Dorothea Catharina Wolflin (1755 – after 1817), Peasant Life in Beutelsbach – 52 Ancestors #214

Dorothea Catharina Wolflin’s life started out normal enough – just like any other baby in the German village of Beutelsbach, Germany in 1755.

The daughter of Johann Ludwig Wolfin or Wolflin and Dorothea Heubach, Dorothea Catharina was born on August 10th and baptized in the local church. According to the customs of the time, she was probably called by her middle name, Catharina, at least within the family.

This translation is courtesy of my friend and cousin, Tom. Note that the minister went back and noted years later on her birth entry that she emigrated.

August 1755

Child: Dorothea Catharina, emigrated

Mother: Dorothea Heubach(in), former citizen and vinedresser in Endersbach, surviving legitimate daughter of Jerg Heubach?

Joh. Ludwig Wolflin, son of the late Martin Wolflin, Chevallier?

Godparents: Jacob Rühle, farrier here; Anna Catharina, Georg Leonhard Rehmüller, citizen and butcher and Anna Maria, wife of Georg Friedrich ?, citizen and butcher.

Hmmm, that’s really odd to list an occupation for a female. Dorothea’s mother was a vinedresser, meaning that she worked in the vineyards. I don’t recall ever seeing that before.

In addition to the actual baptism records, the Beutelsbach church book maintained family pages.

Tom translated this page, as follows:

Family Page Beutelsbach

Page 599

Johann Adam Rühle, born in Schnait, the 30th of Jan 1764, Father is Michael Rühle, citizen and joiner (carpenter) in Schnait; Mother is Barbara nee Lenz(in). Has been trained and brought up in Schnait.  ? 4 years served in Schnait.

Married 5 June 1787 with

Dorothea Catharina, born 18 August 1755. Father Joh. Ludwig Wölfle, page 757. Mother Dorothea nee Heubach(in). See page 116.  Was previously married with Georg Friedrich Brauning, vinedresser and from this marriage, 3 children were born, with 2 now living:

Jacob Christian, born 8 June 1783

Johanna Dorothea, born 5 Nov 1785; Died 25 Jan 1790.

Liberi? 2nd Marriage (From Dorothea Catharina’s )

14 March 1788 Fridrica, had an illegitimate child Jacob Fried. Lenz, born 25 Nov 1806.

3 June 1790 Johann Ludwig

5 Mar 1793 Johanna Dorothea; died 8 Mar 1793

25 Apr 1794 Johann Georg

20 Mar 1797 Catarina Margareta +

20 Jan 1800 Johanna Margaretha

Ah, But There’s a Hitch

Vorehelich geboren. War vorher verheiratet mit Georg Friedrich Breuning, Weingärtner. Hat in dieser Ehe 3 Kinder geboren, davon noch 2 am Leben.
Wanderte 1817 nach Nordamerika aus

On the Beutelsbach Heritage page, Dorothea’s entry says that she was born before her parents were married.

Premarital born. Was married before with Georg Friedrich Breuning, vinedresser. Has born in this marriage 3 children, of it another to 2 still alive.

Emigrated in 1817 to North America

There’s More to That Story

Dorothea’s father, Johann Ludwig Wolflin was taken away as a soldier in 1755, and he served for 15 years. He returned in 1770 and the couple was married on May 4, 1770. Two years later, Dorothea’s only sibling, a brother, Johann George Wolflin was born and died the following year, in 1773.

Dorothea’s mother, Dorothea Heubach, would have raised her daughter, Dorothea, alone, although I do wonder how Dorothea’s mother managed to do that. Dorothea Heubach’s parents lived in Endersbach, so who was she living with in Beutelsbach while pregnant, when Dorothea was born and during the 15 years she was waiting on Dorothea’s father to return? Normally, I would have though Dorothea and her daughter would have lived with her parents, but if that were the case, then Dorothea would have been born and baptized in Endersbach and the reference to Dorothea Heubach would not have said “former citizen” of Endersbach, although Endersbach was only a mile or so away.

Dorothea couldn’t have lived with Adam’s parents, because they had already died. We know little about her parents, but she is listed as a former resident of Endersbach, so unlikely that she was living with them.

Of course, this situation explains Dorothea Heubach’s occupation noted as a vinedresser. She worked, but who cared for little Dorothea while her mother was in the fields and vineyards?

