Heinsmann (Heinrich) Muller (<1635 – <1684) of Schwarzenmatt, Switzerland – 52 Ancestors #208

The 1684 Miesau, Germany marriage record of Johann Michael Muller, widower, to Irene Liesabetha Heitz identified him as, “Michael Müller, legitimate son of the deceased Heinsmann Müller, resident of Schwartz Matt in the Bern area.” Of course, Bern is in Switzerland.

Thank goodness for the location and name of Michael’s father, because without those tidbits, we would never have found that information and Michael would have been our dead end.

Schwarzenmatt, Switzerland

My trusty friends Chris and Tom drilled down on the available information to determine what could be discovered. Chris says:

“Schwarzmatt” is/was part of the church books of Boltigen.

The Boltigen church books are online here among the Bern area church books:

So it should be possible to verify if there was a Michael Müller, son of a Heinsmann Müller in Schwarzmatt.

Heinsmann is a very unusual name. My friend Chris has been researching the Boltigen Muller family on my behalf and he contacted Konstantin Huber who had searched for the Millers from that area years ago. Konstantin didn’t have additional information about the Boltigen family but did state that “Heinsmann” is a rare, old-fashioned form of “Heinrich” that he has never seen before in the 16th/17th century church books from Switzerland. Hence, he suggests that the original name of Michael Müller`s father in Switzerland may have been “Heinrich” and was maybe changed to or simply recorded as “Heinsmann” in the German Palatinate. Chris believes that with Konstantin`s decades of experience on Swiss emigration to Germany that this is a valid suggestion, and I agree.

Chris continues:

I also found that a daughter of a Müller from Boltigen married in Dudweiler, Sulzbach, Saarland, Germany:

“Am 03.05.1718 wird Anna Magdalena Müller, Tochter des …. Müller aus Boltigen im oberen Simmental, Kanton Bern in der Schweiz, dem Johann Jakob Blatter, Sohn von Michael Blatter und Maria Mögel auf Neuweiler Hof, angetraut.”

On the page http://www.rolf-freytag.de/fhilfe/schweizer.html about Swiss immigrants in Saarland, you will find this in the first half of the page (and a few records below a Hans Stutzmann in Völklingen).

Chris subsequently discovered another document discussing the Muller family in Schwarzenmatt.

In the description of the old house in Schwarzenmatt it is stated on the first page:

“Vor 1615 gab es im Dorf Schwarzenmatt nur wenige Hofstätten. Mit Sicherheit lassen sich bloss deren vier nachweisen, dazu gehörte auch das Haus auf der Kreuzgasse. Wie Eintragungen in den Kirchenbüchern zeigen, besass stets die gleiche Familie Müller dieses Haus, mindestens seit 1700; im Jahr 1872 verkaufte aber David Müller den ganzen Besitz seinem «Tochtermann» Friedrich Bhend, der 1868 von Unterseen nach Schwarzenmatt geheiratet hatte.”

Translated to: “Prior to 1615 there were only few houses in the village Schwarzenmatt. We can only safely verify four, among them the house in the Kreuzgasse. As records in the church books show, this house was always owned by the same family Müller, at least since 1700; but in the year 1872 David Müller sold the entire property to his son-in-law Friedrich Bhendd, who, coming from Unterseen, married to Schwarzenmatt in 1868.”

I am aware this is very weak evidence to assume a relationship to the Michael Müller family, but at the very least it goes to show that a Müller family was among the first in the village Schwarzenmatt.

If Heinsmann/Heinrich is identified as Johann Michael Muller’s father in 1684, and Michael was born in 1655, then we know that Heinsmann was born no later than 1635, and possibly significantly earlier in the 1600s. It’s only 20 years between 1615 and 1635.

What else did Chris find?

Here is a Margaretha Müller, born about 17 December 1696 in Boltigen-Adlemsried. She moved to Bruchsal-Heidelsheim (Northern Wurttemberg, close to the Palatinate), where she married on 6 May 1727 and died on 15 Feb 1728:


I looked up the original marriage and burial record, but no further information on her family there.

If Michael Müller was a widower at the time he married Irene Liesabetha Heitz in 1684, who was his first wife? Did she die in Steinwenden or in the area or rather already back in Switzerland? Maybe it is worth to have another close look at those burials in the Miesau church book from 1681 to 1684 to maybe find her there?

Alas, there was nothing more in Miesau.

Tom found a 1681 Boltigen record where one Michael Muller married Anna Andrist.

Is this our Michael, son of Heinsmann/Heinrich? We don’t have any way of knowing. Parents weren’t listed in these early records. Michael would have been about 26, a typical age for a man to marry at that time. Right time, right name, right place.

What do we know about Schwarzenmatt? Was it large or small? How likely would it have been to find two Michael Mullers of about the same age?

The Village and the Valley

We do know one thing. We’re getting a lot closer to Michael Miller’s cousin, Jacob Ringeisen. In the Steinwenden, Germany records, Jacob is identified as Michael’s cousin and is stated as being from Erlenbach, Switzerland. Schwarzenmatt is only 17 km away, or about 10 miles down the same valley, on the one and only road.

Schwarzenmatt today is a tiny village – about 150 feet East to West.

Clicking on the red balloon shows us the Swiss vYntage Chalets of Schwarzenmatt nestled in the mountains.

Looking at property booking sites (yes you can rent the chalets,) this red pin location is billed as a 400 year old house. If this is indeed true, then that property dates back to 1618, and would be one of the 4 original properties. Heinsmann or Heinrich Muller would have known this house and assuredly, visited, even if it wasn’t his.

Another house nearby is billed as 325 years old, so dating from 1693 or not long after Heinrich had died.

You can see a variety of photos here and here. Just click on the photos at left.

This winter view is stunning, as is the summer one below.

I love old photos! This is similar to what Heinrich and Michael Muller would have seen.

These black and white photos, even though they are from the 1900s, give us at least a peek at what life was like in this valley before the modern era.

Did Michael and Heinrich ski? Was skiing a way for residents to navigate in the winter instead of a sport like it is today? Note that tiny house.

Are these my relatives? I’d bet that almost everyone in or from Schwarzenmatt is my relative!

The alps are breath-taking.

Be still my heart.

I surely wonder what these men were carrying, and why. Did Heinrich do this too? They kind of look like human trees.

Seriously, I want to walk down this street beside the chalets. The entire village is only a block or two. I want to under those umbrellas and drink in the luscious mountain air.

Going for a walk, perhaps? What are they carrying?

The chalets and valley are shown here in an early aerial photo.

The Muller family may have lived in this valley for centuries before the first recorded history that includes the surname in 1615.

This place is stunning, no matter the season.

I’m so grateful that these preserved chalets provide us with a glimpse through the door to the past.

Looking at this door, I do have to wonder if it’s original, meaning perhaps was found in the village when Heinrich lived there. Did he open it himself?

Where did Heinrich Muller actually live?

Historian Peter Mosimann

Just when you think it can’t get any better, it does.

Chris found Peter Mosimann who, as fate would have it, wrote a book about Schwarzenmatt and even more miraculously, owns the Muller chalet. Yes, THAT Muller chalet.

The book is out of print, but here’s the forward, translated from German by Google translate. This isn’t the best translation in the world, but it certainly conveys the idea.

In 2009, the couple Mosimann the Earning a parent’s home, a former mountain farmhouse at the Kreuzgasse in Schwarzenmatt Boltigen im Simmental, dating back to 1556 and certainly one of the oldest houses in the Bernese Oberland is at all. Since the spouses do not live here themselves you can take with the foundation «Holidays in the monument» of the Swiss Homeland Security concluded a license agreement for thirty years.

The foundation had the house renovated and refrained from advise the preservation of monuments. When planning the renovation the thought came to the future holiday guests to make a booklet out of which they have something about the past of the house, the place and the valley could learn. This is now an extensive book from over 340 densely written pages, that you read with great pleasure and profit – even if you are not a holiday guest in Schwarzenmatt.

It is dedicated to Mrs. Mosimann by her husband, who since 2009 innumerable archives visited, innumerable books read and interviewed countless people.

Is in itself the approach of the couple Mosimann – the purchase of the house and its conversion – very much correct and praiseworthy, so does the book the whole still the crown on. Not only was the house saved, but also his story, including the story of one whole valley. Peter Mosimann has been through many sources worked, so to only the most extensive series to name, through twelve choral court manuals the Congregation Boltigen (1648-1875) and six choral court manuals the parish of Oberwil im Simmental (1587-1768) and thirteen parish registers of Boltigen (1556-1875) and fifteen from Oberwil (1562-1875). He has cleverly understood the “little” stories, which he found here to be associated with the “big” story, which he drew from the secondary literature. On example: standing in the gable triangle of the rescued house the year 1556 – at that time Emperor Charles V thanked Habsburg, in whose empire the sun never set, and set up the first parish register in Boltigen (page 30).

Everywhere you can feel the ordering hand of the former Secondary teacher.

The fact that at the house on the Kreuzgasse the former Saumweg led into Jauntal, not over the Jaunpass, but over the Reidigenpass, gives rise for a whole nice chapter about the traffic history. This is very clever with old and new.

Illustrated are photos showing tracks in the terrain sees who would miss out on the terrain itself.

The road led to Jauntal, the catholic («idolatrous») remained and for the severely reformed disciplined Simmentaler the country of vice – but also the temptations and pleasures par excellence – represented. But you also like reading the chapter about the “companions”, as there are: restaurants, Mills, saws, forges, a lime kiln, cheese dairies (initiated by Welschen Greyerzern!), school houses, castle ruins and stones. It’s not just the good, but also the bad old time to the language, alcoholism, the poor, home and child labor, at the for a few cents matches for the matches were produced in Wimmis.

The result is a home customer in the best, namely in the critical sense of the word.

Peter Mosimann is not content with the old one time, but asks to the present. He speaks from the revival of livestock in the Simmental in the 19th century, from the introduction of electricity and the damming of the simme. He is very well aware that in today’s, rushing changes a whole world to disappear threatens, and he therefore has older Simmentaler asked about their knowledge and memories, so operated “oral history”. A nice example is the reconstruction a mining year around 1960, probably with the help of his wife and in-laws. Only here it becomes clear how far already 1960 – not 1860 and also not 1760! – is past. Especially nice and consistent is when people each speak for themselves: one Hemmer sitting in a tavern in Freiburg had shared the bed a bit too much (p. 94), the Daughter of the Wegmeisters Eschler, in the first half of the 20th century for the maintenance of the Jaun pass was responsible (p. 111 f.), the last geisshirt of Eschi (p.180 f.) Or Peter Mosimann’s wife Berti itself, from which the last chapter comes, that the house is dedicated in Schwarzenmatt. Or from the pastor of Boltigen, who died during the plague at the end of the 16th / beginning of the 17th century. Century not only lost all his children, but also three wives (pp. 12 f.). So sad this last one.

History is – you can Mr. Mosimann to his just congratulate factory.

State Archives Freiburg

PD Dr. phil. Kathrin Utz Tremp

Scientific Associate

In essence, we can thank the ski industry today for encouraging the salvation of these old chalets.

These lifts are only a few miles away and tourists need a place to say. Who wouldn’t love to stay in an alpine chalet?

The Swiss Alps tower above Schwarzenmatt and Boltigen.

The Muller Chalet

Chris found several links, and more information. This photo taken about 1912 in front of the chalet shows:

“Susanna Katharina and Friedrich Bhend-von Allmen with their children Fritz, Karl and Hans.”

Peter Mosimann’s wife’s father was Hans Bhend, so Susanna Katherine was apparently a Miller by birth, perhaps a descendant or at least a relative of Heinrich Muller from the middle 1600s. I would so love to see if my mother or other Miller descendants would match her DNA!

This house was built in about 1556 and was in the Muller/Miller family from before 1615. I can’t help but wonder how the date of 1556 was established. Perhaps by tree ring dating of the wood (dendrochronology.)

There is no ownership record before the Muller family, so they could have built it. In 1872, David Muller sold the property to his son-in-law, Freidrich Bhendd. Peter Mosimann’s wife was born a Bhend and grew up in this same house, shown above.

The article, in German, also shows additional photos.

I can’t reproduce the article here, but I can summarize.

Peter Mosiman, the local historian, states that this is one of the earliest dated peasant residential buildings in Boltigen and perhaps in all of the Bernese Oberland.

The sunny location where the house was built was on the mule track over the ridge to Juan and then to Gruyere, although the translation suggests that the house was on the path to Juantel, which I cannot locate on a current map.

I do wonder this this village was a stop-over location, and people rested the mules at this farmstead.

The ancient Juanpass through the mountains is first mentioned in 1228 as Balavarda and again in 1397 as Youn. Was the Muller family here then? What originally brought them to this high, remote location, and when?

The road was paved in 1878 and today is on the list of the highest paved roads in the world. Looking at the map, you can see the switchbacks. The pass peaks at just below 5,000 feet, the ascent 8 miles long and rising almost 2000 feet.

By Norbert Aepli, Switzerland, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=807797

Take a look from the pass here.

The photo of the pass, above, is exactly how I remember the Alps.

Here’s the same map with Gruyere, on the other side of the mountain, added.

I have to stop and admit right here that I love the Alps. And I mean LOVE them with all caps. I spent an amazing, life-changing summer in 1970 living in Versoix, Switzerland and spending time in those beautiful mountains and meadows not far from this very location. If you could see across the mountaintops, I lived about 25 miles as the crow flies. I know, what are the chances??

The summer in ski resorts is an inactive time. I spent a month or more there, hiking and wandering the beautiful alpine meadows. Today that resort is Crans-Montana, but then it was a sleepy, tiny Swiss mountain village.

The fact that my family actually originates here stirs my heart and touches my soul in a way I simply cannot put into words. It feels like my ancestors reached out to me, infusing their love of these mountains, even though I didn’t know them then.

But back to the Muller chalet.

Peter Mosimann says that he has documented the house ownership back to at least 1700 in the Muller family. Clearly, Heinrich lived in Schwarzenmatt in the first half of the 1600s. He would have been born either in or before 1635, probably right in this village or at least this valley. Most likey in this peasant house.

The walls were wood and stone that came from the surrounding area. Some stones are outcrops of the mountainside on which the house perches. The stones were connected with lime mortar and whitewashed. A stable was connected to the house, and the “goat-lick” still survives and is shown in photos in the document. Do you know what a goat-lick is? Neither did I!

The ground floor originally only had one small room. A “smoke kitchen” allowed the smoke to drift up between the slats in the rafters where meats were hung to be smoked and cured. The beams there are still black with centuries of accumulated soot.

Water came from the village well or fountain. Schwarzenmatt was lucky and had their own well. Kreuzgasse, the street where this chalet is located had their own fountain.

When I hiked the Alps, we drank from the icy-cold streams, although we were warned about drinking only near the headwaters because mountain goats tended to contaminate the water. We didn’t worry much about that.

In the Muller chalet, it appears that there was a loft type of structure upstairs where the children slept. They warmed some type of sack on the stove and took it to bed with them. Of course, as a quilter, today I think of this in terms of a quilt.

The original windows were sold at some time and installed in a restaurant in Obersimmental, about 10 miles distant. The homeowners thought they got the better end of that deal, because they installed new windows which were surely more winter-resistant, weathertight and warmer.

Clothes and dishes were washed in a basin on the table, and clothes were dried on a wooden rod in the kitchen.

Plums, pears and apples were dried for the winter to go along with the smoked meats.

Peter says that the renovation exposed 1705 construction with holes in posts suggesting that earlier building had occurred and the 1705 construction itself was either an expansion or a remodel. A stable was added at that time to house 4-6 goats and two pigs.

A cheese tower yet preserved shows that cheese was manufactured on this farm. Three circular pieces of wood are attached to a pole set in stone and connected to the rafters.

Chris located a photo before the renovation occurred.

Drum roll please…here’s the beautiful chalet today from a different angle. And look, just look at those mountains.

This chalet even has its own Wikipedia entry. At this link, you can see what it looks like in the winter. Another photo here and the renovation here.

The Muller Chalet, shown with the red pin below, is almost next door to the Swiss Vyntage Chalets I first found on the booking site.

I can’t tell you how much I want to visit this location and see the Muller chalet in person. Actually, I don’t just want to see it, I want to stay and sleep there, basking in the ancestral glow.

Johann Michael Muller

We know that Michael Muller, a widower, who married in 1684 in Steinwenden was from Schwarzenmatt. We know that a Michael Muller married in Boltigen in 1681 in the church where the Schwarzenmatt residents attended. There was no other church in the valley. The question is, is this the same Michael Muller?

This area was very small at the time, not to mention remote. Chances are very good that the Michael who married Anna Andrist was the same Michael Muller, but there could have been more than one. We also know that our Michael’s father was Heinrich, recorded as Heinsmann in Germany, who was from the tiny block long village of Schwarzenmatt.

In Switzerland, when a resident left, they were required to register. In essence, they carried a lifelong passport with them and as long as they left in good standing, they could always return as a citizen.

Those rolls were called Mannrechten and they exist for 1694-1754 from the Bern region. Of course, that’s after our Michael left, but several Millers from Boltigen were listed. Chris checked with the archives, and has kindly translated their reply, as follows:

– There are no “Mannrechtsrodel” earlier than 1694, so probably no direct proof of Michael Müller`s emigration to Germany.

– Mr. Bartlome (archivist) writes that at the time no permission was required to leave Switzerland. However, there was a heavy tax on money transferred abroad (“Abzugsgelder”). If an emigrant transferred money abroad, at the same time the emigrant passed on their citizen rights in Switzerland. This was done to prevent the emigrants possibly returning to Switzerland later on as a poor person.

– Only around 1700 an alphabetical name register was started for Swiss citizens who passed on their citizen rights. The register (listed in the link above,) is such a register. Please note that this passing on citizen rights could be done by children or grandchildren of the original emigrant! So the listed persons are not necessarily the emigrating persons!

– The register does not list the emigration date, but the date on which the citizen rights were passed on, plus the money that was transferred abroad and to which place.

– Finally, Mr Bartlome notes that emigrants may also be found in the protocols of the Bern government (“Ratsmanuale”). The transferred money (“Abzugsgelder”) was also listed in bills of the bailiffs (“Rechnungen der Landvögte”). So this may be another way to find emigrants in old documents, but it is a tedious process and with no guarantee.

As Chris comments, clearly not what we had hoped, but still, the door isn’t entirely slammed shut.

