Johann Michael Muller the First was a Widower, 52 Ancestors #196

When I wrote about Johann Michael Muller (the first) as well as his wife, Irene Elisabetha Heitz, I thought his story was complete.

Just when you think there are no more records, nothing else to squeeeeeze out of that turnip – there’s one more thing. And as it turns out, it exposes a VERY important chapter in Michael’s life by deciphering just one word.

This church entry documents Johann Michael Muller’s wedding to Irene Liesabetha Heitz in Miesau, Germany in 1684. When we discovered this record, it was HUGE news, because proved the real identity of Michael’s wife.

But there’s more…

The Turnip Bleeds

As you can see, the script is very difficult. The original translation stated that Michael had married Irene, picking out the evident words, but there was additional information lurking there that would prove to be very important, obfuscated by centuries-old script.

Upon further investigation, and no small amount of sleuthery in terms of trying to decipher the script – it was determined that one of the words was incredibly important.


Above, an enlarged area from the marriage record.

What the heck is a wuntartzt? Nobody knew. Not Tom, not Chris our Native German speaker, and not another long-time German historical resource.

Tom, my trusty cousin who is also a retired German genealogist, suggested, after much gnashing of teeth because no one knew what a wuntartzt was, that maybe, just maybe, the word was really widower, which in German is “witwer.” German script is extremely contrary sometimes, and of course it’s always the MOST important word that stubbornly resists.

After three knowledgeable people concurred that this word really is witwer, the translated verbiage was evaluated again for context. That’s not always straightforward either!

Chris replied:

So, “son” and “widower” refers to the same person, Michael. The part before “Sohn”: “Heinsmanns Müllers Einwohners zu Schwartz Matt im Berner Gebieth” is put as a genitive, because it refers to Michael`s father Heinsmann.

Which, of course, raises an entirely new question: If Michael Müller was a widower at the time he married Irene Liesabetha Heitz in 1684, who was his first wife then? Did she die in Steinwenden or in the area or rather already back in Switzerland? Maybe it is worth to have another close look at those burials in the Miesau church book from 1681 to 1684 to maybe find her there?

Here’s the retranslated marriage entry as agreed upon by Tom and Chris.

“Johann Michael Muller, widower, son of Heinsmann Muller, resident in Schwartz Matt in the Bern area (Switzerland), married 17 April 1684 in Steinwenden to Irene Liesabetha Heitz, daughter of Conrad Heitz.”

Of course, the blessing or curse of genealogy is that one answer or even a hint always raises many more questions.

And…another gem is unearthed from that script – Michael’s father’s name. Except, of course, as this family always seems to do – that information conflicts with what we thought we knew.

So, let’s evaluate how this puzzle piece fits with the rest of what we actually do know.

For beginners, Michael’s death record in Steinwenden on January 31, 1695 states his age as being 40, which means he was 29 or 30 when he married Irene in 1684. Chances are good (92%) that he had not yet had his birthday in 1695 when he died, which means he was probably born in 1654, and if not, in 1655. He would have become of marriageable age in about 1675, but probably wouldn’t have married yet for a few years, until he could provide support for a family in some fashion. So we are looking for a marriage record for Michael sometime in or after 1675 and of course, before April of 1684. Probably significantly before 1684.

Someplace. But where?


Chris’s continuing thoughts:

What remains interesting to me though is the reported village of origin for the Michael Müller, who married Irene Liesabetha in 1684. As I pointed out he must be from Schwarzenmatt (church records are found in the Boltigen church books), which is in fact really close to Erlenbach in Simmental.

With the two villages being so close to each other, I would think it goes certainly well along with Michael Müller from Schwarzenmatt and Jacob Ringeisen from Erlenbach having been cousins.

Later records in Steinwenden state that Jacob Ringeisen is a cousin of Michael Miller’s and that Jacob is a Swiss from Erlenbach.

Chris goes on to say:

The Boltigen church books: As I read on an internet forum, the church books of the time period around 1650 that would be of most interest for us are lost in a church fire in 1840. You can also see this from the Familysearch compilation:,_Bern,_Switzerland

So I fear we are lost guessing here, with the remaining possibility that pedigrees have been made before 1840 and saved somewhere.

Would we be that lucky? But wait…

There is a coat of arms of a Müller family in Boltigen.

