Author: Piotr Zelny
Generally, property inventories consist of three basic parts. The title, the descriptive part, and the normative part. This type of documentation may refer to a single settlement or to an entire complex of properties, which could include many villages and towns. They can be in the form of a separate book (a manuscript), a notebook, a loose document or a record entry in court books.
The title of the inventory provided the collective name of the complex of properties e.g. the property of Serednie, as well as the names of individual localities included in this property inventory. Depending on the circumstances of preparing the documentation, the purpose of its creation and its content may be specified, too. The title contained the name of the owner or owners of the properties and, if the properties were on lease, also the lessee. The date of the origin of the document and, in the case of a lease, the period of its validity were included.
The second part of the document, i.e. the descriptive part, usually contained a detailed description of a manor, farm buildings and agricultural land. The areas of individual villages were divided into the noble (the manor farm), the ecclesiastical (the church area) and the rural (peasants’ fields) terrains. The manor area was the part of the village managed directly by the officials of the landlord. It consisted of an administrative and residential building, i.e. a manor house, farm buildings and farm land. The whole entity was called the manor or manorial farm.
The descriptive part of the inventory provided the location of the manor and farm buildings, the external appearance of these buildings and their internal layout, the number and area of rooms, equipment and their condition. There was a description of the farmland, agricultural crops, pastures, meadows, gardens and a register of the livestock. The peasants were obliged to serve and fulfil various duties on this manorial farm. Some more complex inventories also provided very precious descriptions of peasants’ cottages as well as inns and other rural buildings located in the specific village.
The third part of the document, i.e. the normative portion, was divided into two parts. The first part contained a register of population along with the property of individual families as well as their feudal obligations. The second part provided detailed instructions and regulations in regard to the relations between peasants and the landlord as well as rules of the village’s internal system.
The register of population usually was presented in tabular form. It listed the first and the last name, or only the first name, or the first name and the nickname of the head of individual peasant families living in the village. Other family members were frequently omitted. The population was divided into various categories. Belonging to a particular category depended on property status. The state of property of a particular family determined the amount of feudal service and other tributes required. For this reason, the inventories sometimes provided more detailed information about the area of land being cultivated by a particular family. Families belonging to a particular category usually farmed a specific amount of land e.g. ‘a field’, ‘a half-field’, ‘a quarter-field’, ‘a garden’. Also the census included the number of oxen and horses owned by a family or more frequently, just the number of the animals used by the family to cultivate the lord’s farm as part of the peasant’s feudal obligation. It was very important information because it determined the type of the feudal service required of the serf (with animals or on foot) and the number of duties related to transportation.
Subsequent columns listed the number of days of feudal service required of the serf (in division on its type) per week, and also the number of oxen and horses, the amount of rent in money, the amount of oats in bushels and the other tributes such as: geese, capons, chickens, eggs, yarn etc.
Unfortunately, not all the categories of rural population were listed in the registers. The usual categories listed included the part of the population which owned houses and farmed the land allocated to them or, if not farm fields, at least land sufficient for a garden. The categories found were: ‘kmieć’ (a peasant farmer cultivating about 1 ‘łan’ of farming land, depending on a region and a historical period it was equal to at least 40 acres),‘półrolnik/półkmieć’ (a peasant farmer cultivating about a half of the ‘łan’ of farming land), ‘zarębnik’ (a peasant farmer cultivating about a quarter of the ‘łan’ of farming land), ‘zagrodnik’ (owner of a cottage with a small amount of land), ‘ogrodnik’ (a gardener), and ‘chałupnik’ (a cottager).
Families which did not have their own houses and did not cultivate any land, i.e. ‘komornik’ (a landless peasant) and ‘kątnik’ (a landless peasant) were mentioned less frequently. Other groups of the population, such as farm workers, maidens, hired workers or servants were almost always absent or occurred very rarely in the registers.
Apart from the rural inventories, there were also municipal inventories which contained lists of the population of individual towns. They provided data regarding the property of townspeople as well as their burdens such as taxes, rents, fees and tributes.
At the end of the normative part of the inventory, were found detailed instructions regarding the performance of the feudal duties of serfdom, the so-called regulations or descriptions of obligations. The instructions developed in detail and precisely regulated the duties of the communities towards the landlord and determined the internal system of the village. The instructions regulated the amount of time to be worked, the number and length of breaks during the workday when a serf fulfilled his feudal obligations, working conditions related to variables such as the weather, the use of agricultural tools and draft animals. They enumerated the types of annual agricultural work as well as regulated matters related to the other duties and fees, such as the transport of goods, deadlines for paying rents and for paying tributes in the form of agricultural products, animals and cash. They also regulated important issues such as land trades between peasants, etc.
In addition to such complete inventories containing all three parts, there also exist partial documents containing only some of the above-mentioned elements. For example, if there was neither a manor house nor a manor farm in a particular village then the inventory would not contain a descriptive part of these elements. The most painful fact for genealogists is that some documents may not contain a list of peasant or town families, their property status and feudal obligations. On the other hand, there are also some documents which may contain much richer material.
Documents of this type were written by thousands of scribes and officials employed in offices. Their content corresponded to the needs and purposes necessary for managing a particular property. Hence their content and accuracy largely depended on the need of the moment and the experience of the clerk drawing up the document.
See villages and towns available for search in the Land Records database.
Part 4 ASSESSMENT OF THE SOURCE