Category Archives: Pomerania

Meyerheim’s Pomerania

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I came across this painting while poking around on the interwebs the other day. I was looking for some visually-stimulating stagecoach imagery. A map of stagecoach routes just wasn’t cutting it.

The painting is much better. It is by Wilhelm Alexander Meyerheim, a German artist who was born in Danzig in 1815, at the end of Napoleonic wars.

My interest in this piece, titled A STAGE COACH AT A HARBOUR IN POMERANIA, beyond its idyllic romanticism, is the fact that my mother’s family came to America from this very place, Pomerania. They were simple peasant farmers, precisely the people Meyerheim used as subjects.

Meyerheim’s father was a talented house painter who did portraits and introduced him to the profession. Initially an art student in Danzig, supplementing what his father had taught him, Meyerheim was drawn to the Academy of Arts in Berlin.

He also may have studied in Dusseldorf. He likely spent time sketching the peasantry around the countryside near Hesse and Tyrol.

“Meyerheim became a popular painter of scenes of everyday outdoor life – simple activities which included children and horses – his favorite subjects – silhouetted against the sky. Besides these charming genre scenes, he was also well known for his military subjects. Meyerheim eventually settled in Berlin, working there until his death.”

He died in 1882.

I don’t know how accurate his portrayals of life actually are. Was he faithful to reality? Or did he idealize it? Did he embellish?

ajh

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April of 1873

Augusta Lentz Fromke Obit Files
So Great Grandma Fromke was baptized at the Evangelical Lutheran church in Bütow and confirmed there in April of 1873. Hmmm. I wonder what else I can glean from these assorted records. She was 14 years old at the time of her confirmation.

Geo-politically, it was an interesting period. Bismarck, imperial chancellor, had apparently been stripped of his role as prime minister of Prussia in January of 1873. This would last until November, when he somehow managed to regain it.

Locally, it was a very tolerant place, with many Catholics and Jews.

“In the eastern, rather newer parts of the province, in the districts of Bütow and Lauenburg, which had not been part of the Duchy of Pomerania during the Reformation, the Catholic faith had survived.”

It must have been a lively community, with all sorts of influences, including Slavic.

Not being part of Pomerania during the Reformation is news to me. I find this factoid peculiar since learning about Szimón Krofey, a pastor who came to Bütow in 1579 spreading Luther’s ideas. How long the Lutheran church had been established I don’t know. It probably had not been very long.

ajh

Two German Grandmothers, Friends & Confidantes

“It’s the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.”
Marlene Dietrich


In January of 2006 I received a message from a woman in Brownsville, Texas. Thankfully I archived copies for future reference.

Her note was fascinating. She included details about my great grandmother and how her family had been friends with mine, even before immigrating to America.

Back in Germany they likely attended church together. Remarkably her ancestors even moved again after settling down, from Wisconsin to South Dakota, to be nearby, according to her note. What’s another 400 miles after crossing the Atlantic and half a continent?

My great grandmother delivered her grandmother’s children. They must have been very close. Thousands of miles and innumerable difficulties could not keep these two women apart.

Mr Hill,

You mention [the name] Fromke i[n] your message. I have then name in my family. My grandmother was from Morgenstern. [S]he went to the Evangelical church in Borntuchen. My Grandfather was from Borntuchen, [K]reis Buetow. [The] Fromke’s came to America around 1895 [and] moved to South Dakota. My grandparents moved from Wausau, Wis[consin] to be near them. Mrs Fromke delivered my grandmother’s babies. I can’t remember their first names but I can research South Dakota records and find out. My grandmother’s maiden name was POCH or POOCH. She used POCH in her obituary. I also have some pictures taken back then I don’t know who the people are but am sure it is [the] Fromke‘s kids. Let me hear from you. Delores Bryan. Right now we are in Brownsville, Texas for the winter . . .

Delores mentioned some old photographs. I didn’t think much about it at the time. Looking through these old notes I realized my oversight and tried writing her again. Unfortunately, the email address was out of date. Using Google and other search tools, I tried to find her. But to no avail.

So I had to give it up. Until, that is, about a week ago, when she wrote to me again after reading a message I sent to a genealogy mailing list. So, we are in contact once again.

She has promised to mail me the photos, so that I can compare and contrast with the photos our family has. I am looking forward to seeing them.

Delores is now 88. I hope to be able to meet her in person one of these days.

ajh

The Pastor in Bütow

Wittenberg, Germany in the time of Martin Luther
Wittenberg, Germany in the time of Martin Luther

My mother’s family had been German Lutherans for more than a hundred years, probably much longer. Unfortunately I haven’t found many German records of my ancestors beyond the late 19th century.

However, today I came across the name of one of the pastors in the major town in the area where my ancestors lived. The family, my family, may have lived there for centuries.

His name was Szimón Krofey.1 He was born in 1545 in the village of Dampen, not far from the villages of my ancestors.

His father, the mayor of Dampen, sent Szimón off to the university at Wittenberg, where Martin Luther had entered as a student and never left. Luther became a professor and figurehead of the university.

Despite Luther’s death in 1546, the year after Szimón’s birth, his remarkable influence upon Wittenberg, the university and Northern Europe also extended to Szimón personally. In 1579, upon finishing his studies, Szimón returned to his roots, becoming pastor of the Lutheran church in Bütow.

