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Jewish Genealogy Civil Registration
Records of births, marriages, and deaths are commonly referred to as "vital records" because they document essential events in a person’s life. Civil registration are vital records that are recorded by most governments in the world. The Family History Library Catalog uses the subject heading Vital Records for these records in the United States and Canada.
Civil registration records are very important to genealogists because they often are the primary source of information for names, dates, and places of births, marriages, and deaths. These records are usually indexed and include most of the population of a country. Unfortunately, many people, including Jews, never registered these events with civil authorities even though it was mandatory.
Governments used church records or transcripts of church records as their earliest forms of civil registration. Later they required Jews to keep separate registers. Eventually most governments set up independent civil registration offices where birth, marriage, and death records were kept separately from religious denomination. These independent civil registration records are the primary topic of this section. For more information about the relationship between civil registration, church records, and Jewish records, see Jewish Vital Records.
Most civil registration records are divided into separate volumes by event (birth, marriage, and death). Some countries also kept separate civil registration records of Jews. These records are usually listed in the Family History Library Catalog under Jewish Records. See Jewish Records.
In addition to births, marriages, and deaths, civil registration may include documents required for marriage as well as records of stillbirths, deaths occurring in other cities or countries, name changes, and acknowledgments of paternal responsibility.
General Historical Background
As governments needed accurate information about the population for military conscription and taxation purposes, they began keeping records of births, marriages, and deaths.
The commencement dates of civil registration vary from country to country. Sometimes they vary from region to region within a country. The Baltic states did not have civil registration until 1940, which is quite late for Jewish research in those countries. Countries such as Poland and the Russian Empire used transcripts of church records, which included Jews, before they had a separate government civil registration system. General dates of the beginning of civil registration in countries with significant Jewish populations are:
Austria (Republic) 1938 (transcripts 1784)
- Belgium 1793
- England July 1837
- France (Republic) 1792
- German Empire 1876 (some 1792)
- Greece 1925
- Hungary 1895 (some 1867)
- Italy 1860–1870 (some 1806)
- Netherlands 1811 (some 1795)
- Poland 1821 (transcripts 1719, 1784, 1794)
- Prussia 1874 (transcripts 1794)
- Romania 1865 (transcripts 1831)
- Russian Empire (transcripts 1719)
- Soviet Union 1918
- Spain 1870
Information Recorded in Civil Registers
Information listed in civil registration records varies from country to country. The following descriptions list what you may find in these records. Be aware that information in these records is not always accurate. For example, the birth date and place and names of parents listed on a death record may not be accurate because the informant often did not have first-hand knowledge of the decedent’s birth.
Birth records generally give the child's name, sex, date and place of birth, and the names of the father and mother (frequently including her maiden surname). Many of the early records and most of the later records provide additional details such as parents’ birthplaces, ages, and occupations.
Births were generally registered shortly after the event by the parents or another person present at the birth. Corrections to a birth record may have been added as a marginal note. Frequently these notes provide information concerning marriage and death.
Marriages usually took place in the town or city where the bride lived. Some governments required a civil marriage in addition to the religious ceremony. When available, search both types of records as one may contain details not found in the other.
The following records may be found in connection with a marriage:
Marriage Registers. Civil officials recorded the marriages they performed. If the marriage was performed by an ecclesiastical authority or justice of the peace, that person was required to report the marriage information to civil authorities. Marriage registers give the date of the marriage and names of the bride and groom and witnesses. Other information could include ages, birthplaces, residences, occupations, and names of parents.
Marriage Certificates. The individual who per- formed the ceremony or the civil office where it was recorded may have given the couple a certificate of marriage listing the names of the bride and groom, the marriage date and place, and the name of the person who performed the marriage. Certificates are often in the possession of the family.
Marriage Documents. In many countries, such as the Netherlands and those of Latin America, you will find supplemental documents submitted at the time of marriage. These may include birth certifi-cates for the bride and groom, death certificates for parents if not present to give permission, proof of military service, and so on. Such documents often provide much genealogical information.
Marriage Intentions. Countries had different laws concerning marriage. Many had requirements that couples had to comply with before getting married. Documents generated from these requirements for various countries included:
- Proclamations or Allegations. The couple had to announce their intentions a few weeks before their marriage to give anyone the opportunity to raise any legitimate objections to the marriage.
- Marriage Applications. A bride and groom obtained a license to be married by applying to the proper civil authority. These records often contain more information than the marriage record itself.
- Marriage bonds. In many countries two men were required to sign a statement that they personally knew the bride and groom and could certify that there was no reason why they should not be married. Such men were called bondsmen and were often relatives or friends.
- Marriage Contracts. When a marriage occurred between people of different social status, a marriage contract may have been made to stipulate how the property was to be divided if one of them died. These are not documents that will generally be found among court records. They are similar to the pre-nuptial agreements people make today.
Death records often provide information on the decedent’s birth, spouse, and parents. Death records can exist for people who have no birth or marriage records. Deaths were usually registered with civil authorities.
Early death records generally give the decedent’s name, date, and place of death. By the latter 19th century death registers also included age, sometimes the date and place of birth, residence, occupation, names of parents and spouse, cause of death, burial information, and details about the informant.
Locating Civil Registration Records
Civil registration records are kept at town or city, district, or municipal registration offices. Some civil registration records have been deposited at city or state archives.
For directions on locating civil registration records for the country where your ancestor lived, search the FamilySearch Wiki for articles by country using the terms "Archives and Libraries" and "Civil Registration."
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has microfilmed the civil registration records and indexes of many countries, including fairly complete collections of most of the countries of Latin America and Western Europe. Examples of records that include Jews as well as the rest of the population are:
- Civil Registration, 1914–1941. Thessaloniki, Greece: Lixiarheion Archive, 1989. (On 235 FHL films beginning with 1690717.) Birth, marriage, and death records from the city of Thessalonica from 1914–1941.
- Registers van de Burglijke Stand, 1811–1940 (Registers of Civil Registration, 1811–1940). ‘s-Gravenhage: Algemeen Rijksarchief, 1954–1997. (On 2498 FHL films beginning with 1138940.) Birth, marriage, death, and other civil records for Amsterdam 1811–1940.
Specific holdings for civil registration records and indexes can be found in the Family History Library Catalog using the Locality Search. Remember also to check for civil registration records under the headings "Jewish Records" and "Church Records."
Obtaining Civil Registration Records Not at the Family History Library
Birth, marriage, and death records may be obtained from local civil registration offices or archives in the country of interest. To protect the rights of privacy of living persons, civil authorities often place restrictions on their records.
When requesting a certificate by mail, determine who has jurisdiction over the records for the time period you need, and write a brief request to the appropriate office. Send the following:
- Full name and the sex of the person sought.
- Names of parents, if known.
- (Approximate) date and place of the event.
- Your relationship to the person.
- Reason for the request
- Request for a photocopy or transcript of the complete original record.
- Check or money order to cover the required search fee and postage.
You can access civil registration records or order them for some areas over the Internet. For example, a searchable database is available to some civil registration indexes for the Netherlands and Poland. The Scottish Registrar General has provided a searchable database of their indexes from 1855 to 1897 and has an online ordering service for certificates. To find these types of resources, search for the area where your ancestor lived at:
Also check the list of databases that are included on the JewishGen web site at:
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