The Ensmingers of York, Pa.

Mary Ensminger Headstone

Mary Starr, wife of Henry Ensminger of Newberry Township, York County, Pa.

Taking advantage of a January warm spell last weekend, mom and I traveled to York, Pa. to do some research on her early Ensminger relatives.

As I’ve noted in other posts, when we began our research in June 2011, mom knew very little about her family background. She believed that the Ensminger name was an uncommon one, and that most of her relatives arrived in the U.S. from Alsace via Ellis Island. We quickly learned that her branch of the family could be traced back to 16th Century Alsace, and that her first Ensminger ancestor to arrive in the U.S., Peter Ensminger, landed in Philadelphia in 1733.

So, no Ellis Island. Oh, and mom’s maiden name is not as uncommon as she thought.

Peter was the first of four brothers who fled Alsace during wartime to raise their families in Lancaster County, Pa. Thanks to the work of a Dr. Raymond Martin Bell, a professor at Washington and Jefferson College in the 1970s, we know quite a lot about the four Ensminger lines. We know that two of mom’s ancestors fought in the Revolution and several more in the Union Army. We know that Peter and his wife Catherine helped found the Muddy Creek Lutheran Church in Swartzville, Pa. and we know that Peter died young, only 6 years after he arrived in Pennsylvania.


Illegible headstone from Muddy Creek Lutheran Church in Lancaster County, Pa.

Mom and I attempted to find the original Ensminger farm along Muddy Creek, when we traveled to Lancaster County in the fall of 2011, but had little success. We also struck out when we visited the Muddy Creek Lutheran Church cemetery; we found several dozen very old headstones, but their weathered condition prevented us from identifying specific graves.

Thanks to Dr. Bell’s research, we know that Peter’s son Henry, who was 10 when the family came to the U.S., married and moved to York County, Pa. around 1751. So we decided to make York our next destination.

Before setting out on the 3-hour drive to York, I decided to go online to determine what local genealogy resources might be available to us. We’ve had good experiences (Butler County Public Library’s Genealogy Room) and bad (Lancaster County Historical Society Library and the Allegheny County Public Library in Pittsburgh, to name a few), and didn’t want to burn a lot of daylight wading through  irrelevant texts. I was very pleased to see that the The York County Historical Trust’s website has an online search tool that allows you to enter the surname of the family you are researching to see whether they have any documents on file for that family.

The YCHT’s Library was a treasure-trove of information. They had a pretty impressive file filled with newspaper clippings of more recent Ensminger relatives (none from our branch, sadly), plus historical maps indexed to 18th and 19th Century tax records, so we could get an approximate location for Henry Ensminger’s farm. The staff and volunteers were wonderful; extremely helpful and knowledgeable about local history and families.

The various Ensmingers of this period (1750 to 1850, approximately) certainly don’t make it easy on the later generations researching them. Apparently the early Ensmingers were pretty fond of the names “Henry” and “George” because each generation had a son by each name. That wouldn’t be a problem, except that each of those Henrys and Georges also had sons named Henry and George. So for our line, it goes like this:

  • Peter married Catherine, had sons Henry and George
  • Henry married Christina, had sons Henry and George
  • George married Mary, had sons Henry and George
  • Henry married Mary, had a son George
  • George married Sarah, had a son William Henry
  • William Henry married Anna, had a son William George
  • William George married Charlotte and broke the chain, with sons named Albert and Arthur


I had the bright idea of typing up a cheat sheet with the name, DOB and DOD of each generation before we traveled to York. That cheat sheet was a tremendous help as we searched through the Library’s index cards listing tax and survey records.

With less than 45 minutes until sunset, we left the library to head north from York to Newberry Township and Lewisberry to search for the Emmanuel Cemetery where at least one generation of Ensmingers are buried. I was expecting a small, rural burying ground; boy was I surprised when we turned into a HUGE graveyard, easily the size of four football fields. We didn’t have a map or any idea where to find the plot, but I did remember seeing photos of the headstones on, so I had a vague idea what we were looking for.

I’m happy to report that our streak remains intact — mom and I spotted Henry Ensminger (1782 – 1856)’s broken headstone clustered among some of the older monuments about halfway up the hill. Mary (Starr) Ensminger and two of their children are buried alongside Henry. We haven’t found graves for Henry (1723 – 1789) and George (1744 – 1815), so we have a very good reason to return to York later this year to continue our research. I’m confident that the nice people at the York County Historical Trust will be able to help us in our quest.


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