A tale of two Scheffe/Sheffey families in America: Northern vs Southern customs

There are some definite benefits in tracing a family line from its earliest starting point down through the centuries. You can begin to start all manner of trends. So while it may take a (seemingly endless) amount of time – you can get a deeper sense of how a family can change over time.

I’ve spent the past few weeks working through Peter Scheffe’s (1669 – 1749, Herschberg & Thaleischweiler, Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany) female descendants. I still have a way to go…however, some interesting patterns have begun to emerge.  Specifically, these are patterns relating to the 18th and 19th Century American immigrants descended from these ladies.  The main families included in this maternal group are:  Ankney, Mattil, Hoh and Kieffer.

There is a distinct cultural difference between the American immigrant descendants of Peter Scheffe. This difference kind of neatly falls into two groups:  descendants who arrived in the American South and those who arrived in the North. Their journey and experience is almost a story of two different Americas.  

One family line is descended through Peter Scheffe’s son, Johann Adam Sheffey. The other line is composed of a group of families either descended through Peter Scheffe’s daughters or their daughters – maternal lines, in other words.

The American South & The Sheffey family

The identification of the Sheffeys with Virginia is so strong, and so prevalent, that I tend to forget that Johan Adam Sheffey actually settled in Frederick, Maryland. His daughters remained in Frederick, MD, where they married and raised families. Their descendants can be found there today. His sons did not. Daniel Henry Sheffey and Henry Lawrence Sheffey settled in Virginia.  Their brother John would go on to settle in Tennessee.

Daniel, Henry and John Sheffey would take wives from distinctly non-Germanic colonial families. Daniel Henry Sheffey first married Maria Hanson andthen Nancy Lewis. Henry Lawrence Sheffey first married Margaret White and, later, Ceny Nuckolls.   John Sheffey married Margaret Thompson.

For all intents and purposes, it seems, Johann Adam Sheffey’s sons left their German roots behind.

Despite being first generation Americans from immigrant German parents, these three Sheffey brothers appear to have made a conscious decision to break with the family’s German past. As men, it was perhaps easier for them to do this. They had the freedom to choose for themselves. The brothers were also far from the parental sphere of influence.

Virginia itself must have been an active factor, at least for Henry and Daniel. Virginia was the most Anglican of the colonies. That is to say, it was the most English and aristocratic. The English were quite adept at placing their stamp on societies. You either had to be one of them – or aspire to be like them – if you stood any chance of advancement within the English social structure. I don’t dismiss this as a motivating factor behind Daniel and Henry Sheffey’s transformations from German-Americans into American colonials.

John in Tennessee would have a slightly different journey from his brothers. His family married into the hybrid Scottish-Irish culture of Tennessee.

Here’s a quick visual snapshot of some of the Virginia and Tennessee families the brothers forged unions with through marriage:

Sheffey family marriages in Virginia and Tennessee

 The names the brothers gave their children were largely non-Germanic: Robert, William, Serena. Lawrence, James etc.  The brothers gave their children names that were, well, quite Virginian. Not to put too fine a point on it, Daniel, John and Henry’ and their children ‘went native’.  They –  and their descendants – became true sons and daughters of the American south. Within a generation there was nothing of the German about their families at all.

The Sheffey family in Frederick, Maryland

Adam Sheffey’s daughters, however, maintained close ties to their German roots. That’s hardly surprising as it would seem the town of Frederick had a large and tight-knit German immigrant community. Brengle, Geyer and Guiton (French-Germanic Huguenots) were the families Adam’s daughters married into. Their Frederick, MD descendants continued the practice of marrying into German-American families for decades afterwards. Mostly Germanic names feature amongst their children: Jakob, Michael, Johann, Friedrich, Sophia, Maria, Catherina, etc.

I don’t know what it was about Maryland that facilitated immigrant communities actively holding on to their cultural traditions. There does, however, seem to be a marked difference between Maryland and Virginia, the latter which almost seemed to demand compliance with the ‘Virginian way of life’. Then again, Virginia set itself at the pinnacle of southern society – its customs were to be the benchmark for southern society.

