Historic Overview of East Prussia - Ostpreussen
Up to the 16th century this region was inhabited by pagan tribes of Baltic (Prussian and Lithuanian) ethnic backgrounds. In the 13th century the knights of the Teutonic Order of Our Lady settled there in order to convert the Prussians. During that period of history the knights ruled a considerable part of historical Pomerania. In the 15th century that region was taken over by the Polish King, after his wars with the Order, and renamed Royal Prussia. The Order kept the eastern parts of Prussia as a vassal of Poland. During the Reformation, the Order was secularized and its Great Master began to rule his fief as a prince, hence the territory was called Ducal Prussia. The princes became more and more powerful and during the 17th and 18th centuries they also began to rule Brandenburg, Pomerania and Silesia. In 1701 the Prince became King of Prussia.
Prussia was a region which before 1772 consisted of what was later known as East Prussia (Ostpreussen) with the capital city of Königsberg, a duchy since 1525, a kingdom of the Hohenzollern dynasty since 1701 and West Prussia (Westpreussen) with the Hanseatic cities of Danzig, Elbing, Thorn, and Culm, part of Poland referred to as Polish Prussia before 1772.
In 1772 King Friedrich II annexed western Prussia (Westpreussen), without the Danzig territory, from the Kingdom of Poland, and united it with the duchy of Prussia (it now taking the name East Prussia). In 1793, King Friedrich Wilhelm II annexed the areas around Danzig and Thorn. In 1793 and 1795, larger areas of Poland were added, which were organized into the Provinces of South Prussia and New East Prussia. Like many countries in Eastern Europe at that time, the old Polish Kingdom was inhabited by many ethnic groups, and it is important not to confuse political loyalties with ethnic identities. Many loyal Polish subjects were not ethnically Polish. Western Prussia, including Danzig, had had a ethnic German majority for centuries, while a sizable German minority lived in the Thorn area. Other important ethnic groups, besides Poles, were Jews, Kaschubians and Masurians. Some locals even descended from hardy Scotsmen, who had fled to Danzig in the 16th century, and founded the suburb of Neuschottland (New Scotland).
The kingdom of Prussia at this time was not part of Germany. Königsberg was the capital and coronation city of the Prussian kings. Terms like the German army have no meaning for this time period.
Before 1806 Germany was one kingdom and empire with one Kaiser and one king who resided in Wien (Vienna). He was elected by the collegium of Kurfürsten (electors) who in 1800 were the 3 archbishops of Koeln (Cologne), Mainz and Trier and the 4 secular electors of Rheinland-Pfalz, Brandenburg, Sachsen (Saxony), and Boehmen (Bohemia).
The electors of Brandenburg and Sachsen had also ambitions to acquire the title of king. Since they could not acquire this title inside Germany they succeeded outside Germany: Brandenburg by declaring themselves "King in Prussia" at Königsberg in 1701, Sachsen by getting elected as King of Poland in 1697. The Kaiser in Wien was powerless to prevent this ploy.
The Prussian kings were:
Kurfürst (Elector) Friedrich III was crowned first king Friedrich I in Königsberg in 1701, died 1712, his son was
King Friedrich Wilhelm I, 1712-1740, intolerant, his son was
King Friedrich II the Great (Old Fritz), 1740-1786, his nephew was
King Friedrich Wilhelm II, 1786-1797, intolerant, his son was
King Friedrich Wilhelm III, 1797-1840, his son was
King Friedrich Wilhelm IV, 1840-1861, his brother was
King Wilhelm I, 1861-1888, became Kaiser 1871, his son was
Kaiser and King Friedrich III, 1888 (99 days), his son was
Kaiser and King Wilhelm II, 1888-1918.
In 1806 Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Europe and abolished the German empire and the title of Kaiser for Germany (capital: Wien [Vienna]). The Kaiser in Wien became Kaiser of Austria with no power in the rest of Germany. The titles of Kurfürst (elector) became meaningless and was abolished and changed to Kings of Bohemia, Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, Wuerttemberg, and Hannover by Napoleon's grace. The archbishops and Catholic church had lost all their secular power in 1803.
