Category Archives: BELOW


A friend of mine is thinking about volunteering in Switzerland next year. Despite living there as a kid, she wants to brush up on her German.

On Facebook today, she was asking if anyone had a copy of the Rosetta Stone language program, German edition, something I’d love to have myself. Since my grandfather’s parents emigrated from Germany and the family tree is full of German ancestors, I want to learn the language.

Years ago, I discovered a poem, the Hymn of Pomerania, and wanting to translate it, I contacted the man who taught German at my high school. I never took a class with him. He had since retired, but his wife worked at the college I was attending, so we met there.

He went through it line for line, word for word with me, translating it. He introduced me to the concept of words being melded together to form extremely complex and long compound ones.

But since then, unfortunately, my cursory German studies have been overwhelmed, by duties and obligations and life. I really wanted to take some classes in college, but it was only offered every other year, and then outright eliminated during a round of budget cuts. Instead, I took two terms of French.

My friend’s post has inspired me again. I started poking around online, looking for German language learning resources. The BBC has some material.

“German is considered a difficult language to study by English learners, with its long and winding words . . . ”

It’s those compound words again!

“German is a very descriptive language. Nouns, especially, often combine the object with the activity.”

Look at the word for vacuum cleaner: der Staubsauger. It consists of the noun Staub, meaning dust, and the verb saugen, meaning to suck. Thus, the literal translation of the word is dustsucker! Reminds me of Sergio Leone’s Duck, You Sucker! Gotta love any language that merges words with such aplomb.

I still want to study German in a class setting. Makes it so much easier. So, here’s to me learning German, the language of my forefathers.


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.


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.

Understanding the Junkers

While in the Suzzallo library browsing the stacks, I discovered a book which is turning out to be a great find.

The Great Elector by Derek McKay has details on Pomeranian society that are extemely useful in helping me understand my ancestors and their experiences. The book title refers to Frederick William of Prussia and Brandenburg.

It was a brutal life. The leading classes were callous.

In sections of Chapter 5 titled The Junkers and The Peasantry, McKay goes into expert detail on the situation.

First, he explains the Junkers and the very origins of the word.

The nobility of the lands east of the River Elbe sprang from a mixture of native Slavs landowners and German colonists and soldiers who had settled there in the late middle ages. As many of the newcomers were the younger sons of German nobles, they were called Junkers (Junk-herre) or young lords. By the sixteenth century these Junkers dominated Brandenburg, Pomerania and East Prussia, at the same time as the influence of their princely overlords had declined.

The Reformation was a pivotal period. Family members were practicing Lutherans into the 21st century. Catholic churches were converted to Lutheran ones. Ironically, this would happen in reverse at the end of World War II: Lutheran churches and cemeteries became Catholic.

The Lutheran Reformation and the resulting confiscation of church property benefited the Junker nobility rather than the chronically indebted princes. Although most ecclesiastical land went to the crown – the electors owned a third of Brandenburg and the dukes two-fifths of East Prussia – the best came into Junker hands, either directly or on favourable long leases.

Who are the the electors? I’ve always wondered about the use of this descriptor. According to Wikipedia, Frederick William was known as “The Great Elector” (Der Große Kurfürst) because of his military and political abilities.

Princes and royalty were not absolute monarchs, however.

But noble power not only profited from the decline of the princes and collapse of the Catholic church, it also benefited from a parallel downturn in urban fortunes. As the towns’ political influence slipped (Königsberg was the exception till the second half of the seventeenth century), the burghers could no longer enforce their monopoly over industry and trade. Instead the Junkers bypassed the towns, exporting their own agricultural goods and importing directly what they needed. This commercial role of the Junkers coincided with burgeoning profits from an expansion of manorial farming.

It is sad to read how backwards German society was. No wonder so many sought new lives elsewhere, some going east to Russia and others heading west to the Americas.

From the fifteenth century a contracting population in north-east Germany and Prussia had made it difficult for the lords to live off peasant rents, unlike in the more populated regions of the German south and west. They turned instead to managing directly parts of their estates, the manorial lands (the demesne), and forcing their peasant tenants into bondage, tying them to the soil and enforcing labour services of two or more days a week. These labour services and other dues were regarded as assets of an estate, having a monetary value when it was sold.

I am wondering how this was different from feudalism during the Middle Ages. It sure doesn’t appear that society had progressed much.

This system, known as Gutswirtscschaft (literally, manorial economy), where the manors functioned as self-contained economic units, was accompanied by the princes’ abandoning judicial and taxation control of the peasantry to the Junker lords.

