Ancestral Recall: Explaining My Genealogical Ties to 15th Century Germany (and a Dash of France)

As I wrote in my first post on my ancestral lineage, I discovered that 50% of my genealogy comes from southern Germany and England (and a dash from Scotland). In this post, I’ll explain how I found my roots in Germany’s Bayern, Baden-Wurtemberg, Saarland, and Rheinland-Pfalz provinces.

According to my DNA chart from Ancestry.com, of that 50%, about 24% comes from from Germany, 23% comes from England/Wales and 3% from Ireland/Scotland.

Looking at my paternal family tree, you’ll see the following.

Analyzing the records of my paternal eight great-great-grandparents (listed on the right side of the chart), the Klitsch, Kestenbech/Mertens, Schwarze, and Ackerman lines all come from Germany, and the Odell, Doubleday, and Neepier lines all come from England. Therefore, it would make sense that my DNA is about a quarter of each of those nationalities/areas (this report says 24% from Germany). Unfortunately, there isn’t much information for the Ackerman and Schwarze lines, only that the Ackermans came from the Hesse-Kassel region, which is in central Germany, so the rest of this post will focus on the two lines about which there is a wealth of information.

The Klitsch Family Line

My 3rd-great-grandparents Heinrich Klitsch and Katrina Lang were born in different parts of southern Germany, immigrating to the United States separately sometime in the 1850s, settling in Schuykill County, Pennsylvania, an area northeast of Harrisburg and northwest of Philadelphia. Today, the county is most known for the Yuengling Brewery located in Pottsville.

The town of Pottsvile is located by the gray marker in the center of the red outlined area.

I was only able to track the Klitsch line back to my 5th-great-grandparents, Johann Sebastian Klitsch who married Maria Elisabethe Soff. Together they had my 4th-great-grandfather Otto, who together with his wife Catharina Drucktenhensch, had Heinrich. These ancestors came from the Bavaria, Bayern, Baden-Wurtemberg, Grunbach, and Sachsen areas of Germany.

The Lang family line is much more traceable, including some records that trace to who is, apparently, my 15th-great-grandfather. It would be far too detailed (and probably boring) to explain every ancestral line, so instead I’ll describe the highlights of each. Of the four 6th-great-grandparents’ family trees I could find:

The first group came from Rhodt, Bayern, Germany and had the family names of Seubel, Dietrich, Steinlin, and Pfraum. The oldest ancestor in that line is my 11th-great-grandfather Leonhardt Steinlin, who was born around 1550.

Rhodt, a small town just northeast of the border with France.

The second group came from an area called Enzkreis in the Baden-Wurtemberg Province in Germany, which is about an hour drive away from the modern-day French border. The surnames in this lineage include Fiegler, Wolf, Brenner, and Kaiser. The oldest relative I can find in this tree is my 10th-great-grandfather Conrad Wolf, who was born in about 1620.

The Enzkreis district, also close to the French border.

The third group came from Karlsruhe, an area about 40km west of Enzkreis, and included the surnames Kieffer, Raup, Doring, Kuhlhopf, Leitz, and Bislin. The most distant ancestors in this line are my 10th-great-grandparents, Hans and Barbara Kieffer and Margarita Doring, whom were born between 1595 and 1609.

Karlsruhe, seemingly equidistant between Rhodt and Enzkreis.

The fourth group consists of the largest group of ancestors I could find on this side of the family. It seems as if the lineage started in a town called Kraftshof, an enclave just north of Nuremberg in the Bavaria Province, which is closer to the Germany’s eastern border than its western one. At some point, those ancestors moved west and begat children through my other ancestors in the areas mentioned above, like Baden-Wurtemberg Province. Surnames in this family line include Knauer, Binder, Vottel, Steitz, Gulg, Ehemann, Jertzmagers, Gretzinger, Xander, Buschler, Hampp, Widmann, Kunst, and Schachterlin. The most distant ancestor in this line is, according to Ancestry.com’s records, my 15th-great-grandfather Hans Knauer, who was born sometime around 1440.

