Monday, November 29, 2010

Regular Life and German Parish Records

After being with family from Friday, Nov 19 when I flew into DC until yesterday when the last of my siblings left from the Thanksgiving break, we are now back to “regular” life. It seems a little sad – not because regular life is so terrible, but because there’s nothing like having family around!

Today, regular life consists of grocery shopping, taking Sarah Ann to dance, supervising homework and piano practice, and catching up on emails. I thought I would answer one of my emails here on my blog. (Of course, the other thing I need to catch up after having family around is sleep…)

So, here’s my email for today:

Leslie,
You have a wonderful website! I would like to know where to go for parish records of the Mecklenburg-Schwerin area from 1844.
Thank you!

I’m going to broaden this question to address parish records from Germany in general. Parish records have survived from many German parishes. Of course, there are some that have been lost to fire or other causes. How far they date back varies from place to place. The earliest known parish records that still exist are from 1524 in N├╝rnberg. In general though, it’s rare for records to date back further than the Thirty Years’ war which raged across Europe from 1618 to 1648. The widespread destruction of this war wiped out many records.

So how do you access these records? First, keep in mind that you need to know the parish church your ancestors attended. This is often not the same thing as knowing their German hometown. Most villages were not large enough to support a church of their own. Instead, people from numerous villages would come together to attend church in one village. This means that if you have the name of the hometown, you must find where people living in this town attended church. This is where you will find those all-important parish records. Many people come to the conclusion that parish records don’t exist for their ancestors, when the real problem is they are not searching for the correct town. Also, be sure you check a gazetteer to ensure you have the spelling correct. And remember that town names and jurisdictions have changed over time.

It would be nice if you could find these records online, as you can do for Swedish parish records. Unfortunately, right now there are not large collections of German parish records online. This should change in the future with FamilySearch’s Record Access program. You can see what is available for Germany now here.

Many microfilm records have been microfilmed through the LDS Church. Most of us don’t live close enough to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City to take advantage of its amazing resources. But we can still access these microfilms by ordering them to our local Family History Centers. You can search for a Family History Center near you at FamilySearch’s website (scroll down the bottom of the page where it says “Find a Family History Center”. The German states vary in how much of their parish records have been microfilmed. In Mecklenburg, nearly all of the surviving records have been microfilmed. But this is not the case everywhere.

If microfilmed parish records are not available for the towns you need, you may need to write for the record. The German archive system can be intimidating. I suggest you write directly to the church. Hopefully, if they do not have the records themselves, they will direct you to the placed that do. For information on how to write German churches (and templates to follow if you don’t know German), check out FamilySearch’s German letter writing guide.

For an overview of German church records, be sure to read the FamilySearch Wiki section on it.

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