John Whitney Ferverda (1882-1962) in the 1966 Yearbook? – 52 Ancestors #206

When MyHeritage first began autosomal DNA testing, I transferred my autosomal DNA test to MyHeritage (for free) and purchased a records subscription with little hope that a company out of Israel would have the focus or records to provide anything that an American company wouldn’t already have, or that I, as a decades long genealogist wouldn’t have already uncovered. But genealogists are desperate creatures and we’ll try anything once.

I’m happy to say, I was wrong.

The combination of my DNA and my tree, separately and together has provided a smorgasbord of new information. Of course, I view other people’s trees with the requisite grain of salt, or the entire lick, same as anyplace else. However, the MyHeritage record matches are golden, as are the DNA Smartmatches which combine DNA matches and trees with common ancestors. Just yummy!

The Yearbooks

At Rootstech 2018 when Gilad Japhet, MyHeritage’s CEO announced that they were digitizing yearbooks, I thought that was nice, but I don’t care about my own generation and yearbooks wouldn’t be relevant for my parents and grandparents.

My Mom graduated in 1940 and her parents were born in 1882 and 1888. Did yearbooks even exist as a “thing” back then? Even if they did, my mother’s family was from a small Brethren farming community in northern Indiana and my father’s family from a mountain community in Appalachia. I guarantee you there were no yearbooks in Claiborne County, Tennessee at that time. There were barely schools.

Well, guess what – I was wrong again.

I sure am glad I have that MyHeritage subscription.

Here’s the notification e-mail I received.

When I saw the year, 1966, I almost deleted this e-mail, but I’m so glad I didn’t. It seems that the 1966 Leesburg High School yearbook included historical photos which MyHeritage indexed as well.

Oswego 1900

Yearbooks, it turns out, aren’t just for high schools.

In 1900, the entire school in Oswego, Indiana turned out in front of the building for a photo. My grandfather, John Whitney Ferverda, was among the students and so were several of his siblings.

The Ferverda family was a significant contributor to the Oswego student population that year.

I didn’t know that my grandfather attended school at Oswego. They lived near Leesburg, so I assumed he attended school there. There’s that nasty word again. It appears that that Oswego children were considered Leesburg alumni? How’s that, when my grandfather turned 18 years old in 1900, so clearly graduating that year or the next?

The answer is found in a Fort Wayne, Indiana newspaper article in 1917 stating that:

“The first real commencement exercises of the Leesburg High School were held last week in the Methodist Church. Leesburg adopted the four-year high school last year and not much attention was paid to the graduating class.”

There were only two graduates in 1917, Donald Ferverda, my grandfather’s brother, being the valedictorian.

I’ve researched in the local libraries in the area too, and either they don’t have these yearbooks, or I never thought to look. The great thing about these notifications is that you don’t have to know to look. Plus, I would have NEVER looked in 1966, for anything, in Leesburg. My family was long gone by then.

The family always said they were from Leesburg, probably because “Grandma Ferverda” moved to town in her later years, but the original family farm was actually probably closer to Oswego.

I know, from family members that the Ferverda family lived on the same road as the Old Salem Church of the Brethren, about a mile south of the church. Unfortunately, Google Street view doesn’t follow the length of this road.

In any case, wherever the farm was located on this couple mile stretch, it wasn’t far from Oswego – actually closer than to Leesburg.

But that wasn’t the only surprise.

Yearbooks aren’t just for students.

School Trustee

My grandfather, John Ferverda, married Edith Lore in 1908 and they settled down the road about 20 miles in Silver Lake, Indiana where John was the railroad station master.

My mother graduated from Silver Lake High School in 1940, and beginning in 1946, my grandfather became a trustee. Who knew!

These yearbook photos provide some wonderful mid-life photos of my grandfather – none of which I’ve ever seen before. It looks like the trustees had their pictures taken every year too. My grandfather would have been 64 in 1946 and 68 in 1950, so this gives me a 5 year span of pictures.

The next mystery is why his name is in capital letters when not all of the trustees were.

John Ferverda continued as a trustee through 1950 which included a larger photo page as well.

Of course, this now begs the question of whether there were yearbooks when my mother was attending school in Silver Lake. I doubt it, but I’d surely love to be wrong for the third time. It’s back to MyHeritage to look.

Eleven “Soldier Boy” Love Letters from the Lost Summer of 1919 – 52 Ancestors #205

By June of 1919, my father, William Sterling Estes had already served more than two full years in the military. Born in either 1901 or 1902, he enlisted in May 1917 when he was either 14 or 15 years young. He was discharged as a Sergeant First Class in May of 1919 and re-enlisted the next day in the Army 10th Infantry. His re-enlistment papers tell us that he was a marksman, not mounted, no battles, no medals, no wounds, good condition, typhoid shots, paratyphoid and he was single.

Dad was stationed at Camp Custer, then named Fort Custer, near Battle Creek, Michigan for most of his time in the service. He was included in this human shield of 30,000 soldiers, the photo taken from the Camp Custer water tower in 1918.

WWI was coming to an end in the summer of 1919, thankfully.

Somehow, probably on leave, Dad met Virgie Houtz who lived in Dunkirk, Indiana. In the summer of 1919, Virgie was 16 years old and attended high school.

Dad was either turning 17 or 18 that October, but in one of his letters to Virgie, he told her he was turning 20. We know for a fact that wasn’t true. Not only is he not on the 1900 census, his sisters said that he was born in 1902 and several other pieces of documentation point to either 1901 or 1902 as his birth year. The 1910 census tells us that he was 8 years old in April. He was born on October 1st, so he would have turned 9 later than year, which means his birth year was 1901 if the census is accurate.

Dad and Virgie fell in love that summer. They were two starry-eyed young kids – except one of them had been toughened by being turned out on his own at age 12, then fending for himself until he was old enough to “age himself” appropriately so he could join the military. I’m guessing the Army was his best bet for regular meals.

Indeed, he was one handsome lad. He was also still a boy, and a boy who had been rejected and abandoned by both parents before he was even a teenager. Dad had completed only 8th grade, according to later census records, which would have been about the time he and his younger brother Joe hopped a train for Tennessee when his parents split and neither parent wanted the boys. Dad would further his education later, but in 1919, he wrote amazingly well, considering.

The Letters

Ninety-nine years ago, almost exactly a century, as I sit here today light-years removed, my father was using a fountain pen and ink well to write letters to his sweetheart after he finished his duties on the military base including feeding the horses which were widely used in the war effort.

In total, 14 envelopes and 11 well-worn letters remain.

From these historical gems, we gain an intrusive glimpse into their young love, and as a side-note, we also get to peer into his life at Camp Custer.

Reading these letters felt almost invasive, like I was a peeping tom, peering into something intensely personal. However, when this bundle arrived roughly 8 decades after he penned each letter with lovesick yearning, years after both of their deaths, I was exceedingly grateful to Virgie’s daughter for sending them. I read them with much trepidation, unsure of exactly what each page would reveal.

In addition to the letters, Virgie’s daughter included several photos that Virgie had cherished all of those years.

This treasure trove was truly amazing, all things considered. All things? What are those “all things?”

This is an unbelievably bittersweet love story. I’ll let Virgie’s letters and photos tell their story of summer love.

Bill and Virgie

My father was obviously very smitten with Virgie. Smitten doesn’t quite do this justice. I think the phrase head-over-heels-in-love is a better description.

We have Dad’s letters to Virgie, but of course, we don’t know what her letters to him said – although we catch some glimpses of that as well, between the lines so to speak.

I am sharing some of his letters, but not all. As you might guess, if you remember being 15 or 16 and lovestruck, they say “I love you” in every single way possible over and over. I’ll spare you that. I’d also like to afford them some privacy, even in death.

The first letter is dated June 25th, 1919.

Dad opens by telling Virgie that it’s 7:05 AM, he had already fed the horses, ate his own breakfast and is taking a few minutes to write to her. He calls her “Blue Eyes” and asks why he has only received one letter from her. He says he has written 4 to her. This appears to have been a whirlwind romance that turned serious quickly. He jokes that if she keeps it up, meaning not writing, she may “be without a hubby,” so they are obviously discussing a permanent relationship – whirlwind or not.

At first I thought he meant he had written her 4 letters since she wrote one, but based on later exchanges, I think this was actually the beginning of the relationship and he had just left Dunkirk a few days earlier.

He says that since coming back to Battle Creek:

“The girls there don’t abount (sic) to a hill of beans.”

Yep, he’s hooked!

I’m guessing that Dad had been with his friend, James, because he says that James took the car home when he was discharged and therefore, Dad has “nothing to do.” James and the car may be how he met Virgie in the first place, since he seems to write as if she knows James.

If they get paid before the 4th of July, Sergeant Lynch and Dad are going to visit Dunkirk. They may live it up after they arrive and go to Redkey or Eaton, both crossroads towns not far from Dunkirk in the land of cornfields and soybeans.

I have to wonder whatever brought these soldiers to this remote country location 171 miles from Camp Custer in the first place.

Dunkirk isn’t close to much of anything and not on the way to anywhere.

Apparently Virgie called Dad “Buddy.” I never knew that was his nickname. Maybe it was only between them.

Dad appeared to be writing to Virgie every spare minute. The next letter is dated the following day.

Later in this letter, he tells Virgie that he showed her photo to the lady at the YWCA Hostess House who told him Virgie looked like a nice girl and he must think a lot of her. I’m sure Dad was showing Virgie’s photo to anyone who would look and listen, and probably a few unsuspecting people who wouldn’t.

He told the lady:

“Yes and I’ll tell the whole world I do.”

Ah, the achiness of fresh, new, overwhelming love.

But then, he said something very prescient.

“I will be true to you till death.”

If someone had told him that day that he would die as her husband, but would not marry her until 42 years later, he would have thought them crazy.

“There isn’t anything I wouldn’t sacrifice for you, even my life.”

Then, perhaps having gotten too close to the hole in his soul, he changed topics abruptly:

“The boys, we are arguing about the war, but I don’t know about their brains. Ha. Ha.”

Later the same day, he writes a second letter. For a man in service to write two letters to his intended in the same day – he had to be wonderfully, miserably lovesick.

In Dunkirk, I can see Virgie going to the post office every day to look for a letter – maybe multiple times every day. In the era of “general delivery,” mail wasn’t delivered to homes. Of course, that meant the entire town knew who received mail from whom. In Michigan, Dad probably lived for mail call, either elated or dejected, depending on what was waiting.

Look at the back of this envelope! Apparently he had proposed and she had said yes.

If you’re groaning at the syrupiness of this, I know, me too. Yet, I remember doing this same thing at about the same age.

I should probably explain at this point that he refers to himself as her husband often. They were clearly betrothed. If you’re laughing, remember that this was nearly a century ago when women often married as soon as they were old enough to reproduce. Tennessee, where his family was from was notorious for marriages that began at 15 or 16 and lasted a lifetime, whether they should have or not. Large families and poverty are powerful cement.

Soldiers in WWI received tetanus, typhoid and smallpox vaccines although experimentation with a flu vaccine followed the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918. Regardless, only Virgie would be allowed to touch his sore arm:)

In this letter, Dad asks Virgie about Fluffy, “their child.”

I do believe this is Fluffy. This man was no dummy. Way to her heart! If he’s asking about Fluffy in the letter, this photo would have been taken just a week or two prior.

Oh, and if a kitten alone doesn’t work, try a kitten and two ducks. Who can resist this? Seriously!

Fluffy is perched on his shoulder, eyeing the ducks I suspect or wondering how to get down.

“Your hubby sure does love you with all my heart and soul.”

He tells Virgie that he’s saving for July 4th, which appears to be when he plans to visit her in Dunkirk again. He rode horses in the afternoon and had “a sweet time” but wishes she was with him. That theme, of course, permeates all of his letters.

He is probably the only soldier at the Knights of Columbus Hall that is writing to a girlfriend instead of dancing. He tells her never to doubt his love.

“I stay awake at night thinking of you. You will be my wife soon. I am yours forever and ever.”

An empty envelope is all that remains of a June 30th letter. Did she love it to death, hide it from her parents maybe, or lose it somehow?

The 4th of July

The next letter follows on July 8th, and based on its contents, we know where he was over the 4th of July.

I can’t help but wonder what happened in Fort Wayne to cause him to leave so late and drive all night. Today, that same drive is about an hour and a half or two hours, max. At about 100 miles, that means they averaged about 15 miles an hour. Cars were a lot slower then than today, roads were in a lot worse condition and tires had to be patched regularly. The Model T which began to be manufactured in 1908 was the first affordable car and is probably what they were driving.

Not only did he manage to get back to camp late, which means he was technically AWOL, but he also seems to have had a case of tonsillitis severe enough to require surgery. This is a decade before the invention of antibiotics.

Dad goes on to say that $30 a month isn’t much to live on, which I would presume is his salary. He thinks it will cost them $25 a month for “light housekeeping” but he can get his groceries on base and his clothes from Uncle Sam.

“I sure want my baby dressed nice but we’ll try and get along somehow. Oh, I know, well just live on hugs and kisses.”

I remember being so in love I could have cared less about anything and everything except for that person. Apparently, I inherited that trait from my dear father.

Dad says he’s expecting Virgie to visit the 4th of the following month. He references an old girlfriend who he identifies as having a “hairlip.” Apparently, the old girlfriend referred to him as Billy when she was inquiring as to why he had not written to her. I’ve also never heard my dad called by what was probably his boyhood nickname.

I’m suspecting that Dad told Virgie about the other gal on purpose to “keep her interested” and so that Virgie wouldn’t think that there weren’t other gals pursuing him. He doesn’t say, but if the “hairlip gal” is who I think she is, her name is Martha. Dad told Virgie that he replied that his wife was there, on base, so there was “no chance now.” Ummm, that wasn’t exactly true either, but I don’t want to get ahead of the story. Just remember Martha.

Another empty envelope from July 29th, followed by a letter on August 5th that tugged at my heartstrings.

My father was apparently quite ill.

“I thought I was a goner.”

Why did he think Virgie might not love him anymore? My heart aches for him.

“You know I was going to come and see you this pay day and then I never herd (sic) from you and now I can’t come.”

He asks:

“Have you been true to me?”

I’m not clear why they apparently need or want to wait two years to marry. Yes, he’s in the military, but other men marry while in service. Perhaps her father wouldn’t allow it until he got out, or until she was 18 or perhaps graduated from high school? The only two people who know the answer to that are together now, and not here to ask.

“I’ll be true to you.”

“For you I would die.”

Oh, my heart.

Then he says goodbye with:

“10,000 kisses and as many hugs.”

The next letter is mailed from the base hospital. If you’re keeping track, this is the third time in just over a month that Dad has been hospitalized.

He has been and remains very ill.

I wonder if he had meningitis or encephalitis introduced when they removed his tonsils. Maybe they shouldn’t have done that surgery while the tonsils were infected. He had been hospitalized at this point since about August 7th, two days after his last letter.

The next letter is dated August 20th, almost two weeks later, and he’s STILL in the hospital and hopes to get out in a couple weeks. Sadly, he mentions that Virgie is only writing him once a month. Uh oh!

He tells Virgie that he has a case of “phenomia fever.”

I can’t even imagine being a critically ill 16 or 17-year-old boy, claiming to be 20, trying to be grown up, alone, in the Army, and with my lady-love not writing. Talk about feeling frightened, alone and abandoned. Again.

First, he survived his family, then two years of military service during a war, and now something that kept him hospitalized for 3 weeks.


The next letter is dated August 23rd. Virgie has apparently written, thank goodness!

He mentions his mother, Ollie Bolton Estes, in Franklin Park, Illinois. Apparently Ollie said that “Bessie is looking short,” whatever that means. He then goes on to mention that it has been “only 4 months since I busted up with her (Bessie) and Mama said she claims it’s all my fault.” I’m not quite sure how he could go with a gal in Franklin Park, Illinois and be in the service in Battle Creek, but then again, he’s going with a gal in Dunkirk, Indiana.

I’m making a mental note of a woman named Bessie in Illinois in April 1919, just in case that half-sibling DNA match arrives. However, given that 1919 is 99 years ago, I guess that match would have to be the half sibling’s child, grandchild or great-grandchild. Um, that might explain something I’ve been wondering about. I have a mystery match at MyHeritage of 383cM that is clearly on my father’s side, is about exactly perfect to be a grandchild of a half sibling, and hasn’t answered my messages, but I digress.

Why oh why does he use no one’s last name?

Dad vacillates between asking Virgie if she still wants him and then says he is “sure she is true.” This sounds like one terrified young man. I just want to hug his heart that longs to be loved.

“I will always do all that I can to make you happy and to help you.”

Dad then once-again switched abruptly to, “I am going horseback riding this afternoon.” He closes by saying he wishes she was there to ride with him, signs as “Hubby” and fills the rest of the page with Xs.

