If Stone Could Speak: Koehler Family Life in Ellerstadt – 52 Ancestors #354

Not long after I published the article Johann Peter Koehler (1724-1791), Innkeeper, Lawyer, Mayor of Ellerstadt, my friend Chris sent me a note saying: “Please have a look at this website:”

The webpage is in German, of course, but above is the autotranslation, confirmed by Chris.

Wait? What? This winery was founded by Anna Barbara Koehler. Could that be true? Is she related to Johann Peter Koehler, the same Lowenwirt who died in 1791 and his wife, Anna Elisabetha Scherer? It sure looks like it!

Not only is there seemingly a connection via the Köhler family, but it also provides what seems to be an exact current address of the former Lion Inn. Am I really this lucky?

Look! The red pin shows 9 Ratstrasse. Is this where Johann Peter Koehler lived? The winery, today, is still located at the same location. Of course, the grapes are no longer grown behind the “inn” like they would have been in the 1700s.

In this aerial, you can see the old Inn, today’s Hammel winery business, the Lutheran church where the Koehler family baptized their children, married their true loves, and generations are buried.

It appears that Koehler blood still runs in the veins of Ellerstadt citizens.

My heart skipped a beat. Is this actually the location of Johann Peter Koehler’s inn? The current owners know they descend from a Koehler, but is it the same Koehler line? What else might they know?

Chris offered, if I wanted to contact the owner, to translate an email from me into German and send it off. Did I want to make contact, Chris asked?

OF COURSE! Is water wet?


From this point forward, all of the photos and documents are courtesy of Günter Lauer, except where noted or contemporary maps that I’ve provided through Google Maps.

Even if Günter is not the original author of the documents, he is responsible for providing the photos and transcribing most of the information, with the exception of information provided and translated by my friend, Chris. I have provided a few comments and links, but without the goodies provided by Günter and Chris, this article wouldn’t exist, at all.

A HUGE thank you to both of these gentlemen for their time, sharing, and permission to share with you.

From Chris

Günter Lauer from Ellerstadt responded and I think “we hit gold”. He attached numerous files.

His reply contains a letter with his response, a genealogical table showing his own connection to the Köhler family, all pages of a local history book of Ellerstadt and two maps, both with the inn “Zum roten Löwen” labeled on it (Ratstraße 9 in Ellerstadt, in front of today`s location of the Hammel winery that I linked to earlier).

Günter Lauer had even in 2010 transcribed an old unpublished book he found in an archive that lists all houses of Ellerstadt and their owner`s history. He attached the part concerning the house where the inn was located.

Günter Lauer’s Reply

Automated translation of Günter Lauer`s letter to Chris.

Question about the Löwenwirt of Ellerstadt

Dear Sir,

With pleasure I will answer your questions today. My great hobby is family research and I often try to help other people to find their ancestors. Closely connected with the family research is of course also the history of my place. Therefore it is also possible for me to answer questions about the dwelling of the persons concerned. So I can also answer your question about the location of the “Roter Lö-wen”. But I will come to that later.

But first I would like to show my connection to the ancestors of your friend [Roberta].

Click any image to enlarge. Günter’s Koehler lineage is shown in red boxes.

The representation begins with my ancestor Johann Peter Lauer who was married to Maria Theresia Koehler.

Theresia Koehler in turn was the daughter of Johann Peter Koehler. He was born in Ellerstadt in 1775 and worked as a baker in Seltz in Alsace. It would be interesting to clarify what had driven Johann Peter Koehler there. Ellerstadt belonged after the French Revolution to France, so employment in the French Seltz was no obstacle. In any case, he found employment in a bakery there and eventually married Anna-Maria Rohr, the wife of the deceased baker. Maria Theresia, their daughter, was born in Seltz in 1799.

The Koehler couple eventually returned to Ellerstadt. The time of their return, which may have had something to do with the political upheavals of 1815, is unknown. It is conceivable that it was no longer possible for him to stay in Seltz, because the borders had shifted in the meantime. The Palatinate had become Bavarian and Seltz remained French. He probably had to leave the country as a “foreigner” for this reason. Anna-Maria Rohr died in 1824 in Ellerstadt. Two years later Johann Peter Koehler married again.

Further details can be found in the attached appendices. His grandfather of the same name, Johann Peter Koehler [1724-1791] is probably the first Koehler in Ellerstadt, but he was certainly not born here, because a corresponding entry is not found in the church records.

In the baptismal register entry for Peter Koehler from 1747, above, the grandfather Johann Peter Koehler + uxor (wife) Ottilia from Rehhütte (near Limburgerhof) are named as “Petter” (godfather).

In the article of Roberta Estes however, Anna Elisabetha Ulzhofer is indicated as wife [of Johann Peter Koehler of Rehhütte]. What is correct? How did your friend come to this conclusion? However, I myself have not yet made an effort to do another search in the direction of “Rehhütte”.

