As much as I love using the Internet for genealogy, there’s absolutely nothing in the world as satisfying as visiting a family homestead. I can say this with certainty, as I spent all of yesterday at two Moravian villages in North Carolina—both homes for my Shore (also spelled Schor and Shor) family—and both leagues away from my usual San Diego digs.
After I decided to travel to North Carolina, one of the first people I contacted was Jim Spainhour from Muttenz Descendants. This organization researches the 120 18th-century emigrants who traveled from Muttenz, Switzerland, to Pennsylvania, and then North Carolina. Jim’s family and mine were among those migrants, and both settled Bethabara (the first Moravian settlement in North Carolina) and nearby Bethania. Jim grew up here, and was the perfect historian and guide.
First, we visited the Bethania Moravian Cemetery and found the graves of Heinrich (Henry) and Barbara Shore, my fifth-great-grandparents. If you have Moravian ancestors, be advised that people aren’t buried in family groups, but in choir groups, with men and women on separate sides of the cemetery. After you find grandpa’s grave, you’ll have to hike to the other side of the cemetery to find grandma’s. Also, all the headstones are flat, as tall stones weren’t in keeping with church beliefs
After Bethania, Jim took us to the old mill site at Bethabara—a place our families would’ve known well. At one time, a wooden palisade protected the mill site and refugee cabins where travelers could spend the night. The village suffered frequent Indian attacks, and well-documented accounts tell of our families scurrying back to the fort’s protection on more than one occasion.
Bethabara proper was founded in 1753, and it’s now a National Historic Landmark. As I strolled the village I realized I was experiencing much the same place as my ancestors, thanks to local historic preservation efforts. For example, the 1788 Gemeinhaus still stands—the country’s only remaining German Colonial church with attached minister’s living quarters.
The village also contains another palisade that marks the Southeast’s only French and Indian War fort that’s reconstructed on its original site. In addition, Bethabara has a reconstructed colonial community garden, now filled with winter vegetables, quiet paths and unbelievable fall colors.
I sat down at one point along the way and just soaked in the birdsong, the fluttering colonial-era flag, the black walnuts scattered underfoot and the footsteps crunching through the red and yellow autumn leaves. Does it get any better than that? Write and tell me about your favorite going-home trip.