Why did Johann and Christina Strickert Emigrate?(1)
Why did Johann Strickert of Weggun, Brandenburg, Prussia (2) come to America? Why did he leave behind Germany his home? Anyone studying family history is faced with these questions. Without letters and personal journals it is impossible to answer such “why” questions with certainty. However, a careful analysis of basic genealogical data can offer important clues.
The Strickert family went pack several generations in Weggun. Johann's marriage is documented in 1829, including the name of Johann's father Carl Strickert.
According to church records the Strickert family is well documented from 1850 to 1856 in Weggun (3). The names of Johann Strickert and Christina Strickert (born Feuerhak) are listed on the marriage record of their daughter Christine Wilhelmine in 1853. Johann is also mentioned as parent on confirmation records (4) of his sons Johann (5) in 1851 and Wilhelm in 1856.
Several of the children are listed as witnesses in baptismal records: Wilhelmine (1851), Carl (1852), and Johann (1855). “Arbeitmann Strickert” (probably the elder Johann) is listed as a baptismal witness in 1853. Finally, the birth of Christine Wilhelmine’s daughter Freidericke is recorded in 1852. The family was active in the life of the community during this period. The last recorded event with their names is the baptism of Wilhelm in April, 1856—consistent with reports of their emigration.
The decision to emigrate could not have been an easy one. Johann and Christina Strickert of Weggun, Brandenburg, Prussia were 55 and 56 years old respectively when they emigrated in 1856, taking along five sons between the ages of 7 and 22 (Karl, 22; Johann, 20; Friedrich, 17; Wilhelm, 15; Christian, 7).
According to church records in Weggun, they left behind an older daughter Christine Wilhelmine Sophie Strickert (6) (born in 1832), who in 1853 married Carl Wilhelm Hoppenrath of nearby Hardenbeck, and four grand children including Friederike Albertine Strickert Hoppenrath who was born in 1852 and baptized in the Weggun Church. See # 4 below:
They left behind other “Strickerts” (actually all female and married with names like Nehls, Gudenschwager, and Schulz) in Weggun. Among them is likely (7) Johann’s mother, Christine Sophie Strickert (born Wichmann) who died a short time later at the age of 85 in 1858. There are also likely (8) two sisters of Johann. Dorothee Strickert (born about 1800) married Johann Friedrich Schulz and raised a large family with three generations continuing in Weggun through the 1870s. Christine Wilhelmine Strickert (born about 1805) married Johann Christian Friedrich Gudenschwager and raised a large family with three generations continuing in Weggun through the 1870s. The Gudenschwager family did later immigrate to Detroit, Michigan. Another Christine Strickert (9), possibly a niece of Johann Strickert, married Karl Friedrich Nehls and also raised a large family with three generations continuing in Weggun through the 1870s. It is likely that Christina Feuerhak Strickert also left behind many relatives in Wichmannsdorf (10). Fifty different persons with name Feuerhak occur in Wichmannsdorf church records for the years 1853-1874, including death records in the 1850s of two old enough to be her parents or at least uncle and aunt: Martin Feuerhak (1773-1860) and Dorothee (born Heise) Feuerhak (1764-1853). Many of the other names likely include brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, and nephews.
The German Emigration Phenomenon
Over the last three centuries, 8 million Germans have immigrated to North America. Prior to 1800, the number was only several hundred per year. By the 1830s, the numbers climbed to 10,000 per year, then 20,000. The greatest emigration (11), however, came in three waves:
The largest number of German emigrants in any one year was 1854 with about 240,000 emigrants. The first wave totaled about 1.3 million. The largest number of these were rural peasants and craftsmen. Many were families with one quarter as children. The largest numbers came from western and southern German states. The second and third waves were predominantly eastern Germans.
Johann Strickert’s emigration thus came at the end of the first wave. However, according to location he seems to have been earlier than the many from eastern parts of Germany who emigrated in great numbers in the 1870s and 1880s.
