Creating a family chronicle has always been practised. Not just for the houses of rulers and nobility, but also town people and members of guilds had their family trees written. Usually this was done to prove the distinguished origins of the family. From the Middle Ages on it was a huge benefit to be able to prove your lineage to Charlemagne or even the Trojans, something the then so called family tree researchers, the genealogists of the court, were of course very willing to discover for a certain fee. The since the Romantic Movement awakening of nationalistic feeling has lead to a more historical description of the family history. Only since the Third Reich have race-awareness and patriotic feelings become the foundation of family and genealogic research.
Even as a boy, it became clear to me that I had a remarkable name; my class mates just could not stop recreating it in funny ways. Also our mailman had a problem with our name, because in the same street, only two minutes from our home lived a family named Penshorn, so many times I had to deliver letters to their home that the mailman had mistakenly delivered to our house. I could then of course never have imagined that we originated from one and the same family.
The immediate cause for me to start family research was a small incident in Göttingen, shortly after the war (1914-1918). It was the day of the festive inauguration on the University’s first year students. In the party hall many hundreds of young people crowded around, all were so lucky to have returned from the war unharmed.
It happened when they were calling out the names, when close to me another person replied “Here!” when they called for Prinzhorn. Astonished I tried to find out who had replied. And although I did not find my name-sake that time, I always remembered this as the first time in my life when I heard someone else, not a family-member, called by the same name. Only after I had left Göttingen and was studying in Hamburg I thought about writing to this student in Göttingen. He immediately replied and told me he was from Hanover, where according to him lived many people with the Prinzhorn name. So I looked in the Hanover directory and found almost two dozen Prinzhorns. In the year 1920 I sent them a questionnaire with the request if they could tell me as much as possible about their descent, occupation etcetera. The surprising conclusion was that all these 20 families originated in second or third generation from one corner northwest of the city of Hanover, namely Otternhagen, Horst and Frielingen, which was close to my father’s birthplace, Castle Ricklingen. This really fuelled my interest and so in the years to come I travelled, by foot or on bicycle, to trace the origins of their and my family. In church registers I discovered that my ancestors originated from Horst and the ancestors from Horst, Frielingen and Bordenau originated from Otternhagen. So it seemed that my quiet suspicions, that the Prinzhorns all originate from one family, proved to be true.
But then I had to let the family research rest for a long time, because my life’s path led me abroad, to Spain and South America, over there I could of course not do any work. After I returned to Germany in 1931, I was unpacking my book cases and saw the material I had collected back then and I set myself to recommence the work I once started.
This proved not to be an easy task, because the church registers which had been kept from about 1700 were already combed out by me and usually this is where any continuation of family genealogy stops. Luckily I acquired more ancient sources in this area, of the so called ‘Kingdom Hanover’. This and the obvious unique family name encouraged me to keep looking for subsequent information. In the National Archives of ancient services of the city of Hanover are precisely kept tax-lists which go back as far as 1600 and in some cases even to 1540. Year in and year out the farmers names and property have been noted down together with the amount of tax and the village where they lived. The least we can deduce from all this is where and when namesakes lived and when they inherited the estate from father to son.
From that moment on I have travelled to Hanover over and over and spent my holidays in the stately building at the Waterloo square amidst dusty records. During that time I became acquainted with Heinrich Prinzhorn a retired school director from Hanover-Linden, who was immediately enthusiastically interested in my work and who kindly offered his hospitality. So I was able to stay at his place for the last few years, and also got his kind support in all sorts of ways, for which I would like to express my sincere gratitude from here.
During my bicycle trips to Hanover I used to pass through the friendly town of Soltau and every time when I stayed in the boarding house ‘Springhorn’ I got the intuitive feeling that I should try to find our oldest homeland here, in the heart of the heath instead of close to the city of Hanover. I also found similar names with Springhorn here like Uhlhorn, Penshorn, and Ehrhorn, all of it names of farms on the heath near Soltau. So it was only natural there should be, or could have been a “Prinzhorn-Hof”. I was not able to find one in the register of ‘wild’ country.
I then did not know yet that there really is the “Uhrheimat”, a “Pentzhorn=Hof”, only a few miles from Soltau. Imagine my surprise and joy when soon after that I made a conclusive discovery in the State Archive of Hanover. I already knew that all persons named Prinzhorn, wherever they may live now, are eventually descendants from the village of Otternhagen near Neustadt am Rhein. So I traced the Prinzhorns from Otternhagen in the tax lists of the Neustadt office, the so called money lists, all the way back, line for line and in the end discovered that originally we were not named ‘Prinzhorn’ at all, but ‘Penshorn’. In one go this result made all the searching and guessing a thing of the past, because now it was absolutely clear only the Pentzhorn=Hof near Soltau was our oldest place of origin. That this was truly so and how our forefathers moved from the farmstead near Soltau to Otternhagen near Neustadt, another 70 km south, needed to be proven. In the money- and grain registers and partly in other significantly older resources I found out that the first Penshorn (Penszhorn) arrived in Otternhagen during the Thirty Years’ War. I also already found Penshorns a few decades before that time in two townships north of Otternhagen, in Wulfelade near Mariensee and Amedorf near Mandelsloh; also a few years before that time, in 1533, even further north in Eickeloh and Gretem on the Aller river. And so I followed the way back north, in the footsteps of our forefathers, through Walsrode to Dorfmark (1438), which is only 2 more hours by road walking from the ‘Pentzhorn=Hof’. In a similar way all the other Penshorn-lineages ended at the “Pentz¬horn=Hof” near Soltau. Thus we can deduce, also because of the unique name, that there is no doubt we Penshorns and Prinzhorns can consider ourselves to be one big family from Lower Saxony with our origins on the beautiful farmstead on the Heath. The ease with which this is said is the direct opposite of all the hardship and time consuming work, all the little facts and figures to find out about the not so common origin of this common middle class family.
We have created some distance from the actual genealogy research, instead of that I have tried to pursue the destiny of a farmers’ family from Lower Saxony through the male lineage with all its branches throughout the ages.
My work would not have been possible without the obliging support which I received in so many ways. I would like to cordially thank all of you. Our utmost thanks especially to the gentlemen Ernst and Hermann Prinzhorn in Vienna, because they have so generously manufactured this book free of charge in their printing business and art trade shop
Dr. Walter Prinzhorn