Tag Archives: Cathy Walters

Prussian Social Hierarchy

Cathy Walters, who had sent me the very valuable information on Martin Schulz and his family from the Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, Minnesota, also sent me this email about Prussian social hierarchy.  She told me it would be ok to share it, and I found it very informative:

We tend to think of love and then marriage, but back in that time and in that place, they were mostly marriages of convenience.  Fathers married off their daughters, perhaps keeping one to take care of them in old age.  Some of these girls would then marry after their parents died, but not all families did this.  Brothers at times played the middleman, or if the father had died they would become he head of the family and it was their responsibility to secure marriages.  A dowery was given, but after a time.  It functioned almost like an insurance policy to make sure the marriage was working.   If the family had any money or land it would go to the eldest son at some point, so depending the family’s situation it was usually best to find husbands for daughters.  The younger sons may get some small amount of whatever money or property there was upon the death of the parents, but in general they had to make their own way in life and could not count on any inheritance.  If a father remarried, the children from his first marriage would be protected. 
You could not own the king’s land or any land in town.  Rather, you would rent and pay to make a living.  You would have to donate time, or a portion of your grain, or use of your facilities (if you owned a shop or mill, for example).  It was similar if you were on a noble’s land, everything was contracted.  If, however, a nobleman falls on hard times, Germans would have the first chance to buy his lands.  Only those belonging to the more affluent or nobel classes would try to raise their social standing.  If a man only had daughters, his eldest daughter may increase her social standing through marriage, but the rewards of this increased status would go to her husband.
Mayors on the king’s land were voted in and would get paid more on an annual basis.  Mayors elsewhere may inherit the position, but had to pay for the privilege.  If the mayor died then his son had a chance to buy or sell the job.  The mayor was a top position in social life.
The social hierarchy went as follows: Shepherds on the bottom, then teachers.  A farm owner with own stock is in second highest standing, then mayors.  Going up the social ladder didn’t necessarily mean you were wealthy, just more settled in your life’s position.  My grandfather said he “would rather a son be a pastor than a teacher”, but back in the homeland that pastor or lay person may be an teacher too or a grave-digger.  After 8th grade (age 14) one could be an teacher.  Later you had to be a student teacher for 3 to 6 months (around the 1860’s?).  Teachers before 1772 may not have had to do the obligatory military service.  In Poland, Frederich wanted injured soldiers to be teachers, and thus give these disabled veterans a way to earn a living.

She also added this little bit of information about the Zierke family name:

Zierke is slovic and came from Strals about 1290 A.D. as “Ziricke” and “Sirics”.  There is a Lake Zierker near Neustrelitz.  You may see the name spelled “Sierk” or “Sierich”.