Beginnings…of my writing (and my family tree)

IMG_0423I have been on vacation this week so I was unable to put together a new piece.  Instead of offering you more “fish,” I thought I share with you the first piece I ever wrote (outside of required school assignments).  I entered this story in an international genealogy writing competition and came away with 2nd place, which included a small a cash prize.  I tested my “luck” again the following year with another genealogy piece and was awarded 3rd place.  After two awards in two attempts I had to consider the possibility that I had some writing talent.  My article included many citations, which I removed to make it easier to read.

“The Search for Grandpa Peter”

My adventure began almost two years ago at a summer family gathering. After everyone had eaten, a handful of us settled into lawn chairs for a chat. At some point during the conversation the subject of genealogy came up. For years I had avoided becoming involved with genealogy, mainly because I already had enough hobbies. I listened, however,  as my father and my brother-in-law, Paul, discussed the “brick wall” that stymied everyone researching our family history for decades. The unanswerable question was, “where did our ancestor Peter B. Roushey come from?”

As I listened to the conversation, something stirred inside me and I found myself wanting to get involved. I had just finished graduate school and there was a part of me that was looking for another challenge. This could be it I thought. What could be more challenging than to discover something that was believed to be unknowable?  Just like that I was hooked.

The next day I jumped in with both feet. I had no experience as a genealogist so I decided that I would use my grad school research training. One of my courses in college was called The Integrative Project, and in it we learned a multiple step approach to solving significant problems.  I shortened the process to four steps and adapted it to work for my needs. My first step was to create a research statement using the information that was already known about Peter. I was taught that the reason for doing this was to keep the research scope narrow and maintain focus on the objective. The second step was conducting the actual research.   My research would include researching Peter and his environment (the people around him, period history, culture, geography, etc.). The third step involved producing a theory based on the results of my research. The final step was proving my theory. If proof were not available, then at least I would have a strong theory. Likewise, if the proof I sought refuted with my theory, I would return to step two (research) and continue from there.

I photocopied the information my father had acquired on Peter B. It didn’t seem like much, but it would prove to be valuable data in the months to come when I attempted to prove my theory. The information included a biography written about William Carr Roushey, the son of Peter B., copied from the book, The History of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.  The other resource my father had was the unpublished genealogy notes compiled by his uncle, the late Reverend Herbert Roushey.  Uncle Herbert had spent his retirement years collecting information from cemetery caretakers, government agencies, and family members. He had documented our family tree back to Peter B. Roushey, but due to our brick wall he could get no further.

The William Carr Roushey biography yielded several important pieces of information. William C. was born in Hope, Warren County, NJ.  His parents, Peter B. and Rebecca Wolfe, were born in Warren County, NJ.  Additionally, Peter was a tailor by trade who removed to Luzerne County, PA in approximately 1816.

Uncle Herbert’s notes mentioned a family story about Peter that was handed down over the years. Tradition told of two brothers who came from Germany and settled in New Jersey. One of the brothers was said to be Peter B. Roushey and the other unnamed brother migrated west and was never heard from again.  As I worked through the exercise of reviewing the known information on Peter, it was obvious to me what my problem statement was. Who were the parents of Peter B. Roushey, tailor, born in Warren County, New Jersey?

I was convinced that my success or failure would depend on how much information I could gather on Peter and his surrounding environment. By trial and error I developed a systematic approach to gathering information. I used the Internet to locate people, places or groups that I could network with or visit. I also used keyword Internet searches to look for anything I could find on Peter B. As a practice I tried to validate any information I took directly off the Internet. This approach enabled me to join genealogy groups, find historical societies and libraries, correspond with newly discovered cousins, and locate other unique resources.

One of my greatest finds was locating the Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, genealogy group referred to as The Courthouse Gang.  I credit this friendly, tireless group of volunteers with helping me locate Peter’s tombstone. They were also able to help me locate resources in Warren County, New Jersey.  The “gang” represented a wide cross section of experience in the field of genealogy and I have learned a lot from them. One of the joys of being a part of this group is being able to assist someone else looking for their ancestors.

