There are no records available in Indiana indicating where the Stephens family came from. What was known was that Magdalena Stephens came to the United States from Bavaria, Germany and first settled in Buffalo with her six children; Kathryn, Mary, George, Balthasar, Margaret and Joseph. Family myth has it that they traveled from Buffalo to Chicago where they purchased land, later moving to Waverly near the town of Porter, Indiana in about 1858.
Research into U.S. Census records confirm the family presence in Westchester Township from 1860 on. Except as noted below, there are no records that have been reviewed that confirm their whereabouts in the United States prior to 1860.
In searching for the family origins in Germany, I began my research in Washington D.C. at the National Archives. I examined the Civil War Pension records of both Joseph and Balthasar Stephens. Balthasar's records contained a deposition from his sister-in-law Katharina Kliendshmidt in Des Moines, Iowa stating that Balthasar and her sister, Barbara Schleier, were married at St. Boniface Church in Buffalo, New York on February 20, 1854. A search of the church records at the Mormon Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah revealed a microfilm of the original church record showing the marriage of Balthasar and Barbara. This record did not however show Balthasar's surname to be Stephens. It listed his surname as Stephan. I was convinced that this could not be an error. I fully believed that the German Catholic Priest would not make such a spelling error in the church record.
Later in Salt Lake City I was explaining my dilemma to Trudy Schenk–a well respected German Genealogy Researcher–who suggested the family probably came from upper Franconia in northern Bavaria. She contacted a friend in Germany who had maintained a 3"x5" index card file on families emigrating to the United States. In his file he had a card on the Stephan family. He included a copy of a newspaper article dated February 24, 1847 of the "widow Magdalena Stephan from Fitzendorf wishing to emigrate to North America with her six children."
Fitzendorf, Germany you say, where is that. Fitzendorf is located about a kilometer north of highway 303 approximately halfway between Schweinfurt and Coburg. The nearest city is Hofheim, Germany. Fitzendorf is located 6 kilometers (about 3.7 miles) due East of Hofheim. Most maps of Germany will not have Fitzendorf listed. If you find a map of northern Bavaria–Bayern Nord–with a scale of 1cm=2km it should have enough detail to show Fitzendorf. Most travel bookstores that sell European road maps should have one available
Well it turns out Fitzendorf had a population of 97 Catholics and 8 Protestants in the mid–1800's. The town is a very small rural farming community. Current census records show the population of the town to be 93 (no recorded count of Catholics and Protestants). Not much of a change in the last 150 years.
In 1995, Jeanie, Matthew & I visited Fitzendorf to see if anything could be found on the (Stephens) Stephan family. After two days of sign language–we don't speak German and no one in Fitzendorf spoke English–we met Herr Herbert Mauser from the nearby village of Ueschersdorf. He spoke excellent English and helped us quite a bit but no additional information was found.
We then visited the archives in Würzburg and after more sign language with archive officials, actually found the birth record of my great grandfather Joseph Stephens, along with his correct surname Stephan, listing Magdalena Rausch and Martin Stephan as his parents. The record listed him as the 6th of 6 children. Also in the church record was the birth of his sister Margaret again, listing Magdalena and Martin as parents. What I hoped to find was the birth record of Balthasar as this would be the most convincing proof of the family. Balthasar is a somewhat unusual name, even for a German. It turns out that the church records in the state archives were really copies of the original records covering the period 1834—1875. The original records were in Switzerland being microfilmed and wouldn't be ready for review until sometime in 1999.
In May, 2000 I revisited the archives in Würzburg with Trudy Schenk. We had very good success in finding the birth records for all of Magdalena's 6 children. This information confirmed the Stephens family ancestors. In addition, Trudy was able to find the death record for Martin Stephan, Magdalena's husband as well as the death record for Martin's father–Balthasar Stephan. What was disappointing was the Stephan family moved to Fitzendorf sometime in the late 1700's or early 1800's. There was no information available regarding where they moved to Fitzendorf from. As a result, Trudy was only able to establish one additional Stephan generation to what was already known.
Their was some good fortune in that Trudy did find three additional generations of Magdalena's family, tracing her ancestors back to all of her great grandparents. This included the marriage of Johann Rausch in 1705.
Trudy believes she may be able to locate the Stephan family origins, but that will involve another trip to other archives in Germany. I will be discussing with her that possibility for the year 2001.