Introduction: Brenneman

By
Larry Pearce
12/23/03

My wife Susan’s great-great grandmother was Elizabeth Brenneman (1816-1890), who married Thomas Lee, Jr. (see “E-Gen: Lee”). Elizabeth’s parents were Daniel (1769-1842) and Maria Bender Brenneman (1782-1856), and her grandparents were Nicholas (1736-1789) and Barbara Kurtz Brenneman (c.1736-1770). Some believe that Nicholas’ parents were Jacob (b.1710) and Susannah Evans Brenneman (b.1714), but recently, German sources reveal that not only might Nicholas’ father have also been named Nicolas (1697-1785 according to McKenzie), but that Jacob and Susannah were probably his aunt and uncle and the Nicholas’ Jr’s grandfather was probably Adam (b.1673) who married Katharina Wurtz. Geberich, the most widely read family genealogist, agrees that our family’s earliest know ancestor was a Melchior Brenneman (b.1631), Adam’s father. Melchior married Christina Reusser (b.1636), the daughter of Steffan Reusser and Elsbeth Eicher of Stiffsiburg, Switzerland.

At this point we could relate how some of the first names appear again and again in our family tree: Nicholas, Susannah, Elizabeth [or Elsbeth], and Daniel. We could remind the reader that Bach and Handel were both alive and famous during the lives of our early Brennemans and that Beethoven was born the year Barbara died. All this is to impress upon the reader that these folks lived a very long time ago and yet they are a part of our family and we know something about them, at least their names. We are fortunate in this part of the United States to have the genealogical collection and early American pioneer life exhibit at the Springs Historical Society and Museum in Springs, PA, Their regular publications, The Laurel Messenger and The Casselman Chronicles, contains stories and photos of many of the Brennemans and other of Susan’s relatives. Without the distraction of modern conveniences, especially television, it seems that those Amish and Mennonites were particularly thorough in preserving family history. This introduction to this part of our family is simply a compilation of various articles that have been written about our Brennemans and some stories that have been handed down by word-of-mouth when the printed word wasn’t available. Let’s begin by attempting to answer the question, “Where did the name come from?”

According to the Geberich history, we can only guess, but traditionally at least six guesses are most popular:
• First, a distiller of alcohol, a “Brandy-man;
• A person from the Brenner Pass through the Tyrolean Alps of Austria and Italy;
• An extension of the name “Brandi”;
• A polisher or Burnisher of Armour, Brunni-man;
• A charcoal burner, Burni-man; or
• A resident of Brendi, a small town near Belp in Switzerland.

Bender believes that the final guess is likely:
There were Brenneman families living, since the 1600s, at Brendi, Canton Bern, and throughout the Aare Valley of Switzerland. The Bronnimann, Brennemann, and Brenneman families each had a [similar] coat of arms. (2)

Other spellings, including Broennemann, are perhaps a way of Anglicizing the umlaut. Bender goes on to answer the question of our supposed German heritage by reminding us that many Germans fled to Switzerland to avoid persecution as Anabaptists before coming to America. And don’t forget that German is still one of the four official languages of Switzerland.

Amish and Mennonite historians and genealogists, Geberish and Bender included, are quick to point out that the combination of large families, small communities, intermarrying, and duplicate names can lead to great confusion. For example, The Brenneman History contains 19 Samuels Brennemans and 24 Daniel Brennemans, many over several generations. When middle names or initials are not available, as is usually the case before the mid-19th century, exact birth and death dates are all there is to go on, and as you can see from our Nicholas, Adam, and Melchoir, we’re sometimes only guessing.

Let’s read what has been passed down about some of these earliest known ancestors. According to Bender, Melchior was a form of the popular name Michael. Gerberich lists 10 Melchiors and 4 Michaels in his book. He distinguishes our ancestor as “Melchior, the Refugee” [other translations refer to him as “The Exile”] and says:
On January 1, 1672, there was living in the colony of Swiss Mennonite refugees in the town of Griesheim, twenty miles north of the city of Worms in Germany, one Melchior Brenneman, age 40, together with his wife (aged 35) and seven children between the ages of 1 ½ and 15 years. His worldly possessions consisted of one horse, one trundle bed and bedding, and forty-three reich-dollars.He had been fortunate to escape with his life from the religious persecution then raging in Switzerland against his sect, and was but newly arrived.

