I have successfully traced my German family through records which start in 1843 in Wylkowiszki, in the Duchy of Warsaw, Protectorate of the Russian Empire, now Vilkiviskis, Lithuania. But I wanted to go further back to East Prussia (See Figure 1.) where I knew people with the same last name lived in several locations in the sixteen kreise in the Gumbinnen Administrative District, the eastern half of East Prussia. (See Figure 2.) I have only one clue, one word from an 1874 death record of a great grandmother who married into the family. “She was born in ‘Prusia’.” My research was a three pronged approach: I had long wanted to use Y-DNA testing to better understand the origins of this “German” family whose name has Prussian-Lithuanian roots, I wanted to compile a precise list of the most likely places I might find a previous ancestral home in East Prussian parish records, and I planned to do Internet research to possibly determine the origin of my family in one of three specific kreise in East Prussia, where this name was prominent.
My family had always been German by language and by the evangelische religion, usually considered a single reason because the language of the church was the language of the home.
Clifford Neal Smith and Anna Piszczan-Czaja Smith, authors of the Encyclopedia of German American Genealogical Research, discuss German surnames, pointing out that many German family names may suggest their origin. One such surname particle is the suffix /-aitis/, /-atis/, /-at/, or /-eit/. Further, they report that there are:
…Lithuanian surnames suffixes which are found in Germany among families formerly in [the] Memel, Tilsit, and Heydekrug administrative districts of East Prussia. In German, these suffixes [are] usually shortened to the –at or –eit form, thus Petschulat, Josupeit.
To this list, I add my family surname, Spurg-at.
Today the former East Prussia is divided between Lithuania in the north, Russia in the middle, and Poland in the south. The upper arrow points to Memel, now Klaipeda, Lithuania. The three kreise (counties) of Memel in the north, Heydekrug in the middle, and Tilsit in the south are now in Russia and Lithuania and constitute the area where most of the names ending in /-at/ were found. The arrow on the left points to the modern city of Kaliningrad, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia. Known as Koenigsberg in German, it was the capital and largest city in East Prussia.
Although DNA testing cannot tell you who your ancestors were, it can provide clues that may lead to surprising insights into your family history. My 80-year-old brother, the oldest male of this generation, had his Y-DNA tested by Family Tree DNA in April 2013. The analysis resulted in a 67-marker match with four individuals. One of them, K. Bothwell, e-mailed me with a detailed and surprising reply. He is of Scots-Irish descent! Since our families match at the 67-marker level, some distant common ancestor must be Scottish. There must be a Scotsman in the Spurgat “German” heritage.
Bothwell is a Scottish name dating back to at least the mid 12th Century…. There also is speculation that the Scottish Bothwells were originally Normans who came over with William the Conqueror in 1066. My direct Bothwell ancestors emigrated from Ireland somewhere around 1830 to Canada and arrived in the US in 1838 in Vermont.
How do you think we can share so many markers if my family is German Lutheran from East Prussia and emigrated in 1905?
K Bothwell wrote again:
The Scots got around!
Our common ancestor could be back 200-500 years.
In Germany, Scots regiments were employed by Gustavus Adolphus, the King of Sweden from 1611 to 1632, in support of Protestantism in Germany during the Thirty Years War (1616 to 1648) and many Scots enlisted in the Swedish Army.… Between 20,000 and 30,000 supported the cause of the Swedes and of German Protestantism.
The City of Danzig (today Gdansk, Poland) hired a regiment of 700 Scots to assist them in their war against Poland in 1577. In the early 1600s, several Scottish regiments of the (Scottish) Dutch Brigade were sent to assist the Elector of Brandenburg in his war against the Bavarian Palatinate.
An old Scottish song about a 17th-century soldier fighting in “Germanie” includes the words, “Oh woe unto these cruell wars in low Germanie!”
It’s likely that even if your German Lutheran ancestors never left Germany, they could have had plenty of contact with Scots serving in, or involved in trade with, Germany.
He recommended the website, <http://www.electricscotland.com/history/germany/scotsndx.htm> especially the book, The Scots in Germany, the subject of the second post.