When tracing your family roots, you can be certain that the further you go back in time, the more uncertainty you will find with any one person’s historical data. My great, great, great grandfather, George F. Boller and his wife Elizabeth Zook, are perfect examples. When I first started my search back in the mid-1990’s, I only had one line of information concerning George & Elizabeth from my dad’s records…
At the time, searching on-line for ancestral data was in its infancy. But fortunately, I was able to uncover a couple of records: one that placed George’s birth city as Rhineland-Palatinate’s capital city of Mainz (Mayence), while the other indicated that he was born across the Rhine River in, what is today, the neighboring German state of Hesse (or Hessen). As far as a date of birth goes, some accounts showed George being born as early as 1788 and others as late as 1800.
There are many possible reasons for all the differences we find in George’s birth records. As we’ve addressed earlier, Germany, its states, and boundaries have shifted a great deal over the years – which might explain why George, when asked in 1837 where he was born, answered Bavaria and not Germany.
We must also remember that when we are looking for exact data, we are dealing with a time frame when public records were not as well documented as they are today. During George’s lifetime, there was no such thing as a Social Security number to help identify one person from another. In fact, some of our earliest Pennsylvania and Ohio records might actually be a combination of two different Mennonite men named Boller living in the same area at approximately the same time!
In some of George’s records for, example, we will find George’s last name spelled in many creative ways – Boler, Bollar or Bowler – a problem that still happens to the Boller family even today!
Another area of confusion centers on George’s middle initial. Two reliable reports list George’s middle initial as L – yet his last will and testament records of 1877 clearly indicate that his middle initial was F. In truth, when looking at cursive writing of the 19th century (above), very often, a capital F can often be confused with other letters such as L, P, or T – so it’s understandable then why some records over the years have mistakenly used an L.
Which brings us to the next question – what’s does George’s F. stand for?
I’ve heard it said that in earlier times, people would use the first letter of their mother’s maiden name for their middle initial. We simply don’t know in George’s situation if that’s the case, since we’ve found no records of George’s parents back in Germany. One idea with some merit is that his F is, indeed, a family name, standing for Frederick, since we know of Frederick Boller, a close relative of George’s who eventually settled in Johnson County, Iowa with George’s son, Jacob. Read more here.
Suffice to say – sometimes you feel like a detective snooping out clues on a trail that gets colder every passing year! So, in truth, we may never know with certainty all the exact details for George F. Boller’s earliest years…but what I’m about to share with you here in Our Boller Story is the most likely scenario based on the best information we currently have*…
Our most reliable records show that George F. Boller was born into an Amish-Mennonite community located near Mainz/Weisbaden/Darmstadt in the German state of Hessen-Darmstadt on November 18, 1793.
Sadly, we have no records on George’s parents or immediate family, but what we do know is that Europe, and especially the region that is now called Germany, was in great turmoil throughout George’s early years. History indicates that during the 1790’s and into the early 1800’s. many German states were engaged in five different battles against well-trained, unified French armies led by the infamous Napoleon.
Records shows that in 1793, around the time of George’s birth, the east tower of Mainz’s ancient cathedral was partly destroyed in the bombardment of Mainz by the French empire’s troops. By 1803, Mainz (Mayence) had been completely occupied by French forces (see map below).
Records are not completely clear here, but one educated guess is that by the time George was in his early twenty’s, he married a young lady listed in Mennonite records as First Wife Boller from George’s homeland of Hessen-Darmstadt. Those same records indicate that on April 15th, 1815, George’s first son, Frederick Boller, was born.
Frederick, who later named his birthplace as Hessen-Darmstadt, becomes an interesting part of our Boller story, both in Ohio and Iowa. We’ll discuss him in more detail in later writings, but for now, know that there are a couple of options open for discussion on who, exactly, Frederick Boller is, and what his relationship is with our George F. Boller.
Unfortunately, we have no records of George’s first wife, nor do we know how she died. Her untimely death might have been associated with childbirth as many premature deaths occurred in these early days before qualified doctors and hospitals were readily available. The only fact we seem certain of (at the time of this writing – 2010) is that First Wife Boller died prior to George’s relocation to America in 1816.
Family records indicate that George, prior to his move to America (1816), moved northward in an attempt to avoid the Napoleonic conflicts that were exploding across central Europe at the time. It’s quite likely that sometime prior to, or immediately following Frederick’s birth in 1815, George moved from the Rhine River Valley in southwestern Germany to the far northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein. One reliable family biography states:
“George Boller, while still a young man, lived in Schleswig Holstein which at that time was part of Denmark and which Bismark later made a part of the German Empire. When Napoleon raided that section of the country, George was impressed into Napoleon’s Army, but being loyal to his country, he deserted and came to America to Wayne County, near Wooster, Ohio and settled on a farm.”
History does show that Napoleon’s army reached the northern regions of Germany by 1812 (see map above). And while Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815, apparently by then, the twenty-two-year-old George, determined to keep his freedoms, boarded an immigrant ship for safe passage to America. Most Amish-Mennonite Germans coming to America during this time traveled together with extended family, arriving in New York City, Philadelphia, or Baltimore, and then moved westward toward established Mennonite communities in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
So, to close this part of George’s story, our most reliable historical records indicate George F. Boller, age 22, arrived in America, from Bavaria, in October, 1816, establishing our Boller family in the United States. Generation One has arrived. The American dream awaits.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.