Whatever the difference, Adam Sheffey’s daughters and their descendants embraced their German heritage. They had far more in common with their distant relations in Pennsylvania than they did with their brothers.

Sheffey relations in the Northern States

Again, this relates to Adam Sheffey’s cousins, relations through the various female lines of the family: Ankney, Mattil, Hoh and Kieffer.

The families listed above, along with fellow émigrés from the Rhineland-Palatinate region of Germany, basically created a new Rhineland-Palatinate in the Pennsylvania areas they settled. These were vibrant, thriving recognisably German communities in every aspect – merely transplanted to the American colonies. In this instance, Pennsylvania. The religiously tolerant Pennsylvania made no demands upon them to leave their traditions and customs behind. German immigrants could remain German in language, customs and traditions.

This is so clearly shown in the census returns for Pennsylvania from the 1720s onwards. My distant Pennsylvania kin and their community used German names for their children. Nor did they anglicise the names.  Johann remained Johann, and not John. Friedrich remained Friedrich, and Frederick. The used the traditional naming conventions from their culture: Johann Jakob Ankney would be referred to as Jakob, and not Johann. Which was rather good as there could be as many as four or five Johann’s in one family – each differentiated by his middle name. For girls, Anna Catharina Kieffer would be an example. She would be referred to as Catharina.

The families they married into had recognizably Germanic names:

Ankney family marriages

I’m not sure when Germans began to settle upstate New York. However, by the time of the 1860 census, there was a thriving German-American community here too. Have a look at the 1860 census for Oneida in Utica County, NY:

1860 NY Census

1860 Census for Oneida, Utica County, NY – click for larger image

Nor did these German-American kin, or their community, leave these German customs and preferences behind when they quit Pennsylvania and New York for the mid-West in the 19th Century. As late as the 1940s census, I can see these practices in widespread use.  Nor did they cease in a preference for German spouses – or at least spouses from other German-American families. Scandinavians and Swiss got an occasional look in.

The census returns, even for the 1930s and 1940s, made me chuckle. You can almost hear the German-accented English which remained through the centuries. The surname Weiss is occasionally spelled as ‘Vise’ or ‘Wise”. The surname Hoh becomes “Hoey” or even “Hughey”. The name Jakob is spelled ‘Yalkob’. ‘Martha’ becomes ‘Merta’.

While I will probably never see a picture of these people, I can gain a semblance of familiarity for them by their accents, inadvertently recorded by a census taker.

So there you have it. A tale of two Sheffeys: one southern (ok, ok, Virginian!) and the other predominantly northern. Two different sides of a family that would take radically different paths in their adopted homeland.

Family history is history in microcosm: The Agné / Ankney Family

This past week has seen me (pleasantly) hijacked by some of the ladies in the Sheffey family. I will raise my hand and admit that I have neglected them shamefully over the past year. The quietude of the holiday period was the perfect time to redress this. So I began with Peter Scheffe’s daughter, Maria Magaretha Scheffe, wife of Peter Agné. This was the couple who inherited Peter Scheffe’s mill in Herschberg (Südwestpfalz, Rhineland-Palatinate) upon his death.

The saga of the Agné family is an incredible story. It is the story of the mass migrations of people in continental Europe during the 16th and 17th Centuries. It is also the story of 18th &  19th America, particularly the story of that idealology referred to as Manifest Destiny.