Please note that Ottilla was a second wife and not the mother of Johann Peter Koehler born in 1724. I will cover this in a future article. Back to Günter’s letter.

In the attached family tree, you will also find the name Jonas Gregorius Huber. His son Andreas [green boxes] emigrated from Ellerstadt to America and he is the ancestor of the later American president Herbert Hoover [1874-1964].

Now I would like to come to your question, where did the Koehler family live?
As you can see from the so far unpublished “Häuserbuch” of our local historian Ernst Merk, which I have enclosed in extracts, at the entry Emil Hammel, it can be assumed that the today’s winery Hammel, Ratstraße 9 is to be regarded as the place where the Koehler family lived. It is the former location of the inn “Zum roten Löwen”. As Roberta Estes has already correctly found out, Anna Barbara Koehler was married to Johannes Hammel. The property is still occupied by their descendants.

Oh glory!!! It IS the original location.

For your orientation, I enclose village maps from the years 1834 and 2022.

Note that I do not (yet) have permission to use the 1834 map, and my contact has since become temporarily unavailable. When I receive permission, I will add the 1834 map, but Günter was kind enough to provide a contemporary map with the locations noted as well.

On the above map provided by Günter, the Winery is shown, the Pfarshaus (parsonage) dating from 1825, the old school from 1838 which is also the city hall, and the church of course.

This part of Ellerstadt is very nearly the same configuration as it was in 1834.

Furthermore, I enclose the “Commission protocol about the exchange of the Durlachian pledge against the Elector Palatine pledge on the von Mentzing village Gondelsheim” from the year 1761, which I found some time ago in the General State Archive Karlsruhe. It contains among other things a list of citizens and inhabitants. Listed are the persons who were probably present as witnesses at the public exchange negotiation in front of the Ellerstadt town hall. Peter Koehler is also mentioned there.

Further notes to the article by Roberta Estes:

The Koehler family did not see these two “new buildings.”

Günter is referring to the City Hall/school and church. The photo above is the Ellerstadt school which was constructed in 1838. The previous building was either torn down or incorporated into this building.

Furthermore, in 1830 the name Koehler disappears in Ellerstadt. Only the former parsonage which was built in 1825 might have been known by the bearers of the name Koehler. I have marked the mentioned buildings on the attached village maps.

In addition, I add the local history of Ellerstadt which Ernst Merk wrote in 1921. It contains a lot of details. Many sources cannot be found today due to war losses.

I think I have answered all your questions, but I am available for further inquiries at any time.

Best regards from Ellerstadt,

Günter Lauer

I cannot tell you how pleased I am to be in touch with my cousin, Günter, who has also been bitten by the genealogy/history bug.

The Merk House Book

From Chris:

As Günter Lauer lays out in the introduction, the manuscript of the house book of Ellerstadt was handwritten by Ernst Merk, but then never published before his death in 1964. Today, the manuscript is stored in “Landesarchiv Speyer, Bestand V 19, Nachlaß von Ernst Merk, Oberpostinspektor”, which would be the reference for the original manuscript. Günter Lauer transcribed the old handwriting of the house book (400 pages in total), but it is still unpublished. What he sent to me/us here, is an excerpt with the record for Ratstraße 9 and a couple of maps. You already have the 1832 map of Ellerstadt with house “no. 113”, Ratstraße 9, labeled on it. This house and its history is what the following text refers to. Whereever it is written “today” or “at present”, it refers to the time that Ernst Merk wrote it – sometime until 1964.

I asked Günter Lauer, if he would agree to publishing this part on the internet, but I assume that, alternatively, parts of the content in a rewritten form will do as well for you.

I took the Deepl translation of the text and curated some translations to make it more readable. Please find it below

Ratstrasse 9, excerpt from Ellerstadt house book written by Ernst Merk, transcribed by Günter Lauer in 2010, translated by Chris.

Source: “Landesarchiv Speyer, Bestand V 19, Nachlaß von Ernst Merk, Oberpostinspektor“

Emil Hammel; House No. 149167, Bes. No. 113, Plan No. 116, 116½, 117 (Ratstraße 9).

According to stock book entry no. 35, the western part of the house belonged in 1723 to Hans Nickel Hahnert as his second residence. His other house was to the west side next door (see house no. 151). Through his daughter Anna Katharina, who in 1730 married Johann Leonhardt Meenart, the house came into his possession. Johann Leonhardt had only one son Johann Nikolaus, but he was not listed as the next owner of the house of his father Johann Leonhardt. The house must therefore have passed from Johann Leonhardt Meinhardt directly to Johann Peter Köhler. Which of the two demolished the small house of Hahnert and rebuilt it cannot be determined.