Direct Junker authority (Gutsherrschaft) over the rural population allowed them to regulate who occupied peasant lands and to force the peasants to ask permission to marry or to move. Moreover, to ensure a cheap, steady supply of manorial servants, young peasants not immediately needed on the family farms had to work for their lords for a couple of years at low wages (Gesindezwangsdienst). This manorial economy, based on what Marxist historians called ‘the second serfdom’, was found in varying degrees throughout Europe east of the River Elbe and the Bohemian mountains, but also in most of Brandenburg west of the Elbe.

By enserfing their peasant tenants and directly farming their own manorial lands, the Junkers during the sixteenth century took full advantage of western Europe’s growing appetite for agricultural goods, particularly grain, but also timber, wool, hemp, flax and hides.


Stagecoaches in Pomerania in 1811

Heinz Radde, a man of German descent born in Pomerania who now lives in Switzerland, has just sent information on a map he recently discovered. The map is of the stagecoach (postkutschen) network in Pomerania in 1811, during the Napoleonic era.

Heinz is likely a distant cousin of mine. We are both subscribers to a mailing list about Pomerania and genealogy. He described the map as showing the “public transport by stagecoaches in Pomerania.”

It’s interesting that certain bigger towns, especially in Eastern Hinterpommern — for example, Rummelsburg —
had no connection at all.

I imagine this might be the way my great grandparents took to get to their ship in Bremen to immigrate to America in 1887. I don’t know if they would have had the money for a train nor if a passenger or other train reached some place nearby Kreis Bütow.

Anyone interested in this time period, with Napoleon on the scene, should read about Baron vom Stein.


Heinz lists his source as “Post- und Reisehandbuch für Deutschland…”, Verlag Steinersche Buchhandlung, Nürnberg 1811.

Family Name History

I came across a Family Name History feature at a site called nameLab, so I decided to lookup a few surnames.

Americanized spelling of Dutch Van (der) Not, a habitational name for someone from a place called Ter Noot, for example one in French Flanders.

1. Dutch: habitational name from any of various minor places named with Middle Dutch ort ‘outermost point’.
2. Dutch: Alternatively, it may be from a misdivision of Van Noort, variant of Van Noord.

Dutch: topographic name for someone ‘from the north’ (Dutch noord) or habitational name from any of the places named with this word, in North Holland, Zeeland, and North Brabant.

English and Scottish: from Middle English derling, Old English dēorling ‘darling’, ‘beloved one’, a derivative of dēor ‘dear’, ‘beloved’ (see Dear 1). This was quite a common Old English byname, which remained current as a personal name into the 14th century. The surname probably derives at least in part from this use, probably in part also from a Middle English nickname.

Variant spelling of English Goodall.

1. English (chiefly Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire): habitational name from Gowdall in East Yorkshire, named from Old English golde ‘marigold’ + Old English halh ‘nook’, ‘recess’.
2. English (chiefly Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire): from Middle English gode ‘good’ + ale ‘ale’, ‘malt liquor’, hence a metonymic occupational name for a brewer or an innkeeper.

1. English (especially Yorkshire) and Scottish: occupational name for a fuller, Middle English walkere, Old English wealcere, an agent derivative of wealcan ‘to walk, tread’. This was the regular term for the occupation during the Middle Ages in western and northern England. Compare Fuller and Tucker.
2. The name was brought to North America from northern England and Scotland independently by many different bearers in the 17th and 18th centuries. Samuel Walker came to Lynn, MA, in about 1630; Philip Walker was in Rehoboth, MA, in or before 1643. The surname was also established in VA before 1650; a Thomas Walker, born in 1715 in King and Queen Co., VA, was a physician, soldier, and explorer.

1. English: probably an early variant of Doughty.
2. Edward Doty (c.1600–55) was one of the passengers on the Mayflower, a servant of Stephen Hopkins. He became comparatively wealthy and moved to Duxbury MA, where he left nine children.

English and Scottish (also established in Ireland, especially Dublin): nickname for a powerful or brave man, especially a champion jouster, from Middle English doughty, Old English dohtig, dyhtig ‘valiant’, ‘strong’.

1. Irish: variant spelling of Connor, now common in Scotland.
2. English: occupational name for an inspector of weights and measures, Middle English connere, cunnere ‘inspector’, an agent derivative of cun(nen) ‘to examine’.

Irish: reduced form of O’Connor, which is an Anglicization of Gaelic Ó Conchobhair ‘descendant of Conchobhar’. 

1. English: patronymic from Reynold.
2. Christopher Reynolds of Gravesend, Kent, England, arrived in America sometime before his marriage in 1644 in Isle of Wight Co., VA.

