Schleswig-Holstein Court Records

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Overview[edit | edit source]

In ancient times the jurisprudence in Schleswig-Holstein was not unified. It was based mainly on common law (not written down) with emphasis on regional interpretations in jugdement done by the people and the administrators in charge. In Neumünster the law was differently interpreted than it was in Schleswig or Lübeck, for instance. These differentiations have their basis in the political, economic, military and social history of Schleswig-Holstein, as parts of the country came under different rule at different times. When the attempt was made to issue written rules regarding jurisprudence, various aspects of regional laws were integrated.

Jütisches Recht- It was the written law of the Danish Kingdom and was valid until 1683. In the Duchy of Schleswig, it remained (Das Jütische Low-Buch) and parts were still used until 1900. This particular law did not touch on all aspects of life, so the Roman based laws were consulted as well as the Carolina. (The Carolina is the law "Hand- und Halsrecht" issued by Emperor Karl V. This law became the basic criminal guideline in the Kingdom of Denmark although Denmark at no point belonged to the Holy Roman Empire). Even to this day, there are some aspects of the Jütish law which take precedence over the German BGB (federal law) i.e., regarding Lehen und Stammgüter (fiefs), Erbpachtrecht (laws re. fee-farms), Anerbenrecht (inheritances by law of entail), Wasserrecht (water rights), Deichrecht (dike rights), Jagdrecht (hunting rights), Zwangs- und Bannrecht (jurisdiction rights) as well as Haftung des Staates und der Gemeinden (liability of state and communities). See

Holstenrecht - A criminal and civil law (unwritten) in the tradition of the Germanic laws. With time, parts of the newer Saxon laws (Sachsenspiegel) were integrated. Jurisdiction was built on parishes. In some villages of the Wilster- and Kremper marsh areas, earls exercised jurisprudence according to the Hollisch Recht. Additionally, in all Holstein cities the Lübische Recht was administered. The monasteries and the manor lords exercised their own interpretations of the law. The adoption of the Roman Law began in the 1500s. In the 19th century some alterations were passed due to the dissolvement of the German Empire (1806). In 1834 new administrative and judicial structures occurred and in 1866 the entire system was restructured. See:

Lübisches Recht - Lübeck received Stadtrecht (elevation to a city)in the year 1160. The Lübeck council created the Lübisch Recht. It contained the ideas of Westfalian laws, Holstein laws and as far as sea rights were concerned adopted base lines from the Vikings and the Gotland Asscociation of Visby. It was the only German city law which maintained its German based laws to the end of the 19th century. There are various cities throughout Schleswig-Holstein with Lübisch Recht. See

Sachsenspiegel - It is the most important law book of the German Middle Ages. It covers the common law (Landrecht) i.e.,property rights, inheritances, matrimonies etc. and regulates criminal law and the feudal law (Lehnrecht), i.e., relationships between different estates, election of emperors and kings, feudal rights etc. Parts of the Sachsenspiegel played a role as a subsidiary administration of justice until the introduction of the BGB (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch = code of civil law) in the year 1900.

Dithmarschenrecht - The Dithmarschen Landrecht of 1447 existed in a reformed version into the 19th century. It grew out of a federation of independent parishes and dealt with market rights among others.

Where are the court records of yesteryear?[edit | edit source]

Most Schleswig-Holsteiner belonged to the land population. Their civil and criminal law cases were registered with the authorities presiding over them, i.e. the manor lords, the patrimonial courts, the Amtmann or Hardesvogt,the bishops. The people of the cities registered with the magistrates. Higher jugdements were made by the Amt, the higher courts and the German Kanzley in Copenhagen. When Schleswig-Holstein came under Prussian rule, the entire legal system was reorganized. The Prussians established lower courts called Amtsgerichte. We find lower courts already in Eutin and Schwartau (both belonged to the Fürstentum Lübeck) in 1861. In 1867 eighty-six Amtsgerichte were established throughout Schleswig-Holstein. This number was reduced to 70 courts in 1879. Throughout the decades the number of lower courts in Schleswig-Holstein shrank to 30 in 1995.

An Amtsgericht is typically responsible for civil and criminal law cases. Since we do not know if an ancestor was involved in prosecution, the researcher should pay attention particularly to the so called Schuld- und Pfandprotokolle, the precusor of records belonging to the modern land record office (Grundbuchamt) which now is a part of the Amtsgericht. Every city, every cultural area, every Amt and each manor kept such a record, with one page for each owner. A copy of this record was kept as well, the Neben- und Kontraktbücher. They contain the complete text of each contract. We find sales, inheritances, retirement and now and then a marriage contract. Next to church book entries, this is where the genealogist will find pertinent information to trace his ancestors back to early times, since property usually was transferred to children. These records are found today in the Landesarchiv Schleswig-Holstein, stored in Abteilungen (departments) and searchable through Findbücher (archival indexes). The archive catalog is online at other Schleswig-Holstein archives and their catalogs are found under

Schuld- und Pfandprotokolle[edit | edit source]

As mentioned above the Schuld- und Pfandprotokolle provide information about obligations and contracts. Such documents can be traced back to 1650 because at that time it became mandatory to document legal matters, where before a handshake might have sufficed. Each purchase, necessary credits, securities and all other proprietary information was gathered when a property was taken over by an new owner. When property was inherited there always was a so called Abnahmevertrag. Before a person could remarry, the childrens' claims from the previous marriage had to be safeguarded through an Aussagebrief or Setzungskontrakt. Each farm or each owner was listed on a separate sheet on which all changes were entered. The exact wording can be viewed in the Neben- or Kontraktbücher. The Schuld- und Pfandprotokolle as well as the Nebenbücher have cross-references which allows for determined research.

The documents were not always written by the same scribe nor were they written at the same time. Sometimes multiple descriptions exist. However, the text of the Nebenbuch is decisive, because the owner always received a copy of the text. Indexes to the Schuld- und Pfandprotokolle exist and make for an easier search.

Schuld- und Pfandprotokolle exist in cities as well as for all other areas in Schleswig-Holstein. They are housed in the city and state archives, if the legal administrator was the Amtsmann, Amtsvogt or Hardesvogt. If the legal administrator was the manor lord (Gutsherr) the records are in a Gutsarchiv or private archive. Their existence is undetermined.

The Schuld- und Pfandprotokolle as well as the Nebenbücher of Ostholstein have been identified by the Nordfriisk Institut under the title Wegweiser zu den Quellen der Landwirtschaftsgeschichte Schleswig-Holsteins, Kreis Ostholstein. Verlag Nordfriisk Instituut, Bredstedt, NF. 2003 To give you a little taste of what this book covers and where the records can be found, click here. (LAS refers to Landesarchiv, the numbers to the divisions (Abteilungen) and subdivisions).

Similar texts do exist for Nordfriesland, Dithmarschen, Kreis Schleswig-Flensburg, Kreis Plön, Kreis Steinburg and Kreis Segeberg.


Category:Schleswig-Holstein, Germany]]