These studies were conceived after a survey of what seem to be (1) the major collections of Harness family data; and (2) the major books or articles written about that family. As a whole, these sources of information contain so many conflicting statements, stories and specific data, along with such a dearth of validation that one had to wonder from whence it all came. In innumerable instances, personal data appeared to have been generated by the writers themselves, at least no source documents ever were cited or could be found. Intensive searching soon revealed that it was impossible to determine among the many conflicting dates, names and so forth, what might really have been correct, what was tradition, what was demonstrable fact, and what was pure imagination.
At that point it was decided to set all of the hundreds upon hundreds of data aside and begin over again. This time, however, the beginning was with the documents themselves. Whatever documents for the areas of this family's residence that could be found were used to develop a valid database for that family. Whatever the documents said, and whatever logical implications were made from them became our new basis for this family's history. Another decision had to be made at the outset, also. Reexamination of the entire family for several generations might never be completed; the same held for the entire first generation. So it was decided to reexamine just the father and founder of the family, his wife, and five sons from among their 13 children. These all shared one significant characteristic: the descendants seemed never to have known much, if anything at all about them; and, perhaps consequently, what had been said about them was full of conflict and unwarranted imagination.
Two very important influences have affected the development of these studies, one was the use of signature marks by persons unable to write to verify their names as written by others, and the other was the impact of record-keepers on immigrants' surnames. It is well-known among family historians that, when ancestors could not write their names in the language of their new country, someone who could would do so, often leaving a space between the given name and surname for the non-writer to make some mark testifying to the validity of that name. Such signature marks often were a cross [+], an [x], the initial letter of the surname, or the initial letters of both names. Sons named for fathers often were "Jr.; " but in 18th century Virginia the younger of any two men with the same name could be known as "Jr." Signature marks were vital to distinguish between Michael Ernst and Michael Harness, Jr., because so many people, then and now, wrongly thought of the father as being Michael Harness or Michael Harness, Sr.
Fortunately, the signature marks of this father and son differed so that we could confidently distinguish between them on documents. However, as sometimes happened, record-keepers and copyists wrote only the names in the record books, omitting the signature marks. When that happened, we usually could make no distinction. That was the case on 12 documents in the years 1745-1753, when the South Branch Valley was under Augusta County jurisdiction. Fortunately, we found almost as many signature marks for each of them during the same years that were fully consistent with marks used by each thereafter, and by the father before.
The other significant factor to be understood is the impact of record-keepers, county clerks and copyists on immigrant surnames. Detailed consideration of the change in Michael's surname from Ernst to Harness will be given in his study; detailed explanation of clerical "mistreatment" of Elizabeth's Dieffenbach is included in her study.
Names of 18th century German immigrants can be confusing to family historians. Many of the men had as many as four; the first, usually Johann, was a christening or baptismal name that usually was dropped in regular use long before maturity. Similar were the female Anna and Maria. The fourth male name often was an added surname denoting an occupation to help distinguish from among one or more local men with the same given and surnames. We easily see this in the names of Johann Michael Ernst Hoerner and his wife, Maria Elisabetha Dieffenbach. His Johann and her Maria were baptismal or saint's names. His Hoerner was a carry-over from his father, who probably had been a comb or button maker, both occupations involved with using animal horns.
Dates, possible or approximate, in these studies are so-labeled. Genealogies suffer seriously when a writer uses dates that have no documentation. Such use is misleading and a disservice to the reader. When it seemed important to use such dates, their nature is indicated by joining it with a question mark, or by use of "ca." immediately before the date: ca. 1784 or ca. 13 March, or ?1730. It may be appropriate to mention here that there is only one of the 13 children of Elizabeth and Michael that has a documented year of birth, the daughter Dorothea in 1741.
Dates on the old calendar between 01 January and 25 March, before 03 September 1752, were part of the previous year, and are written 14 February 1725/6. The new year began on 25 March until after 14 September 1752.
Where it was when: There can be nothing quite so frustrating to a serious researcher, or so confusing to an amateur, as to find reference to an important record said to have been in a county which had not even been created yet. Where does one look for it? Usually it means time out to consult reference books to find a jurisdiction to match the date, because that is where one usually finds it. We have taken care in these studies to refer only to the county or other unit in whose holding it can be found. For example, when Michael Ernst arrived in the Tulpehocken settlement, it was in Chester County. It remained so until 10 May 1729, when it came under the jurisdiction of the new Lancaster County. Although Tulpehocken is very often linked in studies with Berks County, Berks was not created until 11 March 1752, long after Ernst had moved to Virginia. Similarly, Michael Ernst resided in Augusta County when he attended the Coroner's Inquest in 1749, but in Hampshire County when he attended an estate sale in 1757. The two documents are in separate county archives. It creates an unnecessary burden for the researcher to be told which county now controls the area.
Name spellings in 18th and 19th century legal and vital records often seem to be of an infinite variety, for given names as well as surnames. There are numerous possible reasons, such as an untutored writer, a writer of different language or cultural background, impossibility of reading the handwriting on the original record, or just haste, carelessness or lack of concern. Also, we all have encountered a family historian who for some reason feels compelled to use each different spelling taken from each document. These studies will not use a variety of spellings for the same name, unless we are demonstrating the similarity of different names in an argument for proper identification. If we do, the "other" spellings will appear in quotation marks or brackets. We find no reason to validate spelling errors by regular usage. Because someone spells your uncle's name as "Bramwell" when the family always used Brownwell, we see no reason to refer to your uncle as Bramwell. Nor will one find us spelling Solomon as Soloman just because someone misspelled it. Free use of every spelling variety causes the reader to wonder what was correct.
The nature and quality of documents can vary. When we find that long-sought will or an elusive deed describing an ancestral domain, we often forget to remind ourselves that what we find written there may not be correct. We must always remember that all legal instruments in any county's records have been copied from the originals into the permanent record by a county clerk, a hired assistant or a copyist. When long, handwritten documents were copied, mistakes often were made: whole lines omitted, names left out or misspelled, or the original meaning changed by a missing or erroneous word. Sometimes the error or omission was of no real consequence; at other times, as in the case of the present studies of father and son, when copyists omitted the signature marks on over a dozen documents, we were deprived of proof of identity of the family member involved. Copying and its dangers applied also to birth, marriage and death records, then and now.
Family tradition provides some quite delightful stories about family members, often suggesting insights into their characters not available elsewhere. Family traditions, or legends, often have the proverbial "grain of truth" in them; but that grain can be mischievous and not always evident. Unfortunately, a family's traditions and legends are often included in a genealogy undistinguished from fact, suggesting actions and behaviors by its members that did not exist, or simply could not have existed. Readers will find few of them mentioned here because these studies are limited for the most part to evidence from documents. Proof, logic and common sense usually are in short supply in most family legends and many family traditions.
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1. The Father