Edict of Nantes

The signing of the Edict of Nantes

The signing of the Edict of Nantes

As with many European families, the Agné family had some genealogy hurdles, namely a large number of variations in the spelling of its surname: Ankney and Anquenet were two of the most popular. Thankfully, however, this is a well-documented family. This is rare as they were largely a farming family. With that said, the family’s line has been traced back to Benjamin Anquenet Ankney born in 1575 who married Elisabeth Brase Prassin. The couple is associated with Pfalzburg, Lorraine  an area which has ping ponged back and forth between France and Germany for centuries. As you can see by the names, there is a distinct French connection.

image for the Edict of Nantes

Revocation of the Edict of Nantes – click for larger image

Religion would shape the family’s destiny in Europe. At some point in time the Agné family converted from Catholicism to Calvanist Protestantism. Without giving a long history lesson, relationships between French Catholics and French Protestants (called Huguenots) were bloody right from the beginning. These weren’t just bitter feuds, this was all out warfare which subsided with the signing of the Edict of Nantes on 13 April 1598 by Henry IV of France (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edict_of_Nantes ). The edict was meant to restore national unity in France.  It was never an easy peace. The Edict of Nantes was revoked by Louis XIV (the grandson of Henry IV) in October 1685. The revocation of the edict drove an exodus of Huegenots to Protestant nations such as the Netherlands, England, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Protestant-held principalities and duchies in Germany (The Germany we recognise today didn’t exist until the 1860s.) Agné and Ankneys can be found in all of them.

Benjamin’s grand-son, Peter Agné, was part of this exodus. He was born in Pfalzburg, Lorraine in 1650 and married Anna Ottilia Trautmann (born 6 May 1655 in Lambsborn, Kaiserslautern, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany). It’s uncertain when the couple and their family fled Pfalzburg for Anna’s homeland of Lambsborn, Kaiserslautern, Rheinland-Pfalz in Germany. The best indication is the birth date for their first child, Anna Catharina Agné, which is 21 Jun 1679.  It’s not a coincidence that this fell within a period when anti-Huguenot reprisals had begun to resurface. Sensing the way things were going for Protestants in his homeland, Peter must have made the considered decision to quit and removed his family to his wife’s native land.

German territories were wracked by a series of wars throughout the early 18th century. The Palatinate region was particularly hard hit. As with most wars, famine followed. These factors combined and led to what’s called the German Exodus to Britain, The Netherlands and the American colonies from 1709. The Agné family held on until at least the middle of the 18th Century. And then, there began a series of migrations out of Germany to other Protestant lands and the American colonies.

Not all left their homeland. It’s worth noting that Peter Agné and Maria Magaretha Scheffe remained in Herschberg, as did their son Johann Adam Agné (1729 – 1779, d. in Pirmasens, Rheinland-Pfalz). The Mill the family owned and ran continued to operate for generations to come. Confirmed German Agné descendants (& family of Peter Agné and Maria Magaretha Scheffe) who move to the US:

  • Great Grandson: Jacob Agne (Birth 11 Aug 1795 in Lambsborn, Kaiserslautern, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany | Death 27 Mar 1865 in Utica, New York, USA). He is recorded in New York with his wife Margaretha Salome (maiden name unknown) and sons Jacob & Carlin in 1860. I haven’t been able to definitively determine when this family group arrived in the US. Jacob was the son of Johann Adam Agné and Anna Barbara Ludi.
  • Nephew: Johann Theobald DeWalt Agne / Ankney (Birth 16 Nov 1727 in Lambsborn, Kaiserslautern, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany | Death 4 Mar 1781 in Clear Spring, Washington, Maryland, United States). DeWalt Ankney (the surname spelling changed upon arrival in the US) arrived in 1746, aged 19. He settled in Pennsylvania at some point prior to his marriage to Jane Domer in 1748 in Lancaster County, PA.

Dewalt Ankney’s arrival in the American colonies falls roughly within a close time frame to Johann Adam Scheffe/Sheffey’s (Maria Magaratha Scheffe- Agné’s brother) arrival in the Maryland.

For those of you who like visuals instead of text, here’s how the above are related to one another:

The arrival of Agnés, Sheffeys & Scheffes in the US from Germany - click for a larger image

The arrival of Agnés, Sheffeys & Scheffes in the US from Germany – click for a larger image

The Agne/Ankey’s joined a growing German population in the American colonies of New York, Maryland and Pennsylvania. War, religion and famine would appear to be the main reasons behind these migrations.


