~ The Meinerts in Germany ~
In the oral tradition of the Minerd-Miner-Minor family, it often has been said that the family was "Pennsylvania Dutch." This means that the family originally came from Germany, since the term "Dutch" is an American mispronunciation of "Deutsch," a German word meaning "German." Some of the earliest family members in America married into German clans -- NeŁn (Nein), Junghen (Younkin), Imel and Harbaugh. As well, a few early-20th-century relatives knew how to speak "Pennsylvania Dutch," strong evidence that the language was passed down for many generations within some branches of the family.
But it was not until the 1980s that the family's European origins began to be traced in earnest. Then, in 1992, the trail led to an 18th century couple named Friedrich and Eva Maria Meinert. This couple was found to have lived in Zwillinge, Germany, in August 1730, and then by 1734, four years later, was residing in what is now Berks County, PA. They must have left Germany and moved to America sometime during that four-year period.
~ Possible Reasons for Leaving Germany ~
There are many reasons why the Meinerts may have left their native home and braved the discomfort and danger of an ocean voyage to find a new home. Germany at that time was not a unified country as it is today. Rather, it was a patchwork of hundreds of small states. There were three primary factors why people there often decided to emigrate:
Many religious and political wars were being fought then in Germany, especially with great fierceness in the area called the Palatinate from where we think the Meinerts came. Today part of the Palatinate is in Bavaria and part is in the Rhineland.
~ Why Pennsylvania? ~
There were three reasons why Germans focused on Pennsylvania as a destination:
~ A Trip in Three Phases ~
The book Pennsylvania German Pioneers by Ralph B. Strassburger is an excellent overview of the rigors faced by German emigrants on their long journey to America. The trip typically was in three phases, sometimes lasting up to 6 months total.
The first phase was usually by boat down the Rhine River from emigrants' villages to Rotterdam, Holland. One traveler wrote that his river voyage was "amid such hardships as no one is able to describe adequately with their misery." Frequent stops were needed to pass through customs of the various German states, resulting in lengthy delays of many weeks, forcing travelers to spend their precious savings just to eat.
When the emigrants arrived at Rotterdam, they often found that booking passage on a ship was on a first-come, first-served basis.
The second phase typically was by ship from Rotterdam to ports in England, where supplies were added and passengers were picked up or dropped off. Further delays in English ports could add another 1 to 2 weeks to the trip.
The third phase was across the Atlantic Ocean, lasting up to 12 weeks depending on the weather and reliability of the ship. These voyages were often marked by terrible suffering and hardship. The food on one such voyage was described as "horrible salted corn meat and pork, peas, barley, groats and codfish. The drink was a stinking water in which all food was cooked." Passengers were "packed densely, like herrings," and were exposed to diseases such as "dysentery, scurvy, typhoid and smallpox." In stormy seas, the crowded hold must have been in utter chaos.
~ What Ship Were the Meinerts On? ~
We may never know the ship the Meinerts sailed on, or to which port they arrived. While Philadelphia was perhaps the most popular destination for German emigrants, other Germans arrived at New York, Boston, Baltimore, Savannah and Charleston, S.C. Between 1730 and 1734, when our Meinerts would have arrived, about 27 ships transporting German settlers arrived at the Port of Philadelphia. Unfortunately, not every ship kept a list of its passengers (manifests), and of those that did, not all of the documents have survived to today. Of the few manifests that are known, our Meinerts are not listed in any one of them. Whether Friedrich Meinert paid for his own passage, or was an indentured servant, is not known, but his name has not yet been found on any indentured servants' lists.
~ Upon Arrival ~
Upon landing in port, the passengers often faced more delays. They were examined by a health officer to make sure they had no contagious diseases. In Philadelphia, for instance, after passing the exam, emigrants then were taken to City Hall to swear an oath of allegiance to the King of England. Those travelers who had paid their own passage were then free to go their own way. Those who could not pay were forced to go to work as "indentured servants" until their debts were paid off.
~ The First of Our Meinerts in Pennsylvania ~
The name Meinert became Americanized after their arrival, and in years afterward was spelled many different ways. Friedrich's first name became "Frederick," while Eva Maria's name became "Mary." The first known printed record of the Meinerts in Pennsylvania is from 1734. That year, on April 10, Frederick had a survey done on a 150-acre property in Oley Township near Reading in what is now Berks County. The survey shows that the Manatawney Creek flowed through part of the Meinert farm. The survey also shows that one of the Meinerts' neighbors was George Boone, grandfather of famous American pioneer Daniel Boone. In the years that followed, Frederick also worked as a blacksmith. In September 1740, he and other local men signed a petition to have the Oley Valley region recognized as a separate political entity.
