The Serwazis and many of the German families with which they would intermarry came to the US during the first peak of German emigration, the 1850s. They came from at least two different historical regions, the Mosel River Valley in Prussia and the Black Forest in Baden. Both regions witnessed armed conflict during the unsuccessful revolutions of 1848-49.
Before we began research about the Serwazi family, Len and I heard from our parents that the family might have been Italian. It was a reasonable supposition because of the sound of the name. However, an Internet search revealed many Serwazis in Mesenich in the Mosel River Valley of Germany (famous for its winemaking), and we know it is a German surname taken from St. Servatius, the fourth-century patron saint of Maastricht in the southern Netherlands who was also venerated in Belgium and the Mosel Valley.
The heart of the winemaking region is bounded upriver and to the west near the French border by the city of Trier and to the east at its confluence with the Rhine at the city of Koblenz. The valley is narrow and the vineyards rise quite steeply in places, making it an attractive destination for driving, biking, and hiking tours today. In good growing seasons, our ancestors raised bountiful vintages and supported large families.
At other times the population was devastated by floods from winter ice floes or by droughts in the summer. Visitors can still see marks on buildings for the high water marks of 1784 (which followed a terrible drought the previous year), 1817, and 1993. The chronicles record many terrible winters. In 1783/4 the river froze over four times in succession, and the depth of the snow reached 61 inches at the end of January. In 1680 the frost was so long and hard that heavy cargo could be sledded on the river from Trier to Koblenz for three months. During extreme winters the wine would freeze in the barrels, farmers would pull the straw off their roofs to feed their animals or slaughter them for lack of fodder, and hungry wolves entered the village. In January 1838 the temperature hovered around -6 F. for two weeks, and in 1845 there were still ice floes on the river in June. Yet there were also unusually warm winters and premature springs, as in 1822.1 Low water in summer was a predictor of famine, so when normally invisible stones appeared in the river bed they were called hunger stones. During times of famine or plague entire families perished, then new arrivals took their place when conditions improved.
The valley also experienced many manmade disasters. The upper reaches of the Mosel were in the hotly contested province of Lorraine, easily accessible to the downstream portion ruled by the Archbishop Elector of Trier. One Elector concluded an alliance with France in the Thirty Years War (1618-48), but was then deposed and imprisoned by the Emperor. A succession of armies (Spaniards, Swedes, Hessians, and French) quartered troops in the valley at our ancestors’ expense, raised taxes, and destroyed the local archives: this is why there are fewer records of births and marriages before 1650, and most of these seem to have been recalled from memory. The French invaded again in the 1680s and destroyed most of the fortifications, and then stayed for twenty years beginning in 1794. The Thirty Years War also brought in the plague epidemic of 1635-6 that greatly reduced the population of many of our ancestral villages.
The Prince Archbishops of Trier, various monasteries and local landlords, and village elders fought for centuries over the rich wine revenues. In 1814 the valley came under the rule of Prussia as part of its Rhine Province, which is why Albert Serwazi2 and his sons told American authorities that Prussia was their country of origin when they applied for American citizenship. Travel to the outside became easier with the beginning of Mosel steamship traffic in 1839. During the Revolution of 1848, the district administrative center in Zell burned to the ground.
Jim Niessen and Werner Serwazi, 2006 n 2006 our Niessen relative Wolfgang Jacobs and I visited the picturesque Mosel Valley and the village of Mesenich, attracted by its prominent ranking in a google search for Serwazi. There are many recent Serwazi gravestones in the village cemetery, and several Serwazi wineries; we enjoyed an excellent lunch at the winery restaurant Serwazi-Zensen owned by Werner Serwazi and his daughter Stefani. Werner recalled a family tradition according to which his ancestors came to Mesenich from Alsace in the sixteenth century. During our visit we were unable to determine our own relationship to this Serwazi family or anyone else in Mesenich, however. Afterwards we visited Wolfgang’s friend, wine supplier Mr. Simon in the village of Pünderich ten miles upstream, never suspecting this village was connected to our family.
We confirmed our family’s connection to the valley more recently: Gertrude Serwazi Rockenbach identified Koblenz as the birthplace of herself and her parents in the 1920 census, and the place of birth given for Joseph Serwazi in his 1884 death certificate, while difficult to read, is probably Pünderich. This information led us to the village historian of Pünderich, who confirmed that the family’s ten children (two of them died young) were born in the village. The mother, Anna Maria Filzen (1816-1891), was also born there, but Albert Josef Serwazi (1812-1888) was born in Mesenich and moved to his wife’s town less than ten miles away. The two parents and eight children departed for America on June 3, 1857.
