Category Archives: ZURR


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.

The Peasants and the Land in Pomerania

Ancestors on my mother’s side of the family were impoverished peasant farmers from Germany — before there was a Germany. They lived in a land dubbed Pomerania by the Romans. To the Germans it was known as Pommern.

While at Willamette University’s main library today, I picked up a copy of Germany from Napoleon to Bismarck 1800-1866 by Thomas Nipperdey. I quickly checked the index for the word Pomerania and found a few pages of material. I turned to the first ones, pages 136 to 138, and here’s what I discovered.

In 1855, in Pomerania, of the total surface of cultivable lands, 61.8 percent was in huge estates of more than 150 hectares, although properties this size were only 0.86 percent of the cultivable land in the entirety of Prussia. This was first place of all the nine provinces, likely signifying a large peasant class. Pomerania’s estates were disproportionately large compared to the rest of Prussia, averaging less than half of the cultivable land (45.70 percent). (I’ll include a table here based on the one in the book when I have more time to work on the coding.)

Another book I grabbed, but didn’t have time to get to today, was The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1795-1918 by Piotr S. Wandycz. It’s volume VII (7) in series titled A History of East Central Europe. There appears to be some good information on Pomerania in this book as well.


The Thun & Milczewski Families

The Bütow area in the Late Middle Ages
The Bütow area in the Late Middle Ages

A few years back a couple from Montana, John and Liesel Hingst, came across some of my genealogy queries and sent me a lot of information on my mother’s ancestors, most of which I’d never known.

The Hingsts had been working on an English translation of a book on Kreis Bütow. (Kreis Bütow was a county in Germany before its demise after World War II. It’s where many of my maternal ancestors lived.)

The book was printed in 1938, during the Nazi era. The Library of Congress has a copy of the original book, in German, which I checked out via interlibrary loan when I was a student at Portland State University. There are copies in various libraries and institutions in the United States and several in Germany. Later, John and Liesel mailed me their translation and notes, along with some journals related to research in Pomerania.

Georg Thun, born about 1678 in Gersdorf, Pomerania, Prussia, Germany, is the earliest ancestor identified on the German side of my mother’s family. Gersdorf is now Ząbinowice, Poland.

Georg Thun had a son also named Georg. He was born about 1720 in Bernsdorf and died 28 November 1792. His mother is unknown. This son married Maria Zurr on 29 June 1751. Maria was born 17 February 1737 in Hygendorf and died 17 April 1788. Her father, Michael Zurr, was born about 1711, also in Hygendorf. Hygendorf is now Udorpie, Poland while Bernsdorf is now Ugoszcz.

Maria and Georg then had a daughter, also named Maria. She was born 18 January 1767 in Petersdorf. Maria Thun married Johann Milczewski. Their daughter Eva Christiane Milczewski was born 31 August 1800 in Borntuchen, Pomerania and married a man named Michael Radde. Michael and Eva Christiane were the parents of my great-great grandmother Caroline Radde, who married Carl Fromke. (Petersdorf is now Mokrzyn and Borntuchen is Borzytuchom.)

Here’s a message John sent me at the end of May 2006:

Here’s what I can offer as to the probable convergence of our MILSCHEWSKI/MILCZEWSKI lines:
I am descended from Martin, who was born ca 1755 and resided at Mangwitz in 1780, through his son Michael who married Anne Catherine SCHISCHKE and also lived at Mangwitz.
Your Eva Christiane (born 31 Aug 1800 at Borntuchen) was a daughter of Johann (born ca 1766) and wife Maria Thun (born 18 Jan 1767 at Petersdorf, which is very close to Mangwitz). Maria’s parents were Georg Thun and Maria Zurr.
Could Martin and Johann have been brothers? One amateur researcher makes them both the sons of Jakob MILCZEWSKI (born 9 Feb 1733 at Wobesde, Kreis Stolp) and Dorothee Maria JAKOB, who owned land at Bedlin and Lindow in Kreis Stolp. However, I have been unable to find reliable evidence of this information. Do you have anything to prove or refute this?
This Jakob (1733) was the son of Johann MILCZEWSKI (born 1697, died 3 Apr 1763 at Wobesde) and wife Katherine Judith von KNUTH (died 2 Mar 1758 at Wobesde). This interests us only if the report regarding Jakob turns out to be true.
The cradle of the widespread MILCZEWSKI clan, both the Catholic and the Lutheran branches, apparently was the village of Milczewo, Kreis Karthaus, Westpreussen. This is located about 15 km NW of Karthaus and about 20 km SE of Lauenburg. But since the name Milczewo translates from the Polish as “mixed hardwood grove”, there may have been other locations so named and not appearing on my detailed maps or the published gazetteers. In any case, I can’t link any of the aforementioned people to any specific person bearing the name who came from Milczewo.
If you’ve got any confirmation, addition, refutation, or speculation regarding any of the above, I would greatly appreciate it. Regards, John