Other Weggun Emigrants
When Johann and Christina Strickert left Weggun in 1856, they were not alone. The emigration records from Boitzenburg include 45 entries from 1852-68 just from the village of Weggun. Many of these are single men, but there are also families such as the seven members of Johann Strickert family and one family numbering eleven. All total, 129 persons are listed leaving Weggun for either American or South Africa during this 17 year period. The ship records for those traveling from Hamburg to America are not yet recorded, but the records of passengers sailing for South Africa give details about the make up of such families. These make up at least four other Weggun families (12) emigrating in 1858 and another in 1860 (13). Among the passengers on the ship “Wandrahm” leaving Hamburg for South Africa on August 22, 1858 were:
• Christian Meier, age 50, Arbeitsmann of Weggun,
• Justine Meier, age 43, frau
o Carl, 20
o Friedrich, 15
o Wilhelm, 12
o August, 11
o Gottlieb, 8
o Ferdinand, 3
o Herman, 3
• Wilhelm Ladewig, age 27, Arbeitsmann of Weggun
• Friedricke Ladewig, age 25, frau
o Mine, unter 1
• Carl Horn, age 28, Arbeitsmann of Weggun
• Friedricke Horn, age 31, frau o Auguste, 1
• Friedrich Krull, age 38, Arbeitsmann of Weggun
• Marie Krull, age 39, frau
o Karl, 15
o Wilhelm, 13
o Friedrich, 9
o Wilhelmine, 5
Among the passengers on the ship “Alfred” leaving Hamburg for South Africa on August 11, 1860 were:
• Carl Buch, age 34, Arbeiter of Weggun
• Wilhelmine Buch, age 37, frau
How much of an impact did these departures make on the village of Weggun? The population of Weggun in 1856 is not known. We have population figures for 2000: 713 and 1933: 317. If we take this latter figure, then we have 40% of the people of Weggun leaving the country in this short time. An 1820 Weggun map shows the relative size of this village:
What is clear from this data, is that we have individuals similar to Johann Strickert and family. The profession of all the men is listed as Arbeitmann, or common laborer. This is the same as occurs on the Weggun church records for Johann Strickert. It is also significant that all of these are families emigrating, not just individuals. In fact, the family of Christian Meier is quite similar to that of Johann Strickert.
In a town the size of Weggun, everyone knew the business of everyone else. However, from the church records, we know that the Johann Strickert family and the Christian Meier family knew each other fairly well. When the twin sons Ferdinand and Herman Meier were baptized in 1855, Johann Strickert’s son Johann is listed among the baptismal witnesses. Similarly, when another Meier child (presumably a niece of Christian Meier) was baptized in 1853, the baptismal witnesses included “Arbeitmann Strickert” (quite possibly Johann, the father) and Wilhelm Ladewig, another of the emigrants to South Africa. One can only imagine the discussions that must have taken place among Johann Strickert, Christian Meier, and Wilhelm Ladewig about emigration.
Of course, Johann Strickert boarded a ship for America and the others, South Africa. This leads to the question about the decision of destinations. Why did Johann Strickert head for Logan Township, Ontario, Canada? What if, he had joined his friends and headed for South Africa? One can only imagine how different lives would have been for the three to four thousand descendants (15) of Johann and Christina Strickert.
Population Growth in Germany
Studies on German emigration give rapid population growth as a primary reason. The population was growing so fast that the land could not support everyone. Families were large. Johann and Christina had at least six children. Christian Meier, cited above, emigrated with seven children. This pattern is clear from Weggun church records from 1850-1874.
Over the 25 years of church records, there were 501 baptisms or 20.04 per year. Over that same period, there were 109 marriages or 4.36 per year. When one compares these two figures, there are 4.596 baptisms for every marriage (16). The actual numbers and ratio are significantly higher for the first 12 years. From 1850-1861, there were 294 baptisms or 24.5 per year. There were 55 marriages or 4.58 per year. The ratio of baptisms to marriages was 5.349.
