The Zeisset Family in Germany

Written by Loretta M. Hoerman

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Zeisset beginings
First Mention of Zeissets in Germany
Mennonite History
Abraham Zeisset (1718-1787)
Willenbach and Lautenbach
Abraham Zeisset's family
Jakob Zeisset (1764-1813)

Chapter 2. Zeissets at the beginning
of the 19th Century
Johannes Zeisset (1794-1855)
Jakob Zeisset (1816-1861)

Chapter 3. Jakob Friedrich
Zeisset and Margaretha Müller

Chapter 4. The Baers

Chapter 6. Other Zeissets

 

Forward

When is a family history ever finished? With the Internet as the forum for our Zeisset family history, we can continue to modify the information we have presented as new information is discovered. This current presentation is a compilation of existing text which remains pertinent and new material. With continued research, errors have been found in what was previously written. One of the most significant errors in the 2006 version of this narrative was the information regarding Lydia Zeisset. While the information was correct, she was assigned to the wrong family. With research over the past year, she has been paired up with the correct family and the story remains valid. We’ve also been able to expand our Zeisset family to include the continent of South America. As the information is expanding, new chapters are being created to make the information more readable. The first part of Chapter 1 remains unchanged at this time, but from there on, new information is added to what was already known and corrections are made so that the reader will have to review all of the information in order to find the new material. The most significant additions this year (2008) are the expanded information regarding the siblings of Jakob Friedrich Zeisset (1837-1884) and additional information about the farm at Kreuzfeld, including a floor plan for the house, as well as the knowledge of the final resting place for Jakob Friedrich Zeisset. A chapter has also been included on the Heinrich Zeisset family. I remain grateful for the initial inspiration from Merton Zeisset and his book from 1992 Our First Century in America, as well as German researchers Kurt Jäger and Dr. Elisabeth Kludas who have been immensely helpful in breaking down brick walls. I am also grateful for the help I receive when I walk up to a house in Germany, knock on a door and say, “My ancestors used to live here” and am welcomed into the home and given whatever information they have. I appreciate every scrap of information received from all family members. Moreover, I remain inspired and challenged by the readers’ persistent curiosity and support and thank you for encouraging my research.


Chapter 1 ...

First Mention of Zeissets in Germany

Orientation map of Germany
Orientation map

The Zeisset family came from Switzerland settling first at the Rauhof in 1660-1670. This is according to typewritten records dated 1939 from a relative of Raphael Zeisset-Alfred Funk (1905-1971). Our ancestors were of the Mennonite religion. The original spelling of the name was Zyßet (Zysset). Several variations on the name followed, including Zeisset, Zeissert, Zeiset, Zeisert and even Zersert. The first known Zeisset at the Rauhof was Jakob Zeisset in about 1680. The only information about Jakob Zeisset is his name and a date. Then Abraham Zeisset from Rauhof was chosen as pastor in neighboring Hasselbach in 1731.

Before the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), there were few, if any, Mennonites in the Kraichgau. The Kraichgau region is in the southwest part of Germany between the Neckar and Rhine rivers, lying in the former German state of Baden. After the war, because of the need to rebuild and the loss of so many German lives, Mennonites were offered refuge and partial religious freedom in the Kraichgau in 1664. People of the Mennonite faith found tolerance here, at least some tolerance compared to what they’d found at the hands of the Swiss. Other families who relocated to the Kraichgau from Switzerland included the following names: Baer, Landes, Horsch, Bachmann, Fellmann, Schmutz, Funck, Hege and Kreiter, Kaufmann, Hodel, Heer, Mosemann, Duersstein, Frey. Most of these families were from the area in and around Bern. Members of these families would join in communities along with the Zeissets and therefore some of these are names found among the Zeisset spouses.


Key Zeisset sites in Germany

Mennonite History

In order to help us understand the lives of our ancestors, it is important to review the history of the Mennonite church in Europe. The Protestant Reformation included three well-know religious leaders: Martin Luther (1438-1546), John Calvin (1509-1564) and Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531). The goal of this Reformation was to “reform” the Roman Catholic Church in Europe. Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. The 95 Theses challenged the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, the authority of the pope and the practice of indulgences. Ulrich Zwingli of Switzerland had arrived at similar conclusions, but differed significantly with Luther regarding the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Zwingli successfully defended his 67 Theses before the Council of Zurich, which then supported him.

