Many trades, such as butchers, tanners, shoemakers, and tailors, were organized into professional associations called guilds [Gilden or Zünfte or Innungen]. The purpose of a guild was to provide training of apprentices and otherwise regulate the practice of the trade in the area.
Beginning in the eleventh century, guilds were established in major cities. The records of these guilds contain lists of members and information on journeymen practicing in the town, marriages of journeymen, and advancements from the rank of apprentice to journeyman and from journeyman to master craftsman. Some guilds kept records of children similar to church baptism records.
Contracts between masters and parents of apprentices may also be included. Boys from ages 7 to 18 could be apprenticed for four to seven years in trades such as shoemaking, barrel making, blacksmithing, and tanning. Young girls often became servants or lived with relatives.
Guild records are usually found in the town archives or in the possession of the modern guilds. The records are extensive, but few have been published or indexed. To use guild records, you need to know your ancestor's place of residence and craft. Since sons often had the same occupation as their fathers, you may find information about several generations of a family.
It was customary for those who had finished their apprenticeships to gain more work experience by becoming journeymen and traveling to various places and work for different masters of their trade. This experience was an important part in preparing for their master's certification. Many of the journeymen married during this travel time and did not return to their original homes.
Guilds made it difficult for large business establishments. As larger businesses did become established, the guilds were no longer sufficient. A good article regarding guilds can be found in the German Genealogical Digest Winter 1994 page 118.
Only part of the male population is included in guild records, although their wives and daughters are sometimes mentioned. Guild records are most useful where they exist before the beginning of church records. Because of their antiquity, such records are often hard to read, even for persons fluent in German. They may require an expert's help.
The Family History Library has collected a few German guild records. These records and related items are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under:
GERMANY - OCCUPATIONS
GERMANY, [STATE] - OCCUPATIONS
GERMANY, [STATE], [TOWN]
Biographical works often focus on the members of a specific occupation or trade, such as theologians or communications workers. See the “Biography” section. For help in determining the meaning of old occupational terminology, see the Family History Library publication German Genealogical Word List). Also check the “Language and Languages” section. For a helpful list of German Occupations with their English equivalents please check this site German Occupation list