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What it means to be a "Hochstetler"


If there is a Hostetler or Hochstetler (or a half dozen variations of this name) in your family tree, then you may be a descendant of the 1738 Swiss German immigrant Jacob Hochstetler. It is estimated that there are from five hundred thousand to one million of us living from coast to coast in the United States of America, as well as in a number of other countries.

The Hostettler (Swiss spelling today) family originated, perhaps in the 1300s or 1400s, in the Schwarzenburg, Switzerland area about 30 kilometers southwest of the capital of Bern. Some of them became a part of the Anabaptist reform movement in the 1600s. These Anabaptists, or Swiss Brethren, tried to follow the Bible and restore the biblical church, which they understood to be a believers' church made up of members baptized as adults upon their confession of faith in Jesus and who lived out the ethic of love and nonviolence taught by Jesus. Due to brutal religious persecution by the state churches, both Catholic and Reformed, our ancestors along with many others left Switzerland. The man we now believe was the father of the immigrant Jacob left his native Schwarzenburg area in the late 1600s and settled in Echery near St. Marie-aux-Mines in Alsace (now in France), where Jacob was born in 1712.

To escape the intolerant Catholic rulers of the time, many Anabaptists took the long, arduous and treacherous journey from their homeland to a new land called America that offered religious freedom to anyone who lived there. One such traveler from the Schwarzenburg area of Canton Bern, Harold Hostettler, wrote a poem about this journey and his experience in the new land. The song was put to different music and a variety of melodies, but in the absence of radio and newspapers the song became a form of mass media that encouraged those of strong heart to follow the example of these courageous zealots who were driven to find a way to worship their God the way they wanted to. In order to hear this significant song as interpreted and performed by my friend and Swiss citizen, Urs Hostettler, just click here and you will be entertained by a song from a relative that was written a century and some decades ago that speaks of the dreams and difficulties of adapting to life in America.

Another such escapee, Jacob Hochstetler, age 26, arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 9, 1738 with his wife and two small children on the ship Charming Nancy. They spoke the language of the land they left which was very similar to an early form of "Pennsylvania Dutch". The young family settled in the Northkill area of what is now Berks County with others of their faith, called Amish Mennonites in the New World. Here, near Shartlesville, additional children were born. The economy of the Amish community was based on farming, and they tried to live peaceably with all people.

















                                                                          Artist's Conception of the Jacob Hochstetler Homestead

During the French and Indian War, Indians began making assaults on the colonial settlers who had taken over their lands. On the night of Sept. 19-20, 1757 (which has become known as the "Hochstetler Massacre") a small group of Delaware Indians surrounded the Jacob Hochstetler home. The young teenage sons Joseph and Christian reached for their hunting rifles in an attempt to kill or scare off the attackers, but their father, true to their Christian pacifism, did not allow them to kill the attackers even at the risk of their own death. The Indians set fire to the house and the immigrant mother, an unnamed daughter, and a teenage son Jacob were all tomahawked. Jacob and his sons Joseph and Christian were taken captive, but all of them were released after some years and they returned to Berks County. The European-born children, Barbara and John, were already married in 1757, living on farms nearby, and were unharmed.

The Northkill Amish community eventually disbanded when people started moving to other parts of Pennsylvania. Jacob died in nearby Lebanon County in 1776, but Barbara and her husband Christian Stutzman died in Berks county. John and Christian and their families moved around 1784, soon after the War for Independence ended, to a new Amish community in what is now Somerset County in southwestern Pennsylvania. Here John and his wife Catherine (Hertzler) died, but Christian and his family who had joined a related Dunkard Church (later known as Church of the Brethren) moved on west to the Ohio River Valley by 1795. Joseph around 1806 moved to another new Amish settlement in what is now Juniata County in central Pennsylvania. All 32 grandchildren of Jacob Hochstetler left Berks County. Some of them finished out their days in other areas of Pennsylvania, but many continued on west to Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. The next generation and their descendants continued the westward movement and eventually fanned out into all parts of North America.

One of the few remaining tangible testimonies to our forefather is a simple, wood framed, house that his oldest son John built as his retirement home on his farm in Summit Mills, Somerset County, PA around the year 1800. Unfortunately, a tornado in June of 1998 lifted the little house off its foundation, taking the off the roof and strewing it across the fields. Remaining was a twisted structure, tipped into the basement. A dedicated and courageous relative, George Hostetler, has selflessly undertaken the reconstruction of this significant structure, which is one of the few physical reminders of our forefathers, and encourages all of us to become "Stewards of Our Family History". Please visit this link, which is a journal of efforts made to reclaim the original building materials, and reflect on the role you might be able to play in its reconstruction. Plan on revisiting this link often as the content is updated regularly to recount the evolving story of John's Little House.

Many in the Hochstetler-Hostetler extended family carry a rather strong sense of identity and history. This is partly due to the thorough work of a remarkable pair of men, genealogist Harvey Hostetler and historian William F. Hochstetler, who teamed up to publish a 1000-page book Descendants of Jacob Hochstetler in 1912 which chronicles the family history and lists the descendants of the three sons of the immigrant. In 1938 Rev. Hostetler published an even larger book Descendants of Barbara Hochstedler which lists the 15,000 families who descended from the daughter of Jacob. Thus most living descendants of Jacob Hochstetler who are interested can trace their connection back from seven to twelve generations. While many continue in the Amish and Mennonite faith of their ancestors, many more have merged into the larger American culture. NFL quarterback Jeff Hostetler and George Gallup, Jr. from the Gallup Polls are examples of descendants whose names are well known. The progeny of our devout ancestors represent a wide spectrum of achievements and careers.

