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The Witzels of Vacha
and the Earliest Witzel Families

c. 1350 - 1600

( Witzeln, Wyczel, Wiczel, Wytzel, Witzel, Wicz, Weitzeln, Witzell, Witzelius, Vicelii )



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Copperplate engraving showing Vacha an der Werra by Matthäus Merian der Ältere (1593 - 1650). (1)


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iner der ersten Belege für Deutschland überhaupt ist nach dem jetzigen Erkenntnisstand der vor 1380 Januar 5 in Vacha verstorbene Bürger - dem alten Hanß Witzeln und sinen Erben seligen. Die Zeitspanne macht deutlich, daß es sich nicht um Georg Witzels Großvater - wahrscheinlich aber um dessen Groß- oder Urgroßvater handeln dürfte. Der Zusatz dem alten weist auf einen gleichnamigen Sohn. Johannes ist demnach noch vor 1400 Leitname der Familie geworden!

One of the first records in Germany altogether, as of our current knowledge, is about a citizen of Vacha who died before January 5, 1380 - to the old Hanß Witzeln and his deceased heirs. The time span makes clear that he cannot be Georg Witzel’s grandfather, but most likely is his great-grandfather or great-great-grandfather. The addition, to the old, points to a son with the same name. Therefore Johannes became already, before 1400, a common first name of the family! (2)



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From this passage, it becomes reasonable to believe that Old Hanß Witzeln of Vacha is perhaps the patriarch of all Witzel families. This assumption is based on an understanding that surnames where not in common use in Germany until about this time. In fact, a document from Fulda, which dates to a slightly later time in 1390, records an account of payments regarding a citizen named as Witzel von Hünfeld. This account utilizes an earlier method of identifying a person by referring to the town of his origin. Clearly, no surname is present here even in 1390. Consequently, a comparison of the two name forms lends credibility to the idea that the city of Vacha is indeed the Vaterstadt of all Witzel families:

In Vacha als solcher nur einmal zu 1385 nachweisbar - kommt er in Fulda dagegen zwischen 1390 und 1500 bei über 20 Bürgern vor8. Für Vacha kann das nur bedeuten, daß er sehr früh zum Familiennamen wurde!

In Vacha, as a personal name, it (Wtzel) is found only once in 1385; it occurs in Fulda, on the other hand, between 1390 and 1500, with more than 20 citizens. For Vacha, that only can mean that it very early became a surname! (3)

What comes to light is that Old Hanß Witzeln is also the forebearer of the family's uncommon wealth. For several generations the Witzel family had business connections with the rulers of Völkershausen (4) and the prominent Schüler family in Vacha. Their transactions with the noble dynasty of Völkershausen were manyfold. Likewise, documents show transactions with Gelen Schulerin in 1430 and Hans Schuler in 1432:

… verfügte die Familie über umfangreichen Besitz. Schon der vor 1380 Januar 5 verstorbene Hans Witzel hatte von dem Adelsgeschlecht derer von Völkershausen - Zinß, gulde, obley, was sie der hatten zu Vacha in und vor der Studt an hußen, garten und ackern, erworben, das nun an Heinrich Schüler aus Vacha gekommen war.

… the family had extensive possessions. Already the Hans Witzel who died before January 5, 1380 had acquired from the nobility in Völkershausen – interest, compensation, obligation, all that he owned in Vacha, in and outside of the town - houses, garden and farmland, … which now had been inherited by Heinrich Schüler of Vacha. (5)


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Certainly, the name Johannes Witzel had become well established in the city of Vacha. From the time of Old Hanß Witzeln until the early 1700s, there were at least seven descendants that bore the name. (6). In 1557, Georg Witzel described in his Genealogion quoddam Georgii Wicelii another father and son who answered to the name of Johannes Witzel. He wrote of his grandfather and uncle:

