My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Thursday, August 31, 2023

The First Amish Lambright

This is the fourth of several Amish-related posts I wrote for my old genealogy blog...

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One of the saddest stories I’ve come across in my Amish genealogy research is the story of Jacob Lambright (1840-1881).  Here’s what I know from the census records and the book “An Amish Patchwork” by Thomas Meyers and Steven Nolt:

Jacob was one of eight children of Elizabeth Hupperich and Johann Peter Lembrich, a/k/a Lambrick, a/k/a Lambright.  (Those German surnames were often spelled a dozen different ways in the early days.)  After Elizabeth’s death in 1845, Johann left Germany with the children and settled in Tuscarawas County, Ohio.  Jacob and a brother ended up in Lagrange County, Indiana, where Jacob became a member of the Amish church and, in 1862, married Sarah J. Yoder.  On the marriage license his surname was spelled “Lambrick.”  By the 1870 census Jacob and Sarah owned a farm in Newbury Township where they lived with their three children, and by the 1880 census they were living on a farm in Eden Township with seven children at home.

Here’s what I know from other online researchers (thanks to Rena Markley via Ron Lambright):

In the autumn of 1880, Jacob was helping to harvest grain at a nearby farm, bundling it into sheaves.  After a thunderstorm came and went, he went back out to set up some sheaves and was bit on the foot by a rattlesnake.  He was quite ill for a long time.  Eventually his wife brought him to nearby Wolcottville to spend the winter with his brother.  He came home in the spring, but continued to be in a deep depression.  One evening when it was time to come in for supper, Jacob told the hired men to go on ahead.  When he didn’t come in, and they went to find him, he was found in the woods, where he had hung himself, his dog waiting nearby.

I hesitated to write about Jacob based only on the stories told by others.  What if the suicide story wasn’t true?  But recently I was contacted by Dalonda Young, who was digitizing old records for Lagrange County.  She wondered if I’d be interested in the coroner’s report for Jacob Lambright.  Of course I was!  Here was the documentation I needed, and it meshed with the stories I’d heard:

“Are you one of the parties who found the deceased?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Where did you find him?”

“…We saw him hanging by the neck in a basswood tree about 2 o’clock this 25 day of April 1881… He was dead when we found him.”

“Had his mind been affected immediately before his death?”

“Sickness disturbed his mind, and deranged him and made him do things that gave symptoms of insanity...  He would rather die than live…  He had been affected similarly during the winter of 1879-1880.”

Other witnesses, including his wife, testified to the same, with Sarah saying, “His mind was much affected at times, and then at times he seemed all right and rational.  When alone he would be worse…  He said he wished he was dead and thought he would kill himself in some way.”

What a tragedy!

I visited Jacob’s grave recently, in an Amish cemetery in Shipshewana, Indiana, where he is buried with his wife Sarah, who never remarried.  His father Johann is buried nearby.  Seeing his final resting place made the story seem more real, and even sadder.  But Jacob’s name is in the history books today as the father and progenitor of all the Amish Lambrights—now a very common Amish name in Northern Indiana.  Today, in the Lagrange County area, he has hundreds of descendants, both Amish and “English.”  His life was short, but his legacy is enduring. 

Thursday, August 24, 2023

A Young Man With a Past

  This is the third of several Amish-related posts I wrote for my old genealogy blog...

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He was the last person I would ever have expected to be interested in genealogy—and what I found out about his roots was the last thing I would have guessed. 

It was late 2011 and I needed a new genealogy project.  My husband had mentioned my hobby at the manufacturing plant where he works, and one of the young factory guys asked him, “Do you think your wife could find out more about my family tree?”   Bruno (not his real name) was young, wild, and festooned with tattoos.  I was intrigued.  I decided to take on the project until my next paying client came along.  Bruno provided me with a few names and dates—that’s all he had.  He was particularly interested in his father’s ancestry, which he thought was German.   Perhaps he hoped for a few skeletons in the family closet.

A few days into the project, I came across the World War I draft card of Bruno’s great-grandfather Albert in Livingston County, Illinois.  I did a double-take when I read the answer in the space reserved for “Do you claim exemption from draft?  Specify grounds.”  Albert’s answer was “Religion—Mennonite Church.”