In the next letter, dated August 24th, I clearly sense an air of desperation. Note that he is still in the hospital.

“I shall love you the longest day I live and you can depend on me as your best friend in the world.”

Dear God.

“There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you.”

What else is there to say? While in the hospital no less. What pain he must have been in to have to pen the next line.

“You know I’m nothing soft, so write plain what you think and I will thank you for it.”

He knows.

This is killing me.

On August 30th, another letter on hospital stationery hints at answers. Apparently, high drama has occurred in the small down of Dunkirk, and someone told Virgie “something.” If this reminds you of Junior High School and 13-year-old girls, keep in mind how old these two were, and the naivety of the time.

Dad’s letter doesn’t tell us what Virgie said, but he replies:

“Don’t believe any thing like that for I never thought of saying such a thing. I came to see you because I loved you. I love you so much and you are the light of my life. There are lots of people in Dunkirk that would like to brake (sic) up our friendship but if it’s left up to me it will never be broken up.”

He goes on to expand on that thought in loverly fashion, and then says:

“I have been true to you since I began going with you and I have letter what can prove to you that I’ve stopped all of my correspondence with all other girls.”

A few paragraphs later he states:

“I think of you if I am idle on duty walking post at midnight or riding across the camps. You are the vision of my dreams and you always will be. Won’t you please believe in me forever and trust me.”

The next part is a bit confusing, and he is clearly flustered or exasperated, but he in essence says that he wants her to think of him when she is in specific “other company,” which means another boy.

He follows with:

“I am in camp waiting and saving for you and preparing for your future and think how much I love you. Then after you think it over and consider your love for them, if your love for me isn’t strong enough to resist other company, then you may go ahead but never with my consent. That last kiss I placed on your lips I placed it there to stay till I came back. It wasn’t placed there for other fellows to take off. If I ever have to give you up I don’t want to ever see another girl for my love is too strong for you. I have never asked for a release from our engagement for that has never entered my mind. I won’t want one if you will only be true to me and promise to believe in me. I have you a sapire (sic) ring for your engagement ring. I will bring it when I come to see you if you will only let me come and nobody else.”

He must feel terribly out of control, like he is at a severe disadvantage, remote, and unable to “compete” by being present. Yet, he somehow found the money for an engagement ring that I don’t think she ever saw.

Dad then asks when her school starts and tells her to study hard and hurry and graduate.

“I love you enough to die for you.”

“I’ll protect you till the end of time.”

Why would he invest this much effort if these feelings weren’t genuine?

He closes by telling Virgie that he’s now out of the hospital, although this 8-page letter appears to have been written in sections and probably over several days.

“Your Soldier Boy.”

My heart is screaming.

The next letter is dated September 4th and opens very differently. Instead of calling her by a pet name, he greets her with, “My Dearest Virgie” and proceeds to talk about when they went to pick strawberries, referring to that time nostalgically as “the good old days.” Something has changed.

He says he would like to visit her next month and then at Christmas. Unbeknownst to him, his life by Christmas would be very, very different.

By the end of the first page, departing dramatically from earlier letters, there are no professions of love. Instead, he asks if she ever thinks about him. At the end of page 2, he tells her he would like to kiss her and then closes by telling her one last time, and the only time in this letter, that he loves her.

“My love is yours.”

One final desperate try.

The tone has changed dramatically.

This is the last letter.





For more than 40 years.

However, this heart-wrenching picture taken outside her parents’ home with the message written in Virgie’s hand tells a different story.

“Thou Art Gone.”

She clearly grieved this loss, as did he.

I don’t exactly know what happened between them, or didn’t, but there are hints and I have some thoughts.

Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

Remember Martha?

Martha Dodderer and Edna

My DNA confirmed half-sister, Edna, was born to Martha Dodderer on May 22, 1920. Martha, indeed, had a cleft palate which was at that time referred to as a hairlip. Edna told me that her mother met our father when she was a volunteer in the hospital or infirmary at Camp Custer.

Using a conception date calculator, and assuming that Edna was born after a normal gestation period, the most likely time of conception was August 21-28, with the possible dates ranging from August 18th to September 2nd. Right after the desperation letter and before that last letter. If we presume that he didn’t get out of the hospital until about August 30th, then the conception was closer to September 2nd, and probably before September 4th, the date of the letter in which the tone was significantly changed – like he had given up.

We have a desperately ill young man who thought he was dying – in the hospital three times, totaling 4 or more weeks in 2 months, the last time for 3 weeks – and far from any family to visit. During this time, he becomes increasingly desperate as his sweetheart is not writing to him and appears, at least to him, to be interested in someone else.

Martha, about 5 years older, took care of him in the hospital, was kind to him and perhaps commiserated with being rejected. One thing led to another, which led to Edna.

Dad didn’t marry Martha until 19 months later, in December of 1921. Their divorce was final three years later and the proceedings made it quite clear that their marriage probably should never have occurred at all.

He didn’t marry Martha in the fall of 1919 because he had already married someone else.

Yes, you read that right.

And it wasn’t Virgie.

I wonder what the engagement ring looked like.

Ilo Bailey and Lee Joseph

As if this story wasn’t complex enough, Martha apparently wasn’t the only person that my Dad had been seeing. On December 3, 1919 in Calhoun County, Michigan, he married Ilo Bailey under an assumed name. And yes, I’m positive it’s him.

Their child, unproven by DNA testing because Lee is deceased and had no children, was born on February 24, 1920. Again, using the conception calculator, the most likely time for Ilo to have become pregnant was May 29-June 2, with possible dates being May 23-June 7th.

Both of these pregnancy events, Ilo and Martha, skirt the timeframe of the letters from Dad to Virgie. Ilo before and Martha after. The letters to Virgie began in late June and ended two months later in late August, with the last one of a much different tone being dated September 4th. In other words, he may well not have been cheating on Virgie. These two relationships appear to bracket their brief engagement.

If Ilo got pregnant about the end of May or beginning of June, she would have been hunting for my father in August to tell him of her plight. It took him 4 months after that to marry her. I suspect strongly that he sincerely loved Virgie and not only had he “lost” Virgie, he had found a family he didn’t exactly anticipate. That marriage, however, didn’t last long.

In a letter from Ilo to Dad 15 months later dated March 22, 1921, Ilo states that she is leaving for Kentucky, their marriage “is illegal anyway” and “it’s in the hands of an attorney now.” Apparently, by December 12, 1921, he was unmarried because he married Martha Dodderer, Edna’s mother.

But that may not be all either.


Dad’s letters to Virgie are increasingly desperate and heart-wrenching. I’m left with the impression that both Virgie and my Dad were just too young and emotionally unprepared to withstand such a trying situation, even without complications of health, war and distance.

But there might have been more in play as well.

It’s very unusual for a healthy young man to become deathly ill for more than three weeks. It’s simply not normal. It wasn’t during the deadly flu epidemic which had hit Camp Custer hard in October of 1918 and it wasn’t during the winter, but the middle of summer. Reading historical documents from that time period, the first step of suspected flu on base was indeed to isolate the patient, but if he had the flu, he would have said so instead of “pneumonia fever.”

Dad was hospitalized for the second time right after he had a tonsillectomy. His third hospitalization was for three weeks. He mentioned that his head ached terribly, he had a high fever and was dizzy. I have to wonder if he contracted either meningitis or encephalitis during his surgery that caused some level of residual brain damage, impairing his executive function ability which regulates decision making. Executive function is the filter that keeps you from jumping out of the car and slapping the person silly who cuts you off in traffic. In other words, road rage results from the lack of executive function.

My father’s first stent in the service was not marked by any known disciplinary action and he was a Sergeant when he re-enlisted in May of 1919. Everything was fine right up until it wasn’t, and then it went to “hell in a handbasket,” as my Mom would have said, right after his illness.

Beginning right after his last letters to Virgie, his behavior changed dramatically. It’s as if there was an invisible line in the sand. Here’s a brief timeline.

  • April 1919 – Breaks up with Bessie, according to letter to Virgie, possibly in Franklin Park, Illinois
  • May 20, 1919 – Dad re-enlists in the Army at Fort Custer
  • Late May or early June 1919 – Ilo gets pregnant in Battle Creek
  • Mid/late June 1919 – Dad meets Virgie
  • June 25, 1919 – first letter to Virgie
  • July 9, 1919 – in hospital for tonsillectomy
  • August 5, 1919 – just released from hospital, but “I thought I was a goner.”
  • August 7, 1919 – hospitalized again for 3 weeks
  • August 30, 1919 – letters to Virgie increasingly desperate, out of hospital
  • September 4, 1919 – last letter to Virgie, very different tone
  • Late August or early September 1919 – Martha gets pregnant in Battle Creek
  • November 4, 1919 – Dad is AWOL and remains AWOL until April 1920
  • December 3, 1919 – Dad marries Ilo in Calhoun County, Michigan under an assumed name
  • April 1920 – Dad arrested for being AWOL and sent to Leavenworth
  • March 1921 – Dad released from Leavenworth, returns to Camp Custer
  • March 1921 – Ilo letter to Dad saying she has left and they are getting divorced, letter found in possession of Martha Dodderer at her death
  • August 8-11, 1921 – AWOL again
  • August-October 1921 – I think he was back in Leavenworth
  • November 1921 – discharged from service
  • December 1921 – married Martha Dodderer in Calhoun County, Michigan
  • February 1924 – divorced from Martha Dodderer

This also may have been about the time Dad started drinking heavily. Then again, being quite ill, having two separate women pregnant, losing the one you love who is not one of the two pregnant women, and being AWOL at the same time will do that to you.

What a mess he got himself into with absolutely no good way out.

I keep hearing the refrain, “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.”

By then, it was simply too late.

Fast Forward to 1960

We’re going to fast forward through several decades and failed relationships. In hindsight, it feels to me like Dad never got over Virgie and continued to make decisions that lacked in judgement – each new situation weighed down by the quickly accumulating baggage of the past.

In the mid-1940s and again in the 1950s, he was involved with two women at the same time, one of which was my mother. As late as 1960, we have a photo of Dad in Fort Wayne, in his “other” wife, Ellen’s living room, provided by my “half-brother,” David Estes, who turned out not to be my Dad’s biological child.

Dad had a penchant for just showing up and hunting people down after absences of many years. In spite of his prolonged absences, he was an extremely likeable guy, and it was very difficult to remain angry with him – at least initially, according to Edna and others. Edna told me that she hadn’t seen him in literally 3 or 4 decades when he appeared at her house about 1960, wearing a suit and looking quite dapper. The photo below was taken that day with Edna’s children.

This wasn’t long after the period when he was practicing medicine in Tennessee and elsewhere. If your mouth just dropped open, welcome to my world. That’s a story for future article, and it’s a humdinger. My father was anything but boring.

About the same time that this photo was taken, Dad decided to stop by Virgie’s parents’ house in Dunkirk to see if he could find Vergie. He must have been on a search-and-recover binge that year.

Keep in mind that he had last been there 40 or 41 years earlier. Virgie’s father had died, Virgie had married, raised her kids and divorced, and just happened to be living with her mother in the same house where she resided back in 1919.

What are the chances, right?

Virgie had never remarried. She squirrelled away Dad’s pictures and letters that entire time – 4 decades. If Dad thought 2 years was a long time, 40 years is forever.

On April 24, 1961, Virgie and Dad married in Rome, Georgia. No, I don’t know why Georgia, but knowing Dad, I’m sure there’s a story there someplace.

He may or may not have been officially divorced from Ellen at that time. Mom mentioned that Virgie had to “fix” something in that regard, having to do with a divorce not being final in Florida. I found a corresponding envelope with no letter dated October 17, 1961 from the law firm Jopling, Darby and Duncan in Lake City, Florida. The official story was that the waiting period was somehow “messed up,” or that the lawyers got the divorce petition filed a day late. I have been unable to find any divorce record in Florida. Maybe I should check other Lake City (Columbia County) legal records. Maybe there’s more that I don’t know. Hmmm….

Regardless, he and Virgie lived the next two years and 4 months happily in the little house with Grandma. They had such a short time to make up for 42 irrecoverable years. Virgie loved Dad and adored him, at the same time aware of his foibles. I hope Dad found the love, security and acceptance he desperately craved.

Dad died on August 27, 1963, with Vergie at his bedside. He had promised Virgie all those years ago to love her until his death, and he did exactly that, just as he had sworn. I believe that Virgie was indeed his true love, his soul mate. I’m so glad he found his way back to Dunkirk and to Virgie.

I know this isn’t your typical love story happy ending, but I think those last two fleeting years were as happy as either Dad or Vergie ever were, except, of course, for those few days during that long-ago lost summer of 1919.

Owed to Mrs. Alsup: Be Undeniable – 52 Ancestors #203

One of the comments I hear regularly is that I’m lucky to be involved with genetic genealogy and the opportunities it offers. I agree, I am very fortunate, but luck, per se, has little to do with it. Luck is buying the winning lottery ticket. I haven’t managed to do that yet, although I’m still trying.

In the mean time, while I waited for Lady Luck to smile on me, I prepared, just in case I’m never “lucky.”

Everyone needs at least one really great teacher in their life. I was fortunate to have three, the first of which was Mrs. Alsup, followed by my step-father, Dean Long, who told me that “Luck favors the prepared and elbow grease,” and then with Joe Caruso.

Mrs. Alsup

Mrs. Inez Alsup was my English teacher in high school who taught me an extremely valuable lesson, one I really didn’t understand that I had learned or the depth of its value until nearly 25 years later.

I’ll add that she was a black woman, but in saying that, I also want to say that to me, she was just Mrs. Alsup and black or white mattered not one iota. I never thought of her in those terms. It’s just that looking back, I realize what a pioneer she really was and have a much greater respect for what she had to overcome to achieve what she did. It was from the depths of those experiences that she spoke to me.

She was a black woman, born in 1938 in the deep south, in Georgia, who obtained both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, became a teacher, then an administrator and assistant principal before retiring.

But Mrs. Alsup was tough, really tough. She was tougher on me than on anyone else and I felt she was extremely unfair.

As an adult, I fully understand why, and I appreciate it beyond expression. But I wasn’t an adult back then.

Mrs. Alsup saw my potential, and she comprehended something I didn’t. Women, in that day and age, had to be better to be equal. They had to excel, and excellence had to be absolutely unquestionable. Good wasn’t good enough.

On top of being a female, I was a mixed race female, and she understood all too well what that meant. I did not. Consequently, I was extremely unhappy with Mrs. Alsup.

“Next Time, Earn It”

Mrs. Alsup refused to give me an A that I fully believed I deserved. I was one-thirty-second of a point away from that A.

One. Thirty. Second. Of. A. Point.


Using math to average and round up, I could fully justify why I should have that A, but Mrs. Alsup was completely unswayed. Other teachers do this as standard practice, I argued. She patiently heard me out, and then she looked at me, dead straight in the eye, leaning forward over her desk until her face was just inches from mine, squinted her eyes at me and said, or rather kind of hissed, “Next time, earn it.”

I was furious, utterly furious. Mrs. Alsup was entirely unfazed as I stormed out of that room with an attitude and a half.

I did earn it, damn it, I did!

But, I really hadn’t. I had been almost good enough. Not good enough. Not better. Just almost. Not quite. Almost isn’t good enough.

But guess what…the next semester, and the next, I earned that A, and then I earned an A+ followed by what was called an A5, which was a 5 point A, as compared to a “regular” 4 point A.

Mrs. Alsup was right – if anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing well, completely and unquestionably. I learned to be undeniable and it served me very well from that time forward in my life, but it wasn’t until I met Joe Caruso that I fully internalized the lesson Mrs. Alsup had taught me.

Until I truly understood the value of undeniability, and could put words to the phenomenon, I was unable to leverage it effectively.

Joe Caruso

Joe Caruso, founder of Caruso Leadership Institute, is a cancer survivor (as a teenager) with a high school education. Yet, he consults with and to America’s largest corporations. Joe is an unprecedented teacher and leader and he does not know the meaning of the word “can’t.” If you ever have the opportunity to hear Joe speak, just do it.

In 1997, I attended a seminar, (quite by accident actually), taught by Joe which turned out to be a clarifying, life-changing event. You can download, for free, Joe Caruso’s Success Strategies, one of which is to “Be Undeniable.” Indeed. Joe’s Success Strategies poster has remained on the wall by my desk through three moves and more than two decades.

Yes, I’m lucky, fortunate and blessed to have had Inez Alsup, my step-father AND Joe Caruso enter my life at the moments I needed a lesson.

Being Undeniable

On that fateful day that I was infuriated by Mrs. Alsup, I learned what it meant to be undeniable, although at that time I didn’t understand undeniability as a strategy.

