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Ancestral Footprints in the Snow: Hiester Archives
Harriet Hiester's Record of Travels through Wittgenstein 1976


The home of the Furst of Sayn-Wittgenstein [Siegen-Wittgenstein] is impressive. It is located in the health Cure City of Bad Burleburg ? a city famous for it healing bathes. Touring the Schloss was an unusual experience, for this is a home still inhabited by the ?royal? family of Sayn-Wittgenstein: the Grafin (countess), her son, the Furst (Prince), and his wife ? a member of the royal family of Denmark. A very informative elderly man guided the tour ? and it was especially good because none of the museum pieces were labeled, in fact, many of them sat out in the open.

A walk through the older part of Bad Berleburg ? located on a crest of the large hill, displays a variety of houses, the most notable are the Fachwerkhauser ? those with the dark stained cross beams and oftentimes script engraved on them. In this area, the Wittgensteiner Heimat Museum is to be found. Unfortunately, it was closed during my visit there, and appeared to have been closed for quite some time. Across from the museum is the gate house entrance of the Schloss. This building is still used as a residence.

Here is the main section of the Schloss. The tour is primarily the second floor for the elderly Grafin lives in the 3rd floor. This red tower is one of the older parts of the Schloss; it faces out on the large lawn of the garden. A bit further along the old stone wall one can see the ?newer? addition of the Schloss ? built primarily of slate, wood and plaster ? where the Furst and Furstin live with their children. Below their residence is the door hidden in the wall and facing the Rose and wander garden one level lower.

In the huge lawn to the right of the Schloss, one finally finds the teahouse with its ponds and statues. Its rear view overlooks the rose garden at the bottom of the hill. In this huge garden below are many duck ponds and various meandering paths. Not far away one can find the old Schloss greenhouses with what were evidently the homes of the servants surrounding what remains of it. This area is no longer part of the Schloss properties.


The name of Elsoff has changed throughout the years, but its word origin has remained the same. ?Else? is derived from the Germanic term ?aliso?, and can be written either ?else? or ?elira?. The suffix of ?-off/-fe/-phe? refers to running water. The spellings of these two words are interchangeable; therefore Elsoff would still be properly named if it were ?erlenbach?. The spelling of the Elsoffer name has changed throughout the years: 1000 ? Elisopa, 1039 ? Elsapha, 1059 ? Elsaphu, 1194-1247 ? Elsaffen, 1284 ? Elsata, 1294 ? Elscoffe, 1343 ? Elsaffin, 1354 ? Elsaffen, 1366 ? Elsapf, 1394 ? Elsaff, 1606 onward ? Elsoff.

Elsoff, a very small village of about 1200 residents, is very proud of its folksy appearance. In the upper left-hand corner of the postcard ? the house with the window boxes is the one in which the old family bible was located. The picture is the city boundary in the direction of Hatzfeld, the opposite end of the road towards Bad Berleburg. A bit before this sign and up the hill to the right side of the road is shown in my second picture. The Haus Ursula, in which I stayed wit the family Mengel, is the first building on the right side. Note the church in the background.

On the next page are various views of Elsoff. The postcard is from the opposite side of Elsoff from the other two. The lower picture on the right is in the opposite direction from Elsoff (further in the background of the same postcard); this is no longer Sauerland, but Hessen.

The postcard here shows where I stayed when I was in Elsoff. The Mengel family was very friendly and with full-pension, I paid 24dm a night (full meals and bath facilities included for about $10 a night). Their daughter, Baerbel, shown in two of these pictures, was a constant and enjoyable friend. The two of us wandered through Elsoff and the rest of these pictures on these two pages reflect some of my impressions of this home of my forefathers.

On this page, one can see the location from where the sheep were supposedly stolen. The ?old mill?, of which the wheel still turns, but for no further use. I then headed on further to one of the Huester houses! Along a side road, one comes to an old house and an even older barn. The doors of the house are not high and the rooms, although built in 1810, seem designed for much shorter people. The outside of the home didn?t prepare me for the friendly and warm welcome I received from the Huesters who live there.

