Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Getting to Know the Territory


Researching our family history is not only about names and dates. In pursuit of our ancestors, we also need to hold firm to a sense of place: where our ancestors lived, and what it was about those places which shaped our ancestors into who they became.

Familiarizing ourselves with the place where Elizabeth and Susannah Ambrose lived before their marriage to the two Flowers brothers in my mother-in-law's family means exploring the location where their father, Mathias Ambrose, filed his last will.

Thanks to an Ambrose researcher who was willing to digitize and share Mathias Ambrose's will on Ancestry, we now know the will was filed in Dublin Township in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. Furthermore, based on the title affixed to that document uploaded at Ancestry.com, we also know that the Ambrose family had something to do with a place there called "Brothers Valley."

That was then, however. Now, we need to learn how that translates into today's terms.

My first step, when my research leads me into unfamiliar territory—literally—is to take a brief tour of what can be discovered online about that location. Reading a quick overview of Bedford County, Pennsylvania, tells me right away that the state of Pennsylvania is unlike any other state I've researched so far—at least, as far as geopolitical boundaries go.

The entry at Wikipedia for Bedford County informs us that Pennsylvania law has created four different types of incorporated municipalities. In addition to the cities, a category with which we are all familiar, Pennsylvania also has what they call boroughs and townships. The fourth category of incorporated municipalities turns out to be an outlier, as there is only one such case in which a municipality is identified simply as a town.

Now knowing that, we have the vocabulary to deal with those labels of boroughs and townships. But looking for Dublin Township in Bedford County yields us a null set—until we remember the history of Bedford County, which was not formed until 1771, and from which several other counties were carved in the subsequent eighty years.

"Old Bedford County" yielded up some of its territory to form Somerset County in 1795. Though I am still at a loss to determine what became of the Dublin Township where Mathias Ambrose drew up his last will, it is from this newer county that we can locate the "Brothers Valley" township from the label affixed to the digitized will posted at Ancestry.com.

Even so, it takes some delving into local history to clarify that "Brothers Valley" label—but in doing so, we may glean some possible explanation for why Mathias Ambrose found himself settling, with his large family, in this frontier region of southwest Pennsylvania in the late 1700s. Thankfully, persistent googling combined with that genealogical "giving back" spirit yield us some helpful information on "Brothers Valley."

From a local history book transcribed and posted within the Pennsylvania GenWeb site, we learn that the earliest settlers in the region included several Germans who were members of the German Baptist church, or "Dunkards." These immigrants called themselves "Brethren" and, in time, dubbed their home, in German, "Brothers Valley," while the English-speaking settlers called the area "Stony Creek Glades."

The territory of this early township stretched far beyond what one might expect, reaching into what now is part of Somerset County, as well as portions reaching into present-day Cambria County.

Among the earliest settlers in this Brothers Valley settlement was one man by the name of Frederick Ambrose. While I can't yet determine whether there was any relationship between Frederick Ambrose and Mathias Ambrose, it is possible to find early signs of Frederick's residence there through digitized tax records showing his name as "Fredrick Amboss" in 1782, and "Frederick Ambrosia" in 1785.

There is much more to do before we can connect these different Ambrose men—including all the spelling permutations offered in handwritten documents of that era—but this initial discovery of local history opens up possibilities regarding where Mathias and his family may have originated, and what religious persuasion they adhered to.

As for "Brothers Valley," that term did not yield much in my search efforts. For yet another reason confirming the necessity of learning more about the territory where ancestors settled, I uncovered a story which explained my research problem. Over the years, and for an as-yet unexplained reason, the term "Brothers Valley" morphed, with the removal of the single space between the two words, to become the name the jurisdiction is known by today: Brothersvalley Township.

When it comes to computerized searches, even an empty space counts for something.


  1. Love Ambrosia as a variation on the name!

    1. Makes me wish I could know what people were thinking when they came up with these name variants. Some choices seem so unpredictable.


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