Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Mystery of RIEß Sisters - Part 2

My Assertion:  Anna Catharina Riess, wife of Joh. Ernst Menge, and Anna Elisabeth Catharina Riess, wife of Joh. Ernst Christian Kreuter, were sisters. Both Riess women were the daughters of Joh. Clemens Riess and Anna Margareth Kleberger of Södel, Hessen, Germany.

Given this assertion, the Södel Familenbuch (page 266) is mistaken to list Anna Elisabeth Riess, wife of Joh. Ernst Christian Kreuter, as the daughter of Hans Martin Rieß. She was instead the daughter of Martin's brother, Joh. Clemens Rieß, and a sister of Anna Catharina who married Joh. Ernst Menge.

My Argument:
The first question is if indeed the two Riess women were sisters, who were the parents they had in common? For the time period in question, the only Rieß in Södel who had sons who might have been father to these girls was Johann Riess and his wife Anna Margreth. Their sons were:
  • Johannes Riess had a daughter named Anna Catharina, 1670-1671.  He did not have any daughters with the name Elisabeth.
  • Joh. Clemens Riess had daughters named 
     Anna Elisabetha 1684-1694
     Anna Catharina born in 1690, married Joh. Ernst Menge
     Catharina born in 1694
  • Hans Martin Riess had daughters named
     Anna Elisabetha, 1685-1761, married Joh. Ernst Klein
     Catharina, born 1692                                                 
     Maria Kat, 1700-1775, married Johannes Sommer

Given this information, I eliminate Johannes Rieß as the possible father of the sisters in question. That leaves Clemens and Martin, both of whom had daughters named Elisabeth and Catharina. Remember we are looking for one sister who married Menge and the other sister who married Kreuter.  

In the case of Clemens, his daughter Elisabetha died when she was 10 years old, and supposedly his daughter Anna Catharina married Menge in 1709.  

In the case of Martin, two of the three daughters who can be considered for this scenario married someone other than Menge or Kreuter. So even if it was Martin's daughter Catharina who married Menge, Martin does not appear to have had another daughter who married Kreuter. I therefore conclude that Clemens was indeed the father of Anna Catharina who married Menge, and so by extension Clemens must also be the father of the wife of Kreuter. But how can that conclusion be supported given this evidence?

In looking again at the daughters of Clemens, it happens that the death of the first daughter, Anna Elisabetha, is very likely significant. The daughter baptized as Catharina on 17 Aug 1694 was born 7 days after her older sister Anna Elisabetha died on 10 Aug 1694! In cases like this, it was the custom to name the next born child of the same gender with the name of the child who just died. There must have been a godmother with the name Catharina, thus it seems entirely probable that the daughter of Clemens baptized as Catharina in 1694 had three names: Anna Elisabetha Catharina - Anna Elisabetha for her dead sister, and Catharina for her godmother, whoever that was. This would also explain how all three of these names appear in various combinations in reference to the woman who married Kreuter.

In this scenario, not only were Anna Catharina Riess Menge and Anna Elisabetha Catharina Riess Kreuter sisters as the church documentation stated, but they were close in age and probably close emotionally, especially after both their parents died when the girls were still minors. After the sisters each married, the Menge's and the Kreuter's each served to sponsor a child from the other's family. And indeed, children from their two families ventured to the New World to the same city (Philadelphia) to the same church (St. Michaels and Zion Lutheran Church) where they continued to sponsor each other's families.  

But then we have to wonder what happened to Martin's daughter named Catharina, born in 1692? Where previously the same question applied to the daughter of Clemens named Catharina and the answer was Unknown, now the same answer applies to the daughter of Martin named Catharina. It is Unknown what became of her.