Meinem Großvater väterlicherseits hörte ich als Knabe oft die Tugenden eines guten Bürgers, insbesondere Klugheit nachrühmen; nie aber habe ich gehört, dass jemand seine Religiosität, Sittsamkeit und rechtliche Gesinnung angezweifelt hätte. Mein Vater zeigte ihm denn auch eine außergewöhnliche Erkenntlichkeit bis in sein spätestes Alter. Unter den Papieren meines Vaters fand ich nach dessen Tode ein älteres Schriftstück, aus dem sich ergab, dass in Vacha zwei Bürger namens Johannes Witzel gelebt haben; der eine war der Vater des anderen. Der Rat bezeugt von dem Aelteren, daß er ein guter Bürger und einer von den zwölf Schöffen war. Dieser war, wie ich aus jenem Schriftstück entnehmen zu müssen glaube, durch seine erste Frau der Vater meines Vaters, also mein Großvater. Nach dem Tode seiner ersten Frau heiratete er eine Elisabeth Spangenberg, die selbst auch Witwe war. Ein Sohn dieser beiden war jener zweite, jüngere Johann Witzel, der seinerseits mit Margaretha N. sich verheiratete. Letzterer war also mein Oheim, der Stiefbruder meines Vaters. Ein [das] meinem Vater Michael ausgestelltes Dokument legt auch über jenen älteren Johann Witzel wie über die ganze Verwandtschaft ein sehr gutes Zeugnis ab. Wir Angehörige der Familie freuen uns noch heute dieser öffentlichen Anerkennung: ist Erbschaft eines großen Vermögens. In dem betreffenden Schriftstück, das deutsch abgefasst ist, heißt es: „Und er hatte eine merckliche anzal frommer und bidderleude, die eins teils auß unser der schepffen und rats freunden, und die andern unser, der stadt, gelobte und geschworne bürger zc. “ Dies ist also von Johann Witzel dem Aetleren gesagt, der durch seine erste Frau mein Großvater war.

About my patrilineal grandfather, I heard, when I was a boy, that they considered him to be a good citizen; and particularly, that he was intelligent. And I never heard that anybody had questioned his religiousness, seriousness or honest conviction. My father always offered his extraordinary respect to him, even until his old age. After my father’s death, I found an older document between his papers. It stated that two citizens, with the name Johannes Witzel, lived in Vacha: one was the father of the other.The council attested that the older was a good citizen and one of the twelve jurors. He was – as I suppose by reading the paper – by his first wife the father of my father, therefore my grandfather. After the death of his first wife, he married Elisabeth Spangenberg, a widow. Their son was the second younger Johann Witzel, married with Margareta N.. He was my uncle, the stepbrother of my father. One document, place aside by my father Michael, states that the older Johann Witzel, and the entire family, as having an excellent pedigree. Today, we members of the family are still proud about this public acknowledgement; because the honourable repute of our ancestors is worth more than the inheritance of a great wealth. This paper, which is written in German, says: “And he had a notable number of devout and honest men who were, for one thing, from our juror and council friends; and the others were pledged to the city and sworn citizens, etc.” This is accordingly said about Johann Witzel, the older, who was by his first wife my grandfather.(7)


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Gauleiter and Schöffen
Rechtsbuch der Stadt Herford
c. 1370. (8)


Without a doubt, Georg Witzel’s grandfather was "one of the most prominent citizens of the city of Vacha in the 15th century. ... (So much so, that) Johannes Witzel by 1430 appears to be of equal rank to the Rentmeister Berthold Murhard."(9) His prominence is once again reflected in a document dated 1451, where he is mentioned among the city's jurors (Schöffen). It appears that he also served simultaneously as a city councilman (Ratsmann). (10) Given the structure of government during these times in neighboring cities, positions such as these were primarily hereditary and were held only by the most influencial members of the community.(11)


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By 1501, Michael Witzel was the owner of a tavern in Vacha called the Zum Engel(12) or 'To the Angel'; in which Georg was born. In conjunction with this ownership, Michael served as a city Schenk(13), assisting in the oversight of the city’s vineyards and wine cellars. In 1508, he attempted a salt production venture that eventually proved to be unfruitful. In 1520, he is mentioned as serving in the courts as the city’s magistrate (Schultheiss), acting under the authority of Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. In 1527, he is listed as a councilman (Burgermeister) in Vacha. And in 1530, he is mentioned as a juror (Schöffe). Georg Witzel writes about the ‘respect and trust’ which his father received from the

… Adelige aus den Nachbargebieten. Ratsherrn und Geschäftsträger anderer Stadte ... (und) dem einen oder anderen Fürsten von Hessen und Buchonien …(14)

… nobility from the neighboring areas. Alderman and representatives of other cities ... and one or two sovereigns of Hesse and Buchonia …

Michael Witzel was married three times. Nikolaus is a son by his first marriage; and Johannes and Georg by his second marriage. Georg tells us that Michael Witzel fathered children into his sixties, and even a daughter in his seventies. But beyond this statement, the names of addidtional children are not known.


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Over time, the vast holdings of the grandfather were spread among a number of related family members. By 1539, Hans Witzel, very likely a half-brother of Georg Witzel through his father’s third marriage, is shown to have inherited the family properties still existing by the garden at Vacha's ‘new gate’. In 1551, this same Hans Witzel served on the city council as Ratsmeister.

