How to Find Birth, Marriage, and Death Records for Westphalia (Westfalen), German Empire

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How to Find Birth, Marriage, and Death Records
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Guide to Westphalia (Westfalen), German Empire ancestry, family history, and genealogy before 1945: birth records, marriage records, death records, both church and civil registration, compiled family history, and finding aids.

Finding Birth, Marriage, and Death Records for Westphalia (Westfalen)[edit | edit source]

Most of the information you need to identify you ancestors and their families will be found in two major record groups: civil registration and church records. To locate these records, follow the instructions in these Wiki articles.

1. Find the name of your ancestor's town in family history records.[edit | edit source]

Records were kept on the local level. You must know the town where your ancestor lived. If your ancestor was a United States Immigrant, use the information in the Wiki article Germany Finding Town of Origin to find evidence of the name of the town where your ancestors lived in Germany.< br> Also, see:

2. Use gazetteers and/or parish register inventories to learn more important details.[edit | edit source]

Your ancestor's town might have been too small to have its own parish church or civil registration office. Find the location of the Catholic or Lutheran (Evangelical) parish that served your ancestor's locality. Find the name of the civil registration office (Standesamt) that serves your ancestor's locality. Use the Wiki article Finding Aids For German Records for step-by-step instructions.

Germany was first unified as a nation in 1871. An important gazetteer, Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs, "Meyer's Gazetter" for short, details the place names of villages, towns, counties (kreise), and higher jurisdictions used at that time. In the Research Wiki, FamilySearch Catalog, and FamilySearch Historical Records, the records of Germany are organized using those place names.

At the end of both World Wars, the boundaries of the states were changed dramatically, as areas of Germany were distributed among the Allied nations. Eventually, after re-unification in 1990, the states of Germany settled into what they are today. It is also necessary to understand Germany by this system, as it affects the locations of civil registration offices, archives, and mailing addresses used in correspondence searches.

3. For birth, marriage, and death records 1808-1815 and from 1 October 1874, use civil registration.[edit | edit source]

Civil registration records are records of births, marriages, and deaths kept by the government. In Westphalia (Westfalen), they were October 1874. Civil registration records were also kept between 1808 and 1815 due to being occupied by Napoleonic France. If your family had a birth, marriage or death recorded during that brief time period, it will contain great information, due to the high level of detail in French records. 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 (Standesbeamte) at the civil registry office (Standesamt). Study these links to learn what information can be found in them:


For a comprehensive understanding of civil registration, study the article Germany Civil Registration.

Determining the Location of a Civil Registration Office[edit | edit source]

Research your town name in MeyersGaz.org to find the location of the registry office (Standesamt). It is indicated by the abbreviation "StdA". 'This is the Standesamt location you will use when searching for civil registration records anywhere in the FamilySearch catalog and collections. Ancestry.com collections will also use this location name. Records in archives will use this location prior to the consolidation of registration offices in the 1970's.

However, some of the offices were merged in 1970's, so the modern record location might be different than that listed in MeyersGaz. When writing for records, first find the modern registrar for your town.

  • 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...." It is probable that the Standesamt is now located in the larger municipality (in this example, Edermünde).
  • For larger towns which constitute a municipality:
  • To find the current Standesamt, go to the German Wikipedia, and enter the name of the town in the search box.
  • This type of article will not state that the town belongs to another municipality, because it is itself a municipality.
  • To e-mail the municipality to verify that the civil registry for your town is there.
  1. Consult this address list for the exact contact information, which should include an e-mail address: Standesamt.com. In the horizontal menu bar, hover over "+registry office" or "+Standesämter", then the name of the modern state, for a drop-down list of links to modern cilvil registrars.
  2. Send a message asking whether you have the correct office for your ancestors' home town. You can also use e-mail to request records and arrange payment. Use the German Letter Writing Guide to write your questions in German.


Privacy Laws[edit | edit source]

Since 2009, birth records have been public after 110 years, marriages after 80 years and deaths after 30 years. A direct relationship (direct descendants and direct ancestors) to the subject of the record sought will 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.

Finding Civil Registration Records[edit | edit source]

1. Online Records[edit | edit source]

Ancestry.com can be searched free of charge at your local Family History Center.

  • These records from Minden cover: Barkhausen, Dankersen, Dützen, Haddenhausen, Häverstädt, Kutenhausen, Leteln, Meissen, Minden, Todtenhausen, and Unterlübbe.
Minden Births, 1874-1905---Marriages, 1874-1935 Marriages, 1874-1935---Deaths, 1874-1966, index and images.

