~~ 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 the vicinity of 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. 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. 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).
Another passage suggests that the Berg Lutheran Church burned in 1720 but that's not likely, because its records go back to December of 1712. 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, and came to the colonies in 1752 with his wife and four sons - John, Matthias, Michael (sic), 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? 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. Nickel was described as a "half-farmer" once, probably meaning that he had less land than a farmer.) 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 (see link below), there was a fire in the Berg Church in 1720 that destroyed their records. Since these records go back to 1712 in Berg and back to 1703 in Drulingen, I believe the fire may have occurred in 1703. (If you happen to visit Berg, see if you can find out for me. 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.
Contrary to Jason's narrative, there is no reason to believe that the Berg and Thal Feuersteins came directly from Austria. They almost certainly came from somewhere else in Alsace (possibly Dehlingen). A large part of his other information about the Berg and Thal Feuersteins is also incorrect, but his collection of Firestone documents is useful and very interesting.
Russell's later research [George Ely Russell, “Firestone Family of Frederick County, Maryland,” Western Maryland Genealogy, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Jan 1993) and Vol 9, No. 2 (April 1993)] on the Firestone family is considered to be very good. Most of it is represented on the Shirer site on the "LINKS" page, with a few corrections. If there's one person who could be called the father of Firestone genealogy, it's George Ely Russell. Today's Firestone genealogy is built on a good foundation. Most of Russell's research was given to the Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Several copies of this later genealogy (including additional research) are in the possession of Firestone descendants, but it doesn't seem to be available online.