The endeavor to establish the genealogy and history of this John Bretz has met two unsurmountable obstacles; the lack of early written records, and the difficulty or impossibility of identifying those of the many John, Jacob and Philip Bretzes of the Pennsylvania archives who were members of this family. A third difficulty, of less consequence, has been the apathetic attitude of older living Bretzes, due in part to their advanced age at the time of this investigation but also a lifelong lack of interest in family history. Dates, events and relationships, never recorded have been simply forgotten. Outstanding exceptions have been Allen Bretz and two others, H. F. Pennington and Anna B. Seitz, whose mothers were Bretz-born. To them we owe the establishment and preservation of a considerable part of the family tree down to about 1912 in the manuscript record called the "Bretz Register". However, Allen's claim that John's father was Jacob Pretz, the immigrant of 1732, is obviously in error.
Another Bretz genealogy, that of Ludwig, immigrant of 1750, apparently has been more successful in tying that family to an ancestor born in Germany but has failed to trace Ludwick back of 1750. Attempts made by Geo. Z. Bretz, of Brooklyn and by Harry Bretz, a descendant of Ludwick, both of whom visited the Rhine and Moselle valleys with hope of finding documentary records of pre-Revolutionary dates, have been unsuccessful. Only the later Bretz immigrants, (There are German-born Bretzes living in America today) appear to know what parts of Germany their Progenitors lived.
Every promising source of information known has been investigated in this study. The unimaginative habit of repeating given names through the generations, true of almost every line of Bretzes, and the limited variety of those names, has rendered hopeless any further unraveling of early family relations. At least 32 Johns, Philips and Jacobs are recorded in America. Thirteen male descendants of our John have carried his name!
Attempts to add to the "Bretz Register" of the early 1900's have been unsuccessful, except in a few lines. Among living Bretz descendants of John, the apathy concerning the derivation indicates the task as largely impossible. Probably the cousinships are too distant to be worth establishing in a family so careless of its history.
The monosyllable "Bretz" obviously is Germanic. Variants make it impossible to relate or differentiate, by spelling alone, families carrying the name of Bretz, Britz, Brett, Britts, Beitz, Bretzius and Pretz. The oldest records, dating back almost to Charlemagne, use only the two forms, Bretz and Pretz. An attempt has been made to connect these early Germans with a Fabius Bretius, or Britius, a Roman "Magister Equitum" (cavalry general) in the 18th Roman Legion, who came from the district of Capua and Tarento in southern Italy; married Olfa, daughter of a German tribal "duke"; was head of a family in the Roman city now called Trier or Treves on the Mosell about 224 A.D.; and died 263 A.D. The information is said to have been taken from the "Genealogical Tables of the German Nobility" and "Books of Heraldry" in the City Library of Vienna. It is also stated that the descendants of Fabius Bretius, writing their name Bretz or Pretz, constituted a family of knights in the region for several centuries although no names are reported until Hugh Pretz appears in the time of Otto the Great. In 951 Otto "renewed" Hugo's "old title of nobility and family escutcheon and established them with instruments of writing at Augsburg", apparently as a reward of Hugo's valor in the battle of Leochfelde, (950) when Otto definitely disposed of the Magyar menace from the east. Hugo's wife was Bertha of Wartensleban. He had two sons, Cladius and Adolf.
Rome held the Teutonic tribes along the Rhine in subjection until the fifth century when the weakening Empire lost the last of its holdings in Gaul. Thereafter the Teutonic tribes warred among themselves; Saxons, Franks and Alamanni struggling for domination until Charlemagne imposed on authority in law and religion, and unified Germany for the first time. Only the existence and survival, through these vicissitudes, of a "coat-of-arms" could have made possible the family connection that is indicated across seven centuries. Where the record of royalty is questionable, what is the likelihood of direct tracing among lower social orders?
Claudius, a son of Hugho, was a prebendary in the Dome Church at Cologne, and without descendants. Adolf, another son, lived at Prezenburg, a fortified castle built by Hugho on the Moselle near Trier. He was a magistrate of the Lower Rhine. His wife's name was Clare Von Waldeck. He was killed in a duel, A.D. 1019 with a Rhineland knight named Viet Von Basserhaus. His four sons are reported to have distinguished themselves in some of the Crusades. The name of Conrad alone is recorded (died 1312) and he must have been several generations removed from Adolf. Conrad's name is spelled "Bretz". Conrad was a "military man" under Rudolf of Habsburg. He had two sons, Eulogius and George Bretz.
Eulogius was magistrate of Mark Brandenburg under Emperor Albrecht (Albert of Habsburg). He lived in Lubben on the Spree, about 40 miles south of Berlin, and had descendants there, listed in the blue- blood register, as late as 1702. Joseph and Claus Bretz are named as heading "the principal families in the time of Frederick the First". Since Frederick the First died in 1190 this statement must be in error.
George Bretz, son of Conrad, "took possession of the property on the Rhine"(not the castle built on the Moselle by Hugho, for the Rheineck. Their numerous descendants "were almost totally destroyed during the Thirty Years War". Only one lineal descendent is indicated as surviving; Daniel Bretz, a merchant at Coblenz on the Rhine. He "had long since discarded the old title of nobility". He died in 1681. His two sons were Felix and Cristof Bretz, but there is no further information about them.