More digging connected me with the generation before that—and sure enough, before long I’d “struck Amish.” Others had blazed this particular trail before me, so at that point I was able to connect with the research of fellow genealogists who were willing to share… and so I was able to follow Bruno’s paternal line all the way back to a small village in Switzerland in the 1600s, where his 7th great-grandfather Peter had been part of a group of Anabaptists led by Jacob Amman himself—the original founder of the Amish church.

Bruno took some ribbing on the factory floor for all of this. “Chill out, Bruno—remember, you come from a peaceful people.” But he was happy to know more about his roots, and I was happy to be able to share the gift of such a wonderful and surprising heritage with a young factory guy from Ottawa, Illinois.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Jonas Stutzman, Amish Eccentric

  This is the second of several Amish-related posts I wrote for my old genealogy blog...

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It’s always fun to find a person of historical interest in a family tree, and even more fun to find a “colorful character.”  When I decided to do an ancestry binder for my main and original Amish friends, I found a man who was both.

These particular Amish friends have a history in Lagrange County, Indiana that goes back about six generations.  Like most Northern Indiana Amish, their roots trace back mostly to Holmes County, Ohio— which is presently the largest Amish settlement in the world, numbering around 60,000. 

But someone had to be the first Amishman to go west from Pennsylvania and settle in Holmes County, Ohio—and it happens that he was an ancestor of my Amish friends.  His name was Jonas Stutzman, but he was known in his later life as “White Jonas” (“Der Weiss” in German.)  Much has been written about him. 

Jonas Stutzman (1788-1871) was born in Pennsylvania and came to Ohio in 1809, where he married Magdalena Gerber and had at least nine children.  The 1850 census finds him in Walnut Creek, aged 62, living with second wife Catherine and the youngest four of his eight surviving children.  According to the German Cultural Museum there, Jonas built the area’s first sawmill and the area’s first schoolhouse.

In 1850 he published a booklet in which he claimed that God had revealed to him in a vision that “the time of the fulfillment of his plan with mankind is at hand.”  He said that Christ’s second coming would be in 1853.  So sure was Jonas of this fact, and so sure that he would meet Christ personally upon his return to earth, that he built a special chair for Jesus to sit in when he arrived!  (The chair is in a museum today.)

Jonas had other visions.  It was revealed to him, so he said, that the children of God should wear only beige, gray, and white—“the colors of eagles and sheep.”  Even after 1853 came and went with no sign of Christ’s second coming, he wore only white for the rest of his life.

Steven Nolt, in his book A History of the Amish, says that although the Amish church rejected his teachings, “White Jonas” Stutzman remained a member in good standing.  “His peculiar views and dress were not seen as a threat to anyone, for he never had any followers.”  The census records show that Jonas lived the rest of his life in Holmes County, residing with or near his son Daniel in his old age.

My husband and I recently had a chance to go to Holmes County and do some exploring for ourselves.  We saw the historical markers and how his memory and legacy is still honored there today.  He is remembered with displays at the German Cultural Museum and elsewhere.  His great-great-grandson, Larry Miller, dresses up as his ancestor and makes appearances and gives historical speeches about Holmes County. There is even a Facebook page dedicated to him!

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Remembering Dad

 August 10, 2023

Today’s post is what I would call “off topic”—but I have a lot on my mind.  Thirty years ago today, on Tuesday, August 10, 1993, I said goodbye to Robert Milo Wallin—my dad. 

Dad died at 70, when I was just 38 years old, and not ready to lose him.

Being raised by a former army boot camp officer wasn’t always easy.  I took a lot of heat as the oldest child of parents who didn’t have children until their thirties (and didn’t have the best father and mother role models growing up)...  The pressure to excel in school was relentless, as was the pressure to deal with the food issues that have continued to dog me since infancy.  There were some great memories—but sometimes guilt and fear were the parenting techniques of choice.  By the time I went away to college, I was glad to be 650 miles away from the pressure at home.

But the wisdom that comes to twenty-somethings when they realize that they don’t actually know everything!—along with a year of therapy—resolved my anger and restored me to the parent who gave me so much of his own personality (as I’ve been told over and over through the years by those who knew him). I realized that Dad was only human, and doing the best he knew how to do—and that he truly, deeply loved me, as no one else could.  I thank God that I got twelve more years with him after that.

