Eller Family History

The Eller name comes either from a word that describes a bend in the river or from the Alder tree.  There is a town in Germany named Eller. Some Eller families in America have done DNA testing and can establish a link to the Ellers living in Eller, Germany.

We can trace our line with some certainty to Christian Öhler/Eller who was born on 2 July 1724 in Germany. Some records show him born in Untermerzbach, Germany, the son of George Michael "Michael" Öhler (1695-1758).

eller coat of armsChristian Eller (sometimes called "Crissy") is one of five young men who arrived in the American colonies from Germany in the period 1740 to 1750, George Michael, Henrich/Henry, Christian, John Jacob and Melchior. They are likely two sets of brothers (George Michael, Heinrich/Henry and Christian, sons of George Michael Sr.; and John Jacob and Melchior, sons of Kaspar). It appears likely the two sets of brothers are cousins, with Bartl Öhler their grandfather.

Ship records show Christian Eller came to America on the ship "Restauration" in 1747. Ship records on the "Restauration" date its arrival as 09 October 1747 with this notation: "Foreigners imported in the ship Restauration, James Hall, Captain, from Rotterdam, last from Leith - inhabitants of the Palatinate and places adjacent."

Records show Christian took his oath of allegiance to Pennsylvania on the date of his arrival. According to the "Compendum of American Genealogy, First Famlies of America," (Vol. IV, F.A. Virkus, Chicago, 1930, pp.440-2) he settled in Lancaster County, PA in that same year, 1747. (This record notes he is the same Christian Eller who later moves to Rowan County, NC).

The Christian Eller family lived on land which bordered on Crane Creek, which flows into the Yadkin River east of Salisbury. Like his cousin, Jacob, Christian Eller was an educated man, who seemed to be a master of the English language from his earliest appearance in North Carolina. (The Surname Guide).

To go further back past Christian takes a leap of faith and a bit of speculation.

One researcher1 believes that “our” Christian Eller is, In fact, Christian Öhler, son of a George Michael Öhler, Sr2 .  This research suggests Christian is a brother of the immigrant George Michael Öhler, Jr. and Heinrich (Henry) Öhler. It also suggests the senior George Michael did not stay in Germany but also “emigrated.”   

Another researcher3 shows Christian’s father as Michael Eller.  That might support the George Michael Öhler supposition.

This research also suggests the senior George Michael came to the American colonies. The evidence cited by both is a church baptism record for a George Michael Ohler/Eller (b. 5 Sep 1695) that reportedly includes a German word that is translated as “emigrated.”

However, it seems unlikely that a Baptism record would give information on later life (like marriage date, death date (after maturity), confirmation date, or date of emigration).  Research in Germany4 suggests the word or symbol interpreted as "emigrated" is likely "departed" and actually means "died" at or near birth.

I believe (but cannot prove) that a George Michael Öhler, who went by the name Michael, and who did not leave Germany, had sons Christian (b. ~1724), George Michael (b. ~1722) and Heinrich (b. ~1726) and that those three sons emigrated to the American colonies. There is evidence of another brother Johann Andres (b. 1719) and a sister Kungunda (b. 1729), both of whom did not leave Germany.

We know Johann Jacob Eller was the son of Casper (or Kaspar) Eller from a marriage record. I believe (again, I cannot prove) Melchior Eller was his brother.  And I suspect they were cousins to Christian, George Michael and Heinrich.  That would make Kaspar and George Michael, Sr. brothers and possibly sons of Bartl Eller and Barbara Swartz Eller.   

Moving from Christian Öhler/Eller’s ancestry, we move to geography.  Where did these early Eller immigrants originate?

Nearly all German immigrants from that time period are listed in American records as coming from “the Palatine.”  That doesn’t help a lot.  But if the speculation above (for a George Michael Öhler, Sr. and three sons who came to the colonies) is correct, then there is a record for them as being in Untermerzbach, Germany. That is the town also cited by J. W. Hook.5

Where is that?

There are several possibilities. There is a Messbach near Kuerbitz and Plauen; Messbach in the community of Fischbachtal; Messbach near Doerzbach, Wuerttemburg; a Untermerzbach near Hassberge and Bamberg and a Untermusbach in the community of Freudenstadt.

The later of these possibilities is an area we’re told6 produced a significant emigration to the American colonies and the area was largely Lutheran (which matches some of our early immigrants).

By the time our five Eller immigrants left for the “new world,” there were Eller (or Öhler) families all over Germany. There has been speculation that all (or most) of them may have originated from one family.

An Aurel Eller of Germany wrote this author’s grandfather7 , Wayne Eller, in 1957 that the Eller family could be traced back to a group of “teutones,” who he described as very tall, who settled in the dense forest land near lake Constance in what is now Austria (on the German/Austrian/Swiss border).  He says a family named Ello settled at the foot of the Hirschberg in the Algau Alps near Bergenz on Lake Constance.  And he believes that is the start of the Eller family.

