A Variety of Names
Ernest Trait, Long Beach, California
[Editor’s note: Much of the question and conjecture in this 20-year-old writing is now resolved and documented in Tritt Family History, Volume III.]
Chronological order in my own family has intrigued me for a long time. As a child, I was continually confused by the maze of references and cross-references used to identify the long stream of relatives we would visit from time to time. The term “cousin” or “uncle” meant that somewhere in this family we were tied together by a thin stream of blood, but at that age it defied me to be able to get the picture of just how or where. In later years, I realized that, when we were out in the country on the old “Sunday drive” visiting “Aunt Kate” or “Uncle Morris”, these had not been MY aunts and uncles at all, but those of my parents. Though these were the only terms by which I knew some of these folks, I later discovered them in actuality to be my “Great” aunts and uncles - a position of great reverence in the antiquity of human relations. Others, whom I thought were closer relatives, turned into “a cousin of Dad’s on his mother’s side” or “Mother’s cousin-twice removed.” A mixture of these terms is what I must use to sort out persons in the family web when trying to be sure just who is being talked about.
With notes as written by our family historian, Alice Susanna Hoffman Sparr, I began to lay out the TRAIT family line so that I could understand where each person stood in relationship to another. Then the infection took hold. I thought it would be interesting to see what I could find to help complete the picture a little more and push further into the past. Starting with whatever was convenient and handy at the time, like immediate family members, I probed memories for names, dates, and activities of past years. This proved very rewarding and must be pursued further while our elder members are still available with their vast store of information.
Next, the Berks County records in the Reading, Pennsylvania courthouse were searched only lightly to see what might be gleaned from them. Immediately the family tree grew another branch. There appeared a string of “TRATEs” with names I had never heard of among our relatives. I knew this spelling existed in the family as “Uncle Will” used this, as will be explained further in this article; but where this branch comes from or ties in is still to be found.
The history, as written by Alice Sparr, reaches only to Phillip and Sussanna Glass Treat, her grandparents and my great-grandparents. These folks, as is now known, were born and raised in Robeson Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania in the 1830s. They lived their lives in the vicinity of Plow Church and are both buried in the adjoining cemetery. Their family consisted of six children who were the “aunts” and “uncles” of my father, Samuel (E) Trait, who was born January 7, 1887. In order of birth they were Aaron (G) Trait, my grandfather, born on June 12, 1858; a daughter Mary Catherine, who lived only 10 months, born on November 6, 1860; William Nelson Trait/Trate (Uncle Will) who lived on a farm off the old Chestnut Hill Road to Morgantown, Pennsylvania, born on June 24, 1862; Christian Treat, born on November 24, 1864 and settled in the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania area; Samuel Treat, born some time in 1866 and went west to the Phoenix, Arizona area about thirty years later. In addition there were Sarah Ellen Trait (Aunt El ), born on July 19, 1869, and Bertha Susan Trait (Aunt Bert), born on November 28, 1871, both of whom married and lived in the vicinity of Morgantown, Pennsylvania.
You will notice the difference in spelling of the last names. This confounded me until I made a surprising discovery referred to later in this article.
In exploring the records of Plow Church, Robeson Township and those in the Berks County Courthouse, I found three spellings within this one family alone. This is assumed to have come about through some disagreement within the family.
The spellings shown were verified with then living members of the William Nelson Trait/Trate family, namely daughters Cora Minerva and Bertha May (who continued the use of “TRAIT “) though court and church records show their father, William Nelson, to be using “TRATE”. Plow Church records show Phillip and Sussanna, parents of William Nelson, as spelling their name “TREAT”. This may have been an anglicized version of the original.
During a visit with a cousin, Fred Trait Felber, son of Bessie May Trait Felber Weitzel, daughter of Aaron (G) Trait, my grandfather, brother to William Nelson, he mentioned he had some documents in his possession but was unsure as to their significance as they were in German.
What a find! These documents were Frakturs, a form of German printing that allows one to fill in birth and baptismal information. One was for “... Aaron Tritt, son of Phillip Tritt and wife Sussanna, daughter of Peter Glass ... born June 12, 1858”. This was before any name change. This is strong evidence. I know my grandfather used the “TRAIT’’ spelling yet he grew up in a family in which church records and others knew them as “TREAT”. Now here is a document showing that he was really born a “TRITT’’. Another name!
Another document was a birth and baptismal certificate for a son “Christian” born November 23, 1806 “... at 1 o’clock in the morning of father Christian Tritt and mother Catherina Glassin ...” then living in Robeson Township. Also named was the minister performing the baptism, which appears to be the signature of Rev. John Plitt whom the Plow Church records confirm to be pastor at that time period. Witnesses named were Godparents, Christian Dannehaur and wife Catherina. A very important note in the lower left corner in a different script indicated that this son married June 14, 1829. This marriage is confirmed in the records of Rev. A.S. Leiby, 1792-1820, of the First Reformed Church of Reading(1) that this Christian married Justina Schlauch on this date. The subsequent birth of Phillip is recorded in the Plow record(2) for March 22, 1830 to parents Christian and Justina Tritt. This Christian (1806), is the father of Phillip Tritt (1830), who in turn, is the father of Aaron (G) Tritt/Trait (1858), my grandfather. These references, then, tie together the family line through TRAITTREAT- TRITT to the beginning of the nineteenth century and beyond. It is this “beyond” that we will deal with shortly as this appears to be the original name and the real path to our ancestry.
The translation from the German Fraktur, the stylized birth certificate, was done for me by Dr. F.M. Swensen, a Professor of the California State College Foreign Language Department at Long Beach, California. Dr. Swensen also said the ‘IN’ of the name GLASS-’IN’ was a suffix used to denote the female gender and therefore the name would normally be ‘GLASS’. The Glass family is often intermarried with our Tritt line for several generations, being possibly very good friends and neighbors.
Though referenced often, there has been little mention of Plow Church itself. As may be known locally, Plow was first known as the Forrest Church(3) founded in 1768 with the record book beginning in 1770. Later we find that ‘Plow’ is also spelled ‘Plough’. The changeover probably occurred gradually as indications show it was still referred to as Forrest Church as late as 1829 in showing where marriage participants had originated.
The first church was an eight cornered building built in 1779 which was in use during the years of our ancestor’s activities and shared by both Lutheran and Reformed congregations. A second church was built in 1811 and it was torn down in 1888, the same year the current building was put to use.
Situated on high ground midway between Reading and Morgantown, next to what is now Route 122 [PA Route 10 today], this third church has a commanding view of the countryside in all directions and was probably a mighty beacon to the parishioners of the day. A roadway intersection nearby lead to the development of a village called Plowville, hence the probable changeover to be called Plowville Church and then Plow Church. The present day edifice is a beautiful sandstone structure standing proudly for more than one hundred years with the sharing of facilities by the two congregations, only recently dissolved.
The surrounding area was of Germanic culture in this period and writings would of course be Germanic. Initial script in the Plow records was in German changing later to English. Persons making the entries into the record book of the church may or may not have known the individuals by name, and therefore pronunciation and subsequent spelling may have resulted in an incorrect recording. This I believe to be true in the listings of confirmation attendance. Listings were taken twice annually for the one hundred and five years, 1770 to 1875, indicating at times, a pairing of names we know to be coupled and spellings ranging from TRITT to TREIT and TRAET to TREAT. This could explain the change in accepted normal spelling of the name to what we know it to be at the death of Phillip and Sussanna Treat.
As an example, a list on November 18, 1848 shows Phillip "TRIET" in attendance singly, age 18, while later lists spell the name “TREAT.” However, as late as 1874 an entry shows them as Phillip and Sussanna “TRAET”. We are confident that these are the same people because of the rarity of similarities throughout the records.
I returned to the original Plow Church record book on three different occasions to review the names therein because of the differences discovered in spelling. Each time I found an additional name by keeping in mind a different idea as to what I was looking for.
Records show, however, with the discovery of the birth certificate of my grandfather of 1858, that the original spelling “TRITT” still prevailed and was carried on in those documents of official nature. Though the document of Christian was dated in 1806, the form itself was printed in 1809 by Gottlob Jungmann of Reading and embellished with the hand-painted artistry of the owner. These forms, it appears, may have been sold by circuit riding sales persons who would visit back-country people, performing whatever duties might be necessary at the time.
Another reference investigated was the “Pennsylvania German Pioneers” by Strassburger, a three volume index of immigrants of 1727 to 1776 used in conjunction with “Thirty Thousand Names” by Rupp. Volume I, pages 263 to 271, show three lists originated by the ship’s captain, the Governor of Philadelphia and the immigration authorities. The Captain’s list only signified what or whom he transported in his ship. However, the other lists were oaths, one - the swearing of allegiance to King George II; the other - an oath renouncing all ties with Catholicism. The Thirty Years War had ended only one hundred years previously and strong religious feelings were still very much felt in the Europe of the day. As is generally known from history, these colonies were established as a bastion of religious freedom. William Penn had made his sales pitch for immigrants on the European Continent in the 1680’s based on that promise and he was determined to keep it that way while he had control.
These lists do show, however, how a name can be changed through transposing by nationalities and pronunciation. Each list was written by a scribe as the immigrant gave his name and made his “mark”. The scribe may not have been well educated and could have been English, Dutch, or even Spanish and would therefore spell the name the way it sounded to him and be influenced by his own nationality. We thereby arrive at four different ways to spell the same names: TRETT, TREIT, THRITT, and TRITT. The immigrants as derived from these lists then were Hans Peter Tritt and Christian Tritt listed as “… male Palatines imported in the ship ‘Robert and Alice’ of Dublin, of age sixteen years and upwards …” dated Philadelphia, September 3, 1739. These names, being the only ones even close to what we are looking for, seem to be our line’s entrance to this continent.
