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Recently I have noticed a rise in discussions on whether or not a woman should keep her maiden name when she gets married. When I was in college in the early 1980’s I had a particularly broad-minded professor who had taken on his wife’s name by hyphenating both together. With gay couples now able to legally marry, the discussion has taken on a new timbre. When two men or two women join together, which name becomes the family name? What names will their children carry? If you’ve grown up with a hyphenated name already, do you just keep adding names? When I was married in the early 1990’s, there was no pressure on me either way. Neither my parents nor my husband gave it a thought. And really my maiden name—Otte—was not one I was overly attached to. For four letters, it was deceivingly difficult. No one ever knows how to pronounce it. (basically “ahh-dee” with a dull “t”) And when in my early twenties I took on a nickname in my professional life, well, “Mickey Otte” sounded strange to the ear—too many “ee’s”. Hyphenating or exchanging my middle name for my maiden name didn’t “sound” any better. So “Herr” was an easy sell…it felt a bit more grounded. A lot of years would go by before I would start to appreciate what it was I had given up. I am only just learning what it is I have taken on with the Herr name. I’m also beginning to understand why some people feel it’s so important to keep particular family names alive. I wonder, if we all knew a bit more about our family names, would we exchange them so easily?

My great-grandparents Will & Elisa Otte on their farm in Ohio circa 1910

My great-grandparents Will & Elisa Otte on their farm in Ohio circa 1910

I have shared a good bit of my Otte genealogy in this blog already, and those of you who have read earlier posts know that the family stories I grew up with centered primarily on the Otte family. The stories my father and grandfather shared have influenced me greatly, especially in my fiction writing. Growing up I had never heard of “others” or even came across someone with my same last name that wasn’t a direct relative. I always assumed that when my great-great-grandfather Fredrich Wilhelm Otte arrived in Baltimore in 1834, he was the sole progenitor of all things Otte in America. Of course, I was wrong. By 1837 Fredrich Wilhelm (now known as Will or William) was farming in Ohio. But it appears other people named Otte settled in other parts of the country throughout the years.  Are they related? I am still trying to figure that out. It is only in recent years that I’ve actually met some of the non-related Ottes. In my heart-of-hearts I never really believe they are “non-related” because there always appears (to me at least) a certain je ne sais quoi that makes me feel right-at-home with another person who bears the name Otte. If I had to specify what that quality was, it would lie somewhere between reliability, unpretentiousness, and a certain earthy-warmth. Through the years I’ve described my Otte ancestors as salt-of-the-earth.

Sometime in the 1990’s my father started talking about a man he’d become friendly with, a man named John Otte. As I said, the name didn’t appear outside our immediate family so I was intrigued. Even before I met John it seemed obvious there were “family” connections—some genetic qualities that were evident in both men—so much so that it was mutual friends that had brought these two men together. As John recently shared with me, he had first heard of my father in the early 1960’s when he was stationed in California. John’s passion for cars led him to pick up a copy of some sort of Hot Rod magazine that contained an article which featured my father. Of course he zoned in on the Otte name. And he was curious about this man—a man who shared his family name—who was involved in fire safety at a race track in Southern California. John shared the same twin passions—fire safety and fast cars. And eventually, John would become the Fire Chief at Speedway Fire Department (home of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway). Through the years the two men heard of the other in the relatively tight community of the fire services industry. “You must be related” they’d be told, “you have so much in common.” Indeed they did, and once they finally met many years later, they became fast friends. I find it no coincidence that it was John who ended up being the person with my mom and me the moment my dad passed from this world. My dad had been on business in Indianapolis. He was expected to recover from emergency appendicitis surgery. We were all at the hospital. John had come over to watch a car race with my dad while mom & I took a break from the hospital food. It was almost as if my dad had waited for John to enter the room…as suddenly my dad was gone, taken from us by complications of the surgery. John, the practiced Fire Chief was calm and methodical during it all—but it was more than that. My mother and I were in a city where we knew no one, so John instantly became our surrogate family, looking after our well-being and helping us make arrangements. I always believed he was sent there to be with us in our time of need. John and I speak by phone or email on occasion. I pester him with questions, convinced I will be able to one day connect our families through my genealogy research.

A few months ago I was contacted by another non-related Otte through this blog. A man named Fred Otte left me a comment stating something to the effect of “…I look just like your father and I also have a grandfather named Fredrich Wilhelm…” Could it be? Could this be an Otte I was related to outside my immediate family? And while yes, Fred (who also shares the name of my beloved grandfather) shares more than a passing resemblance with both my father and grandfather, it seems we are not directly related. His Fredrich Wilhelm was born years after mine, but I thought perhaps they could be uncle and nephew. Fred quickly dissuaded me of my notion—calling out my (self-admitted) ignorance of German history—by informing me that many little boys were named after German royalty. When I looked it up myself I saw that either a Fredrich Wilhelm, a Fredrich, or a Wilhelm Fredrich served as the King of Prussia from 1713 through the abolition of the monarchy in 1918. So yeah…there could be hundreds of Fredrich Wilhelm Ottes out there, over multiple generations. Fred has been quite gracious about answering all my “family” questions and beyond. It turns out Fred only emigrated from Germany in the early 1950’s. “What was it like,” I asked, “moving to the states after World War II?” An eloquent writer, Fred said he had traded in his apple strudel for apple pie and soccer for the NFL. He was matter-of-fact. He did what he needed to stay under the radar and soon enough no one noticed the German down the block. Fred has shared some of his genealogy which was researched in Germany some 70 years ago by an aunt. I have yet to directly connect our two families together, but my great-great-grandfather was born in the same region where all these other Ottes resided, so I think it’s just a matter of time.

Salzfahrer with a wagon load of salt

Salzfahrer with a wagon load of salt

A week ago, I received more mail from Fred. He sent me a copy of a letter he wrote that was published in the December/January 2014 issue of German Life magazine. According to Fred the Ottes have a Familienbund (family organization) in Germany with about 150 members. They have traced the Otte name back to Carsten Otte who was born in 1570 and have even published a family genealogy book (yes! I must get my hands on this!) It turns out the Otte family originally came from Sülze in the Lüneburger Heath from the Rosenhof (Rose farm.) According to Fred the Ottes have been on this farm since the first one married the oldest daughter of a farmer named Rose in 1660. The Otte name is common in the area of Sülze even today. What Fred stated next was a pleasant surpise, as “Sülze” he says is German dialect for saltwater. And there was a time when production of salt in this area was a major industry with the Sülze salt works first mentioned in 1381. Fred believes these Otte ancestors supported the salt manufacturing by cutting peat and working in the boiling houses. Several of them were “Salzfahrers” or salesmen who traveled the countryside with a wagon full of salt.

Depiction of a Salzfahrer carrying his wares

Depiction of a Salzfahrer carrying his wares

Yup. My American Otte relatives were real “salt-of-the-earth” types. If I can indeed connect them to Fred’s German Ottes, it appears my description was more apt then I ever could have imagined.


What does one do when they’ve been given a family name, a weighty name—a name bestowed through multiple generations—that doesn’t feel quite comfortable to bear?

Look Up! You might find a clue to your ancestry. Diller Avenue leads directly into New Holland PA

Look Up! You might find a clue to your ancestry. Diller Avenue leads directly into New Holland PA

Such is the case for my husband. He was named George Diller Herr, III. This was never a name he thought much of or has been particularly attached to. He was never called George because that was his father’s name. Instead he was given a nickname. None of his given names leant to any great nicknames… like a Smitty or a Mac. Instead he was called Chip. He’s never really liked this name either. Some people will call him “Skip” which he HATES…and others assume the nickname is an offshoot of Charles. Living in the Philadelphia area, when my husband introduces himself as Chip Herr, the question most often asked (a solid 9 times out of 10) is “are you related to the potato chip Herrs?” (If you don’t understand this question, visit for background.) Some people “hear” Chipper…and will just call him that, perhaps assuming he’s lost his last name like Cher or Madonna. It can devolve into a bit of a “who’s on first” routine. Chipper? No, Chip Herr. Mr. Herr? No, I’m a Him. Are you a potato chip Herr? No, I’m a pretzel guy.

What has complicated my husband’s situation even further is that beyond his father, he’s never had any connection to the former George Diller Herrs, or as it turns out George Dillers. Why this name? Why was it so important to pass down? Who were these ancestors who sent their name forward into future generations? He hadn’t the slightest clue.

In recent months I have rekindled my fascination with numerology—a sort of science of numbers based on the universal law that all things are made up of vibrations (energy), a law applied to people as well as things. Numerologists believe that each number has its own vibratory influence and therefore its own characteristics. A person’s name, day, month, and year of birth, among other factors can all be calculated to reveal very particular characteristics. I am fascinated by the information one can glean from this process. But what most piqued my interest in the subject, is the numerological belief that there is a special set of circumstances when a person is given a family name, and that perhaps, upon assuming said name, that child also takes on multiple generations of family karma.

This got me thinking…can we really inherit family traits numerologically just as we can inherit characteristics genetically? What if, like my husband, you have no particular resonance with the name you’ve been given and virtually no knowledge of where the family name came from?

the signs are everywhere... if only you pay attention

the signs are everywhere… if only you pay attention

Those of you who have read this blog before know that I have taken great pride in learning about my ancestors. I grew up with great family stories…and it’s been a real spiritual journey to discover even more about my ancestry. Finding these family names represented throughout history—in census reports, on land maps, and newspaper articles—has changed me. I look at the world a bit differently now. I thought perhaps helping my husband answer some of the questions about his own name might change the way he feels about himself. As it turns out, I didn’t have to go very far to find to make some large discoveries…only about 70 miles west of the place I current sit writing this post.

But before I reveal some of what I’ve found hanging on my husband’s family tree, you need a bit more background to appreciate these discoveries (or should I say the irony of these discoveries…) My husband was raised Catholic in southern New Jersey. He believed his paternal roots were in New England. When we first met more than twenty years ago, he was living and working in Lancaster City, Pennsylvania. When we were married in the Presbyterian Church in my hometown, it was a REALLY big deal to his mother (she still hasn’t forgiven me.) Shortly after we married we moved to Providence, Rhode Island (relocating from Hoboken, New Jersey where we had first settled.) We now live in Philadelphia, PA.

My father-in-law, the second George Diller Herr was born and raised in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He was raised Presbyterian by a devout Scottish mother. Mary Dickson, arrived in the U.S. with her parents Andrew & Mary (Ross) Dickson, in the early 1900’s. Mary’s father worked in the textile mills in Paisley, Scotland, his last job listed as a power loom operator (1901 Scotland census). Pawtucket is where the US textile industry was born more than a hundred years prior at Slater’s Mill. It makes sense the Dickson family would end up where they did as the 1920 U.S. Federal census shows Andrew working in a local dye works factory. By all accounts, Nana Herr (mother of George 2) was a large personality. Her Scottish Presbyterian presence (and that of her Dickson family) would be all the more influential in her son’s world when his father died when George was only 13 years old.  Perhaps this is where the stories of the Herr & Diller names would start to disappear from family legacy. Even George’s grandmother (Mary Diller Herr) would die just after his 15th birthday, following her own husband who had died before George (2) was born.

My introduction into the world of the first George Diller Herr started with the 1940 Federal census. It was here I discovered he was born in Pennsylvania.  I already knew that this George had a father named Rufus. Turns out he was actually named Henry Rufus Herr and George’s mother was named Mary Diller. Rufus & Mary Herr had two sons, their eldest was named after Rufus’s father, John Forrer Herr, the younger was named after Mary’s father, George Diller.

George Diller Herr (1) grew up on his father’s farm in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. He majored in Mechanical Engineering at Lehigh University where he was a star wrestler. Like me, you might be wondering how a farm boy from a small town in Lancaster County PA ended up in Pawtucket Rhode Island. I found a clue in a 1914 Lehigh Yearbook. George was never meant to stay on the farm. Follow this link for the story of Shorty the “finest scrapper of us all”  George Herr 1 Lehigh yearbook 1914

Upon graduation, his Mechanical Engineering degree would take him to the center of the textile industry, where by age 24 he was employed at a Bleachery factory. During WWI he was employed by E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. in Hopewell, VA as a munitions worker. He would return to Rhode Island where he would resume working in the textile industry. By the time he married Mary Dickson in this mid-30’s, he appears to be prosperous enough to take his wife on a cruise aboard the Fort Victoria to Hamilton, Bermuda in September of 1926. By the 1940’s he was in a supervisory role at the Sayles Finishing Plants, Inc. of Lincoln RI.

There is much to be said about the Herr clan, but for now, I will just say it is a revelation that the first George Diller Herr found his way out of Pennsylvania, for he (along with his brother John) was the first to do so from his particular family branch. By doing so, they had left behind family land and a family legacy more than 200 years and 7 generations in the making. It was their father Henry Rufus Herr who started the ball rolling when he married Mary Diller. His marriage might not have been an easy decision, for he came from a long line of Swiss Mennonites, and the woman he married was a Reformed German Lutheran. With his marriage, he would likely have said goodbye to his entire family, who would not tolerate a marriage outside their faith. Based on the evidence of where his parents and siblings are buried, only Rufus and his brother John Ellsworth Herr are resting in non-Mennonite burial grounds. I need to dig a bit deeper, but the big revelation here is that the Herr family is not German, but Swiss (having come to the Colonies through Germany and England.) The Herr family received their land patent directly from the Penn family in about 1710, and they were among the earliest settlers of the area. The story of the Mennonites in Lancaster County PA , the Herrs and ancillary families, will be covered in Part 2 of this post. But for now we will switch to the Diller side of the story…to Mary Diller Herr’s father, and the eponym of her second son George Diller Herr (1).

Chip with his paternal great-grandparents at the Strasburg Cemetery...Rufus & his brother John (buried nearby) are the only members of their immediate family not buried in a Mennonite burial ground

Chip with his paternal great-grandparents at the Strasburg Cemetery…Rufus & his brother John (buried nearby) are the only members of their immediate family not buried in a Mennonite burial ground

Mary Diller Herr’s father, George Diller was born in 1827 into a distinguished family. When I started looking for “George Diller” in Lancaster County, PA, I found many of them. There appears to be at least one (and really multiples) in every generation of the Diller family. The earliest I found being born in 1777. That would make more than 200 years of George Dillers living in Pennsylvania. But the Diller name goes back even further in Pennsylvania, to Caspar Diller (1675-1775). A book written about the Diller family in the 19th century states that Caspar’s father, who was from Alsace France, was forced to leave his home due to the Catholic persecution of his Protestant views. It is believed he escaped to Holland sometime before 1700, where he became a shoemaker. Caspar found his way to England where he met his wife Barbara, but would be sent to Germany (perhaps by edict of the British Royalty) where several of his children were born. Philip Adam Dieler (1723-1777) was born near Heidelberg before the entire family would immigrate to the Pennsylvania Colony seeking religious freedom—arriving about 1733.

Chip kneeling between his 5th & 6x great-grandfathers. His 6x great-grandmother Maria Ellmaker is buried to the right of Philip and his 5x great-grandmother Salome Yundt is buried to the left of Adam

Chip kneeling between his 5th & 6x great-grandfathers. His 6x great-grandmother Maria Ellmaker is buried to the right of Philip and his 5x great-grandmother Salome Yundt is buried to the left of Adam

Diller might be an anglicized version of the French De-ller, pronounced De-lare. Philip chose to spell his name Dieler, while his son Adam (1746-1823)—who was born in Pennsylvania—utilized Diller. Whatever the spelling, the family appears to have acclimated quite well to their new country. Caspar was a farmer. His wife Barbara brought with her from Germany a graft of a pear tree which would become popular in the horticultural realm as the Diller Pear. Through the generations their offspring found jobs in politics, the military, and in the medical and legal professions. They worked as merchants, authors, and clergy. In religion the Diller family is split between German Reformed and Episcopalian. More than anything they seemed to be large landowners with a keen ability for matrimonial alliances. Through their marriages, the Diller family connected themselves to some of the most distinguished families of the time (rumors of connections to Washington & Madison among them.) Philip Diller married into the Ellmaker family, (father-in-law Leonard arrived from Prussia in 1726). His brother-in-law Nathaniel Ellmaker was a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate in 1796. His wife Maria Ellmaker’s nieces would become the preeminent citizens of Philadelphia, all marrying important men (interesting Civil War connections here…more on this later too!)

