Wohlgemuths of Prussia

Looking for Isaak Wohlgemuth in West Prussia

I recounted in the previous post how I discovered that we have been using the wrong name for our great-grandfather on our mother's mother's side. Also, in the post before that I mentioned the probability that our Wohlgemuth family must have come from West Prussia instead of the East Prussian areas I had favored earlier.

So with Isaak's correct name, as well as exact birth and death dates from the headstone, I hopefully dove into the various Jewish genealogy resources that could be helpful, particularly the JRI-Poland and the German SIG and databases, as well as into Ancestry.com, which sometimes has sources that JewishGen.org does not.

So first the bad news. There is no magic hit that says this is our Isaac. Lots of Wohlgemuths all over Poland and Germany, plenty of Isaac Wohlgemuths, but none that matches up the right dates and likely places. I would have thought we'd at least turn up the burial information we already have, since the Weissensee Cemetery is well documented. I wonder why it's records are not in JewishGen's JOWBR online burial registry.

So while we can't yet locate our Isaak, a cluster of Wohlgemuth hits shows up in a resource called the West Prussian 1812 Citizenship Database. Here's a list of the 10 citations, with their surname, given name (original and new) and town (Prussian name and Polish name).

WOHLGEMUTH    Lewin Marcus Lewin     Preuss. Friedland  Paslek    
WOHLGEMUTH    Moses Lewin Moses Lewin     Landeck Ladek Zdroj
WOHLGEMUTH    Moses Salomon Moses     Preuss. Stargardt Stargard Gdanski 
WOHLGEMUTH    Herz Moses Herz     Preuss. Stargardt Stargard Gdanski    
WOHLGEMUTH    Salomon Moses Salomon     Preuss. Stargardt Stargard Gdanski    
WOHLGEMUTH    Israel Ephraim Israel Ephraim     Flatow Zlotow   
WOHLGEMUTH    Jacob Abraham Jacob     Behrendt Koscierzyna    
WOHLGEMUTH    Moses Salomon Moses Salomon     Jastrow Jastrowiec    
WOHLGEMUTH    Meyer Joseph Meyer Joseph     Tuchel Tuchola   
WOHLGEMUTH    Wittwe Marcus Rose Wittwe Wilhemine     Christburg Dzierzgon

To get an quick idea of the geography, I used the Polish town name to locate them on a map in relation to Elbing and Danzig, the cities where we can locate our family members 80 years later. Here's the map with labels for the Prussian city names.  There is one outlier for the town of Landeck that doesn't fall in this region, but every other Wohlgemuth on the list is more or less within spitting distance of Elbing and Danzig.


Okay, so what is this list? Here is the description of it on JewishGen.org:

'This database is an extract of 2,382 records from the General-Verzeichniss saemtlicher in dem Departement der koenigl. Regierung von Westpreussen vorhandenen Juden welchen das Staatsbuerger-Recht ertheilt worden. ["General Register of all Jews residing in the Royal Governmental Province of West Prussia to whom Citizenship was granted"], Marienwerder, gedruckt in der Koenigl. Westpreuss. Hofbuchdrukkerey. [Marienwerder, printed in the Royal Westprussian Court Press], (1812).

In the foreword to the register there are "instructions to be observed in regard to the process of Citizens as opposed to the foreign Jews". Among others: "A further instruction is to be observed by the police authorities in relation to the Jews arriving from foreign lands as set out in the edict of 11 March 1812 regarding the citizen’s rights in relation to the Jews in the Prussian states".

The edict covered all Jews in West Prussia who were able to earn their keep. It differentiated - and excluded - those Jews who entered the province illegally, and lived off official and unofficial charity. In future they were to be deported summarily.

 Next the description defines the various columns of data that are presented, beginning with "Surname: - Newly opted family name taken by the new Jewish citizen"

Thus, we are seeing the outlines of the story finally taking shape, and how it is directly relevant to the questions we are raising today about German citizenship. For our ancestors in Pomerania, one requirement for obtaining Prussian citizenship was that they had to conform to the new convention of adopting formal surnames. Before then, these Jews on the list were called by their Hebrew name with a patronymic reference to their father. Solomon ben Moses. Jacob ben Abraham.

But now in 1812, thousands of Jewish workers and merchants and their families had to drop the patronymic and adopt a new surname. For whatever reason, it is evident that the name Wohlgemuth is assigned or chosen in a statistically significant number of cases, especially in this vicinity of Pomerania to the south and west of the port city Danzig.

Why Wohlgemuth? It means "cheerful" or "good-natured," possibly with a hint of "benevolent" or "charitable." We know that it was also a name that was also in use by non-Jews, and that today there are many lines of Jewish and gentile Wohlgemuth families.

I'm going to hazard a guess that it was more or less on a list of acceptable names that people could choose for a surname. Perhaps if you didn't pick a name based on your occupation or your town, you might choose to style yourself as a good-natured Jew, a Wohlgemuth.

And now I'll hazard a bigger guess, that one of the Wohlgemuths on the 1812 list, particularly one of those from the towns closest to Elbing, is a grandfather or great-grandfather of our Isaak Wohlgemuth, born in 1865 in one of those same towns but who later lived and prospered in Koenigsberg and Berlin.

Isaak is the source of our citizenship claim, at least on the Wohlgemuth side (we also have the Ringels). And now we have a pretty good idea, or at least a good theory, about how his forebearer and thus our family originally acquired those citizenship rights.

One final caveat and then I will end this overlong post. I don't know how Prussian and Polish citizenship was recognized under German law, either in the past or as it applies today. Here are Wikipedia excerpts that describe the complicated geopolitical history of the region.