The foregoing account has been supplied by Harold Pretz of Allentown, Pa. It has been in the possession of the family a long time and he believes that it was obtained by his grandfather, Christian, though from what source he does not know. It is very fragmentary and is inconsistent or incorrect in places. It involves an enormous break between 224 and 951, and bridges those seven centuries of political, military and religious flux by means only of a "coat-of-arms". Where predatory raids, conquering invasions and sacking of cities were so constantly recurring but so poorly recorded as those among the Teutons and their neighbors, little probability attaches to this purported connection between Fabius Bretius and Hugho Pretz. It seems very probable to the critical writer of the present account that professional genealogists collected the names and dates, and added their own vague statements about the "illustrious family of knights" with the name Bretz or Pretz which "flourished" (without a single individual name on record!) In the Rhine Valley for 726 years.
From Hugho to Daniel is another 700 years, with only three successive father-son connections definitely stated. A complete record of this span would contain more than a score of them. It is not even clear, from the record, that Bretz and Pretz were optional spellings of the same name. All that can be considered established is the name of Bretz goes back as far as the 13th century and most bearers of that name lived along the Rhine.
If there is a line of descent in the Rhenish records, it should be written as follows.
1 - Hugho (died 983)
2 - Claudius (no descendants)
2 - Adolf (died 1019)
2-x - Several generations missing
(2-x) - 1 - Conrad (died 1312)
(2-x) - 2 - Eulogius
(2-x-2) - y - Several generations missing
(2-x-2-y) - 1 - Joseph
(2-x-2-y) - 1 - Claus
(2-x) - 2 - George
(2-x-2) - z - Several generations missing
(2-x-2-z) - 1 - Daniel (died 1618)
(2-x-2-z) - 2 - Felix
(2-x-2-z) - 2 - Cristof
The "coat-of-arms" which Emperor Otto "renewed" for Hugho is described as "a lion holding a crown on his head (with one paw?) and a sword in his claws (of another paw?), which denotes noble descent and war-like spirit. On his helmet he (Bretius) wore three stars which denote success. Heraldry did not begin until after the Norman Conquest (1066). Apparently family badges, escutcheons, etc. are here called coats- of-arms.
If "Bretz" is of Germanic origin and not a Latin corruption, it is a word modified by long usage as a personal and place name until its original form is uncertain. It may be traced, with equal success, to three different root words. "Bretzel", "Brezel", or in High German, "Bretze", means cracknel or pretzel. "Brett" means board or plank and an older allied meaning is forest or brushwood. "Wildbret" means wild game or venison. Thus the surname Bretz may belong to that large class of names derived from trades, akin to the various English names; Baker, Carpenter, Sawyer, Wood, Hunter, etc., which cover the range above indicated.
The names of such character should originate in different localities is altogether probable but, as far as know to the writer, Bretz as a place name as limited, which one exception, to an area within a hundred miles of Heidelburg. This includes all or part of the provinces of Hesse, Baden, Wurtemburg, Bavaria and the Rhenish Province of Prussia. The accompanying list gives the location of these places in Germany and Switzerland.
Bretz. Dorf on Rhine province of Prussia, Colbenz Regierungshezirk. Nine English miles NNW of St. Goar, left bank of the Rhine. Pop. 340.
Bretzen. Weiler in upper landgericht of Baveria. Nine miles SSW of Ebergberg, Pop. 20.
Bretzenacker. Dorf in Neckar district of Wurtemburg. 6 miles ENE of Nuremburg, Pop. 240.
Bretzengarten. Weiler in Mittelfranken, Bavaria. Landgericht of Nuremburg, Pop. 14.
Bretzenheim. Parish Dorf of Rhein province of Prussia. Regierungsbezirk of Coblenz. 2 miles NE of Kreutznack, left side of the Nahe 10 km South of Bingen-am-Rhine, Pop. 970.
Bretzin. Hof in Wendischer region, Mecklensburg-Schwerin, 4 miles East of Beitzenburg, Pop 110.
Bretzingen . Hof in Jaxt district of Wurtemburg. 2 miles SE of Hall.
Bauen. The same weiler, 3 miles north of Gaildorf, Pop. 190.
Bretzkobel. Waste in lower Bavaria, Landgericht of Vilsbiburg.
Bretzenheim-am-Main. 3 km SW of Mainz-am-Main.
Bretzfeld on the Brettach. 18 km NEE of Heilbronn.
Bretzfeld on the Neckar. 170 km north of Boden See, Neckar Kreis, Wurtemburg. A church dorf of 470 Pop., 9 miles ENE of Weinsburg.
Bretzingen in Baden. 35 km north of Bretzfeld.
Bretzwil. 20 km south of Basel, Switzerland.
Further, all Bretz immigrants into the United States, whose former home is known, have come from this portion of Germany. Hence the Bretz tribe and the Pretz name appear to be limited to the High German portion of the Fatherland, lying between the Alps on the south end the Low German plain on the north. It includes the headwaters of the Danube and that portion of the Rhine Valley richest in historic associations and most famed for scenic beauty.
