Family of Origin
What's In a Name?
Overview of the Data (Skip this part if you can’t stand endless details.)
Hitdorf, Rheindorf, and Görgens on the Web
Sources and Census Records
This article is a revision of the original in which we stated that we had an idea about where Philipp Jergens came from. While we haven’t proven our case “beyond the shadow of a doubt,” the pieces continue to fall into place. Our immigrant Jergens ancestor probably was a native of Hitdorf, a village bordering the Rhine River near Cologne in what today is Leverkusen, North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany.
We are indebted to Todd Farmerie for his invaluable help. Early on, he reviewed a detailed comparison of the data and lore, and provided a great deal of background information. In July 2009 his research revealed that Philipp and Anton, the two men involved in this story, were brothers. We thank him also for providing us with an image from the November 4, 1816, shipping news section of a Philadelphia newspaper, Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser.
German family historian Barbara Lüdecke has added a lot of data to our story, and we hope to continue learning from her. Thank you, Barbara!
It was Michael Fromholt who found and brought to our attention the 19th century ship’s passenger list central to this article. In August 2009 Mike and his wife joined us for lunch when they happened to be traveling through our area. On that occasion I asked, “Do you think this Philipp Joergens is our guy?” “Yes!” Mike replied. We think so, too.
St. Aldegundis, the Roman Catholic parish in Rheindorf (Rheinland, Prussia), also served the neighboring village of Hitdorf – spelled “Hittorf” in the 18th century, when sacramental records for the Goergens family were made.
A marriage record for Peter GOERGENS, written in Latin, indicates that he was a widower (Viduus) when he wed Maria Christina HAAS on February 25, 1767, at St. Aldegundis. Maria Christina, baptized February 1, 1746 at St. Remigius Catholic Church in nearby Opladen, was the daughter of Anton and Anna Catharina (WERMERSKIRCHEN) HAAS.
Peter and Maria Christina Goergens had ten children – eight sons and two daughters. Four of their sons had short lives – two
died in infancy, another at age 11, yet another at 26.
Anton, their fifth-born child, was baptized at St. Aldegundis on September 9, 1776:
Philipp, their seventh child, was baptized at St. Aldegundis on January 13, 1781, at which time he was given a string of names:
Peter Philipp Wilhelm Maximilian:
Philipp’s baptismal record tells us that his father’s full name was Johann Peter Goergens, who probably was known as Peter since he shows up simply as “Petri” in other records. (For an excellent description of German naming customs, visit Charles F. Kerchner, Jr.'s website.)
In the 1778 baptismal record for Johann Peter’s son Wilhelm, Barbara Lüdecke found reference to the parents having been baptized at Lützenkirchen and Opladen. We know that Maria Christina was baptized in Opladen, so Lützenkirchen presumably would refer to Johann Peter. Barbara checked the church registers of Lützenkirchen (“which is part of Leverkusen, same as Hitdorf, today”) but could not find any record of Johann Peter’s baptism there. She did find an entry for a Conrad “Görgens” or “Jörgens” at Lützenkirchen, the father of a family living there. Barbara wrote, “As one of Johann Peter’s sons is also a Conrad, there could be a relation, but it seems unlikely, as the names of the other children of this Conrad are not repeated in Johann Peter’s family.”
When Johann Peter Goergens died in Hitdorf on April 20, 1789, his wife was pregnant with their tenth child. Maria Christina (Haas) Goergens passed away two years later, on June 18, 1791.
In 1816, Philipp, Anton, and Anton’s wife left Europe from the port of Amsterdam on board the ship Amphitrite. The six-page passenger list, written in English, begins thus:
Report of Alien Passengers on board the ship Amphitrite, of which F. Reber is master, arrived from Amsterdam, at the port of Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania, fourth day of November AD 1816.
Philipp Joergens is listed on the first page. We learn from this document that he was 36 years old (born circa 1780); his “place of nativity” was Hittorf; and he was a cabinetmaker.
