Uncertain: The Origins of the DeTurk Family

One of my ancestors is Katharina DeTurk Keim, my 6th great-grandmother through Catharine Ann Yoder Manwiller. The DeTurk family was somewhat prominent in early Berks County, but the story of the family’s origin (as stated at the beginning of Chapter 1 of the published family history) is a bit uncertain:

“The DeTurk family, or rather the name of DeTurk, may be traced by history and tradition to the year 1105 A.D. and is said to be of oriental origin. From a letter, written in German, and the coat of arms of the DeTurk family in the possession of Mrs. Ella Baer, Kutztown, Penna. . . . is found the following data of the family DeTurk, their origin and dispersion, which according to the letter, is from the records in the libraries of Versailles and Paris.”…

“The letter reads as follows: ‘The DeTurk family is of oriental origin. The progenitor of this family was brought to France by Count Kaimund of Toulouse from Palestine, where he was taken prisoner in the year 1105 A.D. He was a Turkish Emir, that is a prince, and his name was Hayraddin Silodin. In France, however, he assumed the name of Arnulph Le Turk, that is Arnulph, the Turk. He was knighted and admitted into the nobility. He bore on his shield as well as on his helmet a lion holding the sun, the sun signifying the deity of the Turks, the lion valor or strength. The present coat of arms of the family is made up of this shield and helmet bearing. King Francis I renewed the grant to Reginald LeTurk. The copy of this grant at Nismes of 1529 is still to be found in the archives of Paris.”

Now, it makes perfect sense to me that the name DeTurk (or LeTurk in France, although I would have expected it to be LeTurque) is of Turkish origin. But the first clue to me that something was amiss was the 400 year gap between when Hayraddin Silodin was captured by Count Raymond of Toulouse and when King Francis I renewed Arnulph’s grant to Reginald (some genealogies on Ancestry.com even list Hayraddin/ Arnulph as Reginald’s father, with a 1105 birth date!). Count Raymond of Toulouse (listed as Raymond of Saint-Gilles in Encyclopedia Britannica) died at Tripoli in February 1105 during the First Crusade. If Count Raymond (Raimond in French) died at Tripoli in early 1105, it is extremely doubtful that he took Hayraddin Silodin captive in Palestine and brought him to France that year–especially since he brought his wife with him when he went on the Crusade (and left his son in France as his successor in Toulouse).

Big shock–family history book has wrong information (please note sarcasm). So the next question: who is Hayraddin Silodin, and who was Reginald LeTurk’s father? (Actually, that’s two questions, but you get the point). Modern technology (hello, Google!) potentially becomes a key to solving the mystery–and in the process creates a new one. Typing in “Hayraddin Silodin” in the search bar, over 200 results appear. Some I can dismiss as duplicates, some are posts on genealogy discussion boards by people who claim Hayraddin Silodin is their ancestor and are looking for more documentation, and some repeat the information in the DeTurk family history. A few are links to family trees that identify a new birth date for Hayraddin Silodin: 1490 (but still in Turkey). This, of course, leads to a new question: If Silodin was born in Turkey in 1490 how (or why) did he go/get to France? After all, he couldn’t have been captured during the Crusades if he was born in the late fifteenth century, just a couple of years before Columbus would “discover” America.

But one result intrigues me: a link to a Wikipedia article about Cem (also known as Jem or Jem Zizim), a Turkish prince from the late 1400s. The link that appears is to a Wikipedia article in Italian, so I search for Cem (who is listed as Sultan Cem in the English article) for sources.

Sultan Cem is a rather interesting historical figure, as evidenced by John Freely’s biography, Jem Sultan–The Adventures of a Captive Turkish Prince in Renaissance Europe (2004). Son of Sultan Mehmet II, who founded the Ottoman Empire in 1453, Cem was one of two claimants to the throne after Mehmet II’s death in 1481 (the other was his elder half-brother, Bayezid II). The two brothers fought, and Bayezid II solidified his claim to the throne. Cem essentially was taken prisoner on his half-brother’s orders, guarded by the Knights Hospitaller (who unsuccessfully tried to convert him to Christianity), and relocated to Italy, then France, then back to Italy, where he died/was murdered.

