Using a Familienbuch

A Familienbuch is the informal name for a summary of records for a location. More formal names include Dorfssippenbuch, Ortsfamilienbuch, Ortssippenbuch, and One-place study. Since about 1990, the term Familienbuch has come to mean, in exact German usage, a single-family study. The discussion here is based on my experience with Ortsfamilienbücher (the proper German plural) as they are prepared for Roman Catholic parishes in the Mosel River valley of Rheinland-Pfalz. An Ortsfamilienbuch from another area or from an Evangelic community may have different details.

How an Ortsfamilienbuch is Developed

Few American researchers have much experience with the Ortsfamilienbuch, which has become a standard secondary resource among German genealogists. The Ortsfamilienbuch seeks to summarize another detailed document, a series of documents, or several related documents. The most common summary is of a set of Kirchenbuecher from a single parish. Some very concientious researchers combine references to any extant Standesamtsregister or other civil records. Such is the case with the Familienbuch of Wasserliesch. I have found this particular Ortsfamilienbuch to be exemplary among others of the region.

The illustration contains one page from the Familienbuch of Igel, which was prepared by Franziska Kandel. Her document results from using only the church registers.

The author of the Familienbuch of Wasserliesch was Peter Kohns (perhaps born in1881 to Matthias Kohns and Maria Reinert). I surmise his process followed these steps:
  1. First review the marriage entries. Place each married couple identified in the marriage records on an index card, and record the volume, page, and entry number of the marriage.
  2. Review the baptismal entries, and add each child’s information on the card prepared for the parents' marriage. Record the volume, page, and entry number of the baptism on this card. Ignore any information provided on birth date and time.
  3. When a baptismal entry identify parents who were not listed in the marriage entries, make a new index card for them, and add the child to this card. (This new card may require further research in the civil records.)
  4. Review the burial entries, and assign burial information to persons listed on the index cards, and record the volume, page, and entry number of the burial.
  5. When the burial entries identify single persons or surviving widows or widowers who are not already on index cards, create a new index card for the person or couple.
  6. Arrange all index cards in alphabetic order, by the name of the male head of the household. If several males have the same name, place them in chronolgical order.
  7. Use Standesamt registers to fill in gaps and to verify questionable entries.
  8. Assign numbers to each family, in strict sequence through the alphabetic listing.


Here is the first complete family listing (numbered family 3) in the Familienbuch of Wasserliesch:
ACKVA Nikolaus (Bodenmeister-Aspirant aus Hetzerath wohn. in Karthaus  x 05.09.1854)
oo 16.05.1889 KB 9,102,9
GRUBERT Maria (T.v. Peter u. Katharina KRING [Nr. 402] aus Wasserliersch x 08.06.1861)
x 16.09.1890 Anna Katharina KB 9,42,30 oo 1920 Fried. Wilh. VOHRATH in Karthaus
Paten aus : Hetzerath
From this entry we know the following.
  • The husband Nikoalus Ackva is named first, followed by his occupation (Bodenmeister-Aspirant) and town of origin (Hetzerath). The note "wohn. in Karthaus" means that he resided in Karthaus at the time of the record. Most records of the husband would also identify his parents (with "S.v. [son of] Johann u. Maria GIWER" for example), but this man was 35 years old at this marriage, and a well-established journeyman. Perhaps his parents had died already, or were unable to attend the wedding. The note "x 05.09.1854" means that he was born or baptized on the 5th of September, 1854. (German dates are always in the order of day, month, year; they still are in modern Germany.) Most records would include the husband’s death date as "+ 31.12.1900" if the death was documented in the Kirchenbuch or the Standesamtsregister.
  • The marriage (the oo symbol) occurred on 15 May, 1889. The marriage was recorded in Kirchenbuch volume 9, page 102, entry 9.
  • The bride was Maria Grubert. She was the daughter of  (T.v. means "Tochter von") Peter Grubert and Katharina Kring. Married women are always identified with their birth name, except in the burial records. The burial records may use a married name or birth name, according to the practices of the priest who entered the record. In square brackets is a PDF link to the marriage entry for Maria’s parents. Maria came from "Wasserliersch" as the town name was spelled in 1889. The compiler was scrupulous in recording names exactly as written, or as read in the actual record. Thus one will see four or five variants of the name that is now Wasserliesch, as well as variants on family names and other towns. Maria was baptised on 8 June 1861. No death information is provided.
  • The couple had one child who was baptised at St. Aper: Anna Katharina on 16 September 1890, recorded in Kirchenbuch volume 9, page 42, record 30. She married Friedrich Wilhelm Vohrath in 1920 in Karthaus.
  • The absence of death information may allow the reader to arrive at two possible conclusions: 1) either the husband and wife had not died by the time of Peter Kohns’ work, or 2) the family had moved from the Wasserliesch parish and Konz Standesamt before their deaths. With the presence of a single child’s birth information, it is possible the family moved before a second child or any later children were born.
  • At least one baptismal sponsor (Pate, Paten) at the baptism came from Hetzerath.

Go to the Original Source

If your research has found an Ortsfamilienbuch, don't stop there with your research. Go to the original source! Even the most conscientious researcher can make errors, and even typographic errors can distort important information. For example, I found many errors related to my ancestors in the Igel Familienbuch.

Lists of Familienbücher

You need to know first of all the town where your ancestor was born or married. Only then can your research for a Ortsfamilienbuch be productive. Some websites try to list several—but not all—Ortsfamilienbücher of an area. For example:

Further Information

© Thomas G. Kohn, 2013.

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent explanation, Tom. There is also a site for Familienbucher which sells them as part of their mission as a Genealogical Society. You probably know it but just in case, the address is Geschäftsstelle der WGfF, Unter Gottes Gnaden 34, 50859 Köln-Widdersdorf. E-Mail: bestellung@wgff.net. Kathy