Post 2 Research Experience with Germans from Kreis Wilkowischken/Vilkaviskis, Lithuania

The sources for records in my 2010 family history book were microfilmed Family History Library records from AGAD (Archives in Warsaw) and the Lithuanian State Historical Archives in Vilnius, all of which are now digitized (or planned to be) on Germans from Kreis Wilkowschken/Vilkaviskis, Lithuania Facebook Group. Some of these records come from the AGAD website, some directly from Family Search. A third source is the donated records explained in Post 1.

My research had concentrated on the three immigrant families who had left Wylkowiszki between 1900 and 1908. In 2012 I started this blog to share some of my research strategies. Since the publication of my book, I divided my research three ways: search for the origins of my Spurgats in East Prussia; study Suwalki records on FHL microfilm and online (as they became available through 1898); purchase more records through my Family History Tour guide from the Lithuanian State Historical Archives; and do a little of my own translations. In 2013 after I actually visited the 23 villages I had documented in my records, I became more interested in the families that did not immigrate and concentrated on finding their birth, confirmation, marriage, and death records. Starting in 2017, the microfilmed EWZ records from NARA and Family Search also helped locate those and their descendants who remained in Germany. I hoped that someday online records might help.

In 2014 a German cousin in the Hutop family found me, and a close research relationship and five more years of collaborative research in Kreis Wylkowiszki, Germany, Canada, and the United States resulted. Now I had two families to search for in the East Prussian records.

The AGAD (Archives in Warsaw) online records were still out there, but I had just not had the time to devour them.

Through Germans from Kreis Wilkowischken/Vilkaviskis Lithuania I found records in Kreis Wilkowischken I had never expected to see.  As of this writing I have over 80 additional records of Spurgat families! Many are in my direct line of Spurgat ancestors or one of the families who immigrated. Some are new names, and I keep trying to connect them with those elusive East Prussian parish clues. Some are records that prove or expand a family story from a Spurgat descendant in Germany. Some are 20th century records I had previously purchased from the Lithuanian State Historical Archives. All are treasures beyond expectation. I have also found additional records in the Hutop and related families.

I kept two lists: one of Spurgats and Hutops, etc. where I copied the records for translation. The other, much much longer, lists all the names of the maternal ancestral lines and those who married into the Hutop and Spurgat families in succeeding generations. This is when I realized that many 20th century marriages in Germany, Canada, and the United States had their roots in Kreis Wilkowischken families regardless of the displacement and aftermath of two world wars. I would never had understood the magnitude of these connections if it had not been for this Facebook group.

The confirmation lists, usually overlooked in genealogical presentations, (because they were not the official Polish and Russian records but written as the more familiar German names), are almost the best records of all. As Christine, a new German friend put it, “I can see all of them, your family and mine, sitting on the same bench in the church on the same day.” What more insightful connection that is!

One set of circa 1867 confirmation records even provides the East Prussian and Suwalki birthplaces of confirmands! But not my family.

The migration patterns have become more evident. As researchers we think of the modern-day borders between the Kalinigrad Oblast of Russia with Lithuania and Poland. Yet we have family stories from more than one researcher who attest that their ancestors told stories of travel between East Prussia and Suwalki Province as part of daily life, to church, and to school. As researchers, we must consult the history books and walk in their footsteps to conduct our research wisely. Previously, the single word “Prusia”, as the birthplace on the 1874 death record of a great grandmother, was my only clue that the movement of East Prussians into Suwalki Province lasted until her circa 1838 birthdate. A recently discovered record in another researcher’s family now indicates that an East Prussian birth of 1850 on a confirmation record that this movement east existed for more than 40 years after Suwalki Province belonged to East Prussia as part of the New East Prussia, only existing from 1795 to 1807.

What I have gained is an entirely new perspective of Internet research and the possibilities beyond my lifetime. Seeing the repetition of family names throughout the 19th and 20th centuries helps me understand the endurance of ancestral families, especially of a minority in a different empire. My family left behind many connections we are now able to rediscover.

The next post will discuss “the old and the new.”

