East Frisia

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Description of East Frisian Region


This historical and geographical area of East Frisia borders the North Sea and the surrounding contiguous marshlands of the coast. The region also encompasses the East Frisian Islands and the northwestern state of Lower Saxony, Germany. This expansive region has had close cultural relativism and ties with West Friesland in The Netherlands and North Friesland on the west coast of the Jutland Peninsula. This geographical region in the German language is known as Landschaft and is approximately 1,100 square miles in size. (2,850 sq km).

The western side of East Frisia is separated by an inlet from the Netherlands. This inlet is known as the Dollart which has been carved out by the Ems estuary. The Dollart is 180 km or approximately 112 miles long. Nearby, Emden, the region's largest city has been famous for its port and ship building enterprise.

Throughout the centuries many of the marshlands and moors have been built upon in order to diversify its agricultural efforts. This includes the raising of sheep and cattle along with other various types of farming. Needless to say, the coastlines of the North Sea and the East Frisian Islands (Ostfriesische Inseln) offer numerous and productive fisheries which also help to sustain the regional economy and has been a way of life known for centuries. A new dynamic diversification for the area's economy now includes tourism. Genealogical tours, seaside holidays, nature, walking, cycling and sight-seeing or seasonal tours abound. Tourism and many cultural activities play a vital role in the region's fiscal outlook.

The culturally rich historical centers of Aurich, Esens, Jever, Norden, and Wittmund all play a significant role in defining the region of East Frisia.

Long before East Frisia became known as an area or region, it was a Principality. The history of the Principality was interwoven by geo-politics, military and religious definitions and concerns. The religious and theological "mini-reformations" of the area are rich in context long before the globally-known Reformation and Renaissance. Culturally and artistically fine artwork was produced and the traditions of the people evolved into a rich heritage.

Religious Divisions

This region has been a powerful seedbed of Christian piety. It has never been simple in uniform belief. Much of the Christian thought and debate that defines the changes of the Reformation and the Renaissance began and matured in this small area. Given this theological complexity, the confusion and changes of Church order are not surprising.

Papenburg and areas to the south were regained by the counter-Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church. The southern part of the Krummhörn and the city of Emden were strongly Calvinistic. Under the leadership of Menso Alting, "Dutch Reformed" theologian, a group developed which had intentions to recruit East Frisia into the Netherlands community. The rest of the area under the rule of the Cirksena, the Grafs (Counts) of East Frisia and later Dukes and Princes, was Lutheran. A few of these differences, Calvinistic thought and Lutheran principles, would play a role in the power struggles which came about between the Principality and the Estates in the early to mid-18th Century.

Through the religious warfare of the 15th and 16th centuries a practical and simple ethic became common among the Roman Catholic, Calvinist and Lutheran East Frisians. This was their strong response to the brutal realities of the Imperial political forces they all labored under. While they never agreed on Sacramental and Church order issues, they profoundly agreed on living peacefully together free from foreign military domination. This climate prevailed despite interruptions from Napolean, the House of Hannover and Prussia. (Refer also to: Eala Frya Fresena and in German Eala Frya Fresena).

Post-World War Two Europe witnessed significant displaced populations, with a new influx of religious groups. A major impact of East German refugees occurred during this time. They were predominantly Lutheran.

The extensive collection of works by Max Markreich (1881-1962) are well worth consulting regarding Judaism in East Frisia (Die Juden in Ostfriesland). Many of his papers outline the origin and history of the Jewish populace covering the years 1749 and 1812-1962. For further information please review
Papers of Max Markreich. The author's work may be consulted by contacting Leo Baeck Institute Center for Jewish History.

Essen in East Frisia is the site of the Old Synagogue (Alte Synagoge). Another resource in East Frisia about Judaism is the museum located in Esens:

August-Gottschalk Haus - Gedenkstaette und Ausstellung zur neueren Geschichte der Juden in Ostfriesland
Burgstrasse 8 26427 Esens
Phone: 49-4971 2102


A key factor to note in the history of East Frisia is to view its independence and kinship. This may have developed early on based on the regional climate and geographical location of the North Sea coastline. Long-established before recorded history, evidence has found the tribal people of the area built hills out of the marsh and bogs of the land. Dikes were built in order to control the waterways and the sea. The purpose was two-fold: for daily survival and to create hill-top fortresses in order to keep watch as to who may be approaching by sea. This stood them well as Romans or German states would attempt to invade this land and its people by sea. This Frisian Kingdom remained independent until the latter part of the 7th Century. In 689 the Kingdom was held by the Frankish Empire and later, that of the reign of Charles the Great. Areas of the former Kingdom became separated by various Christian religious missionaries and Diocesan decrees. The various districts which ensued remained independent, autonomous and were self-governed. This independence of mind and spirit avoided a feudalistic society. District representatives from the main land and from the islands met yearly at Upstalsboom, near Aurich.

