The Ancestors in Germany


The name Dreis is not very common in Germany, but is well scattered. It has made its way into the German language in the form of "Draisine", the word for the hobby-horse or "bone-shaker" that was the precursor to the bicycle. It was invented by Baron Karl Friedrich Christian Ludwig Drais von Sauerbronn (1785-1851). He appears to have been born in or near the Rheingau, but we have yet to research this connection. In his article on his own family, Manfred DREISS states that several families of this name can trace it back to one or other of the dozen or so villages named Drais or Trais. Max Gottschald's dictionary Deutsche Namenkunde claims the placename is derived from "driesch" -- unused or uncultivated land left for foraging by cattle. DREISS opines that the Rheingau Dreis families scattered between the towns of Mainz and St. Goar would also probably have a common origin in a village so named. Examination of parish registers shows that families called Dreis could be found in various Rheingau villages, but there was certainly one of the largest concentrations at Lorchhausen. Gottschald incidentally suggests an alternative origin for the name Dreis: a nickname derived from AnDREAS.

The early Dreis connection with Lorchhausen is evidenced by the fact that a priest, Johann Dreis from Lorchhausen, is mentioned in the records of another Rheingau parish, Niedergladbach, as having become parish priest on 28 October 1714, moving to the parish of Sommerau in 1719 (ZAUN, p.212).

Lorchhausen, as its name suggests, is an ancillary village to Lorch. According to ZAUN, it was usually called just "Hausen" and had a population of 300 in the 18th century (1730: 64 households, 1790: 67 households).

Peter Dreys (fl. 1665)

The earliest known Dreis ancestor is Peter Dreys, listed among the inhabitants on Lorchhausen in the 1665 roll of Rheingau subjects of the Elector of Mainz. This list of householders, the Verzeichnis der Bedienten und Unterthanen im Rheingauw had a taxation purpose, but is nowadays celebrated as the main source of 17th-century family history information relating to the village. Peter was undoubtedly the grandfather of Johannes Balthasar below.

Johannes Balthasar Dreis 1st (?-1759)

Apart from the information that Johannes Balthasar Dreis of Lorchhausen was married to a woman called Anna Catharina (recorded at the marriage of his son Johannes), we can only be sure he died at Lorchhausen on 16 October 1759. He was presumably born about 1700. His descendants right through to Andreas stayed put in Lorchhausen, where they presumably cultivated grapes. His other children are thought to have been one or more of: Matthias (married 1729), Johann Georg (married 1731), Maria Ursula (married 1735), Johannes Peter (buried October 1729) and Johannes Godfried Dreis (buried March 1728). Earlier vital data is not available, because the parish of Lorchhausen only began compiling a register of baptisms etc. in the year 1727. The parish was extremely poor, and sometimes did not even have a priest, or had to depend on Capuchins living in the area to say mass. Among its additional misfortunes, according to Zaun, was the old church being robbed of its few treasures in 1729.

Johannes Balthasar Dreis 2nd (floruit 1745)

Equally little is known about Johannes Balthasar Dreis, son of the above, other than the sparse information recorded at his marriage to Anna Catharina Pohl of Lorchhausen in 1745. The Pohls were and still are an established Lorchhausen family, some of whom emigrated to Australia. The marriage produced nine children. The seven who survived infancy were Johann Balthasar (*1747), Anna Catharina (*1748), Johann Wilhelm (*1751), a second Johann Wilhelm (*1752), Hilarius (?) (*1754), Nicolaus (*1757) and Maria Anna (*1759). We do not know when Johannes died.

If Johannes was a vinedresser, he probably would not have made a great deal of money at it because the market was declining. There were also several very bad harvests in his time, one of the worst in 1740 when the Rhine froze over from 11 January until 18 March, cold weather continued until the middle of April and the first grape blossoms did not appear until 18 July. Much of that meagre crop was killed on the vine by frost in October. The major political event during Johannes's lifetime was the abolition of customary law, with all its traditional forms of inheritance and land tenure, in 1756 by the overlord of the Rheingau, the elector-bishop of Mainz. This was the beginning of the end of a way of life that had endured for centuries.

