From Württemberg to California
by Kenneth Baxter Wolf
Part One: The Wolf Family in Germany: 1740-1853
Part One: The Wolf Family in Germany: 1740-1853
Our particular branch of the Wolf family can be traced back as far as 1740 to the area around Stuttgart in the province of Württemberg in the southwestern corner of Germany. Up until the end of the Middle Ages, Württemberg had been a part of the duchy of Swabia, which had enjoyed great prominence during the reign of the Swabian-based Hohenstaufen dynasty (1136-1250) of the Holy Roman Empire. The civil wars that broke out upon the death of Friedrich II in 1250 led to the political fragmentation of late medieval Germany. By 1496 Württemberg had become a duchy in its own right. Duke Ulrich, a vassal of the Habsburgs, introduced the reforms of Martin Luther to Württemberg in 1534. His son Christoph (1550-68) took advantage of the compromise reached at the Peace of Augsberg (1555) to impose Lutheranism on his subjects, making it the official state church of Württemberg. Duke Friedrich (1593-1608) managed to secure the duchy's independence from the Habsburgs in 1599 and was a principal organizer of the Protestant Union (1608), which allied Württemberg to other Protestant regions for the sake of solidarity in the face of Catholic reaction. The subsequent Thirty Years' War (1618-48), which began in Bohemia but eventually spread throughout Germanic Europe, hit the people of Württemberg very hard as did the War of the Grand Alliance a generation later (1688-93). As a result of Duke Friedrich II's decision to work with Napoleon rather than against him, Württemberg not only grew territorially but became an independent kingdom in 1806. King Wilhelm I (1816-64) responded to liberal pressure by issuing a constitution which featured a bicameral legislature. But in the wake of the March Revolution of 1848 and its violent suppression in 1849, the kingdom of Württemberg drifted toward more reactionary policies. The rise of the Prussia under Bismarck ultimately led Württemberg to relinquish its independence altogether and join the newly unified Deutschen Reich in 1871.
It is against this historical backdrop, in particular the transformation of Württemberg from a duchy to an independent kingdom, that we can make out the faint but unmistakeable traces left by five generations of the Wolf family prior to its relocation to America in 1853.
Plochingen is a small town fifteen kilometers southeast of Stuttgart, just up the Neckar River. It was there, on April 26, 1740, that a man named Johann Jacob Wolf purchased a half interest in the local flour mill from one Johann Jakob Burketh.1 Though there is some indication that the new miller came to Plochingen from the nearby village of Jesingen, just outside of Kirchheim, so far his name has not turned up in the Familienregister of that town.2 In any case, by the time Johann Jacob bought into the mill, he had been married to Christina Blessing (c. 1709-2/19/1772), a native of Plochingen, for at least seven years.3 At that point the couple already had two children: a son named Elias Wilhelm Wolf (1/?/1734-12/4/1805)4 and a daughter (1735-2/5/1742) whose name we do not know. At some point Johann Jakob's brother Hans Jerg Wolf (c. 1706-1746) joined him in Plochingen, though he died shortly thereafter.5
Johann Jacob served as Müllermeister in Plochingen for more than thirty years, dividing the profits with Georg Friedrich Knoll, the owner of the other half of the mill. The relationship between the two was strained, however, by a disagreement over the terms of their partnership. We know this because at one point Johann Jakob Wolf actually appealed to the ducal government of Württemberg6 to intervene. The official response to his request, dated January 25, 1760, advised Johann Jakob to accept the original arrangements or seek legal redress at his own expense.7 Despite this tension, the two millers remained partners for another eleven years, until Johann Jakob finally sold his half share to Johann Martin Hofman on September 17, 1771. The contract for the sale of the mill has survived.8 No sooner had Hofman taken over ownership of Johann Jakob's half, however, then he sold it to Johann Jakob's old partner, Georg Friedrich Knoll! For the next six years, Knoll would enjoy sole ownership of the Plochingen mill.9
If Johann Jakob's professional life as a mill owner had its rough spots, it paled in comparison to his family life, which can only be described as tragic. The Familienregister in Plochingen indicates that less than two years after Johann Jakob purchased his half-share of the mill, his seven-year-old daughter drowned (2/5/1742) in the very millstream that powered it. By then Christina had already given birth to another daughter, Anna Maria Wolf (born sometime between 1736 and 1740), who would survive to adulthood and eventually marry (4/11/1758) a miller named Konrad Weinhard, whose father Gabriel Weinhard plied the same trade in the village of Mittelstadt. But although Christina went on to bear eight more children over the next twelve years, none of them would live beyond the age of three.10 When Christina herself died in 1772 at the age of 63, Johann Jakob's immediate family consisted of only one son and one daughter, both of whom were in their thirties.
