and Immigration History
Kobernuss & Kubbernuss Families
Table Of Contents
To navigate this paper click on any portion of the TOC
Chapter 1: Overview
Chapter 2:The Challenges of Family Research
Chapter 3: Immigration
Appendix 1: The COBERNUS Family Coat Of Arms
Appendix 2: The Voyages Of Our Ancestors
Appendix 3: KOBERNUSS & Kubbernuss Families Emigration Records
Appendix 4: Still More Information On Names
Appendix 5: Significant Locations In Mecklenburg
Appendix 6: Castle Garden
This is a draft volume of a larger study of the 25 or more KOBERNUSS and KUBBERNUSS families of Mecklenburg Germany that immigrated to the US between 1853 and 1888.
This has been a collaborative effort of many people; however, a word of caution is needed. In order to understand the times and places of our ancestors, we collected quite a bit of historical and background data on German and US politics, history, sociology and economics. Some of that information is presented without attribution. Thus, by not giving credit to the authors, in some cases we’re probably guilty of copy write infringement. However, since we don’t intend to profit from this effort, we’re going to take the chance that nobody really cares.
We’ve looked at many original records and have tried to faithfully document our sources; however, by necessity, some of the data in this paper is unverified or anecdotical. We encourage other family researchers to check our work. Particular attention should be paid to the references and sources cited in the footnotes as they often indicate our assessment of the quality of the information or that additional information is needed. Also, many of the early US records we've reviewed were of poor quality. Many source documents were in Old German script from the late 1600’s and early 1700's and often difficult to read.
Despite these disclaimers, we believe that this genealogy fairly represents the history of the Kobernuss & Kubbernuss families that emigrated from Mecklenburg. We expect additional revisions to this work and encourage our correspondents to contact us to ensure corrections and additional data are included in the future versions.
Family history is very fragile. Every year, people who possess important information about our past disappear from the scene. Many people have helped in this project and we are very appreciative of their efforts. However, it’s likely that much more information is available. For this genealogy to take on a life of it’s own, we need additional documentation. We encourage family members to share any stories, photos and other documentation with so we can publish them in future versions of this work.
Chapter 1: Overview
This genealogy outlines the research done between 1996 and 2000 on the Kobernuss families of Mecklenburg that immigrated to the USA between 1853 and 1888. It provides historical and background data that will be valuable to researchers seeking to expand on and correct this work.
In January 1996 we began the search for the origin of our ancestors. We investigated the extensive genealogy files maintained by the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS/Mormon). At that time, there was only one Kobernus mentioned in their file and the information about him later turned out to be incorrect. However, there were a number of Kubbernuss families from Levin and Kuesserow, Mecklenburg Germany in the LDS files.
We also researched US Census data for several northeastern and mid-western states and contacted many people in the U.S. and Germany with the name Kobernuss. We surveyed various genealogy news groups on the Internet, and visited numerous cemeteries, libraries, and genealogy archives in upstate New York, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois during the summers of 1996-8. We quickly learned that this family name is very rare worldwide.
A Short History And
Although we ran across mention of people named Kobernus or Kobernuss in various locations, there was no information regarding their history or how they came to the United States. There was a lot of information on German immigration, but little information that helped identify the birthplace of our great grandparents. One correspondent wrote that she thought the Kobernuss family came from Mecklenburg but had no further information.
Subsequent research disclosed that all of the people we’ve researched with the Cobernuss, Kobernuss, Kobernusz or Kubbernuss names came either from Mecklenburg or Pomerania. A little background here on these two regions might be useful:
Mecklenburg: Located between Schleswig-Holstein and Pomerania, the Mecklenburg region was conquered by Henry the Lion in the latter half of the 12th century. In 1348 it was elevated to a duchy. The duchy was subdivided in 1621 into the duchies of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz, both of which were elevated to grand duchies in 1815 and governed with identical flags. They joined the German Empire in 1871 and, after World War I, were made states of the new German Republic. In 1934 the two Duchies were united into the State of Mecklenburg. After World War II, Mecklenburg became part of the Soviet Zone known as East Germany or the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The state of Mecklenburg was dissolved in 1952, when East Germany was reorganized into districts. In 1990, with Germany’s unification, the State of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern) was created.
Pomerania: This former maritime province of Germany is situated on the southern Baltic coast, borders Eastern Mecklenburg and was settled by the Slavic tribes Pomorzanie and Polabs in the 5th century AD. Pomerania was a Prussian province that became a part of the German Empire in 1181. German migration into the western and central regions of Pomerania began in the late 12th century. Divided by the Oder River, Pomerania was split into Vorpommern (West Pomerania), and Hinterpommern (East Pomerania). We have evidence that some Kobernuss families lived in Vorpommern (West Pomerania) along the border and moved back and forth between Vorpommern and Mecklenburg. After the 30 years religious wars of 1618-1648, many Swedish families immigrated to the area and Sweden ruled this region for 167 years. Prussia regained control in 1818 following the Napoleonic wars. In 1945, it was partitioned into two areas separated by the Oder River. Most of the territory west of the Oder River was designated as part of Mecklenburg and thus part of the Soviet zone of occupation, which later became the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), also known as East Germany. Stettin (Szczecin), and the territory east of the Oder River was ceded to Poland. Vorpommern was a part of the German Democratic Republic (GDR/East Germany) until the reunification of Germany in 1990 when Mecklenburg-Vorpommern was created out of the former Mecklenburg and West Pomerania.
Most of the German families we’ve contacted, or know of, lived in East Germany during the cold war years (1945-1989), and are just now renewing their association with relatives that lived in West Germany. For example, we’ve learned of two recently reunited Kobernuss brothers who had not seen each other for over 40 years. Most of our German correspondents trace their origins to within 50 kilometers of Malchin, and there are a number of families still living in that general area. We have yet to find a German family that has done much research on their line, and genealogy research by US families is also very limited.
Early Likely Ancestors
There is some indication that a merchant or lower level nobility family named Cobernuss lived from about 1400 to 1700 in what is now Malchin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Although this family line apparently died out in the 1700s, we found the names Cobernuss, Kobernuss & Kubbernuss in German church records as early as 1600 and these names are in use in Germany today. At this point, we can only conclude that because of their rarity, it’s likely all persons with these surnames have a common origin sometime in antiquity. One possibility is that our ancestors were people associated with the Cobernuss merchant family as servants or tenants and assumed the name of the owner of the estate where they worked or the name of the farm.
