Rudolph Muller’s Blacksmith Shop in Grossheppach

Just when you thought we were finished with Rudolph Muller and his wife, Margretha, in Grossheppach, we’re not😊

Cousin Wolfram, using the 1832 cadastral maps, made an important discovery and has been kind enough to share. THANK YOU!!!

Blacksmith and Ferrier

If you recall, in the Grossheppach records for Johann Rudolph Muller and his wife, Margretha, we discovered that Rudolph was noted as a blacksmith and ferrier in different records.

I asked Wolfram if he thought that perhaps Rudolph’s blacksmith shop was at the castle, given that horses were rare and that Margretha was listed as either a chambermaid or “waiting maid.” Both of those professions suggested that they worked for someone who had enough money to pay for non-essential items like horses and services like maids.

Wolfram had mentioned that he had not been able to determine, previously, the location of the blacksmith shop – but that has all changed now.

Make yourself a cup of tea, or beverage of your choice, because we’re going along with Wolfram on an adventure to find the elusive blacksmith shop!

Wolfram’s Discovery

I LOVE emails from Wolfram!

Here is something more which might be quite interesting.

One entire word about the job of a blacksmith in Großheppach. You need to know, horses were really rare. I have seen this in the inventory lists of mid/end 18th century. There is absolutely rarely a horse. Maybe only the mill, the castle and the Lamm Inn had horses. There was no need for it and the space of the valley did not allow to plant food for the horses. Even my mother told, there was only one house who had horses. Also oxes were not available, my mother told. They carried the carts either by hand (smaller ones) or with milk cows. I was also asking if it was difficult having cows for the carts. But she mentioned they had very calm cows. They were able to do everything. So for a blacksmith the job were not so much horseshoes (yes, sometimes for troups who came along). Mainly they were surely doing all kind of metal work. Tools for work, for the carts and for buildings.

Now, where the family was located in Großheppach. I did not know where he lived. But now I analyzed the facts:

I have following facts:

I have the cadastre of 1832. There are three smith’s named:

  1. Joseph Friedrich Löffler, Schmied
  2. Christoph Ellwanger, Schmied
  3. Johannes Lutz, Schlosser together with Johannes Pfund, Nagelschmied (= Nailsmith?)

Wolfram provided a document which included the following information based on the cadastral map of 1832.

Location #1

Urnummerkarte 095, Grunbacher Straße ca. Nr. 20

Hauptstraße 34, today Grunbacherstraße (number. 20 is no longer there)

Consisting of:

Area square rods [QR]
House and barn 12,8
Wooden hut 3,2
Courtyard space 9,9
Total 25,9
in sqm 212,6

[Quelle: Urnummernkarte NO 2922, Jg 1832]    [Quelle: Google Maps, 2015]



Joseph Friedrich Löffler, Schmied (blacksmith)

Here the explanation for the above location:

Ground of no.1 is named as a living house and barn, a wooden cabin and a courtyard. It does not look like a fix installed blacksmith. But it is located close to the castle (to the right) and close to the Lamm inn (to the left).

Location #2

Urnummerkarte 105, Brückenstraße 1

Mühlweg 1, steht nicht mehr, heute Brückenstraße 1. War Gasthaus zum Schlüssel. Dieses Gasthaus hatte den größten Saal im Ort, so dass hier de facto alle Hochzeiten gefeiert wurden. Auf älteren Gruppenbildern ist meist der Eingang, flankiert von zwei aufgestellten  Bäumen, abgebildet.

Deepl translation of above:

Mühlweg 1, no longer stands, today Brückenstraße 1. Was Gasthaus zum Schlüssel. This inn had the largest hall in the village, so de facto all weddings were celebrated here. Older group pictures usually show the entrance flanked by two upright trees.

Consisting of:

Fläche Quadratruten [QR]
Residential house 18,1
Staffeln (Seasons) 0,7
Scheuer [b] 8,0
Forge [a] 2,4
Oven the garden 0,4
Courtyard space 16,4
Total 46,0
in sqm 377,6

[Quelle: Urnummernkarte NO 2922, Jg 1832]    [Quelle: Google Maps, 2015]



Christoph Ellwanger, Schmied

Ground of no2 is named as living house, stairs (even there it is flat ???), barn, blacksmith, baking oven in the garden and courtyard. The blacksmith workshop itself is the small building right at the edge of the crossing.

Location 3

Urnummerkarte 170, Brückenstraße 5

Mühlweg 3 und 5, today Brückenstraße 5

Consisting of:

Fläche Quadratruten [QR]
Residential house 5,8
Courtyard space 5,4
Total 17,0
in sqm 139,5

[Quelle: Urnummernkarte NO 2922, Jg 1832]    [Quelle: Google Maps, 2017]



Johannes Lutz, locksmith and

Johannes Pfund, Nailsmith, joint

Ground of no3 is neighbor of no. 2 and next to the mill. Owner of this building is Johannes Lutz, locksmith and Johannes Pfund, nailer [= nailsmith?]

Wolfram’s Analysis

Only no. 2 is named as a blacksmith workshop. Therefore I think this was the original place. It is a good strategic place, by the way, because this was on the old street from east to west, it was on the way to the bridge over the Rems to reach Beutelsbach, Endersbach, Schnait or on the way to the south and finally, it was located next to the mill.

This place became a restaurant, I think in the 20th century (but I am not 100% sure), called “Zum Goldenen Schlüssel” (The golden key) and was THE RESTAURANT for all kind of events because they had the biggest room for celebrations (wedding, funeral feast…)

Also, my parents married there and my grandparents, and…

Basically, all old wedding pictures from Großheppach have this motive you can see an example in the picture below.

Now looking backwards. For sure I have a list of blacksmiths.

The inventory files from mid/end 18th century I have not analyzed fully. But I had a look in some records of the Barchet family (also blacksmith). There is saying, the house was standing “in the middle of the village, touching at the one side to the common entrance street, and on the other to Matthäus Lösch and Jerg Leonhard Stock.”

As Matthäus Lösch was a cooper in mid-1750s and the two houses east of the smith along the old roman main street were also owned from coopers in 1820, It seem that the Barchet owned this blacksmith in mid 1750s. But further backwards I actually cannot go.

 Finally, it is sure, that the place of a blacksmith was at that particular corner also in mid-1800s. And the probability is high, that 100 years before the blacksmith was at the same place as there was not so much movement those days in houses/jobs etc. And I am quite sure, Rudolph Müller owned this blacksmith at this particular corner or even founded it.

By the way, at the corner is today the butcher “Klass.”

Still today they have the golden key in their logo which is coming from the former restaurant “Zum Goldenen Schlüssel”. And it looks logic, that the real root of the key-logo is laying in the old blacksmith. I really have to ask the owner who is my friend 🙂


So, there you have it. Wolfram has been able to identify the location of Rudolph’s blacksmith shop which is of course where the family lived too. Comparatively speaking, their home seemed quite large. Did Rudolph build this home, and the forge, or did he purchase the property from an earlier blacksmith, perhaps from the heirs of one who had perished during the Thirty Years War?

Is there any hint of the blacksmith shop, or bricks from the oven, perhaps, still recognizable or to be found on the property, today?

This “corner lot” would have been a prime piece of real estate, passed by all travelers because it was directly on the road to the bridge and the mill, locations frequented by everyone.

I wonder if Rudolph knew the history of this road, that it was, in fact, the old Roman road.

That legions of men in boots had marched around the corner and past his blacksmith shop for hundreds, if not thousands of years. That battles had been fought here, and on the bridge nearby.

Some lucky men rode horses and those horses needed shoes. Perhaps Rudolph had some wine on hand too for thirsty riders as well as water for thirsty horses. At least men who owned horses had enough money to pay for his services and perhaps some discretionary purchases too.

Local farmers bringing their grain to the mill might have needed the axle on their cart or wagon fixed, or a tool or something else repaired. Rudolph was right nearby, literally next door, within sight.

Even people not needing a blacksmith’s services might have been lured by the smells of whatever was baking in that outdoor oven. Maybe the blacksmith’s shop became the corner gathering place where vineyards were discussed and the quality of fermenting wine along with the weather. Or if the visitors were women, who was courting whom, and later, who was “expecting.” Or maybe even more scandalous when that order was reversed.

I’ve noted the two blacksmith locations that were located very closely adjacent in 1832, 140 years or about 4 generations after Rudolph’s death, on the current map, above. The arrow at left is, of course, the blacksmith shop where Rudolph is believed to have lived, although the blacksmith shop is incorporated into the larger “residential” building which has been significantly expanded, and the garden oven is gone. It’s still quite recognizable 189 years after the cadastral map was drawn and would likely have been recognizable if a map had been drawn in Rudolph’s lifetime as well.

The arrow at right points to the location that was, in 1832 the locksmith and “nailsmith.”

The large building to the far right, in the corner, is the old mill, both then and now.

The long corner building appears to be where Rudolph and Margretha would have lived, with the blacksmith workshop right on the corner and a baking oven in the courtyard. Grain was readily available at the mill next door. This large oven and oversized residential building suggest that maybe Rudolph provided more than blacksmith services and wine to his visitors. Were he and Margretha also proprietors of a food establishment of some sort – maybe the equivalent “fast food” of the 1600s? Grab a glass of wine and a pastry, “to go,” or while you wait for your repair to be completed?

Was “waiting maid” perhaps a way of conveying that Margretha waited on customers, a waitress or server in today’s vernacular? Was this the actual beginning of what would evolve into the Golden Key restaurant? The location was certainly ideal!


Now it makes sense why the local miller at the time, Jerg Leonhard Herman and his wife Magdalena stood up as godparents for all but one of Rudolph and Margretha’s children. Jerg Leonhard was born in 1630, so the couple would have been the same age as Rudolph and Margretha Muller. They were not only neighbors, but the families along this stretch, the blacksmith, the miller, and the cooper were all tradesmen essential to life in a German village.

And now, of course, I wonder who Jerg Leonard Hermann’s wife, Margaretha, was. Were these couples related? Perhaps there is yet another chapter to this story and even more than meets the eye.



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DNA Tidbit #6: Search Your Emails

I know, this sounds ridiculous doesn’t it.

How long have you had email? I had email before most people because of my technology-related profession, but I’d wager you’ve had email for at least 20 years.

Have you ever forgotten about anything?

Of course not, right?

Let’s do a little experiment.


Go to your email and find the oldest email message you have. (Sort by date, oldest first.)

Before you read the email, do you remember receiving it? Do you know what’s in it?

It may be nothing at all and simply needs to be deleted – but it also might be important. If not then, now.

When I did this experiment myself, just now, I discovered that my husband had sent me a few really cute photos of my granddaughters – MANY years ago. I had forgotten all about them (the pictures, not the granddaughters,) but now I’ve filed them where they are supposed to go.

In the case of photos, I file the photo in the proper photo folder on my system itself, NOT in email, and then I delete the email. But other emails get treated differently.

Email Folders

For years, I’ve filed most emails in a series of logical folders. For example, if I’m working on my Estes line, I have an Estes folder and inside that folder, correspondence by either topic or person – or maybe more subfolders.

I try to file emails after I process them when they arrive – but notice the word “try” and the other word, “process.”

Unfortunately, I never get around to processing some emails. I have the best of intentions, but it seems like I’m just chronically pressed for time. I used to think this would stop and I’d catch up, but now I know it’s a permanent condition.

Things fall between the cracks.

About Searching

Every email provider works differently, and I can’t begin to advise you HOW to search on your email platform.

I use a combination of synced platforms, meaning one iteration is online, plus I download my emails to my computer system through Microsoft Outlook. That’s where I have folders set up and move messages to the appropriate folders.

I also have, (ahem,) many emails in my inbox that I’ve never done anything with. When I have a few minutes and I can choose between processing old emails or working on genealogy or writing an article – you can see what wins out.

I discovered by accident recently that I had more information about an ancestor than I realized – including emails from people no longer living with details about their lineage.

This has happened in part because I had forgotten about 20+-year-old conversations and partly because some emails weren’t filed in the appropriate folders. It’s also possible that some emails are filed, but have two surnames, a location, or information relevant to your current research that you didn’t realize at the time.

That’s why you need to think in terms of using your email provider’s search functionality to cast a broad net and search your own archives.

Search Techniques

Using Outlook, I have several options, including:

  • Just searching the inbox or current folder that’s open
  • Searching all folders and subfolders
  • Searching all mailboxes or all Outlook items
  • Filtering by specific fields
  • Including or excluding attachments
  • And more

If you’re uncertain how to search on your platform, Google and possibly YouTube are your friends.

What I typically do using OutLook, unless I know I’m going to get a huge number of hits, which often crashes Outlook, is to search for the surname in question.

Searching for Estes would return way too many, including every message I’ve sent or received. I’d need to find something more specific. Like maybe Halifax for Halifax County, or Moses for Moses Estes. Sterling for my father’s middle name. The most unique word I can think of relevant to my search.

I might be searching for anything having to do with the village of Beutelsbach in Germany, so I’d enter that word.

If I select a specific folder and open it in Outlook, that makes things easier because I can search for Moses within the Estes folder and receive only relevant hits inside that folder. Of course, that’s assuming I filed everything like I was supposed to. In my case, that’s not a valid assumption.

Beutelsbach won’t be as easy, because I have several ancestral lines from that village so emails pertaining to Beutelsbach will be filed in numerous places.

So, What Happened?

You might be wondering how or why this came up. And you might have guessed that I found something quite important that I have forgotten entirely about.

You’d be right.

How did that happen?

I simply forgot.

However, when I saw the email, I remembered immediately. Turns out, it was an email with photos of one of the villages where many ancestors lived in Germany. The best pictures anyplace on the internet were right on my own system, with permission to use them, all along.

What have you forgotten about? What’s buried in your old emails that might be valuable?

Let me know what you find.



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Painting the Life of Rudolph & Margretha Muller in Grossheppach, Germany – 52 Ancestors #322

It never fails to amaze me when fate joins cousins from across the globe.

Yep, it has happened once again and I’m jumping for joy.

Johann Rudolpf Muller and his wife, Margretha had several children – among them, two daughters.

I descend from daughter Sibylla born in 1672, and my distant cousin, Wolfram descends from her older sister, Veronica, born in 1666. That makes us roughly 7th cousins.

Let me say before going any further that this article would not have been possible without Wolfram’s generosity – sharing his research, information, time, and photos. He has been immeasurably patient with me asking what probably feels like endless questions.

For me, the view he has provided of where our ancestors lived is like drinking the nectar of the Gods. This not only provides a glimpse into the village of Grossheppach, but transports me across time as well.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius.

This ancient stone marks the boundary of Grossheppach where it borders neighboring Kleinheppach. Gross means large and Klein means small. Of course, both are a matter of perception.

Originally, these two villages were one.

Großheppach and Kleinheppach emerged as a joint expansion site in the 9th century (at the time the Fronhof constitution was still in force) and was probably founded in Waiblingen. The place takes its name from the stream, which at that time was already called Heckebach or Heggebach, which stands for a stream between hedges; the village and corridor image of the Middle Ages was characterized by the many hedges that served as fences. The oldest spellings of the place name are Hegnesbach (1236) and Hegbach (1365). As an independently tangible place, Kleinheppach first appears as Heckebach superiori (1294) or Obernheggebach (1297).

Kleinheppach, the smaller village consisted of a church surrounded by a few houses in 1686.

Sometimes the church records of residents of Kleinheppach are mixed with those of Grossheppach in the Grossheppach church register.

Wolfram has a unique perspective because he still lives in Grossheppach, village of our ancestors, along the little stream beside the church, the blacksmith’s shop, the old inn, and the mill.

I’ve asked Wolfram a lot, and I mean A LOT of questions this week. I’m very grateful for his answers and insights, not to mention, pictures.

Did I mention pictures???

Grossheppach in Pictures

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius.

Yes, pictures of beautiful Grossheppach, today and yesteryear! Notice the stately church dome in the background.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius.

Many of these buildings hail from the time when Johann Rudolph and Margretha lived here. They walked these streets which were probably cobblestones or even dirt at the time and saw these very same buildings. This building on the corner above, now the Schreiber bakery, is one of the oldest buildings in town, built before 1560.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius.

The historic Lamm Inn was the only place for travelers to rest, standing across from the church in the center of the old part of town, also originating on the old Roman road before 1560.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius.

Rudolph and Margretha knew these buildings well. They would have been in and out of these structures over the years. Their daughter, Sibylla, may have been the midwife in Grossheppach before she became the official midwife in neighboring Beutelsbach.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius.

Given the apparent age of this building in this early 1900s photo, Wolfram thinks it’s from the 1800s. It’s not connected to our family.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius.

Wolfram tells us about the milk house:

The milk house was a house where the people sold their milk to if they had more than they needed. I am not sure. Maybe they did cheese out of it but definitively also butter. There you were able to buy milk, butter, cheese.

The people you can see on the picture was the family of my grand-grandfather.

The small child at the hand of my grand-grandfather Gottlob Stilz (1875-1942) was my grandmother Sophie (1909-1977). The wife is my grand-grandmother Sofie Böhringer (1881-1964) with her other child (aunt Anna Bertha) on her arm. The picture must be from 1912.

The house is not existing any more. But my mother told it was placed at today’s Kleinheppacherstrasse 26.

By the way, maybe interesting for you. Normally the people had beside the chicken, some cows for the milk and sometimes maybe meat. Most people were poor. And as you might know, a cow needs to birth every year a calf to get milk. Means you need a bull. So the bull was normally a municipal owned animal, so not everybody needed to have one. They had an extra stable for these bull which was called “Farrenstall”. Because the name of such a bull was “Farren”. In Großheppach it was located in former days in the town hall – ground floor;)

I’m sorry, but this made me just laugh out loud. I was raised on a farm in the US and am all too familiar with bulls. We too shared one bull for the entire neighborhood. You might say he got to go for slumber parties. Happiest bull ever.

German “farms” are much different than in the US. Because of the need to cluster houses together defensively, all the houses are built with the barns in the village, and the farm fields extend behind the village.

