The Divelbiss Family


Written by: Trevor Gontz (descendant of ? Divelibss)
The most current version of this document can be found on http://www.gontzfamily.org.



*Authors note: I have tried to cite where I found information when appropriate. Much of my information comes from correspondence via email with people that are either professional genealogists or at the very least experienced genealogists.

The story of our Divelbiss family in America starts with five siblings who arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 21, 1731, on the Ship Britannia. They were:

  • Hans Michel Debelbesin
  • Hans Debelbesin
  • Hans Georg Debelbesin
  • Magdelena Debelbesin
  • Casper Debelbesin


As you can see already there has been a major spelling change from our immigrant ancestors’! The Divelbiss family is not an easy family to trace throughout the course of time. Divelbiss is just one of the many spellings that the family has used throughout the years and while this could be said of most families of German origin, there are certainly more spelling variations of this surname than any other that I have researched.
Such spelling variations and deviations include:


Daubenbiss, Debelbesin, Debelbiss, Deivilbiss, Deubelbiss, Deubelbeiss, Deufelbeiss, Dewelbiss, Diebelbiss, Divel, Divelbiss, Divilbiss, Teubel, Teubelbiss, Teufel, Teuffel, Teufelbess, Teuffelbeß, Teuffelbeß, Teuffelbiss.

 

Up to this point, the only documented evidence we have of our Teuffelbeß ancestors in Europe comes from a christening record for Casper from Woerth, a city in the Alsace region of what is modern day France. Thanks to the research of professional German genealogist Sabine Schleichertx we know that Casper was born and christened in Woerth, Alsace, France. More specifically,  this christening record comes from the Protestant Parish Register, Woerth, Bas-Rhin, Alsace, France and it reads:

Casper was born on the 19th of March, 1721 to Samuel Teuffelbeß, the cow-herder from here, and his wife Magdalena. Casper was christened on March March 22, 1721. Sponsors were:

1. Caspar Schneider, a farm-hand from Imsheim

2. Johann Georg Bricke, son of the deceased Jeremias Brickes, citizen from here,

3. Anna Maria, a maidservant from Switzerland

*In a later section I have a digital copy of this original record written in Alsatian.

We can be sure that the Casper in this christening record is the same as the Casper that immigrated on the ship Britannia for two reasons. First, the Lower Alsace, and most especially the area around Woerth, was the origin of a large number of passengers on the ship “Britannia”, AND the origin of a number of very early settlers in the Monocacy area in Frederick Co., MD, where the Devilbiss families finally settled. Secondly, his age is a match. Casper was born in 1721. The Casper on the passenger list from the Britannia shows his age as 10 years old in 1731!

To highlight what some points in this christening record:

  • Our surname was spelled Teuffelbeß
  • Casper’s parents were named Samuel and Magdalena
  • Samuel was a cow herder
  • One of the sponsors was from Switzerland

All of these factors are important in trying to determine the area are ancestors where from. While we know that Casper was born in Alsace, we cannot just assume that this is where the family was from. Here is why:

  • Other families with the name Teuffelbeß (and/or its variations) cannot be found is this region.
  • Both Samuel or Casper are very rare for this rare for this area but common in Switzerland.
  • Cow herders moved from town to town.
  • One of this families close friends or relative was from Switzerland.

Before discussing possible origins of the Teuffelbeß name and how it came to be Divelbiss it is important to provide some basic information about Alsace. Alsace is located on France's eastern border and on the west bank of the upper Rhine adjacent to Germany and Switzerland. The people of this region spoke Alsation at time when our ancestors lived there. Alsatian is a Low Alemannic German dialect. So to identify the origins of the Teuffelbeß name and its variations we need to explore the meaning of parts of this name in the German language.

"Teuffel" or "Teufel" (spelled with either one f or two of the letter f) in German means "devil," which is undoubtedly why some of the family have anglicized names beginning with "Devil," "Debel" or "Divel."

The "Teufel" is the devil of course. "Biss" is the bite.

The pronunciation of Teuffel in Alsatioin helps to explain the spelling change of a T for the first letter to a D. Andrea Kindelbergerx, a German researcher from Rumbach (Südwestpfalz, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany), explains why this change would have occured. She wrote:

In palatinate, which is close to the alsatian dialect, Teufel is pronunced "Daiwel or dibel" what I would write in english like "Divel" or "Dibel".

Debelbesin sounds for me rather like "Teufelsbissen".


This explains how Teffel... became Debel... on the passenger lists recorded at the port of Philidelphia when the siblings arrived. In cases where an immigrant did not or could not sign their own name an emigration officer wrote down what they heard!



If you lookup Divelbiss using the Name Lab tool on the Family Education website (http://genealogy.familyeducation.com/family-names) the result is “One of several Americanized forms of German Tüfelbeiss or Deubelbeiss (see Devilbiss).” Then if you follow up by searching Devilbiss the result is “part translation of the German surname Deubelbeiss or the variants Tüfelbeiss, Dübelbeiss, which are Alemannic (Swiss) nicknames from Middle High German dūvel, tiufel ‘devil’ + beiz ‘biter’.” See: http://genealogy.familyeducation.com/surname-origin/devilbiss

However, all this being said we cannot be exactly sure what the meaning is.


