Do you have a skeleton in your closet?

This is the second genealogy article I wrote.  Written one year after the first one,  I submitted it to the same writing contest and received my second award in as many years.  It is funny how God works sometimes.  Had I not received recognition for writing the articles, Junior’s Hope would probably never have been written.  The God I serve knows how to inspire and motivate me.  Reading this story again makes me want to write a couple more articles on Peter’s family.  Could another book could be in my future?  I have stripped the footnotes and references from the article to make it a easier read.  Enjoy.

Heinrich’s Skeleton in the Rauschenberger Closet

IMG_0387My grandfather, Reverend Harry E. Roushey, died a number of years ago. When I think of him, I remember a wise and elderly man with a balding head, a wreath of white hair, and a weathered appearance. Grandpa’s ever-present smile, unwavering devotion to his heavenly Savior, and prayerful decision-making defined his life. What my reflections don’t take into account is that Grandpa was once a boy who passed into manhood only after years of missteps and trials. Yes, even Grandpa made mistakes!

The mistakes we make range from petty, to serious. The more serious ones are often hidden in ancestral closets to hopefully be forgotten. As genealogists, we may stumble on a “skeleton in the closet” during the course of our research. While the skeleton may be a source of embarrassment to some family members, it can be an opportunity to gain an understanding of a dramatic event or fill a void in our ancestry. I found one such skeleton in my Rauschenberger lineage. The grievous mistake committed by my ancestor, Heinrich Rauschenberger, would not be considered criminal by today’s standards but the event carried disastrous consequences for him. I would even go so far as to say that the course of our family history, including our surname, which seemed to have been altered by the incident and the events that followed.

I stumbled onto the trail of Heinrich while searching for convincing proof that the Roushey surname was once Rauschenberger. I had found a vital piece of information that linked my 4th great-grandfather, Peter B. Roushey, to the Rauschenberger surname in an article on Moravian Cemetery records of Hope, New Jersey. Peter Benignus Rauschenberger and Peter B. Roushey shared identical birth dates and were both born in the same area of Sussex County, New Jersey. Since I didn’t have a document stating that Peter Roushey was born Peter Rauschenberger, I sought additional evidence. The same article mentioned that Peter had six brothers, so I set out to find information on any one of them to strengthen my case.

The Internet proved to be a good source of information about the Moravian faith, including where I could find genealogical information such as birth, death, and marriage records. I learned that the Moravian Archives building in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was the central repository for early Moravian records. My first few trips to the Moravian Archives were frustrating, because the records were written in the old German script. To overcome the language barrier, I began to systematically search for my ancestors in the church record books until I found a name I recognized with a date. I then went to the corresponding church diary and searched a number of pages before and after the date given to see if there was additional information written about the person.

Each trip to Bethlehem resulted in pages of mysterious German text requiring translation. Faced with the financial nightmare of having stacks of pages needing translation, I learned the value of networking with others. I was directed by one of my historical society contacts to a German translation website. Members of the group are able to have one image (one page of old German text) translated at a time via the Internet free of charge.

On one of my trips to Bethlehem, I returned home with a number of church diary pages with Heinrich Rauschenberger’s name on them. As each page was translated, a story began to unfold. Heinrich was the third of seven male children born to Frederick and Anna (Boeckel) Rauschenberger. He was born on December 29, 1776, in the Moravian town of Hope, then Sussex County, New Jersey. His mother no doubt welcomed his birth with joy because his unnamed brother born the previous year was stillborn. Young Heinrich was likely raised in typical Moravian fashion, living with his parents as a small child and attending school and worship services daily in the church-owned town. When he was old enough, he would have been admitted to the Moravian Little Boys Choir.

Moravians organized their parishioners into groups called choirs, by age, sex, and marital status. Each choir lived, ate, worked, and worshiped together apart from the other choirs. As children in Moravian settlements aged, they passed from the Little Boys or Girls Choir to the Older Boys or Girls Choir where they were given the opportunity to learn a trade of the church elders choosing. Unlike his other brothers who were taken by their father to other Moravian settlements to learn an assigned trade, Heinrich remained in Hope and became a blacksmith.

The more I researched my Rauschenberger ancestry, the more I saw how much the Moravian Church influenced my family history. Three generations of Rauschenbergers lived in Moravian

Hope map Church-owned towns, typically closed to non-members back in the 1700s. Heinrich’s grandparents immigrated to the American Colonies; Johann Friedrich emigrated from Germany and Maria Barbara Goetschi from Switzerland. They were founding members of the Emmaus, Pennsylvania settlement where they served from about 1747 until their deaths in the 1780s. Heinrich’s parents, Frederick and Anna, both joined Moravian churches as children and later became founding members of the Hope, New Jersey settlement, serving there until the late 1790’s when Frederick died. Virtually all of Heinrich’s aunts, uncles, cousins, and brothers were involved in one Moravian settlement or another. They chose to live as Moravians, acquiring no land or homes to pass on to future generations. On January 27, 1791, Heinrich was accepted into the Moravian congregation of Hope.