If you are curious to connect yourself to Jacob, and his offspring, you can use Dan Hochstetler's simplified method of tracing your heritage or you can visit the James C. Hostetler's Hostetler Ancestry Database, which contains the largest collection of Hostetler genealogical traces available on the Internet. It is much more complete for individuals born before 1875 and lists birthdates, parents, a 3-generation pedigree chart and the source of information.

Although online information on Hochstetler genealogy is limited, there is an interesting biography of the immigrant Jacob's great-grandson, Joseph Hostetler who was known as the "boy preacher" because he was ordained at a relatively young age. Reference made to Joseph's ancestry being from Germany refers to his maternal line, not the Hostetler line (his mother's father, Anthony Hardman, was German).

Of Joseph Hostetler's relatives who remained in Europe, we know of a few persons who came to the U.S. later in the 1800s and even in the past half century. These were predominately persons who descended from Jacob's nephew Isaac Hochstetler who was an Amish Mennonite minister in Germany and in Alsace (France).

There are also some look-alike names that may have a common Swiss origin but represent different family lines here, in the USA. For example, there was formed in 1985 the Hostetter Family Association which publishes a quarterly newsletter called "Die Familie Hostetter". These Hostetters were introduced to America by Jacob and Anna Hostetter who settled in Lancaster County, PA in 1712, by Oswald and Maria Hostetter who settled in Lancaster County, PA in 1732, and by three Hostetter brothers (Christian, Ulrich and Nicholas) who arrived in 1749 . Although they were Mennonites, most of the name variants of their line of Hostetters end in TER versus the ending of LER which seems to identify most of the variant endings of the descendants of our Hochstetler line. More information on the Hostetters can be requested to David J. Bachman, 1409 Plaza Apartments, Lebanon, PA 17042-7348 (or phone 717-273-4377).

Ten years ago an ad-hoc committee planned a nationwide gathering to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the immigration of the Jacob Hochstetler family and, in 1988, more than 1200 relatives from all corners of the nation came together in Goshen, Indiana to celebrate this important event. Synergistically, there materialized several other results from this effort:

The Jacob Hochstetler Family Association, Inc. was formed; A 10-page quarterly H/H/H Family Newsletter was begun; Nationwide Gatherings are held every five years (the second such gathering was held at Kidron, Ohio in 1993, the third in Accident, Maryland in 1998 and the fourth in a location to be announced in 2003 ); There was a pronounced rebirth of interest in our family heritage which has been shown by a surge of genealogical research and a stream of publications delineating branch family histories and related subjects.

Dues for membership in the Jacob Hochstetler Family Association are $10.00 per calendar year and include a subscription to the quarterly newsletter. Dues, orders for back issues of the newsletter (all of which are currently available), and orders for other JHFA genealogical materials should be sent to JHFA, Inc., P.O. Box 2085, Elkhart, IN 46515. Articles and submissions for the Newsletter, information about family activities, research, or any inquires should be sent to H/H/H Family Newsletter, 1102 South 13th Street, Goshen, IN 46526-4416, or e-mailed to .

Reprints of the Reverend Harvey Hostetler's classic 1912 "Descendants of Jacob Hochstetler" are available from the Gospel Book Store (owned by Eli & Vesta Hochstetler), Box 320, Berlin, OH 44610 at a cost of $28.95 each plus $4.00 for shipping and handling. Their phone number is (330)893-2523. The "Descendants of Barbara Hochstedler", first published in 1938, is again in print and available at a cost of $34.95 each plus $4.00 shipping and handling. Also, John Showalter's new update of these two volumes (explanation follows in the next paragraph) called "Hochstetler Update Volume 1" is available for $36.95 plus $4.00 shipping and Handling. These volumes represent the backbone of the genealogical research done on the Hochstetler family but are only three of the 217 or so genealogy books in our collection, most of them updating branches of the Jacob Hochstetler family tree. A photocopy of our 16-page master list can be ordered by sending $2.50 to Dan Hochstetler, 1102 South 13th Street, Goshen, IN 46526-4416. Alternately, if you have recently published anything regarding your family, we would appreciate a donated copy. Such donations are welcome as the JHFA is actively collecting archival and published materials by, for or about the wider H/H/H family.

There will be many errors and omissions in any family history or genealogy books, especially those as massive as compiled by the Reverend Harvey Hostetler. In recent years John Showalter (DJH 5797 & DBH 13913) has been collecting such corrections and has published them in a 1,360 page book that contains contributions from 100 individuals and updates more than 10,000 families or individuals. As well, the author's research cites over 10,000 footnotes and contains 22,000 entries in its index. The cost of this impressive book is $36.00, plus shipping of $5.00, if ordered from Masthof Bookstore, R.R. 1, Box 20, Mill Road, Morgantown, PA 19543-9701. PA residents will need to add 6% sales tax ($2.16). Masthof's phone number is (610)286-6860, and their e-mail address is

It's helpful, on a journey, to be cognizant of an origin and of a destination no matter how vague or distant they seem, otherwise the travel becomes wandering. I believe it's important for us to learn and acknowledge our roots in order for us to understand where we came from. The knowledge of who our predecessors were can serve to help us judge who we want to be and where we want to go on this journey. Keep our rich and proud heritage alive by supporting the JHFA and passing our history along to our relatives who know little of it, and down to our children who know nothing of it...



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