Posts Tagged ‘german’

Jenny Kenninger

The most common language I run into in Ohio cemeteries after English is German. I took a little German college – two semesters as an undergraduate and then, as a graduate student, 1 semester of basic German structure so that I could translate academic articles with a German-English dictionary if I wanted to continue to a doctorate. It doesn’t help me puzzle out the elaborate poems that sometimes appear on tombstones, but I can handle the more basic things. “Hier ruht” translates to “here rests.”

Kraft Monument

Kraft Monument

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According to the website Today in History, on this date in 1683, the very first German immigrants to what would be the United States arrived in Philadelphia. I don’t have any way to verify that this is true right now, nor confirm the assertion that it was 13 families and they were specifically invited by William Penn, but it gives me an opening to talk about a part of me that is important.

You see, I am the product of those families – I don’t know if I am a literal descendant of anyone who stepped off of the boat on that precise day to blink in the bright sunlight at life in a strange land, but at some point some of my ancestors in Germany made that same choice. They left behind a land they knew for the possibilities that lay across the sea in a place known as Penn’s Woods, or Pennsylvania, and established new communities. Some estimates say that half the residents of Pennsylvania were of German origin or ancestry at the time of the American Revolution, and as of the last census, it was still the mostly commonly noted ethnic origin in the commonwealth.

My paternal grandmother’s family proudly declared their Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, although I can’t say we knew much about it other than the food. No one that I’m aware of speaks the dialect, other than a few phrases that made their way into our consciousness, and even though I don’t know how to convey it here, what I’m reading about how the accent sounds is how my grandmother and her generation spoke. It’s less distinct other than some words and phrases that my parents and I use. I remember very clearly my grandmother saying she would “red up the room” rather than clean it, and I think one of my great aunts informed us at least once that she was going to “outen the lights.” While I’ve been researching this, Mike has informed me that he’s pretty sure “slippy” is not a word in the dictionary that can be used interchangeably with slippery, but in this case I can chalk it up to dialect.

In checking lists of supposedly Pennsylvania Dutch foods, I find there was even more than I was aware of. We sipped not just root beer, but birch beer, while we enjoyed chicken pot pie, chicken corn soup (I have not had a bowl of this since my grandmother died and would love so much to taste it again), pork and sauerkraut, potato cakes, and Lebanon bologna (at least I can get that at the grocery story here). They may not have been my taste, but my grandmother served scrapple, pickled beet eggs with their distinctive purple tint, German potato salad, and apple butter at her table. And for dessert – so many high-fat and often deep-fried options – funnel cakes, fasnachts, apple fritters, shoofly pie, or whoopie pies. No, fastnachts are not just doughnuts.

I just passed a lovely hour writing this blog post, confirming things from my childhood are in many cases part of a wider Pennsylvania Dutch culture and not ONLY my family’s eccentricities.  I have these things in common with a community – 19th century tombstones near my childhood home carry German surnames and are sometimes inscribed in German rather than English.

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When I visited my family in Pennsylvania in 2009, I stopped at Bakers’ Cemetery, a little graveyard carved out of one side of a farmer’s field. This little cemetery was less than 2 miles from my childhood home, but I had never set foot inside the gate. The cemetery is tiny but well-taken care of, and there is even a relatively new cremation garden. A stroll through the cemetery shows the German ancestry of the settlers in the area, descendants of whom still live nearby. I saw Leibs, Brindles, Shumbergers. Some of the older tombstones are inscribed in German. One of these, paired with its neighbor, caught my attention. Brindle is a surname that you still find in the local area, and there is at least one Brindle Road. The older of the tombstones lamented in German the death of Georg Brentel, German immigrant.


Georg Brentel

All around that tombstone were the ones for his relatives and descendants, with the Anglicized surname Brindle. I suspect this tombstone might have been for his wife, but it is hard to be sure, because the name George was used in multiple generations.

Elizabeth Brindle

And here are some other Brentels turned Brindles that stand on either side of Georg Brentel’s tombstone.

Our Mother Ann Brindle

George Brindle

Sarah Brindle

There are also other Brindle tombstones scattered throughout the cemetery.

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This Erkenbrecher monument is in Spring Grove Cemetery. The classical woman figure has paused in her writing – perhaps to grieve?


Angling the camera correctly, I was able to capture a photograph of the tablet on which she has been writing…but it is in German. I have minimal German capabilities. Can anyone read this more skillfully than I am able?



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While I was visiting my family for Christmas, I drove by the church I attended as a child. I had always remembered that someone told me the area where we had our summer picnics and socials was actually a graveyard.

Even now, the area I grew up in is fairly rural, although the rolling fields are slowly being divvied up into housing lots and sold. My father’s property has a chicken farm on the south boundary and a dairy farm to the west. Our township had a fire department but no police force, and our water came from a well. I attended school with kids who had already been up feeding the chickens or milking the cows before they got on the bus. Between my house and my elementary school, the bus sped past working farms, pastures, and at least one roadside produce stand. Those of us who weren’t children of farmers had parents who traded a short commute and convenience for wide open spaces, fresh air, and nights where the only light was the twinkling of stars in the blue-black sky.

When I was about five or six, my mother began attending church a few miles down the road in Allen, called Churchtown by locals. Allen is one of those places that just barely qualifies as a village, by virtue of a higher concentration of residences clustered around an intersection and two churches. It doesn’t have a separate zip code or post office, and I am hard pressed to think of any existing businesses in town. The church we attended was the Mount Zion Lutheran Church, that occupies the northeast quadrant of the intersection. Mount Zion draws its congregation from the cluster of homes and the surrounding farmland, where many of the residents still bear the surnames of the predominantly German immigrants from whom they and the church descended – names like Leib, Gutshall, Hopple, and Weise. One of my clearest impressions of the church, which we stopped attending by the time I was 16, was that we were outsiders – about 3/4s of the people there were related.


So when I drove by the church lawn with the granite marker with my older eyes, I immediately saw the GAR stars, Spanish-American War cross, and Revolutionary War circular markers at the base. One side of the marker states that it is “in memory of the dead interred here” and informs that the first burial was in 1788 and the last in 1870. The other three sides have plaques with an alphabetical listing of all known burials in the churchyard.


Now I don’t know if the marker is in the exact spot where the original cemetery on the property was. The single marker actually leads me to believe that  either it is not or that the original cemetery fell into significant disrepair.  If I can ever find out more specifics, I will post an update.


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While doing the Historic Cleveland Scavenger Hunt at Woodland Cemetery, I was searching for an epitaph on a particular stone, came around the corner, and gasped at this lovely, fairly well-preserved tombstone.


A lot of tombstones of this material and age are worn and difficult to decipher, but I am guessing that the particular location and possibly the surrounding vegetation have provided some protection from the elements.


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