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A court record is a document created by or submitted to the judge, jury, or clerk of a court. The earliest German vital records were usually kept by one of many city courts. Some German cities began keeping birth, marriage, and death information in the 1400s, but only a small fraction of Germans are represented in court records. Marriage contracts are the most common early court records of value to family historians.
There were over fifty kinds of courts (each with a different jurisdiction) in the German states before 1870. Court records are rarely indexed, so finding an ancestor in them is difficult. Search court records only after you have tried all other record types first. You may need professional help to use court records.
However, if you do find a person mentioned in court records, you will often find much useful information. Age, residence, political allegiance, property, debts, misdemeanors, taxes, adoptions,and guardianship are typical information in German court records. Divorces are also recorded in court records, but they are rare before the 1900s. For information about wills, see the “Probate Records” section.
The Family History Library has microfilmed many court records, particularly from Saxony. They are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under:
GERMANY - COURT RECORDS
GERMANY, [STATE] - COURT RECORDS
GERMANY, [STATE], [TOWN] - COURT RECORD
They may also be listed under the name of the A.G. Amtsgericht [lower court]. The name of the lower court that had jurisdiction over a community can be found in the German gazetteer, Meyers Orts- und Verkehrslexikon. This gazetteer is online.