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The public servants of yesteryear
In the former Duchy/Principality/Kingdom of Hanover, the administrator who oversaw the legal and the administrative affairs of an area was called Amtmann. The earliest officials serving in this capacity were nobles. They were the foremost custodians in the state apparatus. Their title was also known as Drost. With them served the so called Amtsschreiber, a man who had studied law. The Amtsschreiber would eventually advance to the position of Amtmann. This position seemed to have played an important role regarding legislation and needs to be explained in more detail, since the Amtmann seems to have been the main figure between announcements of laws and infringement decisions.
Besides making known the law the Amtmann had other assignments such as overlooking the dealings regarding the lower court, population registration, health and occupational supervision, supervision of military service, control of fireplaces and fire brigade, maintenance of public buildings, and police supervision.
How did the population of yesteryear deal with laws that were not in their favor or which they could not adhere because of certain circumstances? Did the people have recourse when they thought they were mistreated? Considering the lack of education in the rural areas, was it even possible for them to understand the content of laws? How was the status of the Amtmann to be evaluated since he was the go between of authority and subjects. From letters of complaints and petitions we get a better understanding of how the power game was carried out.
Directives or edicts were issued by the sovereign. These written texts went to the local officials who had to proclaim and execute them. Often the proclamations were posted on doors of inns or proclaimed from the pulpit at churches, so no one could claim ignorance. Some issues raised a good amount of contention. Even though the targeted population was unable to read and write, they were not without recourse. They went to the Amtsschreiber to repeal the edict or to complain when a Amtmann took measures beyond his realm of competence, i.e., threat of incarceration. Among the surviving documents were complaints regarding brewing, grain trade, taxes, coinage, horse trade, regulations for craftsmen, regimentation of officials, and recruitment for military service. In this way the population asked for remission of a sentence or taxes or complained about grievances and other injustices. Each supplication testifies that the laws were not absolute but could be negotiated.
An Amtmann did not receive regular wages. He lived off his legal fees (Sporteln) and the contributions from the operational area (Amtsbereich) which comprised of several villages. He operated as the judge, the chief forester, and as the fiscal authority. He furthermore oversaw the management of the manor. He enjoyed benefits such as tax exemptions and free accommodation. He had to pay for his servants, his carriage and his writing utensils. A skilled Amtmann could earn over 7000 Thaler (currency) a year. Compared to the earnings of a pastor (70 Thaler) the official was well off, so well that some lived like kings and demanded to be buried with all due respect in local churches or monasteries.
Sarnighausen, Hans-Cord. Die alten Amtsschreiber und Amtsmänner in Zeitschrift für Niederdeutsche Familienkunde, Heft 4, 2000.
Lernwerkstatt Geschichte. Gnade vor Recht
Hirelings in Osnabrück
In the middle of the 19th century between 51 and 60 percent of families in each Amt (administrative district) of the Principality of Osnabrück belonged to the class of hirelings. They owned no property and were fully dependent on supplementary income. In order to provide for themselves, they were allowed to own a cow or some pigs. As renters they were obligated to their landlords to provide labor. This contract which granted them limited work and living privileges differentiated them from day laborers. Hirelings worked independently on their “property”. Often, their circumstances were most barren and humble, living in baking facilities or in the room provided for the retiring farmer. Additional income for a hireling came from linen weaving. Hirelings were self-caterers. However, their self-sufficiency was so marginal that economic hardships could become crises for them. Given such circumstances, hirelings had no backing from the community nor were they entitled to support for the poor.
The beginning of the 19th century was the start of a groundbreaking shift from medieval ministrations to modern society: land reforms. With this movement, farmers would eventually become owners of their land with no further obligations towards their landlords. Before this happened, though, taxes, obligations, amortization, and deliveries were heaped upon them, laws were not clearly in their favor, and many a farmer experienced economic woe.
Such developments had immediate effects on the hirelings who were more than dependent on farm work. Additionally, economic woes did not just occur through agricultural changes, but also by market prizes, effecting linen weaving. The cheaper produced cotton cloth became the favorite, thus putting the hireling in a precarious situation. By the thousands they left for America to find better living conditions. It is estimated that from the Principality of Osnabrück alone 77,056 people became American emigrants, most of them hirelings.
K. H. Schneider, Bauernbefreiung und Agrarreformen. Hannover 2007
Anne Aengenvoort. Migration, Siedlungsbildung, Akkulturation. Die Auswanderung Norddeutscher nach Ohio 1830-1914.
