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Gazetteers in German Research
A gazetteer is a dictionary of place-names. Gazetteers describe towns and villages, parishes and counties, states and provinces, rivers and mountains, and other geographical features. They usually include only the names of places that existed at the time the gazetteer was published. The place-names are usually listed in alphabetical order, similar to a dictionary.
Gazetteers may also provide additional information about towns, such as:
- The population size.
- The different religious denominations.
- The schools, colleges, and universities.
- Major manufacturing works, canals, docks, and railroad stations.
Gazetteers can help you find the places where your family lived and determine the civil and church jurisdictions over those places. For example, Falkenberg, Germany, was a small village in the state of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. It had its own civil registration office, but the Protestants attended the Evangelical parish at Dömitz. If your ancestor was a Protestant from Falkenberg, a gazetteer can tell you where to look for your ancestor's civil and church records.
Some places in Germany have the same or similar names. You will need to use a gazetteer to identify the specific town where your ancestor lived, the government district it was in, and the jurisdictions where records about him or her were kept.
Gazetteers can also help you determine county jurisdictions used in the FamilySearch Catalog.
Finding Place-Names in the FamilySearch Catalog
German place-names used in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog are based on the German Empire as it existed in 1871. Use either "place search" or "keyword search" to see pertinent catalog entries. The state or province is listed as part of the place name heading. If a village did not have its own parish, it may only be listed in the notes of a catalog entry for the civil or parish jurisdiction it belonged. Such entries can be found using "keyword search" rather than "place search".
The Family History Library uses one gazetteer as the standard guide for listing German places in the catalog. Regardless of the various jurisdictions a place may have been under at different times, all German places are listed by the jurisdictions used in the following reference:
Uetrecht, E. Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs (Meyers commercial gazetteer of the German Empire). Fifth Edition. Leipzig, Germany: Bibliographisches Institute, 1912-3. (FHL book Ref 943 E5mo; films 496,640-1; fiche 6,000,001-29.) This book lists the names of places as they existed in Germany from 1871 to 1918. It gives the name of the state or province where each town was located at that time. The gazetteer is written in gothic print, which can be hard to read.
Civil Registration Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has microfilmed civil registration records up to around 1900 for Alsace-Lorraine, and from 1874 to approximately 1884 for various parts of Prussia, as well as various records from the Napoleonic era and a few sets that go beyond 1900. The use of sets containing post- 1900 records may be restricted.
In Hannover, Hessen-Nassau, and Westfalen the filmed civil registration records mostly cover 1808 to 1812, and sometimes 1874-1875. In the Pfalz [Palatinate] early 19th century marriage supplements are often cataloged under "[town name] - civil registration".
The Family History Library has records from many towns and states.The library's collection continues to grow as new records are microfilmed and added to the collection. Do not give up if the records you need are not available. The FamilySearch Catalog is updated regularly. Check it periodically to see if the records you need have been added to the library's collection. To search for the records you need, you will need to check if the records are listed in the catalog
Church records (Kirchenbücher) are excellent sources for reasonably accurate information on names, dates and places of birth/baptism, marriage, and death/burial. They are the most significant source of genealogical information for Germany before 1876. Most people who lived in Germany were recorded in a church record.
Church records are often called parish registers or church books. They include records of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths, and burials. In addition, church records may include financial account books (which record fees for tolling bells, fees for masses for the dead, and so forth), lists of confirmations, penance register, communion lists, lists of members, and family registers.
Church records are crucial for pre-1876 German research. Since civil authorities in several areas of Germany did not begin registering vital statistics until 1876, church records are often the only sources of family information before this date. Church records continued to be kept after the introduction of civil registration, but the Family History Library has not microfilmed many post-1875 church records. See Germany Civil Registration for more information about post-1875 sources.
The Family History Library has many filmed German Church records. To find the parish records you need, you will need to check if the records are listed in the catalog
If, after checking the catalog, you cannot find the German Church records you are searching for, consider the following alternatives: some German Church Records (Kirchenbücher) are available online and can be found on the Internet; Ancestry.com has placed some German Church Records on its website, sometimes priviate individuals have copied German Church records and have made them available either directly online as an "Abschrift" or have made them accessible via a local German Genealogical Society; in many instances the civil records and the church records have been combined into a Ortsfamilienbuch or Ortssippenbuch for a parcticular locality--for a nationwide listing of these, see: www.online-ofb.de ; finally there is a society in Germany, which has a large collection of German Ortsfamilienbücher: Stiftung Bahn-Sozialwerk, GFW/BSW-Archiv, Pasadenaallee (Hauptbahnhof), 67056 Ludwigshafen/Rhein, Tel. +49 (0) 621 8304134, Fax: +49 (0) 621 8304135, e-mail: BSWArchiv@aol.com.
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