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The Bremsers or Broemsers of America and Nassau-Hessen, Germany

For several years we have been striving to find my great-grandfather Heinrich Gottlieb Bremser's birth record in Germany, without any results. We have been fortunate to correspond with a cousin in Germany, Herr Reiner Bremser, and he has been extremely helpful in translating some documents and guiding our research. We will describe our detours with the hope this story will help prevent others from making the same mistakes.

What at first stymied our research, and later proved to be the clue leading to our success, is the birth record for my grandmother, Elizabethe Margarethe Wilhelmine Bremser. Before I knew that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had microfilmed the German Church records, I actually wrote the minister of the church in the village where my grandmother was born. Miraculously, the minister in Burgschwalbach, Germany actually photocopied the records and sent them to me, perhaps because as it turned out he was engaged to marry a Bremser girl.

Heinrich or Philip?

Born on 2 Nov 1888 in Hähnstatten, Rhineland-Pfalz, Germany, the record of her birth shows her father to be Philipp Gottlieb Elias Bremser.

But this was wrong! Grandpa's name was Heinrich Gottlieb Bremser. It was right there in his obituary! And it was even listed that way on the ship manifest when he arrived on Ellis Island.

The other information we had, based on family oral tradition and some correspondence, was that he was from "Nassau" or "Singhofen"; that he had brothers named Wilhelm, Karl, and Philip; and that he lived within a "two-hour walk" of his wife before they were married. The two-hour walk seemed likely, as my grandmother was born only six months after her parents married.

Origin of the Bremser Name

The name Bremser was originally Brömser. Sometime in the middle ages, in a story known to all family members, the elder son of the family wanted to marry a women not of his upper class. He was forbidden to use the Brömser name, and thus changed its spelling to Bremser. Reiner Bremser has been able to establish four Bremsers emigrating to the United States from whom all American Bremsers are descended. According to Reiner, nearly all of these Bremsers emigrated from a small village named Niedertiefenbach, which is south of and between Singhofen and Burgschwalbach. Research on the church records shows many, many Bremsers living in historic Niedertiefenbach.

Given this information, I ignored the name on the church records, believing there must be some kind of error, and continued to search for Henry. About a year and a half later, having been contacted by a cousin named Reiner Bremser, I sent him scanned copies of the church records. I meanwhile continued to explore other, more fruitful lines of research. He and I continued to correspond without much progress.

Arriving in America Aboard the Spree

Then the Ellis Island records were made available over the Internet. I was delighted to find proof of Heinrich and Philippine Bremser's entry with Elizabeth, age 4, and "Caroline", age 2, on 12 May 1892, on board the Spree. They were accompanied, as my family had told me, by Gramma Bremser's father, but here too was a surprise. His name on the records was not Philip as I had been told but Johann Jacob Klein. A 16 year old Karl Klein was also listed on the manifest with them. He was listed again on April 14, 1910 after apparently returning from another trip to Germany.

Finally I put aside other family history research to concentrate on great-grandfather Bremser. I ordered films of the church records for Burgschwalbach and for Nassau, looking for a birth record for Heinrich Gottlieb Bremser 20-25 years earlier than his first daughter's birth. Reiner suggested he might actually be from Niedertiefenbach, from which many Bremsers originated. I ordered and reviewed the records of the many hundreds of Bremsers from Niedertiefenbach without any results. Another Bremser relation, Dale Norwood, contacted me. His research revealed that his wife's great-grandfather and mine were brothers. He said that their family knew that the gg-grandfather's name was Philip. The research was slow-going, difficult, and time-consuming. The records are in the original, difficult-to-read old German script, and I don't speak nor read the language. Each step took several weeks. No luck.

Lost Records Found

Eighteen months later Reiner wrote to say he had found the scanned images of the church records the minister had sent me, which I had forwarded to Reiner, and he had misplaced. He said to ignore the name discrepancy and to look for Philip Bremser in the records from Grebenroth. I ordered those films and waited, trying not to get excited. They finally arrived, and I found the page for births in 1864 — without any luck. No Philipp and no Heinrich.

I went back and restudied all the original source information I had. Grebenroth was far more than a two-hour walk, being over 25 miles from Burgschwalbach. (But of course by age 24, at the time of courting, he could easily have moved.) I looked at Henry's daughter's letters to my mother; at the copies of the church records from the minister in Burgschwalbach; I called the two cousins still alive who were descendants of Henry. I looked at Reiner's research to see if I could find a potential link. There was one name that caught my attention: Philipp Nikolaus Karl Bremser, who had seven children, including three sons, Heinrch, Karl, Wilhelm — but no Philip. Besides, the mother's birthdate was far too late: 1858. My Heinrich was born in 1864. Finally, I went back to the Grebenroth film again. From beginning to end, I scanned every birth entry for the Bremser surname and printed out each entry.

Then, in the birth records for 1864, I found an entry with the name of the month smudged. It followed an entry for May, and was the last entry for the year. "Philip Gottlieb Elias Bremser," born on the 22nd of — was it September? The father's name was Philipp Nikolaus Karl Bremser. But the mother's name was different from that in Reiner's records: "Maria Elizabeth Philippina Vogt."

Click for larger image

My mother, as well as all her family, knew her grandfather as Heinrich Gottlieb Bremser. Yet research on my grandmother's birth record found a birth of the same name, but the wrong father: Philipp Gottlieb Elias Bremser. While the other facts, including the birth date, all matched, the discrepancy slowed our research down for some time. Only when all other possibilities were exhausted did we return to this record. The annotations in modern German were made by the Pfärrer (Minister) who sent me the photocopy. (Larger image)

The Answer

Here was the answer: Heinrich's real name was in fact Philip Gottlieb Elias Bremser, and his father had had two families! For some reason, Heinrich had taken the name Heinrich over Philip or Elias. He had a brother 12 years older named Philip; perhaps he did not like Elias. With this information, I was able to connect my great-grandfather to the information Reiner had put together. Suddenly I could put my finger on my 24th g-grandfather from the 10th century, Arnold de Rodenesheim.

The Lessons

Oral tradition and accepted but undocumented facts are good places to start, but they are only leads. They should not be accepted as conclusive truth. The fact that everyone in my family knew Grampa as Heinrich "Henry" Gottlieb Bremser did not prove this was his birth name. Just because this was the name he used when landing on Ellis Island did not prove it to be a fact either.

So listen to oral tradition and "accepted" family truths, but don't depend on them when you find historical evidence that contradicts what you think is true. Follow the facts and see where they lead you. Had I done this, I might have saved myself two years of wandering in the wrong directions.