Research at Archives in Austria, Germany, and Poland 2009
by R. Reuben Drefs


During June and July of 2009 I spent most of four weeks researching archives and churches in the three countries of Austria, Germany and Poland.


I researched in Klagenfurt directly east of Villach, Austria. This is mostly south of Salzburg. Villach is not far from the Italian border, less than fifty miles because we drove on the wrong autobahn one day and crossed into Italy.

In Klagenfurt I researched at the Catholic archive known as Gurk and at the State Archive. Information was obtained at both archives. However, the Gurk archive is very restrictive of time and place. They are open only a half day Monday through Thursday. One should also question if the particular week has a holiday in it. This happened to us. With Gurk one needs to reserve a place a year in advance. There are only seven or eight tables with two at a table. I wrote them too late and was only allowed into the archive one of the three days because the fourth day was a holiday in Austria. Copies are not made by the staff but digital cameras may be used.

At the state archive in Klagenfurt the environment is professional yet friendly and even somewhat casual when they are not real busy. They are open 8:00-4:00 five days a week. Again check for holidays as the state archive was also closed one day although I did not need the day that everything was closed. This was a day we traveled to many of the small farming towns where my Tschritter ancestors lived. One can write for a reservation four months in advance with no problem. They have plenty of space for many researchers. The space was only about half used on the three days I was there. The staff is very helpful. The German language is used although some of the staff spoke some English. The manager of the research staff was very helpful. His name is Joachim Eichert. I researched in the state archive all day Monday, half a day on Tuesday and all day Wednesday. By the end of Wednesday I had pretty well exhausted all the resources. Parking is not provided so one has to find parking down side streets and walk ten minutes to the archive. Excel Birth index, deaths, marriages documents this research.

Geheimes Staatsarchiv Berlin

We arrived in Berlin at a hotel that had a small cooking area so we could make some meals in the evening and keep our expenses down. There were a couple of small grocery stores where my wife also found her Pepsi. We stayed in the suburb of Dahlem in the hotel and the cost was $80 in USA funds and about 60 Euros. There was parking on the street about two blocks from the hotel. One could also drive onto a wide sidewalk extended platform to unload suitcases directly in front of the hotel. We had a rented a car so we drove each day from the hotel to the archive. The drive was only five or six minutes. There was parking on the street in front of Geheimes State Archive. So the setting in which we lived for a week was quite comfortable and easy to manage. Some maps for finding the streets were needed. The hotel was very helpful in answering any of our questions. The hotel people spoke English. One does have to get to the hotel to check in before five o'clock when the front desk closes. We were late but had called and were told to pick up a key at the restaurant next door and check in the next morning at the front desk.

We had arrived in Berlin on Monday evening and planned to do research at the Geheimes State Archive Tuesday through Friday. When we arrived at the archive we were given a key for all of our belongings. No covered bags may be taken into the archive. When I took my files out of a cloth bag I was carrying so they were visible that was permissible and I could carry the file folders into the archive. I filled out the appropriate forms at the first entrance into the research room. The research room is very large and was never completely full during the four days we were researching. Some days, especially in the morning hours the space was nearly full. Writing for a reservation is required and I had no difficulty in a request four months in advance. The research room is set up so the tables are all facing the windows and the professional staff is at the front of the room at a long table. On the wall are book shelves to the left of the front staff table and opposite the windows. These are the finding aid books.

I had a difficult time doing research the first time in GstA. One of my problems was that my German language was not as good as I had expected. Due to the hush-hush in an archive where people do not speak loud, I had trouble hearing all the words and did not know many of the words being used. I thought my conversational ability in German would get me by but it was difficult. The staff assessed this problem and assigned a young staff person who spoke English to work with me. So that problem was solved.

The second problem I encountered was that any document that was ordered would not be available for research for two days. We had arrived at the archive about 8:30 in the morning and by the time I finished with the preliminary signing forms and attempts at communicating that ended in a particular staff person assigned to me it was nearing ten o'clock. I had until one o'clock to order material for researching on Thursday. On Wednesday I could order six more items for research on Friday. So after I had finished ordering material there was not much to do but to look at the finding aids books. This I did for a few hours after lunch. The next day I ordered material for viewing on Friday and the remainder of Wednesday was lost time and we used that time to drive to the Evangelical Archive that houses all of Lutheran records from eastern Europe.

