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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.

Church Records

Information Recorded in Church Records

The information recorded in church records varied over time. Later records usually give more complete information than earlier ones. The most important church records for genealogical research are baptism, marriage, and burial registers. Other helpful church records may include confirmation lists, family registers, lists of pastors, lists of members, account books, receipt books, and communion records.

Most Catholic records were written in Latin until the 1800s. Protestant records were usually written in German. Local dialects may have affected the spelling of some names and other words in the church records. In German areas under French domination during the early nineteenth century, many church records were kept in French. Sometimes the records combine two languages.

There was no specific record-keeping style for church records. Early records were usually written in paragraph form. As record keeping improved, columns were often used in the entries. However, some places (especially Catholic parishes) used the paragraph format for a long time.

Some areas, such as Bayern and Preußen, often used preprinted forms that required specific information. This format is usually easier to read because the vital information is in the same place in each entry.


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