Tracing the Lippert family: Researching German relatives

One side of my family which up until recent months I’ve not known very much about is the Lippert side, who as far as we were aware, were German and apparently from Bavaria.

It was known that my great grandfather, Otto Wilhelm Lippert, came to Charlton where he and his brother, Paul Lippert, both worked in a glass bottle manufacturing plant on Anchor & Hope Lane in Charlton, by the River Thames. It was called the United Glass Bottle Company.

Otto arrived here sometime before the First World War in 1914 with his two younger siblings, Paula and Paul and probably his father but nobody was sure about the mother. Otto never spoke of his early years and because of this, nothing was known for sure about his background.

Civil records in Germany are managed locally (usually by the city/state) and are much harder to track down in comparison with the registers of the United Kingdom’s General Register Office. Very few records have been digitised and there is no indexes (that I know of, anyway) that can be searched online like the FreeBMD database. This brings about major setbacks when you are dealing with a German relative who you know little about. You usually have to know the hometown of your ancestor at the very least in order to contact the archives which could hold your record. Without a hometown or even a birth date, it’s unlikely that you’ll find a German birth record until they become digitised and fully searchable – which is unlikely to happen anytime in the near future!

For Otto, Paul and Paula, I was very lucky to gain information on all three of their birth dates and places from a set of immigration records dating back to the beginning of the Second World War. The records, titled ‘Enemy Alien – Exemption from Internment’ were created by the Home Office but now belong to The National Archives. They required all Germans to face a tribunal and be assessed for any risks posed to the United Kingdom during the War. These records in particular were mainly for Jews who had come to the United Kingdom and could not return to Germany for fear of persecution. The collection has now been digitised and published online on a website called MovingHere, which is supported by the National Archives. The record set is titled ‘HO/396‘.

These records contained birth dates and hometowns for Paula and Paul. However Otto’s birth place is just listed as Schleswig-Holstein, a state in northern Germany, which wasn’t specific enough to find anymore information on him.

Shortly after finding this out, I sent an e-mail to the local archives in Stadthagen, the town where Paula was born. I asked for information which would help me obtain a birth certificate for her and gave all the details I had available. I tried my best to type in German but at the end I wrote a little in English just in case they could understand my English better than my German!

Next I wanted to find out the name of Otto’s father. I knew I could do this by ordering the marriage certificate for one of his sons, which would list the father’s name and profession. I ordered the certificate for Otto and Phoebe who married in 1917. Once it arrived, I had the name of Otto’s father: Paul Lippert. It gave his occupation as a glass blower, which after reading more about, made me realise that this must have been an occupation which ran in the family. It also noted that he was deceased at the time of their wedding.

Although I’d already looked for the family on the 1911 census and had no luck, after a bit of playing around with the advanced search tools, I finally found Otto and his family incorrectly listed under the surname Sippert, perhaps a transcription error. They were living at Dock Street in North Woolwich. I am pretty sure they would have been in the country for only a short time before that census was taken. The father, Paul Lippert, was the head of the household and he was a widower, meaning Otto and his siblings had lost their mother at a young age and were teenagers by the time their father had died. It also gave me the details of the father’s place of birth. He was born in Stolp, a town in Pomerania (now part of Poland) several miles away from the Baltic coast. As far as I’m aware, this census in 1911 was the first record of the Lipperts in the United Kingdom.

Knowing that Otto’s father, Paul, was listed on the 1911 census yet is deceased by 1917, he probably died in England during this period. I looked for a death record for Paul Lippert between these dates. I then found one record for a Paul A F Lippert which matched his age given in 1911. It was a 1916 death entry in the district of Edmonton in north London. Although the place of death in Edmonton didn’t sound right, I did not hesitate to buy the certificate. I researched on Google and found out that like Charlton, Edmonton was also home to a glass bottle manufacturer in London. It was my guess that he must have moved to a place where there was work for him. Once the certificate arrived, I found out that I was very wrong, and what I was about to find out would take me on a whole new journey.

Paul Lippert’s cause of death was a five day-long brain hemorrhage and the place of death was simply given as ‘Alexandra Palace’. As I first looked at the certificate, it immediately caught my attention. What was Paul doing inside Alexandra Palace? I know Alexandra Palace wasn’t a royal palace, but nevertheless it stumped me why he died there and not inside a hospital or a home address. I turned to Google once again, and within a minute of clicking and reading, I found out the tragic story of why he was there.

A week after the death certificate arrived, I received an e-mail back from the archives in Stadthagen. Not only did they find Paula Lippert’s birth certificate but they sent me a copy of it in an e-mail at no cost. It confirmed that the whole name given in the death certificate, Paul August Ferdinand Lippert, was the father of Paula and also that the mother’s name was Johanna Marie Auguste Lippert (née Beyer). At this stage everything started to fit together quite nicely. I also realised that Otto probably named his second daughter, Doris Joanna Lippert, after his mother.

I will carry on this saga with a separate post about Paul Lippert’s final years and why Alexandra Palace is of such significance. I will also write about my recent visit with family to see the palace, the plaque placed on the wall of the building dedicated to the memory of him and others who died there, and also the memorial dedicated to him inside New Southgate Cemetery, where he was laid to rest.

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