Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center

As President of National Palatines to America, I was invited to attend the fall board meeting of the Pennsylvania Chapter of PalAm.  Doris Glick, the current President of that Chapter issued the invitation, and fortunately I was free on that Saturday, 8 September.  The Pennsylvania Chapter had recently undergone a change in officers, and they thought I might be able to help answer some of their questions.  I was happy to be able to join them.

The meeting took place on the campus of Kutztown University, at the library of the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center, which is a non-profit organization.   As part of the Kutztown University community, it serves to enhance the Pennsylvania German Studies Program at the University.    
The library in which we met is housed in a small modern building in a cluster of other buildings that include the Sharadin Farmhouse, a Pennsylvania German Bank Barn and the Freyberger One Room Schoolhouse.  Lucy Kern, the Secretary for the Pennsylvania Chapter, is also the librarian at the library, and Doris Glick is a volunteer staff member.

My initial reaction when I walked into the building was that it was small.  However when I walked into the room where the books where housed, I was impressed by the amount of material that filled the wall to wall shelving.  On the shelves were transcripts of church records for a large enough number of churches that it took several shelving units to hold them.  It also included the Germans to America from 1840 to 1897, and many other books. If you are researching German ancestors who settled in Pennsylvania, this would  be a good place to visit. Perhaps a picture would say more than all my words.

The University had given the Pennsylvania Chapter access to the library for its board meeting, but has also generously allowed them to hold their Fall 2012 Conference in the University’s Academic Forum.  The conference will be held on Saturday, October 6, beginning with registration beginning at 8:30 a.m.  You can find more information on the conference by going to the Palatines to America web-site,, and navigating to the Pennsylvania Chapter’s page.  You will find the registration form to print out and mail in.  I plan to be at the conference, and I encourage others to attend what promises to be a fine one-day conference.

As a reminder, I am still looking for a speaker for the 2013 PalAm National in Albany, who can address the topic of the Germans of Pennsylvania.  If anyone knows of such a speaker, send me the name and contact information.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Pennsylvania Germans

For those of German heritage, having German ancestry is sometimes not the most important point.  In New York, for example, being of German Palatine ancestry is for some, their source of loyalty and pride.  Similar loyalties exist in other states where people identify with the German populations that migrated to their state, be it Colorado, Wisconsin, Ohio etc.  That is perfectly understandable. My father’s German parents came to New Hampshire in 1900 to find employment in the Amoskeag Mills in Manchester, NH.  As a result, I have an interest in those foreign workers, many of them German,  who were recruited from all over Europe and elsewhere to work in that mill.
As a member of the New York Chapter of Palatines to America, it should be no surprise that I was impressed by the contributions of those German immigrants who settled in New York State.  The early 18th century Palatines played an important role in the history of the state.  But so did those Germans who came in the 19th century and formed the population of that substantial New York City sub community known as Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany.  My g-g-grandfather, Jeremiah Staker, was part of that population.
However, when studying those Germans who came to this country, and seeing where they settled, we have to admit that Pennsylvania holds a place of prominence for German immigration.  On the 1790 census, 26.1 per cent of the Pennsylvania population was of German ancestry.  No other state comes close to it on that census.  New York, by comparison, had less than one per cent of its population of German ancestry.
While there were certainly some Germans who came to New Netherlands and to Jamestown in Virginia in the early 17th century, these were a relatively small number.  The first permanent German settlers in the colonies were the group of Germans who settled Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1683. And of course, we are all familiar with the so called “Pennsylvania Dutch”, who are not Dutch at all, but German speaking immigrants from Germany, Switzerland and the eastern part of France.
I suppose it should be not be a surprise that the Pennsylvania Chapter is the largest in Palatines to America, followed by the Ohio Chapter.   But in recognition of that fact, I feel it is important that we try to provide more coverage of those Pennsylvania Germans at our 2013 PalAm Conference.  Our theme is “Our German Ancestors: When they came and where they went.”  Anyone have a recommendation for a speaker to talk about those Germans of Pennsylvania?  I am open to suggestions.