Schleswig-Holstein Occupations

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Old Professions

Following is a list of old professions with explanations of what exactly these men and women did:

Here are some descriptions of farmers. They were owners or lessees of small parcels of land and held down another job in order to feed themselves and their families.

a "Hausmann" was a farmer

a "Häusling"was a tenant of a house or an apartment

a "Hauswirt" was an owner of a house

a "Köthner" was a farmer of a small-seized farm, another word for him was Kottsass or Kossath

a "Brinksitzer" was the poorest among farmers. He cultivated the smallest parcel of land at the "Brink", his place being at the edge of the village. See and

The day laborer

Toward the end of the 17th century, around two million of Denmark’s population lived in the country as farmers, farmhands, servants and day laborers. This group of people belonged to the absolute lowest social class. The day laborer was distinctly separated from other workers. He worked in the city or in the country for a daily wage. He was not a member of a guild, had no craft or trade. He worked for others in the fields and in the city did odd jobs as he found them. Some day laborers were in possession of a house or some small piece of land which could not sustain them. They came like all other land owning farmers under the control of the manor lord because they owed him rent and other services. Most day laborers did not have property and therefore were quite independent and enjoyed some freedom, that is, part of their time was theirs. They were not part of the servitude that encumbered most of the land working population. Their work lasted for one day. Work in the city was more varied than it was in the country.

A day laborer was not part of the social network in a village and had no access to the cooperative arrangements attainable to the establishment. He had to live and fare for himself and his family. If work was not available close by, the man had to search for it, sometimes had to move, the downside of this sort of job. The bad social conditions for these people lead to emigration en masse. Even when democracy was introduced in Denmark in 1849, the day laborer was still a part of the group without any rights. When the Danish government issued some social protection for servants, it did not phase those who claimed rights of disposal over their personal. Those providing service did not have a political voice. A contemporary observation was this: After a long hard winter, small farmers, farmhands, servants and day laborers started the so called spring starvation, which meant, they either went hungry or ate up the grain that was put aside for sowing. Land reforms gave back property to farmers, but often they had not the ability to support themselves or their workers. Masses of the non-landowning population found themselves begging or in poor houses. It took more than one hundred years before poverty was no longer an issue for large parts of the population.

Records for day laborers can be found in city records, Amtsrechungen (administrative records), manorial archives and Armensachen (poor people) in state or city archives.

Of “dishonest” professions

If a profession could lend itself to dishonesty, it was deemed as “unehrlich”. For instance, a tailor, a miller or a shoemaker could measure material, flour or leather incorrectly and therefore cheat the customer. This was the conventional  view on "dishonest" professions.  However, later research revealed that among the professions deemed dishonest were rarely truely dishonest people, i.e., thieves. The professions of miller and Abdecker, the worst of "dishonest" occupations (he was a man who disposed off dead animals and did the “dirty work” for the executioner, namely the disposal of a corps) were rather not respectable. Such a stand was taken in cities, not so much in the countryside. Looked at as “unehrlich” were even those who had contact with a person who had a job that was regarded as dishonest by society. Entire families (when a child married a person with an “unehrlich” occupation) and children and grandchildren of persons deemed “unehrlich” inherited this trait. Forthwith they were not allowed to practice trades other than those belonging to their society. If a Abdecker was prosperous, he let his own helpers do the work and thus eliminated the appearance of being “unehrlich”. “Unehrlichkeit” became a problem when “unehrliche” persons died and others had to touch their bodies and/or coffins. Over time the number of dishonest persons grew to such an extent that the authorities had to interfere and release laws to remove the mark of “Unehrlichkeit” from people. In 1731 such a privilege was given to grandchildren if their parents had worked for 30 years in honorable professions. The thought may have been good but in reality a dishonest person was not allowed to work honestly. Therefore, another law had to be issued proclaiming that simply touching a body or a coffin of a dishonest person did not automatically make one dishonest. Society only slowly got away from the notion of what was honest and what was not and in 1820, even the Abdecker could look at his profession as a job worth doing and find acceptance.


Gisela und Jürgen Laudi. “Vom Beruf des Abdeckers“. Nordelbischer Genealogentag 2003

Rudolf Vandré. Zur sogenannten Müller-Unehrlichkeit. Mitteilungen der Westdeutschen Gesellschaft für Familienkunde. Band 44, Jahrgang 97, Heft 6, April-Juni 2010

Hirten (Shepherds)

The profession of the shepherd has not been closely examined. Although shepherds have been part of the rural community for centuries little has been written about them and their work. Questions of who employed a shepherd and how exactly was he contracted as well as the length of his employment and how much he earned cannot satisfactorily be answered but some interesting information about this profession emerged from the research Hartmut Hildebrandt conducted in the former Amt Bordesholm (1765). His information came from the Erdbuch (land and tax record) of the Amt in which over 1500 pages farms were listed and described including the shepherd’s housing.

A shepherd, especially a cow shepherd lived typically in a Hirtenkate (cottage). This house belonged to the village and was also maintained by that community. A Hirte was not a particularly esteemed member of the parish, therefore, his house was nothing elaborate and usually had no annexes for keeping animals. Not all shepherds were provided with accommodation and had to find their own. Some were constantly moving.

The Erdbuch of Amt Bordesholm lists next to the value of land and animals also the worth of buildings. Taxes to be paid by a shepherd differed greatly (50 to 4 Taler). The amount of taxes can give a clue about the worth of the building a shepherd lived in.

Shepherds in Amt Bordesholm were no longer needed by 1770 because all agricultural land was joined and fenced in so that the herds needed no more supervision and were able to graze freely throughout the summer. Many villages sold their shepherd cottages, in rare cases these were bought by shepherds. Many cottages were converted into school buildings.
If a shepherd had some land, he was able to grow fodder or maintain a garden plot. Where a shepherd had no land, farmers came together to support their former cow herder.

Usually shepherds owned few animals, maybe a milk cow, a pig and a few sheep. Horses they typically did not own like all members of the poorer population, such as Kätner, Bödner, Inste, Altenteiler or Arme. Since their allotments of land was minuscule, the owning of a horse was an expense they could neither justify nor afford. If they had work to do which required horse power they would borrow a horse or do their work with the help of oxen.

A shepherd may also have been a veterinarian since he neutered and spayed animals. With such additional income he may have been able to afford a horse and more land to become independent. Generally, a shepherd’s income was such as to not starve to death but also posed a great want, especially when a shepherd became old and was no longer able to work for his support. Many became a liability to the villagers.

Where a shepherd was able to purchase his cottage and land, he was asked to pay “Wurt” (property tax) which had to be paid at a certain time in the year, usually at “Martini” (November) after the harvest had been brought in.
The profession of Kuhhirte was eliminated by the 19th century and only those who kept their own sheep carried on as herders of animals.

Source: Hildebrandt, Hartmut. Hirten im ehemaligen Amt Bordesholm um 1765. See

The researcher whose ancestor was a shepherd is well advised to look for additional information in surrounding parishes, since some shepherds were relocated often.