North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany Genealogy

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North Rhine-Westphalia

Guide to North Rhine-Westphalia ancestry, family history and genealogy: birth records, marriage records, death records, census records, parish registers, and military records.

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Today's state of North Rhine-Westphalia (Nordrhein-Westfalen) was created after the Second World War by uniting the northern parts of Rheinland, the country of Lippe, and the country of Westphalia (Westfalen).


The state of North Rhine-Westphalia was established by the British military administration on 23 August 1946, by merging the province of Westphalia and the northern parts of the Rhine Province, both being political divisions of the former state of Prussia within the German Reich. On 21 January 1947, the former state of Lippe was merged with North Rhine-Westphalia. The constitution of North Rhine-Westphalia was then ratified through a referendum.
North Rhine-Westphalia

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.

For German Research, You Must Know Your Ancestors' Town

  • To begin using the records of Germany, knowing that your family came from North Rhine-Westphalia 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 "Bezirkamt" of that town,
    • where the closest Evangelical Lutheran or Catholic parish church was (depending on their religion),
    • where the civil registration office ("Standesamt") was, and
    • if you have only a village name, you will need the name of the larger town it was part of.

Research to Find the 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.

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 Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs, the gazetteer on which the FamilySearch catalog for Germany is based.

Here is part of an entry from (The whole entry can be studied at Heusenstamm, MeyersGaz.)

The most important facts here are:

  1. Heusenstamm is in Offenbach Kreis (Kr).
  2. It has its own Standesamt (StdA) or civil registration office.
  3. It has its own Catholic parish church.
  4. By clicking on the "Ecclesiastical" option, we learn that the closest protestant church is 2 miles away in Bieber.

  • If you find several towns of the same name, checking each one for the birth record of your ancestor may be needed to narrow down the field.

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:

Historical Changes

From these historic areas
now in Nordrhein-Westfalen
click below on
the related article
for the region.


Former States Now in Nordrhein-Westfalen

1024px-Map of NRW showing Lippe.svg.png

Modern Kreis Map

North Rhine Westphalia map.png

Administrative Districts

North Rhine-Westphalia is divided into two regional associations (Landschaftsverbände), five regions (Regierungsbezirke), 31 rural districts (Kreise), and 23 urban districts (Kreisfreie Städte).

For a table showing the regions and regional associations for each town, see the article North Rhine-Westphalia Jurisdictions.

Online Town Records

Research Tools

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