So you think your ancestor was Prussian…

most recently revised: 31 Dec. 2016

For those interested in taking an indepth, non-free, online course to address “So you think your ancestor was Prussian…”, please use ManyRoads’ contact page to let me know of your interest. I will contact you once the course is ready, and inform of its cost (as well as the registration process).

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.

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:Baltic Tribes circa 1200

    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 or ethnic group membership.
  • The historical state, political entity, of Prussia (English)/ Preußen (German)- see the ‘blue’ map on the right.Again quoting from Wikipedia:Prussia

    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. It is worth noting that in US Census records this term rarely appears after 1871, the year of the creation of the Second Reich- “Germany”.

    IMPORTANT Corollary… do not look for your family to be German before 1871; there was no Germany before 1871!

  • 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 (All vestages of German government and control were removed following WW2. Today the area is in North Central Poland. The area is largely populated by Polish peoples many of whom were forcibly relocated in 1945-1947 from what is today’s Ukraine.)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.

    Tip: If you are researching this area and are examining a time frame earlier than 1947, you should focus on German place names and social conventions in order to maximize your success.


  • 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. (All vestages of German government and control were removed following WW2. Population-wise, the oblast is thoroughly Russian and Russophone in character, with almost none of the pre–World War II German, Lithuanian (Lietuvininks), Latvian speaking Kursenieki, or Polish population remaining in today’s Kaliningrad Oblast.)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.

    Tip: If you are researching this area and are examining a time frame earlier than 1947, you should focus on German place names and social conventions in order to maximize your success.

Summary:

  • 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 most Prussian areas 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 with 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.

48 Comments

  1. Mike Tillmans
    21 November, 2013 @ 11:38 am

    Very helpful. I recently located my Prussian ancestors near Cologne, and now I see one reason why it was such a difficult search.

  2. Joan Bernard
    16 December, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

    My great-grandfather was born in Schwartow which is part of Poland now. His children were born in a town called Wodke. I expect that is near Schwartow now called Schwartowow. My information as to his town of birth came from the church he belonged to in Chicago, Illinois , the city where he and his family immigrated to. I cannot find any information about him other than what I have gotten from the church and census records. Nothing about him or his family in West Prussia. Where do I look and who do I contact to find out what to do next?

  3. Mark Rabideau
    17 December, 2013 @ 6:14 am

    So Joan look here on FamilySearch: http://is.gd/qo3802 You will find that Schwartow was in Pommern not West Prussia, in Kreis Lauenburg. The LDS has quite a number of Church records from the town. You can read the histories here and/or addressbooks and maps to see what you can find. Good luck! Viel spass beim forschen.

    Please join the Ethnic German Group on Linkedin for more help: http://is.gd/PrNWjG

  4. Janet Kramer
    30 December, 2014 @ 11:09 am

    My 2nd gr-grandfather Otto Carl Benjamin Kramer wrote Kingdom of Prussia on his naturalization paper, specifically Koenigsberg as the city of birth. I have no more information other than his wife was Sophia and went by the name Carl.

  5. Mark Rabideau
    30 December, 2014 @ 11:26 am

    Hi Janet… if you haven’t already you should check this page out on FamilySearch (http://is.gd/mO8ZL5)… they have tons of records from Koenigsberg. Not knowing the timeframe or religion (confession) I really can’t offer too much more. I hope this helps.

  6. Judith E. Elam
    31 December, 2014 @ 11:29 am

    Why no mention in your explanation of Prussian Jews, who lived and flourished throughout Prussia? My ancestors were in Elbing for 3 generations, and in many other towns and villages throughout Prussia. They were indeed Prussians too! And LDS has many, many films on Prussian Jewish records, which were kept separately and are not found with church records.

  7. Mark Rabideau
    31 December, 2014 @ 12:12 pm

    I was focused on the region and linguistic/ ethnic groups which predominantly populated the area not their faiths or religions. Here is a more complete list of all the faiths I ignored: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_christlicher_Konfessionen

    If you are seeking information on Prussian Jews, you might find these texts useful (they are primarily related to Jews from West Prussia). I published these awhile ago: http://www.many-roads.com/libraries/prussia-histories/?drawer=Prussia-Germany*Juden_in_Westpreussen

  8. Leslie Neugebauer Tramposch
    3 January, 2015 @ 2:27 pm

    My father’s paternal ancestors were born in Tentschel kreis Liegnitz, Schlesien, Prussia; After 1945 it became Taczalin in the administrative district of Gmina Legnickie Pole, within Legnica County, Lower Silesian Voivodeship, in south-western Poland. I have no idea how to go about finding out where the records for this town might be if they have not been destroyed.

