January 13, 2010

History of Amish names: A 'Smiley' Amishman by way of the British Isles

David Luthy shares the history of Nathan Smiley, born in Ireland to a British mother in 1797.

At age four, Nathan arrived in America with his mother, and for reasons unexplained was placed in a foster home in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.  That home happened to belong to an Amish family.  On coming of age, Nathan chose to join the Amish church, and later married.  Nathan Smiley had two sons by his first wife, and two daughters and a son by his second.

Later, a group of Amish set out west in search of a suitable location for a new settlement. It's unclear, but either Nathan or his son John, eighteen at the time, was among the four Amish who left in search of cheaper land in 1840. 

Traveling by flatboat and steamboat, the men made their way to Iowa, where the timber impressed the men, but not the soil, nor the apparent malaria outbreaks in the region.  Next stop was Chicago, which Luthy notes at the time was but a town of just 4,000 souls. 

Via Lake Michigan and next the St. Joseph River, the band made their way into northern Indiana, and to the area near Goshen in Elkhart County.  The land turned out to be suitable, and it was decided that this place would become their new home. 

In 1841 Nathan Smiley moved to Elkhart County, among the first families to settle in what would become the third-largest Amish community today.  Settlers from Pennsylvania and Ohio contributed to the growth of the fledgling community. 

Later, church issues arose in this area as they did in other Amish communities.  In the mid-19th century, the Amish began to forge separate paths which led to their ultimate division into two groups: the progressive Amish-Mennonite group, which gradually assimilated to a greater and greater degree with society, and the Old Order Amish. 

Alas, "Smiley" is among the monikers Luthy lists as "Names Which Came and Went Again". 

At some point, Nathan Smiley's son John, chosen a minister in 1849, decided to join the more progressive group.  Luthy writes that it is believed his father did as well.  No mention is made in Luthy's account of what happened with Nathan Smiley's two other sons, but one would assume that at some point they opted not to be a part of the Amish church. 

And when John Smiley passed away of heart failure in 1878, the fact that he had joined the Amish-Mennonites made little difference to his name surviving among Amish, as he had had seven daughters, and not a single son. 

Had "Smiley" survived, it would be the second-cheeriest last name among the Amish, after "Peachey", of course. 

(Source:  David Luthy, "New Names Among the Amish Part 5: Names Which Came and Went Again", Family Life, June 1973)

Histories of other Amish names:



January 12, 2010

Calling all Stoltzfuses...

Nicholasstoltzfushouse  AAP has just informed me of progress on the Stoltzfus House project, which seeks to build a barn-museum at the restored home of Nicholas Stoltzfus. 

Stoltzfus was an 18th-century Amishman whose descendants number one million, and to whom roughly 98% of Lancaster Amish are related.

I wrote a bit about Stoltzfus House after attending a benefit event in Intercourse last summer.

Seems like the project is well on its way, but needs a bit of extra help to get to the finish line.  Of the $300,000 price tag, about $60,000 is still needed.  To learn more or contribute, go to nicholasstoltzfus.com.

Another look at the Amish and health insurance

The Amish potential-exemption-from-health-insurance-requirement story has shot around the net and become something of a hot sub-story to the health care issue.  Frankly I thought it would get some attention but the amount of media coverage surprised me a bit.

A scan of commentary reveals some upset at what's been called a 'get-out-of-jail-free' card for the Amish (and, presumably other religious groups who meet the criteria), and with the predictable jokes about joining the Amish club to get the exemption.

Some are even wondering if Christians who are against abortion can argue for a religious exemption in the event that a final bill mandates federal coverage for abortion.  I am quite skeptical that would be allowed however, as it would conceivably exempt tens of millions of Americans.

The Amish benefit from being small, relatively obscure, and by garnering public sympathies.  Amish are generally perceived in a positive light, admired for the lives they live.

It's obvious for even those largely unfamiliar with the Amish that they 'walk-the-talk', proven in a very visible and concrete way by their manner of living.  This lends strength to the argument that their beliefs are genuine, and that they are thus worthy of exemption.  So the Amish have a lot working in their favor when arguing for exclusions from government mandates.  It's not so clear, on the other hand, how to discern an intangible such as "religious sincerity" in such a large and diverse group as "Christians."

Amish case weaker this time around?

On the other hand, maybe I'm missing something but it seems to me that the case for Amish exemption is weaker here than it would be in the case of mandatory participation in a program like Social Security.

After all, even under the proposed health care plan, they would have a legitimate out--paying the exemption fine like other Americans, who, for whatever reason, would choose to opt out as well.

By paying the fine, it seems they technically wouldn't be financially supporting what they see as an insurance plan (as would be the case were they forced to pay into Social Security)--simply paying for the privilege to be exempt from it.

Why do the Amish object to insurance programs like Social Security?

There are three main reasons Amish have a problem with participating in government administered programs such as Social Security, and in traditional insurance programs in general, for that matter.

Peter Ferrara, in The Amish and the State, examines the issues Amish had with the program.  Social Security is technically an insurance program, with portions of the program entitled the "Old Age and Survivors Insurance Program" and "Disability Insurance Program" providing funds to guard against hardship of individuals in retirement or unable to work due to disability.   

Amish arguments against participation in government insurance programs include the following:

Firstly, there is the religious belief argument.  As Ferrara writes, participating in Social Security would contradict "the bibilical commands that members of the church provide for their own families and assist those in the community in need.  Participation in Social Security is also seen as lacking in trust in God to provide the necessities of life for his people, promised by several biblical passages."

Secondly there is the importance of maintaining a separation from the world.  Amish see themselves as "a people apart."  Paying into an insurance system would draw the Amish into closer ties with the world and cause them to be "unequally yoked together with unbelievers."  Amish fear that growing closer to the world will threaten their communities and values.   

Finally there is the aspect of need.  With their self-supporting communal aspect, Amish feel that they simply have no need for government assistance. 

The Amish argument

In the 1950's, Amish were originally told by IRS agents that the contributions to Social Security were indeed a "tax", and not technically contributions to an insurance system--despite the fact that "the government has always proclaimed to the rest of the country that Social Security is an insurance system, with its own trust funds, and that payments into the system were not taxes but "contributions."  The Amish saw through the ruse, as Ferrara writes:

The Amish pointed to the numerous government proclamations that Social Security was indeed insurance, including the official legal title of the program--Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance.  The Amish might have chosen to pay the Social Security tax but refuse the program's benefits, just as they pay general government taxes but refuse other government social welfare benefits.  But the Amish could not accept the close link between Social Security taxes, or "contributions," and the program's benefits, proclaimed over and over again by the government.  Amish leaders feared that if their members paid Social Security, future generations would be unable to resist receiving the benefits for which they had already paid.  Payment of the taxes would be seen as participation in the system, and if paying in was allowed, then how could receiving benefits be prohibited?

This seems to be the big issue.  If you are technically paying in, what's to prevent this or future generations from taking out?  The very real possibility in the case of Social Security is a fear that Amish society could be eroded by feeding a worldly system, the benefits of which future generations may be tempted to see as rightfully theirs.

Amish in some limited situations have already succumbed to the temptation of government assistance, most recently in the instance of northern Indiana Amish accepting unemployment compensation, a situation that had previously occurred at least one other time, in the case of some Lancaster Amish laid off from factory jobs during a recession in the mid-1970s (see Amish Enterprise: From Plows to Profits).

Paying for private health insurance, as the proposed bill would require of all Americans--even with the understanding or sincere intention that members of the community would refuse to seek benefits from the program in the case of misfortune--would naturally lead to similar temptations.

There are some variables here, such as, what will the final exemption penalty be?  Will it be $750, as in the Senate version, or 2.5% of annual income, as in the House version?  It seems that that can make a big difference, as in the former case, the amount paid would be likely less than a year's worth of insurance premiums, and thus the cheaper option, while in the latter, depending on the individual, the amount could be much greater, leading some to be tempted to purchase insurance, the cheaper alternative in such a case.  So I think these and other question marks make the issue difficult to fully assess at this point.

But, in the fact that there is essentially an alternate to required participation in the system--the payment of what is essentially an "exemption penalty"--seems to me to make this different from the Social Security issue.

I am curious, what do you think on this issue?

UPDATE: An Amish friend informs me that if a person is exempted from Social Security by way of the 4029 exemption as the Amish are, that person is prohibited from holding health insurance.  Taking a look at the accompanying IRS publication, the following is stated:

As a follower of the established teachings of the sect or division, you must be conscientiously opposed to accepting benefits of any private or public insurance that makes payments for death, disability, old age, retirement, or medical care, or provides services for medical care.

So it seems like the "conscientiously opposed to accepting benefits..." bit would support this idea.  Perhaps there's other language in there as well, but as tends to be the case with IRS docs, my eyes began to glaze over after a few paragraphs.  In any case, sounds like one would be prevented from even having insurance with a 4029 exemption. 

January 09, 2010

Sleds waiting for recess

New Wilmington Amish school

Rick shares another snowy scene from New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.

January 08, 2010

The Holmes County Trail

Holmes County Trail
A couple years back I did a post on the Holmes County Trail, a remarkable conversion of an old rail bed into a recreational trail and safe transport link for Amish traveling through Holmes and nearby counties in Ohio. 

