Mid 1600’s – Late 1700’s – Joannes Petrus Mehlbreuer I and Catharina (Unknown)

Our Story of the Mehlbreuer/Mebrauer/Mebreuer/Mebruer clan begins with Joannes Petrus Mebreuer, the oldest ancestor anyone researching this family bloodline can locate. His first name is sometimes Joannes, but I’ve also seen records use his middle name as his first name.  Petrus and sometimes Petri depending on where you’re looking, both of these names are the same as Peter.  This fluctuation in the first name suggests he may have had a brother named Joannes, and therefore he sometimes used his own middle name as a first name.  Petrus is the Dutch form of the name commonly used in Germany, whereas Petri is the alternate form more often used in Finland. Many of the given names in the kingdoms of Germany were derived from German, Dutch, or Latin languages.

The name “John” was particularly common throughout the many kingdoms and principalities. In the German language this name is written as Johann, but was also common in Germany in its Latin form, Joannes, sometimes also spelled Johannes. Other shortened unisex variations for this name were used, including the name Jois and Joes. It was very common for parents to name several of their children the same first name as the child’s father, mother, aunt, uncle or grandparent, and on top of that they would name several of the children the exact same first name to make sure that at least one child would survive to adulthood with that name. Despite high mortality rates centuries ago, if all of those children happened to survive, most would then go by their second name or their baptismal name to differentiate them from their siblings.

Translating or even following surnames through historical records can be quite the debacle. Any surname could have multiple spellings, all the while those with varying spellings could be from the same bloodline or even be the same person. These alternate spellings often occurred for various reasons from preferential spellings to mistranslations. Surnames before the 1800’s were not viewed the same way we view them now. Today, surnames tell us who may be related to who and are passed on to spouse through marriage and children at birth. Beyond indicating the ancestral homeland of the paternal bloodline, they hold little other meaning in our society.

Prior to the 1800’s, surnames were far more interesting and far more telling of historical importance. They told stories, described individuals, and told people what region you were from, or what trade, occupation or family business you or your father practiced. For instance, the name Schumacher is derived from “shoe” and “maker,” indicating that your ancestor who first took on that surname was likely a cobbler. The surnames that end in “son” or “sen” are all derived from the relation of father and son through their given names, this practice is called patronymic naming. As an example, the surname Peterson, literally means “son of Peter,” the name Hansen, literally means “son of Han,” the name Patterson literally means “son of Patrick,” and the name Anderson means “son of Andre.” There are other variations, such as the name O’Reily or O’Brien, these derive from “of Reilly” and “of Brien,” meaning that person is the offspring of that particular father. The letter “s” or letters “es” at the end of a name were also possessive indication for “the child of.”

Surnames can also tell a story or describe the first person who started using it. Such things as the color of their hair, their eyes, their height, or even skin color were used to form surnames. Surnames were also derived from locations where families lived and if the family moved to another location they would change their last name to match their new province, township, or village. Not only did they change their names if they moved, they also changed them if the predominant language in the region was different. This practice was continued when many emigrated from their home countries and came to the United States. Altering their last names from the old Germanic, Dutch, or Latin versions and choosing instead more English versions so that they could blend in with those already living in the region.

In some cases men would take on the maiden name of their spouse if she inherited land, a business, or some other estate from her father. This practice would strengthen the man’s claim to his wife’s inheritance and since women at that time were not considered capable of dealing in land ownership or business, it was customary for the husband of the eldest daughter to take over his father-in-law’s affairs if the deceased father-in-law did not have any sons. Sometimes her husband would take her maiden name and cease using his own surname or he would retain his surname and add in her maiden name, with the word “genannt” appearing in between the two last names. An example would be Ivan Borgmeyer genannt Stroud. The word “genannt” means “called,” which tells people that even though this person may have been born a Borgmeyer, he is also legally entitled to the estate or business of the Stroud family.

The practice of changing surnames in the German kingdoms and imperial principalities continued well into the 1800’s when most of them began to issue decrees requiring the practice to stop. While it took another couple generations for it to end, it finally fell out of common practice before the turn of the century.

Given first names were also often changed for various reasons. Locations and religions played heavily into the giving of first names and how many of them were given at birth or christening. Germany was not always one single country, instead it was many kingdoms, territories and imperial principalities divided up, and the states in the west were not the same heritage as those in the east. Religion played a major role in the conflicts between these different states, particularly between those that were Catholic and those that were Protestant. Prominent kingdoms that would later arise at the dawn of the 19th century in Germany included the Kingdom of Hanover, the Kingdom of Saxony, the Kingdom of Hessen, the Kingdom of Prussia, the Kingdom of Westfalen, and the list goes on and on. Though some of these kingdoms were short-lived, others such as the Prussian Kingdom rose to take over most of what is now Germany.

The surname Mehlbreuer is the most Germanic form of the surname, where as Mebreuer is the more Latin form often used by those of the Catholic religion. It is highly likely that most versions of this name originated as Mehlbreuer, but the more Latin version was favored as the Catholic Church still held sway in the German kingdoms and principalities in direct opposition to the rise of Protestant churches; both of which replaced the old Germanic folk religions of that time. Other versions of this surname existed, but were less common. These include Melbreuer and Mebrauer, but in the historical records they occur few and far between and may simply be mistranslated spellings. Regardless of the spelling, the origin of the name remains the same. “Mehl” is the German word for malt or flour, and the German word “breuer” literally means brewer.

Therefore, the origin of the German name Mehlbreuer has an occupational link. The ancestor that first took on this surname was likely in the fermentation business, perhaps making various types of fermented drinks from dried grains, but may also have been using dried fruits which were becoming popular in Germany at the time, drinks such as wine and brandy, and a drink called kirschwasser which was particularly popular and was made from cherries.

Much of what we know about ancestry dating back before the 1800’s was retained in Catholic and Protestant church record books and civil registers, where births, baptisms, and marriages were recorded. Dates of death are often unknown for this reason, as recording deaths was not as common and would remain so until the 1800’s in Germany and the early 1900’s in the United States. The records for birth, baptism (christening), and marriages, were usually not very detailed. In most cases we are given dates for all types of records, the name of the child and at least one parent with the location if it was a baptismal record, and the names of parents and the church if it was a marriage record.

Information about Joannes Peter Mehlbreuer is based on second-hand knowledge, information given to me by someone else researching this family bloodline. Despite endless searching I have not been able to find any specific records about him and I am unsure where the information the other researcher presented had come from, but the only sources that would go back that far are church and civil records. What I did find on my own were many church records about his grandson, so I can only assume that church records were the sources of information the other researcher discovered. Despite the lack of definitive first-hand knowledge, the following information is considered true and is therefore presented as such until any future information can be presented and supported with historical references.

Joannes Peter Mehlbreuer I

Birth: Circa 1650
First Marriage: Circa 1674
Second Marriage: February 26, 1696
Death: May 1, 1711
Source of Information: Unknown

1st Wife: Catharina (maiden name is unknown)

Parents: Unknown
Birth: Circa 1650
Death: Circa 1695
Source of Information: Unknown

2nd Wife: Anna Maria Riger

Parents: Hans Riger and Barbara (maiden name is unknown)
Birth: November 19, 1645
Death: Circa 1720
Source of Information: Catholic Church records from Rotenfels, Gaggenau, Baden-Wurttemburg, Germany. Archived via batch# C94309-1 of the Germany-ODM system, microfilm number 1044090.

Joannes Peter was likely born in the town of Geisenheim in the Nassau region of the state of Hessen, Germany. This town has long been famous for its wine and other fermented drinks, dating back centuries. Considering this information, his last name is likely not a coincidence. He was born sometime around the year 1650. He married his first wife, Catharina, sometime around 1674 in Geisenheim. Her place of origins is unknown, but assumed to be the same region.

From this marriage would come nine children, the dates of birth are estimated based on when they were baptized:

  1. Magdalena (born on or just before August 4, 1675) She eventually married a Jacobus Stelzer, though the source of this information is unknown.
  2. John Paul (born on or just before October 24, 1677)
  3. Nicolaus and Anna Clara (twins born on or just before April 2, 1680)
    The male twin, Nicolaus, did not survive.
  4. Nicolaus (born on or just before April 5, 1682)
  5. Peter II (born on or just before April 9, 1684)
  6. Anna Margaret (born on or just before July 11, 1687)
  7. Catharina (born on or just before November 25, 1690)
  8. Andrew Bernard (born on or just before June 19, 1694)

Sometime in 1695, Joannes Peter’s wife, Catharina, passed away of unknown causes. Though they had many children it is highly unlikely that all of them survived to adulthood. A fourth to a third of all infants in the kingdoms and principalities of Germany died within their first year during the 17th and 18th century, and half of those that did survive beyond infancy would die before the age of ten. From disease to a lack of nutrition, times were hard, unless your family was one of nobility, and even then the frequent wars between the states or kingdoms and outside interference from other powers and countries such as the Holy Roman Empire, France, Spain, and England left the regions in constant unrest.

Joannes Peter’s second marriage occurred on February 26, 1696 to Anna Maria Riger. Though she was born in Baden, which was then an imperial principality of the Holy Roman Empire, civil unrest including the 30 Years War saw the migration of many families out of this region. Further north was Hessen, a mostly rural land at that time which would not see much unrest until centuries later when its own civil unrest between high ranking families would see it divided. It is likely that her father took his family north to get away from the religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants and the political pressures of warring kingdoms and influential nations that surrounded Baden.

Two sons would be born from this marriage, the dates of birth are estimated based on baptismal records:

  1. John Bernard (born on or just before December 28, 1696)
  2. John Peter (born on or just before April 18, 1699)

On May 1, 1711, Joannes Peter passed away of unknown causes at the age of 66. Though it may not sound like old age by today’s standards, most people never reached the age of 60 at this time in Germany. Anna Maria would survive another nine years before passing away at the astonishing age of 75. What became of Joannes Peter’s other surviving children is unknown to me, I have not found any records of their lives or deaths. Therefore, Peter II is the only child with whom we will continue the family bloodline. I will be using the suffix I, II, etc, to differentiate the many Peters to follow in this family bloodline, but it’s important to note that no records I have seen ever used them or Jr., Sr., etc.

As we continue I will cease to use the old Germanic spelling of Mehlbreuer, as its use faded from the records and is replaced by the more common Latin version, Mebreuer.