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Schrock European Ancestry (abt. 1550-1772)

Schrag, Schrack, Gerard

This material was used in the Schrock European presentation at the Illinois Mennonite Heritage Center’s “Schrock Immigrant Day” on June 19, 2010. The presentation was made by Donna Schrock Birkey, a direct descendant of Johannes Schrock.

(The following is for personal use only and not to be used in published form without permission.)

Ten years ago a fellow researcher sent me an article by Lorine McGinnis Schulze posted on the OLIVE TREE Genealogy website. It presents an intriguing theory about how many ancestors we actually have, and since it fits into our Anabaptist history I’m going to pass it on to you at the beginning of this European Schrock history.

If we double the number of ancestors in each generation, 2 parents, 4 grandparents, and so on, we can see that by the time we are back 10 generations, we have the potential for 1024 ancestors. But is this true? If we were to go back to the time of Charlemagne, we would find we had the potential for 281 trillion ancestors, each one living at that one moment in history. This is statistically impossible! So where did our ancestors go?

It is estimated that 80% of the marriages in history were between second cousins. Why? Because the population base was smaller, people lived in small communities and migrated within those same small communities. The theory in genealogical research is that our family trees are actually shaped like a diamond, not a pyramid. Tracing back a few generations gives a wider shape. Keep going and you find the shape narrowing, eventually, the theory holds, converging to only a few ancestors.

This may sound mind-boggling, but I’ve seen the truth of it, says the author, (as do I)! “I am back a total of 14 generations which takes me to the last half of the 1500s (as I am). I’ve found that in two cases so far, I am descended from more than one child of one specific couple (as I am)….[as you can see, the gene pool is narrowing along the way].

I won’t give you her family specifics, but if that happens often in the earlier generations (and it does) you can see the shape your ancestral tree is taking—a diamond. Genealogy is fascinating and becomes even more so when we make human contacts in present-day times–like today’s Schrock Immigrant Day event where we are meeting cousins we didn’t know we had.

Now let’s take a look at our European ancestry!


The surname Schrag has its origins in Switzerland. As Schrags moved into France and Germany the name took on phonetic forms of the verbal German pronunciation. Family members who could not read or write had little way of knowing what the magistrate was writing when they reported births, marriages, and deaths. At least one Schrag line kept the original spelling as they arrived in North America, but most lines became the anglicized Schrock.

Early history of the Schrags is not set in stone, but with the information, we have to date I have put together a most likely (probable) short history of the beginnings of the Anabaptist Schrag family. In 1682 the Wyss family purchased a house in Leumberg, near Wynigen from a Hans and Uli Schrag. There is a house on Schrag land near Wynigen still occupied by the Wyss family (at least it was a few years ago), and if this is the same house it would date back close to when Hans Schrag was born in the village of Wynigen about 1550.

It was at that same time that Catholic priests such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli were reading their Bibles and realizing that practices of the Catholic Church such as indulgences were not based in Scripture. They also realized salvation was by faith–not by works. This group of priests felt called by God to “reform” their church. But church clerics weren’t happy about this idea of upsetting the status-quo or giving up their power and authority over their constituents. Thus, counter-measures were taken. As a result of this struggle, Luther posted his 95 theses in 1517 and that act was an early beginning to what we now call the “Protestant Reformation.” A number of years later, other priests including Menno Simmons, feeling Luther and his reformer compatriots had not gone far enough in calling for change, began the “Radical Reformation.” This group of reformers became known as Anabaptists because of their insistence on adult, not infant, baptism and their strong conviction about living a Christian and “peaceful” life, shunning violence of any kind—going beyond just having good theology. They wanted to be known as the Quiet of the Land.

Many of their Swiss neighbors saw them as wonderful people, bothering no one and working hard. But the civil authorities saw them as peculiar and a nuisance, and ordered local authorities to run them out of the country if they wouldn’t have their children baptized in the state church, which by that time had become Lutheran in the areas around Zurich and Bern. These Anabaptists also refused to serve in the Swiss military. They soon became uncomfortable in their land and chose to pull up stakes and move to new territory that held the promise of religious freedom. Many moved to France and Germany and lived there for several generations, leaving their home villages in Switzerland behind, along with the land that was part of their family inheritance.

In the 1700 and 1800s, these families again needed relief from French and German military conscription and began to look at the vast lands of America that would provide a place of religious freedom. Wave after wave of immigrants arrived in the U.S., found land they could tame and farm, settled in communities together as they had been in Europe and endured the hardships of pioneer living. They prospered by purchasing land, raising large families and living out their faith in God in their communities.

