Ah, Franz Karl Bitsch! The earliest known patriarch in my German ancestry. You see, I grew up thinking I had massive amounts of German genealogy because my German ancestors were highly successful in their careers (my great grandfather was a heavy weight in advertising and had lunches with Albert Einstein – my goodness!)
My family discussed the ‘successful Germans’ frequently, and traditional German customs prevailed on my dad’s side of the family. When it came down to researching my genealogy, I was surprised to find I was only 6% German. It seems my German male ancestors married Irish women early on, a fact unknown until my genealogy obsession took root.
I thought because my family had already researched the heck out of the Bitsch family that no surprises would pop up. Nope! One golden rule of genealogy: There are always surprises to be found.
Back to Franz Karl Bitsch: He was born about 1778 in either France or Germany (family lore says France). We first find find documentation of Franz Karl in Darmstadt in 1810. The document states that Franz and his wife Louise Charlotte Schmidt were arriving from Wurzburg, Bavaria, and that Franz was a jeweler. Indeed Franz would go on to run a successful business selling fine jewelry, china, and cut glass. The location of his shop was on a prominent street in Darmstadt (Rheinstrasse 2, near Luisenplatz). This was also close to the Archduke of Hesse’s home, and Franz spent many nights gambling with the Archduke and his peers.
By 1830, Franz’s business was failing and the shop moved to a less prominent street. I have a hunch this may have to do with his gambling habit. His wife Louise, my g-g-g-g grandmother, decided she would take herself and some of her children to America. In America, she would not be ashamed to work. Leaving Franz and her younger children behind, Louise arrived in Baltimore in 1833. Franz arrived in 1834 with Otto Friedrich Eberhart Wilhelm, my great great great grandfather.
I would like to take a moment to share this piece. Louise’s granddaughter Emilie Halbach recorded her grandmother and mother’s journey to America:
“The trip was a stormy one, and every time a storm came up, the steerage was closed at the entrance to the deck, so that in case of disaster, the people would have drowned like rats. But all was well, Captain Graue must have taken a special liking to my grandmother and family, after having repeatedly spoken to them on the deck. For instance, he got my mother to help him sort the mail that he carried to America, and in that way mother got to be a little more familiar with the English language. When a storm came up, he would get Uncle Louie up with him, and told grandmother that if anything should happen he would take charge of the boy as his own child.
So many of the tourists wore wooden shoes, and in a storm, when the ship heaved from one side to the other, the shoes would slide back and forth, so that in the morning the owners had quite a time to identify their own. Well, this is the way it went for three months, December 1, 1832, to March 1, 1833. Captain Graue was very good to my folks. Even before they left the ship, he pressed money into my grandmother’s hand saying that she was in a strange country and did not know what might happen. If she did not need it, she could return it to him when they met again. And she did. They got along without using it and she gave it back to him when he was on again in June.”
Wow, talk about being made of tough stuff. The family surname changed from Bitsch to Pietsch, and has remained so to this day in my family. But alas, Louise would not have a lot of time with her husband in America: In 1835 Franz returned to Darmstadt and died in 1848 at the age of 70. Franz had a Catholic burial. One thing I found fascinating about Franz and Louise was that he was Catholic and she was Lutheran. Their sons were baptized as Catholic, and their daughters baptized Lutheran. How common was this in families? I am not sure – still researching.
This tradition continued and my g-g-g grandpa Otto Pietsch (remember, RIP Bitsch spelling), a confirmed Catholic, married Anna Christina Kamrodt/Kamroth, an Evangelical Lutheran. The family and following generations prospered. But I had lingering questions about Otto’s father Franz: Was he from France? Where was he born? Would DNA testing help?
Otto Friedrich Eberhart Wilhelm Bitsch [Pietsch] and wife Anna Christina Kamrodt
I hired a wonderful German genealogist to search for Franz in Wurzburg. No birth or baptism record of any kind was found. However, said genealogist mentioned the following intriguing information:
I was able to find a marriage record of certain Joannes Bietsch, who got married in Wurzburg on May 24, 1777. Any of above mentioned records would help us to prove if this is record of Franz Karl’s parents’ wedding. You will find the copy as attachment as well. What is interesting on it is: Joannes Bietsch was most probably an experienced teacher, was a son of Friedrich Bietsch, a soldier in the Legion from Flanders under the leading of seargants de Cariel and Joannees de Fuonderaag. Joannes was from the village/city of Eingen (I must locate it). He married Margaretha Barbara Schondorf, daughter of Joannes August Karl Schondorf, citizen of (here is more reading possible, it looks like Frankfurt am Main). Mother of Margaretha was Maria Margaretha Bucker, citizen of the same city. (later there are details about the announcment of the wedding)
I can’t help wondering if Franz is related to this family, and I intend to find out in the years to come (fingers crossed).
In the mean time, my cousin T. Pietsch had been kind enough to agree to take a Y-chromosome test from Family Tree DNA.
T. Pietsch is a direct male descendant of Franz Bitsch (and we share more recent Pietsch ancestors). By testing T’s chromosome, it was essentially the same as testing Franz’s Y chromosome since it was passed down directly to T. I was hoping testing the mutations on the Bitsch/Pietsch Y chromosome would give some insight to the deep origins of this direct paternal lineage. Weeks went by, and finally the results were in! His Y-DNA mutations placed him in haplogroup: T1a1a1 (shorthand: T-P77).
Frequency of Y haplogroup T in Europe, courtesy of Eupedia
T is rare in Europe, with about 1% of European male lineages belonging to T. You can see in the above map where it is heavily concentrated, and Franz’s particular subgroup T-P77 dominates Saudi Arabian, Mizrahi, and Ashkenazi Jewish populations.
There were no high level matches with other men, only a couple Y-DNA 25 marker matches. Distant, but still something! One man’s paternal lineage was from Germany, the other born and living in Qatar. The possibilities for how Franz’s T-P77 Y chromosome ended up in Germany are endless and tempting. I cannot wait to see what jewels I have yet to discover in researching the Bitsch family.