From time to time, for over a decade, I had pondered the meaning of a particular document provided to me by my Cousin. You might say, it took me over ten years to extract some of the significance of this document. Today, I still am left with probably more questions than hard answers. However, I am a little bit closer to those answers I seek. Hopefully, with my "plain old-fashioned stubborn German determination" (which seems to be causing a slow transformation of "self" into no less than an amateur "Genealogist"), I will extract or locate the information required to bolster the accuracy of our Family Tree...or die trying (the later sometimes seems more likely)!
In the beginning, I hadn't realized any of the stumbling blocks inherent with this type of research other than the obvious "enemy of time". This area, spells out some of the "stumbling blocks" peculiar to what I'll call "Germanic Roots Tracing" or "GRT" as well as some "general difficulties" that apply to identifying your roots beyond your own Mother and Father (my heart goes out to those who are adopted as this first step can be a most trying one with oft deliberately hidden records).
Somewhat similar, and more evident in the Schleswig-Holstein and Friesland areas is the practice of taking the name of the farm one came to occupy. The name would have originated from the initial owner and stayed with the farm through changes in ownership. Making things even more difficult, are the instances where a man's wife inherited a farm and the husband consequently would change his name to her maiden name. This practice hence resulted in the couple's children bearing different surnames.
Further, "Von" prefixed to a surname does not necessarily mean the bearer is of noble descent. If a man migrated to an area where he found his name to be somewhat common he would add (suffix) to his surname the name of the area from whence he came prefixed by "Von" to distinguish himself apart (and we have reference to a "Von Pomnitz"). In a mere generation following, the man's son would shorten his name by actually dropping the "real" surname, taking only the "Von" and the name of the area from whence his father had come. Got it?
It even becomes worse with the introduction of "patronymics". This is the practice of naming a child with a new "surname" based on the first name of the father. Thus, if my Father, Charles Pomnitz, had done as such for me, my name would be Edwin Charles rather than Edwin Pomnitz. This practice leafs one with little more recourse than to locate baptismal and confirmation records in order to trace the "real" surname.
The culture of the times appear to, overall, place more significance on the area or homestead in which one is born and/or had migrated from or his occupation rather than the modern practice of proliferating the forefathers' surname. The bottom line is that you need to be aware of the possibility that the Ancestor(s) you are seeking, may not bear the name you would expect him (or her) to have. Each Ancestor needs to be assessed individually as there are no firm "givens" for your earlier Ancestors. Sooner or later your search for them may take you to the Church Books of their anticipated area(s). Working back into your Ancestry, learning all you can about each, rather than finding an exact or similar name and working forward is a far better practice. The chances are too great that if you work forward in time you will likely succeed only in tracing someone else's genealogy.
On a brighter and more positive note many records are quite well preserved, even duplicated. German diligence can be cited for careful record keeping. There are many published resources that provide explicit information on how to obtain various types of records.
Resources: Genealogical Notes of Edwin Charles Pomnitz. In search of your German Roots (Third Edition) by Angus Baxter.