So there rests my case. I am in the process of taking a class that will help me learn to write a genealogical proof argument, so maybe I can use this as my test case in class! I'll let you know how that turns out. Meanwhile, I welcome comments and feedback.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Mystery of RIEß Sisters - Part 1

The record that broke the brick wall in our Menge/Rieß research and allowed us to make the leap from Philadelpia to Södel, Germany was the following burial record from the St. Michaels and Zion German Lutheran church in Philadelphia:

3 Sep 1773, Anna Cathar. Kilmann(in); b. 23 May 1732 at Sodel?, dau.of the late Joh. Ernst Krainder? and wife Elisabeth Ries(in),? (both of a noble class). (Godparents were Ernst Menge? and wife Anna Catharina);. Immigrated in 1752 with her sister. She mar. Mr . Adolf Kilmann in 1754; had 7 children, of whom 2 sons and 4 daus. survive... (¼-page obit).

This record connected our Ernst Menge with Södel where we subsequently found a Familenbuch that recorded many Menge and Rieß families. The above burial record states that the mother of Anna Catharina Killman (Gillman) was Elisabeth Ries, and we already knew that Ernst Menge had married Anna Catharina Ries, so the thought was that the two Rieß women must have been sisters.

This thought was furthered by finding the baptism record for Anna Catharina Kreuter, born 23 May 1732 in Södel. Not only was the godmother listed as the wife of Ernst Menge, but she was further noted as being the father's sister-in-law. This seems like plenty to confirm that Elisabeth and Anna Catharina Rieß were sisters.

Except not. The previously mentioned Familienbuch states that Elisabeth was the daughter of Hans Marten Rieß and Anna Catharina was the daughter of Marten's brother, Joh. Clemens Rieß. These two brothers did not share the same wife, so how could these two women share the same parents and thus be siblings? More digging has been required.

What I have found is a wide inconsistency in the names associated with the mother of Anna Catharina Kreuter. All of these records supposedly point to the same person:
  1. Södel Familenbuch.  This sources lists Hans Marten Riess as having TWO daughters named Anna Elisabeth. First AE, born 1685, married Joh. Ernst Klein in 1705. Second AE, born 1692, married JEC Kreuter in 1714. I suspect the Familenbuch is incorrect about the name of the second AE, and I plan to send an inquiry to the book's author about the source of this information.
  2. Baptism record.  On 17 Apr 1692, Martin Riess christened a daughter named Catharina.
  3. Marriage record.  The marriage record for JEC Kreuter lists the name of the bride as Elisabetha Catharina.  It should be noted that this record does not give any indication as to the bride's family of origin.
  4. Death record.  On 23 Nov 1749, the widow of JEC Kreuter died. Her name is listed as Anna Elisabeth, and her occupation is listed as a midwife.
  5. Baptism record of AC Kreuter lists the godmother as the wife of Ernst Menge, and the sister-in-law of JEC Kreuter.  While this record does not list the mother's name, we know that Ernst Menge married Anna Catharina Riess, thus the child was given the name Anna Catharina. This record furthermore appears to establish the wives of JEC Kreuter and Ernst Menge as sisters.
  6. Obituary of AC Kreuter Gillman in PHL lists her mother as Elisabeth Riessin.
It is entirely worth noting that there was another girl born in Södel on 5 April 1692, named Anna Catharina Elisabetha. If you visit, you will see that they associated the surname Ries with this child. However, in looking at the original church record, there is mention of the wife and the daughter of the then mayor (Schultheiß) of Södel, Johannes Rieß.  The second wife of Johannes Rieß was named Elisabetha, and the only daughters of Herr Rieß had from his previous marriage who might still have been alive at this time were named Anna Margretha and Ursula. With that in mind, I consulted with the author of the Familienbuch to assist in the transcription and translation of the baptism record of the girl born 5 April 1692. Essentially, the girl was the child of a foreign soldier and his wife had the child in transit. Because there were no godparents for the child in Södel, the wife of the Södel mayor (Johannes Rieß), as well as his daughter stood in to sponsor the child for baptism. So the bottom line appears to be that the child born 5 Apr 1692 was apparently not a Rieß child, and thus was probably NOT the future wife of Joh. Ernst Christian Kreuter nor the sister of Anna Catharina Rieß.