Medieval cities were walled, but in smaller towns, only the church and cemetery were walled. In some cases, estates that enclosed several houses and barns were walled as well.

In the Beginning

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius.

Let’s start closer to the beginning, with the bridge and the mill, above and also seen in this beautiful 1686 drawing of Grossheppach when Rudolph, Margretha and their children were living in one of these approximately 55 homes.

The count is approximate for two reasons. First, it’s hard to discern between roofs, and second, because some of those roofs are likely barns beside houses. I can’t tell. So perhaps as few as 20 or 25 houses.

In 1832, Grossheppach had a total of 125 houses.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

Even in the 1950s, Grossheppach was still a small village nestled snugly in the Rems Valley beneath sloping hillside vineyards.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

We do know a few things for sure.

Rudolf and Margretha didn’t live at the mill, although they were quite close to the miller who stood up for several of their children’s baptisms. They didn’t live in the church or in the vineyards. People didn’t actually “live” in either of those places. Farmers and vinedressers lived in the village and walked up to the fields to work. The village was established in time out of mind beside the little stream of Heppach and grew slowly over many centuries.

Wolfram begins:

I can tell you the origin of “Heppach” which is “Heck-bach”. This phrase of the town is often shown in early documents. Origin is ‘Hecke’ and ‘Bach’ which basically means ‘hedge’ and ‘creek’. So the creek at the hedge, or hedge at the creek – as you wish😉

On your second picture you can see a big building close to the bridge. This is the old mill. The buildings still existing. And today the bridge is almost at the original place. Two years ago they digged part of an old bridge. You can read an article about the bridge here.

The archivist Bernd Breyvogel is working in the archive of Weinstadt which is – by the way – located in the old castle of Großheppach. In the 1970’s there was a reform and the 5 villages Großheppach, Beutelsbach, Endersbach, Schnait and Strümpfelbach went together to the new city “Weinstadt” but still the people here know which village they relate to;).

The article asks, “Is the historical bridge the bridge where there was heavy fighting between the imperial and Swedes with 300 dead in January 1643?”

Based on the archaeological dig in combination with this drawing, the answer appears to be yes.

As a genealogist, I have to wonder – how in the heck would a small village bury 300 dead people all at once. That’s probably more people than the entire adult population of the village, maybe more than the population of surrounding villages, combined.

The battle in 1643 occurred during the Thirty Years’ War. This bridge connects Grossheppach with the vineyards on the north side of Beutelsbach. Clearly, anyone living in either village would have been painfully aware of this battle. While Rudolf Muller wasn’t yet living in Germany, my ancestors from Beutelsbach certainly were, and they would clearly have heard that battle, assuming they weren’t involved in some way themselves.

That battle lived in infamy and shaped the village where Rudolph and Margaretha would settle 17 years later.

Wolfram continues:

About the small island close to the mill. This “island” can still be recognized, even though it is not in use any more. On site you can see, that there is the old mill race between the two old buildings. I marked it here into the google map. The one building above the yellow arrow is the one in the map of Kieser’s forest map with the mill wheels. The building below the arrow is built after 1686. But the river course of the Rems has been changed.

Ahh, this explains why I was having trouble finding that island on the map today.

By the way, you can also use Google Maps in 3D. Then you have even a more real and realistic view of my (actual) village:

Wolfram explains that Grossheppach is much older than this though.

As of location of this village you need to know, the village is placed directly at an old road from roman times. Which were going from east to west. The road is today located in Großheppach as “Grunbacher Straße” and “Pfahlbühlstraße” and came from Bavarian region along the former roman border “Limes” and finished in Bad Cannstatt.

There was a roman fort at this strategic place, built in the first century AD. Still today some construction from roman times in the ground of the former castle. Unfortunately, I have only found a site in German. Maybe Google can do the rest for you:

Also the corresponding Wikipedia article is only in German:

But about the roman border “Limes” there is an article in English:

It’s only about 500 feet from the castle to the church, so it’s probable that this old portion of the village is much older than Grossheppach as we know it.

The Roman limes passed directly through Grossheppach, guarded by Roman soldiers from the first through the fifth centuries.

I can’t help but wonder how many of the original families in this area are descendants of the soldiers and local women. Y DNA of early families might well tell that story.

Grossheppach to Beutelsbach

It’s just over a mile from church to church, across the infamous bridge. Throughout Europe, it’s quite common to see steeples in every direction in the countryside, looking at the horizon across the fields. Most villages remained small and all residents needed to be able to fit inside the church and get there quickly.

The mile between villages would only have taken a few minutes to walk. During that 1643 battle, the sounds of armor clashing and the screams of men would have traveled piercingly through the air.

I sure wish Google had StreetView in Europe.

Understanding the dynamics of chronic warfare in Europe over the ages, the walled church and churchyard/cemetery make much more sense.

Both churches retain at least a portion of their original walled structure.

Seen from the air, the church in Beutelsbach is walled with a separate entrance through a small tower near the bottom of the photo.

The yard beside the church is the old cemetery where Rudolph and Margretha’s daughter, Sibylla would have been buried.

Residents would have gathered within those walled churches. Looking at the front, we can see the fortification slots that would allow archers to shoot from the church towers.

Safety was found within churches, in more ways than one. It’s no wonder that everyone lived as close as possible to the church, made of stone, easier to defend and less likely to burn.

The church would literally have been where the community sheltered and literally made their last stand.

Wolfram shares this bit of history:

Rudolph Müller was a farrier, specialized in horseshoes. But you need to know, this was a small village with not so many people living – especially after the 30-years-war. I estimate that 70 – 80% of the people died during the war – mainly from diseases and hunger.

There were some bad periods which were mainly two pest pandemics: 1627 and 1634 after the lost battle of Nördlingen where thousands of marauding foreign soldiers came down the valley of the Rems from Aalen and taking everything which was not nailed down. They destroyed even wine yards. The big and important city Waiblingen – which is only 5 km away – was destroyed totally (only 2 or 3 buildings from the period before are still available in the town). Details of the battle you can read here,

The Church

The church in Grossheppach is ancient, predating Rudolph and Margretha. Their children were baptized in this building. Some of their funerals were preached here too, just before their tiny caskets were carried out the side door into the churchyard, their final resting place. Eventually, Rudolf and Margretha would join them, the dust of their bones still lingering.

Wolfram tells us about the church:

The nave of the church was built in 1468, so it is a Gothic building.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

But they built on an older building which was has been built between 1300 and 1350 as a chapel and became a church around 1430. The chapel was built on a place which was part of the estate “Gmünder Hof” and was owned by the earl of Württemberg (by the way, three estates merged together and founded the village Großheppach).

In 1540’s the church converted from catholic to protestant by decree from Duke Ulrich of Württemberg. His son, Duke Christoph ordered on 30 Jun 1550 to stop catholic mass. The protestant baptism records of Großheppach are available from 1558. Earlier church documents are not available as far as I know.

The lower part of the tower is the oldest part (Romanesque) and might even older than the first chapel. Still today you can see the arrow slits on the east side. I am not sure, if those you can see on the south side are original. The helmet of the tower was different in the past and was looking similar to the one of the church in Endersbach:

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

In the local historic book is a small but quite nice drawing how it could has been around 1560. In the book you can read, that the drawing has been made according to researches of old documents:

You can see the gothic church with its churchyard. A high wall around with a 2-floor wall walk and arrow slits. Parts of the wall on the east and south side are still existing (west is left, east is right at the pic). On the right side you can see the former estate “Gmünder Hof” on the lower right corner of the estate you see a bigger timbered house. This is also still existing and contains today the bakery Schreiber (they have the world’s best Prezel!). Across the street you can see the Lamb Inn with its double roof.

Courtesy Wolfram Callenius

There’s a significant difference in this drawing from 1560, which was followed by the Thirty Years War which began in 1618, and the drawing from 1686. Wolfram doesn’t say when the three estates merged to form Grossheppach, but based on the 1686 map, I’d wager it was between 1560 and 1686. By 1686, based on the map, we know it’s called Grossheppach.

If more than half of the people died during that war, then some of these homes would likely have been empty. Families would have been recombining, attempting to make the best of things. If the three independent estates had not yet merged, it would have made sense at this time.

Income of the nobility relied on taxes, and if people weren’t living on the land and raising crops, there was nothing to tax. After the devastation of the war, Germany needed people to work the land again and rebuild the economy.

After the war ended, it was common for German localities to advertise, in the vernacular of the day, for settlers from neutral countries such as Switzerland that were relatively unaffected by the war – hoping to relieve overpopulation there and provide opportunities for land ownership, freedom of religion and other benefits that might entice settlers.

Devastation for some, leaving empty homes, meant opportunity for the next generation.

Looking at Google Maps, we see those same three buildings today. The church at left, the Lamm Inn with a yellow star and the bakery with red.

Wolfram tells us that in 1769 the top of the church tower roof was replaced by a baroque helmet. The original tower would have been in place when Rudolph and Margretha walked from their home, not far away, to worship.

I asked Wolfram if he had a photo of the interior of the church, and if the baptismal font is original.

Unfortunately, the inside of the church is very puristic.

In former days the church has been painted inside, like you can see in the church of Beutelsbach or Schnait today and there were pictures at the walls and statues.

Also the windows have been different.

The protestant pietists broke very much with the catholic and wanted to reduce more to the inner spirit of the people. They destroyed a lot of old interiors in all of Europe. So today the chorus area/chapel looks like this which is directly below the tower:

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

If the baptismal is original from former days I do not know and I was not able to find it in the Grossheppach history book.

The baptismal font is underneath that tablecloth.

When I first saw that church tower, I wanted to see what was inside. Church towers are often off-limits for safety reasons.

It was my lucky day because Wolfram sent several photos from inside of the church tower and narrates his visit.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

The picture is from inside the church tower. Normally the tower is closed and only some small wooden stairs are going up. The entry is outside from the north. Some years ago there was an open house day and I had the opportunity to get up the tower. I took some pictures.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

Just look at this bell. I wonder if this bell was in place when Rudoph and Margretha lived there? Fortunately, Wolfram has the answer:

About the church bells – the biggest was from 1495, called “Hosanna bell”. But this bell was melted in 1904 into a new one after it has been broken during ringing on 28 Feb 1904. But this new big one has not been melted then. Neither in the first nor second World War. (You need to know, many bells have been melted because metal was rare). So at least the size and material is original:)


Then there were two smaller bells. They had to be melted in 1917 for the first World War. Only 1922 they had money enough to get two new ones but those both had to be melted again in 1942. The two small ones we have now are from 1948.


And here is a link for something you will definitively love. There are some videos of the church and you can hear the bells ringing 🙂


The history of the church provided in Wolfram’s link says that the church had a beautiful peasant painting above the pulpit at one time. I suspect this is beneath the paint and I can’t help but wonder if that couldn’t be painstakingly restored, or at least exposed. It also mentions that the church had an organ by 1600. I wonder how much damage the church sustained during the Thirty Years War. I suspect a substantial amount, but no one would want to carry parts of an organ or church bells away. The original organ was replaced more than a century ago.

You can see and hear Easter and Christmas services here and here 

Still, we know that even after a couple of remodels, it’s still the same church. Rudolph and Margretha sat in pews in this very place, baptized their children in this very building, probably in a baptismal font in just about that same location.

They would have been as at home in this church as they were in their own house.

They would have heard the voices of the bells every time they rang. They would have heard them ring to announce deaths, including those of their own children. The only thing they never got to do in this church, together, was to attend one of their children’s marriages. The family attended Margretha’s funeral in this very sanctuary in 1689 before any of their children married.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

This bell would have summoned residents to church on Sundays.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

Of course, the beams had to be strong enough to support the weight of the bells and not shift as they rang. Thinking about the engineering required for these early churches and large buildings – it’s actually an amazing feat and not only do they still stand, they are functional. These buildings have truly withstood the test of time.

If only these walls, beams and bells could talk. What stories they could tell.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

Two bells side by side. The bells do sound quite different.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

Well, this is a mystery. Always a curious genealogist, I asked Wolfram about this whatever-it-is.

It turned out to be an old clock that used to be located outside on the tower.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

Also this one which looks like a cupboard or cabinet, it is from the old church clock.

Today the clock is electric and this one is from 1900 and they placed it there. I do not know if this is the original place but there was space in the tower. As you can see on the picture there is some text. I will translate it for you:

“In memory of
Miss. Elise Vreede,
died here 19 Nov 1899,
donated from her three sisters
Mrs. Marie Schmid, Schorndorf,
Mrs Luise von Wendland, München,
Mrs. Therese von Abel, Grossheppach
In the year of salvation 1900.”

Therese von Abel was the local landlord’s wife. They lived here in the small castle.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

I would guess that this is the platform inside the tower and the steps to the bell lead upward from there. Back then, the bell-ringer would have climbed those steps to ring the bell as needed. It would be interesting to know how often the bell rang.

The churchyard in Grossheppach is now bricked with pavers, but the graves of both Rudolph and Margretha assuredly lie beneath these pavers, within the fortified walls.

Von Silesia711 – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Wolfram added information about the cemetery beside the church in Grossheppach.

As of cemetery: There were three of them. The oldest was around the church in the churchyard, you are totally right. Once this cemetery became too small because of higher population and some pandemic diseases and they needed to create a new cemetery. And outside the village also because of the pandemic. In Großheppach they built a new one northwest of the church. The location you can see here:

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

This second cemetery does also not exist anymore. And since some years people totally forgot about it. But then bones came out of the ground due to some new buildings, people remembered. By the way, the bones have been buried a second time on the actual cemetery. The third one is that what is used today, northeast of the church. The age I have to estimate (never thought about it) but it is maybe interesting for you to sort it historical wise. I think it is around 100 years old, maybe 120 years. But honestly, I do not know, it could be also only 80, or 150 years.

What this tells us is that in 1832, when this map was created, that part of the village was still pretty much vacant. Notice the fields surrounding the cemetery. What we don’t know, of course, is when it began to be used. Of course, I wonder if those soldiers were buried here in 1634, while spaces in the churchyard were reserved for Grossheppach families.

On this current map, I’ve marked the church. The red star shows the 1832 cemetery and the purple star at right indicates the castle.

The blue dots are the end of the walking path from Beutelsbach to the church in Grossheppach. It’s clear that the old village consists of the buildings immediately surrounding the church. You can view many at this link.

Extracting More Information

Understanding the culture and customs in the village allows descendants to extract more information about the life and time in which our ancestors lived.

Wolfram made this observation about the burial record of Johann Rudolph’s second wife, also named Margaretha.

Her second marriage:

“Den 12 Nov. ist H, Johann Heinrich Berger Schulmeister v. Gerichtschr. alhir Mit Margretha Margaretha Knauß[en] Copuliert word[en] ./.“ [On 12 Nov has been married here Mr. Johann Heinrich Berger, schoolmaster and law clerk (the one who was writing the official documents of the village) with Margretha Knauß.]

Margaretha’s burial record:

„Eodem ward begraben Margaretha, Rudolph Millers, gewesenen Schmidts u burgers allhir hinterbliebene wittib, (…) genannt die Knaußerin, weil ihr erster Mann Hanß Jerg Knaußen, Barbier alhier geweßen.“ [at the same date has been buried Margaretha, survived widow of Rudolph Miller, former smith and citizen here, (…) called the „Knaußerin“ because her first husband was Hanß Jerg Knaußen, barber here].

Interesting here is, that this wife was from a “better” family because she was the widow of the schoolmaster and law clerk Knauß. And well-off family members have mostly married in a family with similar social status. Means, the smith Rudolph Müller was also part of the “upper class”.


Wolfram found Hanss Rudolph and Margretha’s citizenship records in Grossheppach in 1662.

Hanß Rudolph MÜLLER/MILLER; von Stein am Rhein; „aus dem Schweitzerland“ [Seelenbuch GH, pg 431]; Bürger und Hufschmied zu Großheppach; * um 1632 Stein am Rhein [Fleckenbuch GH, pg 422]; □ 28.07.1692 Großheppach [TotB]

Hanß Rudolph becomes a citizen from Großheppach at 28.02.1662 together with his wife

No marriage record in Großheppach]

Margretha NN.; von Schefen [= Stäfa?], area of Zürich [Fleckenbuch GH, pg422]; from 1662 Bürgerin in Großeppach; * in Switzerland; „ein Cammermädgen“ [Seelenbuch GH, S.431]; □ 30.10.1689 Großheppach [TotB]; Die Margaretha becomes a citizen from Großheppach at 28.02.1662 together with her husband.

Their first child born in Grosshappach arrived in May of 1661 and died in October of the same year. On the last day of February in 1662, when both Rudolph and Margretha became citizens, she was about 4 months pregnant for their next child.

I have no idea what the criteria was at that time to become a citizen. Did Rudolph and Margretha always intend to become citizens, or did they make that decision after living there for some time? Did they discover that the village needed a blacksmith and ferrier and moved to Grossheppach from Switzerland intentionally for that position?

Were the local residents excited about the young couple settling in their midst, providing a much-needed craftsman?

Perhaps these new settlers helped them heal from the ravages of such a long, miserable war.

Drum Roll – Origins

Wolfram’s research about Rudolph and Margretha is very, VERY illuminating and resulted from his one-place-study research.

And now about the origin of Johannes Rudolph and his wife.

During searching for interesting sources for my study of Großheppach in the archive of Großheppach, I found a historical source which is called “Fleckenbuch”. Which means basically “book of the village”. The record started in 1529. The recorder of the village was writing important things in. Also people who became citizen in Großheppach. You know, church records are the most important while searching about family history. But sometimes also civil sources are important. Especially during and after 30-years-war many people moved around and settled somewhere. Furthermore, church books from the period of 30-year-war are often missing or information are listed bad. Even in the years after the war – so 1648 until around 1670 – church records are often not precise and information missing. In addition to this, these civil records become very important.

 As in this case with Johannes Rudolph Müller.

