Church book

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Church book, here a baptismal register, from the 18th century

Church records (including churches matrikel in Austria church or parish register books , in Switzerland the toboggan that Rödel ) are records of baptisms , marriages , deaths , that of pastors mostly in chronological are created order. They represent historically public documents about the actions recorded in them. Today the corresponding public registers are kept in registry offices .

Church records are not to be confused with the missals , also Missal called to serve liturgical purposes. However, since the 18th century are preferably in reformed areas collections of texts for worship church book called to them from Lutheran agendas delineate whose contents have legal character.


A distinction must be made between:

  • Baptismal register or baptismal register . The dates of the birth and / or baptism of the respective person as well as their parents and godparents are recorded here.
  • Marriage book . The dates of the marriage of the two spouses and (not always) of the parents and witnesses are recorded here.
  • Communicant Register (historical)
  • Death register . Dates of death and / or burial are recorded here.
  • Confirmation register or confirmation book . The confirmed young people of the community and their parents are listed here.

Often additional data such as place of residence or occupation of the respective person are given. In the case of illegitimate children, the date of admission and the date of baptism were often entered upside down. The scope of the entries varies and depends on the habits of the pastor responsible and his knowledge of the people. Because the church records primarily document church activities, in historical times only the place and / or date of baptism or burial (in other cases only the date of death) are given, but not birth and death (or day of burial).

The church records often are the only record of the existence of people as the entries regardless of status have been made, gender and wealth. They are therefore important sources of historical, especially genealogical research. Reading the church records requires knowledge of cursive script from earlier times (see palaeography ). Roman Catholic parish registers were kept almost exclusively in Latin up to around 1800 , from around this time on in the national language, just like the Protestant matriculation before. Only from the time after the Thirty Years' War , in which church records were lost to a considerable extent, is a large-scale tradition of church records available, even if further wars caused considerable losses, such as the Napoleonic Wars 1797–1809 and not least the Second World War .


Middle Ages and Early Modern Times

The oldest church records - they are only available as a fragment - date from the 14th century and originated in Provence and Italy . The oldest surviving church book from the German-speaking area is a baptismal register, comes from Basel , was started in 1490 and is now in the British Museum in London . The oldest instructions to keep church records come from Bishop Friedrich III of Constance . von Zollern from 1435. The subsequent repetition of the order proves that church registers were apparently only slowly introduced in practice. In its 24th session, the Council of Trent ordered the establishment of marriage registers and, in connection with this, the introduction of baptismal records by decree of the Tametsi marriage decree of November 11, 1563 . For the guidance of death books as well as Firmmatrikeln were only in the Roman Ritual 1614 forms designed in the year, but can also be found for the baptismal and Traumatrikel accurate only here forms. However, the ritual Romanum was not obligatory, so the actual quality of the entries in the church registers continued to vary greatly. The death registers were still not mandatory either. In practice, it often took decades before church registers were consistently kept everywhere. In the areas in which the Reformation took hold, church records were kept from the beginning. So these are about 50 years older.

Pastors often kept these records on behalf of the sovereign. As a result, records of Protestants can be found in Catholic church registers and vice versa (simultaneous register) for times when certain denominations were undesirable in certain regions .

The church book duplicates, which were first introduced in France under Louis XIV., Had to be submitted annually to government agencies in order to enable a central authorities to update the population movement in statistical form for individual parts of the country and the entire country (e.g. with regard to Causes of death). Also in Austria and Prussia undertook Emperor Joseph II. And the General Land Law , the pastor or parish clerk , to make duplicates for governmental purposes and deliver.

19th century

On January 1, 1876, in the German Reich, with the Reich Law on the Notarization of Civil Status and Marriage, the notarization of births, marriages and deaths was transferred exclusively to the registrars appointed by the state by means of entries in the registers intended for this purpose , while in Austria the religious communities these tasks until January 1, 1939.

20th century

The parish registers achieved political importance in Germany through the racial ideology of the Nazi regime . During this time officials and members of the NSDAP as well as their sub-organizations had to prove their descent with the so-called Aryan certificate , which is why many copies were made from older church registers. The Reichssippenamt that time many church books of the former German territories filmed. These films are now archived and accessible at the Central Office for German Personal and Family History in Leipzig .