Dorothea Wolflin’s First Marriage

On September 19, 1780, Dorothea Catharina Wolflin married Georg Friedrich Breuning, born May 24, 1752.

The heritage page, through a German/English translator, says the following about Georg Friedrich: “He had been trained and raised here, but always remained with his parents for some time with the retired court clerk Reinhardtin.”

With George Friedrich Breuning, Dorothea Wolflin had three children:

  • Johanna Elisabetha Breuning born January 27, 1781 and died two years later, in 1783.
  • Jakob Christian Breuning born June 8, 1783. He would subsequently emigrate with his mother and step-father to America in 1817.
  • Johanna Dorothea Breuning born November 5, 1785 and died January 5, 1790.

Dorothea was having a tough time. Her husband, Georg Friedrich Breuning died on October 31, 1786.

In January 1790, Dorothea’s 4 year old daughter died in January and on September 1, 1790, her mother died.

By the end of 1790, Dorothea, then 35 years old had born 3 children, buried 2 children, her husband and her mother.

Deaths in 1783 and 1786 and two in 1790.

Dorothea was due for some good luck.

Remarriage – A Second Start

On June 5, 1787, eight months after her husband’s death, Dorothea remarried to Johann Adam Ruhle, a man 9 years her junior. Yes, her junior. She was 32 and he was 23.

The age difference is somewhat startling. It’s very unusual for the male to be that much younger than the female. I surely wonder at the motivation for both people. It could have been love, or it could have been pragmatic expedience. Or, maybe it was something else. Did Dorothea have money? Did he? An inheritance? Never fear – the Germans had methodologies developed to insure protection, fairness and equity.

Second Marriages and Property Inventories

I learned a lot about second marriages in Germany in the late 1700s thanks to Dorothea and Adam. To begin with, I didn’t realize there was anything to learn. I know that sounds somehwhat ridiculous, but we don’t know what we don’t know. I thought they just went down to the church and got married. Not so fast!

From the paper, Household Debt in the Seventeenth-Century Wurttemberg: Evidence from Personal Inventories by Sheilagh Ogilvie, Markus Kupker and Janine Maegraith published in July 2011, I learned that the “peasant economy” of rural Wurttemberg was not as backwards or laissez-faire as one might think. This article examined death, marriage and remarriage inventories. I didn’t know there were marriage inventories.

The authors studied a small German village, Wildberg, who had about 1000 inhabitants in 1600. The population rose to about 1400 by the mid 1670s, but again reduced to 1200 by 1700. Residents in Wildberg paid taxes (of course) and owned land, which I didn’t think was possible for peasants. Land ownership, other than gardens, declined from about 70% to 50% in 1614 and 1629, but rose again to about 60% by 1700. Wildberg, about 40 miles distant, probably wasn’t too different from Beutelsbach.

In Wildberg, most inhabitants were somehow engaged in farming with about 40% of the residents also engaged in weaving after 1580, with spinning being the mainstay of the female inhabitants. Weaving, dyeing and exporting of hand-made worsted were controlled by regional rural-urban guilds which maintained entry barriers, fixed wages and prices, and excluded women, migrants, Jews, laborers and many others. The courts, councils and assemblies closely monitored and administered settlements, marriage, migration, inheritance, land transactions, prices, wages – that is to say pretty much all financial transactions.

While the Beutelsbach economy revolved around winegrowing, with residents working in the vineyards, everything else would have applied to Beutelsbach as well.

Given that women were excluded above, it’s surprising that Wurttemberg had a partible inheritance system in which spouses retained rights over property brought into a marriage and daughters inherited equally with sons. Death inventories were mandated from 1551. From 1610, widowhood, marriage and remarriage inventories were compulsory, as well as in other special circumstances such as crime, indebtedness, desertion, etc.

Inventories were created by specially appointed community officials to value estates, typically with actual recorded prices or values in that community. Properly drawn and executed documents were critical to avoiding inheritance conflicts. Many records indicate who originally paid for a specific item, especially in the case of a marriage or remarriage.

