German, Lithuanian, Polish, and Russian History Relating to Suwalki Province


In this and three subsequent posts a timeline highlights a 1500 year period that may have influenced the origins of families with the surname ending in –at before documents place them in Suwalki Province in the 1840s. It also suggests possible ways these people came to be governed in an area designated as a protectorate of the Russian Empire. So that the reader may understand the various viewpoints, the Prussian, German, Polish, and Austrian perspectives are presented in a regular font. The Lithuanian perspective is presented in italics with the Lithuanian spelling of locations used.

100 A. D. to 1100 A. D.

700-900 German barbarians, the Franks, established the first Reich. Subsequently, Charlemagne, the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire forced Christianity upon the Germans.

900-1350 Areas in the east occupied by Slavs become Germanized through migration and assimilation. Lesser expansion took place mostly in border areas east of the Oder River. 1

969-1806 The First German Empire (Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation) existed. 2

1100 to 1700

1100-1600 German merchants formed powerful trading alliances between the most important ports in the Baltic and North Seas. 3 Known as the Hanseatic League, this group dominated the foreign trade of Scandinavia and northern Germany. Koenigsberg, the home of the Teutonic Knights, joined the Hanseatic League. 4 Its influence faded in the late 1400s. During this time surnames became common in Germany. 5

1190 The Teutonic Order was first established in Palestine as the Order of the Hospital of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the German House of Jerusalem. In Prussia the group was known as the “Teutonic Knights” or the “Teutonic Order.” They had a strong urban economy, hired mercenaries from throughout Europe to augment their feudal levies, and became a naval power in the Baltic Sea. 6 In 1455 the Teutonic Knights gained control of Koenigsberg, and in 1457 they moved the Seat of the Grand Master to Koenigsberg. 7

1219 The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was founded by King Mindaugas, who united various
principalities. 8

1352-1354 The Black Plague passed through Prussia, but the effects were less severe than in the west because of the sparser population. 9

1431 The Grand Duke of Lithuania established an administrative system of “palatinates” administered by a “palatine” who was appointed by the Grand Duke and who owed his
allegiance directly to the Grand Duke. In this way the Grand Duke strengthened his
control over the growing territories of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. 10

1450 The Lithuanian state extended from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and was the largest country in area in all of Europe. By the mid 16th century palatinates were established in all territories of the Lithuanian state. 11

Note: For a map of East Central Europe circa 1480 see Paul Robert Magocsi, Historical Atlas of East Central Europe (Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press, 1993), 32. The map shows that at this time Lithuania and Poland dominated the northern part of east central Europe.

1517 Martin Luther posted his theses disputing traditional religious doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. This event signaled the beginning of the Reformation and the growth of Protestantism. 12

1525 The Duchy of East Prussia (also called Ducal Prussia) was established as a result of the conversion of the Teutonic Knights to Lutheranism as a fiefdom of Poland. The Teutonic Knights retained their Lutheran and German cultural identity. 13 Basically, the Prussian state and what later became the province of East Prussia was established. 14

1530-1816 The Augsburg Confession (creed) was adopted by Lutherans, and the Protestant
movement continued to grow in influence. 15

1555 The Peace of Augsburg (between Catholics and Lutherans only) stated that subjects must adopt the religion of their local ruler or emigrate. This document meant that Prussia would be Lutheran. 16

1569-1795 The Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland concluded the Union of Lublin which created the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania. 17

Note: For a map of East Central Europe circa 1570 see Magocsi, Historical Atlas of East Central Europe, 47. The map shows the consolidation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during this era.

1600 Surnames became common throughout Germany (in some areas as early as 1100). 18

1612 The Gregorian calendar was adopted by Lutheran Ducal Prussia. 19

1618 Ducal Prussia was acquired by the Elector of Brandenburg which changed Prussia
from a duchy to a principality; Koenigsberg was the capital. It would not be until
“The Treaty of Eternal Peace” in 1660 that other nations recognized the sovereignty and independence of (Lutheran) East Prussia. 20

1618-1648 During the Thirty Years War many German areas in the west were devastated. 21 East and West Prussia were not directly involved with the war although there were Swedish attacks from 1625 to 1630 until the Swedish were defeated by the Poles. 22

1622 January 1 was declared to be the beginning of the year in Germany. (Previously it was March 25.)

1640 – 1688 During the rule of Frederick William, “the Great Elector,” many new lands were acquired. Many new immigrants came to East Prussia from these newly-acquired lands. 23

1648-49 The number of Protestant communities in the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania shrank from 150 to 40, mostly in the Calvinist stronghold in Lithuania. 24

1650-1750 Church records (baptisms, marriages, and deaths) were established in most German areas.

1660-1772 The percentage of Protestants in Poland-Lithuania dropped from 15% to 4%. 25

1683 The beginning of German group immigration to North America began with the founding of Germantown, Pennsylvania.

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, the Great Elector, helped many immigrants settle the eastern territories. 26

1 Edward R. Brandt, Mary Bellingham, Kent Cutcomp, Kermit Frye, and Patricia A.
Lowe, Germanic Genealogy: A Guide to Worldwide Sources and Migration Patterns (St.
Paul, Minnesota: Germanic Genealogy Society, 1995), 579.
2 Shirley J. Reimer, The German Research Companion (Sacramento, California: Lorelei Press, 1997), 1.
3 Brandt, Germanic Genealogy, 579.
4 Edward R. Brandt and Adelburt Goertz, Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia [Ost-und Westpreussen] Records, Sources, Publications and Events (Minneapolis, Minnesota: n. p., 2002), IX-6.
5 Brandt, Germanic Genealogy, 579.
6 Teutonic Knights, online
, data downloaded 28 March 2008.
7 Brandt, Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia,
8 [Anonymous], Researching Lithuanian Ancestral Towns (Chicago: Immigration History Department Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture, 1995), 4.
9 Brandt, Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia,
10 Researching Lithuanian Ancestral Towns, 5.
11 Researching Lithuanian Ancestral Towns, 6.
12 Brief Look at German/Prussian History (Janesville, Wisconsin: Origins, 1994), 1.
13 Brandt, Genealogical Guide to East and West
Prussia, IX-9.
14 Charles M. Hall, The Atlantic Bridge to Germany: Volume VIII (No place: No publisher, no date), ix.
15 Hall, The Atlantic Bridge to Germany: Volume VIII, ix.
16 Reimer, The German Research Companion, 2.
17 Researching Lithuanian Ancestral Towns, 6.
18 Reimer, The German Research Companion, 2.
19 Brandt, Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia, IX-12.
20 Brandt, Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia, IX-15.
21 Brandt, Germanic Genealogy, 581.
22 Brandt, Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia, IX-13.
23 Brandt, Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia, IX-14.
24 Brandt, Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia, IX-14.
25 Brandt, Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia, IX-15.
26 Brandt, Germanic Genealogy, 581.

About suwalkigermans

I started family research in 1993. My first two books focused on my maternal grandparents. Both families came from Kreis Rosenberg, West Prussia, to Big Rapids, Michigan. I left the Spurgats from Wylkowiszki in the Russian Empire as the third book because of the difficult and challenging research it required. After I published the book in 2010, I wondered what to do next. I thought I might try to share some of my research with others and maybe at the same time, by going digital, someone would find me. When you read the comments, you will see that happened. The best part of all this is helping others.
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