Philip & Maria’s son Adam (1746-1823) would marry Salome Yundt in 1769 and serve as a soldier of the Fifth Company, Eight Battalion in the Lancaster County Pennsylvania Militia, during the Revolutionary War. Adam’s nephew (through his brother Leonard) also named Adam Diller (1789-1823) would serve as the Adjutant-General of Pennsylvania and would also fight in the War of 1812 & the Mexican American War. (Dillerville PA would be named for General Diller.) But it is Adam (1746-1823) and his wife Salome who would produce the first George…naming their third son George Yundt Diller (1777-1842). At this point I am assuming that George was also a farmer, as his sons would be. Our line runs through Isaac (1804-1865) who appears in the U.S. Federal census as a farmer living in Salisbury Township, Gap Pennsylvania—but one of means—his wealth is listed in 1860 as $15K in real estate and $1500 in personal property, along with 2 house servants to cater to his 4 family members. Isaac’s brother George was also a farmer with land in nearby New Holland.

This George Diller farm in New Holland is likely the brother of our Isaac (1804-1865) and was right down Main Street from where his grandfather's were buried at Trinity Lutheran.

This George Diller farm in New Holland is likely the brother of our Isaac (1804-1865) and was right down Main Street from where his grandfather’s were buried at Trinity Lutheran. Found in a reproduction printing of a C.1900 Illustrated Historical Atlas of Lancaster County

Isaac and his wife Elizabeth would name their second son George (1823-1884). This George married Hannah Rutter. Hannah was descended from Conrad (Bucher) Rutter who arrived in Philadelphia on the ship “America” in 1683. The Rutter family initially settled in Francis Daniel Pastorius’ Germantown settlement in Philadelphia, but would purchase land in Leacock Township where they would remain for the next hundred and fifty years prior to Hannah’s birth. George and Hannah broke tradition with their farming roots and became “Hotel keepers” running hotels in Leacock, Salisbury Township, and Paradise Township. George & Hannah Diller were members of the Zeltenreich (German) Reformed Church in New Holland. Hannah gave birth to eight children, including one named George who died before the age of 2. Their fifth child Mary was born in 1866.

Zeltenreich Reformed Church in New Holland

Zeltenreich Reformed Church in New Holland

The Zeltenreich Cemetery is the resting place for many Dillers, including a fair number of George Dillers

The Zeltenreich Cemetery is the resting place for many Dillers, including a fair number of George Dillers

Chip with his 4x great-grandpatents: the first known George Diller born in 1777 buried next to his wife Mary Anna Eckert (1780-1852)

Chip with his 4x great-grandpatents: the first known George Diller born in 1777 buried next to his wife Mary Anna Eckert (1780-1852)

Chip's 2x great-grandparents George & Hannah (Rutter) Diller

Chip’s 2x great-grandparents George & Hannah (Rutter) Diller

The legacy of this George Diller- the Hotel Keeper- is one to be proud of..."An affectionate husband, A kind father and a friend to all"

The legacy of this George Diller- the Hotel Keeper- is one to be proud of…”An affectionate husband, A kind father and a friend to all”

I am still left with a number of questions. How and when did Rufus, who was raised in a closed Mennonite community, meet Mary Diller, the girl raised in local hotels? Was she the reason he left behind his Mennonite faith or did that happen before they met? Rufus was 31 when he married so he likely made his decision previously, but hopefully more research will provide some definitive answers. Several of Rufus’s cousins left the faith and made their way in the “English” world in a big way. Stay tuned for tales of a chocolate innovator, a brain left to science, and the answer to that pesky little question… “are you related to the potato chip Herrs?”

 Oh and my husband tells me he’s now contemplating adopting his given name for everyday use. No more Chip. You may now call him George.

This is a quick message to those faithful few who have been following along on my genealogical journey. As you may have noticed, I haven’t posted anything new for quite awhile. There is a number of reasons for that. I have still been following leads and researching the family…but circumstances have sidetracked my efforts a bit. I have quite a lot on my mind, just not much that fits into the format of “Shaking the Family Tree”… I decided to start an additional blog  “Don’t Judge a Fish” which can be found at I hope you will check it out and let me know your thoughts. I’ve recently discovered some new ancestors…so I’ll be sharing that info right here in my original blog sometime soon. I really appreciate all the support and comments I’ve received from you all. I hope you will continue to follow along. My genealogical journey will certainly be ongoing…there is so much more to learn and discover!

In my very first blog post, Peace from the Pieces, I mentioned the project I have been working on—ghostwriting a book about someone else’s ancestor—and how that work fueled my curiosity about my own family legacy. Last month, the book William Lewis, Esquire: Enlightened Statesman, Profound Lawyer, and Useful Citizen was officially published. At the end of June, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania hosted a lovely event to celebrate the memory of Esther Ann McFarland (the author and woman I worked for) and publication of the book. I have to admit that since the party, I have taken a bit of a mental vacation…I’ve done little writing (fictional or otherwise), no genealogical research…no “production” of anything new. Perhaps that is how it should be. Perhaps I am still letting go a bit before I can refocus on what’s left before me.


Rudy Garcia (former Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association) with George McFarland (on right, Esther Ann’s son) holding a copy of the book (photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania)


In the meantime, I thought I’d share a few photos and words from the event. It meant a great deal to be able to share my experiences with the attendees—my relationship with Esther Ann and the process of becoming a ghostwriter and later co-author of the book.  I was grateful to have my mother, husband, and several close friends in attendance, as well as many of the people who helped along the way. A nice crowd of people came out to honor Esther Ann. She had many friends and those in attendance represented a number of important local organizations: The Historical Society of the US District Court (Eastern PA), Historic Strawberry Mansion, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, The American Swedish Historical Museum, Daughters of the American Revolution (among others), and of course The Historical Society of Pennsylvania who hosted the entire event.


Me (in the middle), with my mom Sandi on the left and Sandi Hewlett (the genealogist extraordinaire who provided research on the Lewis family and tracked down William’s final resting place just as we were going to print!)


Those of you interested in history, specifically Philadelphia history, and especially the history of law, will enjoy reading the book. William Lewis, like many American Patriots, was a man who wore many hats. A leader of the Philadelphia bar before the American Revolution, he would continue to build his legal reputation by defending those accused of treason, and during the Early National period he would become the leading authority on trade and maritime law. He would serve as a leading counselor to the Pennsylvania Abolition Society throughout his life, after helping to draft the Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in Pennsylvania. Lewis was an avid Federalist and politically active at both the state and federal levels. President George Washington appointed Lewis the first United States Attorney for the District of Pennsylvania and later the second judge of the District Court of Pennsylvania. He was one of the first attorneys admitted as counselor to the bar of the United States Supreme Court and was called upon to provide advice and counsel to a number of high-profile individuals including Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.


Lee Arnold in HSP’s beautiful reading room where attendees could see first-hand some of the important documents used in writing the book on the life of William Lewis, including rarely seen early maps and William Rawle’s journals.


I enjoyed getting to know Lewis through the eyes of his great-great-great-granddaughter and through the eyes of his friends and students who often wrote about him in their journals and letters. In time, I found that, like those before me, I also found William Lewis to be quite an interesting man.

Here are the words I shared with those who attended the book party at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania on the twenty-six of June 2012:

Here I am asking the question…What Would William Lewis Do? (Photo courtesy the Historical Society of Pennsylvania)


“What Would William Lewis Do?

That was the question I found myself asking as I read a newspaper article about the case of Carol Anne Bond v. United States, a Pennsylvania case that reached the United States Supreme Court in early 2011. Not your typical Supreme Court fare…the case involved a love triangle, chemical weapons, postal inspectors, an international treaty, and the 10th Amendment.  The 10th Amendment you may remember makes explicit the idea that the federal government is limited only to the powers granted in the constitution.  Add in the concepts of separation of powers, federalism, and an individual’s right to liberty and there is no doubt in my mind that William Lewis would have led the charge in defending Carol Anne Bond—despite her guilty plea—in arguing that the federal government had gone too far in using a terrorism statute, to prosecute a domestic dispute, that should have played out in a state court.

