An explanation by Weldon Mersiovsky.
Texas Wends, especially those who trace their families back to Prussia, should consult Dr. Georg Alpermann’s book, Höfe und Bauern in Klitten (Homes and Farms In Klitten) for possible information about their own family. It identifies homes and farms in the villages of Klitten, Jahmen, Dürrbach, Kringelsdorf, Ölsa, Kaschel, Thomaswalde, Eselsberg and Klein Radisch.
I first became aware of this book in 1986 when Kurt Wensch of Dresden helped me find my ancestors in Germany. Some of the information he sent me came from this book, but because of the narrow scope of my interest at the time, I neglected asking about it. Late last year, in 2010, I reread some of Wensch’s letters and decided to investigate the source. The book was still in print in Germany and within a month I received a copy. It was published by the Deutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft Genealogischer Verbände in Frankfurt am Main in 1959 and is classified as a Deutsche Ortssippenbuch, or a German Family Origins Book. The book is 311 pages long but it has no maps.
Dr. Alpermann was the pastor of the state church in Klitten and shortly after World War II came across some old German property books. He designed a project in which he would identify the families who became property owners following the end of feudalism and trace each property’s subsequent owners. The problem was that the names of the property owners changed, so he decided to use the church record books of the parish churches in Klitten and Kreba and first create family histories of the surnames that appeared on the property records. He then tied the family unit onto a parcel of property.
Prussian law did not require documentation each time farms or property changed hands. Only those who were willing to pay a fee had their ownership recorded in the court records. The owner of each farm, however, had a certificate of ownership. When the farm changed owners, the certificate was turned over to the new owner and the new owner took on the name of the farm. In addition to the normal selling and buying of property, if you married the farmer’s daughter, for example, your name might change. If you married the farmer’s widow, your name might change. If you inherited it your name might change. The reason people practiced this, according to Milan Pohontsch, a genealogist in Utah who grew up in this system, “was that a farm name had more endurance in the heads of people than a (short term) family name. Usually someone who bought a farm profited from the already established farm name and had no problem giving up his family name he was born under.” In some cases children born prior to the farm purchase were recorded under one family name, and their younger siblings were recorded under the new farm name.
Pohontsch goes on to say that “the only way to bring clarity into this is to compare court records…and church records simultaneously.” This is what Dr Alperman did. What he learned was that the property identity stayed the same, unless they had the money to change the name on the title, while people’s surnames changed depending on which piece of property they lived on during their lifetime.
The way the book is written supposes that you would start at the origins of the property unit and trace it down to the present; however, for most Texas Wendish/German descendants, we need to begin with the immigrant ancestor. Thankfully, there is also an index at the back of the book that lists every surname in the book, not followed by a page number but rather by the town and “family number” in which the surname is found. There are other functional peculiarities in the way that the book is written but time and practice make them relatively easy to manage.
I have found 29 Texas Wendish families and 37 parents identified by George Nielsen as originating from the Klitten area that are listed in this book with some detail: George Bamsch, Rosina Schatte Bamsch, Johann Bartel-Merting, Rosina Bartsch Paulick Zieschang, Maria Brydde Kasper, Matthes Domaschka, Rosina Drosche-Hoffman Becker Merting, Georg Helas, Johann Herenz, John Hohle, Jr, Matthes Hohle, Johann Hollas, Hanna Jurz Domaschka, Magdalena Socke Jatzlau, Johann Kasper, Maria Michalk Krause, Hanna Michalk Teinert, Johann Kubitz, Anna Schubert Lowke, Matthes Matthiez, George Merting, Johann Bartel-Merting, Matthes Mitschke, Jacob Paulik, Christoph Schatte, Johann Schatte, Matthes Schatte, Rosina Schautschick Schatte, Christoph Schellnick, Matthes Schellnick, Christoph Schiwart, Georg Schmidt, Anna Mitschke Mattke Schubert, Anna Schubert Lowke, Rosina Swoibe Schellnick, Magdalena Schurk Krause, and Anna Tschuder Kubitz.
George Nielsen, in his family note sheets, also identifies the following families as having come from the same area: Matthes Bigon, Georg Iselt, George Lowke, Johann Matz, Johann Tschornack, and Agnes Hansk. The preceding family names are in the book but I have not been able to connect them to a family in the book. This does not mean they did not come from this area. It could mean that, or it could mean that either they did not make it into the book or I am looking for the wrong name. It could also mean that a piece of the puzzle is missing, like the name of the wife or mother. There are also some spouses who one might think ought to be in the book but aren’t. There are also spouses identified with people in the book but the connection to a family can’t be made.
As confusing as it appears, the only way to make sense of it was to put the data into a modern genealogy program. It has taken me about a year to transfer 99 % of the genealogical data over to a modern genealogy program.]]>