Mann oh Mann: What a Story
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
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!
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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
Family Tree Poll
How many generations back can you trace your ancestors?
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
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.
Benjamin Mann's Horrific Experiences at Gettysburg
The Flamboyant Dress and Style of the English Cavalier
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.