So where to go next with this mystery? I have a theory, so stay tuned for an update on this topic.

(Note: in order to help search matching, I include the following spellings in this article: Ries, Riess, Kreider, Sodel, Soedel)

SPELLINGS: Männge - Menge - Mann

I thought I would share part of an email from our relation in Germany.  She wrote:

The name "Menge" may be the Diminutiv of "Mann". In dialect folk may call "menge" a little Mann. In plattdütsch it is "Männke", in Hochdeutsch it is "Männchen". In Bacharach/Rhein my forefathers in church records were written "Männge", so you can see they were thinking of "Männchen".

What is wonderful about this explanation is that in the old Philadelphia church records, we did find occurrences of the spelling "Männchen" or other spellings very close to this. Especially since this spelling varies significantly from "Menge", I always felt somewhat nervous about whether the records we found really do apply to our family. Now those doubts are gone.  Amen.


I've been very excited lately to discover other destinations where our Menge and Rieß relations from Södel departed to. I'll include here some brief family history summary to show context.

Balthasar Menge (1647-1715) and his wife Elisabetha are our oldest known relations on the Menge side.
  • Their son, Joh. Ernst Menge (1681-1760) and his wife Anna Catharina Rieß had, as we know, several children who came to America in the 1750s, at least three sons and possibly some daughters.
  • Another son, Wilhelm Menge (1671-?) had a son, Joh. Henrich Menge who emigrated to Bacharach in the Rhineland-Palatinate where he married Maria Magdalena Kümpel. I have made contact with a living descendant from this line who resides in Germany still! It's been very fun to correspond with this descendant as we have been able to share a good deal of information about our Södel roots.
On the maternal side, our oldest known relations are Johann Rieß (1620-1663) and his wife Anna Margreth.
  • Their son, Joh. Clemens Rieß (1653-1706) and his wife Anna Margreth Kleberger had a daughter, Anna Catharina, who married our Joh. Ernst Menge previously mentioned.
  • Another son, Hans Martin Rieß (1655-1703) and his wife Elisabeth Catharina Feyh had a daughter, Anna Elisabetha, who married Joh. Ernst Klein.  Their son, Joh. Philip Klein, apparently emigrated to Russia! Here is a wonderful link describing that journey. They settled in a German Lutheran colony called Frank, and again here is another link with a wonderful overview of the history of that colony.
(Note: In order to view more than two pages from the website given in the above links, you will have to register and then enter a password to continue reading. It is so worth it to take this step as I can't recommend this website enough for the quality of information it offers.)

However, let me here describe what I believe to be a mix-up in many Klein genealogies I have seen on the internet.
  • Joh. Philip Klein and Anna Elisabetha Raab had a son named Joh. Adam Klein, born 15 March 1749 in Södel. This son apparently did not travel to Russia with his parents in 1766. According to Die Familien, Chronik Södel, Band 2 by Herbert Meyer, this son emigrated to America. I did find an arrival record in Philadelphia for a Joh. Adam Klein in 1769 but have not been able to trace what happened to him.
  • There was a Joh. Adam Klein born 16 Jun 1745 in Neider-Wöllstadt, son of Johannes Klein and M. Elis. Mohr. It should be noted that Neider-Wöllstadt is close to Södel, but it is NOT the same place. This Joh. Adam Klein married Anna Maria Fischer, and there is a record of Joh. Adam Klein of Nieder-Wöllstadt going to Russia in 1766. Here is where I have found many genealogies that mistakenly state that this Joh. Adam Klein, a colonist in Frank, Russia, descends from Joh. Philip Klein of Södel.
It could still be true that the two Klein families mentioned here are related. However, based on the evidence I have seen in this particular case, I think it is correct to say that Joh. Philip Klein from Södel and Joh. Adam Klein from Nieder-Wöllstadt both arrived in Russia in 1766.

With all that said, I find it very exciting to learn more about our Södel relations who emigrated to other parts of the world.