Anno 1662. „Denn. 28 Februarÿ seindt NachFolgende Persohnen zue MitBurgern vff: vnnd angenom[m]en worden.

1. Hannß Rudolph Miller, Huoffschmidt von Stein am Rhein gebürtig, vnd seine HaußFraw Margaretha. von Schefen, im Zürcher gebieth.“ [On 28 February following persons became citizens. 1. Hannß [= Johannes] Rudolph Miller, farrier and born in Stein am Rhein and his wife Margaretha, from Schefen, territory of Zurich.]

So it is written clearly that he came from Stein am Rhein.

The name of the town where his wife came from could be also read as ‘Schefer’, ‘Sehefen’ or ‘Sehefer’ but these villages cannot be located. So finally, this is open.

I can tell you, here and now, that indeed Rudolph has been located (thanks to cousins Wolfram, Pam and Tom) and we have a lead on a possible marriage to Margretha thanks to Tom’s sleuthing.

There’s going to be a wonderful article in the future. You’re just not going to believe how this unfolded between several very eager people. Now, we wait for another friend to see if she can find the original record we need.

Fingers crossed!

The Castle

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

Rudolph was a ferrier, and Margretha was a “waiting maid,” according to Wolfram’s translation of her death record. Tom translated it as “chambermaid,” but the essence is the same. This makes me wonder if she was a “waiting maid” at the Grossheppach Castle. Who else would be able to afford a maid?

Von Khor – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 3.0,

This castle photo dates to about 1930, and below, the castle as restored today.

Von Silesia711 – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0,

A portion of the original defensive wall remains today. I wonder how badly this structure was damaged during the Thirty Years War.

By Silesia711 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

This castle dates to 1592 and was expanded in 1655. In addition to the castle itself, the property included a horse stable, below.

Von Silesia711 – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Is this the farm building at the castle where Rudolph shoed horses? I’d wager that answer is yes.

The castle cellar door is at right. The stone vaulted wine cellar dates from 1593 but I think that has a separate entrance.

Families who owned this castle were reportedly not aristocrats, but the bourgeois upper class.

Hmmm, a horse stable…Rudolph was a ferrier and Margretha was a “waiting maid”….

This surely makes me wonder. These families could assuredly afford both a ferrier and a waiting maid. Could Rudolph and Margretha possibly have lived in one of these buildings on the castle property?

Beautiful Vineyards

Grossheppach is located in the middle of the wine region where the entire economy is dependent on the grape harvest.

After the soldiers destroyed the fields in 1634, the residents would have immediately begun to replant the vineyards. From seedling to grape harvest takes about 3 years – years which are filled with pruning and cultivation. Baby and pamper those vines.

And pray. Pray that the temperature doesn’t drop below freezing and damage those tender shoots.

A good vinedresser knows how to strike the perfect pruned balance of shoots and buds that will produce not just a good harvest, but quality, sun-ripened grapes.

It’s very unusual to find a cousin, interested in genealogy and history, who still lives in the ancestral area. Wolfram has graciously provided several photos with historical significance, which I’m including here.

You can also see additional photos on his website, here, including basket weaving.

Why is basket weaving important? Baskets were used for harvesting grapes without damaging or bruising them.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

Grapes were and are picked by hand, but that’s just the final task.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

When the vines are dormant in the winter, they need to be tended and pruned.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

Vines are tied to stakes so that they will grow and produce as much yield as possible. Too much shade from leaves and other vines prevents ripening. Hence the ancient occupation in the wine region known as a vinedresser.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

This work needed to be done in the winter when the vines were dormant, without leaves.

Note the little buildings on the hills in the background. They look to be too small for people to live in, so I asked Wolfram.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

Wolfram says:

The tiny houses are not for living. You are right, they are for the needed tools and in former times definitely also for sudden bad weather or to warm up by using a small oven inside. Still today you can see them. I guess you can see them also at google maps🙂

I never thought about warming up, but of course. Much of their work was done in the winter.

And yes, most pictures were from grape harvesting. For the people these were festival days. You collect the fruits of the whole-year-work!. When I was young it was still this way. And relatives and friends helped relatives and friends. Today it became different. It became more a business and during harvesting seasons there are also foreign workers from Poland etc. So on these pictures mostly relatives are working. But still today the most of the grapes are harvested by hand. This improves the wine quality.

“Festival days.” What a wonderful way to view this activity. Of course it was festive. A celebration. I never thought about that. I had commented to Wolfram about how happy everyone in the following photo looked. They are all smiling and happy, and the people sitting on the ground are eating grapes right out of the basket. They must have been luscious, sweet and warm.

I notice that the women all have their hair pulled back with scarves. Having long hair myself, this would be to prevent your hair from getting in the way and to prevent it from getting tangled in the vines and leaves. I’m thinking grape juice in hair would be very sticky.

I asked Wolfram about the various sized baskets, from small to the one on the man’s back, to the vat in the wagon behind the man.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

Yes, these were the standard “baskets” for carrying the grapes. They were made from wood and they are called “Butte” (single) or “Butten” (two or more). In former days most of the people were poor. Horses were almost not existing (only at the mill). Mostly they had some single cows for the milk and some chicken for the eggs and meat. All for their own need. And the hills are quite steep. In some areas they were able to use cows to transport the grapes in bigger barrels (as you can see at this pic) but often they had to carry the grapes in these baskets downhill to the wine press. Therefore this bigger size. When I was young, we still had always these “Butten”. But made of plastic instead. Today you can drive almost everywhere in the vineyards in Großheppach with tractors through the rows. So you cut also by hand but you are using buckets to put in a 1000 l tub on the tractor.

The age of this picture is quite clear because the man with the “Butte” is my grandfather Hermann Mayer (1904 – 1996) and the wife with the white bucket is my grandmother, Sophie Stilz (1909 – 1977). And the wife next to her with the white cap is my grand-grandmother Pauline Mayer (1872 – 1945) 😉 My grand-grandmother died in 1945 and in 1939 my grandfather got injured very heavy and was not able to work for at least 1.5 years. And it seems for me the picture has been made before 1939. So maybe between 1932 and 1939.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

This “mountain press” was built in the Grossheppach vineyards in 1660, which means it was brand new when Rudolph and Margretha moved to Grossheppach.

I asked Wolfram about the mountain presses along with the man, the cart and what he was doing:

There were three presses in Großheppach. I tried to localize it but for me it was only possible for two of them.

The use of the small barrel honestly I do not know. It might can be for some wine. But definitively not for grapes, you carry them always open. It could also be used to transport cider. Unlikely water. The man is also interesting. He is wearing a backpack sprayer for agent. And therefore the barrel could be also for the agent.

I noticed in this picture that the vineyards seem to be fenced with rocks. This is somewhat enlightening because it’s reported in the records for Sibylla Muller’s husband, Johann Georg Lenz, a vinedresser, that “stones fell on his body and back.” Were those stones being quarried for the vineyards? I notice that the stones are all squared. Where were they quarried and how far were they transported?

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

This looks like a new vineyard, with the stakes for tying vines just waiting. Lots of small sheds for supplies. I must admit, I’m quite curious as to why it appears they were “starting over” with such a huge swath of land.

Wolfram included another photo of an old house in the vineyards.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

Wolfram didn’t know the history of this structure, but it’s clearly old and is no longer standing today.

I asked if the vineyards are privately or governmentally owned.

The vineyards are privately owned. Behind my house my cousin has one of his vineyards here.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

Wolfram indicated that most of the work was done by oxen and not horses. The vat is an open barrel into which grapes were deposited as family members picked the harvest.

He noted:

The man on the back is my grandfather Hermann Mayer (1904 – 1996) and right next to him his wife and my grandmother Sophie Stilz (1909 – 1977) And yes, it is a picture from autumn, harvesting grapes. My mother told, they had some cows for the milk. I do not know if they had oxes just for work. Maybe I should ask my mother.

Photo courtesy Wolfram Callenius

Translation via Google translate: Here too, grapes were harvested in 1928 in Bader, below the steep Buhlerbuckel. At the front as the smallest you can see my father Gottfried Klopfer holding his sister Johanna’s hand.


I’ve been drawn to vineyards ever since I can remember. I have no idea why. I like only a few wines – ones that tend to be sweet. Muscatos and Niagaras – and oh yes, ice wines.

Or maybe some Moscato wine and apricot liqueur. Oh yes!!!

Of course, a real vintner would laugh me right out of the building. These are “sissy” sweet wines when compared to the “real thing.” My husband accuses me of loving grape juice – and he’s right. I love grape juice too – including the sparkling variety.

But I love, and I mean LOVE vineyards.

Not to get all sappy on you, but, can I tell you a secret?

I got married at a winery. Outside, in the yard, with the majestic medieval stones providing a beautiful backdrop. The vineyards are right next door where you can’t see them in the photo.

Weddings don’t’ normally happen at wineries, but we told them not to worry – the yard outside would be just fine.

Such a beautiful day

You can see the barrels stacked behind the wedding party. We stood in front of the grape arbor, of course. What else?

The Mon Ami Winery original building was purchased in Europe in the 1870s, essentially in ruins, disassembled, transported to the US on ships, then reassembled.

When I travel, I almost always seek out wineries. I don’t actually mean to – it just kind of happens.

  • Indiana – check
  • Michigan – check
  • Ohio – check
  • California – check
  • Williamsburg – check
  • Texas – check
  • Austria – check
  • Germany – check
  • Norway – check
  • Australia – check
  • Homer, Alaska – check
  • New Zealand – check
  • Tasmania – check
  • North Carolina – check

Oh, look! I think I found the colonists…

Finding dark chocolate while following a “wine trail” I just happened across. Check.

Yes, I find wineries everyplace. I have never understood this allure, especially given that I’m not much of a wine drinker. Maybe it’s the old-world ambiance I love. Maybe it’s my roots showing through.

Our standing joke when we go wine-tasting is that Jim gets his and mine too, and I drive. But if there’s a lovely sweet wine, I’m sunk. Unfortunately, there almost never is – but I’m just happy being around grapes, vineyards and anything that smells like wine. Winery tours are always wonderful fun and every one is unique.

I’ve made grape and wine-themed quilts. There are also Quilt Wines but they look too dry for my taste.

Although in all fairness, I should warn you that quilting and wine do not pair well. Well, at least the mistakes are funny.

At one point, I made wine at my own very own “Ore Creek Winery.” Don’t ask, I’m not a vintner. I’m more the vinedresser. But designing and making those hand-stitched wine bottle labels was fun nonetheless.

I often take pictures of grapes when I travel, with the sun shining on or through them. They represent liquid sunshine and I feel incredibly close to both the earth and my ancestors.

It’s amazing where you find grapevines growing. While these are in a vineyard, it’s not unusual in Europe to find them growing up the side of a house or fence in a very small space. Grapevines are beautiful as well as functional.

I especially love grapevines with roses blooming nearby. Roses are often planted at the end of rows of grapevines in vineyards and serve as an early-warning system for fungus and other pests that invade both plants. If they appear in the rosebushes, the grapevines need to be treated before the year’s harvest is damaged.

Not only that, roses attract pollenators and beneficial insects, and they are a feast of color for the eyes, and the soul.

I even have wild grapevines growing in my yard that I can’t seem to get rid of. It’s like they sought me out and found me, compliments of my ancestors, I’m sure.

Yes, I know, my ancestors are probably rolling over in their graves at the thought of me trying to “get rid” of grapevines.

My husband tried to harvest these, and they are, bar none, the sourest grapes either of us has ever tasted. The birds wouldn’t even eat them and the bear threw them back. The raccoon and possums looked at us like we were crazy. No wonder their seeds are proliferating all over the place – no one wants them.

There’s simply not enough sugar or fermentation to fix this problem. We tried. But darn, those leaves, berries and vines are just so stunningly beautiful.

How ironic that my ancestors prayed for the vines and grapes to grown and here I am with doing everything possible to arrest their growth.

Nevertheless, these cumulative experiences connect me with my German vintner, vinedresser, vineyard roots.

My moth-to-flame attraction to anything and everything vineyard connects me to those ancestors – where they lived, what they saw and experienced. I can paint their lives in the colors and flavors of the vinebow.

Winemaking wasn’t just a part of their life – their entire economic existence depended on the ripening harvest on the hillside – whether they were vinedressers or the ferrier who serviced their horses and oxen. Everyone depended on the lowly grape.

I can close my eyes and almost smell the earthy soil and see them among the rows of vines, picking grapes in the warm sunshine, smiling at me across the centuries.

Or maybe, just maybe, they’re amused at their descendant with a wild grape problem.




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Margretha Muller (c1632-1689), Wife to Rudolph Muller, Born in Switzerland – 52 Ancestors #321

We don’t know Margaretha or Margretha’s birth surname, but we do know that she was born in Switzerland and married Johann Rudolph Muller, probably in Switzerland as well – sometime before the birth of their first child in Grossheppach, Germany in 1661. Clearly, the young couple migrated from Switzerland before that time, probably about that time, and not long after their marriage.

They theoretically could have met and married in Grossheppach, on the Rems River in Germany after both families migrated, but there are no records to support that theory – and church records in Grossheppach do exist during this timeframe.

It’s most likely that the newlyweds answered the call of the German nobles for settlers in the German lands that had been devastated and depopulated during the Thirty Years War which had ended in 1648. It took generations to recover from that war – in terms of rebuilding and in terms of population loss which averaged 50%, but ranged from 30% to 100% in various regions.

Grossheppach, shown here in 1686, was spared the worst of the devastation, so was probably more stable with at least some remaining original population. Note the mill – you’ll see it again later!

Grossheppach, a small village, is located smack dab in the middle of the wine-growing region, but Margretha’s husband, Rudolph, was a blacksmith and ferrier.

Like many women of that era, what little we know about Margretha is from the church records.

Margretha’s Birth

We can estimate the year of Margretha’s birth based on when her last child was recorded in the Grossheppach baptismal records.

Her first child in the Grossheppach church records was born in 1661 and her last child was born in 1675. If we presume Margretha was about 43 when the last child was born, that places her birth at about 1632, give or take a couple years in either direction.

If Margretha was born about 1632, she likely married sometime after 1652. She may have married and had children in Switzerland, but there are no burial or marriage records for Rudolph and Margretha in Grossheppach as parents to children not born there.

My suspicion is that the young couple married and saw settlement in Germany as the “great adventure” that awaited, promising reprieve from taxes among other perks for settlers.

Opportunity awaited.

They may have migrated with others. After all, there’s safety in numbers and family is more likely to help you in a time of need than unknown strangers.

One-Place Study

How lucky could I have been to stumble across a one-place study about Grossheppach families, which you can find here.

The one hint I can find about the Swiss location of Margretha is in the document of tracking “foreigners” in Grossheppach, in German, on page 59 where we find the locality, name of the individual, a year, and what the researcher found.

In this case, the locality is “Schefen, Kanton Zurich (=Stafa?), the individual is Margaretha, no known birth surname, This indicates von “Shefen” which translates literally to “from sheep,” followed by (wird Bg. in GH) which means became a citizen in Grossheppach.

Her husband’s information is noted with him being from Stein am Rhein. What the heck is Stein am Rhein? It’s the name of a village!!!

The researcher also lists Rudolph as “Bg.” meaning berger, and farrier. This is the researcher’s list of ancestors, so I suspect that the researcher descends through daughter, Veronica.

If this location is indeed accurate, this provides us with a location, probably for both Rudolph and Margretha. I’ve written to the researcher and heard back just before publishing this article today. Hint – there will be a chapter 2😊

Stein am Rhein is breathtakingly beautiful, the central, compact medieval old city still quite visible. It was probably walled at one time.

By Hansueli Krapf – Own work: Hansueli Krapf (User Simisa (talk · contribs)), CC BY-SA 3.0,

Be still my heart!

Stein am Rhein is a small, stunningly beautiful village on the Rhine River in Switzerland, with the medieval church still intact. Just take a look. OH MY.

By JoachimKohlerBremen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

I’m trying to tell myself NOT to fall completely in love until I can confirm the accuracy of this information. I already want to climb on a plane.

By JoachimKohler-HB – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Stein am Rhein is 20-25 miles from Zurich as the crow flies.

Church records do exist for Stein am Rhein, but I’d need the transcribed records, only available at the Family History library in Salt Lake, here, as opposed to the unindexed and German script original records, here. Not only that, but Stein am Rhein has records dating from the 1400s. I might have to seek out someone with expertise in Swiss records who can actually read that script!

Stein am Rhein would have been about a 100-mile journey to Grossheppach.

Let’s hope there are records in Switzerland and they are somewhat available. My heart is racing just thinking about an additional 200 years of possible records and ancestors.

Margretha’s Life’s Story Spun Through Her Children

A huge thank you to Tom for finding and translating these Grossheppach records.

By Silesia711 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Margretha’s known children were all born in Grossheppach and baptized in the local church which includes the remains of a fortified wall.

If Sibilla, born in 1661 was Margretha’s first child, this was truly a heartbreaking time. Margretha had looked forward to the arrival of her first baby, loved her, and then lost her 24 short weeks later. I wonder if the baby struggled from birth or contracted some childhood disease that ripped her from her mother’s arms and broke her heart.

Baptism: 6 May 1661 + Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Child: Sibilla

Parents: Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Jerg Lienhardt Herman; Margretha, Ulrich Schweikhardrt from Stutg(art); Sibilla, Stöckler(in) from Stutgardt, farm maid.

Note that one of the godparents was also named Sibilla, which might be a hint indicating a relative.

Burial: 19 Oct 1661 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Sibilla, 2 weeks old, child of Rüdolph Müller, smith

These churchyard fortifications likely enclosed the cemetery at the time Margretha buried her baby.

Von Silesia711 – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0,

In this aerial view, you can see the area that would have been the cemetery, with its fortified wall remaining yet today, at the lower right.

The treed area may be another portion of the ancient cemetery, now returned to nature.

Margretha became pregnant about the same time that Sibilla died, and the first son, Hanss Rudolph, named for his father, arrived the following August.

