My ancestor, Margaretha Elisabetha Koehler was born on April 30, 1772 in Ellerstadt, Germany to Johann Peter Koehler and Anna Elisabetha Scherer.
I wrote about the Kirsch and Koehler homes in neighboring Mutterstadt where Margaretha Elisabetha lived after her marriage, here.
The village of Ellerstadt is the heart of German wine country. The ideal location for an innkeeper. Johann Peter Koehler was just that, the innkeeper at The Lion, and an innkeeper with aspirations.
Ellerstadt was a small village in the 1700s when Peter Koehler lived there, although it had existed for hundreds of years, minus the years it was laid waste by invading armies. The first mention of Ellerstadt was in 783, nearly 1000 years before Peter took up residence.
Peter wasn’t born in Ellerstadt.
According to his death record, Peter was born on September 28, 1724. His parents were Johann Peter Theobald Koehler and Anna Elisabetha Ulzhofer and he was most likely born in the little village of Rehutte (Rehhutte), given that his father was the customs collector and innkeeper there. However, Rehutte was occupied by French troops from 1734-1745, so where the family might have lived during that time is open to speculation. Records from Rehutte would be very enlightening.
Peter spent his adult life in Ellerstadt.
We don’t know exactly when Peter took up residence there, but at age 22, on January 11, 1746, he married Charlotta Braun in Ellerstadt. He would have been a citizen by then, with a vocation sufficient to support a wife and family or he would not have been allowed to marry.
This map of Ellerstadt from the 1840s is probably very similar to life 50 years earlier, near the end of Peter’s time on earth. These are the streets that Peter would have walked, buttressed by the vineyards tended by the residents stretching long and narrow behind their homes.
Today, you can see the same roads embracing the beautiful “old,” village.
The lives of all of the villagers, their comings and goings, revolved around the center of the village where there was likely a communal well at one time and probably a marketplace too. You can easily see the Protestant church with the green roof near the old school on the corner.
There would have been a bakery nearby, the smell of freshly baked bread wafting down the street. Of course, every village had an inn that functioned as the local restaurant and pub, gathering place, and safe haven for travelers and their beasts.
The region’s fine wines would have been served at the tables there, and maybe some locally distilled fruit brandy too. Today there’s a generationally owned winery in Ellerstadt plus a few more in close proximity.
You have no idea how much I want to walk these streets.
The old white school, shown above on the corner, was likely something else before it served as a school. We know that during Peter’s day that the schoolmaster taught at the Lutheran church.
Kirchenstrasse runs alongside the church, north to south, and Ratstrasse, or city hall street, intersects in the center of town. The city hall would have been located there, as would the local inn. Peter would have lived and worked someplace in this long block. I’d bet that in the city’s dusty records, there is something that would tell us where the old Lion or Red Lion Inn was located, or where Peter lived, which might well have been the same building. His wife may well have cooked for the family and their guests.
Peter, his wives and some of his children are assuredly buried in the cemetery behind the church in long-lost graves. Many of his children married and moved away, to neighboring villages and eventually, some of his descendants sailed for America.
Like the rest of the Palatinate, Ellerstadt was entirely abandoned during the Thirty Years War which began in 1618. While the war officially ended in 1648, families had either died or settled elsewhere and there was literally nothing to return to. Everythign was burned and gone, but some tried to return to their ancestral villages.
Repeated incursions lasted throughout the 1600s, with French troops once again ravaging the Palatinate from 1689-1697. Refugees fled across the Rhine, with some eventually returning after the French discovered that they needed people to work so they had someone to tax.
In 1707, Ellerstadt belonged to Casimir Kolb von Wartenberg and was part of the Imperial county that was of an Imperially immediate nature. An imperial immediate nature was a privileged political status rooted in feudal law under the Holy Roman Empire granting the holder a form of sovereignty, allowing them to extract taxes and tolls, among other forms of control. Often, they granted benefits to villagers such as allowing them to own some time of business, such as an inn. Of course, nothing was free – they would have selected a man they could depend on to pay their taxes.
