Monthly Archives: May 2012

“Kolonists” in Eastern Prussia

I received an email from the man I use for translation of historic German documents.  His name is Klaus and he lives in Florida.  In the most recent document, Auguste Bertha Schmidt’s birth record, I noted that her father Friedrich Schmidt was listed as a “Kolonist”.  I asked Klaus about these people who were sent to “Germanize” the eastern parts of Prussia, and this is what he wrote:

Not being a historian, I can only offer you a bit of the things I remember from listening to and overhearing my Grandmother (the mother of my stepmother) Emma Kopischke.

My Grandfather was a teacher, and the Kopischke’s had been lured (I do not know by which administration) to move into the Eastern Territory as part of the “Germanisation Effort” program of the Prussian State.  I believe the intent was to take German culture and preciseness there, to exploit the vast farmland areas and to provide the “homeland” with agricultural products.

Grandfather taught mainly the children of settlers (“Kolonists”).  From Grandmother I remember remarks about the Polish field hands and house helpers to be mainly negative or derogatory.  From her occasional talks I formed a picture of Wanda, the house maid (probably a kind of servant) as being lazy, dumb, uneducated and primitive.  She and other Poles had to constantly be watched or they would steal your shirt off your back.  Things like that.  I do not remember ever hearing a word of praise about the local population.  I assume the settlers suffered from adverse propaganda and/or were brainwashed and felt like the superior race or population.

The Kopischkes lived in the Posen (Poznan) area. I remember hearing of visits to settler friends in Gnesen, Tschenschstochau and other neighboring villages.  Those German settlers were driven out of the territory sometime around 1900 or so.  The Kopischkes moved to Goerlitz, (then Silesia), a city which today is split by the Neisse River, the new Polish/German border since 1945.  I grew up there, in the triangle where Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic meet.  One of my sisters and her descendants still live there today.

Your Schmidt family settled not far from the Poznan area, a few miles north-north-east in the direction toward Dansk.  They must have lived under similar conditions as my Kopischkes.

This portrait of the region was augmented by my friend Jörg, who lives in Germany

In the 16th century Polish landslords brought German settlers, mostly farmers, into the Netzekreis.  After the mid-17th century, German craftsmen were hired.  The town of Schönlanke, for example, [very near where the Winkelmann and Schmidt families lived] was famous for its textiles (draperies, weavers, clothiers).  In 1772 Netzekreis (including the city of Schönlanke) became Prussian. There were 220 clothmakers and many shoemakers, tailors and other craftsmen at that time. 

After 1822 Russia closed its borders for imports and exports and the machine age began.  It was the beginning of the end of the textile industry in that region.  Their guild was dissolved in 1888.But more and more craftsmen immigrated there, bakers, slaughterers, carpenters, masons, blacksmiths and merchants etc.   The town grew slowly but steadily, and a railway station was built there in 1851.  The economy stagnated somewhat after that.  

But after the “Gründerzeit” – the founder epoche in abt. 1870 – everything had changed.  There was a resurgence in the region in the tobacco and timber industry, and many lumber mills and joineries (carpentries) were established there during this period.

The word “Kolonist” came from the Latin “colonus” = farmer (Bauer in German).  So the “Kolonisten” were settlers… farmers from other regions, who reclaimed moorland, or in this case swampland, along the Netze river and cultivated it.


Clifford Family in Winooski, Vermont

I just noticed this today:

In 1900 Sarah Clifford and her sisters Margaret and Elizabeth all lived together in a house on River Street in Winooski/Colchester, Chittenden County, Vermont.  All three are working as weavers in the wool mills.

In 1910 Elizabeth and Sarah are still living there together at 93 River Street.  Sarah doesn’t seem to be working, but Elizabeth is listed as working in the wool mills as a weaver.  Margaret is living separately in Bridgewater, Windsor, VT and working as a weaver also.

In 1920 all three are living together again back at 93 River Street.  Sarah isn’t working, but Elizabeth and Margaret are still weavers.

Elizabeth died 6 February 1929 from a heart condition.

In 1930 Sarah and Margaret are living at 93 Water Street together.

Sarah died 18 March 1935 from a fractured femur.

Margaret is still living there in the 1940 Census, so she must have died sometime after that.  She was 74 in 1940.  Haven’t found a death cert yet.

As far as I know none of the three ever married or had any children.