One goal is to have an actual searchable online database ready for a ‘beta’ launch. Payment for the hosting site is required as the work continues. With each new upgrade there will be more connections, more patterns, and more enlightenment to share with each other.

Please continue to support in every way possible the work of Owen, Lorinda, and Margarete as they continue their work.


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Post 1 Germans from Kreis Wilkowischken/Vilkaviskis Lithuania Facebook Group

The East Prussian Series on Political History has concluded. I interrupt this series to bring you three posts about my recent researh. The East Prussian series will continue in November with posts on Historical Fiction and Non-Fiction and Research Strategies

The Beginnings:

While attending the National Genealogical Society Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in April-May 2018, I was delighted to discover the initial post of the Lietuvos Liuteronu Genealogija (Lutherans in Lithuania) aka LLG Facebook group. I was actually able to show this site to one of speakers from the FHL library with whom I had made an appointment after his two presentations on the future availability of records from Eastern Europe. and The value of LLG and the amazing transcription work of other records LLG members have done cannot be overstated.

A few months later Siga Pliodzinskas, one of the group’s founders, asked Owen, the genealogist, to administer the site. Since the LLG really includes ALL Lutheran churches in Lithuania, Owen felt it made sense to create a sort of ‘sub group’ or ‘sister group’ that was specific to Deutsche aus Litauen from Kreis Wilkowischken.

Along the way two important people connected this effort: Margarethe Schrecker-Kebbel of Berlin, Germany, and Lorinda Heidie, who hired a researcher to photograph books for her family research and then donated those images to the Lietuvos Liuteronu Genealogija LLG Facebook group.

Since January 3, 2019, when Owen announced that he was going to post not only the alphabetical registers of birth, marriage, and death records in an Excel spreadsheet but links to the records themselves, on his new Facebook Group, Germans from Kreis Wilkowischken/Vilkaviskis Lithuania, my life has not been the same. Even the confirmation records read as an alphabetical register or index.

Since I had been researching on microfilm and to a lesser extent digitally, these very same records since 1994, this new approach was simply overwhelming.

I was able to help Owen early on by simply exchanging information. When he located a Spurgat family record, he would send it to me. I would check my 2010 book, The Three Spurgat Families from Wylkowiszki, hopefully find the record, send him my professional translation of it to him, which he could then use to analyze his own Polish and Russian translations. I felt I was proving my worth to him: by sending me the records he found, it proved I had been a thorough researcher. I already had them. By my sending the translations back, it reassured him of my status as a serious researcher and helped him along the way. I like to think that every record he found, I already had. Whew!

In the five months that he and two others continued with this digital indexing project, I lost track as genealogical research fell to the wayside while I moved from a home to 38 years to a condo with its own designated genealogy room! It took several weeks to become organized enough to resume my research. “Mining” my family in Germans from Kreis Wilkowischken/Vilkaviskis, Lithuania has become an obsession as I worked to catch up and understand the significance of this effort.

In the next two posts I will explain my work with these records.

Owen told me, “It is certainly very warming to know that Grete’s, Lorinda’s, and my efforts are helping researchers, and I have no doubt that they will continue to be inspired by our obsession with transcribing these records.”

“Knowing that our work has helped you find even just one record, makes the whole thing worth it. There are many Americans who have no idea that they’re not just German–but Deutsche aus Litauen! One day I hope that more people are interested in the ‘Deutsche aus Litauen.’ Wouldn’t that be great?”

Please continue to support in every way possible the work of Owen, Margarete and Lorinda, as they continue their work.



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2019 Post PH 4 1815 to Present East Prussia after Napoleon

East Prussia after Napoleon: 1815 to Present

The capital of East Prussia remained in Konigsberg in the Konigsberg Administrative District.

The northeastern border with Lithuania, known as Memelland, remained in East Prussia until 1923. Memelland lay north of the Nemanus River and was part of what was known as Lithuania Minor. Some maps of East Prussia do not show the river, often a dividing point between nations so the researcher must be aware that some of Kreis Ragnit-Tilsit in East Prussia (with its own history of changing borders) was north of the river. Today the Nemanus divides Lithuania and the Kalinigrad Oblast of Russia.

