|Julius Otterbein was born in Canada|
My most recent mystery involved the German ancestors of my friend Steve Otterbein. His ggggreat grandfather Germanus Otterbein immigrated to Baltimore in 1851 with his wife and two kids. By the 1860 census he had moved his family to Grand Rapids, MI., where Steve grew up a century later and many relatives remain today.
The census revealed, however, that Germanus made a detour between Baltimore and Grand Rapids. Three of his six children on the 1860 census were born in Canada. He and his family must have lived there from 1852 to 1857. The plot thickened when I searched online and discovered mention of Germanus in the Mennonite archives in Waterloo, Ontario. The Otterbeins have always been Roman Catholic. Why would they be in Mennonite archives?
At the Otterbein reunion in Colorado this summer, I found the answer in a notebook about some Canadian Otterbein families. According to "The Trail of the Black Walnut," a 1957 book by George Elmore Reaman, many immigrants left Germany because they were trying to avoid military service. They arrived here with few possessions. Mennonite settlements took them in and gave them work to do until they could get on their feet again. Sort of like the way modern churches provided assistance to Vietnamese and Sudanese refugees, and undoubtedly will help Syrian refugees.
It's humbling to realize we all need a helping hand now and then, and gratifying to know aid was handled in such an organized manner more than a century ago. But it's going to confuse some Syrian genealogists in the future.