The documented history of Mesenich begins in the eleventh century, when it is mentioned as part of a gift to the monastery of Brauweiler, situated much further north near Cologne. In 1088 the Brauweiler abbot founded the parish church of Mesenich, St. Nicholas. It was rebuilt in 1736 and last renovated in 1971.
[photo by Wolfgang: St. Nicholas church and cemetery in Mesenich]
For the next seven hundred years the monastery was the primary landlord in town. The villagers were free and could pass on the land they farmed to their children, but they had to deliver a portion of each year’s grape harvest to the abbot’s representative, and their elected mayor had to share power with that representative. Since the thirteenth century the village belonged the territory of the Archbishop of Trier and subject to his representative in Cochem on the Mosel, however.
[Wolfgang photo of Cochem: The most picturesque castle in the Mosel Valley is the one in Cochem, ten miles from Mesenich. It was built in the late nineteenth century.]
The surviving parish records for Mesenich are more complete than those for many of the neighboring villages, and thanks to a very good English language transcription we can get some idea of the life expectancy and relations among families back to the beginning of the seventeenth century.3 According to these records our earliest known ancestor was Gregor or Georg Servaty4 Sr.:
Gregor or Georg Servaty Sr. (1580-before 1639) married wife unknown sometime before the birth of his son Gregor or Georg Servaty Jr. (1600-before 1652).
The father also had a daughter, Anna Servaty, who married Matthias Meurers in 1639. The groom’s father Matthias was mayor of the village in 1619.
Gregor or Georg Servaty Jr. had 7 children:
1. 5 children with his wife Barbara:
Johann Servaty Sr. (1624-94)
Anna Maria Servaty (1626-) who married Matthias Bintzen in 1655
Matthias Servaty (1629-)
Margaretha Servaty (1631-)
Johannata Servaty (1634)
The family had close relations with the Meurers, one of the largest landowners of the village: not only did Gregor’s sister marry into this family, but at least three of the children’s godparents were Meurers. Barbara died sometime before 1638. It is estimated that half the population of Mesenich perished from the plague that ravaged the valley in 1634-5.
2. 2 children with his second wife, Maria Crüff, whom he married in 1638:
Matthias Servaty (1638-)
Johann (1640-) who married Anna Derns in 1676.
The Crüff family is mentioned in a document as living in Mesenich already in 1540.
Johann Servaty Sr. served as assessor (Schöffe), an official of the abbot, and married Maria before 1654. They also had 7 children:
Nikolaus Servaty (1659-1709)
Johann Georg Servaty (1662-)
Johann Servaty (1664-) married Maria Arens in 1689.
Anna Maria Servaty (1669-)
Maria Servaty (1670-) married Matthias Zentzen in 1698
Johann Jacob Servaty (1673-) married Anna Maria Koch in 1701, then Margaretha Pellentz in 1716,
Two children’s godparents in this generation were Meurers, and three were from the Hürschen family.
Nikolaus Servaty was also an assessor, and married Catharina Steffens (1655-1729), the widow of Nikolaus Koch, in 1690. The Steffen family owned a lot of land in the village, and Catharina initiated a close connection between the Servatys and the Koch family too. Nikolaus and Catharina had 4 children:
Johann Servaty (1691-)
Nikolaus Servaty (1692-1706)
Johann Ignaz Servaty (1695-), died young
Stephan Servaty (1696-1753)
Nikolaus and Catharina had a relatively small family for those times, and only two, possibly only one of their children survived to adulthood. Two of the children’s godparents were Nikolaus’ brother Johann and sister Maria. Nikolaus’ death at the end of December 1709 may have been connected with the weather prevailing in Germany that year and to his service as assessor, which required him to spend much time out of doors during the harvest:
The harvest of grapes and fruit was destroyed by frost. A terrible winter followed: the rivers froze over three times and in March 1710 yet again! With the first frost the hens froze in their nests, birds dropped paralyzed from the trees, and many people froze in their beds.5
Stephan Servaty married Maria Margaretha Koch (1697-1763) in 1717. She was from the Briedern branch of the Koch family. Stephan had a much larger family; 4 failed to reach adulthood, but family wealth was sufficient to enable at least 4 of the 7 others to marry:
Johann Servaty (1719-) married Maria Margaretha Hürschen in 1744, then Elisabetha Monreal in 1762.
