Visiting Prussia for the Time-Traveling Genealogy Blog Party

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Visiting Prussia for the Time-Traveling Genealogy Blog Party

Visiting Prussia for the Time-Traveling Genealogy Blog Party is my entry in the latest blog party.

Courtesy of Elizabeth O’Neal at LittleBytesofLife, here’s this party’s theme:

You and The Doctor (of Doctor Who fame [who of course is David Tennant – hubba hubba]) have just finished saving the Earth from nasty, alien monsters. As your reward, The Doctor has offered to take you for a ride in his TARDIS to meet one of your ancestors!

  • Who is the ancestor you will meet?
    I long to know Friedrich Wilhelm Alexander KIRSCHSTEIN, my great-great-grandfather, who has been my most persistent brick wall for lo these many many years. He married my great-great-grandmother, Florentine Mathilde BRAUN, on 20 Oct 1847 in Rawitsch, Posen, Prussia (now Poland). But before that he might as well have been a ghost for the past six years I’ve been looking for him and his parents. Until very recently, dundundun.*

    KirschsteinBraunMarriage1CroppedTime-Traveling April 2016 Genealogy Blog Party

    Visiting Prussia for the Time-Traveling Genealogy Blog Party

    Marriage record of Friedrich Wilhelm Alexander Kirschstein and Florentine Mathilde Braun.

    KirschsteinFriedrichVolksbuchBlogTime-Traveling April 2016 Genealogy Blog Party

  • What question(s) do you need him/her to answer?

    When I meet him, I will heroically refrain from shaking him and demanding answers for everything. But I’d ask first who exactly his parents are and exactly where he was born. And then I’d show him my research and he’d show me whether I was right or wrong. Then I’d ask him why he’s married to my great-great-grandmother, the mother of his five children, but in rare Posen inhabitants’ records** for his village, his wife isn’t his wife, but instead he’s living with his sister-in-law – her twin sister – who is listed as his wife. What’s that about? Especially since my great-great grandmother Florentine outlived both her husband and her twin sister, Friedrica. (See the image at the very top of this post.)

  • Is there a problem you can help your ancestor solve?

    How to live longer?

  • Will you reveal your true identity to your ancestor? If so, how will your visit impact the future? 

    Yes, I’d not only tell him who I was, but I’d ask to meet my great-great-aunts, Selma, Olga, and Wally. (And ask where Wally got her name.)

  • Will you bring your ancestor to the future to meet his/her descendants? What will be the outcome, if you do?

    If they asked about us, I would try to arrange for Friedrich Wilhelm Alexander and his wife, Florentine Mathilde, to meet descendants. Otherwise, probably not. Their second son, my great-grandfather, Bruno, emigrated to Chicago, but made an unhappy marriage and also died in a poorhouse. So far in my research, it looks as if Friedrich and Florentine’s daughters made advantageous marriages, but had no surviving children. Would it make Friedrich and Florentine happy to know that their great-great-children by Bruno prospered in the United States? I hope so.

*This brick-wall story begins six years ago with a genealogist-archivist who had never done primary-resource German research before, who doesn’t speak or read German, and wasn’t entirely sure where in Germany her immigrant-great-grandfather, Bruno Kirschstein, came from – in other words, ME. (My father used to kid my grandmother about “Bruno,” and I never realized this was my grandmother’s father until I did this research. I should have asked her about him – the genealogist’s lament!

Visiting Prussia for the Time-Traveling Genealogy Blog Party

The first German-language record I ever found – my great-grandfather, Bruno Julius Wilhelm Kirschstein’s birth and baptism record.

My Surname Saturday post from six years ago chronicles how I found Bruno Kirschstein’s birth and baptism, parents, sisters, and his emigration to Chicago from Rawitsch in Posen, Prussia (now Poland). I stopped counting after 12 iterations of his surname.

    1. KEIRSCHSTEIN
    2. KIRSCHSTZER
    3. DERSCHETEIN
    4. KIRSCHSTRIN
    5. KIRSCHTEIN
    6. KIRCHSTSIN
    7. KIERCHSTEIN
    8. KIERCHSTEINS
    9. KERSCHSTENE
    10. KIERCHSTEIN
    11. KIERSCHSTEIN
    12. KIRACHATEIN
    13. KIRSCHSTEIN

Bruno’s mother, my g-g-grandmother, Florentine Mathilde Braun, and her twin sister, Friedrica Ida, and her family, were easy to find. I found eight generations back to 1666 for her family in the same village.