Nikolaus Meinhardt is known as the owner of the present house of Michael Weber (see no. 55) since about the year 1790. In the years 1768 to 1790 he seems to have lived with his father.

In 1790 it was owned by the master baker and innkeeper “Zum roten Löwen”, [to the Red Lion] Johann Peter Köhler and his wife, widow Charlotte née Braun.

Note – Charlotte (Charlotta) Braun was Johann Peter Koehler’s [1724-1791] first wife. after her death in 1762, he married Anna Elisabetha Scherer, and after her death in 1784, he married Anna Margaretha Volcker. In 1790, he still owned the Red Lion but his wife at the time was not Charlotte. Their son, Johann Peter Koehler, born in 1747, married Maria Sophia Huber, daughter of the proprietor of the inn called “The Green Tree” in 1773 and had son Johann Peter Koehler in 1775 who would also become a baker. Johann Peter Koehler who married Maria Sophis Huber had four more children, among them Anna Barbara Koehler born in 1778 who married Johannes Hammel.

It’s interesting that Günter refers to Johann Peter Koehler 1724-1791 also as a master baker. We know his grandson, also named Johann Peter Koehler, born 1775, was indeed a baker, but this is the first reference to the elder Johann Peter Koehler as a master baker too – although it certainly makes sense.

Johann Leonhardt Meinhardt bought an additional area,15 shoes (4.56 meters) in width, from the owner of the adjoining house to the east house (today house Diehl).

According to the French directory, in 1802, the house was already built with two stories.

Through the daughter Anna Barbara of Peter Köhler the house was transferred in 1817 to her husband Johannes Hammel, who in return sold his former house to Johann Peter Köhler (today house Dr. Adolf Lauer No. 157). In 1853, the house was inherited by her husband Andreas Hammel I, who was married to Katharina Elisabetha née Frey, and then was inherited again by their son Wilhelm Hammel and his wife Maria née Hauck, who added a second barn. Then, in 1910, it was passed to their son Emil Hammel and his wife. Today it is owned by Wilhelm Hammel and his wife, née König.

 House History

The residential building of Wilhelm Hammel, house no. 149, plan no. 116, 116½ and 117 (Ratstraße 9) was demolished by the owner Wilhelm Hammel on April 22, 1961. The farm buildings were preserved.

The current owners graciously provided this photo of the original house prior to the demolition in 1961. Günter believes the photo was taken about 1920.

This was The Red Lion Inn where Johann Peter Koehler (1724-1791) lived with his wives, Charlotta Braun, Anna Elisabether Scherer and Anna Margaretha Volcker.

In 1723, this house belonged to Hans Nicolaus Hahnert as a second residential house. (The Hahnert family was already resident here in Ellerstadt in 1627. During the Thirty Years War, in 1632, the family moved due to the invasion of the troops of the League and the Swedes into the Palatinate and is mentioned again in 1700 in the church book). His first house stood to the west next door. Hans Nicolaus Hahnert had a wife and two children:

Caspar Hahnert
* 22.4.1700
∞ 8.3.1734 with Anna Catharina Meenart, daughter of Johannes Meenart

Anna Catharina Hahnert
* 2.10.1703
∞ 24.1.1730 with Johann Leonhardt Meenart, son of Johannes Meenart

Caspar received the first residential house, today the 1961 house of Ernst Merk, plan no. 114, house no. 151, and his sister Anna Catharina Hahnert received the house, which today belongs to Wilhelm Hammel.

Through their marriage with the two children Anna Catharina and Johann Leonhardt Meenart the Hahnert and Meinhardt families became relatives and in-laws. The descendants of Caspar lived in their house (Merk) until the year 1883. The family of Leonhardt Meenart became extinct already with his 2 grandchildren Johann Leonhardt and Johann Friedrich in 1765 and 1767.

Around the year 1740, Leonhardt Meenart, husband of Anna Katharina Hahnert, bought the house lot of the widow Werns, which was located to the east of his house, 15 shoes (= 4.52 meters) in width. It can be assumed that he now built the small house next to that of his father-in-law Hans Nicolaus Hahnert. and rebuilt it on the east side of his house square. During the demolition of the house in April 1961, a wall, at least the gable wall of Hahnert’s 2nd house, was cut 3 meters to the north from the village street.

A substantial reconstruction must have been made around or soon after the year 1750.

The son Johann Peter Köhler [1724-1791] of the Electoral Palatine tax collector Johann Peter Köhler [1696-1762] of the Rehhütte married in 1746 the daughter of the resident widow Charlotte Braun and is the immediate owner soon after Leonhardt Meenart. He can be proven in the files as owner of the house. Since no relationship of this family Braun with Köhler existed, he must have bought the house from Leonhardt Meenart and opened in it the inn “Zum roten Löwen”. But the small house was not sufficient for this purpose, so he decided to rebuild it thoroughly. His son, also named Johann Peter, expanded the business with a bakery.

