What do you know about your ancestors? Where did they come from, what did they do? Last season on TV, two shows – “Who Do You Think You Are” and “Genealogy Roadshow” – followed searchers as they delved into their family trees, thus, raising viewers’ interest in their own genealogy research.
Where should you start? If your roots passed through central Pennsylvania, a visit to a local historical or genealogical society is a must.
Lycoming County Genealogical Society
The society’s wealth of information is located within the Taber Museum on Millionaire’s Row. On file are indexed records of Lycoming County Will Books and Orphans Court Records; Williamsport City Births and Death Records; and more.
My maternal grandmother’s Tomb family lived outside of Williamsport in Nippenose Valley. Three Tomb books are featured in the donated surname book section.
According to society volunteer Bill Gibson, it is fun to hear stories and interpret things about local people. He himself found a story.
“My great-grandfather lived at two different places (in Williamsport) according to the 1870 census. It was documented that he lived with his grandfather for several months before getting married,” Gibson said.
Centre County Library & Historical Museum
My paternal grandfather’s family name is Ream (Germany spelling is Riehm) and my search started in the Centre County Library & Historical Museum at the corner of Allegheny and Howard streets in Bellefonte.
Lining the walls within the room, you can browse the many books featuring local, regional and county information. Last year, Kitty Wunderly, PA Room supervisor and curator, said “researchers came from all over the U.S., including South Dakota, California, Texas and Florida.”
About 15 years ago, I started my family research. In the PA Room, imagine my delight when I came across a book dealing with my Ream family name: Elmer Leonidas Denniston’s “Geneology of the Stukey, Ream, Grove, Clem and Denniston Families.”
My father’s name was on page 334. At the beginning of the chapter, it read, “The little town of Leimen, where the Riehm family lived for many generations, was near the ancient city of Heidelberg on the River Neckar.”
Johann Eberhard Riehm was born in 1687 in Leimen, Germany (pronounced Li-men). He married Anna Elisabeth Schwab in Leimen.
Johann, a baker, and his wife, two children and his wife’s parents left Leimen in the summer of 1717 to “continue in their faith unmolested by the authorities and also no doubt to the promise of a rich, new life in the New World.”
Reamstown Cemetery, Lancaster County
Follow your research and it might lead you to a cemetery.
The Riehms arrived in Pennsylvania and settled in Conestoga. In 1724, Eberhard asked for a grant of 200 acres of land in a branch of the Conestoga Creek.
“Here the family soon afterwards arrived, camping at first under an oak tree until a rough log cabin could be built. They were the only white settlers in this region; their nearest white neighbors being 12 miles away. As the Ream (Riehm) boys grew up, they played with the Indians and went on hunting and fishing trips with them.”
The Riehm family grew to 12 children. At age 72, Eberhard started distributing his land to his children. In 1760, his son, Tobias, used his land to lay out the present-day Reamstown in Lancaster County.
Both Johann and Anna are buried in the Reamstown Cemetery.
With family research so popular, some tour companies offer genealogy-based tours. European Focus specializes in guiding people to areas around Germany to find local archives and relatives.
Some genealogical societies such as The New England Historic Genealogical Society sponsor trips to London, Belfast and Dublin. Check out online country tourist boards for additional resources.
On to Germany
Several years after finding the Riehm book, my daughter and I took an escorted tour to Heidelberg. Knowing Leimen was 20 minutes away, we bought tickets at the streetcar kiosk.
I used the Heidelberg phonebook to look up the Riehm name that day. Under the Leimen listing, I found seven names, one the business of Anton Riehm. I jotted down the address.
With camera in hand, I took pictures of houses terraced on the side of a hill, s salmon-colored church and a shopping square with half-timbered buildings.
Needing to get back to the hotel for dinner, we quit our search for the Riehm business. I was content to have my pictures and the memories of walking the town.
But, when I got home, I discovered my film camera had not worked. Now what? Why not send a disposable camera to Anton Riehm’s address and ask him to take pictures of the town?
About three weeks later, I received a package from Anton – addressed to grand-grand cousin, Judy. I had included with the camera some family history.
And what a wonderful discovery – Anton was my seventh cousin, once removed. In the package were photos of the town, Anton’s family and business, plus some pen and ink drawings of the town.
Also included was a picture of the building – now the Hotel Zum Baren – where my sixth great-grandfather, Johann Eberhard Riehm, was born. We had walked behind the hotel, through the archway and in front of it while walking the streets of Leimen.
Back to Germany in 2006
We arrive in Heidelberg, Germany, and, at 6 p.m., board a streetcar to Leimen.
Business is brisk at Anton’s bicycle and baby carriage shop, so we wait in the showroom.
Finally, a distinguished man with graying hair comes around the corner and we introduce ourselves. He frantically apologizes that he must go back to his customers, but he will join us in his house behind the shop after he closes.
Later, Anton and his wife, Ursula, and us (my Ream cousin from Williamsport is with me) in his “livinghouse.” He lights candles in the room as we enjoye a glass of regional German wine.
Before going to dinner, Anton presents us with a framed ink drawing of the 1687 Riehm homestead.
“This is a copy of an old copperplate we found on a bottle in the deepest cellar of the Baren,” he said. “The sign on the left side shows an R and a W: Riehm, Wilhelm. You must know that the Baren wasn’t only an inn but also a wholesaler for wine and a changing place for stagecoaches.”
That was where we had dinner that night – the Gasthaus zum Baren.
After a delightful dinner, we said our goodbyes. For me, it was a real highlight to visit with my distant relative. Anton said that before he dies he would like to visit Reamstown, the settling ground of his German ancestors.
In 2012, Anton and his son, Felix, did visit Reamstown, and I visited with him again.
Another relative at this gathering said, “I first met Anton in Leimen (while visiting my nephew in Heidelberg) and felt very welcomed by him and his wife. They were warm, gracious people and I felt good about being part of his heritage. In Reamstown, I tried to reciprocate the warmness and graciousness to Anton and Felix as they visited the USA.”
Anton’s father was listed on page 242 in the same book I found in the PA Room.
Readers, send Judy your questions and comments at email@example.com.