There is nothing more rewarding than to be able to answer the perennial questions that many of us ask ourselves: Where did our ancestors come from? Who are we? For many of us with Prussian roots, the spark for entertaining such questions often begins with looking at records.
Many years ago, I had seen “Prussia” listed as the country of origin for some of my ancestors on the U.S. Federal Census. From that moment on, I wanted to learn more about my Prussian roots, especially about my SECOND Great-Grandfather, Christian Wendt (see Fig. 1 below).1 Who was this man? What were my Wendt Family ancestors like? What was the homeland in Prussia like?
Christian Wendt first appeared on the 1850 U.S. Census with his parents, Martin and Maria Wendt, and his sisters. It was definitely exciting to learn a little more about him and his family while they resided in Niagara County, New York.2 However, I wanted to know when they arrived to the United States and where they came from in Prussia (now Germany). On the 1900 U.S. Census, it indicated that they had emigrated to the U.S. in 1846.3 This detail was a good starting point, but I was just at the beginning of my personal Prussian search. I needed more answers and proof.
A breakthrough occurred after spending what seemed like an eternity of searching for my Wendt ancestors on a passenger arrival list. I found the record on the popular Ancestry database under “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957” (see Fig. 2 below).4
The passenger list indicated the following information, which I knew corresponded nicely with this immigrant Wendt Family. I had found out that:
- Christian Wendt and his family had arrived in New York on the 15th of June 1846
- Their port of departure was Hamburg
- The ship that they traveled on was the Howard
This passenger arrival record was like a dream come true! I was now able to trace my Wendt Family to their point of departure in Hamburg. Since the record did not indicate any other geographical details, including the name of the Prussian village, my search was far from over.
The next step was to look for emigration records. I did not have to search far! It just so happened that I had found the village information and more that I was looking for on Ancestry as well under the “Brandenburg, Prussia Emigration Records” (see Fig. 3 below).5
This emigration information marked a turning point in my Prussian family research. I had learned not only the name of the village of Damme, but about the Kreis (county) of Prenzlau as well. This information proved to be crucial in order to pinpoint exactly where the village was on a gazetteer (a kind of geographical dictionary).
My search did not end there. I wanted to verify whether everything on the transcript was factually correct. I was determined to look for a copy of the record. I did not have to wait long. During a time in which the LDS microfilm service was still in effect, I had the opportunity to borrow and view a copy of the record at my local Family History Center. I took two digital images of the immigration cards on microfiche containing information about my Wendt ancestors (see Fig. 4 and Fig. 5).6 On the first image, there is information concerning the parents, Martin and Maria (in this case, she is listed as Marie-Dorothee), the number of their children and their place of origin. Also, it lists Martin’s age, his occupation and their travel destination to North America in 1846. On the second image, there is a list of the names of the children, including Christian, and their dates of birth.
It was a privilege to view a copy of the emigration record. A thorough review of the emigration record was proof enough that the information had been transcribed correctly. In my case, I was very fortunate to have been able to trace, online, my Wendt ancestors to their Prussian village of origin. In reality, though, one's Prussian village of origin is not as easy to find as some might think. Fortunately, there are other techniques that can be employed. In the next segment (How Can You Find Your Prussian Village? – Part 2), I will demonstrate how it is possible to find a Prussian village using other records.
1. Christian Wendt photograph, ca. 1900; digital image 2015, privately held by Stephen Wendt, Cleveland, Ohio, 2015.
2. Ancestry, “1850 United States Federal Census,” database, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?indiv=1&dbid=8054&h=7656618&tid=&pid=&usePUB=true : accessed 1 July 2012), entry for Christian Wendt (b. 1834), Wheatfield, Niagara County, New York, p. 169B, fam. 361; citing “affiliate film number” M432_560. *The Wendt surname was incorrectly transcribed as “West” on the Ancestry database.
3. Ancestry, “1900 United States Federal Census,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7602/4119884_00243/76645495?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/4137462/person/120011088967/facts/citation/540049711391/edit/record : accessed 1 July 2012), entry for Christian Wendt (b. 1834), Park, Deuel County, Nebraska, dist. 98, p. 2, fam. 33; citing “affiliate film number” T623.
4. “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1857, Roll 62: 1820-1957,” database, Ancestry (https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll indiv=1&dbid=7488&h=1023032323&tid=&pid=&usePUB=true&_phsrc=XPV679&_phstart=successSource : accessed 31 July 2012), entry for C. Wendt age 12, arrived New York, New York, 15 June 1846 aboard the Howard.
5. Potsdam. Auswanderungskartei [Emigration documents], year 1846, Wendt Family; Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarchiv, Potsdam, Germany; FHL International Fiche 6109219, 6109220
6. Potsdam. Auswanderungskartei [Emigration documents], year 1846, Wendt Family.
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