During the 14th Century disease and death came upon the many inhabitants. Due to these events, stronger and more powerful influences were able to take over rule of the area. Chiefs of the districts had ruled alongside the local chiefs and the landowners. Politically their status in each of these three classes were related to the size of their property or better known as "hearth" or "stead" (aka homestead). This allowed the individual the right to place their vote in Parliament. This was known as Ostfriesische Landschaft.

The Cirksena Grafs (Counts) from Greetsiel became the most powerful in the 15th Century and by lineage created a dynasty until 1744. Prior to this the various districts became a county under the Holy Roman Empire in 1465. The Count of Frisia was ordered by the ruling Emperor, Friedrich, to relinquish the power of his family class to one of the dukes in Saxony. The Count, Edzard the Great resisted the order in 1514 and various German armies were defeated. The Count was elevated to that of a Prince and the successors within his family were assured the rights of Princes and Counts. By 1654 the County was elevated to a Principality. Their power was limited and kept in check by that of the Estates, signed into law in 1663. In other words, the sovereignty of the rights of Principality could remain in partnership with the common citizen via the Estates overseeing the legislation, taxation and jurisdictions. However, in time, various conflicts arose between the Princes and the Estates whether it was along religious and political lines or power struggles between certain cities. re. Appellkrieg, 1726-1727 In one view the Estates protected the rights of the citizen and their freedoms. Even though many times the nobility of the Principality and their followers were victorious in the conflicts and skirmishes, the Emperor, Leopold sided with the Estates. When in 1744, the last Prince of East Frisia died without any heirs, the Principality ended and the land was turned over, by prior contract and agreements, to the control of the Prussians. Independence, was now lost.

The ensuing decades brought about more changes. Up to this time the citizens of East Frisia had endured a long protracted Thirty Years' War, 1618 to 1648. Their country had barely survived a massive flood of the North Sea at Christmas, 1717. By 1719, all males from the age of 12 years and older were taxed in order to pay for the devastation of the flood damage and to repair the dikes. These tax roles are referred to as Kopfschatzung 1719. (Not all cities or villages were included in this listing).

Important historical events defined East Frisia in the late 18th Century and the early beginnings of the 19th Century. The Prussians were in control from 1744 to 1801. Many of the cities and townships had to learn a new way of legal administration they had not known before; re. Allgemeines Landrecht (Prussian civil code). In 1801 Ostfriesland came under the control of France during the Napoleonic Wars. This lasted until 1806 when parts of Oostfriesland were split up under the French Empire of Holland. By 1810 Ostfriesland itself came under the rule of the now existing French Empire, Emperor Napoleon I. In 1811, two major historical events were to occur. The first was the introduction of Code civil des Français or known as the Napoleonic Code. This civil code, based on Roman Law, brought about changes to the existing legal system and the administrations of cities and towns. "Mayors" now oversaw local administrations. They were not part of the old system of the Elders of the town based on social standing nor anything related to the Principality which were known in prior centuries. Afterwards, this change brought about the second significant historical event during this period. All citizens were required to take on a surname. This was to rid the centuries-old Patronymic naming system of East Frisia. The reasoning behind this law was two-fold. This change would help to streamline the affairs of the legal system and city and town administrations. Secondly, a surname listing would provide ease in structuring the tax rolls. After all, Napoleon had to find ways to pay for his previous wars.

The Patronymics of the East Frisian naming culture was based on giving the children a derivative, affix or genitive usage of the Father's name (or Grandfather; eg a paternal ancestor).