A year later, I put that lesson to use when I attended a school board meeting, refusing to be excluded from a college prep class because the school wasn’t going to “waste the seat on a girl who’s just going to get married anyway.” They were going to “give it to a boy who would make something of himself.” I made my case and refused to leave. I obtained that seat in the class. I didn’t realize at the time that I had internalized Mrs. Alsup’s lesson.

Some two decades later, Joe Caruso would verbalize this golden rule of opportunity and made me realize the important life lesson that Mrs. Alsup had taught – far more important, at least to me, than the English class or the grade itself.

I wish I could personally thank Mrs. Alsup, but she passed away in 2010. My Dad’s gone too, but I can still thank Joe Caruso. In their honor, I would like to convey these very simple messages:

  • Luck favors the prepared and elbow grease. (Thanks Dad.)
  • Earn it. (Thanks Mrs. Alsup.)
  • Be undeniable. (Thanks Joe Caruso.)

And in case you’re wondering just how this applies to genetic genealogy, this is exactly the strategy I used to make the risky move of switching careers in the early/mid 2000s to genetic genealogy which was at that time a brand new field. It’s not luck, it’s thanks to Mrs. Alsup, Dad, Joe and a whole lot of continuing elbow grease. 😊

However, I am still buying lottery tickets. It never hurts to be both prepared AND lucky. Fingers crossed!

Philip Jacob Miller (1723/1727-1799), The Reluctant Patriot, 52 Ancestrors #202

Philip Jacob Miller was a Brethren man, also called Dunkers because their faith called for fully immersing, or dunking, those being baptized. Baptism took place as adults, not as infants, with the belief that one could only adhere to the tenets of the church if one was old enough to comprehend the teachings. Hence, converts were rebaptized, invalidating infant baptisms performed in other Protestant sects, causing the Brethren to sometimes be referred to by the derogatory term, “rebaptizers” by their Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed contemporaries. The Brethren were perceived as fanatical and sometimes seditious in their beliefs, but they found strength and comfort among their Brethren families and communities. This history explains the tight-knit sect that became both accustomed and immune to public outrage and pressure from outside of the Brethren church. Pressure to confirm from inside the Brethren church was another matter.

Philip Jacob’s father, Michael Muller/Miller, was Brethren as were his children, grandchildren and on down through a total of 5 generations until the first non-Brethren emerged in my line. John Whitney Ferverda, my grandfather, was raised Brethren, married a Lutheran woman and their compromise was the Methodist church. Philip Jacob was probably rolling over in his grave, wherever that is.

Brethren adhere to the “three negatives.” According to “A Centennial Statement,” published in 1981 by the Brethren Church:

Obedience to Christ is the center of Brethren life. This conviction has led the Brethren historically to practice non-conformity, non-resistance, and non-swearing.

  • In non-conformity, Brethren have sought to follow the way of Christ in contrast to the way of the world.
  • In non-resistance, Brethren have renounced the Christian’s use of violence in combating evil, striving, as far as possible, to be reconciled to all persons.
  • In non-swearing, Brethren have sought to lead such trustworthy Christian lives that oath-taking becomes unnecessary.

Every Brethren believer must live in a way that exhibits to the world the truth and love of Christ.

Historically, this means that Brethren did not believe in any particpation in government, to the point that they would not obtain a marriage license and those who did were shunned.

For instance, on February 14, 1776, Alexander Mack Jr., the son of the founder of the Brethren faith writes in a letter that he is shunning his daughter, Sarah, because “she married outside of the brotherhood” and secondly “because the marriage was performed with a license and third because her husband had not quite completed his apprenticeship.”

Brethren seldom registered deeds and often did not file wills. Worse yet, at least for the genealogist, they didn’t keep church records of births, baptisms, marriages or deaths.

Tracking Brethren families is difficult because of these beliefs. Sometimes tax lists, land surveys and purchases from or sales to non-Brethren community members are the only documents that confirm where our Brethren families were living at a given time, at least before the census began. You might escape a death record, but not even Brethren could escape the tax man.

If a Brethren was called to court, or wanted to become naturalized, they would not take an oath, but asked to be allowed to “affirm” instead. Hence, the Brethren men from Maryland traveled to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where they were allowed affirmations as opposed to “swearing an oath.” Several Brethren men, including the minister Nicholas Martin, Philip Jacob Miller, Michael Miller, Jacob Stutzman and Stephen Ulrich made that journey for naturalization in either 1762 or 1767, or both.

Some Brethren felt that they had betrayed their faith by becoming naturalized, even under those circumstances, as minister Nicholas Martin reported to Alexander Mack Jr. in a letter in 1772 about Stephen Ulrich’s remorse and feelings of estrangement within the Brethren community.

The Brethren were peaceloving pietists. In essence, they would not participate in violence. They would literally not defend their families in a time of danger or warfare because violence was fundamentally opposed within their religion.

This wasn’t just a conceptual belief, as there are many examples over the years of Indian raids and families who died, and allowed their children to die rather than to defend themselves. I can’t imagine a faith so strong that someone would let a family member, particularly a child, be injured, tortured and perish.

I have to marvel at the people who lived by these beliefs. I respect them for the strength of their convictions, but I would never last.

Therefore, understanding that Philip Jacob Miller was indeed a devout member of this church, in a strong Brethren community where his entire extended family was Brethren as well, it never occurred to me in my wildest dreams that Philip Jacob Miller was a Revolutionary War Patriot.

That’s about as “un-Brethren” as you can get, especially for a man who went all the way to Philadelphia to avoid taking an oath in Maryland, not once, but twice.

I published the story of Philip Jacob Miller and there are surely some hints that, as I read back over the article, now seem obvious. Cousin Marian, a former DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) chapter rep sent me an e-mail and told me that several people had joined the DAR based on Philip Jacob Miller’s service. Imagine my shock!

Marian discovered that Philip Jacob Miller’s service was based on the 1783 tax list. I had found that list previously, but I didn’t realize the significance, especially when combined with other information.

The Maryland State Archives indicate that the tax list was bound into a book with the title of “Copy of Assessors Certificates of Valuation of Property in Washington County in Pursuance of the Act of Assembly for Raising the Supplies for the year 1783.” (Underscore mine.) The important part, relative to Philip Jacob Miller’s Revolutionary War service are those underlined words. In other words, these taxes, at least in part, went to fund the Revolutionary War effort.

The tax list shows several Miller men on page 46 and 47, including Philip Jacob Miller, his brother John and his son, Daniel.

Please note that you can click to enlarge any image.

From the article about Philip Jacob Miller, I’ve excerpted the portions relevant to his Revolutionary War service, and added information, as follows:

The Revolutionary War

Philip Jacob Miller lived through the Revolutionary War in Washington County, Maryland, taken from Frederick County in 1776. This would have been Philip Jacob’s third war in 30 years, or fourth war in 40 years, depending on how you were counting.

Floyd Mason, in his book, “The Michael Miller and Susanna Bechtol Family Record,” tells us what he discovered about the Brethren in Frederick County during the Revolutionary War.

During the Revolution, the colonists held their national conventions and appointed certain committees of local leaders to carry out local responsibilities. In PA and MD, the main committee was the Committee of Observation who had the responsibility for raising funds to promote the war, select its leaders and furnish themselves with one committee member for each 100 families.  This committee had full power to act as it saw fit, answered to no one and there was no appeal of their decisions.

The militia groups were called Associations, later called Militia Companies. The Committee of Observation made lists of those not participating, whether Loyalist or members of the “Peace churches,” and they were called non-enrollers or Non-Associators.

The war issues divided the people’s loyalty. About one third favored the revolution, one third were Loyalists or Tories who favored the English and one third were neutral or did not believe in this manner of settling the issues. This threw the Quakers, Mennonites and Dunkers (Brethren) in with the Tories or Loyalists and in opposition to the efforts of the Committee of Observation, at least as the committee saw it.

The churches were bringing discipline to bear on members who did not follow the historic peace teachings of the church. Annual Conferences were held each year and members were asked to remain true to the Church’s nonviolent principles, to refrain from participating in the war, to not voluntarily pay the War taxes and not to allow their sons to participate in the war. This caused a lot of problems for the church members who wanted to be loyal to the church, loyal to the Loyalists who had brought them to the new country and loyal to the new government which was emerging.

As the war wore on and it looked as if the patriot’s efforts might lose, emotions raged. Non-Associators found themselves having to pay double and triple taxes. Their barns were burned, livestock stolen or slaughtered and their crops destroyed.  They were often beaten and “tarred and feathered.”  Church members came to the aid of those who endured the losses.

Some members chose not to pay the war taxes or participate in the war activities and chose to wait until the authorities came and presented their papers to have taxes forced from them. This was in compliance with the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference Action. The Committee of Observation provided that non-Associators could take as much of their possessions with them as they could and then they would seize the property and remaining possessions and sell them to fill their war chests.

During this time, the Revolutionary War was taking place and the Brethren were known as non-Associators, those who would take an oath of loyalty, but would not belong to a militia unit nor fight. Many non-Brethren residents suspected them of secretly being allied with the Tories and resented their refusal to protect themselves and others.  Laws of the time allowed for the confiscation of property of anyone thought to be disloyal.  Records of this type of event have survived in the oral and written histories of some of the Brethren families, in particular some who migrated on down into the Shenandoah Valley.  Perhaps others thought it wise to move on about this time as well.

Taken from several sources, these are some of the names of non-Associators and others who were processed by the Committee of Observance that are descendants of Johann Michael Mueller (Jr., Philip Jacob Miller’s father) who died in 1771.

  • Samuel Garber who may have married one of Michael Miller’s daughters, and their sons Martin and Samuel Garber
  • Jacob Good, Michael Miller’s step-daughter’s husband
  • John Rife, Michael Miller’s step-daughter’s husband
  • David Miller, the son of Philip Jacob Miller
  • Michael Wine, married Susannah, the daughter of Lodowich Miller, son of Michael Miller
  • Jacob Miller, son of Lodowich Miller
  • Abraham Miller, relationship uncertain
  • Another source lists Elder Daniel Miller, stated as Lodowick’s son, as being fined 4.5 pounds.

Susannah Miller Wine told her children and grandchildren that Michael Wine, Jacob Miller, Martin Garber and Samuel Garber had their property confiscated by the authorities for remaining true to the non-violent principles of their church.

Lodowich Miller’s family group removed to Rockingham County, VA about 1782 or 1783.

We know that in 1783, Philip Jacob Miller, John Miller and Lodowick Miller were signing deeds back and forth in Frederick County. These activities may well have been in preparation for Lodowick’s departure. He was not on the 1783 tax list, and at least part of his land was clearly in Washington County, so he was apparently gone by that time.

William Thomas, on the Brethren Rootsweb list in 2011 tells us:

I have a copy of the 1776 non-enrollers list for Washington County, MD, that lists “Dunkars & Menonist” fines. The list includes Abraham Miller, David Miller, and David Miller son of Philip.  It goes on to list an appraisal of guns (whatever that means) in 1777 and includes a Henry Miller.

Point being there were several Miller’s in Washington County, some of who were Dunkers or Mennonites, a name common to both denominations.

If you move to the 1776 non-enroller list for Frederick County, MD, you have even more Millers. You have Jacob Miller, Jacob Miller s/o Adam, Abraham Miller, Peter Miller, Stephen Miller, Solomon Miller, Robert Miller, Henry Miller, Philip Miller, David Miller and Daniel Miller, all fined, and implying a Dunker/Mennonite/Quaker religious affiliation.

Washington County, Maryland was formed in September 1776 from the portion of Frederick County where Philip Jacob Miller lived. Note that while David Miller, son of Philip is listed, Philip Jacob is not listed but he could be listed as Philip, although we’ll see on the 1783 list that another Philip Miller is also residing in the area. So, Philip on the tax list could be another Philip, Jacob could be the Jacob Miller who left for Virginia, and Philip Jacob’s name could be legitimately absent from the “Dunkars and Menonist” list.

There is other evidence that Philip Jacob Miller did participate at some level. Men 16-60 were required to participate in the local militia. Philip Jacob was born between 1722 and 1727, so he would have been about 50 years old in 1776, clearly not 60 where he would be exempt until 1782 at the very earliest.

From the book, “Colonial Soldiers of the South, 1732-1774” by Murtie June Clark:

Capt. John White’s Company Maryland Militia, 6 days, undated:

  • Michael Miller
  • Jacob Miller

Note that there were multiple Michael and Jacob Millers in the area, and not all of them appear to be Brethren. This alone is not conclusive.

List of Militia 1732-1763 now before the Committee of Accounts lists John White’s militia as from Frederick County as well as that of Jonathan Hager.

Capt. Jonathan Hager’s Company, Maryland Militia 6 days service, undated:

  • Jacob Miller
  • Conrod Miller
  • John Miller Jr.
  • John Miller
  • Jacob Miller Jr.
  • Zachariah Miller
  • Philip Jacob Miller
  • Jacob Miller (son of Conrad)

Perhaps Philip Jacob Miller was trying, rather unsuccessfully it seems, to find a middle ground.

It’s difficult to understand how to interpret this information that seems to be conflicting. To try to resolve or better understand the situation, I turned to the 1790 census where I found 2 Philips in Washington County, 5 Jacobs, 7 Johns and an Abraham in both Washington and Frederick County.  Unfortunately, the 1790 census did not add clarity.

One thing we do know is that Philip Jacob Miller always used both names. A second Jacob Miller, also Brethren, also found early in Frederick County, Maryland, moved to Virginia about this time and then later to the Brethren community in Montgomery County, Ohio where Philip Jacob Miller’s sons, Daniel and David settled. This Jacob Miller has been proven to be unrelated on the Michael Miller line via Y DNA testing through the Miller-Brethren DNA Project.

If you descend from any Brethren Miller line, and have either Miller paternal Y or autosomal DNA tests, please join this project at Family Tree DNA to help us identify the various Miller Brethren lines. If you haven’t yet tested, Miller men can order the Y DNA test here and everyone can take the autosomal Family Finder test.

Philip’s Land

We can tell based on Philip Jacob Miller’s land records that he did indeed pay his taxes. In the 1750s, he had a 290 acre tract and a 50 acre tract surveyed.

The 1783 tax list provides us with the following information:

Philip Jacob Miller owned “sundry tracts” meaning more than one, which included:

  • Acres of wood – 98
  • Acres of meadow – 14
  • Acres of arable – 55
  • Total #acres – 167
  • Value – 250
  • Value of improvements – 110
  • Horses – 2
  • Black Cattle – 4
  • Value of livestock – 21
  • Value other property – 3
  • Total amount of property – 384

We don’t know what happened to the total of 340 acres that Philip Jacob had surveyed in the 1750s, but it’s entirely possible that he sold or gave portions to other Brethren, in particular, his children. We haven’t found deeds. It’s also possible that some of the land lay in Frederick County, the part that did not become Washington, although given the locations that we know, I don’t think that’s likely.

We also know that in 1796, when Philip Jacob sold his land to move to Kentucky, he sold 290 acres which is consistent with his survey.

While I can’t confirm exactly how and when Philip Jacob Miller obtained and disposed of land, one thing is clear. Philip Jacob Miller did not lose his land that he purchased from his father in 1751 and had surveyed in 1755. He sold the largest portion of that land in 1796. I don’t know why the 1783 tax list shows less land, unless he gave some of it to his children, who gave it back when they left, not long after this tax list was prepared. In fact, perhaps this 1783 forced payment of taxes to support the war was the last straw that convinced his sons, Daniel and David to move to Bedford County, Pennsylvania.

His son, “Daniel Miller of Philip” is shown on the 1783 list as well with no land, but a David Miller has 142 acres. Since there is only one David Miller, he isn’t listed by noting his father.

Military Evidence

Hagerstown, Maryland fell into Washington County in 1776, so we know that the militia list that showed Philip Jacob Miller in Capt. Jonathan Hager’s Company with 6 days service in Frederick County was prior to the county split in 1776. While Philip Jacob may have served for 6 days, that unit was never called to duty, so he never had to make that decision.

The 1783 Washington County tax list is clearly to raise funds for supplies to support the war effort. Philip Jacob is listed and obviously paid the tax, because he did not lose his land. Not only that, he had paid previous taxes as well, because he owned land in 1783 and he sold his original land surveyed in 1755, 41 years later, in 1796.

Philip Jacob is never found listed on the non-Associator’s lists of those who protested silently by refusing to participate unless either the “Philip” or “Jacob,” listed separately, is actually Philip Jacob. We know from the 1783 tax list, combined with other information, that there is another Phillip Miller and another Jacob Miller in the county at that time.

