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Treasure at the Bautzen Archives

by Robert Wuchatsch

In June 2008 I revisited the Bautzen Archives (Archiv Verbund Stadtarchiv/Staatfilialarchiv Bautzen) to continue my Wuchatsch family history research, a project I have been working on for almost 40 years. My interest in family history was stimulated by George Nielsen when he came to Australia in 1969-70 as a Fulbright Scholar to research Wendish settlement here.

I first visited the Bautzen Archives in 2002 with excellent results. During that visit, I was able to discover the exact location of my great-grandfather Johann Wuchatsch’s property at Sarka, a small village near Bautzen in Upper Lusatia. Johann emigrated to Australia with his wife Magdalene and five children in 1849 aboard the Pribislaw. Armed with details of the location of Johann’s farm, I was then able to find it on a map, a house I had previously travelled past by car or foot many times without knowing.

This time round I was hoping to find land records which would take me back even further – I wanted to know how long my Wuchatsch ancestors had lived in Sarka. As a result of my 2008 trip, I now know that Wuchatsch’s have lived at Sarka since at least 1703 and probably longer.

While at the Bautzen Archives last year, I also managed to find a very interesting 1848 letter written by the Wendish pastor Andreas Kappler of Weissenberg, just prior to his emigration and another letter and related official correspondence in respect of the Rentsch family’s emigration to Australia in 1851. I found the Rentsch correspondence in an old emigration letter book while looking for such information on my own family. I found nothing about my ancestors, but fortunately Betty Huf of Tarrington had previously advised me that the Rentsch family are researching their family history for a book, so I had digital copies made of the letters I found and passed them on to Betty on my return to Australia. Family history research often works like that.

The purpose of this article is to advise people that much wonderful family history information exists buried away in the Bautzen Archives and other official repositories in Upper Lusatia. The Bautzen Archives holds old record books (Flurbuch) which contain landholder details for most, if not all, the villages in that region of Upper Lusatia. Many of these books include maps on the inside of their covers, enabling a researcher to immediately pinpoint the location of the property they are looking for eg Steindorfel No. 28. If there isn’t a map, a visit is required to another Government agency in Bautzen – Staatliches Vermessungsamt – to acquire one.

Land title records are held by the Amtsgericht Bautzen – Grunbuchamt, but these are very difficult to access. Fortunately, with persistence, I was able to research the title records to Johann Wuchatsch’s property at Sarka as far back as 1808, even finding a copy of the sale contract he made when he sold his property just prior to his emigration in 1849. The contract contained much useful information, such as price, chattels, cattle etc sold. It also revealed that under the terms of the sale the Wuchatsch family could stay in the house and use the vegetable garden until they needed to travel to Hamburg to board the ship.

The main difficulty with accessing such records, however, is the fact that researchers must either be proficient in the German language, or have a German speaker steer them through the language problems. I was fortunate to have Wuchatsch relatives there to help me explain to the ever helpful archive staff exactly what I was searching for; to discuss research possibilities; and also to help me with research. While I can read enough German to identify documents of interest, I still need someone to confirm I am on the right track. A further problem is that most documents are written in Old German and therefore not easily understood by modern-day German speakers, so when I return to Australia I have to seek suitable people to translate them into modern German and English. But it is all very worthwhile.