Baptism: 7 Aug 1662 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Child: Hanss Rüdolph

Parents: Hanss Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Jerg Leonhardt Herman; Ulrich Schweickhart from Stutg(art); Sibilla Glöckhler(in) also from ?

The next two baptisms are somewhat confusing. Someone later stamped the church records with dates. Obviously these two children could not have been born 8 months apart – or at least not unless the first child died and the second child was very premature. If these girls had been twins, they would have been baptized at the same time. There are no death records, nor any further records for either Anna Magdalena nor Anna Margretha.

After I originally wrote this article, cousin Wolfram who lives in Grossheppach and has access to the original records and corrected this record for Anna Margaretha’s birth in 1663.

Baptism: 12 Feb 1663 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Child: Anna Magdalena

Parents: Hanss Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Jerg Schmid from Grunbach; J.L. Herman, miller; Daniel’s wife, Magdalena.

Baptism: 11 Oct 1664 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Child: Anna Margretha

Parents: Hanss Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Jerg Leonhard Herman, miller; Magdalena, wife of Daniel Ziegler; Anna Margretha, wife of Ulrich Schweickh(a)r(t).

Given that the next child, Veronica, didn’t arrive for 21 months, it’s unlikely that Anna Margretha died at or near birth.

Baptism: 29 July 1666 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Child: Veronica

Parents: Hanss Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Daniel Ziegler….; Hanss Eiber……; Maia Elisabetha Blaror(in)?

Two years and a few days later, Hanss Jacob joined the growing family.

Baptism: 9 Aug 1668

Child: Hanss Jacob

Parents: Hanss Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Ulrich Schweigger from Stuttgardt; Jerg Lienhard Herman, miller; Magdalena, Daniel Ziegler’s wife.

A death record for Hans Jacob exists on August 18, 1675, but with no parents’ names, and is most likely this child. Just 9 days after his 7th birthday.

The next baby arrived 16 months after Hanss Jacob, just before Christmas. By this time, assuming all children except two lived, when Anna Barbara was born, Margretha would have had four children ages 16 months to 7 years. I’d say she had her hands full.

Baptism: 17 Dec 1669 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Child: Anna Barbara

Parents: Hanss Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Jerg Schmid, schoolteacher in Grunbach; Jerg Lienhard Herman, miller; Magdalena, wife of Daniel Ziegler.

Anna Barbara died on October 31, 1679.

It would be almost three years before the next child arrived, hinting at a child that was stillborn in late 1671. We don’t see births of children who were not baptized in the records – nor burial records.

Baptism: 6 Sept 1672 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Child: Sibylla

Parents: Hanss Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Jerg Schmid, schoolteacher in Grunbach; Jerg Lienhard Herrman, miller; Magdalena, wife of Daniel Ziegler.

It’s interesting that they named a second child Sibylla. It’s also interesting that the original godmother, Sibilla, of the first Sibilla born in 1661 is not present for this baptism. That original Sibilla Stockler(in) or Glockler(in) was only present for the births in 1661 and 1662, causing me to wonder why she wasn’t present later, and isn’t present for this birth when the child is apparently named in her honor. Of course, this makes me wonder if she died.

This also causes me to ponder the possibility if she is a sister or maybe niece to Margretha. The (in) suffix to her surname indicates that she is not married, so either Stockler or Glockler would be her birth surname.

Fortunately for me, this child named Sibylla lived. She’s my ancestor and her story can be found here.

Baptism: 27 Sept 1674 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Child: Jerg Lienhardt +

Parents: Hanss Rüdolph Müller & Margretha

Godparents: Jerg Schmidt, schoolteacher in Grunbach; Jerg Lienhard Herman, miller; Magdalena, wife of Daniel Ziegler.

I noticed that Jerg Leinhard Hermann, the local miller, is the godfather for six of seven of Margretha’s children. This close association also suggests a close relationship. Their last child, who, unfortunately, did not live long, was named for Jerg Leinhard.

Burial: 31 January 1675 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Cause of Death: ?

Decedent: Jerg Lienhard, 18 weeks old

Child of Hanss Rüdolph Müller, smith.

It appears that Margretha ended her childbearing years in almost exactly the same way she began them. In 1675, Margretha was likely in her early to mid-40s. She had given birth to at least 9 children whose baptisms appear in church records.

Given the three-year space, she probably had one stillborn child who was simply buried but not baptized, meaning she had at least 10 children.

We don’t know that Margretha didn’t have more children that died in Switzerland before settling in Germany, or after the child born in 1675. We do know that the last child baptized, in 1675, Jerg Lienhard passed away 18 weeks later.

To Margretha, who 14 years earlier had lost her firstborn daughter 24 weeks after she was born, this must have seemed terribly, horribly familiar.

Margretha’s Death

Margretha died on October 30th, 1689 when she was about 57 years old.

Burial:30 Oct 1689 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Buried the wife of Rudolph Müller.

At the time of her death, none of her children had married. Her eldest son would have been 27 years old, but he wouldn’t marry until 1696.

Daughter Veronica would marry a year after Margretha’s death, in 1690.

Sibilla, born in 1672 would have just turned 17 that late October day when the family gathered inside the medieval church to hear Margretha’s funeral sermon, then walked outside to bury her mother’s coffin. Sibylla didn’t marry for another several years, in 1698.

There are no marriage records for any other children, before or after Margretha’s death.

No grandchildren were born before Margretha died, so she never had the opportunity to enjoy those cherubic faces. I hope they all heard stories about Margretha and her life, including her family left behind in Switzerland.

In 1689, Margretha’s home was probably bustling with activity as her adult and near-adult children helped with household activities. Her son named for his father, or two sons if Hans Jacob survived, likely assisted Rudolph in the blacksmith shop and as the local ferrier.

Von Silesia711 – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The men may have worked in this very barn, or one similar, still standing, in Grossheppach.

The daughters would have assisted Margretha with the never-ending household chores and probably took care of her in her final illness.

Von Silesia711 – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Margretha’s home might have looked like, or could even been this medieval cross house in Grossheppach.

Von Silesia711 – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Or maybe this one.

Regardless, Margretha would have been in and out of all of these homes over the years. They would have been familiar, likely open to the neighbors, most of whom were related, at any time. Women likely came and went, especially in a time of need – childbirth, illness and the ever-present death.

Two years later, Rudolph remarried to another Margaretha. He died a year later, in 1992, joining Margretha and their children in the cemetery beside the church in Grossheppach.

It’s somehow ironic, and not just a little sad, that Margretha’s daughter, Veronica died in 1708 at only 41 years of age. Of course, there were many causes of death, but I always wonder about childbirth for women of childbearing age. Her sister, Sibilla, was a midwife and I wonder if she delivered Veronica’s children.

Unfortunately, the minister, in the Register of Souls, incorrectly attributed Veronica’s step-mother, who was also named Margaretha, as her mother. I realize that’s an easy mistake to make, but it hurts my heart for Veronica’s mother, our Margretha.

Hopefully, this error meant one thing – either Veronica and step-mother Margaretha had a wonderful relationship. Of course, it could also be that the minister was new to the church and didn’t know the family history. We don’t know exactly when this register was compiled, but it was clearly after 1711.

Seelenregister (Register of Souls) Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Veronica (spouse of Johann Jacob Mahler); died 11 January 1708, aged 41 years, 6 months.

Father: Rudolph Müller, citizen and farrier (smith) from Switzerland Cand (Kanton?); died 1692.

Mother: Margaretha, born in Switzerland, a chambermaid; died 23 March 1711, about 71 years of age.

Note by Tom who performed these translations: This Margaretha is Veronica’s step-mother. Her birth mother died in 1689 and was also named Margaretha.

This does cause me to wonder if step-mother Margretha truly was also from Switzerland, or if the two Margrethas have been intertwined, which I suspect is the case. If the step-mother is also from Switzerland, this tells us that perhaps several Swiss families settled in Grossheppach – and maybe they are related or from the same region or village.

Was our Margretha a chambermaid, or was the step-mother the chambermaid? Was chambermaid somehow different than “housewife” in that time and place? If so, how?


I’m always so grateful when ministers include the names of the various godparents with baptisms. I wish when records are indexed, the godparents’ names were indexed too, because they are often the keys to unraveling relationships.

I compiled this table of godparents in order to see who is found in multiple baptisms and what can be discerned about those individuals. People who journeyed from out of town were more likely to be relatives than those who might have been godparents because they were neighbors or village officials.

It’s worth remembering that the Godparents were responsible for raising the child, and raising them up in the church, if something were to happen to the parents. Before the days of modern medicine, that happened all too often. Godparents were making this solemn promise in from of everyone, including God.

Godparents made a serious commitment, which is why they are often trusted family members.

Child Godparent Location Comment
Sibilla 1661 Jerg Leinhardt Herman, Margretha In 1657, one Georg Leonhard Hermann married Maria Magdalena Krausin. This family seems to have been in Grossheppach for several generations, so not Swiss.
Sibilla Stockler(in) Stuttgart, farm maid Given the same first name, the distance from Stuttgart and her peasant status, this person is likely related.
Hans Rudolph – 1662 Jerg Leinhardt Herman This family is found in the region in the earlier 1600s, so not Swiss.
Ulrich Schweikhardt, Stuttgart I don’t find this individual, but I do find this family in Stuttgart earlier than this timeframe, so apparently not Swiss.
Sibilla Glockler(in) Also from…[probably Stuttgart] These 3 people at this baptism are the same as the 1661 baptism, so likely all 3 connected in some way. There is a 1626 birth in Stuttgart for Anna Sybilla Gletler or Gloeckler.
Anna Magdalena 1664 Jerg Schmidt Grunbach Jerg died in 1686 in Grossheppach. Grunbach was perhaps 2 miles distant.
J. L. Herman Miller Probably Jerg Leonhard Herman
Daniel’s wife, Magdalena Probably Daniel Ziegler, see below
Anna Margretha – 1664 Jerg Leonhard Herman Miller
Magdalena, wife of Daniel Ziegler
Anna Margaretha, wife of Ulrich Schweickh(a)r(t)
Veronica 1666 Daniel Ziegler
Hans Eiber Mayor in Grossheppach
Maria Elisbetha Blaror(in)?
Hans Jacob 1668 Ulrich Schweigger Stuttgart
Jerg Leinhard Herman Miller
Magdalena, Daniel Ziegler’s wife
Anna Barbara 1669 Jerg Schmid Schoolteacher in Grunback
Jerg Leinhard Herman Miller
Magdalena, wife of Daniel Ziegler
Sibylla 1672 Jerg Schmid Schoolteacher in Grunbach
Jerg Leinhard Herrman Miller
Magdalena, wife of Daniel Ziegler
Jerg Leinhardt 1674 Jerg Schmidt Schoolteacher in Grunbach
Jerg Leinhard Herman, miller
Magdalena, wife of Daniel Ziegler

Typically, when we see the same people repeat as godparents, especially when they have to travel from out of town, that often means they are relatives, and probably close relatives – often siblings.

Stuttgart is not nearby, about 11 miles distant. Either Rudolph or Margretha had some connection to the individuals from Stuttgart.

In this case, the fact that these families were living in this region for at least a generation suggests strongly that they were not from Switzerland, but perhaps they had married people who were, or there is a connection from an earlier generation.

By Silesia711 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Johann Rudolph and Margretha appear to be particularly close to Jerg Leinhardt Hermann, the local miller. They both would have seen the former Grossheppach mill, above and below, daily.

Von Silesia711 – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Why Johann Rudolph Muller and Margretha selected the same godparents for their children repeatedly will have to remain a mystery, at least for now.

Mitochondrial DNA

The mitochondrial DNA of Margretha would have been passed on to her children of both sexes, but only females pass it on.

We don’t know what happened to three daughters:

  • Anna Magdalena reportedly born in 1664
  • Anna Margaretha reportedly born in 1664
  • Anna Barbara born in 1669

We know that two of Margretha’s daughters did in fact marry and have children, Veronica and Sybilla.


From the Register of Souls, we see that Veronica had six daughters.

  • Veronica’s daughter Veronica born in 1700, died in 1717.
  • Veronica’s daughter, Anna Barbara Mahler married Jacob Kloepfer in 1732 and died in 1763. It looks like she had one daughter in 1733, but only three children are shown in the Grossheppach book through 1737.


Margretha’s daughter, Sibilla Muller born in 1672 married Johann George Lenz/Lentz in neighboring Beutelsbach in 1698. She had two daughters who lived.

  • Elisabetha was born in 1709, but we know nothing more.
  • Anna Barbara Lenz born in 1699 and died in 1770 married Johann Georg Vollmer in 1729, having four daughters who lived to adulthood:
    1. Barbara 1729-1744
    2. Maria Elisabetha 1732-1795
    3. Regina 1738-1740
    4. Anna Maria 1740-1781

Descendants of these females, through all females, to the current generation which can be male or female would carry the mitochondrial DNA of Margretha. I have a DNA testing scholarship for the first person who qualifies.

Stay Tuned

Just before I finished this article, I received a reply from the researcher who performed the one-place study of Grossheppach. They, indeed, to descend from Johann Rudolph Muller and Margretha through daughter Veronica – and – they have additional information they are willing to share. Bless that person.

As it turns out, they still live in Grossheppach.

I’m doing the genealogy happy dance.

Stay tuned. There’s more to come!



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

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Genealogy Research


Free Webinar: Revealing Your Mother’s Ancestors & Where They Came From

I want to personally invite everyone to “save the date” for the free presentation I’ve created for the RootsTech DNA Basics Learning Center.

Those of you who have attended RootsTech in person in Salt Lake City over the past couple of years may have noticed the DNA Center sponsored by FamilySearch that provides non-vendor-specific DNA education for everyone.

You probably remember their DNA beans explaining the concept of random autosomal inheritance.

That tidy little package is “you.” The genealogical goal, of course, is to work backwards and figure out who, in your tree, those jellybean colors represent.

This year we won’t be gathering together in Salt Lake City, so it will be a bring-your-own-jellybeans event. However, the DNA Learning Center will be available virtually – which is actually a great benefit.

I know, I want to see everyone too – but in this case, the sessions are recorded and will be available for everyone worldwide so we can educate far more people than on the show floor.

Revealing Your Mother’s Ancestors & Where They Came From

In addition to my regular session, which I’ll write about as soon as the schedule is finalized, I volunteered to create a basic presentation for the DNA Learning Center. DNA is critically important to genealogy and I want everyone to enjoy that benefit.

As everyone knows, maternal ancestors are often challenging for a variety of reasons. Because surnames change with marriage, at least in most western cultures, females’ birth surnames are more prone to be missing. Fortunately, DNA has provided genealogists with two different tools to help overcome those challenges.

Mitochondrial DNA is focused only on your direct matrilineal (your mother’s mother’s mother’s) line, and autosomal DNA can be inherited from any ancestor. However, there are tools and techniques that allow us to hone autosomal results and use them selectively.

I’ll be covering inheritance and how to utilize both autosomal and mitochondrial DNA, including haplogroups, for your genealogy. Both separately, and together.

We’ll discuss how a cousin and I collaborated, using both types of DNA in addition to traditional genealogical records to break through one of those “no surname” brick walls six generations in the past. That breakthrough then revealed several MORE generations, like dominoes falling in quick succession.

Those pesky ancestors had moved from Long Island to New Jersey to Virginia leaving no backward trail. Cleary, not your normal migration pattern. This mystery absolutely could NOT have been solved without mitochondrial DNA pointing the way.

When and Where?

The where is easy – on your computer or device, of course.

Currently, this free session is scheduled to air twice, so mark your calendar:

  • February 25 – 3 PM EST – captioned in English
  • February 27 – 1 PM EST – captioned in Spanish

FamilySearch is providing volunteers to answer questions entered into the online chat during all of the DNA Learning Center sessions, including mine. I plan to “be there” to answer questions too, as will several other volunteers. Some volunteers will speak Spanish on the 27th. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Spanish, so I’ll be restricted to answering questions in English.

When the entire 3-day DNA Learning Center schedule is finalized, I’ll post and give a huge shout-out to the other volunteer speakers too.

While we wait for Rootstech to arrive, you still have time to order mitochondrial or autosomal DNA tests, below.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research


Into the Silence

I really want to encourage each and every one of you to work and speak “into the silence.”

What do I mean by that?

When we document something, write something or make something – we do so alone. Just like I’m doing right this minute. I’m writing “into the silence” because I’m writing on faith that people will read and, fingers-crossed, enjoy and utilize my articles.

Often, we write or create with the hope that some particular person, or persons, will appreciate our endeavors. Maybe we created a loving holiday or birthday gift for someone special.

Or, perhaps, our goal is less specific and more intangible.

Think, for example, of a journal.

Each person who writes in a journal generally isn’t journaling for someone else. If so, the “someone else” is a matter of faith – that they *will* exist someday in the future. Journaling is private and the eventual consumer, if they ever exist, is a byproduct of the journaling process, an accident.

In essence, the diarist is writing into the silence because the future is uncertain. Those future readers may not exist. That journal may not survive.

I ask you to ponder how grateful you would be, today, for your great-grandmother’s journal detailing everyday life in her house and garden. Her trips to the market, how and when she did laundry, did it rain or snow, are the tomatoes ripe, who misbehaved at church, along with her thoughts on what was happening in her life and neighborhood.

Or your great-grandfather’s journal about his time separated from his family while in the military serving his country. Did he serve in the Civil War or in WWI, living in a tent-hospital during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic? What was that experience like on a personal level?

Maybe letters from your ancestor as they made their way to a new country, seasick the entire time, but filled with hope.

What I’d give for any of those!

Today, maybe you’ve created a book about one of your ancestral lines. Or, maybe you took weeks to sort out, assemble, scan, and organize the photos of your grandparents to share with your siblings.

And perhaps no one even bothered to acknowledge your gift or say thank you. Did they even look at them? Do they care, at all?

That would leave anyone somewhat dejected with hurt feelings.

But if you think about it, what you’re really doing is writing, creating, into the silence.

Not their silence today. No, not that.

