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The Wiehengebirge as a Source of Unique Place Names
The Origins of the Word and Name

by : Dr. David S. Wulfman
Mill Village, NS,
B0J 2H0,


      During the late 1830,s and 1840,s , Washington County, Illinois was the locus of resettlement for a sizable body of immigrants from settlements in what was then the Kingdom of Hanover and is currently the states (Lander) of Lower Saxony and North Rhine -Westfalia (Niedersachsen and Nordrhein-Westfalen). By American standards several of the family names are somewhat unique, These include the names Viehe, Wiehe, Ankesheil and its variant, Ankersheil, Brink and Wulfmann. A further variant of Ankesheil occurs near New Orleans in the form Ankesheiln. Descendants of the Ankersheils live near Baton Rouge Louisiana. and in Texas. Neither branch knows the source of the family name though they have been told it might be Dutch. The question of whether Viehe and Wiehe are variants of one name is also of interest. The frequent occurrence of family names being related to place names lead us to seek possible source locations of these names using an old gazetteer and a modern highway atlas along with two collections of maps published in CD-ROM format by Daimler-Benz Aerospace. As a severe test of the methodology employed, the initial study was of the word Brink and brink as a suffix and a prefix. According to various English dictionaries, the word brink has non-German origins. The word brink is not employed in modern High German. The following analysis is highly suggestive that the English word brink originated in the general area of the Wiehengebirge which is located on the frontier of Niedersachsen and Nordrhin-Westfalen. The extensive usage of Brink in place names lead us to turn to toponomy.


      The discipline known as toponymy treats the study of place names. Place names are classed as falling into one of two categories, habitation names and feature names. Since in English a brink is a feature and is not employed in modern German but clearly was employed for that purpose in the Wiehengebirge area from which the Brink families came, its usage was intriguing. Our conclusion is that Brink is either Old Saxon or Gothic in origin or even older and derives from feature names. Wiehe would appear to be derived from Wiehengebirge. Subsequent examination of Wulf determined that the place names were ultimately derived from the animal but the majority were derived from derived from a clan and its septs.


      The area encompassing the Wiehengebirge in what are now the Lander of Nordrhein- Westfalen and Niedersachsen, Germany was a major source of immigrants to Missouri and Southern Illinois and Wisconsin during the middle years of the 19th Century. The reasons included famine from failure of the potato crops with associated rampant inflation, a failure of the linen industry due to the introduction of inexpensive cotton, and, the failure of the 1848 Revolution. The Wiehengebirge run between the Weser River and the city of Minden and the city of Osnabrück. It is a continuation of the Wesergebirge which lies to the east of the Weser and Minden. The two highest hills, Heidbrink and Wurzelbrink are only 320 meters in elevation. The noun Heid in its feminine case translates as heath or heather but has a secondary meaning in the masculine form of heathen or pagan. The noun Wurzel translates root. The immigrants and their descendent often referred to themselves as coming from Minden or Osnabrückerland much as someone from the neighborhood of a large city such as Detroit might refer to himself as coming from Detroit and not the specific suburb of origin. Upon meeting Canadians in the US and in Europe we have often gone through the sequence of answers to the question of 'where are you from ? ' beginning with the responses 'Canada', continuing to the province, then the nearest big city and finally to the actual location. This lack of being specific is the bane of those doing genealogy work.

      The concentration of the German immigrants in the States of Illinois and Missouri was sufficient to permit the retention of German as the language of everyday use within and outside of the local communities. A farmer from Southern Illinois wishing to sell his products in St. Louis did not need to be conversant in English. In many communities it was not until 1914, or later, that church services employed English and services in German were common until the 1950's. The Evangelical Church (Evangelische Kirchenverein des Westen) did not issue an English Language Liturgy until 1914. The churches often had associated schools where German was used for most instruction, although English was also taught. Perhaps as a consequence of this, family names underwent minimal alteration or Anglicization and in many instances remain essentially unaltered. Some of the names are unique, such as Ankesheilen, Viehe and Wulfmann and have their origin in single families in what was the Kingdom of Hanover and near the Wiehengebirge , but others such as Brink and Hoffmann represent many families which were widely dispersed in Northern Germany, although those in Washington County, Illinois were from a single parish in the Wiehengebirge. The names Brink and Hoffmann are very common throughout N. America whereas the number of families descended, after 150 or more years, from the Ankesheyelen, Viehe and Wulfmann immigrants varies from a low of nine for the Ankesheyelen to a high of over 25 Wulfman families. The origins of these less common names is unknown. There are over 3000 phone listings under Brink in the United States.


