by Daniel Schlyter
Mecklenburg is a historic region of Germany located along the Baltic Sea coastal plain. It is a farming region, with a mild climate, generally flat with some low hills, dotted with numerous small lakes. After the second world war the area came under the jurisdiction of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Since Germany was reunited the area of Mecklenburg is part of the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
Before the second world war most of the land was in vast estates held by powerful land owners. Mecklenburg was a feudal state. The land owners controlled the economy and ruled their estates with absolute authority. The peasants had few rights and found themselves at the mercy of the land owners. In 1820 the peasants were freed from their obligations to land owners. But this also worsened their condition, because the land owners were freed, at the same time, of any obligations under feudal law to provide their tenants with any means of supporting themselves, thus leaving them in even greater poverty. Most peasants were day workers [Tagelöhners], living in grinding poverty. They traveled the countryside, moving from estate to estate as the land owner required their labor for plowing, planting or harvesting crops. Peasants moved constantly. It was common for a man to be born in one place and get married in another place to woman who was born in yet another place. Then, each of their children might be born in a different place.
The fertile land produced grain, especially rye, in such abundance as to leave a large surplus for export. Other crops include potatoes, sugar beets, peas, beans, and cabbage. Livestock were also significant to the economy. Both horses and cattle were raised for export. Wool was another important source of income. Mecklenburg has several ports, chiefly Rostock and Wismar, and numerous resort cities along the coast. The chief city in Mecklenburg is Rostock, a university town. In medieval times it was one of the most powerful Baltic members of the Hanseatic League, a medieval economic association of free cities.
Throughout the 1800s when your ancestors lived in Mecklenburg it was divided into the two grand-duchies, Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Mecklenburg-Strelitz was divided into two parts on either side of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. The government was a limited monarchy, ruled by grand dukes. Each duchy was a separate state, but both bodies met annually to make common laws and impose common taxes for the whole of Mecklenburg.
Mecklenburg-Schwerin consisted of:
- The Duchy of Schwerin
- The Principality of Schwerin
- The Wenden District of the Duchy of Güstrow
- The Lordship of Wismar (Wismar and the surrounding area were under the rule of Sweden from 1648 to 1803).
- Rostock District
- The Domain of Scattered Convents
Mecklenburg-Strelitz consisted of:
- Stargard District of the Duchy of Güstrow on the eastern side of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
- The Principality of Ratzeburg on the western side of Mecklenburg-Schwerin
The lands of Mecklenburg were divided into Ritterschaft, Domanium, andLandschaft. The knights' properties belonged to the Ritterschaft. All princely properties belonged to the Domanium. All the cities belonged to the Landschaftexcept Rostock and Wismar. These sea ports had their own special category. The status of individual localities relative to these three divisions changed often. These changes were noted in state calendars. Information about such status changes, as noted on the calendars, is important when researching leaseholder families because lease contracts are available from Domanium settlements, but never fromRitterschaft localities. State calendars exist from 1777 in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, and from 1790 in Mecklenburg-Strelitz. A few of these calendars are available through the Family History Library. These are listed in the catalog of the Family History Library under:
GERMANY, MECKLENBURG-SCHWERIN - DIRECTORIES
and under GERMANY, MECKLENBURG-STRELITZ - DIRECTORIES.
Mecklenburg, The Land, Map, History (continued)
1819 Census of Mecklenburg (off-site, subscription site)
1867 Census of Mecklenburg (off-site, subscription site)
1890 Historical Map of Mecklenburg (off-site)
1890 Census of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (off-site, subscription site)
1900 Census of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (off-site, subscription site)