The Meinerts had seven known children, with at least one of them born in Germany. The spellings of their last names also varied widely. They included:
Other Meinerts settled in Pennsylvania over the years, but we do not know if they are related. For example, in 1840, John Meinert, a native of Prussia, settled in Allegheny County, Pa., with descendants today scattered throughout the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh.
~ The End of an Era ~
The immigrant, Frederick Meinert, died in Oley Twp. in 1751, leaving widow Mary and children, including three under age 21. His farm was sold to pay his debts and to provide support for the younger children until they reached age 21. At his death, his estate was valued at £1,755 and included these items (with the original misspellings):
After Frederick's death, his widow Mary then married their longtime neighbor and friend, Benjamin Longworthy. Mary died in Oley Twp. in 1776, writing in her will that "I Rewmand my Infinite Soul into the Hands of Almighty God who gave it me and my Body to the Earth, whence it was taken in Sure and Certain Hopes of Joyfull Resurrection through the Merits of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." Her passing thus ended the era of the first generation of the family in America. Frederick and Mary's burial site is not known.
The Frustrating Effort to Find Non-existent "Zwillinge"
The effort to locate where our Meinerts came from in Germany has been frustrating. We initially erred in thinking that the word found in an old document -- "Zwillinge" -- was the name of their town of origin. But we had mis-read it and did not realize it meant that they were the parents of "twins." The NeŁn family, into which two Meinert brothers married, is thought to have come from the village of Schonsee, east and slightly north of Nuremberg. Could the Meinerts have come from the same village?
I have written to 14 archives in Germany but have not yet found any definitive connection. I had a reply from archives in Bavaria (Archiv Des Bistums Passau), saying that "though there is a place called Zwilling in the parish of Arnstorf," there are no mentions of our family in parish registers. The name Meinert was not in that area in the 1700s, nor was the given name Frederick.
I also had a disappointing letter back from an archives in Lower Bavaria (Staatsarchiv Landshut). The letter said that in that region, no town exists by the name Zwillinge. It was suggested that I write to sources further north, closer to the area known as the Palatinate.
The Society of Palatinate-Rhine Family History wrote that in 1744, there were many Meinerts living near Kastel, a suburb of Mainz. However, it could not verify if our Friedrich Meinert came from Kastel.
One archives did have a record of Georg Meinert, a painter, born in 1920 in Main Kastel, near Frankfurt in the Palatinate region. Nothing resulted from a follow-up letter.
My biggest disappointment was with the archive responsible for records about emigration from the Palatinate. I wrote a letter there seeking information and waited five months, without a reply. I then had my letter translated into German and sent it again. Again, no reply. In the meantime I heard that when sending to Europe it is best to include an international reply coupon (IRC), so I included one in my third letter, which was back in English. Once again, no reply.
Then I thought that the archives might need a clue to find our family from among all the villages in Germany. I found 36 places on the International Genealogical Index where the name Meinert was mentioned in the 1700s. For the fourth time, I wrote to this archive, enclosing two IRCs and a list of towns and villages. There's been no reply.
I've changed my direction and am going high-tech. Using the Internet, I hope to eventually connect with long-lost German cousins. Also, while in Europe this summer, I hope to contact some Germans to see if I can get some "inside" help.
When I was in Hungary in 1987, I thought that the original name was spelled "Minerd." Some German students I talked with knew that the family could not have come from southern Germany simply because the last name ended with the letter "d." Now we know that the last letter in the last name was "t." So I haven't ruled out southern Germany.
The archives I have contacted so far include: Archiv Des Bistums Passau; Staatsarchiv Landshut; Hessische Familiengeschichtliche Vereinigung; Society of Palatinate-Rhine Family History; Institute for Palatinate Emigration History; West German Society for Family History; Arbeitsgemeinschaft Pfalzisch - Rheinische Familienkunde; Evangelische Kirche Der Pfalz; Institut fur Pfalzische Wanderungsgeschichte (four times); Landeshauptarchiv; Landeskirchliches Archiv; Nordrhein-Westalisches Hauptstaatsarchiv; and Germanic Emigrants Register.
Author Eugene F. Podraza is the son of Dorothy (Minerd) Podraza and the late Francis Joseph Podraza, formerly of Mt. Pleasant, PA. He is a teacher in the Trenton, NJ School District and has been actively researching his Minerd-Miner-Minor roots since 1989.
Copyright © 1995, 2000 Eugene F. Podraza and Mark A. Miner