In my webinar titled “So, You’ve Found Your German Town of Origin, Now What?” I explain how to find the church records for your town if they have been digitized and placed online.
But what if the church records you need are not available online? How do you find out where they are housed? You first need to know in what town the church was located. Armed with that information, you can begin your search.
One example is Kreyenborg in the Kreis (district) in the former Kingdom of Hanover. The Catholic church for Kreyenborg’s residents was in Bokeloh, while the Lutheran church was in Meppen.
I find that there is a GenWiki article about Bokeloh. There is a section about Kirchenbücher (church books) which has a link that leads to the archive that holds the microfilmed records. I will have to hire a researcher there. The first thing I would do is find the contact information for that archive and ask them for a list of researchers who regularly work there. Use Google Translate for help reading these websites.
I find that there is a GenWiki article about Meppen, but it does not have information about where the Lutheran church books would be.
German Archive Portal
I can use the German Archive Portal and select all church archives in Niedersachsen, which is the modern German state where most of the former Kingdom of Hanover was. I find the Landeskirchliches Archiv der Evangelisch-lutherischen Landeskirche Hannovers and visit their website.
I follow the link for Familienforschung (Family Research) and find that this archive does not have church records, but ultimately it leads me to the Evangelisch-lutherischer Stadtkirchenverband Hannover. I see in their holdings that they have Meppen records spanning 1842–1875. I will need to contact a researcher in the area to access these.
I could also use the German Archive Portal to find Catholic archives. Select “church archives” and the relevant German state. Look for the words Bistumarchiv or Diözesanarchiv (both terms mean diocesan archive) in the resulting list.
Catholic Diocesan Archives in Germany
A quick way to find where all German Catholic diocesan archives are located is at the Catholic archive portal. Often, an archive will list their church book holdings on their website. This will help ensure you have chosen the correct archive. When in doubt, e-mail the archive with questions.
Lutheran Central Archive in Berlin
If you are looking for a Lutheran church that was in East Prussia, West Prussia, Brandenburg East, Pomerania, Posen, or Silesia, your first stop should be the Lutheran Central Archive in Berlin. They have a large collection of Lutheran church books for these areas. They are gradually being digitized at Archion.
Using Google is another option. For best results, I recommend using the German version at Google.de.
There are two Bokelohs in the former Kingdom of Hanover, so when I use Google, I need to add the Kreis name so there’s no confusion. Then add the name of the religion (Katholische in my original case) and the word Kirchenbücher. My search terms would look like this:
Bokeloh Kreis Meppen Katholische Kirchenbücher
This search will lead me to the GenWiki article discussed above. This same search could be used for Lutheran records, by substituting Evangelische for the word Katholische. That search does not immediately lead to information about the church books, however.
You can see that there are several ways to conduct a search for church records in archives. Remember that online collections of church records continue to grow, so check frequently for changes. Contact the archives for lists of researchers. Happy Hunting!
Teresa Steinkamp McMillin, Certified Genealogist®, author of the Guide to Hanover Military Records, 1514-1866 on Microfilm at the Family History Library, is the owner of Lind Street Research, a company dedicated to helping people discover their German ancestry. She is a popular speaker for national, regional, and local genealogical societies.