Mennonite Library and Archives
Bethel College, North Newton, KS

West Prussian Property Records from Polish Archives

Property and inheritance records are important sources for genealogical and historical studies. Unfortunately for Low German Mennonites, the earliest, West Prussian records are in Polish archives and have been difficult to access. An early use of these records is found in B. H. Unruh's classic book on the immigration from Prussia to Russia: Die niederländisch-niederdeutschen Hintergründe der mennonitischen Ostwanderungen im 16., 18. und 19. Jahrhundert. Unknown, or unnoticed, by the many researchers who have used this book are the many references to "Hyp. Beil. Akten" in the extensive lists of immigrants. These are the Hypotheken Beilagen Akten, which were thoroughly researched by Franz Harder of Danzig and the information he obtained was provided to Unruh. Unfortunately all of Harder's collection was destroyed or went missing after his death towards the end of World War 2.

As a result of the partition of Poland in 1772, most Mennonites ended up living in West Prussia, a province of the Kingdom of Prussia (Frederick the Great was king at the time). In 1783 the Prussian Hypotheken Ordnung initiated standardized recording of property and inheritance records. Village Grundbücher (Grundbuch) and Grundakten were started.

Many of these records have survived and are located in Polish archives. The first part of this project, funded by the Plett Foundation, concentrates on the extensive collection in the archives at Malbork, Poland, formerly Marienburg, West Prussia.

A few useful definitions:

A few words about using the records:

1) These are not church registers or census lists. You will not find nice, neat lists of names and dates, nor will you find any reliable indices. You will need to carefully search the pages of the records for the village of interest in order to find the person you are looking for. This is part of doing real historical and genealogical research!

2) These records are written in a rather legal style of 18th and 19th century German. Even those with some knowledge of German may find it difficult to decipher the terminology and work out the often complex relationships described in these documents.

3) It is important to note that husband and wife were joint owners of a property. As a result, the maiden names of wives are provided (something rarely done in many Mennonite church records). Also, all legitimate children had equal inheritance rights (unlike in some European countries). So if a husband or wife died while owning a property, all of the living children and children of deceased children of that person (not step children) are frequently listed as heirs. See, for example, the case of Dietrich Kroeker, mentioned below, whose listed heirs are his children through his 2nd wife Catharina Jantzen (his 1st wife was Anna Loepp). This implies that he obtained his property through his marriage to Catharina Jantzen. This illustrates the caution one should use when interpreting these records.

Why you might not be able to find someone in a property record for a specific village:

1) Your ancestor was not a property owner. Note that by 1783 a large percentage of the Mennonite families in West Prussia were landless. This was one of the reasons for emigration to Russia. There are lists of Mennonite landowners for 1789 and 1824 (for Marienwerder region), as well as a list of those who acquired land between 1789 and 1798 and those in the Marienwerder region who disposed of land between 1803 and 1856.

2) You have confused two villages with the same name. Some examples are Rosenort (one in the Gross Werder area and one in the Klein Werder area) and Neuenhuben (one in the Danzig region and one in the Schwetz region).

3) You have confused two villages with similar names. For example, Montau in the Schwetz region and Klein Muntau in the Marienburg region. Another example is Muensterberg and Alt Muensterberg. Consult this village list.

4) The particular property record which might mention that person has been lost. Many of the early records have been lost for one reason or another over the last century. Most of these seem to have disappeared at the end of World War 2.

How to properly reference these records:

These records are expected to be of most use to genealogists. However, genealogists are notoriously sloppy and unprofessional when it comes to properly referencing sources. We insist that those who use this resource properly reference the documents they cite or reproduce on any web page or in any publication. Below is an example of proper citation of a file:

1) Image "IMGP0755" in the folder "Ellerwald Grundbuch Blatt 30-60 Malbork Archives Fond 502 File 421" has information on the heirs of Dietrich and Catharina (Janzen) Kroeker after the 1797 death of Dietrich Kroeker. This should be referenced as:

"Ellerwald Grundbuch Blatt 36 (page 82). State Archives of Malbork, Poland, Fond 502, File 421. Found at [insert exact URL here]".

In this way, anyone who wants to see the original document knows which archives to go to and exactly which file to ask for. In addition, if the exact URL for the image is provided, that person can go directly to the online image. Note that these documents are not always sequentially numbered and some pages are not numbered at all, so it is not always possible to provide a page number.

Please inform us if you are publishing or posting any of these images. Note that you should not publish large quantities of images from this collection or post large quantities of these images on another web site. Any abuse of this kind will result in this collection becoming accessible only through speical permission.

Glenn Penner

Please address any questions regarding this collection to Glenn Penner.

Please address any questions regarding this web page to John D. Thiesen.