European Vacations

Sunday, March 25, 2012

German, or Polish? Acadian, French, or French-Canadian? How confusing.......

As most people know, in the state of Minnesota, citizens have reported their ethnic backgrounds as either French, German, Norwegian, Polish, or Swedish.  The top three reported ethnic backgrounds ended up as German, Norwegian, and Swedish. While I am not Norwegian or Swedish, I have a German background on both sides of my family. And, while a number of people are concerned about having a combination of  Acadian and French-Canadian ethnic backgrounds, it can occur, as it did in my own family history.
I do have a cousin, by the name of Darin Flansburg, that has quite diligently worked on the Flansburg family history that takes us back to Germany. So, I will add more information on that when it becomes available.
As for my mother's paternal side of the family, it is still quite a mystery. My mother is the youngest of four children, and did not know her paternal grandmother very well.  Her paternal grandfather, Albert Erdmann, died before her parents were married, and he  remains rather mysterious as well. Earlier in my childhood, my mother stated that her paternal grandmother, Rozalie did not learn to speak English, but was bi-lingual in the German and Polish languages. My maternal grandfather, Clement Erdman Sr., actually immigrated to the USA from Germany in September/October, 1901. He  celebrated his second birthday on the ship that they sailed to Ellis Island on. The ship was called the Barbarosa, and it was manufactured in Germany, according to ship manifest records.
As I had previously reported in earlier blogs, my maternal grandfather and his family were from the village of Selgenau, Germany, Prussia. When the Albert Erdmann/Erdman Family arrived in Minnesota, they saved quite a few pictures, but only one document from the journey that they took. Since my maternal grandfather, Clement Erdman Sr. was too young to remember the journey, I did try to ask his older sister, Tress Erdman, about the journey. However, you have to remember that this was back in 1980, and Aunt Tress was in her 80's, and I was a nosey twelve year old at the time. She just refused to talk about the past. So, unfortunately, I didn't get very far. I am guilty of looking through their upstairs bedrooms, and found a multitude of prayer books that looked like they were written in the Polish language, and unfortunately, Aunt Tress caught me doing that. She didn't yell at me though, which is rather ironic. I was the lucky one that got to stay overnight in my great-grandparents house on 22nd Avenue North in Minneapolis, because none of my younger siblings got to do that!:)
Fast forward to 1984, and I am 16 years old at that time. Aunt Tress was paralized from a stroke, and bedridden in a nursing home. Grandpa Clement was living on his own at my grandparents house near the corner of 28th and Knox Avenue North. He received home health care, but was able to cook for himself, as long as someone came to clean the house, bring him Holy Communion, and take him shopping. I finally got gutsy enough to write him a letter, and ask him the questions that I needed to regarding our family history. While his answers turned into a one page story, it was a start in the right direction that we needed. Because, during the month of March, 1984, Aunt Tress passed away, and Grandpa Clement passed away in May, 1984. We were about to find the treasure trove that we needed to do family history research.
The treasures that were found included a multitude of pictures and film, a document written in German, a US citizenship certificate,  two address books from the years of 1912 and 1913, a violin, a dress, a broken doll, and several other unidentified pictures that my mother's oldest brother, Bob decided to keep for himself up until he passed away.  He did make copies of the German document, and the US citizenship certificate. However, no one in the family was willing to make an effort to have that German document translated!:(  The trunk that my mother received from her oldest brother, sat in her bedroom for nearly twenty years, and it was a huge effort for her to even open it, and go through what was in there. At least she found coins that she could save and redeem. But still, it wasn't until July, 1999, when I found the ship manifest and passenger list on the Ellis Island web site, and that motivated me enough to log on to GenForum, and start my genealogical research journey.
In the winter and early spring of 2002, I first logged on to do research on the DeRosier/Dupre/Corbett family tree, which is the branch that my paternal grandmother, Monica Flansburg Moran was descended from. Little did I know at the time, that it would intersect with my Dugas/Boisjolie family tree, thanks to the Arsenault/Donais  and Arsenault/Dugas branches of my family trees. It wasn't until the year of 2011, that I would finally make the discovery that not only am I French and French-Canadian, but thanks to my cousins Gerry Hebert and Lloyd Dugas, I would serendipously find out that I was Acadian as well, as I am a descendent of Pierre Arsenault and Marie Guerin, because of my great-great-great-great grandparents, Francois Pichet-Dupre and Marie Donais-Daunais. Marie Donais-Daunais was the daughter of Jean Baptiste Daunais and Archange Arsenault. So yes, that  was my first acknowledgement of coming from Acadia.
