Part one: Prussia, Trier and Meyer Family
Important note: I am going to do this article in two parts! This first half will detail my Meyer family history going back to Trier Germany and the second half will cover the Pfeiffer side going back to Saxony Anhalt, Germany.
As most of you are aware, I am diligently working on my personal family history as well as following the more famous and sometimes infamous history of Vikings, Saxons and English. Much of this family history is has been successful, well documented and shown me that I come from a long line of Anglo-Saxons. Perhaps that is why I have such an interest in the early history of those who arrived so long ago on the British Isles and made it their home. During this long process of discovering my family history, I realized early on that my Father’s roots were deeply and firmly planted in that English soil even though they did take a detour to Holland for a short period of time. One would think or assume that might be more than enough to verify me as part of that history.
My work on my Mother’s side has been far less productive or successful in that I simply can not trace her family back any further than 1840s to 1880s in parts of Germany. I have always known that her family was of German ancestry but have never really known much about their prior lives in that country. To be honest, I still don’t know very much- it’s a very slow search with very few clues to assist me. I have however, made a few recent discoveries that give me hope as well as more of an interest in this family’s history. What those few discoveries lead me to is a pondering thought that my history and my roots go back to the Saxons in more ways than one! It has also led me to take more of an interest in the overall history of Germany, Prussia and Saxony during the 1800s and prior to that. It was a land whose territories and borders were constantly changing depending on which victor was winning and taking control of the areas. This is important as far as family history and research is concerned because as the borders and territories changed hands, so did many of the location names. For those of us searching with limited resources, historical knowledge or German language, the search can often become a tangled maze of changing area names that leave us confused and puzzled to say the least! Some of that confusion is caused by the fact that many of the areas listed by our ancestors no longer exist, having been absorbed into new territories and regions of what is now Germany or other bordering countries. Prussia and Saxony are both examples of this. Adding to that confusion is the fact that Prussia and Saxony were both extremely large areas. An ancestor might give Prussia as their home land, but realistically that is like someone now stating just that they are from America. Trying to find someone who only listed Prussia, or Saxony is similar to looking for John Smith in United States! The problem with Saxony too was that there were defined areas of Saxony- Upper and lower Saxony, and like Prussia, these borders changed quite often.
The Kingdom of Prussia (German: Königreich Preußen) was a kingdom that constituted the state of Prussia between 1701 and 1918 and included parts of present-day Germany, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Denmark, Belgium and the Czech Republic. It was the driving force behind the unification of Germany in 1871, and was the leading state of the German Empire until its dissolution in 1918. Although it took its name from the region called Prussia, it was based in Brandenburg, where its capital was Berlin.
The kings of Prussia were Hohenzollerns. Prussia was a great power from the time it became a kingdom, through its predecessor, Brandenburg-Prussia, which became a military power under Frederick William, known as “The Great Elector.
If you look at this map of Prussia during 1870s, you will find Saxony as part of it’s territories.
Unfortunately for me, my family ancestors chose to initially list their homelands an place of birth as just Prussia and one did make some mention of Saxony… I will look at Saxony and Roland in the second half of this search. First we will visit that large area of Prussia and see how I managed to narrow my search down to just one small area in the Rhineland-Palatinate.
Let me give you what little family background I started with for my German ancestors. As I’ve mentioned, I do not have a lot of clues or history on them to guide my ongoing search further back. Even their more recent history here in America is filled with gaps, missing people and questions.
For this discussion, I am only going to deal with my Mother’s maternal side of her ancestry. Her paternal side, the Driver line is well covered and documented…and leads back to England much like my Father’s side. Her maternal side is where much of the mystery remains so I am choosing to focus on that illusive heritage. That maternal line so far consists of Pfeiffer, Mueller/Miller, and Meyer/Mayer/Myer. I have already mentioned that there is limited information or clues to their life or history in Germany, but I am slowly sorting through those few clues that I do have in order to gain some better understanding of their history, where they came from and maybe even some reasons as to why they might have emigrated. I am also beginning to understand a bit more about some of my own early experiences during this process.
