POSTSCRIPT

 

A postscript seemed somehow appropriate to summarize what Harness descendants, in their frustrations, had decided about ancestors and the search for them. The most natural thing for them, of course, was to look for earlier Harnesses. Several spent considerable effort and money looking, and finally several thought they had found one they "just knew" was the real one. He belonged to a 17th century English immigrant family known variously as Harniss, Harness or Harnish, which had settled in Tidewater Virginia. No real connection could be found, however; and, while admitting they could find no "substantiating documents" linking that family to theirs, they still stoutly continued the fiction of a connection, or grandly ignored the absence of one. One individual, using misunderstood terms, created a Holland native [strangely with the Harness surname] who came to Pennsylvania with "one of the expeditions of William Penn," and begat a family. Why? Because, that was the "tradition."

Once the late 19th and early 20th century enthusiasm for illustrious ancestors had begun its sweep through the United States, it is not surprising that Harnesses became involved; after all, nearly every other American family did. And as so many others did, some Harnesses at the turn of the century, bereft of any truly distinct or definite ancestors, set about creating one.

The prize-winning creation of the most hopelessly outlandish tale of Harness ancestry was one created right at home in West Virginia. This told of an original ancestor named Harges, Hargus or Harness, who was a descendant of one "Count Harmoncourt Unverzay from Holland." The author then added a totally ersatz generation to connect to her real ancestor among the real sons of Michael [Ernst]. Five years later, upon hearing of some new given names, the spelling of the ancestor was slightly changed to "Harnoncourt," the Harness immigrant given a new given name and new place of first settlement [now Maryland], another spurious generation was added with another false given name, the real Michael given a more exotic wife, and the ersatz generation first placed before the correct ancestor was retained. In this last process, the real ancestor among the real Harness sons was given a wife from an exotic Asian country, and one grandmother's surname altered so she could be identified as a descendant from "Scotch-Irish kings."

Not finding documents throws descendants into ridiculous situations, where logic and common sense are complete strangers. Yet, who would have thought that their answer lay in the bosom of Ernsts and Dieffenbachs? Despite the clues, it is a stretch to expect Ernst to lead through Ernest, Earnest, Earnist and Earness to Harness; but it did.

John L. Tevebaugh
Grand Haven, Michigan
March 2001

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