Our German Dreisbach Ancestors

While there are several lines of Dreisbach which have not yet established a lineage to the Wittgenstein, Germany, Dresibach family, there are three Emigrants who have been found to descend from Abraham, noted as simply Father Abraham: Simon, Martin and Christian 'Oscar'.

In order to provide a complete account of what is "known" about our early ancestors, we quote from "The Dreisbach Book," compiled, written and edited by Ardis Grosjean Dreisbach, Bruce Jack Dreisbach, and Rev. Charles V. Dreisbach (printed for The Dreisbach Family Association in 1998), pg. 6-10:

Father Abraham and the Dreisbachs of Balde

The earliest known progenitor of many North American Dreisbachs is a certain Abraham [b. abt. 1535; d. aft 1575 Balde], who lived in the hamlet of Balde. The story of Abraham's descendants is of interest to all Dreisbachs, Dresbachs, etc., whether or not their relationship to this line has been established. In the first place, there is much here that is valid in a general way for other Dreisbach emigrants from Wittgenstein. Moreover, there are sufficient details known about these Dreisbachs to help us form an idea of the life both they and other Dreisbachs must have led in the 17th and 18th centuries. Then too, we may expect that with time more North American Dreisbachs will discover their links to Wittgenstein, and perhaps to Father Abraham himself.

We start, then, with Abraham, who emerges in 1575 on a list of militiamen which is preserved in the Archives of Berleberg Castle (Akte M 30). No other name is given, for last names were not generally used in the villages of Wittgenstein before about 1600. Abraham appears on the list as a "Schultz", or rifleman in Balde. This indicates that in 1575, when such militias were established throughout Germany, there was something to be defended in Balde. It had not always been so. Old records state that in 1510 not a house was standing in the village, and that in 1518 it was a forsaken place. In 1538 Count Johan of Berleberg rebuilt the village, and established a "Hof" or Count's farm there, such as the Counts had in most of the villages of Wittgenstein.

Balde, however, lay in a problem area close to the border between this Count's territory and the southern Wittgenstein territory of his brother, Count Wilhelm, who resided in his castle in Laasphe. Wilhelm disputed Johan's right to rule the village, and for years Balde suffered from their rivalry. In 1575, at the time of Abraham's military career, Balde was coming out of the doldrums. In the 1570's iron-ore was discovered near Balde. This was significant in an area sustained mainly by forestry and small-scale farming. In 1575, a forge, which up to then had been located in the village of Berghausen, was moved to Balde. Whether it played a role in the Dreisbach family is not known, but it must have brought some employment to the village during the time it existed.

By 1606 we find a Georg Treisbach or Dreisbach [b. abt 1560 of Wahnersch House in Balde; d. abt. 1615], listed in the "Schweineregister" which can still be consulted in the Wittgenstein Archives in Laasphe. The Counts kept a tally of their subjects' livestock, including swine. Thus we can read that Georg had a house or small farm (in this period house and barn or stable were all one structure), and that in 1606 he possessed 11 full-grown and 2 young pigs. The house had a name, "Wahnersch" (in modern German "Wagners" = at the wagon-maker's or cartwright's), indicating that one or more of the preceding inhabitants, perhaps a forefather, had exercised this craft. Balde and neighboring villages were part of the parish of Raumland. Unfortunately, the church records of St. Martin's in Raumland were not begun until abut 1659. Thus there must remain some uncertainty as to whether Georg Dreisbach was in fact a son of Abraham, or whether he might have married one of Abraham's daughters. [*Note: Marriages to a young woman who inherited the family home traditionally resulted in the young man taking his young bride's surname.] In either case, descendants of Georg Dreisbach would still have Father Abraham as their ancestor.