Over the entire 25 years there were 240 deaths or 9.6 per year. So there were roughly twice as many children born as there were people dying (2.087 ratio). This has been attributed to better nutrition in Germany during the mid-1800s. At the same time, it appears that a community like this can be affected by illness and epidemics. In 1851, the death figure shot up to 26.
Children especially were vulnerable to death. For example, in Wichmanndorf in 1862, there were 24 deaths altogether, among them 22 were children, including sisters, 4 month old Albertine Feuerhak and 3 year old Emilie in the space of four days in January. Another example, Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Gudenschwager (son of Christine Strickert) and Karoline Arndt were married in 1861. They had four children by 1867. Three died within less than two months of birth. The mother Karoline died within a month after the last baby died. Life was difficult. It would not be surprising if Johann and Christina Strickert had other children who died.
Perhaps this can be seen in the number of confirmations, 232 in 20 years or 11.6 per year (17). When compared to baptisms, roughly one of two children was baptized (57.9 %). The overall numbers do show the affect of emigration on the community of Weggun. There is a clear decline in the number of baptisms from 1850 to 1874. Prior to 1863, only two years did the total go below 20. After 1863, the total never reached 20. During the first 12 years there were 294 baptisms or 24.5 per year. During the final 13 years there were 207 baptisms or 15.92 per year.
The same pattern occurs in marriages. There were 55 marriages in the first 12 years or 4.58 per year. There were 54 marriages in the last 13 years or 4.15 per year. 17 of those 54 marriages occurred in two years 1866-1867. For the last 7 years, there were 22 marriages or 3.14 per year.
The declining numbers of marriages and baptisms in Weggun were likely affected by emigration. Even if we took only the Strickerts and the families immigrating to South Africa mentioned above, there are ten sons who would have reached marriageable age by 1870. In a small town like Weggun, that could make a significant difference.
The difficult life does seem to produce hardy people. This is clear from Johann and Christina Feuerhak themselves. As mentioned earlier, they emigrated at the age of 55 and 56. They also lived to old age. Christina died in Canada in 1891 at 91 years of age. Johann moved again to Kansas and died there in 1893 at 92 years of age. There are other examples of longevity:
• Christine Sophie Strickert (born Wichmann) died in 1858 at 85 years of age.
• Dorothee Strickert’s husband Johann Friedrich Schulz died in 1873 at 74 years of age.
• Dorothee Elizabeth Feuerhak (born Heise) died in 1853 at 88 years of age.
• Dorothee Sophee Feuerhak (born Nedorn) died in 1874 at 82 years of age.
• Martin Feuerhak died in 1860 at 86 years of age.
• Martin Feuerhak died in 1869 at 77 years of age.
In addition, it may be significant that there is no death record between 1850-1874 for Dorothee Strickert Schulz (born about 1800) and Christine Wilhelmine Strickert Gudenschwager (born about 1800) (18). So they may have lived into their 70s and 80s.
Other Conditions in Germany
Germany was in turmoil in the 1850s. Politically, there was still the conflict between the continuing monarchical ideas and egalitarianism that had been filtering into Prussia from France. Friederich Wilhelm IV had acceded to the throne in 1840 with hopes that a constitution and reforms would follow. However, in response to a meeting of reformers (intellectuals, professors, poets) in Frankfurt in Mark 1848, he turned reactionary and put down the revolt with the military. He still believed in the divine right of kings. The reformers proposed a compromise in which they would elect him as king of a unified Germany. He turned it down because he could not accept election by common citizens.
Many leaders of this revolt, in fact, had to flee, immigrating to the USA. They were known as the fortyeighters and rallied in the U.S. to raise funds for the German revolution. When that failed, they began promoting the Americas as a place where Germans could find political freedom. In 1849, the first German-American Society was formed in Cincinnati. Letters, pamphlets, and books were sent back to Germany extolling the virtues of immigration.
