Westphalia (Westfalen), German Empire Civil Registration
How to Find Birth, Marriage, and Death Records in North Rhine-Westphalia[edit | edit source]
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.
- 1 How to Find Birth, Marriage, and Death Records in North Rhine-Westphalia
- 2 Definition
- 3 Time Period
- 4 Information Recorded
- 5 Accessing Records
- 6 Reading the Records
- 7 Search Strategy
Definition[edit | edit source]
Civil registration records are records of births, marriages, and deaths kept by the government. 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 [German: Standesbeamte] at the civil registry office (Standesamt). Because they cover about 98% of the population and often provide more information than church records, civil registration records are important sources for German genealogical research.
Time Period[edit | edit source]
Civil registration became mandatory in all German states on 1 January 1876.
Privacy Laws[edit | edit source]
Until recently, stringent rights-to-privacy requirements in Germany limited access to all civil registration records created in 1876 or later to the subject of the document and their parents, siblings, and direct-line descendants.
A law passed in February 2007, the Personenstandsrechtsreformgesetz, makes civil registration records more accessible for family history research. Since 1 January 2009 the records are accessible to any researcher after these time periods have passed:
- births: 110 years
- marriages: 80 years
- deaths: 30 years
A direct relationship to the subject of the record sought will only 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.
Information Recorded[edit | edit source]
Births (Geburtsregister)[edit | edit source]
Birth records usually give the child's name; sex; and birth date, time, and place. The father's name, age, occupation, and residence are also usually listed. The mother's maiden name, age, and marital status are usually given, although her age is sometimes omitted. The names, ages, and residences of witnesses are usually provided. The parents' religion is also listed in some states.
Marriages (Heiraten, Ehen, or Trauungen)[edit | edit source]
Marriages were usually recorded where the bride lived. After 1792 a civil marriage ceremony was required in areas of Germany under French control. In 1876 this law was applied to all of Germany. Most couples also had a church wedding, so records may exist for both the civil and church ceremonies. The civil marriage records may include more information than the comparable church records. When possible search both the civil registration and church records.
You may find the following records documenting civil marriages:
- Marriage Registers [Heiratsregister]. Marriage registers give the date and time of the marriage. They list the bride's and groom's names, ages, birth dates, birthplaces, residences, occupations, and whether they were single or widowed. The registers also give the parents' names, residence, occupations, marital status, and whether they were living at the time of the marriage. Witnesses' names, ages, and relationships to the bride or groom are supplied. Often a note is made as to whether a parent or other party gave permission for the marriage. The couple's religion is often mentioned, especially after 1874.
- Certificates [Heiratsscheine]. Some couples were given a marriage certificate or a book [Stammbuch] with the marriage entry and space for entering children's births. The certificate or book may be in the possession of the family or the civil registrar.
Intention to Marry[edit | edit source]
Various records may have been created to show a couple's intent to marry:
- Proclamations [Aufgebote or Eheverkündigungen] were made a few weeks before a couple planned to marry.
- Marriage Supplements [Heiratsbeilagen] were often filed by the bride or groom to support their marriage application. Information included may document their births, their parents' deaths, and the groom's release from military service. Sometimes the records contain information about earlier generations.
- Contracts [Ehekontrakte] are documents created to protect legal rights and property of spouses. These may give the same information as the marriage supplements noted above. They also list property and are usually found in court records rather than in civil registration records.
- Marriage Permission Papers [Verehelichungsakten] are documents created in the process of obtaining permission to get married. Some states required prospective spouses to get permission fom the local city council or mayor before they could be married.
Deaths (Sterberegister or Totenregister)[edit | edit source]
Death records are especially helpful because they may provide important information on a person's birth, spouse, and parents. Civil death records often exist for individuals for whom there were no birth or marriage records. Deaths were usually registered within a few days of death in the town or city where the person died. Early death records usually give the name of the deceased and the date, time, and place of death. The age, birthplace, residence, occupation, and marital status of the deceased may also be given, along with the name of the parents or spouse and their residences. The informant's name, age, occupation, residence, and relationship may also be listed. Post¬1874 death registers also include the person's religion. Information about parents, the birth date, the birthplace, and other information about the deceased may be inaccurate, depending on the informant's knowledge.