Here is a link to names of pastors from Osterode/Harz mountains including a brief church history of the town.
From Nasses Dreieck, Germany to London, England
Farmhands, daylaborers and servants from the part of Hannover known as Nasses Dreieck or Elbe-Weser-Dreieck migrated from the Kingdom of Hannover in hopes of better employment to London, England. Here in the East End of London was a thriving sugar refinery industry which employed 1.200 workers of which 1000 were Germans from the Elbe-Weser region as shown below.
The workers of the sugar refineries were predominantly single men who were looking for better earnings and in some cases, dodge the draft. For some it was indeed possible to save up money, return home, marry and establish themselves by paying off debts. Some even managed to become self-employed. It was feasible for these men to establish themselves in London, because those who had gone before, would help them with employment and housing. There were churches and inns where a German could feel at home without really having to adapt to the local culture. Those men who decided to marry and settle in England also found German schools, hospitals and clubs to attend. Even a fire insurance company was established in their behalf which still exists today.
Names of those who were involved can be found at this website.
Family research at sea
By royal decree from April 14th, 1820 the administration of Stade determined that shipwrecked or poor seamen who wanted to return to their homes were allowed to be transported by ships which were headed for any Hannover ports or other cities along the Weser or Elbe. Seamen could board such ships and expect transportation and catering costs not to exceed 6 Reichsthaler (currency).
This announcement indicates that a number of men bound for the sea came from the former Duchy/Kingdom/Prussian Province of Hannover. Transportation of goods was the main focus of the fleets coming out of Hamburg and the Weser/Elbe regions. When during the 18th century the transatlantic traffic picked up, the main ports of transshipment were Bremen and Hamburg. Other skippers had to look for freight where they could find it. Many travelled to the big ports to secure a consignment. In the middle of the 19th century the Kingdom of Hannover established schools for seamen, because many accidents happened which were caused by navigation errors. These schools were located in Papenburg, Leer, Emden, Westerhauderfehn, and Timmel.
Trained men and hired help had to go through the so called Wasserschout, the word originating from the Dutch “waterschout”, meaning harbor master. He was responsible for the recruiting and registering of seamen. Besides administrative he also held judicial and police authority. He was arbitrator between the captain and the crew, he oversaw the military duties of the seamen, closed the contracts and dissolved the employment for seamen, paid their salaries, regulated inheritances, provided housing, investigated accidents at sea, and helped survivors of deceased seamen. There is a wealth of information for the genealogist if an ancestor went to sea.
In order to alleviate the research into sea records, the State Archive of Hannover has published an inventory helping to determine which records are available where, and what the records contain for what time frame. In the book “Archivalische Quellen zum Seeverkehr an der deutschen Nordseeküste, Teil 1: Archive im Elbe-Weser-Raum und in Bremen, one can find archival listings from the Altländer Archiv Jork, city archive Bremerhaven, Buxtehude, and Cuxhaven, the Deutsche Schiffahrtsmuseum, Archiv Schiffahtsmuseum, Archiv der Handelskammer Bremen, Historisches Museum Bremerhaven, Archiv des Landkreises Cuxhaven, state archive Bremen, state archive Stade, city archive Stade. The inventory can provide information from 1500-1870. Subjects are emigration, navigation, ship building, import and export of goods.
Information is listed by archive with address, time frames, description of archival materials, archival number, title of document and content. An entry in the city archive of Cuxhaven reads as follows:
Amt Ritzebüttel: I, III Fach 5 Volumen C Fasc. 2: von den Schiffszimmerleuten (Schiffbauertagelöhner), 1840-1857 (The reference refers to ship carpenters or day laborers from Amt Ritzebüttel engaged in ship building between 1840-1857. These documents contain support for ship carpenters, signatures of day laborers, and an investigation of walkouts re. carpenters of Johann Eggers.
Another entry from the state archive of Stade deals with the issue of sea passes 1817-1859, found at STAST 1433, Rep. 80 Nr. 3412.
Knoop Ernst G.I. Familienforschung zur See in Zeitschrift für Niedersächsische Familienkunde 1938 Nr. 2
Archivalische Quellen zum Seeverkehr an der deutschen Nordseeküste. Teil 1: Archive im Elbe-Weser-Raum und in Bremen. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 2011
Diaries of midwives
With the rise of gynecology, the traditional role of midwifery came under scrutiny. In Germany the first maternity hospital was established in 1779 in Jena. In 1818 the first regulations for midwifery were published. Midwifes were appointed to certain districts for a length of time and came under the observation of the health department. They had to report their activities yearly to the health official, who would determine their salary and their competence. Midwives had to be trained and certified in order to take up their profession.
