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Alleghany County Family Genealogies
Source: Posted to HACKLER Mailing List -- Date: 2/25/2003

Tracing HACKLER Ancestry

by Robert Hackler

September 1994


Up until less than a year ago our branch of the Hacklers had  traced our ancestry as far back as 1837, when my great-grandfather, James Hackler, was born in Atchison County, Missouri.  We knew he married Martha Sitton in 1859.  Last year my aunt, Rhoda Hackler, traced the line back one more step to Grayson County, Virginia and to David Hackler, born in 1809. 

Then in March of this year I received a letter from Leroy Hackler of Lago Vista, Texas telling about extensive research that he had done and about a book that he was putting together; he had traced the Hacklers back to Goerg Hechler who arrived in Philadelphia from Germany in September 1754 with his wife,  Susanna, and five children, including sons Martin, Goerg and Jacob.  The branch descending from Goerg settled in Grayson County, Virginia, and the name became Hackler. 

I immediately called Leroy because of the Grayson County link.  In our phone conversation he traced the line of descent from Goerg Hechler down to David Hackler; and when I mentioned that he had a son, James Hackler, Leroy said "yes, and he married Martha Sitton." 

At that point I was certain that we had common ancestry and that Goerg Hechler was our European great-great etc. grandfather.  In Leroy's letter he had said that Goerg Hechler had come from Ingelheim, Prussia.  This was an intriguing thought, that I was descended from Prussians, who are commonly considered to be arrogant and militaristic; I had thought that my origins were more bucolic. 

After carefully searching a detailed map of Germany I discovered that Ingelheim was not in Prussia but was down in the Palatinate, in the beautiful Rhine valley just outside of Mainz.  I decided that I must go to Ingelheim to see what it looked like and to see if I could find out anything about the Hechlers.


On 27 September my wife and I arrived in Frankfurt, rented a car and sped on the autobahn over to our hotel in Ingelheim, getting lost only twice.  (On the autobahn you have to speed to keep from getting run over, but even at 80 m.p.h. you get passed as though you were standing still.) 

Just before I left the US Leroy's wife, Frances, wrote that Leroy had died and that she envied my trip to Germany; I hoped that I wouldn't disappoint her.  She informed me that Leroy's source of information on Goerg Hechler stated that he departed from Ingolsheim with five children and arrived on the ship Barklay in Philadelphia on September 14, 1754. 

This was the first I had heard of Ingolsheim rather than Ingelheim, but anyway I had a hotel lined up in Ingelheim and had already determined that this was the only town with a name such as this, or close to it, in all of Germany.  The quest could easily have ended here, with some pictures of Ingelheim, a town of 24,000 people surrounded by vineyards, but now too close to Mainz and Frankfort to avoid any impression other than being a busy industrial suburb. 

Good fortune of good fortunes, our hotel manager turned out to be interested in history, and better yet, his wife was a member of the local historical society.  His advice was that my ancestor couldn't have come from Ingelheim because in 1754 there was no Ingelheim, only Oberingelheim, Niederingelheim, and several other little towns that eventually became Ingelheim. 

Also there weren't many emigrants from that period because local vineyards kept everybody busy and prosperous.  The town historical society verified all of this, and they also provided the next important lead: at a place called Kaiserslautern there could be found an institute for family history research where information on emigrants from the general area might be obtainable.

So we revised our plans, and the next day headed off toward Kaiserslautern armed with the address of the institute and the name of the director of research who might help us. 

It looked like an easy southerly drive of a couple of hours, but this didn't account for the entirely inadequate road signs in Germany; the signs indicate the towns toward which you are headed, but if you don't know which towns are in your intended direction you are lost.  Also the road numbers appear only rarely. 

After getting on the autobahn, we soon headed off in the wrong direction.  Somehow finding our way to Kaiserslautern, we got lost once again as we tried to find the town center; having no idea where the institute was we just tried to get to the center of activity.  When it got really congested and parking became a problem we followed some arrows into a parking garage.  It turned out that we were in the garage of a major department store. 

In the department store and in several successive stops along the way we would ask if anybody spoke English, finally find somebody who almost could, then move along a few more blocks toward our destination until we finally got to the proper street number.  In a town of this size to be able to park at random and then walk to the address we wanted was a minor miracle, but would the door be unlocked, would the institute on the third floor be open, and would the man we were looking for be in?  Good fortune continued to be with us as we found ourselves talking to Herr Paul, the man we had come to see.


Herr Paul was extremely cordial, spoke English well and had even been to our part of Indiana.  I told him of the trip to Ingelheim and showed him the letter from Frances mentioning Ingolsheim.  He said that we had been to the wrong place, that he knew where Ingolsheim was and could direct us there.  This was the signal discovery of the trip; I could inform Frances and all other interested Hacklers that I had found the location of our ancestral home. 


