On our Rhineland trip this year (2013) we visited and toured the Evangelische Archivestelle Boppard (the Evangelish Church Archives in Boppard) This depository has microfilms and many books for the Protestant church records in the Rhineland, we were shown their collection of Familienbuchs and were taken down into the stacks where we were shown some of the original church books. A couple of our tour members were able to find some entries for their families, which was exciting. We were joined by a very interesting local historian from Boppard, Dr. F (we will keep his name private) who has written many Familienbuch’s over the last 30 years or so. I asked him if he would take a little time and tell us what all is involved in putting together these books and we had a wonderful impromptu lecture on the subject which was fascinating.
Here is some of what I learned from this:
There are 3 different names these books can be called, a Familienbook (family book), a Burger book (citizen book) or Ortssippenbuch (inhabitants of a place book). Of course the first and foremost important things for these books are records from the churches. Without church books you can do nothing.
The two major religions of Germany, Catholic and Lutheran’s records mostly began in the 16th century, about 1570 but these records are sketchy and not too many have survived the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) so books usually start in mid-1600’s. Sometimes you may find a couple of Familienbuch’s for the same town, this could be because one book was written for the Catholic Church families and the other for the Lutheran church. (If the town has more than one denomination in town.) We were shown 3 books for the same town, which was the Catholic, Evangelish and the Evangelisch Reformed church records. Also you may find that the books contain records for surrounding villages if this was the parish that a village was part of. (I suggest you use the books by Kevan Hansen “Map Guides of Parish Registers” available in the States. These books help tell you what parish your village belonged to. They also will tell you what microfilm to order from the LDS library in Salt Lake to find your people’s church records).
Dr. F has worked on Familienbuchs for the past 30 years. He usually starts by recording the marriages. He then works on Baptisms, matching all children to the correct parents. Of course sometimes the marriage or a baptism of current inhabitants took place in another village, the birthplace town is sometimes mentioned and sometimes not. Death records are a lot harder as sometimes a person’s name may not be mentioned, such as: Wilhelm Mueller’s infant son died today, age about two. The wife of Johann Schmidt died today at age 50. And then there is the problem of recorded ages. He told us that for some reason he has found that people’s ages recorded at death are a lot of times much older than what they really were! If you follow the name of the person who died and you see he was born in 1750 and died in 1815 he should be 65 but they may say he was 80. We asked why that happened and he doesn’t really know but it can be very hard to make sure you have the correct person.
Then there is the matter of Civil Records. This area of the Rhine (left side of the Rhine) Napoleon started Civil Registration in 1798. These records are usually good, written in French and sometimes using a different calendar) but a lot of church records stopped at this time, so there could be a gap in church records of 10 years or so when Civil registration was in vogue. Dr. F. uses these records of course too.
Dr. F also told us that he starts his books not with the oldest books but the ones from the mid-18th century because of surnames. The early records may not have surnames listed or names are spelled differently. (This led to a very interesting discussion of how surnames came about – too much for me to record here). He also told us that he also uses other sources too, records from the State or City Archives, so that he can tell more than just names and dates of each person, he likes to include occupations, where they lived, taxes they paid and more details of anything he can find. Wouldn’t you like to get one of his books for your family? In regards to taxes, we also sidetracked into why they liked being listed as the top 5 or 10 highest tax payers (this involved politics, voting and more interesting facts).
So, there is a lot of work put into these books and of course they are only as good as the author, which he also reminded us that if you have found a book for your town or see that there is a microfilm made for the book be sure to check the first couple pages to see what sources the author used to write the book. Perhaps it is only the Catholic Church records and you think it is the whole town. Dr. F. said he has heard that sometimes the first couple pages were not filmed by the LDS so on the microfilm it may not tell you what records were used. Just make note of that.
These books are not required to be written by anyone and they are only taken on as a project if there is a willing local historian, author or genealogy society that will work on it. There are a few places to check to see if your town has a book, a couple places that I know are:
Online heritage books
Germany Town Genealogies and Parish Register Inventories on the Internet
Also check the St. Louis County Library Headquarters Special Collections, they have a wonderful collection of German Ortssippenbuch’s.