Maria (Mensch) Gaumer at the Spinning Wheel


Born in 1827 in rural Berks County, PA, Maria Mensch married blacksmith, coal miner and farmer Benjamin Charles Gaumer and made a longtime home in the neighboring Lehigh Church community of Alburtis, Lehigh County.

As with many housewives of the era, she learned the art of spinning and clothes-making and is seen here at her wheel. Her hair is pulled back tightly, following the style of the era, and she wears what appears to be a more formal dress. The date is not known.

When she was an infant, of an age of about a month-and-a-half, Maria received Christian baptism on June 10, 1827 by the hand of Rev. C. Herman. A godparent stood at the ceremony, the unmarried Magdalena Unterkoble. A record of the event was written, in German script, on a special hand-colored certificate known as a taufschein, which may be viewed on the Gaumers’ biography.

Maria and Benjamin produced these eight known children – William Gaumer, Henry “Benjamin” Gaumer, Christiana Helfrich, Elvenia H. “Ella” Hopkins, James Henry Gaumer, Maria L. “Maryan” Wenner, Hannah R. Gaumer and Laura Elizabeth Sigfried.

Very little more about Maria’s life is known.

In January 1905, the 75-year-old Maria slipped on ice and fractured her hip while on her way to attend services at the Lehigh Church, a short distance from their home. Sadly, she died the following month, on Feb. 6, 1905, at the age of 77. She passed “after an illness of four weeks,” said the Allentown Morning Call. Funeral services were held at Lehigh Church, with Rev. C.E. Sandt preaching the sermon.

This wonderful image graciously has been shared by Maria and Benjamin’s great-great-great grandson, David Helfrich.

You may view an enlarged version of this photograph which is the May 2019 “Photo of the Month” on

Advertisements’s Recommended News Stories and Blog Posts Since Sept. 2018


So much of what we know about culture, science and humanity seems to be in constant upheaval, from the burning of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris to the first photographic images of black holes in deep space to the Roman Catholic Church’s ongoing revelations of child abuse.

Here’s my list of news articles and blog posts which have impressed me most since September 2018, all originally posted on the “Favorite Links” page of my award-winning website, These stories cover important issues in our society and track how our collective heritage shapes how we live today and perceive our existence

More than just reporting on the who, what and when, these articles go deeper into the how and why of issues.

All have some connection to my primary interests in Americana, culture, art, science, technology, faith, journalism and history/genealogy … as well as regional Pittsburgh, the epicenter of the extended Minerd-Minard-Miner-Minor family’s growth and development since 1791.

Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris Catches Fire” – New York Times, April 15, 2019
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wins Pulitzer Prize for Tree of Life coverage” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 15, 2019
How to make sense of the black hole image, according to 2 astrophysicists” – Vox, April 22, 2019
Why hasn’t evolution dealt with the inefficiency of ageing?” – by Jordan Pennells, Aeon, April 10, 2019
An Ancient Human Species Is Discovered in a Philippine Cave” – New York Times, April 10, 2019
Christine Davis digs into Pittsburgh’s underground” – Pittsburgh Business Times, April 5, 2019
How ‘Good Design’ Failed Us” – Nikil Saval, The New Yorker, April 3, 2019
A Search Underway for Thousands of Books Looted Almost Four Centuries Ago” – by Michael Stillman, Rare Book Monthly, April 2019
How the Most Precise Bombing Run of WWII Saved Florence’s Masterpieces” – by Ian M. Shank, Art & Object, March 11, 2019
Pittsburgh recognized as starting point for Lewis and Clark expedition” – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 10, 2019
Met Relinquishes Looted Coffin to Authorities” – Art & Object, Feb. 21, 2019
The Collector Who Got Away: Karl Lagerfeld” – by Rebecca Rego Barry, Fine Books & Collections, Feb. 19, 2019
The Lab Discovering DNA in Old Books” – by Suarah Zhang, The Atlantic, Feb. 19, 2019
The Huntington Acquires Papers of F. Marion Crawford, Popular 19th-Century American Novelist” – Fine Books & Collections, Feb. 8, 2019
Library of Congress Receives Major Grant to Support National Book Preservation Plan” – Fine Books & Collections, Feb. 7, 2019
First Amendment Protects Negative Comments on Government Official’s Facebook Page” – by Michele J. Mintz, Fox Rothschild LLP, Feb. 7, 2019
Welcome to the age of ‘surveillance capitalism’” – by Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, Feb. 6, 2019
Man vs. machine: Super Bowl ads show a growing anxiety” – by the Editorial Board, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 6, 2019
A DNA test would explain my lost African ancestry. Or so I thought.” – by Sandy Banks, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 3, 2019
Defense lawyers in Carnegie Library rare book theft case seek specifics from DA” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 1, 2019
2018 – It Was a Very Good Year (for Books and Paper at Auction)” – by Michael Stillman, Rare Book Monthly, February 2019
After a 20 Year Wait, Books Are Again Entering the Public Domain” – by Michael Stillman, Rare Book Monthly, February 2019
Newseum Soon to be in the Past Tense” – By Bruce McKinney, Rare Book Monthly, February 2019
Ten trends shaping the Internet of Things business landscape” – by Eric Lamarre and Brett May, McKinsey & Co., January 2019
The Baumans, Sellers of Really, Really Rare Books” – New York Times, Jan. 30, 2019
Stone Facsimile of the Declaration of Independence Sold for $975,000 at Sotheby’s” – Fine Books & Collections, Jan. 28, 2019
Library and Archives Canada Acquires Rare Book Once Belonging to Adolf Hitler” – Fine Books & Collections, Jan. 25, 2019
Geneticists have begun using old bones to make sweeping claims about the distant past. Here’s why it’s making some scholars uneasy.” – New York Times, Jan. 21, 2019
A Book Lover’s Haven Turns 100” – New York Times, Jan. 17, 2019
Hamilton’s Trip to Pittsburgh” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jan. 13, 2019
Medieval woman’s hidden art career revealed by blue teeth” – Associated Press News, Jan. 9, 2019
Audrey Geisel, Dr. Seuss’ Widow and Keeper, Dies at 97” – New York Times, Dec. 24, 2018
Bottleneck at Printers Has Derailed Some Holiday Book Sales” – New York Times, Dec. 24, 2018
The 18 Media Grinches of 2018” – by Jim Rutenberg, New York Times, Dec. 24, 2018
The Family History DNA Can’t Reveal” – by Kaitlyn Greenidge, New York Times, Dec. 20, 2018
About the Jewish mourners’ prayer on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette front page” – by David M. Shribman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 2, 2018
Where Is the New Book Collector? How About on the New Social Media” – by Michael Stillman, Rare Book Monthly, Nov. 2018
Remembering the Victims: A Look At the 11 Lives Taken During Saturday’s Massacre” – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 29, 2018
A Massacre in the Heart of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” – by Bari Weiss, New York Times, Oct. 28, 2018
Americans Are Losing Trust in the News Media” – Investor’s Business Daily, Oct. 4, 2018
A Smarter World: How AI, The IoT And 5G Will Make All The Difference” – Forbes Magazine, Sept. 21, 2018

Pennsylvania German Expert Preston Albert Barba on His Annual Voyage to Europe


Muhlenberg College professor Dr. Preston Albert Barba (right) — of the family of Jesse and Elizabeth (Baer) Fegley — passes time aboard the S.S. Bremen in 1925 during one of his 40 annual research trips to Europe. His writings provide a remarkable window into the German behaviors and cultural values which our people brought to Pennsylvania, passed down among some generations in the eastern portion of the state but lost by those migrating westward to the Pittsburgh region and beyond.

Preston taught at Muhlenberg for nearly three decades until retirement in 1951. He founded Der Deutsche Verein — “The German Club” — open to students where “the speaking of German is done as much as possible,” said the 1926 Muhlenberg yearbook Ciarla. “German songs are quite in vogue and speeches on various interesting and educational topics are given by different members throughout the year.”

Among his books was They Came to Emmaus, 1939, considered the standard history of the Lehigh County community. For 34 years, he edited a weekly column in the Allentown Morning Call, entitled ” ‘S Pennsylvanisch Deitsch Eck,” considered the “authoritative … recounting the history, customs, and traditions of the Pennsylvania German.” His wife Eleanor was an artist who illustrated many of his articles and was a traveling companion. When he died in 1971, the Morning Call said he was “one of the foremost authorities on the life, literature and lore of the Pennsylvania Germans.”

In this image, he sits with Mrs. Nagle and Professor Lambert. He appears to be ready to take a bite of a snack from the box he’s holding. Or is he laughing?

David Wilson Fegely’s Hand-Colored, Pennsylvania-German Birth & Baptismal Certificate from 1851


Among of the most enduring cultural contributions of Pennsylvania Germans of the late 1700s and 1800s were highly decorated birth and baptismal certificates, known as “taufschein.” Originating in Berks County, PA — where Friedrich and Eva Maria (Weber) Meinert Sr. settled in the 1730s — the art form is highly prized today for originality and color as well as valuable genealogical information about the child and his or her parents and sponsors.

