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The Georg Jakob Reifel
& Margaretha Reifel Family

By Charles W. Reifel

Georg Jakob Reifel, born April 14, 1805, died November 4, 1887

Margaretha Reifel, born November 13, 1806, died August 10, 1888

Georg Jakob Reifel was the third boy in his family of six children. His parents were Georg Heinrich Reifel I and Anna Elisabeth Hengan. We have little information on Georg's brothers and sisters. Presumably Georg "learned farming" as he grew up. At age 27 he married a girl with the same Reifel last name. She was 25.

From the records of the German Lutheran Church in Peppertown, Indiana, we know that Christine, their youngest child, an invalid, was born in Germany in 1851 and that the whole family came to the United States in 1855. George was 50 years old and his wife 49 at the time of the immigration. The five children they brought with them were: Johann Philipp Reifel, age 22; Conrad Reifel, age 15; Jakob Reifel, age 6, Theobald David Reifel, age 13; and Christina, age 4. Georg's parents were already deceased by many years when they left Germany.

We know that Georg Jakob Reifel's sister, Eva Katharina Reifel, also came to settle in Peppertown, Franklin County, Indiana, around this time. From information provided by Betty Burk, we know that Georg Jakob Reifel's oldest nephew, Johann Georg Reifel, came to the US in 1852 via New Orleans, Louisiana. He is the first Reifel we know immigrated around this time.

From the 1860 US Census records in Washington, we know that the 2nd and 3rd oldest nephews (Philipp Michael Reifel and Jakob Reifel, brothers to Johann Georg Reifel) came to the US about this time also, but we don't yet know the exact year. Perhaps all three brothers came together.

From the 1870 US Census we know that Jakob Reifel and his wife, Elizabeth [Kerth] lived for some time in Ohio, because their two oldest children (Lizzie Reifel, born in 1859, and Jakob Reifel, born in 1863) were born in Ohio someplace, most probably in a rural area near Cincinnati. Jakob, Elizabeth and their family settled permanently in Peppertown, Indiana, around 1864.

We are not yet sure of who traveled to America with whom in what year, but we know that all (except Jakob, Elizabeth and their children) arrived and settled in Franklin County before the 1860 Census was taken. Philipp Michael Reifel's wife, Wilhelmina Doebling, was born in the US, but she too was of German descent. We are pretty sure that Georg Jakob Reifel and his family applied for US citizenship right away in 1855.

We don't yet know if Eva Kathrina Reifel, Georg Jakob Reifel's sister, immigrated to Franklin County with Georg Jakob's family, or with her nephews, or alone. However, we do know that she married Jacob Mohr before her arrival in the United States. He is of German descent as well. The Mohr Family Tree has been traced by Gene Mohr of Grove City, Ohio. [Gene Mohr's note: "Jacob, Eva and 3 sons, and another Reifel, came to the USA, arriving December 10, 1851, from the port of Bremen, Germany, to New Orleans, and from thence to Cincinatti, Ohio."]

A bit more about Hördt, their birthplace, and Peppertown, where they settled. This small town of about 1,000 inhabitants was located in "Bavaria" even though it would not be located there according to modern territorial descriptions. The term "Bavaria" was oftenused in the 1800's for any part of Germany not considered part of Prussia. Hördt was located in the Konigsreich (meaning "King's country) according to to the Peppertown Church records. It is still a heavily agricultural region, rich in good farmland but still hilly. The Rhine River is only several miles away. The new homeland for the Reifels in Franklin County, Indiana, is undoubtedly very similar to the homeland they left. Peppertown is about 40 miles from the Ohio River, a river very similar to the Rhine.

At this point in my family sketch, I will turn more directly to my direct line of ancestors, starting with Georg Jakob Reifel. Judging from other immigration paths at this time, we can suppose that Georg, his wife Margaretha, and their family had boat passage downstream on the Rhine To its mouth in Holland when they came in 1855. [Note: or Bremen].

From Betty Burks, we learn that some of Georg's nephews came by way of New Orleans, Louisiana, to Indiana, in 1852. Crossing the Atlantic, these nephews must have come by sailboat or steamboat to New Orleans where they boarded a river steamboat for their journey upstream to Franklin County, Indiana. Georg and Margaretha may have done likewise in 1855 when they came.