While Philip Jacob Miller may have broken with the Brethren at least somewhat on the topic of war, taxes and resulting land confiscation, he traveled all the way to Philadelphia with his elderly father and other Brethren in 1767 to be naturalized – a location where they were allowed to affirm and did not have to swear an oath. He also traveled there in 1762 to witness Nicholas Martin’s naturalization. He obviously took his Brethren faith seriously.

It appears that Philip Jacob Miller may well have walked somewhat of a tightrope, trying to preserve what he had worked so hard to accumulate for the future, for his family, and for his descendants while not acting in opposition to his religion. He wanted to leave his children in the best circumstances possible. At the age of between 70 and 75 in 1796, he sold his 192 acres of land and underwent a treacherous journey cross country and down the Ohio river to settle on yet another frontier on the Ohio River bordering Kentucky and Ohio where he bought 2000 acres of land that he left to his heirs.

Honoring Philip Jacob Miller’s Service

Philip Jacob Miller might well be appalled by this article and my recognition of him as a Revolutionary War Patriot – but he’s dead and can’t protest now. I want his legacy, his truth, to live. Brethren did not call attention to themselves and led very humble lives. His great-grandson’s gravestone was ordered “without too much polish,” in an effort to respect the Brethren way of life.

Honoring Philip Jacob for anything would be embarrassing, and assuredly, to honor him for his military service, no matter how reluctantly he served, would be mortifying to the man – especially if he really didn’t intentionally serve and tried not to. I’m sure he had a great deal of remorse about however he served and it probably panged his Brethren conscience for the rest of his life. It was clearly a slippery slope to find just the right balance of “service” that would fulfill the requirement well enough to prevent the confiscation of his land and farm, yet not alienate the Brethren community entirely.

I wouldn’t be quite so sure that Philip “served” at all if the only evidence was the 1783 tax list, because many other Brethren men are listed there including Nicholas Martin, the minister. All men who owned land would have been on that list of taxes owed, which is not the same as taxes paid. The only question remaining would be if they paid the bill or allowed their land to be confiscated. Given the Brethren directive, I’d guess that we he waited until the very last minute possible before paying, literally staring confiscation in the eye. Perhaps that much resistance was enough to preserve his membership within the church.

However, the 1783 tax list and the fact that he paid those taxes, combined with the earlier list of Hager’s men who served in the militia for 6 days is quite convincing, even without Philip Jacob’s apparent absence on the list of non-enrollers.

I can’t exactly put this bronze marker on Philip Jacob Miller’s grave since his burial location is either on an island that washed away in the Ohio River, or an unmarked grave in the Twelve Mile Regular Baptist Church Island Cemetery, depending on which version of the story you like.

So, I’ll just say thank you Philip Jacob Miller, for your service despite the tough decisions you had to make in the turmoil and uncertainty of the time in which you lived, your practical nature and your love for your family. The rights you and others secured for your descendants continue to protect Americans today, almost 250 years later.

Anna Margaretha Heitz, A Soldier’s Wife, 52 Ancestors #200

Were it not for two baptismal records, we would have no idea of the name of Cunrad (Conrad) Heitz’s wife, Anna Margaretha.

My cousin and friend, retired German genealogist, Tom, found these two priceless baptism records in the Mannheim church records, although I can’t include the images because they are from Archion who does not allow usage of their images.

1676 6 August

Child: Hans Conrad

Parents: Hans Conrad Heitz, soldier under H(err) Hauptmann Schaben(ger) Company and Anna Margaretha, his lawfully wed wife.

Godparents: Conrad Keller, ?, under said Company and Elisabetha ?

Bild 105 Mannheim Evangelical

Archion image

The death record of Cunrad Heitz in Ramstein on January 17, 1698 says his age is 20-23 years, which puts his birth about 1675-1678, so this fits.

The second birth record is for a brother, Johannes, although we find no additional records for him in either Mannheim or Steinwenden.

1679 21 May

Child: Johannes

Parents: Hans Conrad Heitz, soldier under Herr Hauptmann Schaben(ger)’s Company & Margaretha, lawfully wed wife.

Godparents: Johann Schwartz, soldier under Herr Hauptmann Schaben(ger)’s Company and Catharina, his lawfully wed wife.

Bild 149 Mannheim Evangelical

Archion image

I wonder what happened to Johannes. Mannheim death records don’t exist for this timeframe.


According to German researcher, Chris, at the end of the 30 Years War, in 1648, only about 500 people were left in Mannheim. In 1652, the city invited foreigners to settle, offering tax abatements, customs relief and more incentives.

We don’t know when Conrad Heitz and Anna Margaretha arrived in Mannheim. We don’t know if they arrived as a couple, or if Conrad arrived as a soldier and married a local girl. The only thing we do know is that someplace, they were having children by between 1654 and 1663.

Chris found a map of Mannheim in 1663 complete with the names of residents, and Conrad Heitz isn’t found on that map, or a list of other residents whose names couldn’t be fit onto the map.

Of course, it’s also possible that the soldiers and their families weren’t actually living in the city proper, perhaps assigned to special military housing or living in the actual fort.

What this map does do, however, is to give us a feel for the layout of the city. We know that they did live here 13 years later, and the street layout and location of churches and other public buildings wouldn’t have changed much.

However, more than half of the residents present in 1663 died in 1666 when Mannheim was devastated by the plague. Many of the wealthy residents left, so the city would have been a ghost-town compared to the 1663 map.

During the time that Anna Margaretha lived in Mannheim, from at least 1676 through 1679, it was a city both recovering from and preparing for war.

Leveled during the Thirty Years’ War, Mannheim had rebuilt and was populated mostly by Protestants, many from the Netherlands. A castle was constructed which made Mannheim a target for the next war, known as the Nine Years War which began in 1688 in which France sought to unify Europe under the Catholic religion, not to mention under the French king.

Mannheim fell as a result of a siege in 1688 and was burned to the ground in 1689. A decade later it was rebuilt on the original grid street pattern between the two rivers, the Rhine and Neckar.

The map above, discovered by Chris, shows the city of Mannheim at the time of the 1688 siege. The legend on the right shows the locations of military weapons, such as cannons. If Conrad was there, he might well have been manning those cannons and assuredly was protecting the city walls in some fashion. Conrad may have already been dead before 1688, or he could have died in the siege, but not everyone succumbed. The city surrendered, allowing many citizens to escape.

It’s worth noting that after the city fell, the French granted 400 Palatine soldiers the opportunity to leave and remove themselves to Frankfurt, so if Conrad was there, he might have survived. If Anna Margaretha was witness to this frightening attack, she might have lived through this episode as well, but I think Anna Margaretha had already died by this time.

Chris notes that the French Reformed Church of Mannheim moved altogether to the city of Magdeburg after the siege, and I’d bet most or all of the parishioners went along. Soon, there would be nothing left of Mannheim as it was literally burned to the ground in March of 1689.

This map of Mannheim from 1758 shows a walled city rebuilt after 1700. The 1880 map below shows the location of the churches and public buildings. Of course, we don’t know if the churches on the 1880s map are reflective of the locations or even part of the same buildings from the 1676/1679 churches, before the fire.

Exactly how the church records survived is unknown, although I’m sure they have an amazing story all their own. I’m guessing that someone removed them from Mannheim to protect them as it became evident with the approach of 30,000 French soldiers that fighting in Mannheim was inevitable. It’s also possible that they were removed sometime between the fall of Mannheim in November of 1688 and the burning of the city in March of 1689. We’re lucky the baptism and marriage books escaped, because death records don’t begin until 1739 and those two baptisms are our only link to Anna Margaretha.

Because of the location of the city, at the confluence of two rivers, and adjacent swampy land, the city of Mannheim itself had no room for expansion. Anna Margaretha lived someplace inside this semi-circular gridded city, on one of these streets.

Given that we know that Conrad was a solder, alive in 1684 and probably deceased by 1692, and that he served in Mannheim, it’s quite possible that he perished in the service of his country in the 1688 battle or the subsequent sacking of the Palatine.

Since we know that Conrad served in Mannheim, and that was the location given in 1698, a decade after we know that Mannheim fell and nine years after we know it had been deserted, I think the 1698 record suggests that Conrad last served in Mannheim, which also suggests that he died there as well. He was probably gone by 1692 when his son was confirmed in the Steinwenden church with no mention of Conrad Sr.

No one served in Mannheim after March of 1689 and probably not after November of 1688. Of course, Conrad Sr. could have perished before or during the siege itself. Unless we’d be lucky enough to find detailed records for Shabinger’s unit, we’ll likely never know.

Anna Margaretha’s Children

We pieced Anna Margaretha’s life together through the records of her children, and her children’s records were anything but easy to piece together.

Irene Lisabetha Heitz (c1654/1663-1729) – Irene is a mystery in many ways. In her 1784 marriage record to Michael Muller in the Miesau church records, her name is recorded as Irene Liesabetha and she is noted as being the daughter of Cunrad Heitz, a soldier from Kurpfalz Region, which is another word for the Palatine.

As Irene moved to different church jurisdictions throughout her life, her name was recorded differently, initially as Irene Charitas as Michael Miller’s wife, and then later as Regina Loysa. She is noted with variations on Regina Loysa when she marries Johann Jacob Stutzman in 1696 and thereafter, except for one record where she is again called Irene. However, when she married Jacob Stutzman as Regina Loysa, she was identified as the widow of Michael Muller, so her identity has been established, albeit with much difficulty. Her death record, in yet another church in another city on March 27, 1729, says that she is “age 75.” That would put her birth in 1654, making her 52 when she had her last child, Johann Jacob Stutzman, in 1706. That’s somewhat unlikely, but not entirely impossible. It’s more likely that she was born about 1663 which would make her 43 in 1706 and 21 when she married Michael Muller. Using either calculation, she is probably the eldest child of Cunrad Heitz and Anna Margaretha, assuming that Anna Margaretha is her mother.

Irene, often referred to as Irene Charitas, has been consistently mis-identified in many records for decades. Often Charitas is shown as her last name. In fact, I did the same thing and even a second time when I mis-identified her surname as Schlosser. You can read the progression through the various records and how the life of Irene was unpeeled like an onion, here, here, and here. (Yes, this onion made me cry a lot!) You can read about her first husband, here and life with her second husband here. If you’re thinking this series reads more like a web than a story, you’re absolutely right! Just think of these as chapters in a who-done-it!

Johann Samuel Heitz (c1670-1717/1728) – Samuel is first mentioned in 1692 as a tailor in a Steinwenden baptismal record where he is a godparent. This tells us that by 1692 he is an adult with a trade, so I’m assuming at least age 20, perhaps older. He is also mentioned at Christmas 1692 when Conrad Heitz was confirmed in the church as Conrad’s brother. Samuel married the widow, Catharina Apollonia Schafer Schumacher in February 1697. She was the widow of Michael Schumacher, son of Niclaus Schumacher from Rohrbach. In 1704, Jacob Ringeisen was the godparent to one of Samuel’s children. This could be significant since Jacob Ringiesen was the cousin of Michael Muller, the first husband of Samuel’s sister, Irene. In 1717, Samuel is mentioned in the church records as the censor, which is a guardian of the church morals. In 1728, Samuel’s widow died, so he clearly predeceased her, although we don’t know when or where Samuel died. There is a 1721 record where Samuel’s daughter is a godmother, and the record doesn’t say the “late” Samuel Heitz, but it’s in a different church outside the immediate area and may simply be an omission.

I’ve reconstructed the family of Samuel Heitz and Catharina Apollonia through church records:

Child Christening Death/Burial Confirm Other
Johan Adam December 26, 1697
Maria Magdalena March 1, 1699 1712
Anna Elisabetha September 1, 1700 March 31, 1741, burial April 2 Married Johannes Friess
Hans Adam August 7, 1703
Johann Heinrich August 14, 1703
Eva Catharina July 13, 1704 1717 Married Johann Nicholaus Schwind July 27, 1728
Maria Margreth October 31, 1706
Catharina Barbara September 24, 1713 October 29, 1713

Johann Cunrad Heitz (1676-1698) – A Mannheim church record shows Hans Cunrad’s birth on August 1, 1676 and lists his parents’ names. His mother’s full given name is Anna Margaretha although in keeping with tradition, no birth surname is listed for her. Cunrad’s first mention in the Steinwenden church records occurs in 1692 as being confirmed at Christmas. He’s noted as the brother of Samuel, the tailor. This would suggest Cunrad was 12 or 13 so born about 1690, although according to his baptismal record, he was born in 1676. Perhaps the family was unable to have his confirmation when it would normally have occurred in 1688, which was when Mannheim fell to French forces. On January 17, 1698 Cunrad (Jr.) died in Ramstein, unmarried and was noted as the son of Cunrad Heitz, deceased, soldier of Mannheim,

Johannes Heitz (1679-?) – Johannes’ baptism is recorded in 1679, but no further mention is found. Death records in Mannheim don’t exist before 1739. In his baptism record, his mother’s name is given as Margaretha. He may have died before the church records began in Miesau and Steinwenden, in 1681 and 1684, respectively – or he could have died elsewhere.

Anna Catharina Heitz (born 1677/78 or 1680/84) – On January 15, 1715 in Kallstadt, Catharina, “daughter of the late Cunrad Heitz from Ramstein…(margin),” married Johannes Shumacher. Cunrad Heitz, Jr. who died in Ramstein in 1798 was age 20-23 and unmarried, so Catharina must be the daughter of Cunrad Heitz, Sr. and the location of Ramstein must have been referring to her residence, or former residence.

In Weilach, a farm outside Kallstadt, Catharina was living with her sister, Irene Heitz Muller Stutzman who was at that time married to Johann Jacob Stutzman. Based solely on Catharina’s 1715 marriage, she would have been born about 1695 or earlier. As the sister of Irene, Catharina would probably have been born before 1684 due to the lack of any mention of Irene’s mother in the existing church records. Either way, the connection with Irene/Regina by living at Weilach is unmistakable. The following year Catharina and her husband, a cowherd, while living on the estate managed by Jacob Stutzman, give birth to a child and Irene/Regina stands up for the child, her niece, as Godmother. Irene/Regina’s son by her first marriage, Michael Muller/Miller, stands up for Catharina’s child born in 1722.

Catharina’s husband is given as Johannes in the difficult to translate 1715 marriage record. In two other records he is called respectively by the name of Nicholas Schumacher (1716) and Johannes again in 1722 when another child is born. Family Search shows him as Johann and Johanni in all three birth records.

It’s worth noting perhaps that Samuel Heitz’s wife, Catharina Apollonia’s first husband was Michael Schumacher, son of Niclaus Schumacher. Schumacher, German for shoemaker, was a very common surname, so this may simply be a coincidence.

The three known children of Anna Catharina and Johann or Niclaus Schumacher are:

Child Birth Christening Confirm Other
Susanna Elisabetha January 17, 1716 January 19 Baptized in Kallstadt
Maria Elisabetha October 14, 1719 October 19 Baptized in Kallstadt
Johann Michael January 15, 1722 January 20 Baptized in Kallstadt

Catharina’s age is estimated based on the fact that she gave birth in 1722.  If she was 43 in 1722, she would have been born in 1679. We know that Catharina could not have been born in 1679 because her mother, Anna Margaretha, had another child in May of that year.

There is a gap between the August 1676 and May 1679 Mannhaim births, so Anna Catharina could have been born in about December of 1677 or January of 1678. For Anna Catharina to have been born 18 months before the August 1676 birth, in February of 1675 would have put her age at 47 in 1722 when she gave birth to Johann Michael Schumacher. Not impossible, but unlikely.

We also don’t know why Anna Catharina didn’t have children after 1722. She may have been past childbearing years, or the records could be missing, she or her husband could have died, or the family could have moved.

If Anna Catharine was born after Johannes Heitz in 1679, it could have not have been before May of 1680, and that’s assuming that Johannes died shortly after birth.

Therefore, Anna Catherine was probably either born in 1677/1678 or between 1680 and 1684 when Irene is marrying Michael Muller in Steinwenden with no indication of her mother’s presence. Anna Catharina’s absence in Steinwenden church records as a godmother for her sister’s children would most likely be explained by the fact that she was significantly younger than her sister, too young to stand up as a godmother.

Sketchy Timeline

While admittedly sketchy, this does give us something of a timeline for Anna Margaretha’s life.

Assuming that Anna Margaretha was also the mother of Irene Elisabetha and the other Heitz children, we know the following:

  • Her husband was a professional soldier and was noted as being from both Kurpfalz in 1684 when Irene was married and Mannheim in 1676, 1679 and 1698 when Cunrad Jr., her son, died.
  • Anna Margaretha was living in Mannheim in 1676 and 1679 when sons Johann Cunrad and Johannes were born.
  • We know that by 1684, at least one of the children of Hans Cunrad Heitz Sr. and Anna Margaretha was in Steinwenden. Not one time is there ever any mention of Anna Margaretha in any of the church records there, which leads me to believe Anna Margaretha died between 1679 and 1684 when the first mention of the Heitz family is found in Steinwenden through the Miesau church records.
  • There is also no mention of the child Johannes, so it’s likely that both Anna Margaretha and Johannes died between 1679 and 1684.

