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A Summary of the History of the VarnBuhler/VanBuhler Family

Our lineage was traced to northeastern Switzerland, to the earliest documented Varnbühler, Hans, the owner of a vineyard and villa (or "castle") in the Rhine river valley in 1375. Hans was a member of the St. Gallen city council, and Guild Master of the tailors. Amazingly, the aforementioned castle, over 600 years old, is still there. You can see it by clicking on the "Weinstein" links in the Image Gallery.

Ulrich, grandson of Hans, became mayor of St. Gallen, Switzerland in 1480. A biography states: "He was considered the intellectual and political leader. According to Vadian, who understood his contemporaries well, Ulrich was a very intelligent, observant, and eloquent man who enjoyed the trust of the citizenry to a high degree." Earlier Ulrich had led the St. Gallen troops in significant battles at Grandson and Murten in the Burgundy wars of 1476. Later he led the citizens of St. Gallen in their efforts to free themselves from the power of the abbot of the St. Gallen monastery. In league with the people of Appenzell they destroyed the abbey that had just recently been built by Abbot Ulrich Rösch. However, members of the Swiss Confederation then came to the aid of the abbot and besieged St. Gallen in 1490. St. Gallen was defeated, and Ulrich, in danger of ending up in enemy hands, was forced to don a disguise and escape to Lindau (in Bavaria, across the Bodensee/Lake Constance). From there his sons founded the line of Württemberg Varnbülers, several of whom became distinguished state officers in their time. His son Johann became mayor of Lindau, and his other son Ulrich became a high government official at Speyer and then Nuremberg. The latter eventually moved to Strasbourg (France) where he established the Strasbourg Varnbüler line. He was a good friend of the famous artist Albrecht Dürer who immortalized him in a well known woodcut dated 1522.

Nikolaus, a son of Johann ( the mayor of Lindau) became a famous professor of law at the university in Tübingen and served in several important government positions. A later descendent, Johann Conrad Varnbüler, represented the Duke of Württemberg at the Westphalia peace negotiations, where he successfully negotiated a settlement very favorable to Württemberg, in which the status and properties it had lost were completely restored. In recognition of his service to the empire at the negotiations, a grateful Duke awarded him hereditary rights to the town and castle of Hemmingen (near Stuttgart) in 1649. In 1650 in Vienna, Emperor Ferdinand III confirmed the status of the family as imperial nobility, which included exclusive rights to the name and coat of arms. Thus began a series of Hemmingen barons, the "Freiherr Varnbüler von und zu Hemmingen," and an extensive Varnbüler family connected with that town. (Freiherr means baron).

Many other Varnbülers achieved fame and position as politicians, military leaders, legal scholars, etc., but I've chosen to mention these particular ones because they are on our direct line of descent. Much more complete information about the Ulrich, Nikolaus, and Conrad mentioned above can be found in the links to their biographies in the Contents list.

Evidence of the more prominent Varnbülers can still be seen in several places in Germany and Switzerland. (Many of these can be seen in the "Image Gallery" in the Contents list). There is a street in Hemmingen named Freiherr von Varnbülerstrasse, a Varnbüelstrasse in St. Gallen and a Varnbülerstrasse in Stuttgart. In Lindau (Bavaria), on the elaborately painted old city hall completed in 1436, one of the city's major tourist sights, there are 10 names along with their family crests; one of the names is Varnbüler (referring to the Johann mentioned above). In St. Gallen, a historical plaque on the wall of a main street in the "old town" shows Hans Varnbüler as the earliest documented owner of the building that was there in 1429. In Osnabrück, Germany, where the Westphalia peace negotiations took place, one can see the portrait of Johann Conrad Varnbüler. And of course in Hemmingen there is the Varnbüler chateau/Rathaus (city hall) containing several Varnbüler coats-of-arms.

Before any of you VanBuhler's or VarnBuhler's get excited about being descended from nobility, you should know that one of the Varnbüler barons from Hemmingen had an illegitimate son (who retained the Varnbüler surname), and all VanBuhlers or VarnBuhlers in the United States are descended from that branch of the family tree. (Sorry, you can't truly claim noble descendency). Another Varnbüler on the same line, but later, also had an illegitimate son. The father, the mother, and the son, (then 2 years old) came to America; they were the original immigrant family, the parent family of all VanBuhlers or VarnBuhlers living here today. The illegitimate son grew, married, and had 9 children, six of whom survived: all of them were boys! That pretty much assured a continuation of the line, and it was just a matter of time before there were VanBuhlers or VarnBuhlers all over the place. There still are.

The immigrant father was Johann Jakob Varnbühler (or a spelling variation thereof), my great great grandfather. He was born December 12, 1823 in Möglingen. His wife Friederika Dorothea (maiden name Renz) was born August 21, 1821, in the town of Beihingen (near Ludwigsburg). Both towns are in Württemberg, a province in what is now a part of southern Germany. They emigrated to America in 1854, sailing from Havre, France on the ship Union, and arrived in New York on July 3. With them was their infant son Johann Jakob, the illegitimate child, born on June 29, 1852. (Due to social conditions in Germany at the time, illegitimate children were fairly common). We can only imagine what it must have been like, or what emotions they felt, having finally arrived safely in a foreign country after a long and arduous journey, and then (most likely), on the following day, witnessing the Independence Day celebrations of their new country.

After arrival in America they soon settled in Detroit, Michigan. (For most immigrants the trip from New York to Detroit usually followed a route that involved traveling on the Hudson River to Albany, taking a train from there to Buffalo, and finally a ship across Lake Erie). In Detroit they had their second child, Friederika Catherina, born July 7,1856, baptised July 20 at Trinity Lutheran Church. Earlier that same year, February 4, Jacob had formally declared his intent to become a citizen of the United States, filing a Declaration of Intent in the Wayne County Circuit Court. Such a Declaration was the first step in a process that spanned a minimum of 5 years before citizenship was granted. However, even though later census records indicate he was a citizen, no other records have ever been found that indicate he actually completed the process.

The first address we know of where Jacob and Friederika and the children lived was at 161 Columbia (east) in what is now the heart of downtown Detroit. That was about 1866 -1867. About 1871-1872 they moved to 227 Adams (east), also downtown Detroit, where they stayed until the early to mid 1880's. (These locations are no longer in existence due to downtown area renovation, freeways, etc.).

Friederika died in Detroit, November 10, 1882, and was buried on November 12 in Elmwood Cemetary, Detroit's oldest Protestant cemetary. Jacob had been a tailor in Möglingen, and he continued that occupation in Detroit. He died much later than Friederika, in 1910 at the age of 86. He was buried in the same grave as Friederika.

John Jacob Jr. probably married Mary Cook about 1870-1875, but no record of the marriage has yet been located. They had 9 children, of whom 6 lived: as noted earlier, all boys. Their surviving sons, in the order of their birth were: John (May, 1876), Joseph (June, 1878), Robert (August 28, 1880), Charles (October, 1882), George (January, 1885), and Frank (April, 1895). Mary died in 1903, John Jacob in 1909. Both are buried in Woodmere Cemetary in Detroit.

The rest of the story is as yet incomplete. Most lines other than my own have yet to be completed. (If you're a VanBuhler, here's where you could help, by providing your links back to one of the above 6 sons. See "Contact Ray" in the Contents list).

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