The Brethren

People say America is a melting pot.  But I think of it more like a stew.  All the different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds come together and swim around in a common pot.  In a stew, you can still see and taste the individual ingredients, but the sauce is a combination of all of them blended together.

Our American culture is a sauce that is formed by all the different immigrant ingredients that have been thrown into the pot over the years and centuries.  But we can also see the different cultures and backgrounds reflected in specific ways in America; we can trace some of the tastes that we find in the stew to the ingredients that are still visible today.

Each of us individually is a result of a mixture of backgrounds too.  Some of us are more homogeneous than others.  Most of us are mutts.

The majority of my ancestors were Quaker–at least since Quakerism began around 1650.  Most are from the British Isles or Germany, with a few French Huguenots thrown in for good measure.  But there are some outliers in my family tree.  A few strands of my family’s history don’t fit with the others.

One unique branch of my family tree is the Kinsey family (a.k.a. Kuntzi, Kuentzi, Kinzie, Kintzi and any variety of other spellings).  My three-times-great grandmother, Mary Kinsey (1814-1857), was a member of the German Baptist Brethren church–the Dunkers.  Her ancestors are the only I know of in my family tree who came from Switzerland.

Mary’s great-great grandfather, Christian Kintsy was born around 1700.  He emigrated from near Bern, Switzerland in 1734.  Christian came to Pennsylvania and settled on 100 acres in the Oley district of Philadelphia, which is now part of Berks County.  William Penn’s colony probably appealed to Christian for its religious toleration.  Although it’s not entirely clear what religious background Kintsy came from, it’s likely he had experienced oppression for his beliefs in Switzerland.

Count Zinzendorf: Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf, Imperial Count of Zinzendorf and Pottendorf, (May 26, 1700 – May 9, 1760)

Pennsylvania was full of a diverse mix of ethnic and religious elements.  English Quakers, French Huguenots and Germans from a variety of different religious backgrounds had flooded into Pennsylvania in the early 1700s in search of religious freedom.  When Count Zinzendorf came to Pennsylvania to reconcile the various German-speaking sects that had settled there, he brought together  individuals from different backgrounds.  A gathering hosted by Zinzendorf in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1742 was attended by fifty people, most of whom identified themselves with one or another of the German sects–Tunker, Lutheran, German Reformed, Mennonite or Moravian.  Christian Kintsy wrote no affiliation next to his name.

There’s little question that Christian Kintsy was a part of the German Baptist Brethren church.  Several groups of German Baptist Brethren were migrating from Germany and Switzerland in the 1720s and 1730s.  In all likelihood, he was a member of this Brethren movement even before arriving in Pennsylvania.  Once there, his name is listed in the records of the Oley congregation.  His son David was later a minister in this same congregation and his son Christian was a trustee.

Christian’s great-great grandson Samuel Kinsey was the first editor of the German Baptist Brethren serial called the Vindicator.  This newspaper became the voice of the Old Order Brethren when the church split in 1880.  The Old Order Brethren were determined to maintain older traditions in the face of a changing society.  The majority of German Baptist Brethren became the Church of the Brethren.  A progressive minority became the Brethren Church.

Mary was a member of the German Baptist Brethren church when she married my three-times-great grandfather Henry Harris on May 3, 1832.  He came from a long line of Quakers.  I haven’t figured out which church–if either–they ended up in.  It’s entirely possible that their marriage to each other made them outcasts in their own churches.

The German Baptist Brethren Church that Christian Kintsy attended in Oley

Their son Lewis Kinsey Harris married a staunch Quaker and re-entered the Quaker fold.  My family remained Quaker until the 1960s, when they left that church to become Presbyterians (another denomination that is represented in my family tree).

I grew up Presbyterian and knew of my Quaker heritage.  But when my wife and I chose a church in the town we ended up in, it turned out to be Brethren (although part of the Grace Brethren Fellowship, a group that resulted from another later split in the Brethren Church).  In fact, today I am a Grace Brethren minister and have been for almost thirteen years.

My three-times-great grandmother Mary’s brother Lewis was a minister in the German Baptist Brethren church.  A nineteenth-century history said of him:  “His natural abilities enabled him to attain a high degree of efficiency in his ministerial work.  He traveled and preached much among the different congregations of his church…His hospitality was unstinted and he was very liberal in answering the demands of charity…He was a good man and a good citizen and was held in the highest esteem by his church, his friends and his neighbors.”

What a wonderful legacy.  I hope a good portion of the ingredients of this part of my family shape the flavor of my own personal stew.

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9 Responses to The Brethren

  1. Priya says:

    What a wonderful legacy indeed! Every time I read your posts, this is exactly what I think. But what I find more impressive is your interest in finding it out. It is like exploring every single part of the root the grounds a person.