On the wood above the door are the words ?Durch Gottes hilfe erbaut von Johannes Jacob Huester und Christina, seine Ehefrau, und von auch Johannes Jacob Kuhn und Dorothea, dessen Ehefrau, aufgerichtet 25 Mai 1810? [Through God?s help, built by Johannes Jacob Huester and Christina, his wife, and from also Johannes Jacob Kuhn and Dorothea, his wife, raised on the 25th of May 1810)?. Currently living here is Jacob Huester, who was injured by shellshock during World War II while in Russia, his sister, and his daughter with her husband and son. There is no Huester to carry on the name of the house. Of interest is how much alike the daughter and I appear, although there is a great genealogical gap in our backgrounds!

The other Huester house, the one I believe was perhaps the location of the home of Johannes Huester?s wife after her remarriage to Althauss in 1716. This house was built in 1792, but the barn was built in 1718, the date of which can barely be seen in the last picture. The old family bible is still in the possession of the Althauss family; the first picture is of Christian Althauss, whose father uncovered the old bible under a pile of hay in the attic. The wormholes from this period are easy to see. Inside the bible, one can see the torn page (due either to the age of the book, moisture, rough handling, or perhaps torn out by the emigrating sons). This is a Dr. Martin Luther bible printed in 1699. Shown here is the title page, the first page of Genesis, and an illustrated page within the book. The pages are rough and thick, the cover is made of wood, covered in leather, and no printing is visible upon it.


The old church commands a small hill and is most impressive. Paenner Doud was most helpful in showing me around and helping me with my pictures. He explained that the old graveyard was converted into a mass grave for those many who died in the late 1700?s or early 1800?s of the plague. The new graveyard is some distance away. There was one stone of interest to me, a Marburger grave

The first set of pictures show the inside of the church. The altar area is impressive, but slightly narrower than the body of the church. The organ was a gift donated by an Elsoffer who lived in Rochester, New York. Throughout the pictures, notice the ceiling and wall paintings, which were done in earth-toned shades of browns, blues and roses. The opposite end of the church shows a raised and separated section of the church, possibly the choir section. The entire church insides are of almost rough-hewn wood, the floor planks are quite old and worn, although Paenner Doud said that they were scheduled to receive money for replacing that. In one picture, you see one of the two entrances for the worshippers in the church, opposite to this is a window banked by two large plaques, one of which has the name Huester carved upon it.

This next section of pictures following shows the old record (birth, death, marriage, and events) books of the Vogtei Elsoff since its founding. The first few pictures are of the recently compiled record index book, which is used to prevent over-handling of the old and crumbling records. This book provides the references for the actual entries. The following five pictures show entries from the original records written in old German and Latin: ?Den 4t. xbris (Desembris) ao. 1701 hatt sich Johannes hoester mit Anna catharina Ehlig ver copuliren ?. Hans Wilhelms Marburgers hoch Graefl. Frey ? Zu Altern K ?.?. THE MARRIAGE RECORD OF JOHANNES HUESTER TO ANNA CATHARINA (MARBURGER). ?Elsoff den 12. Mai ao. 1709 hat Johannes Huester und Anna Katharina Eheleut zwei Kinder, Zwillinge, ein Maegdlein und ein Soehnlein taufen lassen. Das Maegdlein ist Anna Gertraud genannt worden und der Bub Johann Daniel? THE BAPTISM FOR THE CHILDREN, ANNA GERTRAUD AND JOHANN DANIEL, BORN IN 1709 TO JOHANNES AND KATHARINA HUESTER. ?Elsoff Mai ao. 1710 hat Johannes Huester und Anna Katharina Elizabeth Eheleut ein Soehnlein taufen lassen ? Das Kind is Johann Jost genannt worden? THE BAPTISM OF JOHANN JOST IN 1710 TO JOHANNES AND ANNA KATHARINA ELIZABETH HUESTER. ?Elsoff den 7. Januar. ao. 1713 hat Johannes Huester und Anna Katharina Eheleut einen Soehnlein taufen lassen. Dessen Gevatter is gewesen Johannes Daniel, der Mutte noch lediger Gesell. Das Kind is Johannes Daniel genannt worden? THE BAPTISM FOR JOHANNES DANIEL BORN IN 1713 TO JOHANNES HUESTER AND ANNA KATHARINA. HIS GODFATHER IS THE SINGLE BROTHER OF THE MOTHER, JOHANNES DANIEL.


Information shared by Elsoff residents to Harriet R. Hiester Girdley

Elsoff, Schwarzenau, Beddelhausen, and possibly also Alertshausen and Christianseck?s founding as a center of living took place in the late 900?s and early 1000?s. In 1059, the Vogtei Elsoff ? diocese of Elsoff ? was formed composed of Elsoff, Biddelhausen, Alertshausen and Christianeck. So this area was settled sometime around then. It is possible, as in many such regions in Germany, land was granted to various knights of the German Order (for example: des Orders beim Deutschen Hause Marburg) in appreciation for their services to the local principality, in this case, the one of Wittgenstein located in Bad Berleburg.

Due to the 1059 Vogtei, the landmark of Elsoff, its church, was consecrated in that year. Its size was ?90 feet by 40 feet? (the choir section was added later) and it was located on the hill of the old graveyard, southwest of the village. The steeple was first built in 1158. In 1824-1828 the church was closed to strengthen its weakening structure and the steeple was rebuilt in 1868. In further restorations in 1912 and 1913, a Romantic style wall and ceiling painting of animals was discovered as was a Gothic painting of the last supper, which is located in the north wall of the choir.

During one of the more recent plagues (presumably in the late 1700?s), there were so many deaths that a mass grave was required. This naturally resulted in the elimination of all previous graves and no gravestones for those buried in this mass grave. A secondary result of the mass grave was that the land rose correspondingly above its previous level, one lower than that of the church.

In these small towns, there was much intermarriage, resulting in weakened strains within many families. Practically, the only infusion of fresh genes came from the various Grafs of Wittgenstein who, for many years, held the right to have a citizen?s (laborer and worker class) bride spend the first night of their marriage in his company.

As the small villages grew, families had to be large to offset the high death rate of children, the available farming land produced less and more was always being demanded for taxes. Naturally, problems arose for:

The weakened soil produced less and less each year.
Younger sons had little or no land to inherit so the professions were flooded, causing many to leave in the hopes of success elsewhere.
Close living and not the best of food encourages the spread of diseases and plagues, a major health problem being one of goiters.

All in all, life didn't improve -- it steadily got worse. One bright point, perhaps, was the founding of the school in 1584, which was used continually until 1812, when a newer one was built.

Between the years of 1681 and 1735, there was much conflict between the Graf August of Wittgenstein and the common citizen, farmer and laborer of the Vogtei Elsoff. In 1725, the conflict was especially severe as the common people wanted to be thought of as free citizens and not as possessions of the local principality. They wanted to be recognized for their accomplishments as farmers today are. The farmers presented themselves against the Wittgensteiner ?city? employees and soldiers. To maintain peace, the Graf requested a commando unit of Nassau-Dillenburger soldiers. Many farmers of the Vogtei, along with their leader and a pregnant woman who tried to drag her husband away, were involved in the actual conflict and were killed. When their families attempted to pull the bodies of their loved ones away, they too were shot, resulting in many wounded and dead in this small part of the 30-Year War, also known in Germany as the Bauernkreig (or Farmer?s) War.


I personally believe that by following the European ?Heister? spelling is to add to our genealogical line a name similar to, but not of the same family. In my research, I naturally traced the ?Hiester? name through the direct descendents back to ?Huester?. It is easy to see how HUESTER became HIESTER. Imagine you are an immigrant asked to write your name in a log or record book. In a country in which English is the accepted language and the script is different that that of other European countries (e.g., Old German script), the umlaut U could very easily be interpreted as an IE in writing (for example, Huester vs. Hiester). I believe this occurred when the first Huester brother stepped on American soil, establishing a precedent for his brothers who later followed.

Going now back further, other forms of the Huester name are presented in the article by Wilhelm Hartnach, where Elsoff church records reflect variations in the name as Hoester, Hoechster, and Hoese. As can be heard, all three sound similar. To aid in pronunciation, remove the umlaut and add the letter ?e? behind each umlauted letter, the reason for John Hiester?s interpretation of Huester.

If I?m to accept any part of name origin, I could agree that Huester was perhaps a descending name from Premischloros Husternitz, the Silesian knight of 1329. However, no genealogical ties have been established.


(Rejection of the assumptions as presented by Isaac Hiester and John P. Hiester)

Johannes Huester (1662-1714): The first (and furthest back) directly related Huester was Johannes. It is known that he was born in 1662, for his burial certificate states that he was 52 years old at the time of his death. Presently, the family line can?t be traced further back for the church records for baptism is missing the pages between 15 October 1654 and the end of December 1667. Johannes Huester?s full name may have been Johann Daniel as first sons during that time were frequently named after their fathers. It is known that on December 4, 1701, Johannes Huester married Anna Catharina Murburger, the daughter of Hans Wilhelms Marburger, perhaps from Allendorf. This page in the book of marriages has been severely damaged and assumptions have been made in regards to the missing script. Johannes and Anna Catharina Marburger Huester are recorded as having 3 children. Johannes died on November 9, 1714, when his youngest son was nearing two and his eldest was five.

Due to primogeniture laws, only men could own property, and sons not of majority were unable to inherit. As a result, widows either quickly remarried or moved into homes of relatives who would care for them for the remainder of their lives. Johannes Huester?s widow was 36 years old at his death, and after a year of mourning, remarried on January 17, 1716 to Johannes Althauss, the son of Johannes Althauss, who was 36 at the time (baptized January 4, 1680).


Johannes had left Germany in 1732, probably by going from the Rhein to Rotterdam and on to America. He went to prepare the way (as vanguard) for his two younger brothers.

While in Elsoff, I wanted to cash a traveler?s check. The size of the village prevented establishment of a bank, so such duties were performed by the mayor in his home. When I presented my traveler?s check, he saw the name ?Hiester? and said, ?So you?re one of those sheep-stealing Huesters!? This led to a retelling of a story documented in the 900-Year Anniversary publication about an interesting event recorded in the Village of Elsoff?s annals regarding the departure of Jost and Daniel for America. On April 23, 1737, Mayor J.C. Fischer?s documented a series of events which may explain the assumption of John Hiester?s history that the three sons of Johannes Huester were men of means.

The night before Easter Sunday, there was a ?farewell party? given after the evening service by the younger people of Elsoff for Jost and Daniel at the guesthouse of Peter Hegers in Christianseck, near Diedenshausen. Things got a bit ?wild and out-of-hand?. Known to this mayor, the stepsons of Johannes Althauss (Jost and Daniel Huester), Johannes Koehler, Johannes Gelbach (the son of Christian Gelbach), Daniel Zacharias, Christina and Maria Benner, and George Gernand were involved. Here it gets confusing, but these youngsters apparently stole some sheep from the old mill area, which they sold to Johannes Gelbach (an uncle to the participant Johannes Gelbach). The plot has been worked-up between Johannes Gelbach (unknown if junior or senior), and the Brenner girls, and participated in by the others.

When, after Easter Sunday services, the crime was uncovered, the Huester boys were gone (assumedly with their share of the profits, thereby giving an impression in America that they had come with the blessings and aid of their father). Jost and Daniel sailed with 430 Palatinates sailed from Rotterdam in 1737 on the ship St. Andrew, commanded by Master John Stedman. The ship stopped at Cowes, Isle of Wight, England on its way to America.

When the mayor tried to clear-up the crime, it appears that the official in charge of this chore was Johann Jacob Gelbach, brother to Johannes and Christian, and another uncle to young Johannes. Naturally, the case was never satisfactorily cleared.

When this story was relayed to me, there was mention made that all the sheep which were stolen belonged to Johann Althauss, the stepfather. If true, this would account for both the wealth the brothers had AND their reason for a quick escape from Elsoff. When I viewed the old Althauss Bible (if it is in truth, originally owned by the Huester family), the first page of records had been perhaps torn out. A bit of the word AMERICA was visible, a notation for Johannes leaving in 1732? If there were bad feelings between Althauss and his stepsons, I can understand that it might have been torn out for the this bible had previously been in Johannes Huester?s family (listing events relevant to them) and due to the remarriage of their mother it was now the Althauss bible.

This page last modified: Sunday, 03-Mar-2002 08:17:08 MST

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