Silesia (Schlesien), Prussia, German Empire Genealogy
Guide to Silesia (Schlesien) ancestry, family history, and genealogy before 1945: birth records, marriage records, death records.
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In this region, part of Germany which was lost to other countries after World War II, many records, both church/parish registers and civil registration records, were damaged, destroyed, or misplaced.
Historical Background[edit | edit source]
Silesia is a historical region in Central Europe. Historical territories of Silesia include:
- Silesia, split between Poland, Czech Republic and Germany
- Lower Silesia, split between Poland and Germany
- Upper Silesia, split between Poland and the Czech Republic
- Czech Silesia (sometimes Moravian Silesia), in the Czech Republic
- Austrian Silesia, in the former Austrian Empire and Kingdom of Bohemia
- Cieszyn Silesia or Těšín Silesia, split between Poland and the Czech Republic
- Middle Silesia, in Poland
- The Prussian Province of Silesia (German: Provinz Schlesien) was a province of Prussia from 1815 to 1919.
- The Silesia region was part of the Prussian realm since 1740 and established as an official province in 1815. It became part of the German Empire in 1871. This is the region featured in this article.
- In 1919, as part of the Free State of Prussia within the Weimar Republic, Silesia was divided into the provinces of Upper Silesia and Lower Silesia. Silesia was reunified briefly from 1938 to 1941 as a province before being divided back into Upper Silesia and Lower Silesia.
- Upon the implementation of the Oder-Neisse line according to the 1945 Potsdam Agreement, most of the Prussian Silesia Province became part of Poland, incorporated into the Lubusz, Lower Silesian, Opole and Silesian Voivodeships.
- A smaller western part of the former Silesia Province lies within modern German states of Saxony and Brandenburg.
- The German-speaking population left or was expelled following World War II, though a minority remains. Wikipedia
Getting Started[edit | edit source]
Getting Started with Germany Research
Links to articles on getting started with German research:
Germany Research Tools
Links to tools and websites that assist in German research:
Historical Geography[edit | edit source]
within the German Empire
Use the Kartenmeister Gazetteer to determine the Polish name and Voivodeship of your formerly German town.
Research for Austrian or Czech Republic: Opava Land Archives, Czechia
Finding Birth, Marriage, and Death Records for Silesia (Schlesien)[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.
- The Schlesienkartei, 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.
- Germany Displaced Persons Research: If your ancestors were evacuated from their homes at the end of World War II, see this article.
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.
Consult Kartenmeister for parish and Standesamt information.[edit | edit source]
If Kartenmeister is having temporary technical difficulties, check back later.
For the provinces of East Prussia (Ostpreussen), Posen, Pomerania (Pommern), Silesia (Schlesien), parts of Brandenburg, and West Prussia (Westpreussen), areas which no longer belong to Germany, the online gazetteer Kartenmeister most efficiently tells you parish information:
Kartenmeister Search Engine
A Typical Kartenmeister Record
The most important information points here are the
name of the Lutheran parish, the name of the Catholic parish, and the location of the civil registry office (Standesamt):
3. For birth, marriage, and death records from 1 October 1874, use civil registration.[edit | edit source]
Follow the instructions in Silesia (Schlesien), German Empire Civil Registration.
4. For baptism, marriage, and death records, use church records or parish registers.[edit | edit source]
Follow the instructions in Silesia (Schlesien), German Empire Church Records.
More Research Strategies and Tools[edit | edit source]
- Germany Online Classes and Tutorials
- German Paleography Seminar - Lessons on German Handwriting
- Old German Script Transcriber (alte deutsche Handschriften): See your family names in the script of the era. Type your name or other word into the font generator tool. Click on the 8 different fonts. Save the image to your computer and use it as you work with old Germanic records.
- Finding Aids for German Records
- Research Tips and Strategies
- German Research, BYU Independent Study, no cost.
- These printable handouts can be used for ready reference when reading German Handwriting.
- Vocabulary found on Specific Records:
- Dates, Numbers, Abbreviations:
- Miscellaneous Vocabulary:
- Fraktur Font -- Many forms and books are printed in this font.
- German Given Names:
- List of Names in Old German Script -- A comprehensive list of German given names, written in old script, with possible variations.
Take These Online Classes to Prepare[edit | edit source]
- 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[edit | edit source]
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".