In 1871 East Prussia was “fused” into the Second German Empire which ended in 1918.

20th Century Prussia: WWI

At the end of World War, I the borders of Prussia changed again. The most significant change was the separation of East Prussia from the rest of Germany and the establishment of the Polish Corridor.

Much of West Prussia became part of Poland, but After World War I the boundaries established by the Treaty of Versailles put five southern kreise from West Prussia back to East Prussia in what had been the original Prussia. See the map below.

Addition of Five Southern Kreise to East Prussia

Map of West and East Prussia

Memelland became part of Lithuania in 1923.

1939: The Beginning of WWII

In 1939 East Prussia “annexed” the southern kreise from Poland and what had been West Prussia.

Germany also “annexed” Memelland.

In 1939 Hitler invaded Poland to reconnect the province of East Prussia with the rest of Germany.

 Map of the Former East Prussia Today

The shaded part in the north of what was Memelland in East Prussia is now in Lithuania. 1815 to 1919.  to Lithuania in 1924.

Today the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia is everything in the lighter shade above the red horizontal line.

Poland encompasses everything in the lighter shade below the dark horizontal line.

The dark green shade on the left was a part of West Prussia that became East Prussia after WWI from 1920 to 1939.

Note how the Coronian Spit is divided between Lithuania and Russia today,

The Neman/Nemanus (formerly Memel) River divides Lithuania and Russia today.


The glory of East Prussia lay in ruins after WWII when the Soviets took control and is now known as the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia. The German people were woefully evacuated during the brutal winter of 1945 by land and by sea. What was not destroyed during the war was desecrated afterwards. A few remaining buildings like the church below in Kreis Insterburg recall the importance of the evangelische church.

This painting by Romanas Borisovas is from a 2015 calendar published by Draugas, the Lithuanian-American newspaper. It shows the remains in 2002 of a church in Obehlischken-Schulzehof, a southern parish of Kreis Insterberg. I thought it was beautifully done.

What was formerly the Russian Empire is now Suwalki Province in southwestern Lithuania. Although all   the Germans were evacuated during WWII, remnants of their lives and culture are visible in Lithuania today. Much like the former East Prussia, time and tragedy have erased the visible elements. Perhaps the researchers of these families can uncover some treasures of their lives through searching for their records and preserving their stories, no matter how little is known.

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2019 Post PH 3 1803–1807 Napoleonic Era to Congress of Vienna 1815

1803 to 1807: Lands Prussia Lost

Napoleon Bonaparte started his campaign to rule Europe and continued his conquest eastward toward Prussia. In 1806 the Napoleonic army defeated Prussia. Prussia lost areas to the west, south, and north.  In 1807 Prussia was saved from Napoleon by Russia but Prussian-German domination halted when Napoleon conquered Europe. After Napoleon defeated the three partitioning powers—Austria, Prussia, and Russia, he established the Duchy (principality) of Warsaw as a protectorate of the French Empire. Prussia lost South Prussia when it became part of the Duchy of Warsaw, part of the French Empire. Prussia also lost New East Prussia at the Peace of Tilsit in July 1807.  All the German colonists in the Duchy of Warsaw came under Russian domination.

Hall, The Atlantic Bridge to Germany: Volume VIII, ix.

Edwards, “Starting Points for Germanic Genealogy: Basic East Prussian and West Prussian History for Genealogy,” 17.

Brandt, Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia, IX-22.

Brief Look at German/Prussian History, 1.

FamilySearch wiki.

Polish Encyclopedia of 1923 (Geneva, Switzerland: Atar Limited, 1922-1926), 750.

Reimer, The German Research Companion, 4.

1815: The End of Napoleonic Era

During 1814-1815 Napoleon weakened. The German states began to reorganize under the leadership of Prussia. Prussia joined allies to crush Napoleon at Waterloo.

In 1815 the Congress of Vienna formed the German Confederation, restored some Prussian territories, and reduced several hundred German states to 39. In 1815 South Prussia was divided between the Prussian Grand Duchy of Posen and Congress Poland, a part of the Russian Empire.

The Grand Duchy of Warsaw 1815

The area in light purple became a Protectorate of the Russian Empire until 1918. It was known as Congress Poland, Congress Kingdom, aka the Kingdom of Poland, or Russian Poland.

The strange northern appendage in light purple (with Kaunas on the northeast edge) that had been  New East Prussia, became part of a protectorate of the Russian Empire. This is where Germans from East Prussia had migrated into when it was New East Prussia. This area became known as Suwalki Province in 1866 and is now in Lithuania.

The light purple area below East Prussia (in purple) had been South Prussia and encompassed Posen in the West and Warsaw in the East, under French control from 1807 to 1815 and Russian control from 1815 to 1918.

In 1810 Germans constituted 6% of population of Grand Duchy of Warsaw, most in north and northwest. This area remained with these borders until Poland and Lithuania regained their status as independent nations after World War I.

East Central Europe in 1815

A clearly visible West Prussia in purple came into existence in 1772.

A clearly visible East Prussia in purple shows the western border familiar to family researchers.

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Post PH 2 The Rise of Prussia 1772 to 1803

The First Partition of Poland

Prussia acquired the first of many additional lands. In 1772, the First Partition of Poland, Prussia acquired the part of Poland that became the province of West Prussia. Following the establishment of two administrative districts in East Prussia in 1736, West Prussia was also divided into two administrative districts.

Uncapher, Wendy K. The Lands of the German Empire and Before. Janesville, WI: Origins, 2000.

The Second Partition of Poland 1793: Prussia acquires South Prussia

Prussia gained South Prussia as a result of the Second Partition in 1793. South Prussia remained part of Prussia for fourteen years until Napoleon’s defeat in 1807. South Prussia bordered on the Brandenburgian Neumark region in the west and the Prussian Netze District in the north. Poznań was the capital of South Prussia for only two years from (1793-1795). From 1775 to 1806  Warsaw, father east, was the capital, but it was actually administered by the General Directory (General-Direktorium) in Berlin.

The Gilly Map of South Prussia

This map of South Prussia was prepared under royal decree by renowned architect and civil  engineer,  David Gilly, after the final partition of Poland in 1795.

The Third Partition of Poland 1795 to 1807: Prussia acquires New East Prussia.

The Third Partition is of particular importance to Suwalki Province researchers as it is well-documented that in the twelve-year period of Prussian domination (1795 to 1807) that people from East Prussia populated New East Prussia, and even though it became a French (1807) and later (1815) Russian Protectorate, the people probably continued to live in what had been Prussian territory.

After the Third Partition, some lands northeast of the Vistula river were transferred to New East Prussia, and South Prussia gained the Warsaw region including Poznań, Kalisz and the Gniezno Voivodeships of Greater Poland; the lands of Sieradz and Łęczyca; the Kuyavian voivodeship of Brześć and Dobrzyń Land; and adjacent parts of the Masovian voivodeships of Płock and Rawa.

After the Third Partition, the lands of Dobrzyń and Płock northeast of the Vistula River were transferred to New East Prussia, while South Prussia gained the Warsaw region of the former Masovian Voivodeship.

In the southeast, the Pilica river marked the border with those Lesser Polish territories that in 1795 became part of Austrian New Galicia. The southwest bordered on the Prussian Silesia Province and New Silesia, a smaller province including the former Duchy of Siewierz, which was administered from South Prussia.

Following Napoleon Bonaparte‘s victory, South Prussia became part of the Duchy of Warsaw, a French client state. After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, it was divided between the Prussian Grand Duchy of Posen and Congress Poland, a part of the Russian Empire.

The General Directory records dealing with the history and genealogy of the Prussian part of Poland were taken from the Prussian archives by Napoleon Bonaparte soon after 1806 and transferred to Warsaw.

A Map of New East Prussia: Third Partition 1795 to 1807

This German map clearly shows the territory of New East Prussia. 32 Crown colonies are shown in boxes. The upper left arrow shows 18th and 19th century Prussia. The upper right arrow is now southwestern Lithuania. The lower arrow is now Poland.

Prussia gained 54,600 square miles and 2,600,000 inhabitants, the most prosperous, but smallest, amount of land. Perhaps one third was an area where there were many Germans although Germans were not a majority in more than one-tenth of the land. Prussia recruited Mecklenburgers and southwest Swabians to settle mostly during the Second and Third Partitions.

Brandt, Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia, IX-19.


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THE RISE OF PRUSSIA to 1772: Changing Borders I

Post PH 1 Political History

The political history of Prussia is divided into the next four posts with an emphasis on how this history probably affected those Germans who lived in Suwalki Province in the Russian Empire.

Post PH 1: The Rise of Prusia to 1772

Post 2 PH 2: The Rise of Prussia 1772 to 1803

The Three Partitions of Poland: 1772 West Prussia; 1793 South Prussia; 1795 New East Prussia.

Post PH 3: Changing Borders III: Napoleonic Era 1803 to 1815

Post 4 PH 4: 1815 to Present

The Rise of Prusia to 1772

This post reviews the 17th Century and the 18th Century until 1772, the First Partition of Poland, when Prussia began to acquire adjacent lands.

A Brief History of Memelland

The previous post concentrated on the variety of people who settled in Prussia and the land that became the Province of East Prussia. One settlement in East Prussia was particularly important for 500 years.

An early group of Germans settled at Memel, an important seaport on the Baltic Sea. The city dates to 1252 when the first of a series of castles was built between the banks of two rivers, the Nemunas and Dange. Over the next 500 to 600 years, each castle was rebuilt as Memel fell to Lithuanians, Swedes, and Russians. Each time the castle was refortified. A 1422 treaty stabilized the border between the Teutonic Order and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania for the next 501 years. Memel remained part of what became Prussia and remained unchanged until 1923 when it became part of Lithuania. In 1939, Lithuania ceded it to Germany. Today Memel is known as Klaipeda, Lithuania, and is still the center of Prussian and German culture in Lithuania.

This unchanged northeastern border lies in contrast to other borders of Prussia in subsequent centuries. Even though this map is dated 1923 to 1939, it best shows the unchanging northeastern border of Prussia for 501 years.

The Rise of Prussia

Much of the borders of Prussia kept changing for almost 200 years.

17th century: The extent of Prussian-German influence in this area continued to grow in the 17th century. From 1640 – 1688 during the rule of Frederick William, the Great Elector, many new immigrants came to Prussia from newly acquired lands. In 1657 Polish sovereignty ended when total control of this area went to the Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg-Prussia. In 1685 King Louis XIV of France revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had granted freedom of religion. Persecution and forcible conversion caused hundreds of thousands to flee. Friedrich Wilhelm helped many immigrants settle the eastern territories.

Brandt, Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia, IX-15, IX-14, and 581.

Prussia in the 18th Century: 1701-1740

The growing influence of Prussia continued. Konigsberg became the coronation city outside the traditional Holy Roman Empire. The great plagues were caused by crop failures in 1708; wartime forces spread disease; 270,00 of 600,00 people in East Prussia died; the Lithuanian area in the northeast was especially hard hit. Of 1830 villages, only 35 were left.

The Duchy of Prussia was renamed the Kingdom of Prussia. In 1701 Frederick of Brandenburg became Frederick I, King in Prussia. This is the coat of arms for the Kingdom of Prussia and went through many adaptations as the status of Prussia changed.

1709 was the worst year of the plagues affecting East Prussia. From 1713-1740 peace and repopulation were major goals of Frederick I. In 1717-22 general compulsory education was introduced. In 1733 the military canton system was introduced. In 1736 Prussia was divided between the administrative districts of Konigsberg in the west and Gumbinnen in the east.

Map of Prussia including Memelland and Poland circa 1721

Magocsi, Paul Robert. Historical Atlas of East Central Europe.Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press, 1993

Prussia is in in purple. Note that Prussia which will become East Prussia with its German colonists extended north of the Memel River.

The area to the left will become West Prussia in 1772.

The northeastern part of Prussia is known as Memelland, the home of German settlers since the 13th century. From 1923 to 1939 it became part of Lithuania and today remains part of Lithuania with its German heritage.

