One of the difficulties (and maybe a little of the fascination) of getting involved in genealogy lies in naming…take our friend Nicolaus Crist, whose journal or account book I’ve been using in my stories.

Nicolaus is not a relative of mine, but his son married into my family line and when Nicolaus grew old and tired of keeping up the journal, he passed it on to that son, George, who went on to record some facts and events important to the story of me. For that reason, I became as interested in Nicolaus’ family story as my own.

Nicolaus Heinrich Crist was born in 1716, in Emmerns, Germany, to Johanne Jorge Crist and Anna Elizabeth Crist (born Mueller). Both of his parents were also born in Emmerns, Germany, his father in 1690 and his mother in 1695.

And as we read in his account book, he and his four brothers emigrated from Germany, through Rotterdam, to America in 1738.

In 1739 when he was 22, he married Anna Catherine Nowlin.

Nicolaus listed the five young Crist brothers as: Johanne John Jacob, Johanne Nicolaus Heinrich, Johanne Peter Ludwick, Johanne Philip Henrie and Johanne Michael Jorge.

What IS this with the Johanne? And by the way, though I had not mentioned this, why were most of the women’s names preceded by Anna (Ana)? I found Anna Catherine, Anna Margaret, Anna Maria, Anna…well, you get the picture.

This calls for a side trip off the genealogy highway and into German culture.

Interesting fact about German names: children were typically given one or two names, much like today, but their first name was a “spiritual” name, usually to honor a saint. Their second name was their “call” name, the name they used throughout their lives. The most common saint’s name for a male was Johann and that’s why our Crist boys’ names were all preceded by Johann (as was their father’s name).

The most common saint or spiritual name for a female was Johanna or Anna, so you would see whole families of daughters named: Anna Maria, Anna Catherine, Anna Louise, etc.

Now, that makes genealogy a little confusing, but add to that the fact that the use of junior and senior was a lot looser in the old days. A Sr. might not be the father of a Jr. but rather the uncle or grandfather. The terms were used when two males of the same name lived with or near each other and simply designated the older and younger man of the same name. That fact will REALLY have you scratching your head when researching!

One more fun fact is that there was a convention to the naming of multiple offspring which involved re-using names. There’s even a chart! The first child typically got the name of the grandparent, the second child the name of the parent, the third child the name of the great grandparent, etc. But all bets were off if a child died! Their name might be re-used for the next child. And if a parent died, the pattern might start all over again with a second spouse so that there might be two brothers named Henry who were actually half siblings.

The Crist brothers came to America to an area called the Monongahela Valley. The Monongahela River is 130 miles long and runs north (yes, it runs north!) joining the Allegheny River to form the mighty Ohio River at present day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Nicolaus and Anna Catherine had six sons who survived childhood: John Jacob, Nicolaus Heinrich, Jr., Phillip Henry, George Heinrich, William Jorge, and John Michael. They lost one daughter in infancy.

All six of their sons served during the Revolutionary War and Nicolaus writes at one point: “We do not know if our sons are dead or alive. They could be somewhere wounded in the cold with no shelter.”

Nicolaus wrote quite a bit about the Revolutionary War years, and I want to share some of that with you when I next write about this Crist family saga.