An example:

  • Peter Menssen and Talke Hinrichs Janssen were the parents of:
    • Mensse (aka Menße) Peters, b. 1771
  • Mennse (aka Mens) Peters married Ette Peters Janssen. Their children were:
    • Peter Menssen Peters, Johann Hinrichs Peters, Galt Peters, Metke Maria Peters, Thalke Margarethe Peters and Hinrich Willms Peters, b. 1817.

As you can understand from this example, "Peters" has now become the surname.

Further political changes were in store. By 1814 Ostfriesland was turned over to Hannover until 1866 when Prussian control took over once again until after the First World War.

Genealogical and Historical Societies

  • Upstalsboom-Gesellschaft e.V. für historische Personenforschung und Bevölkerungsgeschichte Ostfrieslands e.V.

Library address:

Upstalsboom-Gesellschaft e.V.
Fischteichweg 16
D-26603 Aurich

This society took over the work of the Arbeitskreis Familienforschung of the Ostfriesische Landschaft a few years ago. The society now publishes the East Frisian OSB (Ortssippenbuch).

  • Arbeitskreis Familienforschung der Emsländischen Landschaft
Ludmillenstr. 8
D 49716 Meppen
  • Oldenburgische Gesellschaft für Familienkunde (within the Oldenburgisches Staatsarchiv)
  • Verein Ostfriesischer Sippen und Familienverbände, Vorsitz Prof. Dr. Harmen van Lessen, Gutenbergstraße 5, 42659 Solingen
  • Familienkundlicher Stammtisch Jeverland (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Familiengeschichtsforschung)
Erich - Heckel - Ring 17
D 26389 Wilhelmshaven
  • Familienforschung im Harlingerland
Heinz Esen

Genealogical and Historical Records

  • Available Church Records:
    • Records for the Evangelical Reformed Church are on microfilm at the library of the Upstaalsboom - Gesellschaft
    • Lutheran Church records are at the office of the "Superintendent of the Lutheran Church" in Aurich.

Many of these records are presented in the OSB (Ortssippenbuch) normally known as "Die Familien der Kirchengemeinde...". These records are published and sold by the Upstalsboom - Gesellschaft, the East Frisian genealogical society in Aurich. They are extremely popular for the professional genealogist and for others researching their family history. An OSB listing is available in German: Ostfrieslands Ortssippenbücher (OSB).

  • Baptist Church records may be accessed through Pastor G. Helms. Please send your inquiry to his email: gregor.helms "at" nwn.de
  • Civil Registration Records are available at the local administration level.
  • Other Records:
    • Census data is not available. Citizen records and registrations are held by the Personenstandsregister of the local administration. Access is strictly limited based on the laws and policies of confidentiality.
    • Emigration and Immigration records are located at the University of Oldenburg (DAUSA). Approximately 200,000 East Frisians immigrated to North America. Many settled within their own communities with other Frisians, speaking in their primary language of Platte Deutsch.
    • Land records are held by the administration (registrar at the Katasteramt). For older documents, they are held at the Low Saxonian State Archive (Niedersächschisches Staatsarchiv) in Aurich. Some records are published by the Upstalsboom Gesellschaft as well.
    • Military records from the Medieval period include those of the Fendells. Records which still exist are located at the "Staatsarchiv". Single muster rolls are published by the Upstalsboom Gesellschaft.
    • Tax rolls of 16th Century and later may be found at the Staatsarchive. A few records are also published by the Upstalsboom Gesellschaft.


  • Ostfriesische Urkundenbücher Band I - III
  • Die Acht und ihre sieben Siele, 2 volumes,1987, Emden, ISBN 3-7921-0365-6
  • Ostfriesland im Schutz der Deiche, had 9 volumes in 1997 about history, soil science and settlement. Also the economy arts, the flora and fauna and political history; Church history, trails, traffic and history of the city of Emden, publ. G.Rautenberg, 295 Leer (Ostfriesland)
  • Ortssippenbücher (OSB): View the listing in German: Ortsfamilienbücher.The OSB contain Church records from the earliest beginnings to approximate modern times. Review the East Frisian OSB list as noted elsewhere on this page.
  • Deutsches Geschlechterbuch, vols. 26, 31, 39, 103, 134, 190 published since 1889 by Starcke Verlag. Beginning with Volume 120, dated after the Second World War, the records are held in Limburg. A simple name index of the 204 volumes became available in 1997 from the publisher on a CD. These particular records on the CD-Rom present only surnames and volume number. It does not have a search function to point to any region nor locations.
  • Jaques Bauermann Groenveld, Die Groeneveld's, Beiträge zur Geschichte eines ostfriesischen Geschlechts, 2 volumes, 1952 and 1958, C.A. Starcke Verlag, Limburg a.d. Lahn (out of publication).
  • There is a periodic genealogical publication of the Upstalsboom - Gesellschaft, QuF: Quellen und Forschungen zur ostfriesischen Familien und Wappenkunde. Click here to see the contents available since 1996; 4 editions per year with a total of 48 volumes. Upstalsboom - Gesellschaft.


