The GRAEFF Family of PA
This is a preliminary report on discoveries I have made about my GGGG-Grandparents,Johannes Peter and (Anna) Maria Catharina GRAEFF, who were Palatinate emigrants to England’s American colonies in 1767/1768. Part of the report is rediscovery of known history, part of it synthesizes disparate information into a common theme, and part of it reveals new facts about the Graeffs. I have also tried to correct earlier hypotheses that have proven to be false. But, most of all, this report is a ‘journey of discovery’ of my first attempts to develop family history, showing the complicated and uneven way in which historical information reveals itself, and the unexpected and generous help I have received during this quest.
When I started family history research in 1999, the line of Catherine (‘Kate’) May WHILT SYLVESTER, my mother’s mother, was mostly unknown to me, as she rarely talked about her childhood in Minnesota. About all I knew was that she was the first white woman born in Maywood Township, Benton County MNin 1869,and that the descendants of her two sisters and three brothers now lived primarily in the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to the Internet, I have been able to re-establish connections with my 2cd and 3rd cousins and to begin to reconstruct the western Whilt family tree and history, which is a fascinating saga in itself.
From them, I learned that Kate’s parents were Joseph Henry WHILT, a Civil War veteran from Bedford County PA, and Rebecca Belle GROVE, from Somerset County PA. Except for some family tales about how they met and married just after the Civil War, and speculation about why they had left Pennsylvania almost immediately for the Minnesota frontier, almost nothing else was known about their earlier years and their ancestors. Digging out the history of the Whilt and Grove families has been a fascinating pursuit over the past two years, and is still incomplete even now. Along the way I have been fortunate in meeting many distant relations and in making new friends with common interests. Many interesting facts and stories have been uncovered, and I believe I have corrected some earlier genealogical errors without introducing too many of my own.Pennsylvania Information and Hypotheses
U. S. Census microfilms for 1850 and 1860 provided the information that Rebecca’s parents were John and Catherine GROVE, who lived in Stonycreekand Shade Townships in Somerset County, and some basic facts about her two brothers and two sisters. Censuses before that time give only the name of the head of the household, and so are of little value in tracing ancestors, although, of course they provide confirmation on the existence and size of a household. My first breakthrough came through the Internet, when I established contact with descendants of Rebecca’s oldest sister, Susanna GROVE, who married Henry DUPPSTADT and had nineteen children! I now have contacts and detailed information about Rebecca’s other siblings. These leads contained information from the Somerset Historical and Genealogical Society library showing that: Catherine’s maiden name was LINDEMAN; that John’s parents were George Michael GRAFF/GROFF and Susanna AUGUSTINE, who lived in StonycreekTownship; and that George Michael’s parents were Johann Peter and Maria Catharina GRAFF, from Brothers Valley Township. From other sources I uncovered the names of John’s and George Michael’s siblings and was able to find new ‘E-cousins’ who are active in Somerset County genealogy.
Another break occurred when I contacted GROFF family members who turned out not to be related to my line. However, they pointed me to a book by Jane E. Best, “The GROFF Book, Volume 2”, (1997), which covers almost 50 GRAFF-GRAEFF-GROFF-GROVE-etc. families in early Pennsylvania. To find such a detailed summary of so many people with similar, mutable names, but not directly related to each other, was a humbling experience. More to the point, there, on page 199 of GROFF-2, was ‘my’ GRAFF family, with lots of apparently valid supporting information. This detail was extremely useful at building up the GROVE family tree and discovering related families, but some of the ‘information’ later turned out to be a mixed blessing.
By the time I visited Somerset County in Spring, 2000, I had a good idea of where to go and what I might find, as well as the names of first contacts. At the Historical and Genealogical Society, I found a folder marked “GRAFF”, with the notes of two local genealogists, whose investigations were in the 1960s and 1970s. At that point, the general consensus among all sources was that the members of this first family who emigratedto Brother’s Valley were:
Johannes Peter GRAFF, b. (ca) 1730, d. 1800;
(3) Anna Gertrude
m. ‘Franz’ HOEH (Francis HAY) in PA;
Anna Elizabeth GRAFF, b.
firstwife of ClemenENGLE, b. 1747, d. 1812;
George Michael GRAFF/GROFF, b.
m. ca. 1781, Susanna AUGUSTINE;
Anna Barbara GRAFF, b. ‘‘in
…m. Conrad BRAN(D)T.