Johann Jacob Servaty (1721-)
Johann Nikolaus Servaty (1723, died in childbirth)
Maria Susanna Servaty (1724-), married Johann Göbelen in 1747
Matthias Servaty (1727-32)
Stephan Servaty (1730-81)
Johann Nikolaus Servaty (1732, died young)
Maria Catharina Servaty (1735-), married Bartholomeus Schmitz in 1758
Anna Maria Servaty (1736-41)
Matthias Servaty (1738-60)
Johann Friedrich Servaty (1740-84), known as Friedrich Servaty The children’s godparents connected the Servatys to the other families of the village: they included 4 Pellentz, 4 Koch, 2 Servaty, 2 Göbelen. Records for 1768 reveal that Friedrich Servaty and two of his Servaty cousins were among the leading leadowners: Johann Servaty Jr cultivated 4350 grape vines, Friedrich Servaty 2600, and Johann Servaty Sr. 2570.6
Friedrich Servaty married Maria Gertrud Reitz, from the village of Ernst on the Mosel, nearly ten miles downstream near Cochem, in Mesenich in 1765. They had 8 children:
Johann Friedrich Servaty (1765-)
Johann Peter Servaty (1767-1814), known as Peter Servaty
Maria Servaty (1769-82)
Matthias Josef Servaty (1772-)
Margaretha Servaty (1775-)
Johann Servaty (1778-82)
Maria Gertrud Servaty (1781, lived only 6 days)
Johanna Margaretha Servaty (1783-)
At least 3 of the children died young. All 8 of them had one godparent from the distant village of Ernst, an unusual degree of connection to the outside world. 3 of the others were from the Servaty family.
There was growing social conflict in Mesenich. The villagers cleverly exploited the differences between its distant rulers, the bishop and the abbot, to increase their own freedom. An incident in 1767, the year of the birth of Peter Servaty, dramatically illustrates this situation. The villagers were assembled for the installation of the new Erbvogt (secular representative of the abbot) and invited to pronounce the oath of loyalty to him and the abbot as they had previously to the archbishop and his official in Cochem. Unexpectedly, one of the villagers called out: “We can’t swear oaths to two different rulers! One of them must be false.” At this there was an uproar in the assembly, which then refused to take the oath. The next day a compromise was reached: the villagers would uphold the oath, but not pronounce it. The troublemaker was one of the four largest landowners, and the abbot’s attempt to punish him also ended in deadlock. These four landowners included Johann Servaty Jr..7 This happened 22 years before the outbreak of the French Revolution and 27 years before the occupation of the Mosel River Valley by French revolutionary troops.
Several members of the extended family served as village officials in the eighteenth century: cousins Nikolaus and Johann Jakob Servaty were senior assessors of the Erbvogt, Jakob Servaty was tax collector for the Trier cathedral chapter, and Jakob, Nikolaus, Johann, Matthias Josef, and Johann Servaty Jr. also served as elected mayors. The one-year term as mayor was a service that all village citizens were expected to perform in the years after attaining citizenship. Citizenship was not an inherited right of village residents, but a status that men in the village could purchase when they had reached the age of 26.8 One of the key duties of these officials was to supervise the harvest every fall, which was carried out on officially determined days by the entire village.
Peter Servaty (1767-1814) married Maria Agathe Arnoldi (1770-1836), from the neighboring village of Briedern, in Mesenich in 1792. They had 7 children:
Johann Josef Servaty (1794-)
Johann Peter Servaty (1797-)
Johann Friedrich Servaty (1800-68)
Franz Josef Servaty (1803-)
Matthias Josef Servaty (1806-)
Peter Josef Servaty (1809-10)
Albert Josef Servaty (1812-88), known as Albert Serwaty Troops of the revolutionary French republic occupied Mesenich and the rest of the Mosel Valley in 1794. Four years later the revolutionary calendar was introduced, with ten-day weeks, then in 1802 the Brauweiler Abbey was abolished. Its headquarter building in Mesenich was auctioned off, being purchased by F. Meurers, the last representative of the abbot.