Chris later discovered a list of Swiss emigrants from 1694-1754 who settled in the Palatinate, Alsace-Lorraine, Baden-Wurttemberg and Pennsylvania in an article by Kary Joder in the October 1983 Mennonite Family History Newsletter, Volume II, #4, available in the book section at Family Search. In this document, one Michael Miller is noted on page 136, along with Miller men from Boltigen, as follows:

Chris wondered where my Johann Michael Miller the second, the son of the original Johann Michael Miller, from Schwarzenmatt, was located in 1720.

Chris translates from the original German version:

“2.12.1720 Michel Müller von hinter Zweisimmen zieht nach Leistadt (Bad Dürkheim).”

Translation: “2 December 1720 – Michel Müller from behind Zweisimmen moves [read: “his money”!] to Leistadt (Bad Dürkheim).”

Could this Michel Müller possibly be identical with Michael Müller the Second? I am not as familiar with his life dates as you are, so I have to ask you if this remains a possibility. I know that in 1721 he became a citizen in Lambsheim. Lambsheim and Leistadt are 8.5 miles apart from each other. Do we know for sure that in 1720 Michael Müller the Second was still in Steinwenden or was he maybe “on his way” to Lambsheim?

“From behind Zweisimmen” suggests to me that possibly this Michel Müller could not name the place of origin of his father. “Behind Zweisimmen” would definitely go well along with Schwarzenmatt. Zweisimmen and Schwarzenmatt/Boltigen are only 6 miles apart from each other.

It’s amazing how quickly ancestral knowledge of locations and events fades. By 1720, Michael Muller the first had been dead for 25 years, having died when his son was only 2 years and 3 months old. It’s no wonder that Michael Muller the second couldn’t remember the name of the town in Switzerland where his father was from. He never knew his father – only through his mother’s remembrances.

In April of 1718, Johann Michael Muller (the second) is identified as the farm administrator of (the farm) Weilach in a baptismal record for his child in Kallstadt. He is still living in Weilach on April 5th, 1721, but by January 15, 1722, when he is once again mentioned in a Kallstadt baptism record where he stands up as a godparent, he is a Lambsheim resident about 12 miles distant from Weilach. Citizenship records tell us that Michael moved to Lambsheim between April and July of 1721.

As the map above illustrates, Leistadt is very close to Weilach and Kallstadt, both. It was less than a mile from Weilach to Leistadt, the closest village. Certainly close enough to walk. The Michael Muller on December 2, 1720 who moved money from Schwarzenmatt to Leistadt is very likely Michael Muller the second, son of the Michael Muller the first, son of Heinrich Muller. Perhaps he moved the funds in preparation for his move to Lambsheim. It was only a few years later that he emigrated to America.

Until that time, Michael Muller the second had been a Swiss citizen, although he was born in Germany.

Mullers in Boltigen and Schwarzenmatt

The Mullers were clearly visible in the Boltigen area, which includes Schwarzenmatt. Several (in addition to Michael) were mentioned in the Mennonite document that references moving money.

  • Muller, Benedicts from Boltigen to Eppingen-Churpfalz on November 29, 1726
  • Muller, Wolfgang from Boltigen to Maulbronn-Wurttemberg on May 6, 1732
  • Muller, Johannes from Boltigen to Horbach-Swiebrucken on March 14, 1754

These three Miller men transferred funds to the same region of Germany, near where Michael had moved.

Were all of these men from the same Muller family from Schwarzenmatt and Boltigen?

Were there multiple Miller families living in Schwarzenmatt or Boltigen by that time?

If so, did they descend from a common Miller ancestor, or different men that just happened to carry the same surname?

Is this the same Muller family that had a coat of arms awarded in 1683, right about the time Michael Muller the first is found in Germany?

The Miller family in Boltigen had a coat of arms awarded in 1683 which looks to be a cogged wheel of some sort, perhaps a miller’s wheel?

The history of German heraldry isn’t terribly helpful, except to say that noble coats of arms included a barred helmet, and burgher’s/patrician’s coats of arms included a tilted helmet. The Muller coat of arms includes neither, so this tells us that the family wasn’t noble. It’s noted that in Switzerland, in the 17th century, Swiss farmers also bore arms. Given that the Schwarzenmatt Muller family, as evidenced by the restored home, was clearly a farm family, the coat of arms isn’t as surprising as it might otherwise seem. I am very curious though at the meaning of the yellow symbol on the coat of arms and if the blue background has any significance. I also wonder if this coat of arms would have included “all” of the Muller family or clan, or only one specific family unit.

There’s no way, of course, without Y DNA testing or non-existent records to tell if this is the same family. The Boltigen church records were lost in a fire in 1840. I have a DNA testing scholarship for any Miller male from the Schwarzenmatt/Boltigen area, or whose ancestors lived there.

A painting, below, remains of the old Boltigen church and parsonage from 1822, before the fire. This would have been the church that Heinrich attended, and where Michael was married in 1681.

From this photo of the current church, built after the 1840 fire, it looks like the new church was built in the same location and in the exact same style and footprint as the old church.

By Roland Zumbuehl – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20634682

Boltigen is just down the valley, about a mile from Schwarzenmatt. A lovely Sunday walk to church.

You can walk home from church in half an hour, but of course, it’s uphill! Probably not very pleasant in the winter.

Schwarzenmatt was tiny then and it’s tiny now. Heinsmann (Heinrich) and Michael lived here – lost in time today, but not lost to memory anymore.

Leaving Schwarzenmatt

This part of the world is truly beautiful – nature at her finest. I wonder what compelled Heinrich’s son to leave. It’s certainly possible that the isolation was a factor. The family that lived in this house, with who knows how many children, were peasants, and their children would be peasants too. Perhaps Michael wanted something more. Perhaps he found no comfort here after his wife died. Did she pass away giving birth to their first child?

The Thirty Years’ War had devastated and depopulated most of the Palatine and the Swiss were invited to come and settle, tax free, with a promise of land. Looking at the tiny Swiss village, and having lived in the Alps, I understand that this area could only support a limited population and had little potential for expansion. The German offer meant, for Michael, that opportunity was knocking and perhaps providing an escape from the pain of his wife’s death.

Once Michael left Schwarzenmatt, given the distance to Steinwenden, he likely never returned, which meant he never saw his parents or family again. Perhaps both of Michael’s parents were deceased before he left. We know, according to his marriage record in 1684 that his father was already gone by that time, but what about his mother and siblings – assuming he had siblings?

Heinrich likely was born and died in Schwarzenmatt and is buried in the churchyard of the old church that burned in 1840. Perhaps generations of Heinrich’s ancestors are buried near him there as well.

Michael would have passed that location one last time, perhaps stopping to say one final goodbye to his father and wife, on his way down the valley, through the village of Erlenbach, perhaps gathering his cousin Jacob Ringeisen, on his way to Germany.

Heinrich was the last of his generation here, at least in my line, and Michael was the first generation in Germany.

We think of the Muller family as German, but in reality, Michael the first only lived in Germany as an adult, retraining his Swiss citizenship the entire time. His son, Michael the second lived in Germany until 1727 when he emigrated to the US. He only relinquished his Swiss citizenship in 1720. In total, the Muller family lived in Germany for between 43 and 46 years. They were only exclusively German, meaning no Swiss citizenship, for 7 years. Before that, they were Swiss, probably for generations. After that, American.

How long had the Muller family been settled in Schwarzenmatt? When did they arrive? And from where? Is the surname Muller the trade name for the local miller? Does it reflect the occupation of Heinrich or his ancestors? Were they millers on the creek that runs through the valley?

We don’t have answers to those questions, but we can look at what the Miller line Y DNA tells us.

Genetic History

Our cousin, the Reverend Richard Miller took the Big Y DNA test in order for Miller descendants to learn as much as possible about our heritage.

Our Miller terminal SNP, or haplogroup, is R-CTS7822.

SNP Estimated Age
CTS7822 5000-5300 (Bulgaria)
Z2109 5300 (Russia, India)
Z2106 5300-5500
M12149 5500-6100
Z2103 5500-6100

In the R1b Basal subclade project, our sample is the only one with a terminal SNP of CTS7822.

There are other people who have another SNP downstream that we don’t have, some in Germany and Switzerland, and many in Scandinavia. Those would be descendants of CTS7822. In other words, at some point in time, a branch of the family headed north, long before surnames were adopted. Another branch headed south, across the Alps to Italy. One branch is found in Bulgaria and another in England.

Z2109, the branch immediately above ours, also our ancestor, is found in India, the Russian Federation and Turkey. That’s a fascinating span and suggests that the person who carried the ancestral SNP, Z2109 might well have been in the Caucasus before his sons and their descendants fanned out in all directions.

Unnamed Variants

Perhaps even more exciting is that eventually our Miller line is likely to have a different terminal SNP. Cousin Richard has 36 total unnamed variants.

This means that mutations, SNPs, have been found in these locations on his Y chromosome that have never been found before. These SNPs aren’t yet named and placed on the haplotree. Our line will be responsible, when another male tests that has these same locations, for 36 new branches, or updated branches, on the Y tree.

I always knew our Miller line was quite unique, and Heinrich’s Y chromosome, passed to Miller men today proves it!

Heinrich Muller’s DNA will be providing new discoveries in a scientific field he had absolutely no clue existed. His final legacy wouldn’t be written into record until more than 337 years after his death in the tiny village of Schwarzenmatt in the Swiss Alps. Not chiseled into stone, but extracted from his descendants Y chromosome.


I know this is the last stop on the Miller/Muller road, in this picturesque tiny village in the Swiss alps. There are no more records. I am attempting to contact Peter Mosimann, and if I’m lucky, there may be more photos!

With the difficulties in colonial America determining who Michael Miller (the second) was, and where he came from, never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d find our original homeplace in Switzerland two generations earlier.

And not just Michael’s home location, but his actual swear-to-God home, as in house.

I’m still reeling from this stroke of amazing luck – but then luck favors the prepared. My amazing German genealogist and cousin, Tom and my German-speaking friend, Chris receive all the credit for their amazing sleuthing work. None of this would have happened without their diligence.

I am ever so grateful.

I have wanted to visit Germany for decades. With this latest discovery, I’m checking airfares. My husband is in the other room having a coronary at the potential cost of the trip, but I’m focused on the emotional toll of not going. I always regretted not taking my mother back to Mutterstadt before her death, and count on it, she’ll be accompanying me in spirit😊

Maybe she has been guiding the way all along.

It was a long journey, in terms of miles, ships and time, from Schwarzenmatt to where I sit today. Ten generations and almost 400 years of mule paths, rutted wagon roads and 3-masted ships. From a farmhouse of stone and wood on a mountainside sheltering people, goats and pigs, with water hauled from the community well to an electrified dashboard from which I can travel the world, even back to Schwarzenmatt, without leaving my driver’s seat.

Yet, I know that there’s nothing like visiting in person. Walking where Heinrich walked. Standing where he stood. Visiting his grave, or at least the graveyard where he, his wife and their ancestors are surely buried in unmarked graves.

I hope to be reporting back to you in a year or so from Schwarzenmatt as I trace my ancestors’ footsteps and generations back in time.

Ancestor Birthdays Mean Presents for YOU!

I’ve been wanting to celebrate my ancestors’ birthdays for some time now, and I’ve finally figured out exactly how to accomplish this goal in a really fun way.

Being reminded once a year about their birthday and the anniversary of their death reminds me to work on their genealogy, and in particular, genetic genealogy. With more people testing every single day, meaning different people at every vendor, we need to check often with specific ancestors in mind. You never know who’s going to be the person who puts the chink in that brick wall.

With this in mind, I’ve put together a spreadsheet to track what I know about each ancestor. This makes it easy to schedule those dates in my calendar, with a reminder of course, and then to check my spreadsheet to see what information might have been previously missing that might be able to be found today.

It’s like a birthday present for them, but now for me. I am, after all, their heir, along with the rest of their descendants of course! If I’m lucky, I inherited part of their DNA, and if not, their DNA is still relevant to me.

Checking the List

Here’s my spreadsheet checklist for each ancestor:

  • Birth date
  • Birth place
  • Death date
  • Death place
  • Spouse
  • Y DNA haplogroup (if male)
  • Mitochondrial DNA haplogroup
  • Autosomal confirmed
  • Ancestry Circle

New information becomes digitized every year making new information available.

Additionally, some items may change. For example, if a base haplogroup was previous known, a deeper haplogroup might be available a year later if someone has taken a more detailed test or the haplogroup name might have been updated. Yes, that happens too.

I originally had a triangulation column on the spreadsheet too, but I pretty quickly discovered that column was subject to lots of questions about interpretation. Is the actual ancestor triangulated, or the line? I decided that “autosomal confirmed” would suffice to cover whatever I decide constitutes confirmation and a comment column could hold the description. For example, my grandparents are autosomal confirmed because I match (and triangulate) with cousins who are descended from ancestors upstream of my grandparents. If my grandparent wasn’t my grandparent, I wouldn’t be related to those people either. In particular, first cousins.

I also added an “Article Link” column to paste the link to that ancestor’s 52 Ancestors article so I can quickly check or maybe even provide this spreadsheet to a family member.

Here’s an example of what the first several entries of my Ancestor Birthday Spreadsheet look like.

Ancestor Birthday Presents for You

In order to remind myself to check on my ancestors’ status, on their birth and death days, I schedule reminders in my phone calendar. Every morning when I wake, I’m greeted by my ancestor – well – at least this much of them.

  • First, I check at Family Tree DNA for new matches, haplogroups and the presence of my family lines in surname projects.
  • Then it’s off to Ancestry to see if I have any new green leaf DNA or record hints, to add or update the circle for this particular ancestor, and to see if any of my matches would be a candidate for either Y or mitochondrial DNA testing, assuming they reply to messages and agree to test at Family Tree DNA. I keep a separate spreadsheet of each person that I’ve identified as a match with an identified ancestor. I know it’s extra work, but that spreadsheet is invaluable for determining if the ancestor is autosomal proven and if the match is a candidate for Y or mtDNA testing.
  • Then I get another cup of coffee and check at MyHeritage for new record matches for that ancestor, along with new DNA SmartMatches.
  • GedMatch and 23andMe aren’t as easy to check for matches specific to ancestors, but I still check both places to see if I can find matches that I can identify as descending from that ancestor.
  • While I’m at it, sometimes I run over to FamilySearch to see if there’s anything new over there, although they don’t deal with DNA. They do, however, have many traditional genealogical records. I may add another column to track if I’m waiting for something specific to be digitized – like court minutes, for example. FamilySearch has been on a digitization binge!
  • As I go along, I add any new discovery to my genealogy software and my Ancestor Birthday Spreadsheet as well.
  • Last, I paint new segment information from Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, GedMatch or 23andMe at DNAPainter. My three articles about how I use DNAPainter are here, here and here.

I just love ancestor birthdays.

Any day that I get to find something new is a wonderful day indeed – fleshing out the lives, history and DNA of my ancestors. With this many places to look, there’s seldom a day that goes by that I don’t discover at least something in my ancestor scavenger hunt!

Ancestor birthday presents for me😊


Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate. If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase. Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay. This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc. In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received. In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product. I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community. If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

Big Y-500 Flash Sale

Beginning today, Big Y prices at Family Tree DNA will be reduced FURTHER to the following levels:

  • Big Y-500 with no prior Y STR tests: $449 – this test includes all 500 STR markers plus the Big Y itself.

This is an amazing price given that the 111 panel itself is normally $359 alone. For just $90 more, you get the full 500 STR markers, including those 111, and the Big Y. This provides you with matches on 111 STR markers, your most refined haplogroup, and Big Y matching as well. Pricing has never been better.

Upgrades to Big Y-500:

  • Y12: $449 – normally $629 – save $180
  • Y25: $449 – normally $599 – save $150
  • Y37: $429 – normally $569 – save $140
  • Y67: $379 – normally $499 – save $130
  • Y111: $329 – normally $449 – save $130

Updated Testing Strategy 

Initially, I was testing only one man per family line, but I’ve revised that practice now because we’ve discovered new SNPs in different lines of the same family within a genealogical timeframe. This is exciting news, because it allows us to combine STRs and SNPs to define and sort family lines.

This is particularly useful when the tester knows they descend from a specific surname line, but has no idea how. The Big Y can solve that mystery when other methods don’t. I have two ancestral lines that have line-defining SNPs where STRs failed to make the division. I hope you have some of the same success – and the price sure is right.

My new strategy is to test minimally two men who descend from different sons of the oldest known ancestor of the line. In some family lines, several men have taken the Big Y, and downstream branches have been discovered. SNP mutations are much more common than we once believed.

These are great prices but the sale ends August 31st, so you only have 2 days!  Click here to purchase or upgrade.


Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate.  If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase.  Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.  This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc.  In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received.  In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product.  I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community.  If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

Should I Upgrade My Y DNA Test?

I’m often asked about the benefits of upgrading Y DNA tests at Family Tree DNA, and if people should order an upgrade.

The answer to this, like just about everything else DNA is “it depends.”

Yes – Upgrade!

The answer IS YES if:

  • You have tested less than 37 markers. You really need 37 or 67 markers minimally today for genealogy.
  • You want to obtain all of the information possible about your ancestral lineage and where it came from. (That’s me!)
  • You want to participate in family as well as scientific research by upgrading to the Big Y. Why the Big Y? I wrote about that here.
  • You want the most refined haplogroup possible in order to see who you match the most closely that might not be a match on the STR (12-111) panels. This is particularly useful in terms of looking for clan overlap and relatedness further back in time in Scotland, for example.
  • You have lots of matches at your current level and you wish to eliminate the ones that aren’t relevant.
  • You have (your own) surname matches at levels higher than you’ve tested and you want to further determine which matches are closer genealogically.
  • You have no matches at your current level. Sometimes you pick up matches at higher levels because they allow more mutations and your mutations (or their mutations) may simply fall in the lower panels.
  • You want to leave a legacy for future genealogists by providing as much information as possible. This is especially important if you are the last of your line, or males with surname from your family line are in short supply.

No – Maybe Not Now

The answer IS NO if none of the above applies and:

  • You’ve already tested to 37 markers, don’t have matches at lower levels, and you don’t care.
  • You’ve tested to 37 markers, don’t have matches and have to choose between a Y upgrade and a different kind of test, like autosomal or mitochondrial that you haven’t yet taken. You’ll probably learn more by testing an untapped resource.
  • You’ve tested to 37 markers and have to choose between a Y upgrade and a new test for a relative that will provide information about one of your paternal ancestral lines that hasn’t been tested. Hint, look at the surname project in question to be sure your lines aren’t already present.

Surname Project Search

You can search for the surname and projects on the main Family Tree DNA page by scrolling down until you see the surname search box.