I felt considerable pressure to order six good items for each of the days. So for all the planning it seemed like a small amount of research could actually be accomplished. I had assumed four days would give enough time for some in-depth research. In actuality it was only two days research. This was a big disappointment. If I or others go to Berlin it would be imperative to order material from one's home computer or by e-mail so that the first two days research would be ordered and would be waiting and one then would order more each day before one o'clock so there would be a continues stream of document books each day. Even at that, six books can be viewed sometimes in a few hours, if they are not books that are clearly good documents. So the ordering of material has to be done very carefully. Therein exists the third problem I encountered.

Third problem: I had come to Berlin because my research clues had led me to believe that the first group of 82 colonists that went to Arcis, Bessarabia had come from the area of West Prussia that was called the Kulmerland. This was on the east side of the Vistula river from the town of Graudenz past Kulm and on the north side of the Vistula river after it changed direction and headed southeast past Thorn. In the area called the "knee of the Vistula" I discovered large groups of German farming villages. The Kulmerland extended farther east to Löbau, Strassburg and other towns. But my research was focused on the area around the town of Kulm to the area around Thorn. This area is loaded with Bessarabian German names when one studies the Catholic church records. One must study the Catholic records because the Catholic bishop of Kulm did not allow Lutheran Churches to be built except the one at Kulm. Therefore, one must look at the Catholic records and there are many Lutheran families in the Catholic records.

Yet I did not have a specific town in which my ancestor lived. I therefore looked for immigration records in the finding aids. I also knew of the existence of land registrations the Prussian government did every six years after 1772. I wanted to see land records in order to use them as a census for the years 1800 and 1806 and possibly also 1796-1798. (I was not certain which years the land registration occurred prior to 1800, possibly it was 1794 or 1796 but I was quite sure a land registration occurred in1800 and again in 1806 just before Napoleon took the Kulmerland and made it part of the Duchy of Warsaw in 1807) . Additionally, I knew of the mill records which were started in 1783. The mill records, according to the "Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia" by Brandt and Goertz, were supposedly attached to the land records after 1784. The mill records are similar in form to land records; they show a head of household and family members by statistical numbers, so many boys, girls, wife, male workers, female workers.

So my research in Berlin was focused on two items: 1. Immigration records to Russia. 2. Land and mill records around the year 1800 and 1806. I was sure that my ancestor would show up as a head of household in those records because he had married and children were born 1797, 1800, 1803. The problem in finding these records was huge. The finding aids is very confusing as they are written in the same way they were originally written. One really can't tell from the finding aids what kind of document book one will receive two days later. It is very frustrating. The staff was not very helpful in terms of finding the documents I was seeking. (But geneally they were very professional and answered all questions) The best one can do is look for key words in the finding aid books, that is go through and look at each of the lines. This can take hours just viewing the finding aid books. Nothing could be identified as immigration records to Russia or Bessarabia. Nothing could be found regarding the known names of the heads of these immigration groups and or their recruiters. It was assumed these records are in Poland.

Nor could the land records of the Kulmerland area be found except the 1772 land records which I had already researched . The mill records could also not be found. The information given in the "Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia" seems to me to be somewhat misleading. I had many notes from that book and yet the books I ordered did not produce the correct items. Then I just ran out of time and could not order more books as one is restricted to six book numbers, that is I could only order 12 books in the two days. The first day was a more or less trial run, looking at the books on Kulm. Some where land deed books and those are only helpful if one knows that one's ancestor lived in in a specific town. So some of the books I ordered were simply the wrong type books.

What I did find rather easily was the Nothardt material I agreed to look for as a favor to Tom Stangl and the Glückstal group. This book is available for copying after the archive is contacted for costs and money is sent.

Berlin conclusion: I found nothing very useful in Berlin for the colonists to Arcis, Bessarabia. But I learned a great deal and since I returned discovered that a researcher had written a book in 2008 that has reorganized the Berlin material. This appears helpful and I may return to Berlin with a better understanding of how to do research there and which books to order.

Research in Poland

I hired a translator-guide-researcher for two weeks in Poland archives and churches. We arrived in Poznan on Sunday evening from Berlin on a train. The trains in Germany are marvelous but the trains in Poland look like they are about forty years old. We had some difficulty managing four suitcases and making the train transfers. Only with help from other passengers were we able to make it on board at a few transfer places. People were very helpful. Of course, we had taken too much stuff along. We rode in our guide's car for the two weeks. She arranged bed and breakfast places (that did not include breakfast) with her cell phone. We made reservations based on where we wanted to be the next day. Thus we were not boxed into a schedule but made our schedule as we went. We also paid for the room for our researcher guide and for her gasoline. Most of the B & B were nice and comfortable. A couple were not but that was only a minor inconvenience. We stopped at a small convenience store to buy supplies for our evening meal, for breakfast and lunch the next day. Many of these meals we ate sandwiches and only ate at restaurants about every other day. Our researcher was willing to work on these conditions. Many days we finished at an archive, drove to our B & B, bought some food, ate our meal in the kitchen of the B & B, then did some note writing and planning for the next day. By that time it was eight thirty or nearly nine o'clock. We were in bed before ten o'clock and up by seven and on the road before eight the next morning. We usually had about a twenty minute drive from our B & B to the archive we were visiting.