Now that’s quite interesting. I can’t help but wonder if this pertains to my Miller line. I wish I knew more about those Boltigen Millers and I surely, surely, wish that one of the male Boltigen Millers, assuming some of them survived to current, would take a Y DNA test. I’d love to confirm that this is the same line. In fact, if you’re a male Boltigen Miller descendant and carry the surname today, I have a DNA testing scholarship for you!

The Original Zollikofen Narrative

It’s disconcerting when new information conflicts with information that has been believed within a family for a long time, even if the family doesn’t exactly know WHY they believe that.

For as long as I’ve researched this family, it’s been repeated that Johann Michael Muller was believed to have been born in Zollikofen, Switzerland in 1655. The age fits and the location fits given that many Swiss were immigrating from that area to Germany. However, there has never been any documentation or record to prove that the Johann Michael Muller born in 1655 in Zollikofen to Johann Jacob Muller and Salome Huber is the same Johann Michael Muller who lived and died in Steinwenden. In fact, I’ve never actually seen that Muller/Huber record either, simply heard repeatedly that it existed.

Researchers, me included, were frustrated for years trying to find this documentation. Had we been able to discover what happened to the child of Jacob and Salome Huber Miller, we could possibly have disproven (or proven) that he was our Michael, but that information too proved elusive.

I did find it worth noting that none of Michael’s children were named either Jacob or Salome. Jacob might not have been remarkable because it’s so common, but Salome is rather unusual. On the other hand, none were named Irene or Regina after his wife, either, nor Heinsmann after his father.

Neither was I able to document Jacob and Salome Huber Miller, the Zollikofen couple that was supposed to be Michael’s parents. Now, that doesn’t matter anymore.

The marriage record for our Johann Michael Muller to Irene gives Michael’s father’s name and location. And it’s not Johann Jacob Muller nor is the location Zollikofen, or even near Zollikofen.

It appears that Zollikofen was a “best fit” by someone using the information they had at the time. Sadly, as a family, we’ve been emotionally married to Zollikofen for decades now, and mistakenly so. One family member, a minister, even preached from the pulpit in Zollikofen, thinking he was in the church where Michael stood. Truth be known, he was about 40 miles away.

So close but so far away.

A Marriage Record

Tom found something quite interesting.

An April 1681 marriage in Boltigen between Michael Muller and Anna Andrist.

Is this our Michael?  It could be. The time is right. But who knows!

This quaint alpine church in Boltigen replaced the church lost in fire in 1840. Is this the location where Michael was first married, in the original church?

By Roland Zumbuehl – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Boltigen marriages started being recorded in 1662 but unfortunately, no parents are recorded in marriages. How FRUSTRATING!

Deaths began in 1683, so if Michael’s wife died there before the records began, that too has slipped away from us.

Tom looked in the Miesau church records for any sign of Michael’s first wife and of course, didn’t find hide nor hair of her or Michael before his 1684 marriage to Irene.

Switzerland to Germany

What brought Michael to Germany from Switzerland?

From the Boltigen/Erlenbach area to the Miesau/Steinwenden area is a nontrivial trip. Note that on the map below you can see parts of seven different countries; France, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Lichtenstein and Austria . Europe is much more compressed than the US, and while we think of country boundaries as borders, in Europe, they function mostly seamlessly and did then as well. Some boundaries are geographical, like the Alps separating Switzerland and Italy, but in other cases, country lines are politically drawn and have moved and been renamed over time.

Viewed from Boltigen, the Juan Pass.

Beginning at the northern base of the Alps, Michael’s path would have ambled along the Rhine River after crossing more mountains near Basel.

1493 woodcut of Basel from the Nuremburg Chronicle

Did Michael move to Steinwenden because his cousin, Jacob Ringeisen had moved or was moving to the Steinwenden area? Did they make the journey together? Had other family members moved there too, attracted by the Palatinate promise of land and tax exemption?

We know there was lots of vacant land available. The area was entirely depopulated by the 30 years war. A 1656 tax list states that no one lived in Steinwenden. By 1671, inhabitants were once again listed. The 1683/4 tax records show only 6 families and 25 people total – although that list appears to exclude the non-taxed Swiss.

The Hans Berchtol family who settled in Steinwenden, whose daughter Susanna married Michael’s son in 1714, seems to have sprung from this Swiss region too.

Was Michael leaving heartbreak behind, someplace that didn’t remind him of his departed love? Or, did Michael and his first wife leave Switzerland with a family group to start a new life – embarking on a great adventure with the rosy-cheeked promise of newlywed love?

