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German Genealogical Research Before The Church Records Begin

Lisa Petersen

Many of us have used church records to extend our German ancestral lines back to the late 1500's when the churches began to record births, marriages and deaths. If you can't get church records back that far and you're using microfilms at the LDS Family History Center, try to verify if LDS has all the church records (contrary to popular belief, they don't have everything). Look in books such as 'Verzeichnis der wuerttembergischen Kirchenbuecher' (Index to Wuerttemberg Church Books), write a letter to the archives in Germany where your town's church records are likely to be kept, or write to a genealogist in your ancestors' town if you know of one. When you're satisfied you've seen all the church records and researched them thoroughly, it's time to try other resources.

The sources I suggest below were found in libraries in Germany, but you might be able to get at least some of the items thru interlibrary loan or on microfilm at LDS whereever you are. These sources are in German, so if you don't read German, you'll have to plan on spending a lot more time extracting the information.

Published Genealogies

This has been my most successful source of info on my ancestors before 1560, as well as a good supplement to my post-1560 ancestors. Some genealogies focus on one surname, others trace descendants or ancestors of interest to the author, and still others provide information on some well-known people in a region of Germany. On research trips to southern Germany, I visit public libraries and Lutheran Church archives and just browse the bookshelves, flip thru the books to the index, and check for my surnames. (Caution - some older genealogies were published without an index and were later indexed by a different author. The index may be catalogued separately from the original work and may be hard to find.) While I really prefer to do my own research rather than depend on someone else's, I do like to find published genealogies because sometimes they give sources, which then I could check on myself, unless the records have been destroyed since the book was published! The Baden-Wuerttemberg Genealogy Society (Verein fuer Familien- und Wappenkunde in Wuerttemberg und Baden) in Stuttgart has, among other things, a good collection of Ahnentafeln (ancestor lists) submitted by members, and I have found some of my ancestors there. Some Ahnentafeln give sources, which lead me back to the books. Genealogy societies like the one I've mentioned publish quarterlies, and these sometimes contain useful things such as a list of handwritten documents in the holdings of the Wuerttemberg State Library and Tuebingen University Library, e.g., that no one would otherwise know about. For those of you who can't come to Germany to browse the bookshelves, try the LDS Family History Library Catalog for your ancestor's surname. If German genealogy society journals are microfilmed, look for an annual surname and subject index.

Lagerbuecher, Tuerkensteuerliste, Leibeigenenliste

These are lists of people made at various times for various reasons, the Lagerbuch being roughly translated into Landbook in English, Tuerkensteuerlist, a list of people who paid taxes for defense against the Turks, and Leibeigenenlist, a list of serfs living in the area owned by a Kloster, e.g. For the area where my ancestors lived, I know there are a 'Lagerbuch der Kellerei Boeblingen' dated 1495, Lagerbuecher from Bebenhausen dated 1304 and 1526, a Forstlagerbuch dated 1417, and a Tuerkensteuerlist dated 1545. As these lists are just lists of names (no ages, relationships, etc.), I have not used them in my research. I have seen these lists reproduced in Heimatbuecher (see below), and I think the originals are kept at the state archive level (perhaps they have been microfilmed and are available thru LDS).

Service Books

If your ancestor was a city administrator, forest superintendant, pastor, or held some government or church service job, you may want to look at books which list people who held these jobs, dates and location of service, and sometimes mention useful genealogical information such as their spouse's and children's names. My favorite service books are 'Fuerstlich wuerttembergisch Dienerbuch, IX bis XIX Jahrhundert' by Eberhard Emil v. Georgii-Georgenau, 'Neues wuerttembergisches Dienerbuch' by Walter Pfeilsticker, and 'Das evangelische Wuerttemberg' by Christian Sigel.

Heimatbuecher

A lot of German villages have published a Heimatbuch, or town history. These books sometimes have genealogies of a few of the most important people who lived in the town, lists of people from Lagerbuecher or the Tuerkensteuerliste, and sometimes have a short history of the most common surnames in that town. The book will also give you a history of the town, which can provide clues as to where else to look for info (e.g., my town, Weil im Schoenbuch, used to belong to Kloster Bebenhausen, so I might look at Bebenhausen records for more info). Heimat- buecher often (always?) list references in the back (oh, boy, more stuff to check!) and sometimes give the archive where the records are kept. While much of the info in Heimatbuecher is contemporary with the church records, there is some pre- 1560 info, and no matter what time period you're working on, it's worthwhile to take a look at these books. Check online library catalogs (LC, Harvard, etc.) for possible histories of your town and try to get the book by interlibrary loan, or check the LDS Family History Library Catalog, or (last resort) write to the Stadtverwaltung of your town in Germany to ask if they've published a Heimatbuch and try to order it thru your favorite bookstore. If you're in Germany, or planning a trip, you can find these books at public libraries, or you can buy them in the town (try the Buergermeisteramt) or order them thru a bookshop.

Ortssippenbuecher

A few German towns have published Ortssippenbuecher, or genealogies of all the people who lived in the town. You can get a list of Ortssippenbuecher from the German Genealogy Home Page. There are only about 150 of them for all of Germany, so don't get your hopes up. All the Ortssippenbuecher I have looked at seemed to be based exclusively on the church records, so you may not find any additional information. As with the Heimatbuecher, you can try to get these books thru interlibrary loan or on microfilm at LDS.

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Last updated: June 18 2006 23:51:08.

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