Searching for (Carl) Charles Christian Bischoff's home
in Braunschweig, Germany

Charles Bischoff (b. 11 Dec 1845 Braunschweig, Germany; d. 28 Sep 1925 Arlington, VA, USA) is the only ancestor whose ancestry is totally unknown. And this is despite the fact that he was the only ancestor to return to Germany after emigration, and he made not one but two return trips (1875 and 1900) after emigrating in 1872. Only American records have been located, and these confirm that his birthplace is the duchy of Braunschweig; it is thought that he was not from the city of Braunschweig, however. This search has been fruitless to date because most of the church records from this part of Germany have not been microfilmed. As privacy restrictions have been eased in 2009, it is hoped that records will be made available online so that research will not have to be done on locale in Germany.

Brief history of Braunschweig

Braunschweig/Brunswick is located in NW Germany, and was made up of three locales -- Braunschweig-Helmstedt-Wolfenbüttel, Holzminden-Gandersheim, and Blankenburg -- plus six small enclaves totally surrounded by Prussian land -- Thedinghausen along the Weser River near Bremen; Harzburg located between Hanover and Saxony; Calvörde bordered by Hanover and the Province of Saxony; Bodenburg located inside Hanover; Ölsburg located inside Hanover; and, Ostharingen located inside Hanover.

Originally part of the Duchy of Saxony, Braunschweig was constantly divided among the ruling families. By 1596 only one branch remained, and the two sons of Ernst of Lüneburg divided the land into two lines -- Dannenberg (Wolfenbuttel/Bevern) and Lüneburg-Celle (Hanover). After 1735, the House of Brunswick-Bevern was closely associated with Prussia, but was never a Prussian province. In 1806, Napoleon dissolved the Duchy of Brunswick and it was annexed to the Kingdom of Westphalia (1806-1815) after which time it became an independent duchy again by the Treaty of Vienna. Just prior to Charles Bishoff's emigration, Brunswick joined the newly created German Empire in 1871.

Braunschweig's population was Low Saxons who spoke Plattdeutsch (Low German), and were virtually all Lutherans (post-Reformation). The area to the north was most heavily populated because the south was hilly or mountainous. Less than a quarter of the population had a role in agriculture or forestry. The rights of primogeniture in Brunswick allowed the oldest son to inherit the family land instead of dividing it among all the surviving heirs. But this was not universally done throughout Brunswick. Some districts gave the land to the youngest male. This suggests that Carl/Charles may have had a brother who inherited the land and this was the impetus for his emigration to America in 1872, and perhaps the desire not to serve in the German army at age 27.

American records:

Other sources attempted: Arminius (Germania) Lodge - no response; Sangerbund - no response; family of Charles' grandson Charles Bischoff who died in 2000 in Florida - wrote three letters with no response (see note below); legal filings - none for Charles; will - none for Charles; church funeral service record - none found. Other sources not attempted: funeral home (Thomas S. Sergeon funeral home no longer in business), German newspapers in Washington, DC (note: these newspapers are thought to be a good source, but unless they are searchable electronically, it is too huge a task).

Note: name was always spelled Bischoff with two Fs.

No relationship has been found to other Bischoff/Bischof families in Washington, DC; these other families were not from the duchy of Braunschweig (Andrew Bischoff, born 10 Dec 1838, was born in Sonneberg, which is not near Braunschweig).

I am guessing that Charles' mother's name may have been Alma. He named his first two daughters Alma (one by Justina, died at age 2, and one by Elizabeth). The next daughter was named "Anna" surely by Elizabeth in honor of her sister-in-law Anna Damm Stiebeling who treated her like a daughter. Since son Paul did not know his grandmother's name, I am guessing that she had died by the time of his visit to Germany in 1900. Therefore it is likely that Paul's grandchildren will be unable to give much additional information on towns or names, as Paul did not fill in Charles' birthplace or his mother's name -- perhaps the purpose of Paul's trip in 1900 was to visit the Voehl relatives rather than the Bischoff ones. Or perhaps it was a (favorite) sister of Carl/Charles rather than his mother who was named Alma; it seems that Paul would have remembered the story of the naming if it was for his grandmother, but then again, Alma's children did not apparently know either.

