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Madison County Genealogical Society

Minutes of the Meeting - June 13, 2013

The June 2013 meeting of the Madison County Genealogical Society was held at the Edwardsville Public Library on Thursday, June 13, at 7:00 pm.

President, Robert Ridenour, called the meeting to order.

The following is the Treasurer's report for the month of May:


Do you have a family member that is interested in (or even obsessed with) genealogy? A membership in the Madison County Genealogical Society would be a very thoughtful gift. A gift card will be sent to the recipient of any gift membership.

The following memberships are available:
Individual/Family Annual Membership $20.00
Patron Annual Membership $30.00
Life Membership $250.00

Contact our Secretary, Petie Hunter, at, about a gift membership.

June Meeting

On June 13, 2013, Kathy Wurth presented a program titled German Farm Life and Traditions. Ms. Wurth is a genealogist, lecturer, and owner of Family Tree Tours, a heritage travel company. She arranges tours to an area where the participants' families originated and then day trips from a central location to surrounding areas where the people can see what their ancestors' lives may have been like.

Throughout Germany, they have what they call private museums, which are living history museums similar to Williamsburg, Virginia. On her trips, Kathy always tries to visit one of these private museums so people can see how their ancestors may have lived.

Ms. Wurth described the farm types and the people that were likely to own and/or operate each type, as well as inheritance customs of certain regions of Germany. This information covered from the Middle Ages up to the latter part of the nineteenth century.


Although Prussia was centered around and mostly east of Berlin, parts of Westphalia were Prussian beginning in 1670. By 1815, all of Rhineland-Westphalia was Prussian.

There were three General Classes of People: Royalty and the Church, Farmers, and Common Folk. There were three classes of Farmers: Personally free and able to own land; Personally free and able to rent land; Neither Personally free nor able to Rent Land.

During the 1800's, 70% of the people lived in small farming villages. The term Colon (or Kolon) was a generic term for farmer, his farmstead was a Colonat.

Royalty and the Church: Meyer or Meier (related to the English word Mayor and/or a Schulz (from the "Shuldheiss or debt collector). These were usually large farms (ten times the size of a regular farm) owned by free people.

Small farmers: Höner was a slightly smaller farm rented by usually free people but still attached to a Meierhof.

A Kötter was usually not free and farmed only enough land to support his family. If the farm was on land that used to be communal land, he was a "Markkötter." A Kotter was obliged to work for the landlord. The word cottager derives from this type of holding.

A Brinkmann (Brinksitzer, Brinkmaier) rented only enough land for a house and garden and usually lived on the edge of the Village.

A Heuerlinge was day laborer, i.e., worked on a farm for someone else.

People could only marry and have children if they could provide a permanent, stable source of income to support a family. In much of Westphalia, the youngest child inherited the farm. If a woman inherited the farm and married (or remarried), the husband changed his surname to hers. The children bore the wife's surname. When the farm was inherited, a sum based on the value of the farm had to be paid to the owner. This was not an incentive to work very hard.

Rent was paid in money, produce, and livestock and with compulsory labor. On small farms, the family had to supplement their income with cottage industries, such as linen weaving, cobbling, and coopering.

Black Forest

Again, the larger farms were owned by the Nobility and the Church

In this area, the farms were usually larger - the home stood in middle of the estate, which consisted of a belt of land that stretched from the top of the mountain down through the valley and back up to the top of the next mountain. So they consisted of each feature of the valley - summer mountain, valley floor, and winter mountain. Farms ranged from between 50 to 300 acres. Up to three generations would share the home, plus servants or farm hands, so there may have been 15 to 20 people living on the farm.

Farmhouses in this area were built almost entirely of wood taken from the forest each farm possessed. Oak was preferred but they also used spruce or fir. Traditional farmhouses of the Black Forest are multi-purpose buildings, incorporating the living and storage areas and stalls all under one huge roof. A striking feature of these houses is the raised entrance in the roof, through which the horse or ox-drawn carts could drive from the mountainside straight in to the loft. This is called "Eindachhaus."

Kathy gave a detailed description of an "all-in-one" house on a large farm, where the single building housed the farmer, his family, the farmhands, and all the livestock. This description was accompanied by the display of many beautiful and informative photos.

The main source of farming income in the Black Forest area was from livestock and forestry. Crops grown were summer rye, oats, spring barley, and, since the 18th century, potatoes. Hardly enough was produced to sustain people and animals. So the people supplemented their income with cottage industries such as straw weaving, clock making, and hiring oneself out as a day laborer.

Inheritance laws:

In the 16th century the manorial lords prohibited the dividing up of farmsteads in order to ensure sustainable farms. They were bequeathed as undivided, single estates.

In the Central Black Forest, inheritance used the Borough-English custom; everything went to the youngest son, the Höfengel (farm angel), or the oldest unmarried daughter. (The main reason for this was that the current farmer wanted to control the farm for as long as possible.) The rest of the heirs had to make do with a reduced settlement and the hope they would be kept on as farmhands. In the north and southeast, some farms were divided among all rightful heirs, but, with every generation, farms grew smaller and smaller.

The presentation also included photographs of typical German clothing, both working clothes and fancier dress clothes for church and special occasions. It would be impossible to describe the many beautiful photographs used in this presentation.

This presentation was very well received and generated several questions and much discussion.

If you are interested in a heritage tour, Kathy Wurth can be reached at The website is

This presentation was very well attended, very well received, and produced several questions from the audience.