Migration to Montgomery County, Ohio

Considerations of Pennsylvania Dutch culture sometimes differentiate between “Plain Dutch,” embodied by the Amish, Brethren, and Mennonites, and the “Fancy Dutch” Lutherans, Reformed, and Roman Catholics, presumably with their “hex” signs and other distinctive decor. Looking at the Brethren, however, I’m more likely to perceive a rugged frontier variation, one that initially moves rapidly away from political controversies (especially those involving the pacifist demands of their church) and into undeveloped country.

Some settled increasingly deeper in Pennsylvania as Bedford and Somerset counties opened up before leaping further west into Ohio or south into Maryland and what is now West Virginia.

A major movement, however, followed the Great Wagon Road, winding out of York and Adams counties, Pennsylvania, across Maryland, down the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and into the Piedmont Region of North Carolina. The Brethren weren’t alone in this migration – Mennonites continue to have a large population centered in Rockingham County, Virginia, as do the Brethren; Quakers remain concentrated in Guilford County, North Carolina; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was a noted Moravian center.

Peter Ehrstine’s son John and grandson Peter seem to relocate in a single move from York County, Pennsylvania, to Montgomery County, Ohio – a locale that became a major locus in Brethren migration and settlement. Many others, however, move to a new neighborhood for a decade or two and then push on again a generation later.

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Ehrstines in Montgomery County, Ohio

Arriving between 1812 and 1816, John and Peter Ehrstine rank among the pioneer families in Montgomery County, Ohio. Over the next century, their households and related lines would thrive in the four northwest townships – Madison, Randolph, Clay, and Perry. Sometimes the lines spill over into neighboring Miami and Darke counties as well. Here, the Dunker or Brethren activity is strong, with many of their neighbors having migrated, by various routes, from Lancaster and York counties in Pennsylvania.

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The Ehrstine reunion of 1916

About the time I think I’m done with this project for a while, I receive a package from Joan Ettinger, a consequence of online correspondence with her son, Glenn Ehrstine, a German professor at the University of Iowa. Initially, when he mentioned that his mother had a photograph from a family reunion, I found myself shrugging it off, doubting that it would add much to our understanding. Still, she included a copy in the materials she sent me – in the process, changing my opinion completely.

A picture can, indeed, add much to the story. The view has 3½ rows of people in their Sunday best arrayed in front of a pristine white barn. It’s a modified Switzer-style structure, with a ramp leading to central doors; in this case, the ramp is only a few feet high, while each of the sliding doors is perhaps a dozen feet wide. The letters, H.C. EHRSTINE . 1913, stand prominently above them. The top of the roof is not visible, although much of the foreground is – a mixture of gravel and grass, much like the farm I remember my Binkley relations owning. Hand-lettered at the bottom of the photograph is “Third Annual Ehrstine Reunion – Aug 20-16,” the “s” being reversed.

In the photograph (my copy measures 11½ by 9 inches; the original may have been much larger), the people occupy a band taking up just under a quarter of the space, just above the midline of the shot. I count 117 people, 53 of them men and boys, although it would appear there are many more females shown. Most of them wear white shirts or blouses or dresses, and many of the men have neckties. This being a summer afternoon, the suitcoats or vests are removed from all but three. To think, these are all descendants and their spouses of a father-and-son who arrived in Montgomery County a century earlier. The family had proliferated, indeed.

H.C. Ehrstine would have likely been my great-grandfather, Henry Clayton Ehrstine; 1913 would have been the date of the barn, and the farm would have been the “home place” in Clay Township he and his wife bought on April 7, 1907. Perhaps, since this was the third annual reunion, much of the event took place in or around the barn. The two correspond in age. The idea of a family reunion would itself have been something of a “newfangled” notion, and we may wonder just what everyone did that particular afternoon or how long they stayed.

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The Rasors

Henry Ehrstine’s wife, my great-grandmother Susie Rasor, is from another Montgomery County pioneer family.

Some accounts contend that this line was originally Amish. If so, the connection was short-lived, for the Amish movement began in 1693 in Alsace with their separation from the rest of the Mennonites, a movement originating around 1525. Less than a century after the appearance of the Amish, the American Revolutionary War service of John (Daniel) Rasor presents a major distancing from their pacifism. Some Amish were prominent, though, in the formation of the United Brethren in Christ denomination in 1800, and when Raysor’s Church was established in what was the outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, it was that German Wesleyan denomination’s fourth oldest.

