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By the Way: A tree that keeps growing


My own roots in this country are relatively shallow, but my husband’s ancestors have been rattling around Bucks since the time of William Penn.

Always fascinated by his history, I was intrigued by that fact, but it’s really not that exceptional around here. Many families who arrived early in Bucks and Montgomery counties moved westward and populated the country, but some, finding peace and plenty right here, remained, engraving their names on towns and neighborhoods and country lanes. After all, nearby Philadelphia was the political and cultural hub of the New World and an important destination for immigrants.

In Bristol I grew up with children whose ancestors – some of them responsible for dark deeds – had lived in Bucks for generations.

And I was surprised this week to hear from Jim Herrmann, who once was a mainstay in the Durham Historical Society when he lived here. He and his wife, Lynne, have since moved to a town called Evans in Georgia, but he’s still chasing his local ancestors after five years of tracking them on

Jim has now attached an amazing 11,000 names to his family tree. One of them is our neighbor, Charlie Herrmann, who is Jim’s brother.

Jim sent an email to tell me what he had done with my book, “Bucks County Pennsylvania.” He’s had it since it was published in 2012, kept it on his coffee table and picked it up now and then to look at the photographs, and eventually consigned it to his bookcase.

But he hadn’t yet read it, he said. Then one day, he said, “I read it cover to cover,” and as he did, he began to expect he’d find some of his ancestors hiding in its pages. And he listed for me, chapter and page number included, the ones he found.

Jim was reading the section about Three Arches, a farm in what is now Fairless Hills that can be traced back to 1684. In 1712, John and Mary Sotcher, who had been William Penn’s caretakers at Pennsbury Manor, bought the farm and sometime later a stone house was erected on the site of the original log cabin.

Then Jim caught the name of his fourth great-uncle, John Brown Jr. (1753-1821.) It was that John Brown who actually added the arches for which the building is named. (I can’t imagine how exciting it must be to find something like that on the printed page.)

Jim struck out when he read about Fallsington’s Burges-Lippincott House, built around 1768. “I have many Bucks County Lippincotts in the tree, but I can’t find one tied to the house,” he said.

He was luckier with the Yardleys. Thomas Yardley (1763-1828) was Jim’s and Charlie’s first cousin three times removed. Thomas’s father, William Yardley, founder of the town named Yardley, and known as William the Immigrant, born in Staffordshire, England, was Jim and Charlie’s third great-grandfather.

Jim wrote that the family name, stretching into antiquity, was Evans – and he even found a couple English kings loitering in the branches. The Evans family was tied into the Plantagenets, through his Evans grandmother. “I can say we are descendants of royalty, which, of course, is only of moderate interest to the Herrmann family.”

Ah, I always knew there was something regal about the Herrmann men.

Charlie told me he and his brother have been keeping journals for years – simple notebooks they each write a few lines in every day. They’re planning to pass them on one day to provide even more information for future family historians.

I really admire their interest. Digging up family roots has become an extreme passion for many in the past few years, but Jim Herrmann has gone way beyond most people’s efforts to find his place in history.

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