While it is clear that my 9x Great-grandfather Wolf Hasselbacher and his family lived in Unterschweinach and then Oberrossbach after immigrating to Mittelfranken, it is not clear where they first settled.  My "Exulanten Bible" by Enzner and Krauß states that Wolf came from Austria in 1658, but I do not know the source of that information. (His two sons would have been teenagers and presumed to live with their father.) The first mention of the family in German records known to me was as communicants in the village of Altheim in 1660.  The next mention finds them firmly ensconced in Unterschweinach in 1666.   The mystery of where the Wolf Hasselbacher and his two sons settled was not missed by the scholars who went through the church records available to them.  My lack of knowledge is mirrored by the comments of Enzer and Krauß who were unable to find any other mention of the family before 1666.  The 1660 Altheim record, which I have not seen, is likely to have been a simple listing of names with no additional information.  I do not assume that having received the sacrament meant that the couple dwelled in Altheim. My understanding is that the rule or custom was that communion was to be received a minimum number of times per year.  As there was no church in Unterschweinach or Oberrossbach, Altheim may have been a convenient place on that given day.  (The church in Altheim and its mother-church in Dottenheim are just accross the Aisch River from each other and are 8.5 km and a 1 hr 45 min walk from Unterschweinach.)

Where were people from these two tiny villages supposed to go for church services and sacraments?  At the time, as today, they were in the mother-parrish of Dottenheim where later Hasselbacher entrys in church records are found.  Were other options available to these villagers?  Would they have been allowed to belong to the church in Neustadt?  What "filial" (daughter) churches of Dottenheim would have been available to them?

A traveler descending the small valleys from either Oberrossbach or Unterschweinach towards the valley of the Aisch would walk the 3.3 km and first emerge in the village of Birkenfeld. There has been a cloister and church there for centuries, and Birkenfeld would seem to be the easiest place to get to. As I investigated the puzzle of where the earliest Hasselbachers settled, I was naturally drawn there.  However, there is no reference to a church record from Birkenfeld for the early Hasselbachers or their spouses.  In fact, as I think of it now, I do not recall seeing any references to church records from Birkenfeld for anyone.  I will look through my references for confirmation, but there may be a good reason why we find no records from that place.

The church in Birkenfeld today is undergoing substantial interior renovations and does not appear functional. A historical sign outside the church indicates that the church had non-functional several times in the past!  The sign is interesting not only for what it says about the history of the church, but the insight it gives into the turbulent past of the Aischgrund, and the circumstances that let to the recruitment of Lutherans from Austria in the mid 1600s.  I extracted the text of the chronology and gave it my best shot at translation. (If you can help do better, do not hesitate to contact me. I will not be insulted!)

I was struck by the number of times the church was destroyed by one another war or passing army: the Peasants Rebellion; two separate Wars of the Margraves; and perhaps the worst, the Thirty Years War.  Those were violent times indeed!  In addition, there were natural disasters as earthquakes and plague.

I was particularly attracted to the descriptions following 1618 when the destruction of the Thirty Years War began, and was accompanied by plague. In describing the local area it was said that villages were turned into ash heaps with the dead lying unburied and the air filled with the stench of their decay. This appears to have happened in several waves.  I also recall Diespeck just down the road being described as a Geistdorf, or ghost town at that time.

We are also given a specific date (1652) when the Margrave of the time offered the Exulanten the opportunity to come to Franconia and obtain (?buy) houses with the inducement of not having to pay taxes for the first year.   While Exulanten from Austria began to appear elsewhere in Franconia as early as 1650, this date seems to bracket the process in the the area of Neustadt.

With respect to whether Hasselbachers (or anyone else) would have any sacrament administered in Birkenfeld, it does not appear to me that the church was functional in the mid-1600s. The facilities appear to have been used for more mundane purposes in those years. The church was not consecrated again until 1694, as St Marion's. 

What other churches might have been available?  I do not know.  There are today churches that predate the era of the Thirty Years War.  They include churches in Neustadt, Diespeck, Schauerheim, Stübach, Münchsteinach, Herrnneuses, and others.  These are further away from Birkenfeld and its satellite villages. It is probable, and even likely, that we will never find out where Wolf Hasselbacher settled.  The best scholars of the matter did not find an answer and I have no expectation of doing better.  Even so, examining the available information and clarifying what churches or other institutions were functioning in that post-war interval can only lend me a better overall understanding of the history of the region.  Every little piece helps!