Peter B. Roushey’s tombstone established a birth date of September 1, 1787, placing his parents in the Revolutionary War period. This discovery, coupled with the family story suggesting our German origin, seemed to be pointing to the possibility that Peter’s father was a Hessian soldier. This conclusion placed me on the same path taken by the other Roushey researchers, and led directly to our family’s brick wall. Maybe they had missed something. Could my use of the Internet permit me to succeed where the others before me had failed?

I returned to the Internet to search for resources or authorities on Hessian soldiers. I knew that there were thousands of Hessian soldiers who remained in America after the Revolutionary War. I had to narrow the list of possibilities if I was going to be successful. Family tradition held that Peter’s father was also named Peter, however I was not able to determine where the story originated. My research led me to a book written by John H. Merz, which I purchased. The book, along with the author’s assistance, helped me narrow my research to Peter Ruechert and Johann Peter Rosenberg.  However, neither of the two soldiers appeared to have set foot in New Jersey after the Revolutionary War, and neither of them had a son named Peter.

It looked unlikely at this point that our family originated from a Hessian soldier. Somewhat discouraged, I set my Hessian soldier information aside. There was still quite a bit of certainty about our German heritage so I turned back to The Courthouse Gang for more ideas. Someone in the group recommended the Wyoming County Historical Society in Tunkhannock, PA as a great place to conduct research with very helpful staffers. I still felt like a novice around other researchers and the causal atmosphere I was likely to encounter in Tunkhannock appealed to me.

By this time my wife and I were enjoying my new hobby together, and our road trips down the turnpike to Pennsylvania were becoming more commonplace. On our second trip to the Wyoming County Historical Society I made a discovery that I will remember for the rest of my life. The discovery was even more special because on this particular trip my Mom and Dad were with us.

That day, with four of us researching, we were able to consume the historical society’s resources at a healthy clip. The plan was to photocopy anything that looked like it might be useful with the intention of studying the materials sometime later. I had located the section of materials on New Jersey and was leafing though a binder of genealogy articles. One of them was an article on the Hope, New Jersey, Moravian Cemetery records.  I was on my way to the copy machine, scanning through the cemetery records, when I stopped dead in my tracks. This was no simple listing of tombstones. There was information given about the family of the each person who died. To my astonishment, while gazing at the R’s, I noticed there was a Peter born September 1, 1787, listed as one of the sons of the deceased Frederick Rauschenberger.

Rauschenberger???   I was not sure of what I had found. Euphoria and skepticism immediately IMG_0425began to battle in my mind. Had I made the amazing discovery I had set out to find?

After telling practically everyone I knew about our adventure in Tunkhannock, I realized I had better get to work and find the proof to back up my claims. My official theory was that Peter B. Roushey was born Peter Rauschenberger, son of Fredrick and Anna, and that at some point he elected to change his name. The facts already known about Peter B. Roushey would need to agree or compliment those I hoped to find on Peter Rauschenberger. I had now begun the last step in my research process, proving my theory that the two Peters were the same person.

The second most important word in the article I had found on the Hope, cemetery records turned out to be the word “Moravian”.  Over the next several months I learned all I could about the Moravians. They were Protestants who came from Germany as missionaries to minister to the Native Americans.  The Moravians lived in closed settlements (congregations) here in America, speaking and writing in German.

Once I knew that I was looking for the Rauschenberger surname in a Moravian setting, I was able to uncover a wealth of information. I learned that Peter Rauschenberger was born in Hope, New Jersey, and that his middle name at birth was Benignus, a German word meaning blessed.16 Peter learned the tailor’s trade between the ages of 13 and 15, while he was a member of the Moravian congregation in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.  I was a little concerned that Peter’s father was named Frederick, and not Peter as our family had originally thought. However, I was able to find a reference listing him as Peter Frederick Rauschenberger in his father-in-law’s will abstract.

I discovered that Peter had a rough childhood. At age ten his father died, and at age eleven his older brother Heinrich suddenly became ill and died.  Two days after his brother’s funeral Peter showed up in Nazareth, PA and asked the Moravian elders if he could live there, which they permitted.   That same year Peter’s brother Jacob petitioned the Northampton County Orphan’s Court to have a guardian appointed for Peter, as he was without a father, and the court appointed Joseph Schweisshaupt.  At age 15 Peter’s involvement with the Moravians came to an abrupt end. He left without giving a reason, setting off into the night on his own.  Due to the above mentioned childhood events, I now had reason to speculate why our surname was changed from Rauschenberger to Roushey.