This suggests that perhaps the son, Johann Peter Koehler, born in 1747, was acting as proprietor in 1790 and had added a bakery. Perhaps his father, age 66 but still with 8 children under the age of 20, who was also a lawyer and town mayor was sharing the responsibilities of the inn with his son who would one day take over from him entirely.

But the Köhler family [surname] also became extinct, like the Meenart family already around 1820.

The baker Köhler, married to a daughter of the “Grünebaumwirt” Huber, an ancestor of the American president Hoover, also had a daughter, who married on January 27, 1800, Johannes Hammel, son of Jakob and Elisabetha Trumm.

The house has remained with the descendants until today and is now in 1961 undergoing its third reconstruction.

Ratstrasse 9, excerpt from Ellerstadt house book written by Ernst Merk, transcribed by Günter Lauer in 2010. Original source: “Landesarchiv Speyer, Bestand V 19, Nachlaß von Ernst Merk, Oberpostinspektor“

Ellerstadt Local History from Chris

I also flipped through the local history book of Ellerstadt by Ernst Merk, published in 1921. I did not read it page by page, so may have missed important parts, but this is what I could find, which I thought could be interesting for you:

Page 19 ff. (of PDF)

Here, a description of the local history in the 18th century starts. I do not translate it word by word, only the content:

  • In 1689, when Bad Dürkheim was burnt down in the course of the Orleans succession war, Ellerstadt also had to suffer.

Bad Dürkheim is only about four and a half miles from Ellerstadt. The Ellerstadt residents probably watched in horror as their neighbor village burned, fearing for their own lives. The Koehler family had not yet settled in Ellerstadt at this time. They lived 17 miles east, in Seckenheim, across the Rhine River. It would be two generations before Johann Peter Koehler, born in 1724, would settle in Ellerstadt about 1746. However, the stage was being set for what would follow from repeated invasions from France.

  • In 1707, Kasimir Kolb von Wartenberg was appointed as a count, along with his belongings, among them Ellerstadt.
  • In 1712, he died and his son started to accumulate a growing amount of debts, forcing him to give several of his belongings as pledge to the margrave Karl Friedrich von Baden – importantly along with the right to collect taxes.
  • When the French [military] crossed through Ellerstadt in 1713, the citizens fled into the church and erected a wall in front of both doors to better defend themselves. Source: Ellerstadt parish book.
  • The old parsonage of Ellerstadt was built in 1715, but demolished in 1825, so the existent parsonage, shown below, was not the one that your Köhler ancestors saw.

  • Page 25 economy: From an Ellerstadt directory from 1722, it can be seen that the belongings of the village were about the same as in 1921. But there were not as many vineyards as in 1921, but mainly acres.
  • The next section is long and includes information about the tax burden to the citizens. In 1744, several citizens complained that they were ordered to leave the town and all their property if they continued to refuse paying their share.

Johann Peter Koehler bought the house that would be The Red Lion Inn sometime around the time he married Charlotta Braun in 1746 and subsequently rebuilt the structure.

  • In 1751, Wartenberg tried to collect the taxes by force. the count ordered sergeant Straub, the mayor and one musqueteer to occupy the village streets on both sides and pledge all citizens who would not pay the taxes.

Johann Peter Koehler would have been living in Ellerstadt with his wife and young family at this time, but it’s unclearly exactly when he obtained this property and established the Lion inn.

  • Page 67: The Lion inn belonged to the family Köhler in 1753 and was located in the present [1921] house of Emil Hammel. In addition, there was the “Inn of the Green Tree”, which was located from about 1680 to 1840 in the present house of Jakob Merk. A third inn was owned in 1720 by Johann Braun, but its location cannot be determined, since at this time two families with this name existed in the village.

It’s interesting that Johann Braun owned another inn, especially given that Johann Peter Koehler married Charlotta Braun in 1746. We don’t know exactly how old Charlotta was at the time of their wedding, but we do know that she had a child in 1761 before her death a year later in 1762, so she was born about 1716 or later. Based on Peter’s age, I’d wager about 1724. She, referred to as the daughter of the local widow Braun when she married Peter Koehler, may well have been the daughter of Johann Braun, the innkeeper.