But the larger silence of time and space that exists between you and future generations. Without your endeavors, they have no opportunity to glimpse today, or your shared past.

This silence – this silence is what connects you. The umbilical cord that links them to their ancestors through you.

That document, or collage, or scrapbook, or quilt – whatever you created out of love will, hopefully, be passed along. A form of prayer on wings – winging its way to the future with a mission of its own.

The person who will most cherish that gift across time, who will love you for it even though they will never meet you, hasn’t yet been born.

So, I encourage you to continue to honor your ancestors, to tell their stories, to document their lives – and your own.

Yes, someone will care.

Speak into the silence by testing your DNA and making sure it’s available for future genealogists. By researching and documenting your ancestral lines. By ensuring that your work is photographed if it’s a quilt or scrapbook. By placing stories and other writing into repositories where they will be available for those listening future generations even if the current generations seem to be stone-cold deaf.

In my case, my 52 Ancestors stories fall into that category. I’ve written one each week for 320 weeks now, more than six years as hard as that is to believe, and I’m no place near finished. I search for the Y and mitochondrial DNA of each ancestor and document discoveries.

I’m planning to compile the articles, by family line, into books. I will probably use a self-publishing platform such as to assure that their stories are available indefinitely. I’ve linked each ancestor’s story to the proper ancestor on my tree at Ancestry and MyHeritage and I’m in the process at WikiTree as well.

I’ll be donating the books, when created, to various local and regional libraries and genealogy/historical societies, along with both the Allen County Public Library and Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Remember that activities, pictures, stories, and memories that seem mundane to you today will be someone else’s goldmine happy-dance one day.

It’s not so much the silence we’re speaking into, but acting to honor the past and present for future generations – on faith that someone “out there” will care. We are being that ancestor who we wish would have left something, anything, telling us about their lives and family. How they felt, what they did, what was transpiring around them.

Especially in difficult and trying times, keep on doing what you’re doing and answering that call.

Be encouraged, take heart, and know that your efforts today will cause your name to be spoken with gratitude long after you’ve left this realm.

Johann Rudolph Muller (circa 1630-1692), Swiss Blacksmith in Grossheppach, Germany – 52 Ancestors #320

Rudolph Muller lived in Grossheppach, Germany, sometimes known as Heppach, in the 1600s.

While Grossheppach is located in the middle of the wine region, as seen in this photo and the village shield, Rudolph didn’t work in the vineyards. Nor was he a miller, as his surname would suggest. Rudolph was a blacksmith.

The Village Blacksmith

This 1606 print of a German blacksmith shows us what Rudolph’s blacksmith’s shop would have looked like, and the tools he would have worked with. Google translate provides us with the following”

Work block; Anvil; Hammer; Pliers; Poker; bucket

Description: The brother works a glowing metal tip with a hammer, which he holds on the anvil with pliers. Further metal points lie next to the anvil and on a table in the background of the workshop. There is a second anvil here. Various saws hang on the wall and on the wall bracket in the window opening, a large saw blade lies on the ground in the foreground, while a poker and metal spikes lie in the fireplace.

The art of medieval blacksmithing is described here and here.

One thing is for sure. It was beastly hot, especially in the summers, probably outright miserable from time to time, and dangerous. Notice the bucket which would have contained water, on the floor.

Rudolph was probably burned in one way or another almost daily. Metals were scalding hot after being taken out of the forge, and hammering caused hot sparks flying everyplace. I shudder to think about his unprotected eyes.

Unknown to them then, carbon dioxide poisoning is also a concern for blacksmiths, but I’d wager their shops were probably pretty open due to heat.

They didn’t have safety goggles back then, or welder’s gloves. While this man is wearing long sleeves and some type of apron, I think, his legs are bare as are his hands and face.

I wonder if Rudolph might have been hard of hearing in his later years due to the noise of years of constant pounding.

Rudolph died at 59 years of age. No cause of death was entered, but I can’t help but wonder why he died.

Rudolph’s First Appearance

The first record we find is the birth of Rudolph’s daughter, named Sibilla, in 1661, in the Grossheppach church records. That daughter passed away and is not to be confused with the second daughter named Sibilla, born in 1672 who survived and is also my ancestor. I can’t help but wonder if the fact that they attempted that name twice means she was named after the mother of either Rudolph or Margaretha.

Both Rudolph and his first wife, Margaretha, were born in Switzerland, as determined by their death records, which means that either they married in Switzerland and subsequently settled in Heppach, or they met and married in Heppach.

Baptisms records begin in Grossheppach in 1558 and marriage records in 1564. Part of 1627 is missing due to an epidemic, according to this site. Deaths begin in 1648, immediately after the Thirty Years War.

Therefore, if Rudolph and Margaretha had married in Grossheppach, there should have been a record, so we can probably presume they married in Switzerland sometime between 1650 and 1660, and may have had their first children before arriving in Grossheppach.


All early villages grew up beside a stream, the life-giver, and nourisher to people and animals. You can see the little stream of Heppach as it exists today, here, connecting Grossheppach with its neighbor village, Kleinheppach. The word grossen translates to “huge” and klein means “small.” There doesn’t seem to be a translation for heppach.

The stream named Heppach connects those two villages and looks quite small today. This early drawing shows the Rems River, not the stream of Heppach that empties into the Rems.

This drawing, made in 1686 from Kieser’s forest map would have been created during the time that Rudolph was the village smith. In fact, his house would have been one of those shown. The village wasn’t large, about 55 homes, as best I can tell, with maybe between 5 and 7 inhabitants each.

The church, as always, was in the center of the village and the cemetery would have been located outside, in the churchyard.

By 1686, Rudolph would have buried at least two children there and would bury his wife just three short years later. But in 1686, Rudolph and his family would have been living happily in one of these houses, going about the routine of daily life in the village.

An artist drawing the village would have been quite an interesting event. Perhaps Rudolph and the other villagers would have watched the artist as he worked, or listened in the evenings at the pub as he told tall tales about other German villages he had visited. Did they look at their own houses on the map and comment?

Another view shows the village from the opposite perspective.

The same area today, for comparison. That little river island looks to be long gone, or under the bridge.

I can locate the original Kirschstrasse on this current map, along with the castle for orientation. The church, with a different steeple, is located at the end of Kirschstrasse and matches up with an 1832 map.

The orderly rows on the hillsides are vineyards as seen looking down at the region from the top of one of the hills.

The map below shows the distant hills with the villages clustered in valleys along the streams.

These villages were not isolated.

Rudolph’s daughter married Johann Georg Lenz from Beutelsbach, across the Rems River, and spent her adult life living there, but she was clearly within walking distance of her family members. It’s less than 3 miles from Beutelsbach to Kleinheppach, north of Grossheppach.

You can view more photos of Grossheppach here and here

History and Vineyards

The vineyards in Grossheppach reach back into time immemorial. As with any location, geography and climate dictate what can be grown, and agriculture defines the occupation and lifestyle of the residents. Viticulture has sustained the Grossheppach residents, along with their neighbors, probably since humans have inhabited this valley and figured out what happens when you ferment grapes.

Historical information is found on the Wayback machine, translated as follows:

The first mention of this village [vineyards] is when the knight ‘Fridericus miles de Heggebach’ in 1279, Master Rudolf (doctor in Esslingen) bequeathed three “Jauchert vineyards” from Großheppach to the Bebenhausen monastery in addition to his house in Esslingen.

A castle site mentioned in 1485 once had a wooden castle on which Staufer ministerials – the Knights of Heppach – sat; they are first mentioned in a document in 1236 [where Grossheppach was identified as Hegnesbach.] The monastery Gundelsbach was founded by a hermit in 1359 for the St. Pauls hermits, to which houses and farms have been attached since 1470. The church consecrated to St. Aegidius – a foundation of Waiblingen – was raised to an independent parish in 1489. In 1769 the church received a so-called ‘Welsche Bell’ as a tower dome.

Note that Welsche likely refers to the colloquial term for “French-speaking Swiss, their portion of Switzerland known also as Welschland.

Next to the church, the renaissance castle is a landmark of Großheppach. It was built in 1592 by the Württemberg Chancellor Dr. Martin Eichmann from a town house; at the same time he acquired various rights on site. The castle property later passed into the hands of the noble families von Abel, von Goeben and von Gaisberg.

During the uprising of the ‘poor Konrad’ in 1514 (see also the local history of Beutelsbach), Großheppach saw peasant revolutionaries in its corridors. On Easter Monday 1514, the goat Peter moved with a group of farmers to the Rems between Beutelsbach and Großheppach in order to subject the newly introduced weights of the Duke of Württemberg to a ‘water test’: the weights promptly sank below what the farmers saw as a judgment of God. They marched against castles, cities and monasteries, but were soon blown up. The leader of the Großheppacher Fähnlein, Klaus Schlechthin, later took part in the peasant uprising of 1525 and was captured in the Battle of Böblingen and executed by running the gauntlet.

During the Thirty Years’ War, on January 21, 1643, there was a skirmish between the imperial and Swedes at the Remsbrücke, where around 300 soldiers were killed. In the War of the Spanish Succession [1701-1714], Großheppach was again the starting point for warlike ventures. On June 13, 1704, the greatest generals of the time – Prince Eugene of Savoy, the English military leader Marlborough and Margrave Ludwig von Baden – held a council of war on the operations of the Battle of Höchstädt here in the Lamm Inn, which still exists today.

The listed buildings of the Häckermühle and the town hall from the 16th and 17th centuries are well worth seeing.

Rudolph’s Life

The only evidence we have of Rudolph’s age is the age at which his wife had their last child which was born in 1675. If Margaretha was 43 at that time, she would have been born about 1632, so we can assume he was born sometime around 1630, or perhaps slightly earlier.

Rudolph would have married between 1650 and 1660, most likely, and they would have packed up their cart, maybe hitched up a mule and walked from someplace in Switzerland to Germany, assuredly after all danger from the Thirty Years War had abated.

Most German villages had been heavily depopulated during the war, although Grossheppach did not appear to have been abandoned. In the best-case scenarios, German villages lost only one-third of their population. Some lost 50%, and some were entirely destroyed and depopulated.

This settlement pattern suggests that Rudolph came from the German-speaking portion of Switzerland.

By Marco Zanoli (sidonius 13:20, 18 June 2006 (UTC)) – Swiss Federal Statistical Office; census of 2000, CC BY-SA 4.0,

How might Rudolph and Margaretha have made the journey to Grossheppach?

While we don’t know Rudolph and Margaretha’s departure point in Switzerland, we do know that the Bernese Oberland was far more Protestant than much of the rest of Switzerland.

The mountains southwest of Bern marked the dividing line between the German and French-speaking regions of Switzerland. Regardless of where they originated in the German-speaking region, it was not a short journey and was probably a one-way trip – forever leaving family behind.

This trek was likely not undertaken by water unless they navigated the Rhine, then backtracked down the Neckar (against the flow) followed by the Rems.

Perhaps German villages issued advertisements or notices that they were looking for specific skilled trades. Maybe Rudolph knew that Grossheppach needed a blacksmith. It’s certainly possible that they joined with other family members, either as they journeyed or joined those who had already settled in Germany.

Rudolph’s daughter, Veronica’s death record gives us the closest approximation with the phrase, “Switzerland Cand.”

Seelenregister (Register of Souls) Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Veronica (spouse of Johann Jacob Mahler); died 11 January 1708, aged 41 years, 6 months.

Father: Rudolph Müller, citizen and farrier (smith) from Switzerland Cand (Kanton?); died 1692.

Mother: Margaretha, born in Switzerland, a chambermaid; died 23 March 1711, about 71 years of age.

Note by Tom who performed these translations: This Margaretha is Veronica’s step-mother. Her birth mother died in 1689 and was also named Margaretha.

If anyone has any further idea what “Cand” might mean other than perhaps Canton, or which Canton, I’d be forever grateful.

I do wonder if the newlywed couple set off for Germany on a great adventure, arriving before their first child did. Of course, they could have married a few years earlier and had already begun their family when they decided to leave, which meant travel would have been more difficult. If so, there are no marriage records for those earlier children in Grossheppach, although, clearly they could have married in nearby villages.


  • One way or another, Rudolph and Margaretha had settled in and welcomed a baby, Sibilla in May of 1661.
  • Heartbreak followed a few months later. Sibilla died in October, when she was just 24 weeks old, the first family member to be buried in the cemetery beside the church.
  • In August of 1662, Hans Rudolph, named for his father, joined the family. Johann Rudolph Muller married in 1696 to Anna Barbara Mercklin and died sometime between July 1718 and January 1735. We don’t have the Y DNA of Rudolph Muller, which is passed from father to son. If Hans Rudolph and Anna Barbara had sons, who had sons, whose descendants carry the Muller (or derivative) surname today through all males, I have a DNA testing scholarship for that Muller male.
  • 1663 saw Anna Magdalena baptized in February. She married Jacob(y) Sonntag on August 14, 1688.
  • Anna Margaretha was baptized in October 1664.
  • Veronica was born in July 1666 and married in 1690 to Hanss Jacob Mahler the local tailor. She died on January 11, 1708.
  • Son, Hanss Jacob Muller, was born in August 1668. Cousin Wolfram, living in Grossheppach indicates that one Hans Jacob died in 1675, but with no parents listed. If he did not die and had male children who have direct line male descendants today, they would qualify for the Y DNA scholarship as well.
  • Anna Barbara’s baptism is recorded in December 1669 and died in October 1679.
  • There is almost three years before the birth of Sibilla which makes me wonder if they lost a child.
  • September of 1672 welcomed the second daughter named Sibilla who married Johann Georg Lenz/Lentz in 1698 in Beutelsbach, living the rest of her life there as a midwife.
  • Jerg Lienhardt was born in September of 1674 and died in January of 1675 at 18 weeks of age.

That was the last child and the last church entry for 15 years. But on October 30th of 1689, Margaretha, Rudolph’s wife, died.

We don’t know exactly how many children were living at this time. There were no marriage records yet, and the oldest child, Hans Rudolph, Rudolph’s namesake wouldn’t marry until a few years later. He would have been age 27, living and working at home when his mother died.

At least two daughters were living; Veronica who would have been 23, and Sibila, the youngest, who would have been 17. It’s possible that up to four other children were living as well. Rudolph wasn’t alone, nor did he have a number of small children.

A year later, almost exactly, on October 28, 1690, Rudolph’s daughter, Veronica married the local tailor, Hanss Jacob Mahler.

Perhaps that wedding made Rudolph ponder marriage again and realize that he did not want to remain a widower forever. Or, perhaps his daughter had done a good deal of the cooking and domestic work and simple logic kicked in when a local woman was widowed and started looking admiringly in his direction. Necessity often plays cupid.

Rudolph did what most people of that time did if their spouse died. He remarried.

Marriage: 11 August 1691 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Johann Rudolph Müller, from here with Mrs. Anna Margaretha Berger(in), surviving widow of Herr Berger, former court bailiff? from here.

However, Rudolph didn’t live much longer himself, passing away in July of 1692.

Burial: 28 July 1692 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

Joh(ann) Rüdolph Müller was buried.

I sure wish they had recorded Rudolph’s age and birth location. Just a few strokes of the pen could have told us so much.

Rudolph’s second wife, Margaretha, not to be confused with his first wife of the same name, died in 1711.

Burial: 23 March 1711 was buried Margaretha, surviving widow of Rüdolph Müller, former smith and citizen here……..Knauss(in)…..aged 71 years.

Marriage: 12 Nov 1678 Grossheppach Evangelical Church

H(err) Johannes Heinrich Berger, …master and juror here with Margretha Knauss were married.

Given that Margaretha (born Knauss) married previously in 1678, at the age of 38, she likely had a child or two, and Rudolph probably had step-children that would still have been at home when he married Margaretha in 1691.

The Sweet Spot

Rudolph was born during the Thirty Years War, but in Switzerland where the residents were unaffected. Switzerland was an oasis of peace and prosperity. No one wanted Switzerland to fall, because the Swiss provided mercenaries to many other countries. In essence, that was payment for keeping the war off of their land.

Brave or hopeful, or both, he moved to Grossheppach as a relatively young man, probably as a newlywed.

Rudolph’s children did not marry during his lifetime, so he never got to know any of his grandchildren, but he did manage to actually live in the “sweet spot” in German history.

Rudolph didn’t live in the Palatinate which was constantly being overrun by the French in the 1670s, 1680s, and 1690s. I don’t know why he chose Grossheppach instead of the Palatinate, but that was either smart or fortuitous.

Rudolph died before the beginning of the War of Spanish Succession in 1701, so he avoided warfare for his entire lifetime – a rare event for any German in the 1600s.

The Lamm Inn

Grossheppach seemed to be a quiet village. After a long day standing and pounding at the forge, Rudolph probably walked a few feet to the Lamm Inn, across from the church which existed then and still exists today as a restaurant. Trust me, I’d like nothing better right about now!

Cousin Wolfram, who lives in Grossheppach tells us that the Lamm Inn was the only inn in the village in olden times.

Of course, given that wine was produced locally, Rudolph wouldn’t have been drinking German beer, but whatever was available from the cool wine cellar. His body probably ached, and he was hot and thirsty, so he would have been grateful for anything cold, along with warm friendships.

Oh Rudolph, I so want to visit you.

To sit in the Lamm Inn where you sat.

To walk on the cobblestone streets where you walked for more than 30 years.

To discover which home was yours, and maybe, if I could be so lucky, the remnants of your forge.

To sit in the church where you assuredly sat, every Sunday, along with too many more “funeral days.” Maybe I would luck into “your pew.” I would close my eyes and feel your spirit nearby.

I want to stroll the churchyard, knowing that you are there, somewhere, along with Margaretha.

Would you know that I am visiting? That some part of your DNA has come home to connect with your ashes and dust?

And, if I listen oh-so-carefully, will you whisper in my ear where, in Switzerland, you were born?



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

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myDNA Merges With FamilyTreeDNA and Gene by Gene

2021 is starting out with an exciting announcement in the genetic genealogy world. A marriage!

