What's A Wend?

by Russell Szlauosch (Schwausch)
August, 1987

Some time ago, during a sacrament meeting talk, I briefly mentioned that I grew up thinking my ancestors were German only to find out they weren't. A member of the Bishopric extracted from me a promise that I would record this story for posterity and other curious minds who want to know. So, to make good on that promise I have set to paper the genealogical meanderings of the Schwausch progeny.

Wouldn't it be a shock to find out that you weren't what you thought you were? All your life you thought you were English, or Scottish, or Chinese. And, then you came to find out that you didn't have a single drop of the blood you had grown up to be so proud of. Well, that's exactly what happened to me. For 25 years I grew up thinking that I was a descendent of German immigrants. I was proud of my German ancestry. I liked sauerkrat and weinerschnitzel, and German potato salad. I was tall and blond and stubborn. My parents spoke German when we went to visit my grossmutter. My father didn't learn English until he entered the first grade at the Lutheran parochial school. I had a relative who owned a tavern in Noack, Texas. When people saw my name they asked me if I was German and I was proud to say that I was. If anybody had told me I wasn't German, I would have been insulted.

In 1972 I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Things were about to change. It wasn't long before I attended my first genealogy class, started working on my four-generation chart, and began asking questions about my ancestors at family reunions. And so after 25 years as a German American I found out at a family reunion that I wasn't all German. I might just have a little Wendish blood in me. Wendish? What's Wendish? I had never heard the word Wendish before.

So I began researching my Wendish ancestors and it became apparent that my father's family was 100% Wendish. O.K. That meant I was 50% Wendish but I was still 50% German, too. I began collecting books, articles, magazines and pictures about the Wendish people. One of the books had a passenger list for the main migration of Wendish people to the United States. My Schwausch ancestors had come over in 1880 but this first group of Wendish people all came over on one ship, the "Ben Nevis", a sailing ship, in 1854. I looked through the passenger list for names of ancestors on my father's side of the family and found a few names that looked familiar, but no Schwauschs. The big surprise was the presence of familiar names from my mother's side of the family, Jannasch, Schneider, and Zieschank, my mother's maiden name! And I found out that Zieschank was spelled several ways including the way I was used to seeing it, Zieschang, also Zieschan, and Kschizan. That last one looked really strange at the time. It became more familiar as I saw more and more Wendish names and began to see the Wendish spellings of the names. The names I was used to seeing were German spellings of Wendish names. Just one more misleading clue to convince me I was German. Here are some examples of Wendish names with both the Wendish spelling and the German spelling:

German Wendish Alternate Spellings Schwausch Szlauosch Szlaosch,Szwausch Jatzlau Jazwauck Jatzwauck Zieschang Kschizan Zieschank, Zieschan Katschenz Kadzonz Katschonz

So now it seemed that my mother was also Wendish! So much for my German blood. It now appears that I am 100% Wendish. I am still looking for Germans among my ancestors but it is unlikely that I will find any. It is also interesting to note that the Second German Republic didn't really come into existence until the 1870's. Before that, most people in that region of Europe considered themselves to be from one of the smaller independent republics like Saxony and Brandenburg. So even Germans who came over in the early to middle 1800's didn't really call themselves Germans.

With time I became more accustomed to my new heritage. I was Wendish and I was going to find out everything I could about who I really was. I found more books on the Wendish people, their customs, their traditions, their habits, their culture and their history. The Wends are actually a Slavic people more closely related to the Czechs and the Poles than to the Germans. They have their own language which sounds more like Czech than German. The Wends migrated into what is now Germany about 500 A.D. They settled in an area called the Spreewald. This region is northeast of Dresden and southeast of Berlin. The March 1923 National Geogrpahic contains an article about the Wends of the Spreewald. The Germans surrounding the Wends tried to force the German language, religion, politics, and culture on them. This was the start of a long struggle by the Wends to remain independent. The Wends that came to Texas in 1854 were trying to escape the religious pressures of their German neighbors. After they arrived in Texas and settled in Serbin a few miles south of Giddings they found themselves again surrounded by German neighbors. So my ancestors began speaking German while the Wendish language faded out. Today there are very few people in Texas who can speak any Wendish but attempts are being made to preserve the language.

Several years after hearing the first suggestions that I was Wendish, I began to hear stories about the roots of the Schwausch name. I was told that several generations back, nobody was quite sure how many, the Schwausch name came close to extinction. A Schwausch ancestor in Saxony had no sons to inherit the land owned by the family. A husband for their daughter was needed who was willing to take the Schwausch name and keep the land in the family.This was apparently a common thing back then as other researchers have related similar situations. A willing young man was found and his surname prior to the marriage was Jatzlau. My research in East Germany, where the Wends now live, has supported this idea so far. I am still working on this part of my genealogy and hope to find more evidence to determine the accuracy of this claim.

I am sure that there are other interesting stories to be uncovered among my ancestors. But these two surprises, being Wendish and having a Jatzlau ancestor hiding in the family tree, have been completely unexpected pieces in the Schwausch genealogical puzzle ( or was that Szlauosch, no maybe it was Jatzlau).