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Who are the Wends
The Wends are a European Slavic minority, more commonly known as the Sorbians. The Wendish population, a group threatened with cultural extinction, numbers approximately 20,000. Most live in the Lusatia region of eastern Saxony and southeastern Brandenburg, Germany. Lusatia is known in German as Lausitz (Łužica in Upper Wendish, Łužyca in Lower Wendish). The term Wend (Venedi in Latin) was first used in the Fredegarii Chronicon of AD 631-632.
There are twenty-one known Wendish tribes, including the Abodrits, Obodrits, Daleminzi, Polabs and Wislans, who settled throughout central Europe. The Sorbians originated from two of these tribes and are now known as the “Upper” and “Lower” Wends. “Upper” and “lower” refer to the elevation, rather than latitude of the respective lands. Most of the Upper Wends reside in highland area between the cities of Bautzen, Kamenz and Wittichenau. Bautzen (Budyšin in Upper Wendish) is their cultural center. The Lower Wends live in the famous Spree Forest (Spreewald) near Cottbus (Chośebuz in Lower Wendish) which is a flat marsh land with thick forests.
Wendish (or Sorbian) is a branch of the Western Slavic language group, along with Polish, Czech, Slovak.
Religions of the Wends
The Lusatian Wends worshiped rivers and holy groves. The Wends were conquered in the 9th and 10th centuries and were forced to deny their idol gods and become Catholic. The first Wendish speaking Catholic priests emerged almost 700 years later.
During the Reformation, seventy-five percent of the Upper Wends became Lutherans. Towns near St. Marienstern and Bautzen remained Catholic because they were owned by the local monasteries. The Lower Wends in Prussia accepted Lutheranism.
In the 1560s, Catholic bishop Johann Leisetritt (1527-1586) began fighting for the survival of his Bautzen-Meissen diocese. He re-Catholicized many of the area’s Upper Wends. Lower Lusatia, under the rule of Prussia and a different Catholic diocese, remained Lutheran.
Wends also emigrated to the United States and Australia. Read more
Wendish genealogical sources
Parish registers are the best source for tracing Wendish ancestry. Depending on the area the ancestor is from, the search will be concentrated in Catholic or Lutheran metrical records. Many individuals with German heritage may discover they are actually Slavic. Catholic records prior to the 1940s are in Latin. Individual’s names may be recorded in either German or Wendish. Lutheran records are in German with an occasional interjected Wendish or Latin word. Court records interchangeably use Wendish names and German equivalents.
Most of the churches in Upper Lusatia were built in the 17th and 18th centuries. The oldest Wendish churches are located in Kamenz, Bautzen, Crostwitz, Wittichenau and Göda. The recording of baptisms, marriages and deaths was rarely done before the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). Most of the pre-war parish registers, for both Upper and Lower Lusatia, were destroyed. Only a few metrical records exist before 1640s.
Tax records are another source of genealogical information. The Wends were serfs and rented their land from the landlords. They worked on farms that were once their own, but now given to them as fiefdoms. Usually, the name of the one who received the fief was recorded in the landlord’s tax records. The surviving tax records for Upper Lusatia are in the Sächsisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Dresden. The monasteries of St. Marienstern (Upper Lusatia), St.Mariental (Silesia) and Ossiek (Czech Republic) also owned lands in Lusatia.
Some of St.Marienstern’s tax records date to the 13th century and include the farms of surrounding villages, which the monastery owned. The early tax records only list the head of household’s given name. St. Marienstern’s records have been compiled into a book entitled Das Zinsregister des Klosters Marienstern, that has been filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU). The book’s microfilm can be requested for viewing at Family History Centers.
Another monastery named St.Mariental, does not allow the public to view their old tax records, but court records regarding their lands are available. The Kingdom of Saxony had a law requiring house and farm owners to record the process of property inheritance from one generation to another. The court records of St. Mariental’s lands (former Silesia) are housed in Sächsisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Dresden. This is good news for genealogists because the GSU has filmed Sächsisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Dresden records and they can be viewed at Family History Centers.
