Hamburg Church Records

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How to Find Birth, Marriage, and Death Records in Hamburg

Most of your genealogical research for Hamburg will be in three main record types: civil registration, church records, and, when available, a compiled town genealogy ("'Ortssippenbuch" or "Ortsfamilienbuch" in German). This article will teach you how to use these records on digital databases, as microfilms, or by writing for them.



Church Records (Parish Registers) Definition

Church records (parish registers) are excellent sources of sufficiently accurate information on names, dates and places of birth / baptism, marriage and death / funeral. They are the most important source of genealogical information for Germany before 1876. Most of the people who lived in Germany, were recorded in a church record. Church records contain records of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials. In addition, church records can contain financial account books (charges for toll bells, fees for masses for the dead, and so on), lists of confirmation, penance register communion lists, lists of members and the family register.

Duplicate Church Records

Unfortunately, some of Germany's church records were destroyed in wars or when parsonages burned. Concerns about such destruction led authorities in some areas to require the pastor to create a copy of each year's baptism-, marriage-, and burial entries, mostly beginning in the late 18th century. These copies were either stored separately or sent to a central archive each year. Local governments often found it helpful to have access to the birth-, marriage-, and death records kept by the clergy. Soon local pastors were required to provide the town administration with a yearly copy of these records. These copies are called transcripts or duplicates [Kirchenbuchduplikate], and most are housed in central church archives or state archives. Use duplicates, where available, to supplement parish registers that are missing or illegible. Keep in mind that duplicates often differ slightly from the originals.

Time Period Coverage

The first surviving German Protestant records are from 1524 at St. Sebald in Nürnberg. Lutheran churches in general began requiring baptism, marriage, and burial records around 1540; Catholics began in 1563. By 1650 most Reformed parishes began keeping records. Many church records were destroyed in the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). In addition, records for some parishes in the Pfalz and Rheinland were interrupted for several years when the French controlled those areas of Germany from 1792 to 1815 and introduced civil registration.

Generally, the earliest church records are in western Germany. The farther east you go, the later the church records begin. For more information, see Germany Church History and Germany History.

Information Recorded in Church Records

Baptisms [Taufen]

Children were usually baptized a few days after birth. Baptism registers usually give the infant's name, parents' names, status of legitimacy, names of witnesses or godparents, and baptism date. You may also find the child's birth date, the father's occupation, and the family's place of residence, the names of godparents, their residences, and occupations. Death information was sometimes added as a note or signified by a cross. Because of social conditions in Germany, the birth of illegitimate children was not uncommon. Illegitimacy is usually noted in baptism records, sometimes by a note in the margin or an upside-down or sideways entry.

Marriages [Heiraten]

Marriage registers give the marriage date and the names of the bride and groom. The registers may also indicate whether they were single or widowed and give the names of witnesses. Other information about the bride and groom is often included, such as their ages, residences, occupations, birthplaces, and parents' names. In cases of second and subsequent marriages, the registers may include the names of previous partners and their death dates. A note was often made if a parent or other party gave permission for the marriage.

Marriage Banns or Proclamations [Aufgebote]

For two or three weeks before the marriage, marriage banns (announcements of the intention to marry) were read and/or posted in church. This gave community members a chance to object to the marriage. Most proclamations took place on consecutive Sundays. If the future spouses were from different parishes, the banns were read in each church. Before the marriage ceremony could take place, the non-local party was required to present the officiating pastor with a paper stating that the proclamations had been read and there were no objections. A note stating that this person had been "dismissed" to marry elsewhere may be found in the marriage register.

The marriage registers of some churches give the dates on which the marriage banns were announced. The marriage banns themselves may exist in a separate record. Some parishes kept the marriage banns and other marriage information instead of marriage registers.

If a couple needed to get married quicky, permission to skip the proclamations could be obtained for a fee. This special permission is called a dispensation. Common reasons for a hasty marriage include pregnancy and imminent emigration.

Formal engagements were often associated with a celebration that required the families to purchase a certain amount of alcoholic beverages from the local pub. This custom was known as the "Weinkauf". Engagement dates may be given in the parish register as " der Weinkauf" or "weinkaeuflich ".

Burials [Begräbnisse]

Burials were recorded in the parish where the person was buried. The burial usually took place within a few days of death.

Burial registers give the name of the deceased and the date and place of death or burial. Often the deceased's age, place of residence, and cause of death and the names of survivors are also given. Occasionally the deceased's birth date and place and parents' names are given. However, information about parents, birth dates, and birthplaces may be inaccurate, depending on the informant's knowledge.

If the burial record mentions a sermon, you may be able to find a printed copy at a local library or archive. Funeral sermons often mentioned several generations of ancestors. See Germany Obituaries for more details.

Confirmations [Konfirmationen]

Protestants were usually confirmed around age 14, Catholics about age 12. Some confirmation registers merely list the names of those being confirmed and the confirmation date. Other confirmation registers give additional information about those being confirmed, including their ages or birth dates, birthplaces, and fathers' names.

Family Registers [Familienbücher]

Some parishes kept family registers that give information about each family group in the parish. Family registers are more common in southern Germany, especially in Württemberg and Baden after 1808. These registers list the names of the husband and wife and their birth dates and places, marriage date and place, parents' names, occupations, and residence. If a second marriage is listed, details about the parents of the new marriage partner are often included.