Dr. Lior Rauchberger, CEO of Australian company, myDNA, has announced a merger with well-known genetic genealogy company, FamilyTreeDNA along with the parent company that owns their DNA processing lab, Gene by Gene.

click to enlarge images

Bennett Greenspan and Max Blankfeld, founders of both Houston-based companies, FamilyTreeDNA and Gene by Gene, will retain board seats in the merged organization, while Rauchberger will be the CEO of the organization.

Here’s the full press release.

I spoke with Bennett, and he assured me that myDNA has every intention of maintaining and investing in the genealogy side of the house. He indicated that both companies felt that this was a very compatible marriage.

I didn’t know anything about myDNA previously, but like any genealogist, I’ve done some research.

Who is myDNA?

According to their website, myDNA, founded in 2007, is focused on personal health management.

Their approach seems to be a bit different than health and wellness tests I’ve seen before.

The myDNA test is a functional pathology test that reports on how genetic factors may influence the ways in which medications affect individuals. Different people metabolize and eliminate medications differently, and at various speeds.

myDNA testing provides customers with the ability to work with their physicians to tailor their medications to maximize benefits and minimize side effects.

I’m not surprised that FamilyTreeDNA has, one way or another, added a health component to the menu. As I mentioned in my Genetic Genealogy at 20 Years article earlier this week, all three of the other major players have a health/medical aspect of their products.

You can take a look at what myDNA offers, here, and here, for yourself, and at an example report, here.

The myDNA products also offer ways to make sustainable lifestyle changes, DNA based meal plans and workouts customized for your goals.

I don’t have any personal experience with myDNA, but I will as soon as I order a test.

Benefits and Opportunities

I see several potential benefits to the genetic genealogy community, including:

  • myDNA customers may provide a pool of new customers (and matches) who might possibly be interested in genealogy, aka, YDNA, mitochondrial DNA, and autosomal testing.

I would presume that these tests will soon be offered as options to myDNA customers. Australia, in addition to its aboriginal population, consists of immigrants from the British Isles and elsewhere. I actually discovered the DNA match down under who broke through my decades-old Speak family brick wall in Lancashire.

  • myDNA customers, even if they aren’t interested in genealogy, per se, may be interested in more general “where did I come from,” personal history type of information.

This might include interesting Y and mitochondrial DNA migration map “journeys,” along with ethnicity. I’m thinking along the lines of “myY,” “myMito” and the already existing  “myOrigins,” Perhaps something similar to the less in-depth, but still quite interesting (now-defunct) Genographic product test results.

Adding FamilyTreeDNA tools for myDNA customers would benefit both sides of the equation. Every additional person who tests helps the scientific research aspect, meaning building both the Y and mitochondrial trees, which in turn helps traditional genealogy customers.

Conversely, FamilyTreeDNA customers may want to easily add some of the myDNA products and have them available through one single customer portal.

I’m extremely hopeful about opportunities for the genetic genealogy side of the house. Specifically, my fingers are crossed that myDNA will invest in:

  • Website infrastructure which will improve performance.
  • Enhancing current and adding new advanced genealogy tools and products that aren’t just pieces, but provide us with innovative solutions.

And yes, I have suggestions. Like a kid in the toy store, I have a long wish list of features I’d love to see😊.

I’d like to hear your (positively constructed) wish list as well.

I’m excited about this new opportunity!

Customer Notification

Customers will be notified via e-mail in the next 48 hours or so. If you don’t receive an e-mail, check your spam folder or sign on to your account. If you’ve changed your e-mail recently, sign in to be sure your e-mail address is current.



I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Products and Services

Genealogy Research


Genetic Genealogy at 20 Years: Where Have We Been, Where Are We Going and What’s Important?

Not only have we put 2020 in the rear-view mirror, thankfully, we’re at the 20-year, two-decade milestone. The point at which genetics was first added to the toolbox of genealogists.

It seems both like yesterday and forever ago. And yes, I’ve been here the whole time,  as a spectator, researcher, and active participant.

Let’s put this in perspective. On New Year’s Eve, right at midnight, in 2005, I was able to score kit number 50,000 at Family Tree DNA. I remember this because it seemed like such a bizarre thing to be doing at midnight on New Year’s Eve. But hey, we genealogists are what we are.

I knew that momentous kit number which seemed just HUGE at the time was on the threshold of being sold, because I had inadvertently purchased kit 49,997 a few minutes earlier.

Somehow kit 50,000 seemed like such a huge milestone, a landmark – so I quickly bought kits, 49,998, 49,999, and then…would I get it…YES…kit 50,000. Score!

That meant that in the 5 years FamilyTreeDNA had been in business, they had sold on an average of 10,000 kits per year, or 27 kits a day. Today, that’s a rounding error. Then it was momentous!

In reality, the sales were ramping up quickly, because very few kits were sold in 2000, and roughly 20,000 kits had been sold in 2005 alone. I know this because I purchased kit 28,429 during the holiday sale a year earlier.

Of course, I had no idea who I’d test with that momentous New Year’s Eve Y DNA kit, but I assuredly would find someone. A few months later, I embarked on a road trip to visit an elderly family member with that kit in tow. Thank goodness I did, and they agreed and swabbed on the spot, because they are gone today and with them, the story of the Y line and autosomal DNA of their branch.

In the past two decades, almost an entire generation has slipped away, and with them, an entire genealogical library held in their DNA.

Today, more than 40 million people have tested with the four major DNA testing companies, although we don’t know exactly how many.

Lots of people have had more time to focus on genealogy in 2020, so let’s take a look at what’s important? What’s going on and what matters beyond this month or year?

How has this industry changed in the last two decades, and where it is going?


This seems like a good point to reflect a bit.

Professor Dan Bradley reflecting on early genetic research techniques in his lab at the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College in Dublin. Photo by Roberta Estes

In the beginning – twenty years ago, there were two companies who stuck their toes in the consumer DNA testing water – Oxford Ancestors and Family Tree DNA. About the same time, Sorenson Genomics and GeneTree were also entering that space, although Sorenson was a nonprofit. Today, of those, only FamilyTreeDNA remains, having adapted with the changing times – adding more products, testing, and sophistication.

Bryan Sykes who founded Oxford Ancestors announced in 2018 that he was retiring to live abroad and subsequently passed away in 2020. The website still exists, but the company has announced that they have ceased sales and the database will remain open until Sept 30, 2021.

James Sorenson died in 2008 and the assets of Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, including the Sorenson database, were sold to Ancestry in 2012. Eventually, Ancestry removed the public database in 2015.

Ancestry dabbled in Y and mtDNA for a while, too, destroying that database in 2014.

Other companies, too many to remember or mention, have come and gone as well. Some of the various company names have been recycled or purchased, but aren’t the same companies today.

In the DNA space, it was keep up, change, die or be sold. Of course, there was the small matter of being able to sell enough DNA kits to make enough money to stay in business at all. DNA processing equipment and a lab are expensive. Not just the equipment, but also the expertise.

The Next Wave

As time moved forward, new players entered the landscape, comprising the “Big 4” testing companies that constitute the ponds where genealogists fish today.

23andMe was the first to introduce autosomal DNA testing and matching. Their goal and focus was always medical genetics, but they recognized the potential in genealogists before anyone else, and we flocked to purchase tests.

Ancestry settled on autosomal only and relies on the size of their database, a large body of genealogy subscribers, and a widespread “feel-good” marketing campaign to sell DNA kits as the gateway to “discover who you are.”

FamilyTreeDNA did and still does offer all 3 kinds of tests. Over the years, they have enhanced both the Y DNA and mitochondrial product offerings significantly and are still known as “the science company.” They are the only company to offer the full range of Y DNA tests, including their flagship Big Y-700, full sequence mitochondrial testing along with matching for both products. Their autosomal product is called Family Finder.

MyHeritage entered the DNA testing space a few years after the others as the dark horse that few expected to be successful – but they fooled everyone. They have acquired companies and partnered along the way which allowed them to add customers (Promethease) and tools (such as AutoCluster by Genetic Affairs), boosting their number of users. Of course, MyHeritage also offers users a records research subscription service that you can try for free.

In summary:

One of the wonderful things that happened was that some vendors began to accept compatible raw DNA autosomal data transfer files from other vendors. Today, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, and GEDmatch DO accept transfer files, while Ancestry and 23andMe do not.

The transfers and matching are free, but there are either minimal unlock or subscription plans for advanced features.

There are other testing companies, some with niche markets and others not so reputable. For this article, I’m focusing on the primary DNA testing companies that are useful for genealogy and mainstream companion third-party tools that complement and enhance those services.

The Single Biggest Change

As I look back, the single biggest change is that genetic genealogy evolved from the pariah of genealogy where DNA discussion was banned from the (now defunct) Rootsweb lists and summarily deleted for the first few years after introduction. I know, that’s hard to believe today.

Why, you ask?

Reasons varied from “just because” to “DNA is cheating” and then morphed into “because DNA might do terrible things like, maybe, suggest that a person really wasn’t related to an ancestor in a lineage society.”

Bottom line – fear and misunderstanding. Change is exceedingly difficult for humans, and DNA definitely moved the genealogy cheese.

From that awkward beginning, genetic genealogy organically became a “thing,” a specific application of genealogy. There was paper-trail traditional genealogy and then the genetic aspect. Today, for almost everyone, genealogy is “just another tool” in the genealogist’s toolbox, although it does require focused learning, just like any other tool.

DNA isn’t separate anymore, but is now an integral part of the genealogical whole. Having said that, DNA can’t solve all problems or answer all questions, but neither can traditional paper-trail genealogy. Together, each makes the other stronger and solves mysteries that neither can resolve alone.


I fully believe that we have still only scratched the surface of what’s possible.


As we talk about the various types of DNA testing and tools, here’s a quick graphic to remind you of how the different types of DNA are inherited.

  • Y DNA is inherited paternally for males only and informs us of the direct patrilineal (surname) line.
  • Mitochondrial DNA is inherited by everyone from their mothers and informs us of the mother’s matrilineal (mother’s mother’s mother’s) line.
  • Autosomal DNA can be inherited from potentially any ancestor in random but somewhat predictable amounts through both parents. The further back in time, the less identifiable DNA you’ll inherit from any specific ancestor. I wrote about that, here.

What’s Hot and What’s Not

Where should we be focused today and where is this industry going? What tools and articles popped up in 2020 to help further our genealogy addiction? I already published the most popular articles of 2020, here.

This industry started two decades ago with testing a few Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA markers, and we were utterly thrilled at the time. Both tests have advanced significantly and the prices have dropped like a stone. My first mitochondrial DNA test that tested only 400 locations cost more than $800 – back then.

Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA are still critically important to genetic genealogy. Both play unique roles and provide information that cannot be obtained through autosomal DNA testing. Today, relative to Y DNA and mitochondrial DNA, the biggest challenge, ironically, is educating newer genealogists about their potential who have never heard about anything other than autosomal, often ethnicity, testing.

We have to educate in order to overcome the cacophony of “don’t bother because you don’t get as many matches.”

That’s like saying “don’t use the right size wrench because the last one didn’t fit and it’s a bother to reach into the toolbox.” Not to mention that if everyone tested, there would be a lot more matches, but I digress.

If you don’t use the right tool, and all of the tools at your disposal, you’re not going to get the best result possible.

The genealogical proof standard, the gold standard for genealogy research, calls for “a reasonably exhaustive search,” and if you haven’t at least considered if or how Y
and mitochondrial DNA along with autosomal testing can or might help, then your search is not yet exhaustive.

I attempt to obtain the Y and mitochondrial DNA of every ancestral line. In the article, Search Techniques for Y and Mitochondrial DNA Test Candidates, I described several methodologies to find appropriate testing candidates.

Y DNA – 20 Years and Still Critically Important

Y DNA tracks the Y chromosome for males via the patrilineal (surname) line, providing matching and historical migration information.

We started 20 years ago testing 10 STR markers. Today, we begin at 37 markers, can upgrade to 67 or 111, but the preferred test is the Big Y which provides results for 700+ STR markers plus results from the entire gold standard region of the Y chromosome in order to provide the most refined results. This allows genealogists to use STR markers and SNP results together for various aspects of genealogy.

I created a Y DNA resource page, here, in order to provide a repository for Y DNA information and updates in one place. I would encourage anyone who can to order or upgrade to the Big Y-700 test which provides critical lineage information in addition to and beyond traditional STR testing. Additionally, the Big Y-700 test helps build the Y DNA haplotree which is growing by leaps and bounds.

More new SNPs are found and named EVERY SINGLE DAY today at FamilyTreeDNA than were named in the first several years combined. The 2006 SNP tree listed a grand total of 459 SNPs that defined the Y DNA tree at that time, according to the ISOGG Y DNA SNP tree. Goran Rundfeldt, head of R&D at FamilyTreeDNA posted this today:

2020 was an awful year in so many ways, but it was an unprecedented year for human paternal phylogenetic tree reconstruction. The FTDNA Haplotree or Great Tree of Mankind now includes:

37,534 branches with 12,696 added since 2019 – 51% growth!
defined by
349,097 SNPs with 131,820 added since 2019 – 61% growth!

In just one year, 207,536 SNPs were discovered and assigned FT SNP names. These SNPs will help define new branches and refine existing ones in the future.

The tree is constructed based on high coverage chromosome Y sequences from:
– More than 52,500 Big Y results
– Almost 4,000 NGS results from present-day anonymous men that participated in academic studies

Plus an additional 3,000 ancient DNA results from archaeological remains, of mixed quality and Y chromosome coverage at FamilyTreeDNA.

Wow, just wow.

These three new articles in 2020 will get you started on your Y DNA journey!

Mitochondrial DNA – Matrilineal Line of Humankind is Being Rewritten

The original Oxford Ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA test tested 400 locations. The original Family Tree DNA test tested around 1000 locations. Today, the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test is standard, testing the entire 16,569 locations of the mitochondria.

Mitochondrial DNA tracks your mother’s direct maternal, or matrilineal line. I’ve created a mitochondrial DNA resource page, here that includes easy step-by-step instructions for after you receive your results.

New articles in 2020 included the introduction of The Million Mito Project. 2021 should see the first results – including a paper currently in the works.

The Million Mito Project is rewriting the haplotree of womankind. The current haplotree has expanded substantially since the first handful of haplogroups thanks to thousands upon thousands of testers, but there is so much more information that can be extracted today.

Y and Mitochondrial Resources

If you don’t know of someone in your family to test for Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA for a specific ancestral line, you can always turn to the Y DNA projects at Family Tree DNA by searching here.

The search provides you with a list of projects available for a specific surname along with how many customers with that surname have tested. Looking at the individual Y DNA projects will show the earliest known ancestor of the surname line.

Another resource, WikiTree lists people who have tested for the Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA lines of specific ancestors.

Click on images to enlarge

On the left side, my maternal great-grandmother’s profile card, and on the right, my paternal great-great-grandfather. You can see that someone has tested for the mitochondrial DNA of Nora (OK, so it’s me) and the Y DNA of John Estes (definitely not me.)

MitoYDNA, a nonprofit volunteer organization created a comparison tool to replace Ysearch and Mitosearch when they bit the dust thanks to GDPR.

MitoYDNA accepts uploads from different sources and allows uploaders to not only match to each other, but to view the STR values for Y DNA and the mutation locations for the HVR1 and HVR2 regions of mitochondrial DNA. Mags Gaulden, one of the founders, explains in her article, What sets mitoYDNA apart from other DNA Databases?.

If you’ve tested at nonstandard companies, not realizing that they didn’t provide matching, or if you’ve tested at a company like Sorenson, Ancestry, and now Oxford Ancestors that is going out of business, uploading your results to mitoYDNA is a way to preserve your investment. PS – I still recommend testing at FamilyTreeDNA in order to receive detailed results and compare in their large database.

CentiMorgans – The Word of Two Decades

The world of autosomal DNA turns on the centimorgan (cM) measure. What is a centimorgan, exactly? I wrote about that unit of measure in the article Concepts – CentiMorgans, SNPs and Pickin’ Crab.

Fortunately, new tools and techniques make using cMs much easier. The Shared cM Project was updated this year, and the results incorporated into a wonderfully easy tool used to determine potential relationships at DNAPainter based on the number of shared centiMorgans.

Match quality and potential relationships are determined by the number of shared cMs, and the chromosome browser is the best tool to use for those comparisons.

Chromosome Browser – Genetics Tool to View Chromosome Matches

Chromosome browsers allow testers to view their matching cMs of DNA with other testers positioned on their own chromosomes.

My two cousins’ DNA where they match me on chromosomes 1-4, is shown above in blue and red at Family Tree DNA. It’s important to know where you match cousins, because if you match multiple cousins on the same segment, from the same side of your family (maternal or paternal), that’s suggestive of a common ancestor, with a few caveats.

Some people feel that a chromosome browser is an advanced tool, but I think it’s simply standard fare – kind of like driving a car. You need to learn how to drive initially, but after that, you don’t even think about it – you just get in and go. Here’s help learning how to drive that chromosome browser.

Triangulation – Science Plus Group DNA Matching Confirms Genealogy

The next logical step after learning to use a chromosome browser is triangulation. If fact, you’re seeing triangulation above, but don’t even realize it.

The purpose of genetic genealogy is to gather evidence to “prove” ancestral connections to either people or specific ancestors. In autosomal DNA, triangulation occurs when:

  • You match at least two other people (not close relatives)
  • On the same reasonably sized segment of DNA (generally 7 cM or greater)
  • And you can assign that segment to a common ancestor

The same two cousins are shown above, with triangulated segments bracketed at MyHeritage. I’ve identified the common ancestor with those cousins that those matching DNA segments descend from.

MyHeritage’s triangulation tool confirms by bracketing that these cousins also match each other on the same segment, which is the definition of triangulation.

I’ve written a lot about triangulation recently.

If you’d prefer a video, I recorded a “Top Tips” Facebook LIVE with MyHeritage.

