Monday, August 13, 2012

The Land Auctions in Irsch in 1861

Meadowland in Irsch
The fields around Irsch

A wine hill

Kataster Map with Meier House

The morning of February 22, 1861 was a momentous one for me and for all of the present-day descendants of Johann Meier and Magdalena Rauls Meier.  That day determined our nationality for the next 150 years.

Although there had been an application to emigrate legally executed earlier in February, and although there would be an auction of farm and household items in March (as described in my post of February, 2012), the selling of the land a farmer owned was the day that the emigration decision was cast in stone. Now there was no turning back for Johann and Magdalena because at the end of the day they no longer had fields in Irsch to support their survival during the coming year. By the time the sun set on February 22, other farmers were in possession of their land and the very barnhouse that had been their home since their marriage on February 14, 1849.

It is amazing to me that,  in that small village of Irsch sometime during the first three months of 1861, the auctions of five families took place.  They would join Johann and Magdalena on the same ship that would sail from Le Havre about the beginning of April. It is obvious that a monumental division was continuing.  The buyers of all of these auctioned fields may have considered the idea of emigration but decided against it.  The farmers buying the Meier's land, which would mean a mortgage to be paid, were clinging to their homeland.  In spite of ever-lurking hardships, they were setting their roots more deeply into the soil of the only place most of them had ever known . They would be the ones to continue their way of life of the old country.  The sellers were uprooting themselves, determined to have a better life for their families, although it meant leaving everything and everyone they had ever known; a change of allegiance and of customs that were as yet unknown to them.

The Land Holdings of Johann and Magdalena Meier:

The auction of the land owned by Johann and Magdalena Meier began at 10 a.m. on the morning of February 22, 1861 and ended at 3 p.m. In was held on the premises belonging to Mathias Peter Britten. It is more than likely that this was the Peter Britten who is listed in the Catholic church registers as a farmer, ship-puller, and innkeeper and that the inn's taproom was the setting for the sale.   There were two witnesses, Theordor Ney who was a house painter/whitewasher in Beurig; and Johann Becker who was a field guard in Irsch.  The official in charge of the auction was again notary Waringer of the almost "unintelligible handwriting".

There were two classes of land to be sold--the land which the Meiers owned outright, and the land which was part of the Irsch Gehöferschaft. The Gehöferschaft holdings were either meadows or Lohhecken/oakbark hedgerows. Lohhecken, to the best of my understanding, came from (scrub?) oak trees growing in the wild, the bark of which could be stripped and then sold to the tanneries along the Saar river in Saarburg or Beurig.

The other pieces of land which Johann and Magdalena Meier offered for sale consisted of farmland where crops were sowed, cultivated and harvested; garden land which could be used by the family to grow the produce which would see them through the year; wildland; a wine hill for growing grapes; Wande (steep hillside) land; forest land; and a woodlot.

As I have explained in the post, "Village Roads and Fields", a farmer's fields might be miles from his barnhouse.  The possession of adjacent fields was uncommon in the Rhineland in the 19th century. Areas called "Flur" had descriptive names that identified the approximate location of each strip of land owned by a farmer in a particular section of the village. Ewald Meyer, in his history of the village of Irsch, says the names of the "Fluren" were usually related to landforms, names of local farms, woodlots, etc. That is, a farmer might have his clover planted in a land section called "By the Stone Cross" and his potatoes in a strip of land known as "Above the Trier Way." The auction bidders as well as the official conducting the auction would officially be accepting the land boundaries described in the Kataster, which was the land map and tax register document used by the Prussian Government to identify the owner and boundaries of each parcel of land and assign tax responsibility to each landowning resident.

The conditions read out for the sale of the land and building being auctioned were, in many ways, similar to those for the "moveable objects" as explained in my February post.  In addition, there were warnings that the buyer was getting the land as described in the Kataster register, regardless of any unknown errors in it. The land buyer would be responsible for one third of the purchase price of property, with interest, on November 11 of 1861, 1862, and 1863. The interest rate was five per cent yearly. However the taxes for the land would not become the responsibility of the new owner until January 1, 1862. There was also a penalty for late payment and provisions for default of payment. The new owner also had to pay the cost of recording the new ownership on the Government's land Kataster.  A few of the other conditions listed defeated both my ability to read German and the power of "Google Translate."  All of the conditions were read aloud before the actual auction started.

The Land Auction Begins:

When the auctioneer was ready to begin the actual selling, the field description was read out.  The bidding was then open and when the gavel fell awarding the lot, the same description was read again to the buyer to make sure that he understood both what he was buying and the cost. If the buyer was satisfied that all was correct, he signed his name. These handwritten signatures varied from very clear to downright impossible to read. (Picture the hurried scrawls of many doctors, business people and public officials).   It was rare to find an "X" or some other mark in place of a signature. Most of the adults in Irsch must have had at least elementary schooling by 1861.

The auction document gives no indication of how the bidding on each field was brought to a close, but a fellow genealogist, who also has an auction document for her family from the Rhineland area near Koblenz, shared an interesting detail. At the point at which an auctioneer heard a significant silence, a candle would be lit. This candle would burn for only one minute before it went out. The auctioneer would then light another one-minute candle. The same procedure was repeated with the third candle. Hearing no other offer before the third candle flickered out, the land was officially declared sold to the last bidder.  The auction officials in the Koblenz area were definitely sticklers when it came to assuring that everyone had the same amount of time to think over a further bid!