My family’s German heritage begins with my 3rd Great Grandmother, Susanna Haminth Mayer who was born in Prussia on October 11, 1810. She was married to a John Joseph Mayer and emigrated to McHenry county, Illinois sometime between 1844 and 1845. Yes, there is that dreaded far reaching and overwhelming location description… Prussia, just Prussia! We know little about that emigration as yet but this is what I can piece together about her life. My 2nd great grandmother, Catherine was her youngest child and was born in McHenry county on August 10, 1845. Catherine’s next older sister, Elizabeth was listed as being born in Prussia in 1844. My luck came when I discovered that another older sister’s information listed an actual birth place. Margaret Mary Mayer was born on June 21, 1836 in Neiedra, Trier, Prussia, Germany. From 1850 on in census records or information, there is never any mention of Susanna Haminth’s husband John Joseph Mayer. In fact in some searches of the family history upon their arrival in McHenry county, it’s been suggested or speculated that he may not have even accompanied the family on this voyage. It’s possible that he may have died in Germany and that a pregnant Susanna made the journey with her family. What ever the case, nothing else is known about her husband John Joseph Mayer.
Susanna and some of her children eventually settled in Owatonna, Minnesota- where the above photo of her was taken. Her daughter Margaret Mary’s birth information gives us that important clue as to their lives in Germany and that clue goes along with some family stories that my aunt Eleanor mentioned to me at one time. When I was young, I had the opportunity to live in Germany during my time in the Air Force. It was one of those strange random coincidences that you realize the importance or meaning of until after the fact. I went into the military, partially because I wanted to travel… I wanted to see more of the world than what was around me in northern Minnesota. The start of the random coincidences came when a friend had orders to Spangdahlem AB in Germany. I was immediately envious of those orders as compared to the ones I had received for New Mexico… Needless to say, a trade was quickly worked out between us and I was about to embark on my adventure of a life time. Now, at the time I was delirious just to have those orders, never mind the fact that I had no idea where the place actually was in Germany, or the fact that I really knew very little about Germany and or those ancestors who came from there. None of that really mattered to me at the time. I was more focused just on the idea of going there. I can only describe it as one of those events where some idea sets in your mind for unknown reasons, something telling you that this is what you are suppose to do, where you are suppose to go. It was not until later when I was preparing for this move, trying to determine just where I was going in that country that my Aunt Eleanor shared some of the reason or connection. In learning where this Spangdahlem AB was located on the map, she became nearly as excited as I was at the prospect of this move. We pored over the maps and she gleefully pointed out the town of Trier nearby. “Look! That’s where we’re from, Trier!” she announced as she remembered relatives mentioning the city. Unfortunately back then, we had little else to connect us to this city other than some distant older relative having mentioned that it was where some of the old ones had lived at one time. She did think that it was the Mueller side and not the Pfeiffer side but she couldn’t really remember exactly. She had the brilliant but very naïve idea and suggestion that I should look them up when I got there? I did look up the names once in a directory for Trier… Looking up Mueller or Pfeiffer there could be compared to looking up Smith, Jones or Johnson here in the States! And, at that time, the Mayer/Meyer/Myer name was not even on my radar of relative possibilities but had it been, I’m quite certain the result would have been much the same.
Despite the fact that I found no relatives or connections during the two years I lived in Germany, what I did find was an inner feeling of comfort or appreciation for the place that my ancestors had called home. It’s difficult to describe that feeling, it wasn’t really one of homecoming or even necessarily belonging… so I would more compare it to a sense of familiarity. There were times when I felt as though I might have been in some of the places before but it was a vague feeling. At the time, I was really concerned with any family history that I might possibly be encountering. I was comfortable enough to enjoy my time there seeing as much of the country and neighboring ones as possible. Family connections were not the purpose of my stay there, those connections would come much later. For some reason, I knew instinctively that the time I spent there was not so much to search for history, but to live within it, to learn to appreciate it, to appreciate this chance I had been given to live in that place- to experience it for myself. Later there would be time to reflect, to understand and make that connection between family and place. Now seems to be that time to sort through it.