Having solved the Ingolsheim dilemma so effortlessly, Herr Paul said he would see if he had any record of Goerg Hechler.  He opened and closed several files, appearing on several occasions to have given up.  Then he brought out a card of about six by eight inches saying,"this looks like your ancestor."  The document, dated 1962, in summary contained the following:

Georg Heckler
Born 1736
Family (and father, Michael Heckler) came from Retschweiler
Ingolsheim mentioned as being  departure town and being 5 km. away
Arrived in Philadelphia on 30 September 1754 with 5 children on the ship Neptune
The name registered on the ship was Georg Hechler
Married Christianna Freed in 1764
Had eight children who survived birth including Georg and Jacob
Settled in Bucks Co. PA
Died in 1816, buried in Lower Salford Mennonite Cemetery

The source of the above is a bulletin of the Historical Society of Montgomery County VIII., Nr. 3 S. 238 QAL - USA - 4.

I compared this information to that which Leroy had gathered.  The departure from Ingolsheim and the arrival in September 1754 in Philadelphia are the same.  (We see later that Ingolsheim has, and probably had, only about seventy-five families; the likelihood of two September arrivals in Philadelphia with virtually the same name from the same tiny town would be unlikely.)  But there were some differences that were conspicuous. 

Was the name Hechler or Heckler?  Why wasn't Martin in the list of children?  Was the ship the Barklay or the Neptune?  What happened to Susanna, although we might guess that she died and Georg married Christianna later?  Finally, was he Georg or Goerg?  I became dedicated to solving these mysteries.


Herr Paul told us that Ingolsheim and Retschwiller were not too far away; they are located near a larger town, Wissembourg, where we could find a hotel.  "By the way," he added, "the area is now part of France."  WHAT!  How could this be?  We've always known that we came from Germany.  I asked Herr Paul, "when did France take it over? " He said it happened right after World War I. 

Since my earliest exposure to European history, I've known about Alsace and Lorraine being shifted back and forth between France and Germany.  And I've been interested and amused because I had an ancestor on my mother's side whose family came from Alsace, and who was known to have strongly asserted along about World War I that they  were from France, not Germany.   But I had not heard that France had acquired other German land.  We would find out about it soon.

We went back to the big indoor parking lot and got in our car.  I had learned the German word for exit, so I followed the signs with that in mind.  As is typical with parking lots, we had a ticket which was generated when we came in.  At the departure gate I couldn't find any place to insert any money and there was no attendant, so I put in the ticket and waited for the gate to go up. 

The ticket came right back and the gate didn't move.  So I pushed the call button and inquired in perfectly understandable English as to what I was supposed to do.  A voice kept coming back telling me something about putting in the ticket.  Several cars lined up behind me waiting to get out and I kept following instructions by putting the ticket back in. 

Finally I yelled into the machine, "just let me out, I can't figure out what I'm supposed to do so just open the stupid gate."  This emotional outburst didn't have any effect, so since the cars behind me had given up to go elsewhere I figured there must be another place to get out.  Eventually I found another exit where I could actually talk to a human being, and he told me how many marks he wanted, and so we finally escaped. 

Fleeing Kaiserslautern we headed for Wissembourg.  It looked like an easy southerly drive of a couple of hours, but this didn't account for the entirely inadequate road signs in Germany.  At least we weren't on the autobahn this time, so we could glimpse the scenery as we went along.  Things went well until we approached a town called Landau.  Here we tried to follow the signs toward Wissembourg, but somehow we lost our way. 

Returning to Landau we tried again, watching the road numbers closely.  Again we lost the road number we were trying to follow.  We stopped in a little town and with the map in hand I asked an accommodating local how to reach Wissembourg.  He kept pointing back in the direction from which we had come.  We kept up this friendly argument until it was obvious we weren't going to convince each other, so off we went. 

A few more miles and we came on to some surveyors who could understand me.  Back in Landau for the third time, we finally headed on the right road to Wissembourg.

Crossing from Germany to France is no more difficult than crossing our state lines; there was an abandoned border station and a welcome sign, and we were now in France.  Immediately we approached the walled city of Wissembourg.  I love European walled cities, and Wissembourg is in a class with the best I've seen.  It's a town of about 7000, with the walled part containing buildings that go back several hundred years or more.

A little river that flows outside the outer wall has a portion of its flow diverted into a canal system that enters at the west tower and soon divides again to encircle an area containing a major abbey church and what were once its grounds.  At the center of town we found a tourist information center and quickly lined up a hotel just outside the west tower. 

We got maps of the town and the area, and could see how easy it would be to get to Ingolsheim and Retschwiller.  I then asked what  this area of France was called.  "Alsace," was the reply.  So I knew about it after all; and I had Alsatian ancestors on both sides of my family.

I was interested in taking a look at the abbey before we went to the hotel.  For a town of this size it is huge.  At the western end is a classic 11th century Romanesque tower.  The rest of the church is middle Gothic, right out of the late 1200's. 

The nave has some highly interesting features which I've not seen elsewhere, but the crowning feature is a spired pentagonal tower somewhat taller than the older one.  I needed to learn more about this place, but on with ancestor tracing.  Our hotel had a attractive setting.  The section we were in overlooked an old mill and waterwheel on the little river than flowed onto the ancient town.

The next morning was crisp and clear as we drove through four miles of gently rolling farm country to Ingolsheim.  I can't imagine the little town has changed much in two hundred years.  Made up almost entirely of individual dwellings, each having a farmhouse, barn and farm buildings in a U shape.  Many of the houses were half-timbered.  Each unit was close to the next one, with no side yard space but usually some yard space in the front with a flower garden.  There were also window-boxes with pretty flowers. 

It was clean and extremely quiet; the only noises were from the horn of a delivery van, announcing its arrival at each house, and from the playground of the school.  We noticed two churches but no stores.  A woman with a basket on her bicycle seemed to be headed off to shop in the next town and I suppose the delivery van had groceries etc. for sale. 

We then drove around the Alsatian countryside.  The somewhat larger town of Hunspach was less than a mile from Ingolsheim.  In another four miles we came upon Retschwiller and found it to be similar to Ingolsheim.  The phone book showed one Hechler in Retschwiller, but no one was home when I knocked on the door. 

We continued in a circle, never over eight or nine miles from Wissembourg.  The towns were all clean and bright with a half-timbered look and always plenty of flowers.  I was deterred twice by signs that said "Maginot Line."  Being a history nut I had to stop and see the remains of this monumental military blunder; too bad that this monstrosity had to disrupt such beautiful countryside. 

Also within the circle were Birlenbach, Cleebourg, and other towns of various sizes.  In Cleebourg we saw vineyards, which contrasted with the grain fields we had been driving through; we stopped at a winery for a look around and for a sample.  Passing through a tiny village called Rott, we were immediately back in Wissembourg.  We enjoyed the afternoon in this delightful walled city.  I studied the abbey again and looked in vain through the town's two bookstores for information about it.

I had seen the homeland of my ancestors and I wasn't disappointed.  Germany was so industrialized, and the autobahn was so frantic, that this little world of Alsace was a delightful contrast.  I'll be visiting there again.


For those who are interested, I'll give you my version of the history of our ancestral area as gathered from books, maps and my conjecture.  The Celts were here and later came the Romans.  With the fall of Rome it was a Germanic tribe, the Alamanni, who settled the area (like up in Britain where the Angles and Saxons came in to stay).  So you can say that the population here is essentially of  Germanic origin.

Alsace came under the control of the Merovingians and Carolingians, and then when Charlemagne's descendants divided his empire in 870 the area fell within the Germanic section.  So for the next 800 years it was in a loosely knit Germanic network eventually designated as the Holy Roman Empire.  As we enter the Middle Ages the abbey at Wissembourg controlled the immediate area, and the serfs who worked the nearby land looked to the abbey and the fortified city of Wissembourg for protection when attacked. 

The abbey was obviously strong during its building periods; which covered 300 years, ending around 1300.  In the next century the abbey lost power and local dukes began taking over.  By the 1500's the conflicts between the declining abbey, the local dukes, and the oncoming Reformation made for unsettling times. 

During the Thirty Years War the area was the scene of military conflict and there was much devastation.  In the end, Louis IV (the Sun King) annexed the area to France in 1681.  Thus it was, that this essentially Germanic area was under the control of France when Georg Hechler set off for America. 

After Georg left, the area returned to Germany following the unification of Germany and the treaty resulting from the Franco-Prussian War (1871).  Then after World War I the victorious allies gave it back to France.  The French tore up the land constructing the Maginot Line, but Hitler conquered the area easily in 1940.  Hitler tried to Germanize the land, and he forced the men into the German army.  His efforts were bitterly resented and resisted; while other Germanic peoples succumbed to Hitler's maniacal designs, the Alsatians did not. 

In late 1944, the American army advanced to Wissembourg before pulling back at the time of the Battle of the Bulge.  The plan to retreat from the capitol, Strasbourg, caused a row between Eisenhower and de Gaulle but de Gaulle prevailed and Strasbourg was not evacuated.  The northern part of the country wasn't retaken until March, 1945.  Since World War II, of course, Alsace has again been part of France.


We thought the German name was Hechler, but the Kaiserslautern document had it as Heckler.  I added up all the Hechlers and Hecklers in Alsatian phone book listings: it was Hechler 10-9 over Heckler.  The German phone book listings favored Hechler 56-11.  A letter to Philippe Hechler in Retschwiller brought no response. 

