Leaving Germany

The following is an excerpt from a post written by Cindy and David Johnson and reposted to the “My Pomerania” website.The family in the article – the Priebe family – came from the same area as Wilhelm Boldewahn (Kreis Neustettin).

While Wilhelm Boldewahn did not arrive until 1870 (after the US Civil War), his wife Ernestine Dragorius came with her parents in 1865 during the height of the fighting. Like many Prussians, the Dragorius family entered the US through Canada to avoid the conflict. Since Wilhelm entered later in the 1870s, he was able to land in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Why did they leave?


“….. during the time when the last of the manorial system was being dismantled.  Farmers gained the right to personal freedom, to move freely, to buy land, and to buy themselves out of services.  Property transfers in nearby Grunwald where Karl’s sisters lived, also under the same manor Lord largely took place in the 1830’s. The cost of gaining freedom in Gramenz was ceding to the lord of the manor around 1/3 of the land worked by the farmer.  Giving up this much land was not easy.  Loss of access to woodlands, loss of protection from the manor lord during hard times caused many farmers to object to the liberation.

19th century politics did not make life easy either.  Prussia was modernizing and trying to expand, meaning taxes and wars.  Napoleon defeated Prussia in 1806.  Reparations to France resulted in increased taxes.  Land nearby was ceded to the Duchy of Warsaw, bringing foreign powers near.  A few events that would have impacted the Priebes:

1813-15War of Liberation from France
1814Universal conscription
1816/17Widespread crop failures (the Gramenz area was minimally affected)
1827Expansion of schools
1830Liberation of farmers mostly complete in the Gramenz area. Reformed and Lutheran Churches merged
Poverty and famine through the ’40’s from crop failure and population growth.
1845/46Potato crop failures
1860-66Army enlarged under Wilhelm I.
1864German-Danish war…

For farming families, subdividing property between children became untenable at some point. Most of the Priebe members list farmer or laborer as their occupation on the ship manifest when they immigrated.  In other words, some of the members were full or at least part time farmers while others had to contract their labor because there was not enough land for all.  The prospect of all descendants owning their own farm in America looked very attractive.”

How Did They Leave?


In the early ’60’s an emigration agency began operating in the area.  Emigration to the USA from the area began in earnest.  Grunewalt lost 1/4 of its population to a single town in Wisconsin alone for example.  Emigration was complex, requiring:

  • A birth certificate, which the pastor of the parish would write out.
  • A statement of property.
  • A character reference to prove that they did not try to escape from their crime or debts,or the responsibility for an illegitimate child.
  • The consent of the local caretaker of the poor.
  • A document proving that the country of their destination would accept the emigrant.
  • Young men had to prove that they had complied their military service or were physically unable to do so.
  • They had to prove that they had enough money for the trip to the port, a waiting period there, the passage fare, and the first time in the new country.
  • Then they were warned of the dangers and risks of an emigration.
  • After all this had been compiled, they got a preliminary receipt, which allowed them to make a contract for the passage.
  • Then the planned emigration was made public (newspapers, public posting), to give creditors the possibility to claim their money.
  • Only when all this was done would they get their passport allowing travel to the port.

In 1873, the typical annual income for a family members was 630-650 Marks.  A ship ticket in steerage with food was 144-210 mark for an adult, 108-165 Mark for a child.  One year’s income just for a family of 4.  Transport, food and lodging to the port of Bremen or Hamburg, and from New York to Cleveland were needed on top of this. This was a huge expense.  It probably cost the Priebe family much of their property to purchase their move to the US.

