On 1 January 1876, vital records were introduced in the entire German Reich. There had been different kind of vital records in different parts of Germany before, but now they were all standardized and there were Offices of Vital Records (Standesamt) all over Germany. The information recorded in birth, marriage and death registers changed through the years, but what never changed was the principle that no changes were allowed to be made in the record itself. If changes were needed, there was the possibility of adding a so called Beischreibung, a remark, mostly in handwriting, sometimes as a stamp, next to the official text. The default text was only two thirds of the sheet, there was one third free space to add further information. This is how it remains until this very day.
Here you can see a great example why this space was needed. It is the birth certificate (Geburtsurkunde) of my great-grandfather Reckling, born on 24 October 1879 in Driesen in the County of Friedeberg. For some reason, there were difficulties with giving him a first name. Weren’t his parents able to agree on a name? It took six days alone to register his birth. It would have been easy, his father Adolph Reckling, being the mayor of Driesen, only needed to go downstairs. When the child finally was registered, no name was stated. The certificate only says “a child, which not yet has received one name”. Almost two months later, on December 18, a Beischreibung was added, stating that the child had received the first names (definitely more than one!) Adolf Paul Jacob. This, of course, did not really comply with the regulatory requirements, but if you were the Mayor and the Standesbeamter (clerk) was your brother-in-law, things obviously tended to be more laid back.
What kind of Beischreibungen are there? In the old birth certificates we mostly find the information on acknowledgement of a child born unehelich (out of wedlock). Sometimes, the parents married and the groom/father acknowledges the child, sometimes we only find the acknowledgement itself. It could take days until the Beischreibung was added, but it could take years as well.
I once found a Beischreibung stating that a mother of an illegitimate child came back to the Standesamt one week after having given birth in a private maternity home, claiming her child really was hers. This, of course is a bit strange as she was listed as the mother anyway. But we then found out, that she did come from a small town, went to the next big city to give birth (probably anonymously) and might have given the child up for adoption. But as we then found out that the child was brought up by her childless sister, we think that this decision was made after the child was born and so the mother needed to claim the child back, so to say. That at least is what we think might have happened.
This is another example: on 30 December 1890 little Anna Ida Emma Jahnke was born in Berlin-Kreuzberg (StA 5a). Her mother, Emma Laura Rosa Jahnke, was unmarried. On August 18, 1891 she married Carl Friedrich August Wüst at the same Standesamt and he officially acknowledged the child named Anna Ida Emma, born on December 30, 1890. The Beischreibung also includes information on the number of the marriage certificate (829/1891; read 829 aus/from 1891). With this information, you can easily search the marriage certificate that will then give information on the parents’ date and place of birth and their parents.
Sometimes there are name changes which are stated in the Beischreibung.
The name with the spelling used in the record is legally binding. Should there be a misspelling in the record (for example Sophie instead of Sophia) or should the name be changed, or should another first name be added, this needs to be stated in the birth certificate. Without this, the name is not official and is not to be used. However, the name change will only be documented upon a judicial decision, so you might want to try finding these records as well. Anyway, you will find that often they simply go with the name they like most, despite any rules and regulations.
In the Eastern part of what was the German Reich before 1918, there were people of Polish, Russian, Lithuanien etc. decent, who had their name Germanized at the end of the 19th century. You will find this in the Beischreibung of their birth and marriage certificates. After WW2 some German families, who remained in Poland etc., changed their names to a Polish spelling.
In 1938, the Gesetz über die Änderung von Familiennamen und Vornamen (Law on the Amendment of Surnames and Given Names) forced those of Jewish faith or who were considered as being Jewish to carry the additional given name Sara (females) and Israel (men) (I have even seen Bela for a female lately). This was added as a Beischreibung to the birth and marriage records. However, some clerks seem to have been able to ignore this order, some did as they were told right away. It was first in 1953 that these name changes were cancelled and this was added to the former Beischreibung.
We really get lucky if the record does include other data, like the marriage and the date of death, especially if it did not take place in the town they were born. This information should have been added to the records, but de facto it is not often the case, mainly because the Standesamt that holds the birth certificates simply does not get the information. Remember that not only did large parts of the German Reich before 1918 did not belong to the German Reich in its size after 1920 and after 1945. Not to forget that until 25 year ago there were two German states, who sometimes found it hard to communicate.
This Beischreibung gives the information that the child born in 1899 was married for the second time in Berlin-Kreuzberg on 12 Dec 1939 and the record is to be found there under the number 4611/1939. No information on the first marriage though…
This Beischreibung in a marriage record gives information on the death of the groom. He died on 6 January 1939. He was then registered at the Standesamt he died (not the Standesamt of his residence!) and the clerk then sent a postcard to Standesamt where the marriage took place.
The death certificate would then be found at the Standesamt in Berlin-Kreuzberg under the number 120/1939. By the way, the groom was born in 1897 and the marriage took place in 1920.
What we see quite often is the Beischreibung of a divorce, which naturally is found in the marriage certificate. When the Scheidung (divorce) is legally binding, the court gives this information to the Standesamt where the marriage took place. It gives the date and the court/place the divorce took place. When finding this Beischreibung you might want to check one of the persons listed remarried.
Therefore, it sometimes can be worth getting the birth/marriage/death certificate as well, even if you already have a church record. Not only does this record hold different information than the baptismal/marriage/burial record does, it might even have a Beischreibung that may hold a surprise!
The records (except for the birth record of Adolf Reckling) are taken from the collection of the Berlin birth, marriage and death records available at www.ancestry.com.