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Records document Exley immigrant ancestry
Sontheim Ch Tower
The Lutheran Church tower in Sontheim. - photo by Photo provided
One of the most significant finds — perhaps the most important source in the last 60 years of genealogical research regarding the immigrant ancestry of the Exleys of Effingham County — was uncovered recently. Friedrich R. Wollmershaeuser of Oberdischingen, Germany, an accomplished genealogical researcher, located an 1835 legal notice in a German newspaper, and also probate court files in the town of Sontheim on the Brenz River near Ulm, Germany, containing records of the late 1700s and early 1800s which conclusively document that John Michael Exley (abt 1754-1813) of Effingham County, is the son of Christian and Angelica (née Heck) Oechslin, who settled in the Bethany District of Ebenezer in the early 1750s.
The Sontheim court files contain documents that name John Michael Exley (abt 1754-1813) of Ebenezer, Georgia, as the heir to a share of a court administered estate — a share to which he was entitled through his mother, Angelica Oechslin (née Heck), the wife of Christian Oechslin (Oechsle). The couple, according to sources in the court files, immigrated to Ebenezer in the colony of Georgia in America.  
One document in a record group (1812-15) provides the lineage of Angelica’s father, Jacob Haek (Heck) to document John Michael Oechsle as the heir through his mother, Angelica, as well as establishing collateral heirs to the estate. The old record outlines three generations:
Late Joh. Haek (Heck), weaver here, progenitor
His daughter: the late Angelika Oechslin
Her son: Joh. Michel Oechsle, prospective heir ...
A 1798 document in the court files contains this information: “With a share assignment schedule for what the remaining child of Angelika, wife of Christian Oechslen who has moved to the Georgian region in America, has inherited ....”
These early sources contain spelling variations of the surname that are consistent with variations in records of the time. Oechslin is an old family name spelling that was still used by Christian when he came to Georgia. At the time — in the mid 1700s — the name became Oechsle in Germany. This also is the spelling that appears in the early Ebenezer Church records, and also, it is the spelling that was used by John Michael Exley early in his life. When he died in 1813, the family name spelling had become Exley. 
For many years, the identity of the immigrant ancestors of the Exleys of Effingham County — the Oechsle family that came to colonial Ebenezer — was not a settled matter, at least among genealogical researchers who worked with 18th century sources. In the early 1950s, there were two candidates for the patriarch immigrant — Christian and Melchior. Pearl Rahn Gnann and Herman J. Exley, the foremost researchers of Exley immigrant ancestry at that time, opted for Melchior when Mrs. Gnann’s Georgia Salzburgers and Allied Families was published in 1956. The reason for this decision is written in Herman Exley’s 1976 book, Exley Genealogy:
In 1953 Mr. Karl Friedrich von Frank was doing research on the Exley family for Mrs. Gnann, and he was unable to pick up Christian Oechsle’s (mentioned in Ebenezer Record Book) lineage in Langenau. At the time, I was doing research at Hodgson Hall Library, and I found a record of a land grant issued to Melchior Oechsle in 1752 ... Mrs. Gnann forwarded the information to Mr. Von Frank, and he was able to furnish her with two generations of Melchior’s lineage in Langenau, Germany.  Mrs. Gnann had the Exley lineage traced back to John Michael who married Elizabeth Groover in 1794. Since Melchior’s father in Germany was named Michael, we both assumed that Melchior was most likely the father of John Michael.
In the early 1970s Herman J. Exley located an Effingham County deed dated 1826 in which John Michael Exley, who died in 1813, was named as inheriting Christian’s land. This convinced him that Christian was the correct immigrant ancestor, and, in 1976, he published his booklet entitled Exley Genealogy in which Christian and Angelica were listed as the parents of John Michael. Herman Exley began anew a search, again seeking the assistance of professional Austrian genealogist, Karl Friedrich von Frank, to find the town of origin of Christian and Angelica.  In response to the new search, Von Frank wrote:
Upon receipt of your letter of December 10, 1974, I studied the old  Oechsle file again, and notized [sic], that already in 1953, I had written to Mrs. Gnann, that to my opinion (32) Oechsle, Christian I. ∞ (33)________, Angelica, who emigrated in ca. 1752 to Ga. seems to be the correct immigrant ancestor.  But when Mrs. Gnann chose instead Melchior, and wanted his ancestry, I thought that there must be some proof for it over there.  But, this obviously was not the case, and we have to solve the Christian problem. (letter dated April 14, 1975)
In the last several decades, research has been ongoing, and in 2000, with assistance of Friedrich Wollmershaeuser, the town of origin of Christian — Niederstotzingen near Ulm — was identified, as well as the place of Angelica’s origin — the town of Sontheim. In recent years, new sources have continued to be uncovered regarding Exley immigrant ancestry, but these newly uncovered probate court records are the first primary sources to come to the research table that conclusively document Christian and Angelica as the parents of John Michael Exley.
Based on the newly found evidence — the Sontheim probate court records — the Board of Directors of the Georgia Salzburger Society voted on May 8 that Christian and Angelica Oechslin have official recognition as the immigrant ancestors of the Exley family of Effingham County.
Recently, during the Salzburger Heritage Tour (June 12-22), a stop was made in Sontheim, and seven Exley descendants of Christian and Angelica visited and made a group photo in the local Protestant (Lutheran) Church that contains the Heck family records. They are Gary Nizzi (Solomon-James Jonathan Exley line), David Exley (Solomon-Francis Sheck Exley line), Dan Wilson (Luke Exley line), Vince Exley and his granddaughter, Heide Weinelt (Jacob Exley line), Dr. Candace Rausch and her son Daniel (Zacheus Exley line). Solomon, Luke, Jacob and Zacheus were sons of John Michael Exley.

This was written by historian Vincent C. Exley of Marietta and compiled by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: