Early in my research I spent a lot of time pondering the origin of my family name—Spurgat. Here is a summary of four theories:
Several scholars have studied German surnames and published their results. George F. Jones in German-American Names does not list Spurgat in his book. However, he does list the root “spohr” or “spor” [i] with “spur” or “spurrmaker” as a possible definition.”[ii] Many German surnames can be traced to their historical, geographical, or occupational origins, but not Spurgat.[iii] Nor is Spurgat found among the various nicknames which have emerged from the German culture.[iv] As Jones concludes, he suggests:
Many of the names listed below (i. e. in his book) can no longer be explained even if their literal meanings are known. The best we can sometimes do is to translate the roots literally and leave the significance to the reader’s fancy.[v]
Generally accepted as the most renowned volume is Deutsches Namenlexikon (Dictionary of German Names) by Hans Bahlow. Among the hundreds of German surnames listed in this well-known book, this volume does not include a single Spurgat entry. Instead Bahlow wrote:
In the former West and East Prussia, the old centers of the Teutonic Order (Danzig, Koeningsberg) showed primarily German names, which was in keeping with their settlement from the Westphalia/Low German area. From the rural areas and neighboring Lithuania, many non-German names have arrived, recognizable by such endings as /–at(is)/, /-ait(is)/, /-u(h)n/, /-ies/, etc. Examples include Adomeit, Albat, Jankuhn, Steppuhn and Jorchies.[vi]
Ed Brandt, author of Germanic Genealogy: A Guide to Worldwide Sources and Migration Patterns, further suggested that consideration of worldwide migration patterns might be a method of determining the origin of the Spurgats before records in Wylkowiszki determine their existence in this area prior to 1849.
Most worldwide immigration patterns suggest that people moved as a way to improve themselves. Germans had already settled in the area that became New East Prussia long before Prussia gained this territory in the Third Partition of Poland in 1795. Lithuanians had also inhabited the northern half of East Prussia before 1795 as well. The era from 1795 to 1806, when this land was under Prussian control, brought an additional wave of Germans.
After the plagues from 1708 to 1711, the area was most severely decimated and repopulated with colonists (i. e. pioneers) and Salzburgers. It is possible that some of these Germans intermarried with Lithuanians[vii] and became Germanized Lithuanians.
The possibility that Spurgat is a Germanized version of a Lithuanian name is further supported by research from the Lithuanian-American Genealogical Society of Chicago, Illinois, which uses several major genealogy sources. The Lietuviu Pavardziu Zodynas,(Lithuanian Surname Index), is a compilation of about 50,000 Lithuanian family names from many sources (address bureaus, telephone books, historical documents, birth certificates, etc.).[viii] The name SPURGA was common to three families in Batakiai in the Taurages region (northwest of Wylkowiszki); two families in Kiduliai in the Sakiai region (also north of Wylkowiszki), and six families in the Kapuskas (now Marijampole), a few miles southeast of Wylkowiszki.
The name SPURGAITIS was found in Vilkaviskis, (the Lithuanian spelling for Wylkowiszki), Virbalis, (10 miles west of Wylkowiszki near the Russian border), and Veiveriai in the Prienu region, (40 miles east of Wylkowiszki).
Next week: So what does all this mean? German or Lithuanian?
[i] George F. Jones, German-American Names (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2006), 317.
[ii] Jones, German-American Names, 45.
[iii] Jones, German-American Names, 21-42.
[iv] Jones, German American Names, 42-44.
[v] Jones, German-American Names, 45.
[vi] Hans Bahlow, German Names, 3rd edition (Madison, Wisconsin: Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System, 2002), xix.
[vii] Interview with Ed Brandt.