Jerg, or Johann Georg Kirsch, was my 10th generation ancestor, my 8 times great-grandfather, born about 1620 someplace in Germany, probably in the Pfalz region during the first part of the Thirty Years War.
Jerg was the nickname for Georg and all German boys in that time and place whose name wasn’t Johannes were named Johann plus a middle name by which they were called. Hence, Jerg, an affectionate name for Georg.
Actual records involving Jerg are few and far between. The history of the region and what was happening at that time help us flesh out his life. Unfortunately, we don’t know where the Kirsch family came from before we find Jerg in Durkheim, marrying Margretha Koch on September 9, 1650.
My friend Tom found the marriage record and provided the translation too.
On the same day (9 Sept 1650) Hans Georg Kirsch and Margretha, legitimate dau of M Steffan Koch, former pastor in Fussgonheim.
Tom, a retired German genealogist, said that the M might be a sign of respect for Steffan Koch being a minister.
Wow, talk about a bonus – not only Margretha’s father’s name, but his occupation and the fact that the Koch family came from Fussgoenheim.
Durkheim and Fussgoenheim
Fussgoenheim is only about 6 miles from Durkheim. While the distance isn’t far, even walkable, how the Koch family arrived in Durkheim was a function of the Thirty Years’ War.
The Thirty Year’s War, which I wrote about here, began in 1618 and officially ended in 1648. By 1622, this area of the Pfalz was depopulated, with the residents taking shelter in one of three cities; Durkheim, Frankenthal, or Speyer. The villages were decimated, completely burned, the fields destroyed. Thirty years later, around 1650, a few people began to very slowly return to some of the villages – or better stated – where the villages had been.
A neighbor village, Seckenheim, only saw 5 families return. Two-thirds of the population was killed during the war plus the people who would have naturally died during a thirty-year period. That meant that minimally, one of two parents in every family died, and 6 or 7 of 10 children. Virtually everyone past child-bearing age at the beginning of the war wasn’t alive to see the end.
Of course, that’s assuming that 10 children survived in each family, which generally wasn’t the case either. Many families would have lost all their children, and many children would have lost both parents and perhaps all of their siblings. The trauma of this war would have haunted survivors and their descendants for generations.
A male marrying in 1650 would have been born, most likely, between 1620 and 1625. In other words, in the worst part of the Thirty Years’ War when his family was seeking refuge, with absolutely nothing more than they could carry with them. His mother could have been, literally, on the run while heavily pregnant.
Jerg Kirsch would have probably been born in Durkheim, to refugee parents, grew up and married there.
St. John’s Church in Durkheim
This 1630 drawing of St. John’s church is exactly what Jerg would have seen, and probably Margretha as well. The Latin School was located across the church yard which would have been filled with tombstones of parishioners, already passed over. The children probably wove between them, perhaps playing hide and seek.
The history of the church itself reaches back to the year 946, before the present structure, minus the spire, was built. The spire was added during an 1800s renovation.
The current gothic St. John’s Church, now known at the Castle Church, was begun in 1300 and completed in 1335, so was already 350 years old in 1650.
This church contains many artifacts that shaped what Jerg would have seen every Sunday as he attended services in the beautiful Protestant church, probably approaching up the hill from behind the church in the residential area. This same street remains today.
Between 1504 and 1508 Count Emich (d 1535) IX built a burial chapel with an inaccessible crypt, attached to the south-eastern aisle of the church.
This late Gothic Leininger Burial Chapel has two gables, a saddle roof, ribbed vault and is spatially connected to the church. The “rulers box,” a private viewing area from which the count followed the service is on the right with the smaller window. This division is also visible from the outside. To the west, you can see the burial chapel with its three-part pointed arch window. To the east, a small pointed arch window lets light into the ruler’s box and a separate outer door allows access directly outside.
Several Gothic tombstones and Renaissance epitaphs have been preserved, many inside. One, the stone of the Limburg Abbot, above, who died in 1531, was moved outside.