We have obtained a copy of the Coat of Arms for the Cobernus family of Malchin It is provided as a matter of historical interest only. There are more than 300,000 registered coats of arms for German names. Some surnames have many coats of arms, each specific to one family. In Germany, a coat of arms is awarded to a particular family and never to a group of families with the same name. Unless an ancestor received a grant of arms (armorial bearings), use of a surname does not entitle a person to use a coat of arms.
Also, bearing a coat of arms does not mean that you are descended from a noble family. Over the last 400 years, there have been many coats of arms whose bearers are merchant or working families who lived in cities and/or villages rather than on large estates. For German coat of arms, there is a register, the so-called Wappenrolle, which shows all existing and registered coat of arms. It is still possible to create a coat of arms today. However, it has to meet certain heraldic features and must be registered. There is no indication that our ancestors’ station in life was anything more than as small farmers/craftsmen or more often as day laborers on large estates in Mecklenburg. See Appendix 1 for more on this subject.
Distribution of Families In
Almost all of the early families we’ve studied lived near the borders of Mecklenburg and West Pomerania, near the city of Malchin. The most common names we’ve encountered are Kobernuss and Kubbernuss. For various reasons, we believe Kubbernuss is a variation of Cobernuss/Kobernuss. These names are often interchangable.and have co-existed in the same area of Mecklenburg since at least the early 1600’s. We’ve often seen the same family recorded as Cobernuss, Kobernuss and Kubbernuss in village church books.
We analyzed 111 known marriages in Mecklenburg between 1643 and 1800. Over this period the numbers of marriages were about equal in the two family names. The Kobernuss families were represented in about 70 percent of the earlier years, while marriages in the Kubbernuss families were greater in the later years. Of the 17 villages in this study, Kobernuss families existed in 13 villages in an arc east and south of Malchin, while Kubbernuss families were concentrated primarily in four adjacent villages about 15 miles north of that city. A study of migration trends after 1800 indicates much more overlap and distribution of the names in villages throughout the Malchin area and to the west. This data only includes Mecklenburg and does not reflect possible migration east to Pomerania, south to Brandenburg or to the western areas of Schleswig - Holstein and beyond.
Other bits of information continue to surface. For example, a Kobernuss family now living in Hamburg, recently discovered that their ancestors who lived along the Mecklenburg-Pomerania border used the name Kubbernuss in early church records. There also was an effort to encourage Germans to immigrate into Russia in the 17th century, so the family names may have spread to the east as well. Many Germans lived in what is now Poland before the Russians drove them out after World War II. We have been in touch with a German family that has Kubernus ancestors in Schoenballen in 1896 and Rotwalde as early as 1800.These villages are in East Pomerania (Now Poland).
Possible Origins Of The
We don’t know the origin of the names we’re researching. Because of the early Danish and Swedish influence in Mecklenburg and Pomerania, it’s possible the Kobernuss name and its variants are Scandinavian in origin. KOBENHAVEN (COPENHAGEN) Denmark is not far from the area in Mecklenburg where we’ve found the earliest mention of these names, so maybe there is a connection there.
The best-known work on German names is the Deutsch Namenslexikon (German Name Lexicon), by Hans Bahlow, which gives the origin and meaning of 15,000 names. Our review of this source indicates no entry for Cobernuss or Kobernuss but does indicate “Kober” may refer to a “pack basket” (basket to be carried on one’s back. In East Germany, the Slavic word “Kovar” refers to a blacksmith. Another reference, German-American Names, by George F. Jones also contains definitions for a large number of German names. This book also lists “Kober”, which it says means “basket, back-pack, fish-trap, huckster”. (Could this be some sort of merchant or seller of baskets?). The German word, “NUSS” means, “NUT” in English. Is it possible an early ancestor may have been a seller of nuts or something similar and carried them in a basket?
German surnames are easily recognized; most, if not all, end with the letters “er”, like Kammer, Mueller or Berger. The name Cober/Kober is fairly common in German records and might qualify under this rule. Is it possible that the suffix “nuss” might have another unknown meaning?
Other naming trivia we’ve noticed in early church records include attaching the suffix “en” to the names of females to denote gender. This was used mostly with females or with males e.g., with the father’s son or daughter. In addition, in German, the possessive or genitive case ends regularly on “en” or “s”. For example, the daughter of Johann Kobernuss would be known as Maria Kobernussen or the son of Johann Mueller would be recorded as Wilhelm Muellers.
Some years ago
during a visit to Kobern, a small village on the
Mosel River in Western Germany, a local tavern
owner told us the village name meant “Lover”.
However, this village is in the heart of the wine
country, quite a distance from Malchin and we
think the local chamber of commerce probably
wanted a name that sounded more romantic than “Basket
of Nuts or Nut Seller”. As a result, we still
don’t know what the name means if anything.
Maybe the source of the name rests in another
Tracing families and individuals in records can be frustrating unless we understand a little about how names originated, how they change over time, and how they are used. At first, a name identified a specific person, and later a group of persons (family name). This began with verbal usage, and was later fixed through
Except for a few famous people, early records only mentioned nobility and church officials. Most common people did not have surnames, and when they did, they often changed depending on where they lived, whom they married or their profession.
First or “given names” always existed. When people lived in clans or small villages, everyone had just one name. That’s all they needed because everyone knew each other. As population increased, it became necessary to distinguish between people with the same given name. In 325 A.D. the Catholic Church outlawed the use of pagan names and names from pagan gods. So the use of biblical names became the norm. The church went further in 1545 as it made the use of saint’s names mandatory before Catholic baptism. As a result, there were only about twenty common names for boys and girls. Later in the next century the Reformation and Protestant religions rejected Catholic mandates and traditions. So their children were named after New Testament and Old Testament figures, rather than just saint’s names. People were also named after nobility or famous persons, and Frederick, and Charlotte and others were added. In addition, “Germanic” names such as Wilhelm or Heike were added and many names of Slavic origin found their way to Germany. Middle names were first introduced by German nobility in the fifteenth century, but did not become common until the seventeen hundreds.
