Peter and Anna Maria Zehler
A Family Mystery

Peter and Anna Maria Zehler

Peter and Anna Maria Zehler


The Mystery
The records available concerning Frank Zehler, present conflicting information about his birth.  These discrepancies, combined with other established facts, suggest that the Zehler family left Prussia under unusual circumstances.  Hence "A Zehler Mystery" presented below.

Frank's Grave Stone
Frank's Grave Stone
Background

The first record of interest is Frank's grave stone in the Sacred Heart of Jesus cemetery in Bennington, New York.  It contains a clear inscription of Frank's birth date, July 1, 1855, nearly a year prior to the family immigrated to America.  This date becomes interesting when compared to the 1860
47 and 187046 U.S. Census, which both state the Frank was born in America.  How could Frank have been born in America a year before his family immigrated?  The most likely explanation is: The family lied to the census taker.

The mystery is further heighten by information in the passenger list from the Sailing Ship Fairfield, the ship which brought Peter and Anna Maria Zehler to America with nine of their children.  The passenger list shows the Zehler family on the upper deck, presumably in steerage, and lists the following family members:

nameagesexactual age
164 ZöhlerPeter50M
165 Anna47F
166 Michel18M18
167 Maria16F16
168 Zöhler Mathias14M15
169 Peter10M13
170 Nicolas8M11
171 Maria6F8
172 Wilhelm4M6
172 Johann2M2
172 Jacob11/12M2


Several discrepancies in the passenger list are highlighted above.  First., Michel (Michael) arrived in America in 1855, accompanied by his sister Anna, and therefore was not of the Fairfield.  Second, the age of several of the children is mis-stated, giving them a lower age.  This is particularly obvious with Jacob, who is the twin brother of Johann (John).  Finally, Frank is absent from the list.  Thus again we have falsification of the record to hide the presence of Frank on the ship.  These discrepancies are hard to overlook and strongly suggest that the Peter and Anna Maria left Germany under unusual circumstances.

The Mystery

From the information outlined above, we can build a plausible picture of the circumstances surrounding our ancestor's departure from Germany.  The key players are
Michael, who left for America in 1855, and Frank, who is not named in the passenger list.  Michael left Germany a few months prior to his 18
th birthday, certainly with the intent of avoiding service in the Prussian Army.  And, just as with his oldest brother John, this move would have caused the difficulty with the Prussian authorities.  As a result, the rest of the family left Germany and emigrated to America.

But, how to explain the deception surrounding the birth of Frank?  Here, I suggest that Peter and Anna Maria had planned to bring their family to America in 1855.  However, an unexpected pregnancy got in the way and Anna Maria could not safely travel.  Michael and his sister left anyway, so he could avoid military service, and the remainder of the family waited to follow later.

Of course, this second offence would have upset the Prussian authorities, with potentially major consequences for the family.  So, to avoid any possible punishment, Peter and his family "disappeared", i.e. left Nuhweiler and hide for the Prussian authorities.  The most likely place of hiding was in one of the small villages just 10 to 15 miles East of Nuhweiler.  This location would have had significant advantages.  First and foremost, the territory East of Nuhweiler and Mettnich was the Fürstentum Birkenfeld (Principality of Birkenfeld), which was governed by the Dutchy of Olderburg.  As a separate country, local officials would be less likely to pursue the family.  Second, several cousins of Peter lived in the village of Selbach and might well have helped hide the family.  Finally, one of the Zöhler Families from Selbach had already emigrated to America and settled in Sheldon, Wyoming County, New York.

In this scenario, Peter, Anna Maria and their young children hid in Selbach for nearly a year, waiting for their new born to grow and the weather improve, before undertaking the journey to America.  Of course, the need for secrecy means proof of this conjecture does not exist and, unfortunately, we will likely never know the real story.



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