Today I just noticed that the house they lived in is on the corner of River Street and Clifford Street.  It was called Clifford Street even in 1900, so I suspect it was the family home where they lived with their parents Robert Clifford and Agnes McWhirter.  The family moved there from Alburg, VT sometime around 1872.

93 River Street, Winooski, VT

I might just write to the current residents and request a photo.

Auguste Bertha Schmidt Birth Record From Prussia

For a few weeks now I have been in contact with a woman named Doris Winkelmann Sonntag, whose Winkelmann family comes from the same area as my Winkelmann family… near the former town of Gornitz, Posen, Prussia, which is now called Górnica, Poland.  She writes to me in German, so I’m thankful for Google Translate.  🙂

Yesterday she sent me an email in German saying:

Hi Charles, I have a document from the Archive in Pila, Poland [formerly Schneidemühl, Prussia].

Auguste Bertha born 11 January 1880 in Gornitz
Father: Frederick Schmidt
Mother: Wilhelmine Schmidt nee Winkelmann

Your Wilhelmine Winkelmann born 1836 married a Friedrich Schmidt, you said.
She was about 44 years old at the time of birth.
She and daughter Bertha emigrated to the United States.

See attachments.

Many lovely greetings,

The document she attached is exactly what she described.  A birth record for my great-great-grand aunt Auguste Bertha Schmidt, one of the famed Schmidt Sisters who I have written about many times.

Here is the document:

Auguste Bertha Schmidt’s birth record.

The translation, as provided by Jörg Schrick and Klaus Kolb:

Runau, 15 January 1880

Appeared in person before the registrar: The personally-known settler (Kolonist) Friedrich Schmidt, resident in Gornitz, evangelical (protestant) religion.  He reported that his wife, Wilhelmine Schmidt, nèe Winkelmann, evangelical religion, resident with him, has born a female child at home in Gornitz, on Jan 11th 1880, 4:00 p.m.

The child’s name is Auguste Bertha.

Read, approved and signed

signed by Friedrich Schmidt

The Registrar: Fricks

Authenticated to conform with the main index
Runau, January 15, 1880

The Registrar: Fricks


This document is amazing for many reasons.  It’s another of those rare glimpses of our family in the “old world” before they came to the US.  It verifies Gornitz as Bertha’s birthplace.  It describes Friedrich Schmidt as a “Kolonist” or settler, a group of people who were sent by the government to inhabit the more eastern reaches of Prussia and turn the fertile land there into a production area for cloth and other goods needed by the Prussians.  It also has the signature of my 3x great grandfather, Friedrich Schmidt.  A man who has been nothing but a name until this point:

Friedrich Schmidt signature.

Runau, Kreis Czarnikau, Posen, Prussia (today Runowo, Czarnków-Trzcianka County, Greater Poland Voivodeship, Poland) is only about 3 miles from Gornitz, and may have been some kind of administrative center for the region where the Schmidts lived.

There are some LDS films from this city:

Evangelische Kirche Runowo (Kr. Wirsitz)  184919

Runowo (Kr. Wirsitz, Posen). Standesamt

Geburten, Heiraten, Tote 1874  1194896

Geburten, Heiraten, Tote 1875-1879  1194897

Geburten, Heiraten, Tote 1880-1883  1194898

Possible Thomas Family Member

Time for a little mini-history lesson about the Thomas Family to set up this piece of information.

From myself, you have my father, Frederick Clifford Thomas III (b 1941). His father, of course, was Frederick Clifford Thomas Jr. (1918 – 2006), whose father was Frederick Clifford Thomas Sr. (1889 – 1976). Fred Sr.’s father was Horace Luther Thomas (1846 – 1929), a self-taught electrical engineer who spent most of his life in Chittenden County, Vermont.

Horace Luther Thomas

Horace had three brothers and two sisters.  Two of his brothers were Charles Frank Thomas and Warren P. Thomas, whose story I have told previously.  Horace’s parents were Charles H.L. Thomas (I believe the H.L. was probably for Horace Luther, 1821 – 1873), and Louisa “Lois” A. Pond (1823 – 1896).  Louisa was from the Pond family that can trace its roots back to the founding of the country with my 9x great-grandfather Robert Pond (1606 – 1637) who was born in Groton, Suffolk, England and who came here to the US with his son Daniel about 1630.  There is an entire book written about the Ponds called “A Genealogical Record of Daniel Pond and His Descendants” by Edward Doubleday Harris.  Fascinating stuff!  I am related to every person in that book… which is a strange feeling.

