Cris Hueneke
May 1998

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 Umstadt.

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 FAMILY.

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 in 1832.

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:

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