The idea of rebaptism has existed since the 2nd century, but the actual establishment of Anabaptism didn’t occur until sometime between 1525 and 1527. The Anabaptists did not recognize infant baptism but believed that a person should be baptized when they fully understood the meaning of the baptism. This belief prompted Zwingli to refer to them as Wiedertäufer or rebaptizers. Such was Zwingli’s disdain for Anabaptists, that he began a systematic persecution of them in 1525. Täufer-hunts were organized to hunt down the Anabaptists, who were then driven from their homes, tortured and even put to death. Their marriages were considered by the government to be void, thus making them guilty of adultery. Persecution was based on three principals: 1)Preaching without authorization from the government (2)Baptizing without governmental authorization and (3)Refusing to take oaths (to the government). By the year 1530, two thousand Anabaptists had been put to death. Menno Simmons, a converted priest from the Netherlands, organized Anabaptists in the Netherlands in 1536-1537 thus founding the Mennonite religion. By this time, Anabaptists had realized that Switzerland was not a good place to live and emigrations began. Some went to the Netherlands, some to Germany. In 1671, many Swiss Anabaptists went to the Alsace, Baden and the Pfalz in Germany. Anabaptist sympathizers fled with them. Persecution continued until another mass emigration in 1709-1717. The first known Mennonites to emigrate to America were thirteen families who arrived in Pennsylvania in 1683.

Baden, a state in Germany at the time, had some Anabaptists as early as 1525. The Margrave Philip of Baden (who died in 1535) was not supportive of the Anabaptists, issuing commands for officials not to tolerate them. As late as 1581, twenty Anabaptists were executed for their faith in Baden. Margrave Karl Wilhelm (1709-1738), the founder of the city of Karlsruhe in Baden, promoted tolerance of the Anabaptists. The Mennonites of Bern sought refuge in Baden in 1710. Land ownership was still forbidden and they were required to pay a protection fee as well as a fee upon death. The death fee was to make compensation for the loss of income from the deceased. Based on the favorable experiences of the citizens of Baden with the Mennonites over the next century, more rights were granted to the Mennonites in 1809. They were required to keep records of births, weddings and funerals as all other citizens were required to do. Their children were excused from religious education in the public schools and the men were not required to render military service. In return for excuse from military service, they were required to pay a fee. After a few years, Mennonite men could pay a “substitute” to do military service. In 1821, a census of Mennonites in Baden enumerated 1512 members of the faith. Over the next one hundred years, the number of Mennonites in Baden decreased to about 1200.

            Map of Germany highlighting Baden, the Palatinate and Wuerttemberg - coming soon

The Palatinate is an area in southwestern Germany extending over multiple German states, and so was somewhat fragmented politically and religiously. The Palatinate changed its faith five times in the 16th century, following the dictates of its different leaders (Catholic, then Lutheran, then Reformed, then Lutheran, then Reformed). These fluctuations probably allowed increased penetration by the Mennonites. None-the-less, in 1527, several Anabaptists were imprisoned at Alzey and eventually executed, the men beheaded and the women drowned. Over the next century in the Palatinate, the Electors were intent on converting the Anabaptists rather than executing them. Then the Thirty Years War broke out in 1618 and by 1648, the Palatinate was almost completely depopulated. The Elector of that time, Charles Louis was very concerned about the repopulation of his devastated lands. He allowed Mennonites into his land and even assigned a space for the Mennonites to meet in Mannheim. The local religious leaders weren’t as tolerant as their Elector. In 1664, Charles Louis granted the Mennonites some additional “freedoms”. They would be allowed to meet in groups of more than twenty, but non-Mennonites were not to be allowed to meet with them. For this additional freedom, they were to pay a tax of 6 guilders per person, which was considered a hefty fee. This was during a time of significant persecution in Switzerland, and so the Swiss Mennonites sought refuge in the Palatinate. In 1672, there were about 360 Mennonite persons on the left of the Rhine and 160 on the right. Charles Louis died in 1680 and subsequent Electors were not as tolerant as he had been, slowing the immigration into the Palatinate and speeding the emigration from the Palatinate. In 1717, three hundred of the Palatinate Mennonites left through the port of Rotterdam in Holland to go to Pennsylvania where religious freedom would be theirs. By 1732, three thousand Palatinate Mennonites had arrived in North America. Those Mennonites who remained in the Palatinate established a reputation for excellence in farming. They contributed greatly to local agricultural and craft markets. The Mennonites were viewed as industrious workers who could turn poor farm ground into profitable land. The political leaders recognized that, with the exception of their religious practices, the Mennonites were valuable members of society. By the mid-18th-century, Mennonites were allowed to build meetinghouses, though they were required to appear on the outside as a farm building. From 1792-1813, the Palatinate was under French rule and the Palatinate was actually dissolved in 1801. The Palatinate was divided between Baden, Bavaria and Hessen after Napolean’s defeat in 1814. Under French occupation, almost all restrictions on the Mennonites were removed.