Moving from the mystery of the Eller ancestors back to the five cousins, we are led to ask, "What brought these five young men to make the difficult decision to leave home and make the dangerous trip to America?"

For many of that time it was a combination of religious persecution and a desire to "seek their fortune." We know Henry, and perhaps George Michael, were later associated with the Church of the Brethren (sometimes called "Dunkards"). The others would later be active in the Lutheran Church.

It is not difficult to imagine that these men - like so many of that time in Germany -- were living in an area where the Prince had chosen to be Catholic and was attempting to make all who lived in his area converts. That and the poverty of the working class of the time would make a persuasive argument. At the time, there were recruiters traveling through Germany saying America was a land where great wealth could be achieved quickly.

We know of no written record of the five Ellers' trip from Germany to America in 1747. It was probably quite similar to that of an estimated 25,000 Germans who left for America in what was considered the "first big wave" of German immigration (usually considered to have started about 1749 and to have lasted until about 1753).

Research on that era suggests almost all the immigrants were described as being from the Palatine, while many were from parts of Germany further east. And almost all went through the Port of Philadelphia (near which a large German community had developed, Germantown). This matches what little we know of the Ellers' arrival in Philadelphia.

While none of the five wrote of his trip, or that record has disappeared, there is a wonderful written record from Gottlieb Mittelberger who arrived in Philadelphia only three years after Christian Eller. It offers some insight into what our Eller ancestors may have endured to get to America.

The first problem, suggests Mittelberger, was getting out of Germany. The Princes there didn't want to lose workers and soldiers and so the process was made difficult. There had to be permits showing one had paid his taxes and done his military service. And then there was the trip up the Rhine River:

"At each (toll or customs house) all the ships must be examined, and all these examinations take place at the convenience of the customs officials. Meanwhile, the ships with the people in them are held up a long time. This involves a great deal of expense for the passengers; and it means the trip down the Rhine alone takes four to six weeks."

From Germany, usually through Rotterdam, the boats would go to England where the Germans would set up camp and await a ship to America. Many were weakened and sick from the first leg of their trip. Many more were running out of money. Some had even been led to believe the trip would be free. The wait in England usually lasted four to six weeks.

When a ship was ready to sail, those without passage -- as many as two-thirds of those assembled -- had to agree to a loan from the Captain, a process called redemption.

Emigrants were shipped across the Atlantic only after they agreed to "redeem" their loan within a few weeks after their arrival. If they could not -- and most couldn't -- the Captain would sell their contract to the highest bidder. The unfortunate immigrant would be required to work as a virtual slave for the contract holder for a number of years.

A few of the early ships provided some comfort, but most had as many as 400 to 600 persons on board. Mittelberger writes:v "During the journey, the ship is full of pitiful signs of distress -- smells, fumes, horrors, vomiting, various kinds of sea sickness, fever, dysentery, headaches, heat, consumption, boils, scurvy, cancer, mouth-rot, and similar afflictions, all of them caused by the age...of the food, especially of the meat, as well as by the very bad and filthy water."

Disease spread quickly among a population already weakened by travel and waiting in tent cities. Typhus was even called "Palatine fever." Nearly one out of every seven immigrants would die before arriving in America. The toll was heaviest on the children.

Perhaps as bad as the trip, many of the immigrants had to wait on the boat for days or weeks after it arrived in America, waiting for someone to buy their "redemption."

"Every day Englishmen, Dutchmen and High Germans come from Philadelphia and other places...and go on board the newly arrived vessel that has brought people from Europe and offers them for sale.

From among the healthy they pick out those suitable for the purposes for which they require them. Then they negotiate with them for the length of the period for which they will go into service in order to pay off their passage."

This legal slavery lasted four to six years. We have no real record of Christian Eller from his arrival in 1747 until 12 years later, when he arrives in Rowan County, North Carolina. It is easy to assume that at least part of that time might have been used to "redeem" his passage.

1. Hinson, Robert; "Michael Ohler and His Descendants: History of the Eller Family of Rowan County, NC"
2. There is plenty of evidence that Eller, Öhler and Ellor were interchangeable in those early records.
3. Ramsey, Robert W., “Carolina Cradle,” University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1964, p. 90.
4. Thode, Ernest. “Eller Chronicles,” Volume XXXII, Issue 4, Nov. 2018; p.21
6. Thode, Ernest. “Eller Chronicles,” Volume XXXII, Issue 4, Nov. 2018; p.22
7. Eller, James William; “Eller Chrinicles,” Volume II, Issue 1, Feb. 1988, p.20


My Eller Research

This is research saved in this database

Eller Research

We keep our most updated Eller research on the Eller Family Association Website.

Eller Resources

There are several variations of the Eller crest or coat of arms for this family name. We've chosen one to show here but realize it is probably not appropriate to associate it with later generations of the family.

Created 21 May 2020. (c) 2018-2020. Harvey Powers. All Rights Reserved.