Charles H. L. Thomas’s parents were James Thomas (1782 – 1863) and Sophia Ransom (1792 – 1868) who is from another well-documented family from America’s founding.  The Thomases, however, are not so well-documented.  We know James was born about 1782 in Massachusetts and lived in Chazy, NY from at least 1816 to 1835.  He was in Burke, NY in 1850 working as a shoemaker, then was in Burlington, Vermont in 1860 living with two of his sons.  He died sometime after that, probably about 1863.

Recently, I found this:

Elizabeth Thomas Grave in Chazy, NY.

It’s a tombstone for Elizabeth Thomas in Chazy Landing Cemetery, Chazy, NY, the city where James Thomas lived and where most of his sons were born.  It says:

“In memory of Mrs. Elizabeth, Consort of Beriah Thomas who departed this life December 19th 1811 (?) in the 71st year of her age.  A husband and 6 children are left to lament their loss”.

I can’t see the year very well.  Looks like it could either be 1811 or 1814, putting her birth between 1740 and 1743.

I’m struck by the name “Luther Thomas” for her husband.   It seems possible given the name and the town that he could possibly be either James’s father or other relative.

The grave is mentioned here also:

There’s also a Polly Thomas buried there, born in 1798 who is the daughter of Mathew and Tobitha Thomas.

I’m excited that this could be a possible lead to the generation before James.  If you can get back just a little further in New England, you usually find a lot of documentation for people who were alive around the Revolutionary Period.  That would be very helpful to us.



Wilhelm Schmidt – Military Passport

One of the most valuable documents I have found in terms of family history is owned by Norma Wendorf Bandock, grand-daughter of William “Billy” Schmidt (1899 – 1990).  Fortunately for my family, Norma ended up with a lot of “Uncle Billy’s” documents and photographs, and I’ve never been as overwhelmed as I was the evening I spent digitizing the goldmine that she brought for me to see.  Among the treasures, the document that stood out the most was a little booklet that looked like a modern passport.  It said “Karl Ernst Wilhelm Schmidt, 1884” on it.

It was, as it turns out, the Prussian Army military passport for my great-great grandfather Wilhelm Schmidt, and was the first document from the “old world” that I had come across at that point.  It remains among a very small number of such documents that tell the story of our family before they came to the United States.

The passport is, of course, in German, and it’s also lengthy.  I paid a historic document expert a tidy sum to translate the entire thing.  Most of it consists of rules and regulations about military service in general, and is not specific to Wilhelm, so I’m not going to put it all on here.  Instead, I’ll focus on the important parts.

Wilhelm Schmidt Military Passport – Page 1


Spare Reserve Passport I of the Spare Reservist  Name: Karl Ernst Wilhelm Schmidt  Service Year: 1884  No. 247 Berlin Federal Print Works Engineers  The journeyman carpenter Karl Ernst Wilhelm Schmidt, born August 8,1862 at Weissenfenn, District Wirsitz, is herewith, because of limited military fitness, assigned to the Spare Reserve First Class as Pioneer [Engineer] and is subject to the draft for peace exercises. He has to follow the call to the first exercise on August 23, 1884, is standing under control of the Territorial Reserve Authorities until the end of his 31st year of life and then transfers to the Army Reserve, without the necessity of a special order.
1) By receiving this passport, owner enters the control of the 2nd Territorial Reserve Company of the Territorial Reserve District Command Braunschweig II. He is obliged to report to the Territorial Reserve District Sergeant in Wolfenbüttel within 8 days.

So he is ordered to report for duty in Wolfenbüttel (in Germany proper).  It’s likely he was working in and around that area as a journeyman carpenter at the time.  It gives his place of birth as “Weissenfenn, Wirsitz”.  In actuality Weißfenn is in the Friedberg district of Posen, and is very near the town of Modderpfuhl where his father or grandfather was born.  The page also mentions his trade as “journeyman carpenter”, which was a fairly specific thing back in Prussia.  Read more about it here if you wish, but it’s rather fascinating and romantic.

The phrase “because of limited military fitness” is interesting to me.  Wilhelm’s son Edwin Schmidt noted on his World War I draft card that he might be excused from military service because he had “broken arches in feet”.  Perhaps it ran in the family?

