Cousins Heimat Journey

And Why Our Cousins Matter

Originally published in the January 2017 issue (Vol. 36, No.1)
Mennonite Family History
(Used with permission of original publisher)

*All photos by Donna Schrock Birkey unless otherwise noted* Copyright © 2016

The Importance of Cousins

In France, with my traveling companions.
Our guide in and around Colmar, Jacques Jaloux, is pictured on the right.

The 2010 Schrock Reunion at the Heritage Center in Metamora, Illinois, brought cousins together from Florida, Virginia, Nebraska, the West Coast, and even France–but the majority had never met before, and they met cousins they didn’t know they had.[1] In a Chicago Tribune article in December 2015, Richard Asa’s piece titled Why our Cousins Matter pointed out that “cousins somehow feel a connection to those with whom they share blood.” And, as the article pointed out, “They add dimension to a family.”

The stories cousins share allow us to know other members of our families, even other generations, making it possible to appreciate them as people with lives lived within a community; or perhaps helping us drop any judgmental thoughts, but also with the possibility of learning some not-so-positive information. Family members become more than names and dates on a pedigree chart.

During preparations for the 2010 Schrock reunion spoken of above, talk began about following up with a trip to Europe to see the actual places where our Schrock ancestors lived before immigrating to America. Ultimately six cousins, all descendants of Johannas Schrag/Schrock, were interested and the journey became reality in 2012 for Frank Kandel, my first cousin; Don and Lorna Steffen Schrock, Don is my second cousin; Mary Ringenberger Schrock and her son Todd, (Mary stood in for her husband, Byron my second cousin, who was unable to travel because of health problems). This small group of Schrock relatives represents the Mennonite Church and the Apostolic Christian Church. In France, we were joined by Jean-Francois Lorentz, a chemist by trade, who I have been in touch by email for many years. He and his wife had attended our Schrock Reunion. We are connected seven generations back when his grandmother, Anabaptist Louise Valentine Neuhauser, married Catholic Francis Paul Noe Malagnoux. Jean-Francois remains in the Catholic faith tradition.

We were to learn first hand what it meant for cousins to travel together for two weeks following the lives of our common ancestors.

Switzerland—the Emmental Beginnings of the Schrag Family

And what an experience it was for six Illinois cousins to step into the very same house where our ancestors lived hundreds of years ago, then visit a second farm where our 13th great grandfather, Hanns Schrag, was born in 1547. It was an amazing journey following our Schrock families through France and Switzerland. The trip actually began in France and ended in Switzerland, but for this article my story will begin in Switzerland and end in France–for reasons that will become clear.

My husband and I had traveled in the Emmental in the 1980s. We stayed several nights in Ruitigen, visited Thun, and stopped in nearby Langnau not knowing how close we were to Wynigen, the origin of my Schrock ancestors. It was only several years later that Virgil Miller sent me a photo of the Wynigen home where Schrags lived as far back as 1547. Much later I became acquainted with Peter Schrag through our websites and frequent email. In 2012, when he heard of our proposed trip, Peter offered to take our group to as many Schrag historical sites as we had time for. This was an exciting development and our time in Switzerland was greatly enhanced for it.

Peter’s own life story is a fascinating one. A retired banker, at the he lived in Burgdorf with his Norwegian-born wife Ritva, but is a native of Wynigen.[2] They were married in 1964 in the Wynigen Evangelisch-reformierte Kirche (Reformed Church). In fact, Peter’s grandfather had served the church as sexton, as did his shoemaker father. Both dug graves and rang the church bells. The original bell was crafted by a bell maker in Bern in 1619 and is still in operation–three more bells were added in 1927. After Peter’s father died in 1946, his mother continued serving as sexton with Peter’s help. When quite young he had permission from his schoolteacher to leave at 11 am and 3 pm to ring the nearby church bells for five minutes. Later, his brother continued the tradition. Today, the bells are operated by electricity and presently ring out over the village from 11:45 am until noon each day. Peter’s line of Schrags was never a part of the Anabaptist community, but remained with the Evangelisch-reformierte Kirche.

Peter and Ritva Schrag

History of Wynigen

A brief history of Wynigen will help to put the Schrag family into historical context.

The village dates back many years to the first few centuries A.D. when the area was populated by the Keltich-Roman peoples. They were displaced from 400-600 A.D. by the first Alemannic immigrants led by Wino (Germanic). From Wino came the name of the location, Win-igen.

During the 11th and 12th Centuries, the days of knights, counts, and vassals, the House of Kyburg was one of three most powerful noble families in the Swiss plateau. The other two were the Habsburgs and the House of Savoy. At the height of Kyburg family power the area around Burgdorf and Wynigen became part of their family land holdings.

Some time after acquiring Wynigen land the Kyburgs built a church to serve the immediate area. The church is first mentioned in a 1261 document, but was in existence even before 1000.

In the early 1200s, Kyburg family members tried to strengthen themselves through marriage to Savoy and Habsburg family members. However, the Kyburg male line became extinct in 1263 and at that time Rudolph of Habsburg laid claim to the Kyburg lands, annexing them to the Habsburg holdings. This marked the beginning of the Habsburg rise to power.

A little over one hundred years later, in 1383, the church was integrated into the Catholic Foundation of St. Ursus in Solothurn, honored from early times. Ursus supposedly was beheaded c. 286 after many cruel torments suffered for his refusal to participate in idol sacrifice.

The family Wild arrived in Wynigen in 1478, and until 1682 there were seven generations serving the village. Wynigen oversight was transferred to Bern in 1497. At the time of the Reformation in 1527 the church became Evangelisch-reformierte Kirche—a Reformed Church.

