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German Ancestors



 The following pages of this site are on my children's German ancestral lines. Most of them originating from Mecklenburg, paternal branch. Only one surname, Mangels, cames from Hanover, maternal branch. 

First listed are our German family surnames, overtime I'll add a link to each surname outlining origin and family history. Next is a history of Mecklenburg from early to modern times. Then there's a history on the German settlement in Nelson.




German Surname links



  Fanselow            Kelling             Kruse              Mangels   


 Schmidt            Schulz            Schwart           Schwass      


Strubing             Vanselow          Wendelborn       Ziems




History of Mecklenburg


 Mecklenburg is a German historic region located along the Baltic Sea coastal plain, from the Bright of Lubeck about 100 miles [160 kilometres] eastward. The region has 600 lakes, forests, and coastal cliffs and dunes. By the 7th century the Obodrites, a Slavic tribe, had replaced the earlier Germanic inhabitants. The early name for the region was Vandalia, from the Germanic tribe “Vandals” who once inhabited the region. Later the region became known as Wendenland, Wends was the German name for the Slavic tribes who inhabited the region. By the 9th century the Obodrites had formed an independent principality. Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, conquered the Obodrites in 1160, after a long resistance led by its last pagan prince, Niklot, who died the same year. Duke Henry opened the region to Christianity and colonization, sending in missionaries and German settlers.


Przybyslaw [Pribislav], son of Niklot, became Henry’s vassal and founder of the Mecklenburg dynasty; he accepted Christianity, acknowledged German suzerainty and was recognized in 1170 as a prince of the Holy Roman Empire. Both his descendants and the Obodrite people soon became Germanized. Succeeded by his son Heinrich Borwin 1 in 1179, the region soon become known as Mecklenburg, named from the family castle, Mikilinburg, south of Wismar. The House of Mecklenburg was unique among the reigning families of Germany in having a Slavonic origin. The descendants acquired Stargard in 1304 and Rostock in 1323 and received the titles of  Duke of Mecklenburg in 1348, Count of Schwerin in 1358, Prince of Wenden in 1436, and Prince of Schwerin and Ratzeburg in 1648. In 1549 Lutheranism was recognized as the state religion, and the region has remained a stronghold of orthodox Lutheranism. 


 Wars and a Divided Mecklenburg  

Several partitions of Mecklenburg took place, first divided among four branches of the original dynasty in 1229, reunited in 1471, and divided again in 1611 and 1621. During the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648, Mecklenburg suffered badly, losing,  in some parts, 80% of its population; the Austrian general Wallenstein conquered and occupied Mecklenburg, 1628-1634, forcing out the ruling dukes, and becoming duke himself  in 1629. Swedish forces restored the Mecklenburg dukes in 1634, but in Peace of Westphalia, 1648, Sweden acquired Wismar and its environs, which it held until 1803. With the extinction of the Gustrow line in 1695 Mecklenburg was again reunited, but under the terms of the Treaty of Hamburg, 8 March 1701, Mecklenburg was divided into the twin duchies of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and the order of primogeniture introduced into the ruling houses; meaning no more divisions of the duchies. 

The Mecklenburg Estate owners, known as “Landed Junkers,” from Jung Herr meaning young noble, were among the most highly privileged in Germany. Their power had grown out of the poverty and disunity of the dukes and they formed a permanent Union in 1523. By 1561 the Estate owners had acquired control of the grant and collection of taxes and had their own treasury, the Landkasten, into which these were paid. By 1710 what little industry there had ever been had largely disappeared and the larger towns were almost entirely dependent on brewing for local consumption. There was also some distilling and slaughtering but the whole economy was uniformly agrarian. The land was poor and required heavy manuring and working. Land became more valuable than peasants and the pace of evictions grew as landowners began to take peasant land and 'waste hides' into their domains. The main burden of taxation fell on the peasantry. The Knights were exempt from taxation. The knighthood, Ritterschaft, was deeply conservative; their stubborn adherence to their constitutional liberties and economic rights in face of horrendous pressures was amazing.