While in France, Cem (known as Jem Zizim in France) fell in love with La Belle Helene, Philippine de Sassenage. The affair was cut short, though, because Phiippine had been betrothed to a French nobleman; before they parted, she informed Jem that she was pregnant with his child. According to Freely, “local records confirm that. . .Philippine bore a son out of wedlock in 1484. Tradition has it that the Turkish prince ‘Zizim’ had fathered the boy, and that he was raised by Philippine as a Christian and married to a relative of the family.”

So…why is a Turkish sultan’s name appearing as a hit when a search is made for Hayraddin Silodin? Well, now the family history story transforms from Hayraddin being captured during the First Crusades to being the son of Sultan Cem and Philippine de Sassenage (who apparently married during his time in captivity in France). No record exists of Philippine marrying Jem, and, given that he was Muslim and she was Christian (and she married someone else before he left France), it is unlikely that such a union occurred. But it could possibly mean that Hayraddin Silodin (or Arnulph LeTurk) is the son of that union, and he appearas in numerous family trees as the father of Reginald LeTurk. Except there is a problem–all of these family trees list Hayraddin’s birth year as 1490, when Jem was no longer in France.

Complicating matters is Ancestry DNA. When I first took the test a few years ago, the results indicated that I did have some roots in southeastern Europe/Asia minor, which would be consistent with the Turkish origins of the DeTurk family. However, the current ethnicity estimate does not indicate any connection with that region; in fact, it now has 51% of my ancestry from England, Wales, and northwestern Europe–a lot from that one 4th great-grandfather from England, since the rest of my ancestors have been recorded back to France, Germany, and Switzerland.

A proposed solution: Hayraddin Silodin did not exist, at least under that name or as my ancestor. The boy born to Philippine in 1484 was named Arnulph and given the last name LeTurk to honor his father. Arnulph sired Reginald, who became mayor of Nimes (or Nismes, as stated in the assorted family stories) and inherited his father’s coat of arms and shield. LeTurk becomes DeTurk when the family fled France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and settled in present-day Germany, joining the migration to New York in 1709 and settling in Berks County a few years later (where Johannes Keim settled with his wife Katharina DeTurk Keim). If this scenario is true, then it’s relatively easiy to trace Arnulph’s father’s line back several more centuries before the Ottoman Empire existed (and possibly Philippine’s, since the de Sassanage family was in the French nobility). But if it isn’t…I have no idea where the DeTurk name came from, and it’s a mystery that might never be solved.

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Tombstone: Jacob Rhoads Griesemer and Daniel Manwiller

Frequently, churches during the colonial period had cemeteries adjacent to them or across the road.  Farmers also would set aside a plot of land to serve as a family cemetery instead of having family members buried at the church.  Several of my ancestors are buried on these family plots.  Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, it was more common for them to be buried at garden-like locations with names like Fairview (in Boyertown and Kutztown) or named after the original land owner (Charles Evans Cemetery in Reading).  Ancestors who buried their family members at church cemeteries probably expected the dearly departed to remain there for eternity and did not anticipate that almost 200 years later they would be relocated because the church expanded.

Salem United Church of Christ, formerly Salem Reformed Church (also known as Oley Reformed Church), formed in 1735, and they erected the first church building in 1754 after ironmaster John Lesher donated 132 parcels of land “to erect a house of worship for followers of John Calvin.”  The land also would be used for a school house and a graveyard.   It was replaced by a large brick church in 1822 with clear glass windows; they installed stained glass windows in 1900, and Andrew Carnegie donated money toward the pipe organ.  In 2003, the expansion of Salem U.C.C. led to the relocation of two of my family members, Jacob Rhodes Griesemer (1784-1850) and Daniel Manwiller (1742-1812).  (Image 1) Their gravestones have been relocated to a memorial section, placed flat on the ground.  (Images 2 and 3)