  9. Mark Rabideau
    3 January, 2015 @ 2:49 pm

    Hi Leslie, You will find the records available for order through the LDS Church… here is the link: http://is.gd/lB2PQm

  10. Bob Krampetz
    17 February, 2015 @ 7:45 pm

    I’ve traced my father’s line back to about the mid 18th century, around Thorn. That area was close to West Prussia and sometime called South Prussia. Each generation moved closer to Lipno Poland, from whence my grandfather emigrated in 1904. I recall once, many years ago, finding a “Krampitz” surname in the 17th century and of West Prussia. Was wondering if there’s anything written on when & how surnames appear in Eastern Europe .

  11. Mark Rabideau
    17 February, 2015 @ 9:00 pm

    Hi Bob. Sadly, I do not know of any documents regarding the evolution of surnames in Eastern Europe. I actually don’t if there is a single or even broadly applicable answer. I do know the area of Thorn, just South of my mom’s old Heimatland. I can tell you that I have not seen your surname north of the area of Thorn… in West Prussia. If you’d like some suggestions on where and what to search. I am happy to schedule a chat. Drop me a line at [email protected] if you would like to talk.

  12. Jeff Zoller
    29 April, 2015 @ 8:16 pm

    I know the two small towns where my ancestor came from – the area around Deutsch Krone (now Walcz) in the 1850’s where would I find the records from back then – now?

  13. Mark Rabideau
    30 April, 2015 @ 5:57 am

    Jeff, If it was the one in Westpreussen look: http://goo.gl/gtdpRB if it was the one in Pommern there is no surviving data: http://goo.gl/4Nh3Ki.

  14. Judith E. Elam
    30 April, 2015 @ 4:14 pm

  15. Jeff Zoller
    30 April, 2015 @ 8:12 pm

    Mark and Judith Thank you very much. My ancestors came from Clausdorf (Klebowec), Klein Nakel (Nakielno) and Appelwerder (Jablonkowo). If the churches “changed hands” over the years from evangelical to catholic or visa versa would the records be one and the same? ie if I go to evangeical records would they also have the records when the church was catholic. The assumption here is that my ancestors who were catholic were always catholic and did not change religions as the church changed hands? They emigrated in 1866.

  16. Mark Rabideau
    30 April, 2015 @ 10:39 pm

    Jeff, If the area in question was controlled by the Germans before WW2 and those German people were expelled from the region in 1945-1952 then the records will most likely reside with the LDS Church, assuming they exist at all. You are best served by looking for the German parish names. This page will give you hundreds of places to search http://www.many-roads.com/manyroads-services/german-prussian-genealogy-aids/… this search engine accesses some 100+ sites across that region and may also be helpful:http://www.many-roads.com/2015/04/29/german-prussian-mega-search-engine/

  17. Mark Rabideau
    1 May, 2015 @ 6:14 am

    Hi again Jeff… running a quick check on the villages you mentioned here’s what I uncovered: Clausdorf was spelled Klausdorf…

  18. Evangelisch records are with the Neugolz Parish, Catholic records do not (nor so far as I can tell did they ever) exist.
  19. Klein Nakel … nothing survives for either faith
  20. Appelwerder… are to be found for the Evangelsich in the Lueben Parish, Catholics available records are in Marzdorf records
  21. These are available on FamilySearch.org

  • Roberta
    14 May, 2015 @ 7:38 pm

    I’ve been trying to find information on my g-grandfather from a long while. The only document I have that even proves his existence is a naturalization certificate stamped Second Paper from the Probate Court in Youngstown, OH. It simply has his name, John Schmitz, the date, March 24, 1890. It says he renounces allegiance to what appears to be “Frederick Wm Emperor of Germany”. I have found possible census records in 1900 and 1910 in Allegheny County, PA but no way to verify that this is the correct family. If my father ever knew anything about this side of his family he never mentioned it. Any ideas or hints would be appreciated.