Of course, if your ancestor is represented in a public surname project, and you have someone available to test, it’s always a good idea to test that person…well…because you never know if there was an adoption or some hanky panky – or your genealogy is wrong. Better to find out now that to go on blissfully doing genealogy on the wrong line.

Summer Sale is in Full Swing

The great news is that the Family Tree DNA Summer Sale is in full swing, and unlike last year’s sale, upgrades ARE included.

Plus, as an added bonus, when you upgrade to the Big Y-500 test, the markers between where you’ve already tested and the Big Y-500 are included in the price. So if you’ve tested to 37 markers and order the Big Y 500, you receive:

  • 67 marker upgrade
  • 111 marker upgrade
  • Big Y test
  • Additional markers to total 500 above the 111 marker panel – that’s 389 extra markers for free with the Big Y

In essence, this upgrade is 4 tests bundled into one and it’s on sale for less than the Big Y itself used to cost on sale, a year ago, at about $500. This has never been a better value than it is now.

Upgrade prices are shown above and you can order by clicking here and signing on to your account. Then, just click on the blue upgrade button by your Y DNA results.

Need to order a new test, not an upgrade? Great! Click here to view the sale prices. The sale lasts until August 31st.


Standard Disclosure

This standard disclosure appears at the bottom of every article in compliance with the FTC Guidelines.

I provide Personalized DNA Reports for Y and mitochondrial DNA results for people who have tested through Family Tree DNA. I provide Quick Consults for DNA questions for people who have tested with any vendor. I would welcome the opportunity to provide one of these services for you.

Hot links are provided to Family Tree DNA, where appropriate.  If you wish to purchase one of their products, and you click through one of the links in an article to Family Tree DNA, or on the sidebar of this blog, I receive a small contribution if you make a purchase.  Clicking through the link does not affect the price you pay.  This affiliate relationship helps to keep this publication, with more than 900 articles about all aspects of genetic genealogy, free for everyone.

I do not accept sponsorship for this blog, nor do I write paid articles, nor do I accept contributions of any type from any vendor in order to review any product, etc.  In fact, I pay a premium price to prevent ads from appearing on this blog.

When reviewing products, in most cases, I pay the same price and order in the same way as any other consumer. If not, I state very clearly in the article any special consideration received.  In other words, you are reading my opinions as a long-time consumer and consultant in the genetic genealogy field.

I will never link to a product about which I have reservations or qualms, either about the product or about the company offering the product.  I only recommend products that I use myself and bring value to the genetic genealogy community.  If you wonder why there aren’t more links, that’s why and that’s my commitment to you.

Thank you for your readership, your ongoing support and for purchasing through the affiliate link if you are interested in making a purchase at Family Tree DNA, or one of the affiliate links below:

Affiliate links are limited to:

The Summer of 1970 – Little Did I Know, 52 Ancestors #204

Ah, the glorious summer of 1970. As adults, we can look back at our lives and specific forks in the road stand out and define themselves as life-altering, even if we didn’t realize it at the time.

That was the summer of 1970 for me.

Sometimes our life course needs to be altered and we don’t even know it. Call it Fate. Call in Divine intervention. Call it whatever you will.

A test and a trip redirected my life forever.

There was no turning back.

The Test

During the school year, students throughout the country took a test to qualify for studying abroad. The highest scorers were offered the opportunity to travel to Europe during the summer and study overseas.

That trip wasn’t free, but it was quite reasonable, comparatively, at $1200.

For our family, any amount over about $10 was a lot of money, and anything over $100 meant it wasn’t going to happen. A hundred dollars was more than an entire week’s wages for my mother. Minimum wage was all of $1.45 an hour and I don’t think she made $2 as a bookkeeper.

I tested anyway at the encouragement of my French teacher. The possibility seemed remote, and the entire class was testing so it was much easier to simply test than suffer the embarrassment of explaining why I wasn’t.

The days turned into weeks, and I had all but forgotten about the test when a letter arrived at home.

Yes, I was one of the selected students, and so was one of my classmates, Kim.

We were overjoyed, but, BUT, how was I ever going to afford the trip?

Studying abroad was expensive, even though these trips were designed specifically with “students” of working-class families in mind. There’s a difference between working-class and single-mother-with-deceased-father finances. We lived in daily fear of something breaking, because we knew we couldn’t afford to fix anything.

The Collège du Léman in Versoix, Switzerland (and other universities) filled their empty summer dorms with foreign high school students in the hope that they could recruit them as students later. Of course living abroad promised amazing adventures, trips to picturesque cities we had only heard about and days complete with castles and romance – the stuff movies were made of.

The trip accommodations were a bit more humble than those fantasies – traveling by train or bus and staying in youth hostels.

Still, a trip like that would be the adventure of a lifetime. And far beyond the reach of Mom and me financially.

Financial Reality

My father had been dead for 7 years and my mother worked every overtime minute possible, along with side jobs. We both wore hand-me-down clothes and what garments I could make, I did. I sewed for both of us.

Our car ran on a wink and a prayer and some days, didn’t run at all. We used a lightbulb in the winter under the hood to keep the engine warm so that the battery wouldn’t have to work so hard, or would work at all – because everything on that car was old. I remember the day a bicycle beat our old clunker across an intersection. Mom cried.

A breakdown of any kind of anything required money we didn’t have. We ate out ONLY once a year, when I was promoted from one grade to the next. That’s just how life was. I had never known anything different.

Mother was distraught. She wanted to provide me with this opportunity, but how would she pay for the trip? My grandparents were dead too – there was no one to help.

I wasn’t yet old enough to work, but I would be later in the year and the following summer. I already babysat, had for years, and performed other jobs available “for cash” for those too young to actually have a “real job.”

My mother was one determined lady.

Mom visited the bank on her lunch hour and arranged for a $1500 loan, $1200 for the trip and $300 for spending money for the summer. Her employer where she had worked since I was an infant co-signed. Our agreement was that she would initially pay for the loan by working overtime, or getting a second job, and I would take over the payments as soon as possible. I would also pay her back, which I somehow seemed to be doing for the rest of her life😊

That not only seemed fair, I was ecstatic and incredibly grateful. I was afraid to even dream that the trip might be a possibility. I still remember jumping up and down, our arms locked together when we received the news that her loan was approved. She must have worried about how she would pay that bill too, in addition to everything else, but she never let on.

I saw the words in the brochure; London, Amsterdam, Geneva and Paris. I savored the words, “Study French at the Collège du Léman, outside Geneva.” I looked in the encyclopedias at school to see where those places were located. That was long before the days of google or any home resources. I devoured the history of those locations.

Our French teacher began to prepare us for our “grande aventure.” Never in my wildest dreams could I have comprehended even at a rudimentary level what awaited.

My world was about to change, and the one to which I would return would look entirely different from the world I left. My life upended, turned upside-down.

The Evidence

My pictures from the trip have been badly water damaged, plus the ravages of almost 50 years. Many are out of focus, and their colors have faded.

Not to mention, I did a bad thing and wrote on the backs in ink, which transferred to the photo behind the picture. At least I DID write something, because I would be lost without those memory joggers today.

I recently scanned the few that have survived and will attempt to crop judiciously as I share this wonderful journey to the land of my ancestors. The photos may be damaged, but my memories, more of events and people than places, remain crystal clear.

My mother saved my letters that I wrote home during that trip, which I inherited in her “Suitcase of Life” when she passed away. They were like a time capsule from the past, hearing a younger me speak. Some are amazingly prescient, and some are quite cringe-worthy. I’ll be excerpting from them. You’ve been warned!

If there’s anything I take away from those letters, in general, it’s that growth is much like an internal tug-of-war. I’m both enchanted and horrified as I read those letters today.

Grab a cup of tea and come along!

New York City

The flight departed from New York City. My mother discovered that the cost of the flight from Indiana to New York City was not included in the package and was quite steep. My great-aunt who lived in upstate New York volunteered to pay for that part of the trip if we would stop and visit for a few days on the way to New York. Visiting with Aunt Eloise was an added bonus.

We were Hoosiers, not the least bit familiar with New York City traffic and my mother, bless her heart, drove straight into the heart of the city to the hotel and, a couple days later, to the airport. I’m amazed that we didn’t die. She didn’t realize what she had gotten herself into, but the only way out was through, and she wasn’t letting anything stop her now. That was before the days of GPS, navigation or even Google maps.  We navigated with accordion folded maps, squinting as the car moved.

While we were in New York, we ascended the top of the Empire State building, visited the United Nations building and of course, boarded a ferry to view the welcoming Statue of Liberty. Iconic New York. For me, it was a wonderful sendoff. For her, the first vacation she had taken since my birth. One of her girlfriends came along to split the cost. We had a great time!

From the minute I discovered that I was actually going to be able to go, I had sought every possible opportunity to earn money. I had saved my babysitting pay and cleaned houses to purchase fabric from the remnant bin to make my clothes for the trip. I made Mom a new dress for New York City, shown below at some NYC landmark.

While Mom was thrilled to be visiting New York City, she was understandably reluctant to put me on the plane to England. I think she had some last minute remorse. I didn’t look back – although had I realized the traffic nightmare my Mom faced leaving New York, I would have been worried. I was far safer airborne than her.

I had never been on a plane before, and I was flying alone. I would meet the rest of the students in Stansted Airport, 42 miles outside of London, the following morning. We would meet up with the counselors later in the day, in London.

I fell asleep, literally, flying into the future.


I don’t know what I expected, but I guarantee you, this wasn’t it.



Holy moley, we lost a mirror on the bus – and I’m sitting on THAT SIDE. The bus driver looks irritated, but nothing more.


The roads are miniscule!

I can’t look!!!

Slams eyes…waits to die.

Ok, I’m peeking, and I see quaint cottages with beautiful flower gardens, much like these buildings today.

Not soon enough, we arrived in London, in one piece but shaken.

Other than the 2 students from my school, I had never met the other students, of course, since we lived all over America. Soon we were chattering like magpies and quickly became acquainted. Two hours later, you’d have thought we were one big family on vacation together.

In spite of flying all night, no one wanted to sleep. After all, we were in LONDON, home of pop music, hip fashion and a cosmopolitan flavor we had never been exposed to before.

My first letter home was written on July 20th, on toilet paper. Yes, toilet paper. The toilet paper there was very “different” from Charminesque TP as we know it today. Think of see-through thin, non-absorbent and crispy. Kind of like super-crunchy tissue paper. Not at all comfy to use as TP, but made great stationery.

Toilet paper was one of my least favorite things about Europe. However, air mail was expensive, toilet paper was very lightweight and free, so I wrote on UNUSED TP regularly.

Here’s proof – the first paragraph of a letter.

Excerpts of my letter to Mom continued:

“We toured London on foot today. My feet and ankles are all swollen, but I had fun. Went back out tonight. Haven’t seen hide nor hair of the chaperones.”

Of course, it never occurred to me that if my feet and ankles were swollen, I should stay home and put my feet up. HA! That wasn’t about to happen. I’m sure that chaperone part made my Mom feel just wonderful. At least we were together as a group.

Wide-eyed, we walked until our legs gave out, then rode the subways everyplace, drinking in the heady cosmopolitan ambience.

We visited Big Ben, of course, and the Queen’s residence, Buckingham Palace with its massive gold gates.

Little did I know that the Queen is my cousin – albeit very distant, but a cousin just the same. I’m suspecting she wouldn’t have welcomed a visit from a poor but extremely starry-eyed and enthusiastic American student who is her 18th cousin 3 times removed and hadn’t the foggiest idea how to curtsy. How to behave in the presence of royalty wasn’t a concept I was familiar with.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the pomp and circumstance involved with the changing of the guards at Kensington Palace.

My cousin, the Queen, is a horsewoman herself, shown below, riding in the center.

We tried our best to distract those guards, somewhat of a local sport, since they were reported to be unflappable, of course setting themselves up as targets. We were quite unsuccessful – they were oblivious to our amateurish shenanigans. We, however, giggled uncontrollably with the sheer headiness of being in London combined with what to us was brazen misbehavior.

Ohhh, that guard was so cute and so was his horse.

I had no understanding of city gates, or even a comprehension of what medieval actually meant. Why would there be a gate or a wall??? Who needed to be kept out, or in, and why?

I had never seen castles and fountains or formal gardens. I lived in heartland Indiana, land of soybeans, barns and cornfields, not castles that functioned as fortresses towering over lakes in major cities, harkening back to the days of Lords and Ladies, Queens and Kings – many of whom were my family – albeit entirely unknown to me at the time.

This park and pond is located in the center of London, with Buckingham Palace in the distance.

Little did I know that my ancestors, yes MY ANCESTORS, are buried in Westminster Abbey. In fact, several repose there, including King Edward who died in 1307. My roots in London, and in fact, all of England run deep. Very deep. My ancestors’ DNA litters the English soil.

I didn’t understand it at the time, but my fascination with architecture, history and medieval buildings had been born, although my photography skills were abysmal.

That was long before the days of digital cameras and cell phones where you can see the photo you’ve just taken. These pictures were developed after returning home months later. You just crossed your fingers, clicked and hoped for the best. In fact, I rationed my film, so many photos allowed per day or location.

Next, we visited the massive Parliament buildings that overlooked the Thames River. Decades later, I would learn that the Thames was a central theme in the history of my ancestors, the ultra-rich, the abysmally poor and refugees alike.

I fed the pigeons in Trafalgar Square. During my last trip, a few years ago, we were informed that the pigeons had all been exterminated via poison, victims of “progress.”

London was the fashion center of the world. Just ask any teenage girl on that trip! Londoners had clothes so wild we Americans had never even imagined them. What seems old-fashioned and tame now was radical at the time.

Carnaby Street was so MOD! And look at those shoes in the window – to die for! Actually, I think they are back in style again.

Little did I know that Henry Bolton, a poor child who lived in the oldest part of the city near the docks in the shadow of London Bridge was my ancestor. He was born in what was then the ghetto about 1760, along with his brother, Conrad.

Little did I know that my German 1709ers had stayed, albeit somewhat unwillingly, as refugees, in London in 1709 in a make-shift tent city at St. Katherine’s Wharf on the Thames River. I would visit them there some 43 years later.

Little did I know.

My Speaks ancestors lived near Gisburn in Lancashire, but I wouldn’t know that until Thomas Speak’s Y DNA match to a cousin from New Zealand led us home more than four decades later.

And my Pilgrims – mother would have been thrilled to know that she descended from William Brewster whose home was in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire before he became a religious refugee in the Netherlands prior to sailing on the Mayflower in 1620. Not to mention John Lothropp of Yorkshire, Stephen Hopkins of Hampshire and their wives.

Little did I know that my Estes ancestors, whose surname I carried then and still carry, originated along the White Cliffs of Dover, but I wouldn’t visit that location until decades later. I had no idea at that time that Estes was English. I had never thought about genealogy, as hard as that is now to believe.

I would know none of that until much, much later.

In the summer of 1970 in London, I was captivated by the atmosphere so vastly different than anything I had ever experienced. Even the language sounded entirely different. As they say – two countries divided by a common tongue.

I wrote to mother:

“We’ve seen a lot of neat things and a lot of different customs too. I can’t begin to describe it“.

This would only be the first of many times on this journey that I found myself without words.

And then, not that I was conflicted or anything:

“London is OK but I like home better. But I’m not homesick. However, I would like to be there.”

Two days later, in a sleep-deprived brain fog, we climbed aboard a train and slept all the way to the coast as the train rumbled through the English countryside, occasionally bouncing our heads against the windows we were using for pillows.

We departed England by crossing the English Channel, boarding the ferry at Harwich for a 125-mile crossing. I can’t tell you much about the English Channel, because, well, I was distracted.

I met Robin.


I met Robin on the misty rain-drizzled upper deck of the ferry boat, the St. George, sailing between England and the Netherlands on a rough 6-hour crossing. I had never been on a ship before, or on the sea for that matter, and I told mother:

“I’m not seasick, but I feel drunk.”

Truth be told, I had no idea at that time what being drunk felt like either.

A little later:

“I’m starting to like this. I met a Dutch boy.”

Tall, older and handsome, Robin bought me my first beer on that ferry – AFTER I wrote that part about feeling drunk, just for the record. However, I didn’t mention that “beer” detail to mother. Nosiree…

Robin was just a month shy of 19, a merchant marine, and handsome – that cute guard on the horse from Kensington Palace quickly faded from memory.

Of course, teenage girls have a boy-memory-half-life of about 30 minutes on a good day anyway.

Here’s a picture of Robin when he married, five years later, and no, not to me. Our relationship took a decidedly different turn.

Robin and Joan, his lovely wife, and I are friends today, but on that rainy summer day in 1970, Robin hadn’t yet met Joan and he was enjoying “holiday,” on leave from officer’s school in the Dutch Merchant Marines.

Robin and I chatted during the crossing…OK, so we might have flirted a tiny little bit, but Robin was absolutely a perfect gentleman. A few hours later, I watched Robin ride away on his motor scooter as my group waited together to depart for parts unknown. Robin looked up and waved goodbye from the parking lot as we stood on the ship’s deck, watching over the railing. Robin and I had exchanged addresses and promised to faithfully write as penpals. It never occurred to me that I might actually SEE Robin again someday, nor that he would actually write to me, beginning while I was in Europe.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I exchanged addresses with the best of intentions over the years, then and now – but the absolutely amazing thing is that we actually DID write – for decades. I suspect, in retrospect, that part of our sustained friendship was due to the fact that Robin was sequestered for weeks and months at a time onboard ship. So he wrote, to me, to my Mom and to his wife after he met Joan. Robin was a wonderful penpal. I loved receiving his letters where he waxed philosophic about his dreams and aspirations, detailed his career advancements, and sometimes, regaled us with his stories of adventures in port. Like the time the taxi somehow wound up in the canal…but I digress.

A year later, Robin visited America and stayed with Mom and me. Looking back now, it’s funny, because Mom gave Robin her room and slept on the couch like a watchdog in the living room which separated her bedroom and mine. Robin and I were just friends, but we had several adventures and mis-adventures which included swimming, meeting a few officers and Robin managing to get his rental car stuck in a cornfield (without me along,) adventures we never told mother about – EVER. Just the memories bring a smile to my face today.

Decades later Robin would celebrate his 50th birthday by visiting his “American Mom” once again. It’s a good thing Robin returned when he did, because Mom didn’t have much longer.

Last year, my husband and I met Robin and Joan in Amsterdam, and this summer, we’ll see Robin again to celebrate his retirement after he rides a Harley across America.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to make a lifelong friend on a ferry in the English Channel.

The Netherlands

I have three vivid memories of the Netherlands.