I would not recommend going to Poland without a guide-translator-researcher. This was expensive but going alone would have been impossible given the wide range of places we went. Our researcher appeared to make instant connections with the archives, churches and places we needed to go. Some of this was due to her previous research in these archives and some was her native ability to make an easy connection with people who did not know her.

We began our research the second day in Poland in Torun. We visited the Torun State Archives. I had learned that all material for the Kulmerland was in the Torun State archive. The Excel file "final research notes" shows the files that were researched in the Torun State Archive. Upon arriving at the archive our researcher met an archivist for this archive who knew the resources of the archive and was the local expert on this archive. They had an intense twenty minutes discussion in the hallway outside the main research room. The archivists did not know of any records regarding colonists that immigrated to Russia. We did not take his word as final and continued to search finding aid books for immigration records. We did not find any records nor any clues to such records. The finding aid books in Poland were similar to those in Berlin.

The method of receiving documents was very quick and easy at the Torun State Archive. We had documents within an hour after ordering. In fact, they came so quick that we did not complete some of the finding aid books we were searching. There was a continuous flow of looking at documents, ordering new ones, going back and forth between the finding aid books and the documents as they arrived. It did not appear that there were many restrictions on the number of books ordered because we had a stack of eight to ten books on our desk at times. But the truth of this search is that we did not find much in the Torun State Archive. We searched for more than two and a half days.

Our next search was the Torun Catholic diocesan archive. We searched through five church books in the towns Biscupice, Czarnowo, Swierczynki and Nawra. Czarnowo was loaded with German names and in Unislaw/Wentzlau we saw Martin Grukenburg and a Martin Drews. However, these names I had already seen on LDS films for the Kulm and Friedrichsbruch area of the Kulmerland. The other towns had mostly Polish names. We then found a significant number of Drews families in the Ostrometzko Catholic Church records for Ostrometzko and the small town of Bolumin. This area is indeed right in the knee of the Vistula river northwest of Thorn and south of the city of Kulm.

The other part of our Torun research included meeting my Polish researcher Jarek Dumanowski who is a professor of history at the Kopernicus University of Torun. We had dinner with him and were invited to visit the university library the next day. We spent most of that day looking at the books they had regarding the German settlements, immigrations etc. We looked at some interesting books, some that were more useful for Mennonite history, but none that gave any new clues to colonists that went to Russia from the Torun area. One book that interested me was titled, "Geschichte der ländlichen Ortschaften und der drei kleineren städte des kreisen Thorn" by Hans Maercker, published by Munster in 2006. The book on Mennonite background was, "Die Siedlungwerk niederländisher Mennoniten im Weichseltal zwischen Fordon und Weissenberg bis zum ausgang des 18th Jahrhundert" by Herbert Wiebe. Again I viewed the Max Beheim-Schwarzbach book, "Hohenzollernsche Colonistationen." This book tells of 50 colonies established by Friedrich the Great with 1,119 families. These families came from all over Europe: 768 from areas under Polish administration, 716 families from Austria and Germany, 668 families from Swabia. There is a chapter on "Die Schwäbische colonie in West Preussen," pp. 430-441.

From Torun it was only about an hour drive to Wloclawek, so we kept our B & B in Torun because we wanted to drive north to Kulm and Marienburg on Saturday. On June 25 we researched the Wloclawek State Archive and the Catholic Archive in Wloclawek. At the state archive we researched the Slesin parishes, Przedecz Evangelical records and Chodecz records. My notes state that I searched the Chodecz Catholic church records at the state archive. That may be wrong, I don't clearly remember, this might have been at the Catholic archive for 1763-1808. Here we found many family names for Hiller, Pitt and one Drews.