  • Mark Rabideau
    14 May, 2015 @ 8:02 pm

    Hi Roberta. I’d be happy to chat and see if we can identify sources of information for you to explore. The renounciation is not very useful as it does not point us to a location beyond the Deutsches Reich. His name is also ‘somewhat less than unique’. Contact me directly (via the contact page is fine) if you’d like to chat.

  • Kathy Turner
    25 May, 2015 @ 5:55 pm

    My third great grandfather Valentine Bickel was born in 1810 in Nausis and died in 1894 in Sterkelhausen. He was a teacher in the government schools, near the historic Hessen Castle, where Napoleon Third was held as a prisoner after the battle of Sedan. He taught school for 50 years and supposedly receive a gold medal, from the Emperor William, on his golden jubilee for teaching. The family was as early as 1650s in Altmorschen. I’m wondering where to find historical/genealogy records for this family in Germany.

  • Mark Rabideau
    26 May, 2015 @ 6:05 am

    You may be able to find them in Ortsfamilienbuecher for the towns in which they lived. You can also try the help linked from this page if you have not already: http://www.many-roads.com/manyroads-services/german-prussian-genealogy-aids/

  • Bill
    7 November, 2015 @ 11:00 am

    I always thought my ancestors were from modern day Germany, but I found a social security application that lists my grandmother’s place of birth as West Preisen, Germany. Does this mean West Prussia? Her family came to the US in the 1880’s or 1890’s. Also, would last names such as Bartick and Leschinsky be Prussian surnames or German, Baltic, Slavic or Jewish names? My gg grandfather’s full name was Henry Karl Bartick, and he married a woman named Augusta Leschinsky. They had dark features, especially dark hair and eyes. I have inherited these, as well as my children. Thank you.

  • Mark Rabideau
    7 November, 2015 @ 11:56 am

    Bill. Modern Prussians were largely German. West Preisen is the Dutch and probably Plattdeutsch name for West Preußen (Preussen), in English- West Prussia. As for your names “yes” they could be any of those you list although least likely is Jewish. Finally as to appearance, I am not clear what a dark feature is; if you mean dark skin, that is rare in northern Europe. Dark hair and hazel/brown eyes are common.

  • Bill
    8 November, 2015 @ 8:12 am

    Thank you, Mark! By dark features I mean dark brown hair and eyes, and slightly Mediterranean skin coloring. My great grandparents had dark features sort of in the way of Burt Reynolds, Charles Bronson or Katherine Zeta-Jones. Are these features common to people from West Prussia? I always think of Germans as having blonde hair and blue eyes.

  • Mark Rabideau
    8 November, 2015 @ 12:57 pm

    I recommend you not think of Germans as having any easily categorized or uniform apprearance… they come in all shades and colors. Perhaps this article will help: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germans

  • Judith Elam
    8 November, 2015 @ 4:24 pm

    Leschinsky could definitely be Jewish. If you can locate their passenger manifests and census records, their ethnicity may be stated as Hebrew. However a lot of German Jews listed themselves as German on such records. Where are they buried? This may also be a clue. If they didn’t talk about their past then this could also be a clue as to a Jewish identity. Maybe DNA testing will reveal if you have Jewish heritage.

  • Mark Rabideau
    9 November, 2015 @ 6:26 am

    Judith offers one way of determining whether or not you are of Jewish descent. However, DNA testing only very rarely will prove if you are West Prussian (no matter the religion); of the few DNA groups that work reasonably reliably, Mennonite is the only one that comes to my mind. Having said that, on this page (on ManyRoads) you will find 2 West Prussian Jewish Community listings as well as documents from the Elbing Jewish Community, plus others. Perhaps they might help in your surname search. http://tinyurl.com/pgvwyx8

    Beyond the Jewish data, there are hundreds of addressbooks from the region accessible from this link: http://tinyurl.com/oj4klcl

  • Jane Frances
    3 December, 2015 @ 8:25 pm

    Where is Kamen/Flatow. West Pruben/Prussia

  • Mark Rabideau
    4 December, 2015 @ 6:30 am

    Jane see” http://tinyurl.com/zcf6c42 the correct German/Prussian location is Flatow, Westpreußen note the ß is equal to “ss”.

