Craftsmen in German Cities, 1600-1800

If your ancestor was a craftsman, he might be traceable through guild records.

People aged 45-60 were considered old. The work force consisted of people who were 18-45 years of age. Those who had learned a profession were united in guilds, where two master craftsmen took turns every year to oversee the business of their craft. These men were installed without any compensation. All members of the guild came together four times a year to deliberate legal matters regarding behavior of fellow members, for instance. Their reports would then go to the princely administration to determine if the fees and measures could be controlled.

Pretty much controlled were varies aspects of a profession. A guild represented a closed society. A guild could determine the size and production of a business. New members (apprentices) had to be approved. For this reason the newcomer had to pay an entry fee and divulge a certificate of legitimate birth. Most guilds only allowed one apprentice at a time. If approved, the young man was part of the master’s household, who fed and educated him not just in matters of the profession but also for life. When the apprenticeship was over, there had to be an official removal (Lossprechung) before the entire guild at which the master had to give a report about the behavior and the skill of his charge. If a craftsman wanted to open a shop as a brand new master, he had to become a recognized citizen first.

To be a member of a guild had other certain advantages. If old age, sickness or death struck, there was support.

The guild records were housed in chests. If they no longer exist, traces of the guild activities can sometimes be found in princely administration records or city records, because prices and taxes were attached to manufactured goods.

To learn more about German Archives, see the Germany Archives and Libraries article in the FamilySearch Research Wiki.

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  1. I have been lucky with guild records. Many of my ancestors were in the Fischer und Schiffer Zunft (fishermans and shippers guild) in Worms Germany. There is a historian in Worms named Til Schrecker who has done research on this guild and the associated families. I was able to get not only names but records regarding family disagreements over sharing of profits from a shipment of iron down the Rhine in 1670.

    Charles Laun 03 June 2011
    5:56 am
  2. I can verify accuracy of my fathers and grandfathers records. My father Albert Ruehmann, Jr. born in 1916, married Helen Pappas and then had 2 children, Valerie and Albert, who later became an attoorney and is retired in East Point, Ga. I attended the University of Chicago and Al is a retired attoorney. I was born in 1939 and he was born 4 years after me. What I am missing is the time the Ruehmanns migrated from Germany . I could add some family information. My father had diabetes and had his leg amputated later in life and my grandmother died with cancer.

    Valerie Kite 28 May 2011
    4:08 am

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