And then, tragedy struck…

Kids? Were There Kids?

If Michael was a widower in 1684 at the time of his second marriage, and his first wife had died, were there living children? If Michael married Anna Andrist mid-April, she could have been having a child anytime from January 1682, assuming she wasn’t pregnant when they married.

There was even time for a second child to have potentially been born.

The only child who lived from Michael’s second marriage to Irene was Johann Michael Muller the second, the last child born in 1692. Michael and Irene would suffer the births and deaths of 5 children after their 1684 marriage and before Michael the second was born. Unbelievable grief, grief stacked upon grief for Michael. How did he survive?

Why were there no more children born to Michael and Irene?

Was Michael or Irene ill between 1692 and Michael’s untimely death in 1695? Why was there no record of another child born about October of 1694, which would have been when the next child would be expected? There are no Muller children’s death records either.

Originally, we thought that Irene had died and Michael had remarried, but she hadn’t. We simply don’t have any answers, except that Irene remarried in 1696 to Jacob Stutzman and subsequently had several more children, the first one arriving 11 months after their marriage.

This is killing me. If Michael married Anna Andrist in April 1681, IF Anna was his wife, the first child could have been born in January 1682. A second child could have been born in mid/late 1683. Anna could have died in childbirth with either child, or neither child. If there were two children, there’s certainly no guarantee that either survived, with or without the mother’s death. What we do know is that by April 17, 1684, Michael was a widower, in Miesau, far from where his father lived, marrying Irene.

Having said all of that, it’s possible that there were children born to Michael’s first marriage that did survive. If so, and if we have identified the correct wife and location, we’ll never know because the baptism records are missing for that time period in Boltigen.


  • Anna Andrist died before Boltigen death records began in 1683
  • Or they weren’t living there when Anna died
  • Or this is the wrong couple

Tom feels that, “if Michael had young kids, they would be evident in Steinwenden, which they weren’t. I don’t think we will get a handle on this aspect. I believe you are done with this chapter.”

There were other Millers evident in Steinwenden, BUT, Miller is an extremely common surname and there is nothing to tie Michael to any of them. Given the fact that the godparents might well have stepped in to raise any children by Michael’s first wife, especially if the child needed to be nursed, Michael might have been found in Steinwenden without his children. Michael’s children, if there were any and they survived, could have been being raised in Schwarzenmatt or someplace near Boltigen.

Clearly, we are now far into the land of speculation, an endless maze of rabbit holes without any shreds of evidence.

I think Tom is right, at least for now. This turnip really is bloodless and this chapter has closed. But of course, that’s what I thought before too. You never know, maybe one of those Boltigen Miller’s will DNA test and we’ll be bleeding turnips once again!

A huge, huge thank you (again) to Tom and Chris both, turnip bloodletters, without whom I’d still be eyeing Zollikofen longingly. RIP Zollikofen.



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20 thoughts on “Johann Michael Muller the First was a Widower, 52 Ancestors #196

  1. Hi Roberta,

    You wrote ‘What the heck is a wuntartzt?’
    I am from Sweden and not and not a fluent german speaker but I think you are looking for ‘Wundarzt’ which I have seen several times. I believe it’s an old expression for barber-surgeon.

    Hope it helps,

  2. I am not totally sure, whether I fully got your point, but I can say that I am very sure, I am German and know the word, that “Wundarzt” doesn’t mean widower. Up to the late 19th century “Wundarzt” was used as a term for a kind of doctor, who hasn’t fully studied his profession but had some experience, let’s say during the 30-years-war to help to cure injuries or who did not study at any university lateron but learnt basic knowledge of curing people.
    The father of a German dramatist, Georg Büchner, was “Wundarzt” and he was well accepted amongst the poorer people, who could not afford a real doctor for economic reasons.
    So Michael Müller was rather a kind of doctor and it would not be necessary to research a deseased wife. Am I mistaken in what you wanted to say?

  3. Very interesting. I have Jacob Miller of TN in my tree. He is related through a marriage and is not my ancestor. I do, however, have German ancestors (I believed). Until the 1990s, I thought that my German Grandfather was my grandfather. In the 90s when I began doing serious research, my father admitted that he was adopted and that his birth father, Grandmother’s first husband, as well as his mother were from Sweden. Well, I have some of your troubles researching this family. Through DNA matching at Ancestry, I met a woman who shares the Swedish ancestors and I was very fortunate to learn much more about my paternal ancestors. I cannot read nor speak either language but my new DNA cousin has a brother who lives in the Swedish town where our common ancestors lived long ago. It is through this one match that I have discovered my true paternal line going back several generations. I now even know the location in Sweden where some kin still live!

