The long search for my grandmother’s roots

When I was a child, many of our family gatherings took place at the Binkley farm about ten miles northwest of Dayton, Ohio. At the time, I had no awareness of how deeply the western half of Montgomery County is rooted in Pennsylvania Dutch culture. Yes, I would overhear mention of dishes such as scrapple or panhas, but they weren’t served on our tables. Admittedly, my Hodson grandparents had little to do with earlier traditions; they had, after all, left the farm for the city and had even joined Masonic organizations, the secret societies the Old Ways had forbidden. Even when we passed one of the pristinely stark, white-frame Old Order German Baptist Brethren meetinghouses on our way to the Binkley farm, none of this German presence clicked in my awareness. We weren’t they. Ehrstine? Maybe it was Jewish. Now, of course, I have clues to the extent to which the First World War obscures our appreciation of how widespread German influence is in American history. To a surprising degree, the search for my grandmother’s roots makes visible what’s been hidden in plain sight. The Old Order German Baptist Brethren, dressed in a Plain style resembling the Amish, are far from an anomaly in this land; they are a visible remnant of a much more pervasive heritage. Nearby cemeteries have surnames identical to those in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Driving from the farm to Brookville, my sister and I pass a Lutheran church in Phillipsburg; its original cornerstone, moved to a newer front on what had been a simple meetinghouse, is in an elaborate German script, an indication that ours is not the only Germanic culture in this place.

The search for my grandmother’s roots, then, originates with her parents – Henry Ehrstine and Susie Rasor – great-grandparents gone before my recollection.

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Ehrstine origins

The arrival of Eliza. Erynstein at Philadelphia on August 19, 1729, aboard the ship Mortonhouse from Rotterdam provides the best bet we have for now of the origins of the earliest Ehrstine family in America.

To have this family be headed by a woman would be only all too appropriate for a lineage that would be doomed to reproducing a preponderance of females over the consequent generations. It is possible that she embarked as a married woman whose husband then died at sea and left her with children – minors were not recorded in the lists of passengers. The Mortonhouse carried 122 persons, according to one tabulation, and 180, according to another. In neither case is everyone named.

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Ehrstines in Pennsylvania

Our first known Ehrstine ancestor initially appears in Mount Joy Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He is:

E. * Peter EHRSTINE, a weaver and later farmer – born, apparently, sometime before 1745 (Vicki Frazer Arnold places the date around 1748) and – if the same as the author of the will recorded in Fairfield County, Ohio, died in 1821.

At this point, we have no given or maiden name for his wife.

Their known children are:

  • E1. * John Ehrstine (born August 24, 1768; died March 10, 1855); married first Anna (unknown) and then Barbara (Burkett) Hyer.
  • E2. Esther, “oldest daughter,” married James PATTERSON.
  • E3. Magdalene, “second daughter.”
  • E4. Barbara, “third daughter.”
  • E5. Eva, “youngest daughter,” married William MAST.

*   *   *

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