Susanna Mayer and her children most likely lived in Trier at one time before immigrating to America. Let us look at Trier, it’s history and why this family along with so many others during that time in the 1840s might have chosen to leave that city and that country. Having been there myself a number of times so many years ago, I was struck by all of it’s rich culture and overwhelming sense of history that one can not help but recognize.
Trier is one of the oldest cities in Germany and you can find it’s ancient history almost anywhere you go in the city. Trierformerly known in English as Treves (French: Trèves), is a city in Germany on the banks of the Moselle. Trier lies in a valley between low vine-covered hills of red sandstone in the west of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, near the border with Luxembourg and within the important Moselle wine region. Founded by the Celts presumably in the late 4th century BC as Treuorum, it was later conquered by the Romans in the late 1st century BC and renamed Trevorum or Augusta Treverorum (Latin for “The City of Augustus among the Treveri“), Trier may be the oldest city in Germany. It is also the oldest seat of a bishop north of the Alps. In the Middle Ages, the Archbishop of Trier was an important prince of the church, as the Archbishopric of Trier controlled land from the French border to the Rhine. The Archbishop also had great significance as one of the seven electors of the Holy Roman Empire.
According to legends Trier’s orgins and history go back as far as ancient Assyria. According to a legend recorded in the 12th-century Deeds of the Treveri, the city was founded by an eponymous, otherwise-unrecorded prince of Assyria named Trebeta, placing the city’s founding legend centuries independent of and before ancient Rome‘s. A medieval inscription on the façade of the Red House in Trier market stated: ANTE ROMAM TREVIRIS STETIT ANNIS MILLE TRECENTIS.
PERSTET ET ÆTERNA PACE FRVATVR. AMEN
Trebeta’s parents were said to have been Ninus, a legendary “King of Assyria” invented by the ancient Greeks, and an unknown mother who was Ninus’s wife before Semiramis. Semiramis took control of the kingdom upon his father’s death and Trebeta was forced into exile, wandering Europe before settling at Trier. His body was said to have been cremated on Petrisberg. The historical record describes the Roman Empire subduing the Treveri in the 1st century BC and establishing Augusta Treverorum in 16 BC. The name distinguished it from the empire’s many other cities honoring the first emperor Augustus. The city later became the capital of the province of Belgic Gaul; after the Diocletian Reforms, it became the capital of the prefecture of the Gauls, overseeing much of the Western Roman Empire. In the 4th century, Trier was one of the five biggest cities in the known world with a population around 75,000 and perhaps as much as 100,000. The Porta Nigra (“Black Gate”) dates to this era. A residence of the Western Roman Emperor, Roman Trier was the birthplace of Saint Ambrose. Sometime between 395 and 418, the Roman administration moved the staff of Praetorian Prefecture from the city to Arles. The city continued to be inhabited but was not as prosperous as before. However, the city remained the seat of a governor and had state factories for the production of ballistae and armor and woolen uniforms for the troops, clothing for the civil service, and high-quality garments for the Court. Northern Gaul was held by the Romans along a line from north of Cologne to the coast at Boulogne through what is today southern Belgium until 460. South of this line, Roman control was firm, as evidenced by the continuing operation of the imperial arms factory at Amiens.
The Franks seized Trier from Roman administration in 459. In 870, it became part of Eastern Francia, which developed into the Holy Roman Empire. Relics of Saint Matthias brought to the city initiated widespread pilgrimages. The bishops of the city grew increasingly powerful and the Archbishopric of Trier was recognized as an electorate of the empire, one of the most powerful states of Germany. The University of Trier was founded in the city in 1473. In the 17th century, the Archbishops and Prince-Electors of Trier relocated their residences to Philippsburg Castle in Ehrenbreitstein, near Koblenz. A session of the Reichstag was held in Trier in 1512, during which the demarcation of the Imperial Circles was definitively established.
