East Prussia: 1807-1818-1923
This is the shape of East Prussia that most family historians are familiar with.
The above map and others below are from Lands of the German Empire.
These borders were stable until after WWI when the northeast arm, historically Prussian-German became part of Lithuania and the southwest was expanded to include five kreise that were part of West Prussia.
1808 Two Administrative Districts of East Prussia
Although the ethnic areas were established in the early 18th century, it was not until 1808 that the two administrative districts of East Prussia were established.
Konigsberg in the west, more German, and Gumbinnen in the east, more Lithuanian.
But certainly because of the wide mixture of migration patterns of Germans eastward and others westward, there were Germans in the Gumbinnen area and vice versa.
East Prussian Kreise
So here are the kreis of East Prussia established between 1808 and 1819.
Map of Gumbinnen Administrative District
Gumbinnen Administrative District from the Lithuanian Perspective
The Lithuanian perspective described the Gumbinnen Administrative District this way:
“The Lithuanian province in Prussia. Administrative division after 1818. Districts of Lithuania Minor with (Lithuanian names).”
The German names of the Kreise or counties are on the right.
The shaded area at the top is Memelland.
“The district of Klaipeda (Memel in German) was administered from Konigsberg.” It is geographically part of Gumbinnen Administrative District but because Germans had been settling there since 1252 and gradually became the dominant culture in the region, it was part of the more German, the Konigsberg Administrative District of East Prussia!
This Memel area remained in East Prussia until Lithuanian independence was declared in 1923 and remained as part of Lithuania until Germany “annexed” it in 1939. After the war, it became part of Lithuanian USSR, and today is part of Lithuania.
Parishes Assigned to the Gumbinnen District
How did these kreise come to have the shape that they did?
It should be possible in a day’s travel to go from the farthest place of the kreis to the major city and back. As a rule, the greatest distance should not exceed three miles, so just under 22 km.ed. A kreis should have 20,000-36,000 inhabitants. In the sparsely populated “Lithuanian” kreise, it was difficult to determine these borders with regard to old allegiances.
Konigsberg Administrative District
The Konigsberg Administrative district, farther west and adjacent to West Prussia was more “German.” Note that Memel, although geographically closer to the Gumbinnen Administrative District, was more German and thus part of the Konigsberg Administrative District.
The northern half of the Kӧnigsberg Administrative District is now Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia. The southern half is now in Poland. Memel is in Lithuania.
Map Guide for German Parish Registers
The Map Guide for German Parish Registers uses the 1905 date from the 13 volume Prussian gazetteer series because it provided consistency for the Kingdom of Prussia.
The third region Allenstein, was created in 1905 and covered the southern areas of Königsberg and Gumbinnen. It existed until 1945 when the area was divided—Lithuania in the north, Russian in the middle, and Poland in the south.
The four southern counties were separated from Gumbinnen and put together with the southern part of the district of Konigsberg to form the new administrative district of Olsztyn.
Even some of the district boundaries (Kreise) changed over the years which is reflected in the FamilySearch catalog as it shows them in a neighboring district from what the gazetteer reflects.
So, for the researcher with East Prussian roots, it might be important to know this distinction: 2 administrative districts starting between 1808-1819; three from 1905 to 1945.
Other online maps also show these three divisions.
The FamilySearch Research Wiki provides information on many topics related to East Prussia.