Relations between the dukes and estate owners/knights of Mecklenburg had long been strained. With the succession of Charles Leopold in 1713 troubles reached there climax, arising initially over attempts by the dukes to levy unconstitutional taxes, for the maintenance of fortresses, especially Domitz on the Elbe River. The Estates first appealed to the Holy Roman Emperor in 1664, and the case was to last until 1755. Between 1673-1683 the Estates appealed frequently against forced collection of excessive taxes by the dukes. Charles Leopold abused his position more by the use of force and other excesses. In 1714 he presented his first diet with a demand for extra taxes and when this was refused he collected the money by force. In particular he extended his campaign against the powerful city of Rostock. He wished to make the city a fortress and his principal residence. The aulic council of the empire condemned his actions. Many estate owners fled into neighbouring provinces. In their absence their lands were sequestered and placed under ducal administrators. Backed by the Holy Roman Emperor, a force of 10,000 Hanoverian troops crossed the Elbe into Mecklenburg in February 1719, to restore the estate owners. After a brief skirmish at Walsmuhlen, in which the Hanoverians were badly mauled, they quickly occupied the country. The main Mecklenburg army fell back in to Brandenburg while the duke, with a small force, entered Domitz. The aulic council was surprised by the extent to which Hanover had taken control of the country, Hanover toyed with the idea of annexation. In 1728 the empire removed Charles Leopold as duke and replaced him with his younger brother Christian Louis. This in reality proved to be in name only. In 1733 Charles Leopold called out an army of peasants and townsmen to expell the Hanoverian troops. The tumult caused Christian Louis and many of the knights to flee ignominiously. The rising was put down with little difficulty by the Hanoverian garrisons. Prussian troops entered Mecklenburg after the rising had been suppressed, preventing Hanoverian attacks on Domitz and Schwerin, and also sheltered fugitive rioters. Prussian forces refused to leave while Hanoverian forces remained. A general pardon was issued and Charles Leopold was deprived of a base of operations by the capture of Schwerin in 1735; fleeing to Wismar and, after his expulsion from there in 1741, he ended his days in Domitz in 1747. The foreign troops left Mecklenburg, for now, in 1735. The crisis was finally settled with the signing of the Erbvergleich of 1755 at Rostock. This agreement entrenched the supremacy of the estates over the dukes and the towns, confirmed their privileges and their rights over the peasants and restored the constitution as under the 1701 agreement. As a result Mecklenburg remained socially, politically, and economically backward.

Mecklenburg was occupied by Prussia, 1759-1764, during the Seven Years War, 1756-1763, and in the Napoleonic Wars Mecklenburg was occupied by French troops, 1806-1813. All Mecklenburgers knew the period as the “Franzosentid” [period of French occupation]. The country suffered destruction, and the people great hardship, with robbery and pillage becoming commonplace. Forced to join the Confederation of the Rhine under Napoleon’s protectorate, 2,000 men were conscripted to take part in Napoleon’s campaign against Russia, less than one hundred returned home. After Napoleon’s retreat from Russia the dukes of both Mecklenburg duchies were among the first to renounce the alliance with France and in the War of German Liberation, which followed, 1813-1815, the duchies played a significant part in defeating Napoleon and liberating Germany from France. The dukes took the title of Grand Duke in 1815 and Mecklenburg became a Grand Duchy.


Serfdom and Emigration

With liberation and peace the conditions for the people did not improve, a period of economic depression lasted into the 1820s. In Mecklenburg at this time existed a feudalism system known as “Inherited Serfdom.” The landowners controlled the economy and ruled their estates with absolute authority. The peasants were dependant entirely on the nobles who could even buy and sell them with or without their property, and produced crops for export from their vast estates by using labour of bonded peasants, servants, and labourers. The landlords drove away more and more peasants and then incorporated those peasants’ plots into their estates. This callous robbery of the peasant properties was known as “peasant seizure.” Those peasants who were without land became cottagers or gardeners. Eventually they were simply known as day labourers, “tageloehners,” and lived in grinding poverty. The day labourers travelled the countryside, moving from estate to estate as the estate owner required their labour for ploughing, planting or harvesting crops. Serfdom was abolished in Mecklenburg in 1820, which freed the peasants from their obligations to estate owners, but this worsened the conditions for most peasants because the estate owners were freed of any obligations under feudal law to provide their tenants with any means of supporting themselves. At the time many estate owners took the opportunity to get rid of a lot of their day labourers who were now considered personally free according to the law. They began to run their lands with a minimum of permanent workers.  It was very difficult for day labourers who were thrown out to find permanent work elsewhere, because they needed to receive the right of establishment from the new employer.