  1. I lost my camera. If you’re wondering how I have the photos of London, I didn’t lose the film. It was tucked safely in my suitcase. But the camera was gone, and along with it the film in the camera at the time, including the photos from the ferry, a few of Robin and many from Holland as well. I was heartbroken, not to mention a new camera was not in my budget, but I purchased one nonetheless.
  2. The Netherlands is the cleanest country I have every visited. I recall vividly the “housewives” sweeping and then scrubbing the sidewalk in front of their house EVERY SINGLE MORNING about 5AM. Needless to say, I was shocked and very curious. They were equally as shocked that we NEVER swept and scrubbed our sidewalks. Nor were we up at 5 AM unless there was absolutely no other choice.
  3. In Amsterdam, there was no drinking age. My student friends and I decided to purchase Heineken beer. We didn’t sit at the bar in the hotel, because somehow we just knew that we surely would get “caught,” so we took the beer back to our room, crawled in bed and drank it. Then we decided to write letters home, laughing the entire time. Everything was suddenly funny!

No, I don’t know why we thought writing letters was somehow a good idea.

However, when I returned home, my mother pulled out that letter, written all cattywampus across the page and asked me if I cared to explain myself.


From that letter:

“Last night, my roommate had a beer and got drunk, sick and giggly.  My other roommate and I died laughing. I felt sorry for her though.”

And then, in an effort to redeem myself:

“I really miss church.”

Let me translate, “I feel really guilty about this, but I’m having the time of my life.” (And I’m going to be hell on wheels when I come home…just saying’!)

In the Netherlands, I discovered my lifelong love of beer.

Little did I know that my Vannoy ancestors had stayed in Amsterdam before departing for the New World. Little did I know that Govert Van Oy died in route in 1664 and was buried on the island of Texel.

Little did I know that Govert was baptized in the church in Venlo, above, where I would one day visit. Or that my Andreissen ancestors who married into the Vannoy line in New Netherlands had lived in Leeuwarden along with my Ferwerda ancestors who immigrated 200 years later.

Little did I know that one day I would return to the Dutch island of Vlieland where my ancestors lived on the part of the island washed away by the sea in 1736, and that 47 years in the future I would stand at the end of that island and stare, transfixed, across the channel to the island of Trexel where Govert Van Oy was buried.

Little did I know.

William Brewster, my Pilgrim ancestor from England lived in Leiden in the Netherlands as a refugee before embarking for Plymouth.

The Pilgrims, in 1970, were only impersonal figures in history books and not at all connected to me.

Little did I know that my mother’s Ferwerda grandfather had been born in the Netherlands. While my English ancestors had left England long ago, my mother’s family had immigrated just over 100 years earlier, in 1868. How quickly our history is lost – just three generations and that epic journey was already erased from family memory.


My time in Amsterdam in 1970 was quite limited. In a whirlwind bus tour, we saw where Rembrandt was buried and where Anne Frank lived. My heart was saddened to learn about Anne Frank’s story, and that there was no happy ending. I had heard about the Holocaust, but seeing Anne Frank’s house where she hid and was ultimately betrayed for myself was my first up front and personal introduction to the evils wrought by an insane dictator that sanctioned brutal acts of discrimination while the populace stood idly by, hoping it wouldn’t affect them.

Our student group stayed in private homes outside of Amsterdam, a few with each family.

To mother:

“I’m in Holland now, in a tourist home where no English is spoken at all. Groovy huh?! The woman who lives here smiles a lot, so I know she’s friendly. Our bus driver was so funny. We couldn’t understand a word but we communicated OK. It’s funny how far away you have to travel to find out what a big grin will do for you. I think you’ll be surprised how much I’ve learned about life in general since I’ve been gone. I know it’s odd to say, but I can see all of us kids growing up in a hurry. It’s odd to watch yourself growing up.”

And later:

“I’m not homesick, but it’s a good feeling to know you have a home waiting but you can still be free for awhile. Give Snowy (our rescued cat) a kiss for me and chirp at Babe (our rescued parakeet) for me.”

After a busy final day in the Netherlands, we boarded a train for the next chapter of our journey.

To mother, just in case she was wondering about that Amsterdam letter:

“My writing is jolty because the train is. I’m tired, but the train is too noisy to sleep. I didn’t much care for the tour in Amsterdam, because we didn’t get to get out of the bus much, and the tour consisted of them constantly saying “there are two hippies on the right.” I think the boat from England to Holland was my favorite part. I’m lonesome. I feel like a misfit here.”

Never write home when you’re tired.

Most of the train trip was at night, so we missed the scenery, changing trains in the middle of the night and awakening in the train station in Geneva in the morning.

Again, to mother:

“It’s early morning now, and we’re coming into the mountains. They are really beautiful in the sunrise.”

We shuffled our tired bodies to a local train and arrived just a few minutes later in Versoix, Switzerland, a tiny village about 7 km away, on the shores of Lake Geneva which is also known as Lac Léman.

Versoix, Switzerland

Our destination, of course, was the college in Versoix, our new home.

I still couldn’t believe I was actually going to be living in Switzerland, LIVING there.

My state of mind and the tone of my letters immediately changed:

“We’re in Geneva now. Had the best meal when we got here, although the train ride was 13 hours and they didn’t feed us. Got my first taste of French on the train. There were these 4 guys in the service…”

The full-time students were gone from the college for the summer, and we took up residence in the modern dorms, shown below, each student adopting a bed and dresser. We didn’t realize or care that our attendance was a way for the school to keep the teachers and staff employed year round, and perhaps a small source of revenue as well.

Our teachers spoke French and no English, which was very frustrating. We tested to be assigned to a class based on our fluency.

Our group included 4 chaperones from the US, but two of them, a male and female were very interested in each other and none of the 4 were interested in us. They eventually disappeared “to attend to business,” which left us with little if any oversight, which pleased us immensely. I’m not positive what they were actually doing, but according to the student speculative grapevine, the couple had eloped. Imagine our disappointment when they showed up sans wedding rings. We were perhaps a little too young to understand the nature of their relationship.

What they were doing mattered not one iota to me, I was very busy falling in love with Switzerland.

The campus was small, quaint and hypnotically beautiful in a way only European villages can be, with a villa and a courtyard for all to enjoy. Villa Portena was a typical European “home” and served as the campus social center where we gathered and ate most of our meals. Europeans don’t have the same concept of “old” as Americans. Three hundred years there is not yet old, perhaps nicely broken in and comfortable with a lovely patina. 800 or 900 years, that’s approaching old. The enclosed grounds were lovely with freshly manicured gardens, artistic wrought iron fencing and circular benches built around trees. Lovely for reading and studying.

Every morning we walked to the local bakery a block or so away to purchase a French baguette, butter and some kind of fresh jam. We ate it, sitting outside on the rock walls by pulling chunks off – the crusty outside and the soft center – my mouth is watering just remembering.

Our dorm was entirely female, with many pajama parties in the common area. My friend, Kim, from my home town, is in the middle in blue.

Did I mention that there was no drinking age anyplace in Europe? Wine was simply served as a part of meals and no one thought anything of it. We sampled the local wares – food, bread, cheese, wine and hard liquor. No one seemed to care. We had pajama parties almost every night. Life was good!

For the most part, we were responsible for ourselves. We thought we were quite grown up, but we didn’t realize that in many ways that we couldn’t yet conceive, we did grow up that summer. Growing up is a process, not an event. In our case, the process was accelerated by the lack of adult supervision which means we had to depend on ourselves. And truthfully, we were amazingly well-behaved.

a href=”https://dnaexplained.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/1970-versoix-from-lake-geneva.jpg”&gt; By Piisamson – own work, oma teos, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4340246%5B

The college was just three or four blocks uphill from Lake Geneva. This contemporary photo shows Versoix, a tiny village, from out on Lake Geneva.

The Versoix waterfront sported a couple of restaurants along the marina, and a night club type of pub. Our walks to the lake shore often culminated in drinks and long talks about our aspirations for the future looking out dreamily over the lake. Life in America seemed far away and nothing was impossible – after all – we had managed to travel to and were living in Switzerland. What could be impossible after that miracle?

The trip to Switzerland allowed me to dream dreams that I would never have considered even remotely feasible before. Every great achievement in life begins with a dream, no matter how seemingly impractical. After all, I was living proof of a miracle every day in Switzerland, so there was no limit to what dreaming might achieve. Flights of fancy didn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.

The Prince

Our dorms might have been segregated by gender, but there was a boy’s dorm. We quickly made friends with international students from all over the world, our bond being that we were all strangers together. This young man was a member of a royal family, complete with his own security detail. Apparently, they didn’t think that American girls were terribly dangerous, because we walked to the waterfront almost everyday and enjoyed talking, eating and soaking up the lusciousness of Switzerland. His security detail remained distant, but ever-present.

Indiana was far away, another time, another place, and I was entirely disconnected. I had been homesick before, but in Switzerland, I never wanted to go back.


About this time, another student became memorable as well for an entirely different reason.

One of the female students was blind and a specific chaperone was supposed to be a personal aid to the blind student.

Unfortunately, that chaperone wasn’t terribly interested in that aspect of her job, for which she was being paid extra and may have been the only reason she was along.

As students, we had a lot of individual freedom. Mostly, we ranged in small groups as we explored our new home away from home, branching out to ride the train into Geneva and further. However, we were required to let people know where we were going, and to be back by curfew. Kim and I managed to miss curfew.

We were busted, and the chaperone who was supposed to be attending to the blind student is the person we found waiting for us. Let’s just say it wasn’t pleasant. That chaperone was never pleasant, in her best moments. Our punishment was to be the guide for the blind student.

In retrospect, I feel terribly sorry for the blind girl – but at the time, everyone was unhappy. Kim and I both, for obvious reasons, and the blind student because I’m sure she felt more than a little betrayed by the counselor, vulnerable and afraid. She wasn’t very friendly and she assuredly did NOT like us, or at least didn’t like me.

However, if the chaperone thought that assigning us guide duty would slow Kim and I down, she was sorely mistaken.

We introduced the blind student to worlds she never knew existed – and while the counselor couldn’t have cared less, the blind girl was not entirely too pleased about that turn of events. We were told we had to take her with us, and so we did – everyplace, much to the blind student’s chagrin! As irritating as she was, we felt sorry for her.


Our EuroRail Pass was our ticket to the world, including Geneva, just a few miles around the lake. Geneva, a multi-cultural center with amazing entertainment and night life was quickly becoming a favorite. Nothing was lacking. The summer stretched out before us endlessly.

a href=”https://dnaexplained.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/1970-geneva-fountain.jpg”&gt; By Sailko – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33901926%5B

Geneva was beautiful with the fountain in Lake Geneva called Jet d’Eau visible from every vantage. Everything and everyplace was stunning. Swans graced the lake, gliding by, people were friendly and a smile was your ticket to anything.

I was in love – and it wasn’t with a boy, but with Switzerland itself – with or without our blind unwilling protege. I couldn’t drink enough of this dew.

Immersion French

Of course, our entire purpose for being in Switzerland was what would today be called immersive French, the language, the culture and the history.

We attended our classes at the college every day, but we weren’t the most well-behaved or attentive students. After all, the city, the lake, the waterfront establishments and the beaches called – and we heard that call loud and clear. Imagine our shock when we discovered that topless beaches in Switzerland and in fact, in many places in Europe were simply “normal” there.

From my letter to mother:

“We took our placement tests today. Classes start tomorrow. Dinners are formal here, with wine. There’s nothing else to drink. We have to dress and my two dresses are dirty. I’m doing laundry in the sink, which has no plug. Our room looks like the United Nations flags with clothes hung all over to dry. I hope Snowy doesn’t forget me. Did you call my boyfriend? Did his song sell in Nashville? I’m not getting letters from him very often The bathing suits here are vulgar. Mine is considered here like a one piece with sleeves and tights would be at home. One lady wasn’t wearing at a top, at all. I was shocked. I’m enjoying Geneva much more than London and Amsterdam, put together. I love the campus. Makes everything worth it.”

“Nothing else to drink”…please. I’m sure she knew better.

We were supposed to be focused on French, and we were while in class, but outside of class, we were distracted by everything else. Let’s just say we were having an immersive cultural experience.

I struggled with the class. To mother:

“My French is really improving but I get so frustrated in class. I can’t answer questions because I miss one or two words. I feel really dumb. I want to get into an easier class, but they won’t let me. I may have to buy an iron for my clothes if I can figure out what to ask for. Plus, they don’t let us lock our dorm rooms and someone broke in my room. I think they were looking for money, but I had mine on me so I’m fine. My roommates are gone on an optional trip to Rome and I would have been alone in my room tonight. It scared me so I’m bunking in with someone in another room. I’m getting homesick and feel like I don’t belong. I should be at home instead of here spending money we don’t even have. When I feel down, I want to go home. Before I came over here, home was just a word and a place to me. Humans are so ignorant they don’t know a good thing until they are without it. The cost of the trip is worth it if I get nothing else out of it.”

If anyone doesn’t think that teenage girls have mood swings, have another think.

The next day, I wrote to my mother that I disliked my French teacher because she kept us late in class, making us late for lunch. Then I promptly told her that I wasn’t homesick, that most of the people are very nice and the scenery is awesomely beautiful and I wished I could share it with her.

Suffice it to say, the only time we spoke French was when we couldn’t communicate with another person in English. In other words, it was only French by necessity. That was, until I met the Prince. He spoke no English and I didn’t speak his language, so we were both very motivated to learn French quickly😊

All of a sudden, my French teacher and I got along MUCH better and French became much easier too. A little motivation does wonders!

Problem = Opportunity

Monsieur Francis Clivaz, the owner of the college, had a problem. He had somehow overbooked the facility.

A very large group of Japanese students arrived, unexpectedly, and there weren’t enough dorms to accommodate everyone. The college wasn’t just overbooked, it was double booked.

We were already jam packed, and there just wasn’t room. I was furious at this unwelcome interruption, just when we had settled in and gotten comfortable.

Monsieur Clivaz called us all into his office, including our chaperones.  A hush fell over the fidgeting, restless students. We loved it there and a sense of foreboding crept over the group. This couldn’t be good.

He explained the overbooking situation. He chastised us for not being more focused on speaking French. We just knew we were being sent home. Some began to cry.

However, Monsieur Clivaz was a clever man, and he provided us with an opportunity to redeem our sorry selves.

His brother owned a resort in the tiny sleepy alpine village of Montana, today a part of Crans-Montana, a world class ski resort community. Montana occupied less than 2 square miles and was not heavily developed at that time. Montana in this contemporary photo is every bit as stunning as it was then.

Seeing this photo caused the memories to come rushing back in an avalanche.

Monsieur Clivaz made us a deal. If we would solemnly PROMISE not to speak anything but French, he would send us, with a bus, driver, our teacher, and our chaperones, to Montana for the duration of the summer.

Cheering erupted. We couldn’t believe our good fortune.

We were saved. We didn’t have to go home in shame, not that he had ever actually threatened that.

All of the students at the college went to Montana and the Japanese students stayed in Versoix.

Let me tell you, we got the better end of that deal, although I loved in in Versoix and initially felt extremely cheated! But, that was before we arrived in Montana.


We packed our things and boarded the bus. Mail would be delivered once weekly from Geneva, along with anything else we wanted. Monsieur Clivaz was very generous and agreed to show us the countryside as part of our education. Field trips abounded. No more being left behind when the rest of the group went to Rome on an optional trip.

Montana was about a 4 or 5-hour ride from Versoix, through the utterly breathtaking Alps.

My memory of that trip, aside from the heart-stopping scenery in every direction, was the utter terror of navigating switchbacks in a bus. Those roads were made for mules, then small cars, not busses.

I remembered the bus ride from the airport in England. That was child’s play by comparison. Training wheels. This was nail-biting white-knuckle serious. Straight down on one side and straight up the other. An error didn’t mean a missing mirror, it meant plunging over the edge of the road to sure and certain death. How many busses are down there anyway?

I tried not to think about death. In some places, the bus actually had to stop and inch around the hairpins using both lanes, occasionally backing up and hitching. The rear of the bus was hanging over the cliff edge. I wasn’t Catholic, but you could tell the Catholics because they kept crossing themselves. I started crossing myself too. It couldn’t hurt! You’ve heard of foxhole religion? This was bus Catholicism.

As we climbed through the mountains, small chalets dotted the countryside along the road which ran alongside the stream that trickled through the center of the valley.

The houses became increasingly distant from each other, and the granite walls of the mountains began towering overhead.

Waterfalls cascaded free-falling down the sides of mountains, and glaciers were evident in the distance. We could see snow on the upper peaks which were drawing increasingly close.

We continued our slow climb in our lumbering bus until we reached Montana at about 5000 feet above sea level, almost 3800 feet above Versoix. The temperature had dropped dramatically, and it was chilly.

Montana occupies one the highest peaks of the Alps, affording an utterly stunning view of the surrounding lakes and mountains. Taking the ski lift to the top of the mountains provided a birds-eye view from, literally, the top of the world. We had died and ascended Heaven.

href=”https://dnaexplained.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/1970-alps-panorama.jpg”&gt; By chensiyuan – chensiyuan, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20152321%5B/

Click on this link and view the photos, including some of the 360 views and videos. Heart-stopping is the only word that comes to mind.

My world-view was expanding minute by minute.

Zermatt, gateway to the Matterhorn was visible about 25 miles in the distance, across the roof of our neighbor building.

We settled in to our new home, wowed by the scenery that was taken for granted by all those who lived or worked there. Like cornfields and soybeans were at home.

I had never seen mountains before driving to New York and arriving in Europe, and I couldn’t believe my eyes to discover glaciers in the distance outside my bedroom window, above. New York’s mountains were baby mountains compared to these.

To mother:

“I’m in Montana now and it’s really beautiful. The most beautiful of all the places – of all the places I’ve ever seen. You’d love it here. You wouldn’t be able to help it. It’s about 2/3rds way up a really tall mountain with skiing on the top.”

A month before, I had been sweltering in the heat of a Midwest summer. Now, I was in Alpine glory where we needed jackets and snow was still very much in evidence at the higher elevations. In the photo above, I was hiking in the mountain pass.

Just outside our hotel, the bases of ski lifts and gondolas were anchored, shown by the red lines in the map above. Since skiing was out of season by this time, but some snow remained, the area was deserted of tourists. It was our lucky day, as we had free and immediate access to lifts. We could walk anyplace in the village, and the restaurants and nightclubs were very welcoming. Especially one particular nightclub, but I digress.

Montana and nearby towns were sleepy, partially trapped in an earlier time, and supplies were often transported by the slow plodding of horse-drawn wagons that weaved between people walking on the street. Watering troughs made of hollow trees served both horses and people. While this was a ski area in the winter, the townspeople clearly lived here as evidenced by a school, grocery and church. Everyone lived for Oktoberfest.