(Note: in order to help search matching, I include the following spellings in this article:  Riess, Sodel, Soedel, Nieder-Wollstadt, Nieder-Woellstadt)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Happy Landing Day!

260 years ago today, a young man of about 22 years, along with two of his brothers, arrived in the port of pre-Revolution Philadelphia. He came from a region in Germany called the Wetterau, and his journey across the ocean had lasted at least seven weeks in conditions that were not the best. His name was Ernst Christian Menge, and all this time later, we can claim this man as our 5th great-grandfather. His story is an amazing one - here is a link that gives the highlights of his family's lineage in America.

First we must understand the times. Although much of Germany was then Prussia, which was ruled in the mid-1700s by Frederick the Great, Södel (the village of Ernst Menge) was never part of Prussia, according to my local contacts there. Instead the Wetterau area had been deeply effected by the previous Thirty Years War (1618-1648), which had been disastrous for Germany as various rulers tried to impose differing religions on the population. Between mercernaries who destroyed everything in their path and the plague in 1635 followed by famine, the population of Germany was reduced to half its former population of 24 million. With nearly all its resources depleted, German communities struggled to recover.  Here is a link telling the history of another village in the Wetterau which gives some good ideas of the complicated history of the area. It also shows the dress common for people in the Wetterau during that time, and so gives us some idea how our Ernst might have looked:

In the life of Ernst Menge, there were probably several other factors besides political unrest that called him to the New World. Ernst was the youngest in his family, and so he would not be included in any family inheritance, although it's not clear that the family owned any land. Ernst's father was a church elder, and there is evidence that Ernst and his brothers were involved in the occupation of 'strumphmacher' or stocking makers. Ernst's mother, Anna Catharina Rieß, had just died in 1753, and at the same time, there was word of life in America from his cousin, Martin Kreuter, who had gone to America in 1751 and returned to Södel to marry Susanna Louisa Bonne on 25 Apr 1754. Maybe because Martin was then returning to Philadelphia where apparently other Kreuter cousins were already living, Ernst and his two brothers, Johannes and Henrich, also decided to make the move.

First, we must imagine the journey itself. What did the ship Edinburgh look like? Well, I've not been able to locate an image of the exact ship, but this link gives a very good approximation of what it probably looked like. Here is another image giving an idea of the Edinburgh:

The journey was, however, probably not easy. During this time period, the immigrant ships carried as many as 300 passengers. This account describes what the journey might have been like for a German immigrant to Philadelphia at that time.

And what was life like on the day of arrival?  Well, the bells in Philadelphia were a-ringing to announce the arrival of a ship with German immigrants. After taking the oath of allegiance to England and then paying for their passage, they would have been greeted at the dock by their Kreuter family and friends.  Life in the New World was about to begin! Read more in an excellent account here.

It should be noted that Ernst Menge probably made it to America just under the wire, as nearly all immigration to America was halted during the Seven Years War. Had Ernst not left the Wetterau when he did, and considering the high cost of life in that war, it's entirely possible he might not have come to America at all, and then all the history of our family would certainly be different. But instead, by the time of Ernst's arrival in Philadelphia, roughly 40% of the population of the Philadelphia colony were German peoples. Germans lived in their own communities and had their own German-language newspapers. The challenges in the New World, especially during the struggle for American independence would not be trivial. But our Menge family was part of the story that shaped a new democratic nation. This is as good a time as any to be grateful for the courage and determination of our German ancestors. Thanks to them who made such incredible journeys.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

County Lines - Michigan

I'm in the process of writing a story about our relations journey from New Jersey to Michigan, and promptly managed to get myself confused about where certain family groups actually settled.  Some bought a land patent in Oakland county, but then lived in Macomb county, and vice versa.  After much studying, it's very clear that Summers family groups lived right on the county live between Macomb and Oakland.  And the Mann's too, it would seem.  For some reason, the elder Ernest Mann settled in Washington, Macomb, Michigan while all his adult children purchased patents in Oakland county.  All the while, they were hardly 20 miles apart.  Whew!