Children are usually listed in chronological order. Names, birth dates, confirmation dates, marriage dates, and death dates may be listed. In some registers, when a child married and remained in the same parish, the register gives a “see” reference and a page number where that particular child appears as the head of a household.

Some family registers indicate whether the family moved to another village or emigrated to another country.

Parish Genealogy (Ortssippenbuch)

Pastors or genealogists sometimes compiled a village lineage book (Ortssippenbuch), which included each family in a parish. For details see Germany Town Genealogies and Parish Register Inventories on the Internet.

Accessing Church Records

Church records were kept in the local parish of the church. The term parish refers to the jurisdiction of a church minister. Parishes are local congregations that may have included many neighboring villages in their boundaries.

1. Microfilm Copies of Church Records Searched at a Family History Center

Try to find church records in the microfilm collection of the Family History Library. These microfilms may be ordered for viewing at Family History Centers around the world. To find a microfilm:

First, consult the maps and list at Hamburg Boundary Change Maps to determine whether your locality was originally in Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, or Hannover.

a. For church records of parishes that were in the original Hamburg, click here. Open the link Places within Germany, Hamburg.
For church records of parishes that were previously in Hannover, click here. Open the link Places within Germany, Preußen, Hannover.
For church records of parishes that were previously in Schleswig-Holstein, click here. Open the link Places within Germany, Preußen, Schleswig-Holstein.
b. Click on your town or parish.
c. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
d. Choose the correct record type and time period for your ancestor. "Geburten" are births. "Taufen" are baptisms/christenings. "Heiraten" are marriages. "Toten" are deaths.
e. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the microfilm listed for the record. FHL icons.png. The magnifying glass indicates that the microfilm is indexed. Clicking on the magnifying glass will take you to the index. Clicking on the camera will take you to an online digital copy of the microfilm. Clicking on the microfilm reel will lead to information on how to rent the film. Family history center staff will assist you in ordering the film.

2. Writing to a Priest for Church Records

  • Baptism, marriage, and death records may be searched by contacting the local Catholic or Lutheran church.


Write a brief request in German to the proper church using this address as a guide replacing the information in parentheses:


For a Protestant Parish:

An das evangelische Pfarramt
(Insert street address, if known.)
(Postal Code) (Name of Locality)
GERMANY


For a Catholic Parish:

An das katholische Pfarramt
(Insert street address, if known.)
(Postal Code) (Name of Locality)
GERMANY


How to write a letter: Detailed instruction for what to include in the letter, plus German translations of the questions and sentences most frequently used are in the Germany Letter Writing Guide.

3. Church and State Archives

Copies and even originals of some church records are deposited in various archives. Although some general descriptions of which records are in which archives are given here, you can and should e-mail the archive to make certain they have the records you want. The Family Search page of the State Archives gives this explanation of which church records it holds and where to find those it does not. Notice that there are two different groups within the protestant/Evangelical/Lutheran church.

A. The Staatsarchiv Hamburg houses the church books of the Protestant-Lutheran church communities in Hamburg before 1866 and the Reformed communities before 1884, the church books of the Mennonite community, and the Jewish communities.

Staatsarchiv Hamburg
Kattunbleiche 19
22041 Hamburg
Germany
Phone: 040 115
Fax: 040 4279-16001
E-mail: Poststelle@staatsarchiv.hamburg.de
Website: http://www.hamburg.de/staatsarchiv
Online database search
Family search information and holdings

B. The church books of the Evangelical-Lutheran parishes in Alt Hamburg (now at Hamburg-Ost), dating back to 1865 are in this archive: The Lutheran archives over Hamburg supposedly participate in Archion, but only a few military parishes are online there.
Church District Archives Hamburg-Ost
Höltingwiete 5
21073 Hamburg
Germany

Tel: 040 519000-975 (Family Research)
Fax: 040 519000-970
E-Mail: archiv@kirche-hamburg-ost.de

C. The church books of the Catholic church communities are not located in the State Archives of Hamburg, but in the responsible church offices.

How to write a letter: Detailed instruction for what to include in the letter, plus German translations of the questions and sentences most frequently used are in the Germany Letter Writing Guide.

Reading the Records

  • It's easier than you think! You do not have to be fluent in French and German to use these records, as there is only a limited vocabulary used in them. By learning a few key phrases, you will be able to read them adequately. Here are some resources for learning to read German records.
German Genealogical Word List
German Handwriting
  • These video webinars will teach you to read German handwriting:
  • Also online interactive slideshow lessons are available to help you learn to read these records:

This converter will show you how any phrase or name might look in German script:

  • Kurrentschrift Converter (enter German genealogical word, click on "convert", view your word in Kurrentschrift (Gothic handwriting)

Latin Records

Records of the Catholic church will usually be written in Latin:

Research Strategies

Effective use of church records includes the following strategies:

  • Search for the relative or ancestor. When you find his or her birth record, search for the births of brothers and sisters.
  • Next search for the parents' marriage date and place. The marriage record will often lead to the parents' birth records.
  • You can estimate the ages of the parents and determine a birth year to search for their birth records. If more than one possible candidate is found, search confirmation, marriage, and burial records to determine the correct individual. If available, census-type records or family books can be used as well.
  • Try to find the parents death/burial entries, since these records may give their age at death.
  • Use the above strategies for both the father and the mother.
  • If earlier generations are not in the record you are using, search neighboring parishes and other denominations.
  • Search the burial registers for all family members.