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An excerpt from archives copyright © 2000 - 2016

The bountiful region surrounding the Rhine river is the birthplace of the name Bethke. A single name was, at one time, all that people needed. However, increasing ease of travel and the burgeoning populations forced people to adopt a hereditary surname to set themselves apart from others. A common form of surname found in the Rhineland was the local name, a name taken on from a place-name. Originally denoting the proprietorship of a village or estate, the German preposition von, which means from or of, used with local names, was taken as a mark of aristocracy. The surname Bethke was given to someone who lived in the Rhineland. The Bethke family emerged during the feudal era, when the Rhineland was controlled by feudal lords and princes.


The surname Bethke was first found in the county of Nassau, where the name could be considered to make a great early contribution to the feudal society which became the backbone of early development in Europe. The earliest known instance of the name dates back to 1430, when Jurgen Bethke is recorded in the "Urkundenbuch der Stadt Oldenburg," the Oldenburg registry. The name became prominent in local affairs and branched into many houses which played important roles in the savage tribal and national conflicts, each group seeking power and status in an ever changing territorial profile. Chronicles suggest that the most ancient branch of the family can be traced to the Netherlands, which they left during the religious strife of the Thirty Year's War for the region of Nassau. The founding father of the prominent Nassau branch is taken to be Simon Moritz Bethmann (d.1725,) who was an administrator in the government of the Prince of Nessau-Weilburg. It was his son, Johann Philipp Bethmann (1715-1793) who founded the renowned bank of Frankfurt, the Bethmann Brothers.

In the medieval era, many different cultural groups lived in the German states. There are thus many regional variations of German surnames from that era. Westphalians spoke Low German, which is similar to modern Dutch. Many German names carry suffixes that identify where they came from. Others have phrases attached that identify something about the original bearer. Other variations in German names resulted from the fact that medieval scribes worked without the aid of any spelling rules. The spelling variations of the name Bethke include Bethman, Bethemann, Betheman, Bettheman, Betthemann, Bethmman, Bethke, Berthe, Bethe, Bethge and many more.


This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Bethke research. Another 307 words (22 lines of text) covering the years 1652, 1701, 1715, 1721, 1782, 1793, 1823, 1827, 1829, 1842, 1849, and 1858 are included under the topic Early Bethke History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.


Another 47 words (3 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Bethke Notables in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.


The great European flow of migration to North America, which began in the middle of the 17th century and continued into the 20th century, was particularly attractive to those from the Rhineland who wished to escape either poverty or religious persecution. Many of those who left the Rhineland to seek their fortunes in the prosperous and free New World settled in the major urban centers of the United States and Canada. In the United States, the settlers from the Rhineland passed through immigration centers like that of Ellis Island, most of them moving on to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Illinois, California, and New York. In Canada, the majority of Rhinelanders settled in Ontario and the prairie provinces. An examination of passenger and immigration lists has revealed many important settlers to North America bearing the name Bethke, or one of its variants above:

Bethke Settlers in United States in the 19th Century

  • Christopher Bethke, who was naturalized in Illinois in 1867

  • James Charles "Jim" Bethke (b. 1946), American former Major League Baseball pitcher
  • Katie Bethke (b. 1988), American footballer
  • Bruce Bethke (b. 1955), American author, best known for his 1983 short story "Cyberpunk"
  • Hans-Günther Bethke (1913-1942), Prussian Hauptmann in the Wehrmacht during World War II, recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
  • Ricardo Arap Bethke Galdames (b. 1980), Mexican actor

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    Other References

    1. Hanks, Patricia and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of Surnames. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988. Print. (ISBN 0-19-211592-8).
    2. Götze, Alfred. Familiennamen im badischen Oberland. Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1918. Print.
    3. Bolton, Charles Knowles. Bolton's American Armory. Baltimore: Heraldic Book Company, 1964. Print.
    4. Fogleman, Aaron Spencer. Hopeful Journeys German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America 1717-1775. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986. Print. (ISBN 978-0812215489).
    5. Gritzner, M. Handbuch der heraldischen Terminologie in zwölf Zungen. Nürnberg: 1890. Print.
    6. Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Galveston Texas 1896-1951. National Archives Washington DC. Print.
    7. Matthews, John. Matthews' American Armoury and Blue Book. London: John Matthews, 1911. Print.
    8. Schenk, Trudy. Wuerttemberg Emigration Index Volume I-VIII. Salt Lake City: Ancestry Inc., 1986. Print.
    9. Bahlow, Hans (Edda Gentry trns). Dictionary of German Names . Madison, Wisconsin: Max Kade Institute, 2002. Print. (ISBN 0-924119-35-7).
    10. Filby, P. William and Mary K Meyer. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index in Four Volumes. Detroit: Gale Research, 1985. Print. (ISBN 0-8103-1795-8).
    11. ...

    The Bethke Family Crest was acquired from the archives. The Bethke Family Crest was drawn according to heraldic standards based on published blazons. We generally include the oldest published family crest once associated with each surname.

    This page was last modified on 20 March 2013 at 16:34.

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