2019 Post 3 The Old and the New

The idea for the revision of this post came about in July 2019 as I was “mining” the Germans from KreisWilkowischken/Vilkaviskis Lithuania Facebook Group. As I sought new topics for future posts, I considered a description of finding some long-sought after records. I had done some “Brick Wall” presentations, and one example from Suwalki Province stood out to me.

As I was finishing my 2010 book on the three immigrant families from Suwalki Province, the all-important birth record of the third immigrant had not been found by another researcher, his grandson. He was committed to finding it in the early years, so I didn’t look for it. I planned another trip to Salt Lake to look further for these Spurgats in the Suwalki Province area and in East Prussia. I carefully prepared a list of microfilms based on all the information I could glean from the Family Search Catalogue and other online sources. Maybe I would stumble over the missing birth record of the third immigrant.

Prior to the trip the other researcher had sent me copies of his catalogue printouts with the word “Done” in the right-hand margin next to the film number.

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 possibly could. If I found something big, and I had to delay the publication of the book, so be it.

I prepared as thoughtfully as I could and ended up with a few miscellaneous films to look at ahead of time before I got to the serious research.

The first night at the Family History Library I went to get one of these films, and it was so high, I couldn’t reach it. I thought I would get to it the next day. I would get a stool or ask some young men working in the library to help me get it down. After a day of research with some limited results, I remembered the miscellaneous films and the one I couldn’t reach about 6:00 at night. I had three more hours so I climbed on the stool. I put the never looked at film from a nearby parish in the machine and was surprised to see that each record had a large X through it. Besides that, the records were in Polish during the Russification period. What was going on here?

I kept turning the pages. I had the birthdate from family members and American death records. There was a time overlap for 1875, and so I moved to one last section of crossed out records in Polish. And there it was!


It had been overlooked by the other researcher 12 years before. Perhaps he dismissed it as it was crossed out, but it was the birth of his grandfather, the third immigrant.

That 2010 story will simply not fly in 2019 and beyond. Now all researchers have to do is peruse the indices on Germans from Kreis Wilkowischken/Vilkaviskis Lithuania Facebook Group and find the same records on their computer in less than five minutes!

But wait. Is there more to the story?

During Russification how could a surviving record be in Polish? What about this format? Why was it crossed out? With these questions in mind, I took it to one of the well-known librarians on the International floor of the FHL. He said he had never seen a record like this before. Where did I get it from? The FHL, of course!

My professional translator and I worked together for three hours on a Friday night. The first problem was the unusual format. He said it was a “draft” record obviously made as notes to be translated into the required Russian Napoleonic format. The large x meant that when it was put into the civil register, this version was crossed out. Second was the translation of the record itself: One by one he translated every letter of every word.

Here is the translation:

20 July [18] 75 2 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

The next problem, the biggest, was the location. He translated the letters as Pierwiniszki and we found it in the gazetteer and finally on an online map, but it was too far away to be the correct place. We both knew it, but I urged him to quit and go home. He wouldn’t do it. He wanted to see the film, and I accompanied him to watch him work and not say a word. I tried to figure out what he was thinking. He turned to the end of the film, which I had not done, and there was a list of all of the tiniest of places that included the records in this volume.

It was spelled Purwiniszki, an “outpost” about 8 miles away from the village where all the other records were found years ago. Actually, it was on the same online map I had put in my book, but I had cropped out Purwiniszki. Of course, I re-cropped the map to include it and in the next ten days, I rewrote about 40 pages of the book before I turned it into the publisher.

Isn’t it ironic that the draft survives but not the official record which was probably destroyed in August 1944 as the Russian army was pushing the German army back to Berlin?

The Family Search Catalogue had listed Vilkovishki as a spelling, but Vilkovishki is also meant to be the district. And the catalogue lists the Vilkovishki spelling under Russia, not Poland or Lithuania. But we are grateful that the originators of Germans from Kreis Wilkowischken/Vilkaviskis Lithuania indexed this film along with all the rest.

Although the record is now easily available, and the story of “the film that was too high to reach” will fade, the researcher must still:

Know about administrative organization of government in the 20th century when the record was filmed and eventually digitized as well as an alternate 20th century spelling. (It may no longer be necessary to know the way this record catalogued in the FamilySearch catalogue which made it especially hard to find.)

Know how to use various maps to discern the difference between two location–Purwiniszki or Pierwiniszki— as detected by the accurate reading of a professional researcher.

The original drafts remind us that the scribe was a literate Pole who wrote in his own language the draft records of a small minority of Germans whose events in their lives had to be recorded in the Cyrillic alphabet. What a multi-linguistic area our ancestors lived in!

Further investigation of this topic showed that in some Polish churches in Chicago there were draft records crossed out with a large x so this record is probably part of a larger registry tradition.

Please continue to support in every way possible the work of Owen, Lorinda, and Margarete as they continue their work.


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.
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