I know very little of the German language, but from an old friend and
from just digging around, ...
Zell-hof-er translates to something like "Cell courtyard
keeper". My friend said "zell" referred not to a prison, but
rather to a gathering-place of people who are obligated to their king or baron to
remain and to produce; that sounds a bit like imprisonment to me!
The earliest people found so far bearing the Zellhofer name were in
Austria in the 1500's. The mid-1600's saw the beginnings of rebellion by the
common people, and a movement of some to Franconia in Bavaria, today described as
Mittelfranken. Almost all with this strange surname settled within areas called
Ansbach and Uffenheim, today designated as the kreis's (rather like counties in the
USA) Ansbach & Neustadt an der Aisch. In that rather small area of farms
and streams (bach) from the low mountains are found the surnames Zellhoefer,
Wellhoefer, Blankenbuehler & several others, all with Austria roots - all
together within that same limited area and often in the same hamlets. Obviously
all of those did not migrate - those same old surnames continue to be found in
Austria, and of course as time past there were many who migrated on to other
countries, primarily the United States in the early 1800's.
Those movements resulted in many different spellings of the
surname. I believe we will find in due course that Wellhoefer and Zellhoefer
are of the same family. Basically, the Austrian spelling is Zellhofer; in
Bavaria it became Zellhöfer, and in America (having no umlaut), the name
transitioned to Zellhoefer.
But many more variations are found, and one is well advised not to
get overly focused on "correct" spelling, for surely one will miss many
kinfolk by so doing. Among the apparent reasons for all this would be
transition into and away from the umlaut ö
the considerably less education (if any) back 200 or more years
ago, even worse as to women
customs officials in America, logging in people speaking this
foreign language who could have no idea how to write their names in English
census-takers - some were just terrible! Sometimes it seems
they didn't even ask, they just wrote down whatever they thought they heard!
we also find difficulty transcribing old handwriting, regardless of
language. Transcription errors seem largely responsible for many surname
Now we find the children of Johan Jacob Zellhoefer & Margaret
Kretsch, begun in Crawford County, Pennsylvania in about 1843, went
within that generation to the spelling ZILHAVER. Not all that far away in
Allegheny County a bit later were miners from Austria named Zellhofer but a very few
of both Zilhaver and Zellhoefer are found there in census and other old
records. Somehow in Colorado we're in touch with another Zilhaver, but it seems
those roots are not of John Jacob! Go figger!
The several of my own branch who settled in Jefferson County,
Wisconsin used Zellhoefer, but I've found us spelled SEALHAVER, SELHEFER, GOLHOFFER,
and many other variations. One of my biggest headaches has been that there was
also just one lone Wellhoefer there at the same time, found also as WELLHAFER,
WELLHOFER, WELHAVER. His given name was John Michael (as was my g.g.grandfather John
Michael Zellhoefer); he owned land not far from the Zellhoefer's, and even his wife
in the 1860 census was Anna - same as JMZ's first wife. It took me eight years
to clear all that out of our family lore, because they thought JMW = JMZ. The
story is MUCH longer, but....!!
In sparsely populated Door County, Wisconsin (the peninsula on the WI
east coast of Lake Michigan), perhaps 125 miles away, we find Austrian immigrants
using ZELHOFER. Also there was Mary Zellhofer, apparently from Austria to
Wisconsin via Pennsylvania. Let's mix it up a bit - there are ALSO the
surnames WELLHOEFER and FELHOFER.
Maybe I'll add more to this one day, but I need to finish a bunch of
other pages and get ZellTree re-published!