When the auction record for the land of Johann and Magdalena Meier was placed on file for me to see 151 years later,  it contained the following kinds of information for each piece of land.

*the number of the land lot in the Flur - Lot 1647

*the name of the Flur - hinterm Keltergarten (behind the Kelter garden)

*the size of the piece of land - 16 Ruthen, 60 feet

*the owners of the fields that bordered the field being sold - Nikolaus Fuhs-Klein and Johann Schuh

*the buyer and his residence - Anton Schuh, Irsch village

*the amount paid for the piece of land - 20 Thaler

*the signature of the buyer - signed in his own handwriting

When the auction ended, the total land sale had earned 1,269.15 Thaler for Johann and Magdalena.

The Auction of the Land and the Dwelling On It:

Property 4091 consisted of a "Wohnhaus" a place for the family to live, for the animal stalls, and for storage of crops.  It was located in the middle of the village with a land area size of 10 Ruthen and 10 feet.  Bordering it were the dwellings of Anna Hauser, "unreadable" Feilen, and the main street. (I've noticed that a number of people had the first or last name of "unreadable," due to the poor handwriting of notary Warigner.)

The highest bid for the house, barn, and stables (all under one roof) was 320 Thaler, a combined bid from two Irsch farmers, Nikolaus Fuhs and Mathias Konter.  This was somewhat unusual.  It begs the question of why.  Was the current barnhouse then divided into two dwellings or was it shared in some other way by the two winning bidders?

Auction of the cows

After all of the land had been purchased, the auction was declared over at 3 p.m. and the auction of the animals began.  It was in the same location, the inn of Mathias Peter Britten, and the same official and witnesses were present.  There were three cows in the stalls of Johann Meier; however,  one cow was held back and would not be sold until the moveable property auction of March 22. This exception made sure that the Meier children would continue to have milk to drink until all the family's possessions were sold.

One cow was sold for 40 Thaler to Mathias Lehnert-Schreiner, A farmer in Irsch.  The second cow brought 48 Thaler, more than many of the land pieces.  The new owner was Nikolas Reiter,  a farmer from neighboring Beurig.  The auction ended at 4 p.m.

After the Auctions Ended:

On the same day that the auction was held, the rights to land and property were transferred to the Jewish merchant Simon Wolff.  The money from the buyers of that land was not due in full until November of 1863, and the Meier's left Irsch to go to America in March, 1861.  Ewald Meyer who did the translating of the auction documents says that this Jewish moneylender from Wawern loaned back the money minus interest to the Meiers based on the anticipated land payments that would be made.

There is no written explanation that tells me whether Johann, Magdalena, and their children were able to stay on in their barnhouse. Technically, they no longer owned it. But I think staying in it is very possible since their movable possessions would not be sold until the following month at the "movables" auction. Also, the winning bidders had not yet paid any money for the property and would not owe for taxes until 1862. Johann Meier had made the expenditure for the taxes on land and buildings in 1861 from his own pocket.

In the following four weeks, it must have been a peculiar feeling for Johann and Magdalena to hear their neighbors and friends talking of their planting plans for the coming year in the farm fields, some that had once belonged to Johann, his father and his grandfather.

NOTES: An unmarried uncle, Michael, must have lived with Johann and Magdalena and their family because he was going to America with them and sold his land too. His auction was held the next day, February 23.

The notary seems to have used square units: Fuß (feet), Ruthen, and Morgen. In Prussia, one square Ruthe was 14.18 square meters and one square Fuß (foot) was .092 Square meters.  One Morgen was 2553.22 square meters.

Aussenstelle of the Landeshauptarchiv in Neuwied - Rommersdorf, Rheinland.
Meyer, Ewald, Irsch/Saar: Geschichte eines Dorfes
Translation of Auction Documents of Joseph Thielmann and Katharina born Henn by Walter Petto and Ulriich Thielmann, 
Translation of Auction Documents of Johann Meier and Magdalena born Rauls by Ewald Meyer.
Pictures from www.Irsch/; Kathy, the Single-minded Offshoot, and Annette Schwickerath of Trier


  1. Thank you for the references to the Kataster register. I presumed that such records are kept in European land transfers, but never understood what the term was. (So much for false cognates, huh?) I'll start looking for such records in microfilm in the LDS library, and start asking about them on German genealogy message boards.

    I've always thought it unlikely that my ancestors owned land, though they were often farmers of one sort or another. My presumption was that they leased the land or farmed for the owner's benefit as well as their own.

  2. Hi Tom,

    In the Rhineland, the Kataster maps and registers go together. I, too, was surprised that my ancestors could own land. I knew that the Catholic Church (by way of its abbeys and monasteries) were landlords of the peasant tenants in the Rhineland. Tenants had to share their produce with the monasteries as a way of paying for use of the land. But after Napoleon closed the monasteries, land ownership began in the Rhineland and continued when Prussia claimed the Rhineland after Napoleon was defeated. Instead of produce to pay the rent, the purchased land was taxed based on land and buildings owned.

    The LDS library is mostly interested in documents with genealogical information so tax records and Katasters may not be available there. The best source of information is That is the State Archive for the Rhineland. They have an online catalog but so far they have not provided any language help - you have to know German to do effective searching.