North Rhine--Westphalia Church Records

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North Rhine-Westphalia
Church Records

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.


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.


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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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)

For a Catholic Parish:

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

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

Leopoldstraße 27
32756 Detmold

Tel .: 05231-976-803
Fax: 05231-976-850

Bethelplatz 2
33617 Bielefeld

Tel .: 0521-594-164
Fax: 0521-594-267

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

Tel .: 0211-4562-225

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

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

Archival Archives Essen
Address: Green Aue 2
45307 Essen, Germany
Phone: 0201 - 2204 316
Fax: 0201 - 2204 570

Historical Archive of the Archbishopric of Cologne
Address:Gereonstr. 2-4
50670 Cologne, Germany
Phone: 0221 - 1642 5800
Fax: 0221 - 1642 5803

The Diocese of Münster Archives
Georgskommende 19
D 48143 Münster, Germany
Phone:0251 / 495-518
Fax: 0251 / 495-491

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

Visitor's address :
Archbishopric Archives Paderborn
Domplatz 15
33098 Paderborn, Germany

Phone: 05251-125 1252
Fax: 05251-125 1470

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.