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Saturday, July 19, 2014

My name is Harvey Yoder-Nisly-Troyer-Miller-Slabaugh-Hochstetler-Gerber-Bontrager-Esch-Kauffman-Swartzentruber-Gingerich-Stutzman-Lauver-Wert......

Cousins Barbara, Katie, Nora and I check out our ancestors
Earlier this week I had the privilege of giving a Yoder-Nisly genealogy talk at the John D. Yoder family reunion held at Highland Retreat. Most of the thirty or so in attendance were cousins or cousins-in-law, so we have many ancestors in common.

Their grandfather John D. Yoder was my father's oldest half-brother. Interestingly, John's wife, Catherine Miller ("Katie"), happened to also be the younger sister of his father's (and my grandfather's) third wife Elizabeth Miller, my dad's mother.

Having grandfather Dan, then twice a widower, and his oldest son John marrying sisters makes for an interesting family connection. What turns the family "tree" into even more of a "brush pile" is my dad and two of his brother John's sons each marrying one of Eli and Fannie Nisly's daughters, making the three of them brothers-in-law by marriage, uncle and nephew on their father's side and first cousins through their mothers. To clarify, none of them is marrying a close relative.

Confused yet?

Anyway, due to our families having generations of parallel Amish roots, our genealogical charts are remarkable in numerous ways, and the numbers of ancestors we have in common are remarkable.

I used to think of myself primarily as half Yoder and half Nisly, and assumed that if I traced my paternal history back to Christian and Barbara Yoder (who emigrated to Philadelphia in 1742), and my maternal ancestry back to immigrant  Christian Nisly (who arrived here in 1804 as a sixteen-year-old) that that would represent the key elements in my ancestral story.

I was wrong, of course. There are way too many other generational lines to be pursued.

On my ancestral fan chart, for example, I found David and Veronica Dreher (a name that later became "Troyer") appearing four different times. They were among my grandmother Elizabeth (Miller) Yoder's maternal and paternal distant ancestors, for a start. But they were also my grandfather Daniel Yoder's great, great, great great grandparents, and my grandmother Fannie (Troyer) Nisly's paternal forbears. This means I have nearly as much of their DNA in me as I do of Barbara and Christian Yoder, who appear on the same ancestral chart a total of four times on my Yoder (dad's) side and once on my Nisly (mom's) side.

I find this fascinating, to say the least, suggesting myriads of unknown, untold and interrelated stories. The full ancestral chart includes so many people to whom we owe so much of what has shaped us, genetically and in countless other ways.

For example, I'd love to know more about the above David and Veronica Dreher, five generations removed from my maternal grandmother Fannie Troyer. The word "dreher" in German means "turner", or "lathe operator", and as a family name became anglicized as "Troyer", my mom's mother Fannie's maiden name. The common nickname for Veronica is Vrennie (pronounced Frennie in German), which became "Fannie" in Pennsylvania Dutch.

In light of all these ancestral roots, maybe my name should be something like Harvey Nisly-Yoder-Troyer-Miller-Slabaugh-Hochstetler-Gerber-Bontrager-Esch-Kauffman-Swartzentruber-Gingerich-Stutzman-Lauver-Wert...

Or just call me Harv for short. Like the older brother of my dad I was named after.

ancestral chart by Katie Yoder Zook, photo by John H. Yoder
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