  • ­­­In 1761, the Electoral Palatinate bought the pledge from him, but there had been court dispute about it with the original owner, the von Wartenberg family. In Ellerstadt, all male citizens, widows and Jews were assembled in front of the city hall (located in Ratstraße 1, but the current building there was built in 1838, so the former city hall is not preserved) to inform them about the change. A list was put up of everyone who was present and this list in alphabetical order is written down on pages 6 to 10 of the document. The first one on the list is pastor Huth, mentioned earlier. The list further includes Peter Köhler (page 8, top) and the widow of a Jacob Kirsch (page 7, bottom). The document was written by a notary by the name of Johann Georg Anton Vogel, who on his way to Ellerstadt took with him two witnesses from Fußgönnheim, Johann Michael Kirsch and Vallentin Löw. The signatures of these two witnesses are on the last page of the document.

Charlotta Braun, Johann Peter Koehler’s wife died in March of 1762. A widower with several children and an inn to run, he married Anna Elisabetha Scherer in June of 1762.

  • The twenty years 1761-1781 had been a hard time for Ellerstadt, since its citizens were all Lutherans and felt suppressed by the Electoral Palatinate, which treated the Reformed and Catholics equally.
  • In 1781, the 1761 purchase/pledge of Ellerstadt was cancelled.
  • Each inn owner had to pay three guilder (abbreviated “fl”) each year for his right to run an inn with an inn sign (“Schild”), called “Schildgerechtigkeit”. In 1782, two inns existed. In addition, each inn owner had to pay one guilder and 15 kreuzer for each Ohm of sold wine and 20 kreuzer for each sold Ohm of beer. One Ohm was an old measure, equivalent to a fluid in the range of 35-45 US gallons, dependent on the region of Germany.

Between 1763 and 1784, Johann Peter Koehler and Anna Elisabetha Scherer had 13 children, in addition to the 8 children he had with Charlotta Braun. In July of 1784, Anna Elisabetha died. Once again a widower with small children, including a baby only six months old when Elizabetha passed away, he married his third wife, Anna Margaretha Volcker of Assenheim in July of 1785. Nothing more is known of her, but I also haven’t looked.

  • Since the von Wartenberg family`s debts did not lower, in 1789, Ellerstadt and other towns were sold in total to the grave Franz von Sickingen, a noble family from Baden.
  • In 1789, the French Revolution started and Ellerstadt suffered again in several ways in the following years until the final retreat of the French in 1813. The French occupied Frankenthal, Bad Dürkheim and mainly Lambsheim, which still had walls and ditches and served as their base.

In 1789, Johann Peter Koehler, the innkeeper, would have been 65 years old. Assuredly, the French soldiers who occupied Bad Dürkheim, only four and a half miles away, didn’t limit themselves to Bad Dürkheim. Did they recreate at the Lion Inn, eating, drinking, and spending money, or did they rampage through Ellerstadt and steal what they wanted? Peter’s death record just two years later shows that he was at one point the mayor of Ellerstadt. Was he mayor in 1789? Did he have even more problems at hand than his own inn and family?

  • [The following content from page 26.] Along with the revolution laws of the French Republic, the feudal taxes were abolished in May 1790, but not the interests of hereditary leaseholders. The latter were asked to make a one-time payment (15 times the yearly interest) to buy the belongings and get rid of the interests for good. Even after the retreat of the French, the above-mentioned regulations remained.

We don’t know the cause of death for Johann Peter Koehler in August of 1791, but given the stress level he had to be experiencing, I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if it wasn’t either a heart attack or stroke. He was only a month shy of 67 years old. Not elderly today, but without modern medicine back in 1791 which might have extended his life.

You can view six historical photos of Ellerstadt, here, apparently before automobiles. The second of six photos shows a woman pushing some type of cart with a basket and  one front wheel. I can close my eyes and see my ancestors pushing that same type of cart, along with the ox-drawn farm wagons. The third photo shows the beautiful grapevines with the church spire in the distance. Picture 4 shows fruit harvesting and the 5th and 6th photos look to be taken in a market setting, perhaps selling fruit or grapes destined to become wine.

Battle for the Dead

From Chris:

On page 52, an anecdote, which is not directly connected to your ancestors, but which I found interesting and which took place at the time your ancestors were living there. As mentioned above, in 1761, the before strongly Lutheran parish was handed over to the Electoral Palatinate with more tolerance to the Reformed belief. In 1754, when Ellerstadt was given as pledge to the margraves of Baden, the reformed pastor Michel from Gönnheim claimed to also have the right to provide services in the Ellerstadt church, while the Lutheran pastor claimed that it was his sole right to provide services.

A few years later, in 1761, the reformed Ellerstadt citizen Andreas Müller died. Both the Lutheran pastor Huth from Ellerstadt as well as the above-mentioned Reformed pastor Michel of Gönnheim entered the house of the dead along with school teachers and pupils. While the Lutherans started one song at the bedside of the deceased, the Reformed started to sing another song at the same time. In the Churchyard, both pastors gave their service to the deceased, the Lutheran pastor in the church, the Reformed pastor in the barn belonging to the deceased.