     The origin of the name Brink is not clear. The German word Brink is not found in Langenscheidt's or Cassel's German Dictionary nor is it found as the German translation of the English word, brink which employs the nouns der Rand and das Ufer and with the expression, on the brink being translated as kurz or dicht vor, nahe .

     In German place names it occurs as a prefix, as a suffix and as a noun. That it is a noun is evidenced by its occurring in the names, Auf dem Brink, Im Laubbrink, Schwarzer Brink and Roter Brink. The various word endings indicate that the noun is masculine, for the colors, Schwarz and Rot have taken on the -er ending for the single, masculine nominative case. Dem and im are consistent with being either the masculine or neuter. The "Oxford English Dictionary" also concluded that it was a noun of masculine gender.

     The English word, brink, according to the "Oxford English Dictionary" comes from Low German or the Dutch brinc, "The Random House Dictionary" states Low German, Medieval Low German or Danish and "Chamber's Dictionary" assigns its source to the Danish, brink. Both brink and brinc mean a declivity. "An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English" assigns its origins to Low German and Dutch with meanings of hill side or precipice. The current analysis is most consistent with the meaning being an edge of a geographical feature such as a hill, forest, swamp, river, etc. The "Encyclopedia of German-American Genealogical Research" mistakenly assigns Brink, -brink and Brinker as meaning grassy place or pasture. In many instances this is a physical impossibility, and in almost all, very unlikely. It does assign its usage to Westfalen and Ostfalen.

     The current toponymy approach did not find any examples of usage in what was Ostfalen but did find its usage in Niedersachsen. The problem is complicated by the various invasions of alien peoples which have swept across what is now the North of Germany and the subsequent political shuffles by various Germanic groups, the European Nations and even the United States. Fortunately the place name changes have been fairly minor since at least the end of the Napoleonic era. However, a more subtle invader was the spread of words from various Germanic dialects where there were no natural barriers. Aside from the River Ems, there were few barriers to the spread of Fresian words into Northwest Germany. Conversely, the Northwest German influence would have been experienced by the Fresians.

     The impact on place names is such that an examination of maps of the area causes one to continually reestablish the location of the German/Dutch Border however the obvious Fresian influenced spellings and names seem to disappear within Germany well before longitude 7o 30' E and definitely by 8o 2' 29" E. The location of the Wiehengebirge in Northern Germany would suggest that this might be the source of brink. The Wiehengebirge lies to the east of Osnabrück and extends eastward to the Weser River between Minden and Porta Wesfalica. Although not of great elevation (~320 meters maximum) the Wiehengebirge in pre-modern warfare times formed a natural barrier against incursion from the north when combined with the rivers, Hunte, Weser and Hase as well as the Teutoborg Forest and the Wesergebirge.

     On the north side of the Wiehengebirge lie swamp lands and heaths interlaced with many small streams. Consequently one might anticipate that invaders would be more attracted to proceeding along the Weser towards Minden or the Hase to Osnabrück and on to the Ems. An examination of maps for the area reveals a number of unique naming patterns for features as well as settlements.

