Originally, parish registers were kept at the local parish offices, but they may have been forwarded to other places, including another parish office if the original parish no longer exists, a central parish register office in a city, a central ecclesiastical archive, the local civil registration office, or a state or municipal archive. Access may also vary in these locations, so do some research to find out which is best for your research.
Most German countries required duplicates of the original registers to be made, which had to be stored separately from the original registers or annually delivered to the district court, from about 1800 to as late as 1876, when civil registration was widely maintained. Before 1800, some Catholic bishoprics required a yearly submission of duplicates to the bishop's archives.
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah has microfilmed the original or duplicate records of many German parishes. Using the Family History Library's online Catalog can aid in finding out which parishes have been filmed by the library. Therefore, parish registers can be searched at the repository or at a Family History Center.
Now that you know where to find the parish registers, just a few last tips to help your perusing through parish registers.
Make sure the initial entry is correct. When starting with a known birth date, verify it before searching the marriage and death entries of the parents.
Get familiar with the organization of the books and the style used in recording entries. In some Catholic localities, wives were recorded in the death records only by their maiden names. Knowing this before beginning research in Catholic death registers will prove much more fruitful.
Look for biological inconsistencies in the family groups of your research. The first child of a couple being born 5 years after the marriage date or a woman giving birth at age 50 should be red flags.
When the date of a death entry for a man shows his widow to still be fairly young, search for her second marriage before searching for the record of her death. She may have remarried and be registered under the name of her second husband in her death record.
Places of origin are sometimes listed in creative places on the register, including:
- In an entry of a relative
- In an entry of the sponsors of the children
- In an entry of the confirmation of a child
- At the death of the person
- In the death entry of a person's father, father-in-law, or other relative
- In the records of a group of people who moved to the same place at the same time from the same area of origin
- In the record of a person's mother who moved to a new location when she married
Beware of common names within the parish. In the case of a more common name, if the birth entry is not convincingly your ancestor, search the death, confirmation, and marriage registers to see if the individual survived childhood
Finally, don't forget to study the local customs. Being interested in the customs as they influence name-giving and the selection of sponsors can be especially useful.
Using these tips, you'll know where you're going in your German research and a glimpse of what you can find—all in parish registers.