Living as the wife of a professional soldier could not have been easy. Conrad would have been gone often, with no assurance that he was ever coming home. If he did return, would he be injured? Was he injured or maybe disabled? What kind of a husband was he?

How did the family of a soldier survive? Clearly, they couldn’t very well farm with Conrad being absent and Anna Margaretha having small children. Not only that, but Anna Margaretha lived in a walled city at the confluence of two rivers. Her options were very limited. Did the Palatine state support the soldier and their families?

The families of soldiers probably moved when the unit moved. If so, was Conrad in Miesau, Ramstein or Steinwenden? What brought him there? Or was he ever in those locations? Were his children there because they were being raised by someone, perhaps the Reverend Samuel Hoffman and his wife, Irene, after his wife, Anna Margaretha died?

Did the Heitz family know the Michael Muller family from elsewhere? Is that why Jacob Ringeisen was involved too? Did they know Samuel Hoffman and his wife Irene Beuther somehow? Is the fact that they named a child both Irene and Samuel simply a coincidence? What is the connection?

If not the Hoffmans, then who was raising the Heitz children in Steinwenden, and why?

Deducing Information

There is always so much room for error when we have to deduce significant amounts of information, but sometimes that’s our only option. Let’s take a look at what we have, and what makes the most sense.

Irene is the oldest child that we know of. There could have been earlier children born to Anna Margaretha. Since we have neither her nor her husband’s birth, marriage or death records, we have to deduce information from the births of the known children.

If Irene was 20 when she married Johann Michael Muller in 1684, and her mother Anna Margaretha was 20 when Irene was born, then Anna Margaretha would have been born about 1644. She could easily have been born earlier, but not much later.

How much earlier?

If Anna Margaretha’s last known child born in 1679 was born when she was 43, then her birth would have been about 1636.

Now we have Anna Margaretha’s birth date bracketed as 1636-1644, an 8-year span. Not terribly bad for having only sketchy information about her children.

Based on her absence in church records, we’ll estimate Anna Margaretha’s death date as 1679-1684.

Anna Margaretha was between 35 and 48 when she passed away. Young by any measure. Certainly not a death of old age. Something happened.

We know that Anna Margaretha left unmarried children when she died. Given that their father, a soldier, was clearly often absent, Anna Margaretha’s children must have been especially close to her. She was the ever-present parent – so when she died, a gaping void must have opened in their lives, along with uncertainty about their future.

What would happen to them? The visual I see is tearful, frightened children huddled together, clinging to each other, with eyes full of fear as they surround their deceased mother’s body.

How did a soldier take care of children without a wife, especially in a time of war?

Godparents were expected to step in when parents died. The two children whose baptismal records we have from the 1676 and 1679 records list other soldiers in Conrad’s military unit as their godparents.

Where was the unit when Anna Margaretha died? Where were those soldiers? How would they care for children?

We know that Irene was in Steinwenden in 1684 and we also know that Cunrad Jr., who was also underage was in Steinwenden in 1692 when he was confirmed. We know that Cunrad Sr. was alive in 1684 because he is referred to in the present tense as a soldier in the service of the Palatine. Conrad Sr. was probably deceased by 1692 at the confirmation of Cunrad, Jr. who is listed as the brother of Samuel (instead of son of Cunrad). Anna Margaretha isn’t mentioned either.

Samuel, the second oldest, a tailor, was an adult with a trade by 1692, married in 1697 and appears to have lived lifelong in Steinwenden.

By 1697, we know positively that Cunrad Sr. is dead and in 1698, his final notation was that he was a soldier in Mannheim, with no mention of Steinwenden. We also know that no soldier has served in Mannheim since 1688.

It would appear that the military godparents did not raise these children – and that the children stayed together. Three of the 5 known children are mentioned in Steinwenden church records.

Perhaps the Reverend Samuel Hoffman and his wife, Irene, were raising these children. It’s not unlikely that they were the godparents of both Irene and Samuel Heitz. That would clearly explain the continuing close connection between the Heitz and Hoffman families – especially if Samuel Hoffman and his wife Irene Charitas, with no children themselves, were godparents for two of Anna Margaretha’s children. If they took three of the Heitz children to raise, it’s probable that they took Catharina and Johannes as well, if Johannes was alive.

Maybe Anna Margaretha truly could rest in peace after all, as unlikely as that sounds.

Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA is passed from mothers to both genders of their children, but only the daughters pass it on. Therefore, anyone today who descends from Anna Margaretha through all females to the current generation, which can be male, carries Anna Margaretha’s mitochondrial DNA.

Mitochondrial DNA has a story all its own to tell. It reveals the history of Anna Margaretha’s direct matrilineal line and provides information not available any other way. Mitochondrial DNA is a periscope directly down one line back in time.

Anna Margaretha had two known daughters, both of whom had daughters.

Irene Heitz Muller Stutzman, wife of Jacob Stutzman had one daughter who survived:

Anna (also noted as Maria in some records) Catharina Stutzman/Stotzman born in 1699 married Johann Adam Schmidt on February 18, 1721 in Kallstadt, Germany.

We know that Catharina and Adam had at least one daughter, Johann Regina Schmidt, probably in or about 1722, but the year is smeared.

Clearly Anna Catharina and Adam Schmidt could have had additional daughters. Their one known daughter, Johann Regina Schmidt could have married and had daughters to continue the mitochondrial DNA into future generations.

Anna Catherina Heitz, wife of Johannes Nicholaus? Schumacher had two known daughters born in Kallstadt:

Susanna Elisabetha Schumacher born January 17, 1716.

Maria Elisabetha Schumacher born October 14, 1719.

Anna Catherine could have had additional daughters. Either or both of her daughters could have married and continued the line.

If you are a known descendant of Anna Margaretha Heitz through any of her children, I’d love to hear from you.

If you descend through one these daughters through an unbroken line of females to the current generation, which can be male, I have a mitochondrial DNA testing scholarship waiting just for you. You carry Anna Margaretha’s mitochondrial DNA. How cool is that!!!

Conrad Heitz (before 1645-1684/1692), “In War Service for the Palatine,” 52 Ancestors #199

The first hint of Conrad Heitz is found in the Miesau, Germany church records on April 17, 1684 when his daughter, Irene Liesabetha, married Michael Muller, a widower. The Miesau records of this time held the records from Miesau, Steinwenden and Ramstein.

Entry No. 23 – 17 April 1684 – Recorded in Miesau parish

Michael Müller, legitimate son of the late Heinsmann Müller, resident of Schwartzmatt in the Bern region with Irene Liesabetha, daughter of Cunrad (Conrad) Heitz, who was at this time in war service for the Palatinate in Churpfalz (Kurpfalz), were married in Steinwenden.

My original assumption was that Conrad Heitz was living in Steinwenden when his daughter was married to Michael Muller there, but after significant analysis by me and my two German experts, it looks like my assumption was probably incorrect.

Conrad Heitz never appears in any Steinwenden (or nearby) record except by reference. In fact, we do not know where he was living in 1684, although Churpfalz would be a good place to look.

What we do know is that Conrad was a soldier, probably a professional soldier.

Conrad Heitz wasn’t found on the 1684 Steinwenden tax list, but that wasn’t terribly unusual because Swiss immigrants weren’t taxed. His absence on the tax list didn’t set off any alarms. Michael Muller wasn’t on that list either and he’s know to be Swiss.

Therefore, because Irene lived in Steinwenden, and as we shall see, so did (at least some of) Conrad’s other children, my assumption had been that Conrad did too. I should have already learned about assuming anything with my German ancestors. They lived in uncertain times, even after the 30 Years War, and they never fail to prove me wrong every time I assume anything is “normal.” My family is NEVER normal.

To be clear, we know that Conrad’s young children lived in the Steinwenden area. We just don’t know if he lived there, and it seems likely that Conrad was an absentee father, although perhaps not willingly, and possibly tragically.

Daughter Irene

Conrad’s daughter, Irene’s story is quite interesting, given that her name seemed to change throughout her life. She was known as Irene Elisabetha, Irene Charitas, Regina Loysa, Regina Elisabetha and maybe a few other variants.

Recently one of my readers who has been transcribing German records mentioned the following:

I recognized the name Irene Charitas and for awhile could not figure out why, but then I remembered that I came across it multiple times in my current project, transcribing entries from the earliest church books of Zweibrücken and Hornbach. It’s not a name you forget! I first saw it in the family of Herr Superintendent Michael Philipp Beuther, who had a daughter baptized Irene Charitas.

In my experience, it was common in Pfalz-Zweibrücken for church officials, administrators, and educators to have their church book entries recorded in a mixture of Latin and German, hence the wild, uncommon names like Irene Charitas. It was by virtue of that family’s prominence that the name spread in Zweibrücken, seeing how Irene sponsored many baptisms.

Since you have a combination of ceremonial Latin and German, it would not surprise me a bit if your Irene occasionally went by a more Germanic name as an adult, or if minister’s made mistakes in recording her name. For example, Irene in German sounds a lot like Latinate “Reina,” derived from Regina, so it’s very possible that a minister assumed that “Rene” or “Irene” was short for a Christian name of Regina. The flip-flopping of the Rufname, though is something to watch carefully. Given the records you’ve provided, I would presume that “Irene Elisabetha” was her preferred German name and that the others are either derivatives or hiccups, but I would keep investigating.

However, it was digging for every detail about Irene by all her names that revealed Conrad Heitz and what we do know about his life. In fact, it was by tracking daughter Irene/Regina, all over this part of Germany that we found evidence of her siblings. That was no small feat, believe me, especially with her periodic name changes combined with social upheaval of the time.

The Hoffman Connection

Irene Heitz’s brother was named Samuel. Given his name and Irene’s, along with other records, it seems that the Heitz family was close to the Samuel Hoffman family.

Samuel Hoffman was probably the first minister of the church in Steinwenden and his wife, Irene Charitas Buether, died in Miesau in 1684. At that time, Steinwenden and Ramstein deaths were recorded in the Miesau church records.

According to the Geneanet site by R. K. Morgenthaler, Samuel Hofmann, husband of Irene Charitas born Beuther, was a minister in Weilersbach, close to Steinwenden, from 1657 onwards. We also know that Samuel Hoffmann and Irene Charitas Beuther married in 1657 in Weilerbach since this is stated in her 1684 burial record.

Weilerbach and Miesau are both equidistant of Steinwenden by about 9 miles in either direction.

We do have a 1684 Steinwenden tax list that shows Samuel Hoffmann residing in Steinwenden which also includes closely adjacent areas. Based on this, we may conclude that Samuel Hoffmann was a minister in Steinwenden in at least 1683-1684, and perhaps earlier. He may thus have been the first minister in Steinwenden after the war. Since Samuel was taxed, he probably wasn’t Swiss.

Given that two of Conrad Heitz’s children were named Samuel and Irene, it’s possible, perhaps even probable, that Samuel Hoffman and his wife, Irene, stood as their godparents and that the children were named in their honor. But when was that, and where?

Where was Samuel Hoffman after his 1657 marriage and before 1670 or so when Samuel Heitz was born? It stands to reason that Rev. Hoffman remained in the Steinwenden area, since he is found there in the 1680s.

In 1684, Irene Charitas Buether Hoffman, born in 1613, died in Steinwenden at the calculated age of 71. That means she had been 44 when she married Samuel Hoffman, probably past childbearing age.

As the minister, Samuel would have recorded church member’s deaths in his own handwriting after he preached the funeral service and comforted the mourners. When the last prayer was said, as the grave was covered, the good reverend retreated into the sanctuary of the church to do one final thing – record the burial date in the church books. Some ministers also recorded the gospel passage they chose to read, or noted that the church bells were rung. Samuel Hoffman wrote the simplest of notes, taking care of business, but nothing more. I have to wonder if he wrote the death record for his own wife into the register after they buried her in the churchyard, sitting alone, surrounded by the stone walls echoing happier times. Both a labor of grief and of love. Such it was in 1684 in Steinwenden.

Samuel Hoffman Remarries

In 1685, Samuel Hoffman, then a widower, remarried. German genealogist, Tom, notes the burial of Herr Samuel Hoffmann recorded in neighboring Konken parish on January 5, 1718. Tom feels that this would indicate that Samuel Hoffmann was probably about 10 years younger or more than his first wife Irene Charitas Beuther and at his death, would have been in his 90’s. If Samuel had been about the same age as Irene, that would put his age at death at 105.

Given his age at remarriage, between 62 and 72, I was quite surprised when Samuel Hoffman began having children with his new wife. I wondered if this Samuel is the son of the original Samuel who married Irene Charitas Beuther, but records confirm otherwise.

Marriage: 13 January 1685

Herr Samuel Hoffman, widower, p.p. (all proper titles assumed) with Maria Magdalena, legitimate daughter of Hans Cunrad Hepp, servant innkeeper? in Winden.

Samuel Hoffmann and his 2nd wife Maria Magdalena Hepp are found in many Steinwenden links to the Muller and Heitz families. Samuel’s new wife was clearly at least three if not four decades his junior.

Samuel Hoffman served as a godparent for a son born to Johann Michael Muller and Irene Heitz in 1687. Clearly Irene Heitz Muller was close to Samuel Hoffman too, not just Irene who had died.

A decade later, Irene Heitz Muller had remarried to Jacob Stutzman and moved to Krottelbach, but returned to Steinwenden to be the godmother of a child born to Samuel Hoffman and his wife Maria Magdalena. At this time, Samuel would have been 70 or older.

Landesarchiv Speyer > Steinwenden > Taufe 1684-1698, Taufe 1698-1738, Taufe 1724, 1738, Trauung 1684-1780, Beerdigung 1685-1780, Konfirmation 1685-1779, Bild 17

Baptism: Entry No. 221

Child: Irene Elisabeth

Date of Baptism: 3 February 1697

Parents: H(err) Samuel Hoffmann & Maria Magdalena from Steinwenden

Godparents: Irene, Jacob Stitzmantz wife from Brodelbach (Krottelbach); Elisabetha, wife of Balthasar Jolage; Dominicus Stutzman, unmarried.

The baby was named for Irene and if anything happened to the parents, Irene Heitz Stutzman would raise her namesake.

This 1697 record ties Herr Samuel Hoffmann & Maria Magdalena (his 2nd wife) with Irene Heitz Muller Stutzman, Jacob Stutzman’s wife from Krottelbach and with Dominicus Stutzman, Jacob Stutzman’s brother!

At this point, I have to ask myself how Samuel Hoffman knew Jacob Stutzman’s brother, Dominicus well enough to ask him to stand up for his child as a Godparent. Dominic is the Stutzman sibling that never moved to Konken area where Jacob Stutzman lived. Instead Dominic lived and died in Zweibrucken. How did he know the Reverend Samuel Hoffman?

Tom notes that Hoffman may have known Dominic from Zweibrucken which is about 25 miles from Steinwenden, or 32 miles from Weilerbach. Zwiebrucken is where Samuel Hoffman’s first wife, Irene Charitas Beuther was from. It’s also where the Stutzman family was found before 1682. Did the Hoffman, Miller and Stutzman families all know each other from Zwiebrucken?

Furthermore, I would still like to figure out how Cunrad Heitz, a solder from Kurpfalz, near Mannheim, came to name his two children after a minister in Weilerbach, 32 miles distant. There seem to be some critical puzzle pieces missing.

Let’s look at our Heitz records.

Heitz Records

After the 1684 marriage of Irene Heitz to Michael Muller, additional Heitz records begin to be found in 1692 in Steinwenden and continue there except where otherwise noted. Irene’s marriage was the first Heitz record found.

  • June 4, 1692 – Samuel Heitz, tailor along with Irene, Michael Muller’s wife (and others) are godparents to Johann Samuel Lantz, child of Ludwig Lantz and Esther Barbara from Steinwenden.

This tells us that Samuel Heitz is an adult because he has an occupation.

  • Christmas 1692 – Confirmation of Cunrad Heitz, brother of Samuel Heitz, tailor.

This is an important record, because it suggests the age of Cunrad Heitz to be about 12 or 13, so born about 1680. Cunrad was actually born in 1676, so he was confirmed at age 16. It also confirms that these two men are brothers. Conspicuous in this record is the absence of a parent.

  • June 21, 1693 – Elisabeth Catharina, wife of Philip Heintz and Michael Muller of Steinwenden are godparents (with others) for Catharina Margaretha, daughter of Hans Jacob Schmidt and Elisabeth from Dittweiler.

