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Grundherrschaft and Gutsherrschaft in Germany
Through the centuries most of our ancestors lived in rural areas and came under the auspices of a Grund- or Gutsherr (landowner). Most cultivable land was owned by them – less by small farmers, although it was possible for a Grundherr to lease land to more or less independent farmers. A Grundherr can be lord over a small area, does not have to be a nobleman and can also be a monastery. A manorial system was complex and embraced all aspects of life. A Gutsherr, also a manor lord, owned land and managed it through workers. The farmers of the surrounding area were his subordinates and their affairs were regulated by him or his administrator.
There were three forms of manorial systems:
2. Interest or annuity based
3. Manorial or patrimonial based
This system consisted of a manor and a couple of dependent farms. The manor lord owned acreage, meadows, gardens, woods, lakes, rivers, canals, vineyards and mills. The manor lord lived either at the manor house or had his administrator (Villikus) conduct the business. This man was responsible to collect contributions from the farmers, also called Grundholden. He had the power to hold court. Even if some farmers were independent, somehow they became part of the multifaceted enterprise of the manor.
• The interest or annuity based system
This system very much functioned as villication did, only there did not exist the right to ownership. The manor lord leased the land and collected interest or annuities. This form of manorial system was prevalent in areas of clearing or colonization.
• The manorial or patrimonial system
East of the Elbe River in Brandenburg, Mecklenburg, Pomerania, East/West Prussia, Silesia (Ober-/Niederlausitz) the Gutsherrschaft was prominent. A Gut consisted of a castle like manor house to which was attached a large farming area and smaller farming units (Vorwerk). A Gutsherr was interested in expansion by re-cultivating waste lands and annexing or buying farmlands. In this wise an entire village could become part of the Gutsherrschaft and economic growth be ensured. The entire area was cultivated by farm hands, subordinate farmers and squatters (Gärtner, Häusler). The members of a Gut were part of a more or less crushing personal dependence. Dependents had to observe Erbuntertänigkeit (subservience which was inheritable) Schollenpflicht (tied to the area) and Gesindedienstzwang (had to provide services by waiting in the wings). Gutsherrschaft was spreading because authoritative laws were transferred to the Gutsherrr of noble descent. He exercised police powers and patrimonial jurisprudence.
With all these regulations, obligations, stipulations etc. there are numerous records re. land transactions, regulative and obligatory actions involving our ancestors who dwelled in rural Germany. See the following examples:
Grundakten (Land Records), circa 1740-1850
The Grundakten (Land Records) include the records for the transfer of title for land tenure in the Kingdom of Bavaria. The records can include family data such as:
- Names of children
- Residence of children
- Married names of daughters
- Birth dates of children
- Death dates for husband, wives, or children
The files often include the reason for transfer of title, such as:
- Death of a husband
- Sale of the house or farmland
- Payment of dowries for the daughters
- Mortgaging of property for debt
- Incapacity of the father
Finding this family data in the records can mean reading many pages of old German legal documents, which takes a high level of expertise with both the language and the handwriting, but the result is often worth the effort.
Arrangement of the Records
The Grundakten (Land Records) are arranged by Landgericht (Rural Court), and then by individual village, with a separate folder for each house in a village. The village files are arranged by house number. The files range from a few pages to more than a hundred pages. The files often include many transfers of land over an eighty to hundred year period, approximately 1740 to 1830. Many times the original documents are in the files, other times the files contain clerk’s copies of the originals.
History of the Records
The records were compiled between about 1810 and 1850. They were compiled as Bavaria surveyed the land after the huge expansion of the kingdom during the Napoleonic wars (1803-1812) and boundary changes from the congress of Vienna (1815). After these changes, the Kingdom a Bavaria began a detailed survey of each village in the kingdom. The survey began about 1810 and was not completed until about 1850. The Grundakten (Land Records) are just one of several record sets that resulted from these surveys. Other records created by these surveys included detailed maps of each village, and Kataster Steuergemeinde (Land Register Tax Lists).
Scope of the Records
Records were created for every house in every village of Bavaria. Only a portion of these survive. For some areas coverage is nearly complete. In other areas almost no records survive. As an example, this researcher looked in a few villages in Mittelfranken, and Oberfranken, with good success. Searches in a few villages in the Palatine (Pfalz), and Unterfranken were not successful.
Access to the Records
None of the Grundakten (Land Records) for Bavaria are available online or on microfilm. The only access is at one of the seven branches of the Bavarian State Archives. An email could be sent to the branch archive nearest your village to ask if the Grundakten (Land Records) survive for your village.
A “Bann” describes a fenced off area around a settlement, i.e., a village, a city. For instance, a “Bannmeile” or “Bannrecht” was enforced to keep out people of a certain trade to not practice their profession within the perimeters of the Bannmeile in order to protect their own people who practiced the same profession. Administrators kept a “Bannprotokoll”, in which the owners of all properties within the Bann were listed. This book contained all houses and farms, pieces of garden, acreage and meadows. A Bannprotocoll can give the location of the village well and of all paths leading to and from the village. Bannprotocolle were revised often because the levying of taxes made it necessary to obtain more accurate information. Therefore, a Bannprotocoll is a small time capsule which will show the development and uses of the land.
Before the metric system was in place in Germany (1870/71) there existed an array of measurements of varies length. Originally, measurements were according to a man’s body measurements or according to his work capabilities. A “Morgen” was the amount of land a man was able to plough in one morning or which he could mow. “Viertel” and “Ruthen” were other measurements, as well as “Schuh” and “Fuss”. Here are some equivalent measurements in metrics:
1 Schuh = 29,75 centimeters
1 Ruthe = 16 Schuh = 4, 76 meters
1 Morgen = 128 Ruthen
The author Rainer Holz has published the Fehrbacher Bann Protocoll from 1721. His work was published through the Zweibrücker Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Familienforschung. The book is available through www.familysearch.org Family History Library Catalog, call number 943.3/F7 R2h