German research:

German research is impeded as most of the records of the duchy of Braunschweig have not been microfilmed.

Civil registration began in 1876 for births, marriages and deaths, as mandated by the German government. However, Westphalia established civil registration between 1799 and 1811, and there could be some civil records for that 1806-1815 period when Braunschweig was a part of Westphalia. Therefore, the only birth record available for Carl/Charles for 1845 will be a church record; there will be no civil record; it is assumed that this record will be under the name Carl Christian Bischoff and Charles was the Americanized version. However, there could well be a death record for his father (Heinrich) and/or mother (Alma?), if they died in 1876+. It is unknown why Charles returned to Braunschweig in 1875; it could be that this was for the death of a parent. Therefore, it could be that neither parent's death is in the civil records. However, his two trips back to Germany in 1875 and 1900 suggest that he did leave some family behind, perhaps siblings, and this is also suggested by the fact that no other Bischoff family members were in Washington, DC.

Record access has historically been limited due to stringent rights-to-privacy requirements, however, in 2009 the restriction was loosened and records are available for family history research 110 years after birth, 80 years after marriage, and 30 years after death. However, these records are just recently becoming available online, and the civil registrars will only search for records with a known date within a known town -- since it is unknown when and where Heinrich Bischoff died, it will require waiting for digitized-searchable records. Even the annual indexes by town, when available, will not be a help without knowing year/place of death.

Perhaps these eased privacy restrictions will result in the parish records being microfilmed for the years prior to 1876 when civil registration began. Finding a death record for Heinrich Bischoff would suggest a starting point for where to look for Charles' birth record, but it is expected that only when the records are digitized will his birth record be found.

The attempts made at finding records are as follows:

Suggested research:
1. 1750-1875: general index of baptisms for the City of Braunschweig - although I do not think Carl was born in the city of Braunschweig, it is good to double-check
2. Auswanderer book for 1847-1875, for both his first and second trips to America: 1872 and 1875 (although, since the Wolfenbuttel archives found no records, it is not expected that any records would be found in these books)
3. newspapers for 1872 in Braunschweig to see if there is an announcement
4. need to narrow down the possible churches in the city of Braunschweig before attempting research; there are 14 different Evangelische churches -- the two Henry listings (Bohlweg and Landstr) may help to narrow down the churches. Even if there is no record for Carl, there may be one for his father Heinrich's death or that of his mother, (assumed) Alma.
5. More research in the State Archives: "The evangelical church records of the former state of Braunschweig from the beginning to 1814 are in the Niedersachsischen Staatsarchiv Wolfenbuttel (state archives in Wolfenbuettel) and may be examined there in photocopy. Duplicate copies for the period 1815-1875 are also archived there." If a church is found then German genealogists would be able to search. The Wolfenbuttel archives (Niedersächsische Staatsarchiv) are the archives repository of Lower Saxony (which includes the former duchy of Branschweig) records. Copies may also be found in individual churches as well as at the archives. To date, no records other than some military ones have been released. Records should include Carl Bischoff's birth on 12/11/1845, his parents' wedding circa 1840s?, perhaps births of siblings, and death records for his father Wilhelm and his mother (whose name may be Alma). Since his son Paul did not apparently remember his grandmother's name, perhaps her name was not Alma, but Alma was the name of a favorite sibling instead.
6. Lutheran Church archives. -- the state church archive of the Evangelical Lutheran State Church in Braunschweig, with a list of churches and dates of records.
7. Perhaps a German genealogist could research the records for the landing (passenger lists and visa-type documents) of Charles' two return trips. Charles had applied for a passport, but his American records yielded no specific information other than "Braunschweig"; perhaps the German records would detail more specific information on his travel plans within Germany in 1875 and 1900.

Further research is probably required in Germany. The woman I contacted (who had suggested I email the Wolrenbuttel archives) was:
Mary-Ann Vandaveer
Paulinenstr. 18,
74172 Neckarsulm, Germany,
Phone: (49)-7132-989265,
Fax: (49)-7132-989264,
Note: If you are calling from the United States or Canada please dial 011-49-7132-989265;
SearchingForYou International Tracing Services and genealogy

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