I have been collecting family history for many years. Until recently, most of the information that I found related to my Dad’s ancestors. But now, in the past couple of years, I have made some breakthroughs on Mom’s side, and I’ve reached a point where it seems right to share them with you.
I remember many years ago asking Grandma Freda about her family, and her answer was “Nobody cares about those people – they’re all dead”. But later when Grandma was in the nursing home for all those years, and Grandpa was gone, she started to reminisce about her childhood, and I wrote some things down. Some of what she told me turned out to be incorrect, but much of it was correct, and often helpful in finding more information. One thing she told me was that the three Heinz brothers (Emil, Richard, and Otto) came from Germany to Chicago to start a business, and their 3 sisters came later. The truth is that the three oldest sisters came over first, while Emil, Richard, and Otto were the youngest of 10 children, and came to the United States with their parents at the ages of 17, 14, and 11. Probably, Grandma meant to say that the move from Chicago to St. Charles years later was in order to start the glass factory.
Grandma also told me that her parents were first cousins. Her mother, Mathilda Heinz, came to Chicago alone. She worked to save up money to send to her fiancé, Edward Nagel, who was in the German army, so that he could buy his passage to America. Mathilda was from a family of 10 children, who all came to America. For a long time, I thought Grandma was mistaken about the 10 children, or that I had misunderstood her, since I could only count 8. But then, I found that in the U.S. Census of 1900, each woman was asked how many children she had borne, and how many were living. Mathilda’s mother, Augusta, was living in Chicago at that time, and said that she had 10 children, of whom 7 were living. And now, in the past few weeks, I have found records of the two missing children, who apparently never left Germany.
Finding where the family came from:
When I asked Grandma where her family came from in Germany, her answer was Alsace-Lorraine, but she did not know the name of the town. I have never found any evidence pointing to Alsace-Lorraine. Cousin Janet Nagel Johnson told me that she had her grandfather’s obituary, and it said that he was born in “Kreiss Gotzloff”. Ginny and I searched for this place, and never found it, but we did learn that “Kreis” was the German political unit similar to an American county. Then, I found the arrival of the Heinz family in the records of Ellis Island, but their place of origin was smudged, and I could not read it. And then, I found in the U.S. Archives, the passport application of Otto Heinz, dated 1908, where he stated that he was born at Buckowin, Germany. There were a couple of towns in Germany named Buckowin (or something similar), but still no definite location. And finally, two years ago, while I was at the Mormon library in Salt Lake City, I asked for help. I was directed to an elderly woman who specialized in Germany. With her experienced eyes, she examined the Ellis Island records for the Heinz family, and decided that the smudge said “Kl. Wunneschin”. She then grabbed a German gazetteer and found Klein Wunneschin for me. While I looked over her shoulder, I saw that the next town over was Buckowin, so I had a “eureka” moment, having finally found a spot on the map where Grandma’s family came from. That same day, I sat down and went through a microfilm of the records of the nearest Lutheran parish to Klein Wunneschin, and I found one birth record, that of Richard Heinz on May 10, 1879, giving further proof that I was on the right track. Since then, I have found lots of other records confirming that our family came from various small villages in that same area. And, there is a nearby village named Chotzlow, where great-grandpa Nagel came from, mistakenly written as “Kreiss Gotzloff” in his obituary.
Klein Wunneschin and Buckowin were both near the border between Kreis Stolp and Kreis Lauenburg in the region of Pomerania. Before that time, I knew nothing about Pomerania except that a breed of dogs came from there. But now I can proudly say “I am a quarter Pomeranian”. Pomerania was a province of Prussia in the mid-1800’s, which later became part of the German Empire. When our family left Pomerania in the 1880’s and 1890’s, the majority of the people in the area were German-speaking Lutherans, but there was also a sizable minority of Polish-speaking Catholics in every village and county. Pomerania was a part of Germany up through the end of World War II. In the late 1940’s, the Soviet Union “moved” Poland to the west by annexing eastern Poland to the Soviet Union, and annexing eastern Germany to Poland. Pomerania was included in that part of eastern Germany annexed to Poland, so it is now in the northwestern corner of Poland on the Baltic Sea. The Soviet Union forced all of the German people to leave Pomerania, and repopulated the area with Polish people. All of the Lutheran churches were closed or converted to Catholic churches. All of the towns and cities were given Polish names.