     A search of the high resolution topographic maps available of Nordrhein -Westfalen (scale 1: 50,000) for occurrences of Brink as a name and as prefix, and the suffix -brink reveals an interesting limitation on its occurrence. Of the two hundred seven examples found, none are north of 52o 34' 7" N, and, there are no examples to be found north of there in Niedersachsen or in the more northerly Schleswig-Holstein which borders on Denmark and only one in the Mecklenburg -Vorpommern which is also closer to Denmark. Niedersachsen, Schleswig- Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern would all have been more accessible to Danish raiding, colonization and contact through trade than the Wiehengebirge. The majority (112 or 54.1%) occur between Minden and Osnabrück ( 8o 54' 41" E : 52o 17' 8" N and 8o 2' 29" E : 52o 16' 39" N) Sixty three (30.4 %) of the examples of names involving brink are geographical features such as Schwarzer Brink and Steinbrink the remaining involve small to very small hamlets and villages. Ninety five per cent of those 63 examples, 60 (30% of the total) fall in the narrow geographical area bounded by 8o E, 8o 50' E , 51o 40' N and 52o 20' N (~4,244 km2).

     This same N/S boundary accounts for 198 (95.7%) of the examples. East-west distribution is bimodal with maxima falling at ~ 6o 45' E and ~8o 30' E. The first of these is in Ancient Fresia, the second lies just east of Ancient Fresia. It is tempting therefore to assign brink as being Frisian. However, the distribution of the alternate word Schulte (shoulder) is entirely in Ancient East Fresia and overlaps the first maxima for Brink. One is challenged for a rationale as to why some Frisians would call the edge of a hill a brink and others a shoulder. Almost all occurrences can, in some fashion, be readily associated with being on the brink of some geographical feature such as a hill, a forest, a river bottom, a river or a particular physiognomy of the area such as Kniebrink ( knee brink) which is a bluff with a very steep face. A few appear to be free from being on the brink of anything. This may in part reflect the subsequent clearing of forest lands. Brink, Pfarrbezirk+, Bergkirchen lies 4 kilometers from the Weser River and nearly 4 kilometers from the forested1 Wiehengebirge. We can assume that at one time the forest extended as far as Brink.

     Other examples may simply reflect settling by individuals having the name Brink or some derivative thereof. Only four examples of minor variants of Brink were found (Brinker, Brinke, Brinkum and brinks-); one was near Holland where the hamlet of Brinker is located. This would appear to be the use of an adjective brinker, generated from the noun Brink as a new noun.

     Another added an s to the suffix -brink to generate -brinks. There was one example, Auf dem Brinke with an added e. A fifth possible variant is Brenk which occurs at 7o 10' 27" and 50o 32' 10" and would be the most southern example found and there are two examples of the variants of this, including Brenken on the Alme which is located due south of the Wiehengerbirge at ~ 510 37' and thus just within the principle area of occurrence of brink. Heintze-Cascori assigns Brenk as a variant of Brandaz while assigning -brenker to Brink. An uncommon problem to American eyes lies in the use of place names more than once in the same district. In many of the cases examined here, the distances between identically named communities are quite small.

     Apparently the Bundespost solved the name duplication problem through more benign approaches than those adopted by the U.S. Post Office (see Cohen, p.62) where name changes were forced to insure all names were unique in any given state.. All of the examples involving Brink, with one exception, were found in the area bounded by latitudes 51o 1' 25" N (Brinker) and 52o 34' 7" N (Zaumbrinks) and longitudes 6o 17' 32" E (Wittebrink) and 9o 39' 33" E (Birkenbrink). This is an area of ~165 by ~225 km or ~37,125 km2. The easternmost and southernmost limits are near the Weser River, however, most examples are well removed and beg the question of how the word brink became so widely used in this area. The absence in most of what was ancient Saxony argues against Brink being of Saxon origin.

     One can envisage Danish raiders ascending the Weser River to the area of Minden and Porta Westfalica or beyond but this would only embrace less than 25 percent of the places of interest. The near absence of brink on the east side of the Weser and north of 52o 34' 7" N casts some doubt on such an hypothesis. The Porta Westfalica is a declivity and as such can be classed as a brink which would have been easily defended and offer protection to the southern side of the area which also contains the widest usage of brink.

      An equally plausible explanation would be that Danish raiders picked up the word brink from frequent contact with the people living along the Weser River in the Minden - Porta Westfalica area. Minden grew out of a fishing village located on a ford of the Weser. Charlemagne founded the Bishopric of Minden in 798. By the 10th Century it was a fortified trading settlement.