The names of Anton Jurgens and his wife appear on the second page. Anton was listed as 40 years old (born circa 1776), born in Hittorf, a cabinetmaker. His wife, whose given name was written as “Christensia,” was 35 years old (born circa 1781); her place of birth was Weler or Wehr.
Philipp Joergens and Anton Jurgens were the only Hittorf-born people on this passenger list.
In an email dated August 13, 2009, Barbara Lüdecke wrote:
I just had a look at the CD with the name-index of the emigration-files kept at the Hautpstaatsarchiv at Düsseldorf. There are no Görgens or similar from the area around Rheindorf/Hitdorf. The emigration-files start at the end of 18th century and do contain all emigrants, who left the country officially, i.e. with allowance of the authorities at the area of Aachen, Düsseldorf and Cologne.
Barbara went on to say that, as many young men left this part of Germany in order to escape Napoleon’s army, it’s possible the two brothers were already living elsewhere for some years before emigrating to the States. Or they may have left without official allowance, something we probably won’t be able to confirm one way or the other.
The Jergens family essay, despite its imperfections, contains clues about the immigrant ancestor. This essay describes four Jergens brothers – Andrew, Phillip, Peter and John – journeying together to the United States:
“They completed their voyage, reached port in New York and traveled together until they came to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Here they parted, never to see one another again. This was about the year 1818. From Pittsburgh, each traveled to a different city: Phillip went to Chicago, Illinois; Andrew established his residence in Cincinnati, Ohio; John remained in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and the exact city of Peter's settlement was never known. From the day of their parting they never again renewed family ties.”
The confusion over the given name of our immigrant ancestor – Andrew versus Philipp – was doubtless aided by the existence of the Andrew Jergens family of Cincinnati, manufacturers of Jergens Lotion. The young writers of the Jergens family essay apparently were under the impression that they were cousins to the lotion people (rich relatives!). The surname may have been the same, but it appears this other Jergens family arrived in the United States a quarter of a century or more after our Jergens immigrant and came from a different part of Germany.
Census and other records confirm that our ancestor who resided for decades in Cincinnati was named Philipp Jergens. Around the same time, a German immigrant known as Anthony or Andrew Yerkins lived in the Pittsburgh area. The known history of Philipp Jergens of Cincinnati and Anthony/Andrew Yerkins of Pittsburgh bears a striking resemblance to the immigration story in the Jergens family essay and to what we know about the immigrants from Hittorf.
Every one of the names in the Jergens family lore is accounted for: “Four brothers” – Andrew, Phillip, Peter, and John – were really Anton and Philipp, sons of Johann Peter. At the time of Anton and Philipp’s departure from Europe, they were in fact two of four brothers – the surviving sons of Johann Peter and Maria Christina Goergens. Conrad Goergens, who witnessed the 1816 marriage of their youngest sibling Maria Catharina, and Johann Peter Goergens [Jr.], who lived in Hitdorf, married and had children, were the two brothers who remained in Germany.
Until about the 20th century, no one cared much about spelling surnames consistently. In earlier times it wasn’t unusual to spell a person’s name three different ways in the same document.
In the case of our two immigrant brothers from Hitdorf (previously spelled Hittorf), 18th century handwritten church records give their family name as Goergens (with an umlaut hovering over the œ). Later renditions of this name show up in print as Görgens. We asked Barbara Lüdecke via email about the pronunciation of Görgens. She replied, “At that time Görgens and Jörgens did sound the same and as the members of the Goergens family most probably were not able to write, the priests wrote down what they heard. Here it varies between Goergen(s) and Joergen(s).”
On the passenger list of the ship Amphitrite, the Goergens brothers’ names were recorded as Joergens and Jurgens. In this country, the brothers ultimately ended up with the surnames Jergens and Yerkins. In the German language, the letter J is pronounced like an English Y. Early US federal census records show the surnames of both men listed under similar variations – Yerkins and Yergan. Anthony Yerkins’ surname retained features of its German pronunciation but ended up with a phonetic spelling. In Philipp Jergens’ case, his surname retained features of its German spelling but ended up with an English pronunciation.
