Also see our posts tagged as “Guild Records.”

This article covers an overview of the guilds, including which records might be of the most use. Not all surviving records contain the same types of documents. In fact, for many, records of legitimate birth may not exist at all. However, enough have survived to give at least brief accounts of the members in each guild and where the craftsmen may have originated from. These are an often over-looked resource for Pomeranian researchers.

An Overview of the Guilds

Guild records are referred to in German by a variety of different names: Zunft, Innung, and Gilde. These records are extraordinarily important and significant to researchers who have difficulty uncovering more about their family’s history due to the loss of records in the Second World War. Guilds were established to regulate trade, provide benefits to its members, and take care of its members’ families after death, very similar to today’s unions and insurance companies.

There are several different types of guild records that are of specific interest to genealogists. According to FamilySearch:

“Guild records are of many types, including master, journeyman and apprenticeship letters, Kinderbücher, lists of guild members, family lists, letters of recommendation, and birth documents. Such records will include names, sometimes birth dates, dates of guild-related events, work history information, and/or names of former bosses. The Kinderbücher are of special interest. They were kept to prove that children were offspring of guild members and citizens so that they could receive guild advantages later in life. They can also serve as useful records if the usual vital records are not available.”

Entry into a guild began when a father paid a fee to apprentice his son to a master. To qualify, the child needed to be of legitimate birth and of good social standing. This usually took place between the ages of ten and fifteen, and the fee was known as Lehrgeld. A written contract would exist to declare the terms of the apprenticeship. The apprentice would then learn routines and procedures from the master over the course of three to seven years. The student would not be permitted to receive money for his work, but was compensated with food, lodging, and training by the master with whom he lived. Apprentices were also supposed to be unmarried, childless, and having no prior debts or obligations. Records from this stage included apprenticeship letters, registers of apprentices, and apprentice books.


When the apprentice fully learned the trade, he would be promoted to a journeyman (Geselle). He would then travel from village to village in search of masters to learn from, known as the Wanderjahre. In this way, he would learn different techniques from other masters to perfect his craft. A journeyman in Gesellschaft would not be permitted to employ his own workers and would work underneath other masters in the guild. Accompanying the journeyman would be his newly furnished Lehrbrief and Wanderbuch. The Lehrbrief would contain the name of his father and the name of the master who apprenticed him, attesting to his years of apprenticeship. The Wanderbuch would act as his passport, containing physical descriptions and pages for the local authorities to stamp.

Journeymen could become stuck in that phase of their career for many years. Each guild imposed limits on each community for how many members of the same profession could work in any given area. This was to lessen competition and ensure work for their members. To reach the status of a master, one would have to complete a masterpiece (Meisterstück) that would be judged by the masters of the guild. However, as limits were imposed, one could live his entire life without obtaining the status of being a master. Consequently, journeymen could find work in other villages or they would have to wait until a master retired or died. Only after being appointed as a master could the guild member open up his own shop, train apprentices, and employ labor.

Important to the concept of being in a guild, members would want to document their children’s legitimate birth. This would ensure all guild rights transferred to their children, including guild help to the family if the worker died prematurely. Children of a guild member would also have the documentation necessary to be apprenticed themselves. Similar to church books, Kinderbücher were used to keep track of births.

Not many of these records still survive for Pommern. Unlike the guild books found on FamilySearch from other locations, the books from Pommern pertain mostly to guild membership. While the police registered when a person moved from place to place, the Wanderbuch acted as a journeyman’s passport–very rarely would one find documents about their movement, as towns were issued ordinances about the incoming of a guild member.

For further reading about German occupations, guilds, and social stratification, the articles below provide more specific information about how guilds operated and examples of life for different classes of people.

History of the Guilds in Pommern

The guild organizations began to develop in the cities of Pomerania in the middle of the 13th century. In some cities, ducal documents provided the legal basis for their creation. Such a privilege was given to the people of Stettin in 1243. In other cities, the formation of a guild system progressively took place. Both the concentration of production and the battle for control of the market contributed to this. The evolving professional organizations not only guarded the economic interests of their members, but also cared about the quality and price of the products, set the level of production and also fulfilled religious and social functions.

A blank Lehrbrief from the Kolberg shoemaker’s guild

Production of each guild was done in the workshop, owned by a master, a full member of the organization, who (at least theoretically) had the highest professional skills. He organized the purchase of raw materials, received orders from customers, decided on the production, supervised the work in the workshop, and carried out the most responsible work steps himself. The masters were assisted by journeymen and apprentices. The journeymen worked for master’s account but received a weekly salary which was the basis of their livelihood. On the other hand, the apprentices performed the simplest tasks and at the same time learned the profession; the masters provided for their keep. A candidate for the title had to be able to identify himself with the testimony of his “good birth” and had to have urban citizenship. But before he earned the master’s degree, he must have been an apprentice and learned his profession for several years and then worked as a journeyman under the eye of a workshop owner.

The masters, supervising the training of apprentices and journeymen, decided on the admission of new members into the guild. They took into account both the possible acquisition of the required level of proficiency and the “good birth”, the family connections and the ability of the candidate to pay the sometimes high fees and deposits. Each guild had its own jurisdiction over its members and fulfilled military functions by occupying sections of the city walls at risk. At the top of a guild stood between two and six Aldermen. In the second half of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, guild regulations increasingly aimed at stabilizing the number of guilds and guaranteeing the masters a correspondingly high level of production and sales for those times–that is, the possibility of a fair existence. At that time, the guilds increasingly restricted sales and defended the monopoly on manufacturing in their respective fields. At the same time, the master title often passed from father to son, which caused the development of guild institutions to come to a complete standstill. In this situation, between 1738 and 1744, Prussian Pomerania underwent a rather extensive reform of artisanal production. From then on, the guilds became open organizations (free number of masters and journeymen); their production was released from any prohibitions. Also, many medieval privileges were lifted, including among others the excessive number of guild holidays as well as the too expensive master exam. In the 19th century, the guilds experienced further changes. Liberalization and the increase in factory production reduced their numbers; the traditions of the guilds were slowly disappearing too. This process was particularly evident since the second half of the 19th century when the guilds had lost their influence on the level of production as well as the sales monopoly. From then on, the guilds became associations of small producers which maintained a certain economic importance until the 20th century.

The guild files were taken over by the Szczecin Archive in the years 1900, 1911-1912, and 1938-1939. The last acquisition was the result of an order issued in July 1935 on the basis of which the state took over the supervision of the guilds. In 1943, the guild files were outsourced. After 1945, the guild files from 64 Pomeranian towns gradually returned to the Szczecin Archive.

Surviving Records in Stettin

This searchable table represents all the currently known guilds and surviving records housed in the Szczecin Archives. Please note that not all of these records have been correctly inventoried. Some guilds were incorrectly listed underneath others, failing to achieve consistency with all records. Errors have been attempted to be corrected here. For more information about searching the archives, please read our article Stettin Archive Guides – Using BKGE and Szukaj w Archiwach.

Starred records indicate collections that have been privately photographed and are available. Wildcards are not available for this collection, and search strings must be input using the correct spellings listed below the table.