Midwives were encouraged to keep diaries, in which they recorded the procedures of the deliveries and their observations. This was necessary because not only the employer needed to gain an insight into the activities of the accoucheuse, the midwife herself would profit from keeping notes about her work. Her duty was not only to deliver a child and look after the wellbeing of the mother, but she had to report the child birth to the priest, the civil registration or the police officer. If she had taken careful notes, she would have no problem to report, names, addresses, and dates. If a midwife had to become a witness in a court procedure, she would also be well prepared with dates and facts.
The keeping of a diary would serve the midwife well, when she writes down her observations. She would be more precise in her recordings, since she has to explain what is happening. She would have to ponder the outcome and ask herself what could be done better and how a situation should be handled in the future.
A diary would enable the midwife better to recall certain cases, especially when she assists the same woman again and therefore can recall any problems in a professional manner. For the length of her professional life a midwife was encouraged to keep a yearly log of her activities.
The diaries of midwives were evaluated for statistical purposes, which on the other hand served as a base for improving the health of women.
An excellent diary would have the following information:
Day and hour of birth
Name of mother, her age and her domicile
Name of father
The child’s position at birth
The gender of the child
Did the child live or was it a stillbirth?
Was it a normal birth, a premature birth or a miscarriage?
Was the assistance of a physician required?
How much carbolic acid was used?
Did the mother stay healthy, did she get sick, did she die and when?
Midwife diaries may have been kept by health administrations (Gesundheitsamt) and archived
Ahlfeld, Dr. Ueber den Werth und den Gebrauch des Hebammen Tagebuchs in: Tagebuch der Hebamme Frau Henkel in Bruch vom 5. April 1895
Riemer and Beutler in Lüneburg
The professions of Riemer and Beutler are very old and are related to the profession of saddler and tanner. A Riemer would manufacture riding gear, such as head collars, stirrups, harness, bags for ammunition, satchels, and knapsacks. They also produced whips. A Beutler made sacks, riding trousers, gloves and braces.
Life for these craftsmen was regulated. Those who wanted to become master craftsmen had to go through four years of apprenticeship. From 1736-1838 approx. 300 apprentices were registered in the books, most of them came from Lüneburg and were mainly sons of masters practicing the same trade. To become a Riemer (master) he had to present his birth record, his certificate of apprenticeship, and certification of the journeymen years to the guild. Before he could be accepted as a master craftsman, he had to serve one or two masters for 6 to 12 months. Then he had to produce in the house of the master a masterpiece and had to pay the master 2 Reichsthaler (currency) for the use of his tools. The making of a horse collar, a knapsack, and a shoulder strap for the horse was mandatory. The Beutler had to produce a pair of riding pants made of buckskin, a pair of male gloves with fingers, and a pair of female gloves without fingers. Besides these pieces he had to produce 15 Reichsthaler to the official cash box and to which he also had to contribute money on a yearly basis for the support of needy masters and journeymen.
The Riemen and Beutler guild of Lüneburg lasted into the 1700s and was part of the so called Wendish cities, which belonged to the Hanseatic League (Stralsund, Wismar, Rostock, Lübeck, Hamburg, and Lüneburg in connection with the smaller cities Anklam, Greifswald, Stade, Buxtehude, Harburg, Uelzen, Celle, Hildesheim etc.) Every ten years they came together under the auspices of Lübeck to discuss stragegies and regulations for the guild.
The Riemer in the areas of Wendish cities close to water were called See- and Weissriemer (sea and white Riemer) while the others were called Land- or Schwarzriemer (land or black Riemer). They distinguished themselves from each other by using different tools and working methods. The differences were so great that a Weissriemer could not enter the territory of Schwarzriemer and they were allowed to become master Riemer only if they had learned their profession in one of their cities belonging to the League.
The products of the two guilds, however, were so closely related that often the one master stepped on the territory of the other and litigation ensued. Therefore, names of members of the Riemer and Beutler guilds may appear in court records. So confused became the issue that in November 1800, the government came out with distinct guidelines for both professions.
In the periodical Zentralstelle für Niedersächsische Familiengeschichte, year 19 (1937) page 126, a list of names is provided by Heinrich Borstelmann of those who were enlisted at the Riemer- and Beutler guild in the 1700 and 1800s. Names are given and the years entering apprenticeship or becoming a master. Some names provide further information such as marriage, street addresses, whether the apprenticeship was completed or not, father’s name, etc.
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