We were true to our word and spoke only French. Our teacher decided we might learn better in an outdoor setting, and our lessons often took place on the bus on the way to a new destination.

We absorbed culture in Zermatt, Chamonix and Mont Blanc, about 70 miles and 2 hours distant, in addition to countless meadows, mountaintops and picnics packed by the hotel or picked up impromptu at the grocery.

We hiked in the snow.

And in mountain meadows. Yes, despite my fear of heights, I was in the gondola with the camera.

I came to love Edelweiss and mountain meadow flowers. I plucked and pressed a few in my Bible.

To mother:

“Kim and I walked up a mountain today. We found a gorgeous meadow with the remains of a little swiss house in it. We walked and walked and finally got to a spot where you can look down and see the whole valley. It must be a good 2 or 3 miles down. We found really cool rocks and wild mountain flowers. Tomorrow we are going to the top of the mountain for a picnic lunch.”

We literally lived with our teacher and we loved everything about French, history and Switzerland. Sometimes, we couldn’t find the right words, so we talked with our hands. Our friend the Prince, below, didn’t speak English so French and hand-speak was our only option.

This is the one and only photo I have of myself from this entire trip.

If you notice on the map below, the dividing line for the Canton of Bern, a primarily German speaking region of Switzerland on the north side of the Alps begins not far from Montana. French was spoken on the south side of that dividing line. To see stunning photos from the top of the mountain, click here.

Canton of Bern

Little did I know at the time that my mother’s paternal grandmother Miller’s line was originally found in Schwarzenmatt, about as far across the mountains to the north as Zermatt is to the south.

You can’t see Schwarzenmatt from Montana (at least I don’t think), because the peaks of the Alps are in the way. As the crow flies, I was perhaps 25 miles distant from what may be the oldest location of an actual known ancestor’s home in a Swiss village. No wonder I felt like I had come home. I literally had.

Little did I know that my links to the Alps were genuine and real – an ancestral memory perhaps. Heinrich Muller, in his son Johann Michael Muller’s 1684 marriage record is stated to be from Schwarzenmatt, in the district of Bern, and the Muller home is known to have been in the family from before 1615 until the late 1800s when it was sold to a son-in-law. It remains in that family today.

Dreams, Dates, Drama and Grief 

I spent my days consumed by all things French, immersed in possibilities, thinking about how different my life might be than what I had always assumed it would be. My French teacher told me I had a very large French vocabulary and hoped I would “do something” with it someday, maybe as an interpreter. No longer was “getting married” my priority. Life had so much more to offer. Georgetown University in Washington DC, far from my home town, had a foreign language and diplomatic services degree I needed to consider.

I began to dream. Young people can’t dream of a world they don’t know exists.

I grieved when the day came to leave Montana. I knew the discotheques well, the people, and I even had a real date – or at least I tried, with a young man named Francois from Italy. Our common language was French and flirting, although to be perfectly clear, I did NOT kiss on the first date. Do Italian boys kiss on first dates? (Yes, Italian boys kiss whenever possible.) No one explained THIS aspect of the culture.

My next letter home reflected conflicted feelings about this date and my boyfriend at home. Like most girls that age, I felt that this “affected my whole life.” By the time I came home, I knew that I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life with the boyfriend back home and had to figure out how to explain that to him.

The date in Montana was challenging with the blind girl in tow. Yep, she was still somehow my responsibility. She wasn’t amused either, I assure you, and told the slacker chaperone that she had heard things “unzippering.” Never mind that we were in public the entire time, and the unzippering was jackets and my purse as my newfound beau and I exchanged addresses. Yes, we were penpals for a year or so, right up until he proposed marriage by writing a letter to my mother, twice in a row. That ended that.

Montana wasn’t without drama. Kim’s purse was stolen with her passport, all of her money, and replacing it was going to take “a long time.” Overseas calls were expensive, but she called her grandparents, in tears, to ask for help. I told my mother I thought I was having an appendicitis attack but didn’t want to spend the money to go to the doctor. I’m surprised I didn’t give her a coronary. By the time she received the letter, called Monsieur Clivaz who in turn called our hotel in Montana, I was fine and had forgotten entirely about the episode. Poor Mom was always working with at least 10 day old information.

Our adventures in the area surrounding Montana included Zermatt, visible over the horizon and Mt. Blanc, shown below, the highest mountain in Europe. Literally, in that time and place, the zenith of the world – also the watershed line between Italy and France.

I had just begun the climb to my own summit, but I had inadvertently stumbled across one of many personal watershed lines.

As the summer drew to an end, I grieved as I left Montana – the tears silently rolling down my cheeks as my beloved mountains slipped away into the distance, but never from my heart. As unhappy as I was to be displaced from Versoix to Montana, I was exponentially more aggrieved to leave. My heart was broken. I loved that place in a way I didn’t know I could love any place on earth.

I would write my last letter home to mother, fundamentally changed. I asked her advice on how to break the news “gently to Tony,” the boyfriend, that I was not returning as the person who left, in spite of the fact that he had faithfully written and waited. That old adage about having nothing to do with you, and everything to do with me was true. I knew he would never understand. He didn’t.

He returned the most expensive gift I had purchased for anyone, including mother and myself, a ring, in pieces.

I also knew, in some fundamental unspoken way that I had changed and in ways mother wouldn’t understand either. She didn’t.

Nor in ways I yet understood myself. An internal metamorphosis that would take a lifetime to complete had been set in motion. I looked like the same person, but I wasn’t at all.

We returned to Versoix for a few nights to regroup and repack at the Collège du Léman. Spending time back there made me realize just how the world had expanded in the weeks since we left.

Kim received her replacement paperwork in the nick of time. Our flight was out of Paris a few days later. Monsieur Clivaz had to assist several students with various crisis, such as not having enough money for the French airport tax on the trip home.

Our unexpected time away from the school drained our personal coffers, so he extended loans to anyone who needed them. After one final trip to the bakery, one final walk to the lakeshore and one final pajama party, the next morning we said our goodbyes to our many international friends, Monsieur Clivaz and our teacher, who we now loved, and silently boarded the train for Paris.

I looked longingly back at my beloved Switzerland and ached for a final look at the Alps.

Little did I know.


I loved Switzerland. I fell in love, passionately with the Alps. Paris was supposed to be the high point of our trip, saved for last.

I enjoyed Paris, but I had already left my heart behind.

Still, Paris beckoned with a mystical allure too. Paris is an ancient city full of history.

In our short time there, we visited the Eiffel Tower, of course. Ironically, it’s one of the “new” attractions built in 1887, but it’s also one of the first things that tourists see.

href=”https://dnaexplained.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/1970-paris-panorama.jpg”&gt; By Armin Hornung – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17970568%5B/

I didn’t climb the 704 steps to the top, but I wish I had, because the panorama of Paris, shown above is stunning and shows many of the historical locations. Neither the ride up nor the steps was free and cash was in very short supply by this time. I had only taken about $300 for the entire summer’s spending money, and it was already depleted.

The Arc de Triomphe, also known as La Place de l’Etoile is standard tourist fare.

We lodged at a youth hostel, the Maison de Mines which still exists as a dorm in the winter and a youth hostel in the summer. Bathrooms were community, and each floor had one. At that time, air conditioning didn’t exist in Europe, but I didn’t miss it because we didn’t have air in the US either.

However, Paris was exceedingly HOT when we were there, and the open windows provided exactly no ventilation because the air was not moving at all. Let’s just say the city didn’t smell inviting either.

By this time, we were all quite sick of the chaperone who was supposed to be caring for the blind student, and she couldn’t do much to make us miserable anymore. She could punish us exactly how?

The chaperone had washed out her underwear by hand and had made the mistake of hanging it in the community dorm room to dry.

Innovative students that we were, we used coat hangers to suspend her rather matronly underwear outside her room from the window ledge to dry from the windows, hanging over the sidewalk, flapping like large white prayer flags.  Not only could she not see it from within her room, everyone else could see it outside.

We laughed until we cried. She didn’t.

I’m sorry, I still have no remorse for that prank.

This hospital dome was the view from my window, well, when not staring at the counselor’s underwear.

Paris is a beautiful city. History permeates every step, every building and perhaps unknown to the Parisians, every person too.

Ancestral Paris

The Seine River runs through the city center, and not surprisingly, the earliest settlement was established here on an island mid-river, Ile de la Cite.

Today, barges and tourist boats traverse the waterway while the rest of Paris watches from the many bridges, each of which has it’s own personality and story.

I loved the right and left banks of the river, La Rive Gauche and La Rive Droit, populated by artists and students, sitting alongside the river. Paris is a city for walking, and walk we did – plus walking was free. I sat alone in the beer gardens amid the hustle bustle energy of the city. I strolled along the Seine, longing nostalgically for the peace and quiet of the Alps. At the same time, I anticipated and hesitantly embraced a future that would unfold fundamentally differently from the trajectory I previously expected, and would assuredly have lived without this experience. There was no “going back,” and returning home was going to be challenging.

For a teenage girl, I did a lot of deep thinking and soul searching while surrounded by the avant-garde atmosphere of the Paris left bank sidewalks full of inspiration and street vendors, accompanied by the ghosts of my distant past. All of that in combination encourages thinking far, far outside any restructive box.

Little did I know.

There was one moment, standing on a bridge near city center that literally took my breath away. Stopped me dead, cold in my tracks as I looked up from my walking and ruminating.

Notre Dame. I took the above photo in 1970, but here’s one from almost the same location on the bridge named Pont de la Tournelle.

href=”https://dnaexplained.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/1970-paris-notre-dame-from-bridge.jpg”&gt; By Lolowaro from Paris, France – Notre Dame de Paris from pont de la Tournelle, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35847725%5B/

I wasn’t Catholic. I didn’t even know that I was looking at Notre Dame. But I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that I needed to go inside that building. I found my way to Notre Dame, bought and lit a candle, even though I had no idea that I was participating in an age-old Catholic ritual.

I was overwrought by emotion. Perhaps part was due to the amazing experience I had just lived over the past several months – even though I had yet to assimilate all that it would eventually mean to me. I’m sure part was due to being homesick.

But perhaps not all.

Little did I know that my ancestor, Jacques “dit Beaumont” Bonnevie, an Acadian man who was born about 1660 was noted as “a native of Paris” on a historical document.

Little did I know what his life would have been like, what he saw, and that he was very probably baptized in Notre Dame Cathedral on the historic Ile de la Cite.

href=”https://dnaexplained.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/1970-paris-ile-de-la-cite.jpg”&gt; By Daniel Vorndran / DXR, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31704254%5B/

He probably stood very near this location, viewing Notre Dame 300 years earlier.

Little did I know that I was walking in his footsteps, and that I had returned home to his church.

Little did I know I would return again, and again. Called back…summoned by those ancient whispers.

Little Did I Know

I left Indiana full of naïve enchantment, and I returned with a brand-spanking-new world-view, crafted from an expanded consciousness.

I understood that we, me, the US was part of a much larger world that I could not be truly comprehended without experiencing it directly. There’s a massive difference between reading about something and experiencing it personally. Experiences indelibly shape us, and at that age, who we become.

I understood that the way “we” do things is one way, but not the only way, and not always the “right” way. There can be multiple right ways, and someone doesn’t always have to be “wrong.”

I understood that there are many perspectives, and all need to be considered with an open mind. Mine wasn’t. The culture in which I had grown up had already shaped me and my opinions. I had to rethink “me.”

I understood that many cultures embrace different religions, and everyone who embraces a different set of religious values is not going directly to hell. That was a tough realization for the Baptist girl from Bible Belt Indiana.

I understood that prejudice of all kinds, meaning relative to economic conditions, race, gender, religion and more had fomented all forms of hatred, and no love, throughout history, in many if not most of the very places I walked. Bombs had dropped, cities burned and millions died, over and over again – often in the name of or under the guise of religion.

Anne Frank’s poignant story never left my soul. Last year, on the shores of the Danube in Budapest, a memorial in the form of shoes that Jewish people were forced to step out of on the bank of the river before they were shot, their bodies falling into the water to be whisked away like so much rubbish, reminded me once again of the demons of prejudice. I understood that I had to fight those fundamental evils with every ounce of my being.

I understood that good people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, nationalities, religions and speak any number of different languages.

I understood the same thing about bad people, and that they masquerade as good people, often hiding behind an agenda they believe you will embrace.

I understood that the world looks very different when you are raised with blinders, not because of willful ignorance, but because the people raising you have no other point of reference. Blinders beget blinders, ignorance begets ignorance, but humans, thankfully, can learn and change.

I understood that “because that’s how things have always been done” is not a good reason. In fact, it’s a very bad reason. I learned to think for myself “outside the box.” That was very difficult for my mother after I returned home.

I understood that opportunity is often disruptive, and it only comes knocking if you are willing to function outside of the environment in which you are comfortable. That’s exactly what happened to me.

I understood that I was forever changed, remolded, and it would murder my newly liberated soul to re-conform to the constraints that had previously bound me.

I understood that education was transformative in unimaginable ways and would be my ticket “out.”

I understood that mental ties that bind us are far stronger than physical ones, and infinitely more difficult to break.

I understood that once you comprehend, you’ve lost your excuse for ignorance.

I understood that my path into the unknown was mine for claiming and that if I didn’t choose that path, wherever it would lead, the light I was supposed to shine from my own personal summit would forever be lost. I would have to leap with no net.

I understood fear. In spades.

I understood what it meant to be truly alone.

I also was beginning to understand both tenacity and commitment. That, I got from my mother. Examples, both good and bad, never leave us as we are always leading by example.

I understood that to not leap meant that I would condemn myself to a life of darkness, understanding every single day that I had actively forsaken the light. Worse yet, I would be able to see that mountain I had declined to climb while others would claim the summit.

I came to understand that I could not ignore the nagging hand of fate. I tried, for years. That was slow torture, a fate worse than death. I decade later, I chose the difficult, rockstrewn path and never looked back again.

And so, in those golden summer days of 1970 began a slow transformative epiphany.

I could not be silent.

I could not conform.

Little did I know how much that summer changed my life – every molecule of my being. I left a caterpillar and returned emerging from my cocoon.

On that alpine vista, I knew that I had to walk that frightening, uncertain path into an unknown future to places no one on my family had ever been. No one could, or would, accompany me. It was my own personal watershed.


I was terrified, because I knew that path would lead me away from the home and people where I was raised – and I had no idea what would happen to me or where it led. I knew they would never understand why and many would be critical, or worse. I hoped that at least a few of them would love me anyway, or maybe because of my courage.

I felt an iron-clad bond across generations with my ancestors who left as frightened immigrants and arrived as refugees, embarking on an uncertain, perilous journey from which they would never return.

I prayed that someone, on the other side of that chasm, would understand.

I am tied to my ancestors in ways I didn’t then understand, them to me, and us to the future. Some part of them had awakened in me.

There was no turning back.

There was no going “home,” not that home had moved or changed. I had.

I returned, forever metamorphized, a refugee of my former self, tossed into the swirling vortex where everything you thought you knew and believed is stripped away. A solitary swimmer, navigating upstream into the future, against the current, towards some undefined misty summit in the distance.

This was not the journey I thought I was taking. I was only a student, going to Europe for the summer.

The dawning of enlightenment begins in darkness.

Little did I know.

How small my world had been, or how big the world really is.

Ancestors: What Constitutes Proof?

All genealogists should be asking this question for every single relationship between people in their trees – or at least for every person that they claim as an ancestor. The answer differs a bit when you introduce DNA into the equation, so let’s discuss this topic.

It’s easier to begin by telling you what proof IS NOT, rather than what proof is.

What is Proof, Anyway?

First of all, what exactly do we mean by proof? Proof means proof of a relationship, which has to be proven before you can prove a specific ancestor is yours. It’s a two-step process.

If you’re asking whether those two things are one and the same, the answer is no, they are not. Let me give you a quick example.

You can have proof that you descend from the family of a specific couple, but you may not know which child of that couple you descend from. In one case, my ancestor is listed as an heir, being a grandchild, but the suit doesn’t say which of the man’s children is the parent of my ancestor. So frustrating!

Conversely, you may know that you descend from a specific ancestor, but not which of his multiple wives you descend from.

You may know that your ancestor descends from one of multiple sons of a particular man, but not know which son.

Therefore, proof of a relationship is not necessarily proof that a particular person is your ancestor.

Not Proof of an Ancestor

OK, so what’s NOT proof? Here are a dozen of the most common items – and there are surely more!

  1. Proof is not a DNA match alone. You can match as a result of ancestors on any number of lines, known or unknown.
  2. Proof is not an oral history, no matter how much you want to believe it or who said it. Oral history is a good starting point, not an end point.
  3. Proof is not, not, 1000 times NOT someone else’s tree. A tree should be considered a hint, nothing more.
  4. Proof is not a book without corresponding evidence that can be independently corroborated. Being in print does not make it so, people make mistakes and new information surfaces.
  5. Proof is not a man by the name of Jr., meaning that he is the son of a man by the same name with the suffix of Sr. Sr. often means older and Jr. means younger, but not necessarily related. Yes, this has bitten me.
  6. Proof of a father/son relationship is not two men with the same name in the same location.
  7. Proof is not a Y DNA match, at least not without additional information or evidence, although it’s a great hint!
  8. Proof is not an autosomal DNA match, unless it is an extremely close match and even then you (probably) need additional information. For example, if you have a half-sibling match, you need additional information to determine which parent’s side.
  9. Proof is not an Ancestry Circle, at least not without additional information.
  10. Proof is not similar or even identical ethnicity, or lack thereof.
  11. Proof is not a “DNA Proven” icon, anyplace.
  12. Proof is not a will or other document, at least not alone, and not without evidence that a person by the same name as the child is the RIGHT person.

I learned many of these NOTS or KNOTS as I prefer to call them, because that’s what they tie me in, by ugly experience. I began genealogy before there were proof standards, let alone the GPS (Genealogical Proof Standard). DNA adds yet another dimension to existing paper standards and is an important aspect of the requirement for a “reasonably exhaustive search.” In fact, there is no reason NOT to include DNA and I would suggest that any genealogical search is not complete without including genetic evidence.

Proof Is a Two-Way Street

Using traditional genealogy, genealogists must be able to prove not only that an ancestor had a child by a specific name, but that the person you believe is the child, is indeed the child of that ancestor.

Let me use an example of Daniel, the son of one Philip Jacob Miller in Washington County, Maryland in 1783.

