Brick Wall Solutions – Who was Charlotte Kopittke?
When I started researching my family history seriously in the mid 1980s, I knew that what was recorded on birth, death and marriage certificates was correct.
My grandfather Gustav Kopittke arrived in Brisbane in 1876 from Germany via England accompanied by his parents, Daniel and Charlotte Kopittke, and his younger sister, Auguste. I knew from my father’s birth certificate that his father was born in Schwartow, Hinterpommern.Hinterpommern was the eastern end of Pomerania, just to the west of Gdansk (German Danzig). There were several villages named Schwartow in Hinterpommern, but further research established that it was Schwartow in Kreis (county) Lauenburg. After World War 2, the eastern end of Pomerania was given to Poland with the result that Lauenburg is now Lebork and Danzig is now Gdansk.
My great grandparents died not too long after arrival, Daniel in 1880 and Charlotte in 1884 and their death certificates were among the first that I purchased in 1985. Somewhat to my surprise, Daniel’s certificate indicated that he had been married to Charlotte Juska, while Charlotte’s showed her father as “—Taschke”. These were different surnames even though the informant in both cases was G Kopittke, son. Aren’t certificates supposed to be correct? I surmised that J and T might be confused when written, and since a final “e” is sounded in German that might explain the different endings. At least both names had an “s” in them, and the correct name was obviously some combination of the letters of Juska and Taschke.
A little later, and to my even greater surprise, the wife of a cousin told me that she had a copy of my grandparents’ original marriage certificate from 1886 when Gustav Kopittke married Evelina Karrasch. This time the maiden name of Gustav’s mother was recorded as Charlotte Kirschnik! I thought I could explain this though – it seems Gustav or the pastor was just confused, Evelina’s mother’s maiden name was Kirschner.
It was obvious some further research was needed. My grandfather’s two older brothers had followed the family here, bringing their wives and children, so I decided to obtain their death certificates to see what was recorded concerning their mother. The oldest brother, August, died in 1915 and his certificate recorded his mother as Charlotte Yeshka. According to the certificate of the second brother, Carl, who died in 1929, his mother was Charlotte Zerohke! Gustav’s sister, Auguste, married Johann Meier in 1877, so I also purchased her marriage and death certificates to try to sort out the confusion. Both certificates listed Charlotte Geschke.
So by 1987, I could take my pick of the names for Charlotte:
- Juska, from her husband Daniel’s death certificate
- Taschke, from her death certificate
- Kirschnik, from her son Gustav’s marriage and death certificates
- Yeshka, from her son August’s death certificate
- Zerohke, from her son Carl’s death certificate and
- Geschke, from her daughter Auguste’s death and marriage certificates!
Did someone say that life was not meant to be easy? This confusion illustrates some of the issues that those of us with German names face. Should the name be spelled as it is in German, or should it be spelled the way that it sounds?Despite my successes in locating and researching some of my other German families through microfilms of the church records, I’d not been able to locate any records from Germany concerning the Kopittkes. In 2004, I found from the website “Evangelisch Kirchen im Kreis Lauenburg” (Protestant churches in the county of Lauenburg) http://www.lauenburg-pommern.de/Ev.Kirche/index.htm that the church books from the Schwartow parish were stored in the state archive in Gdansk (formerly Danzig). I wrote away and requested copies of the baptism entries from the Schwartow parish for my Kopittke family. They were able to send me copies of the baptismal records for Carl (b. 1847), Gustav (b. 1850) and Auguste (b. 1854); as well as for another sister Wilhelmine (b. 1843) about whom I did not know. In each of these cases, Charlotte’s maiden name was given as Jeschke.
So, after many years, the mystery was solved. Since the German “J” is pronounced as we pronounce a “Y”, Yeshka is explained. A German told me that “G” and “J” can be easily confused, so that explained Geschke. The handwritten J could be confused for Z, and the “sc” could be confused for “ro”. So now I know that certificates cannot always be trusted, and names can be spelled in many different ways.
Brick Wall Tips
- Check information on multiple certificates – spouse and children
- Always check alternative spellings with European ancestors
- Consider the sound of the name not just the spelling
- Remember that different letters can look the same when written
- Check for new websites in Europe as they become available