An echo of the old spelling appears in the marriage records of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Dayton, Ohio. When Philipp’s grandson Peter Joseph Jergens wed Magdalena Abele in 1889, the priest, Fr. Frohmiller, entered Peter’s surname as Jörgens. (Or is that Görgens?)
We’d initially dismissed this Philipp Joergens – our Philipp was a gardener, not a cabinetmaker. And the Jergens family lore about its immigrant ancestor seemed like just a variation of the “Three Brothers Myth.” Then the History of the City of Dayton and Montgomery County, Ohio, published in 1909, became available online through Google Books. In it we found a new and different piece of information that changed our outlook:
“[Philip Jergens, Jr.’s] grandfather, William Jergens, a native of Baden, Germany, was a carpenter by trade and came to this country when a young man, becoming one of the early settlers of Cincinnati. Later, after he had retired from business, he came to Montgomery County, where he lived with his son Phillip, Sr., to an advanced age.”
The reference to Baden likely relates to the birthplace of Philipp Jergens’ wife Monica. And the mention of the immigrant as “a carpenter by trade” agrees in essence with the occupation given for Philipp Joergens of Hittorf.
At first we believed that the name William was incorrect. Knowing now about Philipp’s string of given names – Peter Philipp Wilhelm Maximilian – we begin to understand how Philip Jergens, Jr., might have remembered the name of his immigrant grandfather, who almost certainly died before or not long after Philip, Jr., was born in 1855. Philip Jergens, Jr., had a younger sibling named William who died in infancy. It’s plausible he recalled his baby brother being named for his grandfather (the names Philip and Peter already having been used in this family).
What we know about Anthony/Andrew Yerkins comes from several sources. The best source of general information can be found in “Early Generations of the Yerkins Family of Pittsburgh,” at the website of Dr. Todd A. Farmerie. Dr. Farmerie’s Yerkins web page is worth reading, so we encourage you to do so.
It looks as though Anton anglicized his given name to Anthony. Nowadays we think of “Tony” as the nickname for Anthony. In the 19th century, however, “Andy” was used as a nickname for Anthony. (Philipp Jergens’ great-grandson Anthony Joseph Zink, son of Jacob and Helena (Jergens) Zink, was called Andy.) We are not surprised, therefore, to see the name Andrew associated with Anthony Yerkins; later generations would tend to assume that Andy meant Andrew.
To keep things easier here, we will refer to Anthony/Andrew Yerkins simply as Anthony Yerkins.
Dr. Farmerie notes that, according to family records, Anthony Yerkins was born in Cologne, Germany, and that he sailed from Amsterdam some time prior to 1817, the year his oldest child was born in Reading, PA. At various times in his life, Yerkins worked as a carpenter, operated a ferry from Allegheny City to Pittsburgh, and ran a farm market.
We found Anthony Yerkins mentioned in a couple of local histories, including History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, published in 1889, and A Century and a Half of Pittsburg and Her People, published in 1908. (These books are available online; see Sources at the end of this article for links to the specific web pages).
Anthony Yerkins’ wife was Nancy (Springer) Yerkins. The wife who accompanied Anton Jurgens from Amsterdam was Christensia. We think the name Christensia is likely to have been a phonetic rendering of the German name Crescentia, and Dr. Farmerie agreed:
Anthony and 'Nancy' had a daughter who appears as both Nancy and Crecentia, and a granddaughter who appears as both Gracents and Nancy, and while there is no blood relationship with Yerkins, another of the Farmerie brothers (Christopher) also had a daughter Crescentia who was called Nancy - this appears to have been a repeated usage: Nancy for Crescentia. I had already concluded that 'Nancy' Springer may have been named Crescentia based on this naming pattern....
The biographical data about Anthony Yerkins in A Century and a Half of Pittsburg and Her People state that he was a member of the Roman Catholic Church. Philipp and Monica Jergens’ two children were married at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Cincinnati. Subsequent generations of Jergens descendants were staunchly Roman Catholic. We infer that Philipp probably was Catholic, too.