Georg Witzel himself is known to have fathered eight children: Elisabeth, Anna, Georg, Michael, Gabriel, Katharina, Konkordia and Charitas. The eldest son, Georg Junior, is known to have studied for the priesthood. In 1560, he was working, while still a student, under the direction of Bishop Julius Pflug of Zeitz. Later, he is documented as serving as priest and dean in the town of Eltville, which is located along the Rhine. Later, by 1548, he published a collection of his father’s works, identifying himself as Georg Timotheus Wicelius Junior. And in a 1562 publication, he is identified as its editor, Georg Wicelius iun.. The second son, Michael is listed as Micaelis Witzelius while a student at the University of Erfurt in 1549. Three of the daughters are known to have died at an early age. But nothing more about Georg Witzel's children and grandchildren is known.

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Georg Witzel’s older brother is thought to have become a citizen of Fulda » and have had a son also named Johannes. This younger Johannes Witzel married the influential Katharina Hack of Fulda and had two sons, Hyronimus and Augustinus. It is thought that before 1597 Johannes served at the monastery in Fulda as provost of its holdings at Petersberg and Frauenberg. In 1579 he served as a juror (Schöffe) in Fulda.




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The family of Georg Witzel’s mother, Agnes Landau of Hünfeld, had considerable wealth. Later, a second cousin of Georg on his mother’s side married into the equally influential Murhard family. All three families, in later years, show membership among the jurors (Schöffen) in Fulda.

The Witzel family may have moved to the north of Vacha at an early time. The grandfather of Georg, Hans Wiczel, is known to have had property in the small village of Dippach, just to the north of Vacha. The family also held farms in Dankmarshausen and Heringen. In 1499, Klaus Wicz(el) is mentioned in Dippach. In 1509, Angelika Witzel is mentioned. It is thought that this part of the family originates with Georg Witzel’s uncle, Johannes, the older brother of Michael.

Another likely line of the family begins with Ludwig Witzel of Vacha, born around 1565. » (11) He is not mentioned in any way by Georg Witzel, yet such a date suggests a connection to the family. The son of Ludwig is Johannes Witzel », a shoemaker in Frankfurt who married there in 1625. Johannes was born in Vacha, very likely around 1600. It is also said that the Witzel family seal in Vacha carried the symbol of a shoemaker. Just how Ludwig might link to the Georg Witzel family is not yet known. Among other possibilities, he could be a son of Michael Witzel through his third marriage.


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There is also an early Witzel line in the Erfurt region. It begins with Valtin Witzel (Wetzel) born in 1540. (15) » Four generations can be traced, as the family moves from this area to Bad Langensalza by the early 1600s. Given the number of Witzel family members who attended the University of Erfurt, the question might be asked if this line also relates back to Vacha?


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Records appear in Heiligenrode regarding a Johannes Witzel born in 1575. (16) » His birthplace is not mentioned. Several generations of Witzels follow. In this record appears the occasionally occurring spelling change to Weitzel, only to have it return in other records to Witzel.


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Descendants of Hanß Melchior Witzel (17) » to 1573 in Gossau and Wila, Switzerland. He was married to Anna Bauwert. Their children were named Jos », Elisabeth » », Bernhard » and Heinrich ».


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Among these early records are found many recorded spellings of the family name Witzel: 1380 - Hanß Witzeln; 1429 - Hanse Wyczel czu Vach; 1431 - Hans Wiczel; 1464 - Hans Wytzel und Johans, syn sone; 1484 - Micheln Witzel; 1499 - Clauweß Wicz; 1527 - Michel Weitzeln; 1539 - Georgio Witzell; 1549 Micaelis Witzelius and around 1560 - Johannis Vicelii are examples of these variations.


(1)

Witzel, Bernhard Johannes, Schriften zur Förderung der Georg-Witzel-Forschung , Lüdenscheid: Peter Jarszombeck for Georg-Witzel-Archive-Hagen, 1975, p. 34.

(2)

Ditzel, Olaf, 'Georg Witzels Vorfahren in Vacha', Fuldaer Geschichtsblätter. Nr. 74. 1998. p. 80. English translation Diether Caspritz, 2006.

(3)

Ditzel, p. 80.

(4)

"Between 1430 and 1500, the Lords of Völkershausen had acquired virtually all parts of Völkershausen." Schulze, Ernst, 'Chronik - Völkershausen', Der Homepage von Völkershausen bei Vacha Retrived on January 6, 2008: http://www.voelkershausen.de/History-G/Historie.htm »

(5)

Ditzel, p. 87.