Most of Royal Prussia was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia in the 1772 First Partition of Poland, and became the Province of West Prussia the following year, with the exception of Warmia, which became part of the Province of East Prussia. The Polish administrative and legal code was replaced by the Prussian system

Further Polish areas were annexed in the Second Partition of Poland in 1793, including cities of Danzig (Gdańsk) and Toruń (Thorn). 

From 1807–13 during the Napoleonic Wars, southern parts of West Prussia were incorporated in the Duchy of Warsaw.

In 1815 the province, again annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia. From 1824-1878 West Prussia was combined with East Prussia to form the Province of Prussia, after which they were reestablished as separate provinces.

The region became part of the German Empire in 1871 during the unification of Germany. It underwent German measures aimed at Germanisation of conquered Polish territories.

After the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, most of West Prussia was granted to the Second Polish Republic (the Polish Corridor) or the Free City of Danzig, while small parts in the west and east of the former province remained in Weimar Germany.

The region was included in the Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussia within Nazi Germany during World War II and settled with 130,000 German colonists,[10] while between 120,000 to 170,000 Poles and Jews were ethnically cleansed by the Germans.

All of the areas occupied by Nazis were restored to Poland according to the post-war Potsdam Agreement in 1945, along with further neighbouring areas of former Nazi Germany. The vast majority of the remaining German population of the region which had not fled before was subsequently expelled westward.

In 1949, the refugees established the non-profit Landsmannschaft Westpreußen to represent West Prussians in the Federal Republic of Germany.

I know that this has been a lot to absorb in one sitting, but it represents a signifcant step forward in our understanding of this branch of our family, which accounts for one-eighth of our genetic material and cultural background.

Upcoming trip to Berlin, Warsaw and Gdansk

I’m getting ready for a journey of discovery to Germany and Poland coming up in a few weeks. Here is the itinerary.

I will have 10 days in my mother’s birthplace, Berlin, with hopes to uncover more information about her family’s life before and during the Nazi persecutions. The top items on my research agenda are learning more about the Nazi expropriation of my grandfather’s clothing business and learning the cause of death of my great grandmother’s death in 1942.

Then I’ll attend the annual Jewish genealology conference, held this year in Warsaw for the first time in Eastern Europe. I have a magazine assignment to blog about the conference, part of an article package about Ashkenazi genealogy. I’ve been to two IAJGS conferences before, and have made great strides forward as a result of the people I have met and the knowledge gleaned. I expect all that and more at the Warsaw conference.

For an add-on adventure after the conference I had several options in Poland and Belarus. I decided to go to the former West Prussian region when one side of my Berlin family, the Wohlgemuths, originated. I’ll go first to Starogard Gdanski (at one time, Preussich Stargardt), where the family resided for most of the 19th century. Then I will have two ads in Gdansk, formerly Danzig, where Isaac and Julius Wohlgemuth prospered in the hauling business.

I hope to be blogging regularly with updates before and during the trip. The magazine has asked me for some video blog items, so I am going to try out that format as well.

Wohlgemuth family left Danzig in 1911-12

This post was written as an email on September 24, 2016, but was not previously posted to Family History Machine.

I looked at more of the directories and found that the Julius Wohlgemuth (Fa.) limited-liability freight and moving company is listed by that name but under new ownership, Regehr & Drabandt, beginning in 1912. Later it was owned solely by Peter Regehr and it continued in business at the same address and phone number all the way to the last available directory in 1942. 

Throughout most of those years, there is an advertisement displayed for the business in addition to its standard listing. The attachment shows the display ad.

It is interesting that the company name was apparently important to the new owners. Instead of rebranding as Regehr and Drabandt, they were buying a going concern with a name, reputation, customer relationships, etc. By the 1930s, the name must have sounded vaguely Jewish but not definitively so, since there were also Christian Wohlgemuths.

For our family history, what this means is we can now place the relocation of the family to Berlin before World War I instead of after. There are no more residential listings for Isaak after 1911. Julius continued to have a residential address in Danzig until 1915 but not after.

As for when the family came to Danzig from Elbing, The directory files listed for 1905 and earlier won't open for me—some technical problem. So whether it is 1902 or up to 1906 we still don't know.

No responses necessary unless you want to. Writing these emails is my blogging process. Later I post them on the site.

The Wohlgemuths *were* in the moving business in Danzig

This post was written September 24, 2016 but was not published (with minor edits) on Family History Machine until today. 

I have been skeptical for several reasons of the detail from Walter's "Helga's Story" that Elly's father Isaak had been in the moving business in Danzig before moving to Berline. For one, Isaak's profession is given as "mill owner" on his 1898 marriage certificate. Also, it didn't make sense he was anti-Ostjuden, as we've been told, since they would have been a big part of a mover's clientele in Danzig as they came through the city on the way to the west. 

Also, there has been this lingering question about just who was Julius Wohlgemuth, whom we originally believed was Elly's father. 

I have just discovered a trove of address books from Danzig at many-roads.com that answers both questions. So far I looked only at 1907 but immediately hit paydirt. Attached are images of the Wohlgemuth listings in the 1907 address books. 

Both Isaak and Julius are listed as co-owners ("Mitinhaber") of the firm Julius Wohlgemuth, which is called a "carrier" ("Spediteur") and provides "furniture transport, residential and office." The business address is on a major Danzig street, Poggenpfuhl Straße. Julius's listing shows a graphic image for a telephone. His telephone number is 611. 

Clearly, Julius is the older brother of Isaak and the senior partner in the business since it uses his name and the business listing is given under Julius. 

I thought you'd want to hear about this development right away. I've been holding back on further news of the Katz family. Betty's father Louis was born not in Kolberg but the East Prussian town of Heilberg (now Linzbark Warminski in Poland). His parents were Hirsch Levin Katz and Taube Conrad. 


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