Researching the Bohnstedt Families in Bernburg and Denmark
by Thomas Allen Bohnstedt, California USA
(the text of this page is my intellectual property. Please do not copy and repost without my written permission)
Researching Bohnstedts in Bernburg, Germany
During his research Wolfgang Bohnstedt discovered several Bohnstedt family groups in Bernburg Germany. As with some other Bohnstedt family lines originating in Langeln, Germany, many of these family groups did not begin using the "Bohnstedt" spelling until years later. The oldest of these family groups dates from 1677, beginning with Johann Kaspar Bohnstädt. We have record of only one of his children, a daughter named Henriette Marie, born in 1720 in Bernburg. Kaspar was 43 years old when his second wife, Anna, gave birth to Henriette. It is probable that Kaspar had several other children, including some from his first wife, whose name is unknown.
1. Bernburg, Germany, 1994
2. East meets west in Bernburg: an East German "Trabant" and a West German BMW, 1994.
The next two oldest groups of Bohnstedts in Bernburg date from 1710 and 1713. Christian Christoph Bohnstädt, born in 1713 was a master tailor. He had at least eight children. One of these children, a daughter named Johanne Christiane Friederica was born in 1743. A record lists her godfather as Johann Kaspar Bohnstädt, which indicates that they were almost certainly related in some way.
1-2. Bernburg, Germany, 1994
Another Bernburg group began with Johann Gottfried Bohnstedt, born in 1710 in Bernburg, Germany. This Bohnstedt was a soldier in a "Life's Guards" army unit in Bernburg. Unlike Johann Kaspar and Christian Christoph, Gottfried was already spelling his name as "Bohnstedt". Gottfried had at least seven children, but we do not know the name of his wife.
The next major Bohnstedt family line to appear in Bernburg, the family line from which Wolfgang Bohnstedt descended, began with Johann Friedrich Bohnstedt, born in 1750. Records make no mention of where he was born, but he was a master tailor in Bernburg. Several of his male descendants were also master tailors. This is interesting because Christian Christoph Bohnstädt and some of his male descendants were also master tailors.
The Bohnstedt Tailors in Bernburg
One constant fact I’ve always relied on while researching the origins and connections of the various Bohnstedt family groups is that the Bohnstedt name is rare, and when we find more than one in the same town or area, the chances are good that they are related. Furthermore, it stands to reason that the smaller the town, the more likely it is that they are related.
1-2. Bernburg, Germany, 1994
Another thing that can be considered is a commonality of occupations or professions. Most of what I know about the Bohnstedts in Bernburg came from research carried out by Wolfgang Bohnstedt. Besides the standard set of facts which includes the dates of Birth, Death and Marriage, Wolfgang also uncovered in many cases the occupations of individuals. Looking back through the records he provided for various Bohnstedts in Bernburg, I began noticing a recurrence of one profession in particular; Tailor.
A chart showing the Bohnstedt families in Bernburg, Germany, as we understand them so far. Those individuals who were identified as tailors are underlined in RED. We found several Bohnstedts in Bernburg who happened to be tailors or even "master tailors". This fact, together with the relative rarity of the Bohnstedt name, strongly suggests a familial relationship
Out of the information I have so far, I have counted twelve individuals with the Bohnstedt name (or some variation of it) who were Tailors or Master Tailors. The population of Bernburg today (in 2021) is a around 33,000. I live in a small town in California, near Los Angeles, called San Dimas. Currently the population of San Dimas is about 34,000, about the size of Bernburg. Consider that 250 years ago the population of Bernburg would have been much smaller, and yet we’ve discovered at least eleven men named Bohnstedt who were tailors.
A list of the Bernburg Bohnstedts we have identified so far who were tailors. The support for this information is the fact that Wolfgang Bohnstedt himself recovered it:
- Christian Christoph Bohnstädt (1713-1772)
- Johann Siegesmund Bonenstedt (Christian Christoph's son) (c.1731-1801)
- Johann Christoph Jacob Bohnstedt (Johann Siegesmund's son) (1768-1848)
- Johann Friedrich Bohnstedt (1750-?)
- Johann Friedrich Bohnstedt II (Johann Friedrich's son) (1777-1858) (from this man came the Bohnstedt family lines in Berlin and Dresden)
- Johann Friedrich Bohnstedt III (Johann Friedrich's II son) (1820-1862) (from this man came the Bohnstedt family lines in Dresden)
- Johann Christian Friedrich Bonstädt (c.1720-?)
- Johann Gottfried Bohnstedt (?-1798)
- Gottfried Bohnstedt (c.1775-?)
- Johann August Friedrich Bohnstedt (Gottfried's son) (1804-1839)
To me this sounds like some kind of family business, with aunts and uncles, nephews, nieces and cousins all working for the same firm in some capacity. I cant prove it yet, but the fact that there were so many tailors in this small town named Bohnstedt does very strongly suggest to me that they were most likely related.
