Ortssippenbücher: Important Sources for German Genealogical Research (Guest Post by Scott Holl)

Church records are a vital source of genealogical information, and this is certainly true for German family history research. Once you discover your ancestor’s place of origin, the local parish registers can take your as far back as the mid-16th century. Such research has challenges. Besides the language barrier, you must also be familiar with the handwritten script used in various periods of record keeping. If only there was a short cut!

Luckily, you might find one in the form of an Ortssippenbuch (OSB). Ortssippenbuch (plural: Ortssippenbücher) translates as “local clan book.” You may also see them under the names Ortsfamilienbücher or Familienbücher, and some titles use the phrase, “Die Einwohner von… (“Inhabitants of…”), as in the OSB, Die Einwohner von Oppau und Edigheim, 1480–1813. Regardless of what term is used, OSBs feature concise genealogical information about inhabitants of a specific village or parish, based primarily on surviving local church records. They cover the period from the beginning of church records (as early as the mid-16th century) to about 1900. Some OSBs use local civil records, such as tax lists and court records, to expand and supplement the vital information found in the church books.


OSBs present genealogical information by family groups. Their use of a standard format and common symbols, terminology, and abbreviations makes the entries easy to decipher, even if you do not know German. Families are listed alphabetically by surname, and some include surname and place-name indexes.

Let’s look at an example from Ortsfamilienbuch Heinersreuth, 1559–1900 mit Denzenlohe, Flur, Vollhof und Tannenbach: eine Familiengeschichtliche Untersuchung (Genealogical Register of Heinersreuth, 1559–1900, including Denzenlohe, Flour, Vollhof, and Tannenbach: A Family History Investigation). Heinersreuth is a village near Bayreuth, a city in northern Bavaria.

This OSB uses standard symbols commonly used in German genealogical sources:

* = birth

~ = baptism

† = death

The symbol for marriage (∞ or oo) is not found in this example, because individuals are listed by marriage date within the surname.

Each individual is assigned a reference number for cross-referencing purposes. The text for individual no. 791, the first entry above and shown in detail below, would read as follows:

791—Marriage: 21 July 1646 in Bayreuth

Hacker, Johannes; Protestant (ev.); tenant in Mosing; born on 15 Nov. 1610 in Unterpreuschwitz; baptized on 15 Nov. 1610 in Bayreuth; died in Aug. 1666 in Heinersreuth; buried (begrab.) on 22 Aug. 1666 in Bayreuth.


[Wife] Popp, Margaretha; Protestant; born on 19 Jan. 1611 in Laineck; baptized on 19 Jan 1611 at St. Johannis Church in Bayreuth; buried after 1653.

In this case, Margaretha does not have a reference number, which indicates that no information about her baptism or parents is available in records used in for this OSB.

Information about their children follows, and you will find more information elsewhere about them under the reference numbers in brackets.

Let’s look at their son, Andreas.

3) Andreas, born on 11 Dec. 1650 in Heinersreuth, died on 3 June 1710 in Heinersreuth. [793]

Further down the page you will find under no. 793 the individual entry for Andreas Hacker with information about his marriage and children. In this case, Andreas married Anna Weigel, who appears as a child of the couple listed at no. 3226.

Other Possible Information

Genealogical information is the main feature of OSBs, but many also include histories of the community, the church, the school, and civic organizations. Some include lists of emigrants with their destinations, information about “non-locals” (Ortsfremde) or refugees (Flüchtlinge, Exulanten), and rosters of soldiers killed in war.

Finding Out if an OSB is Available for Your Ancestral Place of Origin

OSBs are not available for every village, and they are more common for some areas than others. Many are available for places in Baden-Wuerttemberg and the Rhineland, for example, but few exist for Lower Saxony (outside of East Frisia) or Schleswig-Holstein. Many have been published for German-speaking villages outside of Germany, such as in Alsace and Lorraine in France, and in the Donauschwaben settlements in present-day Serbia, Romania, and Hungary (Banat and Batschka).

No comprehensive name index for OSBs exist. It is therefore absolutely necessary to know your ancestor’s place of origin. Once you have the location, consult the OSB lists on the GenWiki website. Villages are listed alphabetically.  Clicking on the village name will return the title of the OSB and relevant bibliographical information.

Finding an OSB

Once you have the OSB title, look for a library that owns it. The St. Louis County Library History & Genealogy Department has one of the largest collections of OSBs in the U.S. A list is available here. OSBs cannot be checked out or requested through interlibrary loan, but the library staff will do lookups and copy up to 30 pages. Send requests to A limit of three requests per email applies.

The Family History Library, New York Public Library, and some academic libraries also collect them. The Peoria, Illinois Public Library has many for East Frisia. You can also check WorldCat  to find a repository that has the OSB you are looking for.

OSBs as Secondary Sources

The information in OSBs were extracted and compiled from original records and are therefore subject to the accuracy, interpretation, and criteria of the person doing the work. OSBs are reliable, but you should take the additional step of checking the information against the original records yourself, if possible. OSBs include a list of sources (Quellen) from which information has been extracted. Online access to German church records is increasingly available and bring the task into the realm of possibility as never before.