It was rather nerve wrackimg to even try to start to research my maternal grandfather's family history.  My uncle, Bob Erdman, sadly kept trying to tell me that I would be unable to find anything, because most of the records were destroyed during World War Two. Even my own mother tried to sadly discourage me from  trying to find anything  at all.  However, since they could not PROVE beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would not be able to find anything at all, I took their bluff on GenForum, and I proved them all wrong!:)
In January, 2004, I took the copy of the German written document, and determined that since it had birthdates of my maternal grandfather, his older siblings, and parents, that I figured that either it was a ship manifest, a  passport of some sort, or a marriage license. So, with the help of my younger brother, Matthew Moran, who scanned the document for me,  and Robert Theiss, who translated the document for me, it turned out to be a Departure Certificate instead. Here is the entire translation of the said document:
> >
> >Claudette, I have received the document from your brother. First, it's not a ship manifest at all. It's an altogether different kind of document, one that was prepared by the local authorities in Selgenau. I can understand why you had such difficulty with it, because it's written in the pre-1941 German script (and the document is also printed otherwise in the pre-1941 German alphabet). I not only know how to read, but also how to write the old German script. My friends in Germany have always been amused by the fact that I love the old German script. But in my history studies I of course had to know how to read it or I couldn't have read all the old documents I had to read. But I learned how to write it back when I was in my teens. So I didn't have to "decipher" the document at all. I simply read it. (In January 1941, Hitler ordered the German alphabet abolished.) I think there could be a rather intriguing story here. But before I go into that, I have to tell you something about life in Germany so that you can put this document into the proper context:
> >
> >In Germany, it has always been a requirement, and still is today, for everyone to be registered with their local police department. In my case, for example, when I got to Munich, I had to register with the police within five days. I lived at three different addresses while I was there, and each time I moved, I had to go to the police and give them my new address. When someone in Germany decides to move from one city or town to another, they have to go to the police in the city or town they're leaving and tell the police where they're moving to, they're issued a Departure Certificate, and then when they get to the new city or town, they have five days to register with the police there. If you don't register with the police within five days of moving, you're subject to a fine or a few days in jail. As I said, everyone in Germany has to be registered with the local police, and that's how it's always been in Germany. You have to know this about Germany to be able to understand this document.
> >
> >Now to your document: As I said, it is not a ship manifest. You will note the heading: Abzugs-Attest, which is German for Departure Certificate, and that was the document anyone would have needed back at that time in Germany when planning to move from one city or town to another. It had nothing whatsoever to do with emigration. They would get the Departure Certificate from the police in the city or town they were leaving, and they would then present the Certificate to the police in the city or town they were moving to, and that's how they would register. As mentioned above, in Germany today, people are still issued such Departure Certificates when they plan to move from one city or town to another, but of course today they come out of the computer. Anyway, this is how the document begins (the words in square brackets I have added to make things clearer to you):
> >
> >
> >In accordance with §21 of the Ordinance of June 19, 1837, the below-named person, who has the intention of moving from Selgenau, Administrative District (Kreis) of Kolmar, [Province of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia] to Wulfersdorf [Province of Brandenburg, Kingdom of Prussia], is hereby issed this Departure Certificate with instructions that upon arrival at the new place of residence, he is to immediately report to the local police authorities and present this Certificate. Failure to do so will result in a fine of from 1 to 15 Marks or a comparable jail sentence.
> >
> >Down in the lower right, you will see that the Departure Certificate was issued in Selgenau on September 13, 1901. In the lower left, the police authorities in Wulfersdorf noted:
> >
> >Registered and de-registered today, September 24, 1901.
> >
> >According to the ship manifest (and I am referring now to the ship manifest), just four days later, on September 28, 1901, their ship left Bremen to take them to America. So they never actually planned to move to Wulfersdorf at all. They registered and de-registered with the police there all on the same day and then left for America! This is what makes this so intriguing. For some reason or other, Albert made up a story for the authorities in Selgenau, claiming that the family was moving to Wulfersdorf, whereas in reality, they were planning to emigrate to America. So it seems to me, Claudette, that for some reason or other, Albert and Rosalia did not want the people in Selgenau to know that they were emigrating to America. That's the only reason I can think of to explain why they went through the charade of getting this Departure Certificate. When they were packing all their belongings, as far as anyone in Selgenau knew, they were moving to Wulfersdorf in Brandenburg. When they registered and de-registered in Wulfersdorf on September 24, 1901, they of course had to tell the Wulfersdorf police that they were going up to Bremen to sail to America. But for whatever reason, they apparently did not want to tell the Selgenau police that this is what they were actually planning to do. Why they chose Wulfersdorf for their brief stopover on the way to Bremen, is anybody's guess. Maybe there were relatives in Wulfersdorf. In any event, they obviously did not want the people in Selgenau to know that they were emigrating. You've told me that your family has always been so closed-mouthed about their life in Germany, and this now makes me feel, Claudette, that maybe there is some kind of an interesting story there! So your uncle was right about a town "near Berlin", but the family was only there for a few days!