In 1862, Albertina’s uncle August Priebe (30) who had been living in Schofhütte, Uncle Ferdinand (27) and Aunt Louisa (Priebe) Raddetz (27), children Johanna and Emilie;  Aunt Wilhelmina (Priebe) and uncle F.H. Raddatz (Ferdinand’s brother), children Carl, Reinhold, Emilie and Johanna; aunt Emilie (Priebe) and uncle Ernst Baumann and children Johann and Carl sailed from Hamburg on May 3 aboard the sailing ship Gellert owned by Rob. M. Sloman company bound for Quebec.  Albertina’s cousins of Carl and August Raddetz, children of Ferdinand and Louisa, were left with grandmother Louise.   The US was in the middle of the Civil war.  The family would skirt the fighting by entering in Canada.  In fact F.H. Raddatz would remain in Canada.  The rest of the family could join them after a home was established and safety could be confirmed.  From Quebec, Ferdinand, Louisa and their daughter Anna walked across Lake Erie in the winter to make their way to Cleveland.

In 1864, Louise (57) gathered the rest of her family and made the move to join August and Louisa in Cleveland.  Louise traveled with Albertina’s father Karl (34) and mother Mina (28), brother Friedrick (7), Emily (5), uncle John (17), aunt Albertine (15), and cousins August (7) and Carl Raddetz (6).  Albertina was no more than 4 months old.

From Gramenz, the family most likely traveled by horse cart either to Belgard where they could continue by train. It is also possible they went by cart to Köslin to go by ship to Bremen.  There they would wait days or weeks before embarking on the sailing ship Elise and Mathilda at Bremen about April 2 and arriving in Castle Garden in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan New York on Monday, May 23, 1864.

Plattdütsch: A Dying Language

My grand-mother Erna Boldewahn spoke German and English. My mother remembers sitting at the kitchen table with her mother and her mother’s cousin, Mary Schoblaski listening to them speak German.

  • The dialect was most likely a variation of Platt Deutsch (Low German)
  • Wikipedia says that the inhabitants of Pommern (Northern Prussia)  spoke the Ostpommersch (East Pomeranian) dialect
  • which is a variation of  East Low German
The language has mostly died out, but is still spoken in Brazil where many Prussians emigrated to in the 1800s.

Listen to someone talking about potatoes in Plattdütsch

Plattdütsch Underwegens: Das Kartoffeljahr

A woman singing a love song in Plattdütsch

Dat du mien Leevsen büst


A grandchild videotaped their grandparents talking in Plattdütsch.   If you go to the YouTube page there is an English transcript.

Oma un Opa snacken up Plattdüütsch

The Meaning Of The Boldewahn Name

What’s in a name?  Those odd immigrant names really took a beating in the US. Our German great-grand-father’s name was “Boldewahn” But it was spelled:


My favorites are:
and Baltimore

To be fair, the name was often spelled in the German church books as Bolduan. The Nagel family think that these spelling variations are due to how  cursive writing was taught in Germany before the 1940s. The script was stylized and ornate and is hard for many of us today to read. It was called the “Sütterlin Schreibschrift”. After WW2 the modern “Latin” script was taught that most of us are familiar with here in the USA.

William Baltimore 1884

Baltimore, 1884 Oshkosh City Directory)


William Bolderwack 1920
Bolderwhack (1920 Oshkosh Rural Address Book)

Oldewahn Wedding Anniversary 1930
Oldewahn (1930 Oshkosh, WI newspaper)


Boltewsku 1930 Census
Boltewahn or Boltewsku (1930 US Census)


Bolduan (German Church Register 1851, Gruenwald, Kreis Neustettin, Pommern)


So what is the origin of the name?

In this 1903 book about the origins of German and Jewish names  you can find the family name listed under  the “Bold” entry
Gotish (East Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths):  balths
Old High German ( 700 to 1050  AD): pald, bald

Middle High German ( 1050 and 1350 AD):   balt or kühn (audacious)

The origin of the Italian word: baldo
Baldevin – Old High German variant of Baldewin (“Bald” and “Vin”)
Vin means “friend”

Ancient Germanic *-winiz = ‘friend’ 

Old Norse – vinr = ‘friend’
Swedish – vän = ‘friend’
Danish – ven = ‘friend’ 
Old High German – wini = ‘friend’
Old English –  wine = ‘friend’  or wini = ‘friend’ 
Boldewan (17th Century)
CONCLUSION: Boldewahn means “Bold” “Friend”


The best way to search for the name is to use “wildcard” symbols 
Ex: B*ld*w**n
Will capture:

The Boldewahns (Prussia, Germany)

(Take me straight to the photos)

Recent Updates

The Short Version. In the early 1800s, my grand-mother’s families were ethnic Germans living in Prussia, in what is now Poland but what was, at the time, then part of the German Empire. Both of my great-grandparents emigrated to the US in the  mid-1800s where they met in Wisconsin and were married.

Posen and Pommern

Albert Rheinhold William Boldewahn

Map Neustettin Pommern1939

My great-grandfather was Wilhelm Boldewahn. His full name was Albert Rheinhold William Boldewahn but he preferred William. His family came from the village of Gruenwald in the northern part of Kreis Neustettin (County Neustettin). Kreis Neustettin was located in the northern part of Pommern, Prussia.

Wilhelm was born on May 30, 1851 to Johann Boldewahn and Charlotte Freiberg. He had two siblings: Wilhelmine “Minnie” Fredericke Auguste (born 1845) and Henriette Louise (born 1847). Minnie married Martin Adam Pommerening on July 31, 1863 in a church in Gramenz, Kreis Neustettin and stayed in Prussia. Sister Henriette emigrated to Oshkosh, Wisconsin in 1870 and married Johann Schabloski on August 27, 1870.

Gruenewald84Postcard “Greetings from Gruenwald in Pommern”

Wilhelm emigrated to Wisconsin via the port of Bremen, arriving in  Baltimore on April 1876 on the ship SS Braunschweig. After living in Oshkosh and working in a saw mill, he married my great-grandmother on July 17, 1880.  In 1905 they established a farm in Vinland. The farm was sold in 1929 and the family returned to Oshkosh. They had three children: Otto, Meta and Erna.  William died on May 30, 1937 and a picture of his grave in Riverside Cemetery can be found here

Uta Härtling has written a detailed and comprehensive “History of Gruenwald”. 

You can download a copy of the PDF file here (this is password protected please email me for the password)

Family names that appear in the Boldewahn family tree: Freiberg, Abraham. By marriage: Luebke,  Kohls, Nimmer, Kalbus, Jeske, Stueck

Ernestine Wilhelmine Dragorius

My great-grandmother was Ernestine Wilhelmine Dragorius. The name has many different spellings over the years: Dragerius, Dragurius, Dregonis, Dragorus, Drigolias, Tragorius and even Gregorius.

Ernestine’s family settled in the western part called Posen inside the “county” or Kreis Czarnikau

Kreis Posen circle

Ernestine was born on September 16, 1859 in Romanshof, a small town situated near the cliffs overlooking the Netze river. To see a map of the area from the early 1900s go here.

It is unclear when my great-grandmother emigrated to the US, but it was at a relatively young age. In the 1900 US Census, Ernestine gives her emigration date as 1865.  On her marriage certificate, she lists her father as Frederick Dragorius and her mother as Caroline Koenig.  An Ernestine Dragorius, age 6 arrived in 1865 on the ship Othello from Hamburg  to Quebec City with her parents Frederick and Louise Dragorius.  On the shipping form, their residence was listed as Putzig Hauland, Preußen (Germany). Putzig Hauland is located along the river Netze in Posen, a few miles south of Romanshof.  This would make her birth date 1859 which approximates Ernestine Boldewahn’s birth dates as reported in the 1920 US Census.

In a newspaper article about her 50th wedding anniversary, Ernestine said her family emigrated to the US when she was 1 year old – this would place their emigration date in 1860, not 1865.  In her obituary, she was said to have emigrated when she was 3 years old, which would place their emigration date in 1862.

After emigrating to Wisconsin, Ernestine‘s father worked in a saw mill.  He died  in 1882 when she was 23 years old.  Her mother passed away in 1881. Both were buried in Riverside Cemetery in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in unmarked graves.

Ernestine died on Jan 28, 1935  at the age of 75. She too was buried in Riverside Cemetery in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  A picture of her grave can be found here.

Erna Boldewahn

My grand-mother, Erna Boldewahn married my grandfather, John Kamuchey on March 8, 1926 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Erna and John eventually moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and had 9 children. Info about Erna’s family is found in the Kamuchey section.

Life in Prussia in the 1800s.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s many ethnic Germans emigrated to East Prussia. While Germans had always settled in the areas now owned by Poland, after the Protestant Reformation  of the 1500s, many Protestant Germans were forced to leave Poland’s primarily Catholic holdings. This left the Polish nobility with fewer skilled workers to develop their lands so they they slowly started to invite Germans back to work for them. Leaflets were sent out to Germany, promising free travel, financial assistance in setting up their farms, and religious freedom. These new settlers settled into “colonies” with German names.   The colonies would negotiate the rights to the land from the Polish nobles and were able to set up their own schools, churches and laws.

Unfortunately, the area suffered from significant political unrest with numerous military actions. At one point in time the area was held by Germany, Poland, France, Russian and even Sweden.  During this time many of the legal rights negotiated by the German settlers fell by the wayside and in some areas Protestant churches were destroyed.  However, all that changed in the late 1700s when the area was partitioned and  divided between Germany, Russia and Austria.  But whether Polish or German,  the  constant warfare had its impact.  Rising tax rates meant that land became prohibitively expensive to buy.  Waves of disease and crop failures swept across the area. In 1842, a cholera epidemic killed almost half of the population of the city of Czarnikau. Potato blight in 1845 caused widespread famine. This was followed by disastrous weather conditions in the mid 1850’s.  Steep declines in grain prices in the years 1880-1886, caused by imports of  cheap cereals from America and Russia, and an accompanying drop in wool prices severely reduced farm revenue.

It is no wonder then that mass numbers of Germans left Prussia to move to the United States where land was cheap and plentiful.

Why Wisconsin?  

Of the more than 100,000 foreign-born Wisconsinites in 1850, only 48,000 could claim English as their native language. Nearly one-half of these English speakers were Irish. Of the non-English speaking immigrants, the Germans were by far the most numerous. Norwegians constituted the second largest group, followed closely by Canadians of primarily French descent.

Between 1852 and 1855, the Wisconsin Commission of Emigration actively encouraged the settlement of European immigrants in Wisconsin. Pamphlets extolling the state’s virtues were published in German, Norwegian, Dutch, and English and were distributed throughout Europe as well as in eastern port cities. Advertisements were placed in more than nine hundred newspapers. By 1855, however, the rise of antiforeign sentiment, or nativism, led to the dissolution of the commission.

Wisconsin’s foreign-born population continued to increase, though, owing to the efforts of the Commission of Emigration, the propaganda produced by land speculators, and the letters sent back to Europe by immigrants encouraging friends and family to join them. Although not as statistically significant in the overall population as the Irish, Germans, and Norwegians, many other ethnic groups left their mark on particular areas of Wisconsin, including the Finns in Douglas County, the Danes in Racine County, and the Italians in Kenosha.” Source: Wisconsin History Turning Points

“When [linguists]  set out to study the area’s census, church and court records, [they]  had no idea the language had thrived for so long. The year 1910 was already a full generation after the mass migration had dropped off, yet Salmons discovered not only that many in Hustisford and other farm towns were still bilingual, but that a sizeable portion was monolingual.

“It turns out a lot of these people were born in Wisconsin,” Salmons says. “And a fair number were born of parents born in Wisconsin. That is, these guys were not exactly killing themselves to learn English….In other words, there were taxpayer-funded bilingual public schools in the U.S. a century ago.”  Source: In Rural Wisconsin, German Reigned For Decades

Additional reading:





Back to the “Two Families” genealogy page