I originally thought that this Heintz record was probably a Heitz record. However, there were no additional records found, and Tom found the Philip Heintz marriage to his wife: “Philip Heintz, son of Jost Heintz (deceased) from Alsenz marries 1687 11 Nov. in Steinwenden to Elisabeth Catharina, dau of Hans Caspar Christman of Schwander?”

  • August 22, 1694 – Samuel Heitz, tailor, godparents (with others) for Johana Agnetha, daughter of H(err) Samuel Hoffmann and Maria Magdalena of Steinwenden.
  • December 12, 1694 – Samuel Heitz, tailor, godparent (with others) to Johan Samuel, son of Hanss Georg Berny and Anna Elisabeth from Obermohr.
  • July 22, 1696 – Samuel Heitz, tailor, godparent (with others) to Johann Samuel, son of Hanss Georg Deysinger & Catharina from Steinwenden.
  • February 5, 1697 – Samuel Heitz, son of the late Cunrad Heitz, from Ramstein marries Catharina Apollonia, widow of the late Michael Schumacher. (Note that on November 10, 1693, Hans Michael Schuhmacher, son of Niclaus Schumacher from Rohrback married Catharina Apollonia, legitimate daughter of the late Burchard Schafer from Turckheim (Bad Durkheim.)

I am unclear whether the “from Ramstein” note refers to Samuel Heitz or the late Cunrad Heitz, but this is not the only reference to Ramstein. Ramstein is less than 2 miles from Steinwenden. This record indicates clearly that Conrad Heitz is deceased by this time.

In fact, the road from Miesau to Weilerbach runs directly through Ramstein. Steinwenden is a side trip, literally, “off the beaten path.”

This record tells us that Conrad Heitz died sometime between April of 1684 when Irene was married and February of 1697. He was probably deceased by the 1692 confirmation, given that he wasn’t mentioned. I wonder why there is no death record for Conrad in the church books. Given that he was a soldier, perhaps he did not die in this region, or maybe because he did not live in this region.

I suspect, based on the entry from 1698 for Conrad Jr. that the reference to Ramstein refers to Samuel, not the deceased Conrad Sr.

  • May 9, 1697 – Samuel Heitz from Steinwenden godparent (with others) to Johann Samuel, son of Johan Simon Fries and Maria Elisabetha from Steinwenden.
  • December 26, 1697 – Johann Adam born to Samuel Heitz and Catharina Apollonia from Steinwenden, Hans Adam Schumacher godfather (with others).
  • January 17, 1698 – Death of Cunrad Heitz, Ramstein, unmarried son of the late Hans Cunrad Heitz, former soldier in Manheim. Age 20 to 23 years. This death of Cunrad Heitz is from Steinwenden church book.

This entry about Hans Cunrad Heitz, where it indicated he is a “former soldier,” meaning that he is dead, and gives the location specifically as Manheim may be more important than it seems. It may actually be giving us Cunrad’s death location.

  • March 1, 1699 – Maria Magdalena baptized, daughter of Samuel Heitz and Catharina Appollonia from Steinwenden. Godparents: Magdelena, wife of Herr Samuel Hoffmann, Jacob Stutzman from Weylach and Anna Maria, daughter of Hans Cunrad Ausinger from Turckheim (Bad Durkheim).

This again ties to Bad Durkheim. What is the connection between Bad Durkheim and Steinwenden? The name Hans Cunrad also makes me wonder about an earlier generational connection. Was Hans Cunrad Ausinger named for Hans Cunrad Heitz, or were they both named for someone else? Are they connected, specially given that Bad Durkheim is not close?

  • September 1, 1700 – Anna Elisabetha baptized, daughter of Johann Samuel Heitz and Catharina Apollonia from Steinwenden.
  • October 9, 1701 – Samuel Heitz from Stenweyler godparent (along with others) to Johann Samuel, son of Simon Wolff and Anna Maria from Steinwenden.
  • June 12, 1702, Kallstadt– Samuel H(eitz) (margin) from Stenweiler im Westrich, Elisabeth, wife of Hanss Michael Schum (margin) from Ramsen, godparents to son of Hanss Jacob Stotzmann, farm administrator at Weilach and his wife Regina Elisabetha.

It appears that Samuel Heitz made his way from Steinwenden to Kallstadt to be a godfather to his sister’s child. Clearly, they were close.

Note that Kallstadt is about a mile north of Bad Durkheim, a name we repeatedly find in these records.

Chris points out that the Ramstein church records are scattered. Reformed records from 1591 to 1657 can be found in the Spesbach church books, from 1657 onwards in Miesau, and only from 1698 onwards in Steinwenden. Tom spread the net further, checking each location, but no additional Heitz records were found before 1684.

The next group of records are again from Steinwenden.

  • August 7, 1703 – Hans Adam buried, son of the local Samuel Heytz.
  • August 14, 1703 – Johann Henrich buried, son of Samuel Heytz.

Every time a see two deaths in such close proximity, I always wonder what happened. Was this a community issue, or just within this family? We don’t have birth records for these children, so it’s possible that they were twins, especially given that the next children we find were born just 11 months later.

  • July 13, 1704 – Eva Catharina baptized, daughter of Samuel Heitz and Catharina Appollonia, godparents Jacob Ringeisen from Reichsbach (with others).

This tells us where Jacob Ringeisen, Michael Muller’s cousin, is living in 1704. Reichenbach is 6 km from Steinwenden, about a 10 minute drive today. I wonder if Jacob’s only connection is as the cousin of Irene’s deceased husband. These families may have a connection from before they settled in this area.

  • October 31, 1706 – Maria Margreth baptized in Steinbruch, daughter of Samuel Heitz and Catharina from Steinwenden (mayor from Steinbruch was one of the godparents).
  • 1712 Confirmation of Maria Madl, daughter of Samuel Heitz, tailor of Steinwenden.
  • September 24, 1713 – Catharina Barbara baptized, daughter of Samuel Heitz and Catharina from Steinwenden, died on October 29th.
  • January 15, 1715, Kallstadt – Catharina, daughter of Conrad Heitz from Ram (margin) married to Johannes Schumacher, legitimate son of Jo (margin) Schumacher from Golding?

This record was certainly a surprise! Another daughter of Conrad?

It looks like Catharina is another sibling of Irene, especially when combined with the following record where Catharina is living on the Weilach estate with Irene/Regina and her husband, Jacob Stutzman.

  • January 7, 1716, Kallstadt – Nicholas Schumacher, cow herder at the Weilach farm and wife Catharina, a young daughter Susanna Elisabeth was born, godparents Regina Elisabeth, wife of the farm administrator and Jacob Stutzman.
  • 1717, Steinwenden – confirmation of Eva Catharina, daughter of Samuel Heitz, censor (church guardian of morals) from Steinwenden.

Note Samuel’s new occupation.

  • April 5, 1721 – Johann Ludwig, son of Johann Michal Muller and wife Susanna Agnesa, baptized. Godparent (with others): Eva Catharina, daughter of Samuel Heitzen, citizen in Stannweiler.

Irene (Regina) and Samuel Heitz are siblings, so Eva and Michael are first cousins. Johann Ludwig is the great-grandchild of Conrad Heitz. Eva Catharina is Ludwig’s first cousin once removed. (Yes, I had to draw a picture!)

  • January 6, 1728 – Catharina Apolonia, surviving widow of the late Samuel Heitz, former master tailor here, Steinwenden. Age 56 years minus 3 months and 6 days.

Irene’s brother, Samuel Heitz, died sometime between April 1721 and January 1728.

  • July 27, 1728, Kallstadt – Eva Catharina, surviving legitimate daughter of the late Johann Samuel Heitz, former resident of Sennweiler, to Johann Nicholaus Schwind, surviving legitimate son of the eldest member of the court, Jost Rudolph Schwind.

Apparently Eva Catharina went to live with her aunt Irene/Regina and Jacob Stutzman in Kallstadt after her parents’ deaths. She would have been age 24 when she married.

It appears that Irene/Regina and Jacob Stutzman had become the anchors of that family.


We find neighboring Ramstein mentioned repeatedly in these records.

Today, Ramstein-Miesenbach is a combined city. Ramstein Air Base now occupies part of what was the city of Ramstein. You can see contemporary and historical photos here.

Ironically, one of my family members was stationed here in the late 1980s and my mother wanted to visit. Had I ANY idea, I would have visited myself – mother in tow. I’m sure that family member had absolutely no idea that they may have literally been on top of our ancestral family home. The population of the base personnel and dependents at about 23,000 dwarfs the population of Ramstein-Miesenbach with about 7,500 residents.

Ramstein is literally a hop, skip and a jump down the road from Steinwenden. Literally walkable.

Ramstein was so small that their church records were incorporated into the Miesau, then Steinwenden records. Remember that in 1684, there were only 9 families in that entire region due to the depopulation resulting from the 30 Years War. By 1802, Ramstein had all of 302 people living there.

Apparently both Conrad Heitz Jr. and Samuel Heitz at some point lived in Ramstein, which suggests that the family may have lived closer to Ramstein than Steinwenden, or maybe between the two, although typically people lived in villages at that time. Farmers tended to walk to their fields and home again at night, with village houses and walls clustered together, providing protection. So there would have been no isolated farms in-between and there still aren’t today.

If the Heitz family wound up in Ramstein and Steinwenden, where did they come from?

Mannheim Baptisms

Tom found two baptism records of Heitz children in Mannheim, although I can’t include the images because they are from Archion who does not allow usage of their images.

The death record of Cunrad Heitz (Jr.) in Ramstein (Steinwenden Ev Ref parish) on January 17, 1698 says his age is 20-23 years, which puts his birth about 1675-1678. The record also gives his deceased father’s name as Cunrad as well, and states that he was a soldier from Mannheim.

The first Mannheim birth record is for Hans Conrad Heitz on August 6, 1676 which would make Cunrad 22 at his death.

1676 6 August

Child: Hans Conrad

Parents: Hans Conrad Heitz, soldier under H(err) Hauptmann Schaben(ger) Company and Anna Margaretha, his lawfully wed wife.

Godparents: Conrad Keller, ?, under said Company and Elisabetha ?

Bild 105 Mannheim Evangelical, Archion image

The second birth record is for a brother, Johannes, although we find no additional records for Johannes in either Mannheim or Steinwenden.

1679 21 May

Child: Johannes

Parents: Hans Conrad Heitz, soldier under Herr Hauptmann Schaben(ger)’s Company & Margaretha, lawfully wed wife.

Godparents: Johann Schwartz, soldier under Herr Hauptmann Schaben(ger)’s Company and Catharina, his lawfully wed wife.

Bild 149 Mannheim Evangelical, Archion image

I wonder what happened to Johannes.

Chris commented:

The entries indicate that Conrad Heitz was a member of Captain Johannes Schabinger’s Company.  Johannes Schabinger was from Bavaria.  He was in Bretten and Mannheim, Baden and probably in other places in Bavaria.  This might help us.

Mannheim is maybe 50 miles from Steinwenden.

Finding information about the “Shabinger Company” might be enlightening, indeed.

Schabinger’s Company

Chris’s search continues:

A web search for “Hauptmann Schabinger” (the two words in combination flanked by ” “) returned one book page, confirming that this Schabinger was from Bavaria.

Furthermore, I found out that there is a small booklet especially about the life of this Johannes/Hans Schabinger, see no. 5 below “Sonderhefte” on the following page:

There is another publication by the same author: “Freiherr von Schabinger”:

“Der Pfeiferturm. Beiträge zur Heimatgeschichte.” Beilage in Brettener Nachrichten im August 1949: Hauptmann und Kommandant. Johannes Schabinger (1620-1654) von Karl Friedrich Schabinger Freiherr von Schowingen

If these life dates are correct, then Johannes Schabinger seems to have died already in 1654! Accordingly, I am not sure how helpful a search for him would be to locate Conrad Heitz, who certainly was still alive in 1684.

Further research into Johannes Schabinger revealed two baptisms of his children in Bretten in the 1650s, and the death of his wife there in 1671 where she is mentioned as a widow and that he died in 1654.

Ah, the FamilySearch index for the 1671 death of Susanna Schabinger states she was widowed. So Johannes Schabinger was not alive anymore in 1671. Strange enough, the Heitz records make no mentioning of this. It seems possible to me that Johannes Schabinger was famous at least locally at the time and this was the reason that Conrad Heitz having been a soldier below Schabinger was mentioned even after Schabinger`s death.

Tom, our German genealogist, feels that Schabinger was prominent enough that the company was named in his honor, even though Schabinger was deceased at the time.

Unfortunately, searching for more information about Schabinger won’t help with the search for Conrad Heitz. Sometimes you just have to go down the rabbit hole.


In 1684, Cunrad is mentioned as being in the service in Kurpfalz. I thought Kurpfalz was a specific place, but according to Wikipedia, Kurpfalz is German for the Elector Palatinate, a fragmented territory that was administered by the Count Palatine of the Rhine. This region stretched from the left bank of the Upper Rhine, from the Hunsruck Mountain range in what is today the Palatinate region of the German federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate and the adjacent parts of the French regions of Alsace and Lorraine (bailiwick of Seltz from 1418-1766) to the opposite territory on the east bank of the Rhine in present-day Hesse and Baden-Wurttemberg, up to the Odenwald range and the southern Kraichgau region, containing the capital cities of Heidelberg and Mannheim. The old map below drawn by Johannes Janssonius in 1650 depicts the Palatine. Mannheim is just slightly below the center and to the right.

Based on the other pieces of information we have gathered, it seems like the most important clue is the mention of Mannheim. In three other documents, we know that Cunrad is mentioned in conjunction with serving in Mannheim.

Mannheim History

The history of Mannheim itself may shed a bit of light on the subject.

The Encyclopedia Britannica provides us with information about what was happening in Mannheim during this timeframe.

The area of Mannheim is marshy, lying at the confluence of the rivers Rhine and Neckar. In the 8th century, the site belonged to the abbey of Lorsch and to the south lay the castle of Eicholzheim.

In the beginning of the 17th century, elector palatine Frederick IV founded a town based on gridded streets where Mannheim sits today, populated chiefly with Protestant refugees from Holland. The strongly fortified castle made the city a target in the Thirty Years’ War and Mannheim was mostly leveled, being five times taken and retaken beginning in 1622. By 1688, Mannheim had recovered from its former disaster, but was captured by the French during what was known as the Rhine Campaign, falling on November 11, 1688 to 30,000 French Catholics, soldiers of King Louis XIV. In 1689, during the Nine Years’ War, Mannheim was burned to the ground. (It’s unclear how some of the church books survived.) Ten years later, Mannheim began to be rebuilt.

Did Conrad die in Mannheim in 1688 or 1689 in the service of the Palatine, protecting protestant religious freedom and defending Germany from the French?

Conrad’s Death

The church books in Steinwenden are maddening silent about the death of Conrad Heitz, Irene Elisabetha’s father. We know from other records that he died between 1684 and probably 1692, but when and where?

We also know that he was a soldier, probably a professional soldier. Chris mentions that many Swiss men were mercenaries for other countries, including Germany. Did Conrad die away from home, buried someplace in an unmarked grave? Was he buried under the rubble of Mannheim in 1688 or 1689?

Were the deaths of men who died away at war recorded anyplace? What records exist of the men killed in the Nine Years’ War? Were the families notified? How were the families even located if they evacuated Mannheim for outlying areas?

Chris found a 1694 death for a Conrad Heitz in Dudenheim.

Dudenheim is no place close to Steinwenden.

Steinwenden is about 50 miles from Mannheim where the 1670s baptisms took place.

Dundenheim is significantly further away, but Conrad was a soldier.

However, further searching by Chris revealed that the burial on January 16, 1694 was for a man who was a shoemaker. A Conrad Heitz was also born in Dundenheim in 1647, so it’s unlikely that this shoemaker was the same man as our Conrad who was a solder.

Rats, another rabbit hole and a wrong rabbit.

Sometimes you have to sniff out a lot of wrong rabbits before you stumble upon the right one.

Where was the Heitz Family From?

The short answer is that we don’t know. The long answer is that there are hints.

The association with the Samuel Hoffman, Stutzman and Miller families might be a clue. Zwiebrucken might be a clue.

Samuel Hoffman was the minister in Steinwenden and also at one point lived nearby in Weilerbach where he married Irene Charitas Beuther in 1657. How Irene Charitas Beuther got from Zwiebrucken to Weilerbach is unclear, but that migration path might be how others from Zwiebrucken arrived in Weilerbach and nearby villages like Steinwenden.

Samuel Hoffman was apparently NOT Swiss, because he was on the 1684 Steinwenden tax list.

We can’t tell if Conrad Heitz was German or Swiss, because we don’t know that he ever actually lived in Steinwenden. His absence from the tax rolls there tells us exactly nothing.

