Church when I was growing up

I remember when the congregation I grew up in moved to its new sanctuary in 1954, but at age six, all that was imparted was a sense of excitement. The adjoining classrooms and social spaces came later. In the interim, we’d have to walk a city block each week between Sunday school and the worship service. Actually, there were two services, but that’s another matter – my family went to the second one.

Still, trying to conceive of this kind of gathering for worship is mindboggling in what’s unfortunately been described as a post-Christian America.

Not only is the sanctuary packed, but look at all those women wearing hats. Does anyone today, female or male, wear a hat – well, except for those baseball caps that have become ubiquitous, even at funerals? May I say, tacky baseball hats? Even those inscribed with Vietnam conflict participation? Instead, everyone looks ever so proper!

Or look at all those ushers! They not only have they committed themselves each week to greeting people and escorting them to seats, but later in each weekly service they had to collect the offering. Think about that. Expecting for cash, however wordlessly.

The photo seems so foreign to me from the America I see today.

And yet, more powerfully, what I feel we need to reconnect to comes way before this.

 

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Untangling those Brethren

All are German-American, or more finely defined, Pennsylvania Dutch, in their roots in this country. Well, apart from the Plymouth Brethren of public radio’s Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor’s youth, which originated in the 1800s in northern England. Still, those Germans show up a lot in the posts in this blog.

One of the things that intrigues me is the ways individuals continue the earlier values – or stridently reject them – when they move away from the stem. I’d love to hear more about how these play out in other lines descending from the genealogical connections we share.

Ready?

THE BRETHREN: My Ehrstines and many of their related lines originate here.

Usually when I refer to “Brethren,” it’s the core of what’s now known as the Church of the Brethren. In their early years, they were widely referred to as Dunkers, for their insistence on triune (three times) water immersion as baptism, usually outdoors in winter, and some still are – or the variant, Dunkards. Think of it as a test of belief or at least breaking the ice. They must have been hardy and determined. In light of the derogatory tone of those two names, though, they preferred to be known as German Baptist Brethren, although the word “Baptist” added its own confusion – they have little to nothing in common with most Baptist churches, so far as I see. They came to America before the Revolution and are part of the Pennsylvania Dutch culture without the distinctive hex artwork.

A set of divisions, mostly in the 1880s, produced several offshoots, including the then more progressive Brethren Church.

Most of its members today resemble society in general, but some maintain the old ways and look Amish, as far as the rest of America is concerned.

Earlier, though, the Brethren were a distinct culture and lived under strict rules of discipline that included refusal to bear arms in military conflict.

UNITED BRETHREN: By Grandpa and Grandma Hodson’s generation, this is where our family had gravitated, and it’s the one where I was raised. Many of my lines on her side go back to the denomination’s founding.

This denomination, the first one created in the New World, arose as a Wesleyan-based confederation of German-speaking believers in Maryland and Pennsylvania and spread largely through circuit-riding ministers. As such, they had many commonalities with the English-speaking Methodists as well as their own distinctions.

Over the years, the church became a less strict alternative, one more in tune with the broader culture, in contrast to the Dunker/German Baptist Brethren faith or, for that matter, Quakers/Society of Friends, who figure so prominently in this blog.

In 1946, its majority merged into the Evangelical United Brethren denomination, and then, in 1968, into the United Methodist Church. Or, as the joke went, the United Brethren with all their money, and the Methodists, with all their members.

To complicate matters, a remnant United Brethren still exists.

BRETHREN IN CHRIST: Another denomination that figures into my genealogy is the Brethren in Christ, founded in 1778 out of Mennonite, pietist, and Wesleyan influences. Some members continue to be known as River Brethren or River Mennonites, and even wear the Plain clothing associated with the Amish.

These show up in some of my Ehrstine lines, especially the Swanks who led a notable Swankite sect, but typically drift off into the United Brethren in due time.

ONE OF THE THINGS that strikes me in looking at my lines in Ohio and Indiana is the extent to which Joshua’s children moved largely into the United Brethren faith or, in one case, Methodist, but then later swerved off into straight Brethren circles. Were they somehow trying to reclaim earlier expressions? Or, in my case, without knowing of the past, even becoming Quaker.

Makes me wonder

In doing online sweeps for unresolved, related threads of this genealogy, one thing always makes me do a doubletake. That’s when I find that this blog pops up, often seeming to have most of the available information about a certain person or even place.

Why aren’t other sources showing up?

Actually, I find it a bit disconcerting.  Especially when individuals have simply vanished from sight, even mine.

Gerald’s dream cabin

While thumbing thru my farm paper of things to trade or sell
you never know what you may find – maybe an old dinner bell.
So page by page I kept turning, not knowing what the next would bring,
when towards the very end I found a very special thing.
Behold a picture of a pond with a cabin at the end.
So I looked and looked at this picture and thought,
what a great place to have some time to spend.
My mind began wandering and dreaming of
warm summer days and eves with a gentle breeze,
trying to forget the winter when the pond was apt to freeze.
Thinking what a quiet and peaceful place to be,
this little pond and cabin, just for you and me.