Accessing Records[edit | edit source]
Civil registration records were kept at the local civil registration office (Standesamt). To find the records, you need to first determine the town where your ancestor lived, then determine the location of the civil registration office for that town. The civil registration office may have been located in the same town or, for smaller towns and villages, the civil records may have been kept in a larger nearby town. Use gazetteers to help identify the place where your ancestor lived and the civil registration office that served it (see Germany Gazetteers). Large cities often have many civil registration districts. City directories can sometimes help identify which civil registration district a person lived in.
Most civil registers are still located at the local civil registration offices, but some are collected in city or state archives. Civil registration records from many towns and states are available on microfilm or online.
1. Locating Records at the FamilySearch Library[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. To find records:
- a. For civil registration of localities that were in Lippe click here. Open the link Places within Germany, Lippe.
- For civil registration of localities that were in North Rhine click here. Open the link Places within Germany, Preussen, Rheinland.
- For civil registration of localities that were in the Westphalia click here. 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. . 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.
Online Records[edit | edit source]
- 1574-1912 - Germany, Prussia, Westphalia, Minden, Miscellaneous Collections from the Municipal Archives, 1574-1912 at FamilySearch — index and images
2. Writing for Civil Registration Certificates[edit | edit source]
Many civil registration records, especially those created in 1876 or later, are still only available in the local civil registration office or archive in Germany that has the originals.
Determining the Current Standesamt[edit | edit source]
- If the records are not online or on microfilm, civil registration records for Germany can be obtained by writing to the local civil registry (Standesamt). Research your town name in MeyersGaz.org to find the location of the Standesamt. It is indicated by the abbreviation "StdA". However, some of the offices were merged in 1970's, so the record location might be different than that listed in MeyersGaz.
- For a municipality:
- 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 in Hessian Schwalm-Eder-Kreis ." It is probable that the Standesamt is now located in the municipality (in this example Edermünde).
- Email the municipality to verify that the civil registry for your town is there. From the town article, click on the name of the municipality that links to that article. There will usually be an infobox on the page that lists the address and the website of the municipality. From the website, look for Kontakt (Contact) information with an email address.
- For a town:
- Follow the same instructions as for a municipality. However, in this case, the first line will read, for example: "Borken is a town in the Schwalm-Eder-Kreis with about 13,000 residents.
- The infobox with the website will appear directly on a town page.
Writing to a Standesamt[edit | edit source]
Write a brief request in German to the proper office using this address as guide, replacing the information in parentheses:
- An das Standesamt
- (Insert street address, if known.)
- (Postal Code) (Name of Locality)
- An das Standesamt
- Click here for postal code help for Germany.
How to write a letter: 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.
3. Records in Archives[edit | edit source]
ARCHIVES OF THE EVANGELICAL CHURCH OF WESTPHALIA (BIELEFELD)
Tel .: 0521-594-164
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, Lippstadt, 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
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.
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.
- These video webinars will teach you to read German handwriting:
- Also online interactive slideshow lessons are available to help you learn to read these records:
- Reading German Handwritten Records Lesson 1: Kurrent Letters
- Reading German Handwritten Records Lesson 2: Making Words in Kurrent
- Reading German Handwritten Records Lesson 3: Reading Kurrent Documents. In this lesson, you will explore several types of German genealogical records, including birth, baptismal, marriage, and death records.
- German Script Tutorial
This converter will show you how any phrase or name might look in German script:
- Kurrentschrift Converter (enter German genealogical word, click on "convert", view your word in Kurrentschrift (Gothic handwriting)
Latin Records[edit | edit source]
Records of the Catholic church will usually be written in Latin:
Search Strategy[edit | edit source]
- Search for the relative or ancestor you selected. When you find his birth record, search for the births of his brothers and sisters.
- Next, search for the marriage of his parents. The marriage record will have information that will often help you find the birth records of the parents.
- You can estimate the ages of the parents and determine a birth year to search for their birth records.
- Search the death registers for all known family members.
- 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.