Many peasants and labourers left Mecklenburg and emigrated to other countries as their conditions became unbearable. Between the years 1820 and 1890 261,000 Mecklenburgers left their home country, immigrating to the United States, South America, Australia, and New Zealand. Mecklenburg had the third highest emigration count in Europe, superseded only by Ireland and Galicia [province of Austria-Hungary]. The loss of population in Mecklenburg was more prevalent in the rural areas, where 88.5% of emigrants came from. This was mostly due to the miserable social conditions caused by the right of abode and the right of establishment rules, which existed almost unchanged from 1820 to 1860.


Modern History of Mecklenburg

The Mecklenburg duchies had joined the Germanic Confederation in 1815, the North German Confederation and Customs Union in 1866, and the German Empire in 1871. With the defeat of Germany in the First World War the ruling houses of the Mecklenburg duchies were forced to abdicate, 14 November 1918, and they became states of the Weimar Republic. When the National Socialist regime came to power in 1933, Hitler annulled the constitutions of the two states, and in 1934 joined them together as the new Land [state] of Mecklenburg. After World War Two Mecklenburg was incorporated in the [East] German Democratic Republic and dissolved as an administrative unit in 1952. With the unification of East and West Germany in 1990 the state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania was created.


German Settlement in Nelson New Zealand

Three families of our German ancestors sailed on the Skiold to New Zealand in 1844, all were in steerage. They were the families of Fanselow from Tarnewitz, Schwass from Brookhusen, and Wendelborn from Krassow. Below is the history on how they came and settled in New Zealand.


Colonisation Companies & Settlement Sites

In the first two years of colonisation of Nelson the New Zealand Company had not received the support from the English they had expected. The company knowing of the conditions that existed in Germany advertised in the German newspapers, starting in December 1839, and appointed agents in Hamburg. These agents were expected to distribute NZ Company propaganda, and to organise the emigration of their countrymen in cooperation with the Company. In 1841 a Deutsche Colonisations Gesellschaft [German Colonisation Company] was formed at Hamburg by Karl Sieveking and other representatives of leading mercantile houses there, including De Chapeaurouge and Company, and J.C. Godeffroy and Son. To this organisation the NZ Company undertook to sell the Chatham Islands outright, which they believed they had bought from the local Maori. When Lord Stanley, of the Bristish Colonial Office, was informed he told the NZ Company that its charter did not authorise it to buy land in a foreign country, nor to create a foreign colony in the neighbourhood of British settlements, and if it went ahead the Company's charter would be forfeited. The Chatham Islands had been claimed by the Bristish in 1791, but not yet annexed. The NZ Company immediately assured Lord Stanley that 'nothing shall be done which shall in any way involve the Company in any illegal or objectionable proceedings.' However, the German company, unaware of this hitch, issued its plan for the colonisation of the Chathams on 15 February 1842. In March 1842 when the British Government learned of this development, it informed both the New Zealand and German companies that from henceforth the Chatham Islands would form part of the colony of New Zealand, and any Germans settling there would be treated as aliens. By this date the German Company was well ahead with its plans. John Nicholas Beit, the NZ Company agent at Hamburg, then persuaded both investors and prospective colonists to allow the expedition to go to Nelson, New Zealand, instead. Beit pointed out that, as their aims were philanthropic and commercial rather than imperialist in design, they might beneficially divert the stream of migration to the British colonies of the south, where their capital would be more safely secured under Bristish laws; and that they would best promote the substantial interests of the emigrants by allowing them to amalgamate with the British population. He applied to Lord Stanley in April 1842 for permission to conduct a number of German families to Nelson, on the understanding they would become British subjects. Stanley was very willing, and promised to authorise Governor Hobson to naturalise all those recommended by the British consul in Hamburg. He was less pleased when he discovered the composition of the party, as he was strongly opposed to labourers going out without capitalists. 

St Pauli Settlers

The 380 ton St Pauli had been charted and was being fitted out in Hamburg for the passage to New Zealand. Seventeen people sailed as cabin and 123 in steerage. The emigrants came mostly from Northern Germany and the Rhineland, the majority were Lutherans. A few were well educated, speaking and writing standard High German. The rest spoke the Low German dialect, Plattdeutsch. The St Pauli people were freemen, listed on the passenger list as Bauer, yeoman farmer or free peasant, and a Landwirt or husbandman, agricultural labourer. On the later Skiold they were listed as Tagelohner, labourers paid by the day. The St Pauli left Hamburg on 26 December 1842 and arrived at Nelson on 14 June 1843. They were naturalised British subjects on the day of their arrival. Most of the Skiold passengers were naturalised by an ordinance of 3 April 1845. The Nelson settlers welcomed them without any sign of prejudice, but the whole settlement was soon thrown into disorder when Maori massacred the Wakefield party at Wairau. In this state of affairs the St Pauli settlers were left to their own slender resources. Eight families settled at Moutere, near the Lutheran missions property, among them were the families of Beckmann, Haase, Huter, Jaensch, and Karsten. Another group rented land at Waimea, while a few remained in Nelson. In October 1843, NZ Company rep Wiiliam Fox found it necessary to employ some on public works, because they had no other means of livelihood. The German settlement at Moutere had called their valley Schachtstal, and their village St. Paulidorf, but the valley was so flood-ridden that it had to be abandoned after sixteen months of unrewarded toil. Some of the families returned to Nelson and some went to Waimea West.