It is difficult to trace a name back to its original spelling because when family names were being formed, there were not many official recorders that could write. Most names were entered according to the way they sounded. Because of the dialect of an area, the same name was written differently in different areas. Family names did not really begin until after the 1100s. They came about as towns and villages began to grow, as people began to move from the farms to the cities, as the craftsmen became more self-sufficient, and as the farmers and citizens became freer.
It is generally agreed that Western civilized countries developed names from one of four ways. (1) Location: these surnames came from the town, estates, or city where the person lived. Nobles took on the name of their estate, and passed it down to their sons. Most often, peasants took on the names of their village or a distinguishing geographical characteristic such a river. (2) Kinship: “son of” names: i.e., Jen-son/Jen-sen. (3) Occupational: names coming from the profession of a parent such as Mueller (Miller), and (4) “Pet” names: Special or unusual physical features of an individual, i.e., Red-man, Stout.
German names were derived mostly from occupations like Kaufman, meaning merchant or Schmidt meaning smith and Bauer meaning farmer. The second most common source for German names were from colors, such as Braun (brown), Grun (green), Rosen (rose), Roth (red), Schwarz (black) and Weiss (white). Nicknames were the second to last most common source of names followed by location names. It was also common for a man to take the name of a farm he purchased or acquired by marriage.
From the way in which a person’s name is spelled, you can sometimes tell the general area he was from. For example, the occupation of Smithy, Schmitz is from Rheinland and Schmediding was from the Westfalen area. For Butcher: the name Fleischer comes from the East German area and Knochenhauer comes from the Hannover area. For Baker: In South and Central Germany the name is Beck or Back. The “ing” added to an occupational name indicates he was from the Niedersachsen area. The ending “en” indicates that he was from the Rheinland area.
German people of noble origin were not required to have a surname. People of nobility were only known by their origin or their reign, such as from the house of Habsburg or from the house of Windsor. In the German language it is easy to recognize if a person is of noble origin. His/Her name will always have the word “von” as part of the name, like Maria von Habsburg Empress of Austria.) This word “von” should never be mistaken by the Dutch word Van that does not have the same meaning.
It was only during the reign of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia between 1740-86, that common people were first required to have a surname. Many German surnames have their roots in the Germanic Middle-Ages.
Latin was the language of the areas we’ve been researching until the middle of the 14th century. By 1600 the literary language was well established; however the German language did not become recognizable in its present form until about the middle of the 18th century.
We have come across a number of variations of the Cobernuss name in German and US records. Many of these variations (particularly those in early records) are clearly “sounds like” misspellings. However, there may be other reasons for the variants. For example, the German language has some unique aspects that researchers have to deal with. The most common examples are:
Umlauts: These additional vowels are called umlauts (Umlauate): ä Ä, ë Ë, ï Ï, öÖ, and ü Ü. When converting German words to English, the umlaut is omitted and the letter e is added, thus Schröder becomes Schroeder.
Eszet Or Scharfes-S: The German letter or Greek Beta “ß” is the equivalent of ss and is alphabetized as if it were ss. As a result, ß, ss and s are used interchangeably. In a headline or other printed form using all capital letters the ß is printed as SS. Thus, the word Haß retains the Ezett when the work is written in lower case; but when it is composed in all capital letters, it is shown as HASS. One other convention we’ve encountered when corresponding with German speakers is the use of sz instead of the ß or ss. As a result, Kobernuß becomes Kobernusz. The Kobernuß family that immigrated to the US from Cadow in 1872 now spells their name Kobernusz. This form makes it easy to identify all descendants of this immigrant family living in the US today. Native German speakers suggest that in written correspondence, the modern preferred form is Kobernuss.
The Choice Of “C” Or “K”: The choice of the first letter of the surname is probably based on a “sounds like” convention, a gradual change in the German language over time, or personal preference rather than some linguistic rule. The use of the letter “C” is more common in the very early records while the letter “K” predominates in the later records. There are only two current American family lines we know of that use Cobernus or Cubbernuss and, as far as we know, only one Germany family uses the name Cobernuss.
Problems With Spelling
Until the 20th century, different standards of spelling were found in various parts of Germany and Europe where German was spoken. The most common surname variations we’ve encountered in German church records are Kobernuss and Kubbernuss. How a name was spelled was unimportant. How it was pronounced was what counted. Many people could pronounce their own names, but they could not write or spell them. They had to rely on the Pastor to document parish events. Different pastors might spell family names differently. For example, in one parish the family name might be Kobernuss, but when the family moved to another parish they might be recorded as Cobernuss. Despite this, we’ve often found consistency in the spelling of names in German parish registers within a village or parish. And there was some recognition of traditional spelling of family names by Pastors. Also, Over time there has been an attempt to simplify and standardize spelling. For example, In the 18th and 19th centuries, "th" often stood for the modern "t". The spelling reform at the turn of this century got rid of most of these "th"s. So, Harter and Harther are the same name, and were pronounced the same. All researchers should be alert to several variation of historical family names.
The Soundex System
Genealogists use the Soundex system adopted for the US Census when researching family names. This system assigns a letter-number combination to certain letters of the alphabet. In this way, names that sound alike are grouped together even though their spelling may differ. Almost all of the surname variations we’ve encountered in our research conform to the same Soundex code of C165 or K165. For example, the variations Kobernus, Kobernuss, Kubbernuss, Kubbernuhs and Koffarnuss have the same Soundex code. Cobernus, Cobernuss, and CUBBERNUSS have the Soundex code of C165. This works well when researching records that use the Soundex system, but most indexes still place these names in different parts of the alphabet and a researcher has to be alert to search for all possible combinations.
Mecklenburg Church Records
Few people we’ve contacted knew much about the history of their family beyond their own or their parent’s generation. Civil registration (Zivilstandsregister or Personenstandsregister) records did not begin in Germany until about 1876. This was after most of the immigrants we’ve studied had left Mecklenburg and Pomerania.
As a result, we’ve had to rely mostly on Mecklenburg German church records (Kirchenbücher) in our research. These records are particularly important because the civil authorities did not begin registering births, marriages, and deaths until after 1876. Generally recorded at the time of the event, parish records contain births, baptisms, marriages, confirmations and deaths. The data recorded in these records varied over time. Later records usually have more information than early ones.