Conrad Heitz was living in or near Mannheim in 1676 and 1679 when two of his children were born. His daughter Irene was probably born in the 1650s or early 1660s, but her baptism is not found in Mannheim.

Given the references to Conrad Heitz being a soldier, in 1676/79 in Mannheim, in 1684 (present tense in Kurpfalz which incorporated Mannheim) and in 1697 (past tense in Mannheim,) 21 years apart, this suggests that he was likely a career soldier. His unit may have moved around, and of course, Conrad and family probably moved with it. The fact that two of his unit members stood as godparents when he baptized his children suggests that the other families in the unit became surrogate family as the unit was uprooted as they moved from place to place. The families most likely to be present to fulfill Godparent responsibilities if something happened to the parents? The families of fellow soldiers, of course. Your fellow military families were the only constant in a continually changing landscape.

If you were in an unfamiliar church, the Reverend himself or his wife might stand up with you as Godparents when you were baptizing your children. What better guarantee if you went to meet your maker early that your children would be raised in the church?

A history of the Shabinger unit would be most helpful, but alas, that isn’t to be found, at least not online.

Originally, Chris found evidence of a Heitz family in Alsace, France which is quite close to Germany. Chris’s own family descends a French Reformed family in Mannheim, so we know that there were French Reformed living in Mannheim, at least in 1712 when Chris’s ancestor arrived.

However, it appears much more likely that Conrad Heitz was Swiss, in part because he is associated with protestant reformed churches and other Swiss immigrant families.

Swiss Heitz Family

Chris found an immigrant Heitz family from Zurich, Switzerland. This find is particularly interesting because this man was a pastor and was of an age to potentially be Conrad’s brother. If indeed, Conrad Heitz was Johannes’ brother, that might well explain why he knew the Samuel Hoffman family well. Chris also wondered if it’s possible that Conrad Heitz was a minister himself, and that’s how he was serving the military.

Johannes Heizius/Heitz 

  • born in Zurich 1 July 1632
  • married in Knonau, Switzerland on 7 September 1659 to Magdalena Wirth (* ca- 1632, daughter of Jakob Wirth)
  • both of them emigrated to Sinsheim, Wurttemberg, Germany in 1659
  • 1659-1661 Johannes Heitz was diaconus in Sinsheim, Wurttemberg, Germany
  • 1661-1667 priest in Waldmichelbach, Hesse, Germany
  • from 1668 onwards priest in Mittelschefflenz near Mosbach, Wurttemberg

Three children of this couple Heitz-Wirth:

1) Anna Elisabeth, baptized 17 August 1661 in Waldmichelbach

2) Johannes, baptized 3 February 1664 in Waldmichelbach

3) Elisabeth, baptized 3 December 1667 in Waldmichelbach

This above information is taken from the book “Schweizer im Odenwald” – “Swiss in the Odenwald region,” page 115.

Chris looked up the three known baptism records in Waldmichelbach, but no other Heitz family member is listed among the godparents so this Heitz family may or may not be connected to the Conrad Heitz in Mannheim.

This site shows the Johannes Heitz family, but doesn’t show siblings for Johannes.

Sincheim is about 50 km from Mannheim.

Chris: At the very least this tells us that the family name Heitz existed in Switzerland in the 17th century! If Irene Liesabetha Heitz who married Michael Müller was of Swiss origin, then this would be enough of a connection for me (same country of origin and same religious belief).

Steinwenden Church and Cemetery

Given that the Heitz family records are recorded in the Steinwenden church, it’s clear that they attended this church. Marriages took place there, baptisms, confirmations and yes, funerals too. Ramstein records are also found in the Steinwenden records from 1698 forward.

The deceased were probably buried outside in the churchyard.

Where was the churchyard in Steinwenden?

During earlier research, my cousin, Richard Miller had kindly provided pictures of an old “bell tower” in Steinwenden that he was taken to. I had questioned whether or not the current church was the old church. How did the bell tower connect, and where was the bell tower?

Chris to the rescue:

Remember, when I sent you that information on the “old cemetery hill” in Steinwenden along with the Google map of its location?

Remember, Roberta, how I was not able to answer, where the “bell tower of the old church” was, that your cousin Richard Miller was guided to?

Well, it is the same location!

The present Steinwenden reformed church was built in 1852, but the old church was not at the same place (as I assumed, since this is how it is usually done). The old church, which was constructed much earlier and first mentioned in 1377 was located a bit further south [of the new church]. As you can see from the construction date, this church was originally a Catholic church, later changed to one of Reformed belief. While this old church was demolished in 1822, its bell tower remains to date. It is called “Römerturm” – “Roman tower”, although it is certainly not from Roman times, but much later. However, there are remainders of an old Roman building nearby (the so-called “Villa Rustica”) and it is thus speculated that this old church was built on the fundaments of a much older tower from Roman times

Anyway, now I know you would like to see some pictures. In addition to the book – from which I will scan and send pictures later on –  they are available on the internet, if you look for example at the following page:

Using the browser, Chrome, and Google Translate, I was able to read the text, and is it ever interesting!

If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you find a slideshow of four old postcard pictures.

Look at the first picture: You see the present church in the center and the remaining bell tower (Römerturm) of the older church to the right.

On the second of the four pictures you have an aerial view. The present church is on the top in the center, the old bell tower a bit to the right further down. Here it is easy to see that the old church was located on a hill. On the third of the four pictures you have another view of both church locations.

Thankfully, the aerial allowed me to use Google Maps to locate that area today. The current church is at the arrow near the top and the area that houses the old tower and the cemetery is indicated by the second, lower, red arrow.

In the aerial above, the actual tower is just slightly to the left of the tip of the right red arrow. If you look closely, you can see the tower roof.

I have cropped this image to just about the edges of the original circle which was on the top of a hill, and the square tower roof is clearly visible in the middle.

But Chris wasn’t finished with his research:

When I tried a Google search for “Steinwenden Römerturm,” I also found a coloured picture of this old church tower on a genealogy page in the US:

Photo of church tower courtesy of Eric Dysinger.

This Dysinger page may be interesting for other reasons as well: On this page you will also find an English translation of a book chapter from the book by Roland Paul:

I’m so grateful for the Dysinger documents published after Eric’s 2012 and 2013 trips to Steinwenden. In those documents, Eric Dysinger tells us that,” The wall surrounding the former church was used for centuries as a burial place for the dead of the village. At times, it was even used for dead from towns around Steinwenden. After the creation of new cemeteries in Steinwenden and Weltersbach in 1905, funeral services here became sporadic with the last funeral serviced in 1921. In 1955, a de-dedication ceremony was performed on the graveyard and soon after the tombstones were leveled.” I have never heard of a de-dedication ceremony.

As an American, and as a genealogist, this is agonizing to read, but it is the European custom.

Eric also tells us that, “The original Catholic church, mentioned in 1377, probably constructed between 1150 and 1250, became Reformed. The main building of the church was connected to the south side of the tower. The church fell into ruins in 1788 and was demolished in 1822.”

Map courtesy Eric Dysinger.

Also, he has pictures from his visit to Steinwenden in 2012, including an old Steinwenden map:

The map Chris refers to above is newer than 1850 and older than 1955. Someplace, in one or some of those houses, our family lived. The Heitz and Muller family, and in that graveyard, shown on the map, at least some of them are buried.

This implies that Michael Müller and the rest of the village would have attended church services in the old church and when their turn came, were buried on the hill in circles slowly radiating out from around the old hilltop church as the bell in the tower rang.

Yes, I understand that leveling old cemeteries is something that must seem very strange for you. I think it is simply a matter of space, since the population density in Europe is much higher and living space is limited.

I still wonder if maybe, maybe, some of these tombstones from the old cemetery in Steinwenden have been conserved somewhere… (No information on this in the book.)

…and even more detailed present-day pictures of the old church tower in the document “Steinwenden – the Return” on the Dysinger page:

Of course, because genealogists never run out of questions, I want to know if Eric, or anyone else has any idea what happened to those tombstones. I suspect my burials are too old to have had tombstones remaining in 1955, but if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

Eric indicated that Roland Paul, the local historian, knew nothing about the fate of the tombstones. He did, however, know that none of the early houses remain – nothing before 1760. I had hoped to be able to identify the house/property in which various ancestors lived, even if the current house wasn’t the old house, but Roland also indicates that there are no property records this old either. Apparently, the tombstones are gone, the houses are gone, and so are the records.

Eric was kind enough to send this snippet from a 1785 map, 100 years after Irene Heitz and Michael Muller married. The old church is shown at left and was still in use at that time, just three years before it fell into disuse. I wonder if the old building simply got too old and cumbersome to maintain.

Courtesy Eric Dysinger

A drawing in the book, 800 Jahre Steinwenden, (800 Years of Steinwenden) by local historian Roland Paul, shows a map of the church interior. I’ve drawn the outline, below, roughly to scale, based on Roland’s research. Apologies for my lack of artistic ability.

The entire church was 6 times the length of the tower, left to right. The width, top to bottom (north to south) seems to be twice that of the tower on the right half, and two and a half times that of the tower on the left half. The tower was tucked into a cranny.

The graves surrounded the original church. After the structure was torn down in 1822, I’m sure that the land that the original church occupied was then utilized for additional burials, but the oldest burials would have been clustered around the original church, probably expanding from near the church outward until the yard was full.

If this church was in use in the 1100s until the 30 Years War depopulated the region in the 1620s-1660s, there would have been a lot of burials. Let’s say, for example that there were 300 people living in the village and surrounding area at any one time, and 4 generations per hundred years. That would mean that there were at least 1200 people buried per century, and probably more when you account for babies born that died. Over a period of 500 years, that would mean approximately 6000 people buried in this churchyard. This explains the European custom of “reusing” graves. In the Netherlands, we found several generations of family members had been buried in the same grave plot. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Move grandpa over and make room.

My ancestor Johann Michael Mueller Sr. (1655-1695), Irene Lisabetha Heitz’s first husband, along with their first 5 children are assuredly buried here. I hope Michael was buried alongside his children and they are resting together for eternity, even if it is under another structure today.

While we know that at least two of Conrad’s children, Conrad Jr. and Samuel, are buried here, and several of Conrad Sr.’s grandchildren, we still don’t know what happened to Conrad himself. But, I have a theory…


After sifting through these records again and again, I have a theory about Conrad Heitz, his wife, Anna Margaretha and the Heitz children.

We know that the first Heitz record in the region was the 1684 marriage between Irene Lisabetha Heitz, Conrad’s daughter, and Michael Muller, a widower. That marriage took place in Steinwenden and in that record, Conrad is referred to as follows:

“Conrad Heitz, who was at this time in war service for the Palatinate in Churpfalz.”

This says absolutely nothing about Conrad living in or near Steinwenden, although the record does say that the marriage took place there and that Conrad’s service was “In Churpfalz.”

If Conrad is in Chrupfalz, which we’ll interpret to mean near or in Mannheim, based on other information, how did his daughter come to be married in Steinwenden? Typically marriages take place in the bride’s home church.

Given that two of Conrad’s children were named Irene and Samuel, and Samuel Hoffmann’s wife was named Irene Charitas Beuther, we either have a huge coincidence on our hands, or pieces of evidence.

Conrad Heitz’s wife, Anna Margaretha is never mentioned after the 1679 birth of child Johannes recorded in the Mannheim church records.

We know that at that time, Conrad was a soldier and regardless of where he is, his wife is giving birth in close enough proximity to Mannheim for two births to be recorded in the Mannheim church records three years apart. Other soldiers and their wives stood up as godparents, so apparently the unit is stationed here, at least part of the time. Perhaps they were guarding Mannheim from invasion. Clearly, Conrad and Anna Margaretha were in the same place at least occasionally.

Irene and Samuel were the older children, based on the records we do have.

Five years after the last recorded birth in 1679, in 1684, daughter Irene is marrying Michael Muller in Steinwenden, and her father is still referenced as being in the service near Mannheim.

How and why did Irene get to Steinwenden? Young women simply didn’t travel alone then, nor did they have occupations. They either lived with their family members or their husbands after marriage.

Never is the mother from the 1676 and 1679 birth records mentioned in Steinwenden. Nor is Conrad, except by reference.

Were the children taken to Steinwenden for their safety, as their father continued to fight the Nine Years’ War. In 1688, Mannheim fell. Did Conrad perish in that campaign or when Mannheim burned in 1689?

If the wife of a professional soldier died, what happened to the children?

My bet is that they were raised by the Godparents, because a soldier father clearly couldn’t decide to stay home and raise children. And if he wasn’t being a soldier, how would he earn a living? Presumably, he hadn’t been honing other skills.

If two of the Godparents were a minister and his wife, who had no children of their own, it wouldn’t take much speculation to suggest that the minister and his wife would raise all of the children if the mother died, not just the two they stood up with as Godparents.

So far, we’ve identified five of Conrad’s children, all found in Steinwenden or with their siblings.

Name Birth/Baptism Confirmation Marriage Death Other
Irene Lisabetha ~1654/66 1684 Michael Muller 1729 Remarried to Jacob Stutzman in 1696
Johann Samuel Circa 1670 or earlier 1697 1717/28
Johann Conrad 1676 1692 1698 unmarried
Johannes 1679 No further mention
Anna Catharina <1684 1715 Kallstadt

Given that Conrad Heitz Sr. is referred to as a solder in 1676, 1679, 1684 and 1698, I suspect that he was a professional soldier, perhaps a mercenary. Given that any reference to his wife, Anna Margaretha disappears after the 1679 baptism, as does that child, I suspect that they both died. The next time we find any trace of this family, it’s 1684 and Irene is marrying Michael Muller in Steinwenden.

By 1692, we know that Samuel Heitz is a tailor and that Conrad, still a child, is being confirmed in Steinwenden. We don’t discover the existence of Anna Catharine until 1715 when she marries, clearly living with her sister Irene and Irene’s second husband.

My theory is that Anna Margaretha died between 1679 and 1684, and that Samuel Hoffman and his wife, Irene, were raising the Heitz children.

In 1679, if Irene was the eldest, she would have been between 13 and 24. Her brother Samuel was probably a few years younger. Conrad was still a baby, and Catharina’s age is unknown although based on when she gave birth to children, she was likely born between 1677 and 1684.

If Anna Margaretha died, Conrad would have been mostly an absentee parent, and while Irene could care for her siblings, she certainly could not run a household and do everything an adult would have done – especially not with two infants.

Therefore, the family as well as the church would look to the godparents. The godparent of Conrad was also a soldier, so that person might not have been in much of a position to help if he was even yet alive.

If Irene and Samuel were Godchildren of Samuel Hoffman and Irene Charitas, who were childless, it stands to reason that they would have raised all 4 Heitz children – not just the two for whom they served as Godparents.

Hence, the children would have lived with the Hoffmanns in Weilerbach, near Steinwenden, and would have attended the Steinwenden church when Samuel Hoffman began preaching there. We know that Hoffmann was in Steinwenden by 1684 because not only was he on the tax list, but his wife, Irene, died there.

Furthermore, if Irene Charitas Beuther Hoffman was a “foster mother” to Irene Lisabetha Heitz, having raised her for some time, it would be understandable why Irene Lisabetha might be called Irene Charitas in the church records after Irene Charitas Beuther Hoffmann’s 1684 death.

Everyone connected the two Irene’s together, including Samuel Hoffman who was still the minister in the Steinwenden church and probably wrote the records that referred to Irene Lisabetha Heitz as Irene Charitas. Perhaps she reminded him of his wife, and he didn’t even realize he had written his deceased wife’s name.

Can we prove this? Very unlikely. But it’s the most logical explanation for the evidence we have found.


I know this is really, REALLY a longshot in the dark, but there’s always a chance, right?

Conrad Heitz would have passed his Y DNA down to his sons, who would have passed it on to their sons. If sons continued to descend in a straight line until today, a Heitz male would carry a copy of Conrad’s Y DNA.

Conrad had 3 sons, as best we can tell. We know that Conrad Jr. died without having married. Johann and Samuel could have had sons, although I suspect that Johann died young.

  • Johann was born in 1679 but there are no further records of him. I presume he died, but maybe not.
  • Johann Samuel Heitz, on the other hand, lived in Steinwenden and had several children with wife Catharina Appolonia. They had two known sons who died as children; Johann Adam and Johann Henrich. They also had 5 daughters; Maria Magdalena (1699), Anna Elisabetha (1700), Eva Catharina (1704), Maria Margaretha (1706) and Catharina Barbara (1713).

The birth records are somewhat spotty for Samuel’s children. For example, we have two death records for male children without corresponding birth records.

There is also an obvious gap between October of 1706 and September of 1713. Following earlier patterns, we would expect a child to have been born to Samuel and Apollonia in January of 1708, June of 1709, December of 1710, June of 1712 and then of course the 1713 recorded birth.

Those spaces give us 4 opportunities for unknown male children.

