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- Description of West Prussia
Prussia was a region which before 1772 consisted of what was later known as West Prussia, (Westpreußen) which with the Hanseatic cities of Danzig, Elbing, Thorn, and Culm was part of Poland and referred to as Polish Prussia before 1772, and East Prussia (Ostpreußen) with capital of Königsberg which had been a duchy since 1525 and a kingdom of the Hohenzollern dynasty since 1701.
- Political Divisions
The 1806 administrative areas were
- Westpreußisches Kammer-Departement included the Kreise of Marienwerder, Marienburg, Kulm, Michelau, Dirschau, Danzig, Stargard, Konitz.
- Westpreußisches Kammer-Departement für den Netzdistrict included the Kreise of Bromberg, Inowraclaw, Kamin, Krone.
The concept of Kreis was different in pre-1806 Prussia and referred to the districts of the noble families ("Die Adeligen Kreise") as well as the Immediatstädte and royal Domainen-Ämter. The term Regierung referred to the judicial (court) system before 1806 and to the district administration after 1815. This is important to understand, if researchers want to judge the relevance of records in the Berlin and Polish archives.
Between 1824-1878 there was one Province of Prussia which later was divided into two provinces with capitals in Königsberg and Danzig. In 1900 there were the following districts and Kreise (counties):
- Regierungsbezirk (district) of Danzig included the Kreise:
Berent, Danzig-Stadt, Danziger Hoehe, Danziger Niederung, Dirschau, Elbing-Stadt, Elbing-Land, Karthaus, Marienburg, Neustadt, Putzig, Preussisch-Stargard.
- Regierungsbezirk (district) of Marienwerder included the Kreise:
Briesen, Deutsch-Krone, Flatow, Graudenz, Konitz, Kulm, Loebau, Marienwerder, Rosenberg, Schlochau, Schwetz, Strasburg, Stuhm, Thorn, Tuchel.
- Religious Divisions
In 1890, the population was 47% Evangelical, 50.7% Catholic, 1.3% Jewish. There were 13,833 Mennonites in Prussia, mainly in the Danzig (7937) and Marienwerder (2137) districts.
- Court Districts
Before 1900, the highest West Prussian court was the Oberlandesgericht in Marienwerder with records deposited at the Gdansk, Poland, archives today. The lower courts were
- Landgericht Danzig with (9) Amtsgerichte:
Berent, Danzig, Dirschau, Karthaus, Neustadt, Preussisch-Stargard, Putzig, Schoeneck, Zoppot.
- Landgericht Elbing with (8) Amtsgerichte:
Christburg, Elbing, Deutsch-Eylau, Marienburg, Riesenburg, Rosenberg, Stuhm, Tiegenhof.
- Landgericht Graudenz with (5) Amtsgerichte:
Graudenz, Marienwerder, Mewe, Neuenburg, Schwetz.
- Landgericht Konitz with (9) Amtsgerichte:
Baldenburg, Flatow, Pr. Friedland, Hammerstein, Konitz, Schlochau, Tuchel, Vandsburg, Zempelburg.
- Landgericht Thorn with (9) Amtsgerichte:
Briesen, Gollub, Kulm, Kulmsee, Lautenburg, Loebau, Neumark, Strasburg, Thorn.
Geschichte der Provinz Westpreußen (german version)
In 1772 King Friedrich II annexed western Prussia (Westpreussen), without the Danzig territory, from the Kingdom of Poland, and united it with the duchy of Prussia (it now taking the name East Prussia). In 1793, King Friedrich Wilhelm II annexed the areas around Danzig and Thorn. In 1793 and 1795, larger areas of Poland were added, which were organized into the Provinces of South Prussia and New East Prussia. Like many countries in Eastern Europe at that time, the old Polish Kingdom was inhabited by many ethnic groups, and it is important not to confuse political loyalties with ethnic identities. Many loyal Polish subjects were not ethnically Polish. Western Prussia, including Danzig, had had a ethnic German majority for centuries, while a sizable German minority lived in the Thorn area. Other important ethnic groups, besides Poles, were Jews, Kaschubians and Masurians. Some locals even descended from hardy Scotsmen, who had fled to Danzig in the 16th century, and founded the suburb of Neuschottland (New Scotland).
The kingdom of Prussia at this time was not part of Germany. Königsberg was the capital and coronation city of the Prussian kings. Terms like the German army have no meaning for this time period.
Before 1806 Germany was one kingdom and empire with one Kaiser and one king who resided in Wien (Vienna). He was elected by the collegium of Kurfürsten (electors) who in 1800 were the 3 archbishops of Koeln (Cologne), Mainz and Trier and the 4 secular electors of Rheinland-Pfalz, Brandenburg, Sachsen (Saxony), and Boehmen (Bohemia).
