East Prussia

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General Information


Prussia was a region which before 1772 consisted of what was later known as East Prussia (Ostpreussen) with capital of Königsberg, a duchy since 1525, a kingdom of the Hohenzollern dynasty since 1701 and West Prussia (Westpreussen) with the Hanseatic cities of Danzig, Elbing, Thorn, and Culm, part of Poland referred to as Polish Prussia before 1772.

Political Divisions

The 1806 administrative areas were

  1. Ostpreussen (983,034 inhabitants):
    1. Ostpreussisches Kammer-Department included the nobility Kreise of Samland (Schaken), Tapiau, Brandenburg, Rastenburg, Braunsberg, Heilsberg, Morungen and Neidenburg.
    2. Litauisches Kammer-Department included the nobility Kreise of Insterburg, Olezko and Sehesten.
  2. Neu-Ostpreussen (914,610 inhabitants):
    1. Department der Kriegs- und Domainen-Kammer zu Bialystok included the nobility Kreise of Lomza, Drohicin, Bielsk, Surasz, Bialystok, Bobrz, Dombrowa, Wygry, Kalwary, Marianpol.
    2. Departement der Kriegs- und Domainen-Kammer zu Plozk included the nobility Kreise of Wyszogrod, Lipno, Mlawa, Przasnik, Pultusk, Ostrolenka.

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-Aemter. The term === Political Divisions 1815 - 1920 ===

  • Regierungsbezirk (district) of Königsberg with 20 Kreise (counties): *Allenstein, *Braunsberg, Preussisch-Eylau, Fischhausen, Friedland, Gerdauen, Heiligenbeil, *Heilsberg, Preussisch-Holland, Königsberg-Stadt, Kbg-Land, Labiau, Memel, Mohrungen, Neidenburg, Ortelsburg, Osterode, Rastenburg, Roessel, Wehlau.
  • Regierungsbezirk (district) of Gumbinnen with 16 Kreise (counties): Angerburg, Darkehmen, Goldap, Gumbinnen, *Heydekrug, Insterburg, Johannisburg, Loetzen, Lyck, Niederung, Oletzko (Treuburg), Pillkallen, Ragnit, Sensburg, Stallupoenen, Tilsit. [This district was also called Preussisch-Litauen (Lithuania). It was here that the Austrian Salzburger refugees were settled in 1732 after the plague of 1708.]

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. Gazetteers for all villages and towns were published by Verein für Familienforschung in Ost- und Westpreussen in Hamburg in its Sonderschriften reprints Nr. 43 (Königsberg, 1820), Nr. 48 (Gumbinnen, 1818). Note: East and West Prussia were united as one Province of Prussia during 1824-18

  • Religious Divisions

The majority in 1890 was Evangelical (83.5%); the Catholics (12.8%) were concentrated in the four Kreise of Ermland (Allenstein, Braunsberg, Heilsberg and Roessel).

  • Court Districts

Before 1900, the highest provincial court was the Oberlandesgericht in Königsberg. The lower courts were

    • Landgericht Allenstein with (10) Amtsgerichte:

Allenstein, Gilgenburg, Hohenstein, Neidenburg, Ortelsburg, Osterode, Passenheim, Soldau, Wartenburg, Willenberg.

    • Landgericht Bartenstein with (17) Amtsgerichte:

Barten, Bartenstein, Bischofsburg, Bischofstein, Domnau, Preussisch-Eylau, Friedland, Gerdauen, Gutstadt, Heilsberg, Kreuzburg, Landsberg, Nordenburg, Rastenburg, Roessel, Schippenbeil, Seeburg.

    • Landgericht Braunsberg with (10) Amtsgerichte:

Braunsberg, Heiligenbeil, Liebstadt, Mehlsack, Mohrungen, Mühlhausen, Preussisch-Holland, Saalfeld, Wormditt, Zinten.

    • Landgericht Insterburg with (6) Amtsgerichte:

Darkehmen, Goldap, Gumbinnen, Insterburg, Pillkallen, Stallupoenen.

    • Landgericht Königsberg with (8) Amtsgerichte:

Allenburg, Fischhausen, Königsberg, Labiau, Mehlauken, Pillau, Tapiau, Wehlau.

    • Landgericht Lyck with (10) Amtsgerichte:

Angerburg, Arys, Bialla, Johannisburg, Loetzen, Lyck, Margrabbowa, Nikolaiken, Rhein, Sensburg.

    • Landgericht Memel with (4) Amtsgerichte:

Heydekrug, Memel, Proekuls, Russ.

    • Landgericht Tilsit with (6) Amtsgerichte:

Heinrichswalde, Kaukehmen, Ragnit, Skaisgirren, Tilsit, Wischwill.

    • Landgerichte: The whereabouts of the records for the Landgerichte is unknown. Some records of the Amtsgerichte are deposited at the Olsztyn archives today. Of special interest are the land deed records (Grund- und Hypotheken-Acta) with no published survey known.


In 1772 King Friedrich II annexed West 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. West 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 (9) Prussian kings were the following:

  • 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 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:

  • Verein für Familienforschung in Ost- und Westpreußen (VFFOW)
  • AGoFF, Arbeitsgemeinschaft ostdeutscher Familienforscher (D)
  • GeAGNO, Arbeitsgemeinschaft Genealogie Neidenburg-Ortelsburg (D)
  • Local Historical Societies

Genealogical and Historical Records

  • Church Records: The Lutheran church kept official records from 1815-1874.
  • 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
  • Census: There were numerous census records in Prussia. However, they give numbers only and are not relevant to genealogical research.
  • Citizenship
  • Filmed Sources: The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah has filmed many church and other records
    check places here

and here: [1]

Education [Hochschulen]

The only university in East Prussia was in Königsberg (since 1525).