This is the heritage our Schrag ancestors have left for us.

 

Wynigen Reformed Church (SW) where birth and death information was recorded for early generations of Schrags. Earliest know was Hanns Schrag born 1547.

The Schrag family originated in their ancestral village of Wynigen, SW, and were identified as “Anabaptists” at Wynigen, Leumberg and Mistleberg in Canton Bern as early as 1700. A Caspar Schrag, born in Wynigen in 1685, was called an Anabaptist when he married Elisabeth Leyenberger in Jebsheim, Alsace, France in 1711.

But to go back a bit further, a Hans Schrag born about 1550 had a son, Hans, born in 1573 in Wynigen. This second Hans had three sons, Uli, Hans (who was the possible owner of the home purchased by the Wyss family) and Niklaus. One of Uli’s sons was named Niklaus and Niklaus had a son Caspar. That brings us five generations into the descendants of the original Hans Schrag of 1550. Our particular Schrock line stems from this Caspar (b. abt. 1710), through several more Caspars, the last being the father of Josef Schrag and grandfather of our immigrant family siblings.

We find our fifth generation Caspar living on the Ingweilerhof near Zweibrucken, Germany, in 1761. The Schrags there were part of the Amish “Haftler” (those who believed buttons were a luxury so instead wore hooks and eyes), along with families Stalter, Hauter, Esch, Eyer, Gut, Nafziger, Gungerich, etc. This group formed their own congregation at Ixheim where they built their own “praying house.” This was separate from the Mennonite congregation that was following “Knopfler” (those who wore buttons); Bachmann, Lehmann, Steinmann, and more. This information tells us our Schrag ancestors followed Jacob Amman as he broke away from the followers of Menno Simons.

Our Caspar (also found on French documents as ‘Caspard’ and ‘Gaspard’), father of Joseph and grandfather of our five sibling immigrants, was born circa 1744 and died on Sommerhof at Neuviller, Lower Alsace in1794.  He was a miller at Bischwald Mill and a cultivator on Belgrade farm at Bistroff after 1772. His first two sons, Andre and Nikolaus, were born while the family was still in Germany near Zweibrucken; Joseph was born in France at Bistroff.

After the death of his first wife Barbe Rouvenac, and soon after Joseph’s birth, Caspar married Marie Blazer. They also had three children. The first child, Jean, was born at Belgrade. Their middle child was born at the farm Oderfang near St. Avold, and the last child was born at Rhodes. At the time of Caspar’s death, he was a tailor of clothes at Rhodes.  His civil death entry from Neuviller described him as a 50-year-old Anabaptist living at Rhodes, so it is likely he was visiting the Sommers family at Sommerhof at the time of his death.  One of the witnesses to his death was tenant farmer Jean Sommer, 63, the father of Joseph Sommer, and grandfather to the Sommers who came to Tazewell County in 1834.

In Rhodes, many Anabaptist families lived on the farm Les Bachats, and it is probable that Caspar lived there as well, although he could have lived just around the lake in the village of Rhodes.

As you have no doubt noted, our Schrock family members were laborers. They did not own or lease these mills or farms but worked for the owners. In some instances, Amish or Mennonite families actually owned or leased the estates, such as the Stalters at Kirschbacherhof and the Sutters at Hellmansburg.

Casper’s son Joseph was first married to Marie Engel in 1798. They had one son, Joseph, born 10 months later in 1799, and who died at the age of five. Marie Engel died sometime between 1799-1800. Very soon Joseph married Marie Neuhauser and their first child Johannes was born in June of 1801. Marie was part of the Neuhauser family that lived in Gosselming and was well known to Schrag and Engel families. Marie’s brother Jean served as a witness to Joseph’s first marriage to Marie Engel. Thus, you can easily see how intertwined these families were and how quickly after death a new family was formed—we hope formed on love, but very likely as important was the need for someone to care for small children.

Schrag ancestors who lived and worked at the farm (and mill) near Bistroff are: Caspar Schrag b. 1744 (grandfather of our immigrants), lived at Belgrade when his son Joseph was born in 1772;  Caspar’s son Jean (Johannes, son of his second wife), was born there in 1773, and married there 24 years later.  Michael Salzman, father-in-law of Johannes Schrock lived at Belgrade for four years when three of his children were born. His daughter, Catherine lived at Belgrade in 1826 when she married Johannes Schrag.

Across the lake, nearer to Bistroff is Moulin de Bischwald (in operation from 1682 to 1857)—connected to the farm in some way, as our families were involved with both the farm work and the millwork. The mill was housed in quite a large building, with a watercourse running from the mill to the lake: on the other side of the lake is Belgrade farm.

