Part 1: Will the Real Johann Ley Please Stand Up?
This week marks the 10th anniversary of Whispering Across the Campfire. Huzzah!
Despite some yawning gaps, and the intervention of the non-genealogical world, I’ve spilled digital ink across 248 posts and counting to chronicle stories from the families Foutz, Johnson, Ley and Weible — and all the other varied surnames in our history, from Germany to Switzerland, Wales to England.
Today, we trek back to the 1700s to get to know our Ley ancestors in Bavaria just a bit better than the historical record up to this point has allowed.
We’re going back to visit great-grandparents of the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth order — a 12-generation span, counting the latest Ley great-grandkids in my sons’ age group.
Up until now, the best sources we’ve had to uncover who these ancestors were, and how they lived, have been two:
- A Short History of the Ley Family — a six-page, lavender-covered pamphlet printed by John Doerschuk of Shanesville, Ohio, circa late 1890s, probably at the behest of my third-great-grandfather Augustus Ley, since it documents his parents’ 60 years of happy marriage, and they had died not long after that milestone.
- The Carl Frederick Ley Family — an extensive tome researched and published by Doris Eileen Ley Hill, in 1992. Doris graciously shared a copy with me a few years into my own genealogy foraging, as well as a nice old print of my fourth-great-grandparents, Charles and Susan Ley, a scan of which now hangs in my dining room.
Doris is a descendant of two Bavarian Leys. Charles and Susan’s daughter, Minnie Ley, married her cousin, Carl, the German-born son of Charles’s brother Friedrich Kristian Ley. Carl is Doris’s great-grandfather, and the husband of my fourth-great-aunt (as well as a cousin a few calculations removed from what I’m willing to figure out at the moment). So there you are. Family.
My credo since beginning this genealogy quest some 12 years ago has been to do only a little more than what I can burrow into via electronic sleuthing — full-contact genealogy quests to graveyards and hometowns notwithstanding — so I can only imagine the lengths Doris had to go to, 30 years ago: writing (via old-fashioned stamps and envelopes) to record-keepers in Germany, deciphering scribbles in family bibles, tweaking the misfiring neurons of well-meaning relatives during in-person interviews.
Without her record, there would have been no way to separate the Leys and Lays and Leÿs from old German church records (before there even was a proper Germany).
But with the benefit of Doris’s sleuthing, I’ve been able to connect the dots even further back, squinting at the flourishes in digital script this time, and correct a bit of the record as we — and our well-meaning ancestors — understood it.
Let’s begin as A Short of History of the Ley Family began — and I’ll share both that version and Doris’s, and alternately correct and expand to reveal the new details.
Master Tailors in Kaiserslautern
The “Short History…” begins:
According to trusty tradition the family LEY comes from the Netherlands.
1. The first Ley came from thence to Keiserslautern, in the Rhine Palatinate, and erected at this place and carried on a cloth manufactory.
his name, birthday, etc. are unknown.
Doris begins in the same way, with:
- The first LEY we know about, according to family tradition, came from the Netherlands, and settled in Keiserslautern, in the Rhine Palatinate, where he erected and carried on a cloth manufactory.
His name, birthday, etc. are unknown.
I can now correct the record to reveal the name of that ancestor — Johann Berthold Laÿ. And you can keep the umlaut and L-a-y spelling, too, as the earliest church documents confirm them.
Johann (or John, today) appears in a 1738 marriage record for his son, Johann Friedrich Lay, and Maria Magdalena Didi, in the Evangelische (evangelical) Kirche (church), Kaiserslautern, as well as the bride’s father, Heinrich Didi.
Birthday “and etc.” are still unknown. But let’s connect how we get to my eighth-great-grandfather (!), shall we?
The Ley history continues with:
2. He had but one son, who conducted at the same place a large rural estate. He was highly esteemed and held for many years the office of mayor of the city.
his name, birthday, etc. are also unknown.
Doris broke some ground here, and she supplied us with names of my seventh-great-grandparents, as well as a bit more detail on occupation:
2. His son, JOHANN FRIEDRICH LEY, was a master tailor, married MARIA MAGDALENA DIDI. They had a son, also named JOHANN FRIEDRICH LEY.
The historical record checks all the boxes when it comes to Johann Friedrich marrying Maria Magdalena Didi. Both soon appear on their son’s birth record in the same church, about a year later.
The date of their wedding? Aug. 19, 1738. It’s recorded not only in the Reformed Church’s book in Kaiserslautern, which helpfully lists Johann Berthold Lay as Johann Friedrich’s father, and Heinrich Didi as Maria’s, but also in a retrospective dated July 17 1757, which records a speech given by Johann Friedrich marking 46 years since the church’s foundation stone was laid.
