Letters From the Past: Part 1
A few weeks ago I was in our barn looking for something. The upstairs of the building is storage, and we have a lot of “stuff” stored there. Most of the boxes are marked and as I went through several boxes I noticed one that was marked “Genealogy Letters.” I opened it and found a treasure trove!
Starting in 1978, I was corresponding with Hagenbuchs and related families from all over the United States and even in Europe. I saved those letters which number in the hundreds. They are all organized by last name of the person who corresponded with me. The last letters are from 1987 when I began my principal’s position here in Dillsburg. Then, children and work took more time than I could spend on genealogy.
Ten years of letters from 40 years ago: they are a treasure trove of family news, tidbits, and genealogical trees. Sadly, many of the letters’ authors have passed away. The information they sent to me—names, dates, and places—is indispensable and makes up the bulk of the family information in my seven bulging genealogical records books. Interspersed among the family information of the letters are family details, newsy items, and warm greetings.
Take for instance a letter from Ethel Hagenbuch of Utica, Illinois. Dated Oct. 12, 1980:
Chuck and Melvin are hauling corn today, Curtis is discing, Albert running combine. Henry spread dry fertilizer this morn, then worked in the farrowing house… a neighbor called [and said]—’u [sic] never did get those 2 chickens’. She was trading them for apples, so Curt got them and chopped their heads and they’re cooling in refrig.—hadn’t forgot how! Ha! Must close and drop Corlin a line.
Most first time correspondence began by me sending a form letter to a Hagenbuch that I found in a telephone book while traveling or information was sent to me from relatives who had done the same. A note accompanying the form letter would explain who I was and that I was trying to compile all the ancestors of Andreas Hagenbuch. Most people responded to me positively and gave me as much information as they could about their family. In many instances this led to more correspondence; newsy letters about their families. It also led to many people subscribing to the family newsletter, The Beech Grove.
Here is part of the first correspondence I had with Elizabeth (Hagenbuch) Spencer in September, 1978:
Dear Cousin Mark. My half brother from Aurora, Ohio was here over the weekend and he told me of your project. Also left a copy of your letter to cousin Frank in St. Charles, Mo. Under Lloyd Gilroy Hagenbuch. [Elizabeth is referring to the form letter to be completed.] He is married to Jennie Hughes in Lime Ridge, PA, which is 6 miles So. of Berwick, PA and 6 miles No. of Bloomsburg, PA. My name is Elizabeth Jackson (Hagenbuch) Spencer. I was the first born on Jan. 15, 1895 in Berwick, PA.
Elizabeth writes on about her family history which I recorded in the genealogical books that I have kept and updated since then.
Some of the folks written to during this ten year period, if still living, I have lost contact with. One such person is Earl Hagenbuch and his family from Florida. Earl’s line from Andreas is: Andreas (b. 1711) < Henry (b. 1736) < Jacob (b. 1765) < Daniel Sr. (b. 1803) < Daniel Jr. (b. 1836) < Robert (b. 1866) < Herbert (b. 1886) < Earl Sr. (b. 1906) < Earl Jr. (b. 1945).
While going through the letters, I ran across the first letter I had received from Earl, Oct. 11, 1978. Knowing he was not much older than myself, I thought I would try to find a current phone number for him. Thanks to the internet, I found his number and gave him a call. “Earl, this is Mark Hagenbuch. I’m the Hagenbuch genealogist who was in contact with you almost forty years ago.”
Earl answered in astonishment. “My wife and I were just talking about you the other day, wondering what ever happened to you.” Earl and I had a nice conversation. He was unaware of hagenbuch.org and we are now in contact with each other through email.
By his letterhead, you can see that Earl was a musician by trade. Here are a few excerpts from that first letter in October almost 40 years ago:
Dear Mark, I received your letter of inquiry and I enjoyed reading your findings. I must admit that I was never closely tuned into the Hagenbuch clan, therefore am not up on the background of the family.
The only facts that I can give you are the following: my father was Earl Hagenbuch (died in 1963). I am Earl Hagenbuch, Jr. His father was Herbert Hagenbuch, deceased. Herbert had a brother—Jacob (I think). Jacob’s daughter is Lucille Frable. I will pass your letter on to her as she is more tuned into the family background than I. They all lived in Nazareth, PA. All the Hagenbuchs that I have ever met all came from Nazareth.
I almost flipped when I read your letter which stated about the family in West Germany! There is one fact that I can tell you—the Hagenbuchs from Nazareth are convinced that they are Pa. Dutch and if anyone hints at the idea that they are German. Wow! They are really bent on the idea that they are Dutch.
For people today who know the difference between German, Pennsylvania Dutch, and Dutch (from Holland), Earl’s comments in the last paragraph seem comical. But, during WWI and WWII, some people with German backgrounds did not want to be associated with the “Vaterland” and would often try to associate their background with Holland instead of Germany disregarding that the Pennsylvania Dutch (Deitsch) were German/Swiss.
Forty years ago, I realized the importance of saving every genealogical letter. We now have a window to the past when interest in world wide Hagenbuch genealogy first blossomed. I have just begun to scratch the surface into this wealth of information as I read through letters I saved from so many years ago.
Sure, saving every piece of paper, every photograph, every “artifact” can get out of hand. But, in the end, it’s better to have too much “stuff” than not enough. The proof is in the pudding—the pudding in this case being hundreds of old letters that are irreplaceable because of the information and memories they contain.