There’s also the potential for Conrad Heitz and Anna Margaretha to have had additional male children that we aren’t aware of today.

If you:

  • Descend from any of the known Heitz children
  • Descend from any of the male Heitz men through all men and carry the Heitz surname today
  • Are a Heitz descended from this area and this time
  • Descend from the Rev. Johannes Heitz and Magdalena Wirth line
  • Descend from the Johann Kasper Heiz (1594-1636) and Magdalena Lavater (1601-1637) line
  • Have an unidentified Johann Conrud (Conrad) Heitz in your family records, born sometime before 1645

I’d love to hear from you.


I’d like to thank my friend and cousin, retired German genealogist, Tom, along with our Native speaking German research partner, Chris. This research would not exist without these two amazing men.

I would also like to extend my deep gratitude to Eric Dysinger for sharing the fruits of his labor so that others from Steinwenden can see and better understand our common history.

I’d also like to thank Roland Paul for documenting Steinwenden. While his book is no longer available, I did find one on the used book market and I’m looking forward to translating sections with the help of online translators. Yes, that’s difficult BUT much better than not having the information, right? I’m sure our immigrant ancestors felt equally as frustrated when they arrived on the shores of America not speaking one word of English. I’m sure that our ancestors never anticipated that their descendants would be equally as frustrated with not being able to read their language, especially not when written in combination scribbles, um, I mean script, of German and Latin.

I’d also like to thank my blog commenter for enlightenment on how the names of Irene Charitas, Irene Lisabetha and Regina Loysa might have become conflated.

This isn’t the first time commenters have helped me immensely.

It takes a village😊

The Farm – 52 Ancestors #198

I didn’t grow up on this farm, at least not for most of my childhood, yet it’s still a place of warm memories, comfort and safety – even all these decades later.

When I opened my Mom’s “Suitcase of Life,” I expected to find the photo albums and scrapbooks I had looked through as a child and perhaps a few other things. Mostly items reflective of her life before me. What I didn’t expect to find was a photo of the farm that my step-father owned more than two decades before he and Mom married.

This aerial photo looks a lot like the farm I came to know and love, but on closer inspection, there are several differences.

It’s a “younger” farm than I remember. The giant maples that held the rope swing for my children in the 1970s and 80s are maybe 20 or 30 years old in this picture, to the right of the house.

The well pump tower is visible between the house and the tree outside the back door, minus the windmill. Upon closer inspection, I can see that the tower sported a TV antennae, which answers the question about whether or not the house had electricity. Truthfully, I think the antennae tower simply shielded the pump out back. I only thought it was a “well tower” built for the windmill because there was no antennae by the time I was introduced to the farm – and there was a windmill.

The chicken house behind the garage, had, well, chickens running around, and the chickens were also milling around the garage. A few chickens had taken shelter underneath the propane tank on the north side of the house. It looks like there were chickens everywhere, probably escapees from the chicken yard.

By the time I knew the chicken house, this particular chicken house had been replaced by a much larger one, but chickens were only a memory. The chicken house was used to store “stuff” and ferns were growing under the propane tank known as a “pig,” not to be confused with the pigs that lived in the barn and maternity hog houses in the fields.

The one-car wooden-shingled garage that was barely large enough to hold a car was just like I remembered, some 30+ years later. If you had a passenger, they had to get out of the car before the driver pulled the car into the garage, or you couldn’t get the car doors open. Passenger or driver, your choice, could exit inside the garage – but not both! Actually, that was just as well, because someone had to slide the garage door open, which slid to the right on a track, so the passenger clearly needed to get out of the car anyway.

The outhouse, shown in this 1970s photo, was hidden behind the garage but there was a well-worn path. By the time I lived there, we had an inside bathroom but still used the outhouse for spillover. It wasn’t bad since it was seldom used. There was never any waiting out there and no one cared how long you stayed!

The house itself was built by the Amish as a simple square, maybe 30 by 40 or 50 feet, long before my step-father’s first wife’s father purchased the farm about the time they married. The original front door is still visible and was never removed but was slightly covered over later, both inside and out.

The window to the right of that old door was my bedroom, and the room to the left was my step-brother’s room. The original house was small. I think my room had been the original living room.

It’s difficult to tell if the kitchen I knew had been added in this picture. There appears to be something behind the main roofline, but the chimney is in the wrong place. It could be a small porch. Come to think of it, I don’t know why there’s a chimney in that location at all, because the “stove” that heated the house was elsewhere.

The original part of the house had an upstairs that was “heated” by a simple vent between the first floor and the second. It was sweltering in the summer and freezing, literally, in the winter. The steps going up were extremely steep. No one ever slept there when we lived in the house, but it had clearly been bedrooms at one time. Amish families tended to be large, and I’d guess this large two room “attic” had at one time been the children’s bunkhouse rooms. One for boys and one for girls.

The four original downstairs rooms were the living room, the kitchen, the parent’s bedroom and perhaps a second bedroom, or the living room originally extended the width of the house. It’s difficult to tell what was meant to be a bedroom, because none of the rooms were built with closets. People used chifforobes and dressers. Dad build a closet in his and Mom’s bedroom.

The large addition, probably 15 by 15 feet, extending to the south (right) was the living room and judging from the roof, wasn’t new in this photo. The porch looked the same years later, even down to the white spindles, although by the time I lived there, the porch had shifted with time and listed a lot to left. On farms, the front porch didn’t much matter since the front door was never used anyway – but Mom opened it once a year or so just to be sure it would still open. The old stove used for heating used to sit in the corner that had been the original kitchen, I think, in the “old” corner of the “new” living room.

Dad always used to say that you could tell when farmers had a good year by the room additions.

I don’t know when this house was originally built, but it looks “old” in this photo, labeled October 1955 on the back. When it was originally constructed, there was no inside plumbing or electricity and it had a hand-dug dirt basement under only part of the original house.

Dad concreted part of the basement floor and installed a shower head in the basement wall. If you weren’t afraid of spiders or creepy crawleys, it was a cool place to shower in the summer. The basement had two small ground level windows, and yes, I caught my step-brother’s buddies spying on me once when I was showering. Little did they expect a furious, dripping-wet female to emerge and administer a sound verbal thrashing, threatening to kick their behinds, as they quickly departed running down the road with their tails between their legs. They even left their car behind. Compared to what my Dad did when he found out, that was mild indeed. Hell hath no fury like a man who catches males peeping into his windows at his naked daughter. Let’s just say they never came back and a shower “surround” was installed in the basement. Their disabled, abandoned car sat there for months as a silent reminder to anyone else who might get any bright ideas. Dad finally hauled it, or what was left of it, up to the road with the front end loader, and one night, it disappeared.

The barns and farm part of the photo look much the same as it did when I last saw this place as I drove away for the very last time in 1995. My last good memory was Father’s Day 1993 when I surprised Dad by arriving unannounced. That was just days before our life would change dramatically, once again. After Dad’s death, the auction, and Mom’s move to town, I swore I’d never go back, because the leaving was just too heart-wrenching and painful. Four years later, my step-brother, Gary, would die there, in the kitchen the day after Thanksgiving.

Humble Beginnings

My step-dad, Dean, married his sweetheart, Martha Mae, on July 5th, 1950 and three years later, Gary was born. In October of 1955, when this picture was taken, Gary would have been a rambunctious toddler, in the midst of the terrible-twos, and probably raising Cain. I feel obligated as a typical sibling to say he never really got over that raising Cain part, and maybe not the terrible twos either.😊

As the airplane flew over on that October day, Martha Mae had probably finished feeding the chickens and was cooking lunch, the biggest meal of the day on the farm. Judging from the mist and shadows, it looks to be morning.

It’s fall and harvest had begun. The wagon filled with corn is standing next to the fence in the few rows that have been combined and my Dad’s tractor can be seen in the distance. It looks like he has been out feeding the livestock, perhaps, or doing something in the “back 40.” I’d wager he was riding that same old red International Harvester tractor that he was still patching together and repairing 40 years later. And it wasn’t new in the 1950s!

The hog houses were in the fields in just about the same configuration as I remember them years later. The hog houses and the fields planted in corn and soybeans were rotated. Cows were standing beside the back barn. Dad’s truck was angled into the front barn and even the gas pump and tanks were in the same location.

This photo was taken about 15 years later, in 1969 or 1970, and shows Dad standing by the back door. That extension is the kitchen and mud room.

Little changed on the farm in 40 years – except the people.

The River of Life

In October of 1955, I was just a baby and lived with my parents in town. Mom’s life would come unraveled a few years later and my father would die. In another world, 20 miles away, Dean’s life would lay in tatters too.

In the fall of 1955, Linda Kay, his baby girl had yet to be born. She would arrive in July of 1958 and grace this farmhouse full of love.

Martha Mae was 35 when Linda was born. The family was adamant that “nothing was wrong with Linda,” but she was never able to hold her head up, sit up or function as a normal baby or child. Mother said that judging from the photos that Linda might have had Down’s Syndrome. Linda contracted pneumonia, was taken to the hospital on Christmas Day and died on December 27, 1959, just 17 months old. The day after Dad’s 39th birthday.

My Dad was devastated. Heartbroken. By the 1950s, antibiotics prevented many childhood deaths. No one expected children to die anymore. But his baby girl died anyway.

Gary would have been 6 when they buried his little sister and probably didn’t understand what was happening.

Dad could never speak of Linda without choking up and gave me her little bedspread from her crib when my daughter was born. This is one of the gifts I cherish most – given straight from his heart.

Dad and I always had a special bond. A man of very few words, he once told me that when he married my mother, he got his little girl back.

For the next few years after Linda’s death, Martha Mae became increasingly ill, and finally, in about 1966, she was diagnosed with a rare disease. At that time, very little was known about systemic Schleroderma. For years, Dad carried an article about it around in his wallet. He explained to me that “she petrified from the outside in.” Those years were horrific for him – helplessly watching his wife perish slowly from an unknown demon that he had no weapons to fight.

Just over 40, Martha Mae lived in incredible pain. That’s when Dad added the large indoor bathroom in the corner between the kitchen and bedroom. It was a very early version of a handicapped bathroom, because he built wooden frame “aids” and helped her in and out of the bathtub.

In addition to farming, he also began cleaning and eventually, cooking and taking care of both Gary and Martha Mae too.

The medical profession didn’t understand nor have the drugs to treat the disease, and in 1968, Martha Mae lapsed into renal failure. Dialysis didn’t yet exist, so eventually she became comatose and on July 25th, passed away at 45 years of age, leaving behind a grieving husband and heartbroken 14-year-old son who had spent his childhood witnessing his mother die terribly.

Within a few months of Martha’s death, Gary was hospitalized for what was then called a “nervous breakdown.” That pattern would punctuate the rest of Gary’s abbreviated life. He died younger than his mother, not from the same disease, although Schleroderma does appear to have an autoimmune genetic aspect.

The farmhouse became a place of loneliness and sadness for Dean, haunted with broken dreams. In the space of a few years he had gone from living his dream, down the road from his in-laws on his own farm with his wife and two children, to a widower raising one desperately ill teen.

I’ve often wondered if the disease that took Martha’s life was actually beginning before Gary was born and affected both of her children – the younger child, Linda, the most.

New Beginnings

After Martha’s death and Gary’s institutionalization, Dean joined the Parent’s Without Partner’s Club in town where he met Mom. I met him about 1970 or 1971, and Mom and Dean were married on September 22, 1972, four years and a few months after Martha’s death.

When they married, Mom sold our house in town and spent the money to “update” the farmhouse. Let me translate. She painted, paneled the plaster walls, had central heat installed and the rooms wired with more than a single lightbulb hanging from a wire in the middle of the ceiling. Drapes, curtains, light switches and light fixtures were added. The kitchen had wooden cabinets installed and the metal ones were reused in the mud room where a washer and dryer were installed. The uneven wooden floors were carpeted and linoleum laid in the kitchen, bathroom and mudroom. Mom bought a modern stove and refrigerator for the kitchen. A microwave was considered a luxury and wouldn’t be added until I bought one years later as a gift.

Mom lovingly packed up both Linda’s and Martha Mae’s clothes and things (at Dad’s request) and stored them away for Dean and Gary. Dad just could never do it.

I remember first meeting Dean and how desperately lonely he was. He spent his days farming and the rest of his time volunteering and helping others.

The man who married my mother had changed dramatically. He was happily smiling, beaming with newfound love and welcomed us into his life. So did Gary, who was home again by the time Mom and Dad married. Even Dad’s dog, Spot and our cat, Snowball got along, or at least agreed to ignore each other. Mom and Dean merged lives and homes, including two teenagers. Miraculous that any of us survived, but we not only survived, we thrived. We all needed and wanted a family again, although the transition wasn’t without a few, mostly humorous, bumps in the road.

My Dad had a wicked sense of humor and was the silent prankster, always looking for an opportunity.

Here’s Dad “pregnant” (in orange) at a fundraiser in 1978. Let’s just say Dad wasn’t above wearing a stray bra left behind in the bathroom as earmuffs. That was his tongue-in-cheek, or maybe better stated, ear-in-bra-cup way of reminding you to pick up after yourself. Dad had never lived with a teenage girl before and I had never lived with men.

Happiness had returned to the farmstead in Indiana, although it would be episodically punctuated by crisis’ caused by Gary’s illness. That too, we faced as a unified family.

Fruits and vegetables were once again being canned in blistering summer heat, laundry was hung on the clothesline to dry in the breeze and lunch was being cooked for Dad and whoever else was working on the farm that day. Church was on Sunday.

Family and neighbors came and went up and down the driveways. The family dogs barked both a warning and a greeting. We could often tell who was arriving by the sound of the vehicle and the dog’s voices.

I helped Dad tend the livestock and worked the fields. I loved our solitary time in the barn together, the tractor, and walking the freshly plowed furrows, looking for rocks and arrowheads. He liked the company and showing me how to do things.

The chickens were long gone. I loved the shuffling animal noises and soothing clank clank of the barn. I adored the cats and the critters, along with my Dad’s barn workshop and handiwork. I swear, that man could build or fix anything, generally out of scraps from something else. It might not look great, but was quite functional. On the farm, that’s all that mattered.

I didn’t realize it then, but that time spent alone with Dad was golden. No one ever intruded into our barn world. Few words, sometimes an easy silence – but I’d often catch him watching over me and looking at me dotingly when he thought I wasn’t looking. I would smile and so would he. Pure, unvarnished adoration for each other. There is no truer love.

Soon, Dad walked me down the aisle and I added grandchildren to the mix, as did my half-brother and step-brother.

The winters were cold with mountains of snow, and the summers hot. Dad grilled burgers on the old barrel that served as a charcoal grill, ice cream was cranked and kids played in the hose.

Life was no longer bleak for our blended family. The seasons drifted one into the other.

Life was good and no one thought that it wouldn’t last forever. In the winters, we looked forward to spring. In the spring we looked forward to school being out for the summer. In the summer, we looked forward to carving the pumpkins we planted in the spring and had watched grow, inch by inch, and ripen throughout the summer. In the fall, we looked forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas when our family would gather. Then, we looked forward to the warmth of spring and flowers all over again as the seed catalogues arrived with their tempting pictures of perfect gardens.

The maple trees had grown and once again held a child’s rope swing with a board for a seat, providing shade for peals of laughter. We planted the garden, weeded the rows, then snapped green beans sitting in the shade on the metal glider outside the back screen door. If you let that door slam, the next thing you would hear from Mom inside the kitchen would be, “Don’t slam the screen.” Everyone else laughed, but not loud enough for Mom to hear!

The blue glider and Dad’s chair have long been “retired” on my patio, one of my two purchases at the end-of-the-road auction. Their mere presence makes me smile, reminds me of Dad and brings me comfort – although there was never anything comfortable about sitting on them except that family was sitting right there next to you, equally as uncomfortable. A lot of talks took place in those chairs.

You Can Take the Girl Off of the Farm, But You Can’t Take the Farm Out of the Girl

Martha Mae’s purple Iris, growing beside the garage and driveway had become Mom’s Iris. One of the neighbor boys got too close with the tractor and plowed them into oblivion. Mom was furious, seeing the shredded bulbs laying in the dirt. Dad was sad. I’m sure he remembered far more about those Irises than he said. A little bit more of Martha Mae was gone. I wish I had bought some replacement bulbs and pretended that not all of the Iris had been killed, but I didn’t realize at the time.

Dad’s ferns, plentiful, but not visible in the farm photos, now grow in my garden, as do his phlox plants, below. I’m now passing them on to the next generation as well.

The farm may be a memory now, but a whole lot of the farm lives on in me. Someplace along the way, I became a farm girl – and Daddy’s girl. I will always carry those wonderful sundrenched days on the farm with my Dad etched into my heart.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.