After his marriage, Joseph operated the mill in the little town of Gondrexange. His half-sister Catherine and her husband Joseph Oyer operated the same mill at one time. It no longer exists, but there is a street named “old mill road.”

Many Anabaptists lived at Ketzing estate just outside Gondrexange, possibly including our Schrag families. Caspar, Joseph’s father and himself a miller, also lived at Gondrexange. He was there in 1804 when Catherine, daughter of his first wife, Marie Blazer, married Joseph Oyer. It is also the birthplace of three of Joseph and Marie’s children: Johannes was born here according to his marriage document, as were Peter, and Andrew. Later, Magdalena was born in Imling near Saarebourg at the Rimling mill, and Barbara’s birthplace is yet unknown.

  • Joseph lived at the farm Alzing for a time. Both of his wives were born there:
  • Marie Neuhauser in 1772 and Marie Engel in 1774.
  • Marie’s father, Nicholas Neuhauser, died there in 1798, as did his wife,
  • (Marie’s step-mother), Catherine Ritzieker, one week after her husband.
  • Marie’s brother, Jean, was born at Alzing as well in 1775.

Les Bachats is the farm across a small lake from Rhodes and connected to that village. (A bachats is a feeding trough, indicating the farm probably included cattle.) Today it offers bed and breakfast lodging to tourists.

At least two generations of Schrags lived in Rhodes:

  • Joseph’s step-brother Jean was born at Bachats in 1773
  • Joseph’s father Caspar was a miller and tailor of clothes in 1788
  • Caspar’s son Joseph lived there in 1797; he worked at the Bachats mill and was there in 1822
  • and still in 1826 when son Johannes married Catherine Salzman in nearby Blamont;
  • then Joseph died at Rhodes in 1830.

Hellocourt, a farm since the 1700s a few miles east of Gondrexange, is the 1802 birthplace of Joseph “Red Joe” Belsly (Pelsy). He married Barbara Schrag, youngest child of Joseph and Marie. Many of the original buildings are gone–destroyed in the war. Most of the present buildings were erected by the Germans after WWI, but several original structures remain.

It is not known where Joseph and Barbara were married, in France or in America. An account taken from Verna Belsley’s book states: ‘Barbara Schrock had come to this country with her father at the death of the son Christian, to see that representative was found in this country for the goods shipped from France. Expecting to return they brot (sic) with them seed, bits of mechanical machinery, ideas and scientific methods with which Joseph Belsly was inspired.”

But we know Barbara’s father Joseph died in Rhodes and did not come to America. Of course, we can speculate Red Joe and Barbara could have been married in France, had a son named Christian who died in France, and that father Joseph made a trip to America with Barbara and then returned to France. However, if Barbara was born around 1812-15, she would have been 15-18 when her father Joseph died in 1830, not providing much time to be married, have a son and make a trip to America. We need more information before knowing how this all worked out with the couple.

Gondrexange, Rimling and Blamont are near Saarebourg in Moselle, Lorraine, as is Rhodes where Joseph died. But Robert-Espagne and Dompcevrin are farther north in Meuse, Lorraine, between Metz and Reims. There were Schrock families living in that area and our families must have gone there to find work, since Peter is listed as an apprentice miller in his marriage document. Johannes was a miller at Cheppe when his daughter Catherine’s birth was recorded in 1829.  These years in Meuse were unknown to me until February of this year (2010) when our friend Jean-Francois sent birth and marriage documents he found, revealing details of the final years in Europe for three of our immigrants before leaving for America.

Quarterly List of Arrivals at the Port of Baltimore: April-June 1831

(Ship name not known)

  • Members of our Schrag family arriving at that time (all are under the name Gerard or Gerrard):
  • Johannes, Catherine and their children Joseph and Catherine
  • Madaline (Magdalena) (age 19)
  • Peter, Mary and their children Peter and Madaline

4 Comments

  1. Scott Schrock

    Very intersting and I am looking for more info on our geneology, Thanks for this . S Schrock

  2. Dennis William Schrock

    The most interesting article. My father Dale Prosser Schrock’s father was George Washington Schrock, and George’s father was Casper Schrock and I have the total family tree from Caspers arrival in the Us until this current dat of March 28th, 2014.

  3. dbirkey

    Dennis, pleased that you found information on the website interesting and helpful. I will be in touch with you by email today.

  4. Lora Schrock

    Thank you for this interesting information. My sister Barbara has actually gone to that town in Switzerland.

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