Daniel Manwiller (Image 2) was born in Finkenbach, Bavaria, Germany on March 28, 1745 (March 17, 1745 on the tombstone; I blame the conversion from the Gregorian calendar in Germany to the Julian calendar in the British Empire at that time).  He immigrated to Pennsylvania and settled in Oley.  He married Maria Elisabetha (unknown) in 1770.  The tombstone on the ground is new, as it strongly resembles those in military cemeteries in the 20th and 21st centuries. It is not known where his wife is buried.

Jacob Rhodes Griesemer (Image 3) was born in Oley on October 11, 1784.  His father Jacob had fought in the American Revolution, and his grandfather Casper (1715-1794) arrived in Philadelphia in 1730.  He married Mary Van Reed Hunter (1789-1828), who also is buried at Oley Cemetery.  Casper’s body was moved from the family plot to the church cemetery in 1918, and his “grave” is marked by a boulder with a plaque.  Jacob’s tombstone is a memorial stone, placed at the grave several years after his death, so it is possible that the information recorded on it is not 100% accurate (his mother’s name was Christina, not Sarah).

More of my mother’s ancestors who were members of either Salem Reformed/United Church of Christ or Christ Lutheran are buried at Oley Cemetery.  Casper Spohn (1758-1841) and his wife Eva Elisabetha Friedrick Spohn (1770-1850), along with his grandson Levi (1821-1897) and Levi’s wife Sallie (1824-1902), also are buried at Oley Cemetery.  Casper and Eva’s tombstones have not been photographed for Find A Grave; while he served in the American Revolution, his grave would not have a special marker like Daniel Manwiller’s does.

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Travel: The Journeys of Ralph and Mabel Guenther

My paternal grandparents Ralph Leroy Guenther (1903-1980) and Mabel Matilda Wheeler Guenther (1902-1995) both were born in Reading, Pennsylvania and died in Reading, Pennsylvania, but they did not spend their entire lives in Reading, Pennsylvania.  They traveled across the country from Pennsylvania to California to visit my uncle Ralph, who briefly lived in California, and to Florida to visit my great uncle Paul Guenther, an executive at Berkshire Knitting Mills who retired to Fort Lauderdale.  They also traveled to visit my family when we lived in Enfield, Connecticut and outside Houston, Texas.

When my grandparents traveled, they went by car, bus, or plane, depending on the distance.  My grandfather worked for the bus company in Reading as a dispatcher when he retired.  According to the 1940 census, he worked 50 hours a week as an inspector for the Reading Street Railway Company.  Traveling long distance by bus was a bit different from his job, but he did it a few times when we lived in Houston.  More often, though, they traveled by plane when visiting California and Texas and drove to Connecticut and Florida.

My family moved to Enfield, Connecticut in February 1966 after my father was transferred from the Reading plant of Continental Cshe rodean Company (he was an accountant) to their new plant in Windsor Locks.  My paternal grandparents visited quite often and occasionally brought friends along to visit (at least they were people my parents knew), making the house a bit crowded with my parents and siblings.  They were visiting when my sister was born and helped while she was in the hospital (back then, giving birth meant a 5-6 day hospital stay).  Weather did not stop them from traveling to see us; one time, they got caught in a blizzard while returning to Reading (my uncle Skip was an air traffic controller and had warned them about the storm before they left, but they didn’t listen).

In July 1970, my family moved again, this time to Houston, Texas after my father was transferred again to open a new plant.  My grandparents’ visits were less frequent (at one point, they were visiting us almost every other week when we lived in Connecticut), as it was only six hours from Reading to Enfield but over 28 hours by car to Houston.  They never drove to visit us; the only time I can remember my grandmother riding in a car to Houston was when she rode in the back seat of my Datsun 210 when I drove from Reading to Houston for my brother’s college graduation in August 1983 (and she wore a sweater, even in Houston in August in a car without air conditioning).  Mainly they traveled by plane, although one time my grandfather came alone by bus.  My brother’s college graduation was the last time my grandmother visited us in Houston; she didn’t attend my sister’s high school graduation in May 1985 or her college graduation in December 1991.