Why is Ancestry missing from this list of triangulation articles? Ancestry does not offer a chromosome browser or segment information. Therefore, you can’t triangulate at Ancestry. You can, however, transfer your Ancestry DNA raw data file to either FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, or GEDmatch, all three of which offer triangulation.

Step by step download/upload transfer instructions are found in this article:

Clustering Matches and Correlating Trees

Based on what we’ve seen over the past few years, we can no longer depend on the major vendors to provide all of the tools that genealogists want and need.

Of course, I would encourage you to stay with mainstream products being used by a significant number of community power users. As with anything, there is always someone out there that’s less than honorable.

2020 saw a lot of innovation and new tools introduced. Maybe that’s one good thing resulting from people being cooped up at home.

Third-party tools are making a huge difference in the world of genetic genealogy. My favorites are Genetic Affairs, their AutoCluster tool shown above, DNAPainter and DNAGedcom.

These articles should get you started with clustering.

If you like video resources, here’s a MyHeritage Facebook LIVE that I recorded about how to use AutoClusters:

I created a compiled resource article for your convenience, here:

I have not tried a newer tool, YourDNAFamily, that focuses only on 23andMe results although the creator has been a member of the genetic genealogy community for a long time.

Painting DNA Makes Chromosome Browsers and Triangulation Easy

DNAPainter takes the next step, providing a repository for all of your painted segments. In other words, DNAPainter is both a solution and a methodology for mass triangulation across all of your chromosomes.

Here’s a small group of people who match me on the same maternal segment of chromosome 1, including those two cousins in the chromosome browser and triangulation sections, above. We know that this segment descends from Philip Jacob Miller and his wife because we’ve been able to identify that couple as the most distant ancestor intersection in all of our trees.

It’s very helpful that DNAPainter has added the functionality of painting all of the maternal and paternal bucketed matches from Family Tree DNA.

All you need to do is to link your known matches to your tree in the proper place at FamilyTreeDNA, then they do the rest by using those DNA matches to indicate which of the rest of your matches are maternal and paternal. Instructions, here. You can then export the file and use it at DNAPainter to paint all of those matches on the correct maternal or paternal chromosomes.

Here’s an article providing all of the DNAPainter Instructions and Resources.

DNA Matches Plus Trees Enhance Genealogy

Of course, utilizing DNA matching plus finding common ancestors in trees is one of the primary purposes of genetic genealogy – right?

Vendors have linked the steps of matching DNA with matching ancestors in trees.

Genetic Affairs take this a step further. If you don’t have an ancestor in your tree, but your matches have common ancestors with each other, Genetic Affairs assembles those trees to provide you with those hints. Of course, that common ancestor might not be relevant to your genealogy, but it just might be too!

click to enlarge

This tree does not include me, but two of my matches descend from a common ancestor and that common ancestor between them might be a clue as to why I match both of them.

Ethnicity Continues to be Popular – But Is No Shortcut to Genealogy

Ethnicity is always popular. People want to “do their DNA” and find out where they come from. I understand. I really do. Who doesn’t just want an answer?

Of course, it’s not that simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not disappointing to people who test for that purpose with high expectations. Hopefully, ethnicity will pique their curiosity and encourage engagement.

All four major vendors rolled out updated ethnicity results or related tools in 2020.

The future for ethnicity, I believe, will be held in integrated tools that allow us to use ethnicity results for genealogy, including being able to paint our ethnicity on our chromosomes as well as perform segment matching by ethnicity.

For example, if I carry an African segment on chromosome 1 from my father, and I match one person from my mother’s side and one from my father’s side on that same segment – one or the other of those people should also have that segment identified as African. That information would inform me as to which match is paternal and which is maternal

Not only that, this feature would help immensely tracking ancestors back in time and identifying their origins.

Will we ever get there? I don’t know. I’m not sure ethnicity is or can be accurate enough. We’ll see.

Transition to Digital and Online

Sometimes the future drags us kicking and screaming from the present.

With the imposed isolation of 2020, conferences quickly moved to an online presence. The genealogy community has all pulled together to make this work. The joke is that 2020’s most used phrase is “can you hear me?” I can vouch for that.

Of course while the year 2020 is over, the problem isn’t and is extending at least through the first half of 2021 and possibly longer. Conferences are planned months, up to a year, in advance and they can’t turn on a dime, so don’t even begin to expect in-person conferences until either late in 2021 or more likely, 2022 if all goes well this year.

I expect the future will eventually return to in-person conferences, but not entirely.

Finding ways to be more inclusive allows people who don’t want to or can’t travel or join in-person to participate.

I’ve recorded several sessions this year, mostly for 2021. Trust me, these could be a comedy, mostly of errors😊

I participated in four MyHeritage Facebook LIVE sessions in 2020 along with some other amazing speakers. This is what “live” events look like today!

Screenshot courtesy MyHeritage

A few days ago, I asked MyHeritage for a list of their LIVE sessions in 2020 and was shocked to learn that there were more than 90 in English, all free, and you can watch them anytime. Here’s the MyHeritage list.

By the way, every single one of the speakers is a volunteer, so say a big thank you to the speakers who make this possible, and to MyHeritage for the resources to make this free for everyone. If you’ve ever tried to coordinate anything like this, it’s anything but easy.

Additonally, I’ve created two Webinars this year for Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

Geoff Rasmussen put together the list of their top webinars for 2020, and I was pleased to see that I made the top 10! I’m sure there are MANY MORE you’d be interested in watching. Personally, I’m going to watch #6 yet today! Also, #9 and #22. You can always watch new webinars for free for a few days, and you can subscribe to watch all webinars, here.

The 2021 list of webinar speakers has been announced here, and while I’m not allowed to talk about something really fun that’s upcoming, let’s just say you definitely have something to look forward to in the springtime!

Also, don’t forget to register for RootsTech Connect which is entirely online and completely free, February 25-27, here.

Thank you to Penny Walters for creating this lovely graphic.

There are literally hundreds of speakers providing sessions in many languages for viewers around the world. I’ve heard the stats, but we can’t share them yet. Let me just say that you will be SHOCKED at the magnitude and reach of this conference. I’m talking dumbstruck!

During one of our zoom calls, one of the organizers says it feels like we’re constructing the plane as we’re flying, and I can confirm his observation – but we are getting it done – together! All hands on deck.

I’ll be presenting an advanced session about triangulation as well as a mini-session in the FamilySearch DNA Resource Center about finding your mother’s ancestors. I’ll share more information as it’s released and I can.

Companies and Owners Come & Go

You probably didn’t even notice some of these 2020 changes. Aside from the death of Bryan Sykes (RIP Bryan,) the big news and the even bigger unknown is the acquisition of Ancestry by Blackstone. Recently the CEO, Margo Georgiadis announced that she was stepping down. The Ancestry Board of Directors has announced an external search for a new CEO. All I can say is that very high on the priority list should be someone who IS a genealogist and who understands how DNA applies to genealogy.

Other changes included:

In the future, as genealogy and DNA testing becomes ever more popular and even more of a commodity, company sales and acquisitions will become more commonplace.

Some Companies Reduced Services and Cut Staff

I understand this too, but it’s painful. The layoffs occurred before Covid, so they didn’t result from Covid-related sales reductions. Let’s hope we see renewed investment after the Covid mess is over.

In a move that may or may not be related to an attempt to cut costs, Ancestry removed 6 and 7 cM matches from their users, freeing up processing resources, hardware, and storage requirements and thereby reducing costs.

I’m not going to beat this dead horse, because Ancestry is clearly not going to move on this issue, nor on that of the much-requested chromosome browser.

Later in the year, 23andMe also removed matches and other features, although, to their credit, they have restored at least part of this functionality and have provided ethnicity updates to V3 and V4 kits which wasn’t initially planned.

It’s also worth noting that early in 2020, 23andMe laid off 100 people as sales declined. Since that time, 23andMe has increasingly pushed consumers to pay to retest on their V5 chip.

About the same time, Ancestry also cut their workforce by about 6%, or about 100 people, also citing a slowdown in the consumer testing market. Ancestry also added a health product.

I’m not sure if we’ve reached market saturation or are simply seeing a leveling off. I wrote about that in DNA Testing Sales Decline: Reason and Reasons.

Of course, the pandemic economy where many people are either unemployed or insecure about their future isn’t helping.

The various companies need some product diversity to survive downturns. 23andMe is focused on medical research with partners who pay 23andMe for the DNA data of customers who opt-in, as does Ancestry.

Both Ancestry and MyHeritage provide subscription services for genealogy records.

FamilyTreeDNA is part of a larger company, GenebyGene whose genetics labs do processing for other companies and medical facilities.

A huge thank you to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA for NOT reducing services to customers in 2020.

Scientific Research Still Critical & Pushes Frontiers

Now that DNA testing has become a commodity, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that DNA testing is still a scientific endeavor that requires research to continue to move forward.

I’m still passionate about research after 20 years – maybe even more so now because there’s so much promise.

Research bleeds over into the consumer marketplace where products are improved and new features created allowing us to better track and understand our ancestors through their DNA that we and our family members inherit.

Here are a few of the research articles I published in 2020. You might notice a theme here – ancient DNA. What we can learn now due to new processing techniques is absolutely amazing. Labs can share files and information, providing the ability to “reprocess” the data, not the DNA itself, as more information and expertise becomes available.

Of course, in addition to this research, the Million Mito Project team is hard at work rewriting the tree of womankind.

If you’d like to participate, all you need to do is to either purchase a full sequence mitochondrial DNA kit at FamilyTreeDNA, or upgrade to the full sequence if you tested at a lower level previously.


Predictions are risky business, but let me give it a shot.

Looking back a year, Covid wasn’t on the radar.

Looking back 5 years, neither Genetic Affairs nor DNAPainter were yet on the scene. DNAAdoption had just been formed in 2014 and DNAGedcom which was born out of DNAAdoption didn’t yet exist.

In other words, the most popular tools today didn’t exist yet.

GEDmatch, founded in 2010 by genealogists for genealogists was 5 years old, but was sold in December 2019 to Verogen.

We were begging Ancestry for a chromosome browser, and while we’ve pretty much given up beating them, because the horse is dead and they can sell DNA kits through ads focused elsewhere, that doesn’t mean genealogists still don’t need/want chromosome and segment based tools. Why, you’d think that Ancestry really doesn’t want us to break through those brick walls. That would be very bizarre, because every brick wall that falls reveals two more ancestors that need to be researched and spurs a frantic flurry of midnight searching. If you’re laughing right now, you know exactly what I mean!

Of course, if Ancestry provided a chromosome browser, it would cost development money for no additional revenue and their customer service reps would have to be able to support it. So from Ancestry’s perspective, there’s no good reason to provide us with that tool when they can sell kits without it. (Sigh.)

I’m not surprised by the management shift at Ancestry, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see several big players go public in the next decade, if not the next five years.

As companies increase in value, the number of private individuals who could afford to purchase the company decreases quickly, leaving private corporations as the only potential buyers, or becoming publicly held. Sometimes, that’s a good thing because investment dollars are infused into new product development.

What we desperately need, and I predict will happen one way or another is a marriage of individual tools and functions that exist separately today, with a dash of innovation. We need tools that will move beyond confirming existing ancestors – and will be able to identify ancestors through our DNA – out beyond each and every brick wall.

If a tester’s DNA matches to multiple people in a group descended from a particular previously unknown couple, and the timing and geography fits as well, that provides genealogical researchers with the hint they need to begin excavating the traditional records, looking for a connection.

In fact, this is exactly what happened with mitochondrial DNA – twice now. A match and a great deal of digging by one extremely persistent cousin resulting in identifying potential parents for a brick-wall ancestor. Autosomal DNA then confirmed that my DNA matched with 59 other individuals who descend from that couple through multiple children.

BUT, we couldn’t confirm those ancestors using autosomal DNA UNTIL WE HAD THE NAMES of the couple. DNA has the potential to reveal those names!

I wrote about that in Mitochondrial DNA Bulldozes Brick Wall and will be discussing it further in my RootsTech presentation.

The Challenge

We have most of the individual technology pieces today to get this done. Of course, the combined technological solution would require significant computing resources and processing power – just at the same time that vendors are desperately trying to pare costs to a minimum.

Some vendors simply aren’t interested, as I’ve already noted.

However, the winner, other than us genealogists, of course, will be the vendor who can either devise solutions or partner with others to create the right mix of tools that will combine matching, triangulation, and trees of your matches to each other, even if you don’t’ share a common ancestor.

We need to follow the DNA past the current end of the branch of our tree.

Each triangulated segment has an individual history that will lead not just to known ancestors, but to their unknown ancestors as well. We have reached critical mass in terms of how many people have tested – and more success would encourage more and more people to test.

There is a genetic path over every single brick wall in our genealogy.

Yes, I know that’s a bold statement. It’s not future Jetson’s flying-cars stuff. It’s doable – but it’s a matter of commitment, investment money, and finding a way to recoup that investment.

I don’t think it’s possible for the one-time purchase of a $39-$99 DNA test, especially when it’s not a loss-leader for something else like a records or data subscription (MyHeritage and Ancestry) or a medical research partnership (Ancestry and 23andMe.)

We’re performing these analysis processes manually and piecemeal today. It’s extremely inefficient and labor-intensive – which is why it often fails. People give up. And the process is painful, even when it does succeed.

This process has also been made increasingly difficult when some vendors block tools that help genealogists by downloading match and ancestral tree information. Before Ancestry closed access, I was creating theories based on common ancestors in my matches trees that weren’t in mine – then testing those theories both genetically (clusters, AutoTrees and ThruLines) and also by digging into traditional records to search for the genetic connection.

For example, I’m desperate to identify the parents of my James Lee Clarkson/Claxton, so I sorted my spreadsheet by surname and began evaluating everyone who had a Clarkson/Claxton in their tree in the 1700s in Virginia or North Carolina. But I can’t do that anymore now, either with a third-party tool or directly at Ancestry. Twenty million DNA kits sold for a minimum of $79 equals more than 1.5 billion dollars. Obviously, the issue here is not a lack of funds.

Including Y and mitochondrial DNA resources in our genetic toolbox not only confirms accuracy but also provides additional hints and clues.

Sometimes we start with Y DNA or mitochondrial DNA, and wind up using autosomal and sometimes the reverse. These are not competing products. It’s not either/or – it’s *and*.

Personally, I don’t expect the vendors to provide this game-changing complex functionality for free. I would be glad to pay for a subscription for top-of-the-line innovation and tools. In what other industry do consumers expect to pay for an item once and receive constant life-long innovations and upgrades? That doesn’t happen with software, phones nor with automobiles. I want vendors to be profitable so that they can invest in new tools that leverage the power of computing for genealogists to solve currently unsolvable problems.

Every single end-of-line ancestor in your tree represents a brick wall you need to overcome.

If you compare the cost of books, library visits, courthouse trips, and other research endeavors that often produce exactly nothing, these types of genetic tools would be both a godsend and an incredible value.

That’s it.

That’s the challenge, a gauntlet of sorts.

Who’s going to pick it up?

I can’t answer that question, but I can say that 23andMe can’t do this without supporting extensive trees, and Ancestry has shown absolutely no inclination to support segment data. You can’t achieve this goal without segment information or without trees.

Among the current players, that leaves two DNA testing companies and a few top-notch third parties as candidates – although – as the past has proven, the future is uncertain, fluid, and everchanging.

It will be interesting to see what I’m writing at the end of 2025, or maybe even at the end of 2021.

Stay tuned.



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Sibilla Muller (1672-1746), Midwife and Typhoid – 52 Ancestors #319

Sibilla Muller was born September 6th, 1672 in Grossheppach to Rudolph Muller and his wife, Margaretha.

Grossheppach isn’t far from Beutelsbach where Sibilla’s future husband lived. He probably walked the short distance to court her regularly.


Sibylla married Johann Georg Lenz, a vinedresser, in 1698. We are fortunate that while they were married in the church in Beutelsbach, her home church in Grossheppach also recorded the marriage the following week. I don’t know, of course, but I’d wager that the newlywed couple attended the bride’s church the Sunday following their wedding, taking with them news of the good tidings of their marriage.

Johann Georg was turning 25 in a couple of weeks. Sibilla was already 25 and would turn 26 that September. High time to marry and start a family.

My friend, Tom, translates the Beutelsbach record:

The Purification (of Mary) (February 2nd), (married):

Hanss Georg Lentz, legitimate son of Hanss Lentz, citizen and vinedresser from here and Sibilla, legitimate, surviving daughter of the late Johann Rudolph Müller, former smith from Hoppach (Grossheppach).

Next, the Heppach record:

1st Sunday after Epiphany in the local church was proclaimed, Hanss Jerg Lentz, legitimate son of Hanss Lentz, citizen in Beutelsbach and Sibylla, surviving, legitimate daughter of the late Hanss Rudolph Muller, citizen and smith here; were married in Beutelsbach on the 2nd of February (1698).

Why would the couple marry in the groom’s church instead of the bride’s church, as was the custom?

Perhaps because her parents were deceased, and his father was still living?

Sibilla’s mother had died in 1689 and her father in 1692. The young couple made their home in Beutelsbach where he could tend the vines in the vineyard, as his ancestors had done for generations. They probably lived with his father.

Sibilla, also spelled Sibylla, died May 28, 1746 when she was 73 years old from a combination of asthma and typhoid, at least as best I can tell from present-day translations combined with older names for known illnesses.

Martin Goll compiled family information for Sibilla, here. Using an automated translation tool, we discover:

Daughter of Joh. Rudolf Müller, gew, blacksmith Heppach.

Can print and read something written. Has 8 1/2 year in Großheppach served here all. About 1740 was chosen for Midwife. Due to the head disease.

Cause of death: Asthma and typhoid

Profession: midwife

I don’t know what head disease translates to in modern terms. I don’t understand this translation in its entirety, but I can pick out relevant pieces.

The word “gew” did not translate.

It’s interesting, if this translation is literal then Sibilla did not begin her midwife career until 1740 when she was already 68 years old. I wonder if this translated strangely. Or maybe the 8.5 years in Grossheppach refers to midwifing there before Beutelsbach.