Five other children were mentioned, but only their birth dates and sponsors were given. Already, there were minor discrepancies in the different accounts; for example, the book GROFF-2 has the dates above as baptismal dates, in contrast to birth dates in the original materials. I found out that the HAY, ENGLE, and BRAN(D)T families have been extensively researched since the 60’s, and was able to contact representatives of all of these female lines, or to examine their Web sites. Only George Michael’s line was incomplete. Every source seemed to be certain that Maria’s maiden name was YOST, and, especially in GROFF-2, that they came from the littlevillage of Wynigen, Canton Bern, Switzerland. As we shall see, these hypotheses were found to be false.
At the Berlin Area Historical Society in Brothersvalley Township, I obtained an English transcription of the German baptismal records of the Reformed and Lutheran Congregations of Berlin; these helped to confirm the early presence of the Graff and allied families and provide some births in the third generation. These church records and the early tax lists show that the spelling of the family name varied substantially. Since there was a steady decrease in the number of German speakers in the region after 1800, the progression from Graff to Groff to Grove seemed quite reasonable. In the English translation of his 1791 Will, which I obtained at the Somerset County courthouse, the signature is Johann Peter Graff, so Groff seems to have been only used in the next generation or two. But even George Michael is called Graff in the early baptismal records.
Practically the only original source mentioned in the
With the help of Bill Burattyof
the Berlin Area Historical Society, I was able to contact members of the Brant
family and then eventually to examine the Bible. It is a handsome, very large LutherianBible, printed (in fraktur)
For those unfamiliar with the German language, I should point out that graf or graffmeans count, and so the family name of a Graff wife would be written in the feminine form, gräffin or graeffin, which of course also means countess. This explains why Maria writes her name as Maria Catharina Graeffin, and why the Bible has this name. Unfortunately, I found a few family references stating that this implies Maria was in fact a real Countess, when nothing could be further from the truth!
I discovered that a reasonable amount of searching of Swiss
ancestry can be done via the Internet, using databases of the LDS
Church at www.familysearch.org ,and
postings of the Swiss Genealogy Net. For example, I found that both Jost/Yost and Graff were family names in the region around Wynigen. However, I was unable to findno baptismal, marriage, or
emigration permissions for a couple with both names. Then, in Fall2000 I had an opportunity to pass through
I spent two days in the Kanton
Bern Archives, which had the originals of most of the materials I had found on
the Internet, plus more detailed records that would require a specialist to
completely investigate. The most interesting were, of course, in Gothic
Swiss-German script! Luckily, at the Archives I met a local high school teacher
specializing in genealogical archival research, and he was kind enough to give
me some advice as we discussed my ‘Graff-Jost’
problem over lunch. After I returned to the
Re-evaluation, Serendipity, and New Searches
Firstly, the only evidence I ever found for assuming that Maria Catharina’smaiden name was JOST was a Bible inscription referring to a baptismal sponsor as ‘‘my brother, Johan Jost”. This is likely how the early historians made this association. However, a simpler meaning to this statement is that Maria’s brother had the (very common) ‘saint’s name’ of Johann and the ‘call name’ of Jost(in latin, Justus), with the family name elided, since it is Maria’s family name. Since many of the other sponsors’ names are also written in double first name form, but no obvious family name, the second interpretation became more and more appealing. I reluctantly concluded that Jostwas not a family name, and that Maria’s maiden name was unknown. This complicated matters considerably.
For my second conclusion, I should explain that, when Maria
Catharina wrote Graeffinin the Bible, it was in
‘umlauted’ form, which in handwriting is an overbar, rather than the dieresis
(two dots) used in print. But the overbar is easy to miss, unless you are
looking for it. By this time, I had found a ‘‘Johann Peter Graff” listed in the
immigrant report (actually a list of arrivals pledging allegiance to the
English Crown) for the ship Minerva
Once again, serendipity stepped in when an Engle E-cousin
told me about another Engle relative who had made extensive unpublished
investigations into the Graffs during the 1970s, and who now lived somewhere in
California. With a little effort, I found that Mel McBeth lived just 15 miles
away from me, and would be happy to share his findings. Among his many
treasures was a good, clear photocopy of the Graeffin
Bible inscriptions, plus a professional translation that Mel commissioned of
Maria’s words. I have attached this translation to the end of this report, so
that you can see how relatively little information is actually in the Bible,
and how much of the
This clearer copy shows plainly that Maria Catharina writes her husband’s name as Johannes Peter Graeff (with an overbar), so that later references to Graff were probably the result of indifferent English translations. Recently, I have obtained the German original of Johann Peter’s Will, and it is also signed with an overbar, in a signature that is arguably the same as that on the ship’s list, 30 years earlier. I suspect that, if the German originals of the Berlin Church Records were examined, most of the entries would have overbars, if the name were spelled correctly. But there is no question that most people in those times were indifferent spellers, and the ‘Dutch’ were resigned to seeing different names ‘in English’. Only in the 1800 Census do we find that that Maria, as a widow, has finally gotten the correct spelling, ‘‘Mary Graeff”!
