This article was first published in the German Genealogy Group’s newsletter in March 2012. This is the revised version including the information I got from the Baron’s obituary. Thank you, Lynn, for sending it to me!
The only thing I knew about my great-great-grandmother’s brother was what was told in the family; that he had been a gambler, was forced to leave the Prussian Army, and had left for America where he became an editor of a well-regarded German newspaper. I wondered if this story really was true. Gambler, well-regarded newspaper, all that seemed to be a bit exaggerated. It probably only was one of those stories…… For years and years I had been trying to verify this story. Then, finally, there he was, listed in the database of the German Genealogy Group. The Baron Franz von der Burg had died on December 21, 1904 in Brooklyn, New York.
It hadn’t been easy to find him. I had checked the ship manifest for “Franz von der Burg” but hadn’t found anything. I had looked through the 1880 census, some directories and other databases without any result. Finally, I realized that it might have been my German way of spelling his name that made him invisible to me. With the help of an American friend, I tried to think of other ways of spelling – and got lucky! Who would have thought, that Mr. Donderburg, whom I found indexed in familysearch, could be my Mr. von der Burg? Or that the farmer Franz Vanderburg, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1881, was my former officer Franz von der Burg (although he was spelled Franz v.d. Burg in the original manifest)? The indexer of the German Genealogy Group had used the Vonderburg and VonDerburg version. And surprisingly enough I found him and later his widow in the Brooklyn directory, listed under “V” instead of “B” as in German directories. But even then I found one more way to spell his name: Van der Berg. But obviously the difficulties with spelling his name did not keep him from building up a new career in New York.
Who was the Baron? Born in the town of Naugard, Pomerania on June 26, 1846 to the Baron Albert Friedrich Eduard von der Burg and his wife Marie Louise nee Zierold, he was named Albert (after his father) Franz (after his maternal grandfather) and Georges (after his godfather, Captain Friedrich George von Kleist). He was their second child, his sister Marie-Louise Friederike was two years older. At that time Albert v.d. Burg was a captain at the Garrison in Naugard. He had joined the Army in 1819 in the age of 18 following his ancestor’s footsteps. Albert’s father, the Baron August Friedrich v.d. Burg, had come to Prussia from the Ducy of Saxe-Weimar in 1784, probably to advance in his military career. He was married to Johanna Charlotte Wilhelmine von Mansbach, a descendent of a very old noble family, whose ancestors were buried in their own church in the village of Mansbach in Hessia. As interesting as his paternal side might seem to be, it is very little compared to his mother’s ancestry. Marie-Louise Zierold, daughter of a local judge, came from an old line of pastors, starting with Adamus Ricardus, who first was a teacher and then became one of the early Lutheran pastors in 1553. And there was Guenther Heyler, a court chaplain and later the General Superintendent of Pomerania, a well-known Pietist, who died in 1707 and was said to have been one of the best preachers of his time. His son in law, Johann Wilhelm Zierold from Saxony, had been a well-known scolar, pastor and fundraiser in Stargard in Pomerania. Or there was Günther Heyler’s father in law, Johann Anselm Muench, the mint-master of Frankfurt on the Main and responsible for the coinage of many German coins before 1658. The little Baron Franz and the little baroness Marie were raised with these stories, well aware of their heritage. The family may have had a name and an ancestry to be proud of; what they did not have was a manorial farm, political influence or a lot of money. But there was enough to make a living and provide the children with a proper education. For Franz the future lay clear ahead: he was to join the same regiment his father had served in and after standing in the rank of a captain he would marry a girl from a good family with a certain dowry.
Franz must have attended a good school, maybe the “Höhere Knabenschule” in Naugard or even the ”Collegium Groeningianum” in Stargard, where his ancestor Johann Wilhelm Zierold once had been a professor. Or maybe he went to a cadet school? The fact, that he wasn’t confirmed in St. Marien in Naugard, speaks for a school outside of his hometown. Whatever school it was, he certainly learned Latin, French and English, mathematics, music, drawing and much more. But what was of utmost important were the so called Prussian Virtues as the sense of duty, subordination and obedience, toughness and bravery without sniveling, not to forget industriousness, punctuality and, very important, godliness.
We do not know exactly when and where Franz started his military career nor will we know exactly why he left the army. Nearly all the personal files stored in the Heeresarchiv in Potsdam were destroyed under a bomb attack in April 1945. However, what we do know is that on July 12, 1866 Franz v.d. Burg officially joined the Colbergischen Grenadier-Regiment Graf Gneisenau (2. Pommersches) No. 9 in the rank of a Sekondeleutnant, the lowest officer-rank; he was 20 years of age. Shortly before, the battle of Königsgrätz on July 3rd 1866 between Prussia and Austria/Saxony had taken place. He probably participated in this battle, but maybe as a sergeant (and therefore not part of this list) or in a different regiment. And this probably was his last battle, except for the one against his father. When he was dismissed with legal reservation on March 9, 1869 he left his family. His obituary does not mention the fact that he had an army career. Did he never mention it or wasn’t it important enough to write about? The obit, however, gives information on his occupation; he had worked on different manorial farms in Pomerania and then moved to Bunzlau, Silesia, where things did not work out for him.
