Silesia, Germany Genealogy
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Guide to Silesia ancestry, family history, and genealogy: birth records, marriage records, death records, census records, parish registers, and military records.
Finding Birth, Marriage, and Death Records for Silesia
Most of your genealogical research for Silesia 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 on digital databases, as microfilms, or by writing for them.
- Civil registration
- Church records
- Town genealogies
- Finding Genealogy Records from the former German East
- 1 Finding Birth, Marriage, and Death Records for Silesia
- 2 History
- 3 For German Research, You Must Know Your Ancestors' Town
- 4 Research to Find the Town
- 5 If You Know the Town, Next Use Meyers Gazetteer
- 6 Take These Online Classes to Prepare
- 7 Displaced Persons Research
- 8 Jurisdictions
- 9 Websites
The Prussian area known as Silesia consisted of two regions, Upper Silesia (Oberschlesien) and Lower Silesia (Niederschlesien). It was bordered on the west by Saxony, on the north by Brandenburg, on the east by Poland, and on the south by Czechoslovakia. The Sudenten Mountain range ran along its southern border. Two major rivers, the Oder and the Neisse ran through it. Two major cities were Breslau and Görlitz.
As a result of various wars, Silesia is now divided between three different countries. The largest portion of Silesia is in modern-day Poland. A small portion of southern Silesia was ceded to Czechoslovakia in 1918 and is now in the Czech Republic. In 1945 as a result of the Potsdam Conference, the line between Poland and East Germany was drawn along the Neisse river dividing Görlitz between East Germany and Poland. The portion of Görlitz that remained in Germany retained its name. The portion that went to Poland is now called Zgorzelec. The Polish name for Breslau is Wrocław.
In the German language this province was referred to as Schlesien. The English name is Silesia and the Czech name is Slezsko. In Polish, it is now referred to as Śląsk. Prior to WWII, cities and villages used German place names and now have mostly Polish names.
For German Research, You Must Know Your Ancestors' Town
- To begin using the records of Germany, knowing that your family came from Silesia 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),
- 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.
- 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
** The Sclesienkartei, card index to Silesia records prepared by the Association of East German Genealogists (AGoFF), indexes a broad range of Silesian genealogical records. So this provides the closest you might get to a province-wide index.
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.
- Use MeyersGaz, the digital gazetteer, to find the details you need, particularly the Kreis (county) it belonged to, found after "Kr".
- MeyersGaz Help Guide
- Abbreviation Table
Here is part of an entry from MeyersGaz.org. (The whole entry can be studied at Heusenstamm, MeyersGaz.)
Next, find your town in Kartenmeister.com to learn the Polish name and upper jurisdictions that the town became known by after 1945.
A Typical Kartenmeister Record
Take These Online Classes to Prepare
- German Research: Strategies and Sources for Eastern Provinces. Be sure to download the class syllabus.
- Watch the Specific Geography portion to learn how to use MeyersGaz.org and Kartenmeister.com to get the details of the German and Polish names of your town and its higher jurisdictions.
- Watch the General Resources portion to learn how to check for parish registers using
- Watch the Silesia portion, which begins at 52:09 minutes.
Displaced Persons Research
Towards the end of World War II, the Germans had to flee from the advancing Russian troops. Many families were split up along the way. These displaced persons eventually found new homes all over West Germany. Some eventually emigrated to the United States, Canada, and other countries. Many areas of German were given to Poland, and the German citizens were expelled. Several organizations have worked to gather data on displaced Germans in order to reunite families and provide aid.
- The International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen . Recently the ITS made its material available to the public for research.
- Heimatkreise, or “homeland organizations” exist for various Silesian counties in Germany today. Members include those who were born in the respective Kreis or had their permanent residence there, as well as their descendants. The Heimatkreis may be able to help you locate relatives or others who came from the same area as your ancestors. Many groups have homepages on the Internet ( usually in German), which can be located by entering “Heimatkreis + [county name] “ in a search engine such as www.google.de.
- The Arbeitsgemeinschaft Ostdeutscher Familienforscher (Work Group of East German Family Historians or AGoFF) can also point you to various helpful organizations and web links for each area.
- The Kirchlicher Suchdienst (Tracing service of the ecclesiastical Welfare organizations) can also help in locating relatives who were displaced after 1945. More than 20 million persons are included in card files arranged by the town of origin known as "Heimatortskartei".
- There is a site for digitized books of Silesia. These books are mostly in German and Polish and you can download them to your computer. To use this site, click here digitized books
- For "Heimatbriefe" (Homeland newsletters) for various areas in Upper Silesia please go to this site
- Silesian Digital Library, address books
- Silesia Findbuch, comprehensive list of Silesian church records by parish and how to access them.
- Silesia Websites