But, since the source of the Kaiserslautern document was a bulletin from the Historical Society of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, I endeavored to collect information from them.  After several letters explaining what I wanted, the society sent a packet of detailed information.  Now I really had something to dig in to.  I thought of the lucky breaks that had brought me this far; was I finally to discover the clear link to our European ancestors?


Concerning George Heckler I received the following from the Historical Society:

1) The source of the Kaiserslautern document: Historical Society Bulletin Vol. 8.p. 238.

2) A listing and a copy of signatures of arrivals on the ship Neptune.

3) Several pages from The History of the Heckler Family by James Y. Heckler.

Now I was looking at the source of the Kaiserslautern document.  George Heckler  was born in 1736, died in 1816 and was "probably" the son of Michael Heckler of Retchweiler, Alsace.  His arrival, marriage, and family members were all the same as in the Kaiserslautern  document.  There was no mention of Ingolsheim.

Then I looked over the signatures of those arriving on the ship Neptune; I could read the Georg, but distinguishing between Hechler and Heckler  was impossible.

In the History of the Heckler Family, written in the mid 1800's, George Heckler, with the same family members, is traced back to "Retcheiler in Lower Alsace."  There was no mention of Ingolsheim.

Was the search to end in uncertainty?  This immigrant's surname was clearly Heckler rather than Hechler; there was no backup for the Ingolsheim notation in the Kaiserslautern document.  Whoever formulated the Kaiserslautern document must have assumed that the Retschweiler he knew just over the German border was the proper town, rather than the unknown Retcheiler.  The mention of the propinquity to Ingolsheim, and why Ingolsheim is mentioned at all, will remain a mystery. 

So it was evident that George Heckler must not have been our ancestor. There must have been two different people arriving in Philadelphia in the same month with names that were similar.  Leroy's research pointed back to the ship Barklay and to Ingolsheim.  Might the Historical Society have anything pertinent?

Once again, we encounter good fortune upon good fortune.  Would you believe that the Montgomery County Historical Society also had a listing of the immigrants who arrived on the Barklay?  And on the list is H. George Hechler (since literacy would not have been one of George's accomplishments, the spelling of his first name on this list is not significant.  And Martin is there too.  It is noted at the head of these signatures that the "foreigners" are from Alsace & Loraine.

Most importantly of all, the society also provided copies of appropriate pages from Eighteenth Century Emigrants from the Northern Alsace to America.  And on page 238-9, entry 219 we have an entire section devoted to the Hechlers.  The notations regarding births refer to European sources (i.e. churches in the little Alsatian towns of Birlenbach, Rott and Hunspach ). The important entries are as follows:

From Birlenbach:
Jacob Hechler and wife Margaretha had a son, Hans Georg , born in 1708
Georg had a son, Hans Martin in 1739

From Rott:
Georg and wife Susanna had children
Samuel (1739), Johann Jacob (1741), Johann Georg (1743), Johann Michael (1747)

From Hunspach:
Two more surviving children were  Barbara and Elisabetha

From the Barklay:
Georg and Martin were listed for 1754 voyage {women and children not listed)


The link with the Hechlers, as Leroy found them,
was clearly traced back to Ingolsheim, Alsace. 
Northern Alsace is the homeland.

Robert Hackler


November 1994

After I had written the above, Leroy's book arrived.  It is a marvelous achievement. Leroy knew of George Heckler who arrived on the Neptune.  He had a listing of the Rott records and thought they were tied to George Heckler and not our Georg.  The records from the other churches would have clarified it for him.  I'm lucky not to have known about George Heckler ahead of time; chasing after him led me to the additional records of the Hechlers that verified our Alsatian ancestry.

February 2003

Since 1994 there have been a few more developments.  Karen Myers of  Longboat Key, Florida has Hechler roots and she has contacted an archivist in Salt Lake City.  Also I have communicated twice with a genealogist is Strasbourg, the capitol of Alsace.  The early records from the historical society in Pennsylvania have all been verified  by the researchers except for a two year date difference in the birth date of Georg’s fifth child. Also I have been back to Alsace and visited the church in Birlenbach where I saw the church record of the birth of Hans Georg.

The researchers found an interesting little reference from 1702:  “Jacob Helhofer aus der Schweitz” (from Switzerland) had his son baptized.  Then someone wrote above this line, “Hechler and his wife Margaretha...” If this notation is accurate, Jacob must have had a son before Hans Georg. 

But was Jacob from Switzerland? 

Searches through local records by the genealogist revealed no more Hechler traces.  The only slight clue concerned the names of the godparents from the 1702 entry.  The genealogist says that the origin of these names was Swiss.

So could the line be traced back to Switzerland?  I think it would be tenuous since we wouldn’t know where in Switzerland to begin.  My aunt, Rhoda Hackler, reports that Hechler is a common name in Swiss phone books.  Maybe one of us Hacklers can investigate this further.  


This page was last updated August 18, 2007.