A little Background….
As I think about the history of Germany, and the German people over time, for me, finding our family in that area of the world, has certainly given me a feeling of admiration for what these people have had to endure over the years whether brought on by themselves or others. This of course could be said for all cultures throughout history.
Much of that part of the world has continually been a land of religious conflict, (Protestants vs. Catholics for many centuries), and a war-torn land with tyrannical rulers. The Rohr family was Protestant through the years and at least starting from 1691, in some way, a product of the Protestant Reformation, (1517 – 1648). This probably included, to some degree, the 30 Years’ War, (1618 – 1648), in which over 8 million people died, an estimated one-third of the German population.
In recent times until the Berlin Wall was torn down, Germany was separated by the political forces of communism and democracy.
Our grandfather emigrated in about 1902, so from a genealogy standpoint, and as I continue to find family members in that area of the world, I look to bring to our family and others, our family names, birth/death/marriage records, professions, churches they were married and baptized in, places they lived, and some of the history during the time they were alive on this planet. I will write about these areas of the world because the Rohrs started out in the north and east area of Germany as it is today, (which is north and east of Berlin today, and was part of Prussian Germany which has parts that are now Poland). Then a big change happened when our great grandfather moved to the west area of Germany into the Alsace and Lorraine area of Germany as a result of the Franco-Prussian War. This region is now part of France today.
The meaning of the name “Rohr” is “reed,” “pipe,” or “cane.” From a topographical standpoint, the name Rohr is someone who lived in an area thickly grown with reeds, or lived near a well or channel. The area for this name origination was near the southeast coast of the Baltic Sea.
Europeans emigrated for many reasons, but some of the main reasons were that they were looking for a better life due to religious persecution, disease and famine, and military conscription. In the 1680s, King Louis the XIV invaded the Rhineland which resulted in mass emigration by the Germans over the next two decades. The Rohrs were in the Eastern portion of the country at this time and King Louis’ invasion may have not affected our family as much, so they didn’t emigrate at this time. Plus, their involvement in the military may have been part of their decision to stay. Conscription is the reason I believe our grandfather emigrated, because his father was a Prussian soldier and worked for the military all his life. However, I cannot substantiate this.
If you look at a map of present-day Germany, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern appears as a state in northeastern Germany bounded on the north by the Baltic Sea (“Ostsee,” meaning a sea or a lake in German), on the west by Schleswig-Holstein, on the southwest by Lower Saxony on the south by Brandenburg, and on the east by Poland. The state lies in a fertile plain containing many forests and lakes and is crossed by the Elde, Warnow, Oder, and several other rivers. Retreating glaciers during the Ice Age of Northern Europe created the rolling hills and meltwater lakes of this region of woods and fields. All older traces of human colonization were destroyed by the ice.
These were not always the boundaries of Mecklenburg. For genealogical purposes, we have to look at Mecklenburg as its own country or state prior to 1871. We must do this because before the unification of Germany in 1871, people did not consider themselves Germans as such. They were natives of one or another of the various three dozen loosely allied German states. They considered themselves Prussians, Bavarians, Hessians, Pomeranians, or people from Mecklenburg.
Mecklenburg played a significant part in defeating Napoleon and liberating Germany from France. In 1815, the dukes of Mecklenburg were elevated to “Grand Dukes”, and Mecklenburg became a Grand Duchy. With the coming of peace, however, there also came a period of economic depression which lasted until the early 1820s. In the 1800s the Landlords drove away more and more peasants with their high-handed ways. They then incorporated those peasants plots into their estates, and crop production expanded further. This callous robbery of the peasant properties was known as “peasant seizure”. Tens of thousands of peasants lost their holdings in this way. In Mecklenburg, where the nobility owned almost all of the land and dwellings, the number of the estimated peasant vacancies went from 2,490 to nearly 12,000 by 1800. The former peasants who had land left held only small holdings which ensured little more than a bare livelihood for them. The Mecklenburg Duchies, (a duchy being a country, territory, fief, or domain ruled by a duke or duchess), joined the German Empire in 1871, and after World War I were declared states of the new German Republic. In 1934 they were united into a single German state of Mecklenburg. After World War II Mecklenburg became part of the Soviet Zone. The state was dissolved in 1952 when East Germany was reorganized into districts. The area remained behind the Iron Curtain and part of East Germany until 1990 when Germany was unified and the state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania was created.