But her husband and my great-great-grandfather, Friedrich Wilhelm Alexander Kirschstein, appeared in Rawitsch only at his marriage. I made three trips to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, searching microfilm for every village within 30 kilometers of Rawitsch and no great-great-grandfather, Friedrich Wilhelm Alexander Kirschstein.

I took classes in German Genealogy to learn to read Süetterlinschrift so I could translate the parish records I found.

Then I researched the godparents of Bruno and his siblings, which is a whole ‘nother post. I identified three possible family groups his father, Friedrich Wilhelm Alexander Kirschstein, could have belonged to. Over time, I eliminated two of the three groups.

**After I realized there are records in Poland that are not available to American researchers, I hired a Polish professional genealogist. I had hired someone from Bavaria previously, but he was just too far away and didn’t know the records. Tip: hire a pro closest to the location you’re researching. And in a beautiful research serendipity, a person two readers down at the Family History Library was working in the same area and gave me the name of her professional in Poland. Joy!

I hired Ewa Pękalska of the Historical and Genealogy Studio who lives and works in Wrocław, Poland, formerly Breslau, Prussia. I include her name in this post for two big reasons:

    1. Even though I’m a professional genealogist, I still needed extra help.
    2. She knows what she’s doing and found results that helped me right away, including rare Inhabitants’ Lists, the German equivalent of census. (See image at the top of this post.)

So that’s how I found out that Friedrich Wilhelm Alexander KIRSCHSTEIN, my great-great-grandfather, was not just a Seiffensiedermeister (master soapmaker) as listed in his marriage record, but eventually had a Seiffenfabrik (soap factory) with apprentices (and his sister-in-law listed as his wife!).

I hope this is what Elizabeth had in mind as a response, but I’ve enjoyed Visiting Prussia for the Time-Traveling Genealogy Blog Party. The research process fascinates me and until David Tennant parks a TARDIS in my front yard, I’m going to continue with the resources I can find. And now I’m going to go visit some other blog party posts.

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine's “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”

10 Comments

  1. Elizabeth O'Neal 28 April 2016 at 9:30 AM

    The topic was yours to run with, Nancy – great post! I especially like your advice about hiring a professional; sometimes we all need a little help. And I totally agree about David Tennant – yummy! Did you see him on Late Night with Stephen Colbert last night? Mmm, that accent is dreamy! <3<3 😀

    • Nancy 30 May 2017 at 9:42 PM

      Thanks, Elizabeth!

  2. Anonymous 28 April 2016 at 1:29 PM

    Wow! You have followed many paths to unravel. Bruno’s story. You are right – sometimes, hiring a pro on location is the best route to take. I did that when I needed records accessed in Copenhagen. One of my brick walls then came down. Too bad we really just couldn’t time travel and get the answers first hand.

    • Nancy 30 May 2017 at 9:42 PM

      Thanks – it seems a bit like cheating to hire someone – until I realized I’d never have access to those records otherwise.

  3. Jana Last 29 April 2016 at 11:30 AM

    Nancy,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2016/04/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-april-29.html

    Have a great weekend!

    • Nancy 29 April 2016 at 10:41 PM

      Thank you, Jana – I appreciate it!

  4. Elise Wormuth 30 April 2016 at 7:53 AM

    I may have some insight into the “Wally” question — my German-born mother’s name was Waltraud, and she was always called Wally or Walli. I must add that as a 20th Century American, she hated her name. 🙂

    • Nancy 30 April 2016 at 5:40 PM

      Elise, thank you so much! I’ve never encountered another genealogist with a Wally in her tree. My Wally has a baptismal record listing Wally Clara Laura as her name. I would imagine she hated Wally as much as your mother (or Wallis Simpson) did!

  5. Nancy 3 May 2016 at 11:13 PM

    I completely understand the need to restrain from shaking an ancestor, Nancy. I have a similar frustration with my German g-g-grandfather who I time-travelled to visit. Your g-g-grandfather Wilhelm seems to be an interesting person. Imagine owning a soap-making factory. That confusion about his wife/sister-in-law is a challenge. I hope records eventually come to light to help explain it.

    • Nancy 4 May 2016 at 9:28 AM

      Thanks, Nancy. His wife and her sister were twins, which makes it even more tantalizing. It’s the only potential scandal in my strait-laced family tree! Now I’m off to go read about your g-g-g-grandfather.

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