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The nobility is a class of people who had special political and social status. Members of this class had titles such as Baron [Freiherr], Duke [Herzog], Count [Graf], Margrave [Markgraf], and Knight (Sir) [Ritter]. The nobility is divided into two sections: Hochadel and Niederadel (high and low nobility). Noble status was usually inherited. It originated with people who had power, influence, and land in ancient times or who received a grant of nobility from a king.
Most family traditions about a noble ancestor prove to be untrue. Members of the noble class seldom left their country or disowned their children. Illegitimate children of nobility, though not entitled to noble status, were often recorded (although the father may not have been named) and can be found in the records.
The noble class formed only a small percentage of Germany's population, and Germany limited the growth of the noble class. Laws specified which children of the nobility inherited their parents' status.
Although some original records such as grants of nobility still exist, you can often research your noble ancestors by using compiled sources. German nobility was frequently associated with the military (officers) and a mobile lifestyle. When the family moved frequently, compiled sources become especially helpful. The compiled sources for German nobility include both published and manuscript genealogies. If your ancestor was of the noble class, the following books may help you in your research:
Hefner, Otto Titian von. Stammbuch des blühenden und abgestorbenen Adels in Deutschland (Lineages of flourishing and extinct nobles in Germany). Four Volumes in Two. Regensburg, Germany: Georg Joseph Mainz, 1860-1866. (FHL book 943D22h; film 491,136.) This is a quick reference list of German noble families.
Fritsch, Thomas, Freiherr von. Die Gothaischen Taschenbücher, Hofkalender, und Almanach (The gotha pocketbooks, calendar and almanac). Limburg/Lahn, Germany: C. A. Starke, 1968. (FHL book Ref 943 B4da Volume 2.) A comprehensive index of four published serial son German nobility is found on pages 187 to 349. Pages 350 to 415 index six other published serials on German nobility. Führende Persönlichkeiten (Leading personalities). See the “Genealogy” section.
A periodical regarding German Nobility which is available at the Family History Library is Deutsches Adelsblatt. The Family History Library call number is 943. D65da.
In addition to “Genealogy,” see the “Biography” and “Heraldry” sections. The Family History Library has collected some records of noble families. These records are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under:
GERMANY - NOBILITY
GERMANY, [STATE] - NOBILITYGERMANY, [STATE], [TOWN] - NOBILITY
Institut Deutsche Adelsforschung (IDA)