On Beech Trees and Dutchiness
For the past year and a half, since Andrew had the idea that our Hagenbuch genealogy should be shared on the Internet through weekly articles, a new awakening has occurred for me. I’ve shared with readers how at a very young age I became interested in family history, how this was fostered by growing up among a large number of Hagenbuch relatives, how the interest was nurtured by my Uncle Percy’s stories at the Oak Grove church cemetery, and how I was given a larger view of the family through the research in the 1940s by a distant cousin in California named William Hagenbaugh.
My lethargy the last 20 years in recording information and adding relatives to my records wasn’t because I had lost interest in the genealogical work I had done from the 1970s through the early 1990s. No, my work lagged because many other interests took over and I felt I had reached an impasse in what I was accomplishing in genealogy. I had thousands of names and dates but little substance of personal information that made relatives, especially those from the past, come alive.
We are certainly entrenched in the computer age where almost all information is at our fingertips. Until Andrew’s interest in genealogy bloomed, I didn’t realize how much information could be found through searching the internet with the use of sites such as Findagrave and Ancestry. These and other avenues of research have opened my eyes to the wealth of substantive information–information that makes names and dates become a history that utilizes the five senses.
From the start, Andrew and I agreed that the articles we wrote could not just be lists of people with their birth and death dates, nor just the places where they were born and buried. Fortunately for most families there are photographs that date to the late 1800s.
After names, dates, and places, photos are the next step to make ancestors come alive. Many of the early photos I own are posed in studios. They don’t tell us too much. We can see family resemblances and possibly discern some economic status from clothing worn and studio setting. But, as one looks at photos taken in the 1920s and later, personalities and activities appear. Candid shots show our ancestors riding in horse drawn carriages, working in the fields, standing by the family home, and groups of people who have been visiting for the day. These photos shed light into personalities as we view facial expressions, the type of homes that were kept, the things that people were doing, and their possessions.
But, even more telling than photographs can be the ephemera that is associated with one’s life. Andrew has been instrumental in uncovering letters, birth certificates, deeds, inventories of possessions, and wills. We have had exciting times in the last year as we’ve published this information and explained its meanings or, at least, possible explanations and ramifications.
Years ago when I was doing research and writing The Beech Grove, I would never have believed that we would find out what type of clothing Andreas wore, or the types of tools the Hagenbuchs owned at the Berks County homestead, or that our ancestors had a thriving business there of linen, tanning leather, and distilling spirits. And since many of the early documents are written in Pennsylvania Deitsch, Andrew and I have grown a sense of our Deitsch roots–different than stating we have Swiss or German ancestry.
This sense of being Pennsylvania Dutch, more correctly Deitsch, has been a huge change for the way I think of myself. Growing up in Montour County, our Hagenbuchs never felt we were part of the Pennsylvania Deitsch culture that is still very strong in Berks County, especially popular among tourists visiting Kutztown (not all that far from Andreas Hagenbuch’s homestead). I have a good friend, Chris Witmer, who has instilled in me the fact that I am not so much Swiss or German, but that my ancestry is Deitsch.
We know that the Hagenbuchs, who stayed in Berks County up until 1855 when most had moved away, were still steeped in Deitsch culture, speaking and writing the language daily. My branch of the family (Andreas b. 1711 > Michael b. 1746 > Henry b. 1772 > William b. 1807 > Hiram b. 1847 > Clarence b. 1889 > Homer b. 1916 > Mark b. 1953) moved to Columbia County in 1801 (my ggg grandfather Henry). It is known that Henry’s son Samuel b. 1806, who inherited the farm from his father, did speak Deitsch. His brother (my gg grandfather William) moved to Montour County in 1853. We know little about his daily life, personality, and as of yet, we have not found a photo of him. But, it makes sense that William also spoke Deitsch.
After the move to Montour County, my family drifted away from the Deitsch language and culture. There is no information or report that William’s son, Hiram (my great grandfather), exhibited any “Dutchiness” and our large family in Montour County (Hiram had 12 children) never associated themselves with being Pennsylvania Deitsch. We always referred to ourselves as German.
For me, this has now changed. I have a new pride in knowing that our ancestors in Berks County were entrenched and part of the Pennsylvania Deitsch life. That means the largest part of my genealogical make up is Deitsch; therefore, it is more correct to refer to myself as that than German or Swiss. And, that first step in realizing that we are part of the Pennsylvania Deitsch culture has led Andrew and I into researching Deitsch religious traditions, music, foods, writing script, art, even hex signs! The realization that Andreas and his sons and their children saw themselves as Pennsylvania Deitsch and not German has made us more aware of our strong Deitsch make up.
The bottom line is that the writing of our family history in the form of articles on the Internet has sent us on a journey to really knowing our ancestors, ourselves, and what we want to be. As I’ve stated before, genealogy is more than names, dates, and places. Through research that leads us down one path, takes a turn and goes down another path that leads to five more paths branching out to more, we continue to put characteristics and personalities to those people whose blood runs thick in us.