Friday, August 26, 2016

Using the 1811 Elbing, West Prussia, Census

In late 1811, a census was taken of the Elbing region where many Mennonites lived.  This city was under a special administrative regime because in the late 1600s, the King of Poland had used it as collateral for a loan from the Duke of Prussia.  This led to a centuries-long dispute about whether the loan had been repaid and whether the Prussian dukes (later kings) could take the city’s revenues to repay the loan.  In 1811, the city was still under a special administration as a result.  Thus, a separate census was taken in 1811.

My 5-greats-grandfather, Gerhard Fast #660202 (1739-1828), had five siblings whom I have identified, and I am trying to piece together their descendants.  One of those siblings was Klaas Fast #706529 (ABT 1745-1820), and he had a son Gerhard #117515 (ABT 1774-1830) who lived in the village of Fürstenauerweide, which in the Elbing region.  Someone had entered the birth dates of the younger Gerhard’s six children from the Fürstenau Lutheran church book, and I found the death dates for five of those children who died young in the same church book.  (Imagine how shattering it must have been to lose five of six children before the age of nine.)  Here is how the family looked:
Gerhard Klaas Fast, Genealogical Registry and Database of Mennonite Ancestry, CD-ROM, version 6 as updated by author (Fresno:  California Mennonite Historical Society, 2013), individual #117515.
Then I got to wondering if he was in the 1811 Elbing census, which was taken near the end of 1811, so I checked Adalbert Goertz’extraction.  And I found him as expected in Fürstenauerweide:
Gerhard Fast household #10, 31 December 1811, Fuerstenauerweide village #4, Elbing Territory census, West Prussia, Zesp. I/10, Nr. 44, Archiwum Panstwowe w Gdansku, Gdansk, Poland, n. p.  Extraction accessed on 26 August 2016.
I’m sure it is him because the family data matches.  Notice that no wife is listed – there is only a blank in the space where the age of the wife would be shown.  His first wife, Helena Wiebe died in October 1811, so it fits that she is not listed.  Three children’s ages are listed – 10, 8, and 3 years.  He had three children still living, Helena, Nicolaus, and Katharina, whose ages were 9, 6, and 4 years based on their exact birth dates from the Lutheran church book.  Remember that ages in census records were not very exact back then, so this fits well enough.  Two of those children, Helena and Nicolaus, died in late December 1811, but they are still listed in the census.  Since the census was taken near the end of 1811, the family information fits the census.

The census also adds another useful piece of information – he was an Arbeitsman, a laborer.  This means that there is not much point in searching for land records in Fürstenauerweide.  And it also tells us that they were poor.  In 1819, Gerhard Fast and his second wife Barbara Isaac and his remaining daughter Katharina emigrated to Russia, to start a new life as a landowner in the village of Rudnerweide, Molotschna Colony.
Gerhard Fast emigration, 1819, household #23, Emigration records, Benjamin Heinrich Unruh, Die niederländisch-niederdeutschen Hintergründe der mennonitischen Ostwanderungen im 16., 18. und 19. Jahrhundert (Karlsruhe:  Heinrich Scheider, 1954), p. 367.  Accessed on digital copy from California Mennonite Historical Society, Fresno, California.

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