Gerberish cites a letter written from Griesham, where 53 families lived in equally “destitute conditions.” Apparently, from research done in thee cantonal archives at Bern, our Melchior was born in Switzerland and lived at Ober-Diessbach on the north slope of the Buchhalterberg. Gerberich says that the appendix of the book found in the archives contains “a complete collection of interesting references to the Brenneman family in Canton Bern, going back as far as the year 1479.” He reminds us of the persecution this family faced by following Menno Simons’ beliefs, including adult baptism, opposition to the state church, and refusal to take oaths or bear arms. Not only were they condemned, but some faced execution by drowning, burning, and beheading. Under state law they could be legally sold to other countries as galley slaves. He says, “The mildest sentence was exile and confiscation of property, forbidding a return to Switzerland on fear of death. Melchoir Brenneman refused to abjure his beliefs, was warned, and finally imprisoned in the castle of Thun in 1659.” He fled to Germany in 1671, probably at the invitation of Ludwig of Heidelberg, whose lands had been devastated by the Thirty-Years War [see “From Germany to America: From Persecution to Opportunity” under Krause]. McKenzie says, “Although not enjoying full privileges in their new land, the Mennonites were allowed to worship freely,” Gerberich believes that he was living in Griesham in September, 1677, when William Penn visited that part of Germany announcing a plan to found a colony in the new world, a “haven of refuge for the persecuted.”

One of Melchior’s other sons, who carried the same name as his father, has been referred to as “Melchoir, the Pioneer.” He settled in Lancaster County, PA, in 1709 and built a large estate there. Two other sons, Christian and John, received their inheritance before their father died. One story says that a sister had bright red hair, and the Native Americans “stood in awe of her.”

Gerberich says of our earliest known Brenneman:
Because Melchior [The Pioneer] Brenneman stood like a rock while the flood of terror and bigotry swirled around him, and because his wife stood at his side with unflinching loyalty, we are able to say with pride that our ancestors participated in the founding of the American nation.

Another of Melchior’s sons mentioned in his will was Adam, probably Nicholas’ father and our ancestor, but we know little about either of them. McKenzie’s German sources tell her that Adam was born in Enkenbach in 1673 and married Katharina Wurtz. On the other hand, we know that a Nicholas Brenneman was born in 1736 and lived on the family estate, or Hofgut, Braunshardt near Damstadt in Germany. McKenzie believes that there were two Nicholases, a father and a son. The younger Nicholas was married twice. Our ancestor was Barbara Kurtz who produced six children: Jacobina, Samuel, Jacob (probably died in infancy), another Jacob, Johannes, and our Daniel.

According to Gerberich, these children’s names and a knowledge of naming customs in Germany may suggest that Nicholas’ father was Jacob. He named his daughter AND two sons after Jacob. Wife Barbara died in 1770 and Nicholas remarried a year later. His second wife, Mathalena Untzinger [or Magdalena Unzicker], produced another half a dozen children for the household. Apparently, our Daniel was the only descendant of Nicholas and Barbara who came to America. Records indicate that the rest remained and died in Germany. No research has been done on the six half siblings, however. McKenzie’s German sources tell her that Nicholas and Barbara moved to Braunshardt in 1760 and that his father, who was also named Nicholas, was originally from Karlshauserhof in Hurlauch (Karlsruhe) but spent his last days on his son’s farm. He died in 1785 at age 88.

Nevertheless, Daniel D. Brenneman was the father of our Elizabeth, who married Tommy Lee. He was born in Hessen-Darmstadt, Germany, in 1769. He married Maria Bender of Bosenhausen in 1803. They had eleven children: Jacob (who died in infancy), Jacob, Maria, Anna, Katrina, Johannes, our Elizabeth, Lena, Christian, Daniel, and Barbara. The family sailed to American and settled in Berlin, Somerset County, PA, where, as the story goes, the youngest child, Barbara, was born in a hotel. Their first farm was in what is known as “The Glades” in Elk Lick Township, a lowland, perhaps even swampy during some parts of the year. Having worked hard and saved enough money, Daniel bought a farm of 100 acres just over the Mason-Dixon line near Grantsville, MD. Gerberich tells Daniel’s story this way:
With pluck and sturdy energy he proceeded to clear it and put it under cultivation. Long before his death he had done so and had also provided well for his children. Daniel Brenneman was of a retiring disposition and somewhat taciturn, but known as a good friend and neighbor.

Both Daniel and Maria had been members of the Amish Mennonite church since their youth. That community of faith continued to grow near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border as other German families joined them. The National Pike (now Rt. 40 and I-68) was bringing settlers to Pittsburgh 25 years before the first railroad was built in that area. One of the famous stops was the tavern at Little Crossing, just beside the arched bridge below Grantsville. Bender says that Meshach Browning, a noted hunter and woodsman, had built a cabin and a mill there. Later, the Stone House farm was constructed with slave labor and mail service began between Cumberland and Uniontown. History records that of the remaining Indians left in the area, 15 were converted to Christianity at the nearby Blooming Rose Catholic Mission and Grantsville got it’s first full time worship center, the old log Methodist Episcopal church.

