Descendants of a famous Cincinnati brewer discover their German roots—and each other.
Four years ago in Cincinnati, a group of strangers met for the first time. They had only one thing in common: the surname Moerlein.
How the group came together is almost entirely the doing of Steve Moerlein, who says a curiosity about a decorative Moerlein beer tray hanging on the wall of his childhood home in Cincinnati prompted him to do genealogical research into his last name.
His goal at the time was to learn whether he was related to Christian Moerlein, the German immigrant who settled in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and opened a brewery (at first called the Elm Street Brewery,
then renamed for the family) in 1853. Moerlein’s was the only Cincinnati-made beer to be exported internationally. “I used Christian Moerlein as an anchor point for my research,” Moerlein says. Then, as he puts it, “My hobby became an obsession.”
Now, after six years of genealogical digging, Moerlein has uncovered six branches of the family—including one named Boehner (yes, he’s related to the current Speaker of the US House of Representatives, John Boehner, who grew up in a Cincinnati suburb). As it turns out, someone from each of the six branches have worked for Moerlein Brewery at one time or another.
Of course, uncovering all those relatives is a huge job for any German-American. That’s not only because the US Census Bureau says self-identified German-Americans now number 49.8 million—constituting the country’s largest ethnic group—but also because the Moerlein family is from Bavaria. “That’s a little more difficult,” Moerlein says. “The [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’] Family History Library has made many German records available in the United States [via microfilm], except for Bavaria. Bavarian churches won’t release their records.”
Moerlein’s first task was to locate Christian Moerlein’s hometown. It turned out to be a small village named Truppach in Bayreuth, Bavaria. Next, he found the name of the village’s church, with its rich archives.
“Church records are your best sources,” he says. The births, deaths and marriages they list date back further than government-created records. “Civil records are about 100 years old. Church records can go back to the year 1300,” he adds.
But if you’re using Bavarian church archives, don’t expect to research more than your branch. “The Truppach church wouldn’t let me request records from other branches of the family,” he says. He’s found a loophole, though: “I ask a cousin from the branch I’m researching to make the request.”
Moerlein isn’t shy about working the phones, either, calling people he learns about who share his last name. “You might find a connection. Call them up and ask them questions about their family,” he says. “I do it all the time, and I’ve only been hung up on once.” He adds that it’s important to be persistent and creative. “If you run into a roadblock with one sibling, drop him and pick up another. Even if it’s not the branch you want to follow, it will eventually lead you where you want to go.”
Moerlein’s family website
has been a “gold mine” for finding new connections. “Get your family information out there any way you can,” he advises. “Let relatives find you.”
For example, when the first Moerlein reunion was held, the local newspaper covered the upcoming event. “A woman who read the article said she felt compelled to attend the reunion to see if she was related. It turned out she was, and her connection opened up the Boehner line,” Moerlein says.
This year’s Moerlein reunion, May 12-13 in Cincinnati, coincided with a special family event. “We met the same weekend that Christian Moerlein was inducted as the first member of the Beer Baron’s Hall of Fame,” says Susan Schroeder, who plans the annual gathering. Her grandfather John was Christian’s brother. All Moerleins, Boehners and other related families—comprising hundreds of surnames so far—were invited to tour historic Over-the-Rhine, where Christian Moerlein opened his brewery; Spring Grove Cemetery, where he was buried in 1897; and the modern, revamped Christian Moerlein Brewery (which includes portions of the original facility).
The Hall of Fame induction was the proudest moment for the cousins, no longer strangers through the genealogical efforts of Steve Moerlein. “We can’t thank Steve enough for all that he’s done for the Moerlein family,” says Schroeder.
Genealogy on Tap
Steve Moerlein offers these tips for those seeking their own German-American relatives:
- Find a Gazetteer. These geographical dictionaries will help you locate your ancestors’ towns and villages. The older the gazetteer, the better. “I used a 1928 gazetteer published by the Bavarian government,” Moerlein says, called “Ortschaften-Verzeichnis für den Freistaat Bayern.”
- Look for family in German phone books. Several phone books are available online, including Numberway and World.192.com.
- Search Facebook and Google. “Run names of your family through both of these sites and see what comes up,” Moerlein suggests.
From the July/August 2012 Family Tree Magazine