The VELTEN Surname
The Velten surname is a saint's name, the vernacular form of the German name Valentin (the Latin Valentinus, English Valentine). See Hans Bahlow: Dictionary of German Names. According to Wikipedia, the name Valentine, derived from valens (meaning "worthy"), was popular in the Late Antiquity period (roughly 300-600). There were several Saint Valentines, some of them martyrs. Two of them were Roman, and one died in Roman Africa, but little is known of him. Of the Roman saints, sources indicate one was a priest and the other a Bishop of Terni. These two were martyred near the Via Flaminia north of Rome in the third century. But the name Valentine did not appear in the earliest Church lists of martyrs, and first appears in a list published by Pope Gelasius I in 496. Little was known about their lives even at that time, so a lot of mythology prevails.
Popular accounts of St. Valentine started appearing in the fifteenth century. The first appeared in the Nuremberg Chronicles, one of the first books to be actually printed rather than copied by hand. The Chronicles tell of Valentine, who was imprisoned for marrying Christian couples, a crime at the time under Emperor Claudius II. The Emperor took a liking to Valentine, but became angry when Valentine tried to convert him. He ordered Valentine's execution, which supposedly happened on February 14.
Our ancestors spelled phonetically when they could spell at all, and they did not worry about spelling variations. In most cases, our ancestors were never asked to view and correct any records made on their behalf, even assuming they could read. In German, the letters D and T can sound similar, as do V and F, and it is not unusual to see these letters interchanged in records. So given these factors, and depending on the date and location of a record, the Velten surname has appeared in all of these variations and more: Fell, Feld, Fellen, Felden, Feldten, Veldin, Velden, Velten, Veltin, Velton, Felton, Felten. One has to use genealogical reasoning and not spelling to determine family relationships.
In Germany and France, Velten is now the standard spelling of the surname. In the United States, the two variations used most often are Velten and Velton. My great-grandfather, Joseph Frank Velten, is responsible for a percentage of the Velton variation. For more on this story, see my blog post on Sweetwater Joe. Some early Pennsylvania Veltens changed the spelling to Felde or Felty and those spellings persist.
Is it Veldin or Vilch?
I use the spelling "Veldin" for the earliest known ancestor, Jacob Veldin, because that is how the name was consistently spelled in the earliest church records, starting in the Evangelical church books for Glan-Münchweiler in 1664. In fact, the first record on the first page of the Baptism Register records the baptism of Jacob's daughter, Maria Catharina. You can see a fragment of the entry in the image below. The title of register is "Getaufte Kinder" or "Baptized Children" and the register is written in German script.
The second line reads "Im 26 Junii haben Jacob Veldin und Anna zu Nanzweiler eine junge Tochter ...," which is a sentence fragment that translates to "On 26 June Jacob Veldin and Anna of Nanzweiler have [presented] a young daughter ..."
When first searching this register for records belonging to a Jacob Velten or Velden, I had no trouble recognizing this entry as being for "Jacob Veldin," a logical alternative spelling. I can see how "Vilch" might be assumed, mistaking the pastor's open letter "d" for a "ch", but he consistently writes "d" that way and his "h" character does not look like that. In addition, the second character does not have a dot and does not look like an "i". And the final two characters, while somewhat run together, have a dot over them consistent with "in". You can see this in the enlarged fragment below. The IGI agrees with my interpretation. See the IGI entry for Maria Catharina here.
Below is the second entry in the register for the baptism of Jacob's son, Hans Jacob Veldin, on 11 Mar 1666. Again the open "d" might look like a "ch", but if it really was "Vilch", why would you assume this entry was for Jacob Veldin? "Vilch" is not a German surname and it is not a logical phonetic variation of Velten. The IGI entry for this record again agrees with my interpretation. Unfortunately, this data has been posted on the internet and has been copied by multiple researchers who have never looked at the original records. You also see variations where the term "Schoffe" is added to Jacob's name. "Schoffe" is probably "Schöffe" which means magistrate or alderman in English. This was an honorary title and not part of Jacob's actual name.
Frequency and Places of Occurrence of the Velten Surname
The Velten surname appears in most countries in Europe, as well as the United States, Canada, Australia, and Brazil. In Germany and France, Veltens are found in the Rheinland-Palatinate, Hessen-Nassau, Saar, Baden, and Alsace. This map shows the distribution of the name in Germany, courtesy of Geogen. These areas also produced many of the Velten emigrants to the United States, Canada, and Brazil. Since my line of Veltens originated in the village of Nanzweiler in the Rheinland-Palatinate after the Thirty Years War, most of the Veltens in this web site have Palatine origins. The map that follows shows the set of known villages populated by descendants of Jacob Veldin, the original settler of Nanzweiler.