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Now we will take a look at the ancestors of Louise Krebs’ mother, Barbara Weisend Krebs (1828 – c.1865). Barbara’s ancestors can be traced to several small villages that dot the very rural landscape along the French and German border, right where Pfalz and Alsace meet. This is in the middle of the southern area of the Palatinate Forest, or Pfalzerwald. This particular area is in a chain of low-lying mountains called the “Wasgau”.

Ancestral and Overlord Villages in and Near Palatinate Forest - V.2

Weisent historic villages in the Pfalzerwald, also in relation to Deidesheim. I have plotted here both ancestral villages as well as those of the ruling overlords from various eras, including Speyer, Zweibrucken and Bitsche.

 

Weisent von der PfalzerwaldBarbara was born Barbe Weisent in 1828 in Obersteinbach, Alsace, France. Weisent is how her surname was spelled on her birth certificate, but the name had been recorded under different spellings over several generations; there is no doubt we are able to trace Barbara’s paternal ancestry from the circumstances and familial relationships of her personal story. So, for sake of discussion only, in this blog it is my preference to employ the spelling “Weisent”, rather than the versions used at other times or by other relatives.

We are extremely fortunate in that we are able to trace Barbara back to her hometown of Obersteinbach, and even go back several generations in the area until at least the mid-late 1700s.  Additionally, there are still Weisents still living in the general area, and we have a living cousin, Olivier Weissend of Bliesbruck, France, who has himself done an extensive amount of research into the Weisent history and has been a generously huge source for my research into Barbara’s roots.

Barbe Weisent Birth Certificate 08.Sept.1828

 

Barbara Weisent’s birth certificate from September 8, 1828, fished out of local records by Olivier Weissend; this document was for me the cross-verification that confirmed the link between the record we can identify for Barbara in the United States, as well as records of her Weisent relatives both in Obersteinbach and the US.

 

Barbara’s lifestory was that she was born to poor farmers Jacques Weisent and his wife Margaret Kreuter. Jacques and his brother Jean emigrated with their families to the United States in the early 1830s (probably 1833) and settled in Monroe County, Ohio. They were all farmers, according to the US Census records. Barbara thus grew up in Monroe County, where she met Adam Krebs; the two of them ended up marrying, running a farm together, and having a bunch of kids. Adam and Barbara were still in Ohio into the mid-1860s.  Barbara’s parents Jacques and Margaret passed away c. 1861. I have not been able to confirm when Barbara died, but I believe a probate index from Ohio (into which I have not delved further) reveals she died in Ohio c. 1865. Around the same time, Adam ended up moving with their children to Carlyle, Illinois, where the children, including our Louise Krebs, would continue growing up.

Pierre Weissent (1830, Obersteinbach - 1903, Monroe County, Ohio), younger brother of Barbara Weissent

I cannot locate a photo of Barbara, but here was  her younger brother Pierre Weisent (1830-1903). You can tell just by looking at his hands that this was a farmer or someone who did a lot of physical labor. Pierre, who abandoned his French name in America and went by “Peter”, lived out his life in and then finally died in Monroe County in 1903. I found a Civil War conscription record for Peter from 1863 for the Union Army. At the time, the Army had an enormous hunger for German immigrant soldiers. After briefly looking, I could not locate any further record showing Pierre actually served.

 

Of course I have to ask: when did the Weisents move to the Obersteinbach area, and from where? Well, the answer is basically the same as for our Bürger ancestors: we just don’t know. Research has so far only identified records back to the 1700s; meanwhile  I have to wonder if more are available for whomever is willing to spend the time and energy to find them. It will be a challenge, since people did migrate to this general area in relatively large numbers after the Thirty Years War (ending mid-1600s). That said, we have no other information; absent proof to the contrary, my best guess is that the Weisents and their folk were here in this area for hundreds of years.

