Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Amish People

The Amish are a very traditional subgroup of the Mennonite churches.  They are known for their simple living, plain dress and reluctance to adopt modern conveniences. Their communities are usually very laid back, a calm relaxed atmosphere, where everyone helps everyone else.

The Amish began in Switzerland within a group of Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists and was led by Jakob Ammann.  The followers mainly came from the German speaking parts of Switzerland, the Alsace of France and the Palatinate of Germany.   Many Amish and Mennonites emigrated to Pennsylvania.  Even today the most traditional descendants of the Amish speak Pennsylvania German also known as Pennsylvania Dutch.  There are those who still have the dialect of Swiss German, in the Old Order Amish communities, especially in Indiana. The Amish, like the Mennonites, have split many times over the years.

In the Amish religion, babies are not baptized. Baptism usually occurs between 16 and 25, and is a requirement for marriage.Once a person has affiliated with the church, they may only marry within the faith.

Many Amish church members may not buy insurance or accept government assistance, such as Social Security.  As Anabaptist, members practice nonresistance and will not perform any type of military service.  There is a heavy emphasis on church and family relationships. They have their own schools, usually a one room school house and discontinue formal education at 8th grade. They value rural life, manual labor and humility.  Due to intermarriage, among their relatively small original population, some groups have increased incidences of certain inheritable conditions.

The Amish are among the fastest growing populations in the world with 6.8 children per family.  From 1992-2008 the Amish in North America population growth was at 84% and they established 184 new settlements and moved into 6 new states.  There are 27 Old Order communities in the U S and Canada. Pennsylvania and Indiana, central Ohio, Lancaster Co in Pennsylvania, Elkhart and La Grange in Indiana are the largest concentration of Amish.   West of the Mississippi  river in Missouri, then into eastern Iowa and Southern Minnesota.

Amish are mostly of Swiss German ancestry. The first Amish to America went to Berks Co, PA but later moved, motivated by land issues and by security concerns tied to the French and Indian War. Many eventually settled in Lancaster Co, PA.  Others spread to Alabama, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas. Kentucky. Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Maryland, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Maine, as well as Canada.

The majority of the Old Order Amish congregations do not have church buildings but meet in private homes and because of this are sometimes called “House Amish”.  Congregations are made up of 25-30 neighboring farm or related families. Their properties are adjacent and are encircled with a congregations physical boundary and is the only congregation available for membership. Therefore, each member is a neighbor!   Congregations meet every other week for the entire Sunday at a member family’s farm.  

They are very humble people, placing  into practice  their rejection of pride, arrogance and haughtiness and place high value on calmness, composure and placidity… often translated as submission or “letting be”  they are reluctant to be forward, self promoting or to assert oneself. They submit to the Will of God.

They prefer to work at home, although many have now had to work in construction and manufacturing in in some areas where there is good tourist trade to engage in shop work and crafts for profit.  The Amish quits are a genuine cultural inheritance. Amish lifestyles vary and sometimes not only between communities but within communities. Some are conservative, others allow automobiles but require they be black, some of the Old Order groups may even vary over the type of suspenders that males are required to wear, if any or how many pleats there should be in a bonnet or if one is required at all!  

Some of the strictest Old Order Amish are the Nebraska Amish (“white top Amish”) Troyer Amish and the Swartzendruber Amish. Most Old Order Amish still speak Pennsylvania German in the home, with the exception of several areas in the Midwest where a variety of Swiss German is spoken.

In both Adams Co and Allen Co Indiana, the old order Amish use only wooden grave markers which eventually decay and disappear making it difficult to locate graves.  They are usually buried in Amish cemeteries. More recently, they  purchase gravestones that lay flat on the ground, are uniform, of modest and plain design, and thankfully are now inscribed in English.