Wynigen Evangelisch-reformierte Kirche

The church building was renovated in 1671 under Tobias Wild. During a later renovation in 1958, two earlier foundations were found—a small one before AD 1000, and a somewhat larger one from 1185. An organ was added in 1840. ( It was this church in Wynigen that held all early records of Schrag family births, deaths, and marriages until they were moved to the archive in Bern for safekeeping. Here, the babies were baptized, funerals held, and marriages performed.

The”old” baptismal font

Saved from the 1671 major restoration of the church was the baptismal font—the font that saw many Schrag newborns baptized, and it remains today, alongside the “new” one from 1671.
Wynigen was populated by 2,015 inhabitants when we visited in 2012–900 households living in 104 farmhouses. Earlier censuses were as follows: in 1677, 29 Wynigen village houses, 48 families; Mistelberg 5 families; Leumberg 7 families. In 1715 eight houses were destroyed in a great fire.

To the Countryside

The earliest known of our family line is the birth of Hanns Schrag in 1547. But it is not until the early 1700s that any Schrags were labeled Anabaptists: one, Caspar (b. 1685). A 1765 list of Anabaptists includes Christian (b. 1729) and Benedicht (b. 1731). The surname Schrag is listed in the 1798 Bürgerverzeichnisse (census) of Canton Bern. We were soon to see where, and sometimes how, these families lived.

After being picked up from our Wynigen hotel, Landgasthof sur Linde, a drive into the countryside with Peter and Ritva brought us to the small villages of Mistelberg and Leumberg. No one was home at Mistelberg where our oldest known ancestor, Hanns Schrag, was born in 1547. We could only walk around the buildings and take a few photos. Hanns was most likely baptized at the”old” font in the church in Wynigen, and there on 28 Nov 1572, he married Margili Bardman. Their marriage was recorded at the church, as were the births of their children. The oldest child, named after his father, was born 15 Aug 1573 at nearby Breitenegg and baptized the same day at the church in Wynigen. The couple evidently raised their nine children at Breitenegg, but by the time the last child was born in 1592 they seem to have returned to the Schrag home at Mistelberg, where they were surrounded by the gentle, rolling hills of the Emmental, and on a clear day were able to see the Swiss Alps on the distant horizon.

Mistelberg, Canton Bern, Switzerland, birthplace of Hanns Schrag b.1547

The Alps from Wynigen hills near Mistelberg and Leumberg (Photo Credit: Peter Schrag)

At Leumberg, however, we were privileged to meet the Wyss family, present owner of the property that had housed several generations of Schrag families until it was sold to Ullrich Wyss for 1500 Bern pounds. The sale document is dated March 1, 1694. Description of the land tells that one part is adjoining the land of Niclaus Schrag. Peter Schrag supposes “that the seller was Hans Schrag 1646-1700, since his son Hans born 1676 died as an infant. The next son Hans born 1679 was not healthy and died April 20, 1694, and the next son Niclaus was born 1683. Father Hans was 48 when he sold and maybe not healthy either, as he died at age 54. The other possibility would be Hans 1638-1717 who had no children according to my records. The ancestor of both of them was Hans 1547. The neighbour could be Niclaus born 1642 or Niclaus born 1660.”

Studying the sale document

Ulrich Wyss, Beat and Erika, son Steffen

Front of the Leumberg house

Copies of the sale document from the register of notary public Jacob Schnell in Burgdorf are stored at the state archive in Bern, showing the farmhouse and land in Leumberg sold by Hans Schrag to Ullrich Wyss in 1682. The tenth generation Wyss family today lives in the Leumberg house: Beat and Erika Wyss and their son Steffen, and Beat’s parents. They farm the land, raise cattle, and tend beautiful gardens– both flower and vegetable—and were pleased to share their family history and give a tour of the farm.

Niklaus Schrag (b. 1660), great grandson of Hanns (born 1547), was born on the Leumberg farm and was still there in 1693. He had evidently left the State Church because he is now identified as an Anabaptist on one of his documents. Niklaus married Christina Schneider. Christina’s birthplace is also given as Leumberg. The couple had four sons: Hans, Caspar, Ulrich (Niclaus), and Petter.

Stone lintel showing the date 1661 that appears on the Leumberg house

The particular circumstances of the situation are not clear, but the record of the oldest son Hans (b. 1684) reads in part: “Niclaus Schrag zu Leumberg, Wittlig (widower) …Dises Kinds Eltern habend einander die Ehe versprochen…(The parents of this child have promised to marry). They did marry on 30 May 1684.” [3] Was Niklaus in hiding for a time as an Anabaptist and unable to marry the mother of his son earlier, or perhaps they were married by an Anabaptist minister not recognized by the State Church. Thus, in order to comply with inheritance laws they were [again] married in a civil ceremony. Those not following State rules were many times in various complicated circumstances.

Schrag Crest

Translation: Schrag Family Crests (of Bern, formerly of Wynigen)
Wappenbeschreibung/Blazon: Main red bar with six silver deer points: Fence below in silver and red.
Source: Berner Wappenbuch, 1932

“Sister” Village of Burdorf and Onward

In nearby Burgdorf, with its 15,000 inhabitants located 7 km from Wynigen, we walked the streets of the old town and visited the castle that overlooks the Emme River from a high sandstone outcropping. In the distance was the stone quarry from which all the limestone buildings of the city have been fashioned.

Mistelberg, Canton Bern, Switzerland, birthplace of Hanns Schrag b.1547

Ornate chairs inside the church for officials of the area, for sure some of our ancestors.

