Finding the records of East Prussian origins of German ancestors is not easy because
Many non-German and German groups settled here.
Various jurisdictions existed in this area over the centuries.
A wide mixture of migration patterns of Germans eastward and others westward occurred.
Many researchers who have searched in the Gumbinnen Administrative District have looked, but without a location clue or family story, or family artifact, only a few researchers have found connecting records to Suwalki Province.
You might have to go to secondary sources as reviewed in upcoming posts.
As I began my East Prussian research, I had only had two clues: the border city of Eydtkuhnen and, even more nebulous, the word “Prusia” from the 1874 death record of a great-grandmother in Suwalki Province.
German Map of the Border of East Prussia and Suwalki Province
First clue: Eydtkuhnen, East Prussia, is in the center of the above German map. Wilkowischki, the parish where this family lived was close to the border of Suwalki Province, a Protectorate of the Russian Empire at that time, today southwestern Lithuania.
This clue came from two different branches of the three immigrant families. When one was asked, where was “Grandpa’s father born?” Eydtkuhnen was the answer. And the other was simply, ”I ku nen” written phonetically, I-k-u-n-e-n, a word that the son of another immigrant had heard his father say often. I figured out it must be Eydtkuhnen and thought it matched the other person’s recollection.
But Eydtkuhnen did not have an evangelische church until the 1882. I was looking for records from about 1800 to 1840. However, this location made sense because of its close proximity to where the families were living, a railroad ran through Eydtkuhnen, it was in German territory, and as I have been told, by another researcher based on his family stories, it was fairly easy to cross the border during this time period.
Later I read that people in Edydtkuhnen went to church in Enzuhnen, father west, but I did not find my family there either.
My second clue came from an 1874 death record of a great grandmother, Anna Ber (aka Bersz) Spurgat, in Russian.
The Russian words state, “She was born in Prusia” with one “s”. But no East Prussia parish to look in.
Translation of 1874 Death Record of Anna Ber Spurgat
Dydwiże community Zielonka
It took place in the city Wołkowyszki on Apr. 1/13, 1874 at 10:00 o’clock in the morning. Presented themselves Daniel German, farmer in Sparwiny, 36 years old, and Aleksander Deglau, miller in Dydwiże, 48 years old. They have stated that yesterday, at 9:00 o’clock in the morning has died in Dydwiże – Anna Szpurgat nee Ber, 36 years old, born in Prusia, she left with her death the widowed husband Jan (Johann) Szpurgat, laborer residing in Dydwiże. After the testimony about the death of Anna Szpurgat, this document was read to the ones who have presented themselves, who didn’t know how to read or write, and it was signed only by us. Ratke, Pastor.
Kopie księg metrykalnych,], 1843-1898 [Wylkowiszki], Death Register, no. 40 (1874).
She was “born in Prusia” is the only clue I have that any ancestor came from Prussia as late as the 1830s as Anna was born circa 1838. If you know the political history of the area, you know that German immigrants were still migrating east at least until her 1838 birth, 30 years after the 1795-1807 Prussian era.
I have not found her birth even though I have researched extensively.
Another researcher found a marriage record that included the name of her birthplace in Prussia! It seems as if one was born in the Russian Empire, it was not noted, but if one was born elsewhere, i. e. Prussia, that information might be found in the record.
So, using whatever secondary sources I could find, both print and online, I searched for specific locations to access primary records.
The earliest existing records in Suwalki Province date to about 1828 when the evangelische churches were founded. Others started later. Many records were destroyed in wars and fires in the archives, especially in the border areas.
The earliest family record in Suwalki Province I could find was 1849.
I developed a time frame of 1800 to 1840 to see if I could find any births and marriages of 8 surnames of great and 2nd great grandparents. As I found locations in secondary sources for people with the same surnames, I checked to see if there were birth and marriage records on FamilySearch.
The names were Ber (Berz), Gudat (Guddat), Henning, Keller, Kuczynska, Raudinat, Spurgat, and Walat (Wallat)
Along the way, I have learned a lot about East Prussian resources.
I found a good map of each kreis so I knew each location in that Kreis and search in nearby parishes.
I started with films that had an index.
The FamilySearch wiki provides information on many East Prussian topics.