The rebellion of 1848 likely had an indirect affect on Johann Strickert and family. As common folk in a small town, it is not clear how well they would know about these issues. In fact, their family names suggest loyalty to the ruling family. Frederich Wilhelm III was the Prussian ruler throughout most of Johann’s younger life (1797-1840). He had married the very popular Princess Louise of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (just a few miles west of Weggun), who died in 1810. Among their children were Frederich Wilhelm (b. 1795, ruled 1840-1861), Wilhelm (b. 1797, ruled 1861-1871), and Karl. Similarly to many other residents of Weggun, Prussia, Johann and Christina Strickert named children Wilhelmine, Karl Friedrich Wilhelm, Frederich Wilhelm, and Wilhelm. The others followed the parents, Johann and Christian.
So it is unlikely, that the decision to leave Germany reflected sympathy with the reforms. However, the deliberate efforts of immigrating reformers to communicate back to Germany probably had an affect on Johann and others like him, making him aware of opportunities in the Americas.
Economic factors probably played a greater role. As mentioned above, rapid population growth made it more difficult to survive. The Prussian countryside was already in transition throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. According to David Blackbourn, “almost a quarter of Prussian farms were sold in this period, mainly to other farmers.”(19) Poor harvests in Prussia in 1845-7 were followed by bankruptcies and unemployment and a general downturn of the business cycle in cities. Johann, like many men from Weggun, is identified on church records as Arbeitmann, a common laborer including farm work. With five sons beginning to move into the work force (the oldest Karl was 22 in 1856), the decision to emigrate in 1856 did make sense.
Weggun is located directly north of Berlin in the region of Uckermark, which included both the northern area of Brandenburg and the eastern part of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. It was named after the Uecker River which is a tributary of the Oder (the river which forms the Polish border). The district is characterized by 600 lakes and 2800 km of rivers. Rare animals still live in the lakeand: ospreys, beavers, and otters. “Uckermark was always a sparsely populated region. From the 6th to the 12th century Slavic people settled in the area; then invaders from Brandenburg came to Uckermark and founded castles and towns. In medieval times the region was claimed by Pomerania and Mecklenburg. In 1479 a treaty awarded Uckermark once and for all to Brandenburg.”(20) French Huguenots also settled in the east part of region.(21)
In 1701 the kingdom of Prussia was established under Fredrick 1 and continued until a unified Germany was established in 1871. Brandenburg was established as a province of Prussia in 1815. Weggun is thus a town in the province of Brandenburg in Prussia. Only a few miles to the west and north was the border with Mecklenburg-Strelitz. This may be significant since the American family trees note family origins in Mecklenburg.(22)
At the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648, the region along the Baltic Sea surrounding the city of Wismar was granted to Sweden. This area was known as Mecklenburg.(23) The duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin was in the west and Mecklenburg-Strelitz occupied the eastern section, bordering the area of Uckermark. In 1871 both duchies also became part of the German empire.
The highest rate of emigration to the Americas came from Mecklenburg. One of every three Mecklenburgers left between 1820-1890—261,000 total. 88.5% of emigrants came from the best farming areas controlled by the noble and titled big-land owners.(24) A critical date is 1820 when serfdom was annulled in Mecklenburg.(25) As a result, the landowners simply got rid of masses of laborers rather than to face obligations to provide for them appropriately. It was difficult for them to find employment elsewhere without receiving a right of establishment from other landowners. This right of establishment also granted the right to marry—subjects needed permission from the ruling class to marry and to have a family. These workers thus became homeless within their own country. Certainly there were some who moved from Mecklenburg to Prussia contributing to the overpopulation problem. David Blackbourn writes that already in the 18th century, “300,000 migrated to Prussia.”(26) This pattern continued in the first half of the nineteenth century.
It is thus understandable how residents of Weggun would have been inclined to emigration. The population was growing and there was likely an influx of Mecklenburgers. The social, economic and political climate made emigration an attractive option. For a family with five sons beginning to reach adulthood, it would be wise to seek opportunities elsewhere. It was certainly difficult for persons the age of Johann and Christina Strickert to leave behind family in Weggun, Wichmannsdorf, and Hardenbeck. However, their sons and undoubtedly all descendants would have said that they made a wise decision.
