|Family Research: Databases Help Decipher German Church Books
Beidler, James M. "Family Research: Databases Help Decipher German Church Books." German Life, June/July 2004, 64.
The value of church registers to genealogical researchers with
German roots is impossible to overstate. Unfortunately, they are
mostly written in a hard-to-decipher cursive script (no longer used
even by today's Germans), which makes the church books difficult,
at best, for researchers to use.
Microfilm copies of most German church registers exist in the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) Family History Library
system. To search that library's catalog, go to www.familysearch.org.
All too often, however, the registers of baptisms, marriages, and
burials that typically date to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
are inksplotched or otherwise damaged from the centuries of wear.
Unfortunately, the damaged condition of these books shows up on
There are certain areas of Germany, however, in which devoted individual
researchers and groups are compiling publications or databases of
these church records.
The Pirmasens Genealogical Study Group has been a prolific publisher
of church records from the area of Pirmasens, which is in the modern
German state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
At the study group's website, it gives a list of the publications,
which are divided by town. Most importantly, the website gives a
listing of the surnames found in each of the individual town publications.
The study group's website is found at the URL www.genealogiein-pirmasens.de/index.htm.
German Life reader Frank Wurtz was a beneficiary of the information
published by the Pirmasens group. "I have traced the Würtz
family back to 1650 through three of their books," Wurtz said.
Another ambitious project is that of Jochen Karl Mehldau, a retired
city manager and surveyor who lives in Karlsruhe in the German state
of Baden-Württemberg, but has roots further north in the villages
of the former German state of Wittgenstein, which is now part of
He began genealogy as a hobby half a century ago and has pursued
it intensely in his seven years of retirement. "First I searched
for my own ancestors and relatives," says Mehldau. "There
was a large problem in Wittgenstein. In each place, there are many
people with the same name at the same time."
These identically named people were not always differentiated even
in the church books, Mehldau said. "In addition, some books
or some entries are missing. It is thus very difficult to find the
correct ancestors," he said.
In 1982, Mehldau began to input and arrange all the data from the
village in which his mother was born, Erndtebrück. "That
was the beginning of the database," he recalled.
From this starting point, Mehldau continued working on his pedigree-linked
database until it now contains ninety-seven thousand persons - including
about seventy-five percent of all the data from Wittgenstein through
the year 1875. "The database contains also individuals from
the neighboring territories," Mehldau added.
Mehldau is hopeful that he will complete the Wittgenstein project
"if I remain healthy." He estimates that he will need
between five and ten years to finish the project. In addition to
church records, his database also contains information from archives
such as marriage contracts, taxes and deliveries, inhabitant listings,
and data about farms. Few of these records have been microfilmed
by the Mormons.
While only a relatively small percentage of emigrants from Wittgenstein
are so noted in the church books, those notations do add up. "I
have such references for approximately twelve hundred persons,"
Mehldau makes extracts from his database available for a fee. He
offers two variations, one with just the basic facts about the selected
individual and ancestors, and a second that adds good information
such as names of baptismal sponsors and sources used. The first
variant is 50 cents for each individual and ancestor; the second
is $1 for each individual and ancestor. In other words if an individual
is found in the database along with the individual's parents, grandparents,
and great-grandparents (a total of fifteen persons), the charge
would be $7.50 for the first variant and $15 for the second.
For either variation, the minimum purchase is $20.
The database entries are in German, but Mehldau sends along an
English key to the German words, symbols, and abbreviations.
He can be contacted by e-mail at:Mehldau@t-online.de.
Mehldau accepts e-mails written in English. He writes his replies
in German. If you do not read German, the German-to-English translation
program at the AltaVista website gives a very rough translation.
(There are many flaws in the translation program, but it is better
than nothing. Among the many things to watch for: Town names often
are not recognized and are translated along with other words - for
example, "Altburg" becomes "old castle.") The
website is www.world.altavista.com.
Reprinted with permission of the German Life.