Few churches in Mecklenburg kept records prior to 1602. In that year, the Evangelical Lutheran Church issued a proclamation requiring every parish to maintain a church book. At first, the proclamation only required churches to keep baptisms, marriages, and confessions. Later, the proclamation was revised to include death registers. Finally, in 1815, all parishes were required to add confirmations. A uniform system of record keeping was introduced in Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1786 and in Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1810.
These records vary in quality from unreadable scribble and ink blots to works of art worthy of framing. These records normally document birth, confirmation, marriage and death events. Many records were destroyed during the Thirty Years War (1617-1648, the French invasions around 1690, and during the Second World War (1939-1945).
In the early 1700’s some churches began making copies of their church books because they were worried about this destruction. In 1786 Mecklenburg-Schwerin passed a law requiring the duplication of church books, but there was so much to be copied that this could not be done. In 1787 the law was amended to say that only the books after 1740 had to be copied. In 1874 the Evangelical Church Council of Mecklenburg-Schwerin requested that all duplicate copies of church books up to 1750 be handed over for safekeeping to the Confidential and Main Archives in Schwerin. In 1914 another proclamation required all church registers up to the year 1786 to be turned over to the Confidential and Main Archives.
Mecklenburg-Strelitz passed a law requiring duplicates of church records in 1803. This law required that the copies be turned in to the main archive in Neustrelitz. This law was reconfirmed in 1927. Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz were united on January 1, 1934. The holdings of the archives in Schwerin and Neustrelitz were all combined in the archives in Schwerin. A central office for parish registers was created on May 1, 1934, also in Schwerin, because those under the Nazi regime had to prove their ancestry. All parish registers were brought to this office if they had not already been deposited in one of the archives or were not still in use in a parish.
These parish registers, over 2,000 volumes, were carefully inventoried, taking note of gaps in the registers. During World War II, the Mecklenburg church records were moved for safe keeping to salt mines in Grasleben. After the war this area fell into the British occupation zone and the British authorities sent the records to a palace just outside the city of Goslar in the Harz Mountains for storage. Later the records were deposited in Ratzeburg, the only Mecklenburg city that ended up in West Germany. The church records of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz up until 1875 are now in Schwerin and are available at the church archives.
German church records now exist for almost all parishes in Mecklenburg. Microfilmed in 1951 by The Genealogical Society of Utah, an arm of the Mormon Church, the records are available at the Family History Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. In addition, copies of these microfilms are available at local Family History Centers all over the world. It is not necessary to know much more than a few key words of German and learning to read the old German script does not take long. In addition, records can be ordered directly from the Schwerin Archive in Germany. They are very responsive and the fees are reasonable.
The earliest records we’ve been able to decipher, start about 1630. In the larger cities there are often several parishes that need to be researched within a city or small area. In the rural areas, the reverse exits: one church had jurisdiction over several villages known as Fillialorte (daughter places). Over time, jurisdictions changed, records are lost and rediscovered, so researchers have to accept the facts as they find them, and what we know today may be changed by later corrections or discoveries. Types of church records we’ve looked at are:
Birth And Christening Records: Children were usually baptized within a few days of birth. Prior to the late 1700s, many pastors did not record the name of the parents or only recorded the father’s name. Later records show the date of birth and the date of christening, the child’s name, the names of the parents, and the names of the godparents. We have encountered a few cases where the birth date cited turns out to be actually the christening data. For example, Magdalena Maria Kobernuss was listed with a birth date of 19 April 1754 in Alt Gaarz, but in the 1819 Mecklenburg census she is listed as having been born 4 May 1754.
Illegitimate Births: Originally, when a child was born in Mecklenburg out of wedlock, he would receive the surname of the father if the father were known. In Mecklenburg-Schwerin after 1838, by law, an illegitimate child received the surname of the mother if the birth was not followed by the marriage of the parents. The name of the child was recorded as “angeblich” (alleged) in the church books, if relying on the mother’s word. Even if the parents eventually married, the child would still be listed with the mother’s surname in most cases because the pastor usually did not go back and change the birth record. In general, the name of the father was recorded up to the year 1860 after which the practice gradually came to a stop.
Marriage Records: The marriage usually took place in the home parish of the bride. The pastor recorded the names of bride and groom, whether each was single or widowed, and the date of the marriage. The earliest marriage records give little information about the parents of the couple. In most cases, until the beginning of the 1800s, marriage registers recorded only the names of the bride’s parents. In Mecklenburg-Strelitz the names of the groom’s parents began to be recorded after 1810. This practice was introduced in Mecklenburg-Schwerin sometime after 1820. The birth dates of the bride and groom began to be entered in marriage registers during the 1800s. Some marriage registers even give the birthplaces of the bride and groom.
Death Records: Deceased persons were usually buried within a few days of their death. The pastor recorded the name of the deceased, the death date and the burial date. Early death registers did not record the place of birth and age of the deceased, but later records usually did. Death records from the 1800s often give the cause of death and even the name of the spouse or other survivors.
The Mormon Church continues to film related records, and this is an excellent and growing resource.
US Church Records
Researching US church records is much more challenging. There have been a few efforts to film church records in the US, but this is a hit and miss proposition. All of the major dominations in the US have established archives for the records they know about. But the quality and scope of their collections vary. The Mormon Church has filmed some records and we’ve found some records in various libraries we’ve visited. However, until recently, we’ve have not had much luck in this area.
The biggest problem is that many US churches from the 1800’s no longer exist; as a result, it’s hard to determine where the records might reside if they exist at all. When a church closes or combines with another, the records are often transferred to another church or sent to the denomination archives; this makes locating the records very difficult. When churches that had adjoining cemeteries disappear or merge with others, the cemetery headstones are sometimes removed and the remains relocated. Many Cemeteries are very well organized, but others have to scramble to determine the plot where people are buried. When they can’t readily find the location of someone who is clearly buried there, they tell you there will be a charge for doing the research hoping I suppose you'll give up and go away.
Finding the churches of our ancestors takes some detective work. For example, we had a recent break-through in locating what we think is the church that Carl and Sophie Kobernus attended in Forest Park near Chicago. We recently discovered an 1888 marriage license between Marie Cobernuss and Charles Smith in Cook county records. Further research indicates the bride is probably Marie Kobernus, daughter of Carl and Sophie Kobernuss. The groom, Charles Smith is probably Carl Schmidt. The couple was married in St. Peter’s Lutheran church on Dixon Street in Forest Park. This church is only about 10 blocks from the family home in Oak Park. We’re also doing some research on St. John’s, another church also about the same distance from the Kobernus residence. We’ll report more on these developments in the next revision to this genealogy.
