In my genealogy research, I traced my father’s grandmother, Catherine, to her roots on the Iloff farm in Cherry Ridge, Honesdale, Pennsylvania, about two hours north of New York City. Catherine’s parents were Henry Iloff, who emigrated in 1841 from St. Nicholas, Saarland, and Catherina Lattauer who emigrated in 1845 or 1846 from Ober-Floerscheim, Hesse-Darmstadt. They were married February 2, 1846 at St. Matthew’s Church in “Little Germany” on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
In 1850, Henry and Catherina purchased land in Cherry Ridge, Honesdale, where they built the farm that remained in the family for a hundred years. In 1851 Catherina’s sister Agnes Lattauer Schweizer emigrated with her family from Ober-Floerscheim to Cherry Ridge. The Schweizer farm also remained in the family for a hundred years.
I had been told about the family Henry Iloff had with two wives who were somehow related: nine children with his first wife and nine with his second over a forty year period–fourteen of whom were living at the time of his death in 1889. I was shocked to learn that when his first wife died in 1869, Henry married his wife’s sister’s daughter Johanna Schweizer–who was half his age and his children’s cousin. I suspect that the marriage was considered scandalous in a conservative farming community, and that it did not sit well with the children of the first marriage, four of whom left the local area. Nonetheless, Henry Iloff was elected to the prestigious position of Wayne County Commissioner a decade later.
Over the past month, following a question from one of my cousins, I researched the stories of the second generation of the Iloff family. What I found were very American stories. Only three of Henry’s children became farmers. Four of the others found various kinds of work in the local area, while seven scattered to the four winds.
Henry Iloff Jr. was born in New York City in 1846 and moved to the farm in Cherry Ridge when he was four. He was two years younger than his cousin Johanna, who became his father’s second wife, and I suspect the marriage upset him. He was in Ridgway, Elk, Pennsylvania, a long way from Cherry Ridge, in 1880. His wife died in childbirth in the first year of their marriage and their daughter died a few years later. A family story says he became a cattle rancher in Texas. No records for him were found there, suggesting he was a cowboy drifter.
Elizabeth Iloff, born in New York City in 1848, married a local farmer eighteen years her senior, just before her mother’s death. She had eleven children. When her husband died, she sold the farm and moved to nearby Honesdale, where she sent the younger children to school; some of the older sons found work in the German-owned cut glass factory, and some of the older daughters in a German-owned underwear family. A number of the children moved to Brooklyn a few years later, joining Elizabeth’s sister Catherine.
There were two sons named John, one who died at birth and a second born in 1853 who was apprenticed to a wagon-maker when he died at eighteen.
George, born in 1856, moved to Sioux City Iowa with his wife-to-be and her out-of-wedlock child with a local man, probably to make a fresh start. George worked all his life as a traveling salesman for Keen Kutter, a hardware catalogue company. He and Sadie had six children of their own, four of whom lived to adulthood.
My great-grandmother Catherine was born in 1859. How she ended up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, married to my great-grandfather George Christ, a tailor whose family was from a different part of Germany, is a mystery that remains unsolved. George died of tuberculosis when my grandfather was a baby, leaving Catherine with five children, two of whom did not survive childhood. She had two daughters with her second husband, a German wood worker.
Mary, who was born in 1861, married a local farmer, with whom she had nine children, eight of whom survived.
Frank, born in 1863, lived in Honesdale with his wife. He worked in the cut glass factory and later in a knitting factory. He had no children.
Barbara, born in 1865, the last child of Catherina, followed her brother to Sioux City, where she married and had one child who lived to adulthood. Her husband was a salesman in a shoe store.
Peter Iloff, the first son of Johanna, was born in 1870. He walked six miles each way to Honesdale to complete his schooling and was sent to a preparatory college out of town before his father died. Only eighteen years old when he lost his father, he was expected to help his mother with the farm and his younger siblings. At that time, he began to study in the office of a local lawyer, passing the bar in 1895, and later running for office on the Democrat ticket against corporate bosses. He married but had no children and, sadly, died of alcoholism at the age of forty-seven.
The next two children, Agnes and Emma, died as babies.
Anna, born in 1875, was Johanna’s only surviving daughter. Her father died when she was fourteen, and she helped her mother with the younger children, not marrying until the youngest turned twenty-one and the farm was to be sold, as specified in Henry’s will. Johanna moved with Anna to Luzerne, Pennsylvania, where Anna’s husband worked as a plumber. Anna had two children.