Abraham Zeisset (1718-1787)


Rauhof

Our earliest known ancestor was reportedly born at the Rauhof in 1718. One source says that he was appointed as pastor of the Hasselbach Mennonite congregation in 1731. If that is true, he would have only been 13 years old when he was named pastor. It is much more likely that his father was the pastor (or elder) of the Hasselbach congregation in 1731. We do know that Abraham lived at the Rauhof for a time, probably living there when he served as elder at Immelhausen and Hasselbach.

Our ancestor Abraham Zeisset is discussed in the Mennonite Encyclopedia as follows:

" Zeisset, Abraham (d. c1786) From 1749 an elder of the Immelhausen (q.v.) and Hasselbach ( q.v.) Mennonite congregations in Baden, Germany. In 1783 (not 1773 as stated ME III, 14) he moved to Willenbach ( q.v.) in Wuerttemberg and served the Willenbach congregation until his death. He played a role in the strife that developed among the South German Mennonites to the left and the right of the Rhine in the 18 th century. The occasion for the disputes was the activity of the strongly pietistic Mennonite preacher Peter Weber (q.v.) of Hardenberg. Weber's justified interest in awakening new life in the Mennonite congregations which were in many cases congealed in tradition met with opposition to the left of the Rhine under the leadership of Jacob Hirschler of Gerolsheim and a strongly conservative group; on the right of the Rhine from 1766 on, Abraham Zeisset was his most active opponent. Contemporary documents and letters about that quarrel indicate that Zeisset certainly had the honorable intention of preserving the old Anabaptist individuality and of representing it with conviction. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that he was guilty of personal obstinacy and unbrotherly attitudes.

The quarrel began when Zeisset deposed from their office on the strength of his own authority the preachers Georg and Abraham Bechtel, Jost Glueck, and Jakob Krehbiel, who were spiritually alive and were friends of Peter Weber. This created great offense in the congregations of these men. They feared a division similar to the one caused by Jakob Ammann (q.v.). On Oct. 14 and 15, 1766, a conference took place at Rauhof in which three Swiss Mennonites participated besides the ministers of Baden and the Palatinate. Zeisset himself had invited them. The peace that resulted from this meeting was unfortunately of short duration. The newly awakened disunity was so severe that in 1767 the spring communion was not observed in North Baden.

In 1770 a new effort was made to bring about peace at a conference of elders and preachers on the Himmelhaeuserhof (today Immelhaeuserhof). Zeisset and others leaders of the dispute were set back from communion "impartially and without respect of person" for Easter of that year, temporarily removed from the office of preaching, and asked to apologize for their previous hostile attitude. But the strife was not yet completely removed. Zeisset even appealed to the civil authorities for help. Not until 1782 was the affair settled.

Abraham Zeisset was also for a time engaged in correspondence between the West Prussian and the Southern German congregations. But after he had offended other correspondents of the South German congregations and did not succeed in drawing the West Prussians to his side, he dropped out of this circular letter. His relationship with the Swiss Brethren on the whole remained clear, although they were by no means on his side. In spite of the differing judgments concerning Zeisset, it must be reckoned as a service on his part that he contributed to the closer union between the South German Mennonites of the time and their Swiss brethren."


Map of Rauhof, Hasselbach, and Immelhauserhof

Admittedly, this entry makes our ancestor sound like a bit of a rascal. He was certainly a man who was firm in his convictions. To further explain some of the above text, the Mennonite Encyclopedia provides insight into the practices of the time. Communion was not done at every church service. Prior to receiving communion, moral integrity, unity and peace were required of those who would be communing. In order to assure the appropriate attitude within the congregation, the Sunday prior to Communion was set aside to “cleanse” the congregation so that all would be ready the next Sunday. If it was not possible to meet the terms for communion, the congregation would either not be allowed to observe communion, or those who were not at peace with God and their fellow man would be asked to stay away. The congregation could actually vote on whether or not all should receive communion.

Immelhausen
We can presume from the information about Abraham Zeisset in the Mennonite Encyclopedia that his move to Willenbach was precipitated by the disagreements at Immelhausen.

Church records exist today through which we can trace our ancestors to some degree. At that time, the vital records (births, marriages and deaths) were maintained by the clergy of the local church. Because Mennonites were not recognized as a church, their vital statistics were compiled by one of the accepted churches: the Evangelical (Lutheran), Catholic or the Reformed Church. The clergyman may or may not have been particularly interested in maintaining these registers, so some records contain more details than others. The records are handwritten by the clergyman and may be in Latin or German. The first challenge is to determine which parish kept the records for the Mennonite families. There may be additional frustrations in locating the oldest church records. One of the most commonly encountered reasons for missing records involves a fire in which all records were lost. And Germany, of course suffered through two World Wars. To date, records providing information about the Zeissets in Hasselbach have not been located. As noted previously, records of Mennonite births, marriages and deaths were not required until 1809.