2. Digital Copies of Civil Registration From FamilySearch[edit | edit source]

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, and/or by members of supporting organizations. To find records:

a. Click on this link to the Records of Germany, Preussen, Westfalen. 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.

3. Writing for Civil Registration Certificates[edit | edit source]

Civil registration records for Germany can be obtained by writing to the local civil registry (Standesamt) or the district archives. Records may have been lost at one location of the other, so you might end up checking both. The first office you contact might choose to forward your request to the other location if necessary.

Local Standesamt Addresses[edit | edit source]


Archives[edit | edit source]

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, 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.

How to Write the Letter[edit | edit source]

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. For baptism, marriage, and death records, use church records or parish registers.[edit | edit source]

Church records (parish registers, church books) are an important source for genealogical research in Germany before civil registration began. They recorded details of baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials. The vast majority of the population was mentioned. To learn more about the types of information you will find in church records, click on these links:


For a comprehensive understanding of church records, study the article Germany Church Records.


Finding Church Records[edit | edit source]

Parish Register Inventories[edit | edit source]

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.

Online[edit | edit source]

  • Die katholischen Kirchenbücher des Bistums Paderborn, e-book. Description of the parish registers in the Catholic diocese of Paderborn, Germany. Includes Westfalen, Anhalt, Sachsen-Gotha, Lippe-Detmold, Waldeck, Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, Schwarzburg-Sondershausen, and Prussian Saxony.


Books[edit | edit source]

  • Manfred Kannen, "Familienforschung in Westfalen und Lippe" (Essen: Kannen, 2003) Inventory of the records for the district of Arnsberg, Westfalen, Germany. WorldCat


  • Detmold (Lippe). "Personenstandsarchiv, Zivilstandsregister und Kirchenbuchduplikate des Regierungsbezirks Arnsberg"; P 4 (Salt Lake City, Utah : Gefilmt durch The Genealogical Society of Utah, 1976); from typescript (Detmold : [s.n.], 1973. 138 S.) Inventory of the records for the district of Arnsberg, Westfalen, Germany. (FHL Location: FHL INTL film 1340520, it. 1) WorldCat


  • Detmold (Lippe). "Personenstandsarchiv, Zivilstandsregister und Kirchenbuchduplikate des Regierungsbezirks Münster"; P 7 (Salt Lake City, Utah : Gefilmt durch The Genealogical Society of Utah, 1976); from typescript (Detmold : [s.n.], 1973. 66 S.) Inventory of the civil registration and parish register transcripts in the district of Münster, Westfalen, Germany. (FHL Location: FHL INTL film 1340520, it. 2)


  • Ludwig Koechling, “Die Kirchenbücher und kirchenbuchähnlichen Aufzeichnungen des ehemaligen Fürstentums Minden : sowie der übrigen Kirchspiele der heutigen Kreise Minden und Lübbecke” (Minden : Verlag J. C. C. Bruns, c1970); Mindener Beiträge; 13. Parish register inventory of the former principality of Minden, Westfalen, Germany. (FHL Location 1: FHL INTL book 943.56/M4 K23k) (FHL Location 2: FHL HD book 0265605) WorldCat


  • A. Clarenbach “Die Kirchenbücher des Kreises Soest (mit einer Untersuchung über das Alter der Kirchenbücher in Westfalen als Einleitung)” (Münster : Franz Coppenrath, 1936); included in Westfalen 21. Jahrgang 1936, Heft 6. Inventory of protestant and catholic church records of Soest district, with notes on Westphalian church records. (FHL Location: FHL INTL book “Missing”943.55 A4c) WorldCat


  • Franz Xaver Flaskamp “Die Kirchenbücher des Kreises Wiedenbrück : eine Quellenkunde der westfälischen Familiengeschichte. Übersichten und Erläuterungen” (Rietberg i. Westf. : Druck und Verlag von W. Vahle, 1937); included in Quellen und Forschungen zur Natur und Geschichte des Kreises Wiedenbrück; 28. Heft. Parish register inventory of the Kreis of Wiedenbrück, Westfalen, Germany. (FHL Location: FHL INTL book 943.56/W3 H2q no. 28) WorldCat


  • J. H. M. Putman, "Die Kirchenbücher des Bistums Münster (Bussum (Niederlande)" : J.H.M. Putman, 1974). The parish registers of the diocese of Münster, Westfalen, Germany. Includes some towns in the Netherlands. (FHL Location 1: FHL INTL Ref 943.56/M1 K23p) (FHL Location 2: FHL HD book 0000624) (FHL Location 3: FHL HD film 1045373, it. 7 and it. 9) WorldCat

1. Online Records[edit | edit source]

To find the correct diocese archives, look up your parish in The Catholic Directory for Germany. Click on "View Full Listing" to find the diocese for that parish.

