A little while ago I had the opportunity to do some research in German archives. I visited church, city and state archives as well as a state library in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. I had discovered that one of my ancestors was a Hufner (a farmer who is able to purchase a house and land to cultivate it) in Amt (district) Rendsburg, Schleswig-Holstein. Another ancestor was a shoemaker in the little town of Brügge, Amt Bordesholm, Schleswig-Holstein. From family and church records I already knew their vital dates, but I was interested in information regarding their circumstances.
In the state library I discovered the village history or chronicle (in German: Ortschronik) of Brügge. This is an account of historical events in chronological order, with added pictures, documents and objects. Usually these accounts are not written by scientists but rather by persons who have a special historical interest in the area, such as a school teacher. The materials for an Ortschronik come from archives. The most important ones are church archives. Baptisms, marriages, and deaths as well as remarks made by the priests could provide important clues for the area’s history.
Through the Ortschronik Brügge I discovered that my ancestor, the shoemaker, lived in 1765 in the retirement cottage of Heinrich Rixen. He owned one sheep. He was not in a position to run a farm, therefore he must have been an Inste (somebody renting a room or house) instead of a Hufner. People in lesser positions within the community do not take up much room in village accounts. Nonetheless, I did catch a glimpse of what the life of my ancestor could have been like by looking at the regulations which the Amt Bordesholm issued in 1775 to the villagers of Brügge. For example, paragraph 12 of the document stated that all Käthner, Bödner and Inste had to do garden work at the Amtmann’s (official) yearly for four days. They also had to till the land for the official at certain times. They served as messengers, when official business had to be conveyed to the next village. All villagers had to see that the connecting ways and byways were in good condition. Regulations for other villages can be much more detailed, even mentioning names and what fruit and vegetables had to be contributed. information.
My ancestor, the Hufner, was mentioned in the Ortschronik as one of a successive line of farmers. I found it interesting to read about the income and expenses of a farm at various points, taxes, information about harvests, old measures and coinage, how farmland became free possessions, and an account about the end of collective farming (Feldgemeinschaft) etc.
I found information which I would not have known about my ancestors had it not been for the painstaking work of chroniclers. So, to learn more about what life was like for your German ancestors, check their Ortschronik.