Searching for Family Roots in Prussia
In the months leading up to our trip to Austria and Germany, I spent a lot of time on Ancestry.com tracing the generations back to their homeland. The tools on the website were very helpful in finding the specific villages that my family emigrated from. We are a country of immigrants!
We had been visiting our friends Jens and Stella in Neuglobsow so we bid them adieu and headed east. We were in the former East Germany at this point and we certainly saw a big difference between this area and West Germany. As I’m writing this, I’m smirking because I’m thinking about Olympics past when people would complain about the East German judge being unfair to some figure skater! There certainly was a different energy here, though. It’s mostly rural, small towns and pretty depressed. You could see where some had made efforts to update their town, but overall, they were a bunch of grey relics from a time long gone.
Prussia existed before Germany was formed in 1871, although Prussia ruled Germany until the end of World War I in 1918. The area of Prussia we were visiting was about an hour and a half north of Berlin and is now in the state of Brandenburg.
Everywhere you went in this region, you were never out of view of at least one windmill. It’s great to see so much renewable energy, but from what we were told, many of the local people were taken advantage of by developers. The East German people had no idea how to negotiate and were subsequently taken advantage of and signed contracts that were not in their best interests. Under communist rule, they had no need to negotiate. They basically gave their land away for pennies so these developers could install the turbines. With the amount of money they are generating, it would be nice to see that money be put back into these local communities!
We arrived at our first destination, Fahrenwalde. It was a very small town (they all are going to be so I’ll only say it here,) we didn’t see anybody moving about, and it was pretty depressed (again, they all are.) Driving into town, I decided that the church was probably the most important thing to see as that’s likely where my family would meet up with the community. Of course, each town had a church!
Fahrenwalde is where the Krulls came from. My great-great grandfather Wilhelm Friedrich Krull and his parents, Christian Krull and Maria Beccu emigrated in 1843. That’s about all I know about them. I think they were farmers, because virtually everybody in the region were.
We drove past more fields of windmills to our next destination of Woddow. The towns were 9 miles away from each other, very close, just like the rest of the towns on our family tour would be. We easily found the Woddow church, but I had to sneak in past a gate to walk around the church - we didn’t see a soul, so I wasn’t too worried!
Gottfried Schulmeister, my great-great grandfather, was from Woddow. I don’t have a record of when he came over, but he was born in 1850, so it was later than the Krulls. He was my dad’s mom’s grandmother (she was a Schulmeister.) Gottfried’s mother’s name was Marie Christiene Friedericke Luedemann. My grandmother’s name was Esther Wilhemina Fredericke Schulmeister. These Germans and their long names!!!
Next stop is Trampe. Trampe is about a 5 mile drive or 3 miles as the crow flies. It was the smallest of the small and you truly would miss it if you blinked. This was the only town where we saw people, and they didn’t look very friendly, so we didn’t stop in town. My German language skills aren’t good enough to speak to folks who know no English, so better to be safe.
So Esther’s grandmother, Fredericka Damerow-Behnke was from Trampe.
Finally, we ended up our whirlwind tour of Prussia in Wallmow after a short 2 ½ mile drive from Trampe. This is the town where most of my family comes from - on both my mom and my dad’s side!
First is Christian Behnke, Esther’s grandfather. He’s the person that I actually have several pictures of, including the one above with Fredericka in front of their store in Wheatfield, NY.
The rest of the family from Wallmow are on my mom’s mom’s side, the Strassburgs. So, this is one of those situations where a Strassburg married a Strassburg. Let the jokes begin…
Frederick Wilhelm Strassburg, my grandma Elsie Rosebrock’s maternal grandfather came to the states from Wallmow in 1843. Her paternal grandfather, Johan Gottfried Wilhelm Strassburg came from the town as well but I don’t have a record of when. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos either.
It was wonderful to drive through and visit the countryside where a good portion of my recent ancestors came from. I feel privileged to be able to experience this - to walk on the same ground they walked on; to put my hands on the door of a church that they put their hands on; and to look out over the countryside and see what they saw (minus the windmills)
I also saw the years of neglect that these towns suffered through during the communist occupation. In the few people I saw, I saw the same look that I see on my great-great grandfather pictured above - hard, cold people. But I also saw a resilience that got them through very difficult times.
I don’t know specifically why my ancestors left Prussia. Based on the times that they left, it would appear that they were simply looking for a better life and to escape from the constant threat of war between the principalities that make up what is now Germany and it’s surrounding countries. They were farmers who came over and became shopkeepers and then barkeeps. They made a better life for themselves and in turn my extended family and I benefit. How grateful I am that they all made their intrepid journey across the ocean into the unknown!