Further Information

More information about OSBs and aids for using them are available on the St. Louis County Library History & Genealogy Department website.


About the Author

Scott Holl is manager of History & Genealogy at St. Louis County Library in St. Louis, Missouri. He holds a BA in German from Fort Hays State University, an MA in Theology from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and an MLIS from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois.

7 Responses

  1. Thank you for this information. I purchased a “Family Book” that lists information from the town of Plaidt, in the Rhineland. I have figured out many of the symbols, but this is very helpful and confirms my guessing!

  2. Am hoping this e-mail will somehow reach Scott Holl. Thank You, whoever, for aiding in this endeavor and hope you will be able to forward this to him.

    Scott, I am a fellow Lincoln, KS Countian, who was wandering around the internet trying to locate anything that relates to German Gen. Research and came across your page on “Ortssippenbucher.”
    So, will take this opportunity to try to reach you. In years past I was a friend of Raymond & Joyce and we mentioned from time-to-time that there was a connection between the Holls and the Schmidts. There was always this “sometime we will get together” and go through the family history Raymond had because my late husband, Byron Bell, was a Schmidt descendant (grandson of Mary Schmidt Bell). I have learned the hard way never to put something off but to do it immediately. Hence, my immediate e-mail to you instead of putting it off.

    Back to the Holl-Schmidt connection . . . I believe the two families came to this country together in the 1870’s and settled north of what was Shady Bend. For some reason, possibly incorrectly, I have always wondered if either the maiden name of one of the Holls was Schmidt . . . or . . . the maiden name of one of the Schmidts was Holl.. In other words, there was a sibling situation in one of the generations.

    In addition, Byron had always heard that the family came to this country because of all the wars in Germany and wanted to get away from that before they lost a son or brother in the Franco-Prussian War.

    Byron’s death was in 1986, more than 33 years ago, and Grandma Bell’s Bible that had all the family history information in it went to another grandchild (actually a granddaughter even though prior family instructions were that it was to go to the oldest grandson, and that oldest grandson of the generation was Byron.).

    BTW, I have the Kroenlein family history back to 1518, and other branches of both sides of my family back into the 1600 and 1700’s, but the Kroenlein branch is the only German branch. . . . . They emigrated from Roedelsee, Germany, , but I don’t know the exact year (possibly between 1848 & 1852, a horrendous time in Bavaria.) I have been to Roedelsee several times but never when I was able to go through any records, church or civil.

    Back to the subject at hand . . . . . my guess is that you possibly have a copy of what Raymond had and/or would know if Mary Schmidt Bell’s family tree also included Holl genealogy.

    My Thank You for a reply to this unorthodox way of reaching you.

  3. Scott, thanks for the great tutorial. I remember seeing the syntax in a book about Baumeister Elias Holl and his family for a few generations forward and backward. Possibly the OSB could connect all our lines somewhere. If there have been no orthographic changes in the last few centuries. I can share, if you haven’t seen it before, Dr. Hans Bahlow put the origin of the surname “Holl” (in Germanic families) and some instances of “Holle” to UHG areas sometimes as an Örtlichkeitsname (locale name) and other times to consonant clustering as a form of “Holde” like Holder to Holler frequent in the 16th C. He attributes “Höll” to a very different source, as a Bavarian variant of “Hell”. I’d imagine you can discern the German phonographic differences between Holl, Höll, Hoell, and Hell much better than my ears. My experience in interviewing Holls in different parts of the US, both known distant cousins and non-cousins, shows that even we pronounce the same name differently (e.g. like hall, like haul, like Holland, etc.) Thanks again and I’m really glad Katherine published your post.

    1. Hi Andrew–Thank you for your comments. I am familiar with Bahlow’s analysis of Holl and variant names. My Holl ancestors came from a village called Oberpreuschwtiz on the outskirts of Bayreuth in Upper Franconia in Baviaria. I researched the line back to the beginning of extant church records, which puts the birth of my known oldest direct ancestor at around 1575.. The name is very common in the Bayreuth area, and I can surmise that the families are all related. I am unaware of any connection of my line to Elias Holl, who lived 1573-1646 in Augsburg. My Holl ancestors were all peasant farmers, and Elias was from a different region and higher social class. The Holl spelling is relatively rare in the U.S. but common in Germany. We pronounce it “Hall.” I am sure you have discovered that it is spelled various ways in genealogical records. I have found most often as “Hall” and “Hull” in census records.

  4. My Germanic ancestors emigrated to America from Canton Bern in Switzerland. Are OSBs typically available in that region?

    1. Hi Jay, I am not aware of OSBs published for anywhere in Switzerland. Parish registers for Canton Bern are available, however. The St. Louis County Library History & Genealogy Department has (as far as I know) the most complete collection of Canton Bern church records on microfilm in the U.S.. A guide to the collection is on the library’s website at The library staff can do a lookup if given a name, the parish or Heimat, and at least an approximate date of the act (baptism, for example). Take a look at the online guide, and if you have any questions, call the History & Genealogy Department at 314-994-3300 or send an email to

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