If there’s one thing German’s love, it’s orderliness and records. I love my German ancestors. I wish I had inherited that orderliness trait. I didn’t:(

According to Wurttemberg law, a person or couple was not legally obliged to be inventoried if they:

  • Left a will
  • Agreed to marital community of property
  • Obtained the district court’s approval
  • Drew up a private inventory
  • Had only one heir
  • Obtained agreement from all heirs

This group of exempted individuals included high status families such as royalty, bureaucrats and clergymen. Truly destitute people who had nothing more than the clothes they were wearing were also not inventoried. A fee had to be paid and not only could they not pay the inventory fee, there was no point, so they were simply administratively ignored.

Of course, administrative negligence or corruption at the time or loss of documents since can prevent us from obtaining those inventories today. Inventories were generally considered desirable because they served to protect the interest of the individuals involved, from each other and from future debtors that might attempt to retroactively establish a claim. However, never-married individuals were seldom inventoried at marriage and often if they had never been married, were not inventoried at death either.

These inventories, when available and legible are goldmines and apparently were relatively common. In the nearby village of Laichingen between 1766 and 1799, 94% of remarriages had inventories, 87% of the spouses of the one of remarrying individuals had inventories, 31% of the widowers had inventories and 57% of the widows.

The inventory document was structured into five sections.

The introduction includes the location, date and personal details of the individual or individuals involved, their offspring, any other heirs, parents and former spouses.

In the second section, real estate, including buildings, gardens, fields, pastures, woods and fishing waters was listed.

A third section included moveable goods, including those worth only one Heller, the smallest unit of currency, in specific categories such as cash, ornaments, jewelry, silver, men’s and women’s clothing, books, bedding, household linen, household vessels of different types, furniture, general household goods, farm and craft tools, animals, food, grain, business wares and anything else not falling into the above categories.

The fourth section included debts and financial assets. Debts were not allowed to be incurred without the prior approval of the village or town council as well as district-level bureaucrats. These individuals monitored the behavior of villagers to assure that they didn’t borrow excessively and controlled them by penalties. Repeat offenders could be declared “mundtot,” a now obsolete 17th century word meaning legally incapable, dead in the eyes of the law, or civilly dead. Basically, they were declared incompetent.

Furthermore, these community “courts” could veto any loan secured by property. Not only that, but fees had to be paid in order to apply for permission to obtain a loan. It’s no wonder that Germans wanted to emigrate.

Despite all of that bureaucratic red tape, roughly 25% of people with inventories had some type of debt, but one third had assets as well. The debt rate of widows was much higher.

The fifth and final section of the inventory balanced the debts against the assets, divided the proceeds among heirs (although did not necessarily distribute the assets) and recorded the signatures of the involved parties.

Inventory of Dorothea Catharina Wolflin Breuning and Johann Adam Ruhle

However, I knew none of this when my distant cousin, Niclas Witt, stumbled across the marital inventory of Dorothea and Adam in the archives of Weinstadt. Niclas has graciously allowed me to include the images. My thanks to Niclas for finding this document and copying it for me. Cousins are so cool!!!

Tom and Chris struggled mightily with translating these pages. They did successfully translate some words. Personally, I look at these crinkled pages, 231 years old, and revel in the thought that Dorothea and her beau joyfully listed their belongings in anticipation of their upcoming wedding – even if we can’t read many of the words today. They listed items, reviewed the lists after they were compiled, then they and their families signed those lists. I’m sure the young couple smiled at each other – one step closer to their wedding day. Maybe the entire group celebrated with a glass of wine.

Perhaps the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for me today is the fact that there are signatures at the end of the document.

This document is very old and fragile, and the script is in many places undecipherable.

Johann Adam Ruhle’s inventory starts on the page above.

Next, on the above page, his land property (house and vineyards) is listed.

On the above pages, men’s clothes and so forth.

The list of Johann Adam Rühle`s property ends, above, on the left page.

Starting on the right page, Dorothea Catharina Wolflin Breuning`s property is listed, again with subheaders for different property classes.

On page 138, on the right side, we have a partial translation.

Tom and Chris translate documents by first attempting to decipher the letters individually. That text is shown at left, below. Then they attempt to figure out the actual German words. That text is shown at right, below. Then, I used a German to English translator to list the English equivalent in parenthesis. As you might imagine from these results, Chris and Tom were both very frustrated. (I felt really, really bad. They are such good guys.)

This was an extremely difficult document.