The Christian Tritt listed as a passenger aboard the Robert and Alice obviously cannot be the same Christian as mentioned previously. The Christian of 1806 had a father whose name was also Christian. Christian the father, was born on October 4, 1770(4) of parents Henry and Elizabeth Tritt/(Dritt). Henry is the son of Christian our immigrant ancestor who, with his brother Hans Peter, and possibly his widowed and remarried mother and stepfather, arrived in Philadelphia in September of 1739.
This is the shady part of our continuous line to the old world because there is still much research to do with this Henry connection.
Excerpts of Christian’s, our immigrant ancestor’s, will(5) indicate he fathered a son and four daughters. Henry is the son mentioned and therefore we include his name in our lineage.
The first U.S. Census, taken in 1790, revealed no name of TRITT anywhere in the state of Pennsylvania. However, curiously, the name Henry Treat appears as head of a family of two adult males, four boys, and four girls under sixteen years of age in Robeson Township, Berks County. There was a Jacob Treat as head of a family in Windsor Township, York County and Peter Trait head of a family in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. The latter two are of the Hans Peter Tritt line as research has shown their move west to York County after approximately ten years in the Berks County/Lancaster County area.
The birth date of Henry is still an unknown. He first appears on the tax rolls in 1765 to 1767 as a single man and is so taxed. If this is an indication that he has just become of age, then it may be safe to say he was possibly born in 1744. Since we have the birth of a son Christian in 1770, we can also possibly assume that his marriage occurred between 1767 and 1770.(6)
In 1771 the Pennsylvania Archives(7) show Henry Trite as inmate (married nonlandholder) in Pikeland Rate (township), Chester County and again in 1774 with the same indications. It would appear that Henry is trying to establish himself in this area.
Remembering that these are the years just prior to the Revolution, I can imagine that there was much consternation involved with starting a family. He most likely sees service in the Continental Army since there are lists of a Henry Fritt on a muster roll of 1780(8), a Private in the Kennedy Company, 7th Pennsylvania Regiment. There is also a Henry Tritt in the same unit(9). The military records have not been fully explored and need much investigation.
In 1779, we find a Henry Frit back in Robeson Township, Berks County, acquiring 50 acres of land now(10) with no other TRITT or similarity present. 1781 shows Henry Treat with 100 acres(11) while following listings increase holdings to 127 acres in 1784(12). Just to keep one on their toes, 1785 spells the name Henry TRAIT(13).
Through the diligent research of Harold M. Hegyessy, Jr., and his study of Swiss migration patterns, we know where our immigrant ancestors have originated. Both Hans Peter (1715) and Christian (1719) were born in Diedendorf Parish, Alsace-Lorraine, France. Their father, Hans Peter Tritt, Sr., was a tailor for a local baron, but was born in St. Stephan, Obersimmental Valley, Bern Canton, Switzerland about 1690. The father of Hans Peter Tritt, Sr. was Friedrich Tritt born in 1654 also in St. Stephan. Now, if we go back one more generation to the father of Friedrich, we will find Jacob Tritten, and a new name enters the picture again.
Jacob Tritten was born about 1621 in St. Stephan, Bern Canton, Switzerland as were both of the next two generations into the past. Jacob’s father was Christen Tritten, born about 1588, and his father, who represents the earliest records available, was Jacob Tritten, born about 1562.
A point of interest is the literal meaning of the word ‘TRITT’ in German - which means “to step, kick, or TREAD”. This last could very easily have been anglicized by the change of “D” to “T” to become ‘TREAT’, a name we know to be used in the family, or “DRITT”, which also appears in another branch of our tree.
An interesting bit of conjecture has developed a theory for the source of our family name. The Obersimmental Valley leads into the high mountains of the Swiss Alps. In the medieval times, the water runoff of the mountains ran wild and the valleys flooded continually. People found flat spots on the ridges and sides of the hills on which to build their houses or shelters and these were called steppes. Maybe our ancestors were the people who lived on the steppes - Tritten!??
The search goes on for branches of the family tree. The variations of spelling found in all the documents and records covered make an amazing collection for a simple name. Through the miscues of sounds and nationality filtered interpretations we come up with fifteen variations of the original.
Thus, TRITTEN (original and correct), TRITT and TREAT (most commonly used), and, listed in alphabetical order, DREAT, DREIT, DRITT, FREIT, FRETT, FRIT, FRITT, TRAIT, TRATE, TREAT, TREET, TREIT, TRICK, TRITE, and TRITT.
A poignant note in that, with the passing of my sons, our name as we spell it, will no longer exist. My boys had only daughters. Seems like a ‘historical correction’ is setting things straight.
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