Sometimes all it takes is a single document, a single word, to provide the key to breaking down a brick wall that has stood firm to all assaults. This week I made progress on one of my very first brick walls that has haunted me since I started researching my family history. This wall was my 2nd great grandfather, the Conrad from Denmark.
My very first step into genealogy was through the Danish census database, the Dansk Demografisk Database (DDD) at http://www.ddd.dda.dk/. After finding my great grandfather Christian Andreas Conrad listed in St Croix I could not locate his father. I found his mother and grandmother, but his father never appeared in a census. I made no progress at all finding him until last October when I posted an article (I Found My Great-Great Grandfather) about the discovery of a reference to him in one of my great grandfather's siblings’ baptismal record (excerpt shown above). It simply said that his name was C. A. Conrad and gave his age which put his date of birth about 1802, and his occupation as a merchant. In Treasures from Mom’s House, I posted a picture of an older man which said on the back: A. C. Conrad. Since first and middle names were often flipped, and there were no other known candidates, I surmised that this was a picture of my 2nd great grandfather, and that his name was probably Christian Andreas Conrad, the same as his son.
Then nothing. I searched the Matriculs, the St. Croix land and house tax records. No reference to a Conrad that I have found so far. So he didn’t own property there. The house my great grandfather and his family lived in was owned by my 2nd great grandmother, passed to her by her father (Frederich Christian Andersen, another brick wall). I looked through the church records and found a few references, but they all just said “C. A. Conrad”. I found voter lists for 1854-1870 which sometimes recorded him as eligible to vote, but always as C. A. Conrad. I couldn’t figure out where he lived or where he was born or even be sure of his name.
I thought about the possibilities of him living elsewhere, maybe on St. Thomas, and his family living on St. Croix. So I searched the St Thomas censuses for 1850 and 1855 since he had several children during this time. No luck. I looked in towns and in the country, but could find no reference. While my previous finds told me he existed (no real surprise there), and gave me a couple of particulars, there was nothing to tell me how to move back at all.
Then this week I made a critical discovery. One of the sets of documents posted last week by Ancestry.com (New Virgin Islands Records on Ancestry.com) was a register of “Burgherbriefs”. A burgherbrief was sort of a combination citizenship/business license that was granted to some citizens of the islands. While I don’t fully understand the implications, someone with such a brief was a “Burgher”, entitled to operate a business, to serve on the Burgher Council (sort of like city council), and the right to vote for these members. There were residency requirements to obtain a Burgherbrief, although I’m not clear how firm these were, and the process involved oaths of fealty to the King of Denmark. These were issued to both foreign born and local born citizens. Initially only men were Burghers, and there were relatively few in comparison to the whole population. Mr. Conrad was one of these men.
This is a section of the page showing that a Burgherbrief was issued on 9 May 1846 to one Chr. And. Conrad, a Skipper from Flensburg. The entry in the last column indicates whether the person previously held a burgherbrief. It says “jah Flen” meaning that he had previously been a Burgher in Flensburg. So, I see that Christian Andreas is very likely his name, that he was a Skipper or Captain and that he was born in Flensburg. So time for a little research.
What is Flensburg you may ask. I did. Turns out Flensburg is a city in Germany, right below the Danish-German border in the region known as Schleswig-Holstein. Actually it is in Schleswig. Before it was part of Germany Schleswig and Holstein were in Prussia. Prussia got it in 1864 from Denmark. So in 1802 when C. Conrad was born, Flensburg was a Danish city. A quick trip to Wikipedia (where everything is true) told me that Flensburg was a major shipping city in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and had major economic growth as a result of trading with the Danish West Indies, buying sugar cane and producing rum. It would appear that C. Conrad was involved with this trade. If this is so, it is perfectly reasonable that he could have spent considerable time on and off-island, maintaining a home in both Flensburg and a family in St Croix.
So, I had a place to look. Unfortunately, German records are very difficult to obtain, and few Flensburg records have been filmed. Danish records are far easier. But then Flensburg was part of Denmark, wasn’t it? So I went back to the DDD and looked for any census records for Flensburg. There was one from 1803 and another from 1845. Conrad was a very uncommon surname in Denmark at the time (although it was a very common given name). I found only a couple Conrad families. This one looked the best.
On the 5th line is an entry for a Christian Andresen Conrad, age 1, who would have been born in 1802. While not exactly the same, this is a derivative work so it is a transcription (and possibly not fully accurate) and names are notoriously variable. Interestingly, the Flensburg census is in German, not Danish. It shows his father, Johann Michel Conrad, his mother, Maria Christiansen, and that Johann was a mason. The area of Flensburg was called Süderhohlweg.
While this was compelling, I would have preferred that it was a closer match. Then I went on and found this in the 1845 census
This is the home of Christian Andreas Conrad (can’t ask for a better match). I see that he is a Schiffer (Skipper) and that he was born in 1802, and that he was born in Süderhohlweg. This is the same person as the child in 1803. It also matches the information I have from the Burgherbrief. This has to be my man.
Then the real news. In 1845 he is listed with his wife and 3 children. Ten years later, he begins having children in St Croix with Sophia Andersen, although he never marries her. Was Anna Maria Nielsen (listed as his wife in 1845) still alive? Were there any more children? Christian had children in St Croix in 1854, 1856, 1858, and 1861. His youngest child in Flensburg would have only been 12 when his oldest in St Croix was born. Not exactly old enough to move out on her own. Did he actually maintain two families?
My guess is that he did. It was very common for seafarers to maintain a family at home and another in the islands. Since they spent considerable time in each place, there would be long periods of absence and long periods of residence. Of course, this is only a guess.
Anyway, that little word “Flensburg” was the missing link I needed to hop the Atlantic, find two census entries, and add another generation to the Conrad line. One brick down.
Oh, and on my other wall, Frederich Andersen, I found his 1837 burgherbrief. He was from Copenhagen. I guessed that he was probably born around 1790, but it was a flimsy guess. Andersen is a common name, but I only found one Frederich Andersen in Copenhagen (nothing else even close over many years) and that was in the 1787 census. He was 1. His father was a ship’s carpenter. So … maybe.