    I love your expression “come together and swim around”

    And, most of all, the sentence — “Some of us are more homogeneous than others. Most of us are mutts.”

    • Learning about my family’s past is like putting together a puzzle. It’s so interesting and fun to see the picture come together as the pieces fall into place. It also provides a sense of accomplishment as each puzzle piece finds its proper home.

      Life is much the same. As we age and mature, we learn bits of wisdom that cause the pieces of the puzzle of life to fall into place. Properly experienced, the process is both interesting and fun. It also provides a real sense of accomplishment as our life flows in positive ways and we make a positive impact on others through the coming together of the pieces of the puzzle of life.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • I finally have found someone as obsessed with family history as I am. Yours is the first genealogy blog I have read and I am intrigued. Your blog came up in a search engine when I was looking for my ancestor Christian Kuntzi. Meanwhile I am struggling with my genealogy website design and realize that a blog solves some of the limitations of a website. But I need a genealogy 12 Step Program more than a blog at this point . . .
        You have done a great job and I just hope your extended family is tuned in.

        Donna Null Basinger

        • Thanks for your kind comment, Donna. If Christian Kuntzi is your ancestor, we must be cousins of some sort (but I won’t be so obsessed as to have to figure out what number of cousin we are). I have found the blog to be a great outlet for processing and sharing my genealogical research. Some members of my extended family have been asking for me to share information for years (while others hide from me whenever the topic of family history comes up). The blog is pretty easy to use and I think it presents the information in a very readable way. Thanks again for your comment. Good luck with your research!

  2. bronxboy55 says:

    This is yet another fascinating part of your family story, Kevin. Well-researched and well-told.

    I found myself dwelling on this concept of being an outcast, or causing others to feel like outcasts. Doesn’t it seem to contradict the idea of the melting pot, or social stew? Why do we find it so easy to reject, alienate, and even attack those who have different forms of dress, speech, or belief? All of our histories would be very different if our ancestors could have figured out how to stop creating outcasts. I wonder if our descendants will be saying the same thing about us.

    So you’re a Dunker?

    • I must say first, if only to get it out of the way, that I am indeed a Dunker. I dunked a few people just a few weeks ago. It’s one of the great privileges of my vocation.

      On the other hand, I agree with Julia (see below) that while we attend the Grace Brethren church and I am a minister therein, I still think of myself as Presbyterian first. (It helps that our church follows a Presbyterian form of government and agrees with a significant portion of Presbyterian theology).

      On the issue of outcasts, I find this to be a challenging subject to tackle. I am by nature a very flexible, gracious, inclusive person (or so I think). Not only do I allow diversity in others, but I find myself being quite flexible in what I adopt as part of my identity. At the same time, for diversity to have any meaning and identity any reality, there has to be distinction. And with distinction comes outcasts.

      In order to draw lines that are meaningful and create identities that are real, we must put some people on the other side of the line. I think what you see in the New Testament is that Jesus clearly drew lines, but he treated people on both sides of the line with respect and grace. That’s what churches have to work at–treating those outside with grace and respect. But somehow groups (whether churches or other kinds of groups) have to be able to distinguish between those who are inside the circle of identity and those who are not. Where it becomes most difficult is when a person thinks they are inside, but in reality they are not.

      This is a complex issue and I certainly haven’t done it justice here. But it is a real issue not only in American history (and the history of the world), but also in our lives today.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  3. Julia says:

    I still maintain that tho we go to a Grace Brethren church, I am not Grace Brethren. I think I’m more Presbyterian than that.

    And as I’ve said, that photo of stew you chose is pretty nasty. I think I’d prefer a shot of a fondue pot over that mashy, puddly looking slop. 🙂

    • I think you’re more Christian than Presbyterian even. But more than any other title or label, you are you. And what a wonderful you you are.

      Stews generally do look pretty nasty, but I love stew. And I don’t so much care for fondue. So maybe I was a little biased. Nevertheless, I think stew makes a better metaphor than fondue. When I walk through a store in our town and I brush past people speaking different languages (Eastern European, Somali, Spanish, etc.), wearing different clothes, following different customs and looking very different, it’s clear that America isn’t a pot where we all get boiled down to a some sort of common denominator. We are a living and active combination of lots of different elements that engage one another, shape one another and create a whole new thing (tertium quid) we call American culture.

      I’m sure that’s a lot more reaction to your comment than you wanted or needed, but there it is.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Maybe we can have stew for dinner tonight.

  4. Pingback: Wavy Lace Group | Familiar City:Mapping the cultural terrain

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