West Prussia Court Records
Back to Prussia - Westpreußen Page►
The Deutsche Orden (Teutonic Knights - http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutscher_Orden) was an ecclesiastical entity which facilitated the settlement of eastern territories. People settled under the auspices of the Deutsche Orden the areas of what is known as East Prussia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania later also settled in West Prussia. The administration of law in West Prussia was based on Kulmer Recht. It consisted of the Magdeburg city law, Meissen law and Selisia Bergrecht. Kulmer Recht was originally designed for the cities Kulm and Thorn. It gradually served as a legal foundation in most of the Ordensland (possessions of the Teutonic Knights) and in many Polish cities. In East Prussia Kulmer Recht was in operation until 1620, in West Prussia until 1794, in Danzig until 1857.
Kulmische Handfeste was the name of the Ordensland Prussia's constitution. The rights and freedoms of new settlements were secured by it, except in big cities where Lübeck Law was enforced. The laws of the Kulmisch Handfeste provided rights which could be trusted. Therefore, many immigrants from Poland/Lithuania came to settle in Ordensland Prussia. Even though such people were re-possed by their former lords, the Teutonic Knights kept them under their protection.
Farmers who were classified as following Kulmish rights were known as kölmisch or cöllmisch. The Kölmer later became manor lords.
Kölmer are free, they are owners of property who were allowed to settle according to Kulmisch law by the Knights. The Kölmer were obligated to participate in the protection of their country, they had to give a little money and make deliveries in kind. Kölmer enjoyed great freedoms: Inheritance of farms by sons and daughters. They were allowed to sell property with the knowledge of the Knights. Farmers did not have to supply statute labor, they had the privilege to fish, to hunt and to brew beer etc. Large Kölmisch farms, which had full jurisdiction later on became Rittergüter. After the reign of the Teutonic Knights until the reign of Frederik the Great, a Kölmer had to pay taxes instead of serving at times of war.
In 1685 the Kölmisch possessions were regarded as fully owned property. The Kölmer enjoy a distinguished position elevated high above other farmers. They are reppresented in the state parliament. Often they are referred to as the "Kölmischen Freien" in contrast to the "Preußischen" or "Magdeburgischen Freien."
Furthermore there are
Kölmische Leute (farmers who were able to pass on their farms, but did not have the rights of a Kölmer)
Kölmischer Erbhaber oder Frey oder Freisaß (they inherited a farm)
Kölmischer Gärtner (a farmer of a small property in a Lischke (surrounding a castle), later called Eigenkätner)
Kölmischer Gutsbesitzer (his estate was its own jurisdiction outside a village)
Kölmischer Krüger (he owns an inn, has land, enjoys brewing rights, is allowed to purchase alcoholic beverages at will)
Kölmischer Müller (owns a water mill according to Kölmisch law)
Kölmischer Schulze oder Freischulze (owner of a free estate with inheritable rights to be mayor, has legal jurisdiction and provides the Knights with horses.
Get an introduction to court records in West Prussia from this website:
Grund- and Wiesenbuch
is not only a land record which describes the property and its owner, but also has information about exchanges, conditions, structural changes and prices of farms and houses, as well as how large the property is, i.e., a full, half or quarter property. To each property belonged a garden area and also parts of commonly used meadows. Each property was recorded on a separate sheet of paper and the descriptions of a farm or house could be very detailed.
For an example see "Das Grundbuch der Stadt Dirschau" by Elisabeth Kloß available through www.familysearch.org catalog, call number 943.82 H2q v.14
read all about Kontributionskataster here: http://www.odessa3.org/collections/land/wprussia/link/introg.html (get a translation through Google language tools. How to: hilite the web address, enter into translate a website, choose your language and read.)