The Joys of Ancestry Research: That Awesome Moment When You Discover a Cherished Ancestor

Last week I shared with you my story of losing a cherished ancestor.  While I take partial responsibility for this oversight (it is, after all, my tree and I am responsible for verifying the information), the fact is that it had been assumed by so many members of my family that I saw no reason to debunk it first; and I paid the price.  Yet while things looked grim, sometimes you catch a break and your hard work can turn out to be very rewarding indeed.  But before that, first some background.

1. Where This All Started

Most of my early family history (e.g., the first and second generation in America) is actually pretty well documented (though, it is not always accurate information and more needs some verification).  Three (out of print) books exist on the Schall family of Northampton County: (1) The Schall family: Descendants of Andrew Schall (b-1733, d-1800) [publication date & publisher unknown], by Louise Schall Van Arsdale; (2) The Schall Family in America: A History of the Descendants of Michael Schall, Born 1739–Died 1830 [H. Hall Incorporated: 1938], by Margaret Schall Hotham; and (3) A Historical Account of the Schall/Shaull Family [publisher unknown, 1968], by June Shaull Lutz.  While these books are not always available for purchase (sometimes one can find them on Amazon), they are available at some local city libraries in Northampton and Lehigh Counties (Easton Public Library has them).  But beyond the second generation of Schall’s in the region, little information existed in a format that was easily accessible.  In other words, the research for a lot of these families had to start from the ground, working up.  So when I first started to do more indepth research into the Schall line, it was quite a tedious process.

From the start, I knew that I wanted to do both paternal and maternal lines; while the Schall line was important, so were the lines of my great grandmother, and my great-great grandmother, and so on.  I wanted to know, essentially, who my ancestors were and what they did and how they helped shape this country.  But it was not easy work.  It took two years of dedication.  However even with my time focused on this research, some lines remained dead ends (and some still do to this day).  Some time last month, I sat down and forced myself to stay awake while I poured over church records and marriage records to find the last name of my great-great grandmother.  It took all night–I did not go to bed until 4AM–but I found it.  Tucked away in an obscure file was a mention of my great-great grandfather and his bride-to-be (Sarah Simon), maiden name and all.  The frustration set in immediately after; then there was nothing beyond that.   No parents of Sarah were listed and I was struck with some sadness over the fact that I had surpassed one seemingly dead end only to walk right into another.


Excerpt from the Church Records which show (lower part of the page) Oscar and Sarah’s marriage date.

The next morning (a lazy Sunday afternoon–when I rolled out of bed), I made myself some coffee and plopped right down in front of my laptop for another go at it.  I was determined.  I started searching out other ‘Simon’ couples who lived around the same time and who attended that same church where Sarah and my great-grandfather Oscar were married.  I suspected that Sarah did not simply come about ex nihilo–that is to say–she did not just come from nothing.  She appeared as a church attendee a year before Oscar and her were married, meaning that most likely her family attended the same church.  There were some complications, however (aren’t there always).

Sarah was born in an odd year (1882) between two census periods–1880 and 1900 (to my knowledge no PA state census was taken in 1890 that lists her)–so she would not appear in the 1880 census and she would be 18 in the 1900 census, meaning she might not have been living at home (she was married in 1901).  It turns out she does indeed show up in the 1900 census, but she is working as a servant in another household.  So I had no direct link to her family from the census reports.  She does not show up in any birth records for any family that I had found on and when I went to the library to check out the church records there, I also found nothing with which might lead me to a father or mother.  But I wasn’t completely unarmed; I did have some good scholarly intuition going for me.

I found a Simon couple that might have fit as her parents: Mr. Alfred George Simon and Mrs. Caroline L. (Nolf) Simon.  Both started to attend the church around the same time as Sarah.  More interestingly, both had attended a church locally (about 3 miles away) just a few years prior.  They had moved and so they relocated to a new church (and this might explain why Sarah did not have a birth record at the church in which she was married).  Also, Alfred Simon had passed away in 1900; this made me wonder: Did Sarah take on a job as a servant to help support her family after her father died?  Did she move out of her house at age 18 to work so she could make her own way and be less of a burden on her mother and siblings?  Was she sent to work off a debt her father had made?  All of this started to click into place in my head.  Patterns started to form.  Other factors started to support the conclusion that Alfred and Caroline were the parents of Sarah: (1) They were married in a church 3 miles away from where Sarah was married, (2) they have the same last name, (3) they were married, and Sarah was born, within two years of each other which is pretty typical for the period.

These factors considered, I took them to a friend (Don Drewry) who is a professional genealogist and works for/with SAR.  He takes his job seriously and he is very good at it and I could not have acquired/discovered this information as quickly or readily as Don did (and so I really owe him a lot of thanks–as do all the George Nolf/Oscar Schall descendants as this information seems to have been highly sought after).

2. Intuition Proved Right

At the end of the day, intuition–even when supported by circumstantial data–is still just intuition, therefore it is no better than speculation.  Until it can be grounded in real-world evidence (court records, for example), there is no reason to trust it completely.  Respect it, but verify.