  • Niedersächsisches Staatsarchiv Aurich
Oldersumer Straße 50
D-26603 Aurich
Telephone: (04941) 176 660 -and- Fax: (04941) 176 673
Office hours: Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

A preview is presented in: "Geschichte und Bestände des Niedersächsischen Staatsarchivs in Aurich", Günther Möhlmann, Ph.D. and Joseph König, Ph.D., Verlag Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1955; in English: History and Existence of Public Records of Lower Saxony in Aurich.

  • Stadtarchiv Leer
Stadtarchivar W. Vogelsang
Rathausstraße 1
D-26789 Leer
Telephone: 0491-82411

The Leer Archives has prepared a brochure entitled "Archive im Landkreis Leer" regarding documents from 1639 to 1945 and books from 1710 to 1996.

  • The Archives in Emden have large Stadtarchiv. The archival materials were protected during the Second World War despite the fact that the town had been destroyed on 06 September 1944 photo. In 1996 it was moved into an old war-time bunker in the Kirchstraße opposite the Johannes-a-Lasco-Bibliothek. A small room is "Open to the Public" located on the opposite side of the street.
Tuesdays through Thursdays: Hours: 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Fridays: 9 a.m. to 12:00 Noon
Stadtarchiv Emden
Kirchstraße 18
D-26721 Emden
Fax Number: (0 49 21) 87-14 32
  • The East Frisian Museum in Emden holds over 4,000 objects of antique fine art, regional arts and crafts, folk art, textiles, gold and silverware antiquities as well as a large display of 2,500 military historical armaments from throughout the centuries. Ostfriesisches Landesmuseum Emden.

Note: All hours and phone numbers listed in this section may be subject to change. Always verify up-to-date current information.


  • Library of the Ostfriesische Landschaft. The Landschaft is the former Parliament of the "Stände" and represents the three classes: The Count of Ostfriesland, the Prussian Government as First Class, the Chiefs (Nobles, which were called Häuptlinge in East Frisia, following the Germanic Rule) as Second Class and the "Hausmänner" (Householder) possessing land of a certain size which made up the Third Class. Today it is a cultural society and center with a concentration on East Frisian Culture such as Language, History, Sociology, Genealogy (practiced by the "Upstalsboom - Gesellschaft") and Literature. They operate a library which is Open to the Public. Their archival holdings include most all of Frisiatica.
Fischteichweg 16
D-26603 Aurich
Telephone Number: 04941/1799-38 -and- Fax Number: 04941/1799-80
Open Daily 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Wednesday hours: 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
  • Genealogische Gesellschaft : Upstalsboom - Gesellschaft e.V. in Aurich. The prior work of the "Familienkundlichen Forschungsstelle" of the Ostfriesische Landschaft, Aurich is now run by the Upstalsboom-Gesellschaft. Other than the Landschaft, their genealogical library contains Ahentafels, Pedigrees, family histories and genealogical information at:
Fischteichweg 16
D-22603 Aurich
Open Fridays: 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Telephone: 04941/179943. This phone number is answered only during open hours.
  • Johannes-a-Lasco-Bibliothek in Emden. For further information Bibliothek. The Bibliothek is in the Große Kirche which was rebuilt after the Second World War. This library is comparable to the library of the Landschaft in Aurich. However, this Bibliothek contains Church histories as well.
Kirchstraße 22
D-26721 Emden
Telephone: *49-4921/29779
Hours Open to the Public:
Tuesday and Friday: 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Wednesday and Thursday: 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Note: All hours and phone numbers listed in this section may be subject to change. Always verify up-to-date current information.


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