“Hierauf nun folgt des Weibs                       Hieraus (from this)
Leibeigen und bestehet in                         Beibringen (teach)
Häußern und [gebau ?]                                  gebaud

die […] von einer                                              helstt in von Einen
Behaußung Scheunen
und Keller bei der […]                                    Eigel
[…][…] 11 ½ […]                                                 rüthen
garttens vorbei, neben
dem […][…]                                                         Weng, und
[…] [zinnßt?] […]                                              lenschler zümstt
… 600 […]                                                           Stistts Pflug (plow)

Acker [?]
[Jelly Eiselfeld“ ?!]                                           Zelly Lizelfeld
[…][…][…]                                                            27 rüthen eine
[…] neben                                                           Ereschdobel neben (next)
Johannes […] und                                             Johannes Schuh in und
Bernhard Schwegler […]   150 […]
vor die blum                         4 […] 30 […]“

Page 139, left side

„acker                                                                   Acken

[…] hinter […]                                                     Zelly Ginter verhneb
[…][…] einen                                                      3 rüthen einen
[…], zwischen adam                                     döbelen zwischen Adam (? between Adam)
Haffner und alt Ludwig
[Schwaden?] [zinnßt?] […] 125…              Schmaden zümsst
vor die blum                   9…30

[…] hinter […][…][…] neben                         Zelly hinter den (? behind the)
[…][…]                                                                   ½ luth? und Schlut. neben
wittib und den […]                                           Joseph Hüebschneider
zinnßten                             15 […]             wittib und den …zümstt… (widow and the…)

Viertel […][…]                                                    14 & ½ rüthen
[…] neben                                                           schlath neben
Jacob […]                                                             Jacob Vollmer
und Johannes Eckert
eigen                               45 […]
194 […] 30 […]“

Page 139, right side


1 viertel […] in                                   23 rüthen
der Wein[…] zwischen
Hannß Jerg Haffner                         Häffner
und Jacob Hellerich
eigen                       50 […]

[…] ½ […] in                                         ?rüthen 5 & ½ rüthen in

Der Wein[…] neben
Daniel Lenzen und dem
[…][…]                            160 […]


1 Viertel im […]                                 Stemeng…r
neben Hannß Jerg […]
und Michael […]
zinnßten                     140 […]

Die […][…][…]
15 […][…][…]             350 […]“      15 & ½ rüthen in Saug….

Page 140, left side


Zwischen mathes […]                      friderich
[…] und
Jacob […]                         100 […]   Vollmer

Die […] von 1 Viertel                       helsttin
17 ½ […] in Bartenbach                    rüthen
neben Jacob Randern                 (next Jacob Randern)

und […][…]                                             Hanss Jerg Bretung (Breuning?)
gibt […]                                                    derkelleri verkelleri.
[…]                             60 […]               bodenrin.

Chris provided some general guidance, below.


und das Ihrige […] rubriquen […] […]
[…], und zwar

= men`s clothes
weibskleider  = women`s clothes
bettgewand = sleeping clothes
Leinwand = linnen
[…]geschirr  = some sort of tableware/dishes
Eißernes = “iron things”

[right side]

Blechgeschirr = tin dishes
Goltennes = golden [?]
Schneidwerck = cutlery
[…] und […]geschirr
Gemeiner […]       – “gemeiner” here in the meaning of “normal/usual”
Führ und Bauerngeschirr  = In this case, “Geschirr” is most likely the other meaning in German for this word: harness for horses, cattle etc.
Vieh  = Cattle
[..] […]

allerlei Vorrath = all kinds of storage/stock

On the right hand side of this page, at the bottom, below a statement indicating something in the sense of “this list is complete and nothing is missing,- 13 Febr 1788”, there are several signatures:

The married couple
Adam Rühle
Dorothea Rühlerin
der Kinde Pfleger (guardian of the child)
Bernhard Breuning (probably Dorothea’s deceased husband’s brother Jacob Bernhard Breuning, guardian of the surviving children)

Father of the woman/wife
Johann Ludwig Wolflin (Dorothea’s father)

I’m so grateful to have found this inventory and for Chris and Tom struggling to translate the old script. We may not have every word, but I can savor the essence. It looks like they had harnesses and bedding and the normal things one would expect to find. And Dorothea had a plow. What woman wouldn’t want a plow:) And what man wouldn’t want to marry a woman with a plow!

