Looking for a German Birth Certificate? Here’s a Little-Used German Source

Geburtsbriefe are documents of birth and citizenship.  These sources for German genealogical research are especially valuable where parish registers have been destroyed, or have gaps.  A Geburtsbriefe was also used as a passport since it included a statement of citizenship.  And best of all–these records first appear for diplomatic officials in the 14th century and apply to people of “free birth” from the late 16th century on.
Today, birth certificates from a local civil registrar or christening certificates from a parish clerk in Germany are aceptable as legal proof of origin.  Originally a christening certificate was not sufficient, a Geburtsbriefe was needed.

Before the registrar issued a Geburtsbriefe, two to four credible witnesses had to testify under oath that the birth was legitimate.  A christening certificate was requested as proof of birth.  The date and place of the marriage for the parents was required.

Geburtsbriefe were issued by the civil authorities, usually the council, the mayor, or the court.  In smaller German territories, the administrator (Amstverwalter) issued the briefe.  In rural communities the municipality issued them, and in farm districts, they were issued by the local Lord.

This important document was an exit document:  it allowed your ancestor to leave home, to move somewhere else, or to emigrate to America.  The Pennsylvania Germans brought these documents to America with them.  These documents allowed a groom to be married in the parish of his bride, to apply for burgher rights (citizenship) to practice his occupation in another town, or to establish proof of relationship and legitimate birth for inheritance purposes.  And ancestors who entered a guild to learn a trade had to certify legitimate birth with a briefe.

Although the contents of Geburtsbriefe were generally the same in each region of Germany, some variations occur.  They usually give the following information:

  • name of individual
  • birthdate and place
  • names of parents, and often grandparents
  • date and place of marriage along with the current residence for parents
  • where the person was going to learn a trade, and the occupation
  • where the family planned to settle
  • where travel was permitted

A statement of pure German birth and bloodlines, a statement that the birth was not of Wendish (Slavic) origin, and a statement that the person was of “free birth” and not under serfdom were all included by the briefe.  And since each document could include  grandparents, you get three or more generations of reliable, detailed genealogical data!

The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has microfilmed many of these records–look for them for those areas you are currently searching.

New Tennessee Help–

As I was researching on a very difficult Tennessee problem, I came across this extensive and in my opinion, very important book:  Tennessee First Settlers and Soldiers by Edward C. McAmis.  Copyrighted in 2000, the book is available from Edward C, McAmis, 6041 Locust Road, St. Leonard MD 20685.

In a rather long introduction, McAmis describes how he collected his information (including conversations and interviews with many Tennessee folk and their families), what created his interest, what he had learned about the Scotch-Irish, and why Tennessee has benefitted over the years from their influence.  He also includes some interesting, and previously unpublished lists of Scots and Irish with similar surnames.

Then in an alphabetical dictionary format, he presents new information on settlers in East Tennessee.  One of the families I am researching is Kilday.  I know where the family comes from in Ireland.  McAmis begins his section on this family with this new data:  “Kelday, shows as a Scotch surname from Kellday in the Orkney Isles off the Northern Coast of Scotland in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Kelday and Kilday are with little doubt the same name.”

You bet–I have found both spellings in the entries for this family in Greene and Washington Counties TN.

Libraries catalog the book under Greene County–which may hide it from those interested in Sullivan and Hawkins and other East Tennessee counties.  Look for the book or order your own copy–don’t miss the hidden interviews signaled by “…it is said…” or “…is said to be…” throughout the more than 700 pages of the book.

Some Tennessee folklore and Scots-Irish insight–my next post will be Wednesday 22 Nov (the day before Thanksgiving).  Tune-in for a charming,  homey  look at some traditions you might have in your own background because they spread from TN throughout the South and all the way to California.  You don’t want to miss this post  or let it get lost in the holiday weekend.  Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

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