Emigration and Immigration

Check here for sources

Secular Records

There were 3 types of records compiled periodically for the period of reign of Friedrich II (Old Fritz) who ruled 1740-1786:

  • Prästations-Tabellen (PT) are land tax lists since about 1723 for East Prussia (since about 1773 for West Prussia) and repeated about every 6 years until about 1806 and continued from about 1819 to about 1850. They would list land owners only. Many of them were published by the Verein für Familienforschung in Ost- und Westpreussen.
  • 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. This "Metzgeld" was abolished in 1807 by the Stein-Hardenberg reforms. Many of these lists were published by the Verein für Familienforschung in Ost- und Westpreussen.
  • 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.

Genealogical Guides

  • Edward R. Brandt, Adalbert Goertz, Genealogical Guide to East and West Prussia, Records, Sources, Publications & Events, Minneapolis MN 2003, ISBN: 0-971731-22-5; 478 pp.,w/maps
  • Library holdings of this Guide in the USA:


Genealogical Works

Sonderschriften des Vereins für Familienforschung in Ost-/Westpreussen e.V (deutsch)

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) = 0.25 ha = ca.0.63 acres

Monetary Units

The currencies in Prussia, 1821 - 1871/73 were:

  • 1 Reichsthaler = 30 Silbergroschen = 360 Pfennig
    • 1 Reichsthaler (rtr) = 30 Silbergroschen (sgr)
    • 1 Silbergroschen (sgr) = 12 Kupferpfennig (pf)

In 1871 the currencies of the individual German states were replaced by 1 Mark (=1/3 Thaler) = 100 Pfenning (pf).

The currencies in Pussia, 1750 - ca.1815 were:

  • Reichsthaler = 90 Groschen = 3 Polish Gulden (Fl, Zloty)
    • 1 Groschen = 18 Pfennig
    • 1 Gulden (Fl,Zloty) = 1/3 Reichsthaler = 30 Pr.Groschen

The purchasing power of 1 Reichsthaler was equivalent to that of 1 US Silver Dollar.

One Frederick d'Or (Gold coin) was equivalent to five Reichsthalers more or less (Silver coins), and fluctuated over the years, 1750 - 1857.


  • Arbeitsmann:- (non-farm) laborer
  • Arrendator:- tenant (pre-1820)
  • Bauer:- modern term after about 1850 for middle-sized farmer (<500 Morgen).
  • Deputant:- land laborer paid in kind (Deputat) like grain, potatos, lodging, little cash.
  • Einlieger:- land laborer, having his own living quarters
  • Einwohner (pre-1850):- same as Emphyteut, Nachbar, or Bauer.
  • Eleve, Lehrling:- practitioner, apprentice on a farm or Gut (estate).
  • Emphyteut (pre-1850):- tenant on royal Amt land, i.e. crownland (West Prussia only)
  • Gutsbesitzer:- modern term after about 1850 for large estate farmer, owning at least 500 Morgen
  • Hakenbüdner,Hoeker:- store owner/tenant selling supplies which are displayed on hooks from walls and ceiling
  • Hufner:- farmer owning one Hufe of land (see land measurements).
  • Instmann:- Deputant living and working on a Gut (estate)
  • Kämmerer:- granary manager; he controls the grain rations dished out to teamsters for their horses on an estate.
  • Kätner, Katner:- tenant of small shack (Kate) with land for own use, see Einlieger
  • Krüger, Krugpächter:- tenant of inn (Krug) or pub or pharmacy owned and licensed by king or noble landlord
  • Leute, Instleute:- plural of Instmann
  • Nachbar:- member of a collective group (Nachbarschaft) leasing land as a group from landlord
  • Oekonom, Verwalter, Wirtschafter:- farm manager
  • Pächter:- tenant, lessee.
  • Rittergutsbesitzer:- owner of large medieval estate farm, originally owned by noblity.
  • Rendant:- book keeper, accountant on an estate.
  • Schänker, Schankwirt, Krueger:- pub owner
  • Scharwerker:- an aid that an Instmann had to provide in addition to his own labor for additional pay, usually his unmarried son.
  • Spannführer:- teamster of 4 horses. 4 horses were one Gespann (team).
  • Tagelöhner:- land laborer earning daily wage in kind (Deputat), some cash.

Pronunciation of Place Names

Königsberg - KE-nicks-berk
Gumbinnen - goom-BIN-nen
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

Gazetteers 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 Geodäsie
Richard-Strauss-Allee 11
60598 Frankfurt, GERMANY
(Ask for their map catalog for Ostpreussen. especially Messtischblätter, scale 1:25000
and Karte des Dt.Reiches, scale 1:100000)


Archives and Libraries

Miscellaneous Subjects

Memel Timeline new!

Other Resources (including Internet)

Prussian-Russian-Canadian Mennonite Genealogical Resources: http://www.mennonitegenealogy.com/prussia
For a mailing list for genealogical researchers, OW-Preussen, contact: http://list.genealogy.net/mailman/listinfo/ow-preussen-l
Tim Janzen's summary of Mennonite sources: [3]

Predecessor States/Historical Regions

Last update: 04-Nov-01 (hjw) Rainer Herrmann created the original version of this page. Continued in co-operation by Albert Lipskey starting 16-Dec-01 (b). Adalbert Goertz has contributed historical, district, records and other information to this page. Please forward any comments and additions to this WWW-Page to: WebMaster. Disclaimers.

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