Hessen, Germany Genealogy
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|Local Research Resources|
Guide to Hessen ancestry, family history and genealogy: birth records, marriage records, death records, census records, parish registers, and military records.
- To go directly to a specific Kreis in Hessen, click here: Links to Kreis Pages
In the War of the Thuringian Succession from 1247–1264, Hesse gained its independence and became a Landgraviate within the Holy Roman Empire. It shortly rose to primary importance under Landgrave Philip the Magnanimous, who was one of the leaders of German Protestantism. After Philip's death in 1567, the territory was divided among his four sons from his first marriage into four lines. They were Hesse-Kassel, Hesse-Darmstadt, Hesse-Rheinfels, and the also previously existing Hesse-Marburg.
Hesse-Darmstadt was elevated by Napoleon to the status of a Grand Duchy in 1806, becoming the Grand Duchy of Hesse. In the War of 1866, it fought on the side of Austria against Prussia, but retained its autonomy.
The revolution of 1918 transformed Hesse-Darmstadt from a monarchy to a republic, which officially renamed itself "Volksstaat Hessen" meaning The People's State of Hesse.
After World War II, the Hessian territory west of the Rhine was again occupied by France, whereas the rest of the region was part of the US occupation zone.
Information about Hessen, Germany
Today's state of Hessen was created after the Second World War, uniting the former states of Hessen, Hessen-Kassel, Hessen-Nassau, Rheinpfalz (Alzey, Bingen, Mainz, part of Oppenheim, Worms), parts of Rheinland (Oberwaldkreis, Unterwaldkreis, Westerburg), and Waldeck.
- Civil Registration. From 1876 onwards the state recorded all births, deaths and marriages.
- Church Records. Before 1876 the churches recorded baptisms, marriages and burials. You will need to know your ancestor's religion.
- Town Genealogies. These publications compile various records into a index by family, with reconstructions of each family.
- To begin using the records of Germany, knowing that your family came from Hessen will not be enough to use the records of Germany. Records are kept on the local level, so you will have to know the town they lived in.
- Details about the town will also help:
- the county or "Kreis" of that town,
- where the closest Evangelical Lutheran or Catholic parish church was (depending on their religion, and before 1876)
- where the civil registration office ("Standesamt") was (after 1876)
- if you have only a village name, you will need the name of the larger town it was part of.
Research to Find a Town
If you do not yet know the name of the town of your ancestor's birth, there are well-known strategies for a thorough hunt for it.
- Use Gathering Information to Locate Place of Origin as a guide in exhausting every possible record to find what you need.
- Or watch this webinar: Online Class: Finding German Places of Origin
If you know the Town, next use Meyers Gazetteer
Once you know the town name you need, the other facts you need are contained in Meyers Gazetter, online at MeyersGaz
Here is an example for Heusenstamm, Hessen
Figure Out the Parish for Your Town
Your town might be too small to have its own parish church. Or it might have a Catholic church, but the Lutheran church is in a neighboring town. You might have to do a little reference work to determine where the church (and therefore the church records) was for your ancestors' town. Methods for doing this are described in:
- Generally, statewide indexes do not exist. However, there is a partial card index to emigration records from Hessen: Auswandererkartei 1800-1900 . It includes general indexes of Hessen and specific indexes which cover emigration from the modern districts of Dieburg, Bergstrasse and Erbach. Cards are all arranged alphabetically. (Except the 1825 index which is arranged in roughly reverse chronological order). It does not cover Hessen-Nassau areas.
- This collection is also available online at Arcinsys Hessen. In the Search words box, enter the words "Auswanderer-Nachweise". Click Search and look for the line "Findkarteien und Datenbanken: Auswanderer-Nachweise". On the far right, click on "Navigator". Now in the left sidebar, a alphabetical index will appear. Again, this database does not cover Hessen-Nassau.
- You might try this technique if you are working with a very unusual surname and still do not know your ancestors' town of origin. It won't work with names like Müller, Schmidt, Becker, Schumacher, etc. In the Search words box at Arcinsys Hessen, enter your ancestors' surname. You will be given a list of the records in the archives with that surname. By studying the entries, you will learn some towns where families with that surname are found. By studying the original records in that town, you might find proof that your ancestor lived there, in the form of a matching birth record or marriage record to what you already know. Caution: Do not assume if the list brings up a name like your ancestors' that it is automatically your family. There can be many duplicate names in many towns. You must follow up in the original records to prove the connection. It would be wise to check each town to eliminate duplicates and find your exact match.
Clickable Map and Chart
- Click on the name of your town's Kreis (Kr) in this 1871 map to learn about records and strategies for that county.
Links to Kreis Pages
By clicking on either the modern Kreis name or the 1871 Kreis name in the first two columns, you will link to an article teaching you how to conduct research in that Kreis.
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:
- 1701-1875 - Germany, Hesse-Nassau, Civil Registers and Church Books, 1701-1875 at FamilySearch — index and images