The most important internal monument is the double epitaph of Count Emich XII. von Leiningen-Hardenburg and his wife Maria Elisabeth von Pfalz-Zweibrücken, daughter of Duke Wolfgang von Pfalz-Zweibrücken.
The Speyer sculptor David Voidel created this masterpiece around 1612 and you can see behind the princely figures a relief that shows the buildings of the Hardenburg castle, shown below in 1630, now in ruins.
There are also the grave slabs of the builder, Count Emich IX, in the chapel. von Leiningen and his wife Agnes geb. von Eppstein-Münzenberg (died in 1533), below, as well as remains of Gothic wall paintings.
Jerg would have seen all of this routinely. Did he touch the engraved letters and gaze up at the praying stone figures beneath the crucifix? Or maybe he was so used to seeing them that they didn’t even register anymore.
Jerg would have been baptized in this now-orange baptismal font that dates from 1537. Then, it would simply have been carved stone.
This font would have stood silently in the church as Jerg and Margretha repeated their vows to each other, in front of family and God, nearby. This font patiently waited for them to return with their first child a year or 18 months later. This baptismal font would have wetted at least three generations of Kirsch family members, and perhaps more.
Those baptismal records don’t exist today, but assuredly Jerg and Margaretha’s first children were baptized here, in the same font where they were both likely baptized too. Her father, Steffan, may have even been the minister to baptize them!
Their first 5 children were probably baptized here, but in 1660, it appears that Jerg and Margretha moved back to Fussgoenheim.
Co-Lessee of the Jostens Estate
On January 12, 1660 a feudal letter was written naming Jerg as co-lessee of the Josten estate in Fussgoenheim – in other words, a tenant of the church lands.
Of course, as tenant, Jerg and family would have moved the 6 miles down the road to what was left of Fussgoenheim and set about rebuilding – something. There was likely nothing left.
We don’t know who the other co-lessee was, but there were at least two. The church obviously wanted the land to be worked again. A lease of this type was typically hereditary in nature. In other words, this was the family’s ticket to stability and prosperity – perhaps leaving the hunger and strife of life during and after the Thirty Years’ War behind, permanently.
This move would have represented a lot of work, but also opportunity. It would have been a happy family that walked the 6 miles to Fussgoenheim, dreaming of and chattering about the future.
Yes indeed, things were looking up for Jerg!
We know of 7 children, all boys. We discover most of these children in their own records later, or those of their children, in Fussgoenheim. Plus, there’s the matter of the 1743 attempted land grab of Jerg’s hereditary land rights – but I’m getting ahead of myself.
We have to estimate the ages of Jerg’s sons, and all but one was probably born after 1660. That means that his older children born in Durkheim, with one possible exception, were daughters, or died young. If they perished before the family left Durkheim, they may reside eternally in that churchyard beside the church.
Based on the ages of his children, we know that Jerg and Margretha were still having children in roughly 1677 which would have put Margretha’s age at about 47, somewhat on the old side to still be bearing children. Of course, we’re assuming that she was Jerg’s only wife and that she was age 20 when they married. That might not have been the case.
In a 1717 document, their son Adam was mentioned as having been born about 1677. If Margretha was born in 1620, she would have been 47 in 1677. Perhaps she was a couple years younger and perhaps his age was misremembered.
Nevertheless, we know Jerg had at least 7 living children with son Johann Adam born about 1677. They probably had 12 or 13 children over the 27 years between 1650 and 1677, with some being daughters and likely, some passing away at birth or as children.
Just when it seems like everything was going so well, suddenly, it wasn’t.
In 1673, the King of France declared war on this part of Germany, annexing the lands between France and the Rhine, including Fussgoenheim and all villages in this region.
In 1674, this area was once again ravaged by the French army.
We don’t know where Jerg and his family were during this time. Did they evacuate? If so, how soon? Did they try to stay? Did they stay until their homes were burned again?
We just don’t know. Clearly, the population was in dire straits – no food, not even clothes. You can’t trade if you can’t farm. You can’t eat with no crops in the field.
