Microfilmed German church records: helpful hints

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Microfilmed German parish records can be confusing even if you can read the script and know some German. To make the experience easier, a few suggestions:

1. Print out the film notes (from the catalog) for the microfilm. These notes will break the film down into sections. For example: the notes for a typical microfilm might look like this:

Taufen, Heiraten, Tote 1784-1839
Taufen 1840-1900.

This means you will see Taufen (baptisms) for 1784-1839, then Heiraten (marriages) for 1784-1839, then Tote (deaths) for 1784-1839 and lastly Taufen (baptisms) for 1840-1900.

Even if you can't read the headings of the records, you can read the dates (although some dates are written in roman numerals and you have to figure those out). As you scroll through the film, note a break between pages (black space or what looks like the cover of a book). This usually means you are starting a new type of record. If the dates are starting over, that will confirm that you are looking at a new type of record. You probably won't see page numbers on any type of record other than family books. Correlate each new record with the catalog film notes and you can tell what type of record you are looking at: birth, death, or marriage.

2. Now that you can find the type of record you are looking for, you have to be clear in your mind exactly who you are looking for. There are frequently several men with the same first and last names having
children at the same time. I have even seen men with the same names married to women with the same name having children at the same time. The men had their occupation listed after their name which was the only way to distinguish between the two couples.

In order to tell which is your ancestor, you have to start with the information that you know. If you're lucky, you have a birth date in addition to the name of the person you are looking for. Roll the microfilm to the births/baptisms, look for the correct date, and then try to read the handwriting.

If you don't have a birth date, try to approximate a reasonable date of birth. Actually start looking about 15 years before the approximated date and continue looking 15 years after the date because the person
may have been older or younger than you think.

When you have located the birth record of your ancestor, the entry normally lists the name of the father and the mother. Once you have located your ancestor, you need to identify the whole family. Scroll
through the records looking for the couple you have identified, writing down all the children and their birth dates as you find them. You should find a birth about every two years. When it appears that you have
located all the children born to that couple, you can now approximate the parent's marriage date. (Be aware that many first children were born before the marriage of the parents.)

Roll the microfilm to the marriages and search for the marriage record of the couple. Marriage records normally include the names of the bride's father and groom's father and the town they were from. The occupation of the groom and/or his father's occupation may also be mentioned. If there is not a father's name after the groom, it usually meant that the groom was a widower. So now you get to look for a first marriage, and children of the first marriage. The male name listed after the bride's name can either be her
father or her first husband, be careful, you don't want to mix that up.

Keep repeating this process for each generation until the records run out. If you're totally confused with too many names that are alike, you may want to go through all the birth/baptism records and assign each
child to a family. Then you'll be absolutely clear who belongs to which family. You are essentially creating your own family book, the pastors did it, so can you.


See also Getting Started with German Research