Six years later in November of 1797, Heinrich, now in his 20s was faced with the death of his father. It seems likely that his father would have asked him to look after his mother, Anna, and younger brother, Peter, before he died. Heinrich must have been burdened by the responsibilities he carried during that long winter following his father’s death. Would there be someone in his future to take away his loneliness?

Even though the Moravian Church frowned upon fraternizing between choir groups, somehow Heinrich managed to find a love interest during this time. Catharine Digeon, of the Single Sisters Choir in Hope, captured his heart. There is no mention of when this relationship began or how it was kindled. I wonder if it was the secret or forbidden nature of the romance that fanned its flames. In my mind I envision a relationship between two young people, stealing glances, passing notes and perhaps arranging secret rendezvous, all at the risk of being caught.

Though I have not been able to determine Catharine’s ancestry, she was born November 29, 1775 in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, according to Moravian records. I was able to learn that she lived with the Kampman’s family in Hope, and cared for their children. I later learned were Prior to coming to Hope, Catharine was part of the Moravian congregation in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She was accepted into the Hope congregation as a Single Sister on May 4, 1794.

In a sudden turn of events on January 22, 1798, Catharine and Heinrich’s world was overrun
with trouble and embarrassment, when their romance proved too difficult to remain secret. Catharine revealed to someone in the community that she had secretly promised herself in marriage to Heinrich, and because of their sworn covenant to each other (which presumably they refused to renounce) they were both expelled from the fellowship of the Moravian brethren. Being expelled from the church meant they were also required to leave Hope, because the Moravian Church owned the town and everything in it. Heinrich and Catharine had no home, land, or business to sell to raise money to take with them. They had to leave Hope immediately in the dead of winter.

Banishment seemed like an awfully harsh punishment for two young people whose crime was to secretly express their love for each other. Today, we might jump to the conclusion that they were caught in some compromising situation, but there appears to be no indication of this in the church records. I turned to books on Moravian culture of that time period to try to gain a better understanding of why they were expelled.

Each Moravian settlement had a set of rules that were established to help govern its parishioners. Members of the church settlement were asked to sign their names to the document stating that they had read the rules and agreed to live by them. One of the rules addressed the matter of marriage and required that members first seek permission from the church elders before any ideas or plans were made known to the general congregation. I am of the impression that from the Moravian point of view, any marriage should be in the best interests of the church, the community, and all the people involved. Often young widows or widowers were paired with emerging men and women who had demonstrated the ability to sustain themselves and were interested in starting a family. If there were any uncertainties about a potential marriage from the elders or other parties involved, the matter would be subjected to a Moravian decision-making tool referred to as “the lot.”

“The lot” followed the Biblical practice used by the Apostles in the Bible in which a matter was presented in prayer, followed by drawing a response from a hat. “Yes” or “No” responses were written on small slips of paper and placed in the hat. There were also blank slips of paper added. A “blank” response meant a delay and the matter required more time and prayer before a decision could be Bank_Of_Hope_in_Hope,_NJmade. A “no” response was final, meaning the couple couldn’t seek permission again, even at a later date. We will likely never know why Heinrich and Catharine chose to keep their relationship a secret, but perhaps it had something to do with “the lot.”

The humiliation and embarrassment of the young couple’s expulsion was met with immediate support from Heinrich’s mother, the Anna. The Hope Moravian Church Diary records that four people were lost to the fellowship, including the widow Anna Rauschenberger and her ten-year-old son, Peter. It appears that Anna chose to stand by her son in his hour of need rather than continuing on in the Moravian settlement. Six days after they were expelled from Hope, Heinrich (Henry Roushebre) and Catharine (Katy Disyoung) were married in a neighboring town by the Justice of the Peace. Immediately obvious to me was how Heinrich’s surname was recorded in the Sussex

County, New Jersey records now that he was outside the German Moravian influence of Hope.

I was surprised to learn that the Hope Moravian Church Diary continued to comment on the Rauschenbergers even after they were cut off from the church. I was able to learn that in the first year after his expulsion, Heinrich was renting a blacksmith shop about 12 miles from Hope in the town of Knowlton, New Jersey. By the end of 1798, Catharine was pregnant with the couple’s child. Anna found companionship with a former Moravian and family friend, widower Richard Whitesell, marrying him on April 3, 1799. Young Peter, my 4th great-grandfather, at age eleven, no doubt had found a new hero in his big brother Heinrich.

