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The German Church Records

by Steve Broyles

The record books of the pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ötisheim and Dußlingen record the christenings, deaths, and marriages that took place among the parishioners. The Dußlingen records go back to about 1638, and the Ötisheim records begin at about 1690. It's a challenge, but an extremely rewarding one, to view the microfilms. Anyone can!


When Cerny and Zimmerman published their Before Germanna series in 1990, I eagerly purchased a copy and pored over it. Two questions immediately came to mind:

  1. Johannes Bre˙hel was supposed to have been born in Dußlingen yet married in Ötisheim. A quick look at a map shows these towns to be rather far apart. Why did Cerny and Zimmerman believe the records in both villages referred to the same man?
  2. Can we be sure Johannes was identical to John Broyles of Virginia?

I wrote them about the first point and they responded that through an oversight they had not included some additional information that linked Johannes to both villages. But this left me wondering what other information the records might contain.

I decided to investigate for myself.

Piece of cake, right? Well, not exactly!

The Mormons have microfilmed many German parish records, and you can rent copies of these films and view them at your local Mormon "stake". (If you're interested in doing this, check your Yellow Pages under "Churches". Call and ask if they have a Family History center for doing research and what the hours are. They are open to the general public.) Both the Dußlingen and Ötisheim records are available on microfilm.

The films proved to be a real challenge to read. I don't speak German, and I labored under the misbelief that years of experience reading old American records would make it a "piece of cake". Hardly! But, eventually I was able to locate the birth, death, and marriage records referred to by Cerny and Zimmerman, and took copies for study at home. With the help of some German speaking friends, a German dictionary, the reference librarian at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and some patience I was able to more or less decode many of the records. The handwriting is similar to English, but a number of the letters are done differently, and some of the letters and letter combinations are hard to tell apart. (If you do this yourself I strongly recommend you purchase a copy of Ernest Thode's "German Genealogical Dictionary" from the Genealogical Publishing Co. of Baltimore. I found out about this book after the fact, and it would have saved me a great deal of time. It's excellent.) After some more practice I was able to research the collateral lines in Dußlingen.

What I found

Cerny and Zimmerman were largely correct in what they found, but some mistakes and omissions were made.

The Records

Here are scanned images of some of the church records, with German and English translations. (The scanning process has removed much of the nuance in the handwriting. The microfilms are easier to read than the images would indicate.)

Are Johannes Bre˙hel and John Broyles the same man?

There's no question in my mind that the man from Ötisheim is identical to the immigrant. This is based on a number of points:

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8 August 1996