Czech Republic Land and Property
Back to Czech Republic Portal Page►
Land Books (Pozemkové knihy)
Czech Land Books include declarations of land and property possessed, land transfers and inheritances. The Czech name of these records has varied over time.These records are now called pozemkove knihy. In the past they were sometimes called gruntovní knihy, purkrechtní knihy, urbani knihy, registra trhova, Schoppenbuch, and Gerichtsbuch. These books initially started being kept on the landhold level. They were later broken down to villiage, then farm level. These books were kept by a district administrator and his scribe.
Categories of Land
There were four main types of Czech land holdings during the middle ages. These were:
-Domanial, belonged to the Lord or Dominus
-Community land farmed in common
-Parish land gifted to the church by peasants or local authorities
Historically, most land was owned by the nobility. The most basic of land records are the land tables [zemské desky], dating from the 13th century, which record the actual ownership of land plus purchases, cessions, and exchanges of free estates. These have lesser genealogical value and could be categorized as nobility records.
The land records of greatest genealogical significance are the land books [pozemkové knihy] which record landholders and land lease titles. These date from about 1600. The oldest land books [pozemkové knihy] listed the location of the property along with the financial obligations of the landholder to the estate owner. Buildings on these lands were often listed by type in land books (cottage, blacksmith’s forge etc).Starting in the mid 1600s some records began differentiating by categories of farmers. These categories were sedlak; serfs who did not own their land, chalupnik; gardeners who owned their domicile and a small amount of land surrounding it, and zharadnik; cottagers who owned somewhat larger tracts of land. After the Thirty Years War killed many people, everyone tried to get more land and gardener and serf classes decreased.
Although serfs were assigned land which was mostly theirs to manage and live off of, there were also many heavy restrictions of serfs. One of these was called Odumrt or escheat reversion. This meant on death of a peasant, the lord could take a share of his possessions. Also at any time the lord could confiscate land with or without compensation. Sometimes this confiscation was a result of serf mismanagement or bad behavior, but other times it simply suited the needs of the lord. Serfs needed the lord’s permission to move, because that affected his income from taxes and rent. However farmers did move within the lord’s holdings frequently. Serfs were also required to labor on lord’s farm.
Raabization-This idea was put forth by Councilman Frantisek Antonian Raab, an Austrian national economist in mid 1700s. In his plan churches and other large landholders would rent family sized plots to serf farmers (these farmers were called familanti) and could buy themselves out of required serf labor. This idea did not enjoy widespread success. Some records exist from the Raabization period
Abolition of Serfdom 1848
One of the important aspects of the abolition of serfdom which generated many records was the process of Land Releasment. In this process, the government and the serfs each paid part of the price to buy their land and compensate lords for lost labor, land, and duties.
Also during this time, court and land records moved from estates to government, leaseholders became owners and peasants got equal rights and new land registers were created. All changes regarding real property, owners, or burdens were recorded at this time.No entry was allowed to be made in the books without the approval of the lord of the estate or of the city council in urban areas. These records are generally available for all of the Czech lands.
Contents of Czech Land Books: These records provide location and description of land and property, names of property owners and family members. Rural peasants with land rights and family members are also listed with the amount of financial obligations of the landholder toward the estate owner. Special books were sometimes included regarding marriages, wills, orphans, obligations and instrumentals. These records may show surname changes, which happened frequently, and family relationships. These records can be written in Czech, German, or both.
Location: District archives [okresní archívy]. Some are in state regional archives [státní oblastní archívy].
Research use: With the exception of church registers and civil registration, land records are the single most important source for genealogical research. In most instances the land records provide exact family relationships. Land books identify individuals in connection with their residence. They enhance the use of church registers and can be used to bridge gaps and are often essential for linking generations. When persons with the same name need to be sorted out, this can be done by house numbers and house ownership. A study of the records of a specific piece of property can give the sequence of generations of the family surname, as ownership was usually passed from father to son. Where names change from generation to generation, land books are helpful in making proper family connections.
Accessibility: Through correspondence with archives in the Czech Republic, a local agent or by personal search. These books are located in various archives and collections, and sometimes locating a particular one requires thorough research. Some of these books have been destroyed, but many still survive.
Source:Czech Land Registers and Auxiliary Books
Volume 2, Winter 1995-1996
FHL book 943.71 D25r
Cadastral surveys are also useful in researching past landholdings as old land records were destroyed when a property no longer existed, However written reports and cadastral maps of the former property are kept in document collection called a “shirka”. More recent land records are kept in local notary offices.
The first complete Cadastral Survey in Moravia was made between 1655 - 1657. It was called the Lansky rejstrik - Lahnregister, later known as the First Lahn visitatio. In Bohemia the same tax survey was called Berni rolle - the Tax Roll. Between 1669 - 1679 a revision of the original survey because of inaccuracy and omissions had to be done. This revision is called the Second Lahn visitatio. This Lahnregister is the source of first importance for any genealogist, homeland historians, social and demography scholars.
Any village and subject towns contain the list of all homesteads - farms, houses, cottages, the names of inhabitants, the appearance of trades and crafts, the quality of fields and their distribution.
The basic tax unit was a Lahn. This term had a broader sense than a piece of land. As far as the diversification of rural population is concerned, see below for more information.
During the reign of Maria Theresia a new Cadastral Survey was made, because the older one had not corresponded with the social and economical development of the country from 1679. Between 1749 - 1753 so called Theresianer Cadastre was adopted.
The third Cadastral survey was done during the reign of her son, the emperor Joseph II, called Josephiner Cadastre 1787 - 1789 and the taxable land was broaden to landlords´ possession. After his death the Teresianer Cadastre came again into being.
