Zaehring Family History

The First Generation
Auguste & Wilhelm Zaehring

The story of the Zaehring’s in America begins sometime in early 1893 with a family’s decision to emigrate.  The father was Wilhelm Zaehring, born April 22, 1845. The mother, Auguste was born Auguste Emilie Reichow on October 8, 1847. Her parents, August Reichow and Auguste Emilie Bordt, were married in Pomerania, but coming from two different parishes. So far there are yet no references to Wilhelm’s parents or birthplace. They were married in 1872 (according to William’s declaration on the 1900 census). Their children were Otto, born on March 23,1873, Margaret, born on September 29, 1875, Max, born on March 27, 1877, Franz, born in June 1879, and Ernst, born on May 12, 1888.  Family members also recount a “Helena” as a sixth child and an “Elsie” who may have died at birth since there is no other known record. (The 1900 census indicates five of seven children were living.) There is not much information yet about the family’s roots and movements. Some family stories say the couple was married in Berlin, but that is unlikely. The family lived in Memel, East Prussia (now Kleipeda, Lithuania) for a number of years prior to emigrating to America. The birth record for Max in Memel has been verified. Otto and Ernest both filed documents that they were born in Memel. Ernst (nka Ernest) registered with his draft board stating that he was born in Memel (He spelled it Memmel).  Memel has a long history of  German connections.  It was originally captured by crusading Germanic knights of the Livonian Order who built Memelburg, a wooden castle at the mouth of the Dane River in 1252. When Napoleon captured Berlin in his conquest of Europe, Kaiser Frederick Wilhelm III fled from Berlin to Memel, where his household remained until after Napoleon was effectively defeated outside Moscow.

When Wilhelm and Auguste were born, there was no unified country known as Germany.  Kaiser Wilhelm I, through the able and ruthless assistance of Otto von Bismarck,  completed the unification of Prussia into one country in 1871.  In the mid 1870's, about the time Wilhelm and Auguste were married, an economic depression hit much of Germany, causing much hardship, particularly among shopkeepers and tradesmen.  With the name Zaehring, Wilhelm’s ancestors possibly originated from the southwestern part of Germany where various cities were built by Zähringers, such as Berne and Freiburg.  There are numerous interesting legends surrounding the Zähringers, many fictitiously linking them to Barons and Dukes of the twelfth and thirteenth century.  There are family stories that Otto remembered playing at a castle that had his name, which has led some of the family to suggest that perhaps the family either resided there for a time or paid relatives there an extended visit.  Be that as it may, the 1920 census has Max declaring that not only was he born in East Prussia but so were both of his parents.  In Germany today, “Zähring” and “Zaehring” are not uncommon names. The “Zaehring” spelling was prominent in northern Germany (Prussia) while the umlaut spelling seems to reside in the south. Auguste signed her name on Max’s birth record as “Zaehring”.  During the time their children were growing up, Prussia had mandatory schooling from age 7 to 14, so the family had at least basic education.

S. S. Columbia manifest
Closeup: Zaehring entries

S. S. Saale manifest
Closeup: Zaehring entries
There is a family recollection that while the family was in Memel, East Prussia, Wilhelm– either alone or with part or all of the family– went to Russia to pursue work. Memel is right on the Russian border.  Many workers from Memel went into the Russian forests nearby for timber. Alternatively, perhaps this is what got them to Memel in the first place. During this period there was a steady stream of emigration which reached a torrent from Russia, Prussia and numerous other European areas.  The vast majority of emigrants were leaving a destitute existence, while some were fleeing religious persecution.  The Zaehring family, being Protestant Lutheran, would not have experienced religious persecution directly, except perhaps in Russia–if any of the family indeed went to Russia. Catholics and Protestants alike were severely discriminated against there, although nowhere near that experienced by the Jews in European Russia.

Whatever the reason to emigrate, the decision resulted in Otto, the oldest son,  making his way to Rotterdam where he was able to board the ship S.S. Edam bound for America.  He arrived on May 2, 1893 at Ellis Island, New York1.  Soon afterward, perhaps after receiving word of Otto’s safe arrival, Wilhelm set out with his second son, Max, age 15, from Bremen aboard the S. S. Saale.2  They arrived on July 11, 1893 at Ellis Island and began the process of finding work and adequate quarters.  Finally, on October 6, 1894, over a year later, Auguste, his wife, their daughter Margaret and their two youngest sons Franz and Ernst arrived at Ellis Island from Hamburg. Emigrants in Hamburg while facing delays until they could embark were sheltered in large dormitory-like buildings down by the docks.  With a stopover at Southampton, England, they voyaged for nine days aboard the S. S. Columbia,.3  The Zaehring’s all came third class– otherwise referred to as steerage. (or “Zwischendeck”.)  This consisted of large open rooms with numerous beds arranged for the many passengers.   (For those interested in ships, Appendix A has a detailed description of the ships on which the original family traveled.) Thus the family was reunited in America.

Upon arrival,Wilhelm changed “Wilhelm” to “William” and upon their arrival changed “Franz” to “Frank” and “Ernst” to “Ernest”.
By the time of the 1900 census, the family was renting their home at 715  3rd Avenue in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York.  The census lists William and Otto as carpenters, Max as a machinist, Franz (now known as Frank) as a baker and Ernst (now known as Ernest) as at school.  Auguste’s occupation didn’t warrant the census taker’s mention.  Margaret was no longer home, having already married John Frederick Belus, but lived nearby at 229 22nd St.  The parents had a portrait taken in a Brooklyn photographer’s studio about this time– probably three years previously on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.4  After moving to Newark, New Jersey, William died about 1912.  Auguste was listed in the 1913 City directory as a widow.  Auguste lived with her son Otto and also with several other of her children.  She died around 1926.

What follows is a summary account of the next generations of Zaehring descendants, divided into the family relations of the five surviving children.

Next: The Next Generations

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