Nestled in the Mittelbebirge (middle highland) area of southern Germany near the French boarder is the upper most part of the Black Forest. Along the Schwartzwald Hochstrasser (highway) which links Stuttgart and Baden-Baden, quaint villages are said to stand like sentinels before the great Schwartzwald (Black Forest). In the center of this natural panorama is an area called “Herren-Spa”; a small mountain village named Herrenburg sitting at the base of a mountain known as Herrenalb. Herren-Spa, like many other areas in the upper Black Forest region, is noted for its natural mineral springs.(1)
Mountain crests around Herrenburg stretch upward to 3,000 feet, and villages are described as being tucked in tiny valleys beneath spectacular peaks. Small shops, narrow streets, and friendly townspeople are the hallmarks of this region known for it’s craftsmanship, mineral spas, and breathtaking scenery.(2)
These geographic landmarks are believed to be the location of the first family to use the HERREN name. In the late Middle Ages when family names first originated, families living at well known geographic sites commonly adopted the s called “place name” to identify themselves. The mountain, in particular, which is known as Herrenalb is believed to be the physical place used to identify the HERREN family.
Historically, very little is known about Herren-Spa, it’s village, or it’s mountain, but the mineral spas in the region have been known and acclaimed since the Middle Ages. As early as 1155 A.D., the entire area between Stuttgart and Baden-Baden was used as a rest and recreation area by the Roman Legions who occupied this western portion of the Roman Empire. Even 1155 A.D. is not the beginnings of the area’s habitation because the recorded history of the upper Black Forest goes back alot farther, several centuries earlier at least.
For example, the city of Stuttgart dates from the first century when it was called Cannstatt by the Romans. The Germanic tribes known as Alemanni’s successfully invaded the region and drove the soldiers out in the fourth century, but Rome managed to retain some control, particularly in the mountainous area outside the city. In the middle of the tenth century, Duke Luitpold (Leopold), son of the Holy Roman Emperor, began his famous stud farm along the Neckar River from which the city of Stuttgart is said to have derived it’s name. It was not until the thirteenth century, however, that the city was chartered and officially became the seat of government for the Counts and Dukes of the province of Wurttemberg.(3)
About this same time, the area around Baden-Baden was being occupied by soldiers of the Roman army who had been sent to establish a military garrison. The soldiers, however, with their uncanny knack for personal comfort and pleasure, also discovered the wonderful mineral and thermal spas. The named the settlement Aqua Aurelia, after the famous public baths in Rome.
Later, the Alemanni tribesmen invaded and overran the garrison at Baden-Baden and managed to drive out the Roman armies completely. The Alemanni held the area for about a hundred years only to be defeated and driven out by the Christian Franks in the fourth century. The Christian Frank are credited with naming the village Baden, building the first castle there, and with developing the mineral spas into commercial attractions. Since that time, Baden-Baden has been acclaimed around the world for it’s thermal baths and mineral spas.(4)
This historical sketch provides a general background of the people, the activity, and the geographical features of the upper Black Forest region. Even though none of the villages are specifically mentioned, most date from the era of roving Germanic tribes and were known to be populated by clansmen from these tribes. Knowing the similarities of the people living in the area, it is reasonable to assume that they began to use family names just as other European peoples did, during that time. One of the most widely recognized methods of family identification was placement” which denoted location as the origin of the group.
Placement is used by linguists in the study of language and orates in the study of names, meanings, and origins to identify words and names from their usage. The most common origin of family names was the patronym which signifies “son of” and descriptive names such as “long”, “short”, or “brown”. These are followed by site, location, or “placement” names; and finally by trade or craft names such as “smith”, “carpenter”, and “farmer”.(5) Our family name, HERREN, lends itself quite easily to both location and area usage. In fact, our name is a classic example of “placement” as a method of identification.
One of the first questions that arises in almost any discussion of the family concerns the variety of spelling given to the name. Questions usually involve who is kin to who and what relationship this group or that group has with each other; not related to so and so...they’re a different family. If our family name was an extremely common name such as Jones, Smith or Brown, this statement might be true, but the fact is that the not related line is incorrect with respect to the HERREN name, especially families of Western Kentucky, Western Tennessee, Southern Illinois, and Southern Indiana. Research to date indicates a common lineage irrespective of the individual spelling. The relationship may be several generations removed, but the origin of more than one family with the HERREN name has NOT been found. Evidence to the contrary will be found in Europe rather than America, if it is ever found, because there is fairly good documentation on those who migrated to the new world. There is much evidence of correspondence, travel, and even marriages between the different branches in the colonies. It is quite apparent that they knew each other and kept in regular contact.(6)
To understand the variations in spelling, it is necessary to know how family names evolved. Family names did not come into general use until late in the Middle Ages. Very early in history, people used only a single name and that was quite adequate. As the population increased, however, the tribes and clans began to interact and this created a need for better identification in order to communicate.