So, you may ask…how did I find myself pondering the thoughts of an 18th century attorney while reading about this modern day Supreme Court case?

I blame it all on Esther Ann McFarland.

In one of those “the universe works in mysterious ways” circular moments…I first became aware of Esther Ann more than eight years ago, while I was working here at HSP [The Historical Society of Pennsylvania]…right upstairs in the President’s office. I actually  first encountered her when I “found” her in our database…a Mrs. George C. McFarland, who like clock-work, diligently made annual contributions in support  of HSP. Multiple changeovers in staff meant that no one in the President’s office at that point had any knowledge of her…so I decided to give her a call to introduce myself and to invite her to an upcoming event for our newly formed Treasures Society. The Treasures Society, I informed her, was a special group of our most dedicated supporters…a group she was already well-qualified to join based on her long history of financial contributions. Of course, we all fell in love with Esther Ann when we met her at the party… this spry & petite lady who was so full of love and laughter. Afterward I sent Esther Ann a picture that was taken at the event… of her with then HSP board president Colin McNeil…both sporting brightly colored gold jackets and broad smiles…so off the picture went…and  I don’t think two days had passed before I received a note in reply along with yet another generous contribution. This was the start of a renewed relationship between Esther Ann & HSP. In all of us, myself, Lee Arnold [Director of the Library at HSP], and other staff members, EA found a whole new audience to enlighten about the venerable esquire William Lewis, her great-great-great-grandfather.

And somehow, we all became sucked into the project… Lee’s staff was processing the papers of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, so he was on the lookout for any mention of William Lewis…through the years Lee would continue to send EA tidbits he’d come across, anything he thought might be of interest to her.

Even after I left my position at HSP, as we maintained our friendship… I kept track of her progress on what became known as “the book.” “How’s the book?” I’d ask as if it were a person… During this time period she decided if she was going to complete this project…turning all of her years of research into an actual published book… that she needed help organizing and writing. I sent a few of my writer friends her way in hopes that they could work as her ghost… it took awhile but I was happy to hear that she had finally hired someone to help.

Another year or so went by…and during one of our phone conversations she shared her frustration that the book wasn’t progressing as she’d hoped…and she was on her second “helper.” During this same conversation, I had mentioned that I was thinking about picking up some additional work to help make ends meet…Esther Ann then decided we were the answer to each other’s needs…and indeed…that was true… so in the spring of 2010 I started working for her…  At the time, a little over two years ago, Esther Ann estimated it would be a six month project…and that sounded reasonable to me…

And having followed the project for a number of years, I thought I’d had an understanding of what I signed on for… and then I was introduced to more than forty years of research…overflowing filing cabinets and boxes…and all the stories Esther Ann wanted to include in her book.

Here are just a few of the topics she had in mind:

The Swedish settlement in Pennsylvania…and a little known land exchange between the Swanson brothers and William Penn, it turns out the Indians didn’t own the land on which Penn wanted to build his city of Brotherly Love…the Swansons did…

Then there was the extensive title research she’d done on the land the Swanson’s had been given (which is now part of Fairmount Park), as it relates to Historic Strawberry Mansion

The Welsh Quakers (Lewis’s ancestors), and their plan for a Welsh Barony in Philadelphia and their relationship to William Penn

There’s the story of Lewis’s summer home…Summerville which in time lost its name and is now referred to as Historic Strawberry Mansion… and the big question… how did that happen…and it’s not how you think…

And of course there was much to say about William Lewis himself…  his service to our Founding Fathers and the new nation… his involvement in the Abolition movement and in drafting the Act of the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in Pennsylvania…

That  was just the beginning…of what Esther Ann had in mind when she pictured her book in her mind’s eye… so I started to dig into her research and ponder how all of this might come together into one cohesive manuscript.

I’d like to point out some tidbits of research…

There was her March 1966 correspondence with the secretary of the Chester County Historical Society (I point it out because I was not yet two years old at the time she was having this conversation…a typed letter sent via the post office.)

Her 1989 correspondence with John McIlhenny of the Fairmount Park Commission is very interesting… where she indicated her great disappointment in an interpretation plan for Strawberry Mansion that had been presented that did not take into account the eleven items of research she had previously submitted to the Commission. She indicated that she was taking no chances with the mail this time, she would hand deliver the information to Mr. McIlhenny directly to his office. I am happy to report that when I personally visited the archives of the Park Commission in 2011, I found all of Esther Ann’s primary research included in their Strawberry Mansion files. (In other words, they wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.)

So, we were not just writing a book…Esther Ann was not going to rest until she could ensure—by whatever means available—that the legacy of her great-great-great-grandfather would not just live on… but would be interpreted correctly and not be forgotten a second time. William Lewis’s contributions to our nation are certainly important…and the fact that a case such as Carol Anne Bond v. United States could be heard in the United States Supreme Court in 2011 is certainly a testament to the work of William Lewis in setting the earliest legal precedents.

And while Esther Ann is no longer with us in the physical world, those of us who knew her, have no doubt that she is here with us in spirit, thrilled that her dream has become a reality… I am really grateful to have played a part.”


The book on sale in the lobby of HSP during the party


For those of you interested in reading the book, it is available on and also directly from the publisher at . If you live in Philadelphia, there are copies on sale at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (corner of 13th and Locust).

Me and my dad at the Seaport in NYC circa 1988…is there any doubt that I am my father’s daugther?

Today is Father’s Day. It’s been more than six years since my father, Dick Otte, passed away unexpectedly at the age of 69, on Sunday, April 30, 2006. I can’t say I dislike Father’s Day, but it’s still not easy. What complicates things further is that yesterday would have been my father’s birthday. As a young girl, this time of year was always a time of great anticipation: the last day of school, Flag Day, my father’s birthday, and Father’s Day always fell within a few days of each other. And of course, these events also meant that vacation was near…a new adventure was about to begin.

I hesitated as to whether I should be writing about my father in this genealogical blog, wondering if it really fit into my original intent of “communing with the ancestors”… but, as he is the person responsible for half of my ancestry, I decided I could be self-indulgent.

Last night I attended a production of Annie, because my dear friend Jenny was playing the part of Miss Hannigan. She was a fabulously funny, drunk, bitch…which was all the more enjoyable because her true nature—a generous, loving, tea-totaler—is so extremely different from the character she portrayed. Having seen Annie on more occasions then I can even recall, I was struck last night by its message of a father’s love. Perhaps because my father was on my mind…and certainly heightened by the fact that the adult male characters (none of whom were professional actors) were played by the fathers of the young girls in the cast… I couldn’t help but think about those girls on the stage…and how, years from now, each one will remember her father on that night. And of course, Daddy Warbucks was ready to do anything for Annie, even if it meant losing her.

Even in death, my father continues to both challenge me and provide me the insight to meet those challenges.  One of the reasons I actually started my genealogical journey (and this blog) was my father…as it germinated from the research I started doing for a book I plan to write, the basis of which stems from my father’s childhood stories. I don’t find it a coincidence that my mother suddenly discovered a previously unknown cache of family photos and notes (left behind by my father) now that I am writing this blog. Those of you who regularly follow my posts are aware of the information contained in those particular photos because it opened doors and led to my “Es ist Gemütlich” post.

And when my father died and we were planning his memorial service, I would face one of the biggest challenges in my life. My father had many, many friends and acquaintances; including a fair number who had been part of his life for more years than I had. In the days before and after his service, my father was honored as a “Pioneer” for his work in rescue tools and safety in both the fire and motor sports industries; Pennsylvania Congressman Curt Weldon had a flag flown over the Capitol Building in Washington DC in his honor and Deputy US Fire Administrator Charlie Dickinson (of the Department of Homeland Security) wrote a heartful tribute.  These were all lovely and much appreciated gestures. But who would talk about my father as the family man?  Could I really stand up in front of a hundred or so people and eulogize my father? The answer was yes. And in the end, it was a gift to stand witness to the man who had given so much to so many.

