Monday, August 7, 2017

Analyzing the 1776 Census

For the last several months, I've been working on this huge project to analyze all the Fasts in the 1776 census of Mennonites in West Prussia.  My goal was to try to identify the parents of Gerhard Fast #660202 (1739-1828), my 7th-great-grandfather and earliest known Fast ancestor.  Since his oldest known sibling was born in ABT 1737, I realized that his parents would probably have been in their early 60s in the 1776 census.  Thus it is likely that one or both of them were enumerated in that census; but of course without knowing their names, they could be listed in plain sight and wouldn't even know it was them.  So my plan was to find out as much as possible out each of the 31 Fasts in that census to try to identify his parents.  I didn't identify either parent, but I was able to eliminate most of them as possible candidates.

I chose the 1776 census because it was only of Mennonites in West Prussia, so I didn't have to worry about sorting out people who had "Mennonite-sounding" names.  Glenn Penner has already identified quite a few people in it, so a good start has been made.  Finally, I have scans of all the originals for the 1776 census.  I decided against the 1772 census because it included everyone in West Prussia - not just the Mennonites.  Very little work has been done on it, and I have only about half the scans for "Mennonite" villages in the Gross Werder, and ordering them from the Geheimes Staatsarkhiv in Berlin is slow and expensive.

Glenn Penner's extraction of the 1776 census is found here.  He (and perhaps others) had already identified 11 of the 31 Fasts with Grandma (GM) numbers.  I added 10 more during my project, so 21 of the 31 are now identified in GM.

The results of my efforts can be downloaded from Google Drive.  A few comments about the spreadsheet - the names and dates that I added are in red.  On a few people, I just looked them up and found the family in GM, just waiting to have a GM number associated with them on the census spreadsheet.  Others took a lot more work to research.  And a few were not in GM at all.

I started by looking for the head of household in my giant spreadsheet of Fasts that I have extracted over the last few years.  Any time I looked at church book or microfilm, I put all the names of Fasts (and in-laws) into a giant spreadsheet - even if I wasn't interested in them at the time.  Now I could just look at it and see all the records, for example, for Claas Fast, even if they were scattered among different sources.  Many times a family would come together just like that.

The sources that I checked included
  • Prussian Mennonite church books (Tiegenhagen, Ladekopp, Rosenort, Bärwalde, Montau, Tragheimerweide, Heubuden, Danzig, etc.) - I used the extractions at, Andreas Riesen's extractions, and the originals at Bethel College's Mennonite Library and Archives
  • Lutheran/Evangelical church books (Jungfer, Fürstenau, Neuteich, etc.) - Mostly from LDS microfilms
  • West Prussia Censuses - 1772, 1776, 1789, 1793 (Danzig), 1811 (Elbing)
  • Russian Censuses - 1806, 1808, 1811, 1835
  • Property Records 
  • Emigration Records - BH Unruh, Peter Rempel,
The key to successful genealogical research in West Prussia is to combine all the sources.  There are lots of West Prussian records, but most of them are fragmented  - there are only a few Mennonite Familienbücher where the entire family is listed together and most of these are fairly late.  Most West Prussian records give one data point, e.g. a certain child was born on a certain date and his father was a certain man.  If you pull everything together, suddenly the whole family pops into view.

To handle all this data, you need several things:
  • A method to store and organize all the data - such as my spreadsheet of Fast extractions
  • Access to all the records - online, microfilm, orders from archives
  • Research collateral lines - With fragmented data, researching siblings of your direct ancestor helps to pull everything together.
 I would encourage you to try the same thing for your surname.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for letting us know about this work. I am not yet ready to jump the pond for work on Mennonite research, but eventually I will, and I like any pointers that I can get. :)