Family historians search for clues of any kind when determining places of origin. Most desirable are family stories which match written records. (See “Connecting Data and Family Stories” in a previous post.) One such connection may be associated with one –at family. Researchers also try to use all available records to determine a place of origin. Sometimes the records conflict with family stories and lead the researcher to a different conclusion. Sometimes the researcher, confined to limited records, can only present theories and seek further evidence. Such is the case with one -at family. Were they living in Wylkowiszki as early as 1795 before existing records document their lives there? Or were they living in East Prussia before records place them in Wylkowiszki in the 1840s?
An –at Family in the Wylkowiszki Area
Records reveal the possibility of four “other” families with the same –at surname in the Wylkowiszki area, one as early as 1795 (i. e. Kalwaria) according to the age on an 1875 death record. However, a direct connection to the three other –at families researched cannot be established.
An -at Family from Eydtkuhnen, East Prussia
Over a decade apart two “cousins” in the same city on the United States provided a clue about the origins of one -at family with a single word: “I-ku-nen.” In a July 1987 interview, one cousin, who had been born in the Wylkowiszki area in 1900 and who had immigrated as an eight year old boy gave the following reply:
Question: Where was Grandpa born?
Reply: Grandpa was born in “I-ku-nen”, Germany…. [It was] about as far away from here as we are from Marne (a small town about twelve miles northwest).
My Note: Germany was not a nation until 1871. Eydtkuhnen was in East Prussia, one of five provinces belonging to Prussia, which became fused into the Second German Empire in 1871.
In 1998 the youngest son (born 1918) of an -at immigrant, wrote:
My older sister kept repeating a word; wasn’t sure if it was a family name or place. The word was Eitkunen. She said Mother had used this word numerous times.
In 1999 the same youngest –at son told me
I know some things that my older brothers and sisters don’t know; I was the only one left at home. I spent a lot of time with my dad, and he talked about things in the old country. One word I heard him say was “I-ku-nen.” I don’t know what it means; I don’t know how you spell it; I don’t know what it is; I just remember my dad saying it again and again. I thought maybe it would help you someday.
In January 2002 two –at family researchers put these two clues together. They had come from two different branches of the same family, but what was unknown to each was that two “cousins” (their uncles) in the previous generation had remembered the same word that had been transmitted in the family for almost 100 years. The phonetic “I-ku-nen”, spelled both as Eydtkuhnen or Eytkuhnen, was the town in Kreis (county) Stallupönen (sometimes called Ebenrode) on the border between East Prussia and Suwalki Province in the area which was a Protectorate of the Russian Empire. The distance between Wylkowiszki and Eydtkuhnen, now Chernyshevskoye, Russia, in the Kaliningrad Oblast, is about twelve miles.
So this single clue makes it possible that these –at families had lived in East Prussia, in the area that was New East Prussia from 1795 to 1807. When the land became a Protectorate of the Russian Empire after 1815, all the German people, most of them serfs, did not leave because they were under a different governmental jurisdiction; they simply stayed where they lived and worked, probably on a manor or an estate, and it happened to be in territory that from 1815 to 1918 was in the Russian Empire.