So, I now had to look for a GRAEFF family, not in
I posted detailed notices on the Alsace
and Pfalz (Palatinate) genealogy lists, and sent out
inquiries whenever I could find a Graeff family listing. In this regard, Web
search engines are a surprising help!.A few leads
turned up, but nothing seemed to match. For instance, I found a large group of Gref(f)s,
formerly Graeffs, in the small town of
Then, in October, the kindness of strangers intervened
again. I received an E-mail from a unknown member of the Ship Transcriber’s
Guild, saying that he had read one of my queries, had entered ‘‘Anna Gertrud
Graeff ‘’(the first daughter above) into the IGI database, and had obtained a
match with the EvangelischeKirche
records from Siegen, Westfalen, Preussen!
I was dumbfounded at the news, since
Extensive microfilm copies of the records of EvangelischeKircheSiegen are
available from the LDSChurch
After looking at these scribbled, almost undecipherable, images, I realized how important it was to learn to read early Gothic script and become conversant with German church vocabulary and abbreviations. Since I am still learning, what follows is only a first approximation of what the records say. I hope to get expert assistance in producing a final version.
The Marriage Record
The Ehebuchshows the (church calendar) Sunday on which banns were published, together with a marginal note indicating when the marriage took place. It took a little while for me to find the Graeff marriage, but here it is, in very rough translation, together with the corresponding information from the Bible:
“In the year 1748, August 22, I was joined in marriage to Johannes Peter Gräff.”
Dom. VI Trin. (1748)
Joh. Peter Graeb, Johan Peter Graeb
von Niederschelt [ehel. ?] [nachgel. ?] Sohn,
und Anna Maria, Jacob Schneider
[daselbst ?] [ehel. ?] Tochter
cop. d. 22te Augusti
Sunday: 6th Sunday after Trinity (1748)
Joh: Peter Graeb, legitimate surviving son of
Johan Peter Graeb of Niederschelt,
and Anna Maria, Jacob Schneider’s
own legitimate daughter
unitedthe 22cd of August
Several things are immediately apparent:
(1) The reason I could not find the marriage in the IGI computer database was that the family was listed under GRAEB, not GRAEFF!
(2) Johan (or maybe, Johannes) Peter’s Graeb’sfather was also Johan Peter Graeb, but had passed away by the time of the marriage;
(3) His wife’s formal name is Anna Maria, and she is the daughter of Jacob Schneider!
(4) The Graebs, at least, come from a village named Niederschelt.
The implications of all of this have barely been
investigated, but on (1), for example, I have found several families named Graeband Graeff in the church records of the
In (3) we finally learn Maria’s family name is SCHNEIDER (earlier, SCHNŸDER). This is a very common name in Siegerland (the modern name of what was formerly the Principality of Siegen), so sorting them out will be difficult; all the families seemed to recycle the same first names. However, knowing that Maria’s maiden name was Schneider strengthens some of the Bible interpretations (see below). From my contact I learned that the original meaning of the family name was probably not ‘schneider’ in the modern sense of ‘tailor’, but ‘brett-schneider’ meaning ‘sawyer’.
The Baptismal Record
There is not enough space to show the seven baptismal records in full from the Siegen Taufbuch. However, the birth dates, where shown in the margin, are identical with those in the Bible. Here is a summary of the names of the children, together with information about the baptismal sponsors from both the Bible Inscriptions (BI) and the Taufbuch (TB).
1. BI “a little son whose baptismal
sponsor was my brother Johann Jost”
TB “GobatterJohan JostSchneider, calls the child Johan Jost”
2. BI “a little son whose baptismal sponsor
was my brother-in-law Johann Jacob”
TB “GobatterJohan Jacob [Nies?] [from placename ?], calls the child Johan Jacob”
3. BI “a little daughter whose baptismal
sponsor was Anna Gertraut Schneiderterin”
TB “GobatterinAnna Gertroud, Peter Schneider’s own wife, calls the child Anna Gertroud”
4. BI “a little daughter whose baptismal
sponsor was EliessaGertraut Schneiderterin”
TB “Gobatterin Elisabeth Gertroud, Johan Jost Schneider’s own wife, calls the child Elisabeth Gertroud”
5. BI “a little daughter whose baptismal
sponsor was my sister Elisabeth”
TB “Gobatterin Elisabetha Guting[herself ?], calls the child Elisabeth”
6. BI “a little daughter whose baptismal
sponsor was my sister Anna Cattarina”
TB “GobatterinAnna Catharina, Johan JostDietzin’s wife, calls the child Anna Catharina”
7. BI “a little son whose sponsor was
Gerhard Just Tilmann”
TB “GobatterGerhard Tilman, the child [is called ?] Gerhard”
I have not beable to find a baptismal record for:
8. BI “1763 September 14, God blessed us
with a son whose baptismal sponsors were MatheusBarn
(Zorn?) and his wife”
And then, after Maria arrives in
9. BI “1767
October 11, God blessed us with a little daughter in
brother JorgAdam's wife”
Now, we see how the two original sources fit together.