The castle was built around 1100 and was first mentioned in 1175 as “Burtorf” (Berchtold), in connection with a gift of Duke Berchtold IV of Zaehringen. Expansion of the palace complex and development of the settlement beneath the castle happened during the Duke’s time, and that of his successor Berchtold V. When Duke Berchtold V, founder of Bern died in 1218, sovereign rights transferred to the Kiburger (Kyburg). Under the Kiburger the lower city existing today was added. A deed dated 1364 exists in Burgdorf with the name “John of Winingen, ‘Schultheiss of the Kyburg’,” and contains his coat of arms.

After the 1384 “Burgdorfer War,” Burgdorf and Thun became part of Bern’s expanding control; thus, Bernese Schultheiss (mayors) began residing at the castle. Four years later in 1388, the Schultheiss, in gratitude to the Burgdorfer women for their brave defense against an attack by Austrian noblemen, founded the “Chicken Soup Festival” that is still celebrated each February.

Froelich’s home/church

 Uli and Alice Grimm with Don/Lorna Schrock

Construction of the Burgdorf late Gothic church during the years 1471 to 1490 became the church where members of the Schrag family “held court.” In effect, this tells us the family was part of the “ruling class” of the area.

Nearby to Wynigen and Burgdorf is the village of Langnau, with Tracheswald Castle and Dursetti forest just up the road. Following a short visit with pastor Hans Jutsi at the oldest Mennonite church in Switzerland, we were welcomed to the Giebel hill home of Uli and Alice Grimm (both in their 90s), and joined by Suzanne Grimm, all relatives of Lorna Steffen Schrock. The Grimm family has been and is now part of the Neutauffer church begun by Samuel Froelich. A church building was constructed high on the hill in 1856, after Froelich was deceased. Previously, the group met in the 1690s house on Giebel hill where Samuel Froelich began his ministry. (Hans Burki, another well-known Anabaptist, has also been associated with the Giebel.) Later, Daniel Grimm donated land nearby the present Uli Grimm residence for a new church built in 1956. The Giebel was an important stop for our group, since a portion of the Schrag/Schrock family in Illinois left the Amish church and became a part of Froelich’s group, now known as the Apostolic Christian Church.

A short stop was made at nearby Castle Trachselwald where many Anabaptists were held as prisoners, including Hans Burki mentioned earlier. From there some were sent to Bern for trials that many times resulted in execution or were shipped down the Rhine as galley slaves. A few jumped ship and returned. Persecution of Anabaptists in Castle Trachselwald ended after 1831, resulting from a push for spiritual revival in France and Switzerland.

Migration from Switzerland to Alsace, France

In Switzerland we had found the known beginnings of our particular Schrag family line from 1547. In 1711, 165 years later, Casper Schrag (b. 1685), the first of our line to be documented as Anabaptist, turns up in Jebsheim, Alsace, France. Jebsheim is one of the villages in Southern Alsace, 10 km from the Rhine River northeast of Colmar, where refugees arrived directly from Switzerland. Among the refugees listed at Jebsheim after 1700 were: Ulrich Birky, Steffisburg, worker in 1700; Gaspard (Casper) Schrag and Elisabeth Leyenberger of Wynigen in 1712.

Caspar is one of yet another generation of Schrags to be born on the Leumberg farm near Wynigen. He, too, was baptized at the Evangelisch-reformierte Kirche (Reformed Church) in the village. His life in Switzerland is not well documented (by me at least), but he is identified as an Anabaptist at his marriage to Elisabeth Leyenberger on 9 Aug 1711. Elisabeth and her father, Ulrich (a weaver, as were many of the Ulrich family), were also from Wynigen, now living in Jebsheim. Their presence in that location is also evidenced by the registration of a birth in the Jebsheim parish register of Anna Schrag, daughter of Caspar and Elisabeth Leyenberger Schrag on 22 June 1712. The couple had a son, also named Caspar, born in 1711 (the last of our line to be born at Leumberg), either before his parents were married or at least before they were married in the eyes of the State, and thus the birth had not been registered.

Vintage photo of Berckheim Mill  

Through a Mennonite family near Colmar that Del and I had stayed with on an earlier trip, I came into contact with Jacques Jaloux who lives in Jebsheim with his wife Sony. Jacques worked in advertising for an American company, Timken Bearing Company, for 40 years and was deployed by the French military during the Algiers war for Independence. Although he was recovering from recent serious surgery, Jacques gladly agreed to accompany us when in Jebsheim.

A Lutheran turned Mennonite (now part of the Mennonite church in Colmar), Jacques was interested to learn of early Anabaptist activity in his village and agreed to research ahead of our arrival, then accompany our group to several relevant sites. He inquired of several long time

Waterway revealing foundation stones of a mill

Jebsheim residents who knew the history of the 1712 ouster of the Anabaptists from France (thus from Jebsheim) by the Catholic king, and found how silent and ignoring present residents feel for the bad treatment of the earlier Anabaptists who arrived after the Thirty Years War (ca. 1645). It is estimated that 50-80 percent of the population of Jebsheim died from famine and disease as a result of that war. Anabaptists were afterward invited to be a part of reviving the life of the village, but were forced to assemble for worship outside the village in gardens and forests.[4]

One of two village mills in Jebsheim was owned and operated by an Anabaptist family until the ouster, and more than likely that is where Caspar Schrag worked. The war destroyed most of the older structures, but evidently one mill house had survived until the 1940s, when it was torn down. At the time, it was owned by the Berckheim family, one of two noble families connected to the village.

However, the site beside the Elsenheim River (Blind River) still yielded foundation stones. The millstones have been fashioned into a reconciliation monument in “Peace Garden,” called La Croix de Moulin, a joint project conducted after World War II by U.S., French and German troops engaged in the Battle of Jebsheim in January 1945. Not far away is Sigolsheim, with a cemetery where French and American soldiers are buried.

While in the area Jacques led us on an afternoon tour of Colmar’s beautiful sites: Bartholdi museum and Unterlinden museum, but especially interesting is the Customs House where perhaps our ancestor Caspar and other Anabaptists conducted official business from time to time.

Customs House in Colmar, France

When France expelled Anabaptists in 1712, and since there were other Schrag families already living near Zweibrucken, it was a logical move for Caspar and his family to make. Thus, shortly after daughter Anna’s birth the family left Alsace for the Rheinland-Pfalz area of Germany and lived at Ingweilerhof, near Zweibrucken for at least two years where he and wife Elisabeth Weiss were named in 1761 as part of the Amish “Haftler.” Next they show up in Ernstweiler, also near Zweibrucken. Three sons were born in Germany: Johannes Jacob, Ulrich and Niclaus, two at Ingweilerhof. Sometime after 1733, Caspar immigrates to America where he died in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

Their oldest son Caspar, born 1744 on the Ingweilerhof, moved to Lorraine with his wife Barbe Rouvenac and lived near Bistroff at Belgrad Ferme when their son Joseph was born on 17 May 1772. Joseph is the earliest common ancestor of our traveling cousins group and his trail picks up in Lorraine.

Travels in Lorraine, France

During my previous visit to France I had explored the various places where ancestors lived and worked for several generations. Our 2012 trip covered mostly the same territory, but this time I had interested cousins who were new to the area, and, I always gain new understanding with each visit.

Members of the French Pelsy family had in earlier visits welcomed me several times to Lorraine, and in this case they welcomed all six of us with royal treatment: tour guide, lodging, wonderful meals, transport, and lively conversation.

Mouckenhoff sign

After landing in Frankfurt, we enjoyed a pleasant drive to Nancy, capital of Lorraine, where we were welcomed and treated to tasty Alsatian pastries by Mariette and André Pelsy. The next morning we traveled in our two rental cars to Blâmont, Moselle, where Johannes Schrag (our immigrant third great grandfather) married Catherine Elisabeth Salzman in 1826. There we met Jean-Paul Pelsy, a retired food distribution warehouse manager, who became our very knowledgeable guide for this segment of the trip.

Nearby Blâmont is Repaix Anabaptist cemetery, necessarily at the edge of town, since no Anabaptist was allowed burial within the village. The last person to be buried at Repaix, a Mrs. Mosimann, provided funding for the upkeep of the cemetery in perpetuity. Then we drove to Mouchenhof, near Saarebourg, where we stayed for two nights and were graciously hosted by Madame Lydie Kennel of Mouckenhoff, Buhl, Lorraine.

A short distance from Moukenhoff is a small cemetery where several of André Pelsy’s relatives are buried. During WWI the very tiny village of Schneckenbush was in the path of the fighting. When the air raid siren sounded, everyone took cover in the church. At one such time the church was bombed. Many survived, but André Pelsy, the grandfather of André, and six others were killed.

Over the next two days we visited fourteen different sites relating to our ancestry, with the guidance of Jean-Paul Pelsy and his translator Merrilee, a Canadian Mennonite and a teacher. Following are the major sites visited and a description of each, along with its significance to our Schrag ancestors.

Ferme Belgrade/Bellegarde (today Belgrad) & Bischwald Mill: (Bistroff)

Caspar Schrag (mentioned previously), born in 1744 on the Ingweilerhof near Zweibrucken, at some point in his life before 1771 moved to Lorraine, France. He and his wife Barbe Rouvenac (Rufenacht), born 1730, were living on the farm Belgrade near the village of Bistroff and Lake Bischwald when their son Joseph was born on 17 Mar 1772. The mill, “Moulin de Bischwald,” on the lake and near the farm, existed from 1682 to 1857. The next year, 1773, Barbe died and before 1783 Caspar married Marie Blaser, who also lived at Belgrade farm.

Other residents at Bistroff had the familiar names Engel, Gerber, Güngerich, Hisser, Nafziger, Oesch, Schertz, Salzman, Springer, Stalter, and Zehr.

Mill Bischwald Ruins

There was a business connection of sorts between Bischwald mill and Belgrad farm, as many Anabaptist families lived or worked at both places. St. Avold farm and mill, about ten miles away, might have also been connected to the cooperative. At the time of their daughter Catherine’s birth in 1783, Caspar and Marie were living at St. Avold.[5]

We found the grounds at Belgrad badly overgrown. Around back was an area that had been used as a cemetery, but no stones were visible. For sure, some Anabaptists were buried there. Nearby Bischwald mill had deteriorated badly since my visit in 2008.

Alzing Ferme /Bromsenhof: (Gosselming)



These two farms, a few miles apart, were connected in the past. The woman who met us at Bromsenhof was a relative of our guide, Jean-Paul Pelsy. The 1846 census lists Alzing with a population of 28, occupying three houses. The farm was managed at the time by four Anabaptists: three Esch brothers (Chrétien, Nicolas and Pierre) and Jean Suisse. Two other farmers were Catholic.

Caspar Schrag’s son, Joseph, married his first wife, Maria Engel, at Alzing in 1798. Joseph’s second wife, Marie Neuhauser, was also born at Alzing, and they too were married on the farm about two years later.[6]

Domaine Ketzing: (Gondrexange)

Main Ketzing chateau

Ancient well used by Ketzing laborers

Domaine Ketzing was a nobleman’s possession. The baron hired workers to operate the estate; millers for the mill, smithies for blacksmith work, brick workers for the kilns, farmers for the fields, many staff to run the large operation. There was no persecution of Anabaptists at Ketzing during this time. The Duke of Lorraine came to hunt, and was protective of them. Domaine Ketzing is today owned by an insurance company, is used for training employees, and is part of the forestry department. The chateaus provide lodging for hunters.

Jean-Paul had arranged for us to drive to the area of living quarters for laborers, including those of Anabaptists, in the forest a short distance from the main chateau. In 2012 we found a few foundation stones of buildings and the remains of a well that had served the laboring community.
Very soon after their marriage at Alzing, Joseph and first wife Maria Engel were living at Ketzing estate near Gondrexange. Their only child, Joseph, was born at Ketzing in 1799, only to live to the age of five. Marie died soon after his birth, possibly as a result of childbirth complications. Joseph returned to Alzing to marry his second wife, Marie Neuhauser, and then went back to Ketzing to live and work. Their first three sons, Johannes, Pierre, Andreas, and one daughter who evidently died as an infant, were born between 1801 and 1806 at the Ketzing estate.

Panorama of Ketzing estate

Rimling/Remling/Roth Mills: (Imling near Sarrebourg)

There were three mills built side by side on the Saare River in Imling, near Sarrebourg, and many Anabaptists worked those mills over the years. No remnants of the mills remain. Joseph and Marie were living at the Remling mill when daughter Magdalena was born in 1811. She later married Christian Smith in Wayne County, Ohio. Then there follows an eleven-year gap in the family’s history between 1811 and 1822, the year Joseph and Marie turn up at Bachats near Rhodes.

We don’t know if their youngest daughter, Barbara, was also born at Remling. And, was another son born there as well? Oral tradition has passed through generations of Schrock families claiming another younger son named Joseph accompanied the siblings on the boat from France, but was lost from them in Baltimore harbor and never heard from again. So far, no evidence has been found to prove or disprove the story.

Hof Hellocourt: (Maizières-les-Vic)

Horse stables, one of few original buildings

Hof Hellocourt is the birthplace of Joseph Pelsy (Belsly)–a farm about seven miles west from Rhodes. He was known as “Joe de la Rouge,” or Red Joe, because of his distinctive red hair. Joe’s French cousin, Pierre Pelsy, observed about Red Joe’s immigration to America in 1828 at age 26, “It is told he took along a bag of flour, a sack of dried fruit and a belt in which gold coins were hidden. He must have been a very courageous and adventuresome young man.”

Red Joe married Barbara Schrag, youngest daughter of Joseph and Marie. She was probably born in France about 1815, possibly in the Saarebourg area. At some point she immigrated to America and stayed for a while in Butler County, Ohio, where her siblings lived at the time.

Barbara most surely knew the Pelsy (Belsly) family in France and likely married Joseph in Butler County a short time after his arrival there. However, neither her birth record nor her marriage record has been found to date.

One or two original buildings still stand at Hellocourt, but most of the present buildings were erected in 1870. The Germans stored their ammunition nearby during World War I.

Ferme Zelle: (Petit-Tenquin)

Petit-Tenquin is a small village (224 inhabitants in 2009) destroyed during the Thirty Years War and later re-populated by Belgians. There is passage of a Roman road in the village. Ferme Zelle is a former priory of Saint-Denis of Paris.

Ferme Zelle

Our earliest Saltzman ancestor is Christian, born 1719 at Zelle farm and died there in 1795. When son Michel recorded his death the following day he indicated that Christian’s wife, Marie Rediger, was already deceased.

Original Zelle millstone 

Son Michel was born about the year 1755 at Altwiller, and married Catherine Weiss about 1778. The family lived near his parents in Petit-Tenquin, on Zelle farm. However, the births of the children were registered at Sarrable. Nearby was a horse farm, Haras, where Michel also worked. Michel was later at Sainte-Croix near Bachats in the Rhodes area, most probably at the time Jean Gingerich owned one half of the property. At the end of his life Michel evidently lived at Vallerade near Albestroff, for that is where he and his wife died in 1821, just seven days apart.

At the time of our visit, A La Ferme de Zellen was owned by the Koenig–Dubois family. A stream flowed at the back of the well-kept buildings where the mill had been. The Koenig husband and wife owners were interested in the history of the farm and eagerly accepted a copy of my Salzman genealogy.

Vallerade Ferme: (Albestroff)

 Ferme Vallerade

Yet another Michael Salzman, son of Michel, and my 4th great grandfather, was born at Zelle in 1779. Three years before his 1804 marriage to Catherine Hirchy (Hergi), he too was a farmer at Haras, and we know he lived there at the time of his daughter Catherine’s birth in October of 1804. He and wife Catherine had three more children before she died in March of 1814. At the time of her death the family was at Forbach where Michael worked as a miller at Moulin Schlefalermuhl. Only three months later Michael married Magdalena Eymann at Albestroff while working at the farm Vallerade. He and Magdalena had ten children, making Michael the prolific father of fourteen. The couple must have stayed at Vallerade during most of the childbearing years.

Finally, during 1823 Michael was at Belgrad farm near Bistroff, but when his daughter Catherine married in 1826 he was a miller at Xirange. One quickly realizes that Anabaptist families kept following available work, and many stayed on the move until they finally left Europe for America.

When Catherine married, it was to Johannes Schrack (Schrock). These two Schrock and Salzman families became united in a life changing adventure. First, they traveled together to America in the spring of 1831, and second, they lived as immigrant neighbors in Butler County, Ohio until 1850. Michael became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1842 in Butler County, as did his son-in-law, Johannes Schrock in 1844.

Cultural Stops

  • Besides visiting the homes of ancestors we took time to enjoy several cultural sites of Lorraine. At Arzviller we were amazed to watch boats use the Saint-Louis/Arzviller Incline, built to save both water and travel time. Nearby was an interesting crystal factory to tour.
  • Marsal is an ancient village where wars were fought over control of salt mines in the region. In Marsal, where at one time according to Jean-Paul Pelsy Anabaptists operated a restaurant, the Musee Du Sel De Marsel demonstrates how King Louis 14th sold salt to the population.
  • A short time was spent at the nearby Haraucourt-sur-Seille Mennonite Cemetery. It contains the graves of no direct Schrag/Schrock ancestors. In recent years the walled site belongs to, and is maintained by, the town of Haraucourt.
  • Château de Romecourt at Azoudange, built in 1564 on ancient ruins and surrounded by land and forests, is a jewel. Bricks and tiles used in the construction were made on site. The turrets kept anyone from entering: a chapel replaces one of the turrets. This chateau is a picture of how most of the farms were built when our ancestors lived in France—with a completely enclosed courtyard.

Ferme Sarrelfing: (Haut Clocher)

Jean-Paul Pelsy’s grandfather Jordi/Yordy at one time was a tenant of the farm. However, the grandfather joined the war effort from 1914 to 1918, and while he was away his wife was unable to manage the farm and was forced to leave it in 1916. The present owner and resident of Sarrelfing is Samuel Zehr. Jean-Paul is a 7th cousin to me and to Frank Kandel through our Yordy family line.

Anne Schrag, daughter of Caspar and Marie Blaser married Peter Ringenberger at Sarrelfing in 1810. Other names connected to the farm history include Hirschy and Rouvenac.

Domaine Les Bachats: (Rhodes)

Bachats is located on a peninsula of L’Étang de Stock (Stock Pond). A bachat is a feeding trough for cattle, indicating that it may have once been a dairy farm; it remains an operational farm. Part of one building contains original items: a hallway’s stone floor and several doors. All that remains of the mill is a crumbling stone foundation. The owner allowed me to keep one stone as a remembrance. At the time our ancestors were there, Bachats was connected to another nearby farm−Saint-Croix.

Ancient map of Rhodes, showing “le Bachad” and the village church

Since Bachats today includes an inn, I had made arrangements for our group to stay one night on this farm just outside Rhodes where many Anabaptists had lived and worked, including our ancestor, Caspar and his second wife Marie Blaser Schrag, and Joseph and Marie Neuhauser Schrag. I explained to the present owners, J. B. and Veronique Corsyn, the reason for our wish to stay at Bachats and found they too were interested in the farm’s history. Veronique shared with us their file of various collected articles and historical documents about the early years of the farm. To my surprise, included was a downloaded copy of an article I had written for Illinois Mennonite Heritage Quarterly about the Schrock family, with a description of Joseph Schrag’s time spent at Bachats. (

Oldest Bachats building, with blooming
millstone in the yard

For most of the 1700s the French Custine family owned Bachats, then, one Sebastian Antoine Philippe. Later we find names like Guerber, Rouvenach, Gingerich and Eingel in managerial positions.

Caspar and Marie Schrag were living at St. Avold in 1783, but a few years later they arrived at Bachats. Caspar’s work was described in various ways over the years: day laborer, miller, and tailor of clothes. Perhaps at Bachats it was Caspar’s job to make and care for the clothes of the many workers at Bachats and neighboring farm, Sainte-Croix. Caspar still lived at Bachats in 1787 when daughter Ann was born, and his wife Marie died at Bachats in 1792.

Foundation stones of the Bachats mill

Caspar’s life ended in 1794 while he was some distance away from home visiting or working for another Anabaptist family living at Sommerhof. It is not clear where Caspar was buried−at Sommerhof, or was his body returned to Rhodes to be buried somewhere on the grounds of Bachats? Perhaps we will never know.

About thirty years later, in 1822, Caspar’s son Joseph and wife Marie were at Bachats. They were still there in 1826, and no doubt continuously until Joseph’s death in 1830. Joseph’s death document records: “On Apr. 5, 1830, Joseph Serack, 58, miller, a native of the farm called Belgrade, Moselle, husband of Maria Neuhauser, died in Rhodes.” His death was reported by son Peter Serack, 27, miller at Dompcevrin, Meuse.

One year later several of his children left France for America, arriving in Baltimore spring of 1831. To date we have no record of Maria’s death, either in France or America.

Domaine de Sainte-Croix: (Rhodes)

From the Middle Ages Sainte-Croix belonged to the Bishops of Metz, but after the French Revolution, in 1822 it was given to one of Napoleon’s aids. While the typical farm was five acres, Sainte-Croix was five hundred acres. Many workers would spend twelve days on a farm, then go elsewhere and work a while, then on to another farm. They were paid once a year—the day after Christmas–traveling to each place they had worked to collect their wages. However, it seems that Anabaptist workers were more experienced at farming and milling, thus had more stable positions, staying many years as employees of one farm.

Vintage photo of Domaine de Sainte-Croix buildings

In 1802 the farm was divided into two sections: one half is purchased by Charles-Louis Charpillar of Nancy, and the other half by Jean Guingerich. Jean was owner and master until 1825, when the Guingerich family sold their half to a General Mouton who now owned the other half, for 45,805 pounds.[7] Michel Saltzman, born about 1755, was there most probably during Jean Gingerich’s time as owner.

Pierre (Gerald) Singer is the present owner and operator of Domaine de Sainte-Croix, now known as Parc Animalier de Sainte-Crois. ( Pierre invited us to a late afternoon snack in the park at a table situated with a view of the animals ranging below within the park grounds. After good conversation we were taken on a tour of the house and then said our goodbyes to the friendly owner.

The Beginning Becomes the End

Chateau de Gomberaux surrounded by its moat

The morning after our group had first arrived in Nancy, we began our two-week stay with a day trip to Dompcevrin, in Meuse. But on the way there were a few interesting sites not to miss. After a brief stop at Void Vacon Cemetery in order for Jean-Francois Lorentz to visit his great grandfather’s grave, we came to the ruins of Chateau de Gomberaux, built between 1344 and 1357, at one time used by Charlemagne for hunting. The castle was sold to in 1843 to land owners and in the late 1800s the estate was owned by the Christian Kennel family. We spent time walking amid the ruins, imagining ourselves living in such a chateau.

At lunchtime, at the Joan of Arc Brassiere Café in Valcouleurs,[8] we met Frédéric Schwindt.[9] I had been in touch with Frédéric earlier and he agreed to meet our group and guide us in the Dompcevrin area where he lived. We went first to Valcouleurs village cemetery that held a designated space for Anabaptist burials; then through the nearby woods where trees had been trimmed into a tunnel shape to aid in escaping authorities, and where Anabaptists would sometimes meet for worship out of the eyes of the village people; and on to the isolated Roggi farm, Ferme de Louvent Cne de Fresnes au Mont.

Vintage piece of metal showing
the date 1661

Next was a stop at Commercy to purchase Madeleines that are famously made in this town—a very traditional Lorraine teatime cake. The Commercy Madeleine was born in the kitchens of King Stanislas around 1750. Marie Leszczynska, daughter of Stanislas and Queen of France, had them served to her guests. After Stanislas’ death in 1766, one of his pastry cooks set up his own business in Commercy using the royal secrets of the Madeleine.

Frederic explaining Valcouleurs cemetery

We made a short stop in Saint-Mihiel. During WWI Saint-Mihiel was captured by the Germans in 1914, but was re-captured by the French during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel in 1918. It is where American troops launched their first offensive in France during WWI. A Benedictine abbey was established there in 708 or 709 and the library, containing over 9,000 works, is still on the original site. Several works by the 16th-century sculptor Ligier Richier, a native of the town, are housed in the Church of St. Etienne.

Ligier Richier sculpture, The Burial of Christ

Dompcevrin, Lorraine, Meuse

A short history of Anabaptists in the village will help us understand the culture of the area where our ancestors were living previous to their journey to America.

After the year 1712, when Louis XIV decided to chase the Anabaptists/Mennonites out of Alsace, they tended to travel up the rivers into Lorraine and take lease management for mills. Eventually, a group of families reached Dompcevrin in Meuse where mills provided work.

In 1850, the sub-prefect of nearby Commercy writes that the Anabaptist community is “so small and so scattered that it would be difficult to meet for ceremonies of worship.” He continues: “This Anabaptist population is peaceful, quiet, honest, hardworking and deserves our interest but certainly its members are isolated, sparse, it is also a nomadic population. They are millers, farmers, servants, no person operates on his own merits but only on the merits of others, their home is neither established nor fixed so that their number varies every year.” Finally, it confirms that the [worship] ceremonies, very simple, take place in turn, in each and others’ homes, especially in the farms away, a head of household [leads]in lieu of a minister.[10]

The census [in 1850] identifies 29 Anabaptist families and 111 individuals, divided among 18 municipalities in the district. One John Creabil (Kreyenbühl) is mentioned as having leased the mill at Chanteraine: his family is composed of five members. John, the patriarch, a widower of 69 years and his three married children: André, 28, Magdalena, 40, and Catherine, 24. Everyone, men and women, is designated as miller. Millers enjoyed a remarkable technical knowledge and they would handle large sums to win the auction during the letting out of the mills, causing jealousies and resentments among the local people. André Créabil is also chief functionary of the [Anabaptist] community, and a former assembly of the church at Saint-Mihiel. There is a safe bet that the group meetings then were held in Chanteraine. Indeed, in letters of that time addressed to the prefect and the mayor of Saint-Mihiel, they solicited the city to grant a room for worship, but they do not get satisfaction. It is also known that miller’s families dominated the Anabaptist assemblies and monopolized leadership posts. So, the meetings were held at the mills to accommodate more easily all coreligionists.[11]

The picture painted of the village of Dompcevrin is one of a “foreign” community living in the immediate vicinity of the locals, but keeping to themselves and practicing a different religion–mobilizing financial resources from among their family networks in order to lease farms and mills. Different, yet admired to some degree by others.

Ferme de Chanteraine: (Dompcevrin)

Now to the beginning of our trip, that becomes the ending—and to me the most important. The interesting French cultural sidelights were not the main attraction. One of the first places in France I wished to visit was Dompcevrin, northwest of Nancy on Rt. 34 from Saint-Mihiel to Verdun, and Cheppe mill. It was our very first stop the day after arriving: however, its significance to our family falls at the end of our story, as the last residence in France prior to the families leaving for America—Chanteraine, the farm Frédéric felt sure was where the Schrags had lived. To my knowledge, no one in our family line had ever researched Dompcevrin, where documents told of Johannes working at the mill Cheppe. At the time of our visit, Frédéric had not found the exact location of Cheppe mill, but thought it to be at some distance from Dompcevrin.

