For nineteen years after the war I continued to pride myself on my Swiss-German origins; no guilt by
historical association would burden my conscience. Then, in May 1974,
I received a letter from Dr. Fritz Braun,
retired director of a historical institute at Kaiserslautern and, as I sensed and soon learned, a gentle
and generous man. He was collecting data, he explained, for a book about one hundred emigrants from the
region in the eighteenth century, and he was interested in information I might have on my branch of the
Harbaugh familyand the characteristics and special activities of Harbaughs in general. He added that Jost
Herbach had left Otterberg, four miles north of Kaiserslatern, in the late 1730s. Would I,
he asked, write an article for the institute’s publication, Pfalzer Heimagrub?
He would help with the German part of the research. I agreed to do so.
Here are some of the facts, non-facts, and conjectures about our family’s German origins, putative Swiss or
Dutch descent, and apparent change in religion while still in the Palatinate:
(1) The earliest printed statement about our origins appears to be the assertion of Henry Harbaugh
in his Annals of 1856 that his great-grand father, “YOST HARBAUGH,
was a Swiss, and came to this country . . . about the year 1736, or 1738.”
The informative Life of Henry Harbaugh (1900) by Henry’s son Linn echoes him,
as does Elizabeth Clarke Kieffer’s intellectual biography, Henry Harbaugh: Pennsylvania Dutchman (1945).
(2) The Moravian Archives in the library of the York County Heritage Trust,
formerly the York County Historical Society, state that George Herbach of Kreutz Creek
(eldest son of Yost, a Moravian since 1750, and the first of the three brothers to
establish himself in Harbaugh Valley) “came to America in 1738.”
That, it would seem to me, settles the dating of the family’s arrival.
(3) Although the Coopriders’ Harbaugh History, first published in 1947 and recently reprinted, is mainly a
(4) The most detailed records about Yost and his children are those compiled by the historical institute in
Kaiserslautern and by The Church of Latter Day Saints (Morman). Both draw their birth data from the
German Reformed Church records in Otterberg. The Mormons list Yost’s seven children by his first wife,
including a daughter who died four years before the family emigrated and two born in America. But they give
Otterberg rather than the Gersweilerhof, where the birthing surely occurred, as the first five children’s place
of birth. This, of course, is a common practice; indeed, some of the records apparently used by the Coopriders
list Adams County, Pennsylvania or Waynesboro of the same state as the birthplace of chi ldren actually born
in Harbaugh Valley, Maryland. The Morman listing of Bavaria in the space for State or Country of birth can
also be confusing. For long periods the Pfalz (Lower Palatinate) was bound closely to Bavaria.
At times, however, it was more or less autonomous. The years 1648 - 1777, when it was being ravaged by
French forces, were one such period. Nonetheless, the Otterberg church continued to link the Lower Palatinate
with Bavaria in its records (Yost’s first five children were born between 1728 and 1735)
and the Mormons transcribed the birth notices as written.
A separate Mormon document gives the data on Yost’s four children by his second wife (all American),
beginning with Leonard the builder-architect, though it fails to state hi s or anyone else’s occupation.
Meanwhile, Dr. Braun prepared files for the historical institute in Kaiserslautern which list only the Gersweilerhof.
Braun’s document makes three singular contributions. First, it gives a specific year - 1703 - for Yost’s birth,
as compared to the ten-year span - 1695 to 1705 - found in other sources. Second, it identifies
Maria Margarethe Klein, whom he married in 1725, as the daughter of the grocer and master tailor at Ulmet,
some fifteen miles northwest of Kaiserslautern. Third, it lists Yost’s father, Peter, as the
“Hoffman auf dem Gersweilerhof”
(farm owner on the Gersweiler Court). No birthplace is given for Yost and, significantly, a question mark appears
in the space before “Schweiz” in the entry on Peter. A second document specifically reports the Gersweilerhof
as the birthplace of Yost’s five pre-America children. The Coopriders list the names of all Yost’s children except
the girl who died before the family emigrated. Drawing on the Moravian Church records in York, they note that
George was born on the Gersweilerhof. They mis-date Jacob’s birth by three years and give neither him nor
Ludwig a place of birth. Their
(5) On May 9 1975, following months of pleasantly routine correspondence, Dr. Fritz Braun sent me
“A complete new message”: The Herbachs had come to the Palatinate from the Netherlands in the late seventeen century;
moreover, they had come as Mennonites. The controlling facts of that and two or three more letters
are these: The church book of the Reformed congregation at Waldfischbach,
some miles south of Kaiserslautern, states that Bruno Herbach, a Mennonite from the “Niderlandt,” had his daughter baptized in
the Reformed faith in 1693; the book of the Reformed Chuch at Otterberg reports that a Mennonite named Wilhelm Herbach
[origin not given] became a member in 1710; the name Herbach was unknown in the Palatinate
until the latter part of the seventeenth century; finally, the protocols of Kaiserslautern’s city
council for 1744 mention that Jost Herbach, “des Gersweilerhofmanns Sohn,”
left for the new land seven years earlier. Braun further wrote that
“the few early families in the Kaiserslatern area at that time are all of one stock,”
that Yost’s father Peter had “probably” been born in the Netherlands about 1674
and emigrated as a child, and that the Bruno Herbach who had his daughter baptized in 1693
“must be a close relative” to Peter, perhaps even a brother.
Dr. Braun also explained his initial reluctance to credit the Waldifischbach church book’s
identification of Bruno Herbach with the Netherlands: “A special point. We have so many mennonites from Switzerland and only some of the Netherlands.
Sometimes emigrants coming from the mountain area (highland) in Switzerland into the Rhine Valley (lowland) -
they are speaking of ‘Niederland’ and use this word also . . . when they arrive on another place.
But I couldn’t find a name Herbach in Switzerland - it sounds not Swiss. Many difficulties of that kind.”
For all my respect and affection for Fritz Braun, I think the single reference to the Netherlands in 1693 is a
thin reed on which to lean. Dr. Braun died of cancer before we could discuss the Netherlands theory at length,
and I could not find the name Herbach or anything reasonably close to it in a search of Dutch directories a
decade ago. Where, then, do we stand? Our only certain knowledge is that the four sons of Yost who
accompanied him to America in 1738 were born in the Lower Palatinate. Probably their mother was native to the Palatinate.
Yost may have been born there. His father Peter could have emigrated first from Switzerland and then from the Netherlands.
He could also have come from elsewhere in Germany. Herbach may have been a new spelling of the family name.
One hopes that Mennonite records in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Germany will
someday be examined and that the Coopriders’ many leads will be pursued. Meanwhile I note
that even though we do not yet know where the Harbaughs lived before Kaiserslautern, we do know a great deal
about the general movement of peoples during the years of our concern. As indicated at the begining,
Part II will try to place the Harbaughs, as appropriate, within those larger movements both in Europe and America.