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German Genealogy

German Court Records

German court records before 1877 appear under various titles depending on the locality, time period, and Stand (social class).: Schultheissengericht (local or communal court), Hofgericht (appellate court), Patrimonialgericht (court on a noble estate), Reichskammergericht (imperial court of appeal), Landmarschallschengericht (appellate court), and Kirchengericht (ecclesiastical court)

Nobles had a right to maintain courts of justice for their subjects. Researchers must determine which jurisdiction an individual they are researching might fall under.  In some instances residents of a given town were not subject to the jurisdiction of the local prince but of a neighboring one.

Types of records generated by the courts include:

Achtbücher (proscription books) - Trials in absentia were common because criminals often avoided standing trial by fleeing the court jurisdiction area. As a result, the names of persons tried in absentia for serious crimes were published in Achtbücher (proscription books), to confiscate whatever property could be found within the court's jurisdiction, and to sentence the criminal to death if caught. Many copies of this type of publication exist.

Schöffenbücher (court of first instances)- These records date back to the 14th century and contain certifications, wills and gifts, sales notations, and mortgages. These records are applicable primarily to those who lived in towns.

Schuldbücher - By the 14th century, records of indebtednesses, secured and unsecured, were registered in market towns and by the 17th century in the noble estates and principalities. These records are especially useful in determining heirs.

Testamente (wills) - In earlier times times wills were most likely to be found among town records. In modern times, they are found mainly in the records of the local Amtsgerichte (lower courts). (Smith, Clifford. Encyclopedia of German-American Genealogical Research).