Johann Balthasar Dreis 3rd (1747-1826)

Johann Balthasar (born 17 June 1747) was the eldest surviving male of his parents' marriage and would have inherited any land they might have had. He first married some time before he turned 30. His wife was called Gertrud and they had two children: Maria Eva (*1777) and Anton (*1780). A third child died at the age of two weeks and Gertrud died the following year, 1784.

He was only a widower for four weeks, taking Anna Maria Hochscheid as his second wife on 6 September 1784. He would have been 37. Anna Maria was described as a spinster and the rapidity of the union suggests either an arranged marriage or that she must already have been acquainted with Johann Balthasar before. She came from the village of Niederburg, nine kilometres downriver from Lorchhausen on the opposite bank, close to Oberwesel. The Hochscheids appear to have been a family from the Moselle valley, where there is a village of that name. We know nothing specific about Balthasar as a person, though he may have been one of the discontented Lorchhausen choristers of 1790. The choir had been paid for its services for many years with 90 jugs of wine per year. The church authorities decided this was excessive and reduced the ration to 40, whereupon the choir went on strike permanently. Thereafter there was no singing at Lorchhausen. The church partly burned down in 1802, was restored, and burned down completely in 13 January 1872, so it is no longer to be seen.

Balthasar and Anna Maria's children were Andreas (*1785), Conrad (*1788), Catharina (*1794) and Joseph (*1797, died aged two). Balthasar would have been 45 when great upheavals reached his village as a result of the French Revolution. By 1793, a Prussian army was on his side of the Rhine, facing the French on the opposite bank and spreading fear through the villages. Two years later an Austrian army alighted on the area, bringing further unruliness.

The family would have been witness to the great events of 1813, when Nassau switched sides in the war and Napoleon's forces were rolling back in defeat from Germany. General Blücher's Prussians and the Cossacks had to be quartered (billeted, probably for nothing) in Lorchhausen and all the nearby villages during Christmas of that year as the army marched toward a pontoon bridge thrown across the Rhine at nearby Kaub. With these ruffians in his house, J.B. would no doubt have been concerned at the safety of his daughters.

Balthasar died in 1826 at the ripe old age of 79, having outlived both his second wife and his son Andreas. One can only speculate whether his vineland was divided among the other two sons. The prevailing rules of inheritance in the Rheingau required all sons to share equally, a state of affairs that was to blame for the minute size of the plots of land and for the poverty and emigration that followed.

Andreas Dreis (1785-1821)

Andreas Dreis, who was born 21 July 1785, married Barbara Müller on 30 January 1808 at Lorchhausen. He was 22, she was 24. He would still have been liable to conscription at this point, but evidently did not have to join the army. Their first child, Andreas, was born in November of the same year. Their other children were J. Wilhelm (*1811, married Maria Catharina Nefferdorf 1838 at Lorchhausen and emigrated to Australia), Heinrich (*1813), Johannes Balthasar (*1816) and Carl Joseph (*1819, died aged 5 months).

Andreas senior died at the age of only 36 in the midst of one of Lorchhausen's greatest scandals, the Brument affair. (Brument was a former monk at nearby Eberbach Monastery with expertise in matters of optics. After the secularisation, he had lived what was described as a "merry" life at Eltville, presumably on his state pension, until he was obliged to move to Lorchhausen and stay with his friend, the parish priest, Father Franz Anton Schleidt. Brument brought along three ladies, and as the presbytery was very tiny, there was much gossip and complaints to the bishop. Schleidt died of grief in November 1821.) Since Andreas had not yet inherited any land from his father Johann Balthasar, then still living, it is unclear if anything from the family holding would have gone to the children of Andreas senior. His widow Barbara joined the bold pioneers who went out to Australia, where she died at the age of 76.

Next: The path of future research

Home Table of Contents
© Jean-Baptiste Piggin