  • Kevin Walters
    12 February, 2016 @ 5:52 pm

    My namesake ancestor Theodore Walter was born in Mardorf per a 1920 passport application and came from Prussia according to a couple of census entries. Unfortunately I don’t read or speak German so am having a hard time trying to locate Theodore from across the pond.

  • Mark Rabideau
    13 February, 2016 @ 7:03 am

    Hi Kevin. I am happy to help (although I do charge for such efforts). If you want to try some of the help I provide gratis you might visit ==> http://www.many-roads.com/manyroads-services/german-prussian-genealogy-aids/ (if you have not already).

  • Michelle Lea Flesché
    13 February, 2016 @ 10:58 am

    My grandfather always told me that his side was French-from France. We were arrow makers and our last name is means in French-arrow piercing skin. My last name sounds French- Flesché recently found naturalization papers from my great grandfather, great-great-grandfather and his Uncles on Ancestry along with other various government documents. Each one of them my ancestors claimed they were from “King of Prussia,” Prussian, or from Prussia. This shocked me because that is SO FAR culturally and geographically from France and my Flesché of the family is very stubborn and proud people. They WOULD not get it wrong. However, my ancestors indicated this on every document even the ancestors that were born in the U.S. indicated that their parents were from King of Prussia-even after the German unification. I asked my father and he said they could have lied because of the area they lived in was a heavily populated German area in Brooklyn. I just accepted it but recently my dad died and it does not make any sense to me. Some of these documents were after WWII and France was the U.S’s friend not foe.They also advised that their religion was Lutheran which is strange because that side was always Catholic. But it was later told to me that my grandfather converted during his teenage years. My last name is so difficult to spell and pronounce that there is no way they changed the last name or spelling. If so, they really did not make it easier. I found a government document where my great-great-great grandfather pronounced and spelled the last name on a trial and told the judge that Americans cannot pronounce the name. It is too difficult for them.That is the same ancestor that come over from Europe who indicated he was from King of Prussia.HELP! I know these are my people because of last name is NOT that common. This side of the family has very dark skin and some people think they were Spanish. Was there known French nationals that lived in Prussia in the mid 1860’s?

  • Mark Rabideau
    13 February, 2016 @ 3:39 pm

    So far as I know, the only place called King of Prussia is outside of Philadelphia, PA. As for the country of Prussia… at times it bordered France; after WW1 parts of what were Prussia became the Alsace & Lorraine provinces (previously known as Elsass & Lothringen). So although Pennsylvania is a long way from what was the Prussian Empire, the same does not apply to the countries of France and Prussia they have a history of fighting over the same real estate..

  • Sean
    2 March, 2016 @ 5:47 pm

    Hello, I was wondering how and where to start my family search. My name is Sean Bahr and my fathers side comes from East Prussia (Bartenstein NOW Bartoszyce) and I would like to know more about his side but don’t know where to start. any help would be great, hope to hear from someone soon!

  • Mark Rabideau
    3 March, 2016 @ 6:47 am

    Hi Sean. Have you checked our pages on Getting Started and Free German (Prussian, Polish, etc.) Help? They are all listed at the top of each webpage under “Help & More”. If you would like consulting &/or professional research help, I am happy to discuss those options with you as well. I am always happy to assist in client research although that is performed on a ‘for fee’ basis.

  • Ashley Ermis
    3 May, 2016 @ 5:58 pm

    I have been fascinated with Prussian history since I was eleven. My father’s family name,”Ermis,” were from the Baltic Sea/ East Prussian. I have only found one book on East Prussian families. “East Prussians From Russia.” A man compiled several family names that have immigrated to Wisconsin after Russia removed the sanctions on Prussian families. This book has been my only useful source so far on my family history. If you have anymore suggestions as to where I can look for more information, please let me know. Thank you!

