The Taeuffer family roots extend deep into the Bas-Rhin (Lower Rhine) region of France and can be traced back to the beginning of the eighteenth century. The family was, for many generations, a fixture in the small farming community of Frohmuhl. The village is located about 60 kilometers (around 40 miles) northwest of Strasbourg, in the canton de la Petite Pierre in the Vosges forest, in Alsace.
The region known as Alsace has seen a steady stream of political changes since the Holy Roman Empire. This desirable area has cycled back and forth between French and German rule a number of times. Alsace officially became part of France at the end of the 30 Years War in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia. Interestingly, the treaty stated that, although the King of France was the sovereign, all existing rights and customs of the locals would be left in place, thus setting a precedence that holds true up to current times.
The Franco-Prussian War which resulted in the 1871 unification of Germany saw Alsace and neighboring province Lorraine returned to German control. Particularly galling to the locales must have been the fact that Alsace was not even allowed local governance like other German member states. Rather, it was placed under the authority of the Kaiser and administered directly from Berlin.
The First World War saw Alsace liberated from German rule in 1919 with the Treaty of Versailles. Interestingly, this treaty included dispensation for Alsace from the French laws that had been implemented between 1871 and 1919 while Alsace was in German hands.
All went well until Hitler’s army invaded France in 1940, seizing Alsace and Lorraine as German territory. The area was again returned to French rule (for the final time) when the Allies liberated France in 1945. Again, the local rights and customs of the people of Alsace were protected with the implementation of “local law” provisions.
The latest change was in 2016 when Alsace, Champagne-Ardenne and Lorraine were consolidated into a single administrative region called Grand Est with Strasbourg as its capital.
The way religion was established in the area vs. the rest of France also reflects an independent spirit. During the 16th century Protestant Reformation, Strasbourg (in 1523) choose to become Protestant. Subsequent efforts by the Roman Catholic Hapsburgs to eliminate this “heresy” eventually resulted in a patchwork of Protestant and Catholic territories throughout Alsace with each village making its own choice.
Another example of the independence of the region is that the 1685 Edict of Fontainebleau which suppressed French Protestantism throughout the country was not applied to Alsace.
Yet another local law concerning religion is Alsace’s dispensation from the 1905 French law separating church and state. Consequently, unlike the rest of France, public subsidies to Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist churches, as well as Jewish synagogues are allowed in Alsace. And in fact some religious instruction is required in Alsatian schools.
The language known as Alsatian is generally recognized as a dialect of Low Alemannic German. Use of the language is fading in modern times, although it is now being offered as an optional course in many of the schools. The modern people of Alsace consider themselves more Alsatian than French and certainly not German.
TÄUFER, TÄUFFER, TAEUFFER
The original spelling of the family name was Täufer, the German word for Baptist, Mennonite, or one who performs baptisms. Whether or not that was an indication that the family was historically Protestant, like many of the people of Alsace, the family eventually became members of the Catholic faith. It is evident from the Germanic-sounding given names of family members in the early 1700s that the Täufers, although officially French citizens, identified culturally as Alsatian.
Nicol (also spelled Nickel) Täufer was born December 15, 1752 in the Baptist village of Weislingen, just a few kilometers from Catholic Frohmuhl. His father, Frederic, was the son of Joannis Täufer and Marie Dinell. Nicol married a woman by the name of Anna Marie Macart who was of French ethnicity. It was likely she (along with the French revolution) that began the strong French influence on the family. In 1786 the couple had a son. His name, Pierre, reflected the influence of the ongoing French Revolution. At the same time, Nicol began using the French spelling of his name, Nicolas in official records. He and Anna Marie also had a daughter, named Magdelena. Unfortunately, she died in 1811 while still a young woman.
In 1804, Nicolas and Anna Marie built a roadside inn in Frohmuhl, where weary travelers might find food, shelter, and hospitality. To welcome guests, a carved block of the locally quarried sandstone was set as the keystone above the door. It read “1804 / Nicolaus Taeuffer / Anna Maria Macart”. Spelling consistency of his first name was apparently not a high priority. Soon after establishing the successful business, Nicolaus started the family tradition of public service when he became mayor of Frohmuhl in 1814.