Courage.  Integrity.  Generosity. 

After Dad left us, I pondered what I most wanted to exemplify in my own life, that I had learned from his...  I have these three words written in the front of my Bible, and for all the years since Dad’s death, I have tried to live out these three qualities, as a way to honor his memory. 

Courage—I’ve always trusted my own instincts, as he did, and they’ve never let me down, even in risky situations...  Integrity—I’ve tried to live out my Christian faith as well as he did, in my financial life, my personal life, and on the job, handling the money for a million-dollar law firm...  Generosity—I’m still working on that one.  I can be selfish with my time and money, but I strive not to be. 

I just realized that these three words spell out the first three letters of “cigarette.”  Dad was a lifelong smoker, much to his own embarrassment, as he felt it was not a good Christian witness nor a good example to his own children.  But he started in World War II, where, he once told me, cigarettes were a part of their daily K-Rations in the front lines in France.  He said, “The cigarettes were necessary to calm our nerves, in order to do what they asked us to do.”  It’s a habit he wasn’t able to break—and forty years later, it killed him, as lung cancer took away his breath and then his life.

Dad used to say, “My job isn’t to raise happy children; my job is raise well-adjusted adults.”   That made me pretty annoyed as a teenager, but I can appreciate it as an adult.  I wish we’d had more years together!  I’d give almost anything to have even an hour with him now. 

My sister had a dream the night after Dad died.  In it, our family was walking across a big, open meadow, towards a beautiful castle on a hill.  Halfway across the meadow, we paused...  Then Dad continued walking towards the shining castle on the hill, and the rest of us turned around and began walking back the way we had come.  But I know someday I’ll walk that meadow, too, and see him again in a better place.  In the meantime, I’ll miss you, Dad.

In Loving Memory

Robert M. Wallin

January 23, 1923 - August 10, 1993


Thursday, August 3, 2023

Doing Amish Genealogy

  This is the first of several Amish-related posts I wrote for my old genealogy blog...

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I’ve had Amish friends for a long time.  I took this picture from the back seat of their buggy—one of my favorite places to be...  When I first got to know my original Amish friends, their eight children ranged in age from two to eighteen.  Now the youngest is out of school (which means eighth grade in their culture) and the oldest has a houseful of children of her own.  Six of my Amish friends came to my wedding, and I’ve been to two weddings of theirs.

A year ago, I decided it might be fun to do an ancestry binder for my original Amish friends as a gift, so I asked one of their grown daughters for a few names and dates—and I was off to the races doing Amish genealogy.  I was worried about a few things, though:  (a) that it would be impossible to figure out which of the many Yoders and Millers and Bontragers belonged to which family; (b) that I would find lots of instances of intermarriage, which would embarrass them; and (c) that it would be boring—after all, how many Indiana farmers could I write about before I slipped into a coma?

All of these worries proved to be unfounded. 

As far as the common names—they were very creative with their first names, so that helped a lot.  In my friends’ family tree I found first names like Harley, Tobias, and Benedict.  And even if there were two or three Daniel Millers in a town, they never had wives and children with identical names.

As far as intermarriage—I was surprised how little of it I found—very little that was closer than five or six generations back.  (How many non-Amish Americans could swear to a certainty that they are not related to their spouse that many generations back?)  What I found was that the Amish moved around more than I thought.  Most of the Indiana Amish have their roots in Holmes County, Ohio, and farther back than that, in Somerset County, Pennsylvania—but my friends’ tree contained ancestors who lived in Kansas, Maryland, Illinois, and Michigan.  Also, a number of non-Amish family lines have married into the Amish over the years (examples: Whetstone, Lambright), which also kept the gene pool fresher.

As far as being boring—in genealogy there’s always something new to find, always another bend in the road...  And even the Amish have a few skeletons in their closets.  There’s “White Jonas,” for example—but that’s a story for another day.  

Postscript, 2023:  I wrote this post in 2013...  I live here now, and have lots more Amish friends, and my Amish family tree now holds over 22,000 people (and growing)!