Balthasar Oberdorf I and Margaretha The first Overturfs

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Balthasar Oberdorf I (1666-1732) & Margaretha (?-1732)

I was told in the 1990's that there were Oberdorfs still living in Wertheim, Kembach, and Dietenhan in Germany — all four villages are within walking distance of each other. Oberdorf graves, I was also told in the 1990's, could also be found in the cemeteries near these villages, despite the fact that graves in Germany are usually reused after about 30 years unless bought by the family again.

The German States

The name Oberdorf, which means “upper village”, may have originated in Kembach, as it appears to be unique to that area. The name does not appear in many phone books of large cities in Germany. Its Americanized name — Overturf — is also fairly rare in phone books within the United States and Canada. Oberdorf is found spelled with both one and two f’s, even in entries by the same minister. In small villages in the 18th century, this is not surprising: the only people who could write were often the pastor or the magistrate. As well, there was little standardization of spelling.

Kembach, Dietenhan, and Lindelbach are very close together (at about 49˚north latitude and 9˚longitude) in the state of Baden-Wurttenberg (map courtesy of Wikipedia). Elevation is from 905 to 970 feet above sea level. The famous black forest is to the west, the Danube river to the south, the city of Stuttgart slightly southeast.

The Impact of the Thirty Years War

The Thirty Years War, fought between 1618 and 1648, reduced the power of the German Reich. Mainly fought in what is now today’s Germany, it involved most of the major European powers of the time. It may have seemed like a religious war (between Protestants and Catholics), but there was also a rivalry between the Habsburg dynasty and other powers.

Mostly mercenary armies were used during the war, and those armies destroyed entire regions. There was famine and disease which devastated the general population of the German states while bankrupting many of the leaders. Germany’s population was reduced, on average, by 30%. The male population was reduced by almost half. In the territory of Brandenburg, the losses amounted to half, while in other areas an estimated two thirds of the population died. Swedish armies destroyed 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages, and one-third of all German towns. 2

Balthasar Oberdorf met a hostile world

The war may have lasted for thirty years, but the conflicts that triggered it continued unresolved for a much longer time, up to and including the time when Balthasar Oberdorf was born.

Balthasar Oberdorf I 3 was born in about 1666 in the area previously described. It is unknown who his parents were. Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation had begun nearly 140 years before in Wittenberg; it had sent Europe into decades of religious and political turmoil. The religion that Luther founded, however, would become Balthasar’s religion: Lutheranism.

The Period of Enlightenement — for some perhaps

After the devastation of the Thirty Years War, a new, enlightened period began. Men such as Bach (1604-1673), Handel (1685-1759) and Beethoven (1770-1827) created a new age of music. Goethe (1749-1832), Schiller (1759-1805), and the brothers Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) Grimm created new literature. Some of these men were living during Balthasar’s time, though it’s not likely that he knew even of them.

Balthasar marries Margaretha

Balthasar, in his early 30's, married Margaretha sometime before 1700.

They had at least two children, but others may have died at birth or in infancy. It is possible there was a daughter named Anna Maria. The two children who are known are:

Balathasar died before Margaretha, but perhaps within the same year. Margaretha died 24 Dec 1732, a widow. He was 66; her age is unknown.

Their son, Balthasar Oberdorf II and his family, emigrated to America in 1753. This was after their deaths, so they would not have known of this huge change in the lives of their descendants. Perhaps Balthasar had often talked of leaving, but it was his son who finally was able to act on this dream. The surname would eventually change to Overturf by Balthasar and Margaretha’s grandchildren.

Much of this information comes from Dorothy Cunningham. After researching the German ancestry of the Overturf family. She wrote about it in The Overturf Family, published in 1988 and revised in 1995.

This page written and researched by Susan Overturf Ingraham, a descendant of Balthasar and Margaretha. Page last updated July 6, 2019.

Return to Table of Contents for Exploring Ancestral Roots: Overturfs, Hansens, McDonalds and Mahoneys

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  1. These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. 

  2. Most of the information about the Thirty Years' War comes from Wikipedia. 

  3. It is unlikely that Baltz used the Roman numeral I after his name; I use it to avoid confusion between him and his son, also named Balthasar. 

  4. Click on Balthasar's name to go to read his story.