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I have been trying to learn about Korbach, Hesse relative to my family history. I have an ancestor who was born there around 1728. He married in Efferen (close to Cologne) in 1765 as a Catholic and the family/descendants remained in that area.

It has created some questions:

  • What was a Catholic doing in a very Protestant area where he would have been a clear minority? No Catholic church existed in Korbach. That is assuming that he didn't convert.

  • What route would he have taken to Cologne? I know Korbach and Cologne were both part of the Hanseatic League, so perhaps a route existed.

  • What would travel have looked like? He was a day laborer/carpenter in the village outside of Cologne, so I'm assuming he didn't have money. How long would that have taken?


The following content was originally provided as an answer, but doing so violates the Q&A structure of our site. Recommend you revise the following and then ask any subsequent questions as new questions, linking to this one if needed What an unexpected, and thorough response. I’m so appreciative and fascinated. I did look through the ‘Catholic’ records in nearby Eppe without success. However, I believe this was a situation in which the Protestant church allowed the Catholics to use it for prescribed times and was not without conflict. I’ll have to look at the other villages you mentioned and appreciate that information. With the kind of distances that existed it makes sense that they would only make the effort for special occasions. It sounds like it would have been a grueling trip to relocate to the Cologne area. I wonder how often people relocated during this time period, and what would have prompted it. Questions I can only muse about! Additionally, I did locate a death record in 1769 in Hurth for a single woman with the same surname, that was also from Korbach, and a suspected sister. So, I suspect he didn’t travel alone. After marriage in Efferen, they settled and raised a large family in Hürth, Erftkreis. Some records reflect he was a day laborer and others a carpenter. They had 11 children, and all survived into adulthood, except for one that died in his teens. With a 50% infant mortality rate during those times, I suspect they must have had sufficient means to provide for the family. Having a weak knowledge of geography, relevant town locations, and potential routes, I really appreciated learning more about that. I haven’t yet looked at your provided links but will explore them more.
The additional comments provided were also of interest. Thank you. I don’t know when they would have made the trip, only that they were in Efferen by 1765 and that he was born around 1728. I also know that as part of the Seven Year War, that there was a battle in Korbach in 1760. Perhaps that could have been an incentive to leave…but of course, I’m just guessing. It also appears that it took Hessen a long time to recoup the population numbers that they had prior to the 30-Year War and for Korbach to economically recover. I have just joined this site and didn’t know quite what to expect. I find this kind of information so interesting and helpful to my understanding and am so glad I posted the question. Thanks again.

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  • Assuming that he didn't convert: why do you assume that? No proper source, but family history says that a great (or great-great?) grandmother of mine converted (catholic -> protestant) in order to marry. The reason simply being that she grew up in a catholic village and moved to his protestant village (a whooping 10 km away). That was 19th century Hesse-Darmstadt. Commented Dec 23, 2023 at 23:44

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  1. "Protestant area" is always a very relative term in these central areas of Germany, especially in Hessen. Territorial ownership changed often during the centuries, and especially during the thirty years war and the years leading up to it, reformation and counter-reformation followed each other in short order. As a result, the next catholic parish was never far away. And if there wasn't a dedicated catholic church, practitioners often struck a deal with protestants to use their church for the occasional church service (Simultaneum).

    In the case of Korbach in protestant Waldeck, it is near the border to catholic Westfalia. The next larger catholic city was Brilon (see below for road connection), but even nearer was Medebach, 15km to the southwest. The German WP article on Korbach also notes that several villages on or near the road to Medebach, and which are now incorporated with Korbach, were "almost completely" (Hillershausen) or "predominantly" (Eppe, Nieder-Schleidern) catholic. They all are within walking distance of two to three hours, so it would have been possible to get there for Sunday service if you were dedicated to your religion. If not, you would have been visiting for christmas, easter, pentecoast and a summerly parish fair (Kirchweih), at least.

  2. The route to Cologne is very much dictated by geography. The Sauerland mountains and the Biedenkopf to the west and southwest impede traveling, especially in the rough winters. The only logical choice would have been to cross the Upland range near Willingen, 580m above sea, on the way to Brilon. I am pretty sure the road would have been more or less the same as today's still mountainous B 251, minus the modern bridges.

    From there, you could follow the Ruhr river, passing along the narrow valley between Meschede and Wickede, then along the wide lower river floor to Schwerte. It is easy to then cross into the Wupper valley (the street to Barmen (Wuppertal) is even called "Kölner Straße"). Maybe someone else can comment on road conditions. As a general rule, gravel roads only started to be construced during the course of the 18th century for major connections.