      The first place one encounters brink in any form along the Weser River is at Brink which lies 12 kilometers downstream from Minden and about 0.5 kilometer west of the Weser. The first place on the east side is at Kiekenbrink which lies about 0.5 kilometers east of the Weser between Minden and Porta Westfalica. The verb kieken means to peep, and its elevation coupled with a steep slope would have made Kiekenbrink an excellent location to watch for enemies ascending the Weser. The western end of the area of interest is cut along a North-South axis by the Ems River. In 1180 the Wiehengebirge and the Wesergebirge were located in the Duchy of Saxony as were the lands between there and the Baltic. East-West communication on the north was difficult until the construction of modern roads and during the Third Reich, the completion of the Mittelland Kannel. On the south, only small tributary streams flowing into the Weser and Ems would have supplied any access to the area. The largest are the Hunte, Werre and the Else which are tributaries of the Weser and have a general West to East flow at about 51o 11' to 51o 13' N.

     The Wiehengebirge is bordered on the north by extensive swamps (Sumpfland), moors, peat bogs and heathlands (Heide) which would have made North-South communication to the Ostsee (Baltic) difficult. Whether brink is of Dutch origin is more difficult to assess.

     The suffix -ink is found extensively near the Dutch-German Border in the area which was and is known as Friesland and extends into western Nordrhein-Westfalen. The use of -ink appears to be limited on the east at ~7o 30'E (brink excepted) but does include examples with the preceding letter being, b, d, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, u, v or w.

     Along the Rhein and Issel , north of the Lippe beginning ~ 6o 35' E and ending near ~7o 50'E, ( 334 of 364 examples) we found numerous examples of Schulte- and -schulte (Schulter = shoulder) as well as Schulze- employed. There is an obvious parallel between shoulder and brink. Cassel's states that Schulze is a contraction of Schultheisz which is an archaic term for village mayor. One might like to envisage putting the heat to the mayor's shoulder but the suffix would seem to come from the verb, heiszen, to command, enjoin, bid, order, direct. The size of these towns and villages preclude the designations being assigned to the mayor's estate or office.

     The distribution of Schult- and Schulze is of import. Of the 364 examples only 15 occur east of the N-S line drawn through Osnabrück (8o 2' 30" E) and north of the modern day Mittleland Kanal. The canal can be assumed to have taken advantage of local topography and follows along the northern front of the Wiehengebirge. On the south side of the Wiehengebirge, both Schult- and Schulze are found to reach their limits approximately on a N/S line lying halfway between Osnabrück and Minden (8o 36' 8 " E) . Thus the Wiehengebirge exhibits a linguistic impact for these two words as well as for brink which clearly is related in meaning to Schulte and most probably Schulze.

     The southern limitation is similar to the southern border of Saxony in 1180. Although eastern Friesia at one time extended to 8oE, its southern edge was 53o 8'N and therefore appreciably north of the area of interest. No example of brink was found west of the Rhine River. In the area west of the Rhine one frequently encounters spellings which resemble Dutch more than German and we presume these are old names derived from Fresian. Danish raiders would have had far easier access to the Rhine valley than to the Wiehengebirge and thus the absence of the word brink in this area begs the question of why is it not found on the Rhine if brink is of Danish origin.

     The frequency of occurrence in the Wiehengebirge is most consistent with a Westfalian origin. Breaking down the distribution by the coordinates we find twenty nine occurrences between 6o and 7o E, fifty eight between 7o and 8o E, one hundred twelve between 8o and 9o E and twenty three between 9o and 10o E.

     The Porta Westfalica (the eastern end of the Wiehengebirge) is located on the Weser at 8o 55' E and the western end of the Wiehengebirge is at 7o 58' E. seventy two examples fall west of Osnabrück and twenty four fall east of the Porta Westfalica and Minden. The remaining one hundred eleven lie between these former Bishoprics of the Holy Roman Empire. All of the general physical geography of the areas of interest where brink is absent or underrepresented are not lacking in suitable terrain to which one could assign the term brink. Both the related schulte and Schulze are found with high frequency beyond the western limits of brink and south of the Luneburg Heide where there is considerable relief. The individual divisions employed in the above analyses do not appear to be assigned so as to make the occurrences in the Wiehengebirge appear dominant.