About Obersteinbach.  Obersteinbach is a small village (< 300 residents) that is technically in France but also literally walking distance to the border with Pfalz, Germany.  It just one of several villages, nearby to one another, in which we are able to trace Weisent roots. This all in a particular area in an area straddling the French-German border:  where Pfalz meets the border of northern Alsace-Lorraine, or Bas-Rhin region. Villages reflected in the Weisent records are on both sides of the border, and include Obersteinbach, Neidersteinbach, and Sturzelbronn, on the French side, and Ludwigswinkel and Fishbach bei Dahn, on the German side. [1]

 

Ancestral and Overlord Villages in and Near Palatinate Forest - V.2

 

The fact that Obersteinbach was inside the French border at the time Barbara was born, and remains so to this day, technically makes our ancestor Barbara “French”; and, she may indeed have spoken French and it was located in France both when she was born and emigrated. That said, it may not be correct to claim complete French heritage here since some of the Weisent villages at different times throughout the centuries were under the control of German Pfalz ruling classes in the Holy Roman Empire.  So, my guess is the people at times surely spoke German and adhered to German customs. Thus, on the Obersteinbach side of the border, within this area of far northeastern France, developed an enclave of very German ethnic and cultural people; lots has been written on this subject, with one Internet commenter describing Alsace-Lorraine as “an Enclave of Ethnic Germans in France”. [2]

In imagining how our Weisents dressed back in the day, check out the following photos:

 

Obersteinbach Vosges septentrionales Farmer lady

Postcard from c. 1890s given to me by a local Obersteinbach resident, showing what appears to be an elderly farmer lady standing in a field in Obersteinbach. This area became a tourist destination in the 19th century.

 

Family in front of Obersteinbach house, est. 1890s - Copy

An Obersteinbach family standing in front of their house, also c.1890s. Note the clothing and the clogs. They probably went out of their way to dress up for this photo. You can’t see it, but the backside of that house included a barn, built into the house structure itself — a common design for poor farmer housing in the Pfalz. (I can only imagine what it smelled like inside the house! Imagine waking up in the middle of the night after smelling the cow farts. Ugh.) In the far background are the ruins of a 15th century castle on a rock outcropping, known as Le Petit Arnsbourg. Today that house is the bed and breakfast Chambres d’Hotes Petit Arnsbourg (and I don’t do many online reviews but can very highly recommend this one). The owner generously gave me this photograph.

 

Obersteinbach is so small that it seems unlikely that at least some of the persons in these images did not know members of the Weisent family – indeed, for all we know, they could have been our distant cousins.

About the Pfalzerwald.  The Palatinate Forest, in turn, is both a place to visit and to write home about. I can announce an alert for a wonderful vacation spot, as it is an incredibly beautiful area that provides unlimited opportunity for forest hiking. I can attest this landscape is stunning for those who enjoy being outdoors.

 

View of mountains behind Obersteinbach, from atop an outcropping___

View of mountains behind Obersteinbach, from atop an outcropping. (Original photo by onecresap, 2019.)

 

Known in German as the Pfalzerwald, this forest held a special place in the regional history.[3]  Fortunes and life itself for local inhabitants were tied to the forest. For hundreds of years the Pfalzerwald has been the source for all things that can be taken from the forest, and historically at various times this area was overexploited and the subject of contentious disagreements over who had the rights to exploitation. Many made use of the forest but there was no overall sustainable strategy, leading to severe environmental degradation as long ago as the middle ages. Interestingly, areas within it also in time became the locus of organized reforestation timber planting and harvesting dating back into the late middle ages. Millions of trees I would expect were harvested here for use in World War I.  I also find it fascinating that harvests of trees that took place centuries ago had actually been planted centuries earlier. It has not helped that the poor forest through its history that the topography of the Wasgau area made this an historically strategic area to hold; those who controlled this area often controlled the areas around it. Many a bloody battle has taken in place in these woods, including as late as World War II, when the Americans came and ejected the Nazis. In the 1970s, this area was finally allowed to be reborn as a biosphere, or distinct ecological universe to be preserved for future generations. Today it is the combined North Vosges-Palatinate Forest, and designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve.[4]

 

North Vosges June 2019___

The Pfalzerwald is speckled with beautiful meadow openings. I am imagining this as the same landscape enjoyed by our ancestors – as well as the invading armies that came through this area at various times in history. This location is a short distance from Obersteinbach. (Original photo by onecresap, 2019)

 

A major attraction in this area are numerous castle ruins and other historic sites. You can literally spend days or weeks just walking through the forest from one site to another. If you want to dive into medieval European history in the context of a beautiful natural setting, this is definitely a place for you.

 

Tower Klein Wasigenstein-rdcd

Klein Tower at the ruins of Wasigestein, a part of a famous 13th Century Castle complex that is a comfortable walking distance from Obersteinbach. The castle was destroyed during the violence of the Thirty Years War. Note the hand-carved stairs, and the remnants of what must have been a glorious gothic structure. (Original photo by onecresap, 2019.)  [5]

 

A famous historic legend has it that, hundreds of years before the castle was built, the site was the locus of an early medieval battle involving one Walter of Aquitaine, a legendary Visigoth knight; the battle became memorialized in a poem that became significant in German cultural history, Walther and Hildegund.[6]   (Original photo by onecresap, 2019.) }

From atop Chateau Wasigenstein, looking back across valley-rdcd

 

Chateaux Wasigenstein, late 1200s - Copy

View of the Pfalzerwald from atop Wasigestein Castle, and then the castle from an opening inside the forest. (Original photos by Onecresap, 2019).

