Württemberg Inventories

This project makes use of the rich personal inventories which, from the sixteenth to the late nineteenth century, were drawn up for many ordinary Württemberg inhabitants at marriage and at death – the so-called ‘Inventuren und Teilungen’. In our project, we are entering into a database the surviving marriage and death inventories for the two Württemberg communities of Wildberg (1602-1899) und Auingen (1677-1899). The inventories are being linked to family reconstitutions carried out for these two communities in the framework of a preceding project on the German demographic transition.

Because Württemberg had a predominantly partible inheritance system, its inventories list personal possessions individually. This makes it possible to distinguish the possessions of both women and men. Marriage inventories usually list brides’ and grooms’ possessions separately, and death inventories usually itemize women’s and men’s clothing in separate lists. The Württemberg inventories are therefore particularly well suited to explore the growth in female market consumption which is regarded as central to the Industrious Revolution.

Württemberg inventorying regulations distinguished three different types of inventory: the marriage inventory (‘Beibringungsinventar’), the contingent inheritance inventory (‘Eventualteilung’), and the actual inheritance inventory (‘Realteilung’). A marriage inventory was supposed to be written up within a quarter year after a marriage took place. The contingent inheritance inventory was written up at the death of the first spouse in a marriage, but at this point the inheritance shares were not yet actually delivered to the heirs. The actual inheritance inventory was written up when a widowed spouse died, and included an inheritance-division in which inheritance-shares were calculated and distributed among the heirs.

Württemberg law prescribed a formalized structure for each type of inventory. A marriage inventory was sub-divided into three main sections: the introductory section, the inventory of the bridegroom, and that of the bride. The introductory section records the locality and date of the inventory, the circumstances, the persons, the date of the marriage, and the names of the officials and inventory-makers involved. In the case of a remarriage, the inventory also records the precise family relationships prevailing at the time, any existing offspring, and the deceased marriage partner. The introductory section thus contains important information about the persons involved, including the parents of the bride and bridegroom, and details of occupation and office-holding. The inventory that follows includes the possessions of each marital partner, sub-divided into the inventory of the bridegroom and that of the bride. At the end of an ideal inventory, the marriage couple and the inventory-makers all append their signatures.

A contingent inheritance inventory resembles a marriage inventory in having an introductory section with all necessary information concerning the official procedures and the persons involved. This is followed by an inventory of the combined possessions of the married couple. At the end, a balance-sheet is struck and an interim inheritance-division is established. If there are offspring from a previous marriage of the deceased person, then an inheritance division for them is undertaken at this point, at least to some extent.

An actual inheritance inventory is in principle structured in the same way as a contingent inheritance inventory. However, at its end is appended a complete inheritance-division. At the end of both types of inheritance inventory, the persons involved were in principle supposed all to append their signatures.

Especially at the beginning of the seventeenth century, inheritance inventories sometimes occurred in the form of pure inheritance-divisions (‘Abteilungen’). This consisted not of a detailed inventory of the deceased persons’ possessions, but instead merely a summary inheritance-division according to value. These so-called ‘Abteilungen’ (inheritance-divisions) have therefore not been entered into the database for our project.

Other exceptional types of inventory also sometimes occurred. Sometimes the authorities order that an inventory should be carried out in the lifetimes of the persons involved, for various reasons – marital conflicts, marital desertion, or the fact that a person had committed a punishable offence.

What precisely does the list of possessions in a Württemberg inventory contain? It begins by listing the real estate (‘Liegende Güter’), with details concerning the type of property (house, garden, arable field, pasture, etc.), the size or surface area, the location, the value, and any dues or other burdens payable on it. This is followed by a list of all moveable goods (‘Fahrenden Güter’), divided into sections such as cash, jewellery and ornament, silver plate, clothing, tools, books, bedclothes, linen, brassware, pewter, tinware, copperware, woodware, kitchenware, furniture, barrels and casks, common household equipment, draught and farm equipment, cattle, grain, drinks, kitchen stores (food stocks), and sometimes commercial wares. In addition, the person’s financial obligations are recorded in the form of debts owed (‘Aktiva’) and debts to be collected (‘Passiva’). At the end a balance-sheet is struck and the value of the possessions is calculated. A neatly recorded inventory therefore opens up an all-encompassing picture of material culture and makes it possible to analyse people’s activities as consumers simultaneously with their activities as producers. This opens up a view into spheres such as occupational structure, land-ownership, credit relations, the ability to read and write, wealth composition, and community politics.

Selected bibliography on Württemberg inventories:

Bidlingmaier, R. (2001). 'Inventuren und Teilungen. Entstehung und Auswertungsmöglichkeiten einer Quellengruppe in den württembergischen Stadt- und Gemeindearchiven',. in: Der furnehmbste Schatz. Ortsgeschichtliche Quellen in Archiven. Eds. N. Bickhoff and V. Trugenberger. Stuttgart, Kohlhammer: 71-82.

Mannheims, H. (1991). Wie wird ein Inventar erstellt? Rechtskommentare als Quelle der volkskundlichen Forschung. Münster, F. Coppenrath Verlag.

Frischlin, N. (1605). Instruction und Bericht, welchermassen, in dem Hochloeblichen Herzogtumb Wuerttemberg, die Inventaria und Abtheilungen, nach desselben Erb- oder Landrechtens, vierdten und letsten Theil, Tit. von Erbschafften ohne Testament, ec. fürgenommen, verricht und verfertiget werden sollen. Tübingen.

Sample Auingen inventory for 1682: