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A Guide for Your Family
 History Research

Origins of

the Surname

Variations of

the Surname

Armorial Bearings,

 Symbols and Mottoes

Locations of

the Surname

Internet Resources

Our Family History



Origins of the Surname

Origins of the Surname

An Introduction

to the Surname


of the Surname

History of

the Surname

More About


An Introduction to the Surname

An Introduction to the Surname

The practice of inherited family surnames began in England and France during the late part of the 11th century.   Surnames were first utilized in the Germanic region of central Europe during the second half of the 12th century.  The custom of taking on surnames began in the southern areas of Germany, and gradually spread northward during the Middle Ages.  It took about three hundred years for this tradition to apply to most families and become a constant part of one’s identity.        With the passing of generations and the movement of families from place to place many of the original identifying names were altered into some of the versions that we are familiar with today.  Over the centuries, most of our European ancestors accepted their surname as an unchangeable part of their lives.  Thus people rarely changed their surname.  Variations of most surnames were usually the result of an involuntary act such as when a government official wrote a name phonetically or made an error in transcription. 


Map of European Languages

Research into the record of this PORTNER family line indicates that the variations, meanings and history of this surname are most likely linked to that area of Europe where French, German linguistic traditions are commonly found. 

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Sources and Meanings of the Surname

Source(s) and Meaning(s) of the Surname

Most modern Germanic and French family names are a means conveying lineage.  For the most part, German surnames were developed from four major sources: (1) Patronymic & Matronymic surnames most common in northern Germany are based on a parent’s first name, such as Niklas Albrecht (Niklas son of Albrecht);  (2) occupational surnames are last names based on the person’s job or trade for example Lukas Fischer (Lukas the Fisherman);  (3) descriptive surnames are based on a unique quality or physical feature of the individual like Karl Braun (Karl with brown hair); (4) geographical surnames are derived from the location of the homestead from which the first bearer and his family lived such as Leon Meer (Leon from by the sea), or derived from the state, region, or   village of the first bearer's origin for example Paul Cullen (Paul from Koeln/Cologne).

Most of the modern English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh family names throughout Great Britain have originated as a result of the following circumstances: patronym or matronym, names based on the name of one's father, mother or ancestor, (Johnson, Wilson). Each is a means of conveying lineage; occupation (i.e., Carpenter, Cooper, Brewer, Mason); habitational (Middleton, Sidney, or Ireland) or topographical (i.e. Hill, Brook, Forrest, Dale); nicknames (i.e., Moody Freeholder, Wise, Armstrong); status (i.e. Freeman, Bond, Knight); and acquired ornamental names that were simply made up.

The Portner surname is derived from the Old French elements “porter” and “nuit”, meaning “carry” and “night”, suggesting that the name may have originally been occupational, for someone who worked as a porter at night.  Pörtner is also a North German occupational name for a doorkeeper or gatekeeper, from an agent derivative of Middle Low German port(e) ‘gate’.  

Porter is a common English surname and also a given name. The name also originates as an Old French occupational name, portier (gatekeeper; doorkeeper), or porteour ("to carry").

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History of the Surname

History of the Surname

Most Germanic Surnames from Central Europe have their roots in the Germanic Middle Ages.  The process of forming family names in what is present day Germany began during Middle High German period in the history of the German language from the early 12th Century to the 16th century The nobility and wealthy land owners were the first to begin using surnames.  Merchants and townspeople then adopted the custom, as did the rural population.  This process took two or three centuries.  In most of the Germanic States of the Holy Roman Empire, the practice of using surnames was well established by the 1500s.

Surnames of the British Isles as we know them today were first assumed in Europe from the 11th to the 15th century. They were not in use in England or Scotland, before the Norman Conquest of 1066, and were first found in the Domesday Book of 1086. The employment in the use of a second name was a custom that was first introduced from the Normans who had adopted the custom just prior to this time.    Soon thereafter it became a mark of a generally higher socio-economic status and thus seen as disgraceful for a well-bred man to have only one name.  It was not until the middle of the 14th century that surnames became general practice among all people in the British Isles

The concept of French Surnames come from the Medieval French word 'surnom' translating as "above-or-over name," surnames or descriptive names trace their use back to 11th century France, when it first became necessary to add a second name to distinguish between individuals with the same given name. The custom of using surnames did not become common for several centuries, however.


     PORTNER, PORTER, or PORTIER are very old French, English, and Germanic names and are one of the early names recorded in Europe.   Due to its popularity and duration this name, and its variant spellings, have traveled widely in many forms throughout the continent.       

     The Germanic Portner was most likely first found in the area of central Europe current encompassing southern Gernany western Austria and Northern Switzerland the locality of BerneSwitzerland, where the name came from humble beginnings but gained a significant reputation for its contribution to the emerging mediaeval society.   

    The earliest public record of th English surname Porter is in 1086 at Winchester Castle.   Other early records that mention the surname are: Willelmus PORTANUS, who was recorded in the year 1183 in County Berkshire. Adam PORTER was documented in 1300 in the County of Somerset and Richard le PORTER, of County Somerset, was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379. A later instance of the name includes Mr John PORTER who was buried at St. Antholin Church, London in the year 1674.

    The French variant of Portier was first found in Berry in central France where the family seat was located in d”Ysserteux.  Later members of this noble family branch to Riants.




     The Germanic surname Portner appeared quite early into the former British colonies of North America, especially William Penn’s Province of Pennsylvania.  One reason for this was that after the prince of the Electorate of Hanover, in Germany also became king of England in 1715, as a result German emigration to America was greatly encouraged from that time on to about 1777.  A resulting factor of this great migration is that the Portner German name tends to be confused with the English versions due to the fact that the name from both countries is often in the same or similar spelling, which is perhaps not surprising as they share pre 7th century "Anglo-Saxon" roots.   Many of these German immigrants, particularly those with easy English equivalents, were encouraged and in some cases required to change to an English spelling.  Many persons with the Portner surname changed the spelling to the English Porter which has the same sound when pronounced in English.  Also many German surnames were re-spelled in America because of the close relationship between the English and German languages.     This was the case with many sea captains or their agents who, when making up the ships passenger lists, found it easier to use a more familiar English spelling.   As the general level of education in America increased after the American Civil War many formerly illiterate immigrants and their descendents began to standardize the spelling of their surname.  Also after the start of World War One, Germans in the United States, in great numbers, Anglicized their names in an effort to remove all doubt as to their patriotism.  According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, Porter ranked #433 in 1907, declined to #1002 in 1944, then rebounded to #476 in 2006.

Some Notable Persons or Places Having This Surname

Some of the best known bearers of the PORTNER, PORTER, PORTIER name or its close variants are: Anthony Portier (born 1982), Belgian footballer;  Michael Portier (1795–1859), American Roman Catholic bishop;  Andrew Porter (Civil War general), Union general in the American Civil War;  Jane Porter (1776–1850), Scottish novelist and dramatist;  Peter Buell Porter (1773–1844), US Secretary of War and congressman from New York;  Paul Pörtner, (25 January 1925 – 16 November 1984) was a German playwright, novelist, translator, and editor;  Peer Portner, (January 8, 1940 – February 9, 2009) was a heart researcher whose work led to the development of the ventricular assist device, an electrical pump that permits patients in heart failure to survive until a heart transplant could be performed.  Margit Pörtner, is a Danish curler and Olympic medalist. She received a silver medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.  She has received two medals at the World Curling Championships, and is European champion from 1994.

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More About Surname Meanings & Origins

More About Surname Meanings & Origins


Many German names have their roots in the Germanic Middle Ages. The process of forming family names began early in the 12th Century and extended through the 16th century. All social classes and demographic strata aided in the development of names. First Names (Rufnamen) identified specific persons. Over time the first name began to be applied to the bearer's whole family.  At first through verbal usage, family names (Familiennamen) were later fixed through writing.  Until the 17th century, first names played a more important role. The earliest family names derived from the first name of the first bearer (Patronym). Later names derived from the place of dwelling and location of the homestead.  If a person of family migrated from one place to another they were identified by the place they came from.  Of more recent origin are names derived from the vocation of profession of the first bearer. These names comprise the largest group and the most easily recognizable, for they tell what the first bearer did for a living.  Another group are names derived from a physical or other characteristic of the first bearer.  Finally, there are names that tell you the state or region a first bearer and his family came from; the age old division in tribes and regions (Low German, Middle German and Upper German) is often reflected in names.


Although the Domesday Book compiled by William the Conqueror required surnames, the use of them in the British Isles did not become fixed until the time period between 1250 and 1450.  The broad range of ethnic and linguistic roots for British surnames reflects the history of Britain as an oft-invaded land. These roots include, but are not limited to, Old English, Middle English, Old French, Old Norse, Irish, Gaelic, Celtic, Pictish, Welsh, Gaulish, Germanic, Latin, Greek and Hebrew.  Throughout the British Isles, there are basically five types of native surnames. Some surnames were derived from a man's occupation (Carpenter, Taylor, Brewer, Mason), a practice that was commonplace by the end of the 14th century.  Place names reflected a location of residence and were also commonly used (Hill, Brook, Forrest, Dale) as a basis for the surname, for reasons that can be easily understood.  Nicknames that stuck also became surnames.  About one-third of all surnames in the United Kingdom are patronymic in origin, and identified the first bearer of the name by his father (or grandfather in the case of some Irish names). When the coast of England was invaded by William The Conqueror in the year 1066, the Normans brought with them a store of French personal names, which soon, more or less, entirely replaced the traditional more varied Old English personal names, at least among the upper and middle classes. A century of so later, given names of the principal saints of the Christian church began to be used. It is from these two types of given name that the majority of the English patronymic surnames are derived and used to this day.  Acquired ornamental names were simply made up, and had no specific reflection on the first who bore the name. They simply sounded nice, or were made up as a means of identification, generally much later than most surnames were adopted.   Source:


Suffixes & Prefixes - While not in common use as in Italy or Sweden, some French surnames are formed by the addition of various prefixes and suffixes. A variety of French suffixes including -eau, -elet, -elin, -elle, and -elot, mean "little son of" and can be found attached to a given name to form a patronym. Prefixes of French surnames also have specific origins. The prefixes "de," "des," "du," and "le" each translate as "of" and may be found used in patronymic and geographical French surnames. Some French-Norman patronymic surnames will have the prefix "fritz," from the Old French for "son of" (Fitzgerald - son of Gerald). 

Alias Surnames or Dit Names - In some areas of France, a second surname may have been adopted in order to distinguish between different branches of the same family, especially when the families remained in the same town for generations. These alias surnames can often be found preceded by the word "dit." Sometimes an individual even adopted the dit name as the family name, and dropped the original surname. This practice was most common in France among soldiers and sailors.

Germanic Origins of French Names - As so many French surnames are derived from first names, it is important to know that many common French first names have Germanic origins, coming into fashion during German invasions into France. Therefore, having a name with Germanic origins does not necessarily mean that you have German ancestors!

Official Name Changes in France - Beginning in 1474, anyone who wished to change his name was required to get permission from the King. These official name changes can be found indexed in: Jérôme, archiviste. Dictionnaire des changements de noms de 1803 à 1956 (Dictionary of changed names from 1803 to 1956). Paris: Librairie Française, 1974.   Source: French Surname Meanings & Origins

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Variations of the Surname

Variations of
the Surname

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Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to unfold and expand often leading to an overwhelming number of variants.  As such one can encounter great variation in the spelling of surnames because in early times, spelling in general and thus the spelling of names was not yet standardized.  Later on spellings would change with the branching and movement of families. The complexity of researching records is compounded by the fact that in many cases an ancestors surname may have been misspelled.  This is especially true when searching census documents.  Spelling variations of this family name include: Portnoy, Portnew, Portno, Porter, Pourtier, Porterau, Porzier and many more, (as noted below). 

Spelling variations of this family name may be ascertained through the utilization of several systems developed over the years.  The most prominently known are Soundex, Metaphone, and the NameX systems.  Of the three we recommend NameX as the most accurate for family historians.

Click on the button to find the variants of this or any other surname by utilizing The Name Thesaurus a ground-breaking technology for finding Surname and Forename variants.

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This useful genealogy research tool has identified 385 million variants for 5,929,000 Surnames and 26 million variants for 1,246,000 Forenames, as well as gender identification for more than 220,000 Forenames.

NameX matched 151 spelling variations of the PORTNER surname. The top 22 are:

Metaphone is a phonetic algorithm, first published in 1990, for indexing words by their English pronunciation.  It fundamentally improves on the Soundex algorithm by using information about variations and inconsistencies in English spelling and pronunciation to produce a more accurate encoding. Later a new version of the algorithm named Double Metaphone was created to take into account spelling peculiarities of a number of other languages. In 2009 a third version, called Metaphone 3, achieves an accuracy of approximately 99% for English words, non-English words familiar to Americans, and first names and family names commonly found in the U.S.  The Metaphone Code for PORTNER is PRTNR.  There are 63 other surnames sharing this code.


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The Soundex System was developed in an effort to assist with identifying spelling variations for a given surname. Soundex is a method of indexing names in the 1880, 1900, 1910, and 1920 US Census, and can aid genealogists in their research.  The Soundex Code for PORTNER is P630.  There are 2839 other surnames sharing this Code. 

If The Name Thesaurus doesn’t adequately address the name you are looking for check out the following link:

Top 10 Tips for Finding Alternative Surname Spellings & Variations

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Locations of the Surname

Locations of
the Surname

Locational Distribution of this Surname

Historical Distribution of this Surname


Locational Distribution of This Surname

Locational Distribution of This Surname

Knowing the geographical areas where the surname you are researching is clustered and distributed is an indispensable tool in deciding where to focus your research.  We believe that the “Public Profiler” website will open up to you a wide range of solutions which implement current research in spatial analysis.  This site provides an array of local spatial information tools useful to the genealogist. 

The information presented herein shows where the PORTNER surname is distributed within North America as well as in Europe the location of origin for this surname.      Statistics show that the country were this surname is the most highly clustered is Switzerland with approximately 54.94 persons per million of population.  The density of population in the within the United States is 5.72 persons per million of population.  The top region in the World where this surname is the most highly clustered is Espace Mittelland, Switzerland with 159.20 persons per million, and New Ulm, Minnesota, USA is the top city where this surname is found.

North America


Portner - NA

Portner - Euro

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The information presented herein shows where the PORTER surname is distributed within North America as well as in Europe the location of origin for this surname.      Statistics show that the country were this surname is the most highly clustered is Australia with approximately 829.46 persons per million of population.  The density of population in the within the United States is 169.50 persons per million of population.  The top region in the World where this surname is the most highly clustered is Donegal, Ireland with 3389.07 persons per million, and Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK, is the top city where this surname is found.

North America


Porter - NA

Porter - Euro

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The information presented herein shows where the PORTIER surname is distributed within North America as well as in Europe the location of origin for this surname.      Statistics show that the country were this surname is the most highly clustered is France with approximately 110.06 persons per million of population.  The density of population in the within the United States is 3.3 persons per million of population.  The top region in the World where this surname is the most highly clustered is Pays-de-la-Loire, France with 240.21 persons per million, and Paris, France  is the top city where this surname is found.

North America


Portier - NA

Portier - Euro

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Click on the LINK to the right to see more information about the World distribution of a surname.  You can

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get greater detail for any of the following maps by clicking on the area, i.e state, county that you are interested in.

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LINKS to more websites that compute distribution maps for any surname.

·        Database of Surnames in the Netherlands

·        Database of Surnames in Belgium

·        Names Distribution in France

·        Map of the surname: Austria

·        Distribution of Surnames in Spain

·        Map of the Surname: Switzerland

·        Distribution of Surnames in Italy

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Historical Distribution of this Surname

Historical Distribution of This Surname

The main value in historical surname distribution databases and maps is that they enable genealogists to pinpoint the predominant location of a surname. This can quickly narrow down your search for a BDM certificate.  Knowing where to look is half the battle to finding ancestry records; if you can narrow down the search field it can save you a lot of time and trouble.  The core of historical surname distribution is that most people stayed within a fairly close locale.  Concentrations of surnames are clearly visible on Surname Distribution Maps, and name distribution tables (along with an atlas) make it quite likely that the origin of that name is from the area of its highest concentration.

The following “historical locations” for the Porter, Portner, and Portier surnames and some of its close variant spellings have been primarily extracted from either Burke’s The general armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, or Rietstap’s Armorial General.   Both books were first published in the 1860’s and revised over the next two decades.  The information therein is relevant to that period as well as earlier times as far back as 1500.   Most of the locations cited by Riestap are on the continent of Europe such as Germany, France, Switzerland, etc.       






Austrian Empire



Portner (3)

Augsburg; Höflein; Regensburg



Porter (39)

Bruges, Brittany; Lancashire; Cumberland; Buckinghamshire; Cornwall; Lincolnshire; Durham; Gloucestershire; Warwickshire; Isle of Wight; Kent; Sussex; Suffolk; London; Worcestershire; Surrey; Meath; Fermanagh; Tyrone; Kirkcudbrightshire

Portier (9)

LanguedocFranceGenevaYverdon-les-BainsSavoyFranche-Comté; Brittany; Île-de-France; Champagne;  

(2) = the frequency with which this place occurs.

We recommend that you utilize our Tools for Finding Ancestral LocationsIf you have an elementary knowledge of heraldry you may wish to use this practice to trace your founding forefather.  For more information about this approach to seeking out your ancestral locations see our Using Heraldry as a Family History Research Tool.  

LINKS to various websites that compute surname distribution maps within an historical context.

·        Great Britain Family Names - 1881 Census

·        England and Wales: 1891 Census

·        Scotland: 1891 Census

·        Distribution of surnames in Ireland in 1890

·        Family Name Distribution in Germany: 1942

·        Nom de famille en France: 1891-1915; 1916-40; 1941-65; 1966-90

·        United States: 1920

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Armorial Bearings, Mottoes & Symbols

Armorial Bearings, Mottoes & Symbols


An Introduction to

 European Heraldry

Gallery of Images

Descriptions of the

Armorial Bearings

Motto(es) Associated

 With This Surname

Heraldry as a Family

History Research Tool

More About

Armorial Bearings


An Introduction To European Heraldry

An Introduction to European Heraldry

The seeds of heraldic structure in personal identification can be detected in the account in a contemporary chronicle of Henry I of England, on the occasion of his knighting his son-in-law Geoffrey V, Count of Anjou, in 1127. He placed to hang around his neck a shield painted with golden lions. The funerary enamel of Geoffrey (died 1151), dressed in blue and gold and bearing his blue shield emblazoned with gold lions, is the first recorded depiction of a coat of arms.

       By the middle of the 12th century, coats of arms were being inherited by the children of armigers (persons entitled to use a coat of arms) across Europe. Between 1135 and 1155, seals representing the generalized figure of the owner attest to the general adoption of heraldic devices in England, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy.  By the end of the century, heraldry appears as the sole device on seals.  In England, the practice of using marks of cadency arose to distinguish one son from another: the conventions became standardized in about 1500, and are traditionally supposed to have been devised by John Writhe.

     In the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, heraldry became a highly developed discipline, regulated by professional officers of arms. As its use in jousting became obsolete, coats of arms remained popular for visually identifying a person in other ways – impressed in sealing wax on documents, carved on family tombs, and flown as a banner on country homes. The first work of heraldic jurisprudence, De Insigniis et Armis, was written in the 1350s by Bartolus de Saxoferrato, a professor of law at the University of Padua.

    In the Germanic areas of Central Europe heraldry spread to the German burgher class in the 13th century, and even some peasants used arms in the 14th century.  A German coat of arms is usually referred to by any of the following terms; Wappen, Familienwappen, Blasonierung, Heraldik, or Wappenschablonen.

     In the British Isles the College of Arms, (founded in 1483), is the Royal corporation of heralds who record proved pedigrees and grant armorial bearings.  In Scottish heraldry, the Lord Lyon King of Arms in the Act of 1672 is empowered to grant arms to "vertuous [virtuous] and well deserving persons."

     Although heraldry in France and the lowlands of Belguim and Holland had a considerable history, like England, existing from the eleventh century, such formality has largely died out in these locations. The role of the herald (héraut) in France declined in the seventeenth century.  Many of the terms in international heraldry come from French.

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Gallery of Images

Gallery of Images 

Click on image for full-size

Portner von Augsburg copy

Portner of Helfein copy copy

Portner vonTeurn

Portier de Genevois

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4

Portier de Languedoc

Portier von Yverdon

Portiere de Beaujours

Portnau von Austria

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 7

Figure 8

Porter of Lincoln

Porter of Kirkcudbright

Porter of Warwick

Porter of Meath

Figure 9

Figure 10

Figure 11

Figure 12

Descriptions of the Armorial Bearings

Descriptions of the Armorial Bearings

Heraldry symbols such as the colors, lines and shapes found on coats-of-arms are generally referred to as charges.  Although there is some debate over whether or not the charges have any universal symbolism many persons do believe they may represent an idea or skill of the person who originally had the armorial bearings created.  If this assumption has any validity charges may provide clues to early family history of that person.  The associated armorial bearings for this surname and close variant spellings are recorded in Burke’s General Armoire and Rietstap’s Armorial General.  The additional information, presented below, is offered with regard to the armorial bearings depicted above.

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Figure 1: Portner von Augsburg

  These armorial bearings were granted to a Portner of Augsburg, a city in the south-west of Bavaria, Germany.  The Portner family was seated here at Wellenburg Castle.   Heinrich Portner  was among the most influential of this noble family.  He and Johan Portner both held the office of mayor during the first half of the 14th century.  A Conrad Portner was also prominent at Augsburg during the second half of this century.  

     The arms have a silver shield on which are three keys. The crest shows a flight of the same three keys. The key is a symbol of knowledge and of guardianship.  Because the name Portner is an occupational name for a doorkeeper or gatekeeper it is common to find this symbol on heraldic devices of persons with this name of its close variants.

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Figure 3: Portner von Teurn

     This coat of arms belonged to a Portner of Teurn located in the Principality of Regensburg.  They arms most likely date back to the 16th century as they are listed Siebmachers Wappenbuch of 1605.

     The arms show a blue shield holding a silver stag (rampant).  The crest is of a silver stag (issuant). 

     The stag has a variety of symbolic meanings. It can indicate someone skilful in music and a lover of harmony. It may also indicate a person who foresees opportunities well. In the latter case it is a symbol used for one who is unwilling to assail enemies rashly, who would rather stand his own ground that harm another wrongfully, and one who will not fight unless provoked. Antlers represent strength and fortitude. The stag was associated with healing, for he knew which medicinal plants to take in order to shake off the hunter’s arrow. The person bearing this symbol was considered impervious to weapons.

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Figure 5: Portier de Languedoc

    Rietstap has attributed the arms to a Portier of Languedoc , a former province in southern France. 

    The shield is blue with an indented outline and a gold border.  On the blue field is a tree and a golden lion (passant).  Any crest associated with these armorial bearings is unknown.

The tree and the lion are the most predominate symbols found on these arms.  The tree is a symbol of antiquity and strength. Trees allude to home or property, and they are also generally considered a symbol of life and strength. The lion has always held a high place in heraldry as the emblem of deathless courage, and, hence, that of a valiant warrior. It is said to be a lively image of a good soldier, who must be ‘valiant in courage, strong of body, politic in council and a foe to fear’.

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Figure 7: Portière de Boujours

     These arms have been associated with a Portière of the former Duchy of Normandy, in France.

    The shield is blue and contains three golden bees. Any crest associated with these armorial bearings is unknown.

    The bee is a sign of industry, creativity, wealth, diligence and eloquence. The Egyptians used it as a symbol of regal power. In heraldry, it is used to represent well-governed industry.  The Emperor Napoleon gave the bee considerable importance in the French armoury by adopting it as his personal badge. They also appeared on the mantle and pavilion around the armorial bearings of the empire, as well as on his coronation mantle.

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Figure 9: Porter of Lincolnshire

     Burke has attributed this coat-of-arms to a Porter of Lincolnshire and Kent in England.  The shield is black and contains three silver bells and a canton of ermine. The crest features a silver portcullis surrounded by a golden chain.

     These armorial bearings may have originated with Sir William Porter of Gloucestershire who was the sergeant-at-arms to King Henry VII of England, and his brother Robert Porter whose son Endymion Porter, of Allfarthing, parish of Wandsworth,  in Surrey,  was a courtier and diplomat in the service of Charles I of England

     The basic design of the aforementioned arms has been utilized widely by many branches of this Porter family.  For example, Porter of Wadhurst and Seaford, in Sussex has the same arms but with a different crest, as does Porter of Cornwall. Porter of Lancashire has the same shield but with a white canton for difference.  Other Porter branches having these similar arms came from St. Margaret's-in-Southernam, Suffolk, and Ettington of Warwickshire.

The ermine canton generally indicates a mark of dignity. Typically the fur of the Weasel is used in these representations.

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Figure 11: Porter of Warwick

     Richard Porter of Micleton, at Aston in Warwickshire has the same shield design shown in figure 9 but without the canton, and with a different crest. 

     The shield is black and contains three silver church bells. The crest shows a church bell between two pillars roofed and spired in gold. 

     The utilization of black and silver is prevalent in many of the English Porter coats-of-arms. The black tincture most likely represents constancy, and the silver may symbolize any of the following; cleanliness, wisdom, innocence, chastity, or joy.

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Figure 2: Portner von Holfein

     This interesting coat-of-arms belonged to Portner, Baron von Höflein, of the Holy Roman Empire.  The Portners entered the nobility in 1570 and were bestowed the title of Baron  in 1764. The family was seated at the Austrian locale of Höflein.  Research shows that this family maintained an active tradition of serving in the military commanding units from the Transylvania areas of the Empire.  Of note is Leopold Portner, Baron von Höflein, (1768-1821), who rose to the rank of Major General during the Napoleonic Wars.  

     The shield is divided quarterly. The 1st and 4th quarter are gold each containing two black bear paws.  The 2nd and 3rd quarters are red each holding three silver antique keys.  Centered over the four quarters is a blue shield encompassing a silver castle tower.  These arms include three gold helmets each topped with a baron’s crown.  The intricate crest features; (1) a gold and black wing holding the two bear paws, (2) two blue proboscides flanking the tower, and (3) a red and silver wing containing the three silver keys.

     The charges included into this coat-of-arms are consistent with the military heritage of this Portner, The bear was thought to possess diplomacy equal to its great strength and it is the emblem of ferocity in the protection of kindred, and is a symbol of strength and bravery. The castle tower has often been granted to one who has faithfully held a castle for his sovereign, or who has captured one by force or stratagem. It also signifies vigilance on the watch as well as home and safety.   The keys symbolize ancestors who were gatekeepers for the nobility.

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Figure 4: Portier de Genevois

     These arms have been attributed to a Portier of Genevois.  This locale was in the former province of the Duchy of Savoy which now falls into the French departments of Haute-Savoie and Savoie.  A record from 1227 notes that Peter Portier of Rumilly was an important vassal of William II, Count of Genevois.

     The shield is red with a silver bend.  On each side of the bend are three silver bezants arranged in a uniform order.  Any crest associated with these armorial bearings is unknown.

      The bezant was the coin of Byzantium.  It is represented by a gold roundel, a roundel being a general name applied to any circular charges of color or metal. It is thought that the bezant, also sometimes called a talent, was introduced into armorial bearings at the time of the Crusades.  It is the emblem of justice and of equal dealing among people. The sign of the bezant is borne by those deemed worthy of trust and treasure. Perhaps the bezants on these arms mean that Peter Portier, who died in 1227, was a Crusader of the Christian Church.  It is known that many French nobles from his locale were part of the  Albigensian Crusade between (1209–1229).   

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Figure 6: Portier von Yverdon

    These arms most likely belonged to the nobleman Jean Portey of Portier or one of his descendants.  This Portier is listed as a noble man of Yverdon as early as the 1391.  Yverdon is currently located in the district of Jura-Nord vaudois of the canton of Vaud in Switzerland.

     The shield is described as being white or silver with a blue bend.  On either side of the bend is a blue lion (rampant) with a red tongue.  Any crest associated with these armorial bearings is unknown.

     The colors of blue and silver are exclusive to these arms. Silver represents peace and sincerity and blue symbolizes truth and loyalty.

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Figure 8: Portnau von Austria

     Rietstap has identified these armorial bearings as belonging to the Counts of Portnau of the Austrian Empire.  

     The shield is red and hold an open door placed on a green mound.  The crest shows the same door. 

     The door is the prominent symbol in the coat-of-arms. It is most likely that is represents the origins of the surname as a doorkeeper or gatekeeper.

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Figure 10: Porter of Kirkcudbright

     This coat-of-arms was granted in1804 to a Porter of Troquain.  Troquain is a locale near Balmaclellan, Kirkcudbrightshire, in the Galloway region of south-western Scotland.

     The shield is divided quarterly.  In the 1st is an arm embowed and erased holding a blue key.  The 2nd and 3rd quarters show a mastiff dog holding a Lochaber axe.  Within the 4th quarter is a blue church bell with a gold ringer.  The crest features an armored arm embowed grasping a sword.  The motto of this Porter is “Vigilantia et virtute.”

     There are many symbols represented within the rather complex coat-of-arms.  Of particular importance is the dog holding an axe.  The dog is the emblem of faithfulness and guardianship. Dogs were considered loyal and temperate and the dog is a symbol of a skilled hunter. Dogs are symbols of courage, vigilancy and loyal fidelity. The Lochaber axe was a weapon employed by the Scottish highlanders and represents execution of military duty.

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Figure 12: Porter of Meath

     These arms were belonged to a William Porter, (d.1623) of Kingston, in Meath, a county of Ireland.  This Porter family was also seated at Oldbridge in Meath.

     The arms feature three silver bells on a red field. Any crest associated with these arms is unknown.

     Bells are the most prominent symbol on these arms.  Bells signify the supposed power of church-bells to disperse evil spirits in the air and their invocation of guardian saints and angels.


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Mottoes of this Surname

Motto(es) Associated With This Surname

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A motto is a word or sentence usually written upon a scroll and generally placed below the shield, but sometimes, especially in Scotland, above the crest.    Many ancient mottoes were war-cries such as the Douglas motto of “Forward.”    Many mottoes refer to the name of the bearer, for example “cole regem” for Coleridge.   In general most mottoes convey a sentiment, hope, or determination, such as the Cotter motto “Dum spiro spero” where the meaning is “While I have breath I hope“.     Mottoes are often used by several successive generations, but may be changed at any time by the grantee. The languages most in use are Latin, French, and English.  Exceptions are seen in Scotland where they are often in the old Lowland dialect, and in Wales, often in the language of the principality.   


It is unusual to find a motto associated with the coat-of-arms of a noble of the European continent especially a German family.  This does not necessarily mean that the Germanic culture is devoid of mottos.  For example, the national motto of Germany is “Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit”, meaning Unity and Justice and Freedom.  The German word for motto is “Wahlspruch.”   Some of the more well known German mottoes are as follows: Alte Wunden bluten leicht – Old wounds readily bleed anew;    Blut und Eisen – Blood and iron;  Das beste is gut genug – The best is good enough;  Ein’ feste Burg is unser Gott – Our God is a strong tower of defense;  Ewigkeit – Eternity;  Für Gott und Iht – All for God and her;  Gott is überall – God is over all;  Gott mit uns – God is with us;  Ich dien – I serve;  Krieg – War;  Mehr Licht! – More light!;  Nichts zoviel – Nothing in excess;  Prosit! – Good luck!;    Vaterland – Fatherland;  Vertrau’ auf Gott – Put your trust in God;  Vorwärts! – Forward!;        Zu dienen – At your service.


French phrases adopted as mottos, have a certain air of chivalry and perhaps a distinctly feudal sense of duty and allegiance. French mottos are more indicative of the warrior culture of the Middle Ages. Some of these phrases, however, are translations of better known Latin mottos, such as Toujours fidèle for Semper fidelis. Some of these phrases are often found in Old French spelling.  Examples of some well known French mottoes are as follows: Aimez loyaulté - Love loyalty;  Boutez en avant - Push forward;  C’est la seule vertu qui donne la noblesse - Virtue alone confers nobility;  Droit à chacun - To each his right;  En Dieu est ma foy - In God is my faith;  Foy pour devoir - Faith for duty;  Garde la foy - Keep the faith;  Inébranlable - Not to be shaken;  J’ai bonne cause - I have good reason;  Loyauté sans tache - Loyalty without defect;  Maintien le droit - Support the right;  Ni dessus, ni dessous - Neither above nor below;  Oublier ne puis - I cannot forget;  Parle bien ou parle rien - Speak well or say nothing;  Rien sans Dieu - Nothing without God;  Suivez raison - Follow reason;  Tachez surpasser en vertue - Strive to surpass in virtue;  Un Dieu, un roy, un foy - One God, one king, one faith;  Veilliez et ne craignez pas - Watch and fear not

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Heraldry as a Family History Research Tool

Using Heraldry as a Family History  Research Tool

Wondering whether you are descended of the nobility*?  Are you aware of an ancestor who held a prominent political position or had a title such as Sir, or Esquire?  If so you just might be descended from royalty.   If you are of European descent, you are probably a descendant of Charlemagne.  Once you are able to prove your line of descent from him, you will then find thousands of links to other royalty in your list of relatives.  It is rare indeed that the genealogy of a person of European descent, when traceable, doesn’t hit nobility somewhere.  And once it hits one European noble, whether you like it or not, hundreds of new names will become a part of your family.

*The nobility is a class of people who had special political and social status. Nobility is inherited or granted by the Crown as a reward to people who perform a heroic deed, achieve greatness in some endeavor, or hold a prominent government position.


    If you have an elementary knowledge of heraldry you may wish to use this practice to trace your founding forefather.  If you know the geographical place (country, county, city) where the family coat-of-arms was first identified, you may well search its history for the family name in question in order to find your direct ancestor.  Remember that most noble European family pedigrees have been thoroughly researched and published.   By putting together the family surname with the known location you may find a treasure trove of valuable information about your ancestors.  Upon pursing your research you should be aware of the possibility of variant spellings of the surname.  See Variations of the Surname for more information about variant spellings of the surname.


Many family historians who have not connected with a noble ancestor may just want to know what their family coat-of-arms looks like.  If this is the situation you must know that except for a few cases, there is really no such thing as a standard "coat of arms" for a surname.  A coat of arms is a design usually granted only to a single person not to an entire family or to a particular surname.  Coats of arms are inheritable property, and they generally descend to male lineal descendents of the original arms grantee.  As a result you are advised to seek out a coat-of-arms for the locale where your ancestor resided.

For example: we have an Arnold ancestor who is known to have emigrated to America from the town of Erlangen, in Bavaria, Germany.  Current research shows Erlangen is located in the area of Bavaria known as Middle Franconia.  Upon review of the historic locations for Arnold as noted in one source of armorial bearings we find places in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, The Netherlands and others.   One coat-of-arms is listed as belonging to an Arnold of Franconia, Bavaria.  As such we may conclude that this is the coat-of-arms having some relevance to our ancestor.  He may well be a blood relative of the aforementioned noble Arnold.   He or his ancestor may have been employed by or a serf of the noble Arnold family of that locale.  In some cases the name of the noble family becomes the name of the locale resulting in the ancestor appropriating it a as surname, see Sources and Meanings of the Surname to ascertain whether the surname you are interested in is a locational name.

If you are interested in the armorial bearings of a particular surname we strongly advise that you utilize the resources provided within this area of our web page.  If you have any questions or need any assistance with regard to using heraldry as a means to further or widen your family history research you are welcome to contact us, see About This Webpage.

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More About Heraldic bearings

More About Armorial Bearings

The art of designing, displaying, describing, and recording arms is called heraldry. The use of coats of arms by countries, states, provinces, towns and villages is called civic heraldry.   A Coat of Arms is defined as a group of emblems and figures (heraldic bearings) usually arranged on and around a shield and serving as the special insignia of some person, family, or institution.  Except for a few cases, there is really no such thing as a standard "coat of arms" for a surname.  A coat of arms, more properly called an armorial achievement, armorial bearings or often just arms for short, is a design usually granted only to a single person not to an entire family or to a particular surname.  Coats of arms are inheritable property, and they generally descend to male lineal descendents of the original arms grantee.  The rules and traditions regarding Coats of Arms vary from country to country. Therefore a Coat of Arms for an English family would differ from that of a German family even when the surname is the same. 

Some of the more prominent elements incorporated into a  coat of arms are :

Crest - The word crest is often mistakenly applied to a coat of arms.  The crest was a later development arising from the love of pageantry.  Initially the crest consisted of charges painted onto a ridge on top of the helmet.

Wreath or Torse – The torse is a twist of cloth or wreath underneath and part of a crest. Always shown as six twists, the first tincture being the tincture of the field, the second the tincture of the metal, and so on.

Mantling – The mantling is a drapery tied to the helmet above the shield. It forms a backdrop for the shield.

Helm or Helmet - The helmet or helm is situated above the shield and bears the torse and crest. The style of helmet displayed varies according to rank and social status, and these styles developed over time, in step with the development of actual military helmets.

Shield or Arms - The basis of all coats of arms.  At their simplest, arms consist of a shield with a plain field on which appears a geometrical shape or object.  The items appearing on the shield are known as charges.

Motto - The motto was originally a war cry, but later mottoes often expressed some worthy sentiment. It may appear at the top or bottom of a family coat of arms.

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Family History

Our Portner family ancestors were originally from the canton Berne of Switzerland.   Michel Portner was born circa 1551 in the town of Wahlern which lies south of the Sense River in the foothills of the Alps Mountains.  Michel married Anna Rohrbach also a native of Wahlern around the year 1574.  To this union at least eight known off-spring were produced between 1575 and 1590.

Jeremias Portner, son of the aforementioned Michel and Anna, and our 10th great-grandfather, was born at Wahlern in 1580.  Jeremias married Elizabeth Zandt also of Wahlern.  Our lineage continues through their daughter Barbara Portner born circa 1623.

     Barbara married David Werli, II at Wahlern in 1646.  All of their many children were born in Switzerland between 1646 and 1667.  Our decendency continues through their son Johann Werli, (aka. Jean Verly).  It was Johann Werli who, as a young man, left Wahlern and migrated north the Alsace Region of France.

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Ancestral Lineage

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Generation 1

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MICHEL1 PORTNER was born about 1551 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland. He married ANNA ROHRBACH. She was born about 1555 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


Michel Portner and Anna Rohrbach had the following children:


i.        ULRICH2 PORTNER was born on 07 Jul 1575 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


ii.      PETER PORTNER was born on 22 Feb 1579 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


iii.   JEREMIAS PORTNER was born on 04 Dec 1580 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland. He died after 1623 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland. He married Elizabeth Zandt before 1623 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland. She was born on 17 Nov 1606 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland. She died after 1623 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


iv.     MICHEL PORTNER was born on 30 Sep 1582 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


v.      ELSI PORTNER was born on 17 Jul 1586 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


vi.     HANS PORTNER was born on 17 Jul 1586 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


vii.   ULI PORTNER was born on 05 May 1588 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


viii.  HANS PORTNER was born on 22 Feb 1590 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.

Generation 2

JEREMIAS2 PORTNER (Michel1) was born on 04 Dec 1580 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland. He died after 1623 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland. He married Elizabeth Zandt before 1623 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland. She was born on 17 Nov 1606 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland. She died after 1623 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


Jeremias Portner and Elizabeth Zandt had the following child:


i.    BARBARA3 PORTNER was born about 1623 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland. She married David Werli II, son of David Werli I and Elisabeth Sturler on 09 Jan 1646 in Wahlern, Berne, Switzerland. He was born on 03 May 1613 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.

Generation 3

BARBARA3 PORTNER (Jeremias2, Michel1) was born about 1623 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland. She married David Werli II, son of David Werli I and Elisabeth Sturler on 09 Jan 1646 in Wahlern, Berne, Switzerland. He was born on 03 May 1613 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


David Werli II and Barbara Portner had the following children:


i.        ULRICH4 WERLI was born in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


ii.      ANNA WERLI was born on 15 Nov 1646 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


iii.     ELIZABETH WERLI was born on 12 Dec 1647 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


iv.     JOHANN WERLI (AKA. JEAN VERLY) was born in 1655 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland. He died on 02 Jan 1721 in Belmont, Molsheim, Bas-Rhin, France. He married MARGUERITTE NEUVILLERS. She was born in 1663 in Bellefosse, Molsheim, Bas-Rhin, France. She died on 18 Mar 1708 in Belmont, Molsheim, Bas-Rhin, France. He married (2) ELISABETH HASCHELMAN on 24 Jul 1708 in Belmont, Molsheim, Bas-Rhin, France.  Johann Werli (aka. Jean Verly) also went by the name of Jean Verly.


v.      DAVID WERLI III was born on 11 Aug 1650 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


vi.     BERBE WERLI was born on 26 Sep 1652 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


vii.   BERBE WERLI was born on 24 May 1655 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


viii.  CHRISTIAN WERLI was born on 12 Apr 1657 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


ix.     CHRISTINE WERLI was born on 29 May 1659 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


x.      CHRISTINE WERLI was born on 03 Mar 1661 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


xi.     BARBE WERLI was born on 02 Aug 1663 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


xii.   MARGUERITE WERLI was born on 02 Aug 1663 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


xiii.  BENEDICTE WERLI was born on 05 Mar 1665 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.


xiv.  BENEDICTE WERLI was born on 14 Apr 1667 in Wahlern, Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland.

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Source documents



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The documents contained within this “Source Documents Archives” have been located during our research of this family, and used as evidence to prove many of the facts contained within the database of this family’s record.   We have source documents related to the following persons within our database with this surname.


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     Most of these documents can be considered as primary or secondary evidence.  Primary evidence is usually defined as the best available to prove the fact in question, usually in an original document or record.  Secondary evidence is in essence all that evidence which is inferior in its origin to primary evidence. That does not mean secondary evidence is always in error, but there is a greater chance of error.  Examples of this type of evidence would be a copy of an original record, or oral testimony of a record’s contents.  Published genealogies and family histories are also secondary evidence.

     Classifying evidence as either primary or secondary does not tell anything about its accuracy or ultimate value.  This is especially true of secondary evidence.  Thus it is always a good idea to ask the following questions: (1) How far removed from the original is it, (when it is a copy)?; (2) What was the reason for the creation of the source which contains this evidence?; and (3) Who was responsible for creating this secondary evidence and what interest did they have in its accuracy?

SOURCE: Greenwood, Val D., The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 2nd edition, Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, MD 21202, 1990, pgs. 62-63

You are welcome to download any of the documents contained within this archive that does not cite a copyright.  Should you encounter a problem obtaining a copy you may get in touch with us via the contact information found at the end of this web-page.

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Migration routes

Migrations of the
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       Tracing our own family’s paths of migration can prove crucial in identifying previous generations and eventually, figuring out where and how they arrived in the “New World” as well as where they eventually settled.  Knowing the network of trails American pioneers traveled can help you guess where to start looking.  The trail map(s) provided below may assist you in understanding the routes that our direct ancestors of this family may have taken to find new homes and opportunities in the vast area now encompassed by the United States.

      During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries hundreds of thousands of Europeans made the perilous ocean voyage to America.  For many it was an escape from economic hardship and religious persecution.  For most it was an opportunity to start over, own their own land, and make a better future for their descendents.

Immigration records show a number of people bearing the name of PORTNER, or one of its variants, as arriving in North America between the 17th and 20th centuries.  Some of these immigrants were: Abraham Porter arrived at Virginia circa 1624; Englishman John Porter (c.1605-74) came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1633 and was a signer of the Portsmouth compact;  John Portnell, who came to America in1685, Hendrik Porter came to New York in 1710 when he only 14 years old, Hannah Porter arrived in the Colony of Virginia in 1717;  Louis Portner of Bavaria Germany arrived at New York in 1851; and Thomas Portner who arrived in Baltimore from Germany in 1867.

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The Development of an Historical Migration Route

It is understood that in many if not all cases we do not know exactly what routes our ancestors took as they migrated throughout the United States.   As such certain assumptions have been utilized to re-create the migration path presented above.  With regard to 18th and 19th century land routes we assume that they travelled along few trails and roads that were in existence at the time.  Research shows that a great many of these old paths and trails are today designated as U.S. Highway Routes.  For example, a major east-west route of migration known as the National Road is now U.S. Route 40, and a primary north-south migration route of the 18th century followed the Great Indian War and Trading Path is now U.S. Route 11.  In some situations the re-created migration route may travel along state routes that connect or run through the seat of a county as that populated place is probably the oldest settlement in the area. The use of water as a migration route is also likely.  For example, during the late 18th and early 19th centuries many families travelled west on the Ohio River as they moved on the new lands in Missouri or the Old Northwest Territory.  As such when applicable water routes have been included as the possible migration route.   

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Ancestral locations



Researching the locations where our ancestors lived has provided us with valuable evidence needed to fill in the gaps in our family trees.  It has also led us to many interesting facts that enhance the overall picture of each family group.

Locations of Our Direct Ancestors

The names of states and counties on the following list were derived from the known places where the Direct Ancestors in the “Ancestral Lineage” (see above) were born, married, and / or died.






Schwarzenberg (Wahlren)

Use this LINK to find out more about this


ancestral family and the locations listed above.

Looking for world PEA GREEN)

Where are my

Where in the World
are My Ancestors?

Looking for world (PEA GREEN) right

Resources which enhance our knowledge of the places inhabited by our ancestors are almost as important as their names. The LINK to the right will take you to Maps, Gazetteers,   and  other  helpful   resources 

Maps & Gazetteers 3

that will assist in discovering Ancestral Locations.  These web sites comprise only a small portion of what is available for researchers interested in learning more about where their ancestors lived.

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Family Collage grad 3 framed copy

Images gallery

Gallery of
Family Images

Family Collage grad 3 framed copy

During our research we have collected images and photographs that are of general interest to a particular family.  Some of them are presented on this website because we believe they tend to provide the reader with additional information which may aid in the understanding of our ancestors past lives.  We have images related to the following persons within our database with this surname.


This Link will take you to our

Family Image Archives

collection of family images.  

Free Image Search
help from Google

Use the power of Google™ to find more interesting images about this topic. This button will link you to the Google Images Search   page.   Enter   the   topic   you   are

Google Image Search Search

searching in the box and click “Search Images”. At the “Images” display page you will see the image, as well as the website of which it is associated.

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About this webpage

About This Webpage



Mail1B0-- Email us with your comments or questions.

We do like to hear from others who are researching the same people and surnames.

We need your help to keep growing!  So please Email coolmailus your

photos, stories, and other appropriate information about this topic.


You are welcome to download any information on this page that does not cite a copyright.

We only ask that if you have a personal website please create a link to our Home Page.

-- This webpage was last updated on --

01 August 2013

Diggin for Roots (2 shovels)

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Diggin for Roots (2 shovels)