 Marriage to a 1st cousin is not allowed among the Amish and a second cousin relationship is frowned upon, though they may occur.  Marriage to a “Schwartz” (1st cousin once removed) is not permitted in Lancaster County. Weddings were typically held on Tuesday and Thursday in November to early December after the harvest was in. The bride wears no makeup, and will not receive an engagement or wedding ring because the "Ordnung" prohibits personal jewelry. In colonial days, newlyweds spend the wedding night at the home of the bride’s parents.

Elderly do not go to a retirement facility; they remain at home. If the family house is large enough they continue living with everyone else. Often there is an adjacent dwelling called the "Grossdaadi,"  where grandparents take up residency.  Retired people continue to help with work on the farm and in the home, working at their own pace as they are able. If the aged become ill or infirm, then other family members take care of them.

The Older Order Amish are known for their avoidance of certain modern conveniences. Electricity is used in some situations when it can be produced without access to outside power lines. Batteries are sometimes acceptable. Electric generators may be used for such things as  welding, recharging batteries, and powering milk stirrers in some communities. They will use  have non-electric versions of appliances, such as kerosene powered refrigerators while others may allow thermal solar panels. The Amish will use chemical pesticides and fertilizers, which I find strange!

If a person becomes disabled, they are allowed to use motorized wheelchairs and electricity is allowed in the home for medical equipment.  Most will not drive cars, but will hire drivers and vans for visiting family,or other trips that might take them off the farm. Regular bus service between Amish communities has been established in some areas and train travel is accepted. In some areas it is not uncommon to see their traditional buggies going down the road. 

Depending on what community of Amish you are in, some groups limit color to black trousers and dresses and white shirts, while others allow muted colors. Dark blue denim work clothing is common within some groups as well. The old order Amish often sew their own clothing . Even today, hook and eye or straight pins are used on dresses, rather than buttons, zippers or Velcro. Snaps are used on everyday clothes, whereas plain buttons are used on work shirts and trousers.

Women wear calf length plain cut dresses in a solid color. Aprons are often worn at home, usually in white or black and are always worn when attending church. A cape, consisting of a triangular piece of cloth is usually worn, beginning around ten years and pinned into the apron. In colder weather, a long woolen cloak may be worn. Heavy bonnets are worn over the prayer coverings when Amish women are out and about in the cold Strange as it may seem, the Nebraska Amish women do not wear bonnets. Girls in some areas wear colored bonnets until age 9, older girls and women wear black bonnets. During the summer many children go barefoot even while attending school.

Men usually wear dark trousers, some with dark vest or coat, suspenders (in some communities) broad rimmed straw hats in the summer and black felt in the colder months. However, some, mostly teens, may deviate from these customs to convey someone’s individuality. Married men and those over 40 grow a beard, although mustaches are forbidden. A beard may serve the same symbolic function, in some Old Order Amish settings as a wedding ring, and marks the passage into manhood.

Amish have higher incidences of some genetic disorders,which may include dwarfism, various metabolic disorders and unusual distribution of blood types.  Since all Amish descend from about two hundred 18th century founders, genetic disorders form inbreeding exist in more isolated districts.  Some are quite rare or unique and are serious enough to increase the mortality rate among Amish children.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Kay--I'm doing genealogical research on both sides of my family, but one story in particular has me intrigued at the moment. My mother's family is from Berks county,PA originally. According to family history, my mother's grandfather, Wallace Seaman and his sister Mary, lived with Amish relatives of their mother (Emma Burkholder Seaman) after her death.

    Now, I spent a feverish 14-day trial looking up everything I could find and discovered only that Emma was born in 1852 in Germany, and immigrated to PA sometime before 1876, when my great-grandfather Wallace was born. She was alive as of the 1880 census, but that is the last record I could find of her.

    I was hoping you might be able to tell me something about the relationship between Amish and non-Amish family members. If there were "English" nieces or nephews that needed a home, would they potentially be willing to take them in? The "proof" of Wallace's upbringing is that he spoke Pennsylvania German on his deathbed, which no one else in the family could understand. I would appreciate any information you could provide, and apologize for my long-winded comment!--Thanks, Lacey