The tax list shows Philip J. Miller, 15 entries from the bottom of the page, shown below. It also shows “Daniel Miller of Philip” 6 entries from the bottom, and it’s our lucky day because the tax list says that Daniel is Philip’s son.

But wait, there’s another Daniel, the bottom entry. If you were to look on the next page, you would also notice that there’s a Philip Miller who does not own any land.

What we have here is:

  • Philip J. Miller, with land
  • Daniel, son of Philip, no land
  • Daniel, no father listed, land
  • Philip, no land

This just got complex. We need to know which Philip is Daniel’s father and which Daniel is which Philip’s son.

Establishing proof requires more than this one resource.

The great news about this tax list is that it tells us how much land Philip J. Miller owned, and utilizing other resources such as deeds and surveys, we can establish which Philip J. Miller owned this land, and that his name was indeed Philip Jacob Miller. This is important because not only is there another Philip, who, by the way, is NOT the son of Philip Jacob Miller (knot #6 above), there is also another Jacob Miller, who is NOT Philip Jacob Miller and who isn’t even related to him on the Miller line, according to the Y DNA of both men’s descendants.

How would we prove that Philip Jacob Miller is the father of Daniel Miller? We’d have to follow both men backward and forward in time, together. We have great clues – land ownership or lack thereof.

In this case, Philip Jacob Miller eventually sells his land. Philip Jacob Miller also has a Bible, which is how we know that there is no son named Philip. Philip Jacob’s son, Daniel leaves with his brother David, also on this tax list, travels to another location before the family is reunited after moving to Kentucky years later, where Philip Jacob Miller dies with a will. All of his heirs sign property deeds during probate, including heirs back in Frederick and Washington County, Maryland. There is enough evidence from multiple sources to tie these various family members from multiple locations conclusively together, providing two way proof.

We must be able to prove that not only did Philip Jacob Miller have a son Daniel, but that a specific Daniel is the son of that particular Philip Jacob Miller. Then, we must repeat that exact step every generation to the present to prove that Philip Jacob Miller is our ancestor.

In other words, we have a chain of progressive evidence that taken together provides conclusive proof that these two men are BELIEVED to be related. What? Believed? Don’t we have proof now?

I say believed, because we still have issues like unknown parentage, by whatever term you wish to call it, NPE (nonpaternal event, nonparental event,) or MP (misattributed parentage,) MPE (misattributed paternal or parental event) or either traditional or undocumented adoptions. Some NPEs weren’t unknown at the time and are results of situations like a child taking a step-parent’s surname – but generations later – having been forgotten or undocumented for descendants, the result is the same. They aren’t related biologically in the way we think they are.

The Big Maybe

At this point, we believe we have the Philips, Philip Jacobs and Daniels sorted correctly relative to my specific line. We know, according to documentation, that Daniel is the son of Philip Jacob, but what if MY ancestor Daniel ISN’T the son of Philip Jacob Miller?

  • What if MY ancestor Daniel just happens to have the name Daniel Miller and lives in the same geography as Philip Jacob Miller, or his actual son Daniel, and I’ve gotten them confused?
  • What if MY ancestor Daniel Miller isn’t actually my ancestor after all, for any number of reasons that happened between when he lived and died (1755-1822) and my birth.

If you think I’m being facetious about this, I’m not. Not long after I wrote the article about my ancestor Daniel Miller, we discovered another Daniel Miller, living in the same location, also descended from the same family as evidenced by BOTH Y and autosomal DNA. In fact, there were 12 Daniel Millers I had to sort through in addition to the second Daniel on the 1783 tax list. Yes, apparently Daniel was a very popular name in the Miller family and yes, there were several male sons of immigrant Johann Michael Muller/Miller who procreated quite successfully.

Enter DNA

If DNA evidence wasn’t already a factor in this equation, it now must come into play.

In order to prove that Philip Jacob Miller is my ancestor, I must prove that I’m actually related to him. Of course, the methodology to do that can be approached in multiple ways – and sometimes MUST be approached using different tools.

Let’s use an example that actually occurred in another line. Two males, Thomas and Marcus Younger, were found together in Halifax County, Virginia, right after the Revolutionary War. They both had moved from Essex County, and they consistently were involved in each other’s lives as long as they both lived. They lived just a couple miles apart, witnessed documents for each other, and until DNA testing it was believed that Marcus was the younger brother of Thomas.

We know that Marcus was not Thomas’s son, because he was not in Thomas’s will, but Marcus and his son John both witnessed Thomas’s will. In that time and place, a family member did not witness a will unless it was a will hastily constructed as a person was dying. Thomas wrote his will 2 years before it was probated.

However, with the advent of DNA testing, we learned that the two men’s descendants did not carry the same Y DNA – not even the same haplogroup – so they do not share a common paternal ancestor.

Needless to say, this really threw a monkey wrench into our neat and tidy family story.

Later, the will of Thomas’s father, Alexander, was discovered, in which Marcus was not listed (not to mention that Alexander died before Marcus was born,) and, Thomas became the guardian of his three sisters.

Eventually, via autosomal DNA, we proved that indeed, Marcus’s descendants are related to Thomas’s descendants as well as other descendants of Thomas’s parents. We have a proven relationship, but not a specifically proven ancestor. In other words, we know that Marcus is related to both Thomas and Alexander, we just don’t know exactly how.

Unfortunately, Marcus only had one son, so we can’t confirm Marcus’s Y DNA through a second line. We also have some wives missing from the equation, so there is a possibility that either Marcus’s wife, or his unknown biological father’s family was otherwise related to Alexander’s line.

So, here’s the bottom line – we believe, based on various pieces of compelling but not conclusive evidence that Marcus is the illegitimate child of one of Thomas’s unmarried sisters, who died, which is why Marcus is clearly close to Thomas, shares the same surname, but not the Y DNA. In fact, it’s likely that Marcus was raised in Thomas’s household.

  • It’s entirely possible that if I incorrectly listed Thomas as Marcus’s father on Ancestry, as many have, that I would be placed in a Thomas circle, because Ancestry forms circles if your autosomal DNA matches and you show a common ancestor in your trees. This is why inclusion in a circle doesn’t genetically confirm an ancestor without additional information. It confirms a genetic relationship, but not how a person is related.
  • It’s entirely possible that even though Marcus’s Y DNA doesn’t match the proven Y DNA of Thomas, that Marcus is still closely related to Thomas – such as Marcus’s uncle. That’s why Marcus’s descendants match both Thomas’s and Alexander’s descendants through autosomal testing. However, without Y DNA testing, we would never know that they don’t share a paternal line.
  • It’s entirely possible that if Marcus was supposed, on paper, to be Thomas’s child, but was fathered by another man, such as his wife’s first husband, I would still be in the circle attributed to both Thomas and his wife, by virtue of the fact that I match DNA of Thomas’s descendants through Thomas’s wife. This is your classic step-father situation.

Paper is Not Proof

As genealogists, we became so used to paper documentation constituting proof that it’s a blow when that paper proves to be irrelevant, especially when we’ve hung our genealogical hat on that “proof” for years, sometimes decades.

The perfect example is an adoption. Today, most adoptions are through a court of law, but in the past, a functional adoption happened when someone, for whatever reason, took another child to raise.

The history of that “adoption” although not secret when it happened, became lost in time, and the child is believed to be the child of the couple who raised them. The adoption can actually be a step-parent situation, and the child may carry the step-father’s surname but his own father’s Y DNA, or it can be a situation where a relative or unrelated couple raised the child for some unknown reason.

Today, all paper genealogy needs to be corroborated by DNA evidence.

DNA evidence can be some combination of:

  • Y DNA
  • Autosomal DNA
  • Mitochondrial DNA

How Much Proof is Enough?

One of my favorite saying is “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

People often ask:

  1. If they match someone autosomally who shares the same ancestor, do they really need to prove that line through Y or mitochondrial DNA?
  2. Do they really need to match multiple people?
  3. Do they really need to compare segments?

The answers to these is a resounding, “it depends.”

It depends on the circumstances, the length of time back to the common ancestor, and how comfortable you are not knowing.

Relative to question 1 about autosomal plus Y DNA, think about Marcus Younger.  Without the Y DNA, we would have no idea that his descendant’s Y DNA didn’t match the Thomas Younger line. Suddenly, Marcus not being included in either Thomas nor Alexander’s will makes sense.

Relative to question 2 about matching multiple people, the first cousin we tested to determine whether it was me or my brother that was not the child of our father turned out to have different Y DNA than expected. Thank goodness we tested multiple people, including autosomal when it became available.

Relative to question 3 about comparing segments, every matching segment has its own unique history. I’ve encountered several situations where I match someone on one segment from one ancestor, and another segment from an entirely different line. The only way to determine this is by comparing and triangulating individual segments.

I’ve been bitten so many times by thinking I knew something that turned out to be incorrect that I want every single proof point that I can obtain to eliminate the possibility of error – especially multiple kinds of DNA proof. There are some things that ONLY DNA can reveal.

I want:

  • Traditional documentary evidence for every generation to establish the actual paper trail that proves that the child descends from the proper parents.
  • Y DNA to prove the son is the son of the father and to learn about the deeper family history. For example, my Lentz line descends from the Yamnaya culture, something I would never have known without the Big Y DNA test.
  • Mitochondrial DNA to prove that the mother is the actual mother of the child, if possible, not an unknown earlier or later wife, and to learn about the deeper family history. Elizabeth Mehlheimer’s mitochondrial DNA is Scandinavian – before her ancestors are found in Germany.
  • Autosomal DNA to prove that the paper lineage connecting me to the ancestor is correct and the line is not disrupted by a previously unknown adoption of some description.

I attempt to gather the Y and mitochondrial DNA haplogroup of every ancestor in my direct line if possible and confirm using autosomal DNA.

Yes, my personal proof standard is tough, but I suggest that you at least ask these questions when you evaluate documentation or see someone claim that they are “DNA proven” to an ancestor. What, exactly, does that mean and what do they believe constitutes proof? Do they have that proof, and are they willing to share it with you?

Genealogical Proofs Table

The example table below is designed to be used to document the sources of proof that the individual listed under the name column is in fact the child of the father and mother shown. Proofs may vary and could be personal knowledge (someone you knew within your lifetime), a Bible, a will, a deed, an obituary, death certificate, a church baptismal document, a pension application, census records, etc. DNA confirmation is needed in addition to paper documentation. The two types of proof go hand in hand.  

Name Birth Death Spouse Father Mother Proofs – Sources DNA Confirmed
William Sterling Estes Oct. 1, 1902, Claiborne Co., TN Aug. 27, 1963, Jay Co., IN Barbara Ferverda William George Estes 1873-1971 Ollie Bolton 1874-1955 Personal knowledge – William is my father and William George is my grandfather. Autosomal triangulated to multiple Estes cousins
William George Estes March 30, 1873, Claiborne Co., TN Nov. 29, 1971, Harlan Co., KY 1. Ollie Bolton

2.  Joyce Hatfield

3. Crocia Brewer

Lazarus Estes 1845-1918 Elizabeth Vannoy 1846-1918 1.  Will of Lazarus Estes Claiborne Co., Tn. Will Book 8, page 42

2.  Deed where Lazarus states William George is his son.  Claiborne Co., Deed Book M2, page 371.

3. My father’s personal knowledge and birth certificate

Autosomal triangulated to multiple descendants of both Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy.
Lazarus Estes May 1845, Claiborne Co., TN 1916-1918, Claiborne Co., TN Elizabeth Vannoy John Y. Estes 1818-1895 Rutha Dodson 1820-1903 1. Personal knowledge of George Estes, now decd

2.  Deed here John Y. deeds all his possessions to his eldest son, Lazarus when he goes to Texas, Claiborne Co., Deed book B1, page 37.

Y DNA confirmed to haplotype of Abraham Estes, autosomal triangulated to descendants of Lazarus and Elizabeth and upstream ancestors through multiple matches on both sides.
John Y. Estes December 29, 1818, Halifax Co., VA Sept. 19, 1895, Montague Co., TX Rutha Dodson John R. Estes 1785/88-1885 Nancy Ann Moore c 1785-1860/1870 1. Family visits of his children in Tennessee

2. Census records, 1850, 1860, Claiborne Co., Tn. shows families in same household

Y DNA confirmed through multiple sons. Autosomal triangulates to several descendants through multiple lines of other children.
John R. Estes 1785-1788, Halifax Co. VA May 1885, Claiborne Co., TN Nancy Ann Moore George Estes 1763-1869 Mary Younger bef 1775-1820/1830 1. Halifax County 1812 personal property tax list where John R. Estes is listed as the son of George Estes and lives next to him.  Only 1 George in the county. Later chancery suit lists John R.’s wife’s name and location in Tennessee Y DNA confirmed through multiple lines.  Autosomal confirmed triangulation of multiple lines of his children and his ancestors on both sides.

If you’d like to read more about the difference between evidence and proof, and how to get from evidence to proof, check out this article, What is proof of family history? by my cousin, retired attorney, Robin Rankin Willis.

Proof is a Pain!

So now that we’ve discussed what proof is not, and what types of records constitute proof, you may be thinking to yourself that proof is a pain in the behind. Indeed, it is, but without sufficient proof, you may literally be doing someone else’s genealogy or the genealogy of an ancestor that’s not your own. Trust me, that’s infinitely more painful.

I hate sawing branches off of my own tree. If I have to do it, the sooner I make the discovery and get it over with, the better.

Been there, done that, and really, I don’t want the t-shirt.

There is never such a thing as “too much” proof, but there is certainly too little. We are fortunate to live in a time when not only are historical records available, but the record passed by our ancestors inside our very cells tells their story. Use every tool and every type of DNA at your disposal! Otherwise, you get the t-shirt:)


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Johann Adam Ruhle/Reuhl (1764-after 1817), Shipwrecked Refugee, 52 Ancestors #201

My Mom always used to say that “good things come to those who wait.” That always irritated me, because waiting was something I did, and still do, very poorly.

These past few months, I’ve gotten a lot of practice in waiting, but my friend who was visiting Salt Lake City for a conference did me a HUGE favor and put me out of my wait-induced misery by retrieving an obscure German journal article for me, solving the a huge mystery in the life of Johann Adam Ruhle (Reuhl). Literally, a life and death matter – did he live or did he die.

This is my friend Jen, at the Family History Library – smiling in spite of being incredibly sleep deprived, in class all day and in the library in the evening. What a good sport. I can’t thank you enough, Jen!!!

This is some story – one WHALE of a story, pardon the pun. And no, his name was not Jonas.

Life Begins in Schnait and Beutelsbach

We all start out in life the same way, wet, cold and complaining loudly about that combination of factors.

Johann Adam Ruhle was born January 30, 1764 in the village of Schnait in Wurttemberg, Germany to Michael Ruhle and Barbara Lenz.

Schnait is an ancient village, first mentioned in 1238 as Snait. Today, there is a museum in Schnait with some photos of the beautiful vineyard region.

Schnait is just down the road, literally, a mile or so from Beutelsbach where the Lentz (Lenz) family lived, or at least part of the Lenz family lived. After all, Johann Adam’s mother was a Lenz (which is also alternatively spelled Lentz) and she was living in Schnait, so perhaps the Lenz family lived all along the ancient road between the two villages.

The village of Schnait today is still relatively small, but has expanded some from the old center along the road. It’s surrounded by the beautifully symmetrical wine fields, where the men of both Beutelsbach and Schnait worked, for generations.

The church records for Schnait still exist, according to the FamilySearch site, although they apparently have not been translated and indexed at Ancestry or at FamilySearch. Baptisms begin in 1562, marriages in 1574 and death records in 1616. Once these records become available online, the possibility of reaching back another 200 years, or more, is dangling like a ripe fruit. Darn, another episode of waiting without an end in sight!!!

Fortunately, Beutelsbach, where Johann Adam Reuhl had the foresight to marry and live is a bit different.

The local Beutelsbach heritage book has a wonderful web page that provides information about family members.

The heritage book page tells us, among other things (using an automated German to English translator) that Johann Adam Reuhle:

Has been trained to Schnait and has been drawn up. If 4 years have served in Schnait. Occupation: Vinedresser

Johann Adam Reuhle was a vinedresser, or one who tends the vines in the vineyards. Many if not most of the men in Schnait and Beutelsbach worked in the beautiful vineyards that surrounded both villages, located just a couple miles apart. I think these fields would make a beautiful quilt!

It’s likely that these families had tended these same vineyards, father’s teaching sons the vinedresser craft, for more generations than anyone could remember – and far more than are recorded in the oldest church books.

This satellite closeup shows the fields, just outside the village, which are probably some of the exact same vineyards, and perhaps even the same vines, that Johann Adam, who we’ll call Adam, his middle name, as his family would have done, tended.

Marriage and Instant Parenthood

Johann Adam Reuhle married Dorothea Katharina Wolflin on June 5, 1787 in the Lutheran Church in Beutelsbach. Dorothea Katharina was born on August 10, 1755 in Beutelsbach to Johann Ludwig Wolflin and Dorothea Heubach.

This marriage was a bit unusual, in that Adam was of typical marriage age, 23, but Katharina was almost 9 years older than Adam, aged 32 when they married.

Katharina was a widow whose first husband had died on October 31, 1786. She had two living children when he died, the baby having her first birthday just 6 days after her father died. Widows didn’t wait long to remarry, because their very survival depended on forging an alliance and a new family unit. Adam and Katharina didn’t “court” long, because they married less than 9 months after her previous husband died. Nine months was probably plenty long enough. After all, Beutelsbach was a small village and everyone knew everyone else, so they had probably known each other since they were children.

However, when Adam married Katharina, he instantly became a parent. Her children, aged 4 and 1 when they married, were young enough that they would never have known any other father.

The next several years were normal for this family. They began the rhythmic ebb and flow of childbirth, springtimes sewing crops and preparing vines, summer tending fields, fall harvests with winemaking and food preservation, and then winter survival.

  • Their first child, Fridrica Ruhle, arrived and was baptized on March 14, 1788, literally 9 months and 9 days after their wedding. The young couple must have been joyful.

Fredericka was my ancestor, so obviously their firstborn child survived.

