The 4th of July–the nation’s birthday, independence, parades, fireworks, picnics and cookouts, family gatherings. For genealogists and family historians, it’s a chance to savor our family’s role in creating our great country, and share it.
Maybe our ancestors arrived in one of the original thirteen colonies, or maybe they came later.
If you look at my four grandparents, two came from families who immigrated from eastern Europe just before 1900. The remaining two were from Pennsylvania German stock whose families came in the 1700s.
Intermarried with the Pennsylvania Germans I have two–count them–two sixth great-grandparents (Jesse Washburn and his wife Silence, also born a Washburn) who came from Bridgewater, Massachusetts into Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War. They are the gateway to seventeenth-century English ancestors who lived in Plymouth colony, including two Mayflower passengers.
My husband’s four grandparents were a mix of Irish, German, and Scottish immigrants who came in the nineteenth century. Intermarried with one of the Irish families was a line that included colonial Maryland ancestors. When my husband traveled from Iowa to Anne Arundel County, Maryland, to attend the Naval Academy in 1960, he had no idea he was returning to (one of) the lands of his roots.
Maybe our ancestors arrived in the holds of slave ships, or as indentured servants.
At least one of my Pennsylvania German ancestors, Hans Jacob Neufert (1735-1812), who settled in Berks County, is said to have been a redemptioner.[1. See William Washington Neifert, “Family History: Hans Jacob Neifert Descendants: part 1: Berks/Schuylkill Cos, PA,” manuscript, 1906; transcription, Pennsylvania USGenWebArchives (http://files.usgwarchives.net/pa/schuylkill/history/family/neif001.txt : accessed July 1, 2017), and FindAGrave (https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=31294381&ref=acom : accessed July 1, 2017), entry for Hans Jacob Neifert, unknown cemetery, memorial no.31294381.] (Redemptioners were immigrants who sold themselves into indentured servitude upon arrival in order to pay back the shipping company for the costs of passage.)[2. “Redemptioners,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redemptioner : accessed July 4, 2017).]
Maybe they were already here.
Neither my husband nor I have documented (or even rumored) Native American ancestors, but some of my third cousins report descent from a member of the Lenape tribe who had a child with a German girl in the late eighteenth century. So far, neither documentary nor DNA evidence supports this (but the Native American ancestor is far enough back in their pedigree that they might not have inherited any of his DNA).[3. See Blaine T. Bettinger and Debbie Parker Wayne, Genetic Genealogy in Practice (Arlington, VA: National Genealogical Society, 2016), Kindle edition locations 1021, 1031.]
Maybe they fought for independence or remained loyal to the British Crown.
Most of my Pennsylvania German ancestors who were of military age during the American Revolution served either in the Pennsylvania militia or in the Continental Line. Although most of my husband’s ancestors immigrated in the 1800s, his fifth great-grandfather, Peter Barnes (1744-1814), was a sergeant in the Maryland militia.[4. See “Genealogical Research System,” Daughters of the American Revolution (http://services.dar.org/Public/DAR_Research/search_adb/default.cfm : accessed July 1, 2017), entry for Peter Barnes, A006383.]
Maybe our ancestors were slaveholders or abolitionists.
It is possible that my ancestor John Richmond (1594-1664) was a slaveholder, although his will does not mention any enslaved people. Many of his contemporaries in Newport and Taunton owned slaves.[5. See Joshua Bailey Richmond, The Richmond Family 1594-1896 and Pre-American Ancestors 1040-1594 (Boston: the author, 1897), 1; a digital edition of the book is available at Internet Archive.]
My husband’s ancestor John Clark (1818-1892), of Buchanan County, Iowa, was a staunch anti-slavery crusader.[6. See John Clark entry, card file, Buchanan County Genealogical Society, Independence, Iowa, citing Winthrop News, dated 22 September 1892.]
Maybe our ancestors were farmers, artisans, factory laborers, lumbermen, merchants, or miners.
Most of my Pennsylvania German ancestors up to the mid-nineteenth century were farmers, as were my husband’s nineteenth-century Irish, Scottish, and German immigrants.
Many of those Pennsylvania German farmers were also artisans–harnessmakers, shoemakers, blacksmiths. My husband’s ancestor Johann Michael Gerbig (1831-1910) was a stonemason in Beloit, Wisconsin, and later farmed in Mitchell County, Iowa. [7. See FindAGrave (https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=GE&GSpartial=1&GSbyrel=all&GSst=14&GScntry=4&GSsr=5081&GRid=50868387& : accessed July 1, 2017), entry for Michael Gerbig, Union Presbyterian Cemetery, Stacyville, Iowa, memorial no.50868387. For Michael’s occupations, see 1860 U.S. census, Rock County, Wisconsin, population schedule, Beloit, p. 168 (penned), dwelling 1320, family 1183, Michael Gerbig; and 1880 U.S. census, Mitchell Co., Ia., pop. sch., Union township, enumeration district (ED) 314, p. 6B (penned and stamped), dw. 49, fam. 49, Michael Gerbig. Census images were accessed at Ancestry July 1, 2017.]
