Keller Surname Meaning, History & Origin
is a German surname,
found primarily in
Switzerland and southern Germany, meaning “cellar” or “basement.” It is an occupational name for
the steward who oversaw the stores and accounts in a large household.
Keller Resources on
- Shenandoah German Heritage Museum
The Keller homestead in Virginia.
- The Keller Family and the Indian Attack
Keller tragedy in Pennsylvania.
- Ancestry of Helen Keller
Helen Keller family tree.
- Keller Family History
Kellers from Germany to Ukraine and to Canada.
- Keller Family Tree
Kellers in New York and Ontario.
Keller name seems to have
originated in Switzerland. The story
goes that many Swiss came down from the mountains at the time of the
Death in the 14th century and made their home in the Rhineland part of
with the Kellers bringing their name with them.
legendary figure who lived at Castle Hohenbaden near Baden Baden in
sometime in the 15th century.
Keller name numbers some 40,000 in Switzerland and is mainly found in
western part of the country. There are a
further 70,000 in Germany, again in the west in Baden
Ireland. Keller may also be an Irish
from the Gaelic O’Ceileachair
sept found in Cork and Kerry. The
anglicized version was more commonly
Kelleher, but Cornelius Keller, a Cork city alderman in the 1850’s, was
have come from a junior branch of this family.
Matthew Keller left Cork for Texas and the
American West in the 1830’s; while George
Keller departed Cork for New York and Hartford, Connecticut in
1852. Meanwhile some of the descendants of
Killough who had left Ulster for Pennsylvania in the 1730’s adopted the
spelling after they had moved to Maine later in the 1700’s.
Keller arrivals in America may be described as having come in two waves.
first, the result of either escaping religious persecution or the
draft, came in the 18th century and they headed for Pennsylvania.
The second, coming in the 19th century, was more for economic
opportunity and they spread across the country.
18th Century Arrivals. Kellers came
from small towns and villages in
the Rhine Palatine region such as Lettweiler, Weierbach, Zweibrucken
Kippenheim, and also from Switzerland.
These Kellers have been the subject of a number of books.
The earliest was probably the History of the Keller Family
the Rev. Eli Keller in 1905. Joseph
Keller was the forebear of this family.
He arrived from the Rhine Palatine in 1737 and made his home in
Plainfield township in Northampton county, then on the western frontier. In 1757 this Keller family was raided by Indians,
their eldest child and the abduction of other members of the family.
More recent books have been The Genealogy of the Keller
Linda Schillinger in 2006 and The Keller
Family by Darel Keller in 2008. The
former book traced the family of Swiss-born Martin Keller who settled
Lancaster county, Pennsylvania in the 1730’s; the latter that of
from Lettweiler in the Rhine Palatine who arrived in 1740 and settled
Pennsylvania and later in North Carolina.
Conrad Keller came to Lancaster
county from Switzerland in 1735. His
line led to David Keller who migrated south to Alabama in the 1820’s. David’s
son Arthur built the family homestead Ivy Green in
Tuscumbia, Alabama after the Civil War. It
was there in 1880 that the famous Helen
Keller, now honored across the land, was born.
Other early arrivals were:
Keller from the
Basel canton in Switzerland who came in the late 1720’s and also
Lancaster county. He was a member of the
German Baptist church and died there in 1794 at the good age of 88.
Keller from Weierbach in Baden who came in 1738 and made his home in
township, Bucks county. He helped found
Kellers’ Church there in 1746. All three of his sons fought in the
also came to the Shenandoah valley in Virginia:
Keller moved to the Germanic
settlement there from Lancaster county in 1750. His
original homestead stood until 1864 when
it was burnt down during the Civil War. The
house that still stands was built by George’s son Henry
in the early
1800’s and there is also there today a Keller mill and a Keller store. Kellers have remained in the area.
- while Abraham Keller was first recorded in
Shenandoah county in 1758. He was a
carpenter and builder by trade. His son
Isaac was killed chasing Indians in 1786. His
other three sons migrated to Kentucky and Indiana.
Pierre Keller was among
a group of Alsatian colonists from France who arrived in Louisiana in
1759. He drowned in the Mississippi river,
apparently on his way to New Orleans, in 1789.
However, his family continued and has remained an influential
Louisiana to this day. Charles and Rosa
Keller founded the Keller Family Foundation in New Orleans in 1949.
19th Century Arrivals.
following is a sampling of the Kellers who arrived in the 19th century:
Keller came to Ohio from Germany in the 1840’s. His son John Henry headed west
bought a large cattle ranch on the outskirts of Concord, California in
1871. The Kellers became civic leaders in
the Concord community.
