What's in a Name?

You may have experienced it; you were traveling somewhere, you were reading a magazine, or looking in a phone directory. Maybe you were reading a book or maybe you were watching television, and you see "Bohnstedt". The name catches your attention because it's so unusual and more importantly, because it's your name. You rarely ever see that name anywhere else besides your own home or workplace. The reaction is instantaneous: something inside you jumps out and connects to it immediately.

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1-2. Instant Name Recognition: "BOHNSTEDT" on a portrait of Pastor David Sigismund Bohnstedt, made sometime after 1725, and "Bohnstedt" on television screens across America, two and one half centuries later, in a CBS interview of Lt. Kevin Bohnstedt aboard the U.S.S. Independence in 1992

To most of us the spelling of our name is so important that we feel a sense of annoyance or even offense if we receive mail and our Bohnstedt name is misspelled (a problem that is more prevalent in America than in Germany). Since the first Bohnstedts arrived in America in the 1800's the family name has been misspelled by government agencies, including the United States Army, and it has been the battle of American Bohnstedts ever since to retain that correct spelling.

In Denmark the Bohnstedt family name is often carried by descendants of females born into the Bohnstedt family. The reason for this practice is this: apparently there are so few surnames in Denmark (Hansen, Jensen, Petersen, etc.) that an unusual name is highly prized. As a result descendants of females born into the Bohnstedt family will very often carry the Bohnstedt name as a hyphenated combination of the mother's and father's last names (i.e., "Bohnstedt-Petersen"). In many cases the Bohnstedt family name in Denmark was passed down perpetually as a middle name without a hyphen, functioning as a family identifier just the same as a last name.

The Bohnstedt name is rare and unusual in the world, and it is that fact that binds us together, and perhaps what makes us feel so compelled to preserve it's "correct" spelling, a spelling that seems to have become standardized and institutionalized in the late 1600's.

It is not merely our ancestry that fascinates us. If we could trace our direct ancestry back through the Bohnstedt line we would come to a time, sometime in the 1200's or 1300's when the common man didn't use surnames. We would find only first names such as Joachim, or Sigmund, or Hans, without any last name. It is true that those who already have an interest in genealogy would love to be able to trace his or her ancestry as far back into history as possible. But I think that for most of us there is a difference in seeing a long list of first names and acknowledging the scholarly fact that these individuals were distant ancestors, and finding someone else across the continent or halfway around the world with that unusual name "Bohnstedt". We feel connected to it.

The Bohnstedt name, more than anything else, has been the primary driving force behind this research exercise that has taken so many years.


The Question Asked: Are All Bohnstedts Related?

After marveling at the fact that a complete stranger has your name your mind moves to the next logical question: "Am I related to this person in some way?" After all, how can they not be related with a rare name like that?

Other Bohnstedt researchers have searched for an answer to the same question in various places, especially in Germany and America. In Germany Bohnstedt researchers had begun looking into this from the start of the 20th Century. People such as Edgar Bohnstedt, Dr. Georg Bohnstedt, and someone named Johannes Bohnstedt had all reached the same conclusions about their Bohnstedt family lines in Germany; that they all descended from the same source, someone named August Wilhelm Bohnstedt in the 1700's, who was himself descended from a Bohnstedt line going back to someone named Bartholomäus Bonstedt in the 1600's.

These researchers then found that there were other Bohnstedt branches from Bartholomäus, going into NordRheinland-Westfalen in what is now western Germany, and into Sweden and Russia. Furthermore they also found that the ancestors of these Bohnstedt branches, including Bartholomäus Bonstedt, all lived in a group of small villages located in and near Sachsen-Anhalt just north of the Harz mountains in Central Germany. We, the most recent generation of Bohnstedt researchers had begun calling this one large family group of Bohnstedts the "Langeln" line, because the earliest place name mentioned in records for this family is Langeln, Germany, where Andreas Bonstedt, Bartholomäus Bonstedt's father, married Barbara Söchting in 1599.

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1. The small area in the Sachsen-Anhalt region of Germany where the Bohnstedt family lines originated.
2. The Bohnstedt Family lines originating in the Sachsen-Anhalt region, and extending into various parts of Germany, Pomerania, Sweden, Russia, Denmark, and America.

Wolfgang Bohnstedt, a later Bohnstedt researcher born in Berlin near the end of the Second World War, began his own quest and found evidence that supported what previous Bohnstedt researchers had found. He also traced his own Bohnstedt line back to a town called Bernburg. For that reason we now refer to this line as the "Bernburg Line". Bernburg is somewhat larger than the other small villages mentioned above, but the interesting thing is that Bernburg is in the same small area as the villages of origin for the "Langeln Line".