An interesting remaining connection from my ancestor’s past in Trier regarding St. Matthias… When these ancestors settled in northern Minnesota, they were part of the founding members of small community that they named St. Mathias. It still remains as a rural township and church by the same name near Brainerd, MN. Mueller and Mayer ancestors are buried in this church cemetery while Pfeiffer ancestors are buried at a much older cemetery in the same area. The Pfeiffer ancestors were also part of this founding group but were originally from a different area of Germany, which we will visit later. Another contributing factor to the difference in cemeteries is one that I just recently realized and connected… According to one of the Pfeiffer ancestors, they were German Lutherans while the Mayers and Muellers were Catholics.
When I look at the history and location of Trier, I can now make yet another connection to some of the family’s thoughts on their ancestry. There were occasionally some suggestions or thoughts that we might have French origins? This may well be a possibility given the location of Trier so close to the French borders and the fact that they were under the control of France at various points in time. While the ancient history of Trier is fascinating and truly impressive, we need to look at it’s history during the turbulence of the 1800s in order to see what was happening in Trier and the rest of the areas of what is now Germany.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Trier was sought after by France, who invaded during the Thirty Years’ War, the War of the Grand Alliance, the War of the Spanish Succession, and the War of the Polish Succession. France succeeded in finally claiming Trier in 1794 during the French Revolutionary Wars, and the electoral archbishopric was dissolved. After the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, Trier passed to the Kingdom of Prussia. Karl Marx was born in the city in 1818. If you look at a map, you will see that Trier is located near the small Duche of Luxemburg and close to the borders of France, making it one of those areas of value to the French.
As part of the Prussian Rhineland, Trier developed economically during the 19th century. The city rose in revolt during the revolutions of 1848 in the German states, although the rebels were forced to concede. It became part of the German Empire in 1871. These revolutions were taking place throughout the German states and although they culminated with the major revolts of 1848, the protests and rebellions were taking place long before the final revolts in 1848.
The revolutions of 1848–49 in the German states, the opening phase of which was also called the March Revolution (German: Märzrevolution), were initially part of the Revolutions of 1848 that broke out in many European countries. They were a series of loosely coordinated protests and rebellions in the states of the German Confederation, including the Austrian Empire. The revolutions, which stressed pan-Germanism, demonstrated popular discontent with the traditional, largely autocratic political structure of the thirty-nine independent states of the Confederation that inherited the German territory of the former Holy Roman Empire. They demonstrated the popular desire for the Zollverein movement.
The middle-class elements were committed to liberal principles, while the working class sought radical improvements to their working and living conditions. As the middle class and working class components of the Revolution split, the conservative aristocracy defeated it. Liberals were forced into exile to escape political persecution, where they became known as Forty-Eighters. Many immigrated to the United States, settling from Wisconsin to Texas.
In order to understand Trier’s role or involvement in the 1848 revolutions, we need to look at where Trier was located in terms of the overall revolution. Trier was part of the area called Rhineland. The Rhineland shares a common history with the Rhenish Hesse, Luxembourg and the Palatinate of having been under the control of Napoleonic France from 1795. Napoleon’s armies smashed armies of the Holy Roman Empire. His rule established social, administrative and legislative measures taken that broke up the feudal rule that the priests and the nobility had exercised over the area previously. The soil of the Rhineland is not the best for agriculture, but forestry has traditionally been a strong industry there. The relative lack of agriculture, late 18th-century elimination of the feudal structure, and strong logging industry contributed to the industrialization of the Rhineland. With nearby sources of coal in the Mark, and access via the Rhine River to the North Sea, the west bank of the Rhine River in the Rhineland became the premier industrial area in Germany in the 19th century. By 1848, the towns of Aachen, Cologne and Düsseldorf were heavily industrialized, with a number of different industries represented. At the beginning of the 19th century, more than 90% of the population of the Rhineland was engaged in agriculture (including lumbering), but by 1933, only 12% were still working at agricultural occupations. By 1848, a large industrial working class (proletariat) had developed in the Rhineland; due to Napoleonic France, they were educated and politically active. While in other German states the liberal petty bourgeoisie led the uprisings of 1848, in the Rhineland the proletariat was asserting its interests openly against the bourgeoisie as early as 1840. This would have put cities such as Trier in the middle of revolts, rebellion and upheavals throughout the 1840s with many people choosing to leave before the final revolts of 1848.