Maybe I can learn more by researching midwifery in Germany in that era.


According to the book, The Art of Midwifery, midwives in southern Germany in the 1600s and 1700s were actually public employees. Furthermore, midwife was the “best” career for women, of which there were very few, providing the midwives with a degree of independence not normally allowed women.

Most midwives were the wives or widows of artisans, minor city officials or day laborers. Many were not wealthy enough to own their own homes. They were respectable, but certainly not bourgeois, and were generally referred to by their clients and in municipal notes as either “Weib” or “Mutter,” not the more respectable “Frau.”

Midwives were actually sworn public officials beginning in 1489 in nearby Stuttgart, so probably in Beutelsbach as well about that time. The city councils took care to regulate the midwives, issuing, and changing ordinances.

Midwives were different from other women in this context, not to mention that they were actually paid. In the city and village payment records, midwives were listed right after surgeons and apothecaries, but of course, they were paid much less. Midwives received 2 to 8 gulden per year while the city barber-surgeons received 10-25 gulden. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the pay disparity increased.

Therefore, midwives earned money, but not enough to support themselves. Perhaps this was a subtle, or maybe not-so-subtle way to control these women, lest they become *too* independent.

Sometimes, when midwives performed additional responsibilities, such as caring for pregnant women during times of the plague, or in the city hospital, the midwife would receive a grant or additional money from the council – not because she deserved it, of course, but as a sign “of our goodwill and not their rights,” to quote municipal council records.

Sometimes midwives had to approach the council directly to request payment. They generally did not employ the supplicatory language common for women asking assistance but directly requested either salary increases or “the payment of rye and wood which is due to us.” It strikes me that they shouldn’t have had to ask at all, but perhaps that’s my 21st-century perspective showing through.

It’s also worth noting that a midwife who moved into a city or town would often ask specifically to be granted citizenship – a status not normally accorded to women specifically and which was accompanied by obligatory rights and responsibilities. Sometimes citizenship was offered in order to entice a midwife and her husband to move to a town. Apparently, a good midwife was in demand.

I wonder if this might be related to the commentary about Sibilla being in Heppach for eight and a half years. Perhaps as that village’s midwife before becoming midwife in Beutelsbach about 1840.

Wealthy women might want to arrange for their own midwife instead of receiving the services of the midwife selected by the council. Midwives who didn’t have a husband to rely on for income often took private clients in addition to their civic duty.

Wealthy women paid fees comparable with the fees that barber-surgeons received.

The cost of a simple, uncomplicated birth was similar to that of a circumcision. (I’m sorry, but this comparison just makes me cringe.)

A more difficult birth, such as a breech birth or twins was comparable to setting a bone or removing tonsils. (This made me cringe too, for other reasons.)

These comparisons are fascinating because I would not think of them as equivalent.

Midwives had to study as an apprentice with an experienced midwife for generally a year or more, then pass an examination in order to be licensed.

Sometimes physicians, who did not deliver babies and were not trained to do so, decided who was qualified to become a midwife.

As time passed, another layer of bureaucracy was added in many places in order to minimize the appearances of midwives who were considered to be “peasants” before the council. Upper-class women known as “honorable women” were paid to “manage” the midwives so that the councils didn’t have to deal with them directly. Both “honorable women” who knew nothing at all about the practice of midwifery and physicians participated in the quizzing, testing, and selection of midwives.

The questions in such an examination reveal the level of knowledge which city councils hoped every new midwife would have. First came questions about her training and experience. With whom had she studied and for how long? Had she had children herself? How many births had she seen or taken part in? Then came questions about the content of her training. What food, drink and baths will help a woman have an easy birth? How does she know if a woman is pregnant and does not simply have some other kind of swelling? How does she know whether the fetus is healthy or sick, alive or dead? What is the normal position for birth, and how is this to be brought about in the case of abnormal presentation? What should be done with the umbilical cord and afterbirth, especially to make sure that the latter has emerged? How are the new mother and infant to be best taken care of, and what advice should she give the new mother?

The doctors judged the prospective midwife’s answers about the medical aspects of delivery and pre and post-natal care while the ‘honourable women’ assessed her morality and character. Though the questions appear sensible, it is important to remember that the physicians holding the examination had received all their training through the reading of classical medical texts and perhaps observing a single autopsy on a female cadaver; they were thus testing the skills of women who may have observed or assisted in as many as a hundred deliveries, while they had never even witnessed the birth of a live child.

Additional Responsibilities and Expectations

Midwives were expected to determine if the mother was in need of food or clothing, in the case of indigent women in particular.

Another responsibility of midwives was the emergency baptism. The first known ordinance about midwives stated that if the midwife determined that a child was near death that she should perform an emergency baptism or “she would have to answer to God for her laziness and irresponsibility.”

I recall at least one instance in the church record where it was recorded that the grandmother performed an emergency baptism of a child immediately following birth.

Religious differences entered this realm, because when babies were supposed to be baptized, and in what way was deemed critically important – especially if they had to be rebaptized, just in case the child survived and/or the midwife might have performed the baptism incorrectly. At one point, “rebaptism,” because it was related to the “radical” Anabaptist religions, carried the death penalty, so everyone was walking on eggshells. It was perceived that the midwife literally held the destiny of the child’s soul in her hands.

Municipalities varied in their requirements – but some passed ordinances requiring the midwife to seek out a member of the clergy, a councilman, or in one case, the mayor, before baptizing an ailing child to be absolutely positive that the baptism was done correctly. Of course, the midwife had to weigh the responsibility of protecting the child’s soul by baptizing the baby without seeking permission-disguised-as-assistance and following the “rules,” which might mean the baby died without being baptized at all. The city that enacted the ordinance requiring midwives to seek out the mayor reported exactly zero cases of that actually happening. Apparently, midwives had plenty of common sense in addition to birthing skills.

In some cases, during a difficult birth that might or would result in a deceased child, such as when hooks had to be utilized to extract the infant from the birth canal, the child was actually baptized by pushing something with either “holy water” for Catholics or “baptismal water” for Protestants, into the mother’s vagina to reach the head of the child before it died. I have heard these colloquially called “sponge baptisms.”

I can only imagine what the mother was going through as this occurred, understanding exactly why, and that she herself was also on the verge of death.

It was up to the midwife to report the identity of the father if the birth was illegitimate and the father was previously unidentified. Midwives weren’t always trusted, so often one of the “honorable women” was sent to monitor illegitimate births where the father was unknown. It was believed that the mother would “exclaim the name of the father during the pains of birth.”

In larger cities, especially as guilds and others began to regulate the morality of their members, midwives were expected to report on any child that was born “prematurely,” or full-term, before 9 months had elapsed after the wedding.

Several church records over the years have commented about the bride being pregnant, although clearly, not all pregnancies were evident yet when the wedding occurred.

Additionally, midwives were entirely prevented from assisting with an abortion or participating in infanticide. Mothers who engaged in strenuous physical activity were suspected of attempting an abortion, as were women who took herbs or drugs.

Midwives were forbidden from burying a deceased child or fetus. Any child that died during or as a result of childbirth was to be observed by “3 or 4 unsuspecting female persons.”

Not only was it bad enough if your baby died, but 3 or 4 non-family members were requested to come into your house to view your dead baby. Peachy.

If something foul was suspected in the death of a child or fetus, the midwife was required to take a barber-surgeon with her to inspect the deceased child. The physician or barber-surgeon would possibly perform an autopsy which midwives were not allowed to do.

While the midwife could not normally bury a deceased child, since these already-dead babies had not been baptized and were therefore relegated to hell, the midwife was allowed to bury them since nothing more could be done for their souls and “no one would have worried about the type of funeral such a child received.”

I had to read that section more than once because even though I realize their beliefs were different then, the callousness of that way of thinking is still quite shocking.

The word of a midwife could easily condemn another woman.

Anytime witchcraft accusations were on the increase, so were accusations of abortion and infanticide. Some midwives were even accused of causing deaths through “natural” methods or witchcraft.

As if the midwife didn’t have enough to worry about, eventually, they were also responsible for attempting to enforce the desired level of morality.

As cities enacted more stringent sumptuary codes in the sixteenth century, midwives were required to inform parents about laws that governed baptisms so they would not, for example, spend too much money on the infant’s baptism gown or invite too many people to the baptismal feast.

Interestingly, this tells us a bit about what happened, socially, surrounding a baptism. In a small village like Beutelsbach, I wonder if the entire village attended the baptismal feast. Everyone would have been related.

I also wonder if baptismal gowns became heirlooms and were passed from child to child within the family.

How Many Babies Did Sibilla Deliver?

Beutelsbach was not a large village.

I counted the baptisms in the church book in Beutelsbach in 1740-1745. Of course, if there had been deaths where Sibilla baptized the child before it died, that child would probably not have been recorded in the births/baptisms – but then again – who knows. I did not look through the deaths to see if any children that died on the day they were born were also recorded in births.

Suffice it to say that assuredly, Sibilla had to perform at least a few emergency baptisms as infant death was rather common.

Year Number of births/baptisms
1740 40
1741 35
1742 36
1743 40
1744 49
1745 33

I stopped counting at the end of 1745 because Sibilla died midway through 1746.

Sibilla would have averaged about 39 births per year, or one birth every 9 or 10 days. if she was a midwife for 8.5 years, that equates to about 330 births.

At least some of those deliveries would have been close family members – grandchildren and children of her husband’s family members who had been living in Beutelsbach for generations. Some of her family members probably also lived in the same village since Heppach was only a half-hour walk or a mile or so away.

This birth information also tells us something about the size of the village in those years.

How Large was Beutelsbach?

A couple whose child did not die would have a baby every 18-24 months. For ease of math, let’s figure that couple would have a child in the baptismal register every other year.

Therefore, the number of child-bearing couples is double the yearly birth rate, or about 78. Granted, some couples appeared more often, but some couples had “aged out” of bearing children, so the number of households was likely not more than double the number of reproducing couples. Therefore, the village probably had about 150 houses, assuming each family lived separately. If each household had an average of 7 residents at any one time, the village had a total of about 1000 people.

This 1797 map of southwest Germany shows Beautelsbach, along with Grossheppach. Note the cemetery beside the church, which is difficult to see, right beside the cemetery. The actual village is located at 11 o’clock, above the blue pin, and the cemetery is at the end of the U-shaped street, on the way out of town. Based on a wider view of this map, I believe the little black dots aren’t houses, but are small stands of forest. Notice the rows of vineyards on the hillsides.


Sibilla had 8 children herself, all born in Beutelsbach, the first child arriving just 10 days or so before her first wedding anniversary. No need for the midwife to report Sibilla to the council, although I suspect most midwives were discrete and understanding.

  • Anna Barbara Lenz was born on January 23, 1699, and died July 15, 1770. She married Johann George Vollmer on October 26, 1729, and had 9 children. Given that 2 of her children were born in 1740 or later, it’s probable that Sibilla delivered at least these two of her own grandchildren. Three of these grandchildren died before Sibilla.

I would think that delivering your own grandchild who subsequently died would be doubly difficult. Thankfully, none of these children died at birth, but one died about 10 days later. Did Sibilla wonder if she could have or should have done anything differently, even if the death was clearly not her fault and had nothing to do with delivery?

There is a comment about Anna Barbara being in the house in 1746 with the “heated illness,” which is typhoid. This is when Sibilla died as well and is clearly remembered many years later. Anna Barbara could read and write.

  • Johannes Lenz born December 15, 1700, died December 24, 1700.

This must have been a miserable Christmas for Sibilla.

  • Jakob Lenz born April 1, 1702 died July 8, 1702.
  • Johann Adam Lenz born July 1, 1703, died July 11, 1746, just a few weeks after his mother died of typhoid. He too was a vinedresser. Martin Goll says, “When he was already married he had to be under occupation for 7 weeks, but deserted there because he already had a brother in the war.” He could read and write.

Johann Adam married Maria Katharina Bauer in 1735 and had 7 children before his own death 11 years later of typhoid. His last child was born two months after his death.

At least three of Johann Adam’s children were probably welcomed into the world by his mother. Two of his children died before he and his mother passed away, one that she would have delivered died about 2 weeks later, probably also of typhoid.

  • Margaretha Lenz born October 21, 1704, died March 15, 1717, at the age of 12. No cause of death is given, but I have to wonder why she died.
  • Johann Georg Lenz born December 2, 1707, died January 26, 1710, of smallpox. Smallpox was highly contagious and deadly about 30% of the time.
  • Elizabetha Lenz was born in 1709. Nothing more is known but she likely died. Some records are missing during this time.
  • Johann Jakob Lenz born July 25, 1712, died March 8, 1793, of a “sore throat.” Can read and write. Has served here and in Stetten for many years. Was elected as a Grenadier in 1734, was Captain of the Roman Company, and bought out in 1742.

Johann Jakob married Catharina Beerwarth on April 25, 1741, and had one child who was born and died a few days later in 1742. Sibilla likely delivered this child and knew there was a problem of some sort. Three months later, Catharina died too.

Johann Jakob remarried on November 12, 1744, to Katharina Haag in Heiningen. There was some question about his marriage certificate and military service at the time he was married and his first child was born. His mother may have delivered this child. The child was baptized in Beutelsbach but could have actually been born in Heiningen.


Clearly, Sibilla’s household and apparently the household of at least one adult child experienced an outbreak of typhoid during 1746. Typhoid is bacterial and treatable with antibiotics today, but it likely infected the entire village, if not the entire region.

In the book, A brief history of epidemic and pestilential diseases; with the principal phenomena of the physical world, which precede and accompany them, and observations deduced from the facts stated. : In two volumes, we find:

At Zurich in Switzerland and in Saxony prevailed a very malignant dysentery. Indeed for a number of years, at this period, dysentery was epidemic in many parts of Europe and America.

Typhoid is a person-to-person transmitted bacterial disease that can be passed through water, often through wells located in close proximity to septic pits. This 1939 conceptual illustration shows various ways that the typhoid bacteria could contaminate a well, creating a never-ending cycle of infection. Wells in German villages were generally in the center of the town, shared by all residents. Waterways, meaning creeks and rivers would be even more susceptible to contamination from fecal runoff.

Typhoid is mentioned decades later in reference to one of Sibilla’s adult children who did not die, so the outbreak must have been widespread and devastating.

I counted the deaths from 1744 through 1747 in the church records. It appears that the records may be incomplete in 1746 and 1747, with at least a couple of months missing from both years. The records are at least in disarray. This likely reflects the chaos of what was occurring in the village and it’s certainly possible that the Reverend and his family were ill too.

Year Deaths recorded in the church book
1744 34
1745 28
1746 71
1747 66

The death rate began to increase in April of 1746, rapidly, so the contamination must have occurred in March since typhoid takes about a month to kill its victims. Sibilla died on May 28th.

Life and Death

As I write this, in the midst of a pandemic at the very end of 2020, I’m struck by several thoughts.

Sibilla was one of the few women of her time who actually had a career, and one that paid, even if the pay was minimal and not on par with other medical providers. I’m so proud of her.

Clearly, Sibilla was well-respected or she would not have been asked to be a midwife and continued in that role until her death.

I wonder if Sibilla caught typhoid in the process of midwifing.

I wonder how much was understood of hygiene and the role of washing hands in both the prevention of infection during childbirth and as well as the prevention of transmission of disease. Based on later writings, I suspect that correlation had not yet been made.

Sibilla must have been concerned as she felt the first of the Typhoid symptoms that would have started about the end of April. Headache, low fever, weakness, fatigue, muscle aches, sweating, dry cough, loss of appetite – then progressing into more serious symptoms including a very high fever – then into death roughly 4 weeks later on May 28th.

At some point, Sibilla’s symptoms went from “not feeling well” to a nagging worry, to knowing, to being alarmed, to being terrified, to being so sick she just wanted to die.

According to WebMD:

People with acute illness can contaminate the surrounding water supply through stool, which contains a high concentration of the bacteria. Contamination of the water supply can, in turn, taint the food supply. The bacteria can survive for weeks in water or dried sewage.

About 3%-5% of people become carriers of the bacteria after the acute illness. Others suffer a very mild illness that goes unrecognized. These people may become long-term carriers of the bacteria — even though they have no symptoms — and be the source of new outbreaks of typhoid fever for many years.

This surely makes the moniker, “Typhoid Mary” much more understandable.

Given how many people died, that suggests that the entire village had to be sick. No wonder the burial records are incomplete and in disarray. And God help anyone who delivered a baby during this time.

Given what we are living through now, I don’t think I’ve ever felt such camaraderie with any ancestor before. While I’m not entirely surprised at that feeling, I am amazed to have that connection because of uncontrolled, fatal illness. The difference is, of course, that in 1746, they didn’t understand about transmission and how to prevent it. It would have, of course, required the entire village (and maybe neighbor villages too) to adopt those same prevention measures. Perhaps that would have meant boiling their drinking and cooking water at that time along with hygiene routines that included more hand-washing.

We do clearly understand what’s needed today, although many in our modern “village” refused and still refuse to take the proper precautions to protect everyone and modify their behaviors accordingly – just for long enough to get the current pandemic under control. Maybe small German villages would have had a better conformance rate, especially if the minister preached it from the pulpit and everyone literally knew and were related to people who were suffering and dying.

Sibilla and her son’s burial entries both convey the story of their deaths – as do so many others in the village. Her daughter’s death entry, 24 years later mentions that she lived through the 1746 “heated illness” as typhoid was described because fevers topped 104, followed by delirium, seizures, and death as the brain overheated and fried.

One day, the obituaries or burial entries for those of us who don’t succumb to Covid will also reflect that we lived through the epidemic of 2020, the dark winter of our time.

Sibilla, if she’s watching, must be incredulous and wondering why our “village” refuses to do the simple things we can, before it’s too late. After all, we have the advantage of knowledge. Knowledge of how the dread illness spread and how to protect themselves is something Sibilla and her family didn’t have and would have given anything for – and an opportunity we are collectively squandering.

It does, indeed, take a village.



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