check

Google your parish to see if its contact information online. Because many churches now have known email addresses, you can quickly check whether the parish records are stored at the parish church or have been moved to archives . If possible, do this before sending a more detailed inquiry or any money.

I. Are the parish records for _________to ___________ (time period range) at your church still?  

1. Sind die Kirchenbücher für den Zeitraum von _____ bis _____ noch in Ihrer Kirchengemeinde?

2. If they have been moved to an archive, can you tell me where they are now?

2. Falls sie nun in einem Archiv sind, können Sie mir bitte sagen, wo sie sich jetzt befinden?

Church Records in Archives

If the churches have placed the records in archives for safekeeping, which archives have jurisdiction for the area?

Sometimes, local church records are donated to church archives for safekeeping. Also, for certain time periods, duplicates of the church records were supposed to be sent to the government to act as civil registration. So you can contact archives to find records. The trick is to locate the correct archives. Each Germany province page has links for the appropriate archives. Some of the listings have a link to lists for the church records that can be found at the archives. Here is an example:

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 23.27.43.png