Zodiac Signs and Family History

ZODIAC SIGNS AND FAMILY HISTORY

 

      One of the controversies surrounding Joseph Flory, immigrant father of the C-Line, involves religion. Since apparently several of his children were baptized as adults in the Conestoga Congregation of Lancaster Co. Pennsylvania, it is presumed Joseph was himself a “Dunkard” (Brethren), fleeing Europe for religious freedom. The theory that he was Brethren (non-believers in infant baptism) hits a snag. Walter Bunderman’s 1948 book on Flory families in America pictures a photocopy of a purported 8 September 1733 baptismal certificate for Katherine Flory, alleged daughter of Joseph. If this is a genuine document, Joseph would have been Lutheran or Reformed, not Brethren. The baptismal certificate would have indicated that Katherine was baptized as an infant. It is, of course, possible that he changed his religious affiliation after his immigration.  Roxann Flora Rhea read about the purported baptismal certificate; something about the wording in this document seemed strange. What follows is a report of her quest for some answers…and, yes, it does entail Signs of the Zodiac!

KATHERINE FLORY AND THE ZODIAC

BY

ROXANN FLORA RHEA

      Katherine Flory, alleged daughter of Joseph Flory, who was said to have been born at sea prior to the landing of the Ship Hope on August 28, 1733, is best known for what we do not know or cannot prove about her. We don’t know if she had a baptismal certificate as stated by Walter Bunderman in his book, nor do we know what ever became of it. He translated the purported document from German to English as follows: “Kathleen Flory is (word missing)…on this 8th day of September in year of our Lord 1733 in sign of the virgin”. It is an understatement to say that the name Kathleen is suspect as a German name! Dick Gethmann gave an excellent description of the document in a Flora Listserve: “The document has two fold marks, it is partially torn, and it looks like there are some stains on it. It has ‘decoration’ both around and within the document, which makes reading it difficult”. I have not seen the photocopy in Bunderman’s book.

After consulting with the Lutheran Archives in Philadelphia (about 1998) I was assured that baptismal certificates were commonly issued to Lutheran families in Colonial America.

“In sign of the virgin”…is Virgin written in Latin (Virgo) or in German (jungfrau)? Are we seeing evidence of a Zodiac sign written in a church document. Impossible, I thought. The wording sounded almost Roman Catholic. My inquiries pertained to written Zodiac signs (not symbols). A German correspondent of mine answered my question about these signs by saying that the German Mennonites used Zodiac signs in their family Bibles because they did not like the month names used by the government and by the official church.

I placed requests (in August, 1999)on the Brethren Listserve and the Flora Listserve for information re signs of the Zodiac being used in the recording of births.  Many folks gave personal experience with old family records and several had expertise in the Signs of the Zodiac. It became apparent that the usage was widespread, albeit, not entirely consistent. Brethren and Mennonite denominations were mentioned frequently.

Several inquiries led to a contact with a librarian from a Mennonite university in Harrisonburg, VA, who was able to give me some solid answers. She said that in their collection, they have many books with family records written in them. It is very common for the birth records to give both the date of birth and the sign of the Zodiac (such as In the sign of the Virgin, Taurus, Capricorn, etc.). As far as she knows this practice was common to Germanic families regardless of denomination. Most of the collection is Mennonite, but one appears to be Reformed, another Brethren. She has no way of knowing if the signs were significant other than for marking an event. She does know that Mennonite (and other German families) often noted the signs/phases of the moon in scheduling agricultural pursuits.

A sociologist at Elizabethtown College in PA. referred me to a Lutheran pastor, known as an expert on Pennsylvania German culture. The pastor and I spoke by phone (July, 2001). His comments indicated that the Zodiac signs were used by both Germans and Pennsylvania Germans from about 1700 to about 1770. They were used in almanacs and in the recording of births, etc. and included a 24 hour Zodiac. Folk beliefs and superstitions probably played a large part in their usage. I believe he also mentioned the moon signs; he has “possibly” seen Zodiac signs used in Church records as well as in family records. He also felt that the name Kathleen was out of place in a German document. His final statement was that one cannot build a theory concerning which religion was involved, based on usage of Zodiac signs.

Regarding the time frame mentioned by the Lutheran minister, I would cite a reference in a the book titled “Christian Gish of Virginia” compiled by Josephine Costello Huffaker in 1989. A specific devoted “Dunkard” family is mentioned, and the family Bible contains entries (in German) of each family birth including day, time of day and month. These appear to use one Zodiac sign for hour of birth and another for month of birth. The father reportedly used the Zodiac signs daily for guidance. Later one of the sons kept his family records in his Bible
using a Zodiac sign only for the hour of the birth. These two Bibles covered a period of time from the 1790’s until 1833. (Section D pp. 1-2 and p.7).

Another contact was made in August, 2001 with a gentleman from the Lutheran Archives in Philadelphia. My description of the alleged “baptismal certificate” prompted him to remark that he agreed with my view that it was part of a family Bible or some other family record…not a baptismal certificate. He has never come across an entry in a church book which contained signs of the Zodiac in the body of the entry….most are quite sparse, and the date of birth is almost always only day/month/year. It is possible that symbols of Zodiac signs could have been built into the Fraktur art (a German style of type consisting of angular, broken lines) used in baptismal certificates. Might these be the “decorations” Dick referred to? In addition, the gentleman from the Archives commented that the Pennsylvania Germans were certainly well aware of the Zodiac and other folk beliefs. He remembers his own parents dealing with plantings depending on the phases of the moon, certain days of the year, etc. Almanacs always contained the full layout of signs of the Zodiac for the entire year.

It appears that the use of Zodiac signs by Germanic peoples had little to do with their religious denomination. I have not explored the many facets of Zodiac signs (sun, moon, and Ascendant signs), since my focus was on the use of signs, not the signs themselves. Although this report is not “scholarly,” perhaps some light will be shed (sunlight or moonlight, take your choice) on the subject. The Katherine problem is, unfortunately, still with us! My conclusions about her are, of course, my personal opinions. The religious affiliation of both Katherine and Joseph remains unknown, as does much of their history.  Would the old requirement of Brethren rebaptism be a factor?  If her name were Kathleen, as Bunderman indicated in his translation, we are certainly not dealing with a German female. It is my feeling that the preponderance of evidence would indicate that Bunderman’s representation of a “baptismal certificate” was incorrect and that the “document” is from a family birth record or Bible record. If this is the case, we can possibly say with a fair degree of certainty that Katherine was not born at sea, since the ship landed on 28 August, 1733. Bunderman felt that the “birth at sea” story was a Naff family tradition. Interesting, since she was, after all, supposed to be a Flory who married a Naff. I still carry Katherine only as a possible spouse of Jacob Naff…perhaps a second wife. To date there is virtually no proof of this relationship other than her grandson, the Rev. Isaac N. Naff’s autobiography (about 1894), which apparently also no longer exists. He referred to Katherine as Eva, which presents an entirely different set of problems!

All of my references are not named, purely because I did not obtain their permission to do so. Although I am unable to answer comments or questions, I will enjoy reading whatever others may contribute. It is obvious that a copy of the Bunderman “certificate” needs to be submitted for translation by someone with expertise in reading German script. Dick Gethmann suggested this to me quite some time ago. Volunteers?

       The image of the certificate below was graciously supplied by William Lucas and Dan Hagy.

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