It would be fair to say that the Ankney family which settled in Pennsylvania prospered. They owned their own land which they farmed and the family grew. Believe me when I say I almost regretted researching this side of the family. It is enormous. I had allocated three days to research it. It took a week. But I am glad I persevered. Yet again, the family perfectly illustrates the pulse of history – this time on American soil.

The family did its duty, providing sons to the American Revolution. Afterwards, they returned to their farms in and around Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. And there I expected them to remain. After all, their Sheffey cousins remained where they were in Maryland and Virginia. After the Revolution, Pennsylvania was the breadbasket of the newly formed America. Those farmers who owned land prospered very well indeed. And here lays another mystery. They (very) extended family largely owned the land it farmed. It was part of tight-knit German-American community. They had every reason to stay where they were…yet, they didn’t.

image for the painting American Progress

This painting (circa 1872) by John Gast called American Progress, is an allegorical representation of the modernization of the new west. Here Columbia, a personification of the United States, leads civilization westward with American settlers, stringing telegraph wire as she sweeps west; she holds a school book. The different stages of economic activity of the pioneers are highlighted and, especially, the changing forms of transportation.

From about the 1860s onwards, for the next decade, Akney and Akney left Pennsylvania and headed west. The first waves settled in Ohio and later pushed on to Indiana and Illinois. Later generations in the 19th Century settled Michigan as well as states further west and north, ultimately reaching California, Washington and Idaho. One branch even migrated to Canada, where they remained for a few decades before returning to the northern Midwest states. Apart from the foray into Canada, the family settled in regions and towns with large German immigrant, German-American and Scandinavian immigrant communities. This in part, is one key to the answer. However it doesn’t really explain leaving the security and prosperity of life in Pennsylvania behind for the entirely unknown…and dangerous.

Map representing the westward movements and concentration of the Germanic language in the US

Yet they did leave that security of the known behind. And their trek coincides with that period of time covered by Manifest Destiny, that widespread early to mid 19th Century belief that Americas were destined by God to command and own the remainder of the American territories not already claimed by British-ruled Canada (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifest_destiny). Wave after wave of settlers from the east moved to the Midwest, which was also a popular destination with a new surge of immigrants. I’m not here to debate the ethics of Manifest Destiny and the ultimate outcome for the Native American population in these territories. I cite this as I don’t want to appear to gloss over that particular chapter of American history. As territory after territory was claimed by the US government, and as new states were formed, the Ankneys were there. In a very real and tangible way, the Ankneys, like many Midwestern American families, were a part of this expansionary history of America. They didn’t read about it in papers. They lived it.

In tracking and recording the Ankney family’s overall history, I’ve caught snatched glimpses of the pulses of history and how these pulses usually dislodge entire groups of people. It’s a dynamic that echoes to this day. I don’t really think we, as Americans, appreciate how this country was founded upon large scale and catastrophic events which led to the disruptions of whole groups of people. These disruptions came about through the convergence of circumstances far beyond the control of the common people.  That thought didn’t cross my mind until I began researching this particular family. The Ankneys – a family that has been on the move for the best part of 300+ years.

I’m smiling as I recall my new favourite phrase: family history is history in microcosm. Indeed, it is.

Peter Scheffe update (Herschberg, Germany)

This post is an update on my original post “Hitting the brick wall: Peter Schultheiss Scheffe (Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany)” https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/hitting-the-brick-wall-peter-schultheiss-scheffe-sudwestpfalz-rheinland-pfalz-germany/ . In that post I covered how frustrating it can be to hit a brick wall / dead end when researching your family.

Well blimey, that post has resulted in some information about this ancestor from some rather unexpected sources. To say I’m grateful is an understatement.

