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the surname Zellhoefer

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the Zellhoefer surname ~ and a little history

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 spelling variations.

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!


The names ZellTree, SolarSense Designs,  and all works within this website, are copyright 1998 thru 06 Dec 2009 by Ron Klotz Zellhoefer.   Permission is given to copy & print for private archival purposes only.  Republishing of DATA ONLY (not webpages!) to other websites is permitted IF credited to Ron Klotz Zellhoefer and ZellTree.  Please, let's verify and collaborate first!