Many matriculations were made accessible by village clan books, which summarize and link their data via the intermediate step of mapping church registers to families. Starting well before 1933 and beyond 1945 to the present, this method has been used to compile the parish registers of more than 2000 parishes in a local family register and to make them accessible to the public by printing.

Usage today

Today church records only serve internal church records. In Germany, the church records are still used as evidence for the period before 1876 and if the civil status registers are lost.

In order to prevent further losses, the older volumes of Protestant church records are stored in central church archives in the regional churches in Germany . They are often available as microfilm and are increasingly being digitized and made available from the respective archives via the commercial Internet portal Archion . In Austria, on the other hand, the originals have remained in the parishes and copies are kept by the diocesan administrations .

As part of the ICARUS alliance, 250 archives and institutions from 37 countries are cooperating in the digitization of church (and other) archives and by November 2018 had already recorded 25 million pages of church books.

The Genealogical Society of Utah copies church records for religious reasons ( baptism of death ), but makes them available to a large group of researchers.

In order to be able to find a person in the church register, the date of the corresponding church act is often sufficient. The following information can also be found on certificates :

  • the number of the church book,
  • the page, Latin name pagina , abbreviated pag. or p.
  • or sheet counting, lat. folio , abbreviated fol. or f. where it is stated whether the front (recto) or the back (verso). Example: f134v for "sheet 134 verso" (there are also other names from time to time).

Sale of church records

Church registers are sometimes offered on the Internet or at flea markets / collectors' markets. Since these parish registers are usually the property of the church, the provider is liable to prosecute stolen goods in these cases .


In Saxony , church registers have generally been provided with alphabetical name registers since 1800, in many cases also in the period before that. Church registers from before 1700 sometimes have registers that are arranged by first name. When using the register, the orthographic variability of family names must also be considered (see also phonetic order and dead point ).

Church records in literature

The oldest surviving church book of the Mark Brandenburg from 1575 is located in Gröben (Ludwigsfelde) , a Brandenburg village southwest of Berlin . The writer Theodor Fontane traveled to Gröben several times in 1860 and 1881 to inspect the church book and reported in detail on the book in his book Walks through the Mark Brandenburg .

See also


  • Eckart Henning , Christel Wegeleben: Church records. Bibliography of printed baptism, marriage and death registers as well as the inventories in the German-speaking area. (= Genealogical information; vol. 23). Degener, Neustadt an der Aisch 1991, ISBN 3-7686-2048-4 .
  • Gerhard Kayser: Church register maintenance of the Reich Office for Family Research . In: Archivalische Zeitschrift 45 (1939), pp. 141–163
  • Dirk Wagner: The church bookkeeping in Saxony and Thuringia. A comparison of the first research results . In: Familie und Geschichte (1994), pp. 347–356
  • Michael Bing, Andreas Butz: Protestant church records in Württemberg. A working aid for historical and family history research . Stuttgart 2016, ISBN 978-3-944051-13-0 .

Web links

Commons : Church Book  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Lehmann, Artur: Family book in 2 parts. Self-published, 1989. p. 11
  2. Jürgen Kaiser: Why Swabians can do everything - if they want. Historical forays into Swabia . Evangelical Community Press, 2005, ISBN 978-3-920207-12-4 , page 18.
  3. P. 19: Decree "Tametsi" on "valid and true marriages"
  4. Martina Wagner and Hermann-Josef Braun: The church book tradition of the Catholic parishes in Hesse. Holdings in the diocese archives of Fulda, Limburg and Mainz . In: Archivnachrichten aus Hessen 10, 2 (2010), pp. 19-25 (19f.).
  5. on the church book duplicates in Prussia see Falko Neininger: Brandenburgische Kirchenbuchduplikate 1794–1874. A directory of the tradition in the Brandenburg State Main Archive . Lang, Frankfurt, M., Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, NY, Oxford, Vienna 2008, ISBN 978-3-631-58057-8
  6. From the family registers to the local family books . In: Volkmar Weiss: Prehistory and consequences of the Aryan ancestral pass: On the history of genealogy in the 20th century. Neustadt an der Orla: Arnshaugk, 2013, pp. 235–320, ISBN 978-3-944064-11-6 .