Very often we know the place our ancestors came from but are unable to locate it. The church records show the parish but not the exact location. We read about the place in reference books of historical places for that very area, actually we read everything there is to know about this place. We looked at current maps and google earth. Just, that we are unable to find it. It simply ceased to exist.
This is what happened to me when I looked for the Holländerei (the dairyman’s house) in the Lindenberger Silge. According to the church records, the Lindenberger Silge belonged to the parish of Cumlosen, a village in the county of Prignitz, Brandenburg. It seemed to be very small, the entries were few. The only people living there were the holländer, the forester, the administrator and a few land workers. I knew so much about this place, I even knew when and how the house was built. But there was no sign of it on any current map. I even bought an old map showing the holländerei. Unfortunately this map had such a small scale that I could only guess where the houses might be situated today. It seemed that today it would have been in the middle of the forest of Gadow. I saw myself running through the forest for years, looking after some stone-fundament. How would I be able to find the exact location?
I did find it. I found it with the help of the Prussian Ur-Messtischblatt.
But what exactly is a Ur-Messtischblatt?
After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Prussia felt a need to establish a standardized cartography for its territory. The Generalstab (General Staff), being part of the Department of War, was appointed to fulfill this important (military) task. As cartography was part of an officer’s training, the Generalstab seemed to have a ready supply of qualified personnel. Under the command of the Generalmajor Freiherr von Müffling, young officers were assigned to do the mapping work. They used a Messtisch (a small table) with a compass, a water level and a so called Diopterlineal (alidade). The map itself was one sheet, called “Blatt”. And a Blatt on a Messtisch simply became a Messtischblatt, the plural form being Messtischblaetter. And as it was the very first map to be drawn, it was called “Ur-Messtischblatt” (Original Messtischblatt). The following link will give you an idea of how it was done (unfortunately it is in German only): http://www.ingenieurgeograph.de/Aufnehmen/Messtischaufnahme/messtischaufnahme.html .
However, the first Ur-Messtischblaetter never were published, the Generalstab simply wasn’t satisfied with the quality. After improving the officer’s skills and enhancing the technical requirements, the second phase started in 1830 and ended in 1865. This time, the maps, very detailed in a scale of 1:25,000, were considered good enough and finally released for military and governmental purposes only. Through the next years with the Prussian industry expanding and more roads and railroads needing to be built, there was a demand from the industry for detailed maps. Finally, in 1868, the decision was made to make the maps available to the public. After 1876, the third phase started with more and more maps being drawn and no longer called Ur-Messtischblaetter but simply Messtischblaetter or MTB (sometimes even MTBL). With the Ur-Messtischblaetter being colored, they were now drawn and printed in black and white. Originally only numbered, now the name of the town illustrated on the map was added. Today the Messtischblätter are called TK 25 meaning Topographische Karte (topographical map) and the scale (1:25,000).
But now back to the Lindenberger Silge. The Ur-Messtischblatt I needed was number 2936, drawn by Lieutenant von Blumenthal in 1843. And there it was: the Lindenberger Holländerei. As I now had the exact location, I asked the retired forester of Gadow for help. And he took me to the place my great-great-grandfather had been born in 1829. It turned out, that he himself had taken the stones to build streets after WWII and then planted Douglas firs. And even though the house was demolished such long time ago, I could still imagine an old half-timbered house standing there.
And it felt a little bit like coming home.