On another occasion, the burial of the Reformed citizen Johann Adam Braun was prevented by force by the Lutherans and thus the burial had to be postponed to the next Sunday. On this Sunday, several Reformed and also officials from other villages arrived in Ellerstadt. Since the Lutheran pastor Huth refused to hand out the church keys, the Reformed citizen Weilbrenner destroyed the church door and the burial took place in the Ellerstadt church.

History of Ellerstadt

At the end of the local Merk history book of Ellerstadt, on page 70f., there is a list of all family names, which were present in Ellerstadt at a given time [range]. “Köhler” is listed in the column “1736-1780” (in the continuation on page 71), but not for earlier years. That is consistent with Johann Peter Köhler, Lion Inn owner, having not been a citizen of Ellerstadt before that time.

Page 72 is titled “A list of all families who started here, sorted by the time they immigrated.” I struggle with this particular type font.

The Merk house book includes these lovely hand-drawn maps.

The 1722 map shows 64 structures, in addition to the church.

Johann Peter Koehler and his wives lived equidistant in time between the 1722 map (24 years before his first marriage in Ellerstadt) and the next map dated from 1807 (15 years after his death.)

It’s interesting to note that the original church on the 1722 map is shown with a walk from Ratstrasse to the church, but by 1807, that walkway or entrance no longer exists and has been replaced by a building which appears to be the parsonage and possibly the school. That walkway appeared to be wider than a normal walk, probably because it had to be large enough to approach the church with a cart or wagon carrying a casket.

The Lion Inn may have existed as an inn in 1722, but if so, it was rebuilt around the time Johann Peter Koehler purchased the property and established the Lion Inn after his 1746 marriage and before 1753 when we know he owned the inn.

I can’t tell exactly which house is the current 9 Ratstrasse, but I’d wager that it’s the third or fourth house below the walkway to the church.

There are no structures behind any of the buildings. These houses were farmhouses, arranged in the typical manner of German homes where the houses were clustered tightly together in a village for protection, the barns for livestock clustered tightly with the homes, with their respective fields stretching out behind the barns.

The main street had a stream on both sides which would be ideal for both people and livestock. It’s no wonder that humans had at one time selected this location and settled in Ellerstadt, first mentioned in the “Lorsch Codex“ in the year 783 as Alaridestath. By the 1700s, Ellerstadt was indeed already an “old“ village.

The French Invasion

From Chris:

I could not find or pinpoint quickly, when exactly your ancestor Margaretha Elisabetha Köhler Kirsch (1772-1823) married and moved to Fußgönheim. Anyway, I guess it must have been some time in the 1790s, which puts it within the time, at which the French troops terrified the Palatinate region, while bringing “freedom” for the people.

Margaretha Elisabetha Koehler was born in 1772 and married Andreas Kirsch from Fussgoenheim, probably sometime after 1792. Her first known child, Andreas Kirsch, was born in August of 1797 and baptized in Fussgoenheim. I believe she had one earlier child, Johann Wilhelm Kirsch, although we have no baptismal record. This suggests she was likely married between 1793 and 1795, probably amid the French military invasion which is why we have no records of either her marriage or the birth of her first child. She likely moved to Fussgoenheim at the time of her marriage.

What was life like then? What challenges did she face?

Brace yourself.

Here are two pages from a book published in 1796 about the time of the French occupation of the Palatinate, describing especially Ellerstadt. Though the description is probably only describing one side of the terror (as usual in conflicts), I think it still gives a rather strong impression of the life people lived in the Ellerstadt region at the time.

Does put worries of our daily life in context.

Note that this conflict began in 1792, just a few months after the death of Johann Peter Koehler. His widow and several of his children lived in Ellerstadt. Beginning in 1795 France occupied the German lands on the left bank of the Rhine for roughly two decades.

>Misery near Ellerstadt and Neustadt<

In this area, the misery can almost not be described and even less endured. Cash and food do not exist anymore. The French robbers have taken everything. The lamenting leaves the people bearly recognizable; most of them are sick and many, even the strongest, have crossed over to the better world due to the great misery. In Deidesheim, many private houses have been demolished, since the demanded levies could not be delivered. Even the comforting hope for an abundant harvest is devastated. The French send their horses over the most beautiful fields and let them willfully feed on the seeds and tread it into the ground. The fruit trees, abound with blossoms, are knocked down, and even the tender sprouts of the vinestock are destroyed. The fruitful gardens resemble desolate wasteland and at other times rich vineyards now stand bare and dull.

Even in the Saarbrücken and Zweibrücken region, shortage and starvation increase more and more. The people fall down with no strength left and die from hunger, and what the hunger did not destroy, is taken away by plague-like diseases. There are no doctors anymore in this unfortunate region. Fear of the enemy and lack of income scared away most of them and the few ones remaining became victims of the prevailing diseases themselves. Hence, nobody is left to help the suffering ones, who still could be saved. Furthermore, the pharmacies are robbed and destroyed in a way that far and wide not the least medicine is left.