Although my Rasor line relocated to Ohio about the time the United Brethren denomination formed, John Rasor (born 1-1-1789; died 8-31-1850, buried at Raysor’s Cemetery near Penbrook, Pennsylvania) is described as “a local pastor; did not itinerate,” meaning he did not ride a circuit as most Wesleyan ministers of the time did.

In Montgomery County, Ohio, many of the Rasors were active United Brethren members, including Susie Rasor Ehrstine.

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Some lines related to my Ehrstines

Turning to the maternal lines of my Ehrstine ancestors alternates between two different migration patterns from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to Montgomery County, Ohio. One comes by way of settling into western Pennsylvania in the decades before the Northwest Territories, including Ohio, opened to settlement. The other migrates by degrees along the Appalachian frontier into Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and/or Kentucky, before twisting north and west into Ohio. In either case, York County, Pennsylvania, just across the Susquehanna River from Lancaster, often has a role.

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A Pennsylvania Dutch footnote

My grandfather’s second wife adds to the Pennsylvania Dutch lineage, both through her parents and her first husband.

Edna (January 1, 1902-1994), was the daughter of [Fawre?] Hefelfinger and Cora Alice Holsinger.

Hefelfinger, it turns out, originates in Diegten, Baselland, Switzerland. A Bartli Hefelfinger (before 1565-before 1640) has son Martin (July 7, 1594-September 8, 1672), who has son Johannes (April 16, 1666-January 11, 1737), who has son Martin (September 26, 1699, in Switzerland; March 25, 1742 in Heidelberg, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania).

Holsinger, especially, is prominent in the Brethren, including the old order around Covington, Ohio.

And Huffman turns out to be another of the Brethren names.

The Binkleys

Although I do not descend directly from a Binkley line, the family intersects with my genealogy at two points. First, my grandmother’s sister, Edna Ehrstine (1895-1978), married Arlie Taylor Binkley (1891-1957). Second, in the same generation, my grandfather’s half-brother, Samuel Pleasant Hodson (November 30, 1889-November 13, 1961), married March 4, 1914, Grace Mae Binkley (November 21, 1889-February 25, 1962).

At least forty variants of the surname are reported during its first century in North America. The name is believed to be of Alemanic origin, probably as Binggelli.

For me, the Binkley story centers on a small grandfather clock that used to sit at the top of the farmhouse stairway. Aunt Edna told me the clock had been carried “across the Allegheny Mountains in a Conestoga wagon, from the place where Conestoga wagons originated.” A letter from my Edna’s daughter Orpha Justiss added, “I have a drop-front desk that came to Ohio with the clock. It was also upstairs at the farm. We also have some blue dishes.” In a postscript, she adds, “We have a journal with entries starting around 1732-34, possibly from a mill or general store and may have belonged to Johnson Binkley.”

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An overview of my Ohio legacy

On our genealogical outing, as my sister drives between Phillipsburg and Brookville, I notice that the land is much flatter than I remember from childhood. Maybe it is because more of the woodlots have been felled for agricultural productivity. The fields are no longer fenced, as they were when livestock would be turned out into harvested fields. The ground itself is blanketed in a rare prolonged snow cover. Off in one field, a large brick barn catches my attention. It’s larger than the white barns common to this area, and while not as large as some of the palatial barns that approached a city block in length, this one must have embodied some of that grandeur. Actually, the two ends are brick, perhaps half of the long side, while a large earthen ramp leads to the wooden doors, or what would have been the doors. For some reason, I suspect this particular barn would have a similar ramp on the other side, allowing haywagons to pass on through the structure, rather than having to back out. Now, however, the barn is in disuse, the roof sags, and I wonder how long any of it will remain.

The style itself reminds me of some of the oldest barns in Pennsylvania, where limestone rather than brick would be used. Still, these were substantial buildings, meant to last an eternity. The basic idea was to store the hay and grain in lofts above the livestock, so that the animals could be fed from above through the winter, especially. The more common version of these Sweitzer (or “Swiss”) barns would place them in a hillside, with the ramp on the higher side of the barn and an overhang, giving the livestock some protection, on the other. As I recall, the overhang should be on the south side of the barn, but as we drive, I notice the remaining Sweitzer barns seem to have it facing north.

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