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Welfische Lande

The term Welfische Lande refers to territories the Welfen, the name of an ancient nobility, occupied in the area what is now known as Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen, Germany). Here is map that shows the extention of their territory.

Cultural Areas (Kulturlandschaften)

You already consulted maps, gazetteers, even used “fuzzy gazetteer” and still cannot find your ancestor’s place of origin. Have you considered looking at cultural areas? What is that? You are of course; familiar with the Ozarks (Arkansas) in the United States, and you might have visited the Panhandle (Oklahoma). These are cultural areas. They exist also in Germany, and your ancestor may have given such a name as his place of origin. He may have told the American recorder or your family members that he came from Allgäu (Bavaria), from Schwaben (Baden-Württemberg/Bayern) or from Ostfriesland (Lower Saxony).

Cultural areas are shaped by people’s religious, political, social, and economic needs. They are areas with definite borders. People attach great feelings to cultural areas because they associate such with home.

If you do not know whether you are dealing with a cultural area, try to use the website called Landschaftssteckbrief (wanted poster for cultural areas). Google it. Enter in the box “Suchbegriff” (search) your place name and see whether your choice checks out. If you happen to know from which area of modern Germany your ancestor originated, select the state. In alphabetical order a list of names will appear. If you click on any name, a description of the area will be given as well as a map.

Example:
Your ancestor came from the Kingdom/ Prussian province of Hannover, Schmarloh. After you get into the above mentioned website, click on Landschaftssteckbriefe, then on “Niedersachsen” (Lower Saxony), scroll down to “Schmarloh”, click on it. A window will open up with a description of the area. There is also a map, outlining the area. Thus the ancestral home can be narrowed down. If further detail is required, the same area can be entered into “Google map” and be enlarged.

Branding names in Hildesheim

There are to this day visible branding symbols over doors or in crests attached to house fronts in the city of Hildesheim. These symbols were of great importance between medieval times and the 18th century. Every owner not only had his mark engraved on his house but on all his property of importance. They can be seen on fire places, window panes, church pews, farms, stables, and head stones. A branding symbol also served as a signature on contracts.

Branding was very common in Germany and lasted longest in the northern parts. The symbol originated in old Germanic characters which were attached to trees, cattle and other things to show ownership. In time these characters were replaced by so called Steinmetzzeichen (stone mason symbols) which appeared in the 12th to 15th century when they were especially popular. They were used as a sort of trademarks similar to marks used by gold smiths or wood carvers. Such signs were issued as a decoration to journeymen if they applied for such.

The custom to apply a symbol to one’s home came about in conjunction with the rise of the bourgeoisie in the cities. Respected burghers adopted stone mason symbols. Members of the nobility most likely used crests instead of mason symbols although often such symbol was also found in a crest. While the house symbols were merely a geometrical design, a crest had color and a malleable one.

In Hildesheim the earliest symbols were found on seals in the beginning of the 14th century, the latest were found on silver sets and pewter ware from the 18th century. The oldest house symbols were found on merchant guilds going as far back as 1482, the newer symbols from 1662 on were found in the Andreas cemetery. A house symbol was inheritable. Women were also using the symbols. People who did not inherit the house symbol often used it in conjunction with other signs, signifying relationship.

House symbols were not just used by the establishment. Beggars and tramps and other riffraff used them as recognition to signify illegal transactions. Guilds used house symbols in conjunction with a sign of their craft. Such appeared on all items belonging to the guild such as plates, pitchers, goblets, and chests. The symbols were protected by law and violation prosecuted.

The author Luise Zeppenfeldt listed 152 house symbols with owner and/or street addresses as well as stone mason symbols attachted to buildings in Hildesheim. She also listed these symbols graphically.
The interested genealogist can read about symbols in the periodicalZentralstelle für Niedersächsische Familiengeschichte e.V. 1921. The booklet is available at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, International Unit, call number 943 A1 no. 42

Hanover Place Name Indexes


 

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  • This page was last modified on 30 June 2014, at 04:35.
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