Prenuptial agreements, 300 years old, are being unearthed by an archivist in the state archive of Bückeburg, Lower Saxony, Germany. To be exact, 5500 contracts between 1712 and 1740 have been registered. The administrative district of Stadthagen is represented with 1600 “Eheberedungen” (prenuptial agreements).
What is being extracted here by Margarete Sturm-Heumann are court records dealing with economic and material matters, written up in dry official language, seemingly putting a damper on the union between a man and a woman. Nonetheless, the content of these prenuptial arrangements is “living history.” Stories of conflagrations, of sons who left the farm to join the army, of ambitious mothers-in-law who did not want to hand over the farm, and of pregnant brides parade before the researcher and can provide vital clues. Not only do these documents handle legal agreements between couples, but they also regulate retirement arrangements for parents, usage of acreage and claims of other heirs to the farm.
Thus, the genealogist can identify family relationships, places of residence, ages, birth places, whether the bride or groom were married before and whether they had children from the previous marriage. A detailed list of the bride’s and groom’s dowry gives clues about property and economic status. Besides this information, the contracts divulge the future residence of the couple, and will give names of witnesses who could be relatives. Even if couples decided not to get married after all, or if they had nothing to report about earthly goods, there would be a remark about this by the official.
Further information about German prenuptial agreements can be found in the Prussia-Hannover Court Records article in the FamilySearch Wiki, under the title “Ehestiftungen,” another word for “Eheberedungen.”