Where did I get such wonderful facts? While I’d love to claim they came from an exhaustive trip to the former Palatinate, after hours and days winding along roads that, from the pictures, resemble my hometown Tuscarawas County a great deal, in the digital age what you mostly need is the dough for an Ancestry World-level membership, and the exhaustive patience to search and comb and hunt and cross-check and scroll through the “kirchenbuch” (church book) records of the day.
In the 1970s The Genealogical Society of Salt Lake City sent teams to caches like the Stadtsarchiv (state archives) at Kaiserslautern to microfiche all the rolls of church records they could. Good news? There’s a lot of them. No fewer than a dozen captured collections numbering in the several hundreds of pages that document our Ley ancestors and in-laws in several old Bavarian communities within 30 or so miles of Kaiserslautern. The bad news? Each collection seems to slice and dice the old records from several churches in turn, so you’ll have a hundred pages from the Lutheran Church followed by 50 from the reformed church, followed by scores more from the Catholic church, and so on.
All in tiny, ornate, at times whispering script from the 17th and 18th centuries. Oh, also thoroughly auf Deutsch. An effort that, when it yields up that elusive nugget of info, is worth the hours hunched in 21st-century chairs, bathed in laptop light. And when it doesn’t? A pox on 800-slide microfiche! But, I digress.
The 1757 speech by Johann Friedrich the elder is a curious entry, which seemed to throw off the Mormon transcribers, who unhelpfully recorded both Johann Friedrich and Maria Magdalena as died and buried on Aug. 19, 1738, since for some reason the church book basically repeats the wedding info in the record of the speech 20 years later. I’m not sure why the 1757 date in the entry was ignored when the decision was made to kill off Johann and Maria on their wedding day, but thus is the way of tyrants and itinerant record transcribers.
It doesn’t help the squinting Mormons, perhaps, that that later entry even mentions the fact that the speaker, Johann Heinrich, had married Maria Magdalena there in 1738, but also goes on to mention their fathers again, and their fathers’ occupations — Johann Berthold as “schneidermeister zu neustadt” (master tailor to Neustadt, about 28 miles southeast of Kaiserslautern — and a place I should hunt next), and Heinrich Didi as “küfer und burger,” which gets a little more transparent when it is helpfully repeated in a different way in the birth record of Johann Heinrich the younger about a year later.
Want to squint at 18th-century German records? SURE YA DO! Find them here:
- Marriage record page 1, Aug. 19, 1738 (bottom right)
- Marriage record page 2, Aug. 19, 1738 (top left)
- Commemorating speech, 1757, page 1 (bottom right)
- Commemorating speech, 1757, page 2 (left side) — this goes on for some time and I would LOVE a proper translation — mine in Google Translate came out a bit garbled
But let’s move on to the record of my sixth-great-grandfather’s birth, which ties all three generations together, handily, and corrects a misconception in the old Ley history and Doris’s record.
Choosing the right John Ley; Finding a Sister
From the Ley history:
3. To him a son John Frederick was born
May 6th, 1738.
He studied theology and became a minister of the gospel at Imsbach, county Falkenstein, Rhine Palatinate.
He was married to Maria Philippina Dorothea Lauckhardt, Nov. 25, 1764, and in the following year, 1765, he was installed as minister of the gospel in St. Alban, succeeding his father-in-law, the Rev, Geo. William Lauckhardt.
Doris adds even more to the record:
This JOHANN FRIEDRICH was born
May 6th, 1738. He studied theology and became a minister of the gospel Aug. 20, 1759-1763 in Jakobsweiler; Oct. 3, 1763-65 in Imsbach, county Falkenstein, Rhine Palatinate; and Mar. 13, 1765-1788 St. Alban, where he died Apr. 1, 1788.
Johann was married to MARIA PHILIPPINA DOROTHEA LAUCKHARDT, on Nov. 25, 1764. …
The big issue? That birthday is wrong. And when you try to apply it beyond the printed record of 1897, or 1992, it links up to completely different ancestors in the records databases than the ones chronicled in our family histories.
But the birth date is wrong in an increasingly interesting way. Let me explain.
The date connects to a Johann ADAM Lay, whose father is Johann Wilhelm Lay, and mother Anna Barbara, maiden name Braun. So: wrong Lays entirely, but Johann Wilhelm is also listed as a master tailor on this and his other children’s birth records. And his father-in-law, Johann Adam Braun, is listed as a master tailor as well.
In addition, there’s another Lay, Johann Ulrich Lay, whose occupation is variously listed as master baker, and then later, tailor, in these same church records.