The available census data regarding the ages of Philipp Jergens, Anthony Yerkins, and Nancy Yerkins fit remarkably well with the ages we would expect to find for Philipp Joergens and for Anton Jurgens and his wife.
Anthony Yerkins’ eldest child was born in Pennsylvania in 1817, a fact that fits nicely into the timeframe of the arrival of Anton Jurgens and his wife in November 1816. The timeframe offered by the Jergens family essay gives 1818 as the year that the Jergens brothers parted ways in Pittsburgh. One can imagine the two Hittorf men residing with or near each other for a while after their arrival in the United States. Philipp’s presumed departure from Pittsburgh for Cincinnati in 1818 poses no timing difficulties for our hypothesis.
Both Philipp and Anthony are identified as natives of Prussia. 1880 census data from Philipp Jergens’ children tell us that their father was born in Prussia, and their mother in Baden. Philipp Joergens of Hittorf did not have a wife’s name following his on that passenger list. We can only guess that he was single at the time he emigrated. This fits with what the Jergens family essay has to say (for the purpose of clarity, the correct name of Philipp has been substituted for Andrew, below):
“After Philipp settled in Cincinnati, he married a German girl, whose name is unknown….”
Anthony’s naturalization file, dated October 9, 1826, includes a personal information form. This document states his age (51); place of birth (more on this below); “nation & allegiance” (Prussian); the place from which he emigrated (Amsterdam); his occupation (cabinet maker); and where he lived in Pennsylvania. The age and occupation listed for Anthony Yerkins at the time of his naturalization agree with the data for Anton Jurgens.
When applying for US citizenship, Anthony gave his birthplace as “Kerlin on the River Rhyne.” “Kerlin” would appear to be nothing more than “Berlin” written poorly, were it not for mention of the river. The German city of Berlin is not along the Rhine River. “Kerlin” may be a phonetic spelling of the German city Köln, known to most of the English-speaking world by its French name, Cologne. This city was under French rule for a time prior to 1815 when it became part of the Kingdom of Prussia.
We found a reference to the village of Hittorf in an 1825 publication, The Travellers' Guide Down the Rhine (bold type added for emphasis):
On the right, a league lower, is Wiesdorf, and on the left Merkenich; and not far from them is the mouth of the Lun and of the Wipper. Near Rheinkassel, opposite to which the latter river falls into the Rhine, is a very remarkable sandbank, called the mountain of Kassel. It extends in an oblique direction from the last-mentioned place to nearly the middle of the village of Hittorf, situated on the right bank; thus intersecting the bed of the river. Its breadth is thirteen yards, and the water is seldom more.
Langel, which is situated on the left, is surrounded by a plain of sand; and Hittorf, on the right, has the appearance of a neat Dutch village, with houses painted different colours. A great number of fish, particularly salmon, are caught at this place, and it carries on a considerable trade.
This description contained all we needed to locate present-day Hitdorf (note the slightly different spelling) on a map. Google Maps tells us that Hitdorf “is situated in Leverkusen, Koln, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany.” Hitdorf is just north of Köln, on the other side of the Rhine River. Ferry service across the Rhine still operates at Hitdorf. In light of the above, we find it fascinating that Anthony Yerkins ran a ferry across the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh.