We know that Peter was living in Ellerstadt by 1746 when he married and established himself as a citizen and innkeeper. A decade later in 1756 catastrophic weather conditions including hail destroyed the entire harvest.
Many people probably went hungry that year. Peter, then 32 years old and married for a decade had 6 children, including a babe in arms. What did they do? How did they survive? We’ll never know.
During almost the entire time that Peter lived in Ellerstadt, the village was owned by the Wartenbergs. However, in 1789, the impoverished Wartenbergs sold their rights to the Counts of Sickingen, another noble family who subsequently lost Ellerstadt, along with all of the Palatinate west of the Rhine to the French in 1794.
We don’t know exactly how many people lived in the village of Ellerstadt in the 1700s, but we do know that there were 24-30 families by 1548 and by 1614, that number had increased to 60-70. Of course, that was before the war.
The families who didn’t die left no later than 1620, and it’s unknown if any of the original families tried to return after 1650. A full generation had passed.
Regardless, Peter Koehler’s family was not from Ellerstadt, but Ellerstadt was probably a “young” village once again in the early and mid-1700s, in the process of rebuilding and reestablishing itself. If it was without an innkeeper, a newly established inn would have been quite welcome. Food, wine and travelers. More people and goods to tax, including luxuries like tea, coffee and chocolate.
By 1722, the population had not extended beyond the city center; Ratsstausse, Kirchenstrausse with Fliesstrasse bordering the south side of the village.
The 1840s map shows about 110 or so residences, but many are in the “newer” outskirts of town, outside the village center where the church would have been rebuilt. Perhaps there were 50 families when Peter lived in Ellerstadt, eventually serving as Mayor.
Peter died in 1791, before the French Revolution occurred in 1793 and 1794, once again ravaging Ellerstadt. Soldiers plundered homes and forced the inhabitants into labor if they did not flee across the Rhine River.
Peter’s home and the inn would have either been destroyed or at least repurposed – although soldiers like everyone else had to eat and likely enjoyed a drink. While Peter was gone, perhaps his inn survived due to its usefulness.
Reassembling Peter’s Life
Most of what we know about Peter came from the church records which of course reflect none of the turmoil taking place, at least not directly. Clearly, the family attended services regularly. All of Peter’s children were baptized in the church as was expected.
The church was the central, cohesive glue of the village, with the protestant religion a way of life in German Palatinate villages during this time. There was no Catholic church. The Thirty Years’ War had been about the differences between Catholicism and the Protestant faith and the protestants won.
Peter’s transcribed marriage record tells us that on the 11th of January, 1746, Johann Peter Koehler, legitimate son of the customs collector Mister Kohler was married to the local widow Braun’s daughter Charlotta, after 3 public announcements during open church services.
Charlotta died 16 years later, on March 6, 1762, in Ellerstadt.
Charlotta and Peter had 8 children between November of 1746 and March of 1761. There are two gaps of 4 years, suggesting that two children died, one in 1751 and one in 1759. Others might have died after they were christened during that timeframe.
Peter remarried shortly, just 3 months later, on June 29th, 1762 to Anna Elisabetha Scherer, 18 years his junior and the daughter of the innkeeper of the “Lion Inn” in Heuchelheim, about 20 miles away. Peter’s oldest child was only 5 years younger than his new wife who immediately acquired a family of 8 children, minus any who had died. The oldest was 16 and the youngest, an infant who would never have known any other mother other than Elisabetha.
The translation of their marriage record, courtesy of cousin Tom says:
The local innkeeper at the Löwenwirth (Lion’s Inn), Peter KÖHLER, widower with Anna Elisabetha SCHER(IN), the late Philipp SCHER(N) from Heuchelheim, surviving legitimate daughter were married after the reading of the three proclamation of the banns.
Their first child arrived in November of 1763.
In his daughter Christina Ottilia’s marriage record on August 4, 1763, Peter is referenced as “citizen and host of the Red Lion in Ellerstadt, of the reformed religion.”
In 1765, their child Anna Margaretha was christened with Peter’s brother, Tobias Kohler, citizen and resident of Zeiskem (Zeiskam) and his wife, Anna Margaretha, serving as godparents. Zeiskam is about 33 kilometers away, so not a trivial journey.