The first expansion from a single name was the patronym which simply added the name of the father to the given name. An example would be William which, as a patronymic form, becomes William, son of John; then to William, John’s son; and finally William Johnson. Another type of patronym is the “Mc” names of the Irish and the (Mac) names of Scotland which literally mean son of; or the (Von) names from Germany and northern Europe which mean "from".
As more names were needed, some groups began to use location or place names as our family did while others chose trade or craft names such as Carpenter, Smith or Cooper. Still other groups referred descriptive names such as White, Black, or Armstrong. Different languages and dialects provided still more diversity and more family names.
Variations in spellings did not occur until the original families grew large enough to create the need to identify different members within the related group. Few people could read or write, but there were traveling scribes who recorded important documents and information for the people. These scribes were responsible for spelling names as they sounded or were used, so they were primarily responsible for the variations in spelling. To distinguish one family member from another, one or more letters of the name would be changed or extra letters could be added or taken away. A widely used method of variation was to change a vowel in the name. This is precisely what happened with the HERREN name.
The Germanic spelling of the word for gentlemen is Herron, the masculine form, while the Herrin form is considered the feminine case. HERREN is the “classic” spelling when used as a family name. The most common alteration is the last vowel which provided the four most widely used spellings: Herr(a)n: Herr(e)n; Herr(i)n; and Herr(o)n. All four are found in our family and in some cases seem to be interchangeable. These four spellings do seem to be the most common, aside from recording errors and mistakes which have been accepted in some branches of the family. By an accepted error or mistake, we mean cases where a father and son use different spellings even though their relationship is well known.
To illustrate the system of vowel alteration used by early scribes, think of four brothers living in the same approximate location and all having similar land holdings and other entries in official records. To distinguish between them, the one living on the stream might use one vowel, the one living on the hill another, the one at the edge of the forest might use another, and the one living closest to the parents might keep the original spelling. From this simple variation, a multitude of branches could evolve from a single family.
The latest count lists about a dozen different spellings in common use. The primary spellings are the Herren, Herrin, Herran, and Herron. Variations include Herin, Heron, Hearin, Hearon, Hearrin, Hearron, Hearrion, and even a few instances of the letter “g” being added to form Hering and Herring. The Herring and Hering variations used by some of our family member son occasion are northern Germany near the Baltic Sea.
It appears that members of the family coming directly to the colonies from Germany during 1730’s used all of the primary spellings. Family members who left Germany around 1600 and were settled in Ireland before coming to America used the Herron spelling for the most part. The variations of Herin and Heron appear to be mistakes in spelling because other documents and records of the same person are usually found which use the primary forms.
Also, associated with the name is the word “Alb” which means mountain and “burg” which is the German word for village. Herrenalb, being a primary geographic feature, would probably be translated a men’s mountain or the mountain of men. The village itself would have a literal translation of the men’s village or the village of the men.
Our forefathers were probably identified as the “men or gentlemen from the mountain” or the “men or gentlemen from the village at the mountain”. With a geographic landmark such as a mountain named HERREN, it is almost a certainty that the people living there or in a village at the base would adopt the name. This is a classic illustration of geographic placement, a family simply adopting the name of a physical landmark as a family name.’ The word “Herren” is used extensively in the German language as a name for locations and attractions. For example, “Mad Ludwig’s” castle in Bavaria is called Herrenschiemsee, and the city of Hanover is the home of the famous Herrenhausen Gardens and Museum.
With prima facie evidence such as the location of a physical landmark, documented use of the word at or near the location, and an established family using the name, the logical deduction is that the HERREN family name originated at or near Herrenalb in Germany.
Another piece of supporting evidence for this theory is well known in our family lore. HERREN’S seem to have an affinity for naming geographic features, especially hills, after the family. In Webster County, Kentucky, there is both a “Herrin Hill” and a “Herrin Community” at its base, named around 1830 by an early settler, Daniel Herrin. In North Carolina where many of our forefathers lived, there is supposedly both a “Herrin Hill” and a “Herrin Creek” which date back to the 1700’s. And in Southern Illinois, near the city of Herrin, there is an area which was called “Herrin’s Prairie” or “Herring’s Prairie” when it was established about 1815. The naming of physical features and landmarks appears to lend itself or establish some form of permanency and continuity for the family.