But now I've realized even one more county line in the picture. I found several deeds in Lapeer county (Hadley) from the heirs of Samuel Axford of Macomb to various Mann members: namely George, Ernest (III), and John P. Mann. Hadley is just over 14 miles from Oxford in Oakland county where many of the Mann family lived. And just in case we think these land transactions were completely random, we should remember that Samuel Axford Jr. married Phebe Summers, daughter of Jacob Summers and Mary Hiles.

Introducing John Sommer, M.D.

Well, there's good news and bad news after my most recent trip to SLC. Good news: I was able to locate a will for Jacob Sommer of Moreland, PA written in 1823 and codicils added in 1824 and 1825, and sworn statements added in Feb. 1827 which confirms that timeframe as the time of death of the person we believe to be one and the same as Judge Jacob Sommer. Bad news: It does not mention a son named Jacob, so my theory that Jacob Sommer Jr. of Michigan could be the son of Judge Jacob Sommer was incorrect. Wrongwrongwrong. Sigh.

However there is also some new news: the will does name son John Sommer, practitioner of Physic. So!  A new character is in the picture. I have seen previous brief mention of a Dr. John Sommer, who married somebody named Louisa, and they had a daughter named Mary Adelaide Sommer who married Howard Newcomb Potts in 1851. This is significant because nearly 80 years previous, our direct ancestor, George Summers, bought property in New Jersey from a sheriff named Thomas Potts. That's a long stretch in between events, but it's still possible that the connection between the Sommer and Potts family might go back farther than we realize.

And here's some additional inconclusive news. The will mentions that if the son, John, was deceased without issue, then the estate of Jacob should go to "my father's brother's grandchildren." Well, Jacob's father, Johannes Sommer, had two brothers who also came to America, my 6th g-grandfather George Summers, which is our line that migrated to Michigan, and Martin Sommer who apparently remained in the area of Phildalphia.  Both brothers had grandchildren, so it's hard to know which is referred to in this will, but we might guess he refers to the relations who were in closest proximity to Moreland.

So now we wander into yet another new area of research. I've not yet been able to find much of anything about Dr. John Sommer, and would love to correspond with anybody who might have some ideas or clues.

Meanwhile I am still holding to my belief, which is only that, that Judge Jacob Sommer of Byberry (Moreland), Philadelphia, PA was related to my line. Why would I think that when there is still no documentation that supports the idea?  Well, there is no documentation in Philadelphia. Yet. The only reason I entertain this idea AT ALL is because a) the age for Judge Jacob at time of death matches exactly for the Jacob Sommer, son of Johannes Sommer in my line, and b) the story recounted in more than one county history in Michigan that refers to a judge of records in Philadelphia named Jacob Sommer. If not for that, I would have no reason to look or consider this person at all. Why in the world would multiple accounts of the Summers family in Michigan refer to a Judge Jacob Sommer in Philadelphia if there were not some connection?  Mixed up as the details in the Michigan history are, I keep thinking there must be somewhere a nugget of truth. It's a matter of weeding out fact from fiction, and I'm not yet ready to consider Judge Jacob as a fictional character to this family's history. Maybe I'm just stubborn :-/

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Jacob Summers, the PHL Judge - Sources

There's been a good deal of confusion about a Summers relation in Philadelphia who we might never have known about except for repeated references in histories recorded in Macomb county, Michigan!  Enter Jacob Summers, judge of records in Philadelphia. Here are the sources that seem to pertain to him:

Martin's bench and bar of Philadelphia : together with other lists of persons appointed to administer the laws in the city and county of Philadelphia, and the province and commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Rees Walsh, 1883; by John Hill Martin, page 79, and History of Philadelphia: 1609-1884, Volume II, 1884, by John Thomas Scharf, Thompson Westcott, page 1572.

