- Faculty & Staff
Muhlenberg Stories: Who is in Your Family?
by the Rev. Dr. Claire Anderson ('65)
The Rev. Dr. Clair Anderson is a retired ELCA pastor living in Hanover, PA and a member of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, which Henry Melchior Muhlenberg visited in 1747.
Two recent TV series have assisted celebrities in learning about persons in their families' history. Have you wondered who might show up in your family history? My mother perked our interest by outlining the families of my four grandparents who immigrated from farms in Sweden in the late 19th century. Two of my wife Cinda's grandparents also came from Sweden in the 1880s. On a trip to Sweden, we visited the villages from which they came and the Lutheran churches in which they were baptized.
This year, American Lutherans are celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the 18th century pastor who planted many Lutheran congregations along the east coast and supervised congregations already established. For one year, Muhlenberg pastored St. Paul Lutheran Church, Bedminister, N.J. One of Cinda's ancestors, Johannes Appelman, is mentioned several times in Muhlenberg's Journals and contributed to the building of that church. A Journal entry for July 8, 1759 states that Muhlenberg preached twice at St. Paul's, baptized 20 children, and drove to Johannes Appelman's home for an evening of singing, discussion and prayer.
Earlier, in 1714, Johannes Appelman's brother John Baltus, from whom Cinda is directly descended, was the first German Lutheran child baptized in New Jersey at what was organized as Zion Lutheran Church, Oldwick, one of New Jersey's oldest congregations. He was baptized by the Rev. Justus Falckner, the first Lutheran pastor ordained in America, who was ordained by the Church of Sweden at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes) Church, Philadelphia, in 1703.
Johannes Moelich/Melick, another ancestor and a member of Zion Lutheran Church, is also mentioned in Muhlenberg's Journals. Peter, a member of the Melick family, served in the Continental Army and received the thanks of General George Washington for securing grain from Pennsylvania farmers during the winter of 1777-78 when the army was encamped at Valley Forge.
Two of Cinda's great-great grandfathers served in the Union Army during the Civil War. In 1864, Cyrus Appleman joined an artillery regiment that fought from the Battle of the Wilderness to Petersburg. The story has come down that in 1864 recruiters took George Washington Unger "out of the cornfield" and sent him to General Phil Sheridan's forces that destroyed the food supply on the farms in the Shenandoah Valley.
Researching our Swedish grandparents has not turned up such interesting history. And since Sweden had the practice until the 19th century of sons taking the father's first name and adding -son (eg. Clair -son) and daughters adding -dotter, it is not as easy to trace a family. We have, however, traced my Freeberg family back to 1790 and Cinda's Peterson family back to 1797.
You may find some interesting people and stories in your family history. Talk to parents and older relatives. Check out the internet genealogical sites like ancestry.com, genline.com and familysearch.org. We found some good basic information at the Columbia Country Historical and Genealogical Society, Bloomsburg, PA. Books were helpful, especially The Palatine Families of New York - 1710 by Henry Jones, Jr. (www.hankjones.com/palny.htm), The Journals of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (Picton Press, in three volumes) and The Faithful and the Bold: The Story of the First Service of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Oldwick, New Jersey, by Norman C. Wittwer (Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1984, http://www.amazon.com/Faithful-Bold-Service-Evangelical-Lutheran/dp/0913186104).