Keller arrived in Naperville, Illinois from Bavaria
around the year 1850. The Kellers have
been farming there or in neighboring Oswego since that time.
Keller came to Indianapolis from Darmstadt in the 1880’s.
He found work there with the Indianapolis
could also be Jewish
in America. Jacob Keller was a rabbi from
came to Lexington, Missouri in 1826.
William and Johanna Keller were Jews from Hungary who reached
in Wisconsin in 1883.
large Keller contingent came over to Canada from upstate New York at
conclusion of the Revolutionary War. Frederick
Keller, an Empire Loyalist, had served with the King’s Rangers
war and moved with his family to Fredericksburg township in Lennox
county, Ontario. He was married four
times and was the father of 24 children, all but one of them born in
Canada. Frederick was the descendant of
Kellers from the Rhine Palatine who had come to a camp along the Hudson
around the year 1700.
family had departed the Rhine Palatine in 1810 for a German settlement
Ukraine, then part of the Russian empire, and then, approximately a
years later, to another German community in Saskatchewan.
It was curious that their home-town in
Germany was called Rastatt, their home in Ukraine Rastadt, and their
Conrad Keller was
Swiss and came to Saskatchewan In 1912, married and made his home in
Rockglen. John Keller, Jewish from
Poland, was also in Saskatchewan by 1912.
Baron Burkhart Keller’s Vision. According to the legend Baron Burkhart Keller was a knight who lived in the Castle
Hohenbaden near the Baden Baden spa town in Rhineland Germany. His fiancée Clara von Tiefenau lived in the
nearby town of Kupperheim and Keller would often wander through the
her, either early in the morning or late at night.
It happened one night that as
he passed through the woods that he saw a lovely lady sitting beneath
trees, with her face only covered by the thinnest of veils. He was spellbound by her beauty.
At length he stretched out his hand as if to
touch her and she vanished from his view like the dew from a flower.
returned to the castle he described his vision to an old park warden. This warden explained that the place where he
had seen his vision had once been an old heathen temple.
Nymphs and other bewitching apparitions might
often be seen there. No sane person
should ever venture there, particularly love-sick people like our young
Yet Keller could not forget. He
returned to dig up the land and found an altar which had been dedicated
Nymph of the Forest and, further down, an exquisitely chiseled statue
He returned the next day to see the statue and, to his surprise, he
again beheld the lovely lady he had seen in moonlight.
This time she greeted him kindly and with
sweet smiles. As she listened to his
burning words of love and devotion she clasped him to her arms.
Alas, that was
to be his end. His horse returned to the
castle without his rider and the next morning his dead body was found
at the foot
of the altar. The marble statue was
Keller’s brother destroyed the altar and built a cross, the
its place. Kellerkreuz now stands in KellerBild
legend. It is a popular destination for hikers.
The Indian Attack in Plainfield, Pennsylvania. It was a late summer day in 1757 in Plainfield township, Pennsylvania and the Kellers were out in the
fields when the Indians swooped. They
captured the mother and two of her sons, Joseph
and John Jacob. The Indians hurried
their captives along the Blue Mountains and made their camp in what is
Cherry valley. To her horror the mother
saw and recognized the scalp of her oldest son Christian as it was
by the fire.
captives were forced to journey three hundred miles to Montreal
in Canada where the mother was sold to some French officers. She was there for three long years. But after the French defeat against the
British in 1760, all the prisoners held by the French in Montreal were
and Mrs. Keller, to the great joy of her husband, made it home.
wrote in the family Bible:
Frau is zuruckgekommen 1760 den 20
October, aber von meinen Kinder habe ich noch nichts gehort.” (My wife
October 20, 1760, but of my children I have as yet heard).
the loss of their sons. As the months
and years passed their hopes grew fainter and fainter of ever seeing
John Jacob who had been carried off with their mother.
about five years after the mother’s
return a young man with all the appearance of an Indian, came to the
home. It proved to be Joseph.
He had been enticed to stay with the Indians
under the promise of receiving a gun to hunt.
His eight years among the Indians gave him great skill as a
marksman. But John Jacob, the other boy
captured by the Indians, never returned from captivity.
He had been just three at the time of the
Kellers in the Revolutionary War. During the Revolutionary War Colonel John Keller, the
son of immigrant Heinrich Keller, was one of the most prominent men of
nationality in Bucks county, Pennsylvania. He was a member of
in 1776 and in the same year a delegate to the first Constitutional
the organization of the Bucks county militia that year, he was
the lieutenant-colonel of the Third Battalion and in 1780 was assigned
command of the Second Battalion. His Battalion was in active
service during the
greater part of the war.
His brothers Henry and Christopher were also in the
service. Henry was a captain under
Colonel Keller in the Battle of Long Island; while Christopher was an
in the Fourth Battalion.
