The Search for Rudolph Probst and Barthel

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The Search for Rudolph and Barthel

By Bill Brobst

Over the past six months, I've been trying to track down the storied history of Rudolph Probst and his son, Barthel. For some time, I've been a bit uncomfortable about the credibility of the recorded history of those two, and so I took on the task of verifying what has been pretty much accepted history about them.

From the Summer 1998 Issue, Brobst Genealogy News

First, I must acknowledge that the parentage of Rudolph himself is in some question. We have a specific birth date, Sep 24 1595, in Siselen, Bern, Switzerland, which I accept for now as being valid. Rudolph might not have been a son of Niklaus Probst (1554) and a grandson of Hans Probst (1531). He does not appear in Siselen church birth records, although those records were not always complete. Someone may have just arbitrarily place him there because of the convenience of the date of his birth fitting in so well with that family. But there were many, many Probsts living in and around Bern at that time. It was a common name there.

His marriage to his historically unnamed wife must have taken place sometime between 1616 and 1624. Men in those days didn't marry until they were 21, but then they usually married shortly after that, and started a family within a year. The usually published date for his marriage is "about 1624". I'll accept that, although I suspect it was more likely a few years earlier.

In any case, according to accepted family history, around 1625, fairly soon after their marriage, and before they had any children, they moved about 150 miles north-northeast to the area of Wangen in Algau, just northeast of Lake Constance, and near both the Swiss border and the Rhine (river).

Why did they move? Land was in short supply and the economic and religious situation was tenuous at best; that seems to be the accepted reason, supported by history. Population in the Wangen area had been decimated by the Thirty Years War, and Rudolph and wife may have just been responding to the German call for new residents. How do we know how and whether their reported move is accurately stated? I don't know, but I'll accept it for now.

They apparently settled in the village of Ettischweyl (now Ettensweiler), just six miles west of Wangen. Parish records, as reported by a Rev. Oehler, show that their son Barthel was born there in 1626, and that Rudolph had become a Gemeinsman (citizen) of Ettischweyl. Up until recently, it had been stated that Ettischweyl and Ettensweiler no longer appeared on any German maps, and it was assumed that those names had disappeared. And then Barthel (but not Rudolph) showed up in Kandel in the early 1650s, and married Susanna Fischer on Jan 18 1653.

There was essentially no information about what happened between 1626 in Wangen or Ettischweyl and 1653 in Kandel. I had looked at the topography of that area, with both the Black Forest and the Schwabian Alps between Wangen and Kandel, and deduced that he must have just floated down the Rhine to the area near Kandel to resettle. Speculation, but it seems logical. The gap between 1625 and 1653 puzzled me. After my trip to Kandel and Minfeld last fall, and having personally searched the church records for both towns, I found that Probst was not a very common name there at all. There was only a handful Probsts on record out of many hundreds of other names. And then I wondered what I might find if I looked into the church and town records for Wangen and Ettischweyl.

A friend of mine in Germany had a friend, Nico Stehr, who lived in Wangen! Wonderful. I contacted him, and his wife, Barbara Stehr, graciously took on the task to do some searching. The correspondence between Barbara and the local authorities was all in German, of course, which kept me busy slowly translating the queries and the answers. I had hoped to have some concrete information. But no. The city office of Wangen could find no trace of Rudolph or Barthel, confirming the search results of another Brobst researcher some years ago, Alice-Ann Askew, who also found no record.

Hmmm. Did they really live there? The city office suggested I should check with the church diocese office in Kissleg, some distance away, where the old records had been stored away. I did, carefully composing my letter in German (Schnibbledeutch, probably!). The response I got back was not reassuring at all — in a brief search they did not find a record of either Rudolph or Barthel in the entire diocese of Niederwangen in the time period from 1630 to 1645, although there were a few years' records missing. No confirmation record, no baptismal record, no death record.

Well, Barthel was born in 1626, and probably baptized shortly after that (all babies were baptized), so he may have preceded the earliest records on file (1630). But he would have been confirmed about 1638- 1639. Just the period that was missing — 1633-1641! Curses, foiled again.

A second search by the Wangen civil authorities brought some relief, though. They found that Barthel (recorded as "Barthelomaus") had sold some land in Ettensweiler in 1652. (The town does still exist as a living village on the west edge of Wangen.) Ah, ha!! The time frame fits. But whose land did he sell? His, or his father's? He was only 26 years old at the time of that land sale, a bit young in those days to have any significant land ownership, so the land might have been his father's. If so, that probably means that Rudolph died there sometime prior to that, and Barthel took over the land. And that's why Rudolph never showed up in Kandel.

But why did Barthel leave? There's no record in the church archives showing that he married there. And we're sure he married in Kandel in January 1653 and had a bunch of kids, including Christophel, our ancestor. Don't know why he left the Wangen area. I need to learn some more about the history of that area to find out. So I think I'll accept the invitation of the director of the Kissleg church archives to come for a visit and further dig up dead Probsts. I'm planning another trip to Germany next fall to do some more digging into records for Kandel and Minfeld, and to go to Wangen and Kissleg and see what I can find.

We know a lot more about the Kandel Probsts (thanks largely to Alice-Ann Askew) than we do the Wangen/Ettensweiler Probsts. We know just enough to be tempting, and I've been duly tempted. By the way, I've recently learned that many, many Swiss Probsts migrated into southern Alsace, France, in the 1500s and 1600s, to the point that Probst was a common name there! If I have time, I'll check out the Alsatian church records in Strassbourg to see what I can find out about Philipp Jacob Probst who lived in northern Alsace before he came to America in 1732.

This page was last updated on Monday, 21-Feb-2011 18:18:43 MST
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