I have some not-too-fond memories of a couple of my grandparents’ visits to Houston.  They came for my brother’s high school graduation in May 1979, and, in anticipation of their visit, we had to rent a portable commode for my grandfather, which they placed in the living room right inside the front door–and, if you were in the living room when he needed to use it, you weren’t allowed to leave the room and give him some privacy.  Not only that, but helping him was not my grandmother but a woman who had been a boarder for over thirty years–and there are rumors their relationship was more than boarder/homeowner.  He ended up not being able to attend my brother’s graduation because of his medical issues.  The other “memorable” visit was when my paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather came for my college graduation in December 1980.  She brought along two friends from church who I didn’t know (they all traveled together, so it looked like my grandfather brought a harem).  They all traveled with my family from Houston to Nacogdoches for the ceremony.  The plus side of this visit was that my surviving grandparents (my grandfather Ralph died in February 1980) were with us for Christmas that year.  The minus side was that my grandmother invited my estranged (some would say strange) uncle Ralph, who by them was living on the other side of Houston, to our house for Christmas over my mother’s objections.  My paternal grandmother did tend to take over the house when she visited, as my father did not support my mother’s objections (meanwhile, my maternal grandfather said a few choice words in Pennsylvania German, expressing his displeasure at the situation).

Typically, my grandparents made their long distance trips in mid-May, after the weather in Reading cleared up.  This meant they would miss their youngest son Skip’s birthday, a pattern my father followed when he would travel back to Reading to visit his mother for Mother’s Day (my sister and Skip shared a birthday, May 14).  Of course, this also meant that he wasn’t home for Mother’s Day to properly honor my mother, but that’s a story for another blog.

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Service: My Family in the American Revolution

This past spring semester, I taught a course on the history of the American Revolution.  Occasionally, I refer to the experiences of my ancestors during the war on both sides.  Troops from Berks County served from Cambridge to Yorktown and participated in most battles along with serving as guards on the home front.  Fourteen of my ancestors fought either in Berks, present-day Montgomery, or Northampton County militia battalions or in the Pennsylvania line in the Continental Army.  One, who will be the subject of a future blog, fought in the Princely Hesse Hanau Artillery Regiment that was affiliated with Burgoyne’s army at Saratoga.  All of these men were 5th and 6th great-grandfathers on both sides of my family.

Isaac Bechtel was a private in Capt. Crumrine’s company from present-day Montgomery County.  He was fined twice (in 1780 and 1781) for being absent at muster days and field days; he appealed both fines, pleading that he was afflicted with rheumatism and “inability of Body.”  His brother Gerhart was a private in the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Company under Capt. Anthony Schreder and the 1st Battalion, 3rd Company under Capt. Lentz.  Gerhart also paid muster fines for being absent for muster days and field days in 1780 and 1781.  Isaac and Gerhart’s graves are the only two graves in Hereford Mennonite Cemetery marked for military service.

Several other ancestors served as privates.  Jacob Yoder was a private in 1st Battalion, 1st Company under Capt. Folcks and a private in the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Company under Captain Jacob Shradle in 1777-1778.  He paid muster fines both years.  By 1780 he was in the 2nd Battalion, 6th Company under Capt. Philip Filbert and continued to serve until 1782.  He was fined in 1780 for being absent two field days and eight muster days.  Adam Kalbach also served under Capt. Filbert in the 6th Battalion, 8th Company from 1777 to 1779.  Nicholas Hunter was a private in Captain Daniel Reiff’s Company and by 1783 had risen to the rank of major.  George Loucks, Jr. (also known as John Loucks, Jr; his name was Johann George Loucks, Jr.) was a private in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Company under Capt. Conrad Shirman.  According to the Sons of the American Revolution application submitted by a descendant, Loucks served as a ranger on the frontier in 1778.  Conrad Roeder served as a private in several Northampton County militia regiments.

