There’s a lot I don’t know about my immigrant ancestor, Johann Hinrich Lübker.
Let’s start with who he was and where he was born. There seems at least to be agreement about the “when”: 1804. And according to just about every source that lists it, the “where” is Prussia. But given the German penchant for grabbing up land, that covers a fair amount of geography.
For the last couple of years, I was convinced he came from Fehmarn Island, a place that kind of sticks out in the Baltic Sea at the base of the Jutland Peninsula, off the northeast coast of Schleswig-Holstein—close enough that it’s been connected to the mainland by a bridge since 1963.
But let me back up and set the stage a little.
In the mid-1800s, the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein were essentially the rope in a tug of war between Denmark and Prussia that had been going on in various forms for centuries. By the mid-1840s, Schleswig was controlled by the Danish crown, Holstein by the Prussian-dominated German Confederation. But there was a popular movement (at least among the German majority living there) that wanted the two duchies unified and made part of the German Confederation.
The story I’d been told had it that Johann Heinrich Lübker was a member of the shoemakers’ guild, an organization that got caught up in the excitement as the movement morphed into an uprising. He threw an ax at a local (Danish) official, missed, and had to get out of there in a hurry.
As Dad told it, both Johann Hinrich and his brother got out on Danish passports, supplied by a “Danish nobleman” for whom they’d worked. Johann Hinrich went to New York. His brother—unnamed in the tale—was said to have gone to South America, maybe Brazil.
So imagine my surprise when, while trolling through Ancestry.com, I discovered my ancestor in someone else’s tree, and with a brother listed and named!
There were some things that looked strange: For example, it said he was born in “Iceland.” But after getting in touch with the tree owner, it turned out someone had mistranslated or misunderstood “Fehmarn Island,” which was, in fact, the place she believed both had come from.
Fehmarn Island fit Dad’s story perfectly: Part of the disputed territory back in the 1840s and ’50s, occupied by Danish troops and returned to Danish jurisdiction, like the rest of Schleswig and Holstein, at the end of the First Schleswig War. In the end it was incorporated into the German province of Schleswig-Holstein—the Confederation ultimately prevailed, but not without having to hold a second war, and then some. If you think political machinations are complicated today, go read about the “Schleswig-Holstein Question.”
Dad had told me many times—more frequently when he was encouraging me to go to Canada or try to get British citizenship during the Vietnam War and thereby avoid it—that one of the reasons our ancestor had to come to America was because he didn’t want to be a soldier in a war (although I guess he wasn’t averse to attempting an assassination). The records bear out that he emigrated in 1846, two years before the First Schleswig War actually began.
One of the attractive things about this other tree is that by connecting Johann Hinrich with their ancestor, Hans Hinrich, it also connected the Luebkers of Wisconsin/Minnesota/Indiana with the Lubkers of Nebraska—the former descended from Johann Hinrich (who anglicized the spelling of the name by converting Lübker to Luebker) and the latter descended from his supposed brother, Hans Hinrich (who just dropped the umlaut and spelled it Lubker).
It also seemed telling that no photos seemed to exist of either Johann Hinrich or Hans Hinrich—both of whom could have been considered political fugitives, and might not want have wanted any photos floating around out there to make finding them any easier if, in fact, anyone was looking.
The brother-to-Brazil business was easily explained by someone confusing Sao Paulo with St. Paul (even though neither brother actually lived in the Minnesota city) and the two sides of the family simply losing touch in the pre-Internet, pre-telephone days.
On the other hand, I never could find any source besides that other family tree that made the connection, not in Ancestry, not in any other family trees (although a bunch of them picked up the info from me), not in any of the LDS records or even in a Danish database I stumbled across a year or so ago.
Then recently, I got in touch with my second cousin, Kathryn Hillert Brewer (each of us is descended from one of Johann Hinrich’s grandchildren), and she had some very different info—info that apparently came from my dad’s research.
She had a whole gaggle of siblings listed for Johann Hinrich: Hans Joachim, Engel Margarethe, an earlier Johann Hinrich (who died as an infant), Margarethe Elisabeth, Detlef Hinrich, and Wilhelm Asmus, Lübkers all.
But no Hans Hinrich Lübker.
That probably shouldn’t have been a surprise, given that she also had a different set of parents listed for Johann Hinrich. The other tree had his father and mother listed as Casper Friedrich Lübker and Malen Christin Bohnoff. Kathryn had them (from my dad) as Detlef Hinrich Lübker and Katherina Elisabeth Beck.
She also had a different point of origin for our ancestor.
Instead of Fehmarn Island, she had Niendorf, kirchspiel Zarpen, landkreis Storman, amte Reinfeld, Schleswig-Holstein. I had to do a little digging to figure out what and where that is.
- Niendorf turns out to be a Prussian area incorporated into Hamburg by the Nazis back in 1937, and is now a “quarter” in Eimsbüttel, one of the nine boroughs of the city.
- Zarpen kirchspiel (parish) is a municipality in the district of Stormarn.
- Stormarn (note the extra “r” in there) was the Prussian landkreis (county or district, which is now part of Schleswig-Holstein) from which the Nazis took Niendorf, among other Prussian pieces.
- An amt is a "collective municipality." Reinfeld, in the district of Nordstormarn (North Stormarn), is the seat of the amt, but not part of it—kind of like the District of Columbia is not part of a state, but is the seat of our national government.
But enough of the political geography lesson.
The point is, THAT location fits my dad’s story about Johann Hinrich, as it probably should, since it’s based on his research. But it’s also close enough to Fehmarn—a little less than 100 miles—that it’s not impossible that we might be related to the Fehmarn Lübkers. I just need to look closer at some of the folks on the two branches, dig back a little and see if the lines connect someplace earlier on.
As a postscript, there’s one other thing that bothered me: Germans of that era tended to go by their middle names, not their first names. So it would be odd for brothers to have the same middle name: Hinrich.
On the other hand, I’ve run across many German immigrants, first-, and sometimes second-generation descendants whose birth records list the first and middle names in one order, and reversed in subsequent records as they adopted the American style. So it was easy enough for me to imagine brothers actually named Hinrich Hans and Johann Hinrich, the former going as Hans, the latter Hinrich. And from what’s in the census records, it’s pretty clear that the former DID go by “Hans” and the latter “Hinrich,” even though my dad often referred to him as “John Henry.”
But they probably aren't brothers.
Of course, as I mentioned elsewhere, it’s also possible that my ancestor got out on a Danish passport as Dad had it, and the name on THAT was “Johann Hinrich Lübker,” a name he just kept using after arriving here. His real name could have been something entirely different. And there's no way to know if his brother left on a passport with the same surname or something completely different. In which case I have another, even bigger mystery on my hands!