  • On January 5, 1790, Katharina’s daughter from her first marriage died and was buried. Katharina would have been 3 or 4 months pregnant at the time. The visage of the pregnant mother burying her child in the dead of winter is heartbreaking.
  • In 1790, a son, Johann Ludwig Ruhle, was born on June 3rd. He too survived, married and spent his life working the vineyards as a vinedresser in Beutelsbach. He died of a stroke in 1847 when he was 57 years old. Johann Ludwig had one son, Johann Ludwig Ruhle that was born in 1846 in Beutelsbach and died in 1893 in Stuttgart.
  • On March 5, 1793, Johanna Dorothea Ruhle was born, but she died just 3 days later and was probably buried in the churchyard. She was named after Katharina’s daughter who had died in 1790.
  • On April 25, 1794, Johann Georg Ruhle joined the family. He too lived, at least long enough to leave Germany.
  • On March 20, 1797, Catharine Margaretha Ruhle was born, but she too joined her sister in the cemetery on October 23, 1797, just 3 days beyond her 7 month birthday. There is no cause of death given, but I always wonder when I see these infant deaths.
  • The last child in the family, Johanna Margaretha Ruhle, named after the sister that died in 1797 was born on January 20, 1800.

There were no further deaths in the family, at least not among their children.

However, the climate was not cooperating. The world was undergoing what came to be known as a mini ice age. The problem is, of course, that once the grape vines are damaged or die, there is no quick recovery. If the vines fail to produce, an entire year is lost – both economically and in terms of food production as well. In 1816, crops failed in the fields.

After massive crop failures followed by riots for food, many people didn’t want to wait for a repeat performance the following year and applied to leave Germany.

Permission to Leave

Johann Adam Ruhle and his family arranged to immigrate to America, settling their debts and selling everything they had to pay for passage.

I don’t know if they were thrilled or terrified. Maybe they weren’t either, but just felt it was something they had little choice to do if they wanted to survive.

Leaving Germany wasn’t just a matter of packing up. Germans are extremely orderly people. There was a process that had to be followed to insure, among other things, that those who were leaving did not leave unpaid debts or unfinished business, had permission to leave, and understood there was no coming back.

By this time, Adam’s oldest daughter, Fredericka, had married to Jacob Lenz, also spelled Lentz. You can read about Jacob here and here. Jacob could have been related to Fredericka’s Lenz grandmother, and most likely was, but we don’t know if or how – and won’t until those Schnait records become available.

We find the legal notifications for emigration for Jacob Lentz and Johann Adam Reuhle side by side.

This book, “Königlich-Württembergisches Staats- und Regierungsblatt: vom Jahr … 1817,” in English, the “Royal Württemberg State and Official Gazette: by the year… 1817,” copied at Google, contains the actual German records of who was authorized to leave.

The following named persons have received the gracious permission to emigrate to America, namely:…….followed by the names.

Listed beside Jacob Lenz we find Johann Adam Ruhle, his father-in-law.

It also states:

  • Jung Jakob Lenz unter Vertretung des Alt Jakob Lenz.
  • Johann Adam Ruhle unter Vertretung des schumachers, Wilhelm Schweizer.


  • Young Jakob Lenz under representation of the old Jakob Lenz.
  • Johann Adam Rühle under representation of the shoemakers, Wilhelm Swiss.

Typically only the male head of household was recorded, with the assumption that his wife and children, if any, would be traveling with him.

The emigrants would make their way to the sea, typically down the Rhine River to the port of Rotterdam where they would arrange for their passage, pay their way, and board the ship for America. Transatlantic crossings during that time generally took 6-8 weeks, depending on the winds and weather. Some took as few as 3, and some took considerably longer, especially if the ship encountered trouble of some sort. All were risky.

And of course, some, a few, never made it at all.

This decision to leave could not have been easy for Johann Adam Reuhle to make, especially not at age 53 years of age with his wife being 62. The rule of thumb was that you would lose one child per family in a crossing. Sanitation was poor, at best and often the food was rotten. Disease was rampant.

Church Records

The local pastor in Beutelsbach took special care to record who immigrated, including the date and year in many cases. I am so grateful to that unknown man.

Based on the church records, we know that the following family members left together. Conversely, perhaps the saddest part was that of Adam’s children, a son, and only one son, did not join the rest of the family. That must have been one sad farewell.

From the church records:

  • Johann Adam Reuhle and wife Dorothea Katharina Wolfin went to America.
  • Johann Georg Ruhle born April 25, 1794 in Beutelsbach and went to America with his parents.
  • Johanna Margaretha Ruhle born January 20, 1800 in Beutelsbach and went to America with her parents.
  • Jacob Christian Breuming (Dorothea Katharina’s child from her first marriage) born June 8, 1783 in Beutelsbach, went to America on Feb. 12, 1817.
  • Johanna Fredericka Reuhle born March 14, 1788 in Beutelsbach, married Jakob Lenz May 25, 1808, went to America.
  • Jacob Lenz, born March 15, 1783 in Beutelsbach, went to America.
  • Jacob Frederick (Ruhle) Lenz, son of Fredericka and Jacob, born November 28, 1806 in Beutelsbach, went to America.
  • Fredericka Lenz, daughter of Fredericka and Jacob, born July 13, 1809 Beutelsback, went to America.
  • Elizabeth Katharina Lentz, daughter of Fredericka and Jacob, born March 28, 1814 in Beutelsbach, went to America (reportedly died during the voyage.)
  • Maria Barbara Lenz, daughter of Fredericka and Jacob, born August 22, 1816 in Beutelsbach, went to America.

Thanks to the minister, we have the actual date they left Beutelsbach, February 12th, 1817. The weather would have been cold, hovering around freezing or below – perhaps significantly below. There was probably snow in the vineyards, blanketing the vines as they slept. Adam wouldn’t be there to welcome them after their slumber in the spring, for the first time in his life. The family probably huddled on the horse-drawn wagon for warmth as they passed the vineyards for the last time. The boat on the Rems River that would connect with the Neckar that would converge with the Rhine which would take them to the seaport of Rotterdam awaited. A long, permanent journey began. Did they look back?

If everything went according to plan, the family group should step off the ship in America in June or later that same summer. But that’s not at all what happened.

In total, 11 people from 3 generations left for America. Not everyone would arrive, and not one of them arrived quite in the way they expected. In fact, I’d wager that every single one of them regretted their choice. But by the time regret set in, it was much, MUCH too late.

The family information handed down in the Jacob Lentz family tells us that, “Elizabeth died on the ocean, and Barbery was a baby when they left.”

I managed to track Jacob Lentz and Fredericka’s children, except for Elizabeth, so it must be presumed that the oral history was accurate, because everyone else was accounted for. Elizabeth was buried at sea.

The oral history also tells us that Fredericka’s sister came along on the voyage from Germany. It doesn’t mention that Fredericka’s entire family immigrated, with the exception of one brother who stayed behind. Perhaps that was because Fredericka’s family didn’t survive?

Did they survive?

The Shipwreck

From this point forward, this story becomes a bit surreal. If it’s surreal from the distance of 300 years, exactly, this month, as I sit here safely and write, it must have seemed like they were living in an incomprehensible nightmare at the time. The fact that at least some of them escaped alive is nothing short of a miracle.

Thankfully, Jacob Lentz’s family members recorded some of the history as reported by Jacob. His story was recorded separately by two different lines and partially by a third. Some of the information, in Ohio, was accurate, and some was not.

The early history in one version stated that Jacob had been shipwrecked on the way to the US and another family line stated that they were in a hospital in Bergen, Norway and spent nearly a year there. Neither of these seems plausible.

You might note that ships typically departed from Holland, sailed south catching the Atlantic gulf stream, an ocean current that took them past the Caribbean islands where the ships would stop for fresh water and supplies. Then they would carry on north with the trade winds along the Atlantic seaboard. Norway is notably north of Holland and no place on this projected path.

That story seemed far too fanciful to be true. It sounded more like a tall tale that grandpa might tell his awestruck grandchildren sitting at his feet.

Truthfully, I figured that since some of the later information from the 1860s and 1870s was incorrect, that this early information in the 18-teens was likely incorrect as well. Besides that, Norway was just so unlikely – so I initially discounted this part of the story.

My bad.

As it turns out, the story was true, and what a story it was.

This “Tribute to Jacob Lentz” was written by his grandson as told to him by Jacob. I try to hear Jacob’s voice, as he would have told this story to his grandchildren by the fireplace on cold winter evenings, to be recalled and preserved for posterity decades later. I have combined the nearly identical first two versions, with differences in parenthesis.

Finally all arrangements were completed and bidding farewell to all their relations he and his family with his wife’s sister began their journey in 1817 (the words “in 1817” are omitted in the second version) to the land of his dreams. Thus they left Wuertemburg, Germany to return no more.

Ships were very different then than what they are now, and as their finances were limited. They did not have the best accommodations that were furnished to the more favored, even in that early day. But they were willing to endure the hardships of an ocean voyage that they might come to the land about which they had heard so much. Strange as it may seem to us now, they were to spend about 3 months on the ocean before landing on American soil (the words “on American soil” are omitted from the second version). But now comes a very strange and trying part of their experience.

They experienced much of the ocean storm and the time seemed long. As the time came that they could reasonably expect to end their journey and set foot on the new world, everyone was making preparation to quit their ocean home.

But many days passed by and no land came in sight. Everyone became restless and there were many misgivings. They sought explanations from the captain of the ship but his explanations were not satisfactory. One part of their diet was a large kettle of soup or hash of which they all partook. Some actions on the part of the captain as he was about where this food was being prepared at a certain time aroused suspicions of those in charge of preparing the food and instead of serving this food it caused the arrest of the captain of the ship.

A sample of the food was preserved and found to contain poison enough to kill many more than were on board this vessel. The captain’s purpose was to poison the crew and turn the ship over to pirates. He was later executed for this.

The ship without a captain wandered around in the northern waters for some time and finally landed (shipwrecked) way up on (the western coast of) Norway where they have six months of day and six months of night; thus were your (my) early ancestors brought to a disappointment in life that they were never able to find words to express. Landing in Norway where conditions were very unfavorable and where but few people live, instead of in America. Their money all gone, strangers in a strange land, unable to speak the language, without (a) home (and) friends or prospects (“or prospects” omitted from second copy), a sad condition.

Fishing and weaving were the only things in sight and this they did, thus managing to get along for a few months. It was not possible for them to save anything out of the meager rewards for their work, but they still kept their steadfast purpose, to finally in some way reach America. (Second copy says, “It was not possible for them to kept their steadfast purpose, to finally in some way, reach America.”)

After 6 months of weary waiting in that northern climate, an opportunity came their way. A certain ship was to leave their port for the new world and proposed to enter (so they entered) into a contract, stipulating that they should be bound out to services to anyone that would pay their passage and food expense. The time of service was to be determined by the bidding of interested employers after landing in America. They would be indentured servants. (Previous sentence not in second copy.) It was stipulated that the family was not to be separated.

With this contract they set sail the second time for the land beyond the sea, not knowing what would befall them or how they would be dealt with in the future (rest of sentence not in second copy) that was veiled with clouds that seemed to be very dark. All they knew was to commit their all into the hands of the overruling Providence “That doeth all things well, patiently labor, and wait for the future to unroll whatever was in store for them.”

(The passage was $30 each for mother and father and $15 each for Jacob and Fredericka. Elizabeth died on the ocean and Barberry was a baby.)

They landed in New York on the 1st day of January 1819 (rest of sentence omitted in second copy) some 18 months or more after leaving Germany.

Separately, another family line said that Jacob and family wound up in Bergen, Norway and that they were in the hospital there for several weeks.

Truthfully, I discounted the hospital part, figuring there were no such things at that time, and I questioned the Bergen information. However, who would just pull the town of Bergen, Norway out of their hat? That was so specific that it seemed there might be grains of truth hidden there.

The Story Was True

My cousin and friend, Tom, a retired German genealogist, was enthralled by this story too, and kicked into overdrive. Thankfully, he had a few tricks up his sleeve, and he was able to confirm that the shipwreck had actually happened by googling in German and found documents in the Norwegian archives.

He found a list of burials for the Germans from the ship Zee Ploeg that died during or after arrival in Bergen and were buried in the churchyard. That list included 3 people from Beutelsback and 4 from Schnait, but none of our names were among those listed.

Then, googling in both German and Norwegian, Thomas found the Norwegian Wikipedia page about the Zee Ploeg.

The Zee Ploeg

According to Wikipedia: The Zee Ploeg (Sea Plow) was a Dutch emigrant ship which sank off Bergen in the autumn of 1817 on its way from Amsterdam to Philadelphia with around 560 emigrants from Württemberg onboard. The passengers were farmers and craftsmen who were members of a religious movement (separatists) inspired by Württembergeren Johann George Rapp (1757-1847). He had established the society “Harmony” in Pennsylvania in 1805.

Even though the Wikipedia page says that the ship sank, it didn’t, but was disabled when its masts broke.

The year 1816 had been difficult, with poor harvests and a very cold winter. At this time over seventeen thousand emigrated from Wurttemberg.

The Zee Ploeg was 136 feet long, 32 feet wide and almost 16 feet tall, with 3 masts. A trial voyage was conducted In September 1815 to Suriname with Jan Poul Manzelmann as captain and they returned on July 4, 1816.

On behalf of the Handelshuis Zwichler & Company, the ship was authorized to leave with 560 emigrants to the United States.

Boarding was scheduled for March, 30 1817, but was first carried out a month later, but didn’t sail until late in August from Amsterdam with Hendrich Christopher Manzelmann from Lübeck as Captain with his 21-man crew. The ship had to return after 11 to 12 days due to the storm in the English Channel, and a minor casualty. At the next attempt the Captain went up North to High North Scotland, but fell again in a storm. This time the masts broke and the ship ended after a time by Skjellanger, northwest of Bergen, on September 25. The ship was towed to the port of Bergen on September 29, and was anchored.

Before the accident 100 passengers died of famine and disease, including all of the thirty who were born aboard. The passengers were not allowed to disembark due to concerns about contagious disease, and while the ship lay at anchor at Sandvik Flaket, a marine channel in the far north of Norway, an additional sixteen died.

How did they ever fit 560 people on a ship 136 by 32? I’m sure there was an area below deck, but still, that wouldn’t have doubled the space.


The ship was then towed to Elsesro, near Bergen, shown below in a painting about 1807, and a few days later, towed on to Bergen where the passengers were finally allowed to disembark. Truthfully, I’m amazed that any of them ever set foot on a ship again.

Documentation sometimes comes from the strangest places.

Bishop Claus Pavels (1769-1822) expressed concern about how the penniless town of Bergen would be able to accept these refugees. Many of the sick were eventually lodged in a farm in Kong Oscars gate 22 (St. Jorgen’s Hospital, now the Leprosy Museum, shown below), which was at that time a military hospital.

Another 40 passengers died, bringing the total to 156 deaths of 560 who began the journey – 28% had died, if you don’t count all the children who were born and died. If you do, the death rate is approaching one third of the passengers.

Who Died?

Who, among our family members died?

In October 1817, the Norwegian government compiled one of two lists of the names of the surviving passengers. This list was published in an article by Dr. W. Weintraud.

It was this article by Weintraud that I spent so many months attempting to obtain. I tried the Norwegian archives. I tried Germany. I tried locations in the US that claimed to have copies of the journal, all to no avail, until Jennifer found it for me in Salt Lake City.

All I can say is bless Jennifer for finding this book, because our answers are buried here.

In the Jacob Lentz Tribute, Jacob stated that his daughter Elizabeth died at sea. But did she die at sea during the shipwreck, or perhaps on the next part of their journey – because yes, they eventually set out once again for America.

These people were determined, with an unflappable iron will.

This page shows the portion of the list of survivors from the Zee Ploeg that includes L and R.

  • Lintz, Jacob, vintner, wife, 3 children.
  • Rijle (Ruhle), Adam, vintner, wife, 3 children.

On the previous page, I found:

  • Christian Breming, baker, (2)

Jacob Lentz is listed with his wife, Fredericka Reuhle. We already know they both survived along with three of their children. They had left with four children, so indeed, little Elizabeth just 2 years old, was one of the deaths who would have been buried at sea before arriving in Bergen. I can’t even bear to think of the sorrow her death would have entailed as the crew threw the newly dead for that day overboard, as her grief-stricken and probably terribly ill parents, grandparents and siblings looked on.

Did Elizabeth die of starvation?

Adam Ruhle and his wife, Katharine, both survived, along with the 3 children in their care. They left Germany with Johann George Reuhl, born in 1794 and Margaretha Reuhl born in 1800, along with Katharina’s son from her first marriage, Christian Breuning, born in 1783. There is no record in Beutelsbach that Christian Breuning had married, although he was 33 and should probably have been married by that time. It’s likely that he is the third person listed as a child because he is unmarried with his parents.

A Christian Breming, baker, is listed with no wife and 2 individuals. Given the 3 children noted with Adam, I suspect this is someone else, but we’ll likely never know for sure. If this Christian the baker is Katharina’s son, it’s likely that his wife perished as well. It would be highly unusual for a man to leave for a foreign country with 2 small children without a wife.

It seems a miracle that on a ship where nearly one third of the people died, 10 of 11 of our family members survived.

What Happened in Norway?

By Espt123 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9776642

In Norway Jacob and Fredericka Lentz, according to the letter, worked, fishing and weaving fishing nets, until they could arrange passage again, except the second time, they had no funds and had to agree to become indentured servants upon arrival to pay for their passage.

We don’t know what happened to the Reuhl/Ruhle family, but there is no reason to believe that they didn’t accompany Jacob and Fredericka Lentz on to America. Even though they were in their 50s and 60s, they too would have been indentured to pay their passage. They may not have lived long enough to work off that amount of money.

During this time, while the German families were stranded in Bergen, some Norwegian families of a similar religious persuasion (Rappites) began to consider emigration as well, and were soundly discouraged from that line of thinking. A Norwegian government official said about a visit when he went to speak with Norwegians considering the possibility: “I advised them against the thought. I recounted the misfortunes the Germany emigrants had been exposed to and explained that the easy and inactive life the emigrants were leading at the moment – it was perhaps this which had misled these peasants – would come to an end as soon as the season allowed us to send them back to their homeland.” The Norwegians did immigrate beginning in the 1820s, despite being soundly discouraged from doing so.

Few Options

As badly as the Norwegians wanted to the Germans to depart, and as badly as the Germans wanted the same, there were several barriers.

The Germans from Wurttemberg could not go back. That was one of the stipulations of leaving Germany. The Duke of Wurttemberg had officially warned his subjects before departing that the door operated only in one direction. Other parts of Germany did allow a return, but only after posting a bond, something few of these people could do. Ultimately, around 100 Germans returned to Germany.

The stranded Germans also couldn’t stay in Bergen where they were unable to support themselves and unwelcome, so finding a way to America was their only option. Life must have seemed very bleak at that time for Jacob and Fredericka, with no good options. And bleaker yet for Fredericka’ parents, who were aging. I wonder if they second-guessed their decision to leave.

