Sunday, August 30, 2009

Meeting the Amish

As the first day of our research trip ended, we packed up our gear at the Montgomery County, NY Archives and headed for the car. Our day was not over just yet. We had cemeteries and homesteads to visit before we could rest.

The first homestead on our list was that of John Edwards, the grandfather of my Dad’s grandfather. If I’m not mistaken that makes him my 3rd great grandfather. John was born in 1792 in Germantown, New York to our otherwise elusive immigrant ancestor, William Edwards from Wales and his 3rd generation American Palatine wife, Christina. Sometime around 1810 John followed his family members who had already settled in Charleston (later Glen) New York. John married a Dutch girl, Ann Van Schaick in 1816. They settled on what is now Argesinger Road in Glen and had nine children.

Having a copy of John’s will, I knew that the property had been sold out of the family after his death. But I was keen to see it none-the-less. The Argesinger brothers had bought it after the Edwards family sold it. I had been contacted by the children of one of the Argesingers but I wasn’t sure if they still owned it or not.

The folks at the Archives had told us that the Amish were buying up many farms in the area. Caution signs with pictures of horse drawn carriages randomly appeared along the streets. We were also told that the Amish built new houses and barns rather than using the ones that existed. In this very old place where time stood still is was easy to pick out the farms that the Amish bought.

Dad and I came to the spot where John Edwards' homestead should have stood. Instead of a home on the north side of the road there was a little small, new, not particularly attractive construction. Yet the barn across the road matched the one in the photo the Argesinger relatives had given us. An Amish young man happened to be walking along the way.

We pulled our car over and the young Amish man waited for us. Despite that he was no more than 20 years old he had a full beard. His long sleeve button down shirt was of a rich deep blue hue. His dark pants were secured by buttons only. No zippers or snaps in sight. I explained to him that we had a photo of his barn that was taken in 1937. I showed him the photo and he agreed it was his barn. We explained that our ancestors had settled this land and built the house and cleared the farm. We were hoping to learn more about it and take a current photo of the barn.

The young Amish man signaled to the distance where his father and brother were. He said he would ask his father. We walked toward them. His father was up an apple tree. My family had harvested apples when they lived on this land too. The father came down off the ladder to see what all the fuss was about. He looked at the photo from 1937. We explained again about how our ancestors settled this land. Dad and I weren’t sure if our comments had any impact on him. We made introductions, Marian Pierre-Louis, George Edwards, Ben Miller.

He seemed intrigued by the photo. He explained that the original barn had burned down in 1908 or 1909. The barn that my ancestor had built. This replacement was built by the Argesinger Brothers in 1910 or so. He said the year was written on the barn somewhere. He agreed to let us take a photo of the barn.

Over the ensuing hour we learned that Ben cared about the history of this place as well. He sent his son back to the house to find the packet of deeds to the property. Ben also had photos that previous owners had taken. Some of them contained photos of John Edwards house that was no longer standing.

In a funny twist of modern world meets the Amish, we took digital photos of their old photos of the homestead as well as the deeds relating to our family. Ben was going to give us the photos but then thought better that his wife might like to keep them. Dad chastised me later for not taking them. But I understood how Ben’s wife might feel and wanted her to keep the photos.

On our way out we took some photos of the farm, but not of the Millers. I was satisfied visiting the original homestead of my Edwards family in New York. While I didn’t get to see the home where John Edwards once lived I did enjoying viewing his farm and the land he cleared. The connection to the land was still strong and I went away fulfilled.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful adventure. I have a keen interest in the Amish. I have read a lot about them. My fascination with them began with an Amish buggy that we drove behind on the way to tour the Hershey, PA when I was a kid. I have attended Amish quilt fairs and have had Shoo Fly Pie. As far as I know I have no Amish ancestors (or Menonite)but my grandmother insisted that some of her Dutch ancestors may have been Pennsylvania Dutch (German speaking Amish) but this story has not yet been substantiated.