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Legacy in the archival sense refers to archived documents and other materials that are taken over by a natural person after their death from a library , archive or other (scientific) institution. If the testator inherits certain things in his will for archiving, this is a legacy in the legal sense .

Types of estates

It is possible that not the entire estate of a person is kept in one institution, but rather several partial estates or fragmentary estates can be found in different institutions. This often means that future uses are more difficult.

An enriched estate is an estate that was subsequently supplemented with materials, e.g. B. Letters from the estate that were previously with his correspondent. An estate is also to be regarded as enriched if business documents are mixed with private documents. In this case, the archive laws must be observed for the transfer.

In a figurative sense, one sometimes speaks of a company estate or a club estate. In this case, the inventory builder is not a natural person , but a legal entity , for example a company or an association.

A crypto estate is the estate of a person that is in the estate of another person.

A person can also give away or sell their personal archive material during their lifetime . One then speaks of a preemption . The term was coined by the head of the manuscript department of the German Literature Archive in Marbach , Jochen Meyer .


In archives apply to the content development of the same principles as for the development of archival and collection items (especially of estates OVG ). The uniformity of the listing of estates is supported by the use of specific archive software .

The set of rules used in German-speaking countries, especially in the library sector, for the indexing of personal papers and autographs are the so-called RNAB (rules and standards for the indexing of personal papers in archives and libraries). These new rules, mainly created by libraries, also try to promote a uniform indexing of personal papers in German-speaking countries and show a certain parallelism to the multi-level indexing of holdings in archives.

Proof and acceptance

There are different approaches to documenting bequests across the board. This is particularly important as there are no fundamental rules as to where estates must be finally kept and usually the person himself or the heirs decide on the transfer. The estates of writers can be found e.g. B. to a large extent in the German Literature Archive in Marbach, but can also be preserved in other archives , libraries or museums. Legacies of politicians can be found in the relevant party archives, competent state or municipal archives of the sphere of activity in which the testator was active.

Basically, therefore, the recommendation applies, especially in the interests of users, that bequests be offered to the archives, museums or libraries that are responsible for the estate. Here the institutional sphere of activity (e.g. of a scientist) can be a very important criterion, since private and official documents are not infrequently mixed up. According to German archive law, official documents are to be handed over to the responsible archive, as these are usually the property of the employer or the registrar. It is not uncommon for this rule to be overlooked by inheritors or by institutions taking over e.g. Sometimes ignored for reasons of prestige.

Legacies and partial legacies or splinters can be found in different institutions. Specialist portals such as the Archive Portal-D or the evidence of bequests in the Federal Archives are particularly helpful for user interests.


Legacies serve as sources for biographies , for historical, literary and scientific-historical research. But genealogists also use bequests. The right to inspect the documents of an estate can be subject to various criteria and restrictions. If an estate is a donation, the general rules of use for the archive concerned apply. Additional restrictions may arise if the heirs or the testator themselves have handed over the estate or estate as a deposit .

Today public archives endeavor to make their bequests entrusted to them accessible to the public. However, restrictions can still arise due to the personal rights to be observed, data protection law, copyrights or third-party rights. Likewise, the estate or his heirs may, under certain circumstances, issue certain restrictions on use. The church historian Franz Xaver Kraus , for example , decided that his estate should be handed over to the Trier City Library and that it could only be opened 50 years after his death. In general, however, it should be avoided that the costs for the very time-consuming development work and the storage of the estate are borne by the general public, who in turn are denied access to the information contained therein. The same applies if the estate is only given to an institution as a deposit, i.e. as a permanent loan . Here today, agreements are usually made which regulate in advance that the lender has to reimburse the costs incurred for development, restoration and storage in the event of a possible return.

See also


  • Ludwig Denecke , Tilo Brandis : The bequests in the libraries of the Federal Republic of Germany . 2nd edition Boppard: Boldt, 1981. ISBN 3-7646-1802-7 (The 1st edition was published in 1969.)
  • Pia Gamon et al. a .: Basis artist archive: Art between studio and museum. The archive for artist estates of the Kunstfonds Foundation , Verlag für Moderne Kunst, Vienna 2015, ISBN 978-3-903004-16-0 .
  • Ewald Grothe : Cooperative indexing of manuscripts and bequests, part 1: “An unmistakable need of science”. Projects in German libraries between 1885 and 1945 . In: Zeitschrift für Bibliothekswesen und Bibliographie 53 (2006), pp. 234–243. available as full text (PDF; 224 kB)
  • Ewald Grothe: Cooperative indexing of manuscripts and bequests, part 2: On the way to Kalliope. On the indexing situation in German libraries and archives since 1945 . In: Zeitschrift für Bibliothekswesen und Bibliographie 53 (2006), pp. 291–299. available as full text (PDF; 222 kB)
  • Ewald Grothe: The cooperative indexing of autographs and personal papers in the digital age. Problems and Perspectives . In: library. Research and Practice 30 (2006), pp. 283–289. available as full text
  • Wolfgang A. Mommsen : The bequests in the German archives . Boppard: Boldt. Publications of the Federal Archives 17 / I and 17 / I. Part I, 1971. ISBN 3-7646-1544-3 . Part II, 1983. ISBN 3-7646-1816-7 . ( Part II as full text in the Google book search)
  • Rules for the indexing of estates and autographs (RNA) / German Research Foundation, subcommittee for the indexing of estates ; German Library Institute. Berlin 1997. ISBN 3-87068-540-9 . 2nd version 2010 only online (PDF; 778 kB)

Web links

Wikisource: Digitized bequests  - sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Simon M. Karzel: From the legacy to the user - The path of the legacy in the archive taking legal aspects into account using the example of the estate of Karl Otto Hondrich, Landesarchiv Nordrhein-Westfalen 2012, p. 1
  2. Janet Dilger: Library and archive indexing - methods and finding aids , Potsdam 2009, p. 29.
  3. Christina Hofmann-Randall: The bequests in the University Library Eichstätt . In: Eichstätt University Library (Ed.): The bequests (=  catalogs of the Eichstätt University Library . No. 4 ). tape 1 . Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden 1993, ISBN 3-447-03450-5 , p. 2 ( limited preview in Google Book search).
  5. ^ Directory of artistic, scientific and cultural-political legacies in Austria