Monday, September 8, 2008

German telephone listings

Does an online search point to John O Dirlam's birthplace in Germany? Does the family name continues in Hesse today.

Spelling can be an issue with old American records of German names. My mother's family spelled the name Dirlam, but descendants of John O Dirlam and his second wife spelled it Durlam. All the Berkshire and Hampden County records spell it Durlam. Census workers spelled it Derling, Derlam, and Durlham. To American ears some German sounds are confusing, like 'ü' or 'oe' and 'D' or 'T.' So how is it spelled in the old country? I searched for lots of spelling variants and Dirlam is by far most common, with Dierlam a distant second. No other variants have phone listings in Hesse.

The German language genealogy website shows 69 telephone listings for Dirlam in:
  • Schwalm-Eder-Kreis=16 numbers
  • Geissen=5
  • Main-Kinzig-Kreis=4
  • Vogelsbergkreis=2
  • Wetteraukreis=2
  • Brunswick=1
That's 30 phone numbers concentrated in the areas which supplied soldiers to help suppress the American Revolution. The remainder are in districts spread around the county, none with more than two listings.

Brunswick was in the Duchy (Herzogtum in German) of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Most of the districts supplying troops were Hessian, but Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel is actually closer to Hannover. In fact, besides being King of Great Britain and Ireland, George III was also Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg and Prince-Elector of Hannover. In the pre-unification mess of Germany, Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel was subsidiary to Brunswick-Lüneburg, which explains why Duke Charles William Ferdinand (ruled 1773 to 1806) hired 5,723 troops to his brother-in-law George III.

Since the Hessian duchies supplied 2/3 of the troops it's not accurate to call them Hessians. So why do it? Of course it's much easier than listing Anspach-Bayreuth, Anhalt Zerbst, Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and Waldeck. But more important, at the time, was lack of strong German national identity.

Hesse runs roughly from Kassel in the north to Darmstadt in the south. The two cities are about 140 miles apart and Schwalm-Eder-Kreis, with its 16 Dirlam telephones, is a rural district about halfway between them. Schwalm-Eder-Kreis is a modern political division located in the former Landgraviate (Landgrafschaft in German) of Hesse-Kassel. Landgrave Frederick II (who ruled from 1760 to 1785) rented 16,992 troops to King George III of the United Kingdom. The Hannovers (George's family) were related by blood or marriage to every Protestant noble family in Europe, especially the Hessians. George's niece Mary became Frederick's first wife. When Frederick converted to Catholicism, abandoned his Protestant wife, and threatened to take Hesse-Hanau out of the Protestant alignment, Frederick's father and George III forced him to create a separate Hesse-Hanau Landgraviate for Mary and their son William IX.

Main-Kinzig-Kreis, with its 4 listings, was in that new Landgraviate of Hesse-Hanau. And Landgrave William IX (who ruled 1763 to 1806), hired 2,422 troops to his uncle, George III.

Wetteraukreis, Giessen and Vogelsbergkreis, totalling 9 listings, were all in the former Landgraviate of Hesse-Darmstadt, ruled by Landgrave Louis IX from 1768 to 1790, and not involved in the War of Independence.

But two Dirlam families actually emigrated here from Vogelsbergkreis. Fortunately they came in the 19th Century when better records were kept. One of these, the George Dierlam family, settled in Seadrift, Texas in 1848. Another, the Jacob Dirlam family came to Honesdale, Pennsylvania in 1854. Both these families were from Vadenrod, a little farming village in Vogelsbergkreis with just a few hundred residents. Curiously, there are two phone listings in Geissen for the spelling variant Dierlam, as well as the 5 spelled Dirlam. We don't know if there is any blood relationship to either family. If you take a moment to look at a map, you'll find another village, just 3-1/2 miles south, called Dirlammen - so there's a locational version of the family name.

Place            Troops sent   Phone numbers   in HETRINA
Hesse-Kassel        16,992           16            III
Hesse-Hannau         2,422            4             VI
Brunswick            5,723            2             No
Anspach-Bayreuth     2,553            0             No
Anhalt Zerbst        1,152            0             No
Waldeck              1,225            0              V

Total               30,067           22          18,217

The 16 telephones in Hesse-Kassel are in Neukirchen, Schrecksbach, and Schwalmstadt, just 5 miles away from Ottrau, the birthplace of Konrad and Wigand Dirlam. And Vadenrod, the Hesse-Darmstadt town the Jacob and George Dirlam families left when they emigrated to America in the 1840s and 1850s, is just 14 miles further south. So we know this area has been Dirlam-active for a long time.

And the 4 telephones in Hesse-Hanau are in Linsengericht, 70 miles south of Ottrau. The 2 phones in Brunswick are in Söllingen and Braunschweig proper.


Modern telephone records suggest possible origins of our ancestor John O Dirlam without proving anything. And Dirlams are still living in the most populous old Hessian principalities.


  1. My great grandfather, with the surname Dirlam, came from the village of Dirlammen in Hessen. He arrived in Illinois as a young doctor in the 1850s, and later moved to Iowa. Two of his sons, including my grandfather, kept the surname, and their two brothers changed their name to Durlam. I traveled to Dirlammen in 1991 and met a farmer named Dirlam. You can view the village by satelite on Google Earth.

    John P Dirlam

    1. John,
      I was just looking through old comments trying to see links between the various Dirlam families. From what you said here, I guess your doctor would be the William Dirlam buried at Spillers Cemetery in Dallas County, Iowa? Did you look up the birthplace in church records? Some people say John O Dirlam, my ancester, was from Kestrich, just eight miles away. Though they were different generations, there must be a relationship. I wonder what it is?

  2. Thanks so much for the tremendous detail you've shared here. I have gathered a little of the info you have but this is amazing!

    I am a descendant of John O. Dirlam and his first wife, Sarah Snow. All of our family spells (and has always spelled) our name Dirlam. In the records I have found regarding John O and Sarah Pasco's son Frederick, I have noted that he spelled his surname Durlam. Presumably his descendants do, too.

    I plan to send a link to your blog to another Dirlam I have corresponded with for a few years. He, too, has learned of the various streams of Dirlam immigrants. I believe his ancestors came to Pennsylvania in the 19th century. He now lives in New Jersey; I live in California.

    Michele Dirlam Dempsey

  3. I recently discovered that these Dirlams didn't make the spelling distinction we're imagining here. Sylvanus Dirlam, along with his wife and children were baptized as a group in at Blandford Congregational Church in 1827, and his half-sister Sally joined as well. Church records spell it Durlam. And when John O Dirlam died there, the church and General Court records also spell it Durlam. That's the same Sylvanus Dirlam whose grave marker is shown above - it uses our preferred spelling.