Gross(Groß)-Umstadt is a small
town near Darmstadt, southeast of Frankfurt, Germany. There is
another, smaller side-town next to it called Klein-Umstadt. Gross
and Klein mean large and small, respectively, in German. It has
been said that the Umstadts were a 1300's baronial family there.
The source of this myth is notes taken
at a lecture given 25 April 1959, at the Montgomery County (PA)
Historical Society, which state: "The information we have
on the origin of the Umstadt family comes from Historian Col.
Calvin I. Kephart. It takes us back to when it was a baronial
family in medieval times (circa 1300). They lived at that time
in Hessen-Darmstadt, where there are villages named Gross- and
Klein-Umstadt . . . " and " . . . where the ruins of
the medieval castle are said to be still visible."
I believe that I can state definitively
that no one NAMED Umstadt was ever known to be ROYALTY or NOBILITY
in Gross-Umstadt. I contacted two very reliable local historians,
one of whom co-edited the book 1250 JAHRE GROSS-UMSTADT (1250
Years Gross-Umstadt), and they both confirm this.
I visited Gross-Umstadt in Germany in
1997. Although the practice in Germany is to turn over graves
every 30 years, one could reasonably expect that SOME remnant
of a NAMED Umstadt family might have remained in the area and
been buried there, had one ever existed. People in Germany are
not nearly as transient as we are in the United States, and inheritance
laws tend to keep the oldest child rooted to the family land.
There was no one named Umstadt or even Umstädter in the town
graveyard and none buried in the yard of the old church, which
did have several old gravestones.
No one I spoke with in Gross-Umstadt
had ever heard of anyone NAMED Umstadt EVER living there.
I purchased a copy of the above-mentioned
book, written in German, 1250 JAHRE GROSS-UMSTADT, which is a
history of both Gross- and Klein-Umstadt from 743 to 1993. I had
this book carefully scanned by a native German and NEVER is there
a FAMILY or person named Umstadt discussed as baronial or otherwise,
although much is said on the families that WERE notable.
Johannes Lochmann, a local historian,
and one of my two contacts in Gross-Umstadt stated: "NO CASTLE
EVER STOOD ON THE SURROUNDING HILLS." Mr. Lochmann, although
personally very well-acquainted with town history, further confirmed
this with the State Archives in Darmstadt.
In the entire book, there are only two
cases of v. Umstadt (v. = von) in conjunction with names, but
they are CLEARLY, from the context of the whole page, not indicative
of Umstadt as a family name. One is Heinrich Pallas v. Umstadt
and the other Dieter Schelle v. Umstadt. The family names are
Pallas and Schelle, not Umstadt.
Another local historian, Sighard Volp
provided me with a list of the surnames of those deemed nobility,
and who carried the title "von Umstadt." None was named
Mr. Lochmann further stated: "The
name Umstadt, along with the town itself, was in the possession
of Frankish* (fränkischen) kings, and came as a gift to the
Fulda Cloister. As the property was distributed, and noble rulers
and landowners with overseers governed, NO ONE assumed a noble
UMSTADT descent. For example, there stands in the town the Wamboldt
Castle. The occupant is one Baron Wamboldt of Umstadt.
*I had originally translated this as
French kings, but was corrected by a German researcher. Frankish
is the correct translation and also makes more sense.
I visited the two existing castles (Schlosses)
in Gross-Umstadt and neither had anything to do with an Umstadt
I can NOT state that no COMMONERS named
Umstadt ever lived in Gross-Umstadt. Undoubtably people from Gross-Umstadt
moved to other parts of Germany, and/or to the United States.
There is currently a family named Umstädter living in Gross-Umstadt.
I wrote to them, but received no response. We know of American
Umstädters whose roots are in Darmstadt. The book lists one
Georg Adam Umstädter who emigrated to the US with his family
The name Umstädter would translate
to "from Umstadt," in the same sense as a New Yorker
being someone from New York. A person named Umstädter would
not necessarily have to have been from Gross- or Klein-Umstadt
however, it's simply a name.
I've just recently (2001) found an Umstadt
family whose roots are in Nierstein. Nierstein is not far from
the Darmstadt/Gross-Umstadt area, in fact it's just about half-way
between Gross-Umstadt and Kriegsheim. As of this time, information
on this family only goes back as far as about 1880, but I am hoping
that more will be found.
I seem to be getting a lot of hits on
this page from people interested in Gross-Umstadt itself and other
families there. Although Gross-Umstadt is no longer of particular
importance to the UMs, I've added a page with further
information that I hope may be useful
to those researching various Gross-Umstadt families.
And here's a link to a site that shows
historical buildings in Gross-Umstadt: http://www.ma-as.de/gross-umstadt.htm
UPDATE Dec 2007: Among
the papers sent to me from Dr. David Faris's widow is a letter
from Colonel Kephart to Dr. Faris dated August, 1967. In it Kephart
states: "The family's original seat was at a town or village
of the same name on the Main River directly eastward from Darmstadt
in Hessen. One section of the place has a prefix, which [I] have
forgotten, such as upper or lower. Many years ago I corresponded
with a man of this surname in Berlin. He reported that he had
not been able to determine just what the family's armorial insignia
was, but, as a member of the minor nobility, it must have had
one. Some of that branch lines (sic) with other surnames have
insignia. A branch of the family later went to North Carolina
and had a governor of the State named Umstead, as I recall. I
think I am not mistaken in this statement."
KEPHART'S SOURCE DISCOVERED - A Mrs Lamb, of Mississippi, states in a 1967
letter to Faris that Kephart wrote a "History of the Rittenhouse
Family" which was never published, but that he sold photocopies
and she bought one. She quotes from his work:
"A professor Umstädter, a
descendant of this stock, assembled many data pertaining to the
medieval family, which was seated at a place named Gross-Umstadt,
which, along with Klein-Umstadt is located at the easterly border
of Hessen-Darmstadt, on the Main River. After his decease, his
genealogical material passed to Dr. Herbert Spruth, Oberstintendant
z. Wv., Am Hegewinkel 76, Berlin-Zehlendorf, near where the professor
resided, and much material was received from Dr. Spruth. According
to Professor Umstädter, families with these surnames in the
PENNSYLVANIA GERMAN PIONEERS (1934) by Strassburger and Hinke,
descended from branches of the medieval family von Umstadt by
the use of forenames of such members as surnames, viz., Fronheuser,
Schencken, Wamboldt, Schelle, Palas (or Balass or Belis), Leubolt,
and Geiling (Geil?). An armorial insigned (sic) reported as Umstadter
actually was the one used by the Fronheuser von Umstadt branch
and it is not known whether it bears any resemblance to that of
the main family. The upper figure of the shield en coupé
may be it.
I'm still not buying it, Colonel.
Sorry. There is overwhelming evidence that Umstadts were in Monsheim/Kriegsheim
as far back as 1556, and that's definitely where our Hans Peter
Umstat came from.
Copyright 1998, 2007 Cris Hueneke
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last updated 18 December 2007