Firstly, the hypothesis that the children were given the first names of their
sponsors seems justified. One problem is that (5) is called Anna Elisabeth in
Somerset County; she is the one who will marry Clement Engle; this may be
simply an error by the church scribe, or perhaps there was a later overzealous
extension of her sisters’ saint’s name, Anna, to her. More problematic is the
fact that (7), called Gerhard, is the only surviving son we call George
Michael! One can argue that the church scribe was wrong, or that he changed his
own name after arrival in
There is also interesting information about Maria’s siblings. It appears as if she has at least:
a. A brother, Johan Jost, who is married to an Elisabeth Gertroud;
b. A brother, Peter, who is married to an Anna Gertraut;
c. A brother, JorgAdam, who is married to an Anna Barbara;
d. A sister who is married to Johan Jacob [Nies ?];
e. A sister, Elisabeth, who married a Gu(e)ting, now apparently a widow;
f. A sister, Anna Catharina, who is married to Johann JostDietz.
We also now know that her parents were Johann Jacob Schniederand Anna Catharina [also Schneider?], married in 1726. It is curious that none of Johann Peter’s family were sponsors. The family name Tilman(n) is in Niederscheltrecords, but the name Barn/Zorn is unknown.
I have just started examining the Siegen Todtenbuch
records, and have found that (1) died Februrary13,
Probably the greatest conflict is when Peter and Maria
Another question --- where did the Graeffs live from
1767/1768 until they migrated to Brother’s Valley sometime in 1773-1776? There
is a story that George Michael claimed he came from Berks
I do not view the variations in the Graeff’s
first names as a problem. ‘Johannes’ is the latin
form of Johan(n), and
appears (perhaps) in their marriage record and in Maria’s Bible and five
of the baptisms. In the other baptisms he is Johan, and in
Perhaps some of these questions can be answered by looking
at allied families. It has often been said that only rarely did isolated
I believe I have uncovered evidence of such a group
It is too early to describe everything that has been learned
about relationships back in Niederscheltand
Finally, I should note that all the records from
As far as I know, everything in this draft report has been reasonably well ‘proven’ by the usual genealogical standards. However, I cannot guarantee that all the facts are correct, and the conclusions are certainly my own. If you have corrections or suggestions for improvement, please write to me.
I have no objections if you forward this report in its
entirety to interested family members, along with proper attribution and the
understanding that it is only a preliminary progress report, not for
publication. If you maintain a website, you may certainly change the spelling
to Graeff, and reference
William S. Jewell
In the year 1727, February 20, I was born. In the year 1748, August 22, I was joined in marriage to Johannes Peter Gräff. 1749 June 6, God blessed us with a little son whose baptismal sponsor was my brother Johann Jost. 1750 June (July?) 20, God blessed us with a little son whose baptismal sponsor was my brother in law Johann Jacob. 1752 April 21, blessed us with a little daughter whose baptismal sponsor was Anna Gertraut Schneiderterin. 1753 October 15, God blessed us with a little daughter whose baptismal sponsor was EliessaGertraut Schneiderterin. 1757 the 21st January, God blessed us with a little daughter whose baptismal sponsor was my sister Elisabeth. 1759, July 8, God blessed us with a little daughter whose baptismal sponsor was my sister Anna Cattarina. 1760 November 19, God blessed us with a little son whose sponsor was Gerhard Just Tilmann (?).
1767 October 11, God blessed us with a little
1763 the 14th September -----
In the year 1726 in the month of February -----
In the year 1732, the 27th of February, son Johan Jostborn to the world at
In the year 1737, the 17th of August, my daughter Anna Cadarina born to the world
1763 September 14, God blessed us with a son whose baptismal sponsors were MatheusBarn (Zorn?) and his wife.
by Pastor Frederick S. Weiser,
Commissioned by Mel F. McBeth.
Transcribed by William S. Jewell,