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.
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?
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:
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:
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.