Examples of Upper Wendish surnames
Many Wendish family names originate from professions. For example: Wowčer (shepherd), Pohonč (carter/ coacher), Młynk (miller), Bur/Burik (farmer), Hornčer (potter), Kowar (smith), Korčmar (inn-keeper) and Smoler (tar-maker).
Some Wendish surnames reflect the ancestor’s responsibilities. Čiban was the town judge town and Šołta was the mayor. The family name “Kral” can be translated as “king.” The Wends did not have kings, but the historian
Vladimir Ćorović believes the word kral was adopted from the given name of the Franconian king “Karl the Great.”
Surnames can originate from given names, for example:
Jurjanc is from Jurij (George), Janka from Jan (John), Mikławšk from Mikławš (Nicolas), Handrik from Handrij (Andreas), and Pětranc from Pětr (Peter). Medieval Wendish first names, used prior to Christian conversion, seldom became family names, but there are a few exceptions. Kilank, Kilian, Grubic and Kłóskec are rooted in medieval Wendish given names.
Animal names and geographic features were also adopted as family names, for example: Liška (fox), Mucha (fly), Wróbl (sparrow) and Rapak (raven), Rěčka (little river), Horjan (mountain dweller) and Pólk (little field).
Descriptive family names like Mužik (little man), Smoła (tar), Dubik (little oak), Pinca (root cellar) and Čornak (the black one) are also common.
Many East European languages use the patronymic ending “-ski” to indicate son of. The Wends used “-ski” to indicate “belonging to” or “coming from.” Bramborski indicates the individual is from the Brandenburg area. Salowski signifies from the town of Salow and Holanski is from Holany.
Since the end of the 19th century, Wendish family names in official documents are recorded in German. Diacritics are omitted and the Wendish sound of the letter was transcribed into German. For example, “š” and “ř” became “sch”, and “ć” and “č” became “tsch.” The letter “ł” became “l” or “w.” The letters “ó” and “ě” dropped their diacritics.
For a list of Wendish family names and it’s German equivalent please follow this link. [link]
Wendish given names
The Wends used a small group of given names. Many Lusatian records use the German equivalent of the Wendish given name and vice versa. A family history researcher should become familiar with both.
Following some examples of the most common Wendish given names and German equivalents that were used in 19th century parish records:
Gertrud Herta, Trudla
Mattheus Motc (old), Maćij
Alternate surname spellings
Wendish surnames may suddenly seem to disappear in parish registers. This occurs for several reasons:
• The Wendish surname had a Latin equivalent. Often a family name described the individual’s profession and was “Latinized” by the parish priest. This practice was prevalent during the 19th century. The most likely candidates are the surnames of Müller, Weber, Färber, and Maurer.
• Adopted German surnames were recorded in Wendish prior to 1875, e.g Lehmann (German) may have been Wičas (Wendish) in records before 1875. The German surname Sauer was Žur and Töpfer was Hornčer.
• Different spellings for the same surname. Wendish parish registers and surnames were primarily recorded in German or Latin, but Wendish surname spellings are occasionally used. Diacritics can alert the researcher to a possible Wendish spelling. For example, Roschandt (German) is Róžanta (Wendish) and Tzschumpel is Čumpela. Either or both spellings could have been used in local registers.
• The surname changed to the name of an inherited farm. Metrical records often change a family’s surname when they inherited or bought a farm. Wendish farms were typically named for tax purposes. When children were born to a couple who had inherited a farm, the children’s surname changed to the farm’s name.