Frederick Keller’s Recorded Losses. At the
conclusion of the Revolutionary War, Frederick Keller sought
the British Government for the losses that he had incurred in having to
America for Canada. He appeared before a
British field office, probably in 1785, and made the following
of losses of Frederick Keller of Major Rogers’ Rangers.One
horse and one cow
(?) of half bushel sowing
acre planting of
bushels of potatoes planted
contents of this being formerly given at two different times in
1783 and 1784 and the copy thereof being accidentally lost, I cannot
the price of the several articles herein.”
George Keller – from Cork City to Hartford, Connecticut. During the 1840’s, famine ravaged Ireland and Thomas Keller and his wife
decided, as did many others at the time, to depart for a new life in
America. They left for New York in
1850. However, they could not afford
passages for all of their children and they asked that two of their
sons, George and
John, remain behind in Cork with relatives until they could accumulate
Two years later George and John did join their family in New
York. And George made good in the new
country. After a brief stint as an
engineer at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, he accepted the invitation of a
entrepreneur, J.G. Batterson, to join his architectural firm as a
designer. Hartford would be his home for
the rest of his life.
His crowning achievement as an architect was the design of
the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch monument
in honor of the soldiers and sailors from the
city who had fought and died in the Civil War.
This monument was completed in the 1880’s.
In what was possibly a
lingering effect of the horrific scenes of death witnessed as a boy
famine in Ireland, Keller’s wife once noted that he possessed a great
cemeteries. This aversion led Keller to conclude that in death,
he would like
his remains to reside outside of a traditional burial plot. Recognized as his favorite of the many public
structures that he had designed, the arch was chosen as the depository
Keller’s earthly remains. Keller died in
1935. Behind an unassuming iron door in the east tower were
ashes of both Keller and his wife.
Helen Keller in Her Formative Years. Helen Adams
was born in West Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1880.
She had Swiss ancestry. In fact one
of Helen’s Swiss ancestors had been the first teacher for the deaf in
was born with the ability to see and hear. But
at 19 months old she contracted an
illness, possibly scarlet fever, which left her both deaf and blind. At that time she was able to communicate
somewhat by signs with the daughter of the family cook.
By the age of seven Keller had more than 60
home signs to
mother then invited Anne Sullivan from the Perkins School of the
Blind, herself visually impaired, to come to their home to be Helen’s
instructor. It was the beginning of a
49-year-long relationship during which Sullivan evolved into Keller’s
governor and eventually
Sullivan began to teach Helen to communicate by spelling words into her
beginning with “d-o-l-l” for the doll that she had brought Keller as
a present. Keller was frustrated at
first because she did not understand that every object had a word
identifying it. Her big breakthrough
came when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on the
her hand, while running cool water over her other hand, symbolized the
“water.” She then nearly
exhausted Sullivan demanding the names of all the other familiar
objects in her
to communicate with others as conventionally as possible,
Keller learned to speak. She later spent
much of her life giving speeches and lectures.
She had learnt to “hear” people’s speech by reading their lips
with her hands, her sense of touch had become extremely subtle. She
proficient at using braille and
reading sign language with
hands as well.
progress was such that she was able to attend Ratcliffe
College in 1900 as a student. By this
time she had gained influential admirers such as the writer Mark Twain
Standard Oil magnate H.H. Rogers. She
went on to become a world-famous speaker and writer.
Helen’s birthplace in
West Tuscumbia is a museum and
sponsors an annual “Helen Keller Day” on June 27, her birthday.
- Louis Keller was a 19th century American social arbiter
of high society and
the first publisher of the Social Register.
- Helen Keller from Alabama, despite being deaf and
blind, overcame her afflictions to
blossom as a writer, political activist and lecturer.
- George Keller was the Chairman of Socal who oversaw its merger with Gulf Oil to form Chevron in 1984. His son Bill Keller has been the Executive Editor of the New York Times.
Select Keller Numbers Today
- 38,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania)
- 8,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)
Select Keller and Like Surnames
The first wave of German immigration into America came in the early 1700’s from the Rhine Palatine and Switzerland. They were fleeing religious persecution at home. Most ended up in Pennsylvania, bringing their Mennonite church with them. Some went to the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York. Their Germanic names often changed under English rule to English-style names. Thus Fischer became Fisher, Schneider Snyder, Hubner Hoover and so forth.
The reasons for immigration were different in the 19th century – in search of a better life, sometimes to avoid the draft. They came from all German states and went not just to Pennsylvania but all over as the middle and west of the country was opening up. And they brought German skills with them, notably beer-making.
Here are some of the notable German surnames in America that you can check out.
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