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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 Family History Library Catalog.

A digital copy of Meyers Orts- und Verkehrslexikon in two volumes is found here:  Volume 1 and: Volume 2 .  See "Step-by-step guide: Using Meyers Gazetteer online" for detailed user instructions. 

Finding Place-Names in the Family History Library Catalog

German place-names used in the Place Search of the Family History Library 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.<br>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. However, the library does not have records that were destroyed, have not been microfilmed, were not available in the registrar's office at the time of microfilming, or are restricted from public access by the laws of the country. You may use the records at the library for your family research, but you must contact the civil office holding the records if you want an official certificate for living or deceased individuals.

To find civil registration records in the Family History Library Catalog, search the Place Search under:


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 Family History Library Catalog is updated regularly. Check it periodically to see if the records you need have been added to the library's collection.

Learn more about Locating Records Not at the Family History Library.

Modern Place-Names

For some research purposes, such as correspondence, you need to know the modern jurisdictions for the place where your ancestor lived. This may also help you find the ancestral town on modern maps. The following modern gazetteer is available through family history centers and may also be found at some large public libraries:

Müller, Friedrich. Müllers Großes Deutsches Ortsbuch (Müllers German gazetteer). 12th Edition. Wuppertal-Barmen: Post und Ortsbuchverlag Postmeister A.D. Friedrich Muller, 1958. (FHL book 943 E5m 1958; film 1,045,448; fiche 6,000,343-54.) This work alphabetically lists modern German place-names as they existed before Germany was reunited in 1990. The last part of each entry is the abbreviation for the German state.

In cases where more than one town has the same name, each is listed separately. The district [Kreis] name usually follows the town name and is printed in bold type to distinguish the towns with the same name. Müller's gazetteer is printed with modern type, making it easy to use.


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