Erastus Sylvester Serfass with his 4 children: Arlington (who is standing) and Harold, Ellen and Calvin. (Original photo in possession of James Downs)
“How do you spell that” is probably something anyone with the surname of “Serfass” must hear quite often. The name is quite common in the northeastern Pennsylvania counties of Monroe, Carbon, Luzerne, Northampton and Lehigh where everyone is a descendant of one immigrant ancestor, Philip Serfass. However, there are many, many variants among the descendants of Philip: Serfass, Serfas, Searfass, Searfoss, Surface, Servas. And some people even spell it with a “Z”: Zerfass, Zearfass, and Zearfoss.
For this week’s 52 Ancestor post, I have decided to focus on the one member of the Serfass family who probably had to not only spell his surname, but his entire name: my great grandfather, Erastus Sylvester Serfass.
According to baptism records at the Jerusalem Union Church in Trachsville, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, Erastus was born on October 1, 1877 to Peter Serfass and Rebecca Kridler. He was baptized on November 11, 1877 at the church with Elias Frantz and his wife, Sara as his godparents.
It is not known what became of his mother, Rebecca. She may have passed away between the time Erastus was born and 1880. The 1880 census shows that Peter Serfass was living with his parents, Aaron and Elizabeth Serfass in Polk Township, Monroe County, with his 2 children: Elle Elizabeth and “Sylvester,” age 3. The box for “Widowed” was checked next to Peter’s name.
By the year 1900, Erastus was living in Lehighton, Carbon County, Pennsylvania. He was 22 years old and was living at the Exchange Hotel on First Street, Lehighton, where he was also employed as a servant. Around this time, