RESEARCH 2012-2015 POST 13 MY

 I had the connection to my family and the world famous Spurgat body contortionists. Leo Spurgat born November 26, 1900, was a first cousin of my father, Alfred Spurgat born September 24, 1908.

Not only that but my aunt was born in Essen November 17, 1900, and Leo was born November 26, 1900, only nine days later. They probably played together as children until Emma immigrated in August 1905.

It seems likely that the family connection faded away with the death of father Johann Spurgat a year after his younger brother Adolf left in 1905. Yet Adolph must have kept in contact with someone in the family or why would he have taken his son Alfred with him to try to see theCircus Spurgats in Grand Rapids when the circus traveled there in 1934 and 1935?

In 2010 I had included only a portion of the advertisements, records, images I had collected. After all I could not prove the relationship.

Was there any way to find out about Leo’s career in Europe?

One day I simply googled Leo Spurgat. That led me to the My where I found the name Leo Spurgat and the webmaster of the Kaadner-Solberg website, Flemming Solberg. Helga Christensen Spurgat was his grandfather’s sister (great aunt).  Leo was my grandfather’s brother’s son (first cousin once removed.)  Close enough.

Flemming had been intrigued by a picture of the performers that had hung on his grandfather’s wall and he also had seen the same picture from Life magazine. While I worked to imbed his findings into an expanded appendix, he worked on a timeline of their performances.

In the next six months the information about performances in American, Europe, and North Africa from the 1930s to the 1950s flew back and forth across the Atlantic. I sent Flemming everything I had from the Circus World Museum Archives and the Harvard Theatre Collection.  He sent me all the advertisements, information from city directories, Danish censuses, parish records, civil records, family documents, and online research he could find. I must have rewritten the appendix more than a dozen times, expanding it to 31 pages! It is an alluring addition to the addendum.

Without establishing the blog and all the steps in between, I would never have known that the most famous people with MY last name were so closely related to be my father’s first cousin! Now it makes so much more sense. In 1934 or 1935 my grandfather took his son, my dad, to meet his nephew and my father’s first cousin, but were turned away. The same thing happened in New Jersey with my grandfather’s half brother who also took his son to see the Spurgat perform when they came. They went knowing they were part of the family, not just people with the same last name.

This complicated, 20 year search which  combines American and German archival research, Internet research, collaborative research with two other European researchers, one German and one Danish, has been among the most productive searches I have completed. Ben and Flemming are my Pilgrim and my Mayflower! That is about as close as East Prussian-Lithuanians can get to finding a famous family connection!

Even this month Flemming and I continue to work together on locating descendants of his Danish family, who also assumed the Spurgat name as their stage name.

More recently, I learned the exact location of the Ciruqe Medrano in Paris in the Montmartre area where the Spurgats performed. Picasso also lived there during that time and that the Picasso Museum in Paris holds over 200,000 personal papers including ticket stubs from the Cirque Medrano. Is it at all possible that Pablo Picasso saw the Spurgats perform? One 1930 painting of a female “artist” suggests that Helga Spurgat might have been inspired by a Picasso painting. And is it also possible that the Spurgats performed there at the same time in the post WWII era that Buster Kreaton, who is associated with an artist colony in the city in Michigan where I grew up, performed at the Cirque Medrano? These leads are a long way from the East Prussia-Lithuanian area of interest to most readers of this blog, but these last two questions illustrate the extensivemss of family history to indulge in.

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RESEARCH 2012 – 2015 Essen Archives Part IV

In the last post I reported about the death record of Adolph Spurgat from the Essen Archives:

Adolf Spurgat was unmarried. [On his] …Essen registration card [he is listed] as a professional  artist initially registered [and later] disabled. On the Death display [it lists] unskilled construction laborers. It has been suggested that he committed suicide….

There was more information on the civil death records than there was on the ITS record. The significance of some of this information is the subject of the next post….

The words “professional artist” jumped out at me.

I wrote to Ben Hutop:

I am surprised that there would be a professional artist in the Spurgat family!   Could this be some kind of a mistranslation? Any other German words that would look similar to this and mean something else?

He replied:

No mistake in translation, but the same word can also mean something else. I only thought later on this as this profession is not so common nowadays.  Normally, the German translation for art/artist is Kunst/Künstler…, but sometimes also artist is used, because it sounds more   fancy. But art is a broad area, where does it begin and where does it end?

But in your case ‘artist’ probably has the meaning of ‘performer’, so somebody who usually worked in a circus and did acrobatics or was a juggler, animal trainer, rope dancer etc.  Maybe he had an accident and  because of this he was disabled later in his life. Would make sense, right?

Ben had no idea of the significance of what he had just written:

In 1995 I had conducted research at the Circus World Museum Archives in Baraboo, Wisconsin, on the  Spurgats who performed with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Combined Circus in the United States from 1934 to 1938. Besides the numerous circus advertisements, programs, and route books, I located the Employment Record of Leo Julius Spurgat containing his birth date in Germany as 11/29/00 and identical information for “Hilga” Ella Spurgat as 5/5/99 in Denmark. In 1997 I searched for more memorabilia about them in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where collector Burns Kattenberg had donated his one of a kind collection about body contortionists. Two photographs, some advertisements, and several articles were from the Burns M. Kattenberg Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard Theater Collection. For my 2010 publication The Three Spurgats from Wylkowiszki I selected a only few advertisements and a hand-written letter from Leo because the relationship had not been determined.

I had also written:

Although there were members of the Spurgat family in the United States who believed they were related to these Spurgats, the author has not been able to verify this relationship.

With the information from Ben about Adolph Spurgat having been a kunstler, an artiste, a performer, I immediately thought of Leo Julius Spurgat as a circus performer! I was able to match the birth date from the Circus World Museum in Wisconsin of Leo Julius Spurgat “11/26/00” with that from the Essen, Germany,  Archives to Ligon Julius Spurgat’s  birth date as “the twenty-sixth of November of the year thousand nine hundred.” Adolph was the older brother of Ligon/Leo.

Twenty years later I was able to prove that the stories about two Spurgat families who tried to see them when the circus came to their towns in Michigan and New Jersey, were justifiable not just because they were people with the same last name, but because they were part of the family.

Benjamin Hutop had no knowledge about the “Circus Spurgats” prior to writing this response.

Finally, no evidence has been discovered to indicate that Adolf Spurgat was a member of the world-famous Spurgat body contortionists before he became disabled.



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Research 2012-2015: Essen Archives: PART III

2015: I decided that I should contact the Essen Archives myself to see if they could send me the civil birth registration record of the third aunt who had been born in Essen in 1904.

I also asked them for any other birth, marriage, and death records of any other Spurgats that might have lived there between 1898 and 1950.

In particular I asked for the 1944 death record of Adolf Spurgat as there might be information not on the ITS record.

Ben and I decided that I would ask only for the information and not for a copy of each record as I really did not know what I would get. If I wanted, I could get the actual records later.

The procedure was complicated but doable. I wrote in English everything I outlined above and sent it in English to Ben for approval. (I also asked for some other information that might relate to the Hutop family. That is a separate story beyond the scope of this subject.) Then I e-mailed the letter in English to the same woman at the Essen Archives that Ben had used. She responded in German. I used Google Translate to get the gist of what she wrote back. I had to send the money to the City of Essen. When the city received the money, they would notify the archives that it had been received, and then the archives would e-mail me the results. I used Google Translate to get the gist of what she wrote. I sent the original in German to Benjamin and the Google Translate back to Ben so he would understand what I understood.

Here is what I learned about the death record from the Essen Archives:

Adolf Spurgat was unmarried. [On his] …Essen registration card [he is listed] as a professional artist initially registered [and later] disabled. On the Death display [it lists] unskilled construction laborers. It has been suggested that he committed suicide.

The death record of Adolf Spurgat stated that his mother Mary née Laurinat had recently lived in Duisburg. In the Death notice as a survivor (relative) [was] foreman Franz Kreft, [also] living in Duisburg, Brückenstr. 15…[15 Brucken Street, Duisburg, north of Essen.]

In subsequent correspondence with them, the archivist verified the name of the mother and explained that the mother’s maiden name in the birth records of his younger siblings all born in Essen between 1899 and 1902 is Mattotat.

And in the meantime, I found the marriage record of Johann Wilhelm Spurgat and Maria Matutaitis on microfilm, and had it translated.

There was more information on the civil death records than there was on the ITS record. The significance of some of this information is the subject of the next post.

The Essen Archives also sent me the information about other births and marriages in the Spurgat family, also the subject of a future post.

At the Feefhs conference in Salt Lake a year later in August 2015 I scheduled a conference with Dr. Diane Alfoumado. When I started to tell her about the impact of this single record on my research, she stopped me, phoned her colleague Ina Navazelskis, and asked her to join us. Ina is the Program Coordinator of Oral History at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and has conducted in-depth interviews with survivors and witnesses in audio and video format. Diane asked if she and Ina could tape my story of the results of the research with one ITS record to share with her staff when she returned to Washington D. C. I was fascinated as Ina went into her professional interviewing mode, made me comfortable as I proceeded, asking questions to clarify the fine points of my research.  See

From these records—1 birth extract, 1 ITS death record on a 3 x 5 card, 1 civil death record, 1 FHL microfilmed marriage record, and transcribed information from the Essen Archives, I made additions to my new appendix.





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Research 2012-2015 POST 10 Essen Archives Part II

 This post will explain how three different sources over a five year period provided an amazing breakthrough.

2010: I contacted the Archivum Patriae, in Warsaw. Google Translates interprets Archivum Patriae as “Lovers Association of Historical Documents” Founded in 2001, the society provided extracts of records which were not available through other means. The whereabouts of the original records is undetermined.

Their website is (no www.)

I sent them an e-mail in English inquiring about any records from the Wylkowiszki area that were connected with the name Spurgat.

They sent back extracts of five births and deaths from 1893 to 1897.  I thought that the parents might be an older brother of my grandfather, but with only a birth record and a confirmation record, and no marriage record I could not be sure, and so I put them in an appendix of “Other Spurgats.”

2014: As I wrote in the post:

The most unexpected and exciting bit of research at the Feefhs conference came from Diane Afoumado, PhD, chief of the ITS (International Tracing Service) Research Branch at the Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center at the United States Holocaust Memorial   Museum in Washington, D, C. …When I met with her,…she was able to locate people with the Spurgat name in Lithuania, especially Wylkowiszki.

We just started with the first names beginning with A and one really caught my attention because of the similarities to the names in my family and the place of birth.

An Adolf Spurgat who was born in September 25, 1894, was the son of Johann Spurgat and  Maria Laurinat of Wylkowiszki. He died in Essen in 1944 of unknown causes. His address and burial information were also given. This was amazing to me for two reasons: First, I have this Adolf Spurgat in my Spurgat book; from extractions from the Archivum Patriae in Warsaw, the birthdates match but the names of the mothers do not.  Maria Matutaitis was the mother’s name along with the names, birthdates, and death of two other siblings. Second, the parallels to my family were astounding: my grandfather was also named Adolf Spurgat; his father was also named Johann Spurgat; they both lived in Wylkowiszki (spelling the German way as Wilkiwischken; and my grandfather Adolf Spurgat lived in Essen from 1900 to 1905! Perhaps this is the Johann Wilhelm who was the older brother of my grandfather Adolf!

When I checked my 2010 book, I found that same birth date so I now had enough information to make this family part of my family.

The matching birthdates showed me that this Adolph Spurgat was the son of the Johann Wilhelm Spurgat (whose birth and confirmation records I had) and was an older brother of my grandfather. It had taken four years to prove it, a trip to Salt Lake, and a conference with Diane to link the families.

Plus it took a blog, a visit to Lithuania, a family history tour guide, a meeting with a pastor, and someone to read a posting on my blog who had done some research in the Essen City Archives to complete the relationship.


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Research 2012-2015 POST 9 Essen City Archives Part 1

As Ben attempted to find an American Hutop, he did some research on my father’s side of the family.  As a result. that took him back to the –at name. He wrote

…I visited the Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp. Later the same day I checked the Ellis   Island website. There I found the link to Essen. Therefore, I contacted the city archive. I    hoped to find new information on HUTOP, but unfortunately it was very limited.

But he attached what he did find:

  • 2 birth civil registrations of two of my three aunts that no one on this side of the ocean had ever seen! I had written about the family’s five years in Essen from 1900 to 1905. Because I had the birthdates from the people themselves, family stories, and American records, I did not feel the need to do any research in Essen. Now I learned the middle name of my eldest aunt! I distinctly remember asking, “What is Aunt Emma’s middle name?” No one knew. Here it appeared on the birth record in Essen! I doubted whether I could have contacted the archives who as I later learned read English but respond in German. Google Translate may not have been what it is today.

Essen City Directories gave me the names of other –at family members that I had not known were ever in Essen and enabled me to connect that family to my family.

In 2010 I had written:

Although it is tempting to think of Johann Wilhelm Spurgat as the older brother of            Adolph Spurgat , the lack of information about his age prevents the inclusion of these records in the  Johann Spurgat family.

After receiving the above information, I wrote in 2015:

New information from the City Archives of Essen, Germany, and the International Tracing  Service confirmed that this Johann Wilhelm Spurgat is the older brother of Adolph Spurgat and a new separate appendix for the Johann Wilhelm Spurgat family followed. The International  Tracing Service is explained in a future post.

In 2015 I also wrote:

This new information provides a more definitive answer as to why Adolf and Pauline Spurgat went to Essen, Germany. His older brother, Johann Spurgat, had already been there for almost two years before they arrived! The 1901 address suggests that by 17 November 1900, the   birth date of Emma Martha Spurgat, Johann and Adolf were probably living next door to each  other, and certainly were by 1901. And by 1902 Adam Spurgat was living with Johann… and by  1905 Josef Spurgat, younger half-brother of Adolf, was also living with him in Essen. The Spurgat    family was part of the typical chain migration and cluster immigration so common to immigrants. They followed one another and they lived near each other—at least for five years.

  • A 1926 Naturalization record of Auguste Spurgat gave a great deal of information about her father, the above Johann Wilhelm Spurgat.
  •  1906 death record of Johann Spurgat

From these four records—2 births, 1 death, and 1 naturalization record– and transcribed information from the Essen City Directories, I made additions to the 2015 Addendum:

Chapter 7 From Wylkowiszki to New York

Chapter 9 Children of Adolph Spurgat and Pauline Hutop

And created a brand new appendix:

Appendix C1 The Johann Wilhelm Spurgat Family

The next post will provide more information about working with the Essen Archives.

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Two Hutop family researchers provided information about two other Hutop families: (1) A brief overview of research  connecting the Hutop/Hutob Family of Reval, Estonia, with the Hutops in Gizai, Suwalki Province, Protectorate of the Russian Empire, is presented. (2) The author’s discovery of people with the Hutop name in Willuhnen, Kreis Pillkallen, East Prussia, while she was searching for the Spurgats, is the subject of the following post.

The Hutop/Hutob Family of Reval, Estonia

Benjamin Hutop contacted the German Baltic Genealogy Society… DBGG (Deutsch Baltische Genealogische Gesellschaft) for information on HUTOPS in Estonia

Hutop vs. Hutob

H e explained Grimm’s Law:  See’s_law

There was a change in the use of some letters in the early 19th century in the region which later became Estonia. In general ‘soft consonants’ as G, B or D were replaced by ‘hard consonants’ as K, P and T. So normally HUTOP should not have been changed to HUTOB. Theory is one thing; real life is something else.

The German Baltic Genealogy Society sent two sets of records: The first was from the Das Revaler Bürgenbuch 1786-1796 (the Reval Citizen book) published in 2006, the first recorded name of Jaecksch Gerdruta Helena, geb. Hutop. The second record was about Meister Hutop

Christian Hutop/Hutob 

Benjamin Hutop:

…The oldest known HUTOP in the Baltics [is] Christian Hutob, a new version regarding the  spelling, I do not know if it’s a typo or the original spelling

born approx. 1690 in Bernau, Berlin region

citizen of Reval since 1723

profession: Blacksmith

married with Anna Sophia Lorentz since 1723

10 children

His son, number ‘h’, Johann Christian was his successor as master smith

died in 1773, death registration as Christoph Hutob

Source: Register Baltische Stammfolgen (RBS), “Sammlung Paulsen, Ordner 3” der DBGG

Both researchers believe that Johann Christian Hutop/Hutob is the same person in the Reval, Estonia, records. Both also believe that the spelling should be Hutop as it is classified that way by the professionals who published the Das Revaler Bürgerbuch (Citizen Book) 1786-1796 in 2006 and compiled the records for the Estonian National Archive.

When I saw that these records came from St. Nikolai church, I was simply amazed as it is the most famous church in Tallin, just a block from the market square in the Old Town of Tallin! We had been there on Saturday, July 14, 2013! Whether or not we turned out to be related to this Hutop family in Reval, I was deeply impressed with someone with that same name had attended this most famous church.

                                     Das Revaler Bürgerbuch (Citizen Book) 1786-1796 DBGG-Sammlung Paulsen, 3-1

 The title of the page states Hutop. In the text the name is spelled Christian Hutob. Only a portion of the first of three pages shown.

Two researchers had different ideas about the possible relationship to our Hutop family. We explored every possible way to connect this family to “our” Hutop family.

I wrote:

Perhaps Christian Hutop who was born in Berlin had a relative who also emigrated east, not to Tallin, but to East Prussia, and ended up a few miles east into what would become Suwalki Province during the time the German craftsmen moved there (late 18th century).

  • Guild records in East Prussia might be the best records to pursue.

He wrote:

The most common way of migration is that a person moves to a place where other persons of the same family (or people) have moved.

  • Maybe the Hutops from Reval moved to Suwalki, maybe in a period that the Baltics were already Russian. Then, it was an internal move which was probably easier.
  • Regarding your theory of one relative migrated to Reval-Tallinn, the other one to East Prussia… I’m not sure.
  • Maybe two brothers or cousins who don’t like each other…

Later he wrote again:

If the Tallinn Hutops are related, we had an ancestor with a quite long list of cases before the Court of Justice. There was action against him because of a supposed violation of the code of conduct of his profession and incorrect management of community property…! He opened claims against other persons for money and personal insult issues.

I wrote:

Would this be a possible reason he or his descendants might leave Reval?

He replied:

No. As far as I know, he stayed. And his son was also a master blacksmith in Reval. So, maybe he was involved in a lot of court cases, but innocent in the end. So far, no links found to Suwalki.

 Additional  information about Johann Christian Hutop came later. The first is from the Balticische Familiengeschichtliche MitteilungenBaltic  (Family History Releases), published in Tartu, Estonia, in 1937.

This is about a Russian general with the German name Paswick, but he preferred to use ‘v. Passek’ to pretend being part of a famous noble family. The information from this magazine is quite similar to the overview about the Reval Hutops above.

However, he was a descendant of craftsmen families, Hutop(b) in his maternal line. I found more precise biographical data (especially the birth date) on the first Hutop in Reval.

Hutob Entry from Balticische Familiengeschichtliche MitteilungenBaltic  Reval Hutops BFM 1937.4.IV (2)

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RESEARCH 2012-2015 POST 7 Passport and Ober Ost

2010: Because I had been writing a book about three immigrants with the –at name, I was only including my father’s maternal family in the appendices along with the spouses of the other two male immigrants with the same –at name.

An internal travel passport belonging to my great-grandfather, Johann Ferdinand Hutop , the original death record of a great grandmother in 1881, and a likely second marriage of my great-great grandfather from an FHL microfilm, was all the information we had on this family, and I scoured each one thoroughly, but apparently not enough.

The passport of my great-grandfather has been the subject of two previous posts. See

See and

I had always wondered why this passport was written in German during the “Russification era” when all records were required to be written in Russian. I didn’t pay much attention to the design of the stamp in the upper right hand corner as I could not see it very well. I did decipher the German words: Verwaltungsgebiet Suwalki” which means Administration (Verwaltungs) Area (gebiet) of Suwalki. And yet it turned out to be a major clue to this family.

2014: Early on Ben Hutop had written that he thought that the passport dated to the time of WWI as he noticed the Imperial German Eagle in the stamp. I had overlooked it.  A few months later he mentioned it again, and we both went to work. This was the best part –researching together.

When the microfilmed records from Gize in the Marijampole parish where Johann Ferdinand Hutop  was born did not contain any more confirmation or marriage records on his second family in the 1890s, the archivist at the Lithuanian State Historical archives, wrote that that he or she thought that the family might have left the area.

Using the date from birth record of the youngest child, we now realize that sometime between 1894 and 1899, Johann Ferdinand Hutop moved closer to East Prussia. See Shortly after, his two older daughters, my grandma and her sister, had married and moved to the US.

Benjamin found the German Imperial Eagle on a postcard from the WWI era online. He mentioned the Ober Ost, the military occupation authority of the German Empire on the eastern front. Wikipedia revealed that

  • The Ober Ost was created in 1914 and was dismantled after November 1918.
  • The Ober Ost divided the land without regard to the existing social and ethnic organization and patterns. It impacted the livelihood of many merchant Jews and prevented people from traveling to neighboring districts. Ober Ost also tried to integrate German ideals and institutions with existing cultures.
  • The abbreviation for Oberbefehlshaber der gesamten Deutschen Streitkräfte im Osten, the “Supreme Commander of All German Forces in the East” during World War I.
  • This military occupation authority controlled the Eastern front during World War I.

For complete details see

In 2015 I recorded:

Benjamin Hutop, great-great grandson, wrote, “This document is from the World War I era. This region was under German occupation in this time; the document’s main language is German,  and the stamp shows the imperial German Eagle.” This fact was confirmed (1) by comparing the  stamp on a picture postcard described with the following annotation: “German Reich, 1917,  administrative area…(imperial eagle) …army postal service” (2) in consultation with the editor of the Annaberger Annalen, a German-language magazine about Lithuania and Lithuanian-German  relations published annually since 1993, and (3) a response to an e-mail I sent to Dr. Vejas  Gabriel Liulevicius, Lindsay Young Professor and Director, Center for the Study of War and Society, Dept. of History, University of Tennessee.

For more information on Annaberger Annalen see

The archivist at the Lithuanian State Historical Archives had already performed an exceptional search. We tried to find records in Hassfortowo and Kunigiszki/Kunigiskiai (today Pajevonys, Lithuania) through FHL microfilmed records; a U. S. researcher, an expert on this region; through a Facebook friend called Pajevonys Wizajny who had found my blog in 2013 and contacted me about a Hutop record in this area which I could not connect to my family. (We still cannot conclusively connect him to our families, but there does not seem to be another Hutop family in the area); and through the priest at the local church who was thought to have some death and/or cemetery records. For the time being the search has stopped here.

So we know that Johann Ferdinand Hutop, born 1846, was still alive at the time of WWI. This was a major breakthrough after 21 years.


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