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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Two family tales: The Fatal Lie & the "Ambassador" story

Jacob Gould Schurman
From Dissent the Blog (Sept. 10, 2010):

     My mother, who, at age twelve, fled the Russian advance in 1945, has almost nothing from her childhood in Pomerania, aside from a few pictures, a handful of artifacts, and some stories. She left (Western) Germany in 1951, not to return until the 1980s. But, even then, she was not permitted to visit her hometown, which had long been handed over to the Poles. (She finally achieved a visit recently.)


     Mom's aunt Martha, whom she called her mother (her biological mother died in 1934), once told mom the following story. One of the girls of the large (12 children!) Schultz family of Bärwalde, Pommern—namely, Martha's sister Frieda—had a burning desire to move to America. But there was a problem: she was still married to her deadbeat husband, who had ditched her and now lived somewhere in Berlin.
     Without a divorce, she would never be permitted to emigrate. So she sought the divorce. Her lawyer told her that, first, she needed to secure Herr Deadbeat’s residential address.
     So Frieda, accompanied by another sister (Siss3—these Schultzes seemed always to travel in sororal packs), flew to Berlin and followed whatever leads they had. Eventually, they found a tavern in the vicinity of Herr Deadbeat’s last known whereabouts. Herr D wasn’t there, so they asked some of the patrons about him, but those guys became suspicious, and so Frieda came up with a lie:
“We must get ahold of Herr D, for his wife was in a terrible car accident near the Berlin Airport!”
     Well, no, his wife was that very woman, telling der whopper.
     My mom doesn’t recall whether Frieda ever located her husband’s address. But she does remember this: “Exactly one month later—not in Berlin, but back home in Stettin (the big city nearer Bärwalde)—she was in a terrible automobile accident. It occurred at the Stettin Airport.
     “She was killed.”
     I looked at my mom: “Well, I guess that’s a pretty good story. A pretty sad story.”
     “Oh yes,” replied mom. “And my mother always told me—‘See! You must never tell such lies! If you do, this is what vill happen to you!’”
     “You don’t actually believe that, do you?” I asked.
     “Well, that’s what she always said.”
     I recalled being told similar instructional tales when I was a kid. Sheesh. 

Martha and Edith (mom) at father's grave, c. 1939


     I asked mom how it came about that this unfortunate aunt had developed a burning desire to move to America.
     “Vell, maybe it had to do with the Ambassador.”
     “The Ambassador?”
     (I’m streamlining this a bit.) 
     So here’s the second part of this story, which was told to mom by her Aunt Martha (aka “mom”) sixty-some-odd years ago.
     At some point, likely in the late twenties, some of the Sisters hatched a plan to go to Berlin to meet the ambassador. The “American ambassador.”
     “Do you mean the American ambassador to Germany or Germany’s ambassador to the U.S.A.?”
     Mom thought. “I’m not sure,” she said. “I was just a little girl when I heard this story.”
     As it turns out, some of my mom’s relatives are named Schurmann. (Edith's grandmother on her father's side was a Schurmann.) The ambassador’s name was Schurmann (almost), too. And so, evidently, these Schultz girls went to Berlin to meet with Ambassador Schurmann, a relative.

     I pressed my mom for details, but she didn’t seem to have any. But then she remembered that, according to family lore, a Schurmann had left Germany for America and, at one point, his letters back home simply ceased. He became the "lost Schurmann." Then, much later, the fellow appeared again, only now he was a big shot, a diplomat.
     She told me all of this a couple of days ago. Yesterday, I did a little research and soon discovered that the American ambassador to Germany from 1925 to 1930 was one Jacob Gould Schurman (one “n”), who had been born in Canada (like me).
     I dug deeper. JG Schurman was a scholar with extensive training in philosophy (that’s my field). Though he was raised on a farm, he was very bright and he won scholarships that allowed him to study in London and then in such places as Heidelberg, Germany. Eventually, he lived in New York, where he pursued an impressive academic career. (He helped found one of the most prestigious journals of philosophy: The Philosophical Review.)
     Starting in the early 90s, he became the President of Cornell University, doing much to increase its size and reputation. Evidently, he advocated an ethnically diverse studentry and helped poor students go to college.
     He retired from that post in 1920. By then, he had been an American ambassador to several countries, including Greece and China. From 1925 to 1930, he was the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, where he was very well known and well liked, owing in part to his efforts to raise funds to rebuild his alma mater (the U of Heidelberg).
     It is likely that the Schultzes would have known about Jacob Gould Schurman, even if he weren’t a relative. He was well-known, and, of course, he had that name.
     Last night, I presented this information to my mother, who proceeded to utterly confuse me and herself. I do believe, however, that we have established the following:
• The “sisters” who traveled to Berlin went to see J.G. Schurman, the famous American Ambassador.
• The visit possibly concerned an effort to confirm that Schurman was a relative.
• It is not known whether the confirmation occurred or even whether the sisters managed to meet with Schurman, though it is likely that they did meet with him (since the story was told without any indication that things went badly). (Evidently, Martha was not the sort to lie or to embellish stories. I think she feared bursting into flames.)
Ambassador Schurman, with Hermann Müller, visiting President von Hindenburg


     Today, I did some more research and I found a genealogical site that traces JG Schurman’s pedigree. Here’s the short version:

