Recently, I was invited to an estate auction for my Amish neighbor, Mosey S. Over the age of ninety when he passed, he had collected both a wealth of interesting household items and a large extended family of nephews, nieces, cousins, cousins once- or twice-removed and so on. Mose was a fine man and friend to everyone, evidenced by the many Amish and “English” neighbors, friends and church members in attendance. Everyone wanted to take home a memento of Mose.
I bought one item (inscribed with Mose’s signature), a genealogy book familiar to many people of either Amish or Mennonite ancestry – a 1938 edition of 1,391 page book, The Descendents of Barbara Hochstedler and Christian Stutzman. In this volume, I found both a fascinating snapshot of Amish pioneer life and almost endless lists of names of my relatives dating back to the early 1700’s. Why is this important to me? Because our culture values family and understanding where we have come from.
Family History is important
Long before websites and television shows that show you how to look up your ancestors, the Amish and Mennonites kept track of their family histories. Almost every family had a Bible inscribed with the names of the husband and wife, date of marriage, children’s birthdays and possibly their spouses and marriage dates.
From these family records came large genealogies dating back to the early 1700’s when the first Amish left the persecution and wars of Europe for the religious freedom of The New World. We can’t begin to understand the courage of these people who left family and friends behind to carve out a new life in the deep woods of the American frontier.
Eli Moses’s Sam’s Henry’s Noah?
At Mosey’s auction, I ran into a local man who is known as Eli Moses’s Sam’s Henry’s Noah (that’s pronounced “NO-ee” if you’re in Amish Country). He was related to Mosey S. and inspired the writing of this blog post. That’s five generations of identification, all needed to swiftly and accurately identify one of many Noah Millers.
If you’ve ever looked through a phone book in any Mennonite or Amish community (or the Amish Directory for that matter), you’ll see that there is a concentration of surnames. Each community has more or less, but in Holmes County (Ohio), it’s Yoders, Millers, Hochstetlers, Troyers, Masts, Beachys, Hershbergers, Mullets, Kauffmans, Rabers, Gingerichs, and so on.
How many John Millers or Jonas Yoders might there be in our community? It’s hard to say – sometimes it causes issues. For example, if your name is Sam Troyer (names are made up to protect the guilty) and your neighbor up the road (also named Sam Troyer) doesn’t happen to pay his bills on time, you might be out of luck if you call the local grain elevator to deliver a batch of cattle feed. So, you might call yourself by your father’s or grandfather’s name, such as “Jake Eli’s Sam”. Ah, yes. Now you’ve established EXACTLY who you are. The cattle feed will be promptly delivered.
Or, you might have a nickname, such as ‘Bama Dan or “Pretty Mose”. It can be assumed that Dan visited Alabama at some point in time, hence the ‘Bama nickname. Pretty Mose used to keep his beard neat and trimmed, and therefore was “pretty”. John Schmid, a local musician and evangelist often sings a song that describes this phenomena pretty well. It’s in Pennsylvania Dutch, but you won’t have to speak the language to understand the names he’s listing. John’s song is called Amish Nicknames. It makes me smile, and I bet you’ll enjoy it too.