Following is the Eulogy I gave on Wednesday, May 17, 2006 at a service held in the Red Clay Room of Kennett Fire Company #1, on Dalmatian Street in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania (with photos added in):

In the hours after my father died, my mother and I found ourselves gingerly rummaging through my father’s belongings—those few things he had taken along with him to the FDIC conference in Indianapolis [the world’s largest firefighter training conference, an event he had attended every year]. I don’t think we were searching for anything in particular, but what we found said quite a lot about who he was. His wallet contained a $2 bill. The same one carried by his father on the day he was killed in a car accident. [Was this a reminder of his father? A good luck token?] His date book contained, along with detailed notations of every fire conference for the year 2006, some vintage photos—including one of my sister at age three riding a rocking horse. We found his well-used pocket-sized road atlas featuring a center-fold of the United States. He also carried a small notebook full of collected notations—little affirmations and poems that caught his fancy. There were several that, viewed in retrospect, nicely describe his philosophy on life:

“People who build walls and not bridges will be lonely”

“Imagination is more important than knowledge”

“You may be on the right track, but don’t just sit there or you’ll be run over”

“Progress in life is not measured by security, but by growth; and growth means taking occasional risks, you’ll never get anywhere interesting by always doing the safe thing.”

Is there any question that my dad enjoyed a vivid imagination? Here he is at age 12 with his latest creation

There were a few others that should have been in his notebook- I’d like to propose four affirmations to add to his collection to further illustrate his particular philosophy on life [which will also provide some clarity as to why he chose to fill his pockets with the items I mentioned]:

  1. Marry Your Best Friend

I was lucky enough to marry my best friend too. Here we are with my mom and dad at Thanksgiving in 1991, a few months before we were married.

My father seemed to understand at a relatively early age that having the perfect partner in crime was a really good start to an adventure. When he met my mother, there was no question—she was the one he wanted to marry. They left Nebraska and spent the next 49 years criss-crossing the country.

As children, it seemed to my sister and me that our father was always in the center of the action…working on fire suppression systems for the rockets traveling to the moon, rescuing race car drivers in the heat of a crash, working on the set of our favorite television show—Emergency—teaching Randolph Mantooth how to use the Jaws of Life. Even in recent years—making sure needed rescue equipment got to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9-11.

My dad (right) teaching actor Randolph Mantooth (middle) how to use the Jaws of Life, on set of Emergeny in the early 1970’s

Where our father was magical, our mother was practical… for no matter where my father roamed or what state he moved the family… our mother created our home—our soft place to fall. She created the space where we were a family—just the four of us. And even now, with the addition of one grandson and one son-in-law—home for all of us is where our mother is… even if it is in a town we’ve never been to before.

The nuclear family c. 1965… mom, dad, sister Cindy and me (not yet one year old)….I love this picture because I have no memory of my dad wearing a suit when I was a child…

What I witnessed through the years was a deep respect between my parents. They were two complete individuals on their own, each with very different interests and neither needing the other for survival. But at the end of the day, both enjoyed nothing more than each other’s company. They shared many adventures together- and they remained each other’s best friend.

My mother said that she knew my dad was the guy for her on one of their first dates. My dad took her to the movies to see Old Yeller… and he cried. This brings us to our second affirmation:

  1. Don’t be afraid to show your sentimental side

My father didn’t just cry when a dog died… he would cry during a Hallmark commercial… the first, second, and third time he watched it.

One of the best illustrations of this sentimentality was his love of parades. He loved a parade… any parade… once he even took my sister and me to see some low-riders parading their cars in downtown LA. A holiday wasn’t complete without going to a parade… the Hollywood Christmas Parade, the Rose parade, the Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco… several years back we all went to the historic Fourth of July parade in Bristol, Rhode Island… one particular family favorite was the Fourth of July parade we attended in Lynchburg Tennessee. There were so many townspeople in the parade, there were very few people left to watch. We all loved that parade. And we can’t forget one of his perennial favorites… the Main Street Electric Parade at Disneyland.

A holiday wasn’t a holiday without a parade…here I am (in silly hat) with my dad in Bristol RI on the Fourth of July c. 1997… he especially loved all the vintage fire trucks

A Fourth of July parade in Lynchburg TN in the mid-1980’s…an unexpected event that became a favorite family memory…

There was one bit of Disney-sentimental pop he loved even more than their parades however… at the end of the day… we always had one last stop before heading to the car- we would go to the theater in the round to see “America the Beautiful.” To this day, my sister and I have this movie memorized… flying in a plane over the Grand Canyon, traveling by wagon through a covered bridge. We watched those images… the crowd sang along to America the Beautiful and inevitably, my father had a tear in his eye… because there’s nothing he loved more than his own country.

Which brings me to our third affirmation:

  1. Get in the car and drive!

My father’s love of cars started at an early age. Here he is with what is likely his first soapbox derby racer. He would build several soapbox cars, eventually representing the state of Nebraska in the Derby Championships in Akron, Ohio in 1951.

My father would drive anywhere… at any time. Period. He loved to drive and he loved to explore. It was rarely about the destination… it was really all about the journey. I swear he didn’t care if he even got out of the car once we got to where we were going.

Family vacations always involved driving someplace- as a family we have driven cross-country more times than any of us can remember. But each trip held some great new discovery. My father always knew where to go in any town… exactly what mile-marker the gas station was… where there would be none… and which motels to stop at. I say motel… because he loved a good motel… one where you could drive your car right up to your front door… it took him years to give in and stop at a place where you had to actually walk through a lobby to get to your room.

In the state of Washington I remember the smell of freshly cut timber and seeing a color green I never knew existed, the absolute beauty of the high-desert in New Mexico covered by a dusting of snow, watching the Taos Indians dance their sacred bear dance on Christmas day, witnessing the infamous duck-crossing at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, touring the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the entire year of 1976 when dad decided we would visit every historic site from Monticello and Mount Vernon up through the Old North Church in Boston, … really, anytime in the car with my father was a happy time… which leads us to our fourth and final affirmation…

  1. Live your passion- (do what makes you happy)

My father never worked a day in his life. Rather, he figured out how to combine the things he loved… traveling cross-country, with his family in tow, driving to a race track where he’d soon be providing fire safety services- might just have been his definition of perfection. All things he loved in one place, at one time.

“On the job” in the early 1960’s at Riverside Raceway, ready to put out a fire or rescue an injured driver

Dad at work in the mid-1970’s…training firemen in the art of rescue tools… he loved teaching…something he did throughout his life

Dad at work in the 1980’s… a bit of fun during a convention…everyone waited to see what he was up to next…

Throughout my life I’d go to my dad and say “Dad, I need some advice- what should I do?” He’d say- “well- you need to get out your paper, make two columns, then list all the pros in one column and all the cons in the other.”

I would dutifully make my columns… and still not know what to do…“But dad,”  I’d plead… “what should I do?”

“Do what makes you happy,” he’d always say.

“But what if I don’t know what will make me happy?”

“Then you’d better go figure it out. If you don’t know, how is anyone else going to know?”

It was as simple as that. I was the key to my own happiness. With that knowledge he gave me the greatest gift anyone could. He wouldn’t give me the answers. He challenged me-he challenged me to figure out what makes me happy… he taught me to know myself, to trust myself, and to be myself. It is only then that you can truly live your passion.

My dad the cowboy c. 1940… a persona he adopted at an early age…he was most himself in a pair of broken in cowboy boots

And still a cowboy c. 1980… bright colored shirts (preferably plaid) were also a favorite

The truth of the matter is, my father was a relatively uncomplicated man with simple pleasures. Give him a box of popcorn, a comfortable bench on a warm afternoon… and he was content- he was content just to be in the moment and watch the people pass by.

Another of the poems found in my father’s little notebook was one by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition: to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

I couldn’t have said it better.


NOTE: for more about the professional side of my father’s story please visit

Storefront window celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee

If you haven’t heard by now…Queen Elizabeth is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee…sixty years on the British throne. It’s been interesting to see how many Americans have joined in the celebration. I will readily admit that I myself sat in front of the “telly” this past Sunday to watch the BBC broadcast of the Thames Jubilee Pageant. I mean who wouldn’t want to own a Royal Barge with which to parade down the Thames? Later that afternoon my husband and I walked to Rittenhouse Square to the apartment of a friend for a potluck dinner. Walking up Pine Street we came across the window at Blendo. “It’s good to be Queen” the window proclaimed. I think I have to agree.