(6)

Ditzel, p. 79; from Goller, Hans, Bürgerbuch der Stadt Vacha, 1970.

(7)

Witzel, Georg, Genealogion quoddam Georgii Wicelii, 1557; German translation from Richter, Dr. Gregor. 'Die Verwandtschaft Georg Witzels'. Fuldaer Geschichtsblätter. Nr. 8. August, 1909. pp. 117 - 118; Reprinted in Witzel, Bernhard Johannes, 'Gregor Richter: Die Verwandtschaft Georg Witzels', Schriften zur Förderung der Georg-Witzel-Forschung , Lüdenscheid: Peter Jarszombeck for Georg-Witzel-Archive-Hagen, 1975, pp. 53 - 53; » English translation by Johann Loy and Carl Witzel, 2007.

(8)

'Rechtsbuch der Stadt Herford: Municipal Archives', Women's Bodies, Women's Property: German Customary Law Books Illustrated in the Fourteen Century, Tufts University Archives and Special Collections. 1370. Retrived on January 30, 2008: http://dca.tufts.edu/features/law/books/index.html »

(9)

Ditzel, p. 93.

(10)

Ditzel, p. 94.

(11)

"It is ascertainable that at least as early as 1340 the right to sit in the Nürnberg council had been narrowed down to a patriciate; that is, to an inner circle of distinguished families, whose exclusive eligibility was a prerogative of birth and was passed on to their sons." from Greenfield, Kent, Sumptuary Law in Nürnberg, Lancaster: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1918, p. 17. It would seem that such practices also existed in Vacha. For several generations, Witzel family members held prestigious positions in Vacha such as magistrate (Schultheiß), juror (Schöffe) and city councilman (Ratsmeister).

(12)

Ditzel, p. 79.

(13)

Ditzel, p. 95.

(14)

Ditzel, p. 101.

(15)

Hunter, Marc Wolfe, 'Valten Witzel ', 'Fredrick William Hunter Genealogy', RootsWeb.com. Retrived on January 29, 2008: http://worldconnect.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=marchunter&id=I12936 »

(16)

Kuehlborn, Claus Werner, 'Johannes Witzel', GedBas. GenWiki. Retrived on January 29, 2008: http://gedbas.genealogy.net/datenblatt.jsp?nr=1417304 »

(17)

'Hanns Melchior Witzel', FamilySearch International Genealogical Index, The Church of Jesus Christ of the Later-Day Saints. Retrived on January 29, 2008: http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Search/IGI/individual_record.asp?recid=100056812798&lds=1®ion=5®ionfriendly=Continental+Europe&frompage=99 »


01 - 29 - 2008


Ditzel, Olaf. 'Georg Witzel - erst Weggefährte, dann Gegner von Balthasar Raid'. Mein Heimatland. Band 39, Nr. 8. August, 2000. »

Ditzel, Olaf. 'Georg Witzels Vorfahren in Vacha'. Fuldaer Geschichtsblätter. Nr. 74. 1998. pp. 77-104.

Eichler, Juergen. 'Johann Witzel', GedBas. http://gedbas.genealogy.net/datenblatt.jsp?nr=999077653: July 5, 2006. ».

Eichler, Juergen. 'Personenstammkarten - Johann Witzel', Meine Genealogie. March 3, 2006. http://www.haduloha.de/fiches/fiche992.htm#f4960. July 7, 2006. ».

Eichler, Juergen. 'Vorstellung/WITZEL', franken-l November 23, 2003. http://list.genealogy.net/mailman/archiv/franken-l/2003-11/msg00131.html. July 6, 2006. ».

Greenfield, Kent, Sumpuary Law in Nürnberg, Lancaster: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1918.

Richter, Dr. Gregor. 'Die Verwandtschaft Georg Witzels'. Fuldaer Geschichtsblätter. Nr. 8. August, 1909. pp. 113-126, 129-144, 155-160.

'Stadt Vacha', Grünes Band Thüringen. Viewed December 9, 2007: http://www.wartburgkreis.de/gruenes_band/vacha.html. ».

'Witzel', Family Search: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. November 19, 2007. http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/default.asp. July 7, 2006. ».

Witzel, Bernhard Johannes, 'Gregor Richter: Die Verwandtschaft Georg Witzels', Schriften zur Förderung der Georg-Witzel-Forschung , Lüdenscheid: Peter Jarszombeck for Georg-Witzel-Archive-Hagen, 1975.


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