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Mann oh Mann: What a Story

Updated on September 5, 2014

A High-school Class Assignment from 1969 Reaps Rewards 45 Years Later


Ancestry and genealogy sites abound online. But it is that chance moment in time -- that split-second decision to change course that can lead to a serendipity of riches. In my case it led to finding a second-cousin I never knew existed.

Let me explain. During my senior year of high-school (1968-1969) a social studies teacher handed us charts to fill in our personal genealogies. The chart reminded me of a stick-figure drawing of the sun. A circle in the bottom of the chart was where I printed my name. Rays emanating from me to the left were where I was to put the names from my dad's side of the family -- to the right, my mother's.

Sadly, there was little to put on my mom's side. She was first-generation Polish American and any history of her ancestors had been gobbled up by the Nazis followed by decades of communist rulers. And remember, at this period of time Poland was under lock-and-key behind the Iron Curtain.

But my dad's side? It was a wealth of riches. My mom presented me with a thick bundle of pages that women from the Mann family (my maiden name) had published in 1951, just prior to my birth. Their object was to organize the information needed to become members of the DAR, Daughters of the American Revolution; eventually they were accepted.

I spent countless hours one weekend, starting with my dad's name and going back in time until I found my first Mann ancestor who came to the British colony of Pennsylvania, across the sea from Germany: Johannes Mann arrived in the Port of Philadelphia on September 26, 1753.

Mann Family Genealogy Chart: My High-School Project

My printing has not changed much in the 45 years since I filled in the names of my Mann family ancestors.
My printing has not changed much in the 45 years since I filled in the names of my Mann family ancestors. | Source

Fast forward to spring, 2014. I hadn't checked my facebook account recently, so on a whim I logged on. The first thing I saw was the suggestion to 'Like' a page called "I'm a Mann." Intrigued, I did just that. I started to read the entries: "Hi, I'm from the Mann family in Milwaukee" and the like.

Then I focused in on something I could not ignore. A John Mann had written," My ancestor is Johannes Mann from Germany who arrived in Philadelphia September 26, 1753."

What were the possibilities that two men with the same name arrived in Philadelphia on the same date? I quickly sent John a facebook message and filled him in on the name of my paternal grandparents and great - grandparents. I soon got a reply: John and I share the same set of great-grandparents. We were second cousins!

And more astounding is that we had both grown up -- and still lived -- within an hour's drive of each other's home!

Grave marker, inscribed in German, of ancestor Johannes Mann
Grave marker, inscribed in German, of ancestor Johannes Mann | Source

A Mystery Solved

Email addresses and phone numbers were exchanged. Then we met, appropriately, on Father's Day in June.

So much to talk about. While growing up, I had never known my father's Mann relatives. My dad was born on an unseasonably hot day in September and one month later, on October 12, his father died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. My grandfather was only 21. Perhaps there was a rupture of some sort between my dad's mother and the Mann relatives; I have no clue. But meeting John helped me get a better understanding of who our mutual ancestors were.

John told me that our great-grandfather, Henry, had been a stone cutter and made many of the tombstones found in area cemeteries from that era. His dates were 1867 to 1938. I happen to have a heavy, stone replica of a tree stump that my mother always used as a door stop. I never knew where it came from -- it was just an unusual looking thing to keep the wind from blowing shut a door. But when visiting John and his family, I was speechless upon seeing a collection of similar-looking "door stops." I found out that our great-grandfather and his brothers had made such pieces to practice their stone-carving skills. John uses the opening atop each of his stone pieces to hold votive candles.

I guess one Mann's door stop is another Mann's candle holder.

Our great-grandfather's carving

Here my hands model what I now know to be a practice piece carved by our great-grandfather. It is still a 'door stop' in my home.
Here my hands model what I now know to be a practice piece carved by our great-grandfather. It is still a 'door stop' in my home.