In the midst of this, their youngest son Adam was born about 1677. The next younger surviving child was born about 1670, before the French incursion.
The Bishop wrote on January 9, 1679.
The town of Lauterburg and the villages around there are in such a desolate and pitiful state that the people don´t even have anything to wear. Some have run away, and those who remain do not even have bread to eat.
Things became even worse in 1688.
In 1688, the French King sent nearly 50,000 men with instructions “that the Palatinate should be made a desert,” launching what would become known as the Nine Years’ War or the War of the Palatine Succession.
The French commander gave the half-million residents a 3-day notice that they must leave their homes, causing thousands to die of cold and hunger. Many who survived became beggars on the streets of other European cities. Again, in a bloody campaign of carnage, France devastated the area, annexing it for their own.
This etching shows the city of Speyer before and during the fire of 1689 when the French methodically burned almost every town and village in the Palatinate. Speyer was one of the locations where refugees from the villages and farms had sought refuge. Once again, they would have to seek safety elsewhere – the city of Speyer almost totally destroyed.
We know two definitive things about the Kirsch family, and about Jerg.
We know that the family once again sought refuge in Durkheim, although we don’t know when they left Fussgoenheim. And we know that Jerg was dead by 1695.
Marriage: 22 Feb 1695
Were married by the pastor J. Darsch? Joh. Willhelm Kirsch, surviving son of the late Joh. Georg Kirsch with Anna Maria, surviving legitimate dau of the late John. Adam Borsler, former resident and kirchengeschworener from here.
The upheaval in the Pfalz began before Adam was born, assuming 1677 is accurate – so we know that Jerg survived the 1674 attacks. We know the family survived, someplace, with at least 6 children before Adam’s birth.
That means that at least 7 of Jerg’s children survived to adulthood.
So, if there are no church records in Fussgoenheim, few records elsewhere, with the exception of the two Kirsch records, one in 1650 and one in 1695, found in Durkheim, then how do we know that Jerg had 7 surviving children?
The Kirsch sons, at least four of them, Johann Jacob, Johann Michael, Johann Wilhelm and Johann Adam returned to Fussgoenheim. Two sons, Johannes and Andreas lived in Ellerstadt, and Johannes died there. We know that Daniel lived to adulthood, but we don’t know more about him.
How do we know this?
The records within Fussgoenheim are scant, but a few do exist.
In 1701, Adam Kirsch is noted as being the mayor. Clearly, with the war having just ended a couple of years before, very few families would have returned, and those who did needed to have some reason, meaning some potential way of earning a living.
The number of families that had returned by 1701 was probably only a handful. It had been nearly a quarter century since they had left – again – after only living in Fussgoenheim about 15 years after returning after the 30 Years’ War. Altogether, in the 100 years between 1618 and 1718, the Kirsch family had lived elsewhere for about 66 years.
Of course, we don’t know if the Kirsch family originated in Fussgoenheim before the Thirty Years War. We only know that Jerg married a wife whose father was the pastor in Fussgoenheim before the war, and that Jerg was the co-lessee of the Josten estate in 1660.
In 1717, we know that both Johann Wilhelm Kirsch and Johann Adam Kirsch participated in a reconstruction of the social customs and morays lost during the century of warfare. Some records of that testimony do exist.
By 1720, the entire village only consisted of 150-200 people, according to village records, or about 15-20 homes by my estimate. Of those, we know that at least four of those residences would have been Kirsch homes. Those Kirsch sons were entitled to Jerg’s “ownership” of the leasehold rights of the Jostens estate. That’s what would have brought Jerg’s family back to Fussgoenheim. They had the right to farm the land that Jerg had the right to farm before the war. The war didn’t change those rights – and those rights were all that his sons had.
In 1733 and 1734, once again, the French sought to invade this part of Germany in the War of Polish Succession. Their military map shows the region, with Fussgoenheim labeled as Fugelsheim. Ellerstadt as Elstatt and Durkheim as Durckeim. You can see that Durckeim, far left, is walled with corner turrets.