Willenbach and Lautenbach

We do know that the Zeisset family was living in Willenbach in 1773. The information from the Mennonite Encyclopedia provides 1783 as the year of Abraham Zeisset’s arrival there, but the Catholic church records from Willenbach list the birth of a son in Willenbach in 1773.


Willenbach, Lautenbach, and Bad Rappenau

Willenbach

Thankfully there are extensive records from Willenbach. They are included in the Catholic Church records from Ödheim. Ödheim is a small town just north of Heilbronn. Willenbach is about 2 miles northwest of Ödheim. Another Mennonite settlement existed about 2 miles south of Ödheim called Lautenbach. Willenbach, as Lautenbach, was not a town, but a “Hofgut” or estate. A Hof is a farm or estate where one or more family units live.

In the late 17th century, Mennonites were allowed to rent a farm for a period of 6-9 years. After proving themselves as capable farmers of integrity, the time restriction was abandoned, so that a Mennonite could lease a large estate and would even pass the lease onto his heirs. These estates were under the control of the feudal lords, a condition which allowed the tenants more freedom to try farming innovations than if the estates had been under local control by the villages. Among the crops grown by these farmers were potatoes for the manufacture of brandy and mangelwurzel, or mangels, a type of beet used for cattle feed. (Insert PHOTO OF BEETS) Mennonite farmers in Germany became known for plant cultivation as well as animal breeding. This was the occupation of our ancestors.

We know that both of these estates, Willenbach and Lautenbach were later rented by the Landes family. The Landes family was also of the Mennonite faith. According to the Mennonite Encyclopedia, in 1801 Duke Frederick granted the Mennonite tenants of the Lautenbach estate the right to lease some of his properties in Wuerttemberg in exchange for a “protection fee”. The history of Lautenbach as told by its recent tenant indicates that Lautenbach was built at the end of the 1700s and was given to the German minister to Paris. At that time, the property covered 1000 hectares (one hectare = 2.471 acres). Now, in the 21st century, the property covers only 200 hectares. Some of the buildings at Lautenbach are original and some are newer. There is a long main building. The owner lived primarily in one end of this building. The servants would have lived on the third floor of the building. During WWII, according to the book One Farm, Two Wars, Three Generations by Erica Hege Shirk, there were generally 100 persons living at Lautenbach. Lautenbach survived WWII, but Willenbach was nearly destroyed. As is commonly found in Europe, the old buildings are rebuilt even after heavy destruction. In America, we tend to demolish the remains to build something new. The manor house at Willenbach was built in 1603 by Hans Wolf Capler of Ödheim (the nearby town). There were 150 hectares (about 370 acres) with this estate. Some time after the Zeisset family tenure, the property was used as part of a sugar factory. Then, in 1925, Walter Landes rented the Willenbacher Hof, and the Landes family has continued to rent the Hof since then, according to Günther Landes, a resident in 2006.

Abraham Zeisset’s family

[Insert family chart here]

Abraham Zeisset and his wife, Elisabetha Landes (1720-?) of Zuzenhausen had at least eight children together. The last child was born at Willenbach in 1773. They had three daughters and five sons. The daughters were Anna (1748-1818), Barbara (1754-1806) and Elisabetha (1770-1816). The sons were Abraham (1755-1808), Samuel (1757-1807), Jakob (1764-1813), Isaak (c 1766-1843) and Cornelius (1773-1811). There is a notation in the church record in Latin which states that Abraham Zeiset Senior, Anabaptist, 69 years of age, born in Rauhof, died on the 25th of April 1787. His wife appears to still be living at that time. The oldest daughter, Anna, married Heinrich Mosemann. This couple lived at Lautenbach, where Anna died in 1818. The second daughter, Barbara, married Christian Schmutz, the elder and lived with him in Rappenau [see map above]. The third daughter, Elisabetha, also lived at Rappenau with her husband Jakob Moser.

The oldest son of Abraham and Elisabetha Zeisset was also named Abraham. He married and raised his family at Willenbach, dying there in 1808. Abraham (the younger), first married Christina Pletscher. This couple had four children before Christina’s death in 1787 at Willenbach.

The oldest daughter of Abraham (the younger) and Christina Zeisset was Barbara Zeisset who later married Heinrich Baer at Dammhof in 1798, making the first known Baer-Zeisset relationship.

