How to Find Birth, Marriage, and Death Records in North Rhine-Westphalia

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North Rhine-Westphalia
How to Find Birth, Marriage, and Death Records in North Rhine-Westphalia

Contents

How to Find Birth, Marriage, and Death Records in North Rhine-Westphalia

Most of your genealogical research for North Rhine-Westphalia 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 in digital databases, as microfilms, or by writing for them.



Town Compilation of Records (Ortssippenbuch or Ortsfamilienbuch)


See class Online Ortsfamilienbücher at Genealogy.net.

  • An Ortssippenbuch (town lineage book) or Ortsfamilienbuch (town family book) generally includes birth, marriage, and death data for all persons found in the local records during a specified time period, compiled into families. If one is available, it can act as an index or guide to finding the original records. However, they may contain errors, so it is best to verify their information in original records.
  • Sources may include the local parish registers, civil registration records, court and land records, and sometimes published material. In the printed book, this information is then arranged in a standardized format, usually alphabetically by surname and chronologically by marriage date.

Finding an OFB

  • Click here to see OFBs at GenWiki. These are indexed and searchable. OFB Instructions.
  • A bibliography of OFBs held by the Central Office for Person and Family History, and available in their archive in Frankfurt am Main-Höchst, is listed here. You can arrange for copied pages to be sent to you for a fee or donation. Use the "Find" function on your keyboard to search the bibliographies, as they are not alphabetical.

Civil Registration

Herne Stadtarchiv Standesamt Baukau.jpg
Civil registration records are records of births, marriages, and deaths kept by the government. German terms for these records include Standesamtsregister, Zivilstandsregister, or Personenstandsregister. They are an excellent source for information on names and dates and places of births, marriages, and deaths. These records are kept by the civil registrar [German: Standesbeamte] at the civil registry office (Standesamt). Because they cover about 98% of the population and often provide more information than church records, civil registration records are important sources for German genealogical research.

Time Period

Civil registration became mandatory in all German states on 1 January 1876.

Privacy Laws

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.

Information Recorded

Births (Geburtsregister)

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 Records

Civil registration records were kept at the local civil registration office (Standesamt). To find the records, you need to first determine the town where your ancestor lived, then determine the location of the civil registration office for that town.  The civil registration office may have been located in the same town or, for smaller towns and villages, the civil records may have been kept in a larger nearby town. Use gazetteers to help identify the place where your ancestor lived and the civil registration office that served it (see Germany Gazetteers). Large cities often have many civil registration districts. City directories can sometimes help identify which civil registration district a person lived in.  

Most civil registers are still located at the local civil registration offices, but some are collected in city or state archives. Civil registration records from many towns and states are available on microfilm or online.

1. Locating Records at the FamilySearch Library

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. For civil registration of localities that were in Lippe click here. Open the link Places within Germany, Lippe.
For civil registration of localities that were in North Rhine click here. Open the link Places within Germany, Preussen, Rheinland.
For civil registration of localities that were in the Westphalia click here. Open the link Places within Germany, Preussen, Westfalen.
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. FHL icons.png. 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.

2. Writing for Civil Registration Certificates

Many civil registration records, especially those created in 1876 or later, are still only available in the local civil registration office or archive in Germany that has the originals.

Determining the Current Standesamt
  • If the records are not online or on microfilm, civil registration records for Germany can be obtained by writing to the local civil registry (Standesamt). Research your town name in MeyersGaz.org to find the location of the Standesamt. It is indicated by the abbreviation "StdA". 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.
Writing to a Standesamt=


Write a brief request in German to the proper office using this address as guide, replacing the information in parentheses:

An das Standesamt
(Insert street address, if known.)
(Postal Code) (Name of Locality)
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.

3. Records in Archives

ARCHIVES OF THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH OF WESTPHALIA (BIELEFELD)
Bethelplatz 2
33617 Bielefeld
Germany

Tel .: 0521-594-164
Fax: 0521-594-267
E-Mail: archiv@lka.ekvw.de


This archive has the civil registers for these towns: Alswede, Aplerbeck, Blasheim, Bockhorst, Börninghausen, Borgholzhausen, Brockhagen, Bruchhausen, Bünde, Burgsteinfurt, Dielingen, Dornberg, Enger, Exter, Fröndenberg, Gemen, Gohfeld, Gütersloh, Halle, Hamm, Haßlinghausen, Hausberge, Heepen, Herne, Hiddenhausen, Hille, Hörde, Hörste, Höxter, Holtrup, Holzhausen (Vlotho), Hüllhorst, Jöllenbeck, Klosterbauerschaft, Ladbergen, Lahde, Lerbeck, Levern, Lienen, Lippstadt, Löhne, Lohne, Lotte, Lübbecke, Lütgendortmund, Mennighüffen, Paderborn, Petershagen, Preußisch Oldendorf, Stift Quernheim, Rehme, Rheda, Rödinghausen, Schildesche, Schnathorst, Schwelm, Spenge, Sprockhövel, Unna, Valdorf, Veltheim, Versmold, Vlotho, Volmerdingsen, Wallenbrück, Wehdem, Wengern, Werther, Westerkappeln, Witten.

Stadtarchiv and the Landesgeschichteliche Bibliothek
Postal address: 33597 Bielefeld
Delivery address: Kavalleriestr. 17
33602 Bielefeld, Germany

Visiting entrance: Neumarkt 1
Tel. 0521 51-2471
Fax 0521 51-6844
E-Mail: stadtarchiv@bielefeld.de


Stadtarchiv Bielefeld took over 1,590 volumes of civil registration at the end of January / beginning of February 2009. These are the birth books 1874 to 1898, the books of marriage 1874 to 1928 and the death books 1874 to 1978. These are now available for evaluation according to archival legislation. They can be viewed free of charge, requested searches, copies or certified copies are calculated according to time and number.