Skiold Settlers

The second group of German settlers to Nelson was organised by De Chapeaurouge and Company. Most of the capital was supplied by Graf Kuno zu Rantzau-Breitenburg of Bothmer in the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, or more briefly, Count Rantzau, a wealthy nobleman, who originally had grand visions of planting a large German colony at Nelson. He hoped to combine a good investment for himself and improve the situation for some depressed peasants of Mecklenburg. The count sent out three agents to manage his estate and to care for the settlers. The trio was Johann Benoit, a Hamburg merchant, and the Kelling brothers, Carl and Fedor, farmers from Klutz. Before the Skiold left Hamburg in April 1844 the NZ Company had collapsed and the migrants were faced with an uncertain future. Fortunately for them Count Rantzau not only paid the passages of eighteen of the twenty-eight families, but also went guarantor for the venture. On 16 April 1844, a few days before their departure, the heads of each family had to sign a contract at Hamburg with the count, so that the men sailed in bond to their benefactors. The agreements were drawn up in High German in intricate legal language, the full impact of which must have been lost on the illiterate signatories; the document also carried a rough English translation. Each contract stated the commitments of the count's agents, and then those of the assisted labourer. As Rantzau had promised to send the emigrant to Nelson, the Kellings and Benoit, on his behalf, undertook to give the man and his family good treatment and daily work at the wages current in the colony, less any deductions for food and clothing, so long as they behaved themselves. After the man had paid back the family's fares for the voyage at the rate of £17 10s. per adult, the agents promised to sell him on request ten to twenty acres of rural land at £2 5s. per acre. The man in return undertook to migrate to New Zealand, and to acknowledge the cost of the voyage as a debt binding upon himself and his heirs. Finally he declared: "I promise to fulfil this contract like a true and diligent worker, and I hereby renounce all later objections or excuses." It can be seen that there was nothing in the nature of charity here.

The Skiold was a barque of 400 tons under the command of Captain Clausen. There were six cabin passengers and 135 in steerage. In the steerage were sixty-six adults, including twenty-four married couples, and sixty-nine children. Most of the emigrants were agricultural labouring families from Mecklenburg. Nineteen men were listed as tagelohner or day labourers, while there were thirteen artisans, including three sawyers, three joiners and two smiths. With the exception of Rausch from Bavaria and Herbst from Schleswig-Holstain, they came from seventeen villages in Mecklenburg. Among the villages which supplied more than one family were Klutz, Krassow, Reppenhagen, Brookhusen, and Tarnewitz. 

The Skiold sailed from Hamburg on 21 April 1844 and after a journey of 120 days, with a seven-day stopover in Bahia, South America, to effect repairs, they arrived at Nelson, New Zealand on 1 September 1844. There were two deaths, both children, and two births on the voyage. [In 1849 the ship was wrecked on the English coast on a voyage from Singapore to Cuxhaven]. Colonel Wakefeild was more favourably impressed by the appearance of the Skiold men, who, he said, "evinced a decided superiority" over their predecessors. Most of the families settled on sections at Waimea East. here a considerable German village grew up and for many years after their arrival most of the settlers worked for the Kellings on their allotment of 150 acres, Benoit had returned to Europe in 1845. In respect for the help received from Count Rantzau, Fedor Kelling called his homestead “Ranzau” and the whole district of Waimea East was for many years known as Ranzau until it was given the present name of Hope. Today Ranzau Road is the only reminder of the old name.

The problems before the Kellings were not easily solved. They had brought out 135 individuals, nearly forty being labourering men for whom they were bound to find employment. With only 150 acres they could not employ all the families. They therefore accepted responsibility for as many families as possible, about 75 persons all told, which strained their resources to the utmost. A few found private employment, but the remainder went to Adelaide, South Australia. There was in fact quite an exodus of Germans from Nelson to Hobart, Tasmania in 1844 and to Adelaide in 1844-45, most of them were destitute St Pauli settlers. Some families who went to South Australia returned to Nelson some years later, after conditions had improved. The German communities at Nelson and Adelaide never completely lost touch with each other.

