My ancestors came primarily from the eastern part of Germany, that is, essentially, from the area between the Elbe river on the West, the Oder river on the East, Bohemia on the South, and the Baltic Sea on the North.*
* This area largely overlaps with the area of the present Deutsche Demokratische Republik (East Germany), except for parts in the northwest which are in the present “Deutsche Bundesrepublik” (West Germany) and parts in the southeast that are in present day Poland.
Close to the coast, halfway between Berlin arid Sweden, there is a large island, called Rügen. The Friedrichs family comes from this island.
Before telling the story of this family I should like to mention some historical facts about the area described.
Except for its extreme northwestern part, this area was formerly occupied by various Slavic tribes, related to the Poles, called “wendisch” by the Germans. (The had come from the east after about 500 A.D.) They are also referred to as “Elbslaven” by a Polish author writing in German. These tribes had settled in this area at about 550 AD Up to about 1,000 AD there had been frequent fighting between the Wends and the Germans living to the west of them. But later on the Wendish rulers accepted German settlers in their land since the Germans had farming methods and were effective craftsmen and merchants in the towns. This wave of settlement had its high point at about 1150 AD, but it continued for several centuries. Soon most of the population in this area consisted of German or Germanized Wends; but there always existed some Wendish pockets. Most of them have disappeared; but some of them still exist today.
There can be no doubt that I have quite a number of Wendish ancestors. Never the less, there are only two strictly Wendish names among my known ancestors: the name “Subklev” of a serf and the name “Baudissin” of a noble family. In addition there are three or four Germanized Wendish names. Germanization, and also translation of Wendish names into German ones, happened all the time, even up to recent years. Still I am sure that the majority of my ancestors were Germans.
The main reason for this assumption is that most of my earliest known ancestors were craftsmen and merchants in the towns, while only few of them lived in the country.
The island of Rügen was gradually settled by Germans from 1200 AD on. After 1300 the Germans already dominated there. In a will, issued in 1306, Prince Wizlaw II of Rügen implored his heirs to see to it that their Wendish subjects would enjoy the same freedoms that they had enjoyed during his lifetime. By 1404 the Germanization of Rügen was complete. It is reported that the last person on Rügen who still could speak Wendish, an old woman, called Frau Gülz, had died on a remote peninsula in 1404.*
*In a Polish book I found the statement that Wendish was still spoken on Rügen in the 15th century. Strictly speaking, this statement -as formulated - is correct.
The German settlers near the Baltic coast came mostly from the northern Rhineland and hence spoke Low German. Among them there may have been one or more with the name “Frederiks” i.e. son of Frederik. In fact, at about 1500, there were a mayor and a councilman in the city of Riga in Latvia with that name. Somewhat later they changed their name to the High German from “Friedrichs”, perhaps under the influence of Luther’s Bible. Such a change may have taken place in other parts of northern Germany. In any case the name Friedrichs is rather common on the island of Rügen.
It should be mentioned that Rügen and the adjacent part of the mainland, called Pomerania, had become subjected to the Grandduke of Brandehburg in the seventeenth century. The area called Brandenburg, south of Pomerania, was the nucleus of the later Prussia. At the end of the Thirty Years War, 1648, the western part of Pomerania, including Rügen, became subjected to Sweden and remained so up to 1815. Thus, between 1648 and 1815 the members of the Friedrichs family were Swedish subjects; but, of course they did not normally speak Swedish.
My early ancestors on Rügen spoke Low German. They understood High German though, since Church services and other ceremonies were conducted in High German. In later years educated people spoke only High German among themselves, but spoke Low German to farm workers. That was still so in 1916, when I stayed on Rügen for some time.