German Church Records
The German Church Records
by Steve Broyles
The record books of the pastors of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ötisheim and
Dußlingen record the christenings, deaths, and marriages that took place among the parishioners.
The Dußlingen records go back to about 1638, and the Ötisheim records begin at about 1690.
It's a challenge, but an extremely rewarding one, to view the microfilms. Anyone can!
When Cerny and Zimmerman published their Before Germanna series in 1990, I eagerly
purchased a copy and pored over it. Two questions immediately came to mind:
- Johannes Breÿhel was supposed to have been born in Dußlingen yet married in
Ötisheim. A quick look at a map shows these towns to be rather far apart. Why did Cerny
and Zimmerman believe the records in both villages referred to the same man?
- Can we be sure Johannes was identical to John Broyles of Virginia?
I wrote them about the first point and they responded that through an oversight they
had not included some additional information that linked Johannes to both villages. But this
left me wondering what other information the records might contain.
I decided to investigate for myself.
Piece of cake, right? Well, not exactly!
The Mormons have microfilmed many German
parish records, and you can rent copies of these films and view them at your local Mormon
"stake". (If you're interested in doing this, check your Yellow Pages under "Churches".
Call and ask if they have a Family History center for doing research and what the hours are.
They are open to the general public.) Both the Dußlingen and Ötisheim records are available
The films proved to be a real challenge to read. I don't speak German, and I labored under the
misbelief that years of experience reading old American records would make it a "piece of cake".
But, eventually I was able to locate the birth, death, and marriage records referred to
by Cerny and Zimmerman, and took copies for study at home.
With the help of some German
friends, a German dictionary, the reference librarian at the New England Historic Genealogical
Society, and some patience I was able to more or less decode many of the records.
The handwriting is similar to English, but a number of the letters are done differently,
and some of the letters and letter combinations are hard to tell apart.
(If you do this yourself I strongly recommend you purchase a copy of Ernest Thode's "German Genealogical
Dictionary" from the Genealogical Publishing Co. of Baltimore. I found out about this book
after the fact, and it would have saved me a great deal of time. It's excellent.) After some
more practice I was able to research the collateral lines in Dußlingen.
What I found
Cerny and Zimmerman were largely correct in what they found, but some mistakes and
omissions were made.
- They gave Conrad's christening date as July 2. It's really January 2.
- They overlooked the twin birth of Hans Jacob and Conrad, instead listing just
- They stated Johannes's father died by falling over a crabapple tree. It appears
more likely, to me at least, that he fell out of the tree, broke his back, and lingered 5 days
Here are scanned images of some of the church records, with German and English translations.
(The scanning process has removed much of the nuance in the handwriting. The microfilms are
easier to read than the images would indicate.)
Are Johannes Breÿhel and John Broyles the same man?
There's no question in my mind that the man from Ötisheim is identical to the immigrant.
This is based on a number of points:
- Ötisheim is located in the area that other Germanna families came from.
- According to his importation the names of family members are John, Ursula, Jacob, Conrad,
Elizabeth. These match perfectly with Ötisheim marriage and christening records. We believe
additional children were born in Virginia, and what we know of them supports them being born
- There are no records of births or deaths in the Breÿhel family of Ötisheim after 1716. They
have clearly left the village.
- Jacob's birth year can be estimated to be about 1705 from the fact that he proved his own
importation in 1727 and that his first child was probably born around 1728. (This is based on
the birth years of sons Cyrus and Michael, the order the children as named in Jacob's will, and
the assumption that he married at 21 to 23 years of age.) The Ötisheim records show his christening
- Conrad's birth year is later than Jacob's (he was listed as a son in his father's importation),
and it was probably about 1710 as calculated from the birth years of his children (his youngest daughter
supposedly had a child in 1752, and his oldest daughter was born around 1758 or so). The Ötisheim
records show his christening in 1709.
8 August 1996