Wahr Family

1810 - circa 1900

Wahr is the German form of the English Ware or Weir which is derived from the Middle High German wār, wǣre, and is related to Old English wǣr. The literal German translation means “true” but the English version indicates one who lives by a dam or weir on a river, or alternatively, a cautious or prudent person (from the word “wary”). Most Wahr immigrants in America were from Germany, specifically places like Baden and Württemberg, and settled predominantly in Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Our Wahr family begins in a Württemberg town called Berneck where Gottlieb Wahr was born on October 25, 1810 to parents Gottlieb Wahr (Senior) and Agnes Theurer. Gottlieb Junior was preceded by a brother of the same name who died when he was only a week old. He has no other known siblings and nothing more is known about his father, Gottlieb Senior.

His hometown of Berneck is now a district in the city of Altensteig, though its town defensive walls which date from the mid 13th century (during the late Hohenstaufen period) still stand at 38 meters high and 2.6 meters thick. The district is about 37 miles southwest of Stuttgart and located within the Black Forest, a large forested mountain. It was first mentioned as a town in the 12th century called Bernech, and then as Berneck in 1294. In 1367 it gained city rights, although it was Württemberg’s second smallest city, until its incorporation into Altensteig in 1972. Berneck was ruled by the landholders of Gültlingen and paid taxes to the Kanton Neckar-Schwarzwald (part of the Holy Roman Empire) until 1805 when it became a part of Württemberg. In 1536, Berneck’s lord Balthasar von Gültlingen joined the reformation, probably forcing any of its remaining Catholic citizens to convert. The current church in Berneck was renovated in 1753, though it is based on the chapel which was there since 1490. Due to its picturesque architecture, mountain rail, and lake festival where they celebrate with fireworks, Berneck is a popular tourist attraction.

From 1806 to 1918, Württemberg was a kingdom which had previously been a duchy since 1495 and briefly existed as an electorate from 1803 to 1806. From the 12th century, it was a county in the Holy Roman Empire until 1495. At the time Gottlieb was born it was a kingdom under the rule of the Confederation of the Rhine of the First French Empire formed by Napoleon and consisting of German princes from the former Holy Roman Empire. After WWII, Württemberg was split into two new states, Württemberg-Baden and Hohenzollern-Württemberg, though not longer after they were merged back together with the rest of Baden to form Baden-Württemberg. Today, Baden-Württemberg exists as Germany’s third largest state in size and population.

On September 15, 1839, twenty-eight year old Gottlieb married an eighteen year old bride named Agnes Hilzinger in Gottlieb’s hometown, although Agnes was from a somewhat nearby town called Weilheim, now known as Weilstetten. The two towns are about 40 miles apart.

Gottlieb and Agnes almost immediately removed to Alsace-Lorraine, France where their first three children were born. In fact, their first child was born less than 5 months after their marriage so Agnes was obviously already pregnant when they married. They had six children in total, with the last three being born in Pennsylvania:

  1. Sarah (b. Mar 6, 1840)
  2. Caroline (b. abt. 1842)
  3. Catherina (b. Dec 29, 1844)
  4. Pauline (b. 1846)
  5. Emil (b. 1855)
  6. Mary (b. 1858)

In the 1830’s, Württemberg experienced some brief political unrest after a period of regeneration, and this may have been why they left for France in late 1839/early 1840. Alsace-Lorraine is an area that bordered Germany, in fact, Berneck is approximately only 50 miles from the French border where Alsace lies. They may have settled in or at least crossed the border at Strasbourg, a French city on the border and immediately west of Berneck. Given its proximity to the German border, it’s not surprising that there were mixtures of Romance and Germanic languages in Alsace-Lorraine. Currently, the primary dialect of Württemberg is Alemannic so this was probably the native dialect of the Wahr family, and it was also predominant in a large part of Alsace in the 19th century so they may have settled in Alsace rather than Lorraine. Strasbourg has a mixture of Alsatian (Low Alemannic, Upper German) and South Franconian (Central to Upper German) dialects.

Alsace-Lorraine was a region incorporated into the German Empire during their victory over it in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, though the Wahrs had left by then. Possession of the area was then contested and changed hands four times between France and Germany over the next 75 years. So it’s not surprising that some records refer to the children’s place of birth as Germany and some as France depending on the ownership of Alsace-Lorraine at the time the documents were recorded. The first three children were born much prior to the German possession of the land and therefore were considered French citizens, however, given that they immigrated to America around 1845, the children probably didn’t remember much about their life in Alsace-Lorraine and they may not have had much time to absorb the French dialects. Since it’s probable they lived in a town in Alsace-Lorraine were German was predominant, it’s possible that even Gottlieb and Agnes never picked up on the French language during their few years there.

After their immigration, the family settled in Allegheny city, which is now a part of Pittsburgh. They lived at 16 Perry Street, which is now 817 Peralta Street (an empty lot) and also owned the property next door, 14 Perry Street (815 Peralta Street), which they might have rented out. Unfortunately, the current brick building on the latter lot was built in 1900, long after the Wahrs lived there. By 1870, Gottlieb’s property was worth $3,000 and the value of his personal estate was $1,600. He had naturalized as an American citizen at some point before 1870.

Sometime between 1860 and 1864, Caroline married a German born man named August Bauer who had moved to Allegheny from Butler County. To read more about their life after marriage, see the Bauer Family Chapter.

Sarah became a dressmaker and married William Hoehn. They removed to Canton, Ohio and had three children before he died in 1891 and she in 1901 when she was 61 years old. Likewise, her sister Catherina worked as a seamstress until she married Louis Horst and also had three children before she died on March 10, 1917 at the age of 72. Pauline married J. George Edleman and had six children before she died sometime before 1901. Emil was an errand boy as a teenager but later became a machinist. He first married Sophia (maiden name unknown) but she died around 1881 before they had any children. He remarried to Anna Elizabeth Mesta in 1883 and had two children. The youngest of the siblings, Anna Mary, was married to John August Reutzel and had five children. Apart from Sarah, all the siblings remained in Allegheny County.

Gottlieb was a carpenter and laborer for the remainder of his life in Allegheny until he died on February 11, 1875 when he was 61 years old. In his will, he left everything to his wife Agnes except in the event that she should remarry, in which case she would only receive one third and the other two thirds would be split evenly among their children. He also named Agnes the sole executor of his will and allowed her full power to sell any of the estate that she wished. Agnes never remarried and continued to live in their Perry Street home with her son Emil and his wife Sophia until she died on March 24, 1881, just four days before her 60th birthday. Both Gottlieb and Agnes, along with their daughter Catherina, are buried in Saint Johns Lutheran Cemetery in Spring Hill, Pittsburgh.

© Robin Bauer 2010-2013

Sources:

Wahr Photos and Documents

A political map of the member states of the Confederation of the Rhine, 1808, 2 years before Gottlieb was born was Wurttemberg (center, in yellow).

A map showing the dialects spoken in Alsace-Lorraine during the 19th century when the Wahr family briefly lived there. Probably, they resided in one of the predominantly German areas. Currently, the dialect spoken in Wurttemberg is Alemannic, which was most common in the areas of Alsace shown in green.

An 1872 map of Allegheny/Pittsburgh showing 14-16 Perry St (now 815-817 Peralta St), owned by Gottlieb Wahr (G.W.). Today, 16 Perry St is an empty lot and the house on 14 Perry St was built after the Wahr’s owned it. 12 Perry St is labelled “Mrs. W.” which could be Gottlieb’s wife Agnes.