  • Mark Rabideau
    4 May, 2016 @ 5:05 am

  • Ronald Ahnen
    9 August, 2016 @ 7:56 pm

    I have recently discovered that my great-great grandfather, Jacob Kowalsky, was born in Gross Jauth, West Prussia (according to LDS site). According to Census records, he was born in July of 1826, but usually lists “Germany.” He emigrated to America in 1867. He lived in Watertown, Wisconsin, where my grandfather, Frederick William Kowalsky, was born in 1905. Any way I can find more about Jacob’s birth and immigration to the US?

  • Mark Rabideau
    10 August, 2016 @ 5:01 am

    Hi Ron, This is the best page for tips & pointers: http://www.many-roads.com/manyroads-services/german-prussian-genealogy-aids/

  • Suzette Kath
    1 November, 2016 @ 3:28 pm

    I know that both sides of my family can trace back to Prussia.
    My dad’s dad’s side came from Penkuhl, Germany. Which since WW2 had been renamed Pieniężnica. Also my dad’s mom’s birthplace was renamed to a Polish one.
    My mom’s side had been from the area of Pomerania.

  • Marita Ulrich (EPP)
    2 November, 2016 @ 2:38 pm

    After years of being told there are no records for Danzig, Germany because all were ruined during WWII, I FOUND my grandparents’ marriage record while updating their page on ancestry.com. You know, the little green leaf that appears? I clicked on it and VIOLA! The civil record of their marriage came up and bit me in the butt! Not only did I find the exact date of their marriage, but the names and residences of my great-grant parents!!!! Of course it was all in German script, which I am still slaving over, but in addition I discovered other ancestors, and so much more.

    I HIGHLY recommended this to all you folks with Prussian blood.There many other Prussian towns to choose from these Civil Records, 1847 – 1945.

    “Eastern Prussian Provinces, Germany [Poland], Selected Civil Vitals, 1874-1945”

    Warmest regards,

    Marita

  • Mark Rabideau
    3 November, 2016 @ 5:13 am

    Marita, You may also find records online at http://archion.de and http://familysearch.org. Addressbooks are also an excellent choice for data/ information. Many of those are linked or provided here, Danzig is among those we ‘track’ and offer here (http://www.many-roads.com/libraries/prussia-histories/ ).

  • Inge
    13 November, 2016 @ 8:25 pm

    I am trying to find my family history, my father was born in Danzig in 1929 I just don’t know where to find out where my family came from and my grandparents on my fathers side, can anyone assist me

  • Mark Rabideau
    14 November, 2016 @ 5:58 am

    Inge, did you look at the pages and tips here? http://www.many-roads.com/manyroads-services/german-prussian-genealogy-aids/ If you are looking for bespoke assistance, I offer that as well: http://www.many-roads.com/manyroads-services/.

  • Luonie Collie
    10 December, 2016 @ 7:59 pm

    Mark are you able to assist me,my paternal grand father was Bruno johannes Globke, born in Wormditt in 1987.His father Johan was Station Master there, Wormditt now Orneta was vastly destroyed in August 1944, I have been unable to trace this period. Bruno’s mother was Franzisca Wetzel,.
    I do have vast records on Bruno from when he arrived in New Zealand 1909, these were supplied from Archives New Zealand where he was a prisoner WW1. 1917 and many records of his travels after immigrating to USA. Post war and then recapture off the coast of England WW2. How ever virtually nothing from East Prussia , we’re these records lost, if not where can I search please.Recent DNA . Testing has put me at 19% European Jew. This may explain the loss of records?
    Thank you Luonie, New Zealand
    R

  • Mark Rabideau
    11 December, 2016 @ 5:53 am

    Luonie, you will find records here: https://goo.gl/hYogGO you may find more on http://archion.de. For help conducting Prussian-German-Shoah research visit: https://goo.gl/DcOcd7

  • Becky
    20 December, 2016 @ 9:10 pm

    I’m researching my husband’s family and I’ve tracked back as far as Carl Weindorf who was married in Krone a Brahe in 1840. Several of his children were born in the next few years in Vandburg. I’m not sure what records to search to find earlier information about Carl….his birth records, etc. Any suggestions? I think he was born around 1815.

  • Mark Rabideau
    21 December, 2016 @ 6:17 am

    If there are surviving records they will most likely be church records. see: https://familysearch.org/stdfinder/PlaceDetail.jsp?placeId=6488557 and https://goo.gl/t1QAUL