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The Family Farmstead I Never Knew Existed

John began sending me a wealth of information, including a photo circa 1899 of the Bucks County stone farmhouse where our grandfathers, brothers, were raised. John was not sure of the precise location but upon getting the photo, my husband, grandson and I went on a house-hunting expedition. Guess what? The stone farmhouse is near where I live and I must have passed it hundreds of times over the course of my life and never knew of its significance.

A Photo 115 Years in the Making: Photo circa 1899 superimposed on a current photo

The baby in its mother's arms is my grandfather. The tall boy to the right of the photo is John's grandfather.
The baby in its mother's arms is my grandfather. The tall boy to the right of the photo is John's grandfather. | Source

More Questions Raised

John and I continue to exchange information; as we do, more questions arise. About ten years ago, I had a DNA test done to prove my theory that I had some Native American ancestry. The subject had always been the topic of friendly teasing between my dad and his mother. John was not aware of this possibility in the Mann line, so the search goes on.

A second mystery. While reading through John's research material, I learned for the first time of an English ancestor who perhaps was a Cavalier, a supporter of the monarchy during the English Civil War (1642-1651). Oliver Cromwell -- Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland -- exiled our ancestor to the "Isle of Deal." He later fled to Germany with his family where he changed the spelling of 'Deal' to 'Diehl.' Cromwell, tyrant as he was, at times severely punished his own supporters. I would love to learn more about the ancestry of this likely Royalist.

Third mystery. John is keenly interested in military history. He's written his own theory surrounding the death of Benjamin Mann, our first cousin four-times removed. Benjamin died on the first day of fighting during the Battle of Gettysburg and is buried with the unknown Union dead. As a guide, John used the "History of the 153rd Pennsylvania Infantry" by W.R. Kiefer as well as "Experiences of Comrade Ruben Ruch, of Company F." Benjamin was a member of Company F.



The Flamboyant Dress and Style of the English Cavalier

Our ancestor, if a Royalist, would have dressed and worn his hair in the manner of the Cavalier in this portrait.
Our ancestor, if a Royalist, would have dressed and worn his hair in the manner of the Cavalier in this portrait. | Source

Johannes, We Hardly Knew Ye

Perhaps not much is known of our mutual ancestor, Johannes Mann, prior to his taking the gamble and crossing the Atlantic to find a new life for himself in the New World. Speaking for myself, I am sure glad he did. Perhaps the writing of this online article will help John and me find more relatives out there. And it just may encourage others to search for their own family roots.

My cousin John Mann and Me Meeting for the First Time on Father's Day 2014

More than 250 years after Johannes Mann landed at the Port of Philadelphia, two of his descendants finally meet.
More than 250 years after Johannes Mann landed at the Port of Philadelphia, two of his descendants finally meet. | Source

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    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      What a great story! Isn't it strange how things happen by chance or on a whim? My sister and I have delved into our ancestry and she is now following up various 'strands'. Our grandfather was in the Home Guard in Newcastle and involved with interrogating prisoners of war there; he helped uncover the details of Stalug III (The Great Escape).

      Great that you've been able to spend time with a newly-found second cousin.

      Thanks for the entertaining read.

      Ann

    • Joyce Mann profile image
      Author

      Joyce T. Mann 2 years ago from Bucks County, Pennsylvania USA

      Look luck on your genealogy search, Virginia. I'll keep the names Vining and Joy in mind should I ever meet someone with one of those surnames. And thank you for the kind comments.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 2 years ago from Central Florida

      I dream of finding a distant cousin working on the same family history. I've set up several family groups on Facebook and made some connections for the Vining line and the Joy line.

      Your story is inspiring. Love that combined house photo.

    • profile image

      PamLopez 2 years ago

      Great story Joyce! Research on!

    • Joyce Mann profile image
      Author

      Joyce T. Mann 2 years ago from Bucks County, Pennsylvania USA

      Scarlettohairy and bossypants. I appreciate your commenting on my article about Mann family history. I tried to make it read like a story; hope I succeeded.

    • bossypants profile image

      bossypants 2 years ago from America's Dairyland

      Wow, this was fun to read! I felt chills as I read of one discovery after another -- especially the house you'd passed and never known it was part of your history!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 2 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I'm so glad you're enjoying researching your ancestry. That is a fascinating thing to do, and I love the superimposed house photo!