I can’t help but think of the suffering of the people of Ukraine right now. Unfortunately, aggressors and human behavior haven’t changed much.

The Hammel Winery

Günter Lauer was kind enough to provide photos of the current winery in the same location as the original Lion Inn.

The metal lattice across the streets is an arbor for the grapevines you can see planted at the left of the photo, at the base of the metal pole. The vines grow up and across the streets, celebrating the wine-growing and wine-making history and culture of the region.

The Hammel Winery is shown in the distance on the right side by the second arbor. You can see the brown sign if you look closely. The old parsonage is the red building at the end of the street, with the white city hall just beyond the parsonage.

You can view more photos of Ellerstadt here.

Günter indicated that the wine barrel below was designed by the father Hammel of the current owner and was more of a hypothetical view of the original house based on the building torn down in 1961.

This carved wine barrel is certainly a beauty! What I wouldn’t give to just glimpse the inside of the original Lion Inn in its heyday. Have a meal, drink some local wine, and meet my ancestors.

Chris found a short YouTube video about Ellerstadt, more specifically the road Fließstraße, here. It’s in German, but provides us with at least a peek at part of Ellerstadt today.

The Protestant Church

The Protestant church of Ellerstadt that Johann Peter and his family attended in the 1700s was demolished in 1893 to make space for a larger church in 1894. Only the tower, built in the first third of the 16th century, was retained.

Ellerstadt residents were buried in the churchyard surrounding the church, of course, but there are no markers from before 1821.

The space behind the church is treed today.

Based on the size of the new church, some of the new building was built where graves would have been located. Today, this wall surrounds the cemetery.

From Chris:

I also forgot to send you yesterday one additional document I received from Günter Lauer. In 1994, at the centennial of the new Ellerstadt church rebuilt in 1894, he published a booklet about the history of the church.

Importantly, in this document on pages 7 and 8 you will find drawings from year 1884 of the original Ellerstadt church. The later drawings in the booklet are of the new, pompous church. As mentioned before, the church tower from the start of the 16th century is the only part that remained of the old church.

I can imagine my ancestors entering through the tower and sitting in the church pews as they listened to the minister. The rear and side doors would have been used during funerals to exit carrying the casket to bury the departed in the graveyard beside the church.

Did a bell in the tower call people to worship and announce the deaths of residents? Did the bell perhaps also warn of arriving or impending danger, like advancing soldiers?

A church stood on this location since antiquity.

  • Some church building stood in this location in 1270. That church would have been Catholic since Protestantism didn’t begin until the Reformation in the 16th century.
  • The church was Calvinist Reformed from 1561 on.
  • From about 1580 it was a Lutheran parish church.
  • From 1618 onward, only maintenance was performed during and after the Thirty Years’ War.
  • In 1713, the French soldiers plundered and ruined everything. The residents who had not fled retreated into the church and walled up the larger door to protect themselves from the marauders.

This is the church that Johann Peter Koehler and his family knew, loved and attended. Between marriages, funerals, regular services, baptisms, confirmations and preparing for those events, they were probably in the church almost every single day.

The Baptismal Font

Chris said:

Knowing the kind of things you are interested in, Roberta – there is another sweet in this booklet for you. There is a baptismal font in the church (low quality picture on last page), about which there is a note on page 23 that it was probably built around the same time as the church tower.

Günter kindly provided a better photo of the baptismal font.

So, this would be the baptismal font in which your Ellerstadt ancestors would have been baptized!

Margaretha Elisabetha was baptized in this very font on May 1st, 1772. I wonder if she was too weak to cry when the cold water touched her skin, or was the minister quite careful not to wake an already weak baby who might die at any moment? Did he simply touch her lightly on the head with wet fingers instead of pouring water over her?

According to information in the document provided with the photo by Günter, the architect of the 1895 church dated the font to the 12th or 13th century. Others feel that the font is “only” 500 years old, or so, dating from the first third of the 16th century when renovations were undertaken on the south side of the church. The font shows decorations from the late Gothic style dating from 1480-1525 which dates before the Reformation. The 1835 list of church assets includes the baptismal font and a pewter jug.

When the old church was demolished in September 1893, except for the tower which was incorporated into the new church, the font was retired to the garden of the vicarage where it remained for almost 80 years. Intentional or forgotten? We’ll never know.

When the vicarage was sold, the new owner, Wilhelm Hammel recognized the meaning of the “sandstone trough” in the garden and returned it to the church in 1974/5 where it was restored.