In addition to the challenge of so many variations in the way the name is spelled and possible meanings there seems to be just as much and possibly even more misinformation about this family than there are facts. For example, twice I have come across information that states that our Divelbiss family was Dutch. This is certainly not the case! One thing that I can tell you about our Divelbiss family is that they were not Dutch. For example, in a biography of Carl Divelbiss in a book titled Huntington County, Indiana; History & Families 1834 - 1993 in a biography regarding Carl Divelbiss, one of the authors writes:

“Michael Devilbiss Jr. (1748 - 1819) was the son of the above named immigrant. In 1770 Michael Jr. married a girl named Margaretha in Hagerstown, MD. This couple resided there until they moved to Warren Twp., Franklin County, PA in 1790. Probably due to the Dutch spelling (Teufelbiss) and the Dutch pronunication (Toy-Fel-Biss) this family reversed the "i" and "e" in spelling the name so they and their descendants spell it Divelbiss.”


Now, at this point it would be safe to assume that by “Dutch” the author means Pennsylvania Dutch and therefore Pennsylvania German. However, the author then writes:

“Carl Divelbiss evolved from a proud heritage. His fourth great grandfather, Michael Devilbiss (1709 - 1755), left Rotterdam, the Netherlands, along with three brothers, arriving in Philadelphia, PA on Sept. 21, 1731. Michael settled in Frederick County, MD.” Also, in previous


While the author does not explicitly state that this family was from Rotterdam, Netherlands the way it is written would make one assume that this is the case. Again, our immigrant ancestors were not from the Netherlands. However, it is true that passed through (or left from) Rotterdam on their journey to the colonies.



Aside from another entry in a Woerth parish record from 1725, which mentions Samuel as a sponsor of another family’s child, there is no other trace of the Teufelbess family in this area. Being that Samuel was a cow herder he probably moved around from place to place. It is probable, though, that the family had a Swiss background for the reasons mentioned above and because the name Teufelbess (with lots of variations, the most frequent today being Deubelbeiss) is present in the Aargau region of Switzerland.



Annette Burgert's book on 18th Century Alsatian Emigrants to America does not mention any Teuffelbeiss emigrants, but on p 50 she notes a 1743 baptism at Frederick, MD, for a child of Johann Michael TEUFFEL to which Jacob Bene and wife were sponsors.  Bene (pronounced "Benny") was from Griesbach, 2 or 3 miles south of  Woerth; his wife was nee SIEG, daughter of a "Schirmsverwandter" at Griesbach and probably of Swiss origin.  I suppose this Michael is the same one in your immigration record; I'm pretty sure that the Teuffelbeiss name is found in the Frederick Lutheran and/or the Lutheran records from St Peter's, in the Linganore just east of town.  I don't see any other tangible link to Bene, whom I have worked out in considerable detail from the European records, but I know little about Bene's SIEG wife or her connections.





"Teuffel" derives from "devil," not from "baptized."  "Beissen," in German, means "to bite."  George Jones' "German-American Surnames" translates this name as "(devil's bite)."  There is probably an interesting story connected with the origins of the name.



Annette Burgert's book on 18th Century Alsatian Emigrants to America does not mention any Teuffelbeiss emigrants, but on p 50 she notes a 1743 baptism at Frederick, MD, for a child of Johann Michael TEUFFEL to which Jacob Bene and wife were sponsors.  Bene (pronounced "Benny") was from Griesbach, 2 or 3 miles south of  Woerth; his wife was nee SIEG, daughter of a "Schirmsverwandter" at Griesbach and probably of Swiss origin.  I suppose this Michael is the same one in your immigration record; I'm pretty sure that the Teuffelbeiss name is found in the Frederick Lutheran and/or the Lutheran records from St Peter's, in the Linganore just east of town.  I don't see any other tangible link to Bene, whom I have worked out in considerable detail from the European records, but I know little about Bene's SIEG wife or her connections.



Note: Debelbiss, Deivilbiss, Deubelbiss, Dewelbiss, Feubelbiss, Leubelbiss, Teubel, Teubelbiss, Teufelbiss, Teufersbiss, Teufersbissen, Teuffel, Teuffelbiss. ("DeVilbiss/Devilbiss" was first adopted around 1840.) Today there are at least sevenvariations of the name. It appears that some of the descendants of Michil (Michael) use Divelbiss or Divilbiss while most descendants of George and Casper C.use DeVilbiss or Devilbiss, but the spellings Develbiss, De Velbiss, and DeVelbess also appear from time to time.

http://www.devilbiss.name/european_connection.html

Teufel, Deife, Divel,

I had been told that my mother's maiden name was shortened from Divelbiss to Divel....My mother was born in 1912.Her parents Edwin and Catherine Divel..lived in Hancock, Md Washinton County and possibly Montgomery County,MD...My mother Charles Whirley and had four children....Juanita 1930...Charles 1932....James 1944...and Deborah Whirley Henley(me) 1946 I live in Hi , Charles and James in Md and Juanita Whirley Culbertson in KY...
If anybody has info on the lineage of the Whirley line , I would certainly appreaciate you sharing your knowledge..

Sources

x. Andrea Kindelberger http://www.kindelberger.de/
x. Sabine Schleichert. German Genealogical Research Service. http://www.ggrs.com/