Page 5


18. At the beginning of general mobilization, any Spare Reservist living in foreign countries, immediately have to return to the homeland, unless they have been specifically exempted from this obligation. Their return has to be reported immediately to the District Sergeant under whose control they are, or to the one of the nearest Territorial Reserve unit. 19. This passport serves the bearer as identification for all military and civil authorities. Whoever loses it has at once to request a duplicate, verbally or in writing, from the District Sergeant and has to pay 50 Pfennige (pennies) for it. Wolfenbuettel the 21st of May 1884  The Upper Spare Commission in the District of the 40th Infantry Brigade  Dukedom Braunschweig The Military Chairman The Civil Chairman  Johs. Milger  A. Galmann  Major General  District Director  Commanding Authority which makes entries District Headquarters Braunschweig II Date: 08/23/84 Stamp

Here we just see the date stamps and the responsible parties.  We see he is still near Wolfenbüttel, Germany about 21 May 1884.

There are other pages I’m omitting which state (in part):

Stricken from category of exercise-obligated Spare Reservist and entered into the category of the non-exercise obligated Spare Reservist 1st Class. During peace time the Spare Reservists First Class do not need a military permit to immigrate, however, they are obligated to inform the District Sergeant of their pending immigration. Anyone dodging this responsibility will be fined up to 150 Marks or be penalized with jail.  Owner transfers to Spare part Reserve II class on October 1, 1889.

Note that, interestingly, it says you can immigrate to another country in times of peace as long as you notify the District Sergeant of the immigration!  (Wow!)  This would be important later.

Then we find the real gold of this document.  Places and dates that Wilhelm lived in Prussia:

Pages 10-11.


Page 10  Reports and Furloughs 
Reported for Ahlum [a town near Wolfenbüttel, Germany] Wolfenbuettel, May 27, 84  Hilkener, District Sergeant 
Move to Salzdahlum reported [a nearby town] Wolfenbuettel, June 8, 84  Hilkener, District Sergeant
Reported departure to Gornitz  [Gornitz is back in Posen, and was his hometown at that point], Wolfenbüttel, November 28, 84 Hilkener, District Sergeant
Reported for Gornitz arrival Czarnikau, December 8, 84 Bethke, District Sergeant

So we see that he has been working in Germany, but moves back to Gornitz (in Kreis Czarnikau, Posen) where his family had been living since at least 1875.  This must mean that his period as a journeyman carpenter is over, because you were not allowed near your hometown until you were finished with your journey.  The next entry was the most remarkable to me:

Pages 12, 13.


Orderly notification of departure to America. Czarnikau, May 5, 85 Bethke, District Sergeant

So Wilhelm was given permission to immigrate to the US in May of 1885.  Remarkable!  My impression was that you were in the military for a very long time (up to and including life in times of war).  Instead, he was given permission to leave.

He came to the US that summer.  It’s not clear if (like August Strehlow), he was expected to return to Prussia at some point and he did not.  That part is unclear.

Schmidts to the New World – 1892

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I have a fondness for my Schmidt relatives.  The story of Wilhelm Schmidt, who was a journeyman carpenter in Posen, Prussia and was in the Prussian Army, leaving Prussia and his family behind in 1885 to start a new life in the north woods of Wisconsin… how he got married, worked hard and eventually was able to bring his mother and five sisters to Wisconsin in 1892… how he built a little community on Grand Avenue in Rothschild, Wisconsin where his family lived for over 100 years…. it’s a story that’s very dear to me.

Recently I wrote about my discovery that one of Wilhelm’s sisters, Amelie Schmidt, was actually married to Christian Karl in Prussia.  That she had had twin boys in Prussia, and that the boys and Christian Karl had come over here at the same time Amelie did, according to the census records.  This knowledge changed some things for me, because I was now going to be looking for travel and immigration records for Amelie Karl, not Amelie Schmidt, and she’d be traveling with her husband and her twin boys in 1892.  So I did the searches, and after many, many records that were misses, I finally came across a New York passenger list for “Christ. and Emilie Carl”:

Christ Karl & Amelie Schmidt Passenger List

The married couple were traveling aboard the “Aller” (French for “to go”) from Bremen, Germany to New York, arriving on 19 April 1892.  It was Christian Karl, Amelie Schmidt and one of their twin sons, Gustav, who was listed as 8 months old.  (Yikes!)  They are listed as having a final destination of “Wis” and are staying in the Petty Officer’s Room (perhaps because of the young child?).  My immediate though was, “Where’s the other twin?”.  My cousin Jeannie and I both thought that perhaps they could only handle one 8-month-old at a time on a trans-atlantic steamship voyage, and left the other boy with family they knew would be coming to the US after them.

The “Aller”, which brought Amelie Schmidt to the US along with her husband and son Gustav.

Later that same night, I found what I was looking for (again, after digging through a mountain of records that were not the right ones).  Another New York passenger list for the “Ems”, once again traveling from Bremen, Germany to New York, arriving on 25 July 1892 (about three months after the Karls arrived).  Aboard were Wilhelmine “Schmith” (55 years old), her daughters Alvine (26) and Bertha (13) and 9 month old child “Wilhelm Schmith”.  This was, of course, the other twin son Wilhelm Karl.

Passenger list for the “Ems” bringing Wilhelmine Winkelmann and her family to the US.

Even more remarkable to me was that it actually listed “Gornitz” as the home town for the Schmidts.  Bertha had been born there in 1880, according to her marriage document, and I knew Wilhelm had been living there in 1884 and 1885 from his military passport.  I also knew that Wilhelm had paid for the passage to the US for a friend of his, Emil Prielipp, who was from Gornitz.  This was yet another piece of evidence that the family lived there from at least 1880 until 1892 when they came to the US.

The “Ems” which brought Wilhelmine Winkelmann, Alvine Schmidt, Bertha Schmidt and Wilhelm Karl to the US.

So Wilhelmine Winkelmann, my 3x great grandmother, traveled to the US with her two daughters and her grandson, arriving in New York on a summer evening in 1892 to begin her new life in the US.  Some short time later, she was reunited with her son and her other daughter who had come before her.

I’m still looking for the remaining passenger lists.  I have a possible hit for Wilhelm, who came to the US in mid 1885.  I also still need to find lists for Antonie and Pauline, but I’m guessing they were traveling from Bremen to New York, so that should make it easier to find them.

Zierke Family in Prussia

There are a few threads I need to tie together here about the Zierke family. It’s far from a complete story at this point, but the evidence is growing so I want to document some things I found today. First the backstory.  My great-great grandmother Ottelie Zierke’s parents were Friedrich Zierke and Wilhelmine Schulz.  That’s my connection to both families.  There is some circumstantial evidence that they knew each other in Prussia and after Friedrich Zierke came to Harris, Wisconsin in 1865, Wilhelmine Schulz came to Wisconsin shortly after, and they were married here in November of 1866 or 1867 (their obits disagree on the year).

We know the Schulz family came from Podstolitz (today called Podstolice, Poland), and the town we currently believe the Zierkes came from was called Jablonowo, which is about 18 miles to the West of Podstolitz.

My Zierke relatives landed in the US in 1865.  They spent up to a year in Waukesha, Wisconsin before settling down in Harris, Wisconsin.  I have spent a fair amount of time documenting another group of Zierkes who lived in Princeton, Wisconsin, which is only 18 miles away from Harris.  So far I have had no hard proof that the two families are related, but I am nearly certain that they are.  (For example, the brother of my grandmother Wilhelmine Schulz, Martin Schulz, spent years in Princeton, Wisconsin after coming to the US from Posen, and got married there.)  So I keep looking for evidence.

Today Jörg Schrick reminded me of a website I had visited before which does transcription of Posen, Prussia marriage documents.  I had looked there for Schmidt and Zierke records before and struck out, but I know they are always transcribing more records, so I looked there today.  I didn’t get a hit on my family, but I got a hit for one of the Princeton Zierke families:

Protestant community in Margonin, entry # 4 in 1858

Gottlieb August Zirk (24)

Wilhelmine Sommerfeld (22)

This is great for several reasons.  This is 100% certainly the family that I’ve been working on in Princeton, Wisconsin.   The marriage, while recorded in Margonin, actually took place in Siebenschlößchen.  That town is only about 5 miles away from Podstolitz, where my Schulz relatives came from.  This says to me that MY Schulz family and the Princeton Zierke family were all in the same area.  To me, it is strong evidence that this Princeton Zierke family and my Zierke family are the same.  I’m expecting to find out that all of them came from this basic area of Posen, and I feel it’s just a matter of time before I understand the connection between the Princeton Zierke clan and my family from Harris.

Here is a map showing the relative locations of Podstolitz and Siebenschlößchen:

Kreis Kolmar, Posen, Prussia

Kreis Kolmar, Posen, Prussia