After record-keeping began in Raumland, it became possible to follow some of the subsequent generations of the Balde Dreisbachs. Thus, from the church records, it can be deduced that Georg Dreisbach of "Wahnersch" in Balde had at least two sons and one daughter [Angen/Engen Treisbach, b. abt. 1590] and that the two sons gave rise to three American lines of Dreisbachs. Thus the "Simon" line is descended from Georg's sons, Johan Dreisbach (Treisbach), and the "Martin" and the Berghausen lines have their origins in Daniel Dreisbach. In other words, three lines of North American Dreisbachs emerged from "Wahnersch", a small farm or house in a disputed borderline area of Wittgenstein.

Balde to Raumland: the Martin Dreisbach line

Daniel Dreisbach [b. aft 1580 of Wahnersch House in Balde; d. aft. 1630], son of Georg, remained at the family home in Balde. He seems to have been the elder son. At any rate it was he who stayed on in the house called "Wahnersch." The records in Castle Berleburg show that in 1616 he had a house or small farm and was a carpenter, an occupation not too dissimilar from that of wagon-maker. He started a family and was a church elder. At this time Balde was quite small. In 1624 the village was recorded as containing exactly 4 houses or farms, one of which was "Wahnersch." Two of Daniel's sons became the progenitors of North American Dreisbach lines: Johannes and Hans Henrich (see below).

Johannes Dreisbach [b. abt 1628 of Wahnersch House in Balde; d. 25 Mar 1699 Balde] of Balde, son of Daniel, continued, like his father before him to live in "Wahnersch." He married a certain Anna Elisabeth, [b. aft. 1626; d. 13 May 1716 Balde; md. abt. 1660] and the baptisms of eleven children are recorded. Three of the sons grew up and married: Johann Daniel, who stayed on in Balde, Valentin, who moved not very far away to Rohrbach, and Hans Georg, the future father of Martin, who married a woman from Raumland and spent the rest of his life in her village.

Hans Georg Dreisbach [b. 17 Jul 1670 Balde; d. 24 Jun 1734 Raumland], first of Balde, then of Raumland, probably moved north from his native Balde to the village of Raumland at the time of his 1694 marriage to Anna Elisabeth Leyendecker [b. 03 May 1674 Raumland; md. 22 Feb 1694 Raumland; d. 22 Dec 1718 Raumland]. In Wittgenstein, women had the right to inherit property. This may explain the attraction which Dreisbach men felt to women in other villages, particularly when the men were younger sons, and the women had expectations of inheriting a house or farm. This is a pattern which the forebears of emigrant Simon Dreisbach also followed. There may also have been employment opportunities in Raumland, which is recorded as having both a paper mill and slate quarries in 1717.

Martin Dreisbach, who was probably the youngest of the nine known children of Hans Georg and Anna Elisabeth, was born twenty-one years after his eldest sister. The Raumland church records show that Martin was born on May 23, 1717 and was baptized three days later. Martin's mother died when he was only a year and a half old. The family lived in a large half-timbered house called "Leye," next to the Eder River. (The house was still inhabited in 1996 at which time it was being renovated by its owners.) During the nearly fifty years he spent in Pennsylvania, one of Martin's enduring memories was surely the sound of the swiftly flowing Eder as it ran between the house of his childhood and the steep hill which rises like a wall along the opposite bank.

By the time he was twenty-four, Martin was in the town of Krombach in the neighboring principality of Nassau-Siegen, and was engaged to be married. The wedding took place in Krombach in April, 1742. The bride, Anna Eva Hoffman [b. Apr 1722 Krombach; md. Apr 1742 Krombach; d. 10 Mar 1789 Northumberland Co., PA], was twenty, and was the daughter of a schoolmaster [of Nassau -Siegen]. It is possible that one or two sons were born to Martin and Anna Eva before they emigrated to Pennsylvania, but this, as well as the exact date of emigration has yet to be documented. The reasons in support of both the 1746 and the more probable 1751 departure dates will be explained in section 4c.

Balde to Berghausen: early millers and a late 19th century emigrant

The town of Berghausen is situated in northern Wittgenstein, not far from Berleburg, the residence of the northern Counts. It lies only a few kilometers to the west of Raumland. Records show tht in 1680 a certain Johann Wilhelm Dreisbach was living in house no. 16, called "Mechels." He remained in that house until 1691, probably the year of his death. Since nothing further is known about him, it cannot be established whether he was related to the Dreisbachs of Balde and Raumland.

In the same period, however, there was another Dreisbach, Hans (or Johann) Henrich Dreisbach [b. abt 1639 Balde; d. 24 May 1724 Berghausen], also living in Berghausen. The house he lived in is not known, but a son, Johann Henrich Dreisbach II, was born to him and his wife Susanna [m. 22 Oct 1672 St. Martin's Church, Raumland, North Rhine-Westphalia; d. 31 Dec 1732 Berghausen] in Berghausen in 1674. Through the research of Gustav Schneider of Bad Laasphe it has been possible to connect this family with the Dreisbach family of Balde.

The Raumland church records show that the same family members appear as godparents for children born to both Johann Henrich Dreisbach of Berghausen and to Johannes Dreisbach of "Wahnersch" in Balde, and this pattern continues in the next generation as well. There are thus strong indications that Johann Henrich of Berghausen and Johannes of Balde were brothers, and that both were sons of carpenter Daniel Dreisbach. Johannes, who was doubtless the elder brother, remained in the "Wahnersch" house, while Johann Henrich went off to Berghausen, where he lived until his death in 1724.

Johann Henrich Dreisbach II, born in Berghausen in 1674, became known as "The New Miller." There was already an "Old Mill" in Berghausen, which had been functioning since 1659. Starting in about 1700, the records also speak of a "New Mill," and this was the mill which was operated by Johann Henrich II until his death in 1730. In 1702 he married Anna Margaretha Hesse [b. 19 Jul 1681; md. 18 May 1702; d. 26 Aug 1762] in St. Martin's Church, Raumland. The New Mill remained in the Dreisbach family for several generations. It was continued by Johann Henrich III, who died in 1757, whereupon a son-in-law took over its operation.

Miller Johann Henrich Dreisbach III, married Anna Gertrud Dorr in 1730. He died at age 54 in 1757, and the very next year his daughter Anna Elisabeth married one Johan Daniel Brauer, who then became next in the line of "New Millers."

Johan Philipp Dreisbach, son of miller Johann Henrich III, was not a miller. He did, however, live his entire life in Berghausen. He married Elisabetha Katharina Strackbein in the Raumland Church in 1774, and died in Berghausen in 1804.

Christian Georg Dreisbach, son of Johan Philipp, was just fourteen when his father died. He left Berghausen as a young man and went to the more industrialized region of Wuppertal. Here, in Elberfeld in North Rhine Westphalia, he took a wife, Anna Sibilla Farber, in 1818.

Little is known of their son, August Dreisbach, who was born in Elberfeld in 1827. He married Julie Monnich in Barmen in North Rhine-Westphalia. It is not known when or where they died.

Christian 'Oscar' August Dreisbach, son of August and great-great-grandson of miller Johann Henrich III, was born in Barmen in 1864. While still young, he came to the United States. The date of his arrival has not yet been found, but it must have been at least five years before his naturalization in 1898. He was certainly settled in New York City by May of 1896, the month when he married Louisa Knaus there. He is among the most recent of the Dreisbach arrivals in North America.

Old records also tell of other Dreisbachs who lived in Berghausen in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Between 1755 and 1817 there were two who lived, one after the other, in the same house (no. 13, called "Tambours"). Their names were Johan Jost and Georg Henrich Dreisbach, and both are mentioned with the epithet "Tambour" or drummer. It is thought that they may have been part-time drummers for the Guard at nearby Castle Berleburg. Their possible relationship to the Dreisbach millers at the "New Mill" has not been ascertained. In about 1970 there was at least one Dreisbach still living in or near Berghausen.