These two sources say basically the same thing, that the District Court for the City and County of Philadelphia was organized in 1811 and abolished in 1873, and that Jacob Sommer was an Associate Judge who was commissioned on June 3, 1811.  This account says that Sommer was not a lawyer and he died in February 1857 at the age of 69. What's remarkable - for us - is that in the Martin source available on, somebody crossed out the 5 in 1857 and wrote 2, making the result 1827. If Jacob the Judge was 69 and died in 1827, then he as born in 1758, which is exactly the year of birth of Jacob Sommer, son of Johannes Sommer, brother of my ancestor George Summers. Note that we have the will of Jacob Sommer of Moreland, and indeed, he died in February, 1827.

The Colonies and early Republic - Volume 2 - by Eric H. Monkkonen, Page 738

 "...the District Court was created in 1811 with three judges described as a president and two assistant judges.  This was the same number of judges constituting the courts of common pleas in other judicial districts in the state.  The first president judge of the District Court was Joseph Hemphill and the two associate judges or "wing judges" as they were called in that day were Anthony Simmons, a goldsmith, and Jacob Sommer, a farmer, who appears to have devoted little time to his judicial duties."

Courts and Lawyers of Pennsylvania, A History, 1623-1923 (1922) by Frank M. Eastman

 "Jacob Sommer, the other lay judge, was a farmer, and lived in Byberry Twp. He was of Pennsylvania German descent, and discharged the duties of his office with the patient good sense and modesty that characterized his race. Probably owing to his residence in the country, he does not appear from the minute-books to have given as much time to his duties as the other judges, but was nevertheless reappointed in 1817, and continued to sit until the expiration of his commission in 1821. In 1823, he was appointed a judge of the peace for Bristol, Germantown and Roxborough, after which time I have not been able to find any trace of him."

 A History of the townships of Byberry and Moreland in Philadelphia, Pa., from their earliest settlements by the whites to the present time by Joseph C. Martindale, p. 223

"Somerton, the largest village in the township, is situated on the Bustleton and Somerton turnpike road, about three miles from the former place, and thirteen from Philadelphia. It is partly in Moreland and partly in Byberry, and extends a quarter of a mile along the turnpike...." The end of the paragraph has a footnote that says "The village is named in honor of Judge Sommer who dwelt on the property now occupied by Enoch Taylor. It was previously called Smithfield, but assumed its present name at the beginning of the nineteenth century."

We should note that an early church record for my ancestor, George Summers, said he was "of Smithfield" so it would not be a surprise that his brother Johannes also settled there.

 Finally here is another description of Somerton from a history website:

 "The name Smithfield was changed to Somerton sometime between 1862 and 1876. The change was prompted by the control that Judge Sommers exercised over the region in owning substantial property on both sides of Bustleton Avenue where Leo Mall stands today."

So this is more information than we have about all our New Jersey Summers families combined! Given these clues, we should be able to find even more, especially from deeds, so stay tuned.  Meanwhile I have located who I think could be this Jacob Summers in the 1800, 1810, and 1820 census of Moreland township in PHL county. If indeed, those census' do show a snapshot of this Jacob Summers, then he had several other family members.  Who were they, his wife and other children? 

Let me here note that there was a Jacob Sommer and other Sommer relations who lived in Germantown and they were carriage makers.  So far I have not been able to connect that family with ours, but they were in the same general neighborhood!

I am happy to correspond with anybody who'd like to discuss the points related to this post!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Straw Church is Alive!

On January 30, we (via Cousin J) received an interesting email from two of the most lovely people who are representing the Straw Church's newly formed Historical Committee. We had sent the church several inquiries over the last few years trying to find out if they still hold the original church records, to which we never received much reply. But the new Historical Committee is full of friendly and helpful energy, and they were writing to inquire about our 6th g-grandpa Georg Sommer who was being considered as possibly the earliest member of the Straw Church congregation. Isn't it a miracle how some things don't actually get lost and eventually do come back around?

