How the Vitters Got to Clerval
Although they've never met in person, Jeffrey Scott Vitter and Jean-Pierre Vitter, who are 4th cousins 1x removed, feel a special kinship through their shared passion for genealogy. In 2002, Jean-Pierre put together a comprehensive and entertaining account of the Vitter generations, entitled A tous les Vitter du monde (To All the Vitters of the World).
The story starts with their ancestor Hérard Vitter/Witter (1772–1843), who moved from "l'Autriche antérieure" to the town of Clerval in the Doubs department, Franche-Comté region of eastern France in the spring of 1799. Jean-Pierre chronicled many of Hérard's descendants as well as some family legends. One legend concerned two brothers who came to Clerval from Austria en route to America. One brother fell in love and stayed behind, and the other brother continued onward, reportedly to the Galápagos. Another legend recounts that a Vitter ancestor was an illegitimate son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles Quint (Charles V, 1500–1558)!
The big mystery that remained was exactly where Hérard Vitter came from originally. All we knew at the time was the cryptic information Franche-Comté, France genealogist Roger Chipaux found in August 2000, namely, that Hérard was from "Biethiruge (canton de Chafferesse Suenchingen)" according his 1799 marriage record, from "Süenchingen (canton de Schaffhouse (Bade))" according his 1833 naturalization record, and from "Autriche" (Austria) according to his 1848 death record. Hérard's parents in the old country were Mathieu Vitter (1737–1818) and (Maria) Ursule (née Jaeckle) Wider (1737–1813). Genealogist Joelle Minary learned in May 2001 Hérard's son was Pierre Vitter (1803–1846), who emigrated with his wife and kids from France to New Orleans in 1843, as described in the history The Aha! Moment That Led to This Website.
Jean-Pierre solved the mystery of Hérard Vitter's origins in 2019 in his follow-up account, Le sang qui coule dans nos veines (The Blood That Runs in Our Veins): Hérard was actually born as "Erhardus Wider" in Bietingen (near Gottmadingen), Germany, which is on the Swiss border, three miles north of the Rhine River and five miles northeast of the northern Swiss village of Schaffhausen. In Spring 1799, Hérard emigrated from Bietingen about 150 miles west to Clerval, France. He changed his name from the German "Wider" to the similar-sounding French spelling "Witter" and eventually to "Vitter."
We now know of a long line of Hérard's Wider ancestors in Germany, such as his parents Mathieu (Mathaeus) Wider (1737–1818) and (Maria) Ursule (née Jaeckle) Wider (1737–1813), grandparents Joannes Wider (1701–?) and Maria (née Schneble) Wider (1700–1739), and great grandparents Simon Wider (1667–1736) and Anna Maria (née Schietknecht) Wider (1678–?). More is yet to come. Jean-Pierre has traced a relation using DNA to the ancient Wider family from Pfeffingen, Germany.
Bietingen was formerly part of "l'Autriche antérieure" ("exterior Austria"), thus relating to the mention of Austria in Hérard's death record and in the family legend about the brothers from Austria. Hérard got married six months after arriving in Clerval, so presumably Hérard is the brother who fell in love and stayed behind; we haven't yet fully resolved the part of the legend about his brother and where he went, although Jean-Pierre Vitter's mother Simone (née Riot) Vitter told him once of some Vitter descendants from South America who visited her in France while on vacation. Knowing the actual family names and birthplaces is leading to lots of new information about Vitter/Wider relatives throughout Europe and America. There is also a family connection 1,300 years ago with King of Francs Pépin le Bref (715 AD–768 AD) and his son, Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (748 AD–814 AD)! But we still haven't found a definitive connection to Charles Quint ;-)
One big open question is whether there is any relation between the Vitter line from Clerval (which Jean-Pierre and Jeff belong to) and the Vitter line from the Ardennes region (which, for example, Yves Vitter and Valérie (née Vitter) Mouradian belong to). Jean-Pierre believes that the name change from Wider to Witter to Vitter makes it improbable that the two lines of Vitters are related since they would each have had to make the same name change independently. Making the same change independently is certainly feasible, since "Vitter" in French is pronounced essentially like "Wider" is pronounced in German (though with the emphasis on the second syllable rather than the first), but it still does raise questions.
A family story suggests that the Ardennes line of the Vitter family originally lived in Alsace and relocated to the Ardennes when Germany appropriated Alsace during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. (That story is still to be investigated, since the family members seem to have been born in the Ardennes well before that time; see the history entitled Avant et après l'« Aha! moment » for more details about these and other Vitters.) Perhaps the story of "the other brother," when fully resolved, may shed light on the connections to other parts of the family. Aparently that story is true: Jean-Pierre said that his mother Simone Vitter had once met some descendants of the Galápagos line of the Vitter family during a visit they made to France.
It's interesting to note that Jeff Vitter's spouse Sharon (née Weaver) Vitter, who grew up around Paola, Miami County, Kansas, had a 1st cousin 2x removed in nearby Johnson County, Kansas named Evelyn Leona Morgan (1919–2008), and Evelyn married Forest Ellis Witter (1917–2002), whose ancestors came from the Strasbourg, France area, not far from Clerval, France and Bietingen, Germany. For example, Forest's great great grandfather Michael Witter (circa 1784–1840) was born and lived in Hattmat, Bas-Rhin, Alsace, France. His son John Witter (1821–1912) emigrated to suburban Kansas City, Missouri, just east of Sharon's hometown of Paola, Miami County, Kansas.