On the next day we took a tourist view of the Marienburg Teutonic castle. But our guide had reached the priest at the Dabrowice Catholic Church, west of Kutno and just south of Chodecz. In the afternoon we drove to Dabrowice and there discovered my missing link two generations back in the Hiller family. We then drove through the ancestral villages of Zgorze, Renneburg, Schwedelbach and did research in the Sobotka Catholic Church and the Blonie Catholic Church which was supposed to have records for Schwedelbach/Mikalejewo. Renneburg and Schwedelbach are two villages in Poland were my Jungling ancestors lived. I took pictures, viewed the Lutheran cemeteries which were now only a overgrown patch of trees in the middle of a field. We walked into a number of these and found some grave stones still readable with names such as Hiller and Kruger. We also drove through the towns of Szyszyn and Szyszynskie Holendry as well as Birkholland/Brzozogaj towns in which Hillers lived according to Stumpp and Tarutino, Bessarabia farmstead records.

We returned to the Torun to finish some research at the Catholic Archive and then drove to Bromberg/Bygosczcz where we ordered books that we would view the last days in Poland. We then drove to Warsaw.

In Warsaw we stayed the whole week in the guest rooms of the Lutheran Church of Poland offices. These rooms were very convenient and except for the low style bed was as nice as any accommodations in Europe. We also had our car within their locked security gate. I might also state that we had no difficulty at all with any thieves. We had heard stories of foreign cars being robbed in Poland. We did not see anything like that, in fact, it seemed safer than the USA. Our guide walked to the train station one night by herself before midnight to get some exercise. This was in a large city.

The Ancient Archives of Warsaw was only five city blocks from the Lutheran Church offices. Thus we were able to park our car for a week, walk to the archives for research and walk to the market square for our strawberry Crepes and cheese Piroge.

The research at the Ancient Archives was very easy. We could order material and have it within an hour or two. We viewed material, ordered more and kept a continuous flow of orders and books to review. I discovered that the Ancient Archives has a significant amount of documents for the South Prussian era 1793-1807. Here I found some colonists records. Excel Final Research Notes has the titles listed for these documents. Exel 991 has 114 colonists names. Excel Krpis has some additional colonists. In Excel Poland Research 120 is a list of 80 colonists from the county of Konin, Poland. Here I ran across a new clue for my Semmler line which had hit a stone wall. However, I see a problem here. I looked at so many documents so that when I returned home my memory of those and my notes were sometimes inadequate. Excel Poland Research may be part of Excel Polish Records Nr. 162. The format is similar and would seem to be from the same book. Yet when I paid for the copies by wire, some $470.00 in USA money I received copies of two documents with a very similar format, one for Konin and the other much larger for 863 names in other counties in Posen. So it appears that these are different books after all. These records are all 1799-1804 colonists. Signatur 1005 Poland is another list of 53 names of colonists. KRSP Syng 6670 Poland research documents a short document.

Returning to Torun I searched some more at the State Archive looking for confirmation records because we read that confirmation records were records after about 1800. We hoped to find name of Drews families when they were confirmed that would date back to an approximate year of birth based on an age 14 for a confirmation. We were unsuccessful in finding any confirmation records of the Lutheran Church in the Thorn area. We then drove to Bromberg/Bydgosczcz to look at the books we had ordered the week before. We also made an application to gain permission to post the Netze District land records index on the Odessa site. We did not stay in Bromberg long because it was focused on the Netze District and my interest was the Kulmerland north of Thorn.

In summary: the most success I had was in Klagenfurt, Austria and the Catholic parish records in Dabrowice. But the archives in Torun, Wloclawek and Warsaw were marvelous places to do research and very professional and polite environments. Berlin was the most frustrating but may have the most possibility for colonists that came from the Kulmerland and went to Arcis. The South Prussian records in Warsaw and Torun State Archives are very similar to the records in Berlin. Both have similar finding aids. One difficulty in Warsaw is that some of the major headers in the finding aid books are now written in Polish although all the line items of the actual documents are still in German. It helped to have a Polish language researcher who could tell me what those headers said. Records in all three of these archives are a hit and miss affair. One does not know what is in the document until you look at it. The finding aid is very fuzzy in telling what is in the document. There were surprises when I found colonists from 1800 with names in documents I did not expect to find much, according to the finding aid description. So the two weeks in Poland was good but one could spend more time. The archives in Bromberg, Posen and Gdansk were not searched. They no doubt, would have their own surprises if one were to spend a three or four days in each archive.

In Berlin I asked for a list of researchers and have a list of fifteen or twenty researchers. One way of getting around the vast material and the low number of documents one can view per day which is six, is to hire a researcher that is familiar with those records.