Male Servaty family members may have attended school in Mesenich beginning around 1661, the first year for which Mesenich is known to have had a teacher. The village school had 46 pupils and eight grades in 1836, well after Albert Servaty would have completed his schooling there (the signature on his American petition for naturalization is well-formed, suggesting he learned to read and write in school). The teacher from 1806 to 1845 also served as church custodian and organist. St. Nicholas was a mission parish of Senheim, which only began to send a priest there for masses on Sundays and holidays in the seventeenth century. Until 1822 parents had to take their children to Senheim to be baptized.
Briedern, the home of the Arnoldi family, had its parish church dedicated to St. Servatius in 1347. The Gothic tower of the church from the same century survives even today, and much of the structure is from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The church and St. Servatius’ Well began to attract pilgrims in the fifteenth century, who go there even today on the feast of St. Servatius, the Kirmes (village fair), in May of each year. A famous incident in the history of the village was the villagers’ successful repulse of an attack by bandits during the Kirmes of 1595. Briedern, and to a lesser extent Mesenich, were known as centers for the manufacture of wooden barges and boats for the transport of cargo and to connect villagers to their vineyards on the other side of the river. Both villages have a boat in their current coats of arms. The Servatys were one of the boat making families in Mesenich.9 [Mesenich, Briedern coats of arms]
The church records for Briedern are less complete than those for Mesenich, Despite the closeness of the two villages, Briedern’s church belonged to the parish of Strimmig. However, ancestors of Maria Agathe Arnoldi named Arnoldi, Arens, Rorbach, Cröff, and Andres can be found as early as the seventeenth century in Briedern and also in the neighboring villages of Mesenich, Senheim, and Senhals.10
An aerial view of Pünderich on the Mosel
Albert Servazi married Anna Maria Filzen of Pünderich in 1838 and the couple established their household there.11 Ancestors of Anna Maria lived in Pünderich as early as 1693, when her great great grandmother Anna Barbara Tillmann was born. Her great grandfather Stephan Filzen (1727-1771) was the first Filzen ancestor to live in Pünderich, who moved there from Reil, a few miles upstream on the other side of the Mosel, to marry Pünderich native Anna Margarethe Schull (1728-1793). This may be the same family that gave its name to the village of Filzen, now a part of Brauneberg fifteen miles upstream. Anna Maria Filzen’s grandfather Matthias (1756-) and her father Philipp Filzen (1794-1822) were born in Pünderich, while her grandmother Anna Barbara Fellens (1755-1828) was from Bengel in the Alf Valley not far from Reil and the Mosel, and her mother Anna Maria Cölsch (-1837) was born in St. Aldegund, a few miles downstream from Pünderich in the direction of Mesenich.
[image: Filzen wine label and crest: The late Alois Filzen used an image of Pünderich and the Filzen crest on his wine label. The crest probably came from the village of that name since noble status was required for the granting of family crests.]
Satellite View of the Mosel Valley showing Punderich, Reil, Alf, and Briedel With a population of 1100 today, Pünderich is nearly three times the size of Mesenich. Its name refers to the ferries that crossed the river here because of the slow current and unusually flat river banks. The first archival mention of the village occurred in 1128 when a branch of the Springiersbach monastery of Bengel was established in the Marienburg on the hill overlooking the village from the other side of the river. The parish church, Assumption of Mary, was founded in 1529 after the monastery closed. Pünderich was one of the few villages in the area that did not suffer a drastic decline in population during the Thirty Years’ War.12 The parish opened a school sometime in the seventeenth century, and the church owes its current form to a renovation in 1766. Pünderich today looks more like a small town than a village, with a number of old inns and multi-storey half-timbered houses.
Pünderich was known to have some of the best vineyards in the district thanks to the southward-facing, steeply sloped and well-drained Steilhang below the Marienburg. As in other villages, persons moving in had to pay a tax, known as a moving-in (Zuzugsgeld) or citizenship (Bürgerungsgeld) fee. With citizenship came a responsibility to share in the governance of the village not long after one’s arrival, thus Stephan Filzen became mayor in his fourteenth year, 1765. The mayor and his three assessors supervised village regulations for the protection of property and the key annual event, the wine harvest in the fall.
[image: A book in the Pünderich mayor’s office records Stephan Filzen’s service as mayor. According to tax registers he worked as a cooper (barrelmaker)]
[image: A map dated 1803 shows that “Panderich” was much smaller than today.]
