Church Records in Germany

Written by GFSSusanne

The primary source for vital records in Germany is found in your ancestors' local church and in the parish archives. This is because there was no nation called Germany before the year 1871. Rather, there were many as many as 350 different Kingdoms, Duchies, Provinces, and Independent Cities. Each one had its own record keeping. The Grand Duchy of Baden started keeping records as early as 1569, but most of the churches in the Empire began around 1600-1650.

The main churches in Germany were the Roman Catholic and Evangelical-Lutheran, which became the prominent religion in the Empire. But there were other religious groups; Mennonites, Jews, Quakers, Huguenots, Moravian. The Council of Trent (Trient) in 1563 required all Catholic parishes to keep baptismal records to prove that a person was Catholic before they could marry. By 1614 baptisms, marriages, and deaths records were mandated. It took some time for them all to begin the process. These early records were not very detailed, and you will usually find more information on the Godparents then on the parents. They became more detailed at the years past.

The Catholic records were usually kept in Latin, and Protestant/Lutheran records were in German. The later records in western Germany were often in French. The Jews usually did not keep vital records unless the state required them to. When the German government required records for everyone, the Jewish records would often be recorded in the local church register. Many of the smaller religious groups kept their own records, but be aware that often they were kept by the larger religious group in the town. Unfortunately, many church records were destroyed during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). Church records in Pfalz and Rheinland were stopped from about 1792 to 1815 when the French took control, but they continued taking vital records through civil registration.

Church records were usually of baptisms (Taufen), not births, marriage (Heiraten), and burial services (Begrabnisse), not a death record. Baptisms records would usually indicate the date of birth, but if not, you could assume that the baptism took place just a few days after birth. Burial services records most times gave the age of the person, date of death, place of death, and if an alter services was given. Other types of records the church might have kept were confirmations (Konfirmationen) which was done about the age of 14, communions, family registers (Familienbucher) or lists of its members, account records (such as for fees for special masses), and pastor lists.

To obtain the church vital records (Kirchenbucher), you will have to write (in German) to the town church, or local parish, that your ancestor came from. Smaller towns and churches may have moved their records to a larger city's central archive, so you'll have to determine where the records are now being stored.

There are 27 Catholic Church Archives in Germany. You should write the Catholic archive in the largest city near your town.

The National Headquarters of the Catholic Church is
Sekretariat der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz
Kaiserstrasse 163
53773 Bonn
The Evangelical Church (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland) is the prominent religion in Germany. It is made from a federation of 26 territories including the Lutheran, Reformed (Calvinist) and United (Calvinist and Lutheran) churches.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Archives: 8765 West Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631-4198
Tel: (312)380-2818
For Pomeranian research: Write to:

Pommersche Evangelische Kirche
Bahnhofstrasse 35,
0-2200 Greifswald
Deutschland (Germany)
The records for East Prussia are found in the Central Archives in Berlin. Write to:

Evangelisches Zentralarchiv in Berlin
Jebenstrasse 3
W-1000 Berlin 12
Deutschland (Germany)
The LDS FHC has church records mostly from pre-1875. It has a directory to help you locate the jurisdiction for Roman Catholic diocese.

Directory for the Catholic Clergy of Germany,
General-Schematismus der katholischen Geistlichkeit Deutschlands.
FHL film 1340500. Parishes are listed alphabetically, but there is no general index.

The directory for Protestant Church, German Church Directory,
Deutsches kirchliches AdreBbuch.
FHL film 476672.
Parishes are alphabetical within each district.

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