Enlarging this map of Fussgoenheim shows that there are about 9 buildings, clustered around the crossroads at the center of town.
In 1729, the fuedal lord, Jacob Tilman von Hallberg attempted to resurvey the land, meaning that the residents’ rights were dramatically reduced by as much as two-thirds.
Hallberg submitted his redrawn property map to the village elders for a rubber stamp of approval in 1743. None of Jerg’s sons sat on the council by this time, but his grandsons did. By 1743, Jerg’s grandsons had inherited his co-lessee rights, and one, Johann Michael Kirsch was mayor. The village elders, Michael Kirsch included, soundly rejected Hallberg’s revisionist history – and as a result, the Kirsch men and several others were all kicked out of Fussgoenheim.
The Kirsch family had nothing – their homes and belongings left behind and auctioned by Hallberg. They became serfs in nearby Ellerstadt. They had no choice.
However, Jerg would have been proud of his grandsons because, even as impoverished peasants, they stood up and fought – for a decade. In courts across the land. Hallberg ignored the courts’ verdicts ordering him to accept the Kirsch families back into Fussgoenheim and return their homes and land. Hallberg turned an entirely deaf ear, requiring the Kirsch families to return to court, again. I think Hallberg hoped he would simply wear out their resolve, but that didn’t happen.
Eventually, the families did return, but they never reclaimed their original lands. They did however retain the redrawn lands shown on the 1743 map – some of which remained in the Kirsch family beyond WWII.
However, between 1660 when the feudal letter stated that Jerg was the co-lessee of the Jostens estate, and 1753 when the families were allowed back into the village – 93 years has passed, along with at least two entire generations. The third, fourth and fifth generation were living by then. The lines of succession – who was entitled to what portion of Jerg’s leasehold rights were unclear – so an accounting occurred in 1753.
Cousin Walter Schnebel obtained those accounting documents. Now deceased, he lived beside the Kirsch home in Fussgoenheim as a child and spent many years attempting to reconstruct the various family members – many carrying the same names generation after generation. Who was born to whom?
The church records, although incomplete, began in 1726. Large parts are missing altogether and the ones that do exist are often frustratingly sparse with gaping black-holes of time with years unaccounted for.
We know that in 1733, the church was complete because von Hallberg complained that the residents had refused to pay for the church. However, a church is not specifically shown on the 1733/34 French military map.
In that 1753 accounting, according to Walter, and from other information, we glean quite a bit about Jerg’s sons. Some grandchildren are mentioned in the accounting, but the families have been reassembled in part from other church records as well.
- Daniel (probably Johann Daniel) Kirsch born circa 1660, died before 1723 – nothing more is known. This could mean that he didn’t live in Fussgoenheim, so had no citizenship rights that would have descended from Jerg. He may have had children elsewhere.
- Johannes Kirsch born about 1665 and died in 1738, single, in Ellerstadt. This was before the 1743 eviction, so he was living in Ellerstadt by his own choice.
- Andreas (probably Johann Andreas) Kirsch born about 1666 and died in 1734, lived in Ellerstadt and Oggersheim and had no children in Fussgoenheim. This means no one from his line had any rights to Jerg’s leasehold rights. He may have had children elsewhere.
- Johann Jacob Kirsch, the oldest known son, born about 1655 and died before 1723. He had children:
- Maria Catharina Kirsch born about 1695.
- Johann Andreas Kirsch born about 1700 died 1774.
- Johann Martin Kirsch born about 1702 died 1741, widow Anna Elisabetha Borstler mentioned in the 1753 accounting. He is shown on the 1743 map.
- Anna Barbara Kirsch born about 1705 died 1771.
- Johann Adam Kirsch born about 1710, widower in 1735.
- Johann Wilhelm Kirsch born about 1710 died 1741/42.
- Johann Michael Kirsch born about 1668, died in 1743. Anna Margaretha Spanier, his widow was mentioned in 1753. They had children:
- Johann Daniel Kirsch born about 1700 died 1737.