Researching Bohnstedts in Denmark
In the 1990's, as I was conducting research for the original Printed Edition, I started out in a simple way, by looking for Bohnstedts in Danish phone directories, just as I had done with Bohnstedts in other parts of Europe and in America. The first listings I came across were several business listings for Bohnstedt-Petersen A/S in various parts of Denmark. "Bohnstedt-Petersen A/S" was a large business concerned with the import, sales and service of automobiles throughout Denmark. Although I wasn't sure who to write to, I sent a letter to "Mr. Bohnstedt-Petersen", hoping it would reach the correct party. It did. I also wrote to a handful of other Bohnstedts I had found listed in Denmark.
In time I received answers back from two Bohnstedts in Denmark, and from Peter Bohnstedt-Petersen, who had been the director of the Bohnstedt-Petersen A/S company.
Peter Bohnstedt-Petersen visited me and my fiancé (it was just a few weeks before our wedding) in Pasadena in 1992 while he was on a business trip to Southern California, and we did a little more work together on the Danish Bohnstedt genealogy. Just prior to his arrival he sent to me a hard bound copy of a book called 75 År Til Lands & I Luften ("75 Years on Land and in the Air"), which was a history of the Bohnstedt-Petersen A/S company and it's founder, Christian Bohnstedt-Petersen.
1. Cover of 75 År Til Lands & I Luften
2. Ancestral genealogy chart of Christian Bohnstedt-Petersen.
Peter also provided a copy of an ancestral genealogy chart that his father had probably paid to be researched and drawn up. Another Danish Bohnstedt that I had contacted; Peter Bohnstedt, sent to me a blueprint copy of a family chart that his father, Poul Johannes Bohnstedt had typed up, apparently in the 1950's.
Genealogy chart from Denmark
These two charts provided an essential framework for reconstructing the Bohnstedt family branches in Denmark and tying them together. The Bohnstedts I had established contact with in Denmark were not certain that they were related to each other and downright skeptical that they were related to the Bohnstedt-Petersen family.
However, after my experience in researching American Bohnstedt families, and finding that nearly all were related to each other, I felt confident that all or most Bohnstedts in Denmark would eventually prove to be related to each other as well as to the Bohnstedt-Petersen family. As I have repeated throughout this work again and again, given the rarity of the Bohnstedt name, it seemed unlikely that the Bohnstedt families would not be related to each other, especially given the small size of Denmark.
The family chart provided by Peter Bohnstedt showed a number of children of Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Bohnstedt. This fact proved to be vital as such a large number of Bohnstedts in Denmark descend from this one man. The ancestral chart provided by Peter Bohnstedt-Petersen traced the Bohnstedt-Petersen line back through Charlotte Amalie Bohnstedt (Christian's mother), Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Bohnstedt (Christian's grandfather), and Johann Friedrich Bohnstedt.
Research by Wolfgang Bohnstedt showed without a doubt that Heinrich Friederich Wilhelm Ludvig Bohnstedt was a son of Johan Wilhelm Ludwig Bohnstedt, and therefore a brother of Charlotte Amalie Bohnstedt, proving that the Bohnstedt-Petersen family was related to other Bohnstedt families in Denmark.
Prior to these developments I had come to expect that any European branch of Bohnstedts would eventually be traced back to Bartholomäus Bonstedt, and what came to be known as the "Langeln Line". All of the Bohnstedt groups in Denmark were certainly related to each other, but the surprise was that instead of being traced to Bartholomäus Bonstedt and the Langeln Line, these Danish Bohnstedts originated in Bernburg, Germany, the same location from which Wolfgang Bohnstedt's family line had originated. This led me to believe that the Danish Bohnstedts and other Bohnstedt lines from Bernburg were related to each other.
I must add here that although there is a high probability that they were originally related to each other, the links to put these various Bernburg family groups together has not yet been found.
Wolfgang had already established that the three largest group of Bohnstedt families and family lines were (A) the "Langeln" line, which contained the Bohnstedts in Europe, (B) the "Gevensleben" line, from which descended the Bohnstedts in America, and (C) the "Bernburg" line, of which Wolfgang was descended. The Danish Bohnstedt line was another Bohnstedt family group to be included in the "Bernburg Line".
Visit to Denmark
In 1994 my wife and I visited Europe, a trip which included Sweden, Germany, and Denmark. After visiting Sweden we flew back to Copenhagen, rented a car and began driving north to the far end of Denmark. We stayed first with Steffen and Else Bohnstedt in Norresundby, and after a couple of days we drove a little ways south to Risskov where we stayed with Peter Bohnstedt and his family before going into Germany.