> >
> >Now to the people listed:
> >
> > 1.. Albert Erdmann tailor born 24 April 1859 in Grabau, Administrative District (Kreis) of Wirsitz, [Province of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia], Catholic, married;
> > 2.. Rosalia Erdmann wife born 15 March 1862 in Zbyschwitz, Administrative District (Kreis) of Kolmar, [Province of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia];
> > 3.. Martha Erdmann daughter born 20 December 1886 in Selgenau, Kreis Kolmar, [Province of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia];
> > 4.. Maria Erdmann daughter born 8 December 1888 in Selgenau, Kreis Kolmar, [Province of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia];
> > 5.. Agatha Erdmann daughter born 26 April 1892 in Selgenau, Kreis Kolmar [Province of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia];
> > 6.. Franz Erdmann son born 20 May 1894 in Selgenau, Kreis Kolmar [Province of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia];
> > 7.. Theresa Erdmann daughter born 7 May 1898 in Selgenau, Kreis Kolmar [Province of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia];
> > 8.. Clemens Erdmann son born 5 October 1899 in Selgenau, Kreis Kolmar [Province of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia].
> >Just a couple of things: The administrative districts (in German: Kreise) of Kolmar and Wirsitz were adjacent to one another. Kreis Wirsitz bordered Kreis Kolmar on the northeast. Both were located in the northern part of what was until 1918 the Prussian province of Posen. Both bordered the Prussian province of West Prussia on the north.
> >
> >The town where Rosalia was born, Zbyschwitz, was also called Bischwitz, the spelling with the "Z" being slightly more Polish. I told you before that Posen's capital, the city of Posen, is called in Polish Poznan. I also told you before that Selgenau now has the Polish name Zelgniewo and that Kolmar now has the Polish name Chodziez. Grabau now has the Polish name Grabowno. Wirsitz now has the Polish name Wyrzysk. Zbyschwitz or Bischwitz now has the Polish name Huby (with its German name already having been so Polish, why the Poles decided to call the town Huby, who knows?)
> >
> >As luck would have it, there are two towns in Brandenburg called Wulfersdorf. Unfortunately, the person in Selgenau who prepared the Departure Certificate wrote just the name of the town and did not include the administrative district (Kreis). Your uncle is mistaken about the 20km or 12 miles. Both Wulfersdorfs are a bit further from Berlin than that. One of the Wulfersdorfs is about 70 miles or 115km north-northwest of Berlin, and the other Wulfersdorf is located about 45 miles or 75km southeast of Berlin.
> >
> >So now you have a lot more of the story, Claudette. And it is rather intriguing, don't you agree? For some reason, Albert and Rosalia did not want to let on to the authorities in Selgenau that they were emigrating.
> >
> >Now that we know for sure that the Erdmann family was from the old Prussian province of Posen, I will send you another e-mail tomorrow and tell you a bit more about Posen. Meanwhile, you can look at the three maps again. Now that you know for sure that the family was from Posen, you can pay more careful attention to just where the province of Posen was located. As I explained, the "Kreise" of Kolmar and Wirsitz were located in the northern part of the province, bordering on the Prussian province of West Prussia. When you look at the first map, the "Kreise" of Kolmar and Wirsitz were located above the letters "IA" at the end of the word "PRUSSIA".
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >Robert
>Here is the history regarding the countries of Prussia, Germany, and Poland, along with information regarding the border changes that occured as well. I will also include a copy of the maps as well.
Claudette, I do hope that the links to the maps transmitted OK with my e-mail of this noon.  I wanted to send you another e-mail now, just to tell you a little bit about the old Prussian province of Posen:
What became the Prussian province of Posen (capital: city of Posen) fell to Prussia as a result of the three partitions of Poland in the late 18th century -- 1772, 1793 and 1795.  At that time, Poland was divided among Prussia, Russia and Austria (Russia having gotten the lion's share) and Poland thereupon disappeared from the map as an independent nation for almost 125 years.  The province of West Prussia (capital: Danzig) fell to Prussia at this time as well.  Whereas Posen was always majority Polish, but with a large German minority, West Prussia, despite all the years under Polish rule, was majority German with a Polish minority.  West Prussia's German history stretched all the way back to the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century.