This taufschein was commissioned by the Meinerts’ great-grandson and his wife James and Mary (Bernhardt) Fegely of Longswamp Township, Berks County for their son David “Wilson” Fegely. Born on May 30, 1851 in nearby Lower Macungie Township, Lehigh County, Wilson was baptized at age four months, on Sept. 25, 1851, by Rev. Jeremias Schindel of the Lutheran wing of Solomon’s Church. David and Sallie (Trollinger) Hertzog stood for the infant as his sponsors.

As a teenager, Wilson received formal religious instruction and was confirmed by Rev. D.K. Humbert in the Longswamp Church.

This taufschein measures 16¼ inches by 13¾ inches and was pre-printed in black ink, as a fill-in-the blank form, by Plumer, Butch and Co. of Allentown. It was hand-colored by the artist using decorative figures of angels, an eagle and birds using gold, red and green watercolors. The layout not only includes a central rectangular space with Wilson’s hand-lettered birth and baptism particulars, but also smaller rectangular spaces above to the left and right, and below, with pre-printed inspirational writings. Approximate translations into English are provided below, with thanks to Linda Marker — of the family of Frederick J. and Delilah (Faidley) Younkin — for her work on the translation, applying her knowledge of the oddities of Pennsylvania German dialect.

To study detailed scans of this taufschein, including the handwriting as well as the inspirational texts, visit the Photo of the Month for March 2019.

Speckled Legacy: Tom Custer in American Pop Culture

LBHA_Research_Review_2019A       LBHA_Research_Review_2019B

The Little Big Horn Associates’ Research Review Magazine

When first becoming aware of our Minerd-Miner family’s connection with General George Armstrong Custer’s brother Tom, I was deeply moved by the fact that the general was not the only Custer to die at Little Bighorn. In fact four of his immediate relatives – two brothers, a brother in law and a nephew – also gave their lives on the field that fateful afternoon. It should have been an American tragedy for all time. Instead, at best, the story has been treated in American popular culture as a mere footnote.

The Little Big Horn Associates, a national organization devoted to promoting the exchange of knowledge on the life and times of the general and the battle, is changing that discourse. In fact, its Research Review Magazine has just published my article, “Speckled Legacy: Tom Custer in American Pop Culture.” The piece surveys the photographs, news and magazine articles, books, stage plays, and television and movie films which have influenced Americans’ limited perceptions of Tom.

The Custer disaster at Little Bighorn mirrors the epic story of the five Sullivan brothers whose dramatic tale is much better known. The siblings – George, Frank, Joe, Matt and Al – all perished together after their U.S. Navy cruiser, the Juneau, when torpedoed at Guadalcanal during World War II. Their saga was trumpeted nationwide in news stories and wire photos and even became a 1944 Hollywood film, The Fighting Sullivans, starring Anne Baxter and Thomas Mitchell. It led the U.S. War Department to bolster its rules about separating siblings in military service, known as the “Sole Survivor Policy.” And the policy was central to Steven Spielberg’s 1998 blockbuster film Saving Private Ryan, starring Tom Hanks, Matt Damon and Tom Sizemore.

Beyond his death at the Bighorn, Thomas Ward “Tom” Custer, younger brother of General George Armstrong Custer, made his mark on Americana in many ways – as a Civil War hero who won two Medals of Honor; as a brother-in-law who charmed the general’s wife Elizabeth “Libbie” (Bacon) Custer; and as a fighter for the U.S. Seventh Cavalry on the Great Plains during the Sioux Wars.

In death, Tom has not been ignored in American popular culture, but his presence has been more speckled and uneven. He just never has received his “big break” into the limelight until the dawn of the 21st century, and even then, the effect has been limited.

Tom could have been a posthumous folk hero. Perhaps the best known legends about him, which could have become larger story lines, are his feud with Chief Rain in the Face, who vowed to cut out and eat Tom’s heart (and may well have); the run-ins with lawman/gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok in Kansas; and his well-earned reputation as a heavy drinker and womanizer, including a sexual relationship with my own cousin, Rebecca Minerd.

In the most famous Custer film of all – They Died with Their Boots On, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland – Tom’s persona is noticeably absent. The film reportedly was Warner Bros.’ second biggest hit of 1941 and has inspired many to become interested in the Custer story. Despite intimate scenes where the general made important decisions, settled barroom brawls and planned for battle, where Tom could have played a meaningful big screen role, he was not written into the script.

Any legend typically has a core of truth which has staying power as it takes on new meanings and twists over time. A legend often requires that others, perhaps motivated to exploit the story to make money, add their own interpretation and shadows. All of these factor into Tom’s legacy. Some of what we know today bears little resemblance to actual facts, but the paper archaeology tracing the development and continuance of Tom-related stories in our culture’s mass media is fascinating and enhances our understanding.