Like many of his neighbors in Frohmuhl, Nicolaus’ son Pierre made his living as a farmer. In 1810 He married Catherine Keile. (As a testament to the ambiguity of the region’s national identity, the records of the Pierre and Catherine’s family throughout the first half of the nineteenth century reflect both French and German spellings of the name Täuffer/Taeuffer interchangeably.)
The couple was blessed with a daughter, Anna Marie named after her grandmother, in 1811. In 1814 they had a second daughter, Catherine. On May 22, 1844 Catherine married Auguste Noetinger. Unfortunately, the bride’s mother did not live to see her daughter married. The newlywed couple soon left Frohmuhl to settle in Strasbourg. On April 1, 1851 the Noetingers had a daughter, Anne Marie, followed by two sisters, Marthe and Elizabeth, and a brother, Alexander.
In 1821, Pierre and Catherine had a third daughter, Barbe. Unfortunately, she died on May 7, 1845 unmarried and only 24 years of age. Pierre and Catherine’s youngest child, and only son, Jacques, was born in 1825.
In 1828 Pierre took over from his father, Nicolas, as mayor of Frohmuhl. He served in that capacity off and on until his death on May 28, 1850.
Pierre’s son, Jacques, married Sophie Winter, born in 1828, on September 26, 1848. Their first son, Georges, was born on December 1, 1849. Georges went on to earn his living in Frohmuhl as a wheelwright. He also managed the family inn built by his grandfather. Following the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, he continued the family tradition of public service by serving as “civil records officer,” a position similar to county clerk. He went on to marry Catherine Wintcerith on June 15, 1875.
Jacques’ son Georges Taeuffer had five children:
- Their first born, Ernst, was born March 21, 1876 and died May 26, 1942 in Tieffenbach.
- Their second son, George, was born April 16, 1878. He married Marie Wintzenrith and lived until 1933. They had a son, Eugene, born 1915 and a daughter, Lucie, born 1917, who married Marcel Dann.
- On March 1, 1880 they had a daughter, Maria Josephina, who lived a long life, being finally laid to rest on April 23, 1976 in Strasbourg.
- Their second daughter, Marie was born in 1883 and married Oscar Grandadam. Oscar died on October 12, 1914 defending France in World War 1. Marie died in Frohmuhl in 1960.
- Lastly, came son Victorine, born March 27, 1886. Victorine died on March 7, 1962 in Haguenau.
Jacques and Sophie’s second son, Jacques, was born in 1851. He was also a farmer, and married local girl, Magdelena Dinkle. They had three children:
- Daughter, Sophia, on March 25, 1881, followed by three sons;
- Ludwig in 1882, Victorinne in 1887, and
- Louis Joseph in 1899.
In 1852, after his father, Pierre, died Jacques took over duties as mayor of Frohmuhl. The next year, he and Sophie had their third child, a daughter named Catherine. In 1854 she was joined by another brother, Ernest who would eventually go on to seek his fortune in America.
The next addition to the family was a son, Louis, born in 1858. The sixth and final sibling was Sophie, born 1863. This youngest child was much beloved and the family was devastated when she died in 1892 at only 28 years of age, possibly from appendicitis. Her husband, Eugene Kieffer, was so bereft that he left Frohmuhl and did not maintain further contact with the family. Her photograph, a copy of which Ernest Taeuffer kept in America, hung on the wall of the family restaurant for many years after, well into the 20th century.
In 1871, as a result of the Franco-Prussian War, Frohmuhl once again became a German possession. Jacques Taeuffer went suddenly from serving as mayor, to serving as Burgermeister. At the same time, he was compelled to change the spelling of his name to Jakob Täuffer. It is very likely that this transformation was a bitter pill to swallow for the young, headstrong, and self-proclaimed Frenchman, Ernest Taeuffer. In addition, as a German citizen, Ernest would have been subject to mandatory conscription into the Kaiser’s army when he turned 20 years old. In order to avoid that indignity, in 1873, nineteen year old Ernest Taeuffer left Frohmuhl for America, never to return.
“The Germanic French – Researching Alsatian and Lorrainian Families” 2016 webinar by John Philip Colletta
Civil Records of departement du Bas-Rhin
Family lore from Lucie Dann as told to Bernadette Dann