Water weaves through the tapestry of my family, the thread that binds us all together. Brave men and women crossed the Atlantic from Sweden, Germany, and England on long and fearful journeys. The first settlers lived on the banks of the Delaware River and established homesteads and churches. Early in American history the Schuylkill River provided travel opportunities before roads were built. In later generations boatmen made their livings hauling coal on the canal, and in all generations the water provided recreational outlets. For many of us water still provides entertainment and a calming effect on the soul. Whether you remember family members swimming and boating in Maine or this author daydreaming at sunset on a pier in Maryland, water has been a link to each other and the moving water is our link to the past as well.
The study of our family is a way of honoring those who came before giving us life and a rich history filled with courage and much hard work. Farmers, carpenters, mill workers, teachers...not the wealthy and famous, but all good hard-working, caring individuals. Their greatest lesson might be: work hard and stay true to your family. It is wonderful to find out who our ancestors were, and by doing so find out what we are made of and where we have come from.
|Schuylkill Canal - Philip E. Heavner 1905
Digging up the past can be fun, challenging, hard work, and sometimes a little shocking. My research started by contacting family members who helped me gather names, dates, photographs, and stories about our ancestors. Many days were spent at the National Archives in Philadelphia and Washington, DC where I used microfilm readers to research through census records. This gave me the names of heads of households, sometimes spouse and children's names, occupations, addresses, and dates of relatives living between 1790 and 1910. I found family members names and relationships that I did not have before. Hours were spent in the Montgomery and Chester County Court Houses, Historical Societies, and Archives to look through deeds, wills, marriage and birth records, church records like baptisms, and cemetery records. I had lots of names and dates, but all the data in my files stared back at me with little feeling until May 1997 when I began to search through my father's boxes for pictures of his parents. I could remember dad showing me a picture of his mom and I was determined to find what I thought was a file folder or envelope. Suddenly a whole new world opened when I discovered a wooden trunk full of books, papers, and albums full of pictures. Names and dates instantly became identified with real people who lead interesting lives!!
Inside the wooden box were documents from the family including a legal-size sheet that described a 1920 family reunion of the Eisenberg/Jones family. It gave some history that led me to research our connection, and all at once I was related to a family that settled in Pennsylvania before William Penn! I spent the summer learning all about "New Sweden" along the Delaware River that was settled starting in 1638. On September 27-28th, 1997, the descendants of the Swedish colonists held several events in Pennsylvania and Delaware to celebrate their heritage. I attended the annual Mans Jones Day in Berks County at the house owned by one of my ancestors in 1701. The Berks County Historical Trust had people dressed in colonial garb and I ate lunch in the nearby colonial tavern. The next day the state of Delaware sponsored the launch of a replica of a Swedish ship, the Kalmar Nyckel, which brought many of the Swedish colonists to America. It is to be the official "tall ship" of Delaware because the first landing of the original Kalmar Nyckel was near present day Wilmington.
|Phil-Jo motorboat in Maine - 1950
That fall I followed a few more leads that led to Revolutionary soldiers and Germans in Chester County in the early 1700's. Some major detective work on my part, and loads of help by archives directors and genealogists, as well as super support by all my family has led me to find something about the people to whom the names belong. Luckily for my current research, there was a fad in the early 1900's to research family history and have family reunions. Lots of such research is housed in the Historical Societies at the County and State levels. Sometimes family trees or pictures were included. It was probably like the surge in genealogical interest after the television show "Roots", which made people think about their family's past.
I only hope that somewhere our ancestors know what a fabulous family history they passed on to us and we remember them in the flowing waters of the Schuylkill or looking out to sea sitting on the beach as the water speaks to our souls.