My First Great Nativity Success…The Rest of the Story

Finding an immigrant ancestor in their homeland can be a daunting task. One of my mentors explained to me; many times researchers try to “cross the pond” before they are ready to make that jump. What my mentor meant was, without doing thorough research in the United States records you may not be able to identify, accurately, the family abroad and possibly spend years, spinning your wheels, never finding your ancestor in their homeland.

The Main

The Main

Thorough research has many positive byproducts. One, you learn about your subject inside and out, this is hugely advantageous throughout your research. When examining documents or artifacts, a researcher will recognize right away if the information from the item relates to their subject.   Plus many times with thorough research you will find direct evidence of an ancestor’s origins.

Another one of my instructor’s taught me to research exhaustively an individual, to identify uniquely, that particular person in the records and a specific location. This effort includes researching the Family, Associates, and Neighbors of the specific target person. Once again this strategy can uncover information with direct and indirect evidence of an individual’s nativity.

The moral of the story is, thorough research is the key to success. The vast majority of nativity questions can be answered with U.S. research; some expert researchers say a much as 90% of these cases can be solved. The remaining questions require more advanced techniques to uncover. My Strohschien’s secretive immigration compounded the problems I faced with their nativity, but the solution was just that, a U.S. research problem.

As mentioned previously, when attempting to find someone’s origins, it is advantageous to create a large target to find. It is easier to find a group of people than it is to find a single individual. This technique is especially true if you are attempting to find a single person, in a large country, with a common name, similar place names, people of similar ages, etc.… Knowing your ancestor’s F.A.N. Club can make this task much easier.

At least seven Stroscheins immigrated to the United States. Because of naturalization laws and a death, only the four men went through the naturalization process. Caroline Stroschein (1883-1947), by law,  naturalized upon her marriage to Howard W Smeltzer (1880-1948). The matriarch Gottliebe Dombrowsky Stroschein (1844-1913) came to the United States in 1903 and lived with her oldest son Charles L. Stroschein until her death in 1913[1]. She never naturalized that I have found. One of the older sons. John Stroschein died in 1906, never naturalizing.

Carl (Charles L.) Stroschein immigrated in 1883 with his uncle, Andreas Dombrowsky. He was only 16-years-old. Charles naturalized 30 October 1903 in the Western District of Pennsylvania, United States District Court. Since he naturalized before 1906, his application was not very helpful. It states he came from Germany[2].

Fredrick Stroschein immigrated to Pitcairn on 25 March 1882 and entered the United States through New York aboard the Hermann according to his Declaration of Intent[3]. There is a problem with this information. First, Frederick would have been nine years old and secondly the Hermann only landed in New York November 1881, May 1883, September 1886, October 1889, April 1990, May 1892, and June 1892. These pieces of differing information complicate finding Fredrick on a passenger list. Luckily Fredrick signs his declaration 29 November 1917. He states he was born in Grozno Germany 24 October 1872; this is the same information he gave in his Petition for Naturalization.

August Stroschein, my great grandfather, arrived in Baltimore 26 June 1901 with his younger siblings Caroline and Hermann. The passenger list states they were from Gorzno Germany. In his Declaration of Intent of 8 February 1910, August claims he was born 27 September 1877 in Gorzno Germany. He further states his last residence was Gorzon Germany. In his Petition for Naturalization, August says he was born in Gorzov Germany[4]. Interestingly it was written that he came from three differently spelled towns with similar spellings.

Hermann Stroschein immigrated with his brother and sister in 1901. In his Declaration of Intent of 28 June 1901 he states he was born 27 October 1887 in Gorkno Germany but in his Application for Naturalization, Hermann says he is from Gorzuv Germany[5].

With five different town names, it would seem to be a simple matter of searching all of these names and find a town in Germany. Not so fast. There are not any towns in Germany with this name. This rookie genealogist was making a common but fatal error. I was looking at the records with 21st-century eyes and trying to apply the same logic. Big Mistake—Big, Big Mistake.

Resolving this problem required me to think about the town and its location in my ancestor’s terms. In other documents, many Stroschein’s state they were from Prussia. I had to examine what Germany looked like when my ancestors lived there. Germany did not become a country until 1871. Before this, it was just a loose group of states, duchies, and Palatinates of Germanic origins allied together. In 1871,  Otto von Bismarck unified most of the German states, with one notable exception, Austria. So when Charles says he was born in Germany, this is misleading.

After World War I, the country of Poland was reformed from former regions known as East and West Prussia. Modern day Poland was called Germany from 1871 to the end of WWI. When I started to examine this area, a town emerged with the name GORZNO that was in the Brodnica area of Poland.

Armed with this information, I went to the Family History Library for the first time. Karen and I sat through the little introductory video of the library. Then with our first-time visitor tags on, I explaining my research needs, we were immediately ushered down to the B-1 level of the FHL. After consulting Meyers Orts, and discovering Lautenburg was the main Lutheran parish that coverd Gorzno, we went to the computer and found film #245696.

The elder from the FHL was so helpful that he loaded the film onto the reader for me. He started spinning through the film going past about half a dozen images. I was saying wait, wait, wait; I want to start from the beginning. The very helpful man told me, “Oh chances are the person you are looking for is not there.” Undaunted I rolled the film back to the first page, there, about six lines down was Paul Strohschein born to Johann Strohschein and Regina Bobrowski.

If there was ever a moment that stopped me in my tracks and made me think there should be a choir of angels singing with a giant heavenly gate opening this was it for me. I blurted out, “That is my Great Great Grandfather!” My very next statement was definitely from a rookie’s mouth, I proclaimed, “This genealogy stuff is easy!” You can imagine the ignorance of this statement from a wet behind the ears genealogist examining his first microfilm and looking through half a dozen entries and solving a great mystery of his family. I WAS HOOKED. Overcome with excitement; I did not even notice the throngs of people giving me an odd stare.

I spent the rest of the week trying to find this family in entirely foreign records to me…pun intended. This experience was also my first foray into German language records and my first ever look at “Old German Script.” Indoctrination by fire indeed, but that’s okay, I am after all a fireman.

[1] Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Bureau of Vital Statistics, Certificate of Death, file no. 81281, registered no. 37, Gottlebe Stroschein, 20 August 1913; digital image Ancestry.com, (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2 February 2016), Pennsylvania Death Certificates 1906-1963.

[2] Karl Stroschein, Petiton for Citizenship (1903), filed 30 October 1903, Western District of Pennsylvania, Records of the District Court of the United States, Record Group 21, National Archives, Washington, D.C.; digital image Ancestry.com, (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2 February 2016), NARA microfilm series M1537, Roll 102, filed Oct 13-31, 1903.

[3] Fredrick Stroschein petition for naturalization (1919), naturalization petition file number 26733, Western District of Pennsylvania, U.S. District Court; digital image Ancestry.com, (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 8 December 2015); NARA microfilm series M1537, Roll 225, Petitions 26661-26900.

[4] August Stroschein Petition for Naturalization (1912), naturalization petition file number 5929, Western District of Pennsylvania, Records of the District Court of the United States, Record Group 21, National Archives, Washington, D.C.; digital image Ancestry.com, (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2 February 2016), NARA microfilm series M1537, Roll 144, Petition Nos. 5851-6100.

[5] Hermann Stroschein Petition for Naturalization (1912), naturalization petition file number 5928, Western District of Pennsylvania, Records of the District Court of the United States, Record Group 21, National Archives, Washington, D.C.; digital image Ancestry.com, (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2 February 2016), NARA microfilm series M1537, Roll 144, Petition Nos. 5851-6100.

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