Until 1776, Peter was consistently referred to as the Innkeeper at the Lion’s Inn, but in September 1776 when a new daughter was christened, he was referred to as anwalt,” or “lawyer here”, meaning the person who checked the contracts for the village. Probably quite different than a lawyer today, but still a position of responsibility and one that required the trust of the residents. He was 52 years old.
Elisabetha had 11 children between 1763 and January 1784. She died on July 21, 1784, once again leaving Peter, then 60, a widower with young children ranging in age from 6 months to 19 years, plus his children from his first marriage who were all adults by that time.
Three of Peter and Elisabetha’s children had died, including young Johann Martin Koehler on January 22, 1784, just a few months before his mother. I wonder if something like typhoid, flu or maybe dysentery was affecting people in the village during that time.
After Elisabetha’s death, Peter waited nearly a year before remarrying on July 4, 1785 to the widow Anna Margaretha Volker of Assenheim, a neighbor village.
Elke translated the record as:
The 4th of July, Mister Peter Kohler, former mayor and widower and Anna Margarethe nee Volckerin, remaining widow of the former Johannes tock, former citizen and court cognant in Assenheim.
Former mayor suggests that in 1785, Peter was no longer mayor, but that may have changed.
Four years later, in 1789, when his son, Philip Jacob Kohler married, Peter was referenced once again as the village mayor.
Then Peter died, his demise recorded in the church record.
On August 11, 1791, Herr Johann Peter Kohler, village mayor and lowenwirth, Innkeeper at The Lion here, died. Age 67 years, less 1 month 2 weeks and 4 days.
This tells us that Peter was born on September 28, 1724, and that he was still both the mayor and an innkeeper at his death. The title Herr was used as a sign of respect.
Peter’s daughter Anna Elisabetha’s marriage record on August 18, 1801 says:
Anna Elisabetha Kohlerin of Ellerstadt, 21 years old born in Fussgoenheim the ? of Oct residing in Ellerstadt, daughter of the former Peter Koehler, former citizen and mayor in Ellerstadt and his wife anna Elisabetha nee Schererin.
She was born October 3, 1781.
Peter’s daughter’s August 13, 1793 marriage record says:
Philipp Jacob Rhodt, citizen in Freudenheim a widower to Maria Eva Kohlerin unmarried daughter of the former Peter Kohler, former mayor, from here and Anna Elisabetha, nee Scherin, both are no more.
In 1823, Peter’s daughter died, providing a final confirmation:
On the 21st of April 1823 died and on the 23rd was buried, Anna Margaretha Kirsch, widow of the late Andreas Kirsch, aged 49 years 11 months 22 days. Her parents: Peter Kohler from Ellerstadt and Anna Elisabetha Scherr.
The Lion Inn
It has been suggested that perhaps the Lion Inn has something to do with the Hallberg crest or coat of arms. It’s worth noting that the inn in Heuchelheim was also known as “The Lion.”
This Hallberg crest is affixed to the pulpit in the Hallberg castle church in neighboring Fussgoenheim, less than 2 miles away. There are two lions on the crest, and one way to obtain the rights to open a local inn would be to sell Hallberg wine and name the establishment after the local noble’s crest animal.
A Confusing DNA Puzzle
Several years ago, my Koehler cousin was gracious enough to take an autosomal and Y DNA test to represent our Koehler line.
The results are very interesting.
The Renner family is also present in this part of Germany, primarily in Mutterstadt, but also found in neighboring Fussgoenheim, Schauernheim, Dannstadt and Assenheim. Perhaps even more interesting is that one Jacob Wilhelm Renner married Peter Koehler’s sister. The couple stood as godparents for one of Peter’s children.
The Renner and Koehler families were both in this part of Germany since before written records. It’s certainly possible that the Renner and Koehler families had a common paternal ancestor, before the advent of surnames. Celts and Germanic tribes settled along the Rhine River in prehistory, and Ceasar crossed the Rhine in 55 and 53 BCE. The Rhine River has always been Europe’s water superhighway, serving as both passageways and boundaries – and always worth fighting for.