Panoramic view of Chanteraine

Chanteraine appears on the 18th century Cassini map, and the Napoleonic land registry confirms that it included a mill. Before the Revolution, the main building was originally a castle built for the local noble Bousmard family. Frédéric remembers his grandmother taking him to Chanteraine in the mid 1970s, and telling him that some of the former inhabitants were strange and uncommunicative people—a prejudice that had perpetuated through the decades even to that time.

Chanteraine Chateau

So finally, in September of 2012 we arrived at Ferme de Chanteraine on the outskirts of Dompcevrin. We strolled around the house and mill where Anabaptists were known to have lived. A stream runs through the property and remnants of the mill were still visible both outside and inside the mill house. It was easy to visualize our families living in the house and the four children in their cradles in the yard while the mothers worked the gardens. Today, a family from Belgium owns and works the farm, living on the property during planting and harvesting seasons.

Chanteraine signage

The exact reason for the move of the three brothers from Moselle to Meuse is unclear, except that Peter was in nearby Robert-Espagne in August of 1827, the month he was married. He had found a wife, Magdalena, daughter of Jacob Zimmerman and Elisabeth Becher, in Meuse and no doubt Jacob knew of the possibility for work in the area, since the Zimmerman family was residing in the village at the time.

As noted earlier, families often moved to follow available work, and Peter’s lead likely sparked the move of Johannes and Andreas. We can speculate that Johannes and Catherine moved not long after their marriage in Blâmont, Moselle in 1826. Andreas, the youngest and unmarried, no doubt accompanied one of his brothers from Moselle to Meuse.

Beginning in March of 1828 until June 1830, four Schrag/Schrock children were born, with Dompcevrin given as their birthplace. Son Joseph and daughter Catherine were born to Johannes and Catherine; Peter, Jr. and Magdalena joined parents Peter Sr. and wife Magdalena. The birth records of my direct ancestor Johannes’ two children list the father as a miller at Cheppe mill, in the commune of Dompcevrin.

Four direct descendants of Johannes Schrag /Schrock who no doubt lived in this house: Donna Schrock Birkey, Don Schrock, Frank Kandel, Todd Schrock


Vintage photo of Cheppe Mill

In 2015, Frédéric wrote he had discovered the ruins of a mill named Cheppe just a few miles from Chanteraine, on the other side of Dompcevrin, and it had been closely related to the mill at Chanteraine. Cheppe mill was destroyed in the war in 1914.[12] Realizing it had been so close was a disappointment. However, the fact that there was a Cheppe mill nearby to Chanteraine fuels even more the great probability that our Schrag families lived at Chanteraine while Johannes was working at Cheppe.

The short-term result of our visit to Dompcevrin had been disappointing in not being able to visit Cheppe mill, but the end result was satisfying. All our photos taken at Chanteraine have become the “great probability” instead of “could possibly be” where our immigrant ancestors, Johannes and Catherine and the two Schrag/Schrock brothers Pierre and Andreas, lived prior to sailing from France in the spring of 1831 and arriving in Baltimore some weeks later.

Did they later yearn for the Fatherland? [13] I think not, as they were solidly entrenched into the Butler County, Ohio Amish Mennonite community within several years of their arrival, eventually becoming American citizens. And their American descendants are many!


[1] Mennonite Family History, July 2011, Donna Schrock Birkey

[2] In July of 2016, after not being able to contact Peter by email, I called his phone in Burgdorf. Ritva answered and gave me the sad news that Peter had died in February. I had wanted Peter to verify the Switzerland section of this article, but I’ve taken the information from the material he provided and my notes during the trip, and trust they are correct.

[3] “GeneaNet Family Tree of Peter Schrag,”,;pz=gottfried;nz=schrag;ocz=0;p=marie;n=schrag;oc=1.

[4] Article, Anabaptists of the Bailiwick of the 16th Century Jebsheim

[5] Michael Salzman also worked at both Bistroff and St. Avold, and became the father-in-law of Caspar’s grandson, Johannes, when he married Michael’s daughter Catherine.

[6] Joseph’s two wives were stepsisters. They had the same mother, but different fathers.

[7] Copy of letter from Archives of Moselle, received from Pierre Singer at Sainte-Croix, September 1012.

[8] It was in Valcouleurs that 16-year-old Joan of Arc began her mission. She testified at her trial in Rouen about what she was told by her Voice, “God has great pity for the people of France…Go to Vaucouleurs and thou wilt find there a captain who will conduct thee safely to France, and to the King. Be without fear.” Joan left the town on Feb 23, 1429 to save France.

[9] Frédéric Schwindt is Associate Professor, PhD in Modern History. Research associate at the University of Lorraine – Nancy CRULH.

[10] Ibid. Schwindt

[11] Ibid. Schwindt

[12] Traces immatérielles et micro-histoire : Les anabaptistes-mennonites et la rumeur de Dompcevrin (France) – XIXe-XXe siècles, 2015, Frederic Schwindt

[13] In an 1866 letter from a Swiss Apostolic Christian elder describing the ocean crossing and his opinion of America, he writes, “Unruly passenger was tied to a ladder with hands up high. Many stormy days—water washed over the boat and everyone’s belongings were soaked… appalled at the ‘roughness’ of people in America and the wildness of the land. Illinois soil smelled bad. There were log houses. In the forests much wood was wasted—much burned, stumps left in the ground to rot. But some people got wealthy…O, for the fatherland!”

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