The trail has an interesting design, which you can notice in the photo above.  One half, with a rougher surfacing, is meant for buggy/horse traffic, while the other, smoother half is intended for bicycle and foot use. 

Amish do use the trail with some frequency, though since it is located on the western side of the settlement, fewer Amish use it than might be the case if it cut through the heart of the community.  I imagine that will change though, as Amish continue to move and settle areas west of Berlin and Millersburg

It turns out there has been some controversy over the trail, as reported in this article.  Some have argued that the land should have been returned to original owners when the railroad shut down;  there are also a few crime concerns.  While it's not exactly an exhilarating read, it's worth a look if you're interested in learning about this most unusual rural transportation artery.

January 07, 2010

Behold Behalt!

Behalt is a pictorial history of the Anabaptists from the time of European beginnings through their existence in America.  Not only is it educational, it has been dubbed "the most exciting cyclorama in America".

Behalt07.jpg.jpe Having only visited one cyclorama in America (the other being non-American and of a decidedly non-pacifist nature) I can't say if the tagline is true or not, but on a visit a few years back I did feel at least a twinge of something which could be called excitement or maybe even exhilaration while observing the dramatic images of the painting and listening to the narration of the guide.

Located in the center of the Holmes County settlement, Behalt attracts tourist visitors from far and wide.  Amish, often keen on knowing their own history, show interest as well. 

The father of an Amish entrepreneur friend works as a guide at the center one day a week, and on my visit a few years back a young Amishman with wife and children were among those in attendance for the half-hour tour and instructional film.  Segments of Behalt are also reproduced on the inside covers of the most recent Holmes County Amish directory

However, I actually found the most interesting bit to be not the painting itself but what was located in the center of the room which contains it. 

Pioneer Amishman 'White' Jonas Stutzman was considered peculiar among Amish, for a number of reasons.  One was the unusual chair he created to greet the coming of Christ, which he believed to be imminent.  On my visit the caretakers kindly gave me access to the chair, and if you like, you can read more about 'White' Jonas Stutzman and his famous chair, from a blog entry from that time. 

January 06, 2010

Business, birds, and 'medieval' Amish

BUSINESS:  Interesting profile of an Amish agribusiness in BusinessWeek.  With the rise of entrepreneurship Amish have increasingly taken a rationalized approach to farm output as well, which in some communities means greater attention paid to diet and nutrition, use of artificial insemination, and other means of upping dairy production.

There has also been an upswing in the number of specialized non-dairy ag businesses, such as organic produce growers, or in this case, a diversified farm operation featuring everything from grassfed beef to cabbage juice.

BIRDS: Birding is a popular pastime among Amish.  An Amishman has made an unexpected sighting of an Arctic species on his Texas farm.  To be honest, to my untrained eyes it doesn't look like much, but apparently is drawing a crowd of those in the know.

Amish birdwatchers may keep lists of birds sighted and even travel far-afield in pursuit of new finds.  It's a nice hobby and a natural fit for the Amish, combining family, nature and the outdoors.

AND: Chris Armstrong of Christianity Today shares a selection of interesting articles taken from a 2004 special issue on Anabaptists.  You can find them here:  Old Order valuesAnabaptist facts.  And 'medieval' Amish?

January 05, 2010

Abandoned buggy

Amish buggy snow
Across America, the cold and snow continues. 

An interesting shot from irishlady, of an Amish buggy, precise location unknown, that looks like it ran into a bit of trouble in the recent spell of harsh weather.  Stay warm everyone!

Success Made Simple book update

Have just recently been finalizing page proofs for Success Made Simple

If you're wondering, this is the part where the text of the book is placed in the proper font and style and fitted to the page, so it actually looks like the page of a book, as opposed to a Word document, which is what we've been using up til now. 

You work from a pdf file, and changes need to be minor at this stage.  I do like the font and design that has been selected for the text and headings, it seems nice, simple and crisp.

We've also been finalizing the book jacket, what endorsements go where, author photo, and things like that.  As this is my first book, I've been amazed at how much work goes into the process, outside of the writing itself--from editing to creative design to marketing and publicity.  Am grateful to have some good people helping out.

And, just found out that the book is going to be available in a downloadable audio version.  Don't know who is going to do the reading (Hey Morgan Freeman, what are you doing next Thursday?) but thought that was pretty neat to hear.

January 04, 2010

Amish cancer study video

Here's a short video if you're interested, courtesy of icyou.com, explaining the results of the Amish cancer rate study.  It includes some commentary from Andy Yoder, a medical student who grew up Amish and has ambitions to work in the community.

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