Sunday, August 17, 2014

Farmhands, grooms, day labourers - rural occupations

I have explained who one hide of land owner was in one of the previous posts and it (of course) raised another questions. Who was a "podruh"? What about "čeledín"? And "domkář" or "nádeník"? What these people did, where they lived? Did they own any property? Here are the answers.

Most of these professions were connected to the agriculture. Many of them were people working on fields of larger farmers or on domain fields to earn some money for living. They often belonged among the poorest rural people (or at least to the lower layers of rural society). I will try to explain the professions one by one. 

This occupation is often translated as farmhand as there is no other more suiting word. Podruh was a person working for a farmer, living in the farmer's house and not getting a salary. They didn't pay any rent for living in farmer's house and they were fed on farmer's expenses. They got perquisities as old clothes or shoes, old tableware, sometimes fruits and vegetables, their children were sent to basic school on farmer's expenses (but just for a couple of years, no higher education or so). 

Rural workers resting during the harvest time.

Usually whole podruh's family worked on the farm - he helped with farming and cattle, his wife helped with housekeeping, children with house, garden and smaller animals (it depended on their age, usually three years old took care for geese and ducks and as they grew older they got more responsibilities.

Hiring of podruhs was an interesting process. It was a yearly ritual which took place about eight weeks before the St. George Feast (24th April). Podruh visited the farmer he worked for (or he wished to work for) and asked if he can server there for (another) year. If the farmer was satisfied with his work he agreed, if he wasn't he disagreed and podruh had to search for another place where to work. There were families which worked for certain family for generations - and there were podruhs who changed location every year. 

Čeledín (groom) was in a similar situation as podruh. Čeledíns were often members of the farmer's wider family (brothers, cousins, nephews) who didn't have their own place yet. They were usually young and preparing for their own farm or house. 

Usual translation is day-labourer and it means a person who was paid on a daily basis. Nádeníks were hired by farmers or domain administration when additional load of unqualified work needed to be done - during the seeding, harvest, when some extra work needed to be done. They were also hired for unqualified works during house or road building. 

Their salary wasn't too high and they had to earn enough money during the year to feed their families during the winter where there wasn't too much work. 

There is probably no exact translation which would cover all meaning of this word. Domkář was a person who had a house with a small garden - he could own it, but he could also just rent it. It depended in the overall situation of the family. Domkářs often worked for the domain owners, they were also nádeníks and sometimes craftsmen. They didn't own any fields, just a small garden to grow fruits and vegetables needed for the family. 

Domkář was also called nájemník (renter, tenant) in some parts of Czech land (and in some eras of Czech history). This more properly express the situation of most domkářs who rented their houses. This rent was paid to the domain owners who were also owners of the houses. 

There are two types of familiants - first are people who were entailed renters of one house, ie. domkářs with heirship. We can often find these people in villages newly estabilished in the second half of 18th century (most of villages were founded in the middle ages, so those which were founded around 1780 are really new ones). Familiants were settled in these villages by the domain owners to ensure enough workforce in the region. 

Second case when word "familiant" was used are Jewish families - head of the family was called familiant. The word itself is derived from word "familia", family. There was limited number of Jewish families in the past. It was limited by the law, if the total quota was reached, Jews were not allowed to marry until some place available (usually because of death of husband/wife of some other family). 

If you miss here some occupation connected to farming, just let me know. Right now I'm not able to find out more words to explain.


  1. I was wondering if this might be the reason why the family moved houses frequently. I would think that indicates they did not own land. What does it indicate when the person is a day laborer and in another record he is a tennant? It seems as though I cannot post a photo here so I will guess at the letters in am reading after a person's name: godruls -- could this possibly be podruh? I'll post the photo on your fb page. I would like to learn more about a podruh. It appears this family was incredibly poor. It makes me very sad. However, as I have been told, THESE are the people who NEEDED to emigrate. Life could only get better for them here.

    1. Hi Judi, yes, this could be the reason why the family often moved from house to house. I have cases when podruhs had every child in different house number.

      Day-laborer and tennant could mean the same, it depends on context of the record. Domkářs were often day-laborers - as they lived in a rented house, they were called domkářs, but sometimes they were written down as day-laborers. It also depended on how exactly the priest asked them and what he wrote in the record. There are many possibilities.

      I'll try to find out more and write about social and living conditions of these people. But I'm not too sure I'll be able to do it soon.

  2. Hi Blanka, I love your Blog! Many of my ancestors were from South Bohemia-Thorovicke, Oujezdec, Hornosin-and the usual occupation given was "polo-lanik". Any info you can give me on that one would be much appreciated. Diky!

    1. Beth, I suspect polo-lanik is the equivalent of pul lanik. This would be similar to the German halblahner. In Czech, "pul" means "half". (So pul noc is halfway through the night, i.e. midnight.) A lan or lahn is a certain size of farm, and pul lahnik would be a farmer of a half-sized farm.

  3. I am puzzled by the occupation "reeve". I was told once it was sheep herder, on line in english it says a mayor of a village

  4. That's right...he's like a mayor, but acts on behalf of the manorial domain owner...seeing that his interests are carried out at the local level. The English word reeve is equivalent to 'rychtar; (Cz) or 'Richter' (Gm.). In my own ancestral town in East Bohemia, their website describes the historic governance of the town as being rule by a reeve and 12 aldermen. Sheilagh Olgivie of Cambridge Univ. has written extensively about this.

  5. Kedves Blanka,
    Dopovecz (Dpovec, Dopovetz) nevű ösöm házassága alkalmával Muglitz városát jelölte meg szülőhelyének. Én már írtam egy Muglitzi polgármesternek. Nem jó helyre. Melyik levéltárban keressem, melyik járásban?