The only son of Abraham (the younger) and Christina Zeisset was Johannes Zeisset (1786-1825). Johannes Zeisset married Magdalena Schmutz in 1812. The youngest son of Johannes and Magdalena was named Jacob, born in Menzingen in 1825. This Jacob was one of the first of our Zeissets, that we know of, to emigrate to America. He arrived sometime in April 1850 and changed his name to Jacob Zeisert. Living first in Ohio, he married Elizabeth Stock and then moved to Lenawee County, Michigan. Jakob Zeisert may have emigrated to Ohio to join a grandson of Abraham Zeisset and Elisabeth Landes. A man named Christian Zeisset lived in Randolph Twp., Montgomery County, Ohio and matches the age of Christian Zeisset the grandson of Abraham and Elisabetha Zeisset (son of Isaak Zeisset and Magdalena Mosemann), but the connection has not been definitively made. The Zeisset descendants in Michigan continued the struggle with the spelling of the name. Records are found in Germany with the spelling Zeisert and the Michigan family is certain that this is the original spelling. Variations found in the Michigan family include Seizert, Zeisert, Zeiszert and Zeizert.

The father of Johannes, Abraham Zeisset (the younger), was married to his second wife, Magdalena Fellmann, in January 1788 quite likely at Willenbach. This couple had nine children, with only four daughters surviving. They married men with the names Bühler, Hodel, Mosemann, and Frey.

The second son of Abraham Zeisset (the elder) and his wife Elisabetha was named Samuel. Samuel was married to Katharina Fellmann and lived at Lautenbach where he died in 1807. Interestingly, the funeral sermon for Samuel was compiled in a document with another funeral sermon. This piece is entitled “Predigten eines Mennoniten-Predigers in Württemberg, 1830”. There’s actually a much longer title which in translation is: “Two funeral orations from 1) the death of the Mennonite-Preacher Samuel Zeisset, of Lautenbach, and 2) the death of the wife of Christian Hunzinger…/from Cornelius Zeisset”. This document can be found in the Bethel College Library in Newton, Kansas.

The third son, Jakob, ancestor of the Kansas Zeissets, is discussed in the following chapter. The fourth son, Isaak, raised his family (five sons) at Willenbach, where his wife, Barbara Hodel died. Isaak Zeisset, however, died at the Hettstädterhof just outside of Würzburg in 1843. Isaak and Barbara were probably the parents of the Christian Zeisset who emigrated to Ohio and was the ancestor of the Zizert family in Ohio. The fifth son of Abraham Zeisset (the elder), Cornelius Zeisset, was born, married to Elisabetha Heer and died at Willenbach in 1811. He is the Cornelius Zeisset referred to in the previous paragraph. Only one of his seven children survived to adulthood, and was also named Cornelius. It should be noted that at this time in the early 19th century, infant mortality among the Zeisset family in Willenbach was high. For instance, only four of Abraham Zeisset, the younger, and his second wife’s nine children survived infancy, and they were all daughters, so the Zeisset name did not carry on from this line. Abraham Zeisset, the younger, and his first wife were the parents of four children, one of whom was Jacob Zeisert, who emigrated to Ohio and then Michigan. Another was Barbara Zeisset (1780-1832) who married Heinrich Baer (1778-1853).

Jakob Zeisset (1764-1813)

Lautenbach
Lautenbach manor house
Lautenbach building where Zeissets probably lived
Lautenbach building where Zeissets probably lived

We now follow the direct ancestors of the six immigrant Zeissets. Jakob Zeisset (1764-1813), son of Abraham (the elder) was born at Rauhof in 1764, moved to Lautenbach in 1773 and married Magdalena Plätscher of Meckesheim in 1785. Jakob Zeisset was a co-tenant farmer (mitpächter) at Lautenbach, presumably working with his brother, Samuel. Jakob and Magdalena had eleven children, seven of whom died in infancy or childhood. One of the surviving children was a daughter: Magdalena (1792-1850) who married Abraham Bühler, then Isaak Fellmann and eventually died in Bruchhausen, a town southwest of Heidelberg.

Of the sons of Jakob Zeisset (1764-1813) and Magdalena Plätscher, the first was Abraham (1787-1817) who died in Lautenbach in 1817. Johannes (1794-1855), the second son to survive, was also born at Lautenbach and will be discussed in the following chapter. The third son to survive was Isaak Zeisset (b. 1803). No other information has been found discussing Isaak.

The next generation, born in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, become much easier to trace. It is during this time that the Mennonites were consistently included in the church records.