Elias Wilhelm Wolf, the first and only surviving son of Johann Jakob Wolf, followed in his father's footsteps and served as a master miller in Plochingen, even though he did not succeed his father as an owner of the mill. Elias was twenty six when he married (8/12/1760) Eva Rosina (a.k.a. Euphrosina) Spegel (9/27/1737--3/9/1798), a native of Plochingen and the daughter of Johann Jakob Spegel, a master potter, and his wife, Maria Barbara Staudenmaier. Elias and Eva's luck as parents was even poorer than that of Johann Jakob and Christina. Johann Michael Wolf (11/11/1770--2/4/1795), their fifth child, was the first to reach adulthood, only to die at age 25.11 Elias was, in fact, forty-one years old when Eva (age 37) gave birth to Johann Jakob Wolf (II) (3/18/1775--3/21/1831), the only child who would survive his parents and provide them with grandchildren.12
Johann Jakob Wolf (II) began his professional life as a tenant miller (Bestandsmüller) in the village of Plieningen, seven kilometers south of Stuttgart, but before long he returned to Plochingen where he broke with family tradition and became a baker.13 Records from Plochingen indicate that he regularly paid his taxes to the local Brotbank ("Bread bank") for the privilege of marketing his baked goods in town.14 At the age of twenty-two Johann Jakob married (10/8/1797) Eva Rosina Schmidt (11/24/1774--12/30/1833) from Wendlingen, four kilometers south of Plochingen. She was the daughter of Johannes Schmidt and Maria Barbara Brasch. The young couple had been married less than four years when a severe hail storm (5/30/1801) devastated the crops in the Plochingen area and ushered in torrential rainfall that ultimately flooded the town.15 By then Johann Jakob had already fathered two children: Kunigunde Wolf (b. 11/4/1797) and Johann Jakob Wolf (III) (3/16/1800--4/11/1848). Four more children would follow in the years after the flood: Christian Friedrich Wolf (1/30/1802--5/17/1837), Eva Rosina Wolf (11/2/1805--11/14/1888), Anna Barbara Wolf (b. 2/3/1810), and Anna Christina Wolf (12/22/1811--7/16/1832). In marked and happy contrast to the previous two generations of the Wolf family, all of Johann Jakob and Eva Rosina's children survived to adulthood. Kunigunde, the oldest child, married (2/27/1821) a farmer and vinekeeper by the name of Ludwig Gottlob Gemsenjager. Johann Jakob Wolf (III) married (9/6/1827) Heinrike Eberhardine Baumgarth in nearby Aichschieß (see below). Christian Friedrich Wolf who, like his father, became a master baker in Plochingen, married (2/13/1827) Regina Katharina Maier.16 Eva Rosina Wolf (11/2/1805-11/14/1888) married (11/6/1827) a vine keeper by the name of Christoph Friedrich Witzig. And Anna Barbara Wolf (2/3/1810) married (9/24/1837) Johann Jakob Pfulb. Only the youngest of the Wolf children, Anna Christina, died (at age 20) before she had a chance to marry.17
Johann Jakob Wolf (III) married Heinrike Eberhardine Baumgarth on September 6, 1827. The church records in Plochingen claim that the happy event took place in the village of Aichschieß, on the edge of the Schurwald forest just north of Plochingen. But according to the marriage records kept in the bride's hometown of Mühlhausen am Neckar (which, at the time, was referred to as Mühlhausen-Cannstatt) just north of Stuttgart, it was there that they tied the knot.18 In any case, Heinrike (6/21/1796--11/28/1852) was the fifth of eleven children of Johann Gottlieb Baumgarth, a butler and gardener for the local nobleman, Baron (Freiherr) von Palm 19 in Mühlhausen am Neckar, and Barbara Röhner of Schopfloch, some 25 kilometers southeast of Plochingen.20 Johann Jacob would have been 24 years old in October, 1824, when once again heavy rains caused the Neckar river to rise and flood the town of Plochingen, just as it had in 1801.21 Johann Jacob and Heinrike had seven children altogether, of which five survived infancy.22 The first three of these were born in Aichschieß:23 Gustav Friedrich Wolf (6/4/1830--9/1/1860), Wilhelm Christian Wolf (5/28/1831--12/10/1876), and Wilhelmine ("Minna" or "Mina") Wolf (7/18/1832--3/13/1912).24