     Jacob Gould Schurman (1854 – 1942) was a (Canadian-born) American educator and diplomat, who served as the President of Cornell University and United States Ambassador to Greece, China, and Germany.
     JGS’s father, Robert Schurman, was born on Prince Edward Island (Canada) in 1821.
     Robert’s father, Caleb Schurman, was born in 1782 in New Rochelle, New York.
     Caleb’s father, William, was born in 1743 in New Rochelle. This means, of course, that he was in his prime during the Revolutionary War. According to “Ancestral Trails” (a genealogy website),
William Schurman, was a Loyalist, farmer, merchant, shipbuilder, miller, cooper, Magistrate and Legislator. A tax list in 1771 shows him owning 5 blacks, 2 of them adults, and 3 girls under the age of 16, William considered himself to be 'English' and not 'American'. He left New York in 1783 and selling his holdings bought a ship and sailed to Shelburne, Nova Scotia, which had been created for 'Loyalists'. William left Shelburne and sailed to Prince Edward Island in the Fall of 1783. He bought land at the head of the Estuary of the Dunk River, which is now Central Bedeque. At one point he owned approx. 10 thousand acres of land encompassing the areas of Wilmot Valley, Norboro, Bedeque and Kelvin Grove.
     A slaveholder, eh? Sheesh.
     According to AT, William’s father, Jacob Schureman (c. 1699 to c. 1783), was elected Town Assessor in 1739, 1757, 1762 and 1763 in New Rochelle, New York. He was also elected Overseer of Highways in 1756 and 1761.
     Jacob’s father was yet another Jacob (spelling his name Schureman and sometimes Schuerman). According to AT, “he was elected a Constable for the Town of New Rochelle in 1703. He was also elected as a Tax Collector in 1717. He was twice married….”

     Jacob’s father was Frederick. Again, according to AT,
Frederick Harmenszen Schureman may have been the one, who with his brother Nanning, set out in 1686 to trade with the Ottawa Indians in Upper New York. They were captured and robbed by the French and Indians, carried as prisoners to Montreal and then to Quebec. They did manage to escape and make their way back home. Frederick & Christina belonged to the Dutch Church in New Amsterdam (NewYork City). They may have lived later in Stamford, Ct., but end[ed] up in New Rochelle, New York.
     Frederick’s father seems to be Harmen Schuerman (born c. 1590), who was
the assumed founder of the New York-New Rochelle Schuremans. He is found on Manhattan Island in 1649 in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. In accordance with prevailing Dutch usage his offspring for a generation or two are given the the Patrionic Harmenszen i.e: Harmen’s son. It is believed that he was born either in Dutch Holland or even possibly Germany, although the Dutch version is probably the correct one. A study was done by a Mr. Wynkoop who had found a reference to a Hermann Scureman who held land near Dortmund, Westphalia about 1300, but no evidence to link him to Harmen.
     Well, that’s all that AT has. If Harmen was Dutch, then it is very unlikely that he (and thus Jacob Gould Schurman) are relatives of the Schultzes (and therefore of me). But it appears that Harmen’s nationality is uncertain.
     My own research (such as it is) has tended to suggest that the name “Schurman” (with its many spellings) is associated with precisely the part of German-speaking Europe that my mother hails from (Pomerania).
     My mother’s account of the “lost Schurman” story—told to her when she was a child, I believe—seems not quite to fit the facts of the J.G. Schurman family story, which involves many generations, not one. She has always been under the impression that the “lost Schurman” left Germany in the late or mid-19th Century.
     But it is possible that my mother misremembers the story. Who knows.
     Oh. I guess my mom was suggesting that Frieda was inspired to immigrate to America upon meeting her famous relative Jacob Gould Schurman. (Whew!)

     Next, I’ll attempt to find a Schurman among the huddled masses who arrived on Ellis Island. It's an unusual name, so I have high hopes.

* * *

     Here is a photo, taken in about 1912, of my mother’s family on her dad’s side: the Schultzes of Bärwalde, Pommern (in what was then the far eastern part of Germany, which included Pomerania; see old map).
     Karl Schultz and Emilie Schultz [né Schurmann], who are seated, had twelve children (!), but only six are shown here. My mother’s father is the boy at the right. (I think there were only two boys.)
     Martha, the woman at the left, and Else, who is wearing the same outfit over at the right, both worked at the time for the Berlin Opera. Perhaps they were home for a visit. Three other sisters are visible. My mother doesn't know their names.
     Else committed suicide c. 1950. (My mom found her body, hanging.)

Recent posts of the “archives” series:

Bärwalde today. (The Poles call the town "Barwice.")


  1. I am Tina Bauer-Goldsmith. My paternal grandfather was born in Berlin. I am just curious if there is some connection...since we are researching to find ancestors of my father who is about to be 90 years old.

  2. I'm afraid that the side of my family that has ties to Berlin is not the Bauer side but the Schultz (maternal) side.
    --Roy Bauer, Trabuco Canyon, CA

  3. I am a dutch Bauer, the only thing I know is that My great grandmother lfed out of Germany before ww1 and had two boys with her with sur name Bauer they managed to move to Holland and stayed there. There is no more to be found from them in earlier years. Maybe somebody can tell me something more?


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