The History of Our Westfall Family - New Netherland to West Virginia, Ohio and Arkansas

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The Westfall Family Introduction

The ancestors of a great many Westfalls in the United States are Juriaen van Westfall and Mary Hansen Westfall who came to America from the Netherlands. "Juriaen" is the seventeenth century Dutch version of the name George.  The "van" simply meant "from."  In the document telling of his arrival in America he is referred to as Jeuriach Bestvaell van Luyderdorp, which translated to Modern English would be, "George Westfall from Liederdorp".

Westfall researchers Virginia Carpenter Jansen and Stephen Westfall have evidence that Juriaen may have been born in Stettin, Pomerania in 1621.  At that time Pomerania was a German principality.  Today it is divided into East and West Pomerania.  Stettin is today in the province of East Pomerania, which is part of Poland.

Juriaen and Mary were early settlers in the area of present day Kingston, New York.  The names Westfall and Westphal are the most common variations on the original Dutch and German versions of the name. The spelling of Westfall varied during the seventeenth century depending on the writer.  Most common were probably Westvaal and Westfael but in the written records you can also find Westphalen, Van Westphalen and Westvael.  Except when it appropriate to do otherwise, I will use "Westfall" in this manuscript since that is the version that came down to us.

My Grandmother, Osa Westfall Corbett, used to tell me that our Westfall family came to West Virginia from Westphalia, Germany. She believed that one of them was a lord or peer or some similar title. One of the things that inspired me to take up genealogy was her stories of our Westfall and Trowbridge ancestors.  I first set out to document these stories; however, my research soon indicated that, while there are several similarities, the facts did not support the legend.  Over the years I have learned that this is a common problem many family historians encounter.  I told her a couple of times about this, but she always thought my information was incorrect.

In 1978 she wrote me a letter, part of which read, "Dear Ronnie, Sue & Children, I know I am slow in [answering] your welcome letter & package.  I am not sure you traced the correct Westfalls.  There was no one I knew.  My Great Grandfather came from Westphalia, Germany with 2 brothers.  He stayed in the East & married a Cherokee Indian girl.  His 2 brothers went west.  I don't recall any more about them.  Great Grandpa's name was either John or Jonathan, not sure which.  Grandpa Westfall was killed in the Civil War.  His wife & my Grandmother was Lydia.  She had several children."

A year later she wrote concerning the Westfalls, "My Great Grandfather & 2 brothers came from Westphalia, Germany & my Great Grandfather stayed in Maryland & married a Cherokee Indian.   Great Grandpa's 2 brothers went west & never was heard from again by any of the family.  Before the 2nd World War all of us offspring were notified we had an inheritance coming from Westphalia, Germany but the war broke out & the Russians took the country & that did it.  Our Great Grandfather Westfall was a Peer or something like that in Germany."

The so-called notification that Grandmother and her family received was most likely an old scam, perpetrated even today.  You are of course required to send whomever some "good faith" money.  Also, Westphalen is in what was West Germany and was not taken over by the Russians.

In the final letter I received from her on the subject she says, "Grandpa Westfall was born in the east not sure where.  His father came from Westphalia Germany married a Cherokee Indian girl."

I sensed that Grandma invested a lot of pride in this story and I certainly had no desire to poke holes in it.  Cherished family legends are difficult for a family historian to deal with. I wanted very much to give her the evidence to turn the legend into fact.  But, the evidence I have found points instead to Juriaen Westfall, a Dutch farmer, as our ancestor.  We Westfall descendants can have as much pride in that story as Grandma had in hers, aristocracy or no. There are parallels in the historical documents that might help explain parts of the legend.  The belief that the Westfalls came from Westphalia, Germany is repeated by several sources dating from about 1890 – 1920.  These sources appear to have relied on interviews of various Westfall families in West Virginia. Today the German State of Westfallen (Westphalia) borders southeastern Netherlands. It is very likely that the family originated there but came to America after living elsewhere, perhaps in the Netherlands for at least one or two generations.  A history of Stettin, Poland where Juriaen Westfall was possibly born states that many came to Pomerania (the eastern province now in Poland) from Westphalen, Germany in the twelve century before surnames were used.  These people were usually identified by where they originated.  Thus, our Westfall ancestor and others were for example called, "So-and-So from Westphalen." Once thing is for certain, after they came to this country they became thoroughly Dutch in language, custom and religion after the first generation in New Netherland.

My version of the Westfall history has its missing pieces and it is more likely than not that are errors in some of my family history.  Even so, I hope you may learn a little history of the early Westfalls and perhaps a little of early America.  Many of my sources are second or third parties removed from the original documents. There is always good reasons for others to continue the research on the history of our Westfall family.  Who knows what treasures still lay buried awaiting discovery by a dedicated Westfall descendant?

I have not cited my sources for background historical information since that is not the purpose of this essay.  I have tried to cite all sources related to the genealogical and personal information. 

JURIAEN BESTVALL/BESTVAIL/WESTFALL

DESCENDANTS OF JURIAEN WESTFALL - WESTFALL FAMILY HISTORY

DESCENDANTS OF CORNELIUS WESTFALL

DESCENDANTS OF ZACHARIAH WESTFALL

 

Ronald N. Wall
Modified: 03 September 2017