All 21 of Johann Peter Koehler’s babies, 8 with Charlotta Braun and 13 with Anna Elisabetha Scherer were baptized here. The pewter jug would have poured the water into the font, and the minister would then baptize the child when it was a few days old.

By Lucas Cranach the Younger and workshop – This file has been extracted from another file, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=87423278

My ancestor, Margaretha Elisabetha Koehler, was baptized with the following latin entry recorded by the minister in the church book.

On the 30th of April, at noon, about 11 or 12 o’clock, was born here a little daughter and due to weakness, was baptized the 1st of May. The father is Peter Koehler, proprietor of “The Lion,” from here and the mother was Anna Elisabetha.

Margaretha Elisabetha did not perish, even though she was weak at birth and as implied by her hurried baptism, wasn’t expected to survive.

Of course, this baptismal font, if the font could talk, would regale us with stories about church members, tell us of the weddings it witnessed as an ignored bystander, waiting for the bride and groom to produce more babies to baptize.

The font witnessed beautiful brides, distraught parents, and sobbing widows. Confirmations to celebrate coming of age and funeral services – for all who are born are destined to die. Burials too, of course – some of which were the very same babies baptized just a short time earlier. Those must have been the worst.

Other times, when older people’s families celebrated the end of a long life well-lived, the baptismal font would remember that baby’s baptism decades earlier.

The baptismal font stood silent sentry and mute witness to everything. Life in the village of Ellerstadt swirled around it, unfiltered and raw, as it stood in the center of the church for 25 or 30 generations. The church itself transitioned from Catholic to Protestant. Preachers came and went, as did invading soldiers and village families. Some buried outside, and some seeking either refuge or their fortune elsewhere.

The church stood abandoned for two decades during the horrific Thirty Year’s War and the font would have wondered if God had forsaken all. Would anyone ever return? Had they all perished, with no one left to baptize?

Did any descendants of the original families that the font knew live in Ellerstadt in the 1700s when the Koehler family lived there, or later? Many families had probably died out altogether over the ensuing centuries. More than half of children born died before reaching adulthood, and that’s without taking into consideration warfare, plagues and pestilence.

At least three of Johann Peter’s children died young, in 1764, 1777, and 1784, and probably several more. After a sermon that may or may not have brought their parents any comfort, their tiny bodies were buried near the church in the churchyard. Eventually, their parents would be buried nearby.

We find no further record of eight more of Johann Peter Koehler’s children after their baptism. I have no idea what happened to them, but the font knows.

If only, if only stone could speak…


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10 thoughts on “If Stone Could Speak: Koehler Family Life in Ellerstadt – 52 Ancestors #354

  1. What a TREAT this was to read, I’ve followed this line with you and never thought any more information could still exist, and I did shed a tear on your behalf when looking at the first copy of the tree sent to you.

    Thanks so much for sharing all your stories, your teaching moments and guidance over the years I’ve known you. You are the Jewel over the i in Science and Genetics!

    All your readers likely agree with me, so I thank them for their support of you!

  2. My very small group of Glawe cousins would have a party if we got a clue of any kind! We mostly go in circles. Evan paying for information has been iffy.

  3. Hello! My last name is Saar and my family also hails from Ellerstadt, Germany. I was so thrilled to see our family name in that Ellerstadt Book’s index!

    Thank you for posting this information. It’s very hard to find information like this in the States. Maybe some day I’ll actually get to Germany to do the research myself.

  4. I am an american now living in Ellerstadt, this is an incredible history. My wife found her grandmothers maiden name in the photos of the Merk book. Do you have other web resources we may access? Thank you very much for publishing this!

    • I would suggest searching on the blog page for the word Ellerstadt which will bring up all references. I can’t remember offhand what sources I’ve used. That will also tell you which surnames I’m researching, which might intersect with yours.

  5. Thank You: I have been researching the Diehl Family from Ellerstadt who went to Saint Louis, Saint Louis, Missouri, United States of America. It Appears Heinrich Diehl b. 1820 Ellerstadt came to America. First found on the 1860 Census and marriage to Margret Berker (A French Woman) 1844 Saint Louis. There is another Jacob Diehl also from Ellerstadt. Can You shed any light on this? Please Help. Thank You

  6. Brief Life History of Heinrich Henrich
    Heinrich Henrich Diehl was born on 23 December 1821, in Ellerstadt, Bad Dü rkheim, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany as the son of Henrich Diehl te Ellerstadt. He married Margaretha Margaret Berker on 5 March 1844, in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, United States. They were the parents of at least 6 sons and 8 daughters. He registered for military service in 1862. He died on 21 November 1898, in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, United States, at the age of 76, and was buried in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, United States.

    We do not know for sure who Heinrich Diehl’s father’s name is but we can assume it was Henrich or another Diehl from Ellerstadt.

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