Many ancestors were officers.  Peter Wanner was a captain in the 1st Battalion , 6th Company under Col. Henry Spycker.  John Weidenhammer served as 2nd Lt. in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Company from Maiden Creek Township.  Jacob Dreibelbis was a 1st Lt. in 3rd Company from Richmond Township.  Jacob Griesemer was a 2nd Lt. in the 4th Company from Oley Township and by 1780 had been promoted to captain (he also will be the subject of a future blog).

Two members of my family performed public service during the war.  Jacob Deisher was supervisor of highways in Maxatawny Township in 1779.  More significant was that of Capt. John Lesher, who according to the Sons of the American Revolution application submitted by a descendant was in the “campaign commencing with Battle of Long Island” in the summer of 1776.  That summer, Lesher was also elected to represent Berks County at the Pennsylvania constitutional convention held at Carpenter’s Hall from July 15 to September 28.  Lesher was appointed to the committee charged with drafting the new state constitution, but he departed the convention before its conclusion and did not sign it.  Lesher also served as a commissioner for purchasing provisions for the regiments from Berks County in 1778.

For this blog, I consulted several sources:  multiple volumes in Pennsylvania Archives, particularly in the Second Series; Sons of the American Revolution applications accessed through Ancestry.com; muster rolls; assorted Revolutionary War records available through Fold3.com; ARIAS (military records available online through the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission) for the Revolutionary War; and Morton L. Montgomery’s Berks County in the Revolution, from 1774 to 1783 (which is generally good, except it is definitely wrong about one thing, which I will address in a future blog).  Not all of my ancestors participated in the conflict, some because of age, and some because of religious conviction (I do have Mennonite ancestors who opted not to join Isaac and Gerhart Bechtel on the battlefield).




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Where There’s A Will: Four Estates

Closure of county court houses in response to COVID-19 has led to limiting access to the recorded wills of my ancestors.  Fortunately, four wills—one from the 18th century and three from the early 19th century—are available online through PA GenWeb.  One commonality among these four wills is that they were written by members of my mother’s family.

The earliest ancestor will from this collection is that of Johannes Hock (1700-1777), Anglicized to John High in the will.  Written on August 14, 1769 and recorded on January 18, 1779 following his death on July 11, 1777, my 6th great-grandfather through Catharine Ann Yoder Manwiller left land to his youngest son Abraham, including water rights.  His other children, sons Samuel, Rudolph, Daniel, and Jacob and daughters Deborah, Maria, Magdalena (my ancestor), Susanna, and granddaughter Catharine each received 10 shillings.  The remainder of Hoch’s estate would be sold and shared equally among his heirs.  His sons Samuel and Daniel and sons-in-law John DeTurk (Deborah) and Jacob Keim (Magdalena) served as executors, and three neighbors witnessed the will.  Hoch’s estate on the website includes a letter of administration prepared by John DeTurk and an inventory of the estate, appraised at £2340.5.11 Pennsylvania money by Daniel Levan and John Bertolet (who also are related to me).

The next will is for my 5th/6th great-grandfather Jacob Yoder (1735-1804), 5th great-grandfather through Catharine Ann Yoder Manwiller and 6th great-grandfather through Annie Vesta Weidenhammer Bechtel.  Yoder wrote his will on March 12, 1803 and died March 14. 1804, the same date the will was recorded.  Yoder’s will was simpler than Hoch’s, as he requested that his property and its contents be sold at a public sale, with the proceeds equally distributed among his surviving children and the grandchildren of his two daughters who had died.  Yoder’s will was unique among the four wills in that he made his mark (X) for the signature, indicating that he did not sign his name.