In 1919, following World War I, the western Allies reestablished an independent Poland.  Germany then had to relinquish most of the Prussian provinces of Posen and West Prussia.  If you look at the second map I sent you, you will see how the loss of most of West Prussia to Poland created the infamous "Polish Corridor", separating the Prussian province of East Prussia from the rest of Germany.  The purely German city of Danzig was made into a so-called "Free City" under League of Nations control.  The seeds of World War II were thus planted already in 1919.  The Poles did not treat the Germans who came under their control very well at all.  The Germans were made into second class citizens.  For this reason, many of Posen's and West Prussia's Germans left in the course of the 1920s and relocated to Germany because they simply did not want to live in Poland.
The province of Posen came under German control again in September 1939.  It became part of what was then given the name Warthegau (pronounced: VAHR-teh-GOW; in English: Warthe District), from the Warthe River, which flows through it.  Its formal name was "Reichsgau Wartheland".  Many of the Germans who had left Posen in the 1920s then returned to their former homes -- a fatal mistake, as it turned out.
Following World War II, almost all of Germany lying east of the Oder and Neisse Rivers was given to Poland (with the exception of the northern half of the Prussian province of East Prussia, which was taken by the Soviet Union).  The 12 million inhabitants of eastern Germany were thereupon expelled from their homes under horrific conditions, having to leave everything behind.  Many did not survive the ordeal.  It was hell on earth.  The Polish authorities then repopulated those territories with Poles.  The Poles who were sent to repopulate those territories moved into fully furnished houses with clothes in the closets, dishes in the cupboards, etc.  When the Germans were gathered for expulsion, they were told to leave all valuables such as jewelry and silverware in plain view on a table and to leave their front doors ajar with the keys in the keyholes facing out, and then they were sent on their way to make the trek to western Germany.  As I said, many perished.  There are thus of course no more Germans at all living in what was the Prussian province of Posen today.
The third map I sent you shows today's truncated Germany.  (In 1947, two years after the end of World War II, the Allies declared the state of Prussia officially abolished.)
Here are a couple of websites that you might find interesting:
When you click on the second link and go down to the bottom of that page, you will see a map of Posen and its administrative districts (Kreise).  In the north, you will see Kolmar and Wirsitz.
The "Kreise" of Kolmar and Wirsitz were both in the administrative region (in German: Regierungsbezirk) of Bromberg. 
Following the expulsion, the expellees founded organizations in West Germany known as Landsmannschaften, which translates best as "compatriot organizations" and which are still active today.  The organization for Germans who had lived in the former province of Posen is the Landsmannschaft Weichsel-Warthe (Compatriot Organization Vistula-Warthe).  I will give you their contact information:
                                                                        Landsmannschaft Weichsel-Warthe e.V.
                                                                        Friedrichstr. 35
                                                                        65185 Wiesbaden
                                                                        phone:  011-49-611-379787
Within the Landsmannschaft are subgroups made up of the former German residents of each of Posen's administrative districts (Kreise).  So I will also give you the contact information for the "Heimatkreisgemeinschaft Kolmar" (Homeland District Group Kolmar):
                                                                        Heimatkreisgemeinschaft Kolmar
                                                                        Kochstr. 15
                                                                        49565 Bramsche
                                                                        phone:  011-49-5461-885041
(I'll find out if the Heimatkreisgemeinschaft Kolmar has an e-mail.  That would be the most convenient way to contact them.  I'm sure people who used to live in Selgenau must belong to the group, perhaps even relatives of yours.  Do you think Albert and Rosalia had brothers and sisters who remained in Germany?  If so, their descendants are probably living somewhere in Germany today.)