- Johann Jacob Kirsch born 1703 died 1762 in Durkheim.
- Johann Georg Kirsch born 1704, mentioned in 1753 accounting.
- Johann Michael Kirsch, the baker, born about 1705, died after 1753, mentioned in the 1753 accounting.
- Johann Nicolaus Kirsch born about 1710, mentioned in 1753 accounting along with a possible son, Johann Adam born in 1731, died in 1777. Johann Adam in the 1753 accounting is possibly the son of Johann Jacob Kirsch.
- Anna Catharina Kirsch born in 1717, confirmed in 1730, nothing more is known.
- Johann Wilhelm Kirsch (my ancestor) born about 1760, died after 1717 and before 1723. (Clearly, there is a 1723 demarcation of some sort that Walter found, but I have no idea what it was, or where he found those records.)
- Maria Catharina Kirsch (my ancestor) born about 1700 married Johann Theobald Koob in 1730.
- Anna Catharina Kirsch born about 1705 – nothing more known.
- Johann Andreas Kirsch born in 1716 and died before 1745.
- Anna Margaretha Kirsch born in 1718.
- Johann Adam Kirsch (my ancestor) born in 1677, died before 1740 and had children:
- Johann Michael Kirsch, the Mayor, (my ancestor) born about 1700 died in 1759. Mentioned in the 1753 accounting. On the 1743 map with three houses.
- Johann Wilhelm Kirsch born about 1706. On the 1743 map, shown adjacent the church on the south side.
- Johann Jacob Kirsch born about 1710.
- Maria Catharina Kirsch born about 1715.
- Johann Peter Kirsch born in 1716 died before 1760. Mentioned in the 1753 accounting and is on the 1743 map living across from Michael Kirsch.
The 1743 Map of Fussgoenheim
As you can see on the 1743 map, above, the Kirsch property was scattered throughout the village at locations 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 22, 24 and possibly a couple more locations that are illegible.
If Jerg was a co-lessee, where was the land of the other lessee, or lessees? The leasehold rights of Jerg’s descendants are scattered across the northern portion of the village, with one house below the church which was considered the line in the sand between the upper and under mayor’s bailiwicks.
Jerg may have died sometime after evacuating from Fussgoenheim around 1674 and before his son’s 1695 wedding, but his legacy reached far beyond. In 1753, the court was unraveling his leasehold estate. I don’t know how Jerg initially obtained those leasehold rights, but they were likely the reason the Kirsch family returned to Fussgoenheim. That leasehold may have been why they survived – giving them at least roots from which to grow – a place they could make their home. That’s far more than most peasants could claim.
Jerg did right by his children – but he likely had no idea the magnitude of the gift he was actually bestowing upon future generations.
The home, above, constructed probably not long after the family’s 1690 return and owned by Johann Michael Kirsch, the mayor, in 1743, wrapped the Kirsch family, standing in front in the 1940s, in warmth and safety for another 250+ years.
The Kirsch home, in fact, still stands today, some 300 years later.
We don’t know what the village of Fussgoenheim looked like before the Thirty Year’s War, or before the reconstruction following the return to the area after the Nine Years’ War ended in 1697. Jerg lived in Fussgoenheim in the period between 1660 and 1684. He was deceased by 1695. We know from the records that the church was rebuilt sometime between 1726 and 1733, and the existing homes probably in the same timeframe.
German farm homes then, as now, were arranged such that the houses were close together, generally connected. The farm fields stretched out behind the houses. This view, today, includes the farm area, several homes and the church in the distance.
The 1743 map that emerged from the 1729 resurvey shows Jerg’s sons’ 8 residences/properties scattered throughout the northern portion of the village called the Unterdorf. William Kirsch lived adjacent the church on the south side which was the border between the Unterdorf and Oberdorf which was administratively separate from the Unterforf, having different mayors and councils. The cluster of Kirsch homes in the Unterdorf, combined with the statement that Jerg was co-lessee of the Josten estate in 1660, causes me to wonder if Jerg had the right to farm, and live on, the entire Unterdorf with the other lessee farming the Oberdorf.