Recorded arrivals of Bretz immigrants in America date back to 1732. Bretz people now living in America represent the entire gamut, from German-born immigrants to the seventh and eighth generation of American born. The family with which this account deals has descended from one of the earliest immigrants.
Europe was racked by devastating wars for the whole of the seventeenth century. Political oppression and religious persecution ground down the common people to the abject physical and spiritual poverty. By the political rulers, to whom the accomplishment of their own ends and gratification of their own ambitions was paramount, the peasant was regarded as of little greater importance than his cattle.
In consequence, there developed a strong spirit of unrest, which was especially notable in Germany. The suffering people had endured cruel and oppressive conditions for so long that they could see no glimmer of hope for betterment.
An endeavor in western Germany to escape from those intolerable conditions started an immigration movement into England in 1708. But there was no opening for a new people in an already crowded England and the reason for the movement toward England is unknown. Great efforts were made by the English to shelter, feed and clothe the thousands who, with no money and no property, poured across the channel. It took a year or more to check the exodus from the Palatinate and several more years to secure an economic balance through absorption of some into the English industrial life and a return of others to the Fatherland, followed by an emigration to America.
Opportunity came from the grant of Penn's Woods, and the efforts of the great Quaker to people his land. The downtrodden, liberty-loving Germans of the Palatinate and the new country across the sea needed each other. Penn had traveled through the Rhine providence (the Palatinate) in 1671 and in 1677, preaching the doctrines of the Quakers, and had found a people whose religious tenets were not notably different from his own. To these he now sent agents who scattered booklets broadcast, describing his country and inviting immigration.
Rarely has news been more acceptable and inspiring than the message in those booklets to the Rhenish people. The English preacher who had recently taught them doctrines akin to their own now owned a magnificent domain in the New World. To this he invited them to come; there to live without wars or religious persecutions, under laws in the making of which they would share.
There is no record of the names and numbers of these earliest German immigrants. Recording did not begin until 1727 when the new registry law required the signature of every male immigrant to an oath of allegiance to "His Present Majesty King George the Second" and to the laws of the province. This record of immigrants into the port of Philadelphia extends from 1727 to the American Revolution. Rupp has published it in his "Thirty Thousand Names of German and Swiss Immigrants, etc."
During this time more than seventy different ships were engaged in transporting the German immigrants, and other ships were brining in British colonists. Some made a regular business of it. The "Loyal Judith" made five voyages for this purpose. The average tonnage of the ships whose dimensions are recorded was 178 tons, and the average number of passengers was 300! The principal port of embarkation was Rotterdam, at the mouth of the Rhine.
The immigration for the Rhine provinces fell off notably during and after the Revolution and the outbreak of that war may be taken to mark the close of the period of dominant German migration into Pennsylvania.
Sept 25, 1732
Palatines imported in the ship Loyal Judith of London, Robert Turpin Master, from Rotterdam, last from Crowes.
Jacob Pretz, 114 men named. No women or children mentioned.
In the original list (Penn. Archives) the name is spelled Rats, and nowhere is it spelled Bretz. That this is a misspelling is possible for the names of Pretz or Rats does not appear elsewhere in Rupp's book nor all the colonial or revolutionary records in the vicinity of Philadelphia. Harold W. Pretz, of Allentown, Pa. indicates that his family is descended from a post-Revolutionary immigrant.
Sept. 5, 1743
Foreigners imported on the Snow Charlotte, John Mason Master, from Rotterdam, last from Crowes.
Wilhelm Bretz, Jacob Bretz, 48 men named, no mention of women or children.
Oct. 20, 1744
Foreigners imported in the ship Phoenix, Wm. Wilson Captain, from Rotterdam, last from Crowes.
Philip Bretz, 120 men named, no women or children mentioned.
Aug. 15, 1750
Ship Royal Union, Clement Nicholson Captain, from Rotterdam, last from Crowes.
Henry Bretz, Ludwig Bretz-Both sick at time of landing, 238 men named, no mention of women or children.
Aug. 21, 1750
Ship Anderson, Hugh Campbell Captain, from Rotterdam, last from Crowes.
Johannes Bretz, Johan Cristobal Bretz, 84 men listed, no women or children mentioned.
Oct. 14, 1787
Ship Dorothea, from Rotterdam, Serverus Dalsted Master.
George Heinrich PRETZ
Christening:26 Feb 1772
Pillupoenen Stallupoenen, Ostpreussen, Preussen
Mother:Maria Elisabeth HARTMANIN
GEORG HEINRICH BRETZ
Birth:14 Mar 1828
Weiterstadt, Stk, Hessen
Father:JOHANN MARTIN BRETZ
Mother:ANNA MARGARETHA MEINHARDT
Georg Heinrich BRETZ
Birth:13 Sep 1808
Evangelisch, Annweiler, Pfalz, Bayern
Amanda MC CLELLAN
Birth:25 Mar 1854
Death:24 Apr 1943