Kraftshof, located just north of Nuremberg. My ancestors must have made their way to the west towards Karlsruhe to begin the lineage that continued there, and eventually to the United States.

The Kestenbach/Mertens Family Line

The reason why I list two names for this section is because the Mertens family line only goes back to my 4th-great-grandfather Ferdinand Mertens and his wife Maria. They had a son, my 3rd-great-grandfather, Lorenz Mertens who was born in 1829 in a small, central German town called Willebadesson. They immigrated to the United States when Lorenz was a teenager and moved to Schuykill Country, Pennsylvania, where his daughter, my great-great-grandmother Catherine Mertens, met her husband Frederick Klitsch.

Willebadessen is seemingly the farthest north my ancestors lived in Germany.

While information on the Mertens family is limited, the Kestenbach line is much more details and documented. Of the eight ancestors at the 6th-great-grandparent level, five of them have documented family trees, which I’ll explain below.

The first group, the Kurtz line, lived in Volklingen, a small district with an adjacent border to France, which was included in the Saarland region. In this lineage, family names include Kurtz, Engel, Stahl, and Rinck. I found two 10th-great-grandfathers: Conrad Kurtz, born around 1610, and Hans Rinck, born around 1615.

You’ll notice Volklingen is close to the French border, and is also within proximity to Karlsruhe and other towns in which the Klitsch family line lived.

The second group includes the Meier line, also from Saarland, and includes the surnames of Bruck, Fey, Breinig, Merchinger, and Steinmetz. My 10th-great-grandmother Elisabeth died in Germany on July 8th, 1682.

This is a picture of the Saarland province, which includes much of the area from which my ancestors came.

The third group is the smallest but most unique of the Kestenbach/Mertens family line because it includes the Sonnhalter and Welsch lines. While I only found documents that led to my 7th- and 8th-great-grandparents, I did find that they lived in the Lorraine region of France, and had French names like Jean-Jacques, Jean-Adam, and Marguerite. They came from the towns of Freyming-Merlebach and Varsburg, which are just across the border from Germany. It is fun and unique (at least to me) to claim French ancestry, especially because this region had been part of France until the German Empire annexed it following the Franco-Prussian War. France reclaimed the region after Germany’s defeat in World War I.

The town of Freyming-Merlebach is in France, close to the border with Germany. You’ll notice its proximity to Volklingen.
The town of Varsberg is also close to Freymind-Merlebach.

The fourth group in this line also hailed from Voklingen, Saarland, Germany. Surnames in this line include Karrenbauer, Franz, Altmeier, Biel, and Truntzler.

The fifth group came from Ansbach, Bayern Province and had the names Flasch, Bruckner, Hoffman, and Rodenbucher. My 10th-great-grandfather apprently died in an area of Bayern in 1596.

Ansbach is more distant from the French-German border region, but still within reason that families could have traveled between the two.

Having done this research, I can’t say I feel “more German” or “a bit of French” any more than I did before I discovered it, but it is still incredible to know where my ancestors lived, how (I presume) they interacted and met, and the decisions they made that eventually led to me. If one of my Nth-great-grandparents didn’t make a trip from their home to another town, perhaps he or she wouldn’t have met a spouse and started a family of their own, which eventually led to me several hundred years later.

One day, I hope to visit this region and see the towns and places where my ancestors lived. Thanks to Germany’s historical record keeping, I’m hopeful I will be able to track down a home/area where my ancestors lived.

It is also nice to know that at least one side of my family has roots that go farther back than five generations. As I mentioned in my previous post, European Jews were not considered citizens of the countries in which they lived, and because of the persecution against them, most did not have records of their families, where they lived, or what they did. To be able to apparently track my ancestors to the 1400s is something very special, as well as knowing that it took seemingly hundreds of people in my family tree to “make” me.

Be sure to check out the post I wrote on my European Jewish heritage, as well as the reasons I wanted to look into my past and share it with you.

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