US Civil Records
Early US records are incomplete and often unreliable. Our research indicates that many of the immigrants were illiterate or not native english speakes, This leads to even greater variations in spelling of family names. Also we’ve seen naturalization documents and wills that reflect only an “X his/her mark” where the signature would be. On the other hand, we’ve seen many documents from the same period that indicates some people had some education and could at least sign their own name.
The advent of computers and the Internet make creation and distribution of information much easier; however, the old adage of “Garbage in - Garbage out” has never been truer. For example, although the Mormon Church maintains the largest existing genealogy computer database file in the world, the quality of this data varies greatly because the LDS does not require submitters to provide sources with their data. Once an error is identified in the Mormon database it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get it corrected. Other databases available on the Internet seldom provide source documentation, so it is difficult to determine the quality of data. As a result, unless a source is cited, readers should treat the information as unverified.
In the US, the National Archives, and state and local governments hold many records. These entities have made great strides in making their records available to the public, and the advent of computerized library indexes, personal computers, the Internet, and large centralized databases makes research much easier. Despite this progress, researchers still encounter significant roadblocks. Although we try to do original research when ever possible, we often have to rely on the work of others.
States, counties, and towns take a different approach to maintaining and making vital statistics available to the public. Some jurisdictions allow you to browse to your hearts content in original records that go back to the early 1800s, while others are guarded by an old crone who is clearly determined to never reveal to anyone the contents of her vault. Vital records by city, state and county entities often don’t exist, are incomplete or obviously wrong. In addition, fires in various archives have destroyed valuable records over the years.
heroes in this story are the people (many of them
volunteers) who man the public libraries, LDS
Family History Centers and Local Historical
Societies. We always try to visit one of each in
every location we visit. Some have extensive
collections, while others are very limited. Most
have good equipment & facilities (some are on
the cutting edge of technology) but all the people
we dealt with were highly professional, helpful
and overworked. As you would expect, the libraries
located in state capitols are the best equipped
and manned, and have the advantage of usually
being collocated with the state archives
.Chapter 3: Immigration
Short History Of German
Why was there such a great mass of people wishing to quit their homeland? The answer lies in European politics, economics and class conflict. Until the early 1820s a type of Feudalism existed in Mecklenburg known as Inherited Serfdom. The landowners controlled the economy and ruled their estates with absolute authority. The peasants were dependent entirely on the nobles who controlled all aspects of their lives. Although Feudalism was officially abolished in 1820, it took many more years for German society to adjust to the new status of the peasant. Also, the French occupation created great hardship and destruction in Mecklenburg. Of the more than 2000 men who were conscripted from Mecklenburg to take part in Napoleon’s campaign against Russia, less than one hundred came home again.
The typical immigrant in our records was a Tagelöhner (day laborer) in his mid thirties with a wife and several children. These peasants were agricultural workers that did not live on the farm. They were cheap labor paid with little hard currency and the rest with products from the farm. An even cheaper form of labor was the child of a Tagelöhner known as Hofgaenger who entered the fields after their confirmation (usually 14 years). Like the Tagelöhner, they did not live on the Hof (farm) and walked to work each day (gaenger = a walking person). Like the Tagelöhner they earned little money and the rest as Deputat paid by products of nature (Naturalien). We've been told that the daily payment of a Tagelöhner between 1848-1873 was 10 Schilling for a man, and for a Woman 6 Schilling. 1 Taler was 48 Schillings, 12 Pfennig was one shilling. It is hard to estimate what that represents in current dollars, but it was probably not much more than bare subsistance.
Germans began immigrating to the new world very early. By the time of the Revolutionary War there were an estimated 225,000 German-Americans residing in the American Colonies. This was almost nine percent of the total population of early America. Germans fought on both sides of the Revolution, including 30,000 Hessian mercenaries hired by the British. The Prussian Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was enlisted by George Washington to train the rebel army. Many of the Hessians remained in the New World and several waves of German migration followed. However, until the mid 1800s, transatlantic travel was only attempted by the more adventurous. For more on the subject of transatlantic travel see Appendix 2.
German overseas emigration falls into two phases in the nineteenth century. The period 1847-55 is generally accepted by historians as the beginning of the period when the first great German immigration to the United States began. Several factors contributed to this surge. By that time, peasant emancipation and increased mechanization on the large estates resulted in the need for less labor. This led to the gradual dispossession of former serfs from the great estates. In addition, political unrest was simmering throughout Europe. In 1848 many Mecklenburg reform societies met in secret and and a political revolution was distinct possibility. However the revolution did not have enough support and eventually failed. The attempted rebellion was followed by a depression in Mecklenburg. Crop failures, the increase in the price of food, famine, and a general decline in the standard of living of a predominantly rural population all contributed to the surge in immigration. Poverty, lawlessness and political instability increased.
The mid-century exodus began with the departure of political refugees, liberals, and intellectuals and was fueled by stories about a better life sent back by those who had emigrated previously. People left for other reasons; one German family tells us that a family member “Hit a watchman and had to go to Amerika” A sample of the data for the period 1850-51 indicates that two thirds of the departures were male and that over 80 percent were either farmers or laborers.
Another surge took place between 1865 and 1895 when peasants and unemployed industrial workers, largely from Mecklenburg and Eastern Germany, were attracted by the demand for cheap labor during a period of rapid U.S. industrialization that followed the Civil War. Although the population of the German states doubled between 1840 and 1910, from 32.8 million to 64.9 million, emigration carried off approximately one third of this increase.
After the 1871 consolidation of the Germanic states by Bismarck, economic conditions in Germany began to improve. The era of massive overseas migration came to an end in the mid-1890s as German industry matured and absorbed surplus agricultural and industrial population. In total, about four million Germans came to the United States between 1850 and 1893. Most of the immigrants found the trip worthwhile, and few returned to Germany. According to the 1990 Census, German-Americans were the largest ethnic group in the US. Over 57 million, or one in four persons claim some form of Germanic ancestry—German, Austrian, or German Swiss somewhere on their family tree.