    Edit: I finally found a contemporary (british) map showing road connections, probably postal routes. It shows a street that leaves the valley floor at Schwelm (east of Wuppertal) in a steep rise and passes through Lennep, along the B 51 through Wermelskirchen to Mülheim. From Wermelskirchen, it was called "Wermelskirchener Chaussee". The construction of the modern gravel road was finished in 1775.

    Edit 2: It turns out the is a direct Hanse route from Korbach to Cologne. It is part of the medieval trade route Leipzig – Kassel – Köln. Through the Sauerland, it is called Heidenstraße. It has two major drawbacks, though: It passes very much over the top of the mountains, reaching 750m near Winterberg, and much of it it was a hollow way, completely unfit for anything but men and donkeys.

    Crossing the river would have been possible in Cologne itself with a huge reaction ferry, the Deutzer Gierponte.

  3. The choices would have been traveling by foot, hitching a ride on an oxen cart, or a stagecoach. Riding a horse would not have been an option in the mountain parts, for heavy luggage you would have used a donkey. Whether there would have been a coach for the first leg to Brilon, I very much doubt. Imagine an unmade road, rutted down by heavy carts, and navigating inclines of up to 10%. Walking or hitching a ride would have taken more or less the same time on the 35km track. My estimate would be eight to twelve hours, depending on the weather. Spending the night up on the range would not have been an option, Willingen and the neighbouring villages had been mostly destroyed during the seven years' war.

    If the map really shows postal routes, from Arnsberg there would have been the choice to take a coach to Cologne via Werl and Unna, but I share your doubt a day labourer would be inclined to finance that. On the other hand, as part of the cost of marriage, who knows?

    On the second last leg, along the Rhine river, there would have been the additional choice to get a ride on a transport barge. But since it is upriver, this would have taken just as long as walking the 20 km. The last 6 km from Cologne to Efferen, apart from navigating the city and its toll stations, is an easy walk of an hour and a half.

    My estimate for the time taken would be around six or seven days, with up to ten hours spent walking per day. Possible overnight stops would have been for example Brilon (35 km), Meschede (20 km), Neheim (25 km), Schwerte (30 km), Schwelm (30 km) and Mülheim (40 km). Taking the Heidenstraße, stops could be Winterberg (30 km), Schmallenberg (20 km), Elspe (19 km), Meinerzhagen (30 km), Wipperfürth (20 km) and Mülheim (38 km). Taking a coach from Arnsberg to Cologne could shorten it to four days.

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    1. Fourty kilometers per day, for several days, sounds like quite a lot. Do we have sources that people actually routinely travelled such distances at such speed on foot? 2. I believe carpentry is a trade were being a journeyman for some years was common. So it is quite possible he would have travelled the distance over months or years, with long stops in between and possibly with long detours.
    – Jan
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 18:25
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    Actual marching speed for Prussian armies in the 18th century was closer to 20 kilometers per day. E.g. between the battles of Rossbach and Leuthen they covered about 300 kilometers in about 16 days, which was considered fast for the time. Obviously moving an army is much more complicated than just walking on your own, but still it seems as if just multiplying a theoretical marching speed per hour with the number of daylight hours might not give a realistic picture here.
    – Jan
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 1:51
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    That is what happens if you cite from your memory, and without being a walking guy myself. I checked several sources, and most seem to agree that depending on terrain a day's march in premodern times would be 40km or less. I am correcting accordingly, but still think that road quality between Hagen and Köln would have been above average due to its commercial importance.
    – ccprog
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 12:44
  • Ccprog, what an unexpected, and thorough response. I’m so appreciative and fascinated. I did look through the ‘Catholic’ records in nearby Eppe without success. However, I believe this was a situation in which the Protestant church allowed the Catholics to use it for prescribed times and was not without conflict. I’ll have to look at the other villages you mentioned and appreciate that information. With the kind of distances that existed it makes sense that they would only make the effort for special occasions.
    – jls
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 22:19
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    To look at the population loss only from a war perspective is a bit shortsighted. It is part of the agricultural revolution in the 16th/17th century, when the invention of effective drainage and the moulboard for ploughing led to farming moving down into the valleys and plains, and the drained lands made roads near rivers possible. That led to the decline of the old high streets over the mountains – The Münsterland and the lower Ruhr valley won, the Sauerland and the northern Hessian mountains lost.
    – ccprog
    Commented May 18, 2023 at 22:31

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