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Using the Online Bern Church Records
In November, FamilySearch uploaded the Bern Church Records from its holdings. Typically, these records begin in the 1500s and continue through 1875. The Bern Church Records can be found here. In order to use these, you must have a FamilySearch login, as the Bern Archives have restricted use. These uploaded images are a fantastic resource; however, the cataloging on the FamilySearch website will not help you identify which record set to select.
The main problem with the cataloged records (as of January 30, 2012) is that they are not divided in any logical or intuitive way. In some cases, the records are divided by volume (i.e., "Taufen" [baptisms] 1830-1849". In other cases, the whole film was uploaded as a single division, which could include upwards of 8 volumes ranging from baptisms, marriages, and deaths. In its current state, without some help, these records can cost hours of research, and many may not realize that the parish's entire collection is online (this was my initial thought).
Using the Family History Library Catalog (old version) has made these records a lot more accessible. By using both sources---the online records, as well as the catalog as a 'finder' tool---I have been able to spend many hours identifying my ancestors in these records. It may do well to explain the types of records that may be available in this collection:
Taufen: Baptisms. These can be divided up into three possibilities: "Taufen" are generally baptisms that occurred within the parish. "Auswärtige Bürger" are baptisms of citizens of the town that occurred in other places (i.e. a citizen of the parish of Belp that was christened in Bolligen would have his baptism recorded twice: in the parish of Bolligen as the primary baptismal entry, and in the 'citizen' rolls of Belp as an extracted record of the citizen). A third category may exist, usually labeled "Ausbürger", meaning baptisms of residents in the parish that were not citizens of the parish. This system helps when one knows the place of citizenship, but doesn't know where the family moves. For example, the family I am working on are citizens of Vechigen, but the family moved in the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s. All of the children's baptismal entries were recorded in Vechigen in the "Auswärtige Bürger" lists, while the original christenings were in the towns they resided in: Worb, Stettlen, and Bolligen. The extracted christening entries in Vechigen led me to the original records in these towns and let me know where the family lived during these three decades. A note on the "Auswärtige Bürger" lists - these will not necessarily be in chronological order, as the priest recorded the information as he received it from the other parishes. At times, christenings may not be recorded for several years (I have seen instances of upwards of 25 years later).
Heiraten: Marriages. Sometimes these marriages also contain "Ehverkündigungen", the German word for Banns. Generally, these marriage records are in one book, and record marriages that took place elsewhere for citizens of the parish, but they may be divided, like the baptismal records, into "Heiraten" and "Heiraten: Auswärtige Bürger". Both sets of records should be searched when looking for a marriage.
Toten: Burials/Deaths. Again, like the marriages and births, these records may be divided into "Toten" and "Toten: Auswärtige Bürger".
Indexes for these records generally start in the mid-1700s and are kept either with each individual book, or a separate index book may have been created. Beware of this distinction, as FamilySearch images do not make this distinction.
With these record sets described, the books can now be accessed. I will be using the example of Vechigen, as it is the one I have most experience with.
The Vechigen records are filmed on 7 microfilms, and span the years 1552-1875. Two of the films are partials, meaning that the film contains records from another parish on the film; five of the films contain only records from Vechigen. I have noticed that the films that are divided between two parishes tend to be divided into different categories, while films that only contain records from one parish have about a 50/50 chance of being divided into books or conglomerated into one division. For example, under Vechigen there is one entry: "Taufen, Heiraten, Tote 1650-1875". I don't want to spend hours browsing through this vague description, so this is where I bring up the Family History Library Catalog (Old Version) and find the corresponding entry. I found it - it's Film #2005803, which in actuality contains 8 different item numbers, including 20 years of "Auswärtige Bürger" baptisms, marriages 1650-1875, and deaths 1728-1773. I then spent about 15 minutes jumping through the film to find out which image number corresponds with which item number (for example, item 5, the Marriage Roll for 1764-1808, begins on image 199). I keep a log of these records, so that I can find them easily when I need to return to this entry. I can have a parish "mapped" out in about an hour, and be ready to start researching my family in these records.
By using the church books online and the Family History Library Catalog in tandem, I've been able to fully utilize the Bern Church Books images to verify and extend my family history in Bern, Switzerland.