After a few months many of the passengers departed for Philadelphia. Around 80 of the people who still had money rented the ship “Susanne Cathrine” which sailed August 13, 1818. Clearly Jacob the Lentz/Ruhle family didn’t have money, because they weren’t on that ship.

The rest, 273 Germans, departed on the ship “Prima” of Larvik, owned by H. Falkenberg and Captained by Jacob Woxvold. Prima was hired by the Norwegian government, and arrived after a redirect to Baltimore in January 1819. Some of the passengers filed lawsuit afterwards against Captain Mantzelmann of the Zee Ploeg to recover freight and other costs.

I would surely love to know the outcome of those lawsuits, and if the Lentz (Lenz), Reuhl or Breuming families were involved.

Who Was Johann George Rapp?

Have we perhaps discovered the reason behind the Reuhle and Lentz family emigration? Was religion behind this exodus, rather than weather or economic conditions?

In the article titled, “George Rapp’s Harmonists and the beginnings of Norwegian Migration to America,” Karl Arndt tells us more about George Rapp, his son Frederick and his religious sect called the Harmonists and also known as Rappites. At the time of the sailing, George and Frederick Rapp had established the town of New Harmony, Indiana, land on the frontier of a newly formed state. The Rapps recruited heavily in Wurttemberg, holding out the lure of free land from the government and paid passage for those who would come and settle.

For Germans who spent their entire lives, for generations, tending vines on someone else’s lands, the allure of owning their own land was irresistible. In addition, the Rapps ordered a large selection of grape vines and fruit trees. The families who came along knew just how to tend those vines. In one of the letters to Germany, the Rapps stated:

There are no poor people here who must suffer need or who could not feed themselves. Much less would they have to worry that their sons would be taken away as soldiers, the laws of the land here are exactly the opposite of a monarchy. Everyone has the freedom to express himself freely. Also complete freedom of conscience is introduced in all America so that every person according to the conviction of his own conscience can perform unhindered his Divine service.

Those are powerful words to families who have just suffered famine in Germany in 1816.

In order to encourage immigration and migration to New Harmony, Indiana, the Harmonites invested in money to pay passage for many Germans, several of whom disappeared after they disembarked here in the US after their passage was paid. The Harmonites continued to try. Initially, about 150 people of the nearly 600 who embarked on the Sea Plow were believed to be Harmonites. About 60 wanted to take them up on their offer of paid passage from Norway after the shipwreck. In the end, about 15 wound up in New Harmony, Indiana. Not a very good investment for the Harmonites. The supreme irony is that the Harmonites eventually said of these Germans that, “they are too wild for our community.”

Of course, “wild” is very much a matter of perspective. I’m betting the Germans liked beer, wine and not celibacy. In fact, beer and wine and not conducive to celibacy.

There was one that detrimental factor that many people just couldn’t get past, relative to the Harmonites or Rappites as they were known. As Arndt stated, “George Rapp’s most effective substitute of self-disciplined celibacy lacked the essential mass appeal.” I do wonder, if George Rapp was celibate, how was his son Frederick Rapp was born. But, I digress.

The Harmonites had trouble recruiting and keeping people. Few want to commit to a life of celibacy. Eventually they were so successful with that there was no one left in future generations to perpetuate their cause. Recruiting for a celibate religion is a difficult task indeed.

It’s very doubtful that Jacob Lenz and Fredericka were Harmonites. It’s very clear from looking at the births of their children that they were not celibate. They are also not noted by name, nor are her parents or siblings, in any Harmonite correspondence.

Fortunately, some of the Harmonite letters still exist and contain valuable information about what happened.

On February 24, 1818 Christian Friedrich Schnable wrote from Bergen stating that the emigrants had already sacrificed their worldly estate and they found themselves in a land where they could not remain. He states:

“On September 5th, we lost all masts, also we were very badly treated by our disloyal captain. He did not give us the food which he was obligated to give us according to contract. This brought about great sickness so that over 200 souls died.”

Based on this verbiage, we know that the time from mast break in the Atlantic after the Captain tried to poison the passengers to docking in Bergen was 24 days.

The reconstructed timeline looks like this:

  • February 12, 1817 – leave Beutelsbach
  • March 1817 – anticipate boarding ship
  • Late April 1817 – board ship
  • Late August – leave Amsterdam
  • Return 10-11 days later after severe English Channel storm and a minor casualty
  • Sail again, storm near Scotland, Captain tries to poison passengers
  • September 5 – mast(s) breaks
  • Flounder at sea after captain arrested
  • September 25 – run around at Skjellanged
  • September 29 – towed to Bergen where allowed to disembark
  • October 1817 – list of living and dead compiled

We know that a total of 353 Germans sailed for America in 1818, and we know that between 560 and 600 people sailed initially in 1817 on the Sea Plow, so the difference would indeed be between 207 and 247 people. Starving and watching others die of starvation intentionally at the hands of the cruel captain must have been a horrific ordeal.

And then…the mast or all masts broke.

Ironically, while viewed initially as a tragedy, the broken mast was eventually what saved them – because the captain could no longer control the ship and they drifted into the Norwegian shore.

On To America

In the summer of 1818, 80 of the more well-to-do passengers chartered the ship Susannah Catharina and arrived in Philadelphia two months later, on October 23rd.

Arndt tells us that once in port, the Germans were not allowed to go ashore unless they could prove they would not be a public burden. “Since most of them could not show proof, they were sold or had to permit themselves to be sold at public auction.” The Harmonite offer of redemption was only valid of course for those who would follow their ways and join them in New Harmony. Even so, the Harmonites had problems converting “Indiana” money and debts into something a ship captain from Europe docked in Philadelphia would accept as payment to allow the passengers with unpaid passage to depart.

Arndt reported that Rapp had suggested that the passengers with unpaid passage be indentured with a special clause stating that the liberated person should be free again within 6 to 9 months in return for the repayment of the money for their passage. This would buy Rapp time to deal with his monetary conversion issues and not obligate the passengers after their debt was paid. Typical indentures lasted roughly 5-7 years. Jacob Lentz’s story indicates their indenture was for 3+ years.

Clearly Jacob and Fredericka were not on the ship Susanna Catharina, as they didn’t have any money and they report their arrival in January of 1819, but Rapp’s suggestion for the October passengers, still on board that ship in mid-November, may well have applied to the next group that arrived in January as well. It’s known that the ship Susanna Catharina was still anchored in the harbor well into the spring of 1819, likely with Germans still aboard who could not pay their passage and who were waiting for Rapp to redeem them.

Furthermore, the information above regarding a reduced period of indenture correlates with another part of the Jacob Lentz tribute story, as follows:

A certain ship was to leave their port for the new world and proposed to enter (so they entered) into a contract, stipulating that they should be bound out to services to anyone that would pay their passage and food expense. The time of service was to be determined by the bidding of interested employers after landing in America. They would be indentured servants. (Previous sentence not in second copy.) It was stipulated that the family was not to be separated.

With this contract they set sail the second time for the land beyond the sea, not knowing what would befall them or how they would be dealt with in the future (rest of sentence not in second copy) that was veiled with clouds that seemed to be very dark. All they knew was to commit their all into the hands of the overruling Providence “That doeth all things well, patiently labor, and wait for the future to unroll whatever was in store for them.”

(The passage was $30 each for mother and father and $15 each for Jacob and Fredericka. Elizabeth died on the ocean and Barbery was a baby.)

They landed in New York on the 1st day of January 1819 (rest of sentence omitted in second copy) some 18 months or more after leaving Germany. Very soon after landing advertisements were sent out giving contract notice, description of the family, amount of money to be paid and setting the date when they would be bound out to the one that would pay the money for the least period of service.

The momentous day soon came. They were placed on a platform before the crowd, the contract read, the amount of money to be paid was stated and the bidding began. Of course anyone had the privilege to talk with them beforehand. The bidding was in time of service. One bidder would offer to pay their fare for 10 years services, another for nine, another for 8, another for 7, and so the bidding continued until finally their service was declared to the successful bidder for 3 years and 6 months. They went with him to his home at Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, wondering, wondering, wondering what it all meant to them.

They worked with a will and did their best to please their employer so he would have no just cause to hold them for service longer than the specified time.

They soon found that their employer and his wife were very good people asking reasonable work and supplying them with a comfortable home and an abundance of food. Contrasting this kindness with what they had to meet in the two preceding years, they were content and the future looked brighter to them, as they were now sure that in a few years of time they would be free to start life over again in this land where they had longed (long hoped) to be.

After they had worked about 8 months their employer invited them into his parlor one morning and kindly explained to them that according to customary wages, they had earned enough to pay their fare across the ocean and that was all he wanted, that he appreciated very much their faithful service. There were at the liberty to do for themselves and to work for who or where they would and their wages would be theirs to do with as they wished.

Freeing them of over two and a half years of service was so unthought-of on their part that they could never thank those people enough for their great kindness. So he often told it to his children and asked them to tell it to their children – that they might know and appreciate this kindness that was shown to them at the time it meant so much.

The great irony here is that there is no record of who this kind family was. Had Jacob mentioned the name of that family, I might be able to find their descendants, learn more about Jacob’s first decade in the US, and I just might be able to find Johann Adam Ruhle/Reuhl.

Was the Ruhle/ Reuhl family indentured as well?

The Ship Prima

The last ship to leave Norway with the shipwrecked Germans was the Prima. On May 4th, 1819, a few months after the Prima’s arrival earlier that year in January, another Harmonite letter tells of the near catastrophy. These ships carrying our family seem jinxed. I can only imagine their utter terror as they once again were endangered on the sea, seemingly sure to perish.

This letter reports that the group passed through a violent hurricane that threatened to capsize their ship.

We find additional information about this journey in a paper written by Ingrid Semmingsen titled “Haugeans, Rappites and the Immigration of 1825,” published in “Norwegian-American Studies, Volume 29” in 1983. This immigration is referring to the Norwegian immigration to the US.

Semmingsen states that aboard the Zee Ploeg were:

About 500 emigrants – all from Wurttemberg, petty farmers and craftsmen who had resolved after the unusually severe winter of 1816 to leave for America. 1816 was the year “when summer never came.” Some of the immigrants, probably about 150, called themselves separatists. They were religious dissenters and political malcontents who stoutly resisted any attempts by the Norwegian authorities to induce them to return to Germany. They maintained they would be subject to persecution there. They were followers of Johann George Rapp, gone to America in 1803.

Some of the Germans had paid all or part of the passage due the Dutch shipping company and they brought legal action against the skipper in an attempt to regain their money. Several of the emigrants still had some funds left, but most of them were poor. A certain percentage were “nonpaying passengers” who had entered into an agreement with the skipper that they would raise the necessary funds on arrival in America by enlisting as indentured servants or laborers.

The whole group of emigrants was in miserable condition after floundering in the North Sea storm for nearly 2 months, during which time a number of them had perished. As a result, there were orphans among them and some 40 of the passenger were so feeble that they were sent to a hospital.

Fortunately the Norwegian doctor who was put in charge of them found nothing contagious. Nevertheless some deaths did occur after arrival in Bergen.

As events would have it, the entire group had to spend the whole winter in Bergen. The sailing season was past and the city authorities in cooperation with the Norwegian government had to take measures to provide them with housing and other necessities. The years 1817-1818 were the worst Norway had to endure after gaining independence in 1814. Crown Prince Carl Johann who would become king in 1818 even gave assistance from his own private funds. Finances were desperate and political unrest was smoldering.

Even under more normal circumstances, it would have been a formidable task for a city with fewer than 15,000 inhabitants to improvise charitable organizations to assume responsibility for 500 practically helpless foreigners, many of them political refugees. In 1817 it must have seemed an event of catastrophic proportions. Not until the summer and fall of 1818 did the immigrants leave Bergen. The first group left in August and docked in Philadelphia in late October and the second on the vessel Prima did not arrive in Baltimore until shortly after New Year’s, 1819.

Semmingsen goes on to say a few pages later that:

The Norwegian government had advanced 1,300 pounds toward their transportation which it hoped would be refunded when the ship reached an American port. The full cost of transportation ran to 2,200 pounds and the difference was arranged for by a naturalized German in Kristiana named Grunning. More is known about this second crossing.

One of the crew of the Prima, presumably one of the officers if not the captain himself, wrote an account of the journey which was published in a Norwegian newspaper in 1826. He reported that there were two Catholic families among the passengers and the rest were Lutherans.

The people were described as religiously-minded, virtuous, and, considering their social class, well-bred. All of them had prayer books. Every morning and evening they prayed to God in a solemn and touching manner and sang hymns in clear, pure voices.

Before retiring they entertained themselves with song, dance, music, and games. On occasion they also passed the cup of friendship among themselves.

Skipper Woxland chose the southern route. This was undoubtedly wise considering the lateness of the season when he set sail. He took the Prima south to the coast of Portugal so as to utilize the trade winds, and it paid off “With the never-failing dominance of this wind” they reached the West Indies, but there they ran into trouble. They had to fight a raging storm, the shipowner reported to the government, and they had to dock in Baltimore instead of in Philadelphia, which was their real destination.

But according to the report the ship, crew, and passengers were well received. A committee was appointed by the citizens, which consisted partly of fellow-countrymen of the newcomers. They brought food aboard the ship and also raised money to help defray travel expenses.

Furthermore, arrangements were made to secure employment or land for the emigrants. Everything was managed “in the best of order” to everyone’s satisfaction.

Only the leave-taking with the skipper and the crew was a sad experience for the emigrants. Many of them had learned to speak Norwegian during the long stay in Bergen, and they promised that they would never forget dear Norway or “the kindly disposed citizens of Bergen.”

Not all the passengers were as favorably impressed by their reception in America as this report would imply — at least not four persons who were bound for Harmony and who, a few months later, sent a letter from Philadelphia to “Dearly beloved brothers and sisters in God’s congregation in Bergen.”

To be sure, they praised the skipper and crew who, with God’s help, exerted themselves to the uttermost in order to save ship and passengers when a “terrible storm” almost caused the ship to capsize; but they were dissatisfied with Harmony, which had not “given orders to redeem us.” They also had encountered trouble with getting their passage paid for, and they were forced to seek release from paying the big bill “charged against us for the care we received in Bergen.” Clearly, the emigrants also had to work as indentured servants. “Then we were sold for the passage money: one down south, another up north; only four of us are here together, the others are scattered.”

However, they continue, “America is a good country. Poor people live better here than the wealthy ones in Bergen and Germany. Wages are good. While we are in service, we are given good food and clothing and we have many free periods. We hope that we will soon earn our freedom and then be gathered together as one congregation.

The Lawsuit

Apparently, there was indeed a lawsuit filed against the Zee Ploeg Captain in Norway, although the outcome is questionable. The Jacob Lentz tribute says that the Captain was hung.

According to this information from the Norwegian archives website, and auto-translated, it looks like the Captain may have been in jail and the suit may have been dismissed. However, look who filed the suit.

Carl O Gram Gjesdal mention proceedings against Zee Plogs captain in jail in the new year 1818. The occasion will, according to Gjesdal, have been that two passengers, Jacob Lentz and John Fiedler, had appealed to the authorities and received a licence to ‘ on ustemplet paper for the person in question under the law that let make the cases that they find themselves occasioned that grow toward the bemeldte captain, kapt. Poul Jan Manzelmann ‘. Do you know where this thing is located? It should have been accusations of drunkenness, poor seamanship, embezzlement, brutality, abuse, and murderer tampering attempts. He was also of some of the responsibility for that small children died during the crossing due to malnutrition. It was difficult with the evidence, and DOM’s formulation, according to have been Gjesdal,: ‘ the captain should replace them to citanterne for erholdt forlite provisions after unwilling men’s discretion … By the way he should as far as compensation is concerned, is considered to be free. Iøvrig rejected the case. ‘ Mvh Arnfrid

This lawsuit tells us a couple very interesting things. First, Jacob, according to the earlier discussion, would have been one of the passengers that originally paid his way and that of his family.

Second, this begs the question of why Jacob would have been the one to file the suit. Was it burning anger over his daughter’s death? Or had Jacob assumed something of a leadership position among the immigrants? Why Jacob?

Arrival and Indenture

In America, I lose the trail of the Reuhl/Ruhle family completely, but Jacob and Fredericka Lentz and their remaining three children were indentured to a family, supposedly in Shippensburg, PA, for 8 months. They reportedly stayed in Pennsylvania for the next decade or so, became Brethren at some point, and in 1828 or 1829 moved to Montgomery County, Ohio. I have not been able to confirm this. In fact, I can’t find Jacob and Fredericka until their daughter, Mary’s birth in Ohio in 1829. There is no sign of Adam Ruhle in Ohio, but by 1829, he would have been 65 years old, and his wife 74.

I have not had any success finding Johann Adam Ruhle or family members after arrival. He would have been 56 years old in 1820, the first possible census where he could have appeared, and his wife would have been 65. They could well have been indentured at that time. If they weren’t, who knows how their surname would have been recorded, or where.

Adam’s son, Johann George Ruhle/Reuhl, would have been 26 and would only have been individually recorded in the census if he were not indentured and were a head of household. The sister, Johanna Margaretha at age 20 could have already married, and if not, she would be listed with her parents or the people to whom she was indentured.

Did Adam and his wife survive the second crossing? Did they somehow stay in Norway? What happened to their son and daughter?

Ironically, the one person I might have found is Christian Brining who is recorded as dying in 1829 in Hagerstown, Maryland. However, he is also shown has having had a son in 1810 and one in 1811 in Wurttemberg, so this might not be our man. However, that does match the 2 individuals on the survivor list. This Christian was naturalized in Maryland and arrived between 1818 and 1821.

There is so much we just don’t know.


Without knowing what happened to Adam’s son, Johann George Reuhl, it’s almost impossible to discover the Reuhl Y DNA. The Reuhl son, Johann Ludwig, who stayed behind in Beutelsbach Germany appears to have had one son, also named Johann Ludwig, who died in Stuttgart in1893, and we lose that line there.

Checking the Germany DNA project at Family Tree DNA, there are no Reuhl males of any similar spelling.

In one last ditch effort, I checked my mother’s Family Finder matches to see if she has anyone with a Reuhl or similar surname. She didn’t.

I tried Ancestry. Nothing.

I even tried Genforum and the Rootweb lists and boards, hoping for Reuhl. Nada.

One problem of course, is knowing how the name might be spelled. It isn’t even spelled the consistently in German church records, so Heaven only knows how it was spelled in the US. Reuhl, Ruhle, Reuhle, Rule or maybe something else.

So, if you find a Johann Adam or Johann George of about the right age with a surname that sounds something like Reuhl, or if your ancestor married a Johanna Margaretha Reuhl or similar, please, PLEASE let me know.