1. Family of Steffen Bohnstedt, Clockwise from upper left: Steffen Bohnstedt, brother Michael Bohnstedt, daughter Ina, and Steffen's wife Else
2. Clockwise from lower right: Peter Bohnstedt, Peter's girlfriend Kirsten, Peter's daughter Henriette, and author/editor's wife Karen Bohnstedt
While enjoying the Danish hospitality during these stays we were able to discuss some more family details and get information ready for the 1998 printed book. After leaving Peter Bohnstedt's home we drove into Germany for a few days. After our time in Germany we drove back into Denmark where we visited with Finn Bohnstedt-Petersen, his wife Annelise, and daughter Maria.
L-R: Maria Bohnstedt-Petersen, Annelise, Finn's wife, and Finn Bohnstedt-Petersen
Finding the rest of the Danish Bohnstedts
After the 1998 printed version of the Bohnstedt family book was distributed I took a break from working on this project, perhaps longer than I should have. However, there was a positive side-effect of this. After a number of years went by I felt compelled to re-contact many of the Bohnstedts throughout America and Europe and update the information I already had.
This led to re-establishing old contacts, and also to making some new contacts. One of these was Frank Bohnstedt-Petersen, a grandson of Christian Bohnstedt-Petersen, and formerly a company officer of the Bohnstedt-Petersen A/S firm. Believing that I was missing some of the pieces of the Danish Bohnstedt puzzle, and believing that they were within reach with the right help from the right people, I was able to persuade Frank to help me conduct research, make contacts with Bohnstedts in Denmark, and help me put it all together. Because of Internet and e-mail technology that had now become widespread, we were able to coordinate research efforts in a way that was not possible before, another positive side-effect.
Due partly to the gracious nature of the Danish people, and partly to Frank's skills with people, we were able to document and trace the Bohnstedt name in Denmark to such an extent that we ended up with 3 to 4 times more information on the Danish Bohnstedt line then we had before.
During the course of our investigations Frank and I made contact with Sonja Bohnstedt, a descendant of Edith Christense Bohnstedt. In Denmark there are numerous descendants of Edith, who married Kristian Hansen in 1921. Most of the descendants still carry the Hansen name, but also the Bohnstedt name as well. (For a detailed explanation of naming practices in Scandinavia and Denmark, see Appendix B: The Origins of Surnames; Naming Practices in Scandinavia.)
Cousins Frank Bohnstedt-Petersen and Sonja Bohnstedt
Researching Bohnstedts in the rest of the world has always relied upon the fact that the Bohnstedt name is rare and unusual, and the fact that anybody with the Bohnstedt name stands a good chance of being related to anyone else with the Bohnstedt name. This principle still applies in Denmark, even though the naming practices are a little different. We were able to reconnect all of these family lines by finding individuals named "Bohnstedt" in telephone directories, and contacting them. It turned out that many of these Danish Bohnstedts had been given Bohnstedt as a middle name at birth, but decided to use it as a last name in common daily usage.
Danish naming practices can be very tricky to understand for someone not familiar with Danish culture. In most western countries, surnames are by default handed down from the father to his children. However, in Denmark this patriarchal tradition is very often ignored. This is primarily because there are so few family names to use in Denmark. For example, if you look through the family tables in this work for the Bohnstedts in Denmark you will find numerous instances of someone named "Jensen", both male and female, marrying into the Bohnstedt family. None of these Jensens are related to each other. It's just that there are so many of them.
Because of this condition, an unusual surname is highly prized in Denmark. Bohnstedt is a very rare name, and to many Danes is valuable like platinum or diamond, so much so that when Danish men have married women with the last name of Bohnstedt, the husband sometimes takes his wife's family name, and gives his children the wife's family name, or at least a hyphenated last name, such as "Bohnstedt-Petersen".
Another practice has been to give Bohnstedt as a middle name to the child, who then passes it on as a middle name to his or her own children. Although it is technically a middle name, it still has the practical effect of being a family identifier, by being perpetually carried down through several generations, even as a middle name.
Trying to understand and sort through all of the unusual naming arrangements in Denmark was complicated, but with a lot of help from Frank, Sonja, and other Danish Bohnstedts we were able to make sense of it all. We now have a much more complete picture of the Bohnstedt family in Denmark. Frank and Sonja did an excellent job of contacting these people, interviewing them, and recording information, which is now presented here for you.
- Helme, Jørgen. 75 År Til Lands & I Luften. En dansk virksomheds historie gennem trekvart århundrede 1911-1986 Hilleröd, Denmark: Frederiksborg Amts Avis Bogtrykkeri. 1986 (ISBN 8798224611)
2-2 / From Bernburg to Berlin and Dresden
2-3 / The First Danish Bohnstedt Family
5-12 / Appendix K: Danish Genealogy Charts
5-13 / Appendix L: 75 År Til Lands & I Luften
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