Rumseskis (RUM-she-kis) Open Air Museum is one of the largest open air ethnographic museums in Europe. Located near Kaunas, the museum presents the way of life, works, and traditions of townspeople and peasants from all the ethnographic areas of Lithuania, including Suwalki Province (where my -at families lived) and Lithuania Minor (formerly East Prussia and where people with the Spurgat name lived and possibly the ancestors of our Spurgat families.)
At Rumseskis you see fragments of villages, farms, homes with flower gardens, orchards, and vegetable gardens, crosses, wooden roofed poles, mills, forges, a fulling mill (fulling is a step in the processing of wool), and oil-mill (an oil mill is a mill designed to bruise or crush oil-bearing seeds) along the 7 kilometer route through forests, meadow, and hills.
The town square is surrounded by the reconstructed village of Rumseskis, which had been moved to this location when a dam was built in Kaunas in the 1950s. The original site of the village was flooded to create the Kaunas Lagoon, an artificial lake. This is a fragment of a township with typical buildings in which workers show how pots were shaped, amber jewelry was created, wood works were completed, and linen was woven. Farther away, in the Deportation and Resistance section, the visitor is reminded of a painful part of Lithuania’s history.
We walked to some of the exhibits staffed by local people. We stopped to see woven textiles, a major industry in Lithuania. We peeked in at the woodworking shop. The owner of a brass and amber jewelry display beckoned us into his shop. After examining beautiful black pottery, brass objects, and amber jewelry, he brought forth family pictures, some taken in Siberia of family members who had been deported in the 1940s. He showed me two pictures of his family—one sister and family, prosperous, who had immigrated to Philadelphia; the other, scanty and poor, who with her family had been deported to Siberia. The difference was shocking and cemented the realization of the tyranny endured by one of every three Lithuanian families in the 1940s.
Then we trekked on to Suwalki Province where we came upon the major exhibit, the farm of a well to do farmer. When I asked our guide at the home of the well to do farmer if she ate potato pancakes and kugelis, she replied vehemently in Lithuanian, “Yes, that is all we had!”
We walked further on to what is called Poor Suwalki. I am convinced that this is the type of housing our –at ancestors would have lived in.
Looking for Lithuania Minor/ East Prussia
In the Three Spurgat Families from Wylkowiszki, the records trace three families in Suwalki Province back to 1849. Because there are so many people with the name in what was East Prussia, part of the German Empire until 1918, now divided between Lithuania, Russia, and Poland, it is possible that previous generations of our families have origins in East Prussia, today called Lithuania Minor.
We continued walking on the road to find Lithuania Minor/East Prussia, but we were unsuccessful in finding the few houses from that area.