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)” . 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: 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:’_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: 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.

3 thoughts on “Peter Scheffe update (Herschberg, Germany)

  1. You might also want to review Roberta Estes’ stories about her early Protestant ancestors who migrated France? to Switzerland to Germany, along the river valleys… They were also affextsd by the 30 Years War.

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