See also


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The Peoples of East Prussia

Early East Prussian Peoples

The province most family researchers know as East Prussia was the originally a duchy and a kingdom. In the 19th century the original land that was Prussia became a province known as East Prussia.

The first surviving Protestants were the Waldensians. The Early French Hugonauts, the Salzburgers, and ethnic Poles populated the southern part, and the Unitarians, also known as the Polish Brethren, settled there as well.

Lithuanians settled in the northeast. Eventually this area was known as Klein (Little) Lithuania or Prussian Lithuania. Most inhabitants were Lithuanians until great plagues of 1708-1711.

The early Hugonauts and Waldensians played a major role in the repopulation of the northeastern area where Lithuanians had settled. The eastern half of East Prussia, which became known as the Gumbinnen Administrative District in the early 19th century, became an ethnically mixed region.

Native and Non-Germanic Settlers

Other groups who settled in East Prussia included the English and Scots, the Balto-Prussians, and Lithuanians.

The Balto-Prussians were also known as the Pruzzen, Prussian, or Borussians. Lithuanians, Cours (Latvians), Mazurians, and East Slavs were represented as well as Kashubians, Mazurians, Poles, and Jews. Scots and English came as sailors, soldiers, and merchants. Swedes came as soldiers in the armies and navies of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden. Today’s DNA has revealed this mixture of people as well as historical documents. In the 19th century there were Russian Old Believers.

East Prussian “Colonists”

The Swiss came under the Settlement of Swiss Colonists within the Framework of the Repopulation of East Prussia: Investigation of a Group Which Emigrated in 1712 from the Rural Baliwick Municipality of Sax-Forseck. Those from Franconia (The Ehmer Franconian Card Index File) also populated East Prussia.

Specific references to the population lists of people who lived in certain localities in East Prussia are available through the Verein fur Familienforschung in Ost and Westpreussen. VFFOW.

Those from the northeastern Prussian territories were mostly Pommern, Niederunger or Vistula Valley Lowlanders.

Baltic Germans

Baltic Germans in Estonia and Latvia were involved in trading in the Hanseatic League in the 15th century. Notice the absence of any reference to Germans in Lithuania in these early centuries.

Baltic Germans are a distinct group from the two groups of Germans who settled in Lithuania.

However, there were some Germans in the early 1700s in Kovno, now Kaunas, Lithuania, who were involved with trading in the Hanseatic League.

South Prussia (1793-1807) and New East Prussia (1795-1807) Colonists

Later in the 18th century southwestern German Swabians from Wuerttemberg and nearby states and Mecklenburgers were recruited to settle in South Prussia and New East Prussia from 1793 to 1806.  Lithuanians and Salzburgers also settled in New East Prussia. Later arrivals came from Wuerttemberg. Fewer numbers of southwest Germans and Mecklenburgers settled in New East Prussia than in South Prussia.

Map of Early 19th Century Migratory and Political History

This map shows how the migrations coalesced once the borders of East Prussia remained stable in the second decade of the 19th century. This map may narrow one’s search as it shows areas of Catholic and Protestant Germans, Lithuanians, and Poles. Green shows the dominance of Protestant Lithuanians in the northeast. Darker blue shows German Protestants in the Konigsberg Administrative District. The next largest group are Protestant Poles in the southeast.

Two groups, both in Konigsberg, show two kreise of Catholic Poles in lighter red and two kreise of Catholic Germans in lighter blue.

An Alternative View: Polish Encyclopaedia of 1923, 65.

After Poland regained its status as a nation after World War I, this encyclopedia was written to help explain a variety of subjects from the Polish perspective. About the people who settled this area, the authors wrote:

In the Middle Ages the Germans who colonized Prussia and the Kingdom of Poland were primarily Northern Germans (Lower Saxons) and Germans from the Centre (Franconians). A few Dutchmen and Southern Germans (Bavarians) also came to this area. After Poland was partitioned in the late 18th century, Germans emigrated from all parts of Germany. In the Kingdom of Poland, the most numerous were Prussians, South Saxons, Franconians of the Palatinate, and Swabians from Württemberg.

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