It was not until 2002 – some 126 years after the Bighorn battle – that Tom’s story was featured in two full-length biographies. One was authored by Carl Day, Tom Custer: Ride to Glory. Roy Bird also published a lesser known biography about the same time, In His Brother’s Shadow, later re-issued under the title The Better Brother: Tom & George Custer and the Battle for the American West.

This study could not have been possible without early encouragement from Beverly (Hansen) Miner, Carl Day and the late Brian Pohanka, and over the years from LBHA friends Fr. Vincent Heier, the late Joan Croy, J. Jefferson “Jeff” Broome, the late John “Jack” Manion, the late W. Don Horn, Don Schwarck, Bill Serritella, Bruce Liddic, Lowell Smith and Vicki Trego Hill. Annual Review 2018: A Report for Family and Friends


Now in its 19th year online, the main focus for in 2018 was bringing to life more of the lost stories of forgotten Pennsylvania German families and their impact on Americana. The numbers bear out the incessant activity of adding new material, up in some areas, down in others but always in motion generating content.

View the Annual Review 2018: A Report for Family and Friends >>>

The 2018 focus primarily was in four ways – biography research for the Pennsylvania German family of Elizabeth (Meinert) Gaumer of Berks and Lehigh Counties, Pennsylvania and Muskingum County, Ohio, and creation of the online Gaumer Archives – research of newly discovered Civil War soldiers in the Minerd-Miner, Younkin-Younken and  Hinerman families, including National Archives soldier pension research in Washington, DC and a tour of the Gettysburg Battlefield – completion of publication the Nett-Helen Letters, a project which has taken seven years to complete – and a deeper dive into the German-ness of our forbears with an examination of the remarkable endurance of the culture and values over many generations.

I love sharing this obsession with any who share even a sliver of interest. To my continuing amazement, the stories never stop coming, nor the images, thanks to sharing by our cousins far and wide. The site remains a source of fascination, surprise, exhaustion and eye-opening learning, proving more than ever how inter-connected our Pennsylvania-German families are, despite the passage of some 300 or so years since our ancestors arrived in America.

If you wish to contact me, I’d love to hear from you. My response may be slow, as I’m juggling two self-employed businesses, plus a few non-profit boards. I’m hoping to have more time in 2019 to devote to the work. So please be patient.

Thank you again to everyone who has contributed your special part from your own family’s trove of family treasures. This site is for you, and would not be possible without you.

Ziegfeld Follies Showgirl Hazel Forbes


Less than a year after the death of his first wife, wealthy cosmetics executive Paul Owen Richmond was introduced to Ziegfeld Follies showngirl Hazel Forbes, and they quickly agreed to marry. The son of Owen and Matilda (Hoyman) Richmond, of the family of Rev. John and Susanna (Sturtz) Hoyman, Paul was a native of Prospect, Marion County, Ohio and had left home at the age of 18 to work for R.L. Watkins Company. He eventually was promoted to vice president of the Cleveland-based firm and was considered by the press as a millionaire. At its height, the Watkins firm employed 1,000 people and produced 150 different brands of soap, medicines and cosmetics in 11 different U.S. cities.

The 46-year-old Paul and 21-year-old Hazel were joined in holy wedlock in April 1931 in the Methodist Episcopal Church in Kennedysville, MD following a cruise on his yacht, accompanied by her mother. Hazel was divorced from her first husband, an automobile salesman, and in agreeing to marry Paul, pledged to give up her career and become a “musical comedy prima donna.”

But fate cruelly intervened. Less than a year later, Paul was stricken with double pneumonia and treated in Harbor Sanatorium in Manhattan, NY. Hazel sat at his bedside throughout the ordeal until his death on Jan. 16, 1932. His remains were transported to his Ohio hometown for burial. Their marriage had lasted for a mere nine months. Said a newspaper, “Since Richmond’s death … she has refused to accept offers for parts in new Broadway shows, saying that she will continue to obey the wishes of her husband and never return to the stage.”

Hazel’s promise did not last. She inherited Paul’s millions in cash and Watkins stock and lived a long life. For a time, she tried to participate in Watkins management but the business world was not to her liking. She sold her stock and pursued movie parts with poor success. She got her break in 1934, when she was cast in the RKO Pictures comedy film Down to Their Last Yacht, starring Mary Boland, Polly Moran and Ned Sparks. The plot features a wealthy family turned poor in the 1929 Wall Street crash who become so desperate that they rent their yacht for a host of misadventures. This image is a publicity photograph to promote that film, showing her at the entrance to her Hollywood Hills home. Enlarge this image>>>

She married for a third time in Miami Beach in 1938 and then a fourth in the early 1940s. More>>>