The First Generation of our Boller Family in America.
George F. Boller
January 18, 1794 – December 8, 1877
July 17, 1790 – April, 1840
The Boller name & the Bad Boll Coat of Arms.
Before we enter into our discussions on George F. and Elizabeth (Zook) Boller, it would probably be fitting to first address our last name: Boller.
Historians believe the first Bollers came from an area located in what is today, a municipality in the district of Göppingen in the SW German state of Baden-Württemberg. Take a quick search on Google maps and you’ll find a little community called Boll…thus our name, Boll-ers.
The full name of this town is Bad (pronounced bawd) Boll. Bad is the German word for ‘spa’ or ‘hot springs.’ Across central Europe there are several locations where warm-spring outcroppings, like those in Boll, are found. In ancient days, these warm water springs were considered very good for medicinal purposes. Thus you’ll find numerous communities in this part of Germany with bad before their city names.
The German word boll can actually have two different definitions. Primarily, it means ‘a rounded mound or hill,’ which fits perfectly with the community of Bad Boll since it is located in hilly country in SW Germany. Thus Bad Boll translates into English as ‘warm spa or hot springs located on the rounded hill.’
Now, before I go further, I must, embarrassingly so, tell you the second definition of the word ‘boll’ in German. It means ‘a blustery, big-talking person.’ So let’s begin our Boller writings by saying that the first Bollers just might have been blustery, big-talking folks who lived near hot springs located on the rounded hills of the German countryside! Some might say that I’m still just that…a blustery, big-talker living on the rounded hills of eastern Iowa. OK. Enough with the Boller jokes already!
Now, back to the Boll-ers from Bad Boll…
Bad Boll, Germany.
Since the Middle Ages, Bad Boll has been the home of a thermal spa, built around the warm springs and used as a gathering place for people looking for healing in their bodies. Warm Springs, Georgia, (in the USA) has long been a similar community that welcomes visitors (i.e. President Franklin Roosevelt, a sufferer of paralysis) to their city for relief from their pain. At Bad Boll, a hunting lodge and spa was built in the 1500’s for the Dukes of Württemberg. In the 19th Century, the spa was acquired by Moravian pastor Johann Christoph Blumhardt who used it as a center for his ministry of healing and evangelism. His son Christoph Freidrich Blumhardt took over the spa and ministry until his own his death in 1919. In 1921, the Blumhardt family passed the spa complex on to the Herrnhuter Brüder-Unität of the Moravian Church (more on that later).
(P-0240) 1899 Picture Postcard from Bad Boll.
A medal commemorating the Spa Complex at Bad Boll (1974) and a Bad Boll metal insignia (M-0113).
Following World War II, Bad Boll became the western European headquarters of that church body and continued as such until the re-unification of Germany in 1989. The Diakonie of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Wuttemberg assumed control of the spa in 2005 although the Moravian Congregation still continues to worship in its chapel.
As I write this report (2015), our immediate Boller family story has been traced back only to the years just prior to 1800 near this same region of Southwest Germany. Our records show that George F. Boller was born somewhere in the Rhine River valley in what is today called the German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse. This region lies just to the north and west of Bad Boll, near Frankfort, Mainz and Darmstadt (see map below).
Modern Day Germany.
One account places George’s birth city as Rhineland-Palatinate’s capital city of Mainz (Mayence), while another account indicates that he was born across the Rhine River in what is today the neighboring German state of Hesse (or Hessen). Until some further records can be found, the most reliable sources seem to point toward Mainz or Darmstadt as the two communities most likely to be nearest George’s birthplace. As far as a birth date goes, some accounts show George being born as early as 1788 and others as late as 1800, but working back from the information on his gravestone, it’s almost certain that George was born January 18, 1794.
Why all the confusion with dates and locations of birth? Well, there’s one thing that you must learn when tracing a family tree. The fact is that as you continually come across new bits of information on the person you are researching, you will many times find facts that conflict with other data you have already uncovered. Actually the further back you go in time, the more likely you will find conflicting records. Such is the case with George F. Boller.
There are many possible reasons for all the differences we find in his records. First & foremost, you must remember that we are dealing with a time frame when public records were not well documented. Any documents we do have are generally copies of hand-written records, where both human error and aging of the document enters into the accuracy of what the record might say. In some of George’s records for example, we find that the person who wrote out the data spelled George’s last name incorrectly (Boler, Bollar or Bowler)…a problem that still happens to the Boller family even today! Another area of confusion centers on George’s middle name. Two reports list George’s middle initial as “L” yet his last will and testament records of 1877 (a much more reliable source) show the initial as “F.” My guess is that “F” might stand for Frederick, but I’ve yet to uncover actual proof of that.