First of all, here’s some information from Michael H. from Germany:

“The record I’ve seen says Peter was a Schuhmacher or shoemaker”.  It’s not earth-shattering but it is a great little piece of information. It means that 3 concurrent generations of the Scheffe/Sheffey family started their professional lives as shoemakers:  Peter, his son Johann Adam Sheffey and Adam’s son, Daniel Sheffey (who would go on to become a respected lawyer and renowned representative of Virginia: http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=S000317). Indeed, Daniel Sheffey was proud of his shoe making past and referred to it in more than one speech in Congress.

Michael also confirmed what was already known:  Peter was also a Mühlenbeständer – or miller.  He was also  auf der Mühlhauser Mühle und Schultheiß – or mayor  – of   Herschberg and Wörschhausen.  Now, if Peter did emigrated to the Western Palatinate region of Germany from France or Switzerland, becoming Mayor of not one but two German towns was exceedingly rare.  Michael hints that this was almost unheard of. So how did Peter achieve this status?  I’m positive there’s a very interesting story that remains to be found.

It’s hard for us to understand the importance of millers and mill owners in an age where flour is mass-produced. Mills were at the heart of communities.  I’d even argue they were one of the lifeblood of the community for without them, there wouldn’t have been flour to make bread. The Middle Class, as we recognize it today, didn’t really exist in the 17th Century. The Burgher class (a member of the trading or mercantile class), as it was called, and to which Peter would have belonged, was the beginning of what we’d recognize as the Middle Class, without the political clout or influence that we’d recognize today.

Michael also gives some insight into the origins of the Scheffe family name. “Perhaps his father had the surname Schoffe or Schoeffe.  This is a name linked to Gerichtsmann or Schaefer which means shepherd. It’s an intriguing hint into an earlier generation of the family.

The Thirty Years War.

Verna H., who is also German, posted a very detailed comment to my original post about Peter Scheffe.  In it, she stated something so blindingly obvious I could have kicked myself for not thinking of it. The Thirty Years War is one of the brick walls in German genealogy. This isn’t a history lesson – so here’s some information for you about this war: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Years’_WarThe Palatinate region of Germany was decimated by this conflict. Suffice to say it was an extremely destructive war: large numbers of people were displaced, towns and villages were burnt to the ground…and countless documents and records were lost forever.

Verna also points out the importance of carefully translating languages into English. There are subtleties and nuances in an original language which don’t easily translate into English.  For instance, as she points out:

The German text says “re-built” (!) by Peter Scheffe.

Also in the German language you need to be careful, because there is a difference between “Besitzer” and “Eigner/Eigentum von”. Obviously I don’t know what’s the case here, but the “Besitzer” could be renting or leasing the mill. The German text really tells too little to be sure what was the case here.

 “Mühlenbeständer” also says that he had the right to mill (local monopoly), which was lucrative, but it doesn’t mean he actually owned (as Eigner) the mill. And yes, that right was awarded and not to just anyone.  He [Peter] was a respected man. The people knew him and his family. He might have been awarded the right and then he leased the mill or re-built the mill and then gave it too his son-in-law.

Unfortunately I don’t know anything more about mills and millers, but what might also be the case is, that the Schultheiß (I’m speaking of Peter’s function here) had to re-built the much needed mill. If that was the case, he wasn’t a miller, “just” a Schultheiß taking care of village business, making sure the farmers could mill their produce … or even just trying to revive the area that seemed to have been hit hard by the Thirty Year War?

And last but not least – the Thirty Year War is THE brick wall in German genealogy as during this war literally all of Germany and all its public and clerical as well as many civilian buildings were burnt down. (Remember – Peter Scheffe “RE-built” the mill?) If you manage to break down this brick wall, consider yourself very lucky.

If Peter came/fled from France maybe there is hope. He does sound like an interesting guy!

Which brings me to translations – and I’m as guilty of this as anyone.  I have seen the same translation of the only online text there seems to be about Peter: http://www.wallhalben.de/wallhalben/tourismus/muehlen_im_wallalbtal/wuerschhauser_muehle.phpThe same English translation for this text is widely available online. I assumed, because the same translation appeared all over the place, that it had been vetted.  Verna’s comment, as a native German speaker, leads me to believe that the translation I’ve relied on for years may, in fact, have subtle (but important!) inaccuracies.

