Located in southern Westphalia, West Germany, Ruethen sits atop one of the Haar Hills; thus, the name "Bergstadt Ruethen" -- Town on a Mountain. Gently rolling plains lie to the north of Ruethen. The Helveg, one of the roads built by the Romans for communication and for the swift movement of troops and supplies ran across this more level terrain. An old Roman troop supply depot has been unearthed within a few miles of Ruethen. The River Valley lies immediately south of Ruethen marking the beginning of pine-forested foothills of the more mountainous areas of central and southern West Germany.
The history of Ruethen and the Helle Family which follows is recorded on a twenty-six foot scroll. Revised and edited by Dr. Hans Helle in 1931 and again in 1968 by Fritz Helle.
A Short Survey of the History of the Town of Ruethen and of the "Helle" Family
Translated by Franz-Josef Petermann, Professor in Cologne (Teacher's Academy)
Situated on top of the Haar Hills the town of Ruethen was founded in 1200 by Adolf I, Archbishop of Cologne. As it was intended to become a fortress against his enemies -- the Bishop of Paderborn and the Count of Arnsberg -- the town was well-provided with military equipment. A village in the nearby valley called Rueden gave its name to the new town; since then the village itself has been called "Altenrueden" and later "Altenruethen" (Old R. -- being the older of the two). The Town was allowed to bear a coat of arms: the black cross of "Kurk&n" on a silver scutcheon. In the corners of this scutcheon and in the center of the cross one can see a red rosette or lozenge (Raute), which is a mistaken attempt at tracing back the origin of the name. The town is now situated at the junction of the Soest-Brilon railway line. Today the proper postal address is "Ruethen-Moehne." It has 4,0006 inhabitants living mainly on agriculture.
The old fortifications, walls and moats, the fortified gates and towers still surround the town -- dumb but impressive witnesses of the past. The ivy-clad "Witch-Tower" (Hexenturin), in which people were put to torture until 1735 reminds us of the times of witch-hunting in which Ruethen, as well as Geseke and Lemgo, played an important part. It can be historically proved that the executioner was for years one of the busiest men in town. Witch trial documents in the town archives as well as numerous bills which the town-accountant had to pay for "oiling and polishing the executioner's sword" are an obvious proof of the fact that "Master Asmus" was frequently called to do his duties.
The town has two churches; the vicar of the older of these churches (St. John's) was already mentioned in a document in 1231, the second (St. Nicholaus's) was mentioned in 1322. The old castle "Castrum Ruden" where Archbishop Engelbert the Saint signed two dated documents in 1220 and whose importance can be seen from the names of numerous well-known families in charge of this place lost its military value after the County of Arnsberg had been taken over by the Archbishop of Cologne; it slowly fell into decay. Nevertheless it is due to the military importance of the town that Ruethen gained a certain reputation and even became a member of the Hanseatic League in spite of its small number of inhabitants.
Unhappy times and events of history certainly left their traces in Ruthen. One could mention for instance that the town was robbed in 1377 and in 1410; the "Soest Feud" 1444-49. the Civic Revolution 1581-82 and the Truchsess religious quarrels of 1583 should not be forgotten. In 1586 Spanish soldiers bullied the inhabitants of Ruethen; the Seven-Years-War also caused a lot of distress. But all this --and even the plague years 1350, 1572, 1598 and especially 1625 -- remains unimportant compared to the indescribable horrors of the Thirty-Years-War with all its unbearable losses and plundering's. It took Ruethen more than 250 years to recover. It was not before the beginning of our century that the town was able to pay its last debts dating back to the Thirty-Years-War.
But in spite of all these losses -- in addition to which one should not forget to mention the great fires in 1353, 1470, 1530, 1654, 1729 and 1834 -- the town archives with their numerous documents and records have fortunately remained untouched. They offer inexhaustible sources to those who take interest in the history of old Ruethen families.
There was only one serious loss in the long history of the town archives, that was when according to great changes in the political situation, Ruthen, together with the Dukedom of Westphalia, was taken over by Hessia-Darmstadt 1803-06. A wagon load of documents especially trial reports had to be transported to Darmstadt. This load was irretrievably lost.
