The term "Familienbuch" has several different meanings depending on the context in which it is used.
Familienbuch (Ortsfamilienbuch, Ortssippenbuch, or OFB) can refer to a printed book. These books summarize the basic genealogical information (births, marriages, and deaths) for every family in the records of a specific town or parish. These books generally report each surname in alphabetical order, and within each surname, list the families in chronological order. There is usually a numbering or cross reference system that helps you trace how the listed families are connected to each other. There are variations in format, but generally these books are easy to use even if you are not fluent in German.
Familienbuch can also refer to an online database that contains information that, similar to the printed books, summarizes the basic genealogical information for each family in a specific locality. The online versions frequently allow the user to easily follow links from one family to another.
You will sometimes see "Familienbuch" listed when you are scrolling through parish record images online. Within a set of church records, these are usually pages that show each family group that was living in the locality at the time the list was created, with the parents names at the top and all of their children listed on the same page. The level of detail varies, and I have seen versions that included the parents of the parents, in other words three generations on each page. I was recently looking at records for a parish in Baden-Württemberg that included a set of records called "Genealogische Kartei". These "genealogy cards" contained information that was very similar in content and format to the "Familienbücher" that I had seen within Hessen parish records.
There isn't a Familienbuch for every single locality in Germany. If there was, all of our genealogy research problems would be solved! But they do exist for many locations. Regardless of what format they are in - a book, online, or a section of the parish records - they will save you time and help you organize your search. You should always look to see if one exists for the location you are researching.
Where will you find Familienbücher?
The St. Louis County (Missouri) Public Library has a large collection of Familienbücher. Their web site has a useful information page that includes a list of what is in their collection, but also links to other lists of available Familienbücher here: Ortssippenbücher / Familienbücher held by the History and Genealogy Department
There is a collection of Online OFBs here: Online Ortsfamilienbücher (Online heritage books)
Alphabetical List of published OFBs here: Kategorie:Ortsfamilienbuch
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City also has a large collection of Familienbücher. When looking at listing for a specific locality in Family Search, Familienbücher will be shown in the search results under "Genealogy".
© Margreatha Hein, 2021