Wurttemberg town crests

The ‘Digel’ Tickles from Württemberg

Not all Tickles have English ancestry. If you’re a Tickle in the US, especially if your forebears lived in Virginia or North Carolina, you are probably descended from German immigrants, rather than English ones. These Tickles came from Württemberg, on the east of the River Rhine. They arrived in America in the mid 18th century, well before the English Tickle immigrants. Their original surname was Digel, but this was anglicised to become Tickle.

Why the name change?

It wasn’t unusual for names to be changed like this. Most German immigrants could neither speak English nor read and write, so they couldn’t spell their names for inclusion in the ship’s passenger list. The ships’ registrars, who compiled the lists, spelt the unfamiliar foreign names the way they sounded to them. Digel might be written as Dickel, Tickel, or Tickle, and these spellings were accepted by the immigrants. As a result, many of those who arrived in the New World, looking for a new start, adopted a new surname as well.

I’ve communicated with several Digel descendants and received genealogical information from them. Unfortunately, I’ve usually come across discrepancies, such as different birth or death dates for the same person, or the same children allocated to multiple parents. I’ve also found events that are probably errors – women marrying at 13 or giving birth at 58. The sources for the information are rarely given, so it is difficult to confirm them.

Digel/Tickle family trees (including the errors mentioned above) have been put up on the Internet, on sites such as Ancestry. Other people have copied them, without checking the facts, so there is a fair bit of nonsense out there if you’re researching ancestors in this family.

I’ve made a start on tackling these records and genealogies. I will be working on them during February and periodically after that. I’m hoping to verify the information, adding sources where possible, and to disentangle some of the duplication. This will be a long-term project, so please regard what I have in the genealogy records section of the site as work-in-progress and not as proven data. If you can add to, or correct, any of the information, I’d be delighted to hear from you.

My starting point was a large family history, going back many generations, which, I understand, included information obtained by a Digel descendant who visited Germany. Apparently he examined church records and spoke to family there. I don’t have his original research and what I was given by a relative of his is not error-free, and no sources are cited. Nevertheless, it was very helpful to have such an extensive tree to begin investigating.

I have added to this over the past few weeks and now (mid February 2020) have over 1250 individuals in my German Tickles tree, although a few may be duplicated if I haven’t yet been able to link them into a family.

Where did the Digels come from, and when?

The evidence is that the Digels were from an area called Württemberg, in the south-west of what is now Germany. Germany did not exist as a country in the 1700s. There were hundreds of territories, duchies, city-states, and cantons, linked together by a common language.

Württemberg was the region to the east of the Rhine (now known as Baden-Wurttemberg). There were more emigrants from this area than any other German state, and they included many of the earliest emigrants to America. Thousands of people from Württemberg left for a new life in America from the early 1700s. Our Digels were among them.

A poster from 1877 showing the arms of cities in Württemberg

What drove so many people to emigrate?

The area had been badly affected by a succession of wars, with invasions and requisitioning bringing hardship to the population. In addition, the winter of 1708/09 was extremely cold, leading to crop failures throughout Württemberg and other areas. By November 1708 it was said that firewood would not burn in the open air and that alcohol froze. Even fast-flowing rivers were covered with ice. As well as the hardships due to natural causes, the people faced increases in taxes and restrictions on grazing and wood-gathering. Religious persecution is sometimes cited as a reason to leave. In some cases this would be a factor, but it was not the main cause in the case of the German refugees.

An important reason for people to leave was that they were enticed to go. The British government offered land to those who emigrated to the colonies. Germans and Swiss, especially, were strongly encouraged to emigrate to the New World by people such as William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. He wanted Protestants to populate the state, which became the primary destination for the German immigrants.

Members of a family who made the trip and successfully established themselves in America would write letters encouraging other family members to follow suit. It’s quite likely that an early Digel emigrant, who went in the first part of the 18th century when there was mass emigration, prompted some younger Digel relatives or friends to leave and head for America later. My next post will look at how they got there – quite an arduous journey.

You can search the records here. Select GERMAN ORIGINS as the tree, then enter the name or other details you want to search for. Please let me know if you have additions or corrections to the information – there are definitely omissions and errors. Feel free to comment on your connection to the Digel Tickles.

3 thoughts on “The ‘Digel’ Tickles from Württemberg”

  1. Margaret Cline Harmon

    With your permission, I would like to include some this my narrative on the Tickell family. I would show this website as my source. I love your writing!

    1. Margaret Cline Harmon

      I forgot to say that I would not use it exactly as is but I would edit it to make it my own, but still cite your website.

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