The people of Prussian Germany were backed by the Kaiser of the Holy Roman Empire in this effort. By the Convention of Rostock in 1755 in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, all power was placed in the hands of the duke, nobles, and upper classes. The lower classes had no voice. Land was held under a feudal system. From 1759 to 1764, all of Mecklenburg was occupied by Prussia. Unlike the surrounding areas, however, Mecklenburg managed to remain autonomous for another century.
The Rohrs that I have been able to find, yes–the last name was changed by our grandfather–have been found mainly in Pomerania, and the Posen and Pommern regions of Prussia which is now Poland. Many of the towns they lived in are now part of Poland just to the East of the Oder River. Again, our great-grandfather moved with the Prussian Military to the Alsace and Lorraine area of Prussia which is now France. [see the Rohr family Coat of Arms attachment “A”, and the Rohr Family Crest on attachment “A1”]. It has made the search for this side of the family interesting and time-consuming, as they moved around so much.
The Rohrs started out in the area in Northeast Germany which are the areas of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg -Vorpommern, and Poland today.
This is an area at the time of the Rohrs which was part of Pomerania, or Pommern. Pommern meaning, “land by the sea.” [see the Pommern Griffin, historical map, and the Arms of Pommern attachment “B”, 2 pages]. At the time our relatives were in this region in the mid-1700’s it was part of the Kingdom of Prussia. So, despite the changes in borders of this area, the Rohrs were Prussian through and through. Brandenburg converted to Protestantism in 1539 in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. I mention this as our family line was Evangelical for genealogy searching purposes. I have included here a historical timeline map and of specific interest is the area of Posen and Pomerania on this map.
I will add a little 18th century history here to offer some background to the times our family lived in. From the late 1600s to the mid 1700s, Germany was comprised of many small territories of which many were part of the Holy Roman Empire. I find it interesting that the Rohrs were protestants throughout their history that I have researched. Prussia finally emerged as a dominant area. It was also a period that a level of enlightenment occurred with musicians such as Bach and Beethoven; philosophers Leibniz and Kant; and writers Schiller and Goethe.
From 1713 to 1740 the “Soldier King” Frederick William I ruled and established a highly centralized state and a very organized military.
Sweden had a presence in Prussia and the Baltic Sea area in the early 1700s until it was defeated and kicked out in the Great Northern War (1700-1721).
In 1740, King Frederick II, (Frederick the Great) was on the throne. Frederick invaded Silesia which began the War of Austrian Succession 1740-1748. Ultimately, this led to the Treaty of Aux-la Chapelle in 1748. This treaty essentially brought peace and Prussian got control of most of Silesia. This treaty was signed in Aachen. Not that this has anything to do with anything, though, but our great-grandmother’s father was born in Aachen in 1809.
In the early 1800s, France’s Napoleon I conquered much of Europe and reorganized the German states. After his defeat in 1815, the Congress of Vienna gave the Kingdom of Prussia (which began as a northeastern German state with a capital in Berlin) leadership of German-speaking Europe. Prussia grew stronger and reached its zenith in 1871, when its king was declared emperor of a unified Germany — which didn’t include (Habsburg) Hapsburg-ruled Austria.
In the late 1700s, Germany and the Prussian Army took control of most of Poland. Much of the area that the Rohr family lived and was stationed.
The format in which I will present our family will come from specific documents I have found, or documents from genealogists I have had to hire in Germany where physical presence was needed to obtain some documents.
I have labeled them “attachments” and I attempt to have them follow a chronological flow throughout my writing herein.
Many of these documents are in old German script and somewhat hard to read, but if you know what the document is (i.e., marriage, birth, death, or other record), one can pick out the names, dates, and places, and also get a feel for the format the document was presented.
I have learned to interpret many of the documents to a certain point and have gotten additional help from friends I have in German genealogy groups and German genealogists that helped me with the more detailed language contained in these documents. The documents help to build the story of what our ancestors did and why they may have lived in the places they did. The nice thing is that the Germans wanted to know the coming and going of most everyone so they did keep numerous and detailed records. The tough thing is that depending on where in Germany you look, many records were destroyed during war times–especially in northeast Germany/Prussia/Pomerania where our relatives started out. I am told I have been lucky to find what I have. The good thing is the professions our family members were involved in. They were professions of higher importance and military and government based, so they were documented more thoroughly.
This article is part of a larger series by the author. Stay tuned for Part II.