From covered wagon to jet age: My grandfather’s ties to the Jacob Hochstetler clan
Only eight generations back, my forebears came to America. Like a lot of other folks who grew up Mennonite, my early relatives were Amish. One of the most well-researched and documented genealogies is the Jacob Hochstetler family, with members numbering many hundreds of thousands today.
Much is known about this ancestor Jacob Hochstetler, because his family suffered a tragic massacre during the French and Indian war in the Northkill Amish community in Berks County, Pa. Jacob’s young teenage sons reached for their hunting rifles in an attempt to scare off or kill the attackers, but Jacob was a true pacifist and would not allow them to shoot, even at the risk of their own death.
I’m excited about a fictional trilogy recreating this history being written by Ervin Stutzman, moderator of Mennonite Church USA who during the last number of years has written about his own parents, Tobias of the Amish and Emma: A Widow Among the Amish. The first book in his “Northkill” trilogy is scheduled to be released next February in a volume called Jacob’s Choice.
But here I want to tell you more about my grandfather on my father’s side Uriah Miller, a direct descendant of Jacob Hostetler. Some begats: my grandfather Uriah was the son of Moses, the son of Joseph, the son of Daniel, the son of Anna, the daughter of John, the son of Jacob Hochstetler the guy whose family was attacked. (John, who emigrated with his parents from Europe, was already married and living away from his parents when they were attacked.) That’s a lot of “begats” and eight generations by my calculation, starting with my father (I’m no genealogist or historian, so correct me if I’m not counting correctly). I knew Grandpa Uriah for the first 13 years of my life until he died in 1964, pictured here with his father Moses.
So Grandpa Miller was already 79 by the time I was born. My own father was the youngest of nine children, and 27 before he get married (not old by today’s standards, but old for those times). So that’s a little of why I had such an elderly grandpa.
The Uriah and Barbara Miller family, before their three youngest children (two sons, finally!) were born. Photo courtesy of Dennis Risser.
By the time I really had memories as a young child, Grandpa was already hunched and probably weighed less than 100 pounds. He was always small, especially compared to my robust Grandma (Barbara) Miller, but I like the above pictures because they show him as a much younger man, before he got hunched over and Grandma had a stroke. We were close to them because they lived in a “daughty” house (in-law quarters) attached to ours for about the last twenty years of their lives.
Grandpa’s life story spans from the covered wagon to the jet age—he personally used both modes of transportation, a story carried by our local paper at the time. He and grandma, ages 84 and 81, flew to California to visit a granddaughter and family.
My Aunt Adeline, Aunt Susie, Grandpa and Grandma getting ready to fly to California to visit the Arleta and Marvin Mann family.
Grandpa was born in Wheatland, Missouri during his family’s several year attempt to farm “out west” under very harsh conditions. So the family moved back to Indiana, traveling by covered wagon.
When he grew up, he traded horses, earning him the nickname “Jock,” and spent 34 years as a farmer and thresher in northern Indiana and in lower Michigan , seen here.
Later he worked for the state highway commission and after retirement, helped Dad farm. He was a grower of raspberries, roses, and an egg sorter in our family egg business.
He was a lifelong Mennonite who chewed tobacco. As a kid I thought that was kind of edgy and cool. My Aunt Susie said that habit started because he had been told it would keep him from getting TB after his mother and several sisters died of the dreaded disease (11 children in that family).
He always carried pink or white wintergreen mints in the pocket of his suit jacket well into his 90s and kid would line up beside him after church waiting for a piece. My father carried on that tradition in his later years. When I was at Amigo Centre earlier this fall, I learned from program director Mandy Yoder that her father always carried those mints for kids at his church, too.
Grandpa and Grandma the way I remember them best in their later years, on a favorite glider in front of our childhood playhouse.
See more about the playhouse history in our family here.
We were all close to Grandma and Grandma Miller—they rocked us, babysat us, and I loved riding to town with Grandpa in his old black Chevy, circa 1950, for his haircut or to pick up more mints (or tobacco). The grandchildren and great grandchildren (my first and second cousins) would come out to the farm to play and visit. I remember Grandpa taking care of me one time when I was sick and had to stay home from school. Momma was busy that day—I don’t remember if she had to go away, but I know he brought me a bucket or tissue or glass of water when I needed to upchuck. That memory always stuck with me—my 90 year old grandfather taking care of a 12 year old girl. I still have his rocking chair.
He and Grandma enjoyed 67 years of married life together. Grandmother died first in 1962 and Grandpa brought a fresh rose every day from the rose bushes they both loved to place in her hands at the funeral home as we received friends and sympathizers. Grandpa himself lived to within days of his 92nd birthday.
But more than these memories, I treasure the faith of my ancestors–those like Jacob Hochstetler, who lived their beliefs. My grandfather didn’t go through anything quite as dramatic as Jacob and his family, but quietly and steadfastly lived their faith through The Depression, through losing two daughters, and literally, thick and thin.
Grandpa holding one of his seven daughters. Grandma on right.
Are you part of the Hostetler clan? Let me know or visit the official Hostetler website.
More on Jacob’s Choice
To purchase a copy of Jacob’s Choice at the pre-publication discount price of just $10.50,
(regular price will be $14.99) go here. (Prepub price ends 2/8/2014)
(For more about how threshing works, here’s a fascinating video.)