Monday, November 19, 2012

The Landess epiphany

I started a post awhile ago that I had hoped I would be able to finish by now. I wasn't feeling confident of my evidence so I was hesitant despite being very excited by what I had discovered. I still haven't found the trail on paper that I was seeking, but I almost feel as though I have taken a step back from the microcosm of the family branch to find a greater understanding of the giant tree as a whole.

Earlier this year I contacted another user on Both of our family trees seemed to share so many overlaps that we had to be distant cousins. It turned out, we weren't so distant. We began talking and learned that her grandmother is my grandfather's aunt -- a second cousin (once removed from me).

A couple of months ago she contacted me with some rather exciting news. She had taken part in's new DNA program and had received some phenomenal confirmations. Comparing her results with others who had participated in the program, she found the proof she needed - our ancestors are from a Swiss - Palatinate Anabaptist (Mennonite) family from Hirzel, Switzerland with a history of religious persecution. Specifically, in comparisons with other family trees, it appears we are descended from a Mennonite martyr, Hans Landis who was persecuted and eventually beheaded for preaching his faith.

This was truly fascinating to me and I was blown away when I began researching Hans' life and some of the Mennonite history. However, something was bothering me - my "paper trail". Looking at the line in the tree, at the sources I do manage to have, there was conflicting evidence. Here is what I know for certain of the Landess line going backward in generations:

My maternal grandfather (Living)  ->

Ralph Waldo Stevens (1901-1963) ->

Steward Armstrong Stevens (1856-1934) ->

Louisa Landess (1825-1918) ->

John Landess (1794-1846) ->

Jacob Landess (abt 1750 - 1841)

That's where my trail stops. There are a couple of different of sources that have differing information, but unfortunately nothing so far has been promising.

At first I thought this Jacob was born in Pennsylvania, part of a line that stems from three brothers who emigrated in 1717. The birth years were similar after all... But most sources had this Jacob as being born in Germany near the Swiss border. So that didn't fit and thus began my path of confusion. These brothers were descendants of Hans... if my family are descendants of Hans, then surely there must be a connection... or that's what I told myself. I became terribly distraught, trying to piece the puzzle together somehow with pieces that just didn't fit. I convinced myself it has to all fit somehow. After all, information in genealogy can sometimes be incorrect, but the more I studied the evidence, the bigger this discrepancy became.

To clarify, at some point the name had changed spellings from Landis to Landess. The spelling was not a discrepancy  more like .... surname evolution.

So I took a few steps back. I shouldn't be so focused on trying to make this one link fit. The simple fact, I no longer believe these two Jacob Landis' were the same person.  So I re-framed my thought process - Science is science. DNA told us we are descended from the Hirzel Landises, so there's some other way we fit in. There are two centuries of generations between Hans and Jacob, I didn't have to come from this one family.

I went back to look logically and with an open mind at the evidence and the research of other genealogists on Jacob Landess and went back to what I KNEW, not what I suspected --  Jacob Landess was born around 1750 and was married to Mary Reynolds in Kentucky. They had 13 children and settled in Highland Co., Ohio near Pricetown in 1815.

I am no closer to knowing exactly who Jacob's father is. Some believe he is the son of Christian Landis who emigrated to the U.S.  in the 1830's. But once again, if Jacob was supposed to be born in Germany it did not make much sense. So, I spent some time just reading and searching, learning what I could. I still do not know the line, I do not know how to trace it directly back to Hans the martyr, but through all of it what I have discovered is that most of the families are all branches of the same ... very large, very spread out tree. (Jacob and Mary were not unique among Landis descendants in having a large family.)

The Landis family were among the many from Switzerland who were sent away from their homes to the Palatine. Some went there, some tried to stay, some left to Germany.  When William Penn was offering deeds to land in the New World many saw the chance to find their freedom of Religious persecution and set off for Pennsylvania.  As the family spread out over the course of centuries the names changed - They are known as Landis, Landiss, Landes, Landers, and Landess.

And thus, it was then when I was standing back and not focusing so hard on making a link - my epiphany finally came. While I may not know the exact lineage of Jacob Landess, I do know where I come from and I hope that I carry even just a small flame of my ancestors inside.

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