1808: Where was your family 200 years ago?

In a post earlier this month, Lisa at 100 Years in America posed an interesting New Year challenge to other genea-bloggers: Where was your family in 1908? Several bloggers answered the challenge, including myself. Before I could list a round-up here, Lisa did it herself in this post entitled “Snapshots of the World Back in 1908”.

Why, it was almost like an interim carnival of genealogy! The many answers to that one question offered a fascinating glimpse, or a snapshot to steal Lisa’s description, into our ancestors’ lives one hundred years ago. Which caused me to wonder – just how far back do we all go? Do we know where our ancestors were two hundred years ago? So, now I pose this challenge to myself and anyone else who wants to answer the call: Where was your family in 1808?

In 1808, none of my ancestors were in the United States, which was only 32 years old! My own ancestors come from Poland and Germany, but they didn’t arrive in the US until the early 20th Century… Just to put things into an historical perspective, neither country actually existed as a country back in 1808! For that matter, Poland didn’t really exist in 1908 either. As a country, Poland disappeared from the map of Europe for 123 years beginning in 1795 and ending with the First World War. The area was divided through various “partitions” among Poland’s powerful neighbors: Russia, Austria, and Prussia (Germany). My family comes from the areas that belonged to both Prussia and Russia. Unfortunately, I don’t know specifics about my Polish ancestors in 1808 – not because I’ve hit a “brick wall” in my research, but I just haven’t had the time to research beyond the 1820s-1850s. The films are available for quite a few years beyond that, so I hope to go back further when I take a research trip to Salt Lake City later this year. One important note about Poland in 1808: Prussia ceded some territory after being defeated by Napoleon, and the Grand Duchy of Warsaw was formed in 1807. It would only last until 1815, but there were roughly 2.4 million inhabitants who could call themselves part of a mostly independent Polish state. But more importantly for genealogists, the Napoleonic Code was introduced in 1808 which mandated civil registration! Many of the records available today begin in the year 1808.

In 1808, Germany was a collection of duchies and independent states; the nation as we know it today was not unified until 1871. This is one of the reasons that I usually refer to my ancestors as “Bavarian” in lieu of “German”. In 1808, I know a lot about my Bavarian ancestors and the towns in which they lived. To set the stage, I’d like to give a little bit of the area’s history. Around 1799-1800, Bavaria was occupied by both the French and the Austrians as loyalties and friends and enemies were shuffled. In 1801, an edict of religious tolerance was declared – the area remains predominantly Catholic, but all faiths were welcome to live there. In 1802, a law was passed for mandatory elementary education. In 1806, Bavaria joined the Confederation of the Rhine under Napoleon (he sure got around, didn’t he?), and Bavaria became the Kingdom of Bavaria under the leadership of King Maximilian I. Bavaria was a unified state that abolished many of the privileges of the nobility and the clergy, and in 1808 they adopted a constitution that was fairly ahead of its time with regard to an individual’s rights. The population of Bavaria in 1808 was about 3.2 million.

My Bergmeister family was not yet in the “big” town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, and they lived in a rather small town nearby called Puch in “house #17”. My fourth great-grandparents were Joseph Bergmeister (1763-1840) and Kreszens Zinsmeister (1777-1852). What I find amazing is their life-spans – he lived until the age of 77 and she lived until 75, which far exceeded their later descendents who lived in more modern times. Joseph was a miller like his father before him and his sons after. The couple married in the year 1800 and would go on to have twelve children from 1800-1816. At least two children, probably more, died as infants. My third great-grandfather was their son Jakob Bergmeister, who was born on 20 March 1805. In 1808, he was only three years old and his parents were probably very happy – for if a child lived until that age, they would most likely reach adulthood. Jakob’s future wife, Anna Maria Daniel, would not be born until 1812. Jakob would live until the year 1870 and the couple would have fifteen children in nineteen years. Anna Maria was 24 when she started having babies and 43 when she stopped…no wonder she died at the age of 59!

Pfaffenhofen in 1830

My great-grandmother’s side of the family lived in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, which was considered a large “market town” even then. In 1808, it was officially formed as a “municipality”, but since the town existed since the 1300’s I haven’t quite figured out what that designation means. According to a book about the town, in 1811 (close enough), the town had 1,585 Catholics and 1 Lutheran (there would eventually be more since a Lutheran church would later be built). Living in “house #55, which later becomes the address of Löwenstraße, was the Echerer family. My fourth great-grandfather Ignaz Echerer (1765-?) was a fourth generation shoemaker married to Maria Kaillinger (1768-?), a glassmaker’s daughter. Of their eight children, my third great-grandfather was Ignaz who was born on 21 December 1803. He’ll become a fifth generation shoemaker and live until the age of 71. There were apparently nine shoemakers in Pfaffenhofen shortly before 1808, and based on what I’ve seen in the church records every one was probably an Echerer brother or cousin.

