It has always been my suspicion that my 3x great-grandfather Carl Friedrich Schmidt died in Posen, Prussia about 1892. His only son, Wilhelm (my great-great-grandfather), came to America in 1885, and then seven years later, the entire rest of the family (his mother, his five sisters, a brother-in-law, and two nephews) emigrated to Weston, Wisconsin to join him. The most likely explanation for the sudden migration of the rest of the family was that the father had died and there was no longer anyone to run the family farm (Friedrich had been described as a “Kolonist” or land-owning farmer in all the documents we had for him). Given that the youngest child in the family, Augusta Bertha Schmidt, was born in 1880 in Gornitz, Posen, Prussia (according to her birth documents), and given that the family had listed the town of Gornitz as their “place of last residence” on the passenger list coming to America in 1892, I had every reason to believe that Friedrich Schmidt died between 1880 and 1892 in Gornitz. I had had one of my collaborators in Poland look for his death record, but she was unable to locate it despite finding many other records for the family in the archives.
Then, about two months ago, I had a realization. Friedrich Schmidt’s daughter Amelie Schmidt had married Christian Karl in Stieglitz, Posen, Prussia in 1891. Her twin sons were born three months later in Stieglitz. If I could obtain the marriage record, it would say whether Friedrich Schmidt was living or deceased at the time of the marriage. If he were deceased, we’d know he died between 1880 and 1891. But if he were living, we’d know he died between March 1891 and April 1892 when the family started emigrating to America.
I asked another of my collaborators, Lukasz Bielecki, to look for the marriage record the next time he was in the national archives in Pila, Poland. After some time, he was able to find the record, and it turned out to be more valuable than I had imagined. Here’s the document [click to enlarge or download]. A translation follows:
Stieglitz the 28th of March 1891 Before the registrar, for the purpose of marriage, appeared the laborer (Arbeiter) Christian Karl, of known identity, evangelical religion, born the 29th April, 1863 in Woltin, Kreis Greifenhagen (Pommern), resident of Klebow, Kreis Greifenhagen (Pommern), son of the laborer (Arbeiter) Daniel Karl and his wife Regine née Seeger, both residents of Klebow, and Emilie Franziska Schmidt, unmarried, of known identity, evangelical religion, born the 18th of January 1869 in Karolina, Kreis Czarnikau, resident of Stieglitz, Kreis Czarnikau, daughter of cottager (Häusler) Friedrich Schmidt and his wife Wilhelmine née Winkelmann, both residents of Stieglitz. The following witnesses were published: 3. The Häusler Ferdinand Schmidt, 46 years old, resident of Stieglitz, 4. and the laborer Gustav Wehrmann, 24 years old, resident of Stieglitz. Read over, approved and signed by:
Emilie Franziska Karl née Schmidt
Notarized in agreement with the main register in Steiglitz, the 28th of March 1891
There are many things to discuss here. First of all, Christian Karl was from Pomerania (Pommern), the part of Prussia near the Baltic Sea where Germany meets Poland today. In fact, he was still a resident of Pomerania at the time of his marriage. The Krueger and Kamrath branches of my family were from this same area. This map shows the towns the Karl family came from. Klebow is near the top, and Woltin is in the center.
The next important bit of information was that Friedrich Schmidt was, indeed, still alive in March, 1891. This all but confirms the theory that his death was the reason the family emigrated to America the next year. More surprisingly, Friedrich and his wife Wilhelmine Winkelmann were both living in Steiglitz at the time of the marriage, not in Gornitz as previously thought. When Wilhelm Schmidt finished his journeyman carpenter travels in Germany, he returned home to Gornitz, so the Schmidt family was living there at least until 1885. This means the family moved from Gornitz to Stieglitz (about 3.3 miles West) between 1885 and 1891, then they moved back to Gornitz after Friedrich’s death (remember they listed Gornitz as their residence on their immigration documents).
Friedrich is listed as a “Häusler”, or cottager, on the document where in all other previous documents he had been listed as a “Kolonist”, or farmer who owned his own farm. Basically it means he owned a home with a small bit of land for his own use, and implies he had given up farming. Thirdly, you will note that one of the witnesses to the marriage was 47-year old Ferdinand Schmidt from Steiglitz. I was able to subsequently confirm from Poznan Project marriage records that this Ferdinand Schmidt was Friedrich’s younger brother:
#7) Marriage of the journeyman carpenter [Zimmergesell] and bachelor Ferdinand Schmidt, age 30, from Stieglitz, son of the deceased property-owner [Eigenthümer] Ludwig Schmidt from Stieglitz, and Miss Wilhelmine Dietert, 22 years old, from Stieglitz, daughter of the deceased master blacksmith (Schmiedemeister) Gottleib Dietert from Stieglitz, Consent for groom: No need for parents’ or guardian’s (Vormund) consent, because groom is of legal or full age (majorenn) according to certificate of baptism. Consent for bride: Guardian’s consent. Neither bride nor groom has been married previously. Marriage Date: 24 Apr 1874.
With this new information a new narrative emerges. Friedrich Schmidt and his wife Wilhelmine Winkelmann had been farming in Karolina, Posen, Prussia between 1865 and 1872 where their daughters Alvine, Amelie, and Antonie were born. They then moved to the nearby town of Gornitz, and were living there between 1875 and 1880 when their daughters Pauline and Bertha were born. They then seem to have given up farming and moved West to Stieglitz at some point between 1885 and 1891. Friedrich’s brother Ferdinand had been living there since at least 1874, so perhaps Friedrich wanted to be closer to him. It’s also possible that Friedrich had fallen ill and could no longer do the work required to stay on the farm. Sometime about 1882 or 1883 Wilhelm Schmidt leaves home to become a journeyman carpenter, quite possibly because his Uncle Ferdinand Schmidt had been one, then emigrates to America in 1885 where he soon marries and settles down in Weston, Wisconsin. Sometime between March 1891 and March 1892 Friedrich Schmidt dies, most likely in Stieglitz. His newly-widowed wife, Wilhelmine Winkelmann, moves the family back to Gornitz at that point, perhaps to have the support of family or friends in her former home town. (The Winkelmann family lived in Stieglitz and Karolina, which were both very close to Gornitz.) Upon learning the news that his father had passed away unexpectedly (Friedrich Schmidt was only 57), son Wilhelm sends the money back to allow his five sisters, his brother-in-law Christian Karl, his two nephews (Amelie and Christian had twin boys in 1891) and his mother, to come to America and join him in Weston, Wisconsin. I am having Lukasz look for Friedrich’s death record in Stieglitz, now that we have a place and a very specific date range. I hope to have more to add to the story of the Schmidt family in Posen, Prussia very soon.