Note on Sources
The church records from Weggun provide a significant amount of information about Johann Strickert and family, especially since they cover less than seven years of residence before he emigrated (1850-1856). It is still frustrating not to have the records for previous years (whether they exist in hard copy in Germany or have been destroyed is unknown. The years available for all these towns in the area of Weggun consistently contain these particular years 1850-1874. The years for the 1830s and 1840s would include birth records of Johann and Christina’s children. The 1820s would provide there marriage record which would likely include the names of their parents. Such data would provide definite links to the Dorothee Strickert and the three Christine Strickerts mentioned in the 1850s. The situation is more difficult with the Wichmannsdorf records. We have the names of 50 different Feuerhaks between 1853 and 1874. However, the gap to Christina born in 1801 is too great at present to make definite links.
There is another problem. The records are basically systematized, but there is still room for individual pastors to record data according to their own preferences. For example, there are no confirmation records for Wichmannsdorf. At Weggun, there are none from 1871 on. We should be thankful that earlier pastors in Weggun decided to record these. The confirmation records always include the name of the confirmand’s father and birth date, which help us determine information from before 1850.
The marriage records include a lot of information, birth dates and places of both parties and parents’ names. Actually it is most often the father alone. However, at Weggun in the earlier records, the mother’s maiden name was included.
Baptismal records include both parents’ names when married and names of witnesses. At Weggun there were consistently three witnesses, whom we assume were relations or close friends. At Wichmannsdorf, there were often 10-14 witnesses, so it is difficult to know how close they were too the family.
There are a significant number of baptisms for children of unmarried mothers. Their status is duly noted and the father’s name left blank. The child takes the mother’s name. So the Strickert name continued with Friedericke Strickert (born 1852) even though her mother Christine Wilhelmine Strickert was married a year later to Carl Hoppenrath.
For a short time in Wichmannsdorf, the pastor recorded the status of the couple in the marriage record. For the man, it was his status as church member. The options were “active member” written in German or “lapsus” in Latin, meaning lapsed from membership. For the woman, it was not her church status but her sexual status. For most women during his tenure, they were listed as “Jungfrau,” German word meaning young woman or virgin. However, there was an occasion “deflorata” in Latin, meaning “deflowered”. So when the young couple in their early twenties Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Feuerhak and Auguste Wilhelmine Caroline Behm were married on 12-10-1874, he was identified for posterity as “Lapsus” and she was identified as “deflorata.”
Such differences came about because all records at this time were hand written under hand-written headings. Shortly after this forms for church records were on printed forms and thus more standardized.
1. Researched and written by Fred Strickert, Waverly, Iowa.
2. Weggun is located about seventy miles north of Berlin in the center of a triangle that includes Prenzlau in the east, Templin in the southwest, and Neubrandenburg in the northwest. Templin is about forty miles straight north of Berlin. If you take the highway from Templin to Prenzlau as the base of the triangle and dissect the base running an imaginary line from its center in a northwest direction toward Neubrandenburg, all the villages are on this line. Wichmannsdorf (birthplace of mother Christina) is closest the highway, then Boitzenburg, then Weggun. A mile west of Weggun is the village of Arnimshain (the birth place of William Friedrich, according to family records). A little further west is Furstenau. Arnimshain and Furstenau are included in the church records of Weggun.
3. Church records from the town of Weggun for the years 1850-1874 are available on microfilm from the Family History Center of the Mormon Church.
4. The Weggun confirmation records for 1853 are missing (likely a careless mistake while microfilming). Son Friedrich (born 2-8-1839) would have been in that class. Of the Johann Strickert family members, only Friedrich and Christian (born 2-22-1849 according to Canadian Strickert records) do not show up in the Weggun records. This is a significant omission for many U.S.A. descendants since Friedrich and Carl were the two brothers who moved from Canada to Kansas in 1886. With eleven children of his own, Friedrich most certainly has produced the largest number of American Strickert descendants.