English: from a Germanic personal name composed of the elements ragin ‘counsel’ + wald ‘rule’, which was first introduced to England by Scandinavian settlers in the Old Norse form Rǫgnvaldr (see Ronald), and greatly reinforced after the Conquest by the Norman forms Reinald, Reynaud. The surname is occasionally also borne by Jews, in which case it presumably represents an Americanized form of one or more like-sounding Jewish surnames.

1. English, Welsh, and northern Irish: variant of Bowell.
2. Irish: variant of Boyle.

Irish (Donegal): Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Baoithghill ‘descendant of Baoithgheall’, a personal name of uncertain meaning, perhaps from baoth ‘rash’ + geall ‘pledge’.

1. Welsh: variant of Powell (see Howell).
2. English (of Norman origin): habitational name from Bouelles in Seine Maritime, France, so named with Old Norman French boelle ‘enclosure’, ‘dwelling’.

1. Irish: reduced form of Shanahan.
2. Irish: reduced Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Seanáin ‘descendant of Seanán’, a personal name based on a pet form of seán ‘old’.
3. Irish: in County Clare, a reduced Anglicized form of Mac Giolla tSeanáin ‘son of the servant of St. Seanán’. In the Irish midlands Leonard and Nugent have been adopted as equivalents of this name.

Irish (Munster): reduced Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Seanacháin ‘descendant of Seanachán’, a diminutive of Seanach, a personal name from sean ‘ancient’, ‘old’.

1. German: topographic name from any of several swamps so named.
2. German: from the Low German and Frisian personal name Radde, a short form of any of the various Germanic personal names formed with rād, rāt ‘counsel’, ‘advice’, for example Radebert, Radebold.

English: habitational name from Tydd St. Mary in Lincolnshire or Tydd St. Giles in Cambridgeshire, named probably with an unattested Old English word, tydd ‘shrubs’, ‘brush’, ‘wood’.

English: habitational name from Northorpe in the former East Riding of Yorkshire, named with Old Norse norðr or Old English norþ ‘north’ + þorp or þrop ‘dependent outlying farmstead’, ‘hamlet’.

1. English: occupational name for a gamekeeper employed in a medieval park, from an agent derivative of Middle English parc ‘park’ (see Park 1). This surname is also found in Ireland.
2. Americanized form of one or more like-sounding Jewish names.

1. English, Scottish, and Irish: from an Anglo-Scandinavian form of the Gaelic name Niall (see Neill). This was adopted by the Scandinavians in the form Njal and was introduced into northern England and East Anglia by them, rather than being taken directly from Gaelic. It was reinforced after the Norman Conquest by the Anglo-Norman French and Middle English forms Neel, Nihel, and Nigel, which were brought to England by the Normans.
2. Scottish and Irish: reduced form of McNeal (see McNeil). 

German (also Höh): topographic name or nickname from Middle High German hōch, hō ‘high’ (see Hoch).
Chinese: variant of Hu.

1. Scottish and English: topographic name for someone who lived by an enclosure, Middle English hay(e), heye (Old English (ge)hæg, which after the Norman Conquest became confused with the related Old French term haye ‘hedge’, of Germanic origin). Alternatively, it may be a habitational name from any of various places named with this word, including Les Hays and La Haye in Normandy. The Old French and Middle English word was used in particular to denote an enclosed forest. Compare Haywood. This name was taken to Ireland (County Wexford) by the Normans.
2. Scottish and English: nickname for a tall man, from Middle English hay, hey ‘tall’, ‘high’ (Old English hēah).
3. Scottish and English: from the medieval personal name Hay, which represented in part the Old English byname Hēah ‘tall’, in part a short form of the various compound names with the first element hēah ‘high’.
4. French: topographic name from a masculine form of Old French haye ‘hedge’, or a habitational name from Les Hays, Jura, or Le Hay, Seine-Maritime.
5. Spanish: topographic name from haya ‘beech tree’ (ultimately derived from Latin fagus).
6. German: occupational name from Middle High German heie ‘guardian’, ‘custodian’ (see Hayer).
7. Dutch and Frisian: variant of Haye 1.
8. The surname Hay is particularly common in Scotland, where it has been established since 1160. The principal family of the name are of Norman origin; they trace their descent from William de la Haye, who was butler of Scotland in the reign of Malcolm IV (1153–65). They hold the titles marquess of Tweeddale, earl of Kinnoul, and earl of Erroll. The earl of Erroll also holds the hereditary office of constable of Scotland, first bestowed on the family by Robert I in 1314.