This historical framework should be sufficient as background information. In the history of our little countryside town the name "Helle" appears for the first time in the town accountant's register in 1485 under the title "gemeyne upboringe", who must have immigrated a short time before because his name does not turn up earlier in the rich material of documents and files.
The name is undoubtedly derived from an old agricultural term (Flurname) , quite common in Westphalia. It is still frequently found in towns and cities like Dortmund, Amsberg, Soest, Lippstadt, Lemgo etc. in street-names; in the countryside it can be seen in connection with groups of buildings, foresters' houses, farm-holdings etc. But it certainly does not originate from Ruethen itself. It is possible although difficult to prove that our ancestor came from a family with the same name in Dortmund, registered there since 1343. In Dortmund the following citizens of this name were registered: 1343 Johannes in der HeIle, 1365 Johannes in der Helle junior, 1351 Hannus in der Helle, 1357 Brunsten in der Helle, 1382 Johannes in der Helle sarrator, 1383 Johannes dictus Hellehannes pellifex, 1416 Hermann in der Helle, 1460 Tellemar in der Helle. (Cf. Ruebel "Dortmund Document Books" and Ruebel "List of Dortmund Citizens 1411-1511, 1557-1803" in: "Contributions to the history of Dortmund and of the County of Mark", Vol. 12). 1567 the name of "Cordt in der Helle" appears among the names of so-called "seal-witnesses". (Cf. Barich "Die Dortmunder Morgensprachen", in "Contributions to the history of Dortmund and of the County of Mark", Vol. 27). After that the family can no longer be traced in Dortmund.
Starting with its first registered ancestor, Hans in der Helle, the Helle family can now proudly look back on a history of nearly 450 years or fifteen generations.8 Within the last two of these fifteen generations, 9 families of this name have lived in Ruethen itself; they can be divided into 5 different groups or clans, characterized by the typical Westphalian additional names (taken from places, buildings, etc.): Auling, Boren, Droste, Jossel, Portemelcher. Through all these generations the baker's profession of the first ancestor has found its followers up to the present day among the Helle families who were mostly blessed with a numerous offspring apart from that, farming, beer-brewing and distillation can also be found among the family's professions. The genealogical table or family tree also shows that many members of the family, being good citizens, have taken part in the town administration.
The above-mentioned large offspring of the Helle family --which in those days was no exception -- made it difficult for a family in such a poor countryside district to move up socially, especially because those of the young people who had obtained a university education mostly became Roman Catholic priests and thus could not hand over their social status to the next generation. So the majority of the family remained in lower middle class professions. There were numerous craftsmen, many of them still bakers, but also millers, ropemakers, blacksmiths, locksmiths, bricklayers, carpenters, saddlers, tailors, shoemakers, bookbinders, butchers, and printers; they frequently did some farming in addition to their real professions. Most of them remained in their home district, took over their parent's heritage or tried to get some property by marrying in the neighborhood. The first branches outside the Ruethen stem can be found in Erwitte and Bueren. The former disappeared quickly whereas the latter developed into a large tree of its own whose branches today reach as far as Lippspringe, Lippstadt, Neuhaus, Paderbom Hagen Essen, Duisburg-Ruhrort, Walsum and New Vienna, Iowa ~USA) .
Additional lines which have left the Ruethen origin about a hundred years ago, have by now developed in Witten, Pressburg and Winona, Mi (USA).The family tree again shows how they have grown up to the present clay.
Continuous research work has brought the author of this survey into contact with other German families of the same name. Several more or less comprehensive genealogical trees have already been developed. In some cases they offer a good chance of finding out connections between them and the Ruethen line. This is, of course, only a limited possibility; sometimes it depends on pure good luck and coincidence, especially if members of our family left Ruethen before the Thirty-Years-War.