But, the Brennemans maintained their Amish Mennonite faith and convictions. They dressed in plain fashion as their ancestor had for centuries. They drove horse and buggy, did as much work as possible by hand, and rejected the “worldly” or “English” ways. Daniel Brenneman, it is said, “knew the old ways of growing flax and making linen” (Bender 4), Perhaps he was practicing his Great-great grandfather Melchoir’s trade as a weaver. Supposedly, some pieces of the “Daniel Brenneman linen” still exist in that area, possibly among the Amish community.

Daniel and Maria, having lived a happy and productive life, died before the American Civil War, in 1842 and 1856 respectively, some 14 years apart. They are buried on a hill overlooking the land that he worked and the little town of New Germany, MD. The cemetery is adjacent to what are known as the “Twin Churches.” Esther Bender says:
Come from the church house door and walk straight ahead to the edge of the field. Look to the left at the fencerow of trees that march across the top of the hill at the far end of the field. The tombstone is not hard to find if you simply walk to the fencerow and search on the near side of it in the field where the hill curves out of sight.

Our story of Daniel and Maria’s daughter Elizabeth resumes with her marriage or Thomas Lee (see “E-Gen: Lee”), but the Somerset, PA, and Garrett County, MD, phones books contain dozens of Brenneman descendants. Ask about that name in these parts and someone will probably mention Mark Brenneman, the Amish harness maker along Rt. 669 near Springs. Several years ago he received national attention for constructing a special set of competition harnesses for Bob Decker’s famous Clydesdales. Another Brenneman, Nelson, was known as “The Blacksmith of Springs.” He opened a shop there in 1902 and his first customer was David Keim who paid 15 cents for services rendered. In those days, according to his ledger, the price of a cold chisel was 10 cents and a set of four horseshoes was one dollar. Nelson would also trade his services at the following prices: potatoes, 50 cents a bushel; beef, 8cents a pound; pigs, two-dollars a head; and hay, 12-dollars a ton. Nelson had worked on the first steam automobile in Somerset County before setting up shop for himself. Four years later, however, he moved his family to McHenry, MD, to begin farming. He was elected to the State House just before World War II and served eight years. He lived to be 87 years of age.

As many as eleven generations of Brennemans from Melchior in early 17th century Switzerland [12 generations if you count Christina’s parents, Steffan and Elsbeth Eicher] to my children born in late 20th century Somerset County, PA, is as long a list as our family’s genealogy holds. New information is being unearthed continuously. For example, author Richard W. Davis has announced a new subscription website, www.MennoSearch.com, with over 2800 pages of news and data on Swiss and German Mennonite emigrants and their families. Davis’ books include Emigrants, Refugees and Prisoners. And, of course, don’t forget the Brenneman Family Genealogy Forum for daily chatter and updates. Not all sources agree, but the Internet has made the quest practical and convenient, and someday most of our information will come together.

Works Cited

Barb. Posting on “Brenneman Family Genealogy Forum.” 14 May, 2001<http://genforum.genealogy.com/brenneman>.

Bender, Esther. Samuel D. Brenneman Family History and Directory. Grantsville, MD: McClarin Printing,1993.

Brenneman, Webster. “Nelson Brenneman: The Blacksmith of Springs.” Casselman Chronicle spring and summer, 1968: 12.

Gerberich, Albert H. The Brenneman History. Scottdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1938.

McKenzie, Peggy. Posting on “Brenneman Family Genealogy Forum.” 28 October, 2002 <http://genforum.genealogy.com/brenneman>.

Schrock, Alta. Ed. Casselman Chronicle, 1961-1970. Berlin, PA: Berlin Publishing Co., 1970.

17 Responses to Introduction: Brenneman

  1. LaDoska Smith says:

    I have not looked at all this site, but like what I have seen. I have one of Gerberich’s original printings and used it so much it is fragile so I bought a later edition. From this I decend from Christian, Adam, Catharine, and Melchior, children of Melchior the Pioneer. I have the same kind of lineage in my Murphree line. I quite understand the old song of th 1950’s, I’m my own grandpa.

    • admin says:

      LaDoska,
      Thanks for the comment. Our Brenneman line certainly goes back a ways. I’m looking forward to researching it more. Melchior’s descendants are very numerous and active in our county.
      Larry

  2. William L Brenneman says:

    More information has been found as to the burial place and date of death of Maria Brenneman.