  4. So you have a young widower. That always makes me wonder if there was a child born to the mother who died in childhood. Who took the child? What name was he or she given? One more DNA puzzle for descendants… and one more reason for not judging in the face of NPEs.

      • Unfortunately, from what I have seen, death in childbirth was often fatal for the child as well. Don’t know the reason. That’s just the general run of the records I have come across.
        (And yes, I am discounting for a common cause such as infectious disease affecting both.)

  5. I had similar discovery here in the past few days. I had known my 2x great grandfather’s info for decades, but recently pulled records in the Norwegian Digital Archives to add to the file. Looking closely at his marriage record to my 2x great grandmother, I noticed he is listed as ‘enkemann’ (widower). So I dug further and found his first marriage, his wife’s death barely 9 months later and her burial on the same day as the baptism of their daughter. Then, sadly, the daughter’s death 3 months later. So much grief.

  6. The joy of hand written old records in foreign languages. -__-

    Fortunately you have a lot of people helping out, each bringing their own expertise. I hope you all will get to the bottom of this line, and that others won’t be this complicated. ^_~

  7. Hi Roberta- I came across your blog awhile ago and have been following your posts regarding the Müller-Heitz family. An intriguing case! As a researcher and writer, I do a majority of my work with Pfalz-Zweibrücken families, so this one caught my eye. One of the reasons why the “witwer” (I can confirm: it’s “witwer”) in the Müller-Heitz marriage record you’ve posted above is so difficult to transcribe is because there’s a physical clip/tear at the page’s edge, tricking the eye into thinking there might be a “t” (hence that last part looking like “arzt”). It’s most likely a tear or tension spot from the binding, which would also explain why the penmanship curves so much, making it difficult to read the -wer portion of the word. What interested me was the syntax: that “witwer” came so late in the description of Michael! Of course, one can do that in both German and English, but it’s usually more typical to mention “witwer” status at the beginning of the sentence rather than at the end, I would think. Also, in protestant marriage records from the Pfalz, if a man or woman was a widower, the minister often wouldn’t note the parents, but in this instance, he did. Every minister’s note keeping practices were slightly different.

    In truth, it was your other posts about the name of Irene/ Regina Charitas/Elisabetha Heitz that caught my attention. I recognized the name Irene Charitas and for awhile could not figure out why, but then I remembered that I came across it multiple times in my current project, transcribing entries from the earliest church books of Zweibrücken and Hornbach. It’s not a name you forget! I first saw it in the family of Herr Superintendent Michael Philipp Beuther, who had a daughter baptized Irene Charitas. In my experience, it was common in Pfalz-Zweibrücken for church officials, administrators, and educators to have their church book entries recorded in a mixture of Latin and German, hence the wild, uncommon names like Irene Charitas. It was by virtue of that family’s prominence that the name spread in Zweibrücken, seeing how Irene sponsored many baptisms.

    Since you have a combination of ceremonial Latin and German, it would not surprise me a bit if your Irene occasionally went by a more Germanic name as an adult, or if minister’s made mistakes in recording her name. For example, Irene in German sounds a lot like Latinate “Reina,” derived from Regina, so it’s very possible that a minister assumed that “Rene” or “Irene” was short for a Christian name of Regina. The flip-flopping of the Rufname, though is something to watch carefully. Given the records you’ve provided, I would presume that “Irene Elisabetha” was her preferred German name and that the others are either derivatives or hiccups, but I would keep investigating. You are more than welcome to drop me a line if you need an extra set of eyes on the issue! — Best wishes, J.D.

      • Dear Roberta,
        Really interesting to read about your research. I haven’t got around to read all your posts yet, but saw you mentioning Jakob Ringeisen a few times. Do you happen to know any descendant of his who had ydna test maybe? I’m researching the Ringeisen lineage, and would love to compare results

  8. Pingback: Muller, Ringeisen and Stutzman Families of Schwarzenmatt, Switzerland – 52 Ancestors #221 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  9. Pingback: Heintzman Muller and the Mystery of the Boltigen Choir Court Window – 52 Ancestors #314 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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