Wolfgang then researched and explored other branches of Bohnstedts descending from Bernburg. While most of the descendants of these Bernburg lines stayed in Germany, he found that one had gone north, to Denmark. I later conducted some research into the Bohnstedt family lines in Denmark, and with the help of some descendants of the Bohnstedt family in Denmark, especially Frank Bohnstedt-Petersen and Sonja Bohnstedt, found that all of the Bohnstedts in Denmark were descended from a common ancestor.

Furthermore, based on Wolfgang Bohnstedt's detailed research it became apparent that these Danish Bohnstedts, and other Bohnstedts of the Bernburg line were most likely related to other Bohnstedts of the "Langeln Line", again, based upon the close geographic proximity of Bernburg to the villages of origin of the Langeln Line.

Long before I ever became involved in Bohnstedt research, there were a number of people in various parts of the Bohnstedt family in America who kept track of their ancestry, at least back to a point. However, a handful of people researched their ancestry father back, back to actual immigration records of the sea voyages from Germany to America, and back to an ancestor in a small town called Calvörde in central Germany in 1765. Calvörde was tantalizingly close to the other small villages of origin for the "Langeln" and "Bernburg" Bohnstedt lines in the same region.

But then one of the American researchers, Marvin Bohnstedt, was able to find one ancestor, just one generation father back, an ancestor named Johann Matthäus Bohnstedt, an innkeeper in a small town called Gevensleben, a small town much closer to the villages of origin of the Langeln Line. For this reason we now call the Bohnstedt lines in America that descended from this line (which is nearly all of them) the "Gevensleben Line".

Gevensleben is even closer than Calvörde to Bernburg and the villages of origin of the Langeln Line; Egeln and Wolmirsleben, Halberstadt, Langenstein, Deersheim and Langeln. The nearest of these, Deersheim is within six miles, or nine and one half kilometers, of Gevensleben. I've walked that distance myself around my own town.

There seemed to all of us the strong probability that all three of these Bohnstedt lines, Langeln, Bernburg and Gevensleben, were related at one time. To strengthen this theory Wolfgang found a connection with one of the Bohnstedt families in Bernburg to a small town called Hornhausen, which is situated about halfway between Gevensleben and Egeln.


Connections Between The Three Main Bohnstedt Groups

Within the last few years Wolfgang had also found that Andreas Bonstedt, the father of Bartholomäus Bonstedt had several children. One of these, Julius Bonstedt, was an innkeeper in Wolmirsleben. Julius had at least two sons who could have married, and Wolfgang found that one of them, Caspar, had married and had several children with his wife, Ilse Brandes. One of these children, born in 1688 in Wolmirsleben, was named Matthäus. In a meeting with Wolfgang in Braunschweig, Germany in 1994, Wolfgang told me that he strongly believed that the ancestor of the American Bohnstedts, Johann Matthäus Bohnstedt was most likely descended from Julius and Caspar Bohnstedt, maybe even Caspar's son Matthäus.

If the final piece of documentation is ever uncovered which would prove this, the Bohnstedts in America would trace their ancestry back to about 1535, and would prove to be related to the Bohnstedts in Sweden, Russia, Australia, Norway, and large family groups in Germany through Julius Bonstedt, a brother of their own ancestor, Bartholomäus Bonstedt.

Chart showing the theoretical connections between the three main Bohnstedt family groups originating in Langeln, Bernburg and Gevensleben.

During his research Wolfgang Bohnstedt found three family groups of Bohnstedts in Bernburg, Germany, as well as another line of Bohnstedts originating in Bernburg but which went to Denmark. It is assumed that these Bohnstedt lines originating in Bernburg are in all probability related.

The earliest ancestors of these Bohnstedt ancestors in Bernburg was Johann Kaspar Bohnstädt (Bohnstaedt), born in 1677. We don't know his place of birth, but he and his wife died in Bernburg, and most of their children were born there.

What makes this factoid relevant to this discussion is the name the name Kaspar. As is often the case in families male children are often given as a first name or middle name, his father's name or that of an uncle or grandfather. Sometimes the child is not given the same name but at least a similar name to honor an elder male in the family. In this case Kaspar seems to be an unusual name. So far I know of only three such names in all of the Bohnstedt records I have obtained; that of Johann Kaspar Bohnstädt, born in 1677, and Caspar Bohnstedt, born in 1655 In Wolmirsleben, the son of Julius Bonstedt.

The third is Johann Caspar Bohnstedt, born in 1676 in Gernrode, the son of Hans Jacob Bohnstedt. It is possible that this Johann Caspar Bohnstedt born in 1676 was the same person as Johann Kaspar Bohnstädt, born in 1677. But aside from the difference in the year of birth, there is also a difference in the spelling of their last names. The similarity in their given names may just be coincidence.