I’m thinking we might not only have separated Johann Adam from our ancestor, Johann Friedrich, with the proper birth date, but we *may* have found his cousins and uncles, brothers in the tailor trade with Johann Friedrich Lay, the elder. Which *may*, also, trace back to Johann Berthold Lay as the mysterious first ancestor from Netherland to come to Kaiserslautern — Neustadt, according to the records — and run a cloth manufactory. (Though we have a lot of Lays to link up.)
So, how did we get there?
We know that Johann Friedrich Lay (the elder) and Maria Magdalena Didi were married Aug. 19, 1738. So having a son born 4 months before that is probably not likely. Plus, the names on that record do not match theirs, or their son’s, for that matter. Sorry, Johann Adam.
The record of Johann Friedrich being born on July 10, 1739, and being baptized July 12, makes a lot more sense. And lists the correct parents — Johan Friedrich, master taylor, and mom Maria Magdalena Didi — and paternal grandparents Johann Heinrich Didi and Anna Sybilla (Schlaffers).
These correct dates and names are cited in no fewer than four old German church records. Check them out:
- Johan Friedrich’s birth record, from the Evangelische-Reformierte Kirche, Kaiserslautern, listing baptism date as well as parents, and materal grandparents
- Another matching birth record for Johan Friedrich, from Kaiserslautern u Schaffer, listing baptism date as well as parents, and maternal grandparents
- An index to the Evangelische-Reformierte Kirche’s Taufen und Heiraten (birth and marriage) records, listing Johann Adam a couple rows up from Johann Friedrich, with their respective birthdates, and also, the marriage date of Johann Friedrich the elder on a separate line — check out all the Lays in Kaiserslautern’s parish
- The individual record for Johann Adam Lay — NOT matching our Lay’s parents and grandfathers, or a feasible birthdate if his parents were married Aug. 19, 1738
- Page from the same index on seven-great-grandmother Maria Magdalena Didi, listing her marriage date; her birth record is in another church’s kirchenbuch
- Another Lay cousin? — Johann Wilhelm Lay’s birth record from 1732; his father, Johann Wilhelm the elder, appears variously as master baker and master tailor in birth records for his other children
About the time I’d untangled Johann Adam from Johann Friedrich the younger, I discovered another birth record connected to Johann Friedrich Lay and Maria Magdalena Didi. This time, to a daughter, Maria Magdalena, born Sept. 21, 1741, and baptized Sept. 24.
She was about 8 pages away in the church record from her brother, my sixth-great-grandfather Johann Friedrich Lay (the younger). And all seems very promising.
Except: the names in the maternal grandparents column we’ve placed such stock on earlier in our research don’t quite match up with her older brother’s listings. It could be I’m mistaking a capital-letter occupation with where “Didi” was on the other record. Or not quite deciphering the scribbling. Would that I could find the same “clean” record I did for Johann Friedrich (the younger) that laid everything out as a match for his other, messier record in this same kirchenbuch. Alas, that record cuts off in 1740, and I’ve had my fill, for now, of trying to link up the various microfiche records to find the next installment for their church.
But not bad sleuthing, right, as far as that goes? We’ve managed to rewrite the first couple graphs of our Lay/Ley family history in Bavaria:
The first Ley we know about, according to family tradition, came from the Netherlands, and settled in Kaiserslautern, in the Rhine Palatinate, where he erected and carried on a cloth manufactory. His name was Johann Berthold Lay, and records indicate he resided in Neustadt.
His son, Johann Friedrich Lay, was a master tailor. On Aug. 19, 1738, in Kaiserslautern, he married Maria Magdalena Didi. Maria was born Sept. 10, 1708 to Johann Heinrich Didi and Anna Sybilla Schlaffers, according to the Evangelische Reformierte church in Kaiserslautern. They had a son, also named Johann Friedrich Lay, and possibly a daughter, Maria Magdalena, born Sept. 21, 1741 in Kaiserslautern.
This Johann Friedrich was born July 10, 1739 in Kaiserslautern. He studied theology and became a minister of the gospel Aug. 20, 1759-1763 in Jakobsweiler; Oct. 3, 1763-65 in Imsbach, county Falkenstein, Rhine Palatinate; and Mar. 13, 1765-1788 St. Alban, where he died Apr. 1, 1789, according to the kirchenbuch at the parish he led.
More on Johann the younger and his wife, Maria Philippina Dorothea Lauckhardt, when we continue with Part 2 on our Ley ancestors in Bavaria.
Hey Colt, I hope I can spring off of your leadership and add to the LEY lineage story. You have been so kind to break into 300 year old church records and with precision pin the genes as of the year 2020. Totally awesome. Thank you for all those hours. I hope family richness springs forth. Your cousin, Theodore Earl Ley, Bellevue, Washington.