Again, I’m deeply grateful to Michael and Verna’s comments…and their generosity in sharing information and insights about this intriguing ancestor.

Hitting the brick wall: Peter Schultheiss Scheffe (Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany)

It’s inevitable.  When you’re researching your family you are going to hit a brick wall. Peter Schultheiss Scheffe is one of those walls.

Peter Scheffe family

Peter Scheffe family

For a man who became mayor of a town in 18th Century Germany, owned a milling business and is thought to have been a judge, precious little is known about this man. I’ve been throwing every trick I know to smash this wall down…to no avail.  If there is comfort to be taken, I am not the only one experiencing a sense of frustration where this man is concerned. A quick scan of family trees in  Ancestry.com shows a staggering number of family trees which stop at Peter Schultheiss Scheffe. Whether it’s an American descendant or descendants in Germany, France or The Netherlands – no one has been able to crack this mystery.

Why is he important?

He’s a keystone ancestor which links a number of families in Europe and the US together. It’s only natural to want to know more about him.  He is also the person who connects the Scheffe and Sheffey families in the US together as well as the Scheffey and Scheffe families in Germany.  In the aftermath of the religious wars which ragged across the region in the 17th and 18th Centuries, and Napoleon’s invasion, a number of his children, grand children and great grandchildren emigrated to the American colonies (PA initially and then MD and VA), Canada, England and the Netherlands.

So what do we know?

The paragraph below is one that appears over and over again in online searches:

Die Mühle wurde im Jahre 1725 durch Peter Scheffe, Schultheiß von Herschberg und Werschhausen, wieder aufgebaut. Besitzer wurde damals Peter Angne, dessen Nachkommen bis zum Jahre 1842 Müller dieser Mühle waren. Angne war wahrscheinlich Schweizer Einwanderer, der zu einer Hugenottenfamilie gehörte und nach dem Dreißigjährigen Krieg in das entvölkerte Gebiet kam. Er hatte sich 1726 mit Maria Margaretha, der Tochter des Schultheißen Peter Scheffe, verheiratet. Die Mühle war vier Generationen im Besitz der Familie Angne. Die Witwe des Peter Angne, Philippine, heiratete in zweiter Ehen den Müller zu Rieschweiler, Adam Bayer. Deren Sohn starb 1885. Dann war die Mühle 10 Jahre an Albert Lenhard von Schauerberg verpachtet. Der neue Besitzer Karl Ludwig Ziegler aus Schönenberg heiratete 1895 Bertha Bayer und hinterließ die Söhne Ludwig und Hermann.

The most reliable translation reads as follows:

The mill was built in 1725 by Peter Scheffe, mayor of Herschberg and Werschhausen. The next owner was Peter Angne, whose descendants owned it until 1842. Agne was probably  a Swiss immigrant and belonged to a Huguenot family, arriving after the Thirty Years War in the depopulated area. He had been married to Maria Margaretha in 1726, the daughter of the mayor Peter Scheffe. The mill was owned by four generations of the family Angne. The widow of Peter Angne, Philippine, married a second time to the Müller Rieschweiler, Adam Bayer. His son died in the 1885. Then the mill was leased 10 years to Albert Lenhard of Schauerberg. The new owner Karl Ludwig Ziegler from Schoenberg married Bertha Bayer in 1895 and left the mill to his sons Ludwig and Hermann.

