The Firestone/Feuerstein Family in Alsace
FEUERSTEINS IN BERG AND THAL
This website is about the family of Johannes Feuerstein and his youngest son, Nicholas Firestone (born Johann Niclaus Feuerstein), of Berg and Thal Parish in Alsace, France. It's designed to showcase them and their immediate relatives in the years before Nicholas and his family left Alsace for Pennsylvania. Much of the information here will be new to most readers, at least to most American readers.
Some of the Firestone immigrants who came to America after Nicholas are related, so please make yourselves known. The Berg Church Records Abstract on the last page of this site has records of your ancestors in Berg and Thal. Firestone or not, give the site a good look over and be sure to leave a message in our guestbook before you leave.
Other Feuerstein families lived in Alsace in the 1600s and it's a matter of debate whether they are all distantly related or not. The ones in the near vicinity of Berg and Thal are very likely related and closely. On the other hand, a Feuerstein Y-DNA project shows that the tested Feuersteins have a large number of unrelated ancestors.
This website is a work in progress, so check back every now and then to see what's new.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND. According to Feuerstein family legend, the Alsatian Feuersteins descend from three brothers who emigrated from Austria in the 1400s. In the 1700s, many Alsatians made their way to America, most of them to Pennsylvania.
Nicholas (Nickel, Johann Niclaus) Feuerstein was the youngest child of Johannes (Hans) Feuerstein of Thal. He was born about 1711 or 1712 (no later), but does not appear in any known records until he witnessed a baptism in the Berg and Thal Parish in 1727. On June 13, 1733 he married Catherina Nunnemacher. Ten children were born to this couple, nine before leaving France.
In 1752 the family left Thal and eventually boarded the ship Peggy in Rotterdam. On September 24, 1753, the Peggy arrived at the Port of Philadelphia. The next day Nicholas and his oldest son, also named Nicholas, took the oath of allegiance to King George II.
A Johann Feuerstein (not Johannes and not Nicholas) was the first known Feuerstein to settle in America, arriving in Pennsylvania in 1750. According to George Ely Russell, Johann "settled in Cocalico Township in Lancaster County, where he died testate in 1801, leaving widow Justina Maria and five children."
It has sometimes been surmised that Nicholas and Johann Feuerstein were related since they both came to Pennsylvania at about the same time. However, there were no Johann or Justina Maria Feuersteins in Berg and Thal Parish at this time. There were two Johannes Feuersteins, but they never came to America. Also, Dr. Peter Feuerstein (1946-2013) traced Johann back to Germany rather than France. Dr. Feuerstein, who was a descendant of Johann, posted informative messages on Ancestry Message Boards: PETER FEUERSTEIN MESSAGES. We have nothing more about this Johann Feuerstein on this site.
-- Just a note concerning the descendants of industrialist Harvey Firestone. Well-known people value their privacy very highly because they don't always have enough of it. If you're tempted to get in touch with them, resist the temptation. They'll appreciate it.
-- Pretty much all history, including genealogy, has mistakes. To err is human. If you see anything on this website that contradicts primary sources, please leave a message in our guestbook and we'll look into it. Thanks.
FIRESTONE HISTORY AND LEGEND
IN THE OLD COUNTRY:
The "record of the Firestone adventure began in a Lutheran church in Alsace, France, with the birth of Nicholas in 1712. The village was Berg, in the farming region between Strasbourg and Metz. ...Alsace had been wrested from the Holy Roman Empire more than half a century before... Numerous Firestones dwelt in this locality and were said to be descendants of two or three brothers who had drifted there from the Austrian Tyrol in the fifteenth century.
"Nicholas grew up to become a farmer, marry and have nine children, live in a stone house and till his ten acres. But abruptly he broke with tradition. On a night in 1752, without a farewell, he slipped his family out of Berg, abandoning his property. He could not have sold it and yet kept his secret; his eldest boy was nearing eighteen years of age, and to avoid military service to ... King Louis XV, they were shipping off to America.
