The Rettinghouse/Rittenhouse Family

The Rettinghouse/Rittenhouse Family

The Rittenhouse family settled in the Turkey Hill section of St. Clair county ca 1806. Elijah Rittenhouse and some members of his family moved to the county from Pennsylvania. During the Revolutionary War, he had been a member of Stokely's Rangers in Pennsylvania. He was born about 1745 in Amwell Township, Hunterdon co., NJ. Numerous descendants of Elijah Rittenhouse continue to live in St. Clair county today.

Many people with the surname Rittenhouse, Rettinghouse, and other variant spellings in America can trace their ancestry back to Wilhelm Rittenhouse, who settled in William Penn's colony of Germantown (presently part of Philadelphia) in 1688. Wilhelm is recognized as the first Mennonite minister to the New World, as well as being the first paper maker in America. His house and mill still exist and are a historic landmark in what is called Rittenhouse Town in Germantown, PA. Wilhelm's grandson, David Rittenhouse, was a friend of Thomas Jefferson and a noted astronomer.

A database of those Rittenhouse family members who moved to St. Clair county, IL, along with their descendants, is being maintained by the author of this web page, and anyone descended from them is urged to write to Jim Bridges.

Due to reoccuring genealogical errors and for the benefit of all Rittenhouse researchers, I am posting the following on the web. This article was originally written by E. Mark Haacke, Ph.D., past president of the Rittenhouse Family Association. It appeared in "Mennonite Family History," vol. 1, No. 2, 1982. Material in brackets [ ] is information contained in footnotes in the original article. It provides some sound secondary source references regarding Cassel's genealogy.

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In 1976 an article about the Rittenhouse family appeared in the "Huguenot Trails." This review article contained information about the "noble" ancestors of Wilhelm Rittenhouse and was extracted from the work of Daniel K. Cassel ["A Genea-Biographical History of the Rittenhouse Family." The Rittenhouse Memorial Association, 1893.]

The suggestion that the Rittenhouses were related to the Hapsburg Royal Family or the Rittershausen family is completely erroneous. The evidence against this is well documented. The information on the nobility of the Rittenhouse family from Cassel's book should be completely disregarded.

Although primary sources were available in 1893, they were not consulted. Several faulty conclusions ensued and, as a result, for eighty-five years or more, members of the Rittenhouse family have believed that they were related to the Hapsburg Royal House.

The first attack against Cassel's claims were made by Dr. A. N. McGee over seventy years ago. [I have not seen these notes but they are referred to by Milton Rubincam in his article "Wilhelm Rittenhouse" written for the "Pennsylvania German Magazine," vol. 58, 1960.] In 1938, an article by Col. C. I. Kephart entitled "The Rittenhouse Genealogy Debunked" was published ["National Genealogical Society Quarterly," 26:3, 1938.] In 1960, Milton Rubincam wrote an article about William Rittenhouse [cited above]. In this excellent expose of William Rittenhouse, he begins with a thorough review of the Rittenhouse name and the possible heritage of the Rittenhouse family in Europe.

In 1977, I became interested in the Hapsburg connection after reading the article in the "Huguenot Trails." My interest lay in both the Rittenhouse and Cassel lines, and I had read the Cassel books. I, too, researched the early records, and found two references [Nicholas Rittershausen. "Genealogiae Imperatorum Regum, 1664. Available at the Rare Book Library at the University of Michigan] [J. J. Fugger, "Spiegel der Ehren." Nurenberg, 1668. Available at the Rare Book Library of the University of Toronto.] which showed beyond a doubt that Maximillian II did not father any ancestor of the Rittenhouse family. Only later did I discover the above mentioned works [Kephart and Rubincam] which also exposed the mistake.

It is a hard lesson to learn, for those of us who tend to believe such assertions, but we must insist upon checking primary sources whenever possible. The dissemination of false information will only lead our descendants astray and reek endless confusion upon them. We must remember that just because an article appears in print, that it does not mean it is true. Of course, there comes a point when you do not wish to, nor have the time to, check every reference. However, if the premise of a book resets on a single major assumption, then the material must be well-documented and easy to verify upon independent investigation.

I would like to close by stressing the fact that any work we do should be as accurate and well-documented as possible. The satisfaction that we receive from producing a believable, and what we know to be correct, family history is the main goal behind all our efforts.