So you think your ancestor was Prussian…

What does it mean when a record(s) says that your family member was Prussian? This topic comes up frequently and seems to cause a lot of confusion, especially here in the US. Perhaps, the following explanations and links will help clarify the matter.Prussia

To begin with you need to be aware that there are, at least, four major categories or groups of people with clear and justifiable claims to being Prussian. And they are:

  • The original Pruzzen (English) or Prußen (German) peoples. To quote from Wikipedia:

    During the 13th century, the Old Prussians were conquered by the Teutonic Knights, and gradually assimilated over the following centuries. The former German state of Prussia took its name from the Baltic Prussians, although it was led by Germans who had assimilated the Old Prussians; the old Prussian language was extinct by the 17th or early 18th century.The land of the Old Prussians consisted approximately of central and southern East Prussia — the present-day Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship of Poland, the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia, and the southern Klaipėda Region of Lithuania. (For more see Wikipedia)

    If you are researching ancestors (family) in the US, it is unlikely that your family records are referring to this relationship of group membership.

  • The historical state, political entity, of Prussia (English)/ Preußen (German)- see map above. Again quoting from Wikipedia:

    Prussia/Preußen was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organised and effective army. Prussia shaped the history of Germany, with its capital in Berlin after 1451. In 1871, German states united in creating the German Empire under Prussian leadership. In November 1918, the monarchies were abolished and the nobility lost its political power. Prussia was effectively abolished in 1932, and officially abolished in 1947.(For more see Wikipedia)

    When researching/reading genealogical records, this is most often the group/ nation to whom your family members are claiming an allegiance or an affiliation.

  • West Prussia (English)/ Westpreußen (German), was a political subdivision/ province in the nation-states of Prussia and Germany. It was ethnically cleansed of Germans by Poland, the Soviet Union and the allies after World War 2 (Today the area is in North Central Poland.). Once again excerpting from Wikipedia:

    West Prussia was a province of the Kingdom of Prussia from 1773–1824 and 1878–1919/20 which was created out of the earlier Polish fiefdom of Royal Prussia. In February 1920, Germany (after it had been defeated in 1918) handed over West Prussia’s central parts to become the so-called Polish Corridor and the Free City of Danzig, while the parts remaining with the German Weimar Republic became the new Posen-West Prussia or were joined to the Province of East Prussia as Regierungsbezirk West Prussia. The territory was included within Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussia from 1939–45. (For more see Wikipedia)

    If you are researching ancestors (family) it is possible that your family records are referring to this area.

  • East Prussia (English)/ Ostpreußen (German), was a political subdivision/ province in the nation-states of Prussia and Germany. It was ethnically cleansed of Germans by Poland, the Soviet Union and the allies after World War 2. (Today the region is the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia). Once again excerpting from Wikipedia:

    East Prussia was the main part of the region of Prussia along the southeastern Baltic Coast from the 13th century to the end of World War II in May 1945. From 1772–1829 and 1878–1945, the Province of East Prussia was part of the German state of Prussia. The capital city was Königsberg. (For more see Wikipedia)

    If you are researching ancestors (family) it is possible that your family records are referring to this area.

The truth is you really need to know to which of these four groups your family belongs or area(s) from which they came, if you are to have any success in finding their evidence/ records. Because many of the Prussian areas were either destroyed (nearly completely) in the allied bombardments and assaults of WW2 and were ethnically cleansed of 99+% of all native German speakers between 1945 and 1950, even tiny clues are most important. Given that Prussia (the country) covered as much as ~135,000 square miles and had a population of nearly 40 million people, names and dates are not enough to go on for a successful genealogical search. The more clues you can unearth the better.

Should you wish to learn more about Prussia and its history, ManyRoads offers extensive texts as well as maps on Historical Germany and Europe. Also additional pointers on conducting German Genealogy research are available here.

If you would like additional help or you have specific questions I recommend you join my Ethnic German Genealogy research support on LinkedIn.

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