My ancestor Peter Andreas/Andrews (1814-1882) was a lumberman, working as a sawyer in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, when the land was being cleared for farming and to provide timber for railroads and mines.[8. 1850 U.S. census, Schuylkill Co., Pa., pop. sch., East Brunswick twp., p. 186 (stamped), dw. 114, fam. 124, Peter Andrews.] His son William later moved west to Lycoming County, where he was also a lumberman.[9. See 1870 U.S. census, Lycoming Co., pop. sch.,Clinton twp., p. 15 (penned), dw. 42, fam. 112, William Andrews.]
I have lots of mining ancestors! The earliest comers were Cornishmen who came to the coal mines of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. James Edmonds (1818-1860) came before 1850 and died about ten years later in a mining accident.[10. 1850 U.S. census, Schuylkill Co., Pa., pop. sch., Tamaqua North Ward, p. 227 (stamped), dw. 69, fam. 74, James Edmonds. 1860 U.S. census, Schuylkill Co., Pa., mortality sch., Tamaqua, p. 2, line 7, James Edmonds.] James’ son-in-law George Trewren (1847-1911), also a miner from Cornwall, arrived in 1865.[11. Carbon County, Pennsylvania, naturalizations (loose papers), George Trewren (1878); Carbon County Archives, Jim Thorpe.] Both my father’s immigrant grandfathers William Abromaitis (1876-1911) and Anthony Sakusky (1878-1921) mined anthracite in Schuylkill County a generation later.[12. For William Abromaitis, see 1910 U.S. census, Schuylkill Co., Pa., pop. sch., Tamaqua, ED 97, dw. 240, fam. 240, William Abromitus, and “Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1964,” Ancestry, death certificate 49523 for William Ambromidus (1911). For William’s birth date, see Simnas RKB birth registry, 1872–1880, p. 261, entry 179; digital images, ePaveldas (http://www.epaveldas.lt/vbspi/content/biImage.jsp?imageId=/vbspi/showImage.do?id=PG_S_364941_133 : accessed July 1, 2017). Translation provided by Pajevonys Wizajny. For Anthony Sakusky, see 1920 U.S. census, Schuylkill Co., Pa., pop. sch., Tamaqua East Ward, ED 137, sheet 16A, dw. 297, fam. 312, Anthony Sakusky, and “Pennsylvania Death Certificates,” death certificate 10478 (1921) for Anthony Sakusky.]
Maybe our ancestors helped build the roads, bridges, canals, and railroads that connected the country and supported industrialization and westward expansion.
Those who lived in an area were often called upon to build and repair roads and bridges in their areas.[13. For an example of using road orders to reconstruct ancestral neighborhoods, see Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 11: Identity Problems & the FAN Principle,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-11-identity-problems-fan-principle : accessed July 1, 2017).]
My great-great-great-grandmother Hannah (Lutz) Frantz’s brother Isaac H. Lutz (1829-1896), born in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, built bridges in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Madison and Palestine, Arkansas.[14. “I.H. Lutz,” Forrest City (Arkansas) Times, 11 September 1896, quoted in FindAGrave (https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=16436588 : accessed July 1, 2017), entry for Isaac Hamilton Lutz, Mount Vernon Cemetery, Forrest City, Arkansas, memorial no. 16436588.
My husband’s Irish immigrant ancestor Peter Kinney (1786-1877) and his family lived in Oswego County, New York, while the Erie Canal was being built. While the 1840 census indicates that three members of Peter’s household were engaged in agriculture, family tradition says that he was also a cooper.[15. 1840 U.S. census, Oswego Co., N.Y., Scriba, n.p., line 9, Peter Kinney; also Paul Kinney, “The Kinney Family,” unpublished manuscript dated 1977 distributed to family, copy held by author.]
My ancestor Stephen Frantz (1809-1894), husband of Hannah (Lutz) Frantz and brother-in-law of Isaac H. Lutz, was a laborer who helped build the first railroad in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, between Tamaqua and Pottsville, and also the railroad from Summit Hill to Mauch Chunk.[16. See “An Old Citizen Dead,” Tamaqua Courier, 18 April 1894. FindAGrave (https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=135116142&ref=acom : accessed July 1, 2017), entry for Stephen Wilson Frantz, Odd Fellows Cemetery, Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, memorial no.135116142.]
Maybe our ancestors were drawn by the opportunity to practice their religion, to own land, to choose those who governed them, to make money and give their families a better life. Maybe they were pushed out of their homelands by war, famine, or political and religious oppression.
Certainly a major reason for my separatist Massachusetts immigrants to leave England was a desire to practice their chosen religion.
Few of my or my husband’s ancestors would have been eligible to own land in their countries of origin.
James Edmonds and George Trewren did not meet the qualifications to vote in England when they left for America; my husband’s Irish immigrant ancestors definitely did not.
Several of my Pennsylvania German families–the Kobels and the Schaeffers–were part of the 1710 Palatine immigration to New York, spurred by French depredations in Germany and famine resulting from the unusually harsh winter of 1708-1709.[17. See Henry Z. Jones, The Palatine Families of New York: a Study of the German Immigrants Who Arrived in Colonial New York in 1710 (Camden, ME: Picton Press, 1985), entries for Kobel and Schaeffer.]
The 4th of July is a great time to recognize where our families came from as we pass the bratwurst, burgers, and potato salad. Family history research shows how our personal family history fits into the larger picture of American history, and makes both kinds of history more relevant and more valuable to us. I’m planning to share ancestral information with my family when we gather to celebrate American independence this year, and I hope you share yours too.