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

  1. Thanks Roberta – I loved the story. I am largely of German descent and remember grape vines growing on trelles around our house in Western PA. Also think your dna work is outstanding

    • These German villages are just so interesting. Even if they aren’t directly ours, if our ancestors lived in that region, they experienced something similar. Now I look back at the grape arbors of my grandparents with a different perspective.

  2. What a wonderful gift to connect with your cousin Wolfram. Thank you for sharing the photos and drawings from the past. I hope to someday be so fortunate with my own German research.

  3. I am trying to get closer family members to read your post… to, again, see the past come alive, put the present into some perspective and to demonstrate that cousins, more distant than 1st or 2nd, do sometimes connect with each other, share valuable information and just maybe feel good about the experience too.

  4. Thanks for another lovely post, Roberta, about a place I still think of “home”, even if I haven’t lived in that area in almost thirty years. I miss it, and my family, more than usual these days, not having been able to visit since November ’19.

  5. Your research and writing are so intriguing and inspiring. I can’t imagine the amount of time you dedicate to genealogy each week. Your ability to communicate clearly in your writing, your collaboration with others and your ability to make your family come alive are true gifts indeed. I’ve read your blog for the last couple years and you are definitely one who has inspired me to get my family stories out to my family. Thank you.

  6. All very interesting. And I’m with you on wines — love Moscato! Will have to get some apricot liqueur to try with it…. had a mango-moscato which was lovely.

  7. Hi Roberta, Those sour grapes look like Muscadines that grow wild here in Arkansas. It is hard to come by enough of them now days but they are coveted for making jam. We have one vine that grows high in the trees that feeds the birds! As always enjoy reading your blog. Thank you.

    • Wow!! I didn’t know that muscadines grew in Arkansas!! I always thought of them as a “Georgia” thing, and a staple of fond summertime memories. They’re usually at their peak here in mid-to-late August.😊

  8. Fascinating article. You are so fortunate to have connected with Wolfram and to have him send you all those amazing pictures. So kind of him to provide answers to your many questions. Tell him your readers, even though they are not relatives, appreciate his sharing so much.

  9. What a grand article! I am so happy you have more wonderful photos of your ancestral areas, and I totally relate to your vineyard obsession. I would rather sew than drink wine, yet I planted 135 grapevines in Virginia, pretty much for the birds! You are spot-on about the care needed for vines. By the way, I did not see Virginia on your vineyard checklist, yet I remember some of your articles about your Estes family in Halifax County. There is very good wine in the area, just sayin’!

    • The Williamsburg winery was in Virginia. I might have visited others that I don’t recall. Maybe I need to come back😁

  10. I love these rich histories of ancient communities in the context of personal lives and the contemporary photos that show the not-so-modernized communities of today.

  11. Very interesting! I lived with the Eiber family on Fürstengassle Strasse 1980/81. Their family have been in Grossheppach many generations. The home had been the Rathaus old, big and 3 stories high. We had several parties in the basement where 15′ ceiling housed huge Fessern. My favourite party was the Ritterfest in February to celebrate birthdays of myself and Eiber husband of my boss! In costume and like 1600s. So many memories being among the vineyards, baking bread in the village holzoffen, discovering Spätlese wein and so much more.

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