Shortly after the birth of Minna, the young family moved to Tailfingen, some sixty kilometers south of Stuttgart, where Johann Jacob accepted a position as Schülmeister (schoolmaster).25 It appears, based on a memorial stone built into the wall of St. Peter's church, that Johann Jacob was hired to replace one Johannes Ribling (Kibling?), who had served as schoolmaster until his death in 1834. After the move to Tailfingen came two more children: Eberhard Ludwig Wolf (12/6/1835--c. 1863) and Amalie Louise Wolf (5/30/1840--1/19/1926).26 The year after Amalia's birth, the Wolf family moved again, this time to Metzingen, just south of Plochingen, where Johann Jakob taught in the local Knabeschül (boys' school).27 The Wolf family lived in Metzingen long enough for Gustav, Wilhelm, and Wilhelmine to be confirmed in 1844, 1845, and 1846 respectively, as each child reached the age of fourteen.28 On April 11, 1848, Johann Jacob died in the prime of his life at age 48. Given the general turmoil associated with the European-wide revolutions of 1848, it is possible that he, like so many of his compatriots, died in the chaos that engulfed Württemberg at that time. In any case his widow Heinrike decided to leave Metzingen with her children--ranging in age from eight to eighteen--and move to Emmingen on the Nagold River, some forty kilometers southwest of Stuttgart.29
Before moving on the the American segment of this family line, it may be of some interest to consider the possibility that there are "Wolfs" from Johann Jakob Wolf (I)'s line who are still living in the Vaterland. Because Johann Jakob (III)'s sons all emigrated to America, we have to look back to previous generations of male Wolfs for promising links. The most immediate candidate would be Johann Jakob Wolf III's younger brother Christian Friedrich Wolf (1/30/1802-5/18/1837) who was born and died in Plochingen, where he worked as a baker. He had one surviving son of the same name, Christian Friedrich Wolf (II) (10/31/1832--8/2/1878), who married (8/8/1860) a woman from Stuttgart named Pauline Sofie Hertner (daughter of Johannes Hertner and Christiana Paur of Stuttgart). That same year Christian Friedrich Wolf (II) began his new life as a master bookbinder in Stuttgart. The couple had four children between early February 1861 and late May of 1870, but only the last of these survived infancy. That was Pauline Wilhelmine Sofie Hertner (5/29/1870-3/27/1956) who moved to Schwäbisch Gmund, lived to be 85 years old, but never married. Of course even if she had, her children would not have carried the Wolf name. Since neither Johann Jabob Wolf II nor his father Elias had any brothers who lived long enough to marry and produce children, one would have to go back all the way to to the generation of Johann Jakob Wolf I whose brother Hans Jerg Wolf might have fathered a parallel line of Wolfs. But so far we have been able to turn up nothing about Hans Jerg's family nor about his and his brother's origins. Having neither of their birthdates makes it very difficult to pin them down in any of the records in Jesingen, where Johann Jakob apparently worked as a miller before he bought half of the mill in Plochingen.32 Of course if one were to broaden the scope of this "search for relatives in Germany" to include non-Wolfs, the possibilities are much greater, beginning with the Baumgarth family.
For more information about this branch of the Wolf
family, contact: Ken Wolf (Gustav's great-great grandson):
For more information about this branch of the Wolf family, contact: Ken Wolf (Gustav's great-great grandson): firstname.lastname@example.org
Special thanks to: