Wilhelm Gustave Spurgat was born here in 1875.

 The following information explains why this particular location was so important.

In July 2010 I was finishing The Three Spurgat Families from Wylkokwiszki . Even though I had found the birth and marriage records of my grandfather and his half-brother and the birth records of two siblings of the third immigrant family, the all-important birth record of the third immigrant, William Gustave Spurgat, was never found by another researcher. He was so committed to finding the record of the birth of his grandfather in the early years I didn’t look for it.

I had planned one last trip to Salt Lake with the intention that I would look further for Spurgats in the Suwalki area and in East Prussia where I suspected they might have originally come from in the early 19th century. I carefully prepared a list of microfilms based on information I could glean from the FHLC and other online sources, a two pronged attack– in the Suwalki area where I knew there were others with the same name and in certain East Prussian villages where there also were others with this name. Maybe just maybe I would find the connecting records between the first two immigrants who clearly were half brothers and the third immigrant who was a “cousin.” Maybe I would stumble over the missing birth record of the third immigrant.I knew the birth date from American records and family members.

If I made one last attempt to find something, and came home with nothing, the book was ready to go to the publisher. I would know I had done everything I could possibly do. If I found something big, and I had to delay the publication of the book, so be it. And while doing the above, I might find that ever-important birth record of the third immigrant. I didn’t know the outcome.

Part of my preparation including looking for some films in the FHLC in neighboring villages. I found one that that referenced my village but with a name I was not familiar with. Verzhbolov (Vil’kovishki district). I wondered why Wylkowiszki should also be spelled Vil’kovishki , but I didn’t have any idea other than the fact that a different person had catalogued the film at a different time. Perhaps the record had been filmed at a different time by a different group of film makers.

When I arrived in Salt Lake, I wanted to deal with the miscellaneous items on my list first. That film with the Vil’kovishki spelling was so high, I couldn’t reach it. I thought I would get to it the next day. I would get a stool or some young men working in the library to help me get it down. After a whole day of research with some rather limited results, I remembered the film I couldn’t reach. It was about 6:00 at night. I had three more hours before the FHL closed. I decided I could reach it safely myself. I put in the film in and was surprised to see that each record had a large X through it. Besides that, the records were in Polish at a time period when the records were required to be written in Russian. What was going on here?

I kept turning the pages on the microfilm machine. There was a time overlap for 1875, the year of the birth of the third immigrant, and so I moved to one last section of crossed out records in Polish.

There it was! This was the elusive birth record the other researcher had been looking for in the 1990s.

Birth Record of William Gustave Spurgat

wilhelm gustave enlarged

What did the large X mean? I could only guess.

Why was it written in Polish during the Russian period? That was forbidden!

How to translate it?

I asked a very experienced researcher at the reference desk for help, but he had never seen a record like this. He even wondered if it was in the FHL collection.

I had established a good working relationship with my professional translator and met with him two days later. He first spelled the village Pierwiniszki. Next he located a Pierwiniszki in the  Slownik Geograficzny Krolestwa Polskiego [Geographical Dictionary of Polish Kingdom and Other Slavonic Countries] (No publisher: Warsaw, Poland, 1877). Using online maps, which took a very long time, we located a Pierwiniszki, but it was farther east, too far away from my area. I was ready to stop and urged him to go home.

He would not stop and looked at the film himself. I followed him quietly, did not bother him with questions, and tried to figure out his thought pattern. I saw him scroll to the end of the film and wondered what he was looking for. There he found a list of the locations that were covered in this parish and saw the Purwiniszki spelling. (Can you see that the two letters i and e could also be a u?)

When I asked him how he had figures out that the spelling Pierwiniszki had to be wrong, he told me he figured out that two witnesses could not travel that far in the limited number of days between the birth and the baptism and so he had a hunch that it was a different location, closer to where we expected it to be.

It turned out that Purwiniszki was an “outpost” about 8 miles away from the village where all the other records were found years ago.

In the next ten days, I rewrote about 40 pages of the book before I turned it into the publisher.

Here is the translation, made in the form of notes which would be put into the official civil register. Isn’t it ironic that it is the draft which survives and not the official records?

Translation of the Birth of William Gustave Spurgat

20 July    [18] 752 o’clock in the afternoon   All entries from the district of Wylkowiszki

1 August

Father: Matthias Spurgat day laborer in Purwiniszki [age] 35

Mother: Emilie Keller [age] 30

Son: Wilhelm Gustave born in Purwiniszki 10/22 July [18] 75 at 5 o’clock in the morning

Witnesses: Bogumil (aka Gottlieb) Habęczał farmer in Majnie [age] 65

                     Jan Habeczal day laborer in Purwiniszki [age] 60

Godparents: Wilhelm Konrad     Marya Miller


I spoke with President of the Polish Genealogy Society of Chicago about this unusual record at a state convention. He showed me American records where the nuns had made notes for a “draft” record which was later crossed out and the priest was responsible for the final copy. So we see that the same recording process was used on both sides of the ocean.

There are multiple lessons from this research:

·        Writing up your research can help you see the gaps you are missing and encourage you to research the hardest things.

·         Focus on the problems you have to solve before publishing.

·         Plan a trip to Salt Lake or other major library to really immerse yourself in the culture of research and where you can easily move from resource to resource.

·         Give yourself enough time to think through every possibility.

Before I left for the trip, the other researcher had sent me all his notes. I had studied them carefully but did not take them with me to Salt Lake. After I got home, I discovered that he had looked at this film, probably saw the crossed out records, and perhaps thought, “Well, it won’t be there.” and noted in the margin that he had finished this film in October 1998, 12 years earlier.

From the 1932 Wirballen/Virbalis list of members that Vaidas Klesevicius had found at the church council office in Vilnius, our guide knew that Purwiniszki/Purviniskai was part of the Wirballen/Virbalis parish.


This excerpt shows the portion of the Virbalis list that showed that Purwiniszki was a part of the Virbalis parish up until 1932.

The above names show us that Purwiniszki was a viable place until at least 1932.

Our local guide used his cell phone to speak with a “very old man” who used to live in Purwiniszki/Purviniskai, which like Iskarty/Iskartai, Garszwinie/Garsviniai, and Pracopol/Pracopole does not exist anymore. We drove over gravel roads to get there and then onto a two lane rutted road. Among fields of cabbages, potatoes, and beets, we viewed the land of what once was a thriving community. 

At last I was able to see the place that had eluded us for over fifteen years. A panoramic view helped put it in perspective.


Purwiniszki/Purviniskai is to the left and right of the road we traveled on to get there. A panoramic shot seemed to be the best way to represent the location.

Purwiniszki/Purviniskai is to the left and right of the road we traveled on to get there. A panoramic shot seemed to be the best way to represent the location.

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.
This entry was posted in Family History Tour, Suwalki Province, Uncategorized, Villages and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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