 

Castle Blumenstein, destroyed in Peasants' Uprising__

Here is the inside of another castle that is walking distance from Obersteinbach, this one being Castle Blumenstein. This one was destroyed during the Peasants’ War of 1524-1525. Note the rooms on the side that were hand-carved into the rock, along with holes that at one time held secured wooden beams.

 

The Overlords of Obersteinbach

We must also ask here: to whom did our Wasgau-area peasant ancestors owe their rents and taxes? I want to find out a lot more about the local landowning personalities, but we can start with the basics. But identifying them can easily turn into a complicated exercise because, just as with Pfalz, the area around Obersteinbach was subject to numerous shifts in political control over the course of hundreds of years. Obersteinbach and the other Weisent villages were, in fact, shifted between German and French control several times.  The resulting map ended up a patchwork of islands of territories whose competing boundaries were subject to change with every war.

 

Comte_de_Hanau_Lichtenberg_partie_alsacienne_en_XVIIe_siecle (1)

Excerpt of larger map of Alsace showing extent of the Alsatian part of Counties of Hesse-Darmstadt and County of Hanau-Lichtenberg (light blue) as of 1680.[7] Obersteinbach is not marked but you would find it at the top of the map, slightly right of the center .

Although a lot more work needs to be done, we can tell that, at least during the mid-to-late 1700s, and leading up to the French Revolution, Obersteinbach fell within the boundaries of former County of Hanau-Lichtenberg, which in turn was subsumed into the much larger territory of the Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt, a division within the German Holy Roman Empire. [8]

Musée_historique_de_Strasbourg-Louis_IX_de_Hesse-Darmstadt (1719-1790)

Ludwig IX_von _Hesse-Darmstadt (1719-1790), was Landgraf of this area from 1768-1790. In the Holy Roman Empire, the Landgraf held a position beneath a Duke but above a Count. Ludwig harbored a kinky fetish for all things military, and spent much of his adult life separated from his wife and children while involved in military pursuits.[9]

 

Ludwig IX’s father was Ludwig VIII, and he spent his days living a life of leisure, and was well known for his hunting on horseback (so-called parforce hunting with lots of dogs, a technique practiced primarily only by the leisure-class nobility).[10]  Here is an image of what that looked like:

hunting diary

Hunting diary of Ludwig VIII, page from November 10, 1756 (drawing by Georg Adam Eger, text by Oberförster Rautenbusch, Schlossmuseum Darmstadt [11]

 

Ludwig IX’s (first) wife was Caroline of Zweibrucken.

Landgräfin Henriette Karoline von Hessen-Darmstadt mit ihrem Mohren, um 1750 (Schlossmuseum Darmstadt)

This entire image reeks of aristocracy. Landgravine Karoline von Pfalz-Zweibrücken (1721-1774), was wife of Ludwig IX and Landgravine of Zweibrucken-Bitsche.  (c.1750).  Karoline’s  wealth came from the peasant farmers in the area, as well as her slaves and servants. In all fairness, she did the hard duty of bearing her husband numerous children, even though he spent most of their marriage away from home. Most of her children grew up to themselves become European royal leaders. She also was a highly cultured lady of the upper classes, being a strong follower of the arts and a patron of the German poet Goethe. [12]

These images of the 18th Century ruling class personalities, living their lives, are striking in the context of the French Revolution, which exploded in the late 1780s. The Weisents’ area naturally was swept up in it all, and short of a deep dive into the library, we can only speculate what happened to local nobility controlling this particular area when the Bastille was stormed in 1789 and peasant mobs were chopping off royal heads. Obersteinbach and surrounding Wasgau communities were seized by the Revolutionary Army and taken back into France’s control (as was everything else around it in the area west of Left Bank).