Diamond Jubilee Storefront Window on Pine Street… “God Save the Queen”

Ironically, or perhaps not, the host of the dinner we attended was a woman who is actually a “Lady” herself… not British by birth, but born into a well-heeled Philadelphia family, she was sent off to England to marry a Lord. (Think Downton Abbey…although I’m not sure her British estate was quite that big…but surely grand. And she has her own incredible stories to tell.) She returned to Philadelphia a number of years ago and re-created a proper English apartment high above Rittenhouse. Her daughter, a lady in her own right, was actually in London celebrating the Jubilee with friends. I hadn’t seen Lady B and some of the others in attendance for quite some time, so I was happy to report on my recent genealogical journey and the fact I’d uncovered some of my own royal roots… “I share a grandfather with Queen Elizabeth,” I said. (granted…it’s something like a 23 x great-grandfather…but still) “Who doesn’t?” my friend Brian replied. Not the reaction I expected, but then I hadn’t really looked into how many other people might also have similar ties. It makes sense that if each of us went back far enough, especially those of us with colonial family ties, we’re all related somehow. Discussion ensued. Brian attempted to look up a statistic on his smart phone…he thought that perhaps as many as 1 in 10 Americans has ties to the British Royal family. So…could our fascination with the Queen and her family actually have something to do with our DNA?

The next day I did a bit of Google searching myself to see if I could come up with some more statistics. There is a lot of information out there on the web…I’m not sure if any of it actually answered my question though. I found several people blogging about “the conspiracy” that all of our American Presidents (and Presidential candidates) have royal genes. At some point Burke’s Peerage declared that the Presidential candidate with the most royal genes has won every single election. Is it really a conspiracy? Or something more simple? One statistic I found stated that 150 million Americans have traceable Royal European descent…(direct line from a monarch.) I’m not sure I’m doing my math correctly…but wouldn’t that mean that half of all Americans descend from European Royalty?

I located a quote from back in 1984 from someone representing Crown Genealogical Services in Los Angeles:

“…The answer is not that American Presidents have been people of exceptional ancestry; but rather that they have been people whose ancestry has received an exceptional degree of attention from skilled genealogists. The underlying truth is that medieval royal descent is very widespread among Americans, although this fact is not widely or clearly understood by most American students of genealogy…”

There is a theory out there that everyone in the Western world is descended from Charlemagne. Most of us have a difficult time locating information about our great-grandparents, let alone know anything about multiple generations (or centuries) previous to them. So if we are all descended from Charlemagne or William the Conqueror or some other important figure… can we prove it? That’s the key. And that’s the game of genealogy.

Genealogist Gary Boyd Roberts states that individuals with significant roots in 17th and 18th Century New England, Mid-Atlantic or Southern plantation states, have a high chance of being descended from the Medieval Kings of England, Scotland, France, and perhaps even Germany. Massachusetts and Virginia especially were two places that the younger children of English aristocratic families came looking for land. Once in the colonies, several of these land-grant families intertwined their branches so tightly that virtually everyone was related.

The recent proliferation of available digitized records on the internet and websites like (and many other genealogy-centric sites) certainly make it easier than ever to discover ones roots. Yet still, most genealogical lines cannot be traced back beyond the middle of the 16th Century. But a royal descent is another story…for the simple fact that gentry, nobility, and royalty were better documented. Once you find that gateway person on your family tree, you can add a thousand years of family history, at least along one or several family lines. And once you bump into one or two VIP’s on your tree, chances are someone else (and sometimes an expert) has spent a good amount of time researching your ancestor. Your ancestor might even have his or her own Wikipedia page.

This was the case for me. My “gateway” person is my great-great grandmother Elizabeth Jane Briscoe (1849-1907). Elizabeth’s paternal grandparents were John Briscoe (1785-1850) and Susannah Woods (1790-1869). When Gary Boyd Roberts talks about tightly-twined Colonial families…well, he might have had this family in mind. It appears that John & Susannah were cousins, as John’s maternal grandparents Captain Andrew Wallace and Margaret Woods were the brother and sister of Susannah’s paternal grandparents Susannah Wallace and William Woods. Further it appears that that Andrew and Susannah Wallace’s mother was Elizabeth Woods the sister to Margaret and William Woods’ father Michael Woods. Confused yet? Let’s just say it seems that the Woods and Wallace families got along very well… especially those who found themselves in Virginia in the early 1700’s. Margaret and William Woods’ relatives have quite a number of important connections. Their paternal grandmother was Isabella Bruce, a descendent of Sir Alexander Livingston, Baron of Callendar, counselor to King James I (and executed by James II at Edinburgh Castle). And if I ever go back far enough, I think likely descended from Robert the Bruce. (Which is actually redundant, as I’m already connected to him through another branch.)

Their mother was Mary Catherine Campbell, one of thirteen children born to Sir James Campbell, a Baron of Auchinbreck, and Susan Campbell. Susan was a Campbell by birth, her father had his own castle (Cawdor Castle) and her mother came from a Welsh Baronet. This particular branch leads to a very long line of Campbells, Buchannans and Stewarts (among others)…and a list of titles…Ladies, Lords (Lairds), Baronets, Earls, Countesses, Viscounts…and an equally long list of “family” castles…Stirling, Cawdor, Sween, Balnagown, Lennox, Falkland, Balloch, Birr, Edinburgh…to name a few of the more significant ones. A number of these castles are still in existence as tourist attractions and have their own websites and some even have genealogy pages listing the descent of their inhabitants and the important events surrounding these individuals. Very helpful when building a family tree.

Stirling Castle Scotland…an important site in the fight for Scottish Independence…and one of the “family” castles

It is through these various and intertwined lines that I have found some serious Scottish roots…especially to those who battled for Scottish Independence… it appears I am directly descended from the Kings of Alba—including King Duncan I (infamous for killing his cousin Macbeth)—as well as the Scottish houses of Bruce & Stewart. My descendency follows from Robert the Bruce (1274-1329), Marjorie Bruce, Robert II and Robert III. My direct line seems to have run into a bit of trouble sometime in the early 1400’s…when James I became King. I’m not sure my relation to James, but he didn’t appreciate the fact that Murdoch, Duke of Albany (my direct line) had a claim on his throne. Murdoch had served as a Governor of Scotland during the time that the English had held James captive as a child. Once he was returned to Scotland and officially crowned King, he decided it wasn’t wise to have Murdoch and his offspring around. (Don’t forget that other branch of my tree…Sir Livingston who was counseling James I at this time.) Murdoch’s wife, Isabella Elizabeth Stewart, was taken prisoner by James I as her father (Duncan Stewart, Earl of Lennox), her husband, and two of her sons were taken from Stirling Castle and executed. Isabella raised her grandchildren as a Royal hostage for eight years. James I was later murdered and James II eventually restored Isabella’s titles and estates (and had Livingston executed!)

Sir David Lindsay (1503-1558)… a “great” grandfather…and one of my connections to Mary Queen of Scots

I look forward to the day when I can visit Stirling Castle. Will I be able to feel an ancestral connection after so many hundreds of years? Present day Stirling Castle interprets 16th century life in the castle… especially as the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots. And it is during this period I find yet another direct ancestor… Sir David Lindsay (1503-1558.)  A Wiki-page provided the following information on Sir David:

“The ‘True Renaissance Man’ of the royal court; a diplomat, poet, writer, artist, and producer of satirical plays. He began his royal service under James IV and continued on under the reign of James V. When the King was still young, Lindsay essentially became his surrogate father. By 1530 he was officially appointed Snowdon herald, eventually becoming the senior herald and Lyon King of Arms of all Scotland. In this role he observed and influenced the behavior of the court, organizing great state occasions such as weddings, funerals and christenings. He was also given the privilege of helping to organize the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots at Stirling Castle.”

