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Origin of the Weisel Surname in Hesse-Darmstadt


Surname spelling variations for Weisel

Surnames similar to Weisel

(Last modified on Sunday, 20-Jan-2002 21:34:47 MST)
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Until the 12th century, surnames as we know them were not commonly used in Germany. A person was known to his community by his or her first name.   To distinguish between individuals who shared a common first name in a community, a second word would be used to help identify the person.  The second word attached to the person's name would often describe their occupation, appearance, behavior, an event, the name of their father, the name of their farm, or the town where they came from. During the period 1100-1200, population growth and the increasing mobility and migration of the population brought about the adoption of permanent surnames that were passed to successive generations of descendents. The earliest surnames were place names, the most common surname is derived from an occupation. By 1250 permanent surnames had been generally adopted in the region of Hessen. By 1500 the practise of inherited surnames was well established throughout present day Germany. By 1600 - 1700 most German church parishes started recording births/baptisms, marriages, and deaths.

Many villages in Germany derive their name from words that describe a feature or attribute of the landscape. According to "Dictionary of German Names" by Hans Bahlow, "Weisel in the Wetterau area was called Wise-la = swampy terrain". Other possible derivations for the word Weisel come from the Middle High German word of "Wisel" meaning "leader, head chief", or "Weisel" the name of the queen in a bee hive. In the middle ages there was a village called Weisel located in the Wetterau lowland plain of Hesse-Darmstadt.  The village was located about 20 miles north of the present city Frankfurt am Main and a very short distance to the south of Butzbach.  Today Weisel is known as two adjacent  towns called Hoch-Weisel and Nieder-Weisel.  The German word "Hoch" means high in English, and "Nieder " means low.   This medieval village of Weisel in the Wetterau is the origin of the Hessen-Darmstadt Weisel surname, commonly referred to as a "place name".

An individual could have assumed Weisel as a surname in one of two ways. Around the 11th century, royalty including barons, counts and knights, or a person or family of great importance in the village, would assume the village or castle name as their surname. Conrad and his family would then be known as Conrad von Weisel, or Conrad of Weisel. The second possiblity could have occured when a villager left Weisel and settled in another village. He was called Johann von Weisel, John from Weisel, by his neighbors to differentiate him from another resident Johann, who had white hair and was called Johann Weiss. The "von" was dropped from the full name except for German nobility, who continued to use it as a sign of rank.

Research suggesting the Hesse-D Weisel's descended from a common medieval family was undertaken by Col Calvin I. Kephart during the period 1930-1950. Calvin Kephart was a past president of the National Genealogical Society and a Weisel descendent of George Michael Weisel through his mother. He compiled a treatise on Weisel Genealogy. He was also the historian for the Weisel Family Association based in Philadelphia. Additional essays on this topic can be found in the Weisel Family Association Newsletters beginning in 1932.

Nieder-Weisel existed in the eighth and ninth century as "Weisel" with a variety of spellings. In the 12th century the head of the Weisel family moved up the mountain now called Hausberg, built a fortified castle there, and adopted the Hohenweisel surname. The von Hohenweisel or von Hochweisel surname has been documented by Johann Maximilian Humbracht in 1719 and Ernst Heinrich Kneschke in 1859. Both are lexicons of German noble families. The senior line of the von Hochweisel family is said to have died out in the 16th century. Younger lines that moved away may have assumed the simpler form of Weisel. The lines of Nicolas and Werner Weisel have been documented in Friedberg beginning in 1308. Three other communities with Weisels in the 1500s are known to have existed in Upper Hesse: 1) Fauerbach v.d. Hohe, Langenhain and Maibach, adjoining villages just south of Hoch-Weisel 2) Muschenheim and Muenzenberg, neighboring villages a few miles north east of Hoch-Weisel 3) near the Rhein river on the western edges of Upper Hesse.

Whether all present day Hessian Weisel descendants are descended from one common ancestor or family is unknown. The number of Weisels still in this area of Germany are not large, given that 6 centuries have passed since the name came into existence.  In 1999 there were 70 Weisel listings in the German telephone book for the 35xxx zipcode area.  The 35xxx zip code includes Butzbach, Eberstadt, Gambach, Nieder Weisel, Hoch Weisel, Lich, Muschenheim, and Muenzenberg. Further research needs to done. Additional data needs to be collected from the 1300s into the 1600s from the four areas of Upper Hesse listed above. 



Surname spelling variations for Weisel

The spelling of German surnames was not standardized until the 19th century. In Germany during the late middle ages, most people, including the nobility, could not read and write. In this era there was no correct spelling of a name. People didn't possess a passport or official document for identification. So the spelling of a surname changed from writer to writer. In early documents names were spelled phonetically or transcribed at the writer's preference. Many spelling variations for a given surname can be found in Germany and the United States during the 1600s through the 1800s. Frequently the same parish minister would use a different spelling for the family from one entry to the next. And it is not unusual to find a surname with more than one spelling within the same record!

The alternative spelling of "Weisel" with a double s, "Weissel", was common in the 1600s to the early 1800s in the Hesse-Darmstadt church parish books. By the mid 1800s the name was fairly consistently spelled Weisel in Hesse-Darmstadt and by those individuals who immigrated to the USA during the 1700s and 1800s. I suspect this "standard" spelling matched the commonly used spelling for the towns Nieder-Weisel and Hoch-Weisel. Today the official phone book spelling is Nieder-Weisel.

A few Weisel families in the USA changed the spelling for their surname. Known spelling variations of Weisel are as follows:

Alternate spellings similar to Weisel, or occurred as a misspelling of Weisel, in USA census data, immigration lists, and other documents: Weisil, Weissel, Wiessel, Wiesela, Weizel, Wizel, Wizele, Wiseley, Wisel, Wissel, Weisil, Weisyl, Wysel, Wysell, Wyssel. Most of these variant spellings exist only in the United States, and a few only exist on paper.



Surnames similar to Weisel

There are surnames that look similiar to, or sound like Weisel, such as Wiesel and Weitzel. Unless they are the result of a misspelling when the immigrant family arrived in the United States, they are unlikely to be connected or related. Wiesel derives from a different root word and represents a different family tree and origin.

Richard Wiesel Richard.Wiesel@t-online.de of 68789 St.Leon-Rot, Germany, writes this about the origin of his surname:

"The roots of the familyname Wiesel was approx. 1525 the city of Wesel. This city was for the evangelisch-lutheran faith-refugees from Flandern ( is Belgium since 1848 )and Lower-Germany ( is Netherland since the 17th century )the place of refuge against the terrible prosecutions trough the catholic church. As you know from the history there was a lot of faith-wars from 1520 - 1648. A terrible past for our ancestors."

A little bit later- 1530/40-in this time period the faith refugees must flee again from Wesel to other regions in Germany: Lower-Germany / Hessen / Thuringia and Saxonia.I found my ur-ancestor in Thuringia 1541 in the near of Weimar. Mis-understandings trough the clergymen-sometimes Wesel, sometimes Wiesel, or Wisel,or Wißel / Wiessel / Wießel / Wießell... all was possible and to find into the old churchbooks in Germany parishes."

Copyright © 2000-2001 Bonnie Weisel
Author: Bonnie Weisel, bonnie@psl.wisc.edu
Created: Feb. 1999
This document is under constant revision. If you have additional information on the surname Weisel with Hessian or different roots, please feel free to contact me with your comments, additions, or corrections.