Ban de la Roche Family History Project

The Christmans of Ban de la Roche

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by Louise Chrisman

All roads in the genealogical databases have lead to Rodan, Steinthal, as the originating place for Jacob Christman, the Moravian of Guilford, North Carolina. However, not only would all roads lead to Rodan, but could go no further as by chance one day, a person entering Old Jacob's birth place made a spelling error, and thereafter, subsequent researchers quoted and published the same misprint. Rodan was never meant to be Rodan but Rothau, a small village nestled in a French valley called Ban de la Roche on the western side of the Rhine River. But were it not for Steinthal, the actual name, Steintal (Stone Valley), would not have been found.

Steintal, founded in 1059 upon a former Celtic settlement plundered and assimilated by Romans, borders the Strasbourg diocesan land of the Vallé Rothaine where churches were established in Belmont, Fouday and Rothau before 1200 . When the family of Rupe (Stein) became Steintal's landlord, a castle called Stein (Rock) was erected and the domain then became known as Ban de la Roche when the French inherited it in 1584. The new owner, Georges Jean the Count of Veldenz, purchased the area for 47,000 florins and got his money's worth for the poor and arid ground brought about metal bearing wealth.

Elevated at 387 meters, Ban de la Roche is situated in a green valley surrounded by running streams. With constant moving water around the perimeter, the topsoil most fertile for agriculture is washed away, producing mediocre soil. While the soil is not ideal for farming, its topography offered its inhabitants opportunities for industrial mining, pottery and accessible travel via rivers. In some ways, it was an early suburban lifestyle; one could comfortably live in a hamlet and maintain a small farm while commuting to work some three kilometers away. Such lifestyle was bourgeois, or middle-class. Noted in the vital registries, the Christmans of Waldersbach, Neuvillers, Solbach and Rothau were bourgeois, and held positions in the justice system and were associates of the nobility.

In 1649, Ban de la Roche encountered a bloody rampage lead by Guerotheé the Younger, and so the administrative center for the area was moved to Waldersbach and Rothau where Jacob's family lived. Because of this move, two centuries documenting the activities of the Christmans and their associates were protected. The earliest Christman vital record dates to 1632 when Jacob's great-grandfather, Georg Christmann of Fouday was given the nickname of Salm for his thirty years of service to the Count of Salm. Like so many other Christman records, Georg Christmann's name was inverted to become Christman Georg.

What Georg Christmann and his son must have witnessed in their community of 1200 is a tragic tale of mass hysteria. For between the years of 1607 to 1630, over one hundred people were accused of practicing witchcraft. Eighty individuals were found guilty and publicly executed by the hands of Meister Bernhardt who charged 10 florins per witch to be ignited . Those singled out were unmarried crippled men and widows who lived with their sons. But no one was safe, even families with children were subject to accusation, interrogation, torture, and death by fire. The worst accuser of all was Catherine Maréchal of Rothau who named her mother, brother and a young girl. Five more couples were accused, and perished in flames, leaving behind seventeen orphans.

After the lunacy of the Ban witch killings, many families fled to the city of Barr. To restore order to the community, the French-speaking Lutheran Pastor of Waldersbach, Nicolas Marmet, set up a tribunal to prevent future acts of intolerance. Pastor Marmet developed the Protestant identity during times of crisis, and was responsible for vital records of his parishioners from 1612-1675. Because of his notes, three generations of family history exist. Additionally, prior to the great 1736 exodus, Pastor Marmet laid a foundation in his church of Waldersbach that would be succeeded by Jean Oberlin, the Lutheran pastor who established the first kindergartens, orphanages and pharmacies. Pastor Oberlin resided in Waldersbach from 1767 until his death in 1826 and is buried in the small Fouday cemetery beside the Christmans.

One presumes that Pastor Oberlin moved to Waldersbach because it had been vacated thirty years before. The rise and fall of the Ban's population had everything to do with whether there was a war going on. After the witch killings and Thirty Years War, the Christmans moved from Fouday and Waldersbach to Barr. Old Jacob's great-grandfather, Christian Christman, also known as Colas Colas, was born in Barr on May 14, 1637, and his family remained there until 1664 when they moved into the smaller populated village of Solbach to become Solbachois. Prior to their return, the population of the Ban had dwindled down to 250 residents for the entire region. Yet the War of Holland, ravaged Alsace and burned down the village of Belmont in 1675. Therefore families fled once again, but the Verly and Ringuelsbach families remained. Sixteen years later, Odille Verly, daughter of Jean Verly and Marguerite Neuvillers, was born in Belmont.

Odille Verly's father, Jean Verly, was from the Wahlern village in the Canton of Bern, Switzerland. Jean Verly immigrated to Belmont with the Binggeli, Brüllhard, and Müller families. They had been neighbors in Guggisberg, Switzerland and continued their relationships into Pennsylvania and Salem, North Carolina some decades down the road.

While the family of Christian Christman resided in Solbach, they celebrated their baptisms in Waldersbach, and laid to rest their loved ones in Fouday, suggesting that the family plot is in Fouday. This pattern continued until Old Jacob's father, Jacques, moved in 1719 with his bride, Odille Verly, to Rothau where their first and only child Jacob was born on May 4, 1720. Eight months later, Odille lost her father on New Year's Day, and then her husband the next week. Records do not indicate cause of death, but several young people died in January 1721, so there may have been a viral epidemic at the time.

The new mother, second time widow, grieving daughter, Odille, at age thirty had to carry on. For five years she remained single, raising her son, Jacob, attending to requests for stepping in as godmother to friends and family. Prior to her marriage with Jacques, Odille was married to Jean Michel Gagnier on 16 AUG 1712. But sometime between 1712 and 1719, Jean Ganier died, leaving Odille in Rothau. One wonders whether she had children from her first marriage. While the notes collected here are focused on the Christmans, there is mention of Odille's probable uncle, Jean Ringuelsbach, sponsoring an infant by the name of Peter Ganier on 31 OCT 1713. Could this Peter Ganier possibly be an older half-brother to Jacob? Of note, in 1721, another Odille Verly, the daughter of Jean Adam Verly of Solbach, married a Jean Ganier. Such duplication of names is common.