America is a nation of immigrants, of people who left their homes and came to a new country looking for opportunities, whether religious or financial. My Marshall and Bitcon grandparents came in the early 1900s to “find their fortune”, as Gramma Christie once told me at the end of her life. In the 1880s, the Freebergs and the Hurnis left Sweden and Switzerland and traveled with young families to America.
Three of John’s grandparents have much deeper roots in American soil. In fact, at least six of his family lines were here before the founding of the United States.
Theuniz Thomsen Quick emigrated from Holland in 1642 and settled in New Amsterdam, now New York City. Five generations later his ggg-grandaughter, Annatje married Benjamin Markle, whose grandfather, Frederick Merkel, had come from the Palatinate region of Germany in 1710. Earlier, Tomys Swartwout emigrated from Holland to New Amsterdam in 1651, part of a large and influential family that helped shape America through nine generations to Lila Lorea Swarthout, John’s paternal grandmother. They served as sheriffs, J.P.’s, soldiers, statesmen and community leaders. One (not directly ascendant) was a friend of Aaron Burr and helped him leave town after he shot Hamilton. Their friendship almost embroiled Swarthout in the charges of treason that Burr later faced. Another Swartwout family was massacred by the Delaware Indians in their home in New Jersey. Along our direct line, there were several Revolutionary War and Civil War soldiers, including James J. Swarthout, whose picture looks surprisingly like John did in the 1970s. Aaron Swarthout served as a fifer in the New York Infantry.
Caspar Rieth emigrated with other family members in 1729, also from Germany. He settled in New York, first in the Hudson Valley and then moved to Pennsylvania, where conditions were more hospitable. Six generations of Reeds later, John’s maternal grandmother was born in Shamokin, PA. Jacob Fegley, another German, emigrated in 1733, settling in Berks County. PA. Five generations later, Flora Fegley married Charles Henry Reed and settled in Shamokin. Valentine Welker emigrated from Germany in 1772, also settling in Pennsylvania. The Rieth/Reeds, Fagleys and Welkers all served in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, which were fought in and around their new home turf.
August C. Herr was a relative latecomer, jumping ship in Hoboken, NJ, and staying in the United States in the early 1870s. He worked in the coal mines for many years and raised a large family in Shamokin with his wife, Minerva Milbrand (whose parents were “lost at sea” when she emigrated with her family. I haven’t been able to learn any more about them.)
Since Covid began last March, I have been working on our family genealogy. Last year I’d started a family tree wall of photographs, completing my side of the family. This year’s project was to work on John’s half of the tree. I started compiling information about the Hurnes, Reeds, and Maricles many years ago when I first was introduced to the family at a Hurne Reunion in 1976, The year after we were married, I took a trip with John’s parents to their hometowns in New York and Pennsylvania and met older relatives, saw gravesites and took pictures of pictures as I was able. I worked on genealogy throughout the years but that was back in the day when genealogy required visits to libraries, graveyards, and handwritten letters. The Internet has exploded the possibilities for genealogists but also made it more difficult to do careful research. Or maybe, the internet has made sloppy research much more accessible.
Alongside the wall of photos, I have made two notebooks to share my research and stories. I’m pretty sure no one in my family will want to dig through my old files so this will make the family stories more available to them and explain the pictures on the wall.
It has been fun to learn about the deep American roots on the Hurne* side of the family. We hoped to travel east this summer or fall to visit family and some of the locations where these stories took place and to do more research, but Covid has kept us home (as well as closing many of the repositories of information.) I’m still hoping that will happen in 2021.
* You may have noticed multiple spellings of the family names: Rieths became Reeds; Swartwout became—in some cases—Swarthout; Merkel was spelled multiple ways throughout the generations, as well as Fegley, Fagley, etc. We even contributed to this pattern when we legally changed our surname from Hurne to Hurni in 1981, the original spelling in Switzerland. It had been anglicized when Samuel Hurni came to New York in 1880, supposedly because the immigration personnel misunderstood his pronunciation of the German “i”. I talked John into changing it back, assuming that maybe some of the other Hurnes would follow suit. None of them did so now we are the “Hurni’s with the i” and have to write Hurne/i to include the whole family. One nephew got tired of correcting the pronunciation of his family name and has gone by the name Hurne with a silent e for many years.
Speaking of pronunciation, last winter in New Zealand, I met a young man from Bern, Switzerland, about 30 minutes from the small town of Gurbrü where the Hurnis lived. I told him our family name and he seemed very puzzled by it. A few minutes later, he realized that my pronunciation was way off and told me how it would be said there. I tried to video him saying it correctly but the sound didn’t pick up so I missed my opportunity. Let’s just say it had a much deeper German inflection.