The third will is that of Johann Heinrich Adam (1743-1814), another 6th great-grandfather through Annie Vesta Weidenhammer Bechtel.  Adam wrote his will on June 18, 1814, and irt was recorded September 5, 1814.  His wife inherited his tools, horse, farming utensils, and household furniture; she could sell what she did not want, with the proceeds going to the estate.  The remainder of his estate was sold, with the proceeds equally divided among his six children and grandchildren.  For two of the heirs, stipulations included that the inheritance be paid in yearly installments (son John, my ancestor) and that £50 advanced to her husband be deducted from daughter Rosina’s portion.  Youngest son Jacob served as executor for the will.

The last will reviewed is for George Breyfogel (1745/6-1827), also my 6th great-grandfather through Annie Vesta Weidenhammer Bechtel.  Breyfogel wrote his will on June 25, 1822, and it was recorded on October 26, 1827.  He ordered that his executors (son George and son-in-law Joseph Gross) sell his real and personal estate at a public sale, with his estate divided in various amounts:  $10 to son Jacob one year after his death; $1 to son George one year after his death; £350 equally divided among seven children of deceased son Solomon (my ancestor); £373 to daughter Esther, and £500 to daughter Catharine, with the remainder of the estate split between Esther and Catharine.

These four wills have several things in common.  They provide for all their children, and, if their children had died, included their grandchildren, regardless of gender.  Family members served as executors of the estates, although they were witnessed by non-family members (probably neighbors) who were not always of the same ethnicity or religious background.  All four of them requested that at least part, if not all, of the estate be sold at a public sale with the proceeds divided among the heirs; only one left specific items to his wife, and only one left land to an heir.  With one exception, they also recorded wealth in the traditional pounds, shillings, pence form familiar from being part of the British Empire; all four had grown up while Pennsylvania was a colony of England.  Three of the fur were signed by my ancestor (at least the transcribed wills did not note they marked with an X).  The files on PA GenWeb, however, are transcriptions of handwritten wills, and it is possible that they also were translated from German to English (explaining Johannes Hoch being identified as John High), as wills in Berks County were recorded in both English and German at this time.  These wills also provided the names of children, grandchildren, and spouses of married daughters, valuable genealogical information for researchers.

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Land: Using Tax Lists as Sources

The first complete census taken in Pennsylvania was the first decennial census in 1790.  Prior to that year, the only ways you can find out where your ancestor lived was through land records, church records, and tax lists.  My ancestors lived in present-day Berks and Montgomery counties, which were part of Philadelphia County (until 1752 for Berks) during the colonial period; some lived west of the Schuylkill River, which was part of Lancaster County from 1729 to 1752.  The earliest surviving tax lists for Berks County were recorded in 1754, and the manuscripts are located in the Henry Janssen Library at the Berks History Center in Reading.  The earliest published tax lists are from 1767 and are available in Third Series, volume 18 of Pennsylvania Archives.  The earliest available online through Ancestry.com date back to 1768.  For the purpose of this blog, I am focusing on what I can learn from the 1767 tax lists.

Forty-five of my great-grandfathers were alive in 1767, and of these, twenty-one appear on Berks County tax lists.  Those who do not appear either did not own property (the tax rate was based on property) or resided in present-day Montgomery County.  Two ancestors, Johannes Heinrich Adam (6th) and Johannes Weidenhammer (6th) lived in Bern Township west of the Schuylkill River.  Peter Dunkel (6th), Adam Kalbach (6th), and John George Balthazar Spohn (7th) all lived in Greenwich Township in northern Berks, while George Merkel (7th) also lived in northern Berks in Albany Township.  Christopher Deischer (6th), Jacob Deisher (6th), and Johann Christian Schlegel (5th) resided in Richmond Township in central Berks.  Jacob Maurer (6th) lived in Maiden Creek Township in central Berks, while Peter Wanner (5th) was listed with “Single Men” in Maxatawny Township in the same region.  Ten lived in the Oley Valley in eastern Berks County, including Isaac Barto (5th), Frederick Bertolet (6th), John Lesher (6th), and Daniel Manwiller (5th) in Oley Township; Gerhard Bechtel (5th) in Hereford Township; Herman Emmerich (6th), Jacob Keim (5th), and Jacob Yoder (5th) in Rockland Township; Casper Griesemer (6th) in West District Township and Henry Van Reed (6th) in Amity and Douglas Townships.  Knowing where my ancestors paid taxes helps in determining  which churches they attended to find birth, marriage, and burial records, along with finding out how active they were in the church (such as serving on church council).

