In the Name of the King

By: Peter von Pazatka Lipinsky (First Published 2005)

A long time ago I saw an old English movie, depicting several knights on horseback arresting some poor peasants. The arresting knight would say "In the Name of the King, you are under arrest." It all sounded so loaded with authority that no resistance would be expected. Little did I suspect when I watched that movie, that some 50 years later I would read that same saying, "In the Name of the King" over and over again, from a most unlikely source. It was not this time in a movie theatre, but on film nevertheless; to be specific, on several rolls of microfilm from the L.D.S. Family History Library in Salt Lake City. These words gave me an idea on how to expand my genealogical research; after having viewed many, many rolls of church and civil records, and also explored other avenues of research, I then started to study the old Prussian court records on microfilm from the L.D.S. Library, in hopes of shedding a little more light on the lives of my ancestors. Were they a bunch of thieves, defending themselves in a Prussian court of law? No, they were not. Many of our ancestors, possibly yours too, went to court to take on the Prussian government in order to protest their "privileges", granted to them long before the Prussian government became the official ruler of Kashubia. "Privileges" had been granted to many of our ancestors as far back as the 1600 and 1700-hundres for outstanding service to the Polish king, or the Furst (Prince) who could also hold the title of Wojewoda and Starosta in charge of a district, or the whole land. Many "privileges" were granted to our Kashubian ancestors, who were often poor and owned little or no land at all and had almost no political influence. But the Kashubs were a proud and free people in their land, which still struggled under the burden of serfdom.

Many privileges were granted by Furst/Prince Michael Casimir Radzwill, the Furstin/Princess Ann Radzwill and Furst/Prince Carl Stanislaw Radzwill circa 1730-1764, indeed, even before that time. Many of these privileges had been granted long before the first partition of Poland in 1772. That was the time when the Prussians came and removed the white eagle from all public buildings and replaced it with the black Prussian eagle. Now the Prussian government started to challenge many of the privileges granted to our ancestors long before. There was a wide variety of privileges which could be granted by the Wojewoda or Starosta, such as being able to own some land, perhaps varying in size from family to family, and from village to village.

Other privileges might enable one to fish with large or small fishing gear for one's own table only, or to obtain free firewood from the crown forest, free logs for cutting into lumber to build houses and other farm buildings, and being able to use the cut lumber to repair their farm buildings. Operating a flour mill would require a privilege being granted to the miller. A privilege was needed for brewing beer for your own table, and also one to be able to hunt deer, elk, moose and game birds. Even to be able to collect forest products, such as berries, mushrooms, bark, willow, branches, moss, wild flowers and pine cones came under the same stipulation.

In the olden days, our ancestors had to make a minimal yearly contribution to the Wojewoda or the Starosta, but many things were free to them. We complain nowadays about having to pay income tax and other special taxes and surcharges, and also having to comply with a raft of rules and regulations in order to operate a business. From reading the Old Prussian court records and granted privileges, we can see that or forefathers had to deal with much the same bureaucratic mess as we have today. Of course, the Prussian government tried to revoke some of the previously granted privileges. The government needed money to pay for its military services and consequently, nothing was free anymore under the new rulers. Interestingly enough, not all court cases were lost by our ancestors; sometimes they successfully fought the Prussian bureaucracy and won. But NOTE: Each written verdict, regardless of being found guilty or not guilty was headed up "In the Name of the King."

A written verdict could be one page long, or as in the case of Anton Rekowsi, 30 pages long. Some of the names in the Prussian court documents under study are: Anton Rekowski and Johann Zabrocki from the village of Schodna. Joseph Wysocki and the "Besitzerfrau" (Lady who owns property) Pauline Gowan from the village of Squirawen. Jacob and Franz Oszowski from the village of Teerofen. There are also two Trzebiatowski's from Briesen mentioned in correspondence regarding privileges granted them dating back to 27 April 1727 and 15 June 1764. (Please note: the names of the villages are spelled here the same way as they appear in the court documents).

So, the moral of the story is, if you encounter a "road block" in your genealogical research (and who among us has not?), try a different approach to the church and civil records you have been searching. Check to see if there are any court documents available from the village or area in which your ancestors lived. You just never know what you may find.

Part of the foregoing story was also published in the December 2006 issue of the " Pomerania " magazine . ( Gdansk, Poland ) under the heading : " W imieniu krola "