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German: Church Records
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NOTE: This course requires compulsory materials to be ordered. Please click on the Supplies tab for details.

The primary, and often only significant original records for German research, are the registers of the local churches where German ancestors lived. This is the case wherever, and whenever, Germans lived, and wherever you are conducting research on German families.

Regardless of whether German families were living within the bounds of modern Germany, the old German Empire, or in the dozens of other countries where ethnic Germans settled, successful research requires the careful, and sometimes creative, use of church registers.

The vast majority of Germans, historically, belonged to one of three major Christian denominations—the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, or the (German) Reformed Church. The practice of keeping registers of church ordinances in German areas began with the Lutheran Church in the mid-1500s; the Catholic Church followed soon, generally shortly after the Council of Trent in 1563; and, Reformed churches generally began during the next 50 to 80 years.

Until the implementation of civil (government) registration of births, marriages, and deaths, generally in the 1870s, there are usually no other records in German areas that were designed to record virtually each and every person who lived in a given area. Therefore, for between 200 and 300 years, church registers are the records all German genealogists deal with.

This course provides detailed discussion of the use of German church (often called parish) registers. Through the numerous examples, researchers will learn not only the common formats of the key kinds of church records, but also important vocabulary terms used in the records. In addition, search strategies will help students understand how to wring the most possible information from these records.

The National Institute for Genealogical Studies is extremely pleased to be able to use, as the primary reading material for this course, an outstanding book on this subject, authored by Kenneth L. Smith, German Church Books: Beyond the Basics, Rev. ed. (Rockport, Maine: Picton Press, 1993). We express our deep appreciation to the publisher for making an electronic copy of this text available for our students.

Because the course reading material is not proprietary to the National Institute''s course, access to the electronic text online will only be available during the term of this course as usual, but will NOT be accessable for printing. Since this reading material is an important reference tool which students will want to refer to frequently while conducting research in parish registers, the printed version is compulsory for this course.

The course instructional material will primarily serve as a guide to the content of Smith’s material. In addition, it will present some brief supplemental material, as well as the module assignments.
Course Content

Module 1

Overview of German Church Records
• Introduction
• Accessing German Church Records
• Organization of Parish Registers
• Language of the Records
 
From German Church Books: Beyond the Basics:
“Chapter One: Overall Problems”
• Organization
• Spellings
• Dialectic Words
• Foreign Words and Phrases:
• Abbreviations
• List of Common Abbreviations
• Symbols and Scriptural Conventions

Module 2
Personal & Place Names in Church Records
• Introduction
• Personal Names
• Place Names
 
From German Church Books: Beyond the Basics:
“Chapter 2: Names”
• Spelling
• Dialectic Words
• Translations
• Grammatical Endings
• Farm Names
• Patronymics

Module 3
Church Marriage Records
• Introduction
• Expected Content
 
From German Church Books: Beyond the Basics:
“Chapter 3: Marriage Records”
• Mixed Marriages
• Organization
• Missing Components
• Additional Components
• Divorces
• Missing Marriage Records
• Too Many “Right” Records
• Other Uses of Marriage Records

Module 4
Church Baptismal Records
• Introduction
• Online Records
• Expected Content
• Illegitimate Births
 
From German Church Books: Beyond the Basics:
“Chapter 4: Baptismal Records”
• Organization
• Additional Components
• Illegitimate Children
• Children Baptized by Other Pastors
• Missing Baptismal Records
• Too Many Children with the Same Name

Module 5
Church Death & Burial Records
• Introduction
• Expected Content
• Squeezing an Earlier Generation from the Burials
 
From German Church Books: Beyond the Basics:
“Chapter 5: Death Records”
• Organization
• Ages at Death
• Missing Death Records
• Other Uses of Death Records

Module 6
Other Church Records
• Introduction
• Confirmation Records
• Family Registers
• Church History or Minutes
• Jewish Records
• Handwriting Issues
 
From German Church Books: Beyond the Basics:
“Chapter 6: Confirmation Records”
• Organization
• Ages at Confirmation
• Missing Confirmation Records
• Other Uses for ConfirmationRecords
“Chapter 7: Miscellaneous Records”
• Family Registers
• Lists of Communicants
• Church Council Records
• Adopted Children
“Chapter 8: Examples of Handwriting”
Appendix I
• One Approach to Church Books
Appendix II
• Glossary
Bibliography
 
 

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