When and how my ancestors converted isn’t known. I assume they were Christians, Catholics, who became Lutherans. Did Reverend Krofey have something to do with it?

More than three hundred years later, in 1880, my great grandparents were married in that very Lutheran church in Bütow.

ajh

1. Sometimes his name is translated as Simon or Shimon Krofey, which looks Jewish to me. (Think Shimon Peres.) It is the Hebrew form of Simon or Simeon. In Kashubian, it is Szëmón Krofey.

The Station Master

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The station at Borntuchen, the village where my great grandfather was born.

Today a woman wrote about her great grandfather and his employer, the Royal Prussian Railway, on a genealogy mailing list. He was a station master in villages in the counties of Bütow and Stolp, where my ancestors lived.

Has anyone heard of the Royal Prussian Railway during the years of 1860-1900? My great grandfather, Friedrich Giese, was a station master with one of the railroads in the villages in Butow and Stolp. His family moved about, mentioned is Koeslin, Stolp, Karwitz, etc. The family lived in the station houses. In some notes we have he was known as the Royal station master, which has led us to question this railway line.

A man in Germany sent her a reply.

The term “Königlich Preußische Staatseisenbahn” (Royal Prussian State Railway) was frequently used by members of the general public, however, the correct name was “Preußische Staatseisenbahn” (Prussian State Railway). There were indeed stations in the towns (not villages) of Stolp and Bütow and in the other places in Pomerania that you have mentioned.

On the German version of Wikipedia, there is a lengthy article on the railway system, including a few maps. Here is one from 1908.

AJH

Remembering the Jews of Bytów


There aren’t any more of them living in the town. Any descendants are likely scattered around the world. Perhaps most are in Israel.

Like Jews throughout Germany, those living in the town of Bütow were driven out by the Nazis. How many died, in the gas chambers and elsewhere, is unclear.

In 2011, remnants of the Jewish cemetery were discovered, which was destroyed during Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, in 1938.

To honor and commemorate the Jewish residents, a monument is being planned. An obelisk, to be completed by November 2013, will stand at the former site of the Bytów synagogue.

A plaque will read: ‘Pamięci Społeczności Żydowskiej Ziemi Bytowskiej, Bytów 8-9.11.2013 r. (In memory of the Jewish community in Bytów, Bytów 8-9.11.2013).

The monument will be unveiled on November 8th, which marks the 75th anniversary of torching down of the synagogue. The plaque will bear the Star of David and inscriptions in Polish, English and German. The idea has been discussed in Bytów for a few years. However, the discovery of matzevos on Wery Street set the plans in motion. One year ago, a committee for commemorating the Jewish community, headed by Prof. Cezary Obracht-Prondzyński, was set up. Over the past year, committee members were looking for materials, documents and other traces of Bytów Jews and their culture.

ajh

Postmark Bytów

Albert Chmielowski is a Polish religious figure. Albert is known in Polish as Brat Albert, meaning Brother Albert.
Albert Chmielowski is a Polish religious figure. Albert is known in Polish as Brat Albert, meaning Brother Albert.

I am really getting into Twitter and tweeting. Another world to explore. I have had an account for a few years, but have never really delved into the Twitterverse, until now.

Today I discovered some artwork: a giant reproduction of a postage stamp with a Bytów postmark. Bytów is the town where my great grandparents were married, on October 27, 1880 . Today it is Poland, then it was Germany.

ajh

The Draft in Pomerania

A print showing sick Prussian troops in 1866, during the Austro-Prussian War. The caption printed below the image reads: 'Halt of a Convoy of Sick Prussian Soldiers returning to Berlin'
A print showing sick Prussian troops in 1866, during the Austro-Prussian War. The caption printed below the image reads: ‘Halt of a Convoy of Sick Prussian Soldiers returning to Berlin’

Today a woman from Eagan, Minnesota wrote about some of her family on a mailing list to which I am subscribed in the hopes of learning more about them.

Her great grandfather, named Herman Boldt, came to the United States in 1868. He was from Pomerania, the same region as my ancestors. His family lived in a place called Paalow.

What I found interesting was the details on conscripting young men into the army.

His father was dead at that time and he was supporting his mother and siblings. A member of the draft board came to his mother and told her that Herman could no longer be deferred. He suggested that Herman should emigrate from Germany. Herman’s uncle Fredrick M. Burrow (born 1824) was already living in Minnesota in the US and sent money to her for Herman to come to the US.

I don’t have any similar stories passed down, so knowing this helps provide a more complete picture of the situation at the time, the circumstances and the culture.

The year 1868 is during Bismarck’s time, when he was consolidating power and challenging the status quo by attacking Austria and Denmark. It is just prior to the war with France and the subsequent declaration forming the German Empire.

As my ancestors did not immigrate until 1887, they would have been right in the thick of it, witnessing and participating in these pivotal moments in European, indeed world, history.

ajh

Winter in Pomerania


Back in the day, when my ancestors lived in Pomerania, winters were brutal, much like the northern prarires in North America, where they immigrated. Peasant life was harsh. But, today, with central heating and better standards all around, snowy scenes such as this are much more idyllic.

ajh