Q. My great-grandfather was a member of the Prussian Garde du Corps before 1884. Where can I learn more about the Garde and my great-grandfather’s service?
A. First, you must make sure your ancestor really was part of the Prussian Garde du Corps, which began in 1740 as an elite cavalry unit and became the German emperor’s bodyguard. If all stories about such service were true, elite units wouldn’t be very elite. You’ll need to be open to the possibility that your great-grandfather was in some other unit, in case his Garde membership is just a family story.
If you have documents stating your ancestor’s association with the Garde, regimental histories should list the details you want. For example, Count Ferdinand von Brüuhl’s The History of the Prussian Garde du Corps During the Campaign of 1866 (Helion & Co., about $7) provides casualty lists, information about honors awarded and more. (Most regimental histories will be in German.)
Also, since the Garde was garrisoned at Potsdam, Germany, you might write (in English) to a German repository and ask if they have regimental histories or other information on the unit. Try these two repositories, listed in Raymond S. Wright III’s Ancestors in German Archives (Genealogical Publishing Co.):
? Brandenburgisches Landeshauptarchiv, Postfach 60 04 49,14404 Potsdam, Germany, email@example.com
? Stadtarchiv Potsdam, Hegelallee 6-8, 14461 Potsdam, Germany, firstname.lastname@example.org
During the time your ancestor lived in Prussia, boys had to enlist in the military; their enrollment records, called stammrollen, show their birth dates, parents’ names and other remarks, including their assignments to particular military units. The Family History Library (FHL) <www.familysearch.org> has microfilmed some of these records, but you’ll need to know your ancestor’s specific birth village to access them. For example, knowing he lived in Pommern, a region along the Baltic Coast, isn’t enough — you’d have to determine he was born in Franzburg or another town.
Once you’ve found the birth village, you can search the FHL’s online catalog to see if the library holds stammrollen from that location. Then you can use Meyers Ortsund Verhehrs-Lexikon des Deutschen Reichs (called Meyer’s Gazetteer for short) to find out which military command office (in German, Bezirkskommandoamt, abbreviated BKdo in Meyer’s) the village reported to. The records will be cataloged under that town’s name.
In either case, it would help to learn some German or get a translator. Few German military records have been translated into English; you might consult Horst A. Reschke’s German Military Records as Genealogical Sources (self-published, out of print). It’s available on microfilm at the FHL and its branch Family History Centers (use FamilySearch to locate one near you).
From the June 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.