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Finding and using records online

We’ve got good news for you: Seeing that our records cover a length of about 90 miles (150 km), it’s highly likely that you’ll be able to find something for your historical research among our stocks. And we are continually increasing the number of records that are available to view online.


You’ll find an overview of State Archive records in the form of stock lists and reference catalogues. The archives consist of different stocks, depending on their origins (e.g. the Court Council of the Archdiocese of Cologne, the Head Office of the Province of Westphalia, the Department of Education of the Detmold Local Authority). In each instance, a stock list is provided, giving you an overview of what is available. Each stock usually has a reference catalogue associated with it, listing the files associated with the so-called stock holder, including the item numbers required for ordering records. (Please note that, in the archive portal, the term “book” is used as the traditional term for the archiving units of a stock).

The stock lists and retrievable resources of the State Archives form part of the NRW archive portal.

A search among archived stocks can be very different from using an internet search engine or even a library catalogue. Moreover, the titles of files are not standardised and are full of contemporary terminology; and, of course, any non-digitised handwritten records cannot be found in a digital search. Quite often, therefore, the initial search may not produce any results. Have a look at our Search Help to see what kind of search terms and strategies are most useful for a successful search experience and how you can avoid the frustration of negative results.

One important point is particularly relevant here: Although the State Archives are continually publishing reference catalogues and archived materials on the web, we cannot put all the catalogues online, due to legal, technical and organisational reasons. So any search you conduct in the archive portal will only ever cover the items that are actually available online.


The State Archives of North Rhine-Westphalia are continually digitising archived records from their stocks, so that they can then be made available online. As our records cover a length of over 90 miles (150 km) and thus millions of pages, this is a long-term project.

Digitised stocks can be accessed online, and each digital copy is associated with an archiving unit. So if your search takes you to a digitised archiving unit, it is marked by an icon, indicating that you’re dealing with a digital copy. Click on the icon to open a viewer where you can then access the digital copy. Use the filter “With digital copies only” to conduct a targeted keyword search that will only find archiving units with digital copies.

In addition, you can use departmental overviews of digitised, online stocks:

Digital copies of the Rhineland Department

Digital copies of the Westphalia Department

Digital copies of the East Westphalia-Lippe Department

Digitised copies for genealogy purposes (registers of births, deaths and marriages)

Not found what you were looking for? Feel free to contact us to find out whether there are further records and whether it might be worthwhile visiting our archives in person.