These tax lists provide more information than merely name and location.  Occasionally they indicate occupation; most of my ancestors were farmers, although Jacob Keim was a turner and John Lesher owned an iron furnace.  Lesher owned the most property, as he needed timber land to provide the fuel for his furnace.  In addition to acreage, the 1767 tax list recorded the number of horses, cattle, and sheep owned by the taxpayer; the more livestock a person owned, the greater the wealth.  The biggest surprise I found was that a Maria Bechtel appeared as a taxpayer in Hereford Township, owning 130 acres, 2 horses, 4 cattle, and 6 sheep.  She probably was a widow, although it does not indicate that; the only Maria Bechtel in my direct line is the wife of George Bechtel (also known as “immigrant George”), who probably was dead in 1787 if her husband died almost a decade earlier at age 101.  Future tax lists, such as the one in 1779, provide information on whether the taxpayer supported the American Revolution; those who did not pay taxes (primarily for religious reasons, as some of my ancestors were Mennonites and were pacifists) were labeled “tory” by the tax collector.


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Air: Ida Miller Rohrbach and the Silk Mill Cyclone

This blog focuses on another one of Garian and Cinderella Miller’s daughters, Ida Miller Rohrbach (1874-1956).  Ida was the oldest daughter, and she served as executrix of her sister Mamie Miller Yeager’s estate.  But there is more to Ida’s story, which is how she fits into this week’s theme of “Air,”

Ida worked at the East Penn silk mill in north Reading, Pennsylvania when, on January 9, 1889, a cyclone hit the building.  The Reading Times reported the following day, “The storm came from the south west and swept the upper three stories of the building down as though it had been razed by the mechanics. . . .The debris had naturally fallen on the east side, where the greatest number of persons were, many having rushed in that direction in the hope of escape.”  Over a hundred employees were killed or injured.  Ida Miller was listed among the injured workers in the January 11, 1889 issue of the Reading Times. Surprisingly, neither of the two main hospitals in Reading (Reading Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital) saw any of the silk mill victims as patients; instead, the injured only received care at home.  Ida Miller’s injuries, which were never officially diagnosed, were so severe that according to my father they prevented her from bearing children.

The silk mill cyclone would not be the only time Ida Miller Rohrbach would be mentioned in the Reading Times because of injuries suffered in an accident.  On October 5, 1910, the Times reported that she was sitting in a wagon when an automobile tried to pass between the wagon and a street car.  As a result of the impact, she “was thrown upon the pavement” and “was painfully injured.”  She was taken to her home following the accident; the collision also broke the wagon springs and badly bent the axel.

Ida Miller married Calvin Rohrbach on August 26, 1893 at her parent’s home.  At the time of the wedding, my paternal grandfather’s “Uncle Cal” was a blacksmith for the P&R Railroad.  He was identified as a grocer in the 1900 and 1910 censuses, a messenger in the 1920 census, a laborer in knitting mills in the 1930 census, and a truck driver for a fabric company in the 1940 census.  Ida never had an occupation listed (not even housewife).  My father had fond memories of “Aunt Ida and Uncle Cal,” and he said he spent many summers with them while growing up.  She died at St. Joseph’s Hospital on January 17, 1956, with the causes of death listed as fracture of the left femur from 10/19/56 and terminal pneumonia from 1/10/56.  On her death certificate, her occupation was identified as housewife.

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