Most farmers were not owners of the land they cultivated but had usufruct, the legal right to use the product of the land. Only very few were able to support their families by what they harvested because much of the yield had to be paid to the authorities. Farmers with horses and servants to help them with chores were the lucky ones. They were able to work their own farm and supply services required of them by their sovereign lords. People without land to cultivate were forced to pick up work outside the village community (Wanderarbeit). They were dependent on nationwide markets (weavers).
The working conditions for farmers were encumbered by the way the farmland was divided. Farmers had to work on narrow strips of land, often working in co-operation with a neighbor by planting the same crop. Topographical conditions were of high importance. The harvest was directly related to soil, weather, availability of fertilizer and seed and ways of transportation. When a crop failed, it was difficult to obtain cheap grain from other regions. Only larger farms were usually able to supply sufficiently for next year’s sowing. Others had to pay high prices for additional supplies. For most people, farming was not an enterprise.
In order to obtain more details about workers of the land, tax lists, land and cadastral records should be looked at. They are found in the archives of each jurisdiction.
For information about German archives and the records they contain, see the Germany Archives and Libraries article in the Family Search Research Wiki.