In other words, families existed, as did armies, in the Palatinate long before surnames.
My Koehler cousin descends from Peter Koehler and Elisabetha through their son, Philip Jacob Koehler who married Maria Catharina Merck.
Today, my Koehler cousin’s Y DNA matches several Renner and Rennard men. So far, no Koehler surname matches on Y DNA, but, there’s more…
- Autosomal matching shows a match to another descendant of Johann Peter Koehler and Anna Elisabetha Scherer through Philip Jacob Koehler and Maria Catharina Merck, through their daughter. Therefore, the path back to at least Philip Jacob Koehler seems to be clear and unbroken. If the Y DNA Koehler line of Ellerstadt had been broken between Philip Jacob Koehler and my Koehler cousin, he would NOT match anyone else descended from that couple autosomally, and he does.
- In other words, if Peter Koehler and Elisabetha Scherer’s son, Philip Jacob Koehler had been their son, but his son was a Renner male, then the Y and autosomal link would both have been broken, so my cousin today could not match a descendant of either Philip Jacob Koehler or Peter Koehler.
There’s additional information to consider.
- My cousin also matches another Koehler male on the Family Finder test, but that person has not taken the Y DNA test and hasn’t provided genealogical information.
- Another interesting tidbit – we find another Koehler line autosomal match and a Renner Y DNA match both in Frederick County, Maryland in the 1700s. Is this important? I don’t know.
- One of the Renner Y DNA test matches shows their ancestor, Johann Peter Renner in Oberschleichach, Hassberge, Bavaria and his father Adam Renner born in 1739 in Neuschleichach, Haßberge, Bavaria, Germany. His father, Johann Adam Renner was born in Oberschleichach in 1689. Given the Y DNA direct connection, this link between Koehler and Renner seems to reach back beyond the birth of Peter Koehler in 1724 in the Palatinate. This connection, 250 kilometers east of Ellerstadt and far from the Palatinate looks like it reaches back to or before the Thirty Years’ War.
I can’t help but think back to the devastation of the Thirty Years War in the early 1600s west of the Rhine in the Palatinate, and how many children were orphaned. Fighting continued throughout the 1600s and the 1700s weren’t exactly stable either. The French Revolution in the 1790s caused massive upheaval as well. Was an orphan child taken in and raised by another family? Did a Renner family take a Koehler child, or vice versa?
I would LOVE to test a Renner male from the Renner line that lived in Mutterstadt or nearby. I descend from Johann Peter Renner (1679-1746) there was well. If you’re a Renner male that fits this description, I have a DNA testing scholarship for you!
Were the paternal ancestors of both of these lines the same man prior to the adoption of surnames? Had their ancestors lived in this region since prehistory? The answer to this question is never going to be found in the records – and only shadows and hints exist in the Y and autosomal DNA of descendants.
Perhaps in time, enough other people will test both Y and autosomal DNA that we can refine our knowledge.
Until then, we can only piece tidbits together about how Johann Peter Koehler was related to the Renner family, and when.
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“You have no idea how much I want to walk these streets.”
Yes we do !! Walking where our ancestors walked, attending the same churches they were baptized in, visiting the cemeteries they were buried in, and just trying to experience the lives they led where they led them – that to me is the biggest thrill of genealogy. I consider myself blessed to have had this opportunity. And I thank you for all you’ve done to make that possible.
I enjoyed your article on Johann Peter Koehler. I too have Koehler’s (Keuler) in my family tree. They came from Herschbach which is 13km north east of Adenau. This is about 180km northwest of your Ellerstadt
Thank you for your article on Peter Köhler. We are connected, although not genetically. Peter and Charlotta’s grand-daughter Maria Eva Koch (1792-1861) married Johann Friedrick Hodel (1777-1859) in Erpolzheim, a village 2.5 miles northwest of Ellerstadt. Fred is my wife’s ggg-grandfather.
How fun is this!
Another wonderful walk for our minds to imagine – thank you so much for you sharing. Your details of the area, the history info at that time and those pictures. For me, I am especially happy to hear of the French and the German turnovers that went on, not only in the former ‘Alsace-Lorraine’.