German Immigrant Ancestors
in Syracuse and Onondaga County, New York

Lipke, Liepka, Liepke, etc.
(Soundex code: L120)

The Story in Brief

TWO BROTHERS and their families emigrated from the “Danzig” area of “Germany” (according to family stories passed down to the present day) and they settled in Syracuse, New York.

The older brother was the first to leave. His name was AUGUST LIEPKE, and he was a “laborer,” 27 years old. He traveled with his wife, Justine (Augustine RUSCHINSKI), and their two boys, Johann (age 2) and Franz (five months old) on the Norddeutscher Lloyd line steamship “Stuttgart,” which left Bremen to arrive in New York City on 7 December 1893. Other families they probably knew from their home area also emigrated on the same ship and settled in Syracuse as well: the Lulls, the Makaniskis, the Reschkes, the Jochims, the Leinwands, and the Parczengs.

The S.S. Stuttgart
The S.S. Stuttgart.
Photo from the Arnold Kludas Collection, courtesy of
the Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.

His younger brother followed nine years later. He was just 20 months younger than August, and his name was JOHANN LIPKE. Perhaps his brother August had earned and sent the money to fund his move to America. At the time of his emigration he was 37 years old and a laborer, who had in his youth served two years in the Prussian Army (1889-1891). He brought with him his wife, Elisabeth (Kraft), and their four children: Franz (age 10), Helene (age 9), Anna (age 8), and Johann (age 6). They had already buried at least one child (Johann Carl) in Germany. They sailed on the Norddeutscher Lloyd line steamship “Chemnitz,” which left Bremen on 19 November and arrived in New York City on 2 December 1904.

The S.S. Chemnitz
The S.S. Chemnitz.
The family traveled in steerage with over 1,000
other immigrants and it was forever afterward
referred to in the family as a “cattle boat.”
Photo used with permission from the Steamship Historical
Society of America Collection, Langsdale Library, University of Baltimore.

Both of these families were processed through the Ellis Island immigrant depot and arrived by train in downtown Syracuse. In 1905 they were living next-door to each other (along with Justine Ruschinski’s father or brother, Joseph Ruschinski) at 211 and 213 West Division Street. Devout Catholics, their lives were focused on family and children, Assumption Catholic Church, and work. They worked to earn money to bring other relatives to the United States before the Prussian Army conscription or the impending World War I could claim them. By 1910, still living in Germany were August and Johann’s parents, Johann and Auguste (Richard) Leipke (of Czattkau?), and two brothers, “Frank” and Michael.

In 1910 August LIEPKA died in Syracuse, leaving his widow and seven children; and around that time Johann LIPKE moved his own family to a farm outside of North Syracuse. Many descendants of both families remain in Onondaga County (and elsewhere) today.

Johann and Elisabeth Lipke were my great-grandparents. They are the most recently-arrived immigrant ancestors in my family tree.

Origins and surname spellings

I have been told that the surname LIPKE must have orginally been a Slavic name. There is a Polish location, Lipki Wielkie, which may have been the starting point for the surname. See also Grudna, Poland, formerly known as Gross Lipke, a village in the administrative district of Gmina Miedzichowo, in west-central Poland (map). Another source mentions that “Lipka” (derived from the tree name Linde, or Lipa, lime-tree), is a name of German/Slovak origin spread all over Germany, Poland, Silesia, and Bohemia. The area where the brothers August and Johann were born in 1866 and 1867 is and was flat, sandy countryside of cultivated fields and marshlands just north of Dirschau/Tczew, on the western edge of the Vistula River about 20 miles southeast of Gdansk.

Although they spoke German, considered themselves ethnic Germans, and were citizens of, and emigrated from, “Germany,” they came from an area with a largely Polish population, with much intermarriage among those of German and Polish surnames. Most German settlers into this area were originally Protestants, but our Lipkes/Liepkas were Catholics (as were the native local Poles). My research into the previous generations of this family is ongoing.

The two World Wars brought severe changes to the culture of this geographic area. Following World War II, most ethnic Germans who still lived there either fled westward or were removed or killed by the Poles or the Russians. Some managed to be assimilated into the Polish population. After many subsequent years behind the Iron Curtain and Soviet domination, this area of Poland is now open to the free world again.

The surname was spelled in many ways in the German records I have seen so far, including LIPKE, LIPPKE, LIPKA, LIEPKE, and LIPKI. The passenger manifests for their ships to America listed the brothers as August LIEPKE (1893) and Johann LIPPKE (1904). It was not only the customs agents at Ellis Island who can be “blamed” for mangling the surname, because there seems to have never been any consistency about it anywhere. This fact is not so surprising considering they came from a community of farm workers who may not have cared much for how their name was spelled. Johann Lipke’s children and their descendents in the U.S. settled into spelling their surname LIPKE. August’s children, when listed in the Syracuse City Directories during the 1910’s, 1920’s, and 1930’s, ran the gamut: LEIPKA, LIEPKE, LIPKI, LIPKA, LIEPKI, LIPKY. (In 1917 August’s son, Frank, was listed in the Syracuse city directory three times under three different spellings: LIEPKA, LIPKA, and LIPKI!) In the end, August’s older children settled into a spelling of LIEPKA by the ends of their lives, and his two youngest sons, Anthony and Leonard (and their descendents today), settled on the spelling of LIEPKE.

I would welcome contact from anyone who would like to share information on this family, either in the U.S. or overseas. My “wish list” includes:
  • finding out more information about the family of origin of August and Johann, and their ancestors in West Prussia and elsewhere

  • Liepka/Liepke burial records and tombstone readings from Assumption Cemetery, Syracuse

  • baptisms, marriages, and burial records from Assumption Church, Syracuse

  • contacts from yet-unknown descendants of this family in the U.S., and from cousins in Germany and/or Poland

  • photos!

Descendant chart for August LIEPKE/LIEPKA and Augustine RUSCHINSKI

Descendant chart for Johann LIPKE and Elisabeth KRAFT

Timeline of Lipke and Liepka events in Danzigland, West Prussia prior to their emigration, and a Gazetteer of related places in West Prussia

Map of region in present-day Poland where they came from

Map of 211 West Division Street, Syracuse, New York

Polish-English online translation

Extracts from Guettland, West Prussia church records 1863-1936 - Lipkes, Reschkes, Behnkes, Domanskis, Ruschinskis, Dehnkes, Krefts--many of these people immigrated to Syracuse.