Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name. Green pastures, still waters, my cup is overflowing.
Do you know your roots? In 1976 I began a project which lasted several years researching the family tree. Fortunately, my family had lived in the region comprising Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, since before the Revolutionary War. Equally fortunate was the fact that all the old county records were stored at the courthouse in the basement which in colonial times served as the county jail. Nothing yet was transferred to digital and we amateur genealogists were allowed into the dungeon to do our research from the written transcripts. It was dank and musty down there in the numerous jail cells and it was not difficult to imagine prisoners scurrying about amongst the multitude of books containing wills, land deeds and orphan’s court records. For treasure hunters like myself the time spent there was an adventure through days long past.
I don’t believe I fully appreciated the convenience of all my family history being in one courthouse and one library within 30 miles of my home. My maternal Snyder side of the family changed the spelling from Schneider in the 1860s to 1880s. The Browns migrated from Europe as Brauns in the late 1700s. Himmel’s Church in Rebuck, Pennsylvania, is the resting place of my forefathers, Schneiders and Brauns, with headstones among the very first of the burial plots in the church cemetery. Himmel’s was founded in 1773.
Our Germanic community lived in relative isolation in the Schwaben Creek Valley of central Pennsylvania having settled there from Berks County, Pennsylvania, in the mid 1700s. The Pennsylvania Dutch which was spoken was called “low German” in contrast to written German which was referred to as “high German”. There are similarities, but centuries of geographic separation from the mother country made it difficult to read the Bibles which were written in high or “hoch” German. Many of the words were vastly unrecognizable. My grandparents did not learn English until entering school. I was not encouraged to learn the Dutch dialect as it was considered too common, but I understood when family members and neighbors spoke in Dutch.
Further stories of an early migration to America in the 1600s by my people is interesting but I was never able to verify the accounts written in volumes by local historians. We knew for certain that my ancestors escaped religious and social persecution in lands that are now Germany, that they fled to England and from there indentured themselves to landowners in the ‘new world’.
My people did not immigrate to America because they were weary of the wonderful life they were having in their native lands. They did not come here to take advantage of native inhabitants. They came here because they had nothing and were willing to sacrifice their nothingness for hope in a new land. They did not speak the predominant English language, did not bow to the predominant God, and did not have any assurance of a better life. All they wanted was to start anew in peaceful observance of their traditions and heritage, to raise families without fear of persecution, and to share the bounty of a new beginning.
Sounds like some other immigrants about whom we hear today. My people did not have a statue in New York Harbor to welcome them with a torch and encouraging words, but when others followed their footsteps, I am sure they said, “Welcome neighbor, we have plenty to share. Enjoy the bounty with us which the good Lord has provided.”
Yes, I know they would have said that. That’s who we were back then and that’s who we are now.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these , the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Emma Lazarus – THE NEW COLOSSUS
Our words are perhaps not as eloquent, but Emma Lazarus speaks to who we are. We have been in the shoes of the homeless and tempest-tost and we will remember.