Today’s Surname Saturday is finding the birth and baptism of Anna Schumann, my great-grandmother, from Freienwalde, Pomerania, Prussia.
The same wonderful roll of microfilmed parish registers had the names, birth and baptism dates of her three siblings, the names of her parents, and more.
Before I started the research, the only things I knew about my maternal great-grandmother were:
1. Her name was Anna.
2. Her mother’s name was Augusta.
3. Her family was (supposedly) from Berlin.
4. When she died, she was laid out in the front parlor of my grandmother’s Chicago apartment. My mother, age 9, is displaced by relatives in town for the funeral and had to sleep on the couch in the same room with the body. (File that under Things We Don’t Ask of Our Children Today.)
5. Anna was divorced from her first husband and became very religious. She was separated from her second husband at the time of her death because she sent quite a bit of Mr. Kahns’s money to Billy Sunday, the snake-oil fundamentalist evangelist.
Not a lot to go on from a genealogical perspective.
So here’s how the hunt evolved:
A couple of years ago, Ancestry put up the U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 database. I never thought this would be a useful collection for me because my immigrant ancestors (all Burke’s steerage, never Burke’s peerage) arrived in the mid-1880s before passports were required.
But then I thought it might be worth a look when I read the court records of Anna’s divorce from my great-grandfather Bruno Kirschstein. She vowed to leave him penniless and it looks like she succeeded. (I’m Team Bruno on this one.)
In 1913, my great-grandmother Anna was doing so well she took a trip back to the old country and needed a passport. (Needless to say, Bruno never went back home – he died in the poorhouse hospital in Cook County a few years after Anna went home in triumph.)
Anna listed her birthplace as Freienwalde in the application and Google told me there was a town outside Berlin called Bad Freienwalde in Brandenburg. Family stories said she was from Berlin, so I made the leap and put the spa town down for her birthplace.
About a year later, I had my mtDNA tested and the results came back very strongly for Pomerania. I did some reading and began to puzzle over Bad Freienwalde in Brandenburg. I couldn’t find any Schumanns that fit in that town.
And then with a bit more sleuthing, I found out there’s a town in Poland called Chociwel in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship. And sure enough, before World War II, Chociwel was known as Freienwalde and was located in Pomerania, Prussia.
Wikipedia says the town “had a population of 3,406 in 1939. After the death and dislocation associated with the war, its population was down to 402 in 1946.” (Can I just say here that I remember geographical research before the Internet and it wasn’t pretty – lots of gazetteers and maps and frustration.)
The Family History Library catalog revealed exactly one roll of microfilm for Freienwalde, Pomerania, Prussia, and none for Bad Freienwalde in Brandenburg. Suddenly I knew which town I was rooting for!
I order the film just before the local stake library closes for the month of August. In the meantime, I do some further research on Anna’s siblings who moved to Minnesota and find a tantalizing reference to Anna’s mother’s maiden name, but Linch doesn’t sound very Germanic.
I come back home, the library reopens, and I’ll leave out the Keystone Kops circumstances that seemed to keep me from actually getting my hands on this roll of microfilm.
Finally, finally, finally, using the birthdate from the passport application, I head straight for 15 July 1861.
There I find Anna Friedrike Luise Schumann, just exactly where she should be. Parents: Friedrich Wilhelm SCHUMANN and Auguste Marie Luise LINDE.
Without my recent success finding Anna’s husband Bruno Kirschstein’s birth and baptism, I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to try this. Swedish and Norwegian records don’t scare me as much as German ones for some strange reason.
So I was feeling pretty smart – until I started looking for Anna’s siblings and realized that the pastor who kept the parish register wrote out the dates for births and baptisms. And my ability to pick out März and Mai and Juni and Juli suddenly didn’t mean much when I couldn’t figure out the dates that went with those months. So I puzzled along with my German genealogical word list and relied mostly on the kindness of strangers. But at least I have a whole flock of Schumanns now and a lot of Lindes – but that’s a post for another day, like tomorrow.
Update: Yesterday I pestered everyone I know who reads German ran an informal poll to get a translation of Friedrich’s occupation from the christening records for his four children. The consensus is: “Ackerbürger : farmer in a town who has all the rights of a citizen. This seems to be a very specialized and antiquated term.” Interesting!
Update x2: I now can muddle my way through German parish records. If I can, you can!