Of all of the lines in my family tree, the line I’ve written about the least is the Getman’s. I was lucky enough to know two of my great-grandparents, and one of them was a Getman: Marie was born on May 10, 1921 in Buffalo, New York, and she studied at St. Joseph’s College in Maryland in her early 20s. She wanted to become a nun, but she married my great-grandfather, an Applegate-turned-Gates, instead; I remember her as a courageous and gossip-y grandmother whose only regret in life was that she didn’t travel enough. But Marie was also a descendant of Frederick Getman, and since this week’s 52 Ancestors prompt is “Earliest”–and I know so much about Marie through her memoirs already–I thought it was about time I tried to find out Frederick’s story–the story of the “earliest” Getman in my family tree.
And like many of the stories I share here, this one takes an unexpected turn.
But I’m getting ahead of myself; I’ll start at the beginning. Frederick Getman was born in 1693 near the Rhine River Valley to Caspar and Maria Barbara Getman, and his father worked as a husbandman and vinedresser in Pfalz. Harsh winters, widespread famine and border wars forced thousands of Germans to leave their hometowns and seek refuge elsewhere, and the Getman’s were no exception. In 1709, Caspar and Maria Barbara boarded a ship bound for London with their eight children, and they accepted the British government’s proposal to exchange provisions and passage to New York in return for labor in the production of pitch and tar for the Royal Navy. Caspar and six of the children died at sea, but Frederick, his mother and one of his siblings survived the journey.
The trio made their way to the colonies, and Frederick and his new wife, Maria Johanna Bierman (who had recently left Germany with her family, as well), were given land to work in Stone Arabia, New York. But the British government’s plan proved to be a disaster: a lack of hard cash to purchase supplies meant the settlers went without the beer and bread they had been promised, and the pine trees in the area were not the correct type to produce large quantities of pitch. The Getman family had been farmers and viticulturists in their homeland, as well, and they lacked the knowledge to make pitch (and received no useful technical assistance from the British, either). By 1712, the British had abandoned the venture and told the settlers to fend for themselves.
At this point, Frederick and Maria Johanna expanded their land to 93 acres, and they built a farmstead that remained in the family for generation after generation. Each family added a farmhouse or a barn before passing it on to the next, and at present, what remains is a main house and ell, two lateral-entry English barns, an eighteenth-century New World Dutch Barn, a limestone smokehouse and a small shed-roofed structure that was probably an early twentieth-century chicken coop. And that unexpected turn I was talking about? The National Park Service approved the “Caspar Getman Farmstead’s” addition to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, meaning that the history of the farmstead–as well as the farmstead itself–will continue to be preserved for generation after generation of Getman descendants to find:
The Caspar Getman farmstead is architecturally significant as an example of a local, modest home and an associated grouping of agriculture-related buildings, in a highly intact setting, embodying distinctive characteristics of a family farm typical of the region. Although not a connected farmstead in the proper sense, the buildings are nonetheless arranged according to a typical New England pattern of interrelated buildings arranged in a flattened U-shaped pattern around a south-facing work yard. The farmstead is also historically significant as an example of the early settlement and development of the region, beginning with its settlement by Palatine Germans in the early eighteenth century, to the construction of the vernacular farmstead in the middle of the nineteenth century. Five generations of Caspar German’s descendants worked the fields of the nominated farmstead, chronicling the change in the region’s agricultural heritage.
Frederick’s courage to leave home–to take on an occupation that he was completely unfamiliar with, and all following the death of his father, brothers and sisters–reminds me of the strength and resolve I always saw in Marie. And the farmstead? She would’ve loved to take a trip with her children to visit it one day–just another opportunity to travel the world. This story took an unexpected turn, for sure–from a young woman who studied to become a nun to a German man fleeing his homeland to a failed tar-and-pitch venture and, ultimately, a farmstead that’s made it to the National Register of Historic Places–but that’s why I love researching my family tree–I never know where I’ll end up next.