On June 8, 1799, about a year and a half after the Moravians expelled Heinrich and Catharine, Pastor Reincke of the Hope Moravian Church rode out to see the Rauschenberger family when he discovered that Heinrich would appreciate a visit. “Heinrich was especially pleased by the Biblical passage that was read to him, which concerned the joy of the Savior who had found a lost sheep. He declared that he was resigned to the will of the Savior, and that as an unworthy sinner, he hoped Christ would not despise him” (translated from the old German script). The pastor also noted that Heinrich had, for a considerable period of time, labored hard to the point of exhaustion at his blacksmith enterprise.

Just when it seemed that this embarrassing incident would finally have a happy ending, tragedy struck the Rauschenberger family. A translated passage taken from the Hope Moravian Church Diary reads, “In the morning (June 29, 1799) was the burial of the remains of Heinrich Rauschenberger, who was brought down on the 8th to his mother and the following day passed away unexpectedly after he had shortly before asked those surrounding him to pray for him.” His death occurred a month before his child was born. Heinrich Rauschenberger (II), son of Heinrich and Catharine, was baptized shortly thereafter by Pastor Reincke, though Catharine and baby Heinrich were not members of the church.

Heinrich’s expulsion from the Moravian Church grew to a pinnacle of importance because of the dramatic events that followed it. I wonder if Heinrich’s mother or his wife harbored bitterness towards the Moravians, which they once served and loved so dearly. Many years after Heinrich’s death, Anna briefly rejoined the Moravian Church in Schoeneck, Pennsylvania, prior to her second husband’s death in 1819. I suspect that she did this to honor her husband’s wish to die a member of the Moravian faith. There is no mention of Anna in the Moravian Church records following the death of her second husband, Richard Whitesell. In addition, I have yet to find any more information on Catharine Digeon Rauschenberger (a.k.a. Katy Roushebre) or her son Heinrich (II).

The once dominant presence of the Rauschenberger family in Moravian churches throughout the northeast evaporated quickly during the early 1800s. I do not know how big a role Heinrich’s expulsion and subsequent death played in the exodus of Rauschenbergers from the Moravian Church. Of six Rauschenberger brothers, which included Peter and Henry, only Jacob Rauschenberger remained in the Moravian Church his entire life.

My personal interest in these events is tied to how they affected my 4th great-grandfather, Peter Benignus Rauschenberger (a.k.a. Peter B. Roushey). Just two days after Heinrich’s burial, eleven-year-old Peter was taken to the Moravian town of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where the Moravians admitted him on probation for six months. His mother thought perhaps this was the best place for Peter, having witnessed the death of his father and his brother in a span of less than two years. Peter remained in Nazareth for about three years, just long enough to learn the tailoring trade from the Moravians before leaving on his own accord without an explanation. He returned to the Knowlton, New Jersey, area where his mother and stepfather were living, as evidenced by his marriage to Rebecka Wolfe in 1809. Peter’s marriage record bears the surname Roushberry, which in later documents would become simply Roushey. I can’t help but wonder if Peter chose the surname Roushberry as a tribute to his brother Heinrich.

After spending a couple of years researching my Roushey heritage, the question that gnawed at me the most was why my ancestors permitted our Rauschenberger ancestry to be forgotten. Peter B. Roushey, our patriarch, was born a Rauschenberger, yet the information about his lineage was not passed down through the generations.

Additionally, in a biography written about his son, William Carr Roushey, which speaks of his father’s birthplace yet never mentions his Rauschenberger ancestry. Having uncovered Heinrich’s skeleton in the closet, I now wonder if Peter was determined to wash away the events of his childhood by changing his name.

My grandfather, Reverend Harry Roushey, never knew of our Rauschenberger connection because it wasn’t discovered until after his death. Being a man of deep religious faith, I am certain that Grandpa would not have been embarrassed by Heinrich’s expulsion from the Moravian Church. He would have been overjoyed to learn that our family’s rich Christian heritage extended back many generations. After all, who doesn’t make mistakes? I would not have the definitive proof I sought of my Rauschenberger heritage without discovering Heinrich’s skeleton in the Rauschenberger closet, and for that I am grateful.

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One thought on “Do you have a skeleton in your closet?

  1. Gerry

    I stumbled across this while trying to research my family tree. Is it possible you have any information on Margaret Roushey, married Henry King c.1830s, Dallas Twp, Luzerne Co.?

    Like

    Reply

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