The family lore about why Anthony and Philipp left Germany apparently falls into the category of myth. Dr. Farmerie offered us some background on why our ancestors didn't need a special reason to emigrate:
...The 'poaching the king's game' story is about as common as the 'ran away to marry' and the 'three brothers' ones. There were major political and climatic upheavals in the area at the time. The lands had been repeatedly ravaged by the Napoleonic wars, while trans-Atlantic emigration that had been all but stopped due to the wars was now open wide, and smuggling was no longer profitable, while shipping people now was. Amsterdam ship owners sent men up the Rhine telling stories of inexpensive land flowing with milk and honey. (The analogy is to the railroaders who encouraged immigration to the Dakota Badlands, claiming it was the best farmland on earth - they planned to get rich off of the rail fares when the people went out, and again when they gave up and came back.) Likewise, the explosion of Mount Tambora the year before [in 1815] caused 'The Year Without a Summer,' with killing frosts in June and July, resulting in crop failures and livestock die-offs. There was a major exodus from along the Rhine, with whole villages depopulating, and the more people that went, the less the remaining tradesmen were able to support themselves, so they followed their customers. The preferred route was via Amsterdam to Philadelphia. The boom so flooded the Philadelphia market for indentured servants that it temporarily reversed the trend of decreasing numbers and increasing price that would eventually drive the practice out of existence, and several Philadelphia-bound ships diverted to other ports to get a better price for their passengers.
A comparison of the facts and lore suggests there is no serious impediment to our hypothesis about Philipp Jergens and Anthony Yerkins. Dr. Farmerie agrees that Anton Jurgens is very likely the same man as Anthony Yerkins of Pittsburgh, and thinks Philipp Joergens may well be “our man,” too. Pending the discovery of significant new information, only a DNA study involving male lineal descendents of Anthony Yerkins and Philipp Jergens might prove or disprove a blood relationship.
Johann Peter Görgens, older brother to Anton and Philipp, lived in Hitdorf; he was a farmer and a carpenter. We wonder if members of the Görgens family of Hitdorf pictured at “der ‘Rungang’” are descendants of Johann Peter. Their names – Josef, Philipp, Lisa, Paul, Gertrud, Mary, and Peter – are typical of given names in the Roman Catholic tradition. But they echo some of the same names found in the 19th century family of Philipp Jergens of Cincinnati, Ohio.
An image of St. Aldegundis Roman Catholic Church in Rheindorf, where Anton and Philipp Goergens were baptized and where their parents were married, may be viewed at this Wikipedia web page.
“Early Generations of the Yerkins Family of Pittsburgh” by Todd A. Farmerie, Ph.D. We found Dr. Farmerie’s web page so long ago, we don’t remember the date we first came upon it. Our interest in this Yerkins family was renewed around 8 September 2008, when Mike Fromholt emailed us about the passenger list. Also: Email from Todd Farmerie, dated February 10, 2009.
Dr. Farmerie provided copies of his research at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah (July 2009), in which he found records regarding Anton and Philipp Görgens:
Veröffentlichungen der Westdeutschen Gesellschaft für Familienkinde e.V. Neue Folge Nr. 31; Die Familien der Katholischen Pfarrei: St. Aldegundis Rheindorf (mit Hitdorf) 1718-1809) bearbeitet von Ilse Kuhnert und Uwe Boelken (Köln: 1985) pages 45-46
Veröffentlichungen der Westdeutschen Gesellschaft für Familienkinde e.V. Neue Folge Nr. 26; bearbeitet von Uwe Boelken (Köln: 1985), Die Familien der Katholischen Pfarre St. Remigius Opladen 1688-1809: page 23.
Mike Fromholt is a descendant of Philipp Jergens through his daughter Anna Maria “Mary” (Jergens) Steffen.
German family historian Barbara Lüdecke is a descendant of Anna Margaretha Görgens, sister to Anton and Philipp. Barbara has abstracted and transcribed a number of records pertaining to the Görgens family and generously shared her notes with us.
Ancestry.com. Philadelphia Passenger Lists, 1800-1945 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2006. Original data: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1800-1882. Micropublication M425. RG036. Rolls # 1-108. National Archives, Washington, D.C. Philipp Joergens’ name appears on roll M425_23; Line: 9.
Boucher, John Newton, and John W. Jordan. A Century and a Half of Pittsburg and Her People. [New York]: Lewis Pub. Co., 1908. Four volumes; original from the New York Public Library. Digitized Feb 6, 2008; found on Google Books 31 Dec 2008.
