Marijampole is the city where records of the Hutop family were recorded. My grandmother,Pauline Hutop married Adolph Spurgat.
Our family history tour guide had arranged a “discussion with the pastor or church community “at the Marijampole Lutheran Church.”
Pastor Vaidas Klesevicius met us at our hotel fully prepared. He had maps of old Lutheran cemeteries and a 1932 “Person and Soul Register” of Virbalis, which turned out to be invaluable to us in locating three villages on our list which we would discover later that day! Vaidas had found this list of members listed by locations within the Wirballen/Virbalis parish at the office of the church council, the headquarters in Vilnius.
This discovery made me wonder if there were other records there that might be helpful to researchers of German Lutherans in Suwalki Province. Vaidas is especially interested in the history of his church and also collects records of former members from various family history researchers.
Vaidas stated that the congregation was organized in 1819, according to a newspaper printed before WWI. Another source was a newspaper article that reported that in 1939 the congregation celebrated their 120th anniversary. In 1990 after Lithuania became independent from the Soviet Union, the congregation started to reorganize, first meeting in the homes of members.
In 1825 the Marijampole church was looking for a Lithuanian speaking pastor as people wanted their church service in the Lithuanian language. Throughout the years the congregation was ½ German and ½ Lithuanian. The pastors, however, were German by name.
Each pastor was required to send the records to the Warsaw Consistory, as Suwalki Province was a part of that church administrative district. Vaidas wondered how strictly that was enforced because the duplication of records would have taken a long time for the pastor to do.
He also provided new information regarding the existence of records from the Vilkaviskis Catholic Church until 1828 (in which births, marriages, and deaths were recorded for all people regardless of denomination.) A fire in the Vilkaviskis archives had destroyed the documents. This is the first time that I have known about a fire in the Vilkaviskis archives. Previously, I had been told, that the records had been “destroyed in wars and fires.” So once again, I have been told that there are no Roman Catholic records in Vilkaviskis. During WWII in this part of Lithuania all villages were burned, including Vilkaviskis and Marijampole.
In Marijampole the records were kept for a while; only records 100+ years old are available in the Lithuanian State Archives in Vilnius. (I know that these have been microfilmed by the LDS.)
He also provided an update on Pastor Eichelberger, the pastor of the Marijampole Lutheran Church from
1894 to 1941, which included the time that my grandmother was there. He went west when all the Germans were relocated in Poland or Germany in 1940, returned in 1941, and died in 1942 in Viesville (Lithuania Minor/East Prussia), which we had driven through the previous day, where his son lived.) This information was provided by his great-daughter who lives in Germany.
Vaidas also stated that the Salzburgers who came to the Gumbinnen (today Gusev, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia) area in 1731 settled in the Wirballen/Virbalis area. They were invited by rich people. (Wirballen/Virbalis had been originally settled in the 16th century). Virbalis was much more German than Marijampole which was generally ½ German and ½ Lithuanian throughout the years.
During and after the Soviet occupation, 1944 to 1990, Taurage was the largest Lutheran parish in the area, with a pre-WWII membership of 3,000. Today some of the people at the Marijampole church came from Taurage. Before WWII the Marijampole Lutheran church also had a large membership.
He also stated that German and Lutheran were interchangeable terms, a concept I have come to recently understand. Germans, Lithuanians, and Latvians were equal through the country.
In the Lithuanian Lutheran church as a whole, some services were held in the German language. There are mixed marriages between Lutherans and Catholics. In Klaipeda and Silute there are large Lutheran churches today. Once a month a service might be held in German. In Chicago there are at least two Lithuanian Lutheran parishes. Other services are in German and in English.
After WWII the churches in Vilnius closed as did the churches in Kaunas. Only Sudagaras, near Schmalleningken/Smalininkai, survived in the whole area. Bricks were brought in from Germany, and the church was built again.
In some cases the churches cannot be heated in winter so the services are conducted in the cold.
Vilius called our next local guide, the chair of the town council, an advisory group to the town government. He explained that he only had until 2:00 to meet us. We prepared for our drive to the Wirballen/Virbalis area.