Kobernus And Kubbernuss
Before 1850 many immigrants went from Rotterdam to Philadelphia, but later Hamburg and Bremerhaven became major ports of embarkation to New York. The preferred states were Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio and Indiana. The most useful immigration records we’ve used in our research include passenger lists from the Ports of Hamburg and New York, German civil records and US naturalization documents.
The earliest known immigrant in our records is Frederick Cobernuss who arrived in New York in 1853 with his wife and two daughters. We have traced about thirty-five other German families from Mecklenburg and West Pomerania that immigrated to the U.S. between 1853 and 1888. Almost all were born in Mecklenburg & Pomerania, departed from the port of Hamburg, sometimes with a stop at Marseilles or La Have France, and arrived in the Port of New York.
There was no “processing” of immigrants at US ports before 1855. From colonial times there was unrestricted immigration and each state regulated its own port. New York City tried to exclude criminals, paupers, and diseased aliens, but the regulation of this policy, which was in the hands of the police, failed. So basically, people just arrived, got off the ship, and blended into the city, or moved on to another part of the country. The very idea of processing (and controlling) immigration came about as a reaction to the great influx of immigrants in the mid 1800s--Germans, Poles, and of course, Irish Catholics fleeing the Famine. In the 1850s, the anti-Catholic "Know Nothing" party put great pressure on the government to control the influx of foreigners, and so, Castle Gardens at the Battery on the tip of Manhattan was turned into an immigrant processing station.
Although a possibility, we have no evidence that any Kobernuss or Kubbernuss immigrant entered any other North American port such as New Orleans or Corpus Christi or through Canada. Grosse Ile, Quebec was opened 1832 as the St. Lawrence Quarantine Station and closed in 1937. Its purpose was to prevent the entry of a cholera epidemic into Canada.
Immigrants were not processed through Ellis Island in until 1892. See the appendix for a more comprehensive view of what it was like to arrive in New York and process through Castle Garden. A historical footnote: It took a Supreme Court decision in 1998 to settle a 160-year-old dispute between New York and New Jersey over the ownership of Ellis Island, 90 percent of which is now New Jersey's.
Where They Settled
Most early German immigrants looking for farmland traveled inland from New York on the Hudson River or the Erie Canal to Buffalo. After the Civil War, the rail system to the Mid-West was greatly expanded. Our research indicates the immigrants settled mainly in Buffalo New York, Chicago Illinois, Western Michigan and Milwaukee Wisconsin. Several of these families moved more than once, taking advantage of the competition between the US and Canada to attract farmers to their remote territories during the latter part of the 1800’s.
The immigrants followed different migration patterns depending on when and where the settled. The earliest immigrants probably had an easier time finding good land to farm, while it was more difficult for the later immigrants. Here are a few examples. Friederich Kubbernuss born in Damm, settled in the Milwaukee area in 1857. He was was drafted and served in the Civil War from 1864 to 1865 as part of the 37 Wisconsin Infantry. His brother joined him in 1868. The Christian Kobernuss (now Cobernus) family from Bolz settled in the Buffalo/Tonawanda NY area about 1863 and his descendants still live in Tonawanda. The Friederich Kobernuss (now Kobernusz) family that immigrated in 1871-72, arrived from Kadow, Pomerania settled in Chicago before moving to Guttenburg, Iowa and later to Manly Iowa. In 1873, the Carl Kobernuss family born in Alt-Gaarz, lived in Tonawanda/Buffalo but probably found the best land already taken in the New York area. They stayed for a couple of years with relatives then moved to Oak Park, a village near Chicago. Two sons of this family later moved to Estherville Iowa about 1893 and farmed there and later Rockford Iowa. Christian Cobernuss arrived with his family from Levitzow in 1882 and settled in the Detroit area where his brother had lived since 1871. The Friederich Kobernus family that immigrated in 1882 from Ivanack first settled in Chicago and did not move to Indiana to homestead until about 1905.
It is clear that earlier arrivals acted as an advance cadre for later family members. As we learn more about where these families originated and lived, we may be able to further substantiate possible contacts they may have had between each other in the U.S. and Germany. We’re interested in collecting stories of these early families to include in our genealogy so the information can be shared and preserved for future generations.
Summary & Conclusion
Genealogy research is an open-ended process. Unfortunately, much information has been lost over the decades. Our goal is to continue to search for the missing pieces and document what we know. We continue to discover new data and meet new cousins. We’ve provided historical and background data that might appear at first to be unnecessary. However, as far as we know, there has been no significant research on the Kobernuss families in Germany or the US and the more we know about their history and times the more accurate their story will be. Current and future generations will then have a baseline to use in expanding the database and identifying errors.
In addition, we’ve made some errors and chased many fruitless clues along the way -- the information in this narrative might help others avoid some common pitfalls. This is only one chapter in a much larger story. There is a lot more to discover and we encourage everyone to make a contribution, however small, to the overall story.
We continue to meet new cousins through contacts generated by The Kobernuss & Kubbernuss Family Homepage at [ http//kobernus.com/index.htmll ] We know there are probably errors and omissions in this genealogy. Additional data and corrections are always welcome.
"Wappen" is provided by the Cobernuss
family of Stavenhagen Germany and is made
available as a matter of historical interest only.
We received a black and white copy of what they
claim is the Cobernuss family crest. This has not
been verified against the German Wappenrolle and
it is unlikely the family has any research to
verify they are descended from the Cobernuss
family of Malchin. The coloring is our crude
attempt to approximate what a heraldic artist
would prepare. There are more than 300,000
registered coats of arms for German names - some
surnames have many coats of arms - each specific
to one family. Unless an ancestor received a grant
of arms (armorial bearings), use of a surname does
not entitle a person to use a coat of arms. In
Germany, a coat of arms has always been given to a
specific family and never to a group of various
families with the same name.
Click to see full size
"The Cobernuss family name is first mentioned in Mecklenburg around 1450 where the brothers Ernst and Hanns had a concession in the office of Malchin in 1458. This still belonged to the family in the year 1586. In 1559, mention is made of a Wilhelm von Cobernuss, on whose seal the coat of arms described below could also be recognized. All noble branches of the family disappeared shortly after 1700 and may only be found in common descendants today. "
- Decoration: Blue and Silver
- Crest: On the helmet, a red star between two extended blue wings
- Shield: A blue lion in an "en garde" stance outlined in red on a silver background.
