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Grossvater, ist sie? (Grandfather, is this you?)

Gravelotte-St. Privat was the largest battle in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71).

It involved nearly 200,000 Germans and just over 100,000 French.  It was fought August 18, 1870.

The battle was fought fives years after the conclusion of the American Civil War and in that time advances in weaponry had made the old style Napoleonic tactics even more obsolete than they had been in the American Civil War.

The French for example had the excellent Chassepot rifle that outgunned the German Dreyse or “needle gun” as it was called. They also had the mitrailleuse, an early machine gun. The Germans are the other hand had all steel Krupp breech-loading artillery compared to older style French cannon.

mitrailleuse...one of the first machine guns. In 1870 they were deployed like artillery batteries.

mitrailleuse…one of the first machine guns. In 1870 they were deployed like artillery batteries.

The Germans suffered over 5,000 killed and over 14,000 wounded; the French much less given their defensive positions and superior rifles and machine guns.

Serving in the 3rd Army Corps, 5th Infantry Division, 9th Brigade, 5th Brandenburg Regiment (or 48th Prussian Infantry Regiment) was a 24 year private from Kustrin in Prussian Pomerania.

Prussian Infantryman, 1870-71

Prussian Infantryman, 1870-71

His full name was Friedrich August Heinrich Roeder (spelled Roder with an umlaut over the “o”).

He was severely wounded in the battle.

I came by this information via a long shot when I asked my German friend and historian\researcher\battlefield guide  Robin Schafer if it were possible that I had a relative in the Franco-Prussian War.

I had been spinning my wheels trying to get information on my Roeder side of the family.

Through Ancestry.com City of Milwaukee records I was able trace my great-grandfather to a Pomeranian-Prussian birth in September, 1866. His Milwaukee census name was Frederick Roeder.

Frederick arrived in the US according to Milwaukee County censuses in 1875 making him around 9-10 years old at this time of arrival. Ancestry was not able to provide me with a ship’s name nor the names of Frederick’s parents.

Most censuses show Frederick employed as a stone cutter or marble worker from 1885 until his death in 1920.

In 2000 53% of Wisconsin residents claimed some German ancestry.

In 2000 53% of Wisconsin residents claimed some German ancestry.

I had a great deal of information on Frederick drawn from the City of Milwaukee censuses and residential directories but nothing from his time in Germany despite that at one time I had paid Ancestry for the access to the European/German records.

I had two clues that I could give Rob as to Frederick’s possible parents from Prussian Pomerania.

The first was an early Milwaukee residential census (1885) that showed a young Frederick (a stonecutter) living in a Milwaukee two family house still common on Milwaukee’s north side (little Germany in 1885). In the same two family was one August Roeder listed as a laborer. (a residential census in 1885 would only show a head-of household and no one else)

This particular August appears in that single record and then disappears although I often speculated it was Frederick’s father or perhaps an uncle. It was not uncommon for a father or uncle to come to the US first, get settled with a job and then send for the rest of the family.

The other major clue that I had was my father remembered his grand-father’s name as August and not Frederick. This puzzled me.

Great-Grandfather Frederick died 7 years before my father was born so my father never knew either of his grand-parents on the Roeder side. My dad  told me in the 1960s and well into the 90’s he always thought his grand-father’s name was August because that’s what he heard as a child from his father and uncles. He also told me he believed we were of Prussian extraction.

When I showed my evidence to the contrary regarding his great-grandfather he merely shrugged and said he remembered August and we both ended up wondering where the name August came from. On the other hand many an early Milwaukee Census does list Prussia and in one case Pomerania as the Roeder place of origin. So, in one case I had paper evidence and in the other oral history.

With that scant information Rob put in a request to the German Genealogy Society (in Germany) to look for a pair-a father named August and a son named Frederick and the year being 1866 or there about.

Much to Rob’s surprise and mine a reply came back within an hour.

A father named August and a son named Frederick were found in the Village of Kustrin, a city that is half in Poland and half in Germany today. In 1866 it would have been in the Prussian Pomerania

http://www.vfdgkuestrins.de/texts/kk-back.html The village in 1915. My dad told me that his uncles did not want to serve in WW1 because they did not want to fight their "cousins." Whether that was figurative or literal I do not know but I do know from Rob that the surname "Roder" is quite common in the region even today. Perhaps family legend has merit.

http://www.vfdgkuestrins.de/texts/kk-back.html
The village in 1915. My dad told me that his uncles did not want to serve in WW1 because they did not want to fight their “cousins.” Whether that was figurative or literal I do not know but I do know from Rob that the surname “Roder” is quite common in the region even today. Perhaps family legend has merit.

Source: The term "Prussia" is a little misleading. Many German States were "Prussian" including Pomerania. http://www.atsnotes.com/other/germany-1870.JPG

Source: The term “Prussia” is a little misleading. Many German States were “Prussian” including Pomerania. http://www.atsnotes.com/other/germany-1870.JPG

This is the actual file below sent by who is perhaps a long-lost cousin. (My comments in parenthesis and italics)

337.