In 1811 unmarried men and women assembled in a marriage fair by the bank of the Mosel so that the men could find wives to avoid being drafted for Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. It is said that one man married a woman fifteen years his senior in order to avoid the draft.13 It seems likely that Philipp Filzen was one of the Pünderichers who was drafted but returned, because he married Anna Maria Cölsch in Pünderich later, in November 1814. After the return of Napoleon from Elba in March 1815, he may have reenlisted as a light hussar with the famous Prussian general, Marshal Blücher, who played a key role in the defeat of Napoleon during the Waterloo campaign of 1815.14 It is recorded that Philipp Filzen died already in 1822, by drowning in the Mosel, along with Martin Feiden, his 8 year old stepson from his wife’s first marriage. Thus both Albert Servazi and his future wife lost their fathers at an early age.
Anna Maria Filzen grew up in Pünderich and then built a family there with Albert Servazi during the first three decades of Prussian rule. The village had a respite from invasion and was moderately prosperous. The French rulers introduced obligatory school attendance in 1802. The school operated in a building next to the church from 1716 until 1829 when it gained more space by moving to the sixteenth-century town hall. A father and his son were the only teachers for 59 years: Nikolaus Hulten (1768-1836) beginning in 1788 and then Heinrich Josef Hulten (1796-1847) for the next 28 years. Both men earned extra money as church custodians and bell-ringers, and the son also served as organist. In 1832 the school had 170 pupils out of a village population of 810.15 [Anna Maria Filzen was probably born in this house [picture 025], currently the residence of Heinz Filzen. The Servazi children went to school in the town hall building, to the right of the ferry house [picture 064]. Square in front of St. Mary’s church after mass, facing the old town [picture 044]
Albert Josef and Anna Maria Servazi had 10 children:
Peter Servazi (1837)
Peter Servazi (1838-99)
Barbara Servazi (1841-1919)
Gertrud Servazi (1843-)
Joseph Servazi (1845-1884)
Clara Servazi (1847-)
Catharina Servazi (1849-)
Anna Maria Servazi (1852-)
Jakob Serwazi (1854-5)
Maria Mathilde Serwazi (1857-)
Anna Maria’s uncle, Peter Filzen (1800-76), was mayor in 1837. An entry in the village chronicle for 1844 reports that the villagers were diligent, ambitious, and frugal. The Revolution of 1848 and a succession of bad harvests beginning in 1850, though, appear to have reduced social cohesion and made many villagers consider making a new start elsewhere. There was an unpleasant dispute for many years with the priest over his salary and the approval of a new cemetery behind the church. A third of the village population emigrated in the 1850s, no doubt mostly for economic reasons, including all 10 surviving members of the Servazi family in 1857.16 The home of the Anna MariaCölsch family, St. Aldegund, is a long village in a narrow section of the valley with the hills not far off, just a short distance downstream from Pünderich. Like Pünderich, it has many half-timbered houses, but today it is better known for two distinctions: an archeological find and pride in the local dialect. In 1953 vineyard workers discovered a Roman sarcophagus from the reign of the Emperor Constantine (AD 306-337) with ancient glass work and a Christian symbol. A dialect enthusiast has placed online some of his poetry and a dictionary of words in St. Aldegunder Platt. It is said that old timers can recognize by the dialect which of the neighboring villages someone is from.17 Members of the Cölsch family were very influential in Pünderich during the period 1680-179418, and a lady with the same surname was recently Pünderich Wine Queen..
We can trace the Filzen ancestors in Reil back to Peter Filzen, born about 1645, and his wife Elisabeth Breidbach (1660-1736). Elisabeth and her five siblings were all born in Reil between 1648 and 1663. This old town on the Mosel is slightly larger than Pünderich today, and has a number of residential houses that are several centuries old and may have been owned by wealthy wine merchants, or others like the ones in this picture that must have been owned by people of more modest means.
Reil was one of the eight villages in the imperial district called the Cröver Reich (empire of Cröv), not because it was an empire but because for many centuries it was ruled by the counts of Sponheim as officials of the Holy Roman Empire rather than by the Bishop of Trier. As an imperial territory it attracted extra attention from the French and Spanish armies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. We also know there were Filzens in Reil as early as the middle of the fifteenth century, when two men named Filzen are listed on a tax list.19Jonas and Peter Filzen (relationship to us unknown) are listed for Reil in a 1544 tax list for the empire of Cröv. Matthias Filzen (1756-) appears to have inherited property in Reil, because he is listed as a Reil taxpayer even though he was born in Pünderich.20 [image: Cröver Reich map]