"Nicholas had no passage money. Like thousands of others who reached these shores in Colonial times, he sailed as an indentured servant, contracting to give the services of himself and his children, and thus it came to pass that these immigrants lived and worked on a farm in eastern Pennsylvania."
The passage above is from "HARVEY FIRESTONE: FREE MAN OF ENTERPRISE" by Alfred Lief, McGraw-Hill, 1951. It is very general, but still good background information. However, there were not "numerous Firestones" in Berg and Thal in 1712. At the end of that year, there was only one family consisting of a widowed mother, a daughter, and four or five sons. (Other villages in the general area did have a few Feuersteins.) Nor did Nicholas and Catharina live in Berg; they made their home in Thal. Their parish church was located about a mile away on a hill above Berg. Additionally, Nicholas and Catharina had ten children, the youngest born after the family immigrated to America.
BERG AND THAL:
The next passage comes from an earlier book "MEN AND RUBBER: THE STORY OF BUSINESS" by Harvey Samuel Firestone and Samuel Crowther, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1926. Although co-written by Harvey himself, it has notable mistakes. It is incorrect about Nicholas being the first Firestone in America, and 1706 is almost certainly not his birth year (His brother Andreas was born in December of 1705).
More importantly, the passage overlooks the five daughters that came to America with the family, and it incorrectly states that the youngest son, Michael, was born in France instead of in America. And none of the sons went by the name of "John". The source of these mistakes is not clear. They appear in Jason W. Firestone's 1904 Firestone History, but they may go back to a family Bible passed down through the generations.
"The first Firestone in America was Nicholas, who was born at Berg und Thal, in 1706 (sic), and came to the colonies in 1752 with his wife and four sons - John, Matthias, Michael, and Nicholas.
"Berg and Thal are two small farming villages situated a mile apart, forty miles northwest of Strassburg in the Province of Alsace and six miles south of the railroad station of Saar-Union. The villages are very old, no authentic record being extant as to the time of their foundation, or incorporation. Berg in 1889 had about one thousand and Thal about eight hundred inhabitants. In early times, these two villages were one, with one charter and one mayor. The combined villages were known as Bergenthal. Subsequently, two villages were formed with separate and distinct governments."
While the passages above are inaccurate in some of their details, they still give a good feeling for the times. But many questions are not answered: Were there really two or three brothers that came from Austria or is this just an oral tradition? If true, was it in the 15th century, or was it in the 16th century when emigration from Austria was much higher? Or even as late as the 1600s? Did Nickel and Catharina really live in a stone house and farm ten acres or was that typical for the time and place? (It was typical. But at a baptism in 1741, Nickel was described as a "half-farmer" [halb bauer], possibly meaning that he had less land than a regular bauer.) Did they own their own land or did it belong to the Lord of the Manor?
Did they really leave France because of politics or was their family just too big to provide for in Alsace? Did they know anybody when they came to America or were they the first of their circle to immigrate?
Today there is no Province of Alsace. Berg and Thal are located in Bas-Rhin (Lower Rhine), a province or department of France.
Much of what has been researched and written about the early Feuersteins over the years has been incomplete and sometimes inaccurate. Early biographers of the family had little or no direct access to the Berg Church records. This led to many mistakes. The following pages are intended to round out the story of the Feuersteins and their in-laws in the Berg und Thal Gemeinde (Parish).
Except for a little background information, everything on this site comes from the records of the Berg Evangelical Lutheran Church or, more rarely, from nearby churches. These records are a gold mine of information. The Berg Church registers have been reviewed from 1712 to 1794, and an English language abstract of all the Feuerstein and Nonnenmacher records has been created by the webmaster. For more information about these records, leave a message in the guestbook.
According to Jason W. Firestone, there was a fire in the Berg Church in 1720 that destroyed earlier records. That statement is confusing because the records of the parish go back to 1712 in Berg, back to 1703 in Drulingen, and a few years earlier in Lorentzen. (If you happen to visit Berg, see what you can find out about this. Thanks.)
I want to thank the Firestone cousins, and in particular James Blodgett, who have given encouragement and provided input to this effort. The work would have been harder and less accurate without them. James has been researching the Firestone family for many years.