Germany Finding Records

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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.

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.

Using Meyers Gazetteer

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. An abbreviated guide to locating place names and jurisdictions in Meyers Gazetteer is found here.

The first volume of this gazetteer contains an explanation of the many abbreviations the gazetteer uses. For example, Meyers indicates where to find the civil registration office [Standesamt]. If a comma or semicolon follows the abbreviation StdA (Standesamt), the town had its own civil registration office. If it does not have a comma or semicolon, the town name that follows the abbreviation and has a comma or semicolon after it is the town where the civil registration office is found.

The gazetteer also indicates if the town had its own parish by using the abbreviation ev. Pfk. for a Lutheran parish [evangelische Pfarrkirche]; reform. Pfk. for a Reformed parish [reformierte Pfarrkirche]; or kath. Pfk. for a Roman Catholic parish [katholische Pfarrkirche]. A Jewish synagogue [Synagoge] is indicated by the abbreviation Syn. If no parish is indicated, you must check a state (or provincial) gazetteer or parish register inventory to find the parish. Frequently Meyers only gives a “see” reference, indicated by the abbreviation S (see the example below). For example, if you look for the village of Filge, county Lübbecke, the gazetteer refers you to the larger village of Levern, Westfalen for more information.

Historical Civil Registration Offices

The following source lists the 1930 German civil registration offices:

Höpker, H. Deutsches Ortsverzeichnis: unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der zuständigen Standesämter (German gazetteer of civil registration offices). Frankfurt/Main: Verlagfür Standesamtswesen, 1978 reprint of a 1930 edition. (FHL book 943 E5h.) In part one (pp. 1-310), any locality with an asterisk (*) has a civil registration office. The civil registration office for towns without the asterisk is shown immediately following the double ring (4). In part two (pp. 313-66) the civil registration offices for areas Germany lost after World War I are shown.


BYU Research Guide for Germany Civil & Parish Jurisdictions & Maps

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.

Postal Code Book. On 1 July 1993 Germany significantly revised its postal codes.The German postal code book lists all towns with post offices in alphabetical order . Part two of the book lists a postal code for each street address in cities with more than one post office. You can use the book's maps to find post office towns and the approximate location of city streets. Das Postleitzahlenbuch (The postal code book). Bonn, Germany: Postdienst, 1993. (FHL book 943 E8p1993.) This book is available for purchase in the United States from Genealogy Unlimited. This information is also available online at:
On the home page, click on "PLZ suchen".

Historical Place-Names

Many German place-names and boundaries have changed or no longer exist. Historical gazetteers that describe places as they were known earlier may help you. Use gazetteers published during the time period you are researching to find the names and boundaries that existed during that time. Some places that used to be part of Germany are now part of another nation, such as France, Denmark, or Poland. These are described in Germany Historical Geography.