     The same type of analyses using segments of 10 minutes on a side furnished similar results. Heintze-Cascorbi observed that the majority of the examples of Brink and -brink occurred on a line between Utrecht (~ 5o 00'E; 52o 02' N) and Hannover (9o 44' E; 52o 22' N) with most falling in Westfalia (both Osnabrück and Minden fall along this line). The present study clearly establishes that Brink and -brink are primarily associated with the Wiehengebirge and not Denmark, Holland or ancient Friesia. An examination of various German historical maps and of maps in the "Times Historical Atlas" reveals that the area was dominated by Saxony but in an area of Saxony where 'langauges older than Celtic and Germanic were spoken as is demonstrated by the place names found west of the Aller' (the Aller is a tributary of the Weser and arises south of Wolfsberg at ~11o 15'E; 52o 07' N).

     A major invasion route for Germanic tribes was up the Weser during the late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (700 to 400 BCE). The invasion routes of the Huns (~450 CE) were considerably south of the area. The area was held by the Saxons in 493 CE and had expanded both southward and to the West into Fresia by the 8th Century. By 950 CE under the thrust of Otto I, all of what is now Nordrhein-Westfalen and most of Niedersachsen was under Saxon control and the area included essentially all the land where we find place names based upon Brink and on the stem Wulf and its variants.

     The origin of the word brink is either Old Saxon or more probably from one of the pre-Germanic pre-Celtic languages. The origins of Schulte is assigned to Middle High German and Schulze is assigned to Old High German by "Heintze-Cascori". This has an obvious inconsistency in that Schulze is derived from Schulte + heiszen (to command, enjoin, bid, order, direct). Schulter is the nearly equivalent English word shoulder. Such similarities are very common between Frisian and English. It is also clear that the connection to the village mayor is lacking in the 282 examples where Schulze is part of a place name. In only two cases were the names indicated as former ancient names for settlements now bearing a "modern name". In many instances there was no larger town nearby and having the same or related name to the suffix which was combined with Schulze to furnish the name Schulze-suffix. In some cases there were multiple uses of the same name in very small areas. The geographical limits of these two names precludes their being of Friesian origin. The use of Brink in overlapping areas does not preclude Saxon or Cherusci origins.


     The approach used in the above study and a subsequent study of Wulf involved careful searching of both topographic and road maps coupled with examination of several ancient maps which had been reproduced in German historical atlases. Initially, the gazetteer section of "Strassen und Reisen 1993/94" was consulted and then employing the clues available there, and in the accompanying maps (scale 1 : 400,000) a search the various topographic maps included in the CD-ROM "Amtliche Topographische Karten, Nordrhein-Westfalen" and "Amtliche Topographische Karten, Niedersachsne/Bremen" was made. The CD-ROMs included all of that portion of Niedersachsen falling south of, and partially enclosed by the most northerly portions of Nordrhein-Westfalen. This was carried out using the maps at a scale of 1:50,000. The area examined began at the western edge of the maps and included small portions of Belgium and Holland as well as portions of Niedersachsen and Hessen which formed the eastern border of Nordrhein-Westfalen. Searches were begun running East-West and then repeated running North-South. Each screen encompassed an area of 1.5 by 3 km. All of Nordrhein-Westfalen and Niedersachsen/Bremen were searched at this scale. Considerable information was also available at a scale of 1:200,000 but numerous smaller hamlets and geographical features were omitted in these maps although considerably more area in Holland, Belgium and Hessen was covered as well as portions of Rheinland Pfalz, Baden-Wurtemberg, Thuringen and Bayern. The windows at 1:200,000 were approximately 4 by 7.5 km. When more removed information was desired, searches involved maps at a scale of 1:1,000,000 with windows of 18 by 37 km. As a last resort, road maps were employed and the coordinates were estimated using the locations of known features such as towns, roads, rivers and canals.

