Baptism is saving ordinance for Christians, and so almost all, if not all, people located within a parish before the 1900s will have a baptism or christening record. German baptism records are pivotal because they give the name of the child as well as the father and the mother. Common information that may be included in a baptism record is:
This list is only a commonly found list. The actual information can vary widely from either almost no information to excessive details. It is important to note that in Germany after the Reformation people in each village could be found in either a Catholic, Lutheran or Reformed congregations, or any number of smaller reformed sects, such as Anabaptist. The information will usually follow a specific order, but it is not uncommon to find an entry that does not follow the pattern.
Because German baptism record information can vary widely, it is important to copy all information found for each child in the family group. What is missing in one child's baptism record, can be explained in a sibling's record.
Another important reason is to find children that may have died at or near birth. If this happens it is usually indicated by the term "stillborn" (todgeboren, todgeb. or Fehlgeburt).*** The meaning of this term can vary widely from each priest recording the event. It was not uncommon for a child to live a few hours and still be recorded as stillborn.
When a cross is entered next to the name and/or the date is crossed out, it is an indicator that the person has died, but not necessarily at birth. The death could be written in later by a priest. There could be a note by the entry indicating when the death happened, but not always. It is important to check for later records of a person with a cross by their name.
In this first example the death is only indicated by a cross and the date crossed out
In this example the priest crossed out the date and then made a note in by the person "St. [Starb] 13 Sptbr [September] 1856" ("Died 13 September 1856")
The cross can also be added to the mother's name if she died in or from childbirth. A note by her name could also be added. Pay careful attention to the notes added by the priests, as they could be the only place the mother's death was recorded. But always try to find a death record as well. It is also important to note whether the mother died so that future children of the father will be accredited to the correct mother. It was not uncommon for a man to remarry quickly and have the same name. Thankfully in German records, the mothers maiden name is almost always given. This is indicated by the words nee or geborne or geb. and then a last name.
Remember that fathers can die during the mother's pregnancy. Make sure to note if the child is legitimate (ehelich) or if the father's name has a cross or is labeled as dead (tod) or late (nach, nachgel. or nachgelassen), or the mother is widowed (Witwe or Wit. or Wittwe)
For more information on death records go to our Death Record page.
Illegitimate (unehelich) children were more common than we tend to assume. Many couples lived together as if they were married until they had enough money to pay the priest. In most illegitimate births, the priest will name all parties that might be involved, including the reputed father of the child and possibly the father of the mother (although this is not the rule). The priest might also make a note of previous illegitimate children born to the woman or couple. If the couple married after the birth of the child or children, which is very common, you might see the illegitimate crossed out, a subsequent note or a date penciled in next to the word. This is a clue to look for the marriage record after the birth of the child. Parents who married after their child were born legitimize their children as if they were born in wedlock. Illegitimate children could not enter guilds and it would be difficult for a girl to marry, so there was a strong incentive for the couple to marry. Always look for a marriage between a father and a mother even if there is no note or date given. If the child truly is illegitimate, it would not be unusual to find the child and mother sent to America. This was a much cheaper option for the parish then to pay for their upkeep.
In this example the father of the mother is listed, Joh. Glieb Seeliger, and the there is no father of the infant listed. There is also a note of illegitimacy next to the birth entry (unehelich).
In this next example, the child is illegitimate even though the mother is married and has her maiden name underlined. She is separated from her current husband, who is not the father of her child. The note says "die Mutter lebt mit ihrem Ehemann in Scheidung"
Sample Baptism Record
Here is an easy document to transcribe. Begin by translating the top printed words to determine what should be in the columns below. Then translate the handwritten words. If you need help with letters, use the Alphabet Charts page and/or the Animated Letters page. Click on the image for an English translation of the first entry when you are done.
By Werkstatt Gege, Seehausen am Staffelsee - Dr. Fischer Kunstauktionen, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17820984