A second possible travel alternative is that they came to New York or Baltimore and then went overland by wagon to the Ohio River. There they would have caught a riverboat to travel downstream to Cincinnati, Ohio. Note the number of steamboats in the sketch of Cincinnati shown here as it appeared in 1865.

The Ohio River may have reminded them of the Rhine.
Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1865

As a result of my research at the National Archives in Washington, DC, in 1980, I know that most immigrants came through the East Coast ports at this time, and especially through the city of New York. If they did come through New York, their immigration processing took place at the bustling Ellis Island in New York Harbour. Because so many immigrants were coming from Europe in the 1850's era through Ellis Island,it is quite probable that their names were not listed correctly or even not listed at all. In my research in 1980, I could not find the names of Georg Jakob Reifel or Margaretha Reifel on the lists of New York, nor of Baltimore, nor of New Orleans.

As for why Georg and Margaretha decided to immigrate, we can't be sure. Perhaps homeland friends already here in the US encouraged them to come. We can be pretty sure that the rich and cheap farmland advertised all over the East Coast and Europe attracted Georg and his relatives to this area. According to the 1850 and 1860 Census records of Franklin County, Indiana, mostly rural people were immigrating to this area.

The Peppertown area was being settled quickly. The 1850 Census does not take note that Peppertown as a small town even existed. By 1860, however, there were already 310 people in Salt Creek Township (eg. Peppertown area). By 1870, there were 468 people in the township. Most of the families settling during these years in Franklin County averaged between 4 and 5 children. Of the 54 families there in 1860, 44 heads of households were farmers. Among these 54, there were also 3 blacksmiths, one teacher, 2 merchants (Koerner & Pepper), 2 coopers, 1 wagon-maker, and 1 carpenter. This was the Franklin County in which my forefathers settled.

We know little about Georg's family before they came to America. Family tradition has it that Georg was a "man of hotels" -- eg., he had real estate. He was bourgeois. Even though he was farming in Hördt, he had money.

Did the Reifel family originate in Switzerland?
Bern, Switzerland,
home of the Reifel Estates?

When Georg Jakob Reifel immigrated to America in 1855, he had to surrender much of his land and money to the German government. Tradition has it that shortly after his arrival in America, he was told to go back to Germany to care for his property. He did not go. As to why Georg immigrated to America when he and his family already had a comfortable living back home, we know that he had a great desire to live in a country where he had true freedom and could participate in government. At this time in 1855, Germany was still not a united country. Because Georg did not return to Germany at this time, he lost his land to the government.

Family tradition tells us that Georg was a forest ranger or some type of naturalist before his immigration (besides his farming background). He certainly loved the outdoors. His grandson, Herman, still alive in 1982 (102 years of age), recalls that Georg was a tall man (6'3" or 6'4").

George Jakob Reifel, Franklin County, Indiana
George Jakob Reifel,
Franklin County, Indiana

Georg grew up in a family of staunch Lutheran principles and he himself practiced his faith all his life. Peppertown was settled almost totally by Lutherans, and St. Mary's, where his grandson Charles lived and taught, was totally Catholic. Georg never lived in any area of America other than in Peppertown. Maybe the desire for adventure brought the 50-year-old Georg and his family here to America; Johann Philipp Reifel (age 22), Conrad Reifel (age 15), and Theobald David Reifel (age 13) could help them get started in farming in America. The time was ripe for "a move."

Georg bought his own farm, cleared the land, and built a comfortable homestead soon after. As time moved on, his four sons married and moved out on their own: Johann Philipp in 1855, Conrad in 1864, Theobald David about 1872, and Jakob in 1871.

Johann Philipp Reifel married shortly after the family's arrival in the United States and later moved to Connersville, Indiana. Georg and Margaretha lived to see many of their grandchildren grow up in their midst. Charles was 22 when his Grandfather Reifel died on November 4, 1887. Georg was buried in Peppertown as was his sister, Eva Katharina Reifel Mohr. Even though we can't find Margaretha's tomb in the Peppertown Cemetery, she was surely buried there also. The first line of Georg's tombstone epitaph says: "Here lives a father in peace..." He died of pneumonia, the after-effects of being out in the damp weather shucking corn. Even in his old age, Georg loved the outdoors. Judging from the fact that he died at age 82 and was still doing farm duties shucking corn, we can imagine that Georg was an active and healthy man the greater part of his life.

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