2. Digital Copies of Church Records in the FamilySearch Catalog[edit | edit source]

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 a Family History Center near you, and/or by members of supporting organizations. To find records:

a. Click on the link to records for Germany, Preussen, Westfalen . 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. "Tote" 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. Research in Church and State Archives[edit | edit source]

Church records or duplicates may have been gathered from the local parishes into central archives, either by the churches or the state. Older records are frequently given to these archives for safekeeping. Some gaps in the church records of local parishes could be filled using these records.

  • Pdf Archive Inventory: "Part 1 of 2: Church records in Archives" - is an inventory of localities and the location or archive where their records should be found. The sixth column, "Archives", gives a number. To find the name and contact information, look up that number in the second column of this .pdf: Part 2: Archive Addresses.  It is not clear how up-to-date this inventory is.


Some archives offer searches for a fee. Archives might be unable to handle genealogical requests, but they can determine whether they have specific records you need, sometimes perform very brief research, such as just one record, or they may recommend a researcher who can search the records for you. Archivists are required to speak English.

E-mail[edit | edit source]

  • You can e-mail archives and ask whether they have records for a parish. Also, you should inquire whether they provide research services and what their fees are. You can communicate with the archives in English.

Catholic (Katholische) Archives[edit | edit source]

To find the correct diocese archives, look up your parish in The Catholic Directory for Germany. Click on "View Full Listing" to find the diocese for that parish.


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

Lutheran Archives[edit | edit source]

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

Government Archives[edit | edit source]

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

4. Writing to a Local Priest for Church Records[edit | edit source]

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 (Protestant)[edit | edit source]

Catholic Addresses[edit | edit source]

E-mail[edit | edit source]

  • Because many churches now have known e-mail addresses, you can quickly check whether the parish records are stored at the parish church or have been moved to archives. If possible, do this before sending a more detailed inquiry or any money. Links for church addresses are found on the wiki pages for the individual states and counties of Germany.

I. Are the parish records for _________to ___________ (time period range) at your church still?  

1. Sind die Kirchenbücher für den Zeitraum von _____ bis _____ noch in Ihrer Kirchengemeinde?

2. If they have been moved to an archive, can you tell me where they are now?

2. Falls sie nun in einem Archiv sind, können Sie mir bitte sagen, wo sie sich jetzt befinden?

Writing to a Local Parish[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

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.

5. Compiled and Published Secondary Sources[edit | edit source]

Caution sign.png

Compiled genealogies and published genealogies are secondary sources, not original or primary sources.

As such, they are subject to human error through translation or transcription errors, mistaken interpretations, and opinion decisions of another researcher.

You should make every effort to base your research on the actual, original records or their digitized images.

Town Genealogies (Ortssippenbuch or Ortsfamilienbuch)[edit | edit source]

See the class, Online Ortsfamilienbücher at Genealogy.net, and Wiki article, Germany Town Genealogies and Parish Register Inventories on the Internet. Published town genealogies, Ortssippenbuch (town lineage book) or Ortsfamilienbuch (town family book), generally include birth, marriage, and death data for all persons found in the local records during a specified time period, compiled into families based on the opinion of the author. If one is available, it should only be used as an index or guide to finding the original records. They usually contain errors. Always verify their information in original records.

Finding an OFB[edit | edit source]

Other Religious Groups[edit | edit source]

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. Also, you can read Map Guide to German Parish Registers. This video and handout teach you how to use a set of reference books found at the FamilySearch 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.

Also,

Reading the Records[edit | edit source]

  • 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
French Genealogical Word List
Latin Genealogical Word List
  • These video webinars will teach you to read German handwriting:

Downloadable Handouts[edit | edit source]

Latin Records[edit | edit source]

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

Feast Dates[edit | edit source]

Search Strategy[edit | edit source]

  • Search for the relative or ancestor you selected. When you find their birth record, search for the births of their brothers and sisters.
  • Next, search for the marriage of their parents. The marriage record will have information that will often help you find the birth records of the parents.
  • Search the death registers for all known family members.
  • The marriage certificate will show the birth date, birth place, and parents of the bride and the groom. If you only have a church marriage record, calculate the birth date of the parents, using age at death and/or marriage to search for their birth records.
  • 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.