     The problem of establishing the coordinates, although simple in principle, presented some challenge since the actual center of most hamlets and villages was not possible to ascertain and this also held for administrative districts, rivers and many physical geographic features. In the case where a bench mark was noted, this was employed. In cases where there was a single church, the church was employed as the center. In some instances, there would be more than one large church and thus it was a matter of guessing which was the largest and perhaps oldest. Where two roads intersected near a named location the intersection was chosen. All else failing the first letter of the key word in the name was chosen.

     Road maps do not normally show coordinates and are usually on a scale coarser than 1:50,000. However, there is a tendency to show even very small hamlets in areas where there is nothing else of interest. Apparently the cartographers for road maps hate a void space. Because of this trait, it was possible to find several very small hamlets of interest which were not listed in the gazetteer and fell outside of Nordrhein-Westfalen. When a suffix was targeted the gazetteer furnished the names of no places of interest and was essentially of no value. A gazetteer published by the United States Department of Geography listed fewer examples of interest than we found by our searches but did provide two examples of the variant Brinkum and one of Brink we had missed in our 10' x 10' searches. There were numerous failures of this gazetteer even though it had been generated from old 1:25,000 scale ordnance maps and the 10'x 10' searches were conducted at 1:50,000. The gazetteer listed 34 examples of the prefix Brink- whereas the current 10' x 10' analyses found 31 of those plus 14 others. Gazetteers are of little value for finding compound names where the key is not a prefix or those using the key word segment as a suffix unless they are in computer readable form and suitable for Boolean searches.

     This is especially true when the key word segment is buried between a prefix and a suffix such as uffel in the place name Ruthenuffeln. The raw data was plotted on a graph of roughly rectangular areas of 10 minutes on a side and the name usage frequencies (populations) of these areas were then tabulated at the same scale. Ten minutes along a N-S line is ~ 11.8 km whereas 10 minutes along and E-W line at 51oN is ~ 18 km. The total usage populations for each 10 minutes of longitude and each 10 minutes of latitude were also calculated. The results in each case tended to reach a maximum in or very near the center of the Wiehengebirge. Summaries of the searches were kept on a data base program (Lotus 1,2,3 v.5) with the coordinates recorded to the nearest second and with accompanying descriptions of adjacent brinks, mountains, forests or water courses and the path of the water courses to the point where they had merged with a river which flowed directly into salt water. The lists were alphabetized and new entries were checked against the existing lists to prevent duplication. A number of cases involved the same name being used very near a previous entry. In such cases the original entries were checked to ensure that all were correct.

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"Maps of West and East Germany",
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"Encyclopedia of German-American Genealogical Research",
C. N. Smith and A. P-C Smith,
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"Deutsches Namenlexikon",
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     Pfarrbezirk is an important geographical distinction in Westfalia and Niedersachsen (a major portion of the former Königreich, Hannover) .The Treaty of Westfalia established that one half of all parishes (Pfarrbezirk) would be Protestant and the others Catholic. Genealogical searches often leads to fairly complex addresses. Some of the author's ancestors were born near the Wulfmannhof, village of Wimmer, Amt (township of) Wittlage, Pfarrbezirk Lintorf, Gemeinde (municipality of) Osnabrück, Königreich (Kingdom of) Hannover. The potential for confusion is great. The present mailing address is simply Bad Essen, a street and number with a zip code. Bad Essen is a town over 15 kilometers from the village of Dahlinghausen where the Wulfmannhof lies. The case with Brink is further complicated as a consequence of fourteen villages being called Brink. In the case of the Brink families in Washington County, Illinois it is possible to make a distinction. Most of the original settlers in Washington County came from the two Pfarrbezirk, Lintorf and Bergkirchen and there are only Brink or brink related hamlets in the Pfarrbezirk Bergkirchen.

Contact Dr. David S. Wulfman

© 2006 Wayne Hinton

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