With nearly all variations including mistakes in spelling, there is usually evidence to show a relationship to the family.
The last major or radical change in usage occurred in the 1880 census of Webster County, KY. Due to a very obvious reporting error, every family member in the Dixon district was shown as spelling their names HEARON, even though, different spellings are used before and after that census. This mistake did have some effect, however, since some of the family chose to accept the new spelling and one group even reverted to a variation used by a part of the family who settled in South Carolina, the HEARIN form.
Another relationship is shown in Western KY. Two of the earliest settlers were from Pennsylvania, while a third was from North Carolina, yet all of them settled land within a few miles of each other almost in a direct line on the same trace or trail. Ten years or so later, another family with the same name but a different spelling stopped in the area on their way to Southern Illinois. A few years later another family from North Carolina migrated to the same area, and a few years after that , four members of a Tennessee family migrate back eastward to settle there. Such diverse movement seems unlikely to be accidental or random.
With this type of evidence it seems logical to conclude that some relationship existed between these people. In addition, these same people can be traced to Herren family members who settled with German immigrants in North Carolina, South Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Between 1400 and 1700, Europe underwent what has been called a rebirth or Renaissance. The period included the Protestant Revolt, the Catholic Reformation, the Peasants Uprising, and the Wars of Religion. From the beginning of the Christian Era, the provinces of southern Germany had been criss-crossed by armies, overrun first by one nation and then another. But with the introduction of Protestantism by Martin Luther, in 1520, the rebellion of the peasantry began in earnest.
In 1524, the peasants, long abused and held in bondage by the wealthier classes, rose in revolt. Devastation was so complete during the uprising that losses of life and property in Germany would not be exceeded until the Thirty Years War over a hundred years later.(7) Over 130,000 peasants died during the warfare and more than 10,000 others were executed. Hundreds of castles and monasteries were totally destroyed; entire towns and villages were depopulated and wiped out; and over 50,000 homeless persons roamed the countryside hiding in woods and along the roads. Charity was nowhere to be found because everyone was poverty stricken and starvation was a fact of life. The entire Reformation movement itself almost ended as a result of the Peasant Revolt because destruction was so complete. (8) For over a hundred years, wars and armed conflict between minor principalities were a part of everyday life. The nation was totally impoverished, cities and towns were wasted ruins, and the common people were reduced to wretchedness.(9)
At the same time, the new religionist concept of Protestantism, taken in part from the teachings of Martin Luther, was gaining popularity. Religious reformers including Ulrich Zwingli, John Knox, and John Calvin found followers in Germany, Switzerland, France, and England. The middles classes were most inclined to accept this new form of religious thinking and they supported the peasants in their uprising. As a result most of the towns and villages in the countryside became Protestant. This new teaching gave them the opportunity to express their opposition to the rich nobility and the clergy.(10) It is quite evident that the HERREN family embraced the Protestant movement because there is no record of any religious affiliation other than Protestantism in our history.
With the political upheaval, social unrest, and religious intolerance of the period the peasantry was not really in the forefront of the controversy. The overwhelming factor in the first major German migration around 1600 was the grinding poverty. The peasants simply could no longer survive. Facing starvation with no hope for improvement, these people looked to the “new world” as their only hope. The first of these German immigrants arrived in England shortly after 1600, just as the colonization of American lands were beginning. Most of these immigrants were farmers and artisans but they came to the colonies as indentured servants and redemptioners who were bound or indebted to the trading companies. By joining a company which provided their transportation they were obligated to follow the dictates of that company with respect to where they settled. This type of obligation lead to the Irish branch of the HERREN family which will be discussed later.
About a hundred years after this first immigration, continuing poverty and unrest in Germany brought about the largest and most significant migration to America. In the early 1700’s, Germany was still in turmoil and wars continued to ravage the land. Many sects of the “pietistic” types of religion had attracted followers and they sought relief from religious persecution. The chance for English naturalization and a new life in the colonies provided all the ingredients for a mass exodus. It began with the movement of German peasants out of the province of Palatinate, and by 1709 some 13,000 families entered England on their way to America. These immigrants were to become the so called Pennsylvania Dutch in the colonies. A number of HERREN family members were among this group, along with some of their kinsmen who had been settled in Ulster, Northern Ireland following the first migration.
It is important to distinguish between the first and second migrations of Germans because branches of our family participated in both movements. In the 1600 migration, family members came to England, but were then settled in Northern Ireland as well as America. In 1700, some of the HERREN family came directly to Pennsylvania from Germany because records show them taking the “Oath of Allegiance” upon their arrival in the colonies.