Was he disowned by his family? We can only guess. What we know is that he didn’t become the godfather of any of his sister’s children (and there were many).
On June 9, 1881 the Baron took the he boat Katie from Stettin to New York and arrived in Castlegarden on July 1, 1881, 35 years old. He traveled first class, his profession was stated as farmer. A farmer who traveled first class? Unfortunately, there aren’t any ship records from the harbor of Stettin for this very ship that might have told us more.
So what became of him in New York? Living in Berlin and trying to do research across the Atlantic Ocean, I only had the internet and a kind researcher from RAOGK to help me answer that question.
It seemed to me as if the young Baron settled in very fast; he must have found a job and met a girl. On December 4, 1882 he wedded Johanna Emma Müller from Thuringia, who had come to New York in 1880 with her father and brother. The marriage certificate of Manhattan states, that the groom was a bookkeeper and an editor, residing at 134 Wyckoff St. in Brooklyn. The bride, born in Koenigsberg, Prussia, lived at 91 South 2nd St. Brooklyn. It was the first and only marriage for both of them.
Next thing I learned was that in June 1886 on the meeting of the Association of American-German Journalists he was elected secretary. In 1889, the directory listed him as an editor, living at 42, Division Ave. in Brooklyn. I wondered which newspaper he might have worked for. Was it the Herold, the Brooklyn Freie Presse, the Brooklyner Anzeiger , the Brooklyner Zeitung, or some other German-Speaking newspaper? I had checked the Brooklyn Daily Eagle without finding anything he had written; his obituary only states “was connected with German newspapers”.
On March 28, 1892, 11 years after his arrival, he was naturalized and from then on an American citizen, an American Baron, so to say….. On May 20, the same year, the National Association of German-American Journalists met again with Franz v.d. Burg being one of the participants. In 1897, according to the Brooklyn directory, he still was an editor, now residing in 105 Pulaski St. The census of 1900, however, showed him as a Clerk at the Barge office, not mentioning his former (?) occupation as an editor. What had happened? He was engaged in the newspaper business, still being the vice president of the German Presseclub in 1901. But his main profession seemed to be clerk and that was what he remained to do until his early death. On January 21, 1904 the Baron Franz von der Burg died of Cardiac Syncope, acute cystitis and acute nephrititis, only 57 years old. The next day, his obituary was published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, giving the readers an impression of what had happened: “Three weeks ago, when at the funeral of another journalist and Schlaraffia member, Rittmeister von Ladendorf, Mr. von der Burg, on behalf of the friends, said a last farewell at the Fresh Pond Crematory, the deceased contracted a heavy cold, and finally erysipelas set in, and the best care of the wife failed to avert death.” He was buried in Fresh Pond Cemetery three days later. His wife died on February 21, 1920. Were there any children? The 1900-census shows one child, but when Emma dies her sister Louise Müller inherits the little money that is left. I did not find a trace of a little American Baron or a little American Baroness.
Was the family story right after all? What did he do in Bunzlau and why did things did not work out for him? I do not know anything about gambling, but what I know is that he seemed to have been a well-respected citizen of his new American homeland. This is what the Brooklyn Eagle Daily wrote on January 26, 1904: “The funeral of Franz von der Burg, who died on Thursday last, was held from the late residence, 102 Pulaski street, Sunday afternoon. The services at the house were attended by many friends of the deceased from the German Press Club of New York, the Schlaraffia Brooklynia, Dora Kupfer Lodge no. 86, Knights and Ladies of the Golden Star, and of the Immigration office at Ellis Island. Chopin’s Funeral March, played by Alexander Riehm, opened the services, whereupon a high tribute was paid to the deceased by the Rev. Dr. Heischmann of the St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and Dr. Joseph H. Senner of the Immigration office. Floral wreaths were sent by the above named organizations and the New Yorkia and Caesarea Schlaraffia. The remains were conveyed to the Fresh Pond crematory, where a last farewell was said on behalf of the Brooklynia Schlaraffia by Clemens Haenewinckell, one of the three presiding officers.”
And what did August W. Bostracy, Inspector of Immigration on Ellis Island, write about him in 1901? “Clerk, Mr. von der Burg, in the Bureau of Statistics, whom I consider to be a gentleman”. The old Baron would have been proud of him.