(In addition to incorporating the recent findings of Gustav Schneider, the information presented here on the inhabitants of Berghausen and the descendants of the "New Miller" was drawn from the researh of Dr. Kurt Gunther of Kassel, Wolfgang Birkelbach of Berghausen and 800 Jahre Berghausen, Ruckblick und Besinnung, edited by Ernst Fischer and published by the municipality of Berghausen in 1978.)

Balde to Oberndorf: the Simon Dreisbach line

Johan Dreisbach (Threisbach) [b. abt 1580 Balde; d. 19 Feb 1636 Amtshausen], grandson of Abraham and great-grandfather of emigrant Simon, was born in the "Wahnersch" house, but left Balde as early as 1611. That was the year when he married a widow from the village of Amtshausen, Elisabeth Hain [b. 1580 Amtshausen; md. 1611 Feudingen; d. 28 Jun 1636 Amtshausen], and established himself there.

Amtshausen, situated in the southern half of Wittgentein, was ruled by the Counts who resided in their castle at Laasphe. The official religion of all of Wittgenstein, dictated by the Counts, was Calvinistic (Reformed). The parish church in Feudingen, dedicated like that of Raumland to St. Martin and equally old, was the church to which the inhabitants of more than twenty surrounding villages were required to go for christenings, marriages and burials. Thus Johan and Elisabeth went to the Feudingen church to be married, and here their children were baptized. For the baptism of little Daniel in 1623, the child's uncle Daniel Dreisbach (Threisbach) came down from Balde to be the godfather.

Johan and Elisabeth lived in house no. 1 in Amtshausen (today Barwingweg 1.) where Daniel Dreisbach grew up. He went to a nearby village to take a wife, as was the way of these Dreisbach men. In Steinbach he found Catharina Benfer [b. 1626 Steinbach; md. bef 1650 Feudingen; d. 13 Jan 1681 Steinbach], married her and moved to her village. They lived in house no. 2, called "Josts." The house has been modified, but is still extant. By the time Catharina was 46 she had given birth to at least thirteen children, including Georg Wilhelm, who would become the father of emigrant Simon. Many of the descendants of this Daniel have been posted online by Nikki Roth-Skiles at her Family Tree Maker Site.

Georg Wilhelm Dreisbach, who grew up in Steinbach, took a wife from Oberndorf not far away, Margreth Sassmanshausen [b. 02 Jun 1679 Oberndorf; md. 19 Sep 1697 Feudingen; d. 27 Apr 1726 Oberndorf]. Not surprisingly, he moved to her village. Only three children were born to them, according to Feudingen church records: Johan Simon, born in 1698, Johan Georg, born in 1701 and Johannes Hermannis, born in 1706. The younger brothers remained in Wittgenstein; elder brother Simon took his family to North America.

Oberndorf was not a large place. It had seven houses in 1662 and nine houses in 1732. In 1736, seven years before Simon emigrated, the village comprised a total of ninety persons. Its only known industrial installation in the 18th century was a sawmill. Simon grew up in the higher part of Oberndorf called Aberge, in house no. 2. The house burned down in 1842, but its location is still known to older local residents.

Simon married Maria Katharina Keller [b. 17 May 1696 Holzhausen; md. 07 Nov 1720 Feudingen; d. 22 May 1768 Northampton Co., PA] in the Feudingen church in 1720 when he was twenty-two and she was twenty-four. The bride came from nearby Holzhausen. Simon, who was the eldest son, was already the head of the family, his father having died some years previously. He did not move to the bride's village, therefore, but brought her to his. Nine children are known to have been born to Simon and Maria Katharina in Oberndorf. Three died in childhood, but the other six accompanied their parents to the New World. When they left Oberndorf on May 25, 1743, the eldest, (Johann) Jost was twenty-one while the youngest, Anna Catharina had just turned six. A record in the Wittgenstein Archives states:

Simon was already forty-five years old, and his wife was forty-seven; rather mature ages for leaving a familiar existence and starting out on a totally new one.

(Information on Simon Dreisbach and his ancestors was provided by the parish office of the Evangelische Kirchengemeinde Feudingen, and was augmented by the research of Gustav Schneider.)