When ancestral documentation trumps belief: The Harling-Harlan-Harland family

This post could almost be a companion piece to my post When the genealogy mistakes of others leads you astray: Elizabeth Bartellot https://genealogyadventures.net/2013/11/27/when-the-genealogy-mistakes-of-others-leads-you-astray-elizabeth-bartellot/ Almost. I’ve learned quite a bit about family history research since then.

I’ve been intensively researching my Edgefield County, SC Harling family roots. I kept butting up against a brick wall that I had noticed in many other South Carolina-based Harling family trees online. The ancestral trail always went cold with my 7x great grandparents, Ezekiel Harling (1707-1754) and Hannah Oborn (born about 1707). The trees of their South Carolina descendants cite Germany as the place of birth for both.

Ancestry.com had provided plenty of hints for an Ezekiel Harlan and Hannah Oborn. The problem was, Ancestry’s hints were all for an English couple. So I temporarily ignored these hints in pursuit of any German ancestry records I could find. I was quite inventive. I used every form of the Harling name I could think of, including making it more Germanic by using the spelling Härling. I did find people with the variant spellings of the name. None, however, were the couple I was seeking.

I gave it a week.

Then I started accessing the records that Ancestry was offering for this couple. What a goldmine of information this turned out to be.

Ezekiel Harling and Hannah Oborn 1
Source: Ancestry.com. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Swarthmore, Quaker Meeting Records. Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Description: This collection of Quaker meeting and vital records is one of the first of its kind. These records from monthly meetings have been brought together to form the most extensive searchable online database
Synopsis of the above record:

Name: Ezekiel Harlin Jr
Marriage Date: 23 Dec 1724
Marriage Date on Image: 23 Tenth 1724
Marriage Place: Delaware, Pennsylvania
Spouse: Hannah Oborn
Event Type: Marriage
Monthly Meeting: Concord Monthly Meeting
Yearly Meeting: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Title: Births and Marriages, 1693-1808
Meeting State: Pennsylvania
Meeting County: Delaware (part of the Pennsylvania colony at this time)

The above record sent me on a journey of family history discovery spanning 200+ years.

Ezekiel Harling and Hannah Oborn 2
Source: Ancestry.com. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Synopsis of the above record:

Name: Ezekiel Harlin
Marriage Date: 7 Dec 1724
Marriage Place: Delaware, Pennsylvania
Residence Date on Image: 07 Tenth 1724
Spouse: Hannah Obourn
Event Type: Marriage Intention (Marriage)
Monthly Meeting: Concord Monthly Meeting
Yearly Meeting: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
Title: Women’s Minutes, 1715-1751
Meeting State: Pennsylvania
Meeting County: Delaware

 Ezekiel Harling was actually born with the name Ezekiel Harlan (sometimes spelled ‘Harlin’). He, and his wife Hannah Oborn, came from a long, long line of English Quakers. I’m going to go ahead and say they were English, and not Irish although both were clearly born in northern Ireland. Their parents and grandparents were English. I’d hate to muddy the genealogical waters by giving them an Anglo-Irish identity that a series of marriage, birth and death records just aren’t showing.

And what an amazing thing that turned out to be. Quakers thoroughly documented every aspect of their lives: their weekly meetings, marriages, births, deaths, excommunications, the travel of members from one Quaker community to another – everything. This enormous body of documentary evidence still exists. And it has been digitized (in America, at any rate).

Through these primary source records, I followed the Harling-Harlan trail back to 16th Century Harland family of County Durham in England. Along the way, I uncovered parts of history I’ve never known.

I’m not a Quaker scholar. I know very little about the religion. However, I do remember being taught that after facing persecution from the Church of England, many English Quakers left for the Netherlands, and from there to establish a colony in Pennsylvania. Or they went straight from England and Scotland to Pennsylvania.  I never knew that quite a number of English and Scottish Quakers went to Ulster and County Antrim in the northern part of Ireland. At least two generations of my Harlan ancestors were born in Antrim and Ulster before moving to Lancaster and Chester Counties in Pennsylvania, along with what looks like the majority of their local and regional religious community.

The Quaker bit explains why cousins within this family married members of their extended family generation after generation. They married members of their own faith. Existing in relative isolation, that also meant marrying someone from their own community or neighbouring communities.

Which explains why family names like Bailey, Breed(e), Gregg, Heald, Hollingsworth, Hoopes, Mendenhall, Pearce and Webb – and many others – appear with regular frequency. You’ll see these names in the records provided above. Over a few generations, this became one, enormous, extended family.

Naturally, I’m curious about how the Harlan name came to be changed to Harling when Ezekiel Harlan came to reside in Edgefield County, SC. I have some educated guesses.

My Virginia-based German-American Sheffey family became part of the English-descended elite that dominated southwest Virginia. They fashioned themselves after the dominant culture in this region of Virginia. The early 19th Century Sheffeys in Tennessee became part of the Scots-Irish community there. The Scheffe/Sheffeys of Pennsylvania and Frederick County, Virginia remained part of the German communities they lived amongst and maintained a strong German identity.

I’m guessing Ezekiel Harlan or his children did the same thing. They fashioned themselves after the leading, and genuinely German, families that dominated their community: families like Ouzts, Dorn and Timmerman. These are the families Ezekiel and Hannah’s descendants married into. ‘Harling’ does have a Germanic ring to it. Or perhaps the next generation of the family wanted to erase their Quaker connections. Or a mixture of both? I think they were partly successful in this. For 150 years, this line was ‘lost’ to the Harlan family. It’s only within the past few decades that it was re-discovered by members of the Harlan family.

The re-discovery thing is kind of interesting. A handful of their Harlan cousins left Pennsylvania for Union County, South Carolina a few decades after Ezekiel had left Pennsylvania. I’ve just located another Harlan branch that came to reside in Edgefield as well. I can only assume this wasn’t happenstance. And by that, I mean Ezekiel must have corresponded with his family back in Pennsylvania.

The records do seem to indicate, however, that connections with the family’s Pennsylvania roots were either lost through time or permanently severed.

It’s a shame. Reading through the Quaker records reveals an interesting and fascinating family history. I, for one, am thankful that the Quakers had one heck of an impressive administrative system – and such discipline when it came to the practice of documentation.

So what’s my takeaway point? Never fear to question established dogma when it comes to family history. If you keep coming up empty handed in your search, and if you keep coming across records that suggest an alternative answer to questions about an ancestor’s lineage…check those records out. Those records could prove a goldmine of information.

If you are researching your Harling-Harlan-Harlin-Harland family roots in America, I can definitely recommend the book below. It has been digitized and is available for free to read online. So far, i have found it to be incredibly accurate in the information it provides. in other words, the digitized records online supports the information provided in this old book. By the way, I’m a descendant of the George Harlan mentioned in the book’s title.

Harlan, Alpheus H., History and Genealogy of the Harlan Family, and particularly of the line of descendants of George and Michael Harlan who settled in Chester County, PA., 1687. 1914. http://www.archive.org/stream/historygenealogy00harl/#page/n5/mode/2up

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