Searching for the birthplace and parish of Johann Peter GRÄFF and family

This article appeared in Memos, Berlin Area Historical Society, vol 14, no 1, Spring 2002, p 12

GRAEFF Family Discoveries


                My introduction to Somerset County came when I learned that my Great-Grandmother, Rebecca Belle GROVE, was born in Stonycreek Township and lived in Shade Township before she left for Minnesota with her new husband, a Civil War veteran from Bedford County. U. S. Census microfilms show that Rebecca’s parents were John GROVE and Catherine LINDEMANN. Somerset records then gave John’s parents as George Michael ‘GRAFF’/GROFF/GROVE and Susanna AUGUSTINE; he is mentioned in “The History of Bedford, Somerset, and Fulton Counties” (1884), with a date that must be an error. After meeting several ‘E-mail cousins’ and visiting Somerset County in Spring, 2001, I found records at the Somerset Historical and Genealogical Society and the Berlin Area Historical Society with more of the family tree. This information, compiled in the 1960-1970s, is summarized on page 199 of “The GROFF Book, Volume 2” (1997) by Jane E. Best (available from the Lancaster County Historical Society). Unfortunately, some of this information has proven to be false, and I hope that this short note will help to clarify the situation.


                My attention was immediately attracted to Rebecca’s Great-Grandparents, Johann(es) Peter (JP) ‘GRAFF’, and his wife, Anna Maria Catherina (AMC), who were pioneer immigrants into Brother’s Valley before 1776. There are few records for that period, but AMC entered her family data in a ‘GRAEFFIN Bible’, which earlier historians had examined. We also know that they settled on land next to Buffalo Lick Creek, just below the hill shown in the photo on the BAHS website! There is general agreement that they had nine children, of whom four were with them when they arrived in Brother’s Valley, and that the basic family data is:

Johannes Peter ‘GRAFF’, b. (ca) 1730, d. 1800;

   m. 22 Aug 1748, Anna Maria ‘JOST/YOST’, b. 20 Feb 1729, d. 1809;

                                Anna Gertrude, b. 21 Apr 1752,                 m. ‘Franz’ HOEH (Francis HAY);

                Anna Elizabeth, b. 21 Jan 1757, first wife of Clement ENGLE;

                                George Michael b. 20 Nov 1760, m. Susanna AUGUSTINE;

                                Anna Barbara, b. ‘‘in America” 11 Nov 1767, m. Conrad BRAN(D)T.

The female lines have been extensively researched, and many descendants still live in Somerset County. I am currently working with cousins to develop the incomplete male GROVE line. Every source seemed to be certain that: (1) Maria’s maiden name was JOST, and (2) that they came from the village of Wynigen, in Canton Bern, Switzerland. However, when I finally saw the GRAEFFIN Bible and obtained a translation of the inscriptions, it was clear that AMC: did not give her maiden name; did not mention any place names (except for the fact that her last child was born in America); and, indeed, gave only the names of the baptismal sponsors, but not the names of her children! Where had these additional ‘facts’ come from?


To shorten a very long story, I spent a year and a half searching Switzerland and then up and down the Rhine for a union between ‘GRAFF’ and ‘JOST’ families. I ‘advertised’ widely and retained a professional genealogist. No luck. Then, in an incredible stroke of serendipity, an unknown E-contact wrote me in October, 2001, that the baptismal record of Anna Gertrude was in the LDS IGI database under ‘Evangelische Kirche, Siegen, Westfalen, Preussen’. I have since examined microfilms of the Siegen church records, and have found most of the family in the Taufbuch, including the first three children above and four out of the non-surviving five children mentioned in AMC’s Bible! Besides the complete names of the children and their sponsors, I learned that (1) the family spelled their name GRAEFF or GRAEB (from their marriage record in the Ehebuch), and (2) AMC’s maiden name is SCHNEIDER! Siegen is a historical medieval town and principality, noted especially for its very early iron mining and smelting, and lies about 50 miles east of Bonn, Germany. The GRAEFFs and the SCHNEIDERs lived in the nearby village of Niederschelden, now an industrial suburb of Siegen. It is interesting to note JP’s family name was always written “AE” in Siegen, whereas in America it was written “A” with an umlaut or overbar.

This discovery solves some family history problems, but raises many new ones. Perhaps the most interesting question is that of allied Siegen families who settled in Brother’s Valley.  I have found that a younger sister of AMC, Anna Catharina SCHNEIDER, married Johann Jost DIETZ (DITZ, DEETS) in Siegen, and they are both in early Berlin church records. I also believe that some of AMC’s male relatives may have emigrated to Brother’s Valley; perhaps the pioneers Jacob and Gertraut SCHNIEDER are related to her. JP’s mother was an Elisabeth GIEBELER, so perhaps Jacob and Anna Gertraut GIBLER are related to him. After JP’s father died at age 36, his mother remarried a Johann Ebert GUEDING, and we know that several of JP’s half-brothers emigrated to eastern Maryland, where the name evolved into KEETING, then to KEEDY. So, perhaps, the pioneers Johan and Julianna GUETHING/GIETING/GUTIG are also part of this extended family. SCHUETZ/SHEETS is also both a Siegen and Brother’s Valley name, although I have found no direct connection with the GRAEFFs or SCHNEIDERs. Perhaps readers can clarify some of these possibilities.

I would be happy to send a draft report on my quest to anyone requesting it, provided that they understand that all discoveries are not yet completely proven. I would also like to communicate with anyone interested in the various Somerset families mentioned here.

William S. Jewell (Deceased)

Orinda, California 94563

In 2003, Bill discovered the errors in the earlier translations of the family bible which had led him astray. After correcting the translation errors he found the Graff family roots in Siegen Germany!