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.

Availability

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.

Generally, the earliest church records are in western Germany. The farther east you go, the later the church records begin. For more information, see Germany Church History and Germany History.

Information Recorded in Church Records

Baptisms [Taufen]

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.

Marriages [Heiraten]

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.

Proklamationsbuch/Proclamation Book or Marriage Banns [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 [Begräbnisse]

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. Between the second half of the 1700’s till about 1800, the church death records may help you greatly in organizing families.  At this time, death records often were quite lengthy documents giving names and detailed information regarding the survivors of the deceased.

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.

Confirmations [Konfirmationen]

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. It is advisable to look up information first in family registers.These serve as a sort of index where information can be retrieved for three generations at a glance. The registers were established in 1808 and contain information from the 1700s. There are older family books available, usually called Seelenregister. Not only do they link generations but additionally, the local priests often put in remarks where a parishioner may have moved to, either to another town or out of the country, i.e., moved to America, etc. Even though information is provided in the family registers, it is still a good idea to check the individual entries for persons in the actual church records, because people do make mistakes. 

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.

Kirchenkonventsprotokolle

Besides church books, the so called Kirchenkonventsprotokolle, (starting in 1644) are a good source for genealogical research. These books deal with illegitimate births and indecent assault cases. Cases were judged by the local priest, the mayor, the deacon and the village judge. The Konvent saw to it that the father of the illegitimate child would honor his marriage vows. Also, the Konvent endeavoured to putty broken marriages due to brutality or drink. In cases of denomination, the Konvent had strict rules. If a Protestant girl was intending to marry a Catholic boy, the parents had to intervene. If young people went dancing at festivities of the opposite religion, the Konvent came down hard on them. They had to pay a fine. The protocolls are stored with the individual parishes.

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.

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.

1. Online Records

2. Microfilm Copies of Church Records in the FamilySearch Catalog

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. For church records of parishes that were in Lippe click here. Open the link Places within Germany, Lippe.
For church records of parishes that were in North Rhine click here. Open the link Places within Germany, Preussen, Rheinland.
For church records of parishes that were in the Westphalia click here. Open the link Places within Germany, Preussen, Westfalen.
b. Click on your town or parish.
c. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
d. Choose the correct record type and time period for your ancestor. "Geburten" are births. "Taufen" are baptisms/christenings. "Heiraten" are marriages. "Toten" are deaths. Familienregister" is the family register.
e. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the microfilm listed for the record. FHL icons.png. 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.

3. Writing to Local Parishes

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.

Evangelical-Lutheran Parish Addresses
Catholic Parish Addresses
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)
GERMANY

For a Catholic Parish:

An das katholische Pfarramt
(Insert street address, if known.)
(Postal Code) (Name of Locality)
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.

4. Contacting Archives

Writing a Letter

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.

Lutheran Archives

ARCHIVE OF THE LIPPISCHE LANDESKIRCHE
Leopoldstraße 27
32756 Detmold
Germany

Tel .: 05231-976-803
Fax: 05231-976-850
E-Mail: archiv@lippische-landeskirche.de



ARCHIVES OF THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH OF WESTPHALIA (BIELEFELD)
Bethelplatz 2
33617 Bielefeld
Germany

Tel .: 0521-594-164
Fax: 0521-594-267
E-Mail: archiv@lka.ekvw.de



Evangelical Church in the Rhineland
Landeskirchliches Archive
Hans-Böckler-Strasse 7
40476 Düsseldorf
Germany

Tel .: 0211-4562-225
E-Mail: archiv@ekir-lka.de



Archive of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland, St. Martin / Boppard
Mainzerstrasse 8
D-56154 Boppard
Germany

Tel. (06742) 8 61 94


Catholic (Katholische) Archives

Episcopal Diocesan Archive Aachen
Postal address:Postfach 10 03 11
D-52003 Aachen, Germany

Visitor's address: Klappergasse 1
D-52062 Aachen, Germany
Phone: 0241 452-268
Fax: 0241 452 - 828
E-mail:Archiv@bistum-aachen.de



Archival Archives Essen
Address: Green Aue 2
45307 Essen, Germany
Phone: 0201 - 2204 316
Fax: 0201 - 2204 570
E-mail: Archiv@bistum-essen.de



Historical Archive of the Archbishopric of Cologne
Address:Gereonstr. 2-4
50670 Cologne, Germany
Phone: 0221 - 1642 5800
Fax: 0221 - 1642 5803
E-mail: Archiv@erzbistum-koeln.de



The Diocese of Münster Archives
Georgskommende 19
D 48143 Münster, Germany
Phone:0251 / 495-518
Fax: 0251 / 495-491
E-mail: Bistumsarchiv@bistum-muenster.de



Archbishopric Archives Paderborn
Postal Address: Domplatz 3
33098 Paderborn, Germany

Visitor's address :
Archbishopric Archives Paderborn
Konrad-Martin-Haus
Domplatz 15
33098 Paderborn, Germany

Phone: 05251-125 1252
Fax: 05251-125 1470
E-mail: Archiv@erzbistum-paderborn.de

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.

Jewish Records

Huguenots (French Protestants)


*German Huguenot Society eV , index.

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.
German Genealogical Word List
German Handwriting
  • 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:

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)

Latin Records

Records of the Catholic church will usually be written in Latin:

Search Strategy

  • 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.