Peter’s highlights are:

  • He was born around 1669.  There is some conflicting information about where he was born.  Some say he was born in Permasens in present day Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz (see the German map below, it’s the ‘state’ highlighted in dark green). Some say he was born in France and others that he came from Switzerland. German map. Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz is highlighted in dark green.
    German map. Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz is highlighted in dark green.
  • He married Anna Elizabetha from the influential Kiefer family.  No marriage certificate has been found so the date and place of this marriage is unknown. While little is currently known about this marriage, Anna Elisabetha was the mother of his children.
  • He married for a second time.  In 1779 he married Maria Elisabetha Margaretha Wagner in Thaleischweiler which is also in Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz.  This second union doesn’t seem to have produced any further children.
  • All of the digital information available illustrates the same story. He arrives in Herschberg, Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz at an unknown date.  In 1725 he either built or re-built the town’s flour mill, which he owned.
Scheffe family mill, Herschberg, Germany

Scheffe family mill, Herschberg, Germany

  • He was the Mayor of both Herschberg and  Würschhausermühle
  • He died in 1749 in Thaleischweiler, Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz,which where he is buried.

There is a conflicting account of his origins, as I’ve mentioned above. What we do know is that he practiced Lutheranism. If it is true that he was born in France, he would have been born within living memory of divisive and controversial historical figures like Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé (1530–1569, French Huguenot figurehead) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_I_de_Bourbon,_prince_de_Cond%C3%A9 and  Catherine de Medici, Queen Regent of France during a period of great religious upheavals. Like many French Huguenot families, his may have very well escaped to either neighbouring Rheinland-Pfalz in Germany or Switzerland.

It’s also worth remembering that Rheinland-Pfalz, like Alsace-Lorraine, passed back and forth between France and Germany like a football as succession of various kings won and lost territorial wars. So it is plausible that his family may have had to swap back and forth between French and German nationalities as control of this region changed hands.

Some online inquiries

In a pique of frustration, I contacted two professional genealogists who specialize in this region of Germany as well as the Herschberg municipal offices to see if any more information could be found. The municipal office knew the name but knew nothing of Peter’s origins. It was a complete mystery to them.  The genealogists took a punt.  The deal was that if they found anything after a week’s preliminary investigation, that I’d hire them to pursue this line of inquiry. They found very little that I didn’t already know.

What they did find made me laugh, in a good way. Peter Scheffe began his working life as…a Schuhmacher – or shoe maker. He was engaged in the same profession as his son Johann Adam Scheffe (later Adam Sheffey of Fredericksburg, MD) and Adam Sheffey’s son Daniel Henry Sheffey (who would go on to become a celebrated lawyer and congressman).  Peter then went on to become a Mühlenbeständer – miller (auf der Mühlhauser Mühle und Schultheiß) and then mayor of  Herschberg and Wörschhausen…and then a Schultheiss, or judge. So shoe making and public office were in the family’s blood as far back as the mid to late 17th century. Traits the family brought to the New World.

The genealogists went on to offer some other interesting insights.  These are around the family’s name itself. They suggested that Peter’s father perhaps had the surname Schoffe, Schoeffe = Gerichtsmann or Schaefer = shepherd. I have to admit I’m still getting my head around 17th Century German naming conventions, which I’m finding confusing.  Added to this, family names changed radically during this period and the preceding centuries, just as they did elsewhere in Europe.  This is based on phonetic spelling variations of names as well as spellings which were considered ‘fashionable’ at different periods in time. Added to the variations given above, we can also add Shaff and Sheaff to the mix. It makes finding the ancestors of Peter Scheffe a Herculean challenge. One that’s just too expensive for me to hire a professional genealogist to sort out (not that they aren’t worth every penny).

The genealogists then went on to say that the 30 Years War  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Years’_War was an important consideration. During the war, and immediately afterwards, people from many parts of Germany, the Tirol and Switzerland emigrated to the Palatinate.

Then came the kicker that I wasn’t expecting: it’s really interesting that he was a mayor and Schultheiss, a judge, in early 18th Century Germany. Neither of these professions were taken lightly and only men of standing could hold them. Normally, an immigrant could never be considered for this level of public office. Which makes it all the more intriguing, mysterious and surprising that nothing is known of Peter’s origins.

Will this mystery ever be solved?  I hope so.  I have the feeling that there’s a compelling story behind this man which has remained hidden for centuries.

A new update on Peter Scheffe can be found here: http://wp.me/p1fqOP-ay