After Napoleon's final defeat in 1815 the kingdom of Prussia became known as "Die Vereinigten Preussischen Staaten" (United Prussian States) which now also included provinces like Schlesien/Silesia, Brandenburg, Pommern/Pomerania and areas as far west as the Rhine province. Berlin now became the Prussian capital. Until 1806 the Hohenzollern sovereign had many titles and hats from Head of the Evangelic Church to King, Elector, Grandduke, Duke for the various regions and realms under his rule. After 1806 he simply was King of Prussia. Terms like German government or German army have no meaning for this time period until 1871.
In 1871 Germany as an empire with a Kaiser was re-established with Berlin as the capital of Germany and Prussia and with the Prussian king also having the title of German Kaiser. All monarchies in Germany were abolished in 1918 and Prussia was declared defunct in 1945 by the Allied victors. The original (East and West) Prussia was cleansed of its ethnic German population and given to Poland and Russia. The Western powers were silent on the ethnic cleansing of original Prussia and Eastern Germany resulting in 12 millions of German refugees.
The administrative areas in 1806 were:
Ostpreussen (983,034 inhabitants):
Ostpreussisches Kammer-Department included the Kreise of Samland (Schaken), Tapiau, Brandenburg, Rastenburg, Braunsberg, Heilsberg, Morungen and Neidenburg.
Litauisches Kammer-Department included the Kreise of Insterburg, Olezko and Sehesten.
Neu-Ostpreussen (914,610 inhabitants):
Department der Kriegs- und Domainen-Kammer zu Bialystok included the Kreise of Lomza, Drohicin, Bielsk, Surasz, Bialystok, Bobrz, Dombrowa, Wygry, Kalwary, Marianpol.
Departement der Kriegs- und Domainen-Kammer zu Plozk included the Kreise of Wyszogrod, Lipno, Mlawa, Przasnik, Pultusk, Ostrolenka.
The concept of Kreis was different in pre-1806 Prussia and referred to the districts of the noble families ("Die Adeligen Kreise") as well as the Immediatstädte and royal Domainen-Aemter. The term "Regierung" referred to the judicial (court) system before 1806 and to the district administration after 1815. This is important to understand, if researchers want to judge the relevance of records in the Berlin and Polish archives.
Between 1824-1878 there was one Province of Prussia which later was divided into two provinces with capitals in Königsberg and Danzig. In 1900 there were the following districts and Kreise (counties):
(* marks a Kreis in the Catholivc episcopy of Ermland (Varmia) which area was annexed from Poland in 1772)
Regierungsbezirk (district) of Königsberg with 20 Kreise (counties):
*Allenstein, *Braunsberg, Preussisch-Eylau, Fischhausen, Friedland, Gerdauen, Heiligenbeil, *Heilsberg, Preussisch-Holland, Königsberg-Stadt, Kbg-Land, Labiau, Memel, Mohrungen, Neidenburg, Ortelsburg, Osterode, Rastenburg, *Roessel, Wehlau.
Regierungsbezirk (district) of Gumbinnen with 16 Kreise (counties):
Angerburg, Darkehmen, Goldap, Gumbinnen, *Heydekrug, Insterburg, Johannisburg, Loetzen, Lyck, Niederung, Oletzko (Treuburg), Pillkallen, Ragnit, Sensburg, Stallupoenen, Tilsit. [This district was also called Preussisch-Litauen (Lithuania). It was here that the Austrian Salzburger refugees were settled in 1732 after the plague of 1708.]
Each Kreis was headed by the Landrat who presided over the Landratsamt. The Landratsamt records are deposited in Berlin and the Polish archives with published brief inventories. Gazetteers for all villages and towns were published by Verein für Familienforschung in Ost- und Westpreussen in Hamburg in its Sonderschriften reprints Nr. 43 (Königsberg, 1820), Nr. 48 (Gumbinnen, 1818). Note: East and West Prussia were united as one Province of Prussia during 1824-18
The majority in 1890 was Evangelical (83.5%); the Catholics (12.8%) were concentrated in the four Kreise of Ermland (Allenstein, Braunsberg, Heilsberg and Roessel).