Ignaz’s future wife, Magdalena Nigg, was born on 17 May 1807 to Karl Nigg (1767-1844) and Maria Theresia Höck (1769-post 1814). Karl held a very important position in Pfaffenhofen as the Stadtzimmermeister or the Town Master Carpenter.  His father was the Stadtmaurermeister, or the Town Master Mason, and his father-in-law was a zimmermeister or Master Carpenter. Karl and Maria would have eleven children from 1795-1814.

That’s just a small look into the lives of a few of my ancestors two hundred years ago. We can’t tell much from a collection of names and dates, but with the help of some history books we are able to imagine what life might have been like. Where was your family in 1808?

14 thoughts on “1808: Where was your family 200 years ago?

  1. Wonderful article Donna. I haven’t had the time to do the 1908 article yet but I intend to. I’ll see what I can dig up on 1808 while I’m at it. Great idea!

    (As soon as I got Lisa’s email announcing her challenge I wrote to her and told her that her idea would have made a great COG topic. Great minds think alike!)

  2. What an interesting look at Europe and also at a part of your own family 200 years ago, Donna. Thanks for sharing what you know about Bavaria and the Polish people living under different national rule, along with the look into your own family of shoemakers.

    I’m glad you took this historical look back 100 years further. It will be very eye-opening, I’m sure, to hear what others have learned as they’ve gone back that far. What an inspiration to get going and do more research on various lines in the family tree!

  3. Greetings from a Heinz 59:

    My third great-grandfather William KEENEY was 9 years old in 1808 and living somewhere in NY state. His future wife, Clarissa DAVIS was 7 years old and lived in Belchertown, MA
    Her ancestors arrived in the US (long before it was the US) on the Mary and John in 1630. The couple eventually went west to northern Illinois in 1836.

    My Bavarian 2nd great-grandfather, Aloysius HELD was born in 1808 in Ichenhausen, Bavaria as was his future wife Maria Crescentia KRUMM.

    Then there was my Polish 2nd great-grandfather, Stanislaus BRUD who was a toddler in 1808 in Niedomice, Poland (born 1804). His future wife’s parents were married about 1808 in the same village. This little village has not changed much in 200 years.

    My other Polish ancestors were blacksmiths and moved several times around Poznan province — whenever a village or hamlet had need of their services.

    Francois GOOSSEN was a young man of 25 in Goes, Zeeland, The Netherlands and his future wife was 18 years old and living in Brussels, Belgium in 1808.

    My other Dutch ancestor, Jan KILLEWINGER was 11 years old in the little village of Sleeuwijk, Noord Brabant. His future wife was also born there a year before Jan.

    Somehow, the offspring of all these people wound up in Chicago, Illinois where my great-grandfather, grandfather, father and I were born. Makes me wonder what could have been, if one or more had made a different decision…….

    Some of the towns have become huge cities, some have remained virtually unchanged in 200 years.

  4. Pingback: Steve’s Genealogy Blog » The Year Was 1808

  5. Hi Donna,

    Oh ! How I would have loved to answer this and tell you about 1808 in my family ! I can’t for the meanwhile; it’s going to take more work.

    I can relate with the geographical difficulties. In France ( where I live), genealogists are often struggling with some regions that belonged to other countries. Such as Alsace, near Germany, that has changed from French ato German and back several times, finally returning to France after 1945.

    Have a nice day.

  6. Pingback: Where Was My Y-DNA and mtDNA in 1808? » The Genetic Genealogist

  7. I was turned to your website from Honoring Your Ancestor’s and decided to take the challenge. I mapped out where all my ancestors (that I know of) were in 1808. I am going to put it on my blog and on my family’s website now.
    It was fun. Now I’m going to do 1708. Thanks for the challenge!

  8. Pingback: 1808: Where Were My Ancestors? « Jessica's Genejournal

  9. my name featherstonhaugh but i know that there are lot of featherstonhaugh its old English name but its fanshaw aswell are they all content to me cause there a lot of fetherstonhaugh about all over

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