Finding Genealogy Records from the former German East
Over the years numerous people have asked,
Where can I find Eastern German Genealogy data?
Hopefully this document will help provide a reasonable response.
It comes as no surprise, that there are ‘good places’ where you can search for genealogical source documentation that goes much beyond what I provide on ManyRoads. But keep in mind, conducting research in an area of the world, where neither the government nor peoples of a former land remain, is challenging. Do not despair! Hopefully, this page will provide you with some useful ‘new’ places to search, and succeed.
To cut to the chase: In my experience, the most reliable sites for surviving ‘former Eastern German’ source materials include:
- Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarchiv
- ECB Evangelical Central Archives in Berlin (not convenient unless you are in Berlin)- see additional information below.
- Federacja Bibliotek Cyfrowych (excellent source of address books, maps, history)
- Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz (not convenient unless you are in Berlin, here is a short guide)
- GenWiki (not very useful for the former Eastern areas of Germany, it often points to the other sites on this list)
- Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf
- Polish State Archives
- Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preussischer Kulturbesitz
Of course, there are, also, large numbers of genealogy groups and societies that often house/host additional material(s). Sadly source materials are often widely scattered and, for the former German East, really ‘almost everything’ useful may, most reliably, be found on a handful of sites. On ManyRoads, I list everything I use, or have used for you to access.
But as was implied earlier, my hundreds of links are not really the purpose of this page. Rather what I hope to impart is where the best ‘surviving’ genealogy resources are located. To evaluate that objective, you ‘first’ need to be aware that uncovering Eastern German genealogy relies heavily on the availability & use of good Church records. Churches of those former realms were the primary repositories of birth, marriage, and death records. There were/ are very few Census records, and almost as few Civil records. Lastly be aware that people who were members of minority faiths (Jews, Mennonites, etc.) had their records stored along side of, and embedded within, those of the majority faiths (evangelisch, katholisch).
To quote from the Gemeinschaft der Salzburger website:
The East Prussian church records [as well as West Prussian, Pomeranian, and Silesian records] are preserved in large measure as originals or copies. […] While [ECB Evangelical Central Archives] store the originals of the ev. parish registers, Leipzig only maintains copies.
ECB Evangelical Central Archives in Berlin
Tel. 030/22 50 45 36
Fax 030/22 50 45 40
Reservations for Kirchenbuch insight are only available for scheduling via written letter (Ecclesiastical archive center in Berlin, reservation, Bethaniendamm 29.10997 Berlin, fax (030-22 50 45 40) or by email (reservation @ ezab.de); any reservation must be received for the current or next two upcoming months. Quoting from the EZAB archivist(s):
Brandenburg east of the Oder River (today Poland): There are only a few parish registers available[…]. Duplicates from east Brandenburg are found at the Central Archives of Brandenburg (Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarchiv) in Potsdam. A few may be found in the German Center for Genealogy (Deutsche Zentralstelle für Genealogie) in Leipzig.
East Prussia: A part of the East Prussian parish registers were removed to the west already in 1944 in order to protect them from war damage. In this process of removal some parts were lost. The remaining part is today kept in our archives. Many parish registers have been lost, from some parishes there are no registers at all. In the large cities (Königsberg, Tilsit, Memel) there are some congregations and parishes from which not all the parish registers reached us. From the period before 1874, there are microfiches of the east Prussian parish registers at the German Center for Genealogy (Deutsche Zentralstelle für Genealogie) in Leipzig. Here too, however, no complete parish record collection is available.
Pomerania: The parish registers of Stettin were transported by ship shortly before the end of World War II over the Baltic sea to Hamburg, thence to the Berlin parish register repository. From the other areas of Pomerania, very few parish registers are preserved. Genealoger offers the following summary statement on Pomeranian records:
“An estimated 10-15% of original [Pomeranian] church books have survived. For specific towns there may be entire records, partial records, or no records.
Posen: Only very few parish registers from Posen are available.
Silesia: We have fifty parish registers in our archives from the former province of Silesia (east of the Neisse). A few parish registers from the part of Silesia east of the Neisse are preserved in Görlitz in the archives of the Protestant church of the Silesian Lausitz. From the period before 1874, there are microfiches of Silesian parish registers at the German Center for Genealogy (Deutsche Zentralstelle für Genealogie) in Leipzig. There is a larger collection of parish registers in the church and state archives in Poland, too.
West Prussia: A large number of west Prussian parish Registers were removed to the West before the end of the Second World War. Therefore while we have a substantial number of registers from Protestant parishes of west Prussia, this collection is, however, incomplete.
Holdings include about 7000 church records from the former Eastern German evangelical churches (member congregations of the Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union). Furthermore, about 763 military church registers of the former Prussian Army and the German Wehrmacht and about 70 foreign church books from German Protestant congregations. This represents a rich treasure of personal data.
ZGL German Central Office for Genealogy
Saxon State Archives, State Archives Leipzig
Schongauer Straße 1
Phone: + 49 341/25 555 51
Fax: + 49 341/25 555 55
E Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Leipzig documents the eastern provinces of Posen, East and West Prussia. The church book inventory is not yet available on the Internet. Although almost everything has been copied by the LDS and is made available via FamilySearch.org. The Centre includes among other things the “family history collections” of the 1945 resolution Reichssippenamt Office, ie originals, copies and small format films (16,000 units) from parish registers of the former German Reich. The collection includes 3,124 Prussia microfilms, 115 original church records from 1875 to the 1600s. Many film prints can also be purchased from Leipzig directly for the price of 30 euros. If life data can be narrowed down to one / two years, the archive also performs research (cost: ½ hour for 24 euros an hour for 48 euros).This represents a rich treasure of personal data.
To summarize, ‘for my money’ the best sources of reliable genealogical data are, in order of usefulness:
- FamilySearch with its vast array of accessible ‘surviving’ Church records, etc.
- Surviving Address Books (multiple sources with the best being, Federacja Bibliotek Cyfrowych)
- Textbooks and Histories from the Federacja Bibliotek Cyfrowych
Unfortunately, record loss across the former German Eastern Provinces, during the time period of 1944- 1950+, was remarkable and monumental in its breadth and scope. On the surface, the ManyRoads’ lists and source record libraries may seem robust, but sadly they represent only a small percentage of what originally was available. However, if you are willing to dig, much can be found or uncovered.
If you know of, and are willing to share, additional links and information (which exceeds that which I have listed on ManyRoads) please contact me and allow me to list those sources.In the future, I will develop pointers regarding the region’s minority faiths and how-to uncover data regarding those groups. My current plans involve writing about working to unearth Mennonite and Jewish traces.