Leibeigenschaft refers to the personal dependence of a farmer on his manor lord. The serfs ran the farms that belonged to their masters. They had to pay a lease and had to perform socage. If they had a clerical master, they had to pay tithing. In contrast to bondsmen, who were tied to the property, the serfs were bound to people. Serfs were allowed to own property, but not land. Serfs were, therefore, not slaves because they had no property. Serfdom in the western part of the German realm was different from what developed in the eastern parts. Sometimes, serfdom could not be differentiated from slavery. In the Electoral Palatinate there existed Wildfangrecht, which means that subjects from other territories who moved into neighboring territories were claimed by the administrators of the Electoral Palatinate as Wildfang, literally translated as game. Also, whoever moved away from the area of the Electoral Palatinate were overseen by so called Ausvögte (administrators who had their offices in non-Palatinate areas). The Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Pfälzische Familien und Wappenkunden has published lists of Kurpfälzische Leibeigene in nichtpfälzischen Orten Rheinhessens. The dates are from 1650 to 1710 with a family and village register. The book is available through www.familysearch.org Family History Library Catalog, call number 943.43 B4sb no. 3
In the beginning of the 19th century, the release from serfdom for the German farmer began. In the Age of Enlightenment, the oppression of one person to another seemed inappropriate. Practical experiments proved that abolition of serfdom was also advantageous to the manor lord, as the Earl of Rantzau in Schleswig-Holstein had demonstrated. The development of industry required more workers and had to come from the ranks of serfs. Between the second half of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, manumissions occurred in many German states. The release from serfdom was very well documented with either an actual document or an official entry in a record. The release was granted by the respective sovereign lord.
The releases occurred one step at a time. Sometimes, the entire estate of the manor lord was transferred to the serfs without compensation to the previous owner. On the other hand, the release from serfdom only covered personal choices such as granting agency in matters of marriage. In some German states, the serf was able to purchase land from the manor lord or was supported by the state in purchasing land.
In the Kingdom of Bavaria, the release from serfdom started in 1783 and became the law in 1808.