The best place to start when telling the story of my ggg grandfather, George F. Boller, and his wife Elizabeth Zook, is to begin with a current map of Germany. Though the nation of Germany, as we know it today, didn’t exist when George was born in 1793, many of the German states (see map above) did. So, let’s start in southwest Germany – in a state called Baden-Württemberg.
Historians believe that the first Bollers came from Boll (Boll-ers), a small municipality in the district of Göppingen in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. Take a quick search on Google maps and you’ll find it – a little town called Bad Boll.
Now, before you jump to ‘bad’ conclusions, let me explain that Bad (pronounced baad) is a German word for spa or hot springs. In fact, across central Europe, there are numerous locations where warm-spring outcroppings (bad) are found. Thus, you’ll find many communities in this part of Germany with the word Bad before their city name.
The German word Boll can actually have two different definitions. Primarily, it means ‘a rounded mound or hill’ – which fits perfectly with the community of Bad Boll since it is located in hilly country in SW Germany. Thus Bad Boll translates – a warm spa or hot springs located on the rounded hill.
Now, before I go any further, I must, embarrassingly, tell you the second possible definition for the German word Boll. It means – a blustery, big-talking person.
Yikes, does that mean that the first Bollers from Bad Boll were blustery, big-talking folks who lived near hot springs on the rounded hills of the German countryside? Some might say that your humble author is still just that – a blustery, big-talker living on the rounded hills of eastern Iowa!
But – enough with the Boller jokes! Let’s get back to the Boll-ers from Bad Boll…
(P-0240) Above is a beautiful picture postcard from Bad Boll dated 1899.
Since the Middle Ages, Bad Boll has been the home of a thermal spa, built around warm springs and used as a gathering place for people looking for healing in their bodies. Warm Springs, Georgia, (in the USA) has long been a similar community that welcomes visitors (i.e. President Franklin Roosevelt, a sufferer of paralysis) to their city for relief from their pain. At Bad Boll, a hunting lodge and spa was built in the 1500’s for the Duke of Württemberg. In the 19th Century, the spa was acquired by Moravian pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt who used it as a center for his ministry of healing and evangelism. His son Christoph Freidrich Blumhardt took over the spa and ministry until his own his death in 1919. In 1921, the Blumhardt family passed the spa complex on to the Herrnhuter Brüder-Unität of the Moravian Church. Following World War II, Bad Boll became the western European headquarters of that church body and continued as such until the re-unification of Germany in 1989. The Diakonie of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Wuttemberg assumed control of the spa in 2005 although the Moravian Congregation still continues to worship in its chapel.
Above (left) is a medal commemorating the Spa Complex at Bad Boll from 1974. (M-0113) Top right – a Bad Boll metal insignia, and Bottom right – a recent Boller beer label from Germany.
We may never know the details, but it’s apparent from family records that by the late 18th century, some of our immediate Boller relatives had moved north and west of Bad Boll in Baden-Württemberg, settling in the German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and/or Hesse, near the cities of Frankfurt and Mainz (see map above). Early Mennonite records, here in the US, indicate that my ggg grandfather, George F. Boller, was born in this area. More details here.
In the heartland of Europe, located near the lush farmlands of the Rhine River valley, we find the city of Mainz (Mayence), Germany. Mainz, currently the capital city of the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, is a very old, yet equally beautiful, community built on the banks of the Rhine River directly across from Wiesbaden, Germany, which is located in the neighboring German state of Hesse (Hessen). Over the centuries, the city of Mainz has belonged to a variety of kingdoms, states, and countries.
Before 1871, there was no singular nation called Germany, but simply a collection of principalities, dukedoms, tiny states, church-states, and independent villages. During much of the 19th century, most of the region surrounding Mainz and this portion of the Rhine River valley was called Hessen-Darmstadt.
Mainz is best known for being the 15th century home of Johann Gutenberg. It was Gutenberg who radically transformed the entire known world by inventing moveable type, thus bringing the printed page to life. His first printing project in 1452 was the Holy Bible and in accomplishing this difficult feat, Gutenberg allowed common folks like you and me to more easily own their own copy of the Bible and other educational books. Until this time, the Bible was a book that was basically hand-transcribed and available to very few people. Now through Gutenberg’s invention, the common folk would eventually read God’s Word for themselves, allowing them to draw their own conclusions as the Holy Spirit spoke to them through God’s Word.
Unfortunately, the well-established Catholic church of Europe had been misusing their power for many years by limiting access to God’s Word, but when many began reading the Bible for themselves, they began to question many of the unbiblical practices of the church. It was Germany’s Martin Luther in 1517 who began to bravely speak out on the “priesthood of the believer.” His premise was that folks like you and me should be able to read God’s Word for ourselves and with the help of the Holy Spirit, come to our own conclusions on what God is saying to us. This movement of spiritual freedom became known as the Reformation of the Church and because of Luther’s boldness (and others like him) to speak out against unbiblical practices, you and I are now able to read God’s Word for ourselves and may worship God, through Jesus Christ, in the worship style that best reflects who we are.
During this season of Reformation, in neighboring Switzerland, a relatively small and heavily persecuted group known by the derogatory nickname “Anabaptists” (meaning they refused to systematically baptize a person before he or she had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ) came forth in 1525. Many early Anabaptists were put to death as heretics and many others fled to the mountains of Switzerland and southern Germany. In 1536, a young Catholic priest from Holland named Menno Simons joined the Anabaptist movement. His writings and leadership united many of the Anabaptist groups, who were then nicknamed “Mennonites.” Anabaptist records show a Heinrich Boller (a potential relative?) who, as a Swiss Brethren Anabaptist, died in prison in 1644 for his faith. Here’s an interesting quote I found:
“Heinrich Boller of Wadischwyl in Switzerland, one of the last victims of the Zurich persecution of the Swiss Brethren. He was imprisoned in 1644 in Zürich for his faith, as an aged man, and died of the privations imposed upon him.”
This story of the Mennonites is very important for you to know, because much of Our Boller Story is tied to the Mennonite history of Europe and the United States. I’ll mention more about this Mennonite aspect of our history when we tell you about George’s son, Jacob B. Boller. But now, back to George F. and Elizabeth (Zook) Boller…