Perhaps it is this association that helps to explain my girlhood fascination with Mary Queen of Scots? I read any and every book about her life… non-fiction or fiction…and was always taken with the film portrayals of her…that 1936 version with Katherine Hepburn playing Mary? Obsessed. We both descend from the Houses of Bruce and Stewart… but the Lindsay connection is also interesting. I believe my “connection” to the current Queen lies somewhere within that Lindsay family as well, but also somewhere in the House of Stewart.

I still don’t know how many other Americans have these same connections… but whether it’s one thousand or 150 million… it’s still…well…it’s still incredibly captivating, no?

I was dreaming in German last night… for the second night in a row. The problem with that is, well, I really don’t understand German. I actually studied the language in school…two years in junior high, two years in high school and a painful semester freshman year of college. I suppose it says more about how Americans are taught languages and less about my intelligence…regardless, it’s silly for me to say “ich verstehe nicht”… but who was I actually going to converse with in German?

One of the reasons I chose to study German, instead of French or Spanish, was actually my family heritage…I’m not sure exactly why, but it had something to do with honoring my ancestry. I suppose that was as good a reason as any. I remember consulting my parents and they thought it was a good idea at the time. And now I find I really do want to learn (or relearn) the language. I’ve gone so far as to “google” available classes in my city. I’ve scoped out the Germany Society website to see what they offer. And…that’s as far as I’ve gotten.

And now this… I’m starting to dream in a language I don’t understand. It’s those voices in my head again. Only now we have a language barrier. Go figure.

Es ist gemütlich… I woke up sometime last night with that thought in my head. In the haze of sleep I remember thinking…you need to look up that word in the morning. Germütlich. It’s actually not unusual for me to wake up in the middle of the night to remind myself to follow through with whatever it is I happen to be dreaming of. Sometimes I think my waking hours are in service to the people, places, and events that populate my sleeping time. So, this morning I dug out my German translation dictionary and found that es ist gemütlich might mean something like… it is comfortable, cozy or pleasant. If I had heard “sie ist gemütlich” it would mean something more like she is friendly, cheerful or easy going.

Wikitionary tells me that gemütlich derives from Gemütlichkeit… “a word that describes an environment or state of mind that conduces a cheerful mood and peace of mind, with connotation of a notion of belonging and social acceptance, of being cozy and unhurried.” Okay…so it appears I was having a peaceful sort of experience in the middle of the night.

Which one should I listen to first? Ella Miller, Dora Otte, Henry Otte, Eliza Otte (mother), Marie Otte, Lizzie Kuenning, ?, Wilbur Kuenning, John Doench, ? Miller, Henry? Miller, Mary Doench, Christ Otte, Katie Kendig, Harold Miller

Of course this notion of “belonging” makes a lot of sense in relation to all this digging around I’ve been doing into my ancestral roots. In past posts I’ve mentioned the fact that once I metaphorically opened the door to this process, I started to receive a tsunami of information. It’s a bit overwhelming really. I am starting to feel like Whoopi Goldberg’s character in Ghost…when she’s sitting at the table about to channel the spirits and there’s a long line of dead relatives waiting to speak… and suddenly the spirits get frustrated waiting for their turn and they all attempt to inhabit Whoopi simultaneously? Yes. That’s about right. So today I am going to attempt to embrace the gemütlichkeit… and spend some unhurried time with my German relatives…

These German ancestors basically break down into two sorts…those who arrived in the British colonies prior to the American Revolution and those who arrived in the early decades of the 19th century. I’m told that the earliest German immigrants were searching for religious freedom. It should have come as no surprise then that these ancestors were attracted to William Penn’s promise of religious tolerance. Yet I am still taken aback each time I discover a 5x or 6x German grandparent living in Pennsylvania (my current home state) prior to the American Revolution. Along with the Zartman family I’ve previously mentioned, there were families named Fisher & Fischer, Schieff (Scheaff), Lefler (Lofler), Pflueger, Trinkel, Denger, Wambold, Hauser, Ehro,  and Reitenauer (Ridenour).  Some claim the Reitenauers to be French, but they were likely from the Baden-Württemberg area that had permeable borders with France. These particular ancestors did not appear to be attracted to city life in Philadelphia. While several lived out their lives in the Germantown section outside of downtown area, most moved westward settling in the counties of Berks and Lancaster and further out to the counties surrounding the Susquehanna River. The first Federal Census conducted in 1790 showed that a full third of Pennsylvania’s residents were German. Many of those Germans continued to spread westward. A good number of my own ancestors ended up in Ohio and were among the earliest settlers of that state.

The second wave of my German ancestors arrived in America between the approximate years of 1833 and 1855. Many Germans immigrated at this time—having received word from those friends and family already established here—that they could acquire cheap land with relative ease. This was a time of large scale immigration, with early immigration averaging at about 10,000 Germans a year to the peak in 1854 of approximately 220,000 German immigrants. Those who arrived in later years (around 1860) were offered US citizenship if they volunteered to fight in the American Civil War.

One thing I find fascinating is how the Germans stayed so “German”… they continually married other Germans and mostly lived in German communities. On my paternal side, I can’t find anything but Germans…my great grandmother was born in Canada, but that’s only because her German family (named Weidenhammer) immigrated there before they headed to the United States. It took until 1935 for the first “break” in the family to occur—when my grandmother Evelyn Marie Kaasch eloped with my grandfather Clifford McGuffin, she was the first person to marry a non-German. No wonder my great-grandmother Julia Bott Kaasch was so upset. As active readers of this blog already know, Julia descended from the Zartman family, who were part of the pre-Revolution group of German immigrants. The first wave Germans in my family continued to marry other first wavers up until my great-great grandmother Martha Zartman. She married Gottlieb Bott, whose family had only arrived in around 1845…a relative late-comer. Martha’s daughter Julia married Archie Kaasch, whose grandfather arrived on the scene in 1853. Even though they married second-wavers, they still managed to marry men who came from the same regions (or states) of Germany from which their ancestors had emigrated. I don’t think this is coincidence. Julie Bott Kaasch, the seventh generation born in America, even attended German school as a child (in the 1890’s).

I stated that my German ancestors arrived in two waves…I should say that 98% of them arrived in the first two waves… my paternal grandmother’s father and grandparents (the Schank Family) did not arrive until about 1883. They were part of a wider immigration movement in the 1880’s that was driven by the increased availability of steamships and ocean liners. This last wave of European migration would be the impetus for the creation of Ellis Island which opened its doors in 1892. When my parents visited Ellis Island many years ago, they came away broken-hearted that they could find no information about any of their ancestors. What they didn’t realize at the time is that all of their relatives had arrived well before Ellis Island had even been created.

When my father married my mother, he was the first on my direct paternal side to marry a woman who wasn’t 100% German. My mother’s maternal German roots run deep, but the paternal (McGuffin) half of her carries Scotch, Irish, English, Dutch, and French blood (and it appears not a drop of German). While I’ve grown up self-identifying as being of German descendent, it’s been my mother’s paternal McGuffin roots that have held the majority of my interest these past few months…as they were previously unknown to me AND fascinating to boot.

Today I’ve decided it’s time for me to delve a bit deeper into the Otte family. This is my maiden name…the name I carried for 27 years. I thought I knew the story of the Otte family. As it turns out there was a bit more to discover. My mother recently came across a large envelope that she hadn’t realized existed. We think perhaps it was given to my father by his father Fred Otte. Back in the ‘80’s my father had an interest in tracing his roots and grandpa Fred had given him some information he’d obtained from one of his Ohio cousins. My father probably put this envelope of information and photos in a drawer for that magical time he planned to look into it all. With my grandfather and father no longer here I was overjoyed to be handed this envelope. My grandfather was a good storyteller and lucky for me, he left some good notes and photos with detailed descriptions.