Vital records: (Genealogists lingo for birth, baptism, marriage, & death records)
Many of the relocated Germans ended up in West Germany, since the Iron Curtain did not yet keep them from leaving. Many took the register books from the churches and town halls to Germany with them, but many were left in Poland. So the record books are now scattered in archives in Bonn, Berlin, Szczecin, and Warsaw. Of course, the Mormon missionaries came through and microfilmed all that they could find. The birth record for Richard Heinz is in an archive in Warsaw where Mormons microfilmed it and sent it to Salt Lake City. Many of these old records are now being digitized and put on the internet, primarily in Ancestry.com, some just in the past month. In the past few months, I have found a number of interesting records:
- Birth record of great-grandma Mathilda Heinz, June 17, 1864. The birth was recorded in the town of Stojentin, Kreis Stolp, but the family lived a couple of miles away in the village of Czierwienz, Kreis Stolp. Interestingly, her birth name was “Therese Mathilda”, but she always went by Mathilda in America.
- Birth record of Albert Heinz, 1868, also in Czierwienz, one of the 2 missing children.
- Birth record of great-great-grandpa Heinrich Heinz, 1832, also in Czierwienz.
- Marriage record of Bertha Heinz and Wilhelm Schmidt (her first husband), in Stettin, 1880. She was the oldest aunt, the one that Grandma referred to “Tante Berta”.
- Birth record of Ida Heinz, 1861, in Gohren, just a mile away from Czierwienz.
- Marriage record of Hermann Heinz, 1905, in Zewitz, Kreis Lauenburg, the son of Heinrich Heinz and Augusta Burow living in “Amerika”. The marriage record says he was born in Puggerschow, Kreis Lauenburg. He is the other one of the 2 missing children. He married Ida Nagel, his cousin’s daughter.
- Birth record of Otto Heinz, 1882, in Buckowin, Kreis Lauenburg (just like on his 1908 passport application). I remember seeing him a couple of times in my childhood, because he lived just around the corner from Grandpa and Grandma.
Grandma told me that her father, Edward Nagel, had 2 brothers, Uncle Dick who lived in Chicago, and another brother Hermann who never left Germany. I have recently found that Hermann did move to Chicago with his wife and son Frederick, but he died in 1901, which is why Grandma would not have remembered him. According to our distant cousin Jo Ann Samuelson, her grandfather (Grandma’s Uncle Dick) was born in Bethlehem, Kreis Lauenburg, just outside of Leschnitz, which is only a mile or two from Chotzlow where our Edward was born. And now, on Ancestry.com, I have found two more brothers, Julius, born 1852, in Gohren (same place as his cousin Ida Heinz), and Gustav, born 1855, in Gross Podel, Kreis Stolp. The records also have the birth of Hermann Nagel, 1860, in Chotzlow.
These 5 brothers were the sons of Carl Nagel and Caroline Heinz. Carl was born in Chotzlow, according to his death record in nearby Zewitz in 1887. Caroline Heinz was born in Czierwienz. If Grandma was right about her parents being first cousins, then Caroline Heinz was the sister of Heinrich Heinz. This seems very plausible since Caroline and Heinrich were born in the same small village just a couple of years apart.
Unfortunately, I have not had much success in finding Grandpa Edgar’s family. His parents both came from the southern part of Sweden, and met each other in Illinois. I don’t think that any of Edgar’s grandparents came to America, and I’m not sure about any other family members. After Grandpa died, Grandma did mention a couple of Grandpa’s cousins in Illinois, but I have not been able to find any trace of them.
Grandpa Edgar’s mother was Caroline Gustafson, according to both her marriage license and her death certificate. The marriage license gives her father’s name as Gustav Anderson and her birthplace as Kungsater, Sweden, while her death certificate gives her father’s name as John Gustafson and her birthdate as March 20, 1863. So, I recently searched on Ancestry.com, and found the birth of Carolina Josefina in Kungsater on the correct date. There is no father listed on the birth record, since the mother was unmarried. The mother was Maria Sofia Petersdotter, a close-enough match to the marriage license which says Maria Peterson. So, I believe this is our great-grandmother.
As for Caroline’s father, the name Gustav Anderson from her marriage license is more likely correct than the name John Gustafson provided by her son Robert on her death certificate. Robert Swanson probably never met his grandfather and may have guessed at the name. I found a marriage record for Maria Sofia Petersdotter and Carl Gustav Anderson dated 1882, but there is no way to tell if this is our family. I have been told that the Swedes often preferred to postpone marriage until after the first child was born. It seems unlikely to me that the couple would marry when their daughter was 19 years old, unless the marriage was necessary for Carolina to get her documents ready for emigration to the United States.
I do not expect to make any further progress researching Grandpa Edgar’s roots. The Swedes were still using patronymics (like Swanson, Peterson, Petersdotter) until 1901, so there were no fixed surnames to be able to trace a family.