Susanna Mayer and her family would probably have been living in the midst of this turbulence and trying to get out before any final consequences of such rebellion. I know nothing about Susanna’s educational background, her husband’s work, political or financial circumstances at the time. What I do know is that she brought a rather large family group with her which would have been a fairly great expense at that time. At the time she left Germany, she had at least 7 or 8 children with the oldest being Benjamin who would have been about 16, the youngest a baby and she was probably pregnant as well with daughter, Catherine. As I mentioned, I know nothing about her circumstances at the time but can only guess that she must have considered their situation to be dire or grave where they were to embark on such a move. I do know that the family initially settled in with other German immigrants in McHenry County, Illinois. This Community provided her with some support as she began her new life in America. I am not sure if she was joining others that she knew already but I would assume that would have been the case.
From 1850 on, she was never listed as remarrying and it seems that from that point or soon after, she and the youngest girls may have moved around with some of her adult children. Her children moved on to Wisconsin and Minnesota, where she eventually resided at Owatonna until her death on August 27, 1887. Her youngest daughter, Catherine born in McHenry county Illinois on August 10, 1845 was my 2nd Great Grandmother. I do know a little more about her… not much, but when compared to what I know about Susanna, it seems like a great amount!
Catherine Meyer/Mayer grew up in McHenry county Illinois and eventually married John Henry Mueller on June 18, 1862. From the time of her marriage, much of Catherine’s life was spent having babies and making her way from Illinois to her eventual home in St. Mathias township near Brainerd Minnesota. Her first son, John Martin was born in Illinois on June 6, 1863. Shortly after his birth, they moved on to southern Minnesota. They initially settled near Owatonna where some of Catherine’s siblings and her Mother resided. When I say Catherine’s life was spent having babies, I am not exaggerating… there were a total of 16 children born to her, though some of them did not survive to adulthood.
The family made their way from Owatonna northwards over a 20 year span, stopping to have more babies along the way- until they finally settled at St. Mathias in about 1885. Prior to 1885, they were residing near Minneapolis where daughter Christine was born on June 6, 1884. The next child, a daughter named Mary was born at St. Mathias in 1885 but died as an infant. Catherine then proceeded to have another daughter in 1886 and name her Mary! This was a habit for Catherine that caused me an enormous amount of frustration and confusion when I was trying to document her large family! Her last child, Martin was born in 1888, probably much to her relief…
Once they settled in St. Mathias, Catherine and husband farmed and were founding members of the community. They remained on the farm until shortly before John Henry’s death in 1905.
After John Henry’s death, Catherine spent time residing with her children, mainly daughter Margaret Mueller Remmels. Catherine passed away on September 15, 1922.
Well, now we know a little more about one side of my Mother’s German roots and contribution to the history that is part of me… granted it’s not a whole lot but it does provide my possible connection to that most ancient city of Trier. Trier, however is not where I found a connection to that mysterious and legendary Roland. No, for that we have to visit the other side of the German ancestors. We have to go elsewhere in Germany to find the Pfeiffer family’s contribution. You’re probably wondering where that connection even comes from?
In part two of this article, we will find that connection between the Mayer, Mueller and Pheiffers with the marriage of Catherine Mayer Mueller’s oldest daughter, Susanna to Wilhelm Frederick Pfeiffer. Wilhelm and his family will take us back to that other part of Germany, Saxony Anhalt and it’s connection to the legend of Roland!
For an in depth history of Trier see this article: https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/from-treveri-to-trier-from-celts-to-vikings/
Part 2, Saxony and Roland