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Looking backward, looking forward

Moseyin’ Along

November 23, 2011
By Joyce Schenk, COLUMNIST
My delightful granddaughter, Rachel, is in her junior year of high school. As part of a classroom assignment, she called me last week with a question that sent me on an unplanned search into the past. Her question was, “Grandma, what can you tell me about my ancestors?”

Rachel’s search led me into some long-forgotten files of family records. These would reveal the information she needed, at least from the Schenk/Hertell perspective.

Much of what I know about the Schenk side of our family came from an interview I did in 1990s with my amazing late mother-in-law, Dorothy. At the time, she was in her 80s. She actually lived to be 100. And through her long years, her mind remained clear. She was an unfailing resource for information about her large family, the Kepharts, as well as that of George’s father, Carl Schenk.

It was in that long-ago interview, I had learned Mom Schenk’s grandfather, Samuel Kephart, was a “collier,” or coal miner, by trade. He entered the Civil War by joining the Pennsylvania Volunteers on Feb. 27, 1864, from Hollidaysburg, Pa. A Private in Company C, 77th regiment, Samuel was lost in a battle in Atlanta in August of 1864.

Mom Schenk reported that George’s father, Carl, told her his early ancestors had moved from Austria to Germany. It was from there that Martin, Carl’s father — George’s grandfather — emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1890s, settling in Erie, Pa., where Carl was born.

The family information from my side of the family is extensive, thanks to some exhaustive genealogical work done by my late brother, Alan. He gave me a copy of the family tree of my father’s line, the Hertels. My Dad had added an extra “l” to the family name, making it Hertell. The Hertel tree dates back to the 1600s in Germany. The ancestral line includes doctors, lawyers, painters and architects.

Interestingly, the Hertels, my father’s family, like the Schenks, George’s father’s family, emigrated to the U.S. in the 1890s. It’s possible both great grandfathers passed through Ellis Island within months of each other.

My mother’s family, the Weigles, also hailed from Germany and came to the U.S. at the end of the 1800s or the beginning of the 1900s. They settled in St. Louis, where my mother grew up.

Through the years, I’ve really given no thought to our family backgrounds since I received the genealogical information from my brother, Alan, and George’s brother, Dan. But, when I looked it over to pass the highlights on the Rachel, I was struck by so many similarities. All of George’s and my ancestors came from Germany. They immigrated to this country within ten years or so of each other.

From there, they spread out to such widely-separated parts of the country as St. Louis, Mo., Erie, Pa., and Ft. Worth, Texas.

I find it fascinating that these determined dreamers from such diverse backgrounds willingly left their homes bound for an unknown future in a strange country. Through succeeding generations, their heirs moved, established lives, couples met, married and started families.

Thanks to the miracle of God’s careful planning, this long parade of ancestors from the other side of the world, reaching back hundreds of years, has now given rise to Rachel Querreveld, studying where she came from as part of the education that will help her to find her own path into the future.


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