In the fall of 2016, I took the standard $99 DNA test offered by Ancestry.com, the one you’ve seen advertised most on TV. Since Dad’s roots are heavily British, Irish, and Western European, I expected to see results of 25% Scandinavian (from Grandpa Edgar), 40-60% Western European (25% from Grandma Freda’s German family and the rest from Dad’s side), and the rest Irish and British. So, my surprise (like you’ve seen on TV) was to find 7% Eastern European. I initially thought that this must come from our great-great-grandma Augusta Burow Heinz, because I thought Burow sounded rather Russian. But now I realize that most of the people coming from Pomerania, including the Nagel, Heinz, and Burow families, probably have a significant percentage of Polish blood in addition to the German. When Ginny took the DNA test, she was 14% Eastern European, while Janet is 26%, understandably higher since she is a generation closer to our Pomeranian immigrants.
While the TV ads seem to focus on learning your ethnicity, the other feature of the DNA test is that they match you with other people whose DNA matches yours. I chose Ancestry.com from among its competitors because they had the largest number of people that I might be matched with. I now have a list of hundreds of people whose DNA matches mine to varying degrees. The matching is measured in centimorgans (cM). On average, siblings will have a match of 2550 cM, cousins will have about 850 cM, second cousins 212 cM, etc. Since the matches are ranked according to cM, Ginny is at the top of my list with 2711 cM; Janet (first cousin, once removed) is next with 559 cM; Rick Nagel (second cousin) is third with 170 cM. Two other interesting people on my list were (1) a person named “redneckjedi”, a great-grandchild of Donald Dau and Jeanette (Eliason); and (2) Joseph Schelstreet, the fire chief in St. Charles, who is the grandson of Edna and Joe Schelstreet.
While most of the hundreds of DNA matches are not identifiable, some have uploaded their family tree, and I have been able to determine a relationship because of that. This is how I made the connection with Jo Ann Samuelson of Michigan, a granddaughter of “Uncle Dick” Nagel, and with Paula Redmond of South Elgin, Illinois, whose husband Warren Redmond is the great-grandson of “Tante Berta” Heinz. And then, there is Bonnie Galvin, whose great-grandfather Adolph Nagel came to Chicago from Pomerania in the 1860’s. Adolph Nagel was born in 1837 in the same village as our Nagels, but we have not yet figured out exactly how he was related to our Nagels.
I have not yet found any DNA matches that can be identified as Swanson relatives.
On Dad’s side of the family, there are some DNA matches who I can identify as 5th-9th cousins, because we can trace back 10 or more generations into the colonial American records.
German – Polish place name translations:
Bethlehem – Betlejem (there is now only a restaurant with this name)
Buckowin – Bukovina
Chotzlow – Chocielewko
Gohren – Górzyno
Groß Podel – Podole Wielkie
Klein Wunneschin – Unieszynko
(Not to be confused with Gross Wunneschin – Unieszyno. Extra “k” means little, as in Ivana/Ivanka.)
Kreis Lauenburg – Lebork County
Kreis Schlawe – Slawno County
Kreis Stolp – Slupsk County
Labuhn – Lebunia
Lauenburg – Lebork
Lischnitz – Lesnice
Peest – Pieszcz
Puggerschow – Pogorszewo
Schimmerwitz – Siemirowice
Stettin – Szczecin
Stojentin – Stowiecino
Zewitz – Cewice
Visiting ancestral sites:
Ginny and I are going to Poland in May (2018). We are planning to rent a car and spend a couple of days going to each of the small villages where our Nagel and Heinz ancestors lived. We are not expecting to meet any distant cousins, since all the Germans were removed in the 1940’s. We also do not expect to find any additional information on the family, since the records have all been moved away to archives in the cities. Instead, we are just going for the experience of seeing the landscape and imagining what life was like there 150 years ago. After that, we will fly to Sweden, rent a car, and visit Glimakra, where Peter Swanson was born, and Kungsater, where his wife, Caroline Gustafson, was born.
I am attaching a family tree for the Swanson, Nagel, and Heinz families in PDF format. For privacy reasons, I have suppressed all the information (except names) of living people. Feel free to print them or share them as appropriate. If you are interested enough to take this up as a hobby, I will be happy to send the same information in GEDCOM format, which you could import into any genealogy software.
Ginny has had a few of the Pomeranian records professionally translated, because the handwriting is impossible for us to read, so I am also attaching these translations. These include the birth of Richard Heinz and the deaths of Carl Nagel and Caroline Heinz Nagel.