The electors of Brandenburg and Sachsen had also ambitions to acquire the title of king. Since they could not acquire this title inside Germany they succeeded outside Germany: Brandenburg by declaring themselves "King in Prussia" at Königsberg in 1701, Sachsen by getting elected as King of Poland in 1697. The Kaiser in Wien was powerless to prevent this ploy.
The Prussian kings were as follows:
Kurfürst (Elector) Friedrich III was crowned first king Friedrich I in Königsberg in 1701, died 1712, his son was
King Friedrich Wilhelm I, 1712-1740, intolerant, his son was
King Friedrich II the Great (Old Fritz), 1740-1786, his nephew was
King Friedrich Wilhelm II, 1786-1797, intolerant, his son was
King Friedrich Wilhelm III, 1797-1840, his son was
King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, 1840-1861, his brother was
King Wilhelm I, 1861-1888, became Kaiser 1871, his son was
Kaiser and King Friedrich III, 1888 (99 days), his son was
Kaiser and King Wilhelm II, 1888-1918.
In 1806 Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Europe and abolished the German empire and the title of Kaiser for Germany (capital: Wien [Vienna]). The Kaiser in Wien became Kaiser of Austria with no power in the rest of Germany. The titles of Kurfürst (elector) became meaningless and was abolished and changed to Kings of Bohemia, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, Wuerttemberg, and Hannover by Napoleon's grace. The archbishops and Catholic church had lost all their secular power in 1803.
After Napoleon's final defeat in 1815 the kingdom of Prussia became known as "Die Vereinigten Preussischen Staaten" (United Prussian States) which now also included provinces like Schlesien/Silesia, Brandenburg, Pommern/Pomerania and areas as far west as the Rhine province. Berlin now became the Prussian capital. Until 1806 the Hohenzollern sovereign had had many titles and hats from Head of the Evangelic Church to King, Elector, Grandduke, Duke for the various regions and realms under his rule. After 1806 he simply was King of Prussia. Terms like German government or German army have no meaning for this time period until 1871.
In 1871 Germany as an empire with a Kaiser was re-established with Berlin as the capital of Germany and Prussia and with the Prussian king also having the title of German Kaiser. All monarchies in Germany were abolished in 1918 and Prussia was declared defunct in 1945 by the Allied victors. The original (East and West) Prussia was cleansed of its ethnic German population and given to Poland and Russia. The Western powers were silent on the ethnic cleansing of original Prussia and Eastern Germany resulting in 12 millions of German refugees.
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Genealogical and Historical Societies
- Genealogical Societies
- Local Historical Societies
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Genealogical and Historical Records
- Church Records
- Civil Registration Records
Civil registers of births, marriages, deaths were introduced in October of 1874. The Civil registry office is called Standesamt. Before this time, the Lutheran church records (1815-1874) or special Dissidenten-Register (1847-1874) served as official registers, and a duplicate copy was deposited at the local court (Amtsgericht). Many of the Standesamt civil registers have survived in the Southern part of Ostpreußen (East Prussia) which was annexed by Poland in 1945. The story is quite different in the Northern part of Ostpreußen annexed by the Soviet Union in 1945 as the Kaliningrad Oblastj. The Red Army followed a deliberate course of annihilation and looting. Records had no priority for saving, art treasures and books were destroyed or taken to Russia. The burned-out Royal castle in Königsberg was levelled as late as the Brezhnev era. In 1997, the Russian parliament, the Duma, voted against returning German records and artifacts, overriding a veto by Russian President Yeltsin.
- Other Records
- Education [Hochschulen]
- Emigration and Immigration
Each Kreis was headed by the Landrat who presided over the Landratsamt. The Landratsamt records are deposited in Berlin and the Polish archives with published brief inventories.
The whereabouts of the records for the Landgerichte is unknown. The records of the Amtsgerichte are deposited at the Gdansk, Bydgoszcz, Olsztyn archives today, or remained in the regional court archives. Of special interest are the land deed records (Grund- und Hypotheken-Acta) with no published survey known.
There are 3 types of records compiled periodically for the period of reign of Friedrich II who ruled 1740-1786:
- Prästations-Tabellen (PT) are land tax lists since about 1723 for East Prussia and repeated about every 6 years until about 1806 and continued from about 1819 to about 1850. They would list land owners only.
- Mahl-Listen or Mühlen Consignationen list all heads of family by name and number of women, sons, daughters, male and female servants. They indicate that everyone of age 12-60 was taxed by head for eating and milling grain, poor or rich alike. They were abolished in 1806 by the Stein-Hardenberg reforms.
- The courts introduced new deed record keeping for Prussia in 1783. Especially the Hypotheken-Acta often give information on family affairs like mortgage beneficiaries, orphans, new marriages, heirs in details not found anywhere else. They often do not only reflect families with assets, but also paupers as heirs and beneficiaries. Often copies of old documents and wills are attached.