The Ottes were part of that second wave of German immigrants…the ones that came to America looking for land. Growing up on the extreme West and then East coasts, my maiden name was quite rare and NO-body could figure out how to pronounce it… Oat, Ohtay, Ahht, Audi…for the record it’s “Ahh-dee” although some might pronounce a bit more of a “t” than a “d”…  We used to joke in my immediate family that if you came across another Otte you’d surely be related…because we thought there were about twenty in America. Turns out we had it all wrong. I’m told if you live in a place like Ohio and Indiana there are thousands of them…and people actually know how to pronounce the name when they see it. Imagine that! It appears there were many people with the name Otte that arrived from Germany at this time in search of land. They all had the same idea and Ohio seemed to be a good place to go when you were looking for your plot of paradise in the 1830’s. My particular branch arrived in Baltimore Maryland in 1834. My 3x great-grandfather Friedrich Wilhelm Otte (aka William) arrived at the age of 23. It appears he met his wife in Baltimore, Anna Marie Elizabeth Buddemeier, as records show they married and settled in Baltimore in 1836. I believe they both came from the Nordrhein-Westfalen area of Germany. I have yet to determine when Anna arrived and whether she came with her parents or other siblings. But by 1837 the couple left Maryland and relocated to Ohio. It wasn’t until 1854 that they purchased their own 80 acre farm 3 miles west of New Bremen Ohio. Anna gave birth to 7 or 8 children…my 2x-great grandfather, Johann Wilhelm (William) Otte, was their third child and first son. He was born in Mercer County Ohio in 1843. In 1863 this (second) William would marry Anna Marie Elizabeth (Elisa) Sollman.  Like William, Elisa’s parents also arrived in Baltimore (in 1833), but her family came from Osnabruck Germany. Elisa was born in Indiana, but eventually her family too settled in the New Bremen area of Ohio.

Anna Marie Elizabeth (Elisa) Sollman Otte b.1839 in Brookville, Indiana and d.1927 in New Bremen, Ohio

Johann Wilhelm (William) Otte b. 1843 in Mercer Co, Ohio and d. 1914 in New Bremen Ohio

The 1880 Federal Census shows William and Elisa living and farming alongside William (Sr.) and Anna. I was told that in 1900 they purchased their own 10.5 acre farm. Elisa gave birth to 9 children during this time period, the last child, a boy died at birth. Elisa & William also raised a boy Fred who came to live with them after his parents had died, and later when they were in their seventies, they took in a little girl named Dora whose mother was a relative of Elisa’s.

William and Elisa’s children were: Mary (b.1863), Katie (b. 1865), Will (b. 1868), Christ (b. 1870), Lizzie (b. 1872), Henry (b. 1874), Fred (b. 1876), and Carrie (b. 1877). Henry was my great-grandfather and the man previously chronicled in “Homesteaders, Hometowns & Final Resting Places” (see 2-17-12 post). I remember my grandpa Fred mentioning his various aunts and uncles through the years…and his Ohio cousins, but it wasn’t until this week that I really gave them much thought… until I took time and dissected the information and photographs contained in that envelope my mother delivered.

The first photo that captured my imagination… captured my heart really…was one of sister Katie (age 62 and widow of Walter Kendig), sister Mary (age 64) and her husband John Doench (age 60, a bricklayer from Dayton Ohio). According to my grandpa Fred the picture was taken in 1926/27, when the siblings were visiting their brother Will who had cancer. Will was a farmer who also had a ranch about 30 miles northeast of Scottsbluff, Nebraska. They took John up to the ranch as he’d never been out of Ohio prior to this trip…out there in the middle of nowhere John said he thought he had come to the end of the world…and if it wasn’t, you could certainly see it from there.

c 1927: John Doench looking out at “the end of the world” with his sister-in-law Katie (l) and his wife Mary (r)

Aunt Katie, Aunt Mary, Uncle John with their brother Will’s daughter Wilma Otte

The second photo features their niece Wilma at about age 10. Even at that age she looks like she can take care of herself…but I think about her knowing her father would die a short time after the photo was taken. She would go on to have a ranch of her own, as she married a man named Irvin Petsch who’s family were ranchers in Wyoming. They purchased the Y6 cattle ranch in Meriden Wyoming which grew to over 40,000 acres.

These sisters fascinate me. Mary was 34 years old when she married her husband John, Katie was 36 when she married Walter Kendig, a barber 4 years her junior. Sister Lizzie was 28 when she married Ed Kuenning. Ed appears to have been a farmer. Lizzie would have one son a year after their marriage, but would become a widow within a few short years. Neither Mary nor Katie had children. After Katie & Walter married they lived with Lizzie and her son Wilbur on what appears to be Lizzie’s farm, as the 1910 census lists her as “head” of house and a farmer. Brother-in-law Walter Kendig is listed as a barber. Katie’s husband would die by 1916, after 14 years of marriage.


Katie Otte as a teenager c. 1880’s (While my grandpa Fred had this labeled as his Aunt Katie, cousin Lucille thinks its really sister Lizzie- they look a lot alike…it’s hard to tell!)

Mother Elisa with her daughters and daughter-in-laws: Ella Miller (sister-in-law of son Henry), Dora Otte (wife of son Christ) Lizzie Kuenning, Marie Otte, Ada Kuenning, ?, Mary Doench, Elisa Otte, Katie Kendig

All of these women appear to have lived their lives on their own terms….with independence and their own homes and jobs. Katie worked for many years as a cook for the NCR company (National Cash Register) that was based in Dayton. Before Lizzie turned to farming after marriage she was listed on an earlier federal census as a dressmaker. Unfortunately it appears the same cannot be said for their youngest sister Carrie. I was curious as to why I never found Carrie included in the pictures at all these family gatherings. She too lived with her sister Lizzie for a short time, but tragically ended up in the Dayton State Hospital (for the Insane). The history of the hospital can be found online…and it appears to be one of those Victorian era locations that were once billed as “ a retreat” that we now understand could be quite torturous. I have yet to discover what led young Carrie to be institutionalized in such a place. She would spend 18 years at the hospital and die at the age of 40 of heart failure. It makes you wonder if she didn’t just die of a broken heart.

The brothers also appear to live their lives in an independent fashion…with three of the four heading out to Nebraska to acquire their own land through homesteading. Will and Henry would make a life in Nebraska, while brother Christ would eventually return to Ohio after several years. Youngest brother Fred seems to stick close to home. He married, but only stayed with his wife a short time before they were divorced.

c 1905…Fred Otte was married to Grace for a short period of time, this photo was taken in Dayton Ohio

Mother Elisa with some of the Otte men: Wilbur Kuenning (Lizzie’s son), ? Miller, John Doench (Mary’s husband), Henry? Miller, Harold Miller, Henry Otte, Eliza, Christ Otte

The Otte brothers returned to Ohio for visits. This is c. 1920 at the New Bremen home of sister Lizzie Kuenning with their mother Elisa. Also pictured (back row) brother Henry Otte, sister Katie Kendig, nephew Wilbur Kuenning,, and brother Will Otte. Front row with their grandma is Ray & Fred Otte (Henry’s sons). I love they way Fred (my grandpa) is mimicking his uncle Will’s stance.

And this is where I am going to end my tale of the children of William & Elisa Otte for today…as there are more stories to come. What I will tell you is that inside that envelope I found a letter written to my grandfather and grandmother (Fred & Dolly). It was from the early 1980’a and was an exchange discussing some family pictures that Fred had sent to his cousin Marie’s daughter, a woman named Lucille Francis. When I saw that name a light bulb went on in my head, I had seen that name before (quite a lot in the last few days as it turns out)…Lucille Francis…attached to all this wonderful family information on a website called Find-A-Grave.  She literally knows where all the bodies are buried. With a small bit of sleuthing I found Lucille’s email address and sent her a message…within hours she sent me a reply…and we’ve only just gotten started on our own exchange…two days in. I’m not quite sure what our official relationship is, her mother and my grandfather were cousins…so it makes us some sort of cousins, several times removed? Good enough.

I will give you a little tidbit of what she has sent my way… and save more stories for another day.

This is the Nebraska homestead of Christ & Dora Otte c. 1916 (the grandparents of Lucille Francis)

Dora Otte sent this postcard home to her sister-in-law Katie Kendig c. 1907. I love the sense of Dora’s spirit you get from what she writes. (Thanks to Dora’s granddaughter Lucille Francis for sharing this)

I will say one last thing…getting to know these great-great aunts and uncles over these past few days has certainly made me feel a bit more gemutlichkeit about my maiden name. It was a name I gave up easily on the day I got married. I feel much more connected to it now. (Oh…and a special shout out to my own sister…who knew our Otte great-aunts were so kick-ass?)

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