5. His birth date is 11-13-1836, not 1840 as on American family history records.
6. The American family tradition notes that there was one daughter named Wilhelmine who married Wilhelm Hoppenrath. The name Wilhelmine Strickert occurs once as a witness in a 1851 baptism. The name Christine Wilhelmine Sophie Strickert occurs twice: in 1852 as mother of baptized daughter Fredericke Strickert and in 1853 in marriage record with Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Hoppenrath. It is possible that these are two daughters, but for now we are assuming these are the same person.
7. Assumption is based on scarcity of name Strickert and on her birthdate in 1773 which is consistent to be mother of Johann born in 1801. Note that such assumptions are provisionary while seeking further documentation.
8. Assumption is based on scarcity of name Strickert and the proximities of their birthdates in early 1800s to Johann in 1801.
9. She was younger of than the two previously mentioned Strickert women. Two clear references list daughters born in 1851 and 1857. Other possible Nehls children were born from 1836 through the 1840s. So her birth may have been as early as 1815 and as late as 1830. It would seem that she may have been a daughter of an otherwise unknown brother of Johann Strickert.
10. Church records from Wichmannsdorf for the years 1853-1874 are available on microfilm from the Family History Center of the Mormon Church.
11. David Blackbourn, The Long Nineteenth Century: A History of Germany, 1780-1918.
14. One would assume that others from Weggun emigrated at the same time since these documents were found without a deliberate search.
15. This is an approximate figure based on the following. Through the five sons that immigrated with Johann and Christina Strickert, there were 35 grandchildren, one of whom was Henry J. Strickert, my grandfather. I calculate over 100 descendants of Henry J. Strickert. If this is average, then there would be 3,700 descendants in Canada and the United States.
16. Some couples married in Weggun, settled in nearby towns. Some married elsewhere settled in Weggun. Presumably, this averages out.
17. During 5 years, 1853, 1871, 1872, 1873, 1874, there is no record of confirmations.
18. The references to them in marriage documents of children in 1850s assume they are still alive. Of course, they too may have emigrated although there is no evidence of that.
19. David Blackbourn, The Long Nineteenth Century: A History of Germany, 1780-1918, page 110.
20. See the website http://www.fact-index.com/u/uc/uckermark.html or maps at http://www.uckermark.de and http://uckermark_web.de
21. The district (Kreis) Uckermark was created in 1993 by merging previous districts of Angermunde, Prenzlau, and Templin. Its capital today is Prenzlau. Today it has 146,434 inhabitants in an area of 3,058 square km.
22. This could be an error. It could mean that the borders changed over time. It could mean that the Strickerts had moved eastward from Mecklenburg. There is one intriguing reference on http://worldconnect.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op+GET&db=bcdoughterty&id=I2791 to a Hanna Maria Sophia Strickert, born in 1795, who married Joachim Michael Detloff Woderich on 10-16-1816 in Dewitz-Ballin, Mecklenburg-Strelitz. This town is only 20-30 miles from Weggun and Hanna’s age suggests the possibility that she could be Johann’s older sister or a cousin. Microfilmed church records are available for Ballin from 1667 on, but they are rather crude with sloppy handwriting and not the systematic level of Prussia records. The bottom line is that I could find no reference to a Strickert or a Woderich in these records.
23. See map at http://www.igd-r.fraunhofer.de/mvhist/landmeck1701.html
24. See website http://blacklake.biz/meck/garling.htm for helpful summary.
25. Johann was nineteen years old at the time, ready for marriage (he married in 1827) and taking employment. The conditions were right for an individual his age to move across border into Prussia seeking a better future. However, the presence of other Strickerts of similar age in Weggun seems to argue for deeper roots in Weggun.
26. David Blackbourn, The Long Nineteenth Century: A History of Germany, 1780-1918. page 10.
Strickert Family History
Strickert Emigration Essay