A tale of two Scheffe/Sheffey families in America: Northern vs Southern customs

There are some definite benefits in tracing a family line from its earliest starting point down through the centuries. You can begin to start all manner of trends. So while it may take a (seemingly endless) amount of time – you can get a deeper sense of how a family can change over time.

I’ve spent the past few weeks working through Peter Scheffe’s (1669 – 1749, Herschberg & Thaleischweiler, Sudwestpfalz, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany) female descendants. I still have a way to go…however, some interesting patterns have begun to emerge.  Specifically, these are patterns relating to the 18th and 19th Century American immigrants descended from these ladies.  The main families included in this maternal group are:  Ankney, Mattil, Hoh and Kieffer.

There is a distinct cultural difference between the American immigrant descendants of Peter Scheffe. This difference kind of neatly falls into two groups:  descendants who arrived in the American South and those who arrived in the North. Their journey and experience is almost a story of two different Americas.  

One family line is descended through Peter Scheffe’s son, Johann Adam Sheffey. The other line is composed of a group of families either descended through Peter Scheffe’s daughters or their daughters – maternal lines, in other words.

The American South & The Sheffey family

The identification of the Sheffeys with Virginia is so strong, and so prevalent, that I tend to forget that Johan Adam Sheffey actually settled in Frederick, Maryland. His daughters remained in Frederick, MD, where they married and raised families. Their descendants can be found there today. His sons did not. Daniel Henry Sheffey and Henry Lawrence Sheffey settled in Virginia.  Their brother John would go on to settle in Tennessee.

Daniel, Henry and John Sheffey would take wives from distinctly non-Germanic colonial families. Daniel Henry Sheffey first married Maria Hanson andthen Nancy Lewis. Henry Lawrence Sheffey first married Margaret White and, later, Ceny Nuckolls.   John Sheffey married Margaret Thompson.

For all intents and purposes, it seems, Johann Adam Sheffey’s sons left their German roots behind.

Despite being first generation Americans from immigrant German parents, these three Sheffey brothers appear to have made a conscious decision to break with the family’s German past. As men, it was perhaps easier for them to do this. They had the freedom to choose for themselves. The brothers were also far from the parental sphere of influence.

Virginia itself must have been an active factor, at least for Henry and Daniel. Virginia was the most Anglican of the colonies. That is to say, it was the most English and aristocratic. The English were quite adept at placing their stamp on societies. You either had to be one of them – or aspire to be like them – if you stood any chance of advancement within the English social structure. I don’t dismiss this as a motivating factor behind Daniel and Henry Sheffey’s transformations from German-Americans into American colonials.

John in Tennessee would have a slightly different journey from his brothers. His family married into the hybrid Scottish-Irish culture of Tennessee.

Here’s a quick visual snapshot of some of the Virginia and Tennessee families the brothers forged unions with through marriage:

Sheffey family marriages in Virginia and Tennessee

 The names the brothers gave their children were largely non-Germanic: Robert, William, Serena. Lawrence, James etc.  The brothers gave their children names that were, well, quite Virginian. Not to put too fine a point on it, Daniel, John and Henry’ and their children ‘went native’.  They –  and their descendants – became true sons and daughters of the American south. Within a generation there was nothing of the German about their families at all.

The Sheffey family in Frederick, Maryland

Adam Sheffey’s daughters, however, maintained close ties to their German roots. That’s hardly surprising as it would seem the town of Frederick had a large and tight-knit German immigrant community. Brengle, Geyer and Guiton (French-Germanic Huguenots) were the families Adam’s daughters married into. Their Frederick, MD descendants continued the practice of marrying into German-American families for decades afterwards. Mostly Germanic names feature amongst their children: Jakob, Michael, Johann, Friedrich, Sophia, Maria, Catherina, etc.

I don’t know what it was about Maryland that facilitated immigrant communities actively holding on to their cultural traditions. There does, however, seem to be a marked difference between Maryland and Virginia, the latter which almost seemed to demand compliance with the ‘Virginian way of life’. Then again, Virginia set itself at the pinnacle of southern society – its customs were to be the benchmark for southern society.

Whatever the difference, Adam Sheffey’s daughters and their descendants embraced their German heritage. They had far more in common with their distant relations in Pennsylvania than they did with their brothers.

Sheffey relations in the Northern States

Again, this relates to Adam Sheffey’s cousins, relations through the various female lines of the family: Ankney, Mattil, Hoh and Kieffer.

The families listed above, along with fellow émigrés from the Rhineland-Palatinate region of Germany, basically created a new Rhineland-Palatinate in the Pennsylvania areas they settled. These were vibrant, thriving recognisably German communities in every aspect – merely transplanted to the American colonies. In this instance, Pennsylvania. The religiously tolerant Pennsylvania made no demands upon them to leave their traditions and customs behind. German immigrants could remain German in language, customs and traditions.

This is so clearly shown in the census returns for Pennsylvania from the 1720s onwards. My distant Pennsylvania kin and their community used German names for their children. Nor did they anglicise the names.  Johann remained Johann, and not John. Friedrich remained Friedrich, and Frederick. The used the traditional naming conventions from their culture: Johann Jakob Ankney would be referred to as Jakob, and not Johann. Which was rather good as there could be as many as four or five Johann’s in one family – each differentiated by his middle name. For girls, Anna Catharina Kieffer would be an example. She would be referred to as Catharina.

The families they married into had recognizably Germanic names:

Ankney family marriages

I’m not sure when Germans began to settle upstate New York. However, by the time of the 1860 census, there was a thriving German-American community here too. Have a look at the 1860 census for Oneida in Utica County, NY:

1860 NY Census
1860 Census for Oneida, Utica County, NY – click for larger image

Nor did these German-American kin, or their community, leave these German customs and preferences behind when they quit Pennsylvania and New York for the mid-West in the 19th Century. As late as the 1940s census, I can see these practices in widespread use.  Nor did they cease in a preference for German spouses – or at least spouses from other German-American families. Scandinavians and Swiss got an occasional look in.

The census returns, even for the 1930s and 1940s, made me chuckle. You can almost hear the German-accented English which remained through the centuries. The surname Weiss is occasionally spelled as ‘Vise’ or ‘Wise”. The surname Hoh becomes “Hoey” or even “Hughey”. The name Jakob is spelled ‘Yalkob’. ‘Martha’ becomes ‘Merta’.

While I will probably never see a picture of these people, I can gain a semblance of familiarity for them by their accents, inadvertently recorded by a census taker.

So there you have it. A tale of two Sheffeys: one southern (ok, ok, Virginian!) and the other predominantly northern. Two different sides of a family that would take radically different paths in their adopted homeland.

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