The growth of cities in Germany began in the early medieval period. Historically, a city had market rights and the right to govern itself. City officials had the right to taxation, cognizance, tariff law, and the right to enclosure and defense as well as the right to mint and issue coins.
The most important administrators were the mayor, the city council and the scribe. They were involved in the above-mentioned administrative measures and called on people as needed to execute the tasks. For instance, master craftsmen such as carpenters and stone masons were of great importance to the building up of the city. They functioned as advisors and supervised the building efforts. People who worked for the city council were able to improve their lot. Next to a salary, they received rent (Mietpfennig) and cloth for working attire. If they became destitute, they would receive public assistance.
Not all city employees had the same social ranking. For instance, a Stadtknecht (city servant) was looked at with suspicion. Although he was present when taxes were determined or seals were attached to documents and was under oath to not divulge official matters, he nonetheless was looked at as “unehrlich” (dishonest) because he also had to chase down fugitives, watch over prisoners, call people to court, etc. This label he shared with other members of professions that were regarded dishonest, such as the executioner. In people’s opinion, a Stadtknecht was an evildoer, and it would take one to recognize a malefactor.
People could not get rich on their salaries. Taxes had to be paid twice a year and for all sorts of reasons. A tax called “Geschoss” was a property tax. From each household with a hearth a “Feuerschilling” was claimed. This was called “Bede.” There were now and then special taxes levied, especially in times of war. If one wanted to have riches, one had to invest in houses or land. Property was the richest source of taxation. Land deals were recorded in detail by the city scribe.
As depicted, the administration of a city was very organized at every level. Records were kept for every administrative measure. If kept, all such records can be found today in city archives and would certainly add to establish a well-rounded picture of an ancestor.
To learn more about German Archives, see the Germany Archives and Libraries article in the FamilySearch Research Wiki.