Gerald Meek

Poem provided by his daughter, Vivian Meek Bibler.

 

Joshua’s letter to daughter Ruby

Examining letters, both for their content and their handwriting, can provide insights into personality, as I’ve contended in two earlier posts.

The outbreak of the Civil War ended Joshua Hodson’s education in North Carolina around the third grade, unlike his second wife, Alice McSherry Hodson, who was certified as a schoolteacher.

I examined one letter from him in a previous post, and later did the same for a letter from Alice.

Seeing a second letter in his hand, thanks to Vivian Meek Bibler, opens more insights. He sent this to Ruby at business school.

Here’s my rough transcription, trying to correct some of the spelling but maintaining as much of the spoken quality as possible, and occasionally guessing at a word. I left the lack of punctuation, feeling it gives a closer flow of his voice:

Spiceland, Ind.

July 20th, 1923

Dear Ruby I thought I would write you a few lines while my dinner cooks I have a beef roast on and I am cooking potatoes in some of the broth wish you were here to help me eat it. I suppose mom is seeing sister today in the Windy City there isn’t much news to write about they are talking [?] some but I don’t think it will amount to anything the Klan men are going to have a parade tonight at N.C. I think I shall go. Mom said if I wrote to you I should tell you that she could not find any pictures that she thought you wanted your grades are very good I think for the first two weeks I will send them to you. I seen Else H this AM up town but did not talk to her any she had got to staying out with Bob Griffin until one and two in the morning so I am told. I must go and attend to my dinner it is 11:15 and I will finish this PM. Dinner is over. I am not working now Jim Cray came and wanted me to help reroof John [?]’s house but I told him it was too hot for me on a roof I was not going. I imagine you almost roast in the school room these days

I made some inquiry at the PO job it pays $14.00 per month some price isn’t it. I do not know how it will be but I noticed in your last letter you said your work is hard I suppose that will be the case all along but you remember no doubt what you have read that there is no excellency without great labor and that is what we may all expect if we ever reach the goal. So don’t get discouraged but push ahead even if you don’t make as rapid strides as you would like to. You will come out all right in the end. I have written all I can think of so I will close write soon your Father

~*~

In doing genealogy, it’s important to examine all of the facts, positive and negative.

The reference to the Klan march is jarring, especially to modern readers who are unfamiliar with the fact that the organization flourished in the early 1920s through much of the Midwest and West as an advocate of Prohibition, reactionary populism, and right-wing politics that appealed to many Protestant communities. For perspective, the march in question could have been part of a political rally arousing Joshua’s curiosity or entertainment more than his sympathy. By the end of the decade, the Klan rapidly declined.

The mention of a sister-in-law in Chicago is a new twist. Alice had two sisters, Sarah A., a teacher who never married and was buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Brookville in the family plot, and Mary R., a milliner who also apparently never married. I find nothing more on her at this point, so I’ll guess that she had moved to Chicago.

I’m also amused that Joshua’s closure makes no mention that he’s running out of paper, as well.

The twins

The twins Ruth Anna and Ruby Althea were born February 21, 1903, to Joshua and Alice McSherry Hodson. Ruby became the grandmother of Vivian Meek Bibler, who provided these baby portraits.

I was curious about how one girl had all the hair – including the hereditary Hodson curls that never made it down to me – while the other had only the fuzz.

The question prompted this response:

“Grandma Ruby is the little one – she always said her sister took up so much space she had to be small.  Grandma was 76 pounds and 4′-8” in her 90s .  We were shopping in the little girls department for her clothes. Ruth is the taller one.  It makes me laugh that they were dressed so alike!

“Ruth has all the hair – she was always the taller and larger one.  It almost looks like a wig!”

Do we file this under Sibling Rivalry?

A teaching certificate and more

Alice McSherry’s teaching certificate introduces more insights into her life.

One of the areas of expertise she wasn’t proficient in is German grammar. Much of the region was settled by Germans.  The certificate was dated in Celina, the county seat. 

Note that the envelope it was mailed in has no address other than Shanes Crossing. Yes, in a small town, everyone was known, right?

A bit more digging led me to a brief history of Shanes Crossing, originally a trading village with Natives. It was renamed Rockford in 1890, in part by the postal service to avoid confusion. An earlier Orphan George blog post has a photo of her parents’ jewelry and millinery store in Rockford.

Mercer County sits along the Indiana border, as does Van Wert County, just to the north. Both figure prominently in the genealogy around Joshua Hodson’s arrival and his activity as a young father.

Both counties are north of Montgomery County, where much of the action eventually shifts.

For now, I’m uncertain exactly where she taught, although she did board for a while at the home of Joshua Hodson’s future first wife, Josephine Jones, one of her best friends.