Albert Erdmann was born in Grabau, Kreis Wirsitz.  Although Bromberg and Wirsitz were made part of the province of Posen in 1815, historically, they were part of West Prussia.  So former German residents of Kreis Wirsitz do not belong to the Landsmannschaft Weichsel-Warthe, but rather to the Landsmannschaft Westpreussen (Compatriot Organization West Prussia).  This is the contact information for the chairwoman of the group of the former German residents of Kreis Wirsitz:
                                                                        Helga Plöger
                                                                        Teutoburger Str. 4
                                                                        33604 Bielefeld
                                                                        phone:  011-49-521-171705
I think that's all for this time, Claudette.  Now you have a fair amount of background anyway.  As I mentioned before, the whole story raises such a puzzling question:  Why, on September 13, 1901, did Albert Erdmann go to the local authorities in Selgenau and tell them the story that the family was moving to Wulfersdorf in Brandenburg, rather than simply tell them the truth, namely, that the family was planning to emigrate to America?  You have to bear in mind that because of the possibility of criminals and the like trying to flee the country, nobody was allowed to board a ship in Bremen without first presenting to the German authorities in Bremen a document indicating that the local authorities back in the town where the person resided had been informed of the person's intention to emigrate and that everything was in order.  Rather than going to the local authorities in Selgenau, where they actually lived, and telling them that they were emigrating to America and obtaining the necessary documentation for their emigration right there, the Erdmann family chose instead to pro forma "move" to Wulfersdorf in Brandenburg, a couple hundred miles away, and get the documentation they would need for the emigration authorities in Bremen there.  The question again:  Why did they not want to tell the authorities in Selgenau that they were emigrating?  This question combined with the fact that your family has always been so tight-lipped, makes the whole thing very intriguing indeed.  Are you planning to tell your uncle all that you've found out so far?
Anyway, Claudette, I'll be in touch again.
Claudette, here are the links once again to the three maps.  I wonder why they didn't transmit last time.  I'm home now on my lunch hour, but this evening I'll try to get back to you again with the additional information about the Prussian province of Posen itself.
You should find the links to the three maps above this paragraph and below my first paragraph.  Please let me know if they come through this time.
 And last, but certainly not least, here is the advice that I received regarding how to find the churches in Germany and Poland to help me with my family history research as well.

Claudette, I wanted to send you another e-mail with a suggestion.  It's
something I think could potentially prove to be a goldmine of
information for you.
I've already told you that Selgenau was too small to have a church of
its own and that the Catholics of Selgenau attended church in nearby
Schmilau.  Grabau, where Albert was born, did have a Lutheran church but
no Catholic church.  The Catholics of Grabau attended church in nearby
Friedheim (which today has the Polish name Miasteczko Krajenskie).
Zbyschwitz or Bischwitz, the town where Rosalia was born, was, like
Selgenau, too small to have a church of any kind.  The Catholics of
Zbyschwitz or Bischwitz also attended church in Friedheim.  My guess is
that that's how Albert and Rosalia met, having attended church in the
same town.
Do you live near a Mormon Family History Center?  If so, you can obtain
and view there on microfilm Friedheim's Catholic church records covering
the years 1774 to 1932, and Schmilau's Catholic church records covering
the years 1689 to 1945.
In the Friedheim records, you would no doubt find both Albert and
Rosalia's baptismal records as well as the record you've been wanting,
namely, their marriage record.  Further, you would probably find the
baptismal records of all of the brothers and sisters of both Albert and
Rosalia.  In that way, you would finally know for sure how many there
were and all of their names.  (If your Aunt Tressa corresponded with a
cousin in Germany, all of Albert and Rosalia's brothers and sisters
couldn't have emigrated.)  The death records of Albert and Rosalia's
parents would no doubt be there as well.  In the Schmilau records, you
would find the baptismal records of all of Albert and Rosalia's
children, who were born in Selgenau.  It might be interesting to see who
the godparents of all the children were.
Zbyschwitz or Bischwitz, where Rosalia was born, was in Kreis Kolmar
right near the Kreis Wirsitz line.  Friedheim, where the Catholic church
was located, was in Kreis Wirsitz, where Grabau was also located.
A word about marriage in Germany:  Since 1875, civil ceremonies have
been mandatory.  In Germany, a couple must marry in a civil ceremony in
order to be recognized as legally married.  They are of course free to
have a church wedding as well later, if they so choose.  Because the
Catholic Church has never recognized civil ceremonies, most German
Catholics do have a church wedding at some point after their civil
ceremony.  This is why I feel you probably would find a marriage record
for Albert and Rosalia in the Friedheim Catholic church records.
All in all, Claudette, I think it would be well worth your while to go
to a Family History Center and order these microfilms.  (Schmilau had
only a Catholic church.  Friedheim had a Lutheran church as well, so you
would have to be sure that you order the microfilm of Friedheim's
Catholic church records.)

I wonder why your aunt didn't want you to know who the cousin in Germany
is.  My reason for having mentioned your uncle a few times is because
you told me that he has actively been trying to thwart you in your
research.  That's why I would be curious to know what he would have to
say about what you've found out so far -- if he'd be perturbed perhaps.
As I said on Wednesday, I'll find out if the "Heimatkreisgemeinschaft
Kolmar" has an e-mail address, as that would of course be the simplest
way to communicate.
Well, that's all the time that I have for today. Happy trails everyone!