Germany Occupations

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Guilds[edit | edit source]

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.

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.

Guild Records[edit | edit source]

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.

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:




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

Totenlade[edit | edit source]

In Germany members of guilds or professional organizations as well as people from poorer neighborhoods protected themselves against accidental or sudden death by joining an arrangement which was called “Totenlade”. The term suggests that an actual box was furnished (which might have been the case in the beginning) to hold money and papers, as well as statutes. However, later the word “Totenlade” also meant society with a name attached to it, i.e., Totenlade “Die Zunft der Bürstenmacher” (The society of brush makers)

In medieval times the breaking out of fires was a common occurrence. It left house owners, their neighbors and sometimes entire neighborhoods devastated to the extent that they needed to rebuild. In order to accomplish this task people had to rely on the generousity of others for food and building materials. When the great fire of London destroyed a large part of the city, people in other cities of Europe started to take measures. Craftsmen, merchants and members of the general population established a Totenlade, a sort of co-op and were known by names, i.e., Butter und Käse-Händler-Brüderschaft (the brotherhood of butter and cheese merchants). All members contributed an entrance fee and then deposited yearly amounts of money. In case of death, money would be distributed for burial or support to the survivors. Many people were members of several Totenladen. And many members were not local. Totenladen often had their own burial spots. In many address books of the 19th century Totenladen are listed.

If the documentation of a Totenlade has survived, a receipt about paid moneys would reveal the recipient, as was stated in the Totenlade “Gott mit uns allen” in Hamburg. In this instance, the messenger came to a survivor to pay a certain amount for his deceased mother, whose name was stated. The survivor then had to sign the receipt in which case his name and relationship was also given.
From a family historical point of view, Totenladen give yet another piece of evidence of the whereabouts of ones ancestors.

Ahnenforschung Paap. Totenladen, Versicherung und Hilfskassen. Quellen im Staatsarchiv Hamburg. 2011
W. Lampe. Altenwerder Totenlade aus dem 18. Jahrhundert in Norddeutsche Familienkunde, 1. Jahrgang Heft 2, page 43
Wikipedia: Totenlade, then Sterbekasse

Diaries of midwives[edit | edit source]

With the rise of gynecology, the traditional role of midwifery came under scrutiny. In Germany the first maternity hospital was established in 1779 in Jena. In 1818 the first regulations for midwifery were published. Midwifes were appointed to certain districts for a length of time and came under the observation of the health department. They had to report their activities yearly to the health official, who would determine their salary and their competence. Midwives had to be trained and certified in order to take up their profession.

Midwives were encouraged to keep diaries, in which they recorded the procedures of the deliveries and their observations. This was necessary because not only the employer needed to gain an insight into the activities of the midwife, the midwife herself would profit from keeping notes about her work. Her duty was not only to deliver a child and look after the wellbeing of the mother, but she had to report the child birth to the priest, the civil registration or the police officer. If she had taken careful notes, she would have no problem to report, names, addresses, and dates. If a midwife had to become a witness in a court procedure, she would also be well prepared with dates and facts.

The keeping of a diary would serve the midwife well, when she writes down her observations. She would be more precise in her recordings, since she has to explain what is happening. She would have to ponder the outcome and ask herself what could be done better and how a situation should be handled in the future.
A diary would enable the midwife better to recall certain cases, especially when she assists the same woman again and therefore can recall any problems in a professional manner. For the length of her professional life a midwife was encouraged to keep a yearly log of her activities.

The diaries of midwives were evaluated for statistical purposes, which on the other hand served as a base for improving the health of women.
An excellent diary would have the following information:

Day and hour of birth
Name of mother, her age and her domicile
Name of father
Delivery number
The child’s position at birth
The gender of the child
Did the child live or was it a stillbirth?
Was it a normal birth, a premature birth or a miscarriage?
Was the assistance of a physician required?
How much carbolic acid was used?
Did the mother stay healthy, did she get sick, did she die and when?

Midwife diaries may have been kept by health administrations (Gesundheitsamt) and archived


Ahlfeld, Dr. Ueber den Werth und den Gebrauch des Hebammen Tagebuchs in: Tagebuch der Hebamme Frau Henkel in Bruch vom 5. April 1895

Wikipedia: Hebamme

A Journeymen’s book--Wanderbuch[edit | edit source]

A very interesting document for a genealogist is a Wanderbuch, which was used as a passport journeyman craftsmen.

The author, Otto Döhner, whose great grandfather owned a Wanderbuch, offers insights into this document in an essay published in Archiv für Sippenforschung Jahrgang 46, Heft 78 (1980), page 407. The Wanderbuch gives instructions of how to conduct oneself as a journeyman. Foremost, one has to avoid misappropriated itinerancy and begging. Where a candidate does not appropriate any work within 24 hours, he should not remain without official consent. He should receive a statement from the master if he was going to be employed or not or why he could not take the offered position. There was imprisonment imposed if compliance was lacking.

The next portion of the Wanderbuch deals with the detailed description of the person. Stature, eyes, hair, nose, mouth and face, give the genealogist a good idea of what an ancestor looked like. Further pages reveal where in the German speaking world an ancestor may have apprenticed. Detailed entries follow of what the purpose of the candidate is, where he came from, where he is going, how he conducted himself, how long he intends to stay.

More details can be discovered in the above mentioned periodical.

Additional Resources[edit | edit source]

See Understanding Occupations in German Research for more information.