Baden-Württemberg
   The United States census of 2000 revealed that more American citizens trace part of their ancestry back to Germany than any other country—even England. The Germans first came here in three great waves: A mass migration of Palatines beginning in 1709 (about 60,000 of them arriving over the next four decades), and then two immigrant floods following political purges in 1848 and 1890. Most of them were farmers (Bauer in German, boer in Dutch, resulting in the English slur "boor"), and they enriched the land with farming techniques that were much more sophisticated than those of their Puritan and Quaker neighbors. Their contoured fields, advanced methods of crop rotation, and industrious (if odorous) use of manure as fertilizer revolutionized the agricultural industry in the United States. They introduced "Holtzsteiner" barns with more storage space and more doors for livestock than those of the British settlers, which kept their animals safer and warmer during the winter months.
   One of these German families, the Wenks, first arrived in "the best poor man's country" during the second wave, in the person of IGNATZ WENK, sailing from Baden.
   The Wenk family surname traces back almost a thousand years in Europe. Variations on the name include Wenckh, Wenck, Wening, Weniger, Wenin, Wenig, Wenisch, Wenk, Wenger, Wenge, Weining, Wiening, Weuning, Wauning and many more, as well. But it seems to have first appeared in Bavaria, where the family was connected with the many tribal conflicts of the area throughout its long history.
   Our Wenk line is 'Swabian' (Schwäbisch in the German language), coming from the Grand Duchy (Großherzogtum) of Baden, in what is now the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) in Germany. This beautiful land covered the eastern half of the fertile valley of the Rhine, with a majestic range of mountains forming its boundary.


"Schweigmatt Gersbach and the Rhine Valley Black Forest," a 2002 painting by Ernst Wenk (10 Apr 1923 - 23 May 2011). Much of the information on this site is based on his genealogical work.

   Until 1100 AD, most people living there had only one name (in fact this is still true in some scattered areas). But as the population began to grow in ever-expanding towns and villages, there needed to be a way to differentiate between all of the Johns, Johans, Williams and Roberts living in the same area, so surnames slowly evolved to tell everybody apart, usually involving something peculiar to each person. For instance, if the tallest William in town was called "William the long fellow," then ultimately he became William Longfellow. It was also common to select a term indicating the person’s location or occupation. So "John who lives by the apple orchard," became John Appleby.
   With this in mind, the Wenk name could derive from the Low German and Frisian personal name Weneke, a short form of any of the compound names beginning with the Old High German element wini (‘friend’). But sometimes it was also used as a topographic name for someone who lived by a turning or bend, as the Middle High German wenke. Then there's the Middle Low German wenneke or ‘wide woolen dress’, so it could have been an occupational name for a maker or seller of such garments. We can only hope that our family doesn't derive from the Middle High German nickname wenken, meaning ‘to stagger or waver’, probably applied to someone with a peculiar gait, or to a drinker, or to someone who was indecisive (although all three could apply to this writer).
   On the family coat of arms, the blue in the family crest is the color of loyalty and truth; the yellow stands for generosity. The squared and quartered shield features two griffins, signifying the property of a valorous soldier who "dared all dangers, and even death itself, rather than become captive." The two six-pointed mullets point to a Divine quality bestowed from above. The panache of feathers symbolizes willing obedience and serenity, and the closed helmet, in profile beneath, denotes an esquire or private gentleman.
   To read all about our
loyalty, truthfulness, generosity, valor, daring, Divinity, willing obedience and serenity, and follow our ancestors from the Black Forest of Germany, to the wilds of 19th Century Michigan, to the weirdness of 21st Century California, click on the chapters below:

CHAPTER 1: FROM BADEN TO WORSE, 1705 - 1849

CHAPTER 2: FREEDOM IN FREEDOM, 1850 - 1950

CHAPTER 3: THE WENK FAMILY TODAY, 1950 - PRESENT

APPENDIX A: WENK FAMILY REUNIONS, 1923-PRESENT

APPENDIX B: CENSUS REPORTS, 1870 - 1930

APPENDIX C: FAMILY TIMELINE

Music: "Shenandoah," by Dean Shostak