Lawrence, who was born in 1877, took over the farm. In 1940, both he and his son Kenneth reported that they were working 90 hours a week–a fact that suggests why most of the Iloffs did not choose the farming life. Lawrence married and had three sons. Kenneth sold the farm when Lawrence died in 1954.
Charles, born in 1879, married and lived in near-by Honesdale where he was a machinist. He had no children.
Robert, born in 1881, lived in Honesdale, where he owned an ice business. He married and had five children.
Otto, born in 1883, graduated from Syracuse University and settled in Syracuse where he became a lawyer. He married and had one living child.
Phillip, born in 1886, received the A.M. degree in Mathematics from University of Michigan and taught at Chico State Teacher’s College in California. He had two sons who earned Ph.D. degrees in scientific fields and taught in universities.
Henry Iloff moved to Cherry Ridge with the dream of owning a farm. Of his fourteen surviving children, only Lawrence, who took on the Iloff farm, and Elizabeth and Mary from Henry’s first marriage continued to work on the land. A self-educated man himself, Henry would have been proud to know that two of his sons became lawyers and one a professor. However, he might not have been happy to learn that most of his children did not choose to become farmers. This is the American story at the turn of the 20th century: the dream of owning a farm was not necessarily shared by the next generation. When I visited Cherry Ridge in 2016, I was told that most of the farms had been abandoned, but that some of the local young people are returning to them.
My grandfather John Irving Christ was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and moved out to Queens when he married. He was employed by his wife’s brothers in the insurance industry. My father remembered visiting the family farms in Cherry Ridge as a child. In 1935, my grandfather was transferred to California. At this point connection to relatives in Honesdale and Cherry Ridge was severed.
When I visited Cherry Ridge and Honesdale in 2016, I met my third cousin Marcia Perry Gager, great-granddaughter of Lawrence. She grew up knowing the members of the extended family who remained in the Honesdale area, and she never felt any inclination to leave. Together, and with the help of Ancestry.com and two other cousins, we have pieced together many of the stories of our family lost to both of us. Learning that we are part of a very large and diverse family spread all over the country and knowing that we are part of each other, while being so different, has given us immense joy.
As they say on Finding Your Roots, I come from people, and now I know who those people are. In this story, I identify with Anna who loved her mother and helped her with the younger children, with Henry and Peter who ran for office, especially Peter who ran against corporate interests, with Catherine who moved to the big city, with Phillip who taught in a university, and also with all the housewives and hardworking husbands who raised their children and owned their own homes in the lower end of the middle class, where I was also raised. I am not surprised that Henry and George’s wife scandalized their communities. All of these are my people.
When I began working on the second generation of the Iloff family, I had guessed that Henry Iloff was at the center wearing a scarf and Johanna to his right. Through a process of deduction, I believe I have now identified everyone. The first clue was that Mary Iloff is sitting next to Johanna holding a baby. Assuming this is her first child, the photo was taken later summer or fall of 1883. Then I realized that the husbands are often standing above the wives, and that the children are not sitting randomly, but in family groups. The sexes and ages of the children in 1883 provided another clue. Johana’s Schweizer relatives are grouped at the top left. Peter Iloff rests his hand on his father’s shoulder. Henry Jr., George, Catherine, and Barbara are not present.
Top row: Peter Schweizer, August Dapper, John Schweizer, Peter Iloff,13, Frank Iloff, 20, John Lintner; Second row: Anna Schneider Schweizer with Elizabeth, 1, Elizabeth Schweizer Dapper with Ida, 4, Johannes Richenbacker, Henry Iloff, Johanna Schweizer Iloff with Robert 2, Mary Iloff Lintner with Henry, 6 months. First Row, Marie Reichenbacker, 6, Elizabeth Iloff Reichenbacker with Rosa, 1 1/2, George,14, Frank, 13, and Dena Reichenbacker, 3, Anna, 8 and Charles Iloff, 4; In Front: Katie, 7, Emma, 10, and Fred, 5, Reichenbacker, Lawrence Iloff, 7.
*Cherry Ridge is a rural area that is part of the larger town of Honesdale
Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer and educator living in Molivos, Lesbos, who volunteers with Starfish Foundation that helps refugees, assisting with writing and outreach. Carol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. FAR Press published A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess. Join Carol on the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honegger.