The entire village, according to the 1729 resurvey by Hallberg totaled 532 acres, of which he confiscated 386 for himself, leaving only 146.75 acres in private hands, including the Kirsch families.
While the Oberdorf and Unterdorf, shown approximately in the red square, above, may not have been equal in size, half would be 266 acres. Large for a German farm, but certainly earning the Kirsch family the reputation of being “wealthy farmers” which lasted in family lore into the 20th century. You can still see the farm fields, stretching out behind the homes today. The home of Michael Kirsch, the Mayor in 1743, is noted with a star. This was assuredly at least one of the properties left by Jerg to his sons, and through them, grandsons as well.
I can’t help but wonder if this is what Jerg saw, minus the church spire, of course. Fussgoenheim represented hope for Jerg in 1660, and hope that his children would one day return when the family had to leave once again in the 1670s.
This stunning photo as well as this one was taken by Jurgen Kirsch, whom I would love to contact. I wish there was an option to leave a message for the photographers who upload photos to Google maps, but I can’t find any way to contact the photographer.
Is Jergen a cousin, also descending from Jerg Kirsch? Jerg’s namesake all these generations later? I’m dying to know. Perhaps Jergen will be googling one day and find me😊. He has certainly taken a lot of photos of Fussgoenheim, including a short video of a local band in a parade that seems to be taken from an upper window.
Hmmm, it appears that Fussgoenheim has an Oktoberfest. But of course it does – it’s a German village, after all!
Jerg’s legacy reaches far, far beyond anything he could ever have imagined, many generations into the future.
Unless a miraculous record somehow escaped the devastation of the Thirty Years’ War, we’ll never know where Jerg came from.
However, we do have a couple of general clues, such as they are.
First, the Kirsch surname. I don’t know when surnames were adopted in the Pfalz region of Germany, but I know they were in use before 1600, based on the few remaining tombstones, one of which has been preserved in the churchyard in Fussgoenheim from before the Thirty Years’ War.
When surnames were first adopted, they were generally either professions like millers or blacksmiths, or some defining word that would separate that particular man from another man of the same first name.
Kirsch translates to cherry. The Pfalz is the fruit basket of Germany. The Black Forest area of Germany, not terribly far away, traditionally made a lovely cherry brandy called Kirschwasser.
Based on Jerg’s surname, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to speculate that his ancestors might well have raised cherries.
Today, Lindt makes a Kirschwasser chocolate. I might just have to do some tasting – in the name of genealogy of course.
Oh good heavens – as an act of self-preservation, do NOT Google Kirschwasser chocolate. Hmmm, looks like Kirschwasser is also in Black Forest cake. Excuse me for a bit while I excavate this rabbit hole!
It will be the Y DNA of Jerg Kirsch that transports us further back in time, if anything does.
Today, Jerg’s descendant who has Y DNA tested has no matches above 25 markers. His Big Y-500 tells us that Jerg’s haplogroup is R-A6706, but that he has no Big Y (SNP only) matches within 30 mutations, or about 1500 years, today. The one other person who falls into haplogroup R-A6706 does not provide a location. There are several downstream branches which suggests that perhaps if we upgraded my Kirsch cousin’s test to the Big Y-700, we would gain additional information and he might fall actually reside on one of those branches. Eleven other German men have placed beneath R-A6706.
Sub-branches of R-A6706 appear to have split about 52 generations ago, or roughly 5000 years, and are found across Europe.
I maintain hope that indeed, the various Kirsch lines, other than Jerg’s, weren’t all destroyed during the century of warfare that defined the 1600s.
To date, no Y DNA matches are forthcoming, but the great news is that indeed, DNA is the gift that fishes forever.
In the meantime, I think I’ll find some black forest cake and sip some lovely German wine, relishing my Kirsch heritage and pondering what life must have been like for Jerg.
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