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Gazetteers and Maps
- Atlases and Maps
- FHL microfilm #068814, Karte des Deutschen Reiches, scale 1:100000, 1km = 1cm covers Germany for 1914-1917.
- Topographical Maps (Messtischblätter 1:25000) may be purchased from
Institut für Angewandte Geodaesie
10785 Berlin, GERMANY
(Ask for their map catalog for Westpreußen.)
- "Geographical Primer of Prussia", by Adalbert Goertz has been published in Mennonite Family History, April 1984, pp.58-61. [Contact: R#1, Box 20, Morgantown, PA 19543-9701, USA or by e-mail: email@example.com]
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- Genealogical Works:
Sonderschriften des Vereins für Familienforschung in Ost-/Westpreußen e.V (deutsch)
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Archives and Libraries
Addresses of important archives
Note: The Family History Library in Salt Lake City holds microfilm copies of many important genealogical records, the originals of which are held by German churches, archives, and libraries. The great majority of these microfilm copies can be borrowed for a modest fee through any local LDS (Mormon) Family History Center. (Owners of certain church--and, in one case, emigration--records have refused permission to the Family History Library to distribute microfilm copies of these records to Family History Centers in Germany; however, all microfilmed German records are accessible through Family History Centers outside Germany.) Before contacting an archive or library, researchers with access to a Family History Center should check whether the records they seek are available on microfilm from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. See our Information on LDS/FHC.
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- Publishers: see our general List of Publishers
- Professional Researchers
- Emigration waves
- Land Measurements
- The land measurements in some areas of Prussia before 1815 were based on the Culm units:
- 1 culm.Hufen = 30 culm.Morgen (= ca.16.8 ha = ca.41.5 acres)
1 culm.Morgen = 300 culm.Ruten (QRuten = sqRods) = ca.1.38 acres
- After 1815 the prevailing measurements were the Magdeburg units:
- 1 preuss.Hufen = 30 preuss.Morgen (= ca.7.66 ha = ca.18.9 acres)
1 preuss.Morgen = 180 preuss.Ruten(QRuten = sqRods) = ca.0.63 acres
- (non-farm) laborer
- modern term after about 1850 for middle-sized farmer (<500 Morgen).
- land laborer paid in kind (Deputat) like grain, potatos, lodging.
- Einwohner (pre-1850)
- same as Emphyteut, Nachbar, or Bauer.
- Emphyteut (pre-1850)
- tenant on royal Amt land (West Prussia only)
- modern term after about 1850 for large estate farmer
- store owner/tenant selling everyday supplies which are displayed on hooks from walls and ceiling
- Kaetner, Katner
- tenant of small shack (Kate) with land
- Krueger, Krugpaechter
- tenant of inn (Krug) or pub or pharmacy owned and licensed by king or noble landlord
- member of group (Nachbarschaft) leasing land from landlord
- owner of large medieval estate farm.
- Schaenker, Schankwirt
- land laborer earning daily wage in kind (Deputat), some cash.
- Pronunciation of Placenames
- Danzig - DUNN-tsick
Marienwerder - mar-ree-en-VER-der
Marienburg - maa-REE-en-burg (platt:MAR-yen-burg)
Graudenz - GROU-dents
Culm - COOLM
Tiegenhof - tee-ghen-HOF
Thorn - TORN
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Other Resources (including Internet)
- Familienforschung in Westpreussen / Family Research in West Prussia (German and English), an excellent resource for West Prussian genealogy, by Hans-Jürgen Wolf
- Prussian-Russian-Canadian Mennonite Genealogical Resources, by Adalbert Goertz
- List of evangelical parishes in Westpreussen
- Schroeder & Fuelling has information on sources available in Polish archives.
- Genealogy & Poland on the Internet has information on archives in Poland.
- Archiwa Panstwowe has information on archives in Poland.
- A mailing list for genealogical researchers, EW-Prussia, may be joined at by sending e-mail to the address
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Index of Political Subdivisions/Predecessor States/Historical Regions
- Political Subdivisions. An alphabetical list of political subdivisions of the given xland for which separate pages exist, together with links to the appropriate pages.
- Provinces [where applicable].
- Cities and Communities/Städte, Flecken, Gemeinden, Bauernschaften.
- "Predecessor States". An alphabetical or chronological list of states to which West Prussia itself formerly belonged and for which separate pages exist, together with links to the appropriate pages.
- "Historische Landschaften". An alphabetical list of historic geographic regions now incorporated, wholly or in part, into West Prussia for which separate pages exist, together with links to the appropriate pages.
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Last update: 20-November-2001 (hjw) Adalbert Goertz has contributed historical, district, records and other information to this page.
Thanks also to Jim Eggert.
Rainer Herrmann created the original version of this page.
Comments and suggestions regarding this page should be sent to webmaster or to Hans-Jürgen Wolf .