Introduction

From An Incomplete Genealogy of the Family of John Bretz of Fairfield County, Ohio by J. Harlen Bretz, 1949.

The monosyllable "Bretz" obviously is Germanic. Variants make it impossible to relate or differentiate, by spelling alone, families carrying the name of Bretz, Britz, Brett, Britts, Beitz, Bretzius and Pretz. The oldest records, dating back almost to Charlemagne, use only the two forms, Bretz and Pretz. An attempt has been made to connect these early Germans with a Fabius Bretius, or Britius, a Roman "Magister Equitum" (cavalry general) in the 18th Roman Legion, who came from the district of Capua and Tarento in southern Italy; married Olfa, daughter of a German tribal "duke"; was head of a family in the Roman city now called Trier or Treves on the Mosell about 224 A.D.; and died 263 A.D. The information is said to have been taken from the "Genealogical Tables of the German Nobility" and "Books of Heraldry" in the City Library of Vienna. It is also stated that the descendants of Fabius Bretius, writing their name Bretz or Pretz, constituted a family of knights in the region for several centuries although no names are reported until Hugh Pretz appears in the time of Otto the Great. In 951 Otto "renewed" Hugo's "old title of nobility and family escutcheon and established them with instruments of writing at Augsburg", apparently as a reward of Hugo's valor in the battle of Leochfelde, (950) when Otto definitely disposed of the Magyar menace from the east. Hugo's wife was Bertha of Wartensleban. He had two sons, Cladius and Adolf.

Rome held the Teutonic tribes along the Rhine in subjection until the fifth century when the weakening Empire lost the last of its holdings in Gaul. Thereafter the Teutonic tribes warred among themselves; Saxons, Franks and Alamanni struggling for domination until Charlemagne imposed on authority in law and religion, and unified Germany for the first time. Only the existence and survival, through these vicissitudes, of a "coat-of-arms" could have made possible the family connection that is indicated across seven centuries. Where the record of royalty is questionable, what is the likelihood of direct tracing among lower social orders?

Claudius, a son of Hugho, was a prebendary in the Dome Church at Cologne, and without descendants. Adolf, another son, lived at Prezenburg, a fortified castle built by Hugho on the Moselle near Trier. He was a magistrate of the Lower Rhine. His wife's name was Clare Von Waldeck. He was killed in a duel, A.D. 1019 with a Rhineland knight named Viet Von Basserhaus. His four sons are reported to have distinguished themselves in some of the Crusades. The name of Conrad alone is recorded (died 1312) and he must have been several generations removed from Adolf. Conrad's name is spelled "Bretz". Conrad was a "military man" under Rudolf of Habsburg. He had two sons, Eulogius and George Bretz.

Eulogius was magistrate of Mark Brandenburg under Emperor Albrecht (Albert of Habsburg). He lived in Lubben on the Spree, about 40 miles south of Berlin, and had descendants there, listed in the blue- blood register, as late as 1702. Joseph and Claus Bretz are named as heading "the principal families in the time of Frederick the First". Since Frederick the First died in 1190 this statement must be in error.

George Bretz, son of Conrad, "took possession of the property on the Rhine" (not the castle built on the Moselle by Hugho), for the Rheineck. Their numerous descendants "were almost totally destroyed during the Thirty Years War". Only one lineal descendent is indicated as surviving; Daniel Bretz, a merchant at Coblenz on the Rhine. He "had long since discarded the old title of nobility". He died in 1681. His two sons were Felix and Cristof Bretz, but there is no further information about them.

The foregoing account has been supplied by Harold Pretz of Allentown, Pa. It has been in the possession of the family a long time and he believes that it was obtained by his grandfather, Christian, though from what source he does not know. It is very fragmentary and is inconsistent or incorrect in places. It involves an enormous break between 224 and 951, and bridges those seven centuries of political, military and religious flux by means only of a "coat-of-arms". Where predatory raids, conquering invasions and sacking of cities were so constantly recurring but so poorly recorded as those among the Teutons and their neighbors, little probability attaches to this purported connection between Fabius Bretius and Hugho Pretz. It seems very probable to the critical writer of the present account that professional genealogists collected the names and dates, and added their own vague statements about the "illustrious family of knights" with the name Bretz or Pretz which "flourished" (without a single individual name on record!) In the Rhine Valley for 726 years.

From Hugho to Daniel is another 700 years, with only three successive father-son connections definitely stated. A complete record of this span would contain more than a score of them. It is not even clear, from the record, that Bretz and Pretz were optional spellings of the same name. All that can be considered established is the name of Bretz goes back as far as the 13th century and most bearers of that name lived along the Rhine.

If there is a line of descent in the Rhenish records, it should be written as follows.

The "coat-of-arms" which Emperor Otto "renewed" for Hugho is described as "a lion holding a crown on his head (with one paw?) and a sword in his claws (of another paw?), which denotes noble descent and war-like spirit. On his helmet he (Bretius) wore three stars which denote success. Heraldry did not begin until after the Norman Conquest (1066). Apparently family badges, escutcheons, etc. are here called coats-of-arms.

If "Bretz" is of Germanic origin and not a Latin corruption, it is a word modified by long usage as a personal and place name until its original form is uncertain. It may be traced, with equal success, to three different root words. "Bretzel", "Brezel", or in High German, "Bretze", means cracknel or pretzel. "Brett" means board or plank and an older allied meaning is forest or brushwood. "Wildbret" means wild game or venison. Thus the surname Bretz may belong to that large class of names derived from trades, akin to the various English names; Baker, Carpenter, Sawyer, Wood, Hunter, etc., which cover the range above indicated.

The names of such character should originate in different localities is altogether probable but, as far as know to the writer, Bretz as a place name as limited, which one exception, to an area within a hundred miles of Heidelburg. This includes all or part of the provinces of Hesse, Baden, Wurtemburg, Bavaria and the Rhenish Province of Prussia. The accompanying list gives the location of these places in Germany and Switzerland.

Further, all Bretz immigrants into the United States, whose former home is known, have come from this portion of Germany. Hence the Bretz tribe and the Pretz name appear to be limited to the High German portion of the Fatherland, lying between the Alps on the south end the Low German plain on the north. It includes the headwaters of the Danube and that portion of the Rhine Valley richest in historic associations and most famed for scenic beauty.

Recorded arrivals of Bretz immigrants in America date back to 1732. Bretz people now living in America represent the entire gamut, from German-born immigrants to the seventh and eighth generation of American born. The family with which this account deals has descended from one of the earliest immigrants.