The fact that this document exists also begs the question of what other documents might exist as well. Hmmm…..

Beginning a New Family

Johann Adam Ruhle, called Adam, became an instant father given that when they married, two of Dorothea’s children were living. At the age of 23, Adam became the father of a 5 year old and a 3 year old.

It didn’t take long for the young couple to begin a family of their own, with my ancestor, daughter Fredericka arriving in March of 1788.

  • Johanna Frederika Ruhle was born March 14, 1788 and died in 1866 near Dayton in Montgomery County, Ohio.
  • Johann Ludwig Ruhle was born June 3, 1790 and died April 17, 1847 in Beutelsbach. He was a vine tender in the vineyards and died of a stroke. His first wife was Sabine Mayerle with whom he had no children. His second wife was Maria Magdalena Vollner with whom he had one child, Johann Ludwig Ruhle, born in 1846 in Beutelsbach and died in 1893 in Stuttgart.
  • Johanna Dorothea Ruhle was born March 5, 1793 and died three days later.
  • Johann Georg Ruhle was born April 25, 1794 and died sometime after emigrating to America.
  • Catharina Margaretha Ruhle was born March 20, 1797 and died October 23, 1797, just 3 days past 7 months of age.
  • Johanna Margareta Ruhle was born January 20, 1800 and died sometime after emigrating to America.

Winds of Change

In 1800, when Dorothea was having her last child, she was 45 years old and her first child, born in 1781, would have been 19 years old and could have already blessed her with grandchildren, had that daughter lived.

Dorothea had buried 5 of her 9 children, 4 remained living.

Her eldest living child was Jakob Christian Breuning, age 17 and still living at home. He would have been learning a trade, probably something related to the vineyards that grew on the hillsides surrounding the village.

Dorothea’s next oldest, Fredericka, not quite 12 years old probably helped a lot with her new baby sister. Fredericka would already have been quite experienced because the new baby, Johanna Margaretha, made 5 younger siblings for Fredericka, although Fredericka had stood by the graveside as two were buried in the churchyard.

By 1800, Dorothea and Adam were the quintessential German village couple, working the vineyards, going to church on Sunday, welcoming babies and burying about half that they welcomed. They went about their lives simply; plowing the earth, growing food, harvesting grapes, tending to family and village affairs.

Dorothea, at 45, by any measure had already achieved a good age. Many, especially women, weren’t fortunate enough to live that long. Dorothea would have hoped to survive long enough to see her children marry and begin families of their own, but 45 is late to have a final child.

Dorothea’s life would have revolved around the never-ending cycle of the sun, the seasons and the grapes in the vineyard. Life was centered around their livelihood, family and the church, of course, which was as important socially as it was religiously. Church attendance was mandated by the government, so it’s not likely they would have missed services often.

Dorothea’s father, who had been absent the first 15 years of her life serving as a conscripted soldier was still living. Dorothea’s mother had died in 1790, but in 1800, Johann Ludwig Wolflin was a ripe old age of 68. He surely doted on Dorothea, his only living child, and her children. His only other child, Dorothea’s brother, Johann Georg Wolflin, born in 1772, died at 16 months of age, a few days after Christmas in 1773. Dorothea and her family were all he had left, and vice versa.

Photo provided by Martin Goll

On July 31, 1805, perhaps on a hot summer day, Dorothea walked outside the church that overlooked the hillside vineyards and stood in the little cemetery as her father was lowered into his final resting place, probably beside her mother and her brother. She may also have wandered over to visit the 4 small graves of her own children, and maybe her grandparents as well, although her father’s parents had both died before she was born. Her father had joined them now. Perhaps she whispered softly, asking the grandparents she had never met to welcome their son.

Now, Dorothea was alone in a village full of people.

Dorothea’s last close family ties, other than her husband and children, were gone, buried in the churchyard. Now, she couldn’t talk to them anymore in person, but she would pass by their graves in silent greeting every Sunday morning. Was that comforting to Dorothea, or painful?

Births, deaths, christenings, sermons, field work, trimming vines, picking grapes, pressing wine, breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime, then birthing more babies. The rhythmic cycle of birth, life and death in the bucolic village of Beutelsbach.