English, Welsh, French, South Indian, etc.: from the personal name George, Greek Geōrgios, from an adjectival form, geōrgios ‘rustic’, of geōrgos ‘farmer’. This became established as a personal name in classical times through its association with the fashion for pastoral poetry. Its popularity in western Europe increased at the time of the Crusades, which brought greater contact with the Orthodox Church, in which several saints and martyrs of this name are venerated, in particular a saint believed to have been martyred at Nicomedia in ad 303, who, however, is at best a shadowy figure historically. Nevertheless, by the end of the Middle Ages St. George had become associated with an unhistorical legend of dragon-slaying exploits, which caught the popular imagination throughout Europe, and he came to be considered the patron saint of England among other places.

1. English: nickname from Middle English chitte ‘pup’, ‘cub’, ‘young (of an animal)’ (apparently related to Old English cī{dh} ‘shoot’, ‘sprout’).
2. English: habitational name from a place named Chitty in the parish of Chislet, Kent, named from an Old English personal name Citta + ēg ‘island’, ‘dry ground in marsh’.
3. Possibly an Americanized form of German Schütte (see Schutte).

1. English and Scottish: extremely common and widely distributed topographic name for someone who lived on or by a hill, Middle English hill (Old English hyll).
2. English: from the medieval personal name Hill, a short form of Hilary (see Hillary) or of a Germanic (male or female) compound name with the first element hild ‘strife’, ‘battle’.
3. German: from a short form of Hildebrand or any of a variety of other names, male and female, containing Germanic hild as the first element.
4. Jewish (American): Anglicized form of various Jewish names of similar sound or meaning.
5. English translation of Finnish Mäki (‘hill’), or of any of various other names formed with this element, such as Mäkinen, Heinämaki, Kivimäki.

1. English: variant spelling of Bellow.
2. German: habitational name from any of three places in Mecklenburg named Below.
3. Jewish (eastern Ashkenazic) and Russian: variant of Beloff.


The World Wars, Hitler & Some Amazing Stories

Recently I have been looking through some library books on the First World War. One I happened to come across, Atlas of the First World War by Martin Gilbert, has some maps of interest. There is some detailed background on the Zeppelin airship L.59, which was sent to Africa with a mountain of supplies for von Lettow-Vorbeck, leader of a ragtag band of men in East Africa. Sadly, long after the mission to Africa, this mighty aircraft went down, probably in the Adriatic, and every one of the crew with it.

Ever since reading a brief write-up on him and the campaign in a Reader’s Digest book (Facts & Fallacies: Stories of the Strange and Unusual), I’ve been hooked. It’d make a great movie and I’d love to direct it, on location in Africa. From my copy I also learned about Sławomir Rawicz and his book The Long Walk, which would also make a terrific film, and one I’d love to do mostly on location in Poland, Russia, the Gobi Desert, Tibet and finally India.

Now returning to Gilbert’s Atlas, there are many maps I’d like to note. Of course, Hitler always brings a fair amount of attention, even well into the 21st century. I’ve never known much about his service during WWI, other than that he had a funny-looking mustache and was a corporal, but Gilbert dedicates a page in his book to tracking him during this period.

Young Hitler was in at least five major battles including the infamous Somme, and was repeatedly wounded. He spent time at the Pasewalk Military Hospital in Pomerania (the region where some of my ancestors lived) and at the Beelitz Military Hospital in Berlin. At Pasewalk Hitler recovered from a British gas attack and while there was apparently declared a psychopath by one of the doctors. At the end of war he was on guard duty at the Traunstein POW Camp in Bavaria keeping an eye on Russian prisoners.

Pasewalk isn’t too far from Szczecin (Stettin), where a few relatives lived in the 1930s and 40s. What happened to them during and at the end of World War II, I don’t know. Hopefully they avoided the Soviets and the resulting occupation of Poland. I am sure they either left or were forcibly expelled, as was most of the remaining German population in areas beyond the Oder River. They likely ended up being relocated to places within Germany proper, as we know it today.

During my research on the military hospitals I came across this site with several images: ‘Postcards from the Great War’. I also happened on this site about Hitler as a younger man and his connection to Erich Maria Remarque, author of All Quiet on the Western Front, which is another among the books I’ve been reading.

Awhile back I watched the 1930 film on DVD with Lew Ayres, who I first saw in the original Battlestar Galatica pilot movie. I liked the movie, but like the book even better. Some of the scenes in the book are just too grotesque and horrific to really capture on film. Remarque has a remarkable innocence to his writing and displays a sad honesty. He portrays what my great uncle occasionally, yet briefly mentioned in his letters from France, although he never went into any detail. I cringe at the idea of watching the 1979 remake with Richard Thomas and Ernest Borgnine.

Tomorrow I will be writing about some of the genetics books I have recently discovered.