    • admin says:

      Hello William,
      I’d be interested in learning about Maria. Will you write back and share? Thanks,
      Larry

      • William L Brenneman says:

        Some recent research has revealed that Maria died in 1860. She was living with her oldest son Jacob at the time of her death. We found this information in the Md census records.
        Leo Beachy, Marias grandson also referred to this in some of his writings. On the farm of Jacob is a small grave yard with a hand carved stone M B
        D AU 25 1860
        A 76 Y 10M 24D
        This is very much like the original stone of Daniels.
        His original stone was broken . I am finding the pcs and hope to have them all by this fall,with hopes of restoring the stone or placing it in the Springs Museum.
        Sept 16 & 17 the Casselman Valley Amish and Mennonite Historians are having a program on the Brenneman history.
        I will forward more information if desired.
        William L Brenneman

        • admin says:

          Hello William,
          I’m checking my sources for Maria Bender, but our dates are pretty close. Thanks for the information, especially about the program at the Springs Museum. I hope to be their. My wife and I want to know the location of all these ancestor graves. Thanks for responding, and please stay in touch,
          Larry

  3. christina says:

    I came across your article while trying to find research on my family history. I have come to a dead end. All I know really is that my grandfather was Amish…He passed away before my birth. The Amish disowned him because he choose to go to war. My father is Larry, and that is where it stops. Do you know where I could go from here? My family is from Iowa.
    Thank you in advance for all your help.
    Christina

    • admin says:

      Christina,
      Our Brenneman line is one of the most written about and documented families in the US and Europe, going back to old Melchoir. Please consult and pose your questions on the free family boards: Ancestry.com and Genforum.com for quick and excellent results. The basis for most discussion is the wonderful “Brenneman Family History” written by Albert Gerberich in 1938. I believe it was published by Mennonite Publishing, Scottsdale, PA, and is available in many history centers.
      Thanks for your interest, and I hope that helps,
      Larry

      • Why IS that? I mean, why is the Brenneman line so well documented? I’m grateful for it, it’s amazing! My parents have the Brenneman book, but as a teen I found it pretty confusing. 🙂

        • admin says:

          Hi Kendal,
          I’m so glad that you have an interest in our fascinating family history. Thank God that our ancestors took the time to record the lineage and those great stories. Will you join me in researching, recording, and writing about your particular line and how we are related? Are you part of my PA/MD Brennemans? Stay in touch,
          Larry

  4. Ed Brenneman says:

    I only recently traced my name back. I have pieced together the line from myself to Melchior (the Exile) now. Very, very interesting. There are so, so many offspring in each generation that I am starting to think I might be related to everyone. I always believed we went back to Germany but now see that it was Switzerland. Germany only because of the exile. (German was one of the 4, or so, languages spoken in Switzerland…). I was also surprised by the Mennonite & Amish background…..makes sense though.

  5. Ed Brenneman says:

    Oh Larry,
    FYI-I came from the line in PA. My line went to VA (Abraham Brenneman) then to Ohio. Abraham’s son was David, then his son Abraham, then his son Jacob “Benton” Brenneman, then my grandfather. – David & his wife Catherine (Moyer) are buried in the Cairo, OH, cemetery. Jacob is in Lima, OH. My grandfather is in Columbus Grove, OH, & my father in Bowling Green, OH.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for passing that information along, Ed. Now our readers (and the world) know(s). The Brennemans surely were prolific, and well documented.
      Larry

  6. Sunsee-Rea Hoover says:

    Hi Larry and Susan,
    I was so excited to find this site. I’ve been working on my family history, and on my mom’s side, Melchior Brennaman was my 8th great grand father. I saw that you said that he is the last one to be found, however I have been able to find his parents, and so on.
    Melchior’s parents were: Niclaus Melchior Brenneman – Born: June 23, 1605 – Died: 1634, born in Zimmerwald, Canton, Bern, Switzerland, and Mrs. Elizabeth Melchior Brennaman.
    Niclaus parents were: Peter E. Broenniman – Born: April 12, 1584 – Death Unknown, Born in Switzerland, and Elsi Reusser.
    Peter E. Broenniman parents were: Peter H. Broenniman – Born: 1554 – Death Unknown, born in Zimmerwald, Bern, Switzerland, and Anna Entzen.
    Hope this helps you. I still have to research Elsi Reusser and Anna Entzen. I couldn’t find any parents for Elizbeth.

    • admin says:

      Hi Sunsee-Rae,
      We’re grateful for your research and additions to our family. If indeed the Ruesser name appears in several generations, that wouldn’t be unusual in the small Amish-Mennonite families of Switzerland. Would you share your sources? Ancestry.com public trees? Look forward to more in the future.
      Larry & Susan

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