But it is possible that there is a connection between the two men; Johann Kaspar Bohnstädt (1677) who conducted business in Bernburg, and Caspar Bohnstedt (1655) born in Wolmirsleben, just as it is possible that there is a connection between Johann Matthäus Bohnstedt, the ancestor of the Bohnstedts in America, and Matthäus Bohnsted, Caspar's son.

Does this conclusively prove that the Bohnstedt family lines in Bernburg and Gevensleben are descended from or connected to the older Bohnstedt Langeln Line? No, it doesn't. But it does offer some circumstantial evidence to support it. The strongest evidence, aside from the names "Matthäus" and "Caspar" are the fact that the Bohnstedt name is still rare in this world, even after 500 years, and the fact that all of these groups that we discuss here were found to originate in the same very small area in Central Germany.


The Question Answered

So now we return to the question; "Are we all related?". The objective answer is this: Based on documentary and circumstantial evidence, we are all quite probably related, at least so far as the three main Bohnstedt lines described above. All of the evidence points to it.

Beginning in the late 1600's, Bohnstedts began leaving the small area in Sachsen-Anhalt in central Germany, and began migrating in all directions. In the 300 years since we Bohnstedts have added English, Swedish, Russian, Danish, and other languages to our collective culture. We have become farmers and plantation owners, miners and industrial tycoons, soldiers and generals, doctors, architects, scientists, pilots and a host of other occupations and professions. Bohnstedts now inhabit cities and even countries that did not exist three centuries ago.

What will the world be like in another 300 years? And what will be our place and role in it?

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1. Langenstein, Germany much as it looked 300 and 400 years ago. Bohnstedts once lived in Langenstein.
2. One of many places where Bohnstedts made their home in the 20th Century; Los Angeles California, a city that did not exist in a country that did not exist three centuries ago.

What follows in this work are detailed descriptions of these three family lines. Part 1 discusses the Langeln Line, traced back to about 1535, and descending into parts of Germany, Sweden, Russia, and smaller branches in Norway and Australia. Part 2 discusses the Bernburg Lines, the oldest traced back to 1677, and descending into parts of Germany and into Denmark. Part 3 discusses the Gevensleben Line, traced back to 1735, migrating to Ohio in America, and descending into Illinois, Indiana, Florida, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Wyoming, Texas, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona and Georgia.

Each Part is made up of narratives that discuss the various branches and movements and culture of each family line, as well as biographical pages on certain individuals. Each Part also has detailed genealogical sections which can be used to review a person's family, or trace one's ancestry back to it's earliest known origin.

There is also a Part 4, which is used to house and present all of the data, stories and other information about Bohnstedt individuals and Bohnstedt families which were never proven to belong to one of these three main Bohnstedt families. In some cases there is a high probability of a relationship or connection. In such cases the theory behind the possible relationship is discussed.

There are appendixes provided for the purpose of discussing in detail some of the source materials. At the end of this work a fairly thorough bibliography is provided, and there are also indexes and a search function for your convenience.

With that, you can begin with "Part I, The Langeln Bohnstedt Line", or you can skip ahead to any section you are interested in. Just pick a topic from the Table of Contents. You can also look for topics of interest by going to the Index of Topics.


One Final Thought

Although this is a comprehensive History of the various branches of the Bohnstedt family, anyone with any real interest in this subject should know that there is still more that can be done with regard to research and discovery. I am certain that there are still numerous Bohnstedt family lines in Germany that have never properly been explored or traced back to their origin. There are still a great many books which mention, discuss or reference Bohnstedts, partly because so many of them are in German. And because my comprehension of German, even written German is limited, these books have never really been looked into and catalogued, and the Bohnstedts mentioned within have never been connected to one of the Bohnstedt family lines.

Also, there are still Bohnstedt individuals who might have been interesting to speak to, and to present feature articles on, individuals such as Antje Bohnstedt, who has written and/or illustrated numerous children's books. Or someone named Werner Bohnstedt, an engineer who has been mentioned in several books on engineering, and who has a number of patents in his name.

I mention all of this because I would not want any of you to think that we have now acquired all knowledge of the entire Bohnstedt family worldwide. We do indeed have a great deal, the results of which are presented here. But there is still more that can be done, especially in Germany. It is my hope that someday someone might take up the quest where we have left off, and continue the research on the Bohnstedt family branches in Germany.


See Also:
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Part 1: The Langeln Bohnstedt Line in Germany and Throughout Europe and Russia
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Part 2: The Bernburg Bohnstedt Line in Germany and Denmark
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Part 3: The Gevensleben Bohnstedt Line in America
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Part 4: Unsolved Histories


Geography (Google Maps):
Bernburg, Germany
Calvörde, Germany
Deersheim, Germany
Egeln, Germany
Gevensleben, Germany
Halberstadt, Germany
Hornhausen, Germany
Langeln, Germany
Langenstein, Germany
Wolmirsleben, Germany