Transatlantic Travel – The
The distinction between Explorer and Immigrant became increasingly blurred as Europeans began regular trips to the New World. Because trade was the earliest driving force for transatlantic travel, early sailing ships carried passengers as secondary cargo. As a result, early travelers experienced hazardous and very uncomfortable conditions. Although most Germans departed from Bremen, our ancestors used Hamburg as the point of departure. Some transatlantic ships stopped in Southampton, England and/or La Havre France before making the crossing. Many Germans sailed first to England and then took English vessels to America because of the cheaper fares offered by the Liverpool cotton merchants. This was often a mistake, especially in the days of sail, since not only were English regulations on the shipment of emigrants much less stringent than German regulations, but even these lax regulations were seldom enforced. Consequently, British vessels, which were larger than contemporary German and American vessels, were overcrowded and fertile breeding grounds for disease. The problem of disease among emigrants was particularly severe in 1847, when large numbers of Germans migrating to the United States were routed through Quebec, and in 1853, when the mortality on ships arriving at New York from Liverpool climbed to between 6 and 10 percent (by comparison, there was very little sickness on board ships arriving from Bremen and Hamburg during this same period).
Advent Of The Steamship
Some of the early sailing ships were very small and did not accommodate many passengers. However, the later steam ships were larger, capable of carrying over 1,000 passengers in three or more classes. Many immigrants who could afford it did travel in style; however, our ancestors were mostly former tenant farmers and day laborers so it was common to book steerage, the cheapest accommodations available.
The first steamship to cross the Atlantic was the SAVANNAH, 320 tons, 98.5 x 25.8 feet (length x breadth), built by Samuel Fickett and William Crockett, New York, and launched on 22 August 1818 as a 3-masted, square-rigged sailing ship; an engine (40 3/8 inch cylinder, 5 ft stoke), 2 copper boilers, and 2 side-paddle wheels were added in February 1819. She sailed from Tybee Light, off Savannah, under the command of Moses Rogers, on 22 May 1819, and dropped anchor at Liverpool on 20 June 1819, after a voyage of 29 days 4 hours. Of this period of 700 hours, the ship's log indicates that the paddles were in operation for a total of approximately 100 hours, spread over parts of 12 days. The latter part of the voyage was marked by a chase by the British revenue cutter KITE, which mistook the SAVANNAH for a ship on fire. The Savannah then proceeded to Helsingor (Elsinore), Stockholm, and St. Petersburg; thence, under sail alone, to Copenhagen, Arendal, and Savannah, which she reached on 30 November 1819.
The first regular steamship service across the North Atlantic was begun by the British & American Steam Navigation Company, and followed almost immediately by the Great Western Steam Ship Company, both in 1838 Both ventures were short-lived, as it was impossible at that time to maintain a steamship service across the North Atlantic without a government subsidy.
The first successful steamship service across the North Atlantic was instituted in 1840 by the British North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Co., popularly known from its earliest days (although not officially until 1878) as the Cunard Line, which in May 1839 had obtained the first British government mail subsidy of 55,000 pounds sterling per annum, the contract to run for 7 years.
The early steamships were unreliable--their boilers had a tendency to explode, and their machinery was too heavy for hulls designed for sailing vessels--and notoriously uncomfortable, and at first the slower, but more reliable and luxurious sailing vessels were able to hold their own. However, as the reliability of steamships improved, speed took precedence over comfort, as it does even today (witness the victory of the airplane over the ocean liner in the late 1960's and early 1970's), and by the late 1840's the steamships had wrested the cabin-class passenger and fine-cargo traffic from the sailing vessels, which were left with only the emigrant and bulk-cargo traffic.
The American Civil War only hastened the ascendance of steam over sail in the passenger trade. By 1870, of all the great sailing packet lines, only two--the Liverpool Black Ball Line and the London Red Swallaowtail Line--survived; however, they had long since ceased to carry passengers and went into liquidation in 1878 and 1880, respectively. Several German and Scandinavian shippers continued to send an occasional sailing vessel filled with emigrant passengers to North America until the mid-1870's, but by 1875 there was no regularly scheduled transport of passengers by sail. From the mid 1800's to World War I, a large number of steam ships were dedicated to the transatlantic passenger trade.
A review of the passenger records in the National Archives indicates these ships were in kept in constant motion almost all year, even during the rough winter months where Atlantic travel was uncomfortable and often hazardous. These ships carried sail, but usually were under steam power most of the time. Traveling at about 12 knots, the voyage took two weeks. Today, the same trip on the Queen Elizabeth II at about 39 knots, takes about 5 days. Of course, by air, the voyage from Heathrow England to JFK is about 6 hours.
Appendix 3: KOBERNUS & KUBBERNUSS Families Emigration Records
extensive information on the immigration of these
families at our family links page. Look for your family in the
immigration matrix on this page.
Recognizing German Names
Most people have no problem recognizing German city names such as Berlin, Berchtesgaden, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Leipzig, Munich (München), Salzburg, Dresden or Zurich (Zürich). Geographic features such as das Matterhorn, der Rhein (Rhine), die Elbe, der Harz (mountains), or die Zugspitze, Germany’s tallest mountain, are equally as well known. Other regional or state names may be just as familiar: Schleswig-Holstein, the Rhineland (Rheinland), Saxony (Sachsen), and others.
But what do all those names actually mean? How did these places get their names? A closer look at German place names reveals that many of them are not German or even Germanic. River names are often a good example of this. The Rhine (der Rhein) and the Isar both got their names from the Celts or even the pre-Celtic, Indo-European people who once populated the European continent. Such names are often the only remaining evidence of the existence of those early European inhabitants. Der Isar (all German river names are either masculine, der, or feminine, die), the river that flows through Munich and is a tributary of the Danube (die Donau, Latin Danuvius), shares its pre-Celtic name with several distant European rivers: the Esera in Spain, the Isère in France, the Yser in Belgium, and the Jizera in the Czech Republic (der Iser in German). Der Rhein first received its Celtic name Renos, and then the Romans latinized it into Rhenus. Many other German rivers also were first “christened” by the Celts and later by the Romans: der Main (Mogonos, the Celtic river god), die Mosel (from the Celtic for “swamp”), die Tauber (Dubra, dub, “water”).