Wendish town names
In the 16th century, at latest, Wendish towns and villages in Lusatia were also given a German place name. In other German regions, dual place names began in the 9th century. For example, the town of Gränze (German) may be listed as Hrajnca (Wendish), Ostro as Wotrow and Panschwitz as Pančic. Parish records often interchangeably use the Wendish and German village name. Alternate or changing place names in parish registers can be confusing and complicate Wendish ancestral research, but there are several helpful resources, like “Die Ortsnamen der Oberlausitz” by Jan Měškank. It provides the changing historic place names for Upper Lutasia’s towns and villages. In 1995, Walter Wenzel published the „Oberlausitzer Ortsnamenbuch und Unterlausitzer Ortsnamenbuch”, which is a place name dictionary for Upper and Lower Lusatia.
Wendish primary documents are recorded in German or Latin, with occasional Wendish spellings. When Wendish is used in records, the ending of a female family name changes. A married woman’s family name ends in “-owa” and an unmarried woman’s ends in “-ec.” The ending of a male’s family name does not change. For example Młynk for a:
•Male (married or single) is Młynk
•Married woman is Młynkowa
•Unmarried woman is Młynkec
Wendish grammatical cases
The Genitive case indicates the possession of. In Wendish grammar an “-y” ending on a female name, or for a male, “-a,” denotes possession. Jakub, muž Hany means Jacob, husband of Anna and Hana, žona Jakuba means Anna, wife of Jacob.
The Instrumental case indicates relationships using the preposition with and is frequently seen in marriage records. On female names, it uses an “-a,” “-e” or “-y” ending; on male names, “-om.” Mandźelstwo mjez Jakubom a Hany is translated as “marriage between Jacob and Anna.”
The Prepositional case is used in connection with a place and various endings are used. Use a gazetteer to determine the exact place name spelling. For example:
•Jakub z Kulowa is Jacob of Kulow
•Jakub z Hrajncy is Jacob of Hrajnca
The Locative case indicates belonging to a place. The word’s ending depends on its last letter. For example, Jacob, farmer of a town can be written as:
•Jakub, bur we Worklecach is Jacob, a farmer of Worklecy
•Jakub, bur we Wotrowje is Jacob, a farmer of Wotrow
•Jakub, bur we Hrajncy is Jacob, a farmer of Hrajnca
Availability of genealogical records
Many, but not all of the Upper-Wendish Catholic parish registers for the diocese of Bautzen ending in 1875 were filmed by the GSU and can be viewed at Family History Centers. Some records however, must be requested from local parishes; and records after 1875, from civil registration offices. Lutheran records for Lusatia are not available on GSU microfilm, but can be obtained from the local parish.
The Catholic Görlitz diocese was founded after WWII, from an eastern portion of the Silesia diocese. Their records and the area’s Lutheran records must also be requested from the local parish.
Beather, Sebastian. Archäologie der westlichen Slawen: Siedlung, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft im früh- und hochmittelalterlichen Ostmitteleuropa. Ergänzungsband and Nr.30: Berlin, 2001.
Biermann, Felix. Slawische Besiedlung zwischen Elbe, Neiße and Lubsza; Archäologische Studien zum Siedlungswesen und zur Sachkultur des frühen und hohen Mittelalters. Bonn, 2000.
Ćorović, Vladimir. Istorija srpskog naroda. Belgrad, 1941.
Haupt, Walther and Joachim Huth. Das Zinsregister des Klosters Marienstern. Bautzen, 1957.
Kusternig, A. and H. Haupt. Quellen zur Geschichte des 7 und 8 Jahrhunderts: Die vier Bücher der Chroniken des sogenannten Fredegar. Darmstadt, 1982.
Meschkank, Jan. Die Ortsnamen der Oberlausitz. Bautzen, 1973.
Šołta, Jan and Hartmut Zwahr. Geschichte der Sorben von 1789 bis 1917. Bautzen, 1973.
Wenzel, Walter. Oberlausitzer Ortsnamenbuch und Unterlausitzer Ortsnamenbuch. Bautzen, 2008.
For a full version of this abridged article please see the FEEFHS Journal, volume XVI, pages 15-28, published by Milan Tyler-Pohontsch