Well, we happily provided the Historical Committee with everything we've discovered about our Sommer family over the past couple years. But the question of whether Grandpa Georg was the earliest member depended on, we felt, a current analysis of the original record that recorded his obituary, most probably written in German. We (and probably any other Sommer descendant) have been working from translations handed down to us, one of which comes from the wonderful website called Raub and More:

1785, Aug. 8.  John George Summer, born in Freystadt in Elsas, April 23, 1721. He was a member of this congregation forty-two years* and had eleven children, and blind for eight years, age 64 years, 3 months and fifteen days.

A slightly different translation was on file at the Straw Church, which they provided to us as:

New Straw Church
1785, Aug. 8, Johann Georg Summer, born in Freystadt in Alsace on Apr. 23, 1721. Father of 11 children. Blind for the last 11 years. Died Aug. 6. Age 64-3-15.

We asked if the new Historical Committee could provide us with a digital image of the original record? Yes they could and they did, twice in fact, the second time in a better resolution for zooming in! From there, my very talented Cousin J did her magical translation performance, and came up with:

1785, Aug. 8. John George Summer, born at Freystadt in Elsas, April 23, 1721. He was a member of our parish, forty-two years married, eleven children raised, he was eleven years with cataracts until he became blind, died Aug. 6th, lived 64 years, 3 months and 15 days.

Well, this new translation is interesting indeed! I immediately sent the image of the church record to my archivist friend in Freistett, and he confirmed the interpretation that Georg was married 42 years rather than in the congregation for that long. This particular point was important for us since we feel certain that Grandpa Georg arrived in Philadelphia in 1752, which would be 9 years later than 1743 when he would supposedly have been attending the Straw Church. Also given that we found Grandpa Georg's marriage record in Freistett in 1745, we can agree that he was married at least 40 years when he died.

And to top it off, the Historical Committee has impressively asked their own translation expert to re-examine this obituary record carefully.  Here are this expert's translation and comments:

English:   1785, Aug. 8th.  Johann Georg Summer, born at Freystadt in Alsace, April 23rd 1721.  Had as (a) member of our congregation in a 42 year marriage raised 11 children.  Was eleven years (with) cataract(s) (at) his end blind.  Died Aug. 6th.  Lived 64 years, 3 months and 15 days.

In the translation I tried to preserve most of the original syntax, adding a few words that would make it easier to understand in English and changing word order only where really necessary.

It’s interesting that the wording could let you assume that the membership and marriage were both 42 years, but I’m sure that’s just the scribe’s sentence structure.

So here we are, 229 years after grandpa Georg died, still arriving at a better understanding of the few details left behind about his life. And certainly we can also learn alot here about how our ancestors stories unfold:

  • It's ALWAYS worth it to seek out original records whenever possible, which in itself can take time and effort, but once available still requires a high level of commitment and determination to attempt deciphering and understanding as objectively as possible. There was no quick answer to any question we have ever posed about our Sommer and Menge relations - we've had to keep asking the questions, sometimes in just slightly different ways, we've had to ask for help, we've had to wait, we've had to spend hours/days/weeks/months teaching ourselves at least parts of another language written in a script that is long ago faded and only because we really want to know that badly.
  • It's my experience that genealogy work simply does not happen in a vacuum. Sure, we can thank all the unknown volunteers who are out there helping to digitize and index genealogical records so that we can sit in the comfort of our homes and discover all kinds of previously unknown details about our ancestors. (Thank You!) But this episode illustrates genealogy generosity in a personal way. This very minute there are complete strangers to us in New Jersey who want to know the history of their church better, and in their learning have reached out to help those of us descended from their church members so that we can all share the story together.  Does it matter to me that our grandpa Georg Sommer may not have been the earliest member of the Straw Church? Not one bit. I am thrilled with this process and that we can all benefit from seeking clarification together. It's a wonderful story all told, and it surely belongs to all of us.

Finally, let me here add a plug to send any donations you can to the Straw Church Historical Committee. They did not ask for money when we asked for their help, but we all know that any efforts at historical preservation need some financial support. If you're like me, you'll find great satisfaction in contributing so that our New Jersey story can live long into the future.