Death following a second childbirth then thickened the plot.

Certificate and envelope, courtesy of Vivian Meek Bibler.

How does she strike you? Serious? Stern?

One of the photos Vivian Meek Bibler sent along was of our great-grandmother, Alice McSherry, as a young woman. Vivian said her family also thought Alice looked rather forbidding or at least not what we’d call happy. Well, she was a schoolteacher at one point. They do have to carry some authority, don’t they? (I expect to be scolded on that aside. Vivian is a retired teacher herself.)

I would lay some of the expression to the reality of having to hold a pose for several seconds without moving or even blinking.

You choose which interpretation you want, or even suggest another.

This is a portrait I hadn’t previously seen.

As for the elaborate dress, we should remember that her mother and one sister were milliners, a leap away from Joshua’s roots in Quaker plainness.

Well, the  times were changing, even for that Quaker discipline.

These connections keep adding up

Sometimes the best part of a blog is found in the comments posted by its readers, an exchange that has a special twist in a genealogy venture like this one. The twist is in the joy of meeting “new” kin, some closer on the chart to me than others, but always a delight. Better yet is when they, too, add to the content, as Michael Hodgson did most recently with the stories leading us across the frontier to the Pacific Northwest.

More recently, it’s led to delightful conversation with Vivian Meek Bibler, a second cousin from the “Indiana side” of my Hodson line. If we had ever met, it would have been a few times, at most, as children.

My own project has, in effect, had two centers of focus. The first, the starting point, was Joshua Francis Hodson, who moved to Indiana and Ohio from North Carolina after the Civil War. The second was George Hodgson, the boy who arrived in America as an orphan and eventually moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina before the Revolutionary War. Connecting them was an exciting breakthrough.

Vivian and I both descend from Joshua and his second wife, Alice McSherry, and we both have memories of family reunions that included descendants from his first wife, Josephine Jones, who died of complications after the birth of their second child, who died shortly after.

Vivian’s grandmother – and my great-aunt – was Ruby Althea Meek.

In revisiting my materials, I was startled by her middle name. It’s one I thought I was encountering for the first time only in the past decade, where it’s the first name of some delightful Greek Orthodox women in New Hampshire.

But to back up, as I now see, looking at the charts, I’d dutifully typed it long ago, where Alice apparently drew the name from her sister-in-law, Althea Bayler McSherry. Naming patterns, as I’ve remarked in previous posts, can be very helpful in doing genealogy, especially when traditional patterns are maintained. In this case, I’m supposing Alice had a special fondness for her sister-in-law.

The charts for Alice’s generation also remind me of a number of holes and even hint at a few scandals. I’ll leave those for others to pursue and report on.

Vivian has graciously sent along materials I hadn’t seen but that we’ll be sharing here in the coming months.

She also has me vaguely recalling family reunions at the farm in Indiana, even a feeling of the flowered wallpaper in the farmhouse and an introduction to some of the animals beside the barn – just don’t ask me if they were cows, sheep, or horses, my only surviving impression is that they were big. Also, I was scarred of a man who must have been gentle great-uncle Samuel, with his Amish-like beard and clothing.

That said, I still hope to hear from Hodgson kin who settled around Wilmington, Ohio, or in Indiana before Joshua joined in their migration. There’s much more of the Orphan George story to uncover. My, when I started this, I didn’t even know they existed.

Genealogy research is never done … you’re welcome to pitch in

The Orphan George Chronicles detail my long quest to discover where my Hodson line came from, beginning somewhere in the dimness of late 1800s southwest Ohio.

I hope you find the results posted on this blog informative and interesting, all the way back to mid-1500s Cumbria, England.

I thought I was finished, but a realization flashed through my head around the time of my father’s funeral.  In my desire to unearth the unknown, I had leapt over my grandparents in the project, people who had been right in front of me in my earlier years, They were also people who were no longer living, to be pressed for answers.

So I turned to the last living member of my dad’s nuclear family to see what I could glean from her memories, leading to invaluable insights in what I present as the latest postings on this blog.

Especially her quip at the airport – “You know your grandfather’s slogan, used on all of his advertising, was ‘Dayton’s Leading Republican Plumber’?” – this clue, told by the last of the family who would have remembered, instead becomes the key to my finally knowing both grandparents, years after their deaths.

What emerges is a profile of a generation that left not just farming but other traditions that had been practiced in this country for the previous two centuries, as they moved instead to the city and its new ways.

Just who are grandparents, anyway? And what is their role? What is discovered may be far from what is expected, as this personal exploration reveals.

And from there, we start going back … and back much further.

~*~

Let me also repeat my invitation to my wider kin. If you have photos, letters, memories, or other materials about any of the families discussed on this blog, I’d love to share them, if you’re willing.

As always, your comments are important. I look forward to hearing from you.

A genealogy regarding Piedmont Quaker pioneer George Hodgson and his lines