Friedrich August Röder (Roder with an umlaut is common in the German and I have copies of Milwaukee censuses where our surname is spelled Roder although the Roeder is far more common. I do believe the custom was to drop the umlaut and add an “e” to produce an Anglicized version of Roeder.)

* 21. Juli 1846 in Schlochau (in Poland today)
+ —–*
Steinhauer (this is a great clue since a Steinhauer is a stone worker. It was common to pass down a trade from father to son)

(21. Juli zur Zeit Steinhauer in Küstrin (GStArch Berlin M8/1633d) (employed as a stone worker in July in Kustrin)

oo 5. Januar 1866 in Küstrin, Friedenskirche (I believe this is a marriage reference, January 5, 1866 in Kustrin to the lady below. Friedenskirche means Church of Peace.)

Maria Schliesske

* 13. August 1842 in Küstrin
+ 22. September 1866 in Küstrin*
(obiit quam primum natus fuit) (death obit)

  1. Friedrich Heinrich
    * 22. September 1866 (my grandfather Friedrich listed his birthday consistently as September, 1866 in the census. His mother Maria apparently died in child-birth.)
  • Auswanderer (Staatsarchiv Stettin – G 123/333) (Auswanderer means left country“ another important fact)
  • Geburtsdaten (ev. Kirchenbücher Prechlau und Küstrin, StaSt – KB 22/455) (reference to date of birth and town names)

A bit more research on Rob’s part turned up the fact Friedrich August’s full name was Friedrich August Heinrich Roder according to the archive in Stettin. (Stettin is now Szczecin, Poland)

From there Rob found one August Heinrich Roder in the 5th Brandenburg Regiment (48th Prussian) garrisoned in Kustrin. Rob believes these individuals to be the same.

I asked Rob if it was common for Germans to use a middle name rather than a first name and he said yes. I’ve been over a number of German records and the names Friedrich, Heinrich and August are indeed common so it makes sense to flip them around a little to avoid confusion especially in an army unit or in early Milwaukee that had a sizable German immigrant community.

Is the information conclusive? No. I cannot say with certainty that it is. Ancestry has not given me any further German links that make sense at this time for me pursue. A search for Maria also turned up zero.

But having said all that I think the circumstantial evidence is strong and lines up with what I do know from the Milwaukee census and my father’s memories.

The August who disappears in 1885 from the Milwaukee records is listed as a laborer. Rob’s speculation is he was severely disabled by his wound at Gravelotte-St. Privat and could no longer work in his trade and so left the country for the greener grass of the US where he may have known someone in Milwaukee.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juliusz_Kossak Prussian Heavy Cavalry on a death ride. Heavy cavalry on both sides still wore body armor and would not have been out of place at Waterloo in 1815.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juliusz_Kossak
Prussian Heavy Cavalry on a death ride. Heavy cavalry on both sides still wore body armor and would not have been out-of-place at Waterloo in 1815.

I would further speculate that he never remarried which explains the absence of sibling evidence for Frederick. (Given August’s relative youth and the customs of the time I do find that odd.)

I would also guess August died fairly young perhaps finally of the wounds he suffered many years before in 1870 doing his part in the formation of modern Germany.

The killing power of repeating type rifles, machine guns and quick firing artillery made the Napoleonic tactics of 1815 impractical. It would take the bloodbath that was WW1 to fully change things.

The killing power of repeating type rifles, machine guns and quick-firing artillery made the Napoleonic tactics of 1815 impractical. It would take the bloodbath that was WW1 to fully change things.

Rob Schafer my friend who helped me is a German Military Historian. As such he is quite able to track down German soldiers who served from 1848 to 1945. Rob has access to countless regimental histories, official archives and other records unavailable anywhere else. Not only that Rob speaks fluent English and translates from the German to the English for his English-speaking clients. He is also a gentleman of the first order!

Rob’s website with much more information can be found at Gott mit uns.

Rob once said that German history was my history as well. It was a neat way to put it as it made a connection to my immigrant ancestors that was more real than it had been previously.

I can now easily imagine a young man named August, a stone mason by trade. Upon reaching the age of 18 August would be drafted into the Prussian Army and would serve as a regular for a number of years. From there he would be transferred to the reserves for a number of years and when he reached his thirties or so he would join the Landwehr, another type of reserve for older men.

At some point he would meet his young bride Maria and they would live in the Village of Kustrin. Sadly, Maria would die giving birth to my great-grandfather Friedrich.

August it appears did not remarry after Maria’s early death but did serve in the Franco-Prussian War where he was severely wounded.

Perhaps not being able to work in his trade he took his young son and immigrated to the US settling in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From there August disappears but his son Frederick (sometimes registered as “Fritz”) works as a stone mason, marries Emilie Steldt and together have many children including my grand-father, Harry Roeder Sr. born in 1902.

Harry Roeder Sr. would marry Malinda Nehls (a child of German and Danish immigrants). Sadly, Malinda would die giving birth to my father, Harry Roeder Jr. who would in turn marry Gertrude Zoromski. (Gertrude’s ancestors can also be traced to western Prussia or Pomerania since at the time Poland was not a country and had been divided up between Austria, Russia and Prussia.)

Thanks Rob Schaefer for making the connection to my Prussian past. It was indeed a nice Christmas gift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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