But rivers aren’t the only geographic features that derive their names from the Celts. Towns (Remagen, “water field,” and Worms, from the Celtic for “field”) and mountains (Taunus, dunum, “hill”) also owe their names to them as well.
Other German place names, particularly in eastern Germany, were originally Slavic. Leipzig was once called Lipsk, from the Slavic word lipa, “lime tree.” Albert the Bear founded Berlin in the 12th century (hence the city’s bear symbol) but the name comes from a Slavic word for “fishing village.” Lübeck in the north of Germany gets its name from a Slavic king, Luiby. Dresden on the Elbe River was once a Slav village known as Drezdzany, meaning, and “forest dwellers on the plain.”
Other factors affecting place names are history, wars, migration, and politics. Names change according to who is currently in power or who is culturally dominant. (Something that family history researchers need to be aware of!) Today’s Polish Gdansk was once called Danzig because it was predominantly German. The communist East Germans changed Chemnitz to Karl-Marx-Stadt. As soon as the Berlin Wall came down, it was Chemnitz again. Königsberg (“king’s mountain”), a Prussian and German city from 1255 to 1945 and home to the philosopher Immanuel Kant in the 18th century, is now located in Russia and known as Kaliningrad. German Breslau is now Wroclaw, Poland’s fourth largest city. The Czech “beer” cities known as Budweis and Pilsen in German are now Ceské Budejovice and Plzen respectively.
The Poles, then the Austrian Habsburgs, later by the Prussians, and finally the Germans, once ruled the region known as Silesia, Schlesien in German, or Shlask in Polish. It got its name from the Shlezanie, a Slavic people who once lived there. In 1945 Silesia was returned to Poland, and more than a quarter of the country’s population resides there now. The Habsburgs also once ruled over Bohemia (Böhmen), today a part of the Czech Republic. Hitler used the fact that many Sudeten-Germans were living in western Bohemia as a pretext to gain the Sudetenland in 1938. Today there is no longer any governmental entity known as Bohemia, but the name of the former kingdom is applied to the region.
Another German custom that creates problems for researchers involves marriages into farm families. Farmers in Mecklenburg did not always own land but retained the right to farm for the life of the leaseholder. The right to lease a particular plot of land was determined by the crown. Selection was done by lottery or fiat. Usually, the lease would extend for the life of the leaseholder and not to his heirs. When a farmer died, and his widow remarried, the new husband would take the name of the previous husband in order to retain the right to farm the lease.
Names for German Jews also require special mention. Jews were made to take their names by law in the early 1800s. Those who bribed German officials were given good names and names of beauty. Those who did not pay were given ugly names like Eselskopf meaning ass’s head, or Saumagen (hog’s paunch), Durst (thirst), or Bettelarm (destitute).
As we trace our families back to when their names were first used, we become aware of special problems created by the ancient naming practice called Patronymics. Patronymics are defined as: “a name derived from that of the father or a paternal ancestor usually by the addition of an affix.” Patronymics are found primarily in Scandinavia and in the Northwestern areas of Germany and we have found no instance in Mecklenburg records where this naming system was used. However, Sweden controlled Pomerania to the East for many years and there is a possibility that it was used there also. As a result, there is a possibility that a researcher will encounter the Patronymics naming system in Mecklenburg as well.
Schleswig-Holstein, a province bordering the western border of Mecklenburg provides an example of the Patronymics naming system. Through the centuries, the rule of this area fluctuated between Denmark and Germany. We don’t have an example from Mecklenburg, but the Danish one below from Schleswig-Holstein below describes how the patronymic system was used in Germany. The formation of names for sons and daughters was usually in the following manner:
This example shows the problem with Patronymics; if complete records were available, you could verify that Bertha Jens and Peter Jensen were siblings and direct descendants of Carl Soren but it would not be readily apparent without extensive research.
Despite this, Patronymics was only abandoned by Royal decree and complied with reluctantly over many years. Decrees were issued to discontinue the patronymic naming system in 1771. Under this order, parents had to determine a permanent surname for their child at the time of the christening. Each child in the family could receive a different surname than that given to the other children. Ministers had to announce the name of the child at the time of the christening and see that it was recorded properly. Once the name was given, it was against the law to change it. This aspect of the law shows that there was little thought put into it when it was made, because when a woman married and took her husband’s name she was in violation of the law.
Since the decree allowed children born just prior to this decree received the patronymic form and had the right to give their children permanent surnames after they married. This extended the time period when new surnames were being given to as late as the 1820s. Children, who were given permanent surnames at christening, reverted back to the patronymic form when they were confirmed, married and raising their families. With parents and some children having patronymic surnames and others having permanent surnames, it makes it very difficult to put families together. Because the people were reverting back to the patronymic form, a second decree was issued in 1812, and a third decree was issued in 1822. Still, for many years after this the people went by the patronymic name and not their permanent surname.
To trace an ancestor who was christened with a permanent surname but who went by his patronymic name in life, you must first determine the ancestor’s date of birth or at least the year of birth. This may be possible by using any type of record that would give the individual’s age, such as confirmation, marriage, death, census and military records. Once the date or year of birth is known, then the records for that time period can be checked to find a child by that given name being born at that time. If more than one child has the same name and was born about the same time period, you will have to follow the process of verification mentioned earlier in order to determine the correct one.
Check our Maps page
Portal For The Kobernuss & Kubbernuss Families
To accommodate the growing number of immigrants to the United States who used New York as their first port of call, an official immigration center was established at Castle Garden in 1855. Situated on landfill at the tip of the Battery, the former fortification, concert hall, and entertainment center housed the processing of immigrants until 1890.
Over a period of 34 years, over 8 million people entered the United States through Castle Garden, For example, in 1860, 105,123 immigrants disembarked there, of whom 47,330 were Irish, 37, 899 were German and 11,361 were English. The Garden closed on April 18, 1890. A temporary center was set up in the old Barge Office near the Customhouse on the southeast foot of Manhattan and used until January 1, 1892 when Ellis Island opened. This link has extensive information on Castle Garden. Also your browser to search Google or Yahoo for other mentions of Castle garden.