“Your DNA has a story. It’s time to discover it,” invites an ad on the back cover of the February 10, 2014 issue of The New Yorker. “It’s easier than ever to discover your ethnic heritage – and possibly find new cousins along the way,” the advertisement continues. Simply send in a small saliva sample, the key to revealing your DNA strands, which will unlock the secrets of your ethnic roots and disclose where your ancestors lived up to a thousand years ago.
Genealogy, roots, ancestry . . . In my Pennsylvania Dutch family tree, names and dates were often written in the family Bible:
Eight generations ago, Ulrich Langenegger (1664-1757), left his birthplace in Langnau, Switzerland, because of religious persecution, and moved to the Rhine Valley in Germany and subsequently immigrated to America from Rotterdam on the good ship Hope.
In America, his son, Christian Langenecker (1703-1759) settled in the rich farm land of Donegal Township in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania where followed two more generations of Christian Longeneckers, with the initial “a” in the last name changing finally to an “o.”
And so the family tree on my father’s paternal side continues:
Christian Longenecker, Jr. 1785-1855 buried in Bossler Mennonite Church Cemetery
John Longenecker 1817-1898 married Nancy Garber, my great-great grandmother
Levi Longenecker 1850-1931 married Annie Risser, my great-grandmother
Henry Longenecker 1876-1946 married Fannie Martin, my grandmother
Ray Longenecker 1915-1985 married Ruth Metzler Longenecker, my mother
On my father’s maternal side some of our history is recorded on the bottom of a chair given to me in 1975. Even then it had a 150-year-old history of Martins, Brinsers, and Horsts in the lineage of my Grandmother Fannie Martin Longenecker.
My mother’s story is a blend of other Pennsylvania Dutch Names: Landis, Harnish, Hernley, and Metzler. After attending the 275th Metzler reunion last June, I wrote a post entitled Another Valentine, A Different Romance, recounting the parallel history of Swiss-German Mennonites who also came to Pennsylvania at the invitation of William Penn to farm the rich soil of Lancaster County.
Because of their unique heritage as plain folks, focus on Mennonite ancestry is not unusual. But interest in tracing one’s ancestry has ballooned nation-wide in the last decade. “Finding Your Roots” the immensely popular PBS series by Professor Henry Louis Gates which aired in 2012 mirrors that trend. Using both traditional research and genetics, the series traces the family roots of such disparate celebrities as Condoleezza Rice, Sanjay Gupta, Margaret Cho, Robert Downey Jr., and Rev. Rick Warren. There are some surprising intermingling of genetic roots among the stories as I recall.
Thus, as our family trees expand and send out branches in many different directions, the fascination with our roots continues: Healthy roots, thriving branches, the tag of Homecoming Weekend at Eastern Mennonite University last fall, says it well.
Do you know your ethnic mix? Does it matter to you?
Is your story more complex because of adoption?
What fascinating discoveries have you made in learning of your ancestry?
Your thoughts matter to me! I look forward to hearing from you.