The last Cadastral survey was so called Stabil Cadastre, accepted between 1817 - 1851. The information on each landholder is completed by the evaluation of the whole village and by a series of cadastral maps in the measure 1:2880.
Division into classes
During the serfdom and even to the end of the 19th century the rural population in middle Europe was divided in several categories. In fact one can talk of historical - economical and sociological categories.
In process of so called original colonization of the country in XIIIth to XVth century the area of an established village with all fields, forests and meadows was divided into basic economic units, called in Czech LAN (German: HUFE, HUBE, Lat. LANEUS, MANSUS, Engl. VIRGATA, YARDLAND).
The LAN represented so much agricultural soil that can be cultivated by a couple of ox's and can offer a sufficient living for a medium family. Very roughly we may say that one LAN was 18 hectares (180.000 square meters), i.e. 30 - 45 acres (in Czech JITRO="morning", in German the same: MORGEN) To compare with LAN: ONE JITRO is an area that can be pluged within one day (originally within the MORNING which was the period between daybreak and sunset) Czech JITRO or German MORGEN are not exactly the same as English ACRE.
A) Thus at the origin one LAN was owned by one farmer's family. This was the top stratum of village population. The Czech equivalents for a farmer are:
SEDLAK, ROLNIK, LANIK (the latter mainly in Moravia), the German equivalents:
BAUER, HUFNER, LAHNER.
B) Later, when the population increased and newcomers came to the village, the soil had to be re-divided and partly sold. The original farmer's sons started to farm on a portion of the original LAN. So, a subcategory of farmers came into existence:
Czech: PULNIK, POLOLANIK (pul, polo = one half)
German:HALBHUFNER, HALBLAHNER, HALBBAUER
CTVRTNIK, CTVRTLANIK (ctvrt= a quarter) resp. VEIRTELBAUER, VIERTELLAHNER etc.
C) The middle stratum of the village population were those, who owned only a small farm, with less than a 1/4 of LAN, upto 15 - 18 acres. Their name was originally PODSEDNIK (more common in Moravia) or ZAHRADNIK.
Podsednik in German was a HINTERSASSER or in Latin SUBSES.
Zahradnik is from a Czech word ZAHRADA - a garden. So the German equivalent was GAERTNER. Later, in 18th and 19th century they were called CHALUPNIK (CHALUPPNER).
D) The lower stratum of the population were DOMKAR or BARACNIK. In German KOTSASSER, KAETNER, HAEUSLER, in English COTTAGER. They still did have some properties - but only a small cottage and a piece of yard or garden in front or behind their cottage. In many cases they hired a soil that was in community's possession.
E) Apart of above mentioned farmers in common sense, there were people without any property who worked for very low reward on the farmers´ land. They were so called PODRUH in Czech, or INWOHNER, resp.INMAENNER in German. In English we can say FARM LABOURER or CO-DWELLER or IN-DWELLER. They lived somewhere in a farmer's house, or in a barn or shed.
It is said that the differences between various strata were at least the same as the gap between the classes of nobility, town-dwellers and subject people in common. And hardly a member of farmer's family was allowed to marry a daughter of a CHALUPNER or even PODRUH.
First Bohemian Cadaster (Berní rula)
The berní rula was formulated during the reign of Ferdinand III of Habsburg (ruled 1637-57), that is, not long after the end of the Thurty Years' War. The berní ruly are lists of tax payers based on the records of the estate owners or nobility. First completed in 1653-1654, these tax lists were prepared to study inequities in the tax structure. Properties were surveyed to determine dwellings, fields, and animals of the taxpayers. Other surveys were made in 1683-84, 1746, 1757, and 1792. These lists can be of help in genealogical research by locating the domicile of one's ancestor, and are of value for demographic studies, but they cannot be considered as a complete survey of the population. These lists do not include the poor who were without property or trade. Also, only heads of households are listed without indication of dependents. The berní ruly are available only for the the "Czech lands" of the Czech Republic (or the province of Bohemia), and not for the province of Moravia and Austrian Silesia. All text is in the Czech language. Tax lists have been deposited in various archives but are not readily accessible to researchers. Some tax lists have been published:
• general index to all 1654 tax lists - Berní rula : generalní rejstřík ke všem svazkům- General Index to all 1654 tax lists (published and unpublished), supplemented with the 1651 census if tax lists missing. FHL INTL Book 943.71 X2cc vol. 1-2
• some 1427-1435 tax lists for Prague - Berní knihy starého města Pražského, 1427-1434 - Tax books for the Prague subdivision Old Town. FHL INTL Book 943.71/P3 R4p
The following volumes were published:
The following volumes were not yet published:
The Family History Library has above listed published copies of the 1654 cadaster (FHL INTL Book 943.7 B4b).
General Index to All 1654 Tax Lists
Berní rula : generalní rejstřík ke všem svazkům- General Index to all 1654 tax lists (published and unpublished), supplemented with the 1651 census if tax lists missing. The Family History Library has a copy of the general index (FHL INTL Book 943.71 X2cc vol. 1-2).
Berní knihy starého města Pražského, 1427-1434 - Tax books for the Prague subdivision Old Town. The Family History Library has a copy of the publication (FHL INTL Book 943.71/P3 R4p).
Established in Bohemia around end of 13th century or beginning of 14th
Concern rights of towns and townsmen, some include property records, testaments, marriage agreements, debentures, trade records, criminal, military, political,and orphan books
Smaller towns, less information, established later
Many new Books were created in 1849 after the abolition of serfdom. The types of records in these new books are listed below. Records still varied widely from place to place.
-incoming mail book
-town and local councils and committees books
-main tax book
-resident certificate book