The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Home Lands

September 26, 2010

Descendants look back at ancestry

Jim Lightner of Cambria Township is proud to be a German.

Lightner, along with help from his family, has traced his roots to 1709, when Adam Lightner left the Neckor Valley of Heilbronn, Germany, to sail to the New World.

“My family has been in this country for 301 years,” Lightner said.

“We should have thrown a 300-year party or something last year.”

Lightner, 50, of the village of Stopville, can’t speak German and has no idea how to dance a German step or sing a German song. But he estimates he is  nine-tenths German, a heritage he wears with honor.

Herb Pfuhl also is proud to be a German.

His family’s arrival was more recent.

His father and mother immigrated from Germany in the mid-1920s and settled in Johnstown.

“I’m proud to be a German. They are hard-working people,” said Pfuhl, a former mayor of Johnstown.

“Education was important to most Germans, and the teacher was always right.”

Pfuhl, 82, of the Roxbury section of Johnstown, was born in 1928, and has lived in Johns-town all his life.

His mother Anna Schweitzer – a relative of theologian, philosopher and physician Albert Schweitzer – came from rural Germany to Johnstown at the age of 16 to work as the upstairs maid for the Suppes family.

His father, Herbert, who came from Berlin, Germany, a few years earlier, was temporarily working in Johnstown when the two met at Zion Lutheran Church.

“My parents immediately went to Johnstown High School to learn English, and they became citizens,” he said.

Lightner and a couple of his sisters – including one who now lives in Ephrata, the heart of  Pennsylvania Dutch country – did their genealogy tracking before the Internet was in vogue.

By scouring state archives in Harrisburg, pouring over scores of old courthouse and historical society documents, he was able to trace his roots in four directions back to Germany on his father’s side.

The Dunkleberger line came from Westphalia, while Sullenberger came from the Palatinate, and Valentine Ritter, the most admired by Lightner, came from Hesse.

A big part of Lightner’s pride in his heritage is what his family members did after they arrived in the United States.

“My people have proudly fought in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War,” he said.

“I’m proud of the role my family played in the founding and freedom of this nation.”

If he were a woman, he has the documentation that would allow him to join the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The stories of war and freedom were handed down, with Lightner hearing them as a child. They included tales of John Sullenberger, who fought in the 50th Pennsylvania regiment as a Union soldier in the Civil War.

“John Sullenberger really spurred my interest in the Civil War,” Lightner said.

“He was one of the first prisoners to be taken to confederate Andersonville Prison in Georgia, and was one of few to escape nine months later. He walked  back to his home in Perry County.”

For Pfuhl, the German pride is more in his personal memories.

“Everyone had a household chore,” he said.

“Mine was taking care of the coal stoves in each of the rooms.”

Sundays meant morning church then off to the Hafer farm for picnics, games and lots of German singing.

He went to Johnstown Turners for gymnastics as a child, and recalls the Harmony Singing Society, formerly on Bedford Street.

Lightner is a brother of Tribune-Democrat reporter Kathy Mellott.

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