Another major problem in searching out older family records is that there are no easy ways (like Social Security numbers) to identify one person from another. Indeed some of our records on George F. Boller might actually be a combination of two men named George Boller living in the same area at approximately the same time! As you’ll see later, we also run into problems locating exact locations of events simply because names of nations, states, and their boundaries shift as quickly as the political climates in a region change.
Suffice to say, you sometimes feel like a detective snooping out clues on a trail that gets colder every passing year that goes by! So we may never know all the exact dates and locations for George F. Boller’s life…but what I’m about to share with you is the most likely scenario based on the best information we currently have.
The Rhine River valley: George F. Boller’s birthplace.
In the heartland of Europe, located near the lush farmlands of the Rhine River valley, we find the city of Mainz (Mayence), Germany. Mainz, currently the capital city of the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, is a very old yet equally beautiful community built on the banks of the Rhine River directly across from Wiesbaden, Germany, located in the neighboring German state of Hesse (Hessen). Over the centuries, the city of Mainz has belonged to a variety of kingdoms, states, and countries.
Before 1815, there was no nation called Germany, in the sense we now know. “Germany” was a collection of principalities, dukedoms, tiny states, church-states, and independent villages. During much of the nineteenth century, most of the region surrounding Mainz and this portion of the Rhine River valley was called Hessen-Darmstadt.
Mainz is best known for being the fifteenth century home of Johann Gutenberg. It was Gutenberg who radically transformed the entire known world by inventing moveable type, thus bringing the printed page to life. His first printing project in 1452 was the Holy Bible and in accomplishing this difficult feat, Gutenberg allowed common folks like you and me to more easily own their own copy of the Bible and other educational books. Until this time, the Bible was a book that was basically hand-transcribed and available to very few people. Now through Gutenberg’s invention, the common folk would eventually read God’s Word for themselves, allowing them to draw their own conclusions as the Holy Spirit spoke to them through God’s Word.
Unfortunately, the well-established Catholic church of Europe had been misusing their power for many years by limiting access to God’s Word, but when many began reading the Bible for themselves, they began to question many of the unbiblical practices of the church. It was Germany’s Martin Luther in 1517 who began to bravely speak out on the “priesthood of the believer.” His premise was that folks like you and I should be able to read God’s Word for ourselves and with the help of the Holy Spirit, come to our own conclusions on what God is saying to us. This movement of spiritual freedom became known as the Reformation of the Church and because of Luther’s boldness (and others like him) to speak out against unbiblical practices, you and I are now able to read God’s Word for ourselves and may worship God, through Jesus Christ, in the worship style that best reflects who we are.
Menno Simons & The Mennonites.
During this season of Reformation, in neighboring Switzerland, a relatively small and heavily persecuted group known by the derogatory nickname “Anabaptists” (meaning they refused to systematically baptize a person before he or she had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ) came forth in 1525. Many early Anabaptists were put to death as heretics and many others fled to the mountains of Switzerland and southern Germany. In 1536, a young Catholic priest from Holland named Menno Simons joined the Anabaptist movement. His writings and leadership united many of the Anabaptist groups, who were then nicknamed “Mennonites.” Anabaptist records show a Heinrich Boller (a potential relative?) who, as a Swiss Brethren Anabaptist, died in prison in 1644 for his faith. Here’s the interesting quote I found: “Heinrich Boller of Wadischwyl in Switzerland, one of the last victims of the Zurich persecution of the Swiss Brethren. He was imprisoned in 1644 in Zürich for his faith, as an aged man, and died of the privations imposed upon him.”
In the latter part of the 17th century, in the area of Bern, Switzerland, Alsace in France, and the Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany, a doctrinal difference within the Mennonite community occurred. The separating group, followers of a Swiss bishop named Jakob Ammann, represented that segment of Mennonites that became known as “Amish.” It wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere did the term “Amish Mennonites” come into general use to distinguish the more progressive communities from the more conservative ones who were nicknamed, “Old Order Amish”. Today these more progressive “Amish Mennonites” are again simply known as Mennonites while the “Old Order Amish” sect has dwindled to only a few remaining communities in America…the best-known being the Pennsylvania Dutch region of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
This story of the Mennonites is very important for you to know, because much of Our Boller Story is tied to the Mennonite history of Europe and the United States. I’ll mention more about this Mennonite aspect of our history when we tell you about George’s son, Jacob B. Boller. But now, back to George F. and Elizabeth (Zook) Boller…