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 2 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Aww Joyce, thank you so much. I really enjoyed your story about finding and meeting your cousin. A wonderful moment for you I'm sure. Keep on writing, it's one of the best things you can do for yourself! (smile)

    • Joyce Mann profile image
      Author

      Joyce T. Mann 2 years ago from Bucks County, Pennsylvania USA

      Nancy Hardin, I wouldn't mind a few Kentucky hillbillies in my family tree -- I've always loved stories set in Appalachia. I'll continue to dig and let you know if I find out we're fifth cousins or not! lol. And praise coming from the one-and-only Nancy means a lot to me. Thanks.

    • Joyce Mann profile image
      Author

      Joyce T. Mann 2 years ago from Bucks County, Pennsylvania USA

      Thank you, MelRoots. I wish you well in your research too.

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 2 years ago from California

      You are so lucky to have had that genealogy info. that your Mom gave you. When I started in 1988, I had very little to go on. It's amazing how many times you luck into a new research trail.

      I recently had my autosomal DNA tested so it could be added to the Azores DNA Project. While I expected to find many matches on those lines, most of my connections so far are from people researching England and Ireland--the lines I have not gotten beyond 1850 yet. Still a lot of research to do even after all these years.

      I wish you great success on your family history journey!

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 2 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      I'm really not into genealogy, because I've always believed we were all a bunch of Kentucky hillbillies. HA! One of my daughters has done some research, but I don't have a copy of it. I do know we have a lot of Irish, French and German. Mom also always though there was some Native American too, but I can't substantiate that. I think you did an excellent job on your first Hub Joyce, and here's to many more!

    • profile image

      John Mann 2 years ago

      Joyce, I enjoyed your story very much. There is so much more to our story, but the way you published it did tell our story.

      The charts that were handed to you in high school to fill in your personal genealogies were just facts; names and dates. As you have come to understand that the stories of people, places and things bring our family history to life. They give our long passed ancestors life.

      I’ve been spending many hours this week researching Benjamin Mann and his wife Sarah. I’ve hit road blocks to some other relatives, but I’ll never give up because I believe; FAMILY, Is a journey to forever……

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 2 years ago from So Cal

      How exciting to visit Poland. I have my own stories to tell but love reading those of others. The past is amazing and there is so much to learn.

    • Joyce Mann profile image
      Author

      Joyce T. Mann 2 years ago from Bucks County, Pennsylvania USA

      Thank you, Ann. Actually there is now some history to share on my mother's side. In May my husband and I visited Krakow, Poland where we met a first cousin of my mother. Polish was my mother's first language and I wish she had had the chance to visit Poland before her death. Checking out the family castle? Love it!

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 2 years ago from So Cal

      I am also into genealogy, actually family history, and what a great story you have to tell. We sometimes have people come out of the woodwork and it's always thrilling. My 2nd cousin, who I met through Ancestry.com, runs an outreach in the Appalachian hills of Tennessee. Another is in England this week, checking out the family castle. Hope you will find more of your mother's side of the family. Bet there are some stories there to tell.

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 2 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      What an amazing story. And here we have one of the reasons why social media is a good thing! It connects long lost families and friends. Great hub idea, by the way.

    • Joyce Mann profile image
      Author

      Joyce T. Mann 2 years ago from Bucks County, Pennsylvania USA

      Thank you, Maria. You are my first reader to leave a comment. I am so thankful so many wonderful women took the time more than 60 years ago to do so much research. Best of luck in your family tree search.

    • profile image

      MariaMontgomery 2 years ago

      Joyce, this is such an exciting and well-written story. I've been wanting to research my own family history for some time. I have been collecting bits and pieces for several years, but have not embarked on an extensive search, because I'm told it is an all-consuming task, and I don't have the time to devote to it. So, it stays "on the back burner" for now. You have inspired me to reconsider that, however. Thank you.