A city was divided into quarters. Usually, people became citizens if they had learned a craft and could afford to buy property. People with no specific professions worked as day laborers or city employees. Since the city paid for their labors as door keepers, gate keepers, shepherds and other duties, citizens could get reduced rent or interest. Some city employees were exempt from paying taxes. This way people had a chance to improve their life.
The amount of wealth was established by the citizens themselves and ratified by an oath. An oath was a sacred vow. Since people knew each other and their circumstances, this way of reporting seemed to work very well. If there were discrepancies, certain measures were put forth, such as a lock being put in place or the fire extinguished. The door could be removed and brought to the mayor’s office. Citizenship could be revoked or the culprit would be arrested.
The children of city employees had the opportunity to improve their circumstances. They were able to learn a trade, go to school, become literate and pursue a professional life. Most boys left school at age 14 or 15 to learn a trade.
City life afforded people freedom from serfdom, but gave them other kinds of restrictions. A city had market rights. During the week, citizens were allowed to sell their wares, but were not allowed to do business with their surrounding area. Only on market days were the people from the outer areas allowed to come into the city to sell their goods. On other days the townspeople had to cover the needs of the city’s population. To support themselves, the citizens kept animals, mainly pigs. To care for their animals, pig sties were built as annexes to their houses. With time, this became a nuisance, so herders had to be hired. Some people were wealthy enough to own land outside the city. They would cultivate or lease it. Those who had no land outside the city at least had garden space by their house to elevate self-reliance.
The city established breweries. Brewing rights were everybody’s privilege as long as they paid their taxes and were willing to defend the city. The amount and quality of the beer, however, was not equal to every member of the city.
An assortment of records were kept by the city because of the inhabitants’ activities. Records such as taxes, salaries, work assignments, schooling, contracts, brewing rights, etc., will reveal an array of undertakings of an ancestor. Such records can be found in a city archive.
To learn more about German Archives, see the Germany Archives and Libraries article in the FamilySearch Research Wiki.