Volume 4, pages 51-52 – biography of Andrew Yerkins, son of Anthony and Nancy (Springer) Yerkins.
Volume 3, page 429 – biography of John A. Farmerie, son of George and Elizabeth (Yerkins) Farmerie and grandson of Anthony and Nancy (Springer) Yerkins.
A Century and a Half of Pittsburg and Her People states that “Andrew Yerkins, the elder, was by birth a Frenchman.” Anthony/Andrew Yerkins’ association with France rather than with Germany is a result of the political history of Cologne, which was part of the French Republic for a time. Cologne came under the rule of the King of Prussia in 1815.
Carmack, Sharon DeBartolo. A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Immigrant & Ethnic Ancestors: How to Find and Record Your Unique Heritage. Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books, 2000. “The Three Brothers Myth,” page 6.
Drury, A. W. History of the City of Dayton and Montgomery County, Ohio. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1909. Original from Harvard University. Digitized Jan 24, 2008. Obtained via Google Books; Philip Jergens, Jr.’s biography begins on page 973.
Schreiber, Aloys Wilhelm. The Travellers' Guide Down the Rhine, Exhibiting the Course of That River from Schaffhausen to Holland, and Describing the Moselle from Coblentz to Treves with an Account of the Cities, Towns, Villages, Prospects, Etc. Paris: A. and W. Galignani, 1825. Obtained via Google Books; references to Hittorf are found on pages 505-506.
History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania: Including Its Early Settlement and Progress to the Present Time; a Description of Its Historic and Interesting Localities; Its Cities, Towns and Villages; Religious, Educational, Social and Military History; Mining Manufacturing and Commercial Interests; Improvements, Resources, Statistics, Etc. Also Portraits of Its Prominent Men, and Biographies of Many of Its Representative Citizens. Chicago, Ill: A. Warner & Co., 1889. Online at the Historic Pittsburgh Full-Text Collection. On page 434, Anthony Yerkins is mentioned in a section about John Farmerie: “Anthony Yerkins … was a native of Cöln, on the Rhine, Germany, and came to this country in 1820, settling in Allegheny Town, running a ferry-flat from Allegheny to Pittsburgh, poled by hand and used for transporting passengers and marketing horses and cattle.”
1830 US federal census, Delhi Township, Hamilton County, OH; NARA micropublication M19, roll #132, page 349 – Phillip Yerkins (Philipp Jergens).
1830 US federal census, Allegheny, Allegheny County, PA; NARA micropublication M19, roll #144; page 85 – household of Andrew Yerkin (Anthony/Andrew Yerkins).
1840 US federal census, Allegheny City, Allegheny County, PA; NARA micropublication M704, roll #440, page 237 – household of Antony Yargins (Anthony/Andrew Yerkins).
1840 US federal census, Delhi Township, Hamilton County, OH; NARA micropublication M704, roll #400, page 373 – Philip Yergan (Philipp Jergens).
1850 US federal census, Green & Delhi Townships (District #68, Delhi), Hamilton County, OH; NARA micropublication M432, roll #686, page 485 –Phillip Jerjus (Philipp Jergens and son Phillip). In census indexes for 1850, the transformation of Jergens into “Jerjus” and "Fergus" is likely related to the handwriting of the census taker.
1850 US federal census, Shaler Township, Allegheny County, PA; NARA micropublication M432, roll #747, page 103 – household of John N. Farmerie, Anthony and Nancy Yerkins residing.
1880 US federal census, ED #170, Mad River Township, Montgomery County, OH; NARA micropublication T9, roll #1052, pages 621A – household of Mattias Steffan (Matthias Steffen and wife Anna Maria “Mary” [Jergens] Steffen).
1880 US federal census, ED #170, Mad River Township, Montgomery County, OH; NARA micropublication T9, roll #1052, pages 637B – household of Phillip Jergens.
1880 US federal census, ED #44, Sharpsburg, Allegheny County, PA; NARA micropublication T9, roll #1088, page 451D – household of Anthony Yerkins (son of the immigrant).
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