Some names and persons can already be mentioned now who in all probability go back to the Ruethen origin, although we must still look for final proof: Anton Helle, blacksmith in Moseholle, later in Drasenbeck, then in Bluegelscheid bei Remblinghausen (Sauerland), who "suddenly died" in Bluegelscheid (age and origin not mentioned) on Sept. 19th, 1791. His grandson was Clemens Helle, admin-istrator of the Royal Depot in Marnz (born in L&linghausen, nr. Meschede Oct. 6th, 1798, died in Mombach, nr. Mainz, April 4th, 1876). He was married twice and had fifteen children. His youngest son -- the only child of his second mar-riage -- was Franz Helle, Councillor of Commerce in Mainz (bom Oct. 5th, 1854, died there May 28th, 1930). His step-nephew was Nikolaus Helle, a paper whole sale dealer in Saarbruecken. His son Sebastian Helle was awarded the Iron Cross (First Class) in World War I and died from a disease which he had gotten in the war Aug. 15th, 1931. We can also acknowledge as probable early branches of the Ruethen stem the Helle families in Menden, Halingen and Holzen, nr. Iser-lohn, registered as proprietors of the Schwerte-Halingen Estate Farm already in the time of the Thirty-years-War and the Helle family in Graz whose ancestor, joiner Joseph Helle emigrated from Germany in 1784. He had been born in Ger-many about 1748 and died in Graz Jan. 2nd, 1814, when he was 66.
The baker Hans Helle should also be mentioned in this connection; he became a citizen of Kassel in 1598 (origin not registered) and he probably had a father or Grandfather in Ruethen. This is more than just a far-fetched theory; the exis-tence of many members of the Helle family in Ruethen is only known, because they appear under baptisms in the Ruethen church registers. The church registers, of course, do not tell us anything about their later lives and whereabouts.
The earliest registered bearer of our name in Westphalia seems to be a certain Gottfried Helle whoon June 19th, 1301 gave his farm near Grafschaft (Sauerland) to the local monas-tery, in exchange for a lifelong pension (cf. Seibertz "Docu-ment-Books", Doc. No 491 and Seibertz "Sources", Vol. 3, p. 438). Another family, called "in der Helle", appears com-paratively early in Maerkisch-Langenberg, a place now famous for the well-known Langenberg-Radio-Transmitter. In 1511, a certain Drude in der Helle is registered here with her children as widow of the late Johann in der Helle. 1518 and 1527 Amst in der Helle, 1566 Johann in der Helle and 1680 Johann in der Helle are registered here (cf. Bender "History of the House of Hardenberg" 1879, p. 135, 115, 139, 117 and Kraft "Register or Pension Book of the House of Hardenberg from 1680 AD" in "Bergisch-Jtlich History Magazine", 6th Vol. No 6, 1929). They are in all probabilityj the ancestors of miller Georg Helle in Langenberg -Wallmichrath (who died there Dec. 2nd, 1849) whose de-scendants live in Essen-Kupferdreh.
A relationship also seems possible -- because of close historical and local connections -- between our ancestor Hans in der Helle and "Hennecke in der Hellen" (cf. Seibertz "Document-Book", Doc. No 964), registered 1460 as mem-ber of a court of justice, "Freistuhl" (a secret court of justice of the so-called "Vehme" - organization) in Amsberg.
The German principalities were the last political divisions of Central Europe to adopt the feudal system whereby the lords controlled land, person, family and justice. The peasants were deprived of any personal rights in land and could be removed at the lord's will. However, in much of Westphalia the medieval form of land tenure changed very little and the peasants retained inheritable land rights. These peasants also carried on handicrafts producing textiles and metal wares which were marketed far beyond the local markets.
Wherever the feudal system was deeply entrenched, peasants were treated contemptuously by the urban classes and noblemen who considered peasants to be "wild, treacherous, and untamed." Some writers considered ". . . villages beyond redemption and agrarian existence as stupid" as late as the mid-nineteenth century.
However, quite the opposite was true in Westphalia because the feudal system did not become widespread there and citizens were freer.
The struggle over the control of the archbishopric of Cologne was a major determining factor in the struggle between Protestantism and Catholicism. By the mid-sixteenth century the archbishops of Cologne were unordained and they frequently married after retiring. One archbishop-elect, Gebbard Trucchsess, fell in love after his appointment and before ordination. Persuaded to become a Protestant, marry and retain his position, he met opposition from as far away as Spain.