I can say from my visit to the area that signs of the Revolution still exist in the villages. For instance, in Sturzelbronn, long-time home of a medieval abbey and one of the Weisent villages, the Revolutionary government simply dismantled the monastery. The Revolutionary peasants just took what they wanted. Today, only portions of the original structure remain, represented primarily by miscellaneous stone fragments salvaged from the original structure. [13] Meanwhile, the peasants also raided structures in Bitsche, another nearby village that formed the base of a canton of which Sturzelbronn was a part. One local with whom I spoke believes the missing bricks from the old city gate can be found in houses in surrounding villages — apparently peasants saw the value in the fancy bricks and scavenged them for their own homes.

 

Gate at Old City of Bitsche rdcd

A piece of the old city gate at Bitsche, which was badly damaged in the Thirty Years’ War. The gate was further dismantled by scavengers during the French Revolution. (Original photo by onecresap, 2019.)

 

Now, I will make room for one more image. Here was Charles II August, Duke of Zweibrucken. I am having a hard time tracing his exact relationship to Ludwig IX and Caroline Landgravine of Zweibrucken, but I am including this image because Charles II August was of local nobility – and because I can’t stop laughing when I look at his face.

 

Charles August II Duke of Zweibrucken (1746-1795)

Charles II August, Duke of Zweibrücken (1746-1795) (Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

Endnotes

[1]      Someone researching different family lines did a very nice summary of the Weisent family tree and posted it at:

https://fuldaohio.org/genealogy/pafn503.htm#16695

https://fuldaohio.org/genealogy/pafg757.htm#18057

https://fuldaohio.org/genealogy/pafg503.htm#16695

[2]       https://forums.skadi.net/threads/112429-Alsace-Lorraine-%E2%80%94-an-Enclave-of-Ethnic-Germans-in-France

[3]      On the French side, the French call this forested area the North Vosges– but I will call it the Palatinate Forest because this is a distinct biological entity and, in any event, at times in the past areas south of the modern French-German border were under German control. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vosges)

[4]       https://www.romantic-germany.info/things-to-do/leisure-tips/discover-nature/palatinate-forest-biosphere-reserve/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palatinate_Forest

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palatinate_Forest-North_Vosges_Biosphere_Reserve

https://www.unesco.de/en/node/2385

Startseite

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pf%C3%A4lzerwald#W%C3%BCstungen,_Raubbau_und_Verarmung_(14._bis_18._Jahrhundert)

[5]    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C3%A2teau_du_Wasigenstein

https://www.pop.culture.gouv.fr/search/list?resPage=3&mainSearch=%22Wasigenstein%22

https://www.pop.culture.gouv.fr/notice/memoire/IVR42_19776703347P

https://www.pop.culture.gouv.fr/notice/memoire/IVR42_9967A1631ZE

https://www.visit.alsace/en/244000259-castel-wasigenstein/

https://www.france-voyage.com/cities-towns/niedersteinbach-26679/castle-wasigenstein-13076.htm

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g1048242-d10124367-Reviews-Chateau_du_Wasigenstein-Niedersteinbach_Bas_Rhin_Grand_Est.html

[6]      https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waltharius

https://nordische-mythen.wikia.org/de/wiki/Walther_und_Hildegunde

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_of_Aquitaine

[7]   Léonce Hallez-Claparède (1813-1870); Hanau-Lichtenberg, Full map with legend and annotations at: Wikimedia Commons, File:LC_Hallez-Clapar_de_-_Alsace_1648-1815_-_001.jpg

[8]    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanau-Lichtenberg; https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obersteinbach_(Bas-Rhin)

[9]    Von Unidentified painter – Eigenes Werk Ji-Elle, 2010-04-16, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10059338

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_IX._(Hessen-Darmstadt)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landgrave

 

[10]   https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_VIII._(Hessen-Darmstadt)https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parforcejagd

[11]    Jagdtagebuch_Ludwig_VIII_von_Hessen-Darmstadt_1756-11-1 (scan of black and white image from the book Schloßmuseum Darmstadt, Darmstadt 1980; Wikimedia Commons: File:Jagdtagebuch_Ludwig_VIII_von_Hessen-Darmstadt_1756-11-10.jpg)

 

[12]    Landgräfin Henriette Karoline von Hessen-Darmstadt mit ihrem Mohren, um 1750 (Schlossmuseum Darmstadt); https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karoline_von_Pfalz-Zweibr%C3%BCcken

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohr

https://www.wikidata.org/wiki/Q62063

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Countess_Palatine_Caroline_of_Zweibr%C3%BCcken

 

[13]    http://www.bitscherland.fr/Canton-de-Bitche/Sturzelbronn/abbaye-sturzelbronn.html

 

 

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Me (on the phone): "That's "C-r-e-s-a-p".

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