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Under my hat: A Pleasant Valley Sunday

They say be prepared for anything when you search your family tree.

It’s true.

I started the process in 1978 with visits to Carbon and Schuylkill County cemeteries and a trip to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Back then, the process was time consuming and labor intensive.

I also made the mistake of trying to search both sides of the family simultaneously. Very hard to do.

So I saved my work but shelved the project, which turned out to be a blessing.

I recently returned to genealogy and found that the passing of time has made things easier, thanks to computers.

And these days I have a young cousin, Brian Maynard Serfass, who’s already done much legwork. He’s a published author and a wiz at genealogy.

As a result, I now know my paternal lineage back to 1660s Germany.

There have been surprises. For one, I learned that the Serfass family first settled, not in Carbon County, but in Chestnuthill Township in what is now Monroe County.

My fifth great-grandfather, Johan Philipus Servas, was 27 when he and wife Maria Catharina Altomus, emigrated from Zweibruecken, Germany.

They arrived in Philadelphia on Aug. 27, 1739, on the ship Samuel. “Philip” was granted 100 acres north of the Blue Mountain in 1750 in years following the Walking Purchase.

They settled here before the U.S. existed and lived under laws of Pennsylvania Colonial government.

He and his German settler friends referred to their land as a “pleasant valley.” The name stuck.

So I decided to visit and have a few Pleasant Valley Sundays.

I was in awe to walk along the edge of those acres and imagine hardships of pioneer life. There was constant threat of headhunting, disenfranchised Native Americans.

So about 1755, Benjamin Franklin and others erected Fort Norris on Philip’s land in response to Indian raids.

Fort Norris is gone except for a sign along Route 209. Philip’s log cabin is gone, too, although it might’ve been incorporated into a home built for his granddaughter Elizabeth in 1830. I found the place in my search.

Philip and Catharina died and are believed buried in a small family cemetery on their land along Mountain View Drive. Nobody is sure where it was. How I wish I could find the spot to visit and pay respects.

Luckily, a special, tangible part of the early family remains. It’s on that same land located 1 mile below Kresgeville in the village of Little Washington. And it was a big surprise. It’s Philip’s son’s house.

It’s named Old Homestead Acres and was the home of my fourth great-grandfather Johannes “John” Wilhelm Serfass, Revolutionary War veteran. Johannes fought with the 4th Battalion, Northampton County, under Capt. John Gregory’s company.

Visiting Old Homestead Acres is akin to being in paradise. A proud, stately farm house. Weeping willows. Floral gardens. Rambling, historic barn. Large pond with an island grove and wooden access bridge.

The Serfass Homestead changed hands a few times. It became the Borger Homestead sometime around the Great Depression and has been so ever since. I was delighted to talk with resident Linda Borger and learn more.

Another surprise was finding that Johannes was a founder of today’s Salem UCC Church in nearby Gilbert. I visited there on another Pleasant Valley Sunday. I found Johannes’ tombstone in the old section of the cemetery.

Sadly, the marker is weatherworn and almost unrecognizable. I feel I discovered someone forgotten.

I feel sorry that a pioneer important to Pleasant Valley history and early worship would have an unreadable tombstone.

We need to care more about those who paved our way. That’s what I thought as I stood alone in Gilbert Cemetery on a windy, overcast day.

I reflected on how nobody seems to know where his parents are buried on the sprawling homestead even though they helped to settle and define the land.

It’d be a shame if the same thing happens to son Johannes. He needs a new marker and so do his parents.

In our busy world, lives that went before us are too often lost. It’s a reality that reveals more about ourselves than about them.

I’ve been enriched by what I’ve gleaned over the past few weeks.

It’s given me broader understanding of my past and present.

I’m a son of the American Revolution, descended from founders of Pleasant Valley. I appreciate knowing those details and am proud of it.

Everyone should search their past before important lives are forgotten - and all lives are important.

On Sunday, I found the old, unreadable tombstone of Johannes Wilhelm Serfass (1752-1825). He was part of a founding family in Pleasant Valley and Salem UCC Church in Gilbert. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Bucolic “Old Homestead Acres” in the village of Little Washington was the home of my ancestor, Revolutionary War veteran Johannes Serfass, whose parents emigrated from Germany in 1739. The place has been in the Borger family since the Great Depression.