So when my friend sent me back an obituary for Caroline (Nolf) Simon and a marriage license for Oscar and Sarah (which mentions only Caroline’s name–as Alfred would have died a year previous), I was absolutely thrilled.  Words cannot describe the feeling.  Not only had my work paid off with Sarah’s last name, but I was finally learning about her family, who she was, where she had come from, and more.

I started first with the Nolf side.  I had information on Caroline Nolf that I did not have for Alfred (his parents are still unknown to me).  I discovered that Caroline’s parents were John Nolf and Susanna Heckman.  I was able to verify these parents with census records like the one below:


In 1860, Caroline was 6 years old (b. about 1854) which matched her Obituary record from 1913 (she was 59 when she died).

And of course with church records confirming John Nolf and Susanna Heckman’s marriage at the same church that Alfred and Caroline were married in and attended prior to moving.

From there I decided to continue along with the Nolf line.  I was able to locate John’s parents: Isaac Nolf and Mary Magdalena Haldeman (I think this is the correct spelling–I’ve also seen it as Halteman).  As of now, this link is tentative.  This is the only link I have yet to verify with an actual court record or official document.  Church records for Isaac Nolf seem practically nonexistent.  I’m not sure if this was because he did not attend a church or if the records are just not uploaded–more research will have to be done at a library and the courthouse.  However, I did find this in the 1914 book on the History of Lehigh County (Vol 3):

As you can see, the information I’ve verified (about John and Susanna Nolf, about Caroline and Alfred Simon, etc…) is actually all represented here (and accurately).  The only thing I think is specious is the first name of Isaac’s wife, as I am under the impression it is Maria/Mary (though the last name is correct).  So I have reason to accept that Isaac is indeed the father of John Nolf (though, again, working from a position that this needs verification–which I might have in a few days’ time) based upon this report here.

But that isn’t all.  I also checked out the DAR database and found that one of the applicants was Hannah Nolf, daughter of…you guessed it…John Nolf!  And what was his wife’s name?  Susanna Heckman.  And who was his father?  Isaac Nolf!  And thus the circle is now complete.  I’d still prefer court records, but in lieu of that, this record will suffice for me (it is at least trustworthy!).


The lineage is traced from Hannah, through John, through Isaac, and right to George. Brilliant. Thank you, DAR!  Addendum: Neither John nor Susanna died in 1880–not sure why that date is listed there.  John died in 1901 and Susanna died in 1891.

UPDATE 7/24/13: Thanks to Don Drewry, I now have the Last Will and Testament of Issac Nolf, which mentions John Nolf as his executor.  I provide it here as evidence:

Will of Isacc nolf 1869 Lehigh Co Vol 4 pg 492

Click to embiggen. John Nolf is mentioned on the middle-left side.

UPDATE 1/6/14: Using this information, I have successfully applied for membership to the Sons of the American Revolution.  I just received my national number.

So who is George Nolf?

3. Captain George Nolf


Assuming that I can prove the link between John and Isaac, it will mean I am a direct descendent of Captain George Nolf. (Link has been established, see the update above!) And that would be awesome.

George Nolf (not to be confused with a George Nulf from Forks Township, Easton, Northampton County, living around the same time) seems to have been from Moore Township (like most of my ancestors), but also from the area of Bethlehem.  He was born in 1748 in Northampton County.  During the Revolutionary War, he served from 1778-1783 (throughout most of the war) in the militia, though he was mostly on active duty.

Here is what is interesting.

Most Pennsylvania militia units during the Revolutionary War–especially those from frontier counties–rarely saw action, let alone were called up.  Some exceptions to this are in 1777 when Northampton County militia assisted the Continentals at Germantown and the Philadelphia campaign–but mainly as pickets (few men fired a weapon at all through their entire term of service).  This is not the case with George Nolf.

Nolf was called up to fight as a private in 1778, but earned enough respect that he was given the rank of Sergeant.  He spent two months on the frontier fighting against the Native American incursions into the region from the north and west.  Whatever he did, whatever action he saw, he performed well enough that the next tour he was called up on in 1779, was commissioned as a Lieutenant.  Again, he left his family and led men into combat on the frontier.  Though not listed as a ranger, he was in fact precisely that: a ranger.

He returned home but not for long.  Again, in 1780 he would once more be called upon to defend his home.  Once more he would be sent out into the wilderness with a company of men, but not as a Lieutenant.  This time he had received a full commission as Captain.

Page 26

From the pension records on Fold3, here is George Nolf’s official commission!

Pension records show that he did see action, that he was engaged in combat, and that he had, unfortunately, lost men.  He was active for several tours, between 1780-1783, serving as a Captain of a ranging company on the frontier.

Further details are found in his pension file, like those from other members of his company who swore to his service:

So finding all of this was pretty cool.  So that goes to show you, there are some real awesome moments when doing ancestry research.  There are good and bad, of course.  But this was one of the cooler moments that I just had to share.

What about you, dear reader?  What joyful moments have you had while researching your family history?  Share them in the comments below!


One response to “The Joys of Ancestry Research: That Awesome Moment When You Discover a Cherished Ancestor

  1. Pingback: The Woes of Ancestry Research: That Awkward Moment When You Lose a Cherished Ancestor | American History and Ancestry·

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