Within a year the Nelson newspaper Examiner reported that the Germans 'appear already so thoroughly naturalised, and to have so much of the Saxon character, which is common to their countrymen and the British race, that every barrier of national distinction may be considered as removed.'

The system of contract labour designed by Count Rantzau did not work well. It was impossible, in the depressed condition of Nelson, to enforce all the terms laid down by him. A number of the labourers had their agreements cancelled by Donald Sinclair, the police magistrate, almost as soon as they landed. For those who worked at Ranzau the contracts continued to apply for a while, but in a very modified form. The Kellings gave out a few acres to the heads of families at once, without waiting for a refund of the passage money, to help them provide for themselves. The men then grew so keen to cultivate their own plots that they were more and more reluctant to be summoned away to their contract labour on the principal farm.

The staple crops grown were barley and wheat, with oats, rye, and peas in smaller quantities. Not afraid to experiment with new crops, there was a failure with European flax in 1847, but mixed orchards were highly successful. By 1849 there were over a hundred fruit trees, which included the usual North German fruits, together with walnuts, figs, lemons, oranges, and grapes. They also cultivated some hops and tobacco. They kept cows, pigs, geese, turkeys, and fowls. In 1850 they bought sheep, which were ran on the Moutere hills.

The years 1843-45 were difficult for the Germans, as for other settlers, but from 1846 on the situation improved. Seven families from the Skiold, Bruning, Fanselow, Lange, Lankow, Schroder, Siggelkow, and Wendelborn settled three miles from Ranzau, at a place they named Schonbach, beautiful stream. By 1859 each family had livestock, and from five to fifteen acres of land in crops. As their circumstances improved, the Germans grew anxious for relatives and freinds in the fatherland to share their good fortune. Various suggestions were put forward to assist migration, but nothing came of any of them, although a few families arrived in the period 1850-52. From 1850 up to 1870 200 Germans arrived at Nelson, the majority came from Hanover and Mecklenburg: they transhipped in England, making the long voyage in British vessels. After 1856, through the assisted immigration scheme, most of this immigration was sponsored by Nelson residents, who stood surety for the repayment of the passage money advanced for their freinds and relatives. The Germans settlers took full advantage of the scheme, doubling their numbers in twenty years by immigration alone. Emigration from the German states diminished after the unification of the German Empire by Bismarck in 1871.

In 1849 the Lutherans built their first church at Ranzau, of clay with a low straw roof; this was replaced in 1866 by a new and permanent church of St John's. Unfortunately the building was burned down in 1870, but rebuilt shortly afterwards. Situated in Ranzau Road, Hope, services are still conducted regularly in it today.

By 1856 a new German settlement had been established at Moutere, named Sarau, it soon outstripped its Waimea East rival. The name Sarau has since fallen into disuse, and the district is known only as Upper Moutere. Other settlements were Rosental, or Rose Valley, and Neudorf.

Church services were held in German until 1907, a change made inevitable as the younger generations in the congregation began to lose touch with the German tongue. The Nelson Germans remain a remarkable group. They have been absorbed into the English community with little pain or friction, without losing touch entirely with their German culture. They have remained loyal to New Zealand and were too well identified as being New Zealanders by the time of the First World War, when a large number served with the New Zealand Armed Forces. Today many thosands of New Zealanders are descended from these German pioneer settlers.



Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd,. Edited by,. Burke’s Royal Families of the World, London: Burke’s Peerage Ltd, 1977.

Hughes, Michael, Law and Politics in 18th Century Germany, The Imperial Aulic Council in the Reign of Charles V1. Woodbridge Suffolk UK: The Boydell Press, 1988.

Carol Gohsman Bowen,. Editor and web master, Mecklenburg-Vorpommen WorldGenWeb Page:

Colliers Encyclopedia, Volume 15 page 627, New York: Macmillan Educational Corporation, 1978.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia Volume 6 pages 741-742, Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc, Fifteen Edition, Auckland: 1984.

Jones, Stan, From Serfdom to Freedom, The Schwass Family in New Zealand, Nelson NZ: Stan Jones, 1990.

Allan, Ruth M., Nelson A History of Early Settlement, Wellington NZ: A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1965.


©2000 DK Auckram


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