Defeated in the war which followed, he and his wife were forced to flee to the Netherlands in 1584 and the Westphalian bishoprics remained Catholic for another generation.
The Thirty Years' War and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 did not bring an end to religious persecution and intolerance. Catholicism was stronger and more aggressive the rest of the seventeenth century. In the early eighteenth century when John William of the Elector Palatine persecuted his Protestant subjects, Frederick I of Prussia threatened reprisals on his Westphalian Catholic subjects forcing John William to withdraw some of his edicts. John William's successor, Charles Philip, refused to let the Calvinists use the chief church of Heidelberg and otherwise harassed Protestants; Hanover, Hesse-Cassel and Prussia made reprisals on their Catholic subjects. Charles Philip sulkily gave way and moved his official residence from Heidelberg to Mannheim.
Napoleon created the Kingdom of Westphalia in 1807. It was composed of the principalities of the Duke of Westphalia, the Duke of Brunswick, the Elector of Hesse-Cassel, the King of Prussia, and portions of other bordering territories. He named his youngest brother, Prince Jerome, King of Westphalia in July 1807.
One of the first major administrative acts was to abolish the remnants of feudalism -- Jan. 23, 1908.19 As more strict laws were imposed, crime in Westphalia increased; the most common offense for avoiding military conscription to meet the quota of soldiers required for Napoleon's campaign The high police were the most disliked institution imposed by the French, interfering with and harassing citizens.
Religious tolerance was a foregone certainty under King Jerome since he was Catholic and his wife was Protestant. In addition, Jews were no longer subjected to special burdening taxes, confined, or excluded. The church became subordinate to the state and church attendance declined.
Napoleon introduced centralized government to the newly created Kingdom of Westphalia
Administered largely by the Prussian citizens of the new kingdom who had more experience in centralized government, the politica centralization was carried too far and became cunbersome and too expensive. Westphalians also had to be educated in business
A social "spin-off" of the French occupation improved life for all citizens. By 1810 thirty-thousand Westphalians had reluctantly submitted to vaccination which was compulsory for entry into universities, public schools and workshops.
Westphalia and Ruethen in the Nineteenth Century
The Congress of Vienna recreated where possible boundaries of the German principalities as they existed befi "The Great Revolution." A loose political organization The German Confederation -- was formed by those Gem principalities of the old Holy Roman Empire. However, the principality retained its autonomy and unity was still decades away.
The Industrial Revolution with its evolving middle c and the political and social changes of the next half cen would have seeped into Ruethen more slowly than the far more metropolitan cities and towns. The artisans and craftsmen of the area were probably the first to see their livelihood diminishing as factory-produced goods supplied the mar formerly exclusively theirs. The potato and grain famine 1846 and 1847 would have directly affected Ruethen. Or other hand, the Revolution of 1848 would not have had n effect on most towns as remote as Ruethen. As the economy changed, the young and unemployed moved to urban where the prospect of factory employment was their hope for livelihood. As the century progressed and the factory employed faced massive layoffs, emigration became the solution for the economic problems faced by many. Political evolution was swiftly changing Europe and men where tried to grasp the new ideas of liberalism, consconsern, nationalism and socialism.
Sometimes liberal political ideas expressed too openly compromised citizens and they be were jailed for actively participating in political activity posed a threat to their rulers; thus, emigration offered escape. In some instances, as stated by Fred Helle in an interview in 1904 , military conscription was the threat which prompted the decision to emigrate. Not to be overlooked as a further inducement to emigrate was the active recruitment of German men by American entrepreneurs to help build the rapidly expanding railroad system and to work in the burgeoning factories of the United States of America. The prospect of owning a business or a farm would have been of tremendous inducement, for ownership translated into "free citizen" in the German social order. Religious freedom in the USA also influenced many. It is doubtful that German citizens fully understood the political freedom practiced in the USA until they had lived as United States citizens for many years.