As Dorothea turned to walk the few steps to her home, after saying goodbye to her father one last time, she perhaps lifted her face to the sun and asked the Lord what was in store. She herself was 50. How long would it be before her children stepped through the doorway of that same church and stood by her graveside?

The answer was, “never.” They would never stand by her grave in this cemetery.

Dorothea couldn’t possibly have anticipated on that midsummer day in 1805 what the future held – that the most adventurous chapter of her life wouldn’t begin for another 11 years.

Change may have been coming, but it was only a scant scent on the distant winds that melancholy July day in our sun-kissed vineyard hamlet.

A foreshadowing of events yet to come.



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8 thoughts on “Dorothea Catharina Wolflin (1755 – after 1817), Peasant Life in Beutelsbach – 52 Ancestors #214

  1. Love these stories. Feel like they could have been my people. We sometime forget how hard women’s lives were back then when they buried half their children.
    Donna Jones Hernandez

  2. These stories are always so interesting, thanks for sharing.

    Let me add a bit of background to your hints about labor economy and social implication.

    “In Wildberg, most inhabitants were somehow engaged in farming with about 40% of the residents also engaged in weaving after 1580, with spinning being the mainstay of the female inhabitants.”

    Indeed, since the 13th century, the waving industry representatives were touring the countryside on fall, leaving bundle of wool to contractor peasants. They returned on spring to take delivery of the thread and pay for the work. It costed less than having to maintenance a workplace where local workers commute everyday to work. And it gave women and their families another income source, especially in winter when the farm work was slow. The practice started in the Flanders and spread like wild fire all around Western Europe.

    If you are interested into the details, I read it in a book named “Textiles and Clothing, c.1150-1450 (Medieval Finds from Excavations in London)” almost 20 years ago. They explain everything about the rising of the European continent wide textile industry from the end of Roman Empire until the end of Middle Ages.

    About guilds, from what I read from the French ones, if women were not allowed to join one on their own, daughters and widows of a member could take his business. Yes, it worked even for black smiths. Guilds were kind of the worker unions of the time, the ones deciding the rules were the member themselves. Of course, they feared their families would lose everything if they died, so they allowed widows and daughters to take over to maintain the family’s prosperity. Another advantage of this system is that if some of the guild companions will have only daughters or even just a window, others will have too many sons. These extra sons will find a fully equipped workshop, with an established customer and supplier network, a reputation and a competent helper to give an hand when there’s too much work piling up. These women were highly looked after and didn’t tend to stay single or window long.

    In the case of your ancestress, I would guess she looked after the same plants her own father tended to back when he was alive. Then, her husband filled the void, without bickering between the other winedressers over who will take care of these plants after her father’s death or to free some plants for her husband when he started his career.

  3. Hi Roberta, I am very impressed with all the information you manage to dig up about your ancestors. I would like to so something similar and I was wondering about your numbering system. E.g. How did Dorothea become no 214?

  4. Thank you Roberta. I always wonder what my German family’s lives were like before they came to PA. You inspire me to dig deeper and then use my imagination. Catharina Becker married into the Bennett family, a Philadelphia- Delaware River fishing and shipwright family. I know more about the records of Catharina’s German’s ancestors were like (but not much) than the Bennett’s.
    When my husband and I were first married, we were stationed with the Army in Mainz, W. Germany and our son was born in Weisbaden. It was years later that I realized that we may have walked the same streets as our ancestors.
    In one branch of my husband’s family there was a Hessen soldier captured by Washington’s Army at Trenton. Rather than be a prisoner or be sent back to Hesse, he served his time as a mason by helping to build Carlisle Barracks and working on a farm in York, PA. After the Revolution he was able to bring his wife and children to PA. He befriended the man whom he worked for and later their grandchildren married.

    • While researching one of these ancestors, I discovered that my niece and her husband were stationed at the Ramstein AFB, literally within walking distance of where her (and my) ancestors lived. Now I wish I’d been able to visit her then, but I had young children at the time and it was impossible. What I regret even more is that my mother wasn’t able to visit. Of course, I wouldn’t have known about those ancestors then, but still, she would have loved it and perhaps today, I’d have some photos of Mom accidentally where her ancestors came from. Stranger things have happened:)

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