I was told that the only way to prove with almost certainty that the two Peters were the same person was to find a will record, death certificate, obituary, or cemetery record that mentioned both names in the same document. Since I wasn’t able to find any of those records in my research, I decided to keep adding to the circumstantial evidence I already had. If I could link one or two of Peter Rauschenberger’s brothers to the Roushey surname, then that would make the evidence overwhelming. I found references to a Henry Roushebre and Michael Roushy while searching for information on Peter. Was it possible that Henry and Michael were also Rauschenbergers?

I had previously located Michael Roushy of Southport, New York, on Joyce M. Tice’s website.  Returning to the Internet I searched for a place near Southport where I could find more information on Michael. The Steele Library in Elmira, New York, turned up in one of my searches. While at that library, I learned the name of the town historian, Sylvia Smith.  I contacted her by email, and she was able to give me vital information on Michael Roushy. From her notes on the Roushy family she stated that Michael was thought to have come from Germany.  Sylvia reported that Michael’s date of birth was August 7, 1781,  which matched the exact birth date I had for Michael Rauschenberger.28 Her last comment gave me chills when I read it. A great granddaughter of Michael stated that the Roushey name was originally Roushenberger, or something similar, but it was changed because it was too German.

I believed at this point that I had all the proof I needed to claim my Rauschenberger heritage, but I felt compelled to try to bring Henry Roushebre into my newfound family. I visited the Moravian Archives building in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to gather information on Heinrich Rauschenberger, hoping it would lead me to Henry Roushebre. At the Archives building, I encountered a problem – all of the Moravian records there were written in the old German script. Through the network of contacts I had established, I was directed to the “Transcribe” users group website that offered old German translation.

The Hope, New Jersey, Moravian Church diary stated that Heinrich Rauschenberger and Catharine Digeon were expelled on 22 January 1798, for secretly pledging themselves to each other in marriage without first bringing the matter to the church elders (a Moravian requirement).  According to the book, Sussex County, New Jersey, Marriages, by Howard E. Case, the two married 6 days later.  The marriage record indicated that Henry Roushebre (of Oxford) and Caty Disyoung were married on 28 January 1798.  This was a significant find for me because it dated an alteration of the Rauschenberger surname and linked it to a variation of the Roushey surname. In fact, Peter B. Roushey’s marriage to Rebecca Wolfe (26 April 1809) was captured in the same book three entries later spelled Roushberry.

The Heinrich Rauschenberger (Roushebre) story did not end there, however. Even though the Roushebre family was expelled from the Moravian town of Hope, they were still able to have their son baptized by the Moravian Church. Tragically Henry (Heinrich) never saw the birth of his son, because he died suddenly one month before his child was born. The baptism entry on 11 August 1799 identifies their son in the following statement, “Heinrich, (the) little son of the deceased Heinrich Rauschenberger, (black)smith, and his left behind widow Catharina, nee Digeon, residing not far from here in Knowlton Township”.   At this point I considered the evidence overwhelming, and knew that our brick wall had fallen.   The collapsing brick wall revealed three new generations of Rauschenbergers that I added to our family tree.

My plunge into genealogy began with a promise to my father to find the parents of Peter B. Roushey, and turned out to be an intensely gratifying experience. My research strategy proved to be a good road map, however it was my use of the Internet and the ability to network with other resources that made the difference. I owe a debt of gratitude to my network of friends, cousins, and some people I have never met, for without their help I would still be searching. It should be noted that I experienced numerous disappointments and dead ends along the way, all of which seem trivial now that I have removed the brick wall.

It seems, however, that I have encountered another brick wall in my search for “grandpa” Peter’s ancestors. I cannot locate the great grandparents of Peter B. Rauschenberger in Germany. Maybe I need to get rid of some of my other hobbies, so that I can devote more time to genealogy research!

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