It is important to know the social conditions in Germany during the 1700s in order to understand why so many Germans chose to emigrate to America. The Thirty Years' War, which ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia, had decimated much of Germany. Casualties ran as high as 90% in areas such as the Palatinate and Franconia in northern Baravia. Entire villages were completely depopulated. In the ensuing decades, settlers poured in from other parts of Germany, Switzerland, and Austria to resettle these lands. 

But as the eighteenth century advanced, these areas became resettled, and it was increasingly difficult for the burgeoning population to acquire inexpensive farmland.   At the same time, agents for William Penn, called Neuländer in German, were touring Europe promoting the Pennsylvania Colony and offering essentially free land, unlimited opportunity, freedom of religion, and the absence of military conscription.  And, word-of-mouth accounts were trickling back from earlier emigrants, confirming much of what the Neuländer were claiming.  It was a logical decision for many Germans in the mid 1700s to emigrate, although the journey itself would prove neither easy nor inexpensive.  Later, in a second emigration wave beginning about 1820 after a series of crop failures, over six and one half million German immigrants would come to the United States, more than doubling the German population of the new nation. There exists today a 'German belt' of the descendants of these emigrants, which stretches across the United States from Pennsylvania to the Oregon coast.  More than 46 million Americans claim German heritage, the nation's largest single ethnic group.

Our German genealogical data is the result of many of trips to Europe, working in numerous archives alongside Sabine Schleichert, as well as independent work by Sabine and and Fredreich Wollmerschäuser, both of whom are highly recommended for German genealogical research.


Johann Bernhard Zentmeyer was a German.   He was born in a small village in northeastern Württemberg called Roigheim, on the Seckach river.  The church records there were destroyed in a catastrophic fire in 1719, so no birth records exist for the year 1707, however his marriage record in Bischwiller in 1739 recorded his father as 'Jacob Zentmeyer from Roigheim,’ and Jacob's death was recorded in Roigheim in 1733.  Additionaly, there are civil records of Jacob selling wine in Roigheim for the years 1699 - 1702, as well as Jacob selling land there to Michael Vierling in 1716, and Jacob's wife Ursula died there in 1720.


Bernhard's father Jacob was born in Vincenzenbronn, Bavaria in 1661.  Jacob's birth record says he was the "son of Simon Zettmair, Catholic and day labourer here, and his wife named Maria, Lutheran."  Jacob's father Simon first appeared in the record obtaining a job in 1650 at a mill in Ammerndorf, Bavaria owned at the time by Johann Preuss.  This mill was built in 1607 and continues to operate to this day, under the ownership of Albert Stinzendörfer, whose family has owned it since 1878.  We visited this mill in 2010 and the Stinzendörfer family broke out some local beers to celebrate our shared heritage.


The mill owner's daughter, Maria Preuss, became pregnant by Simon, and the two married in 1654.  This explains the atypical union between Catholic and Lutheran.  No further traces of the couple can be found in Ammerndorf after 1657.  In 1662, the year after their son Jacob was born, Simon and Maria bought a house at Hauptstrasse 33 in Unterschlauersbach, Bavaria.  The purchase contract lists Simon's place of origin as 'Pfaffenhofen in Bavaria.'  We visited this house in 2011 and met the owners, Herr Kolb and his wife.  They were very kind, and gave us a photo of the original house which had been demolished in the 1990s.  This photo of the original house was taken in 1906.