Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Town herders/shepherds

There is a number of different jobs our ancestors had. Many of them were farmers, much more were farmhands, some where craftsmen. There were teachers, traders, innkeepers... And there were shepherds. Why to mention them? Because they were a bit special.

Shepherd with his herd of sheep. Late 18th century.

Shepherd or town herder was a person who knew a lot about sheep/cattle. He (yes, usually he) knew almost everything about illnesses that could break out in his herd. He knew almost everything about reproduction and labor. He knew how to protect the herd, how to make sure it's healthy, which sheep or ram is best to kill for meat and so on. 

This knowledge was very valuable. So valuable that those most skilled shepherds who were employed by the estate administraation were moving around the estate(s). A lot. Like... Really a lot. It was normal for them to spend every year in different town or village.

Those of you who spent number of hours working on their family tree most probably know what this means. Yes, it means that searching for shepherds means spending infinite number of hours while searching for one more parish record that can give you more information about your family. 

Some shepherd families lived in one parish - if your family is one of those, you are the lucky ones. Some of those families lived in one estate - it's more complicated but it still can be quite easily found. 

But some of shepherd families moved from estate to estate (usually of the same owner), from town to town, each and every year, or even during the year. And it's really complicated to track them. It's easier if the family was from Southern Bohemia and the seigniorial registers are online. It's much more complicated if this resource is not available.

How to search for shepherds?

What to do then? If you have checked all the parish books for the parish where the family lived and you haven't found anything, write down all the towns of the estate where you family lived. Then go through all the parish books for those towns and villages. If you are lucky you'll be able to track your family down. 

If not, it's going to be a bit more complicated. You'll have to check what other estate(s) were owned by the same noble family. It needs more skills in Czech language, but the nobility/family properties are usually described on Wikipedia. Then you'll have to check the parish books there. And so on, and so on.

You may be lucky when someone already researched or noticed your shepherd family and added them into the database of migrating families - you can either search by regions on the left side, or use the search tool on the top and try different options how their surname might have been written, or both.

Also notice where are the godparents or marriage witnesses from, if you find any records of your family. They may contain a clue where to find more information, e.g. because they might work together or they might be also shepherds and/or related.

As this is an occupation that is very often common for all men in the family, you certainly need to check esp. marriage indexes (or records) whenever you are and collect information not only about your direct relative, but every shepherd with a surname you already have in your family tree (or every shepherd in general, they might have shared the same migrating strategies and areas). It may sound redundant, now, but later it may be usefull. (Usually, the marriage took place where the bride was from and groom might be from a more distant place... accompanied by his fellows as witnesses.)

Sometimes you'll just have to give up. It's almost impossible to track such family if it moved 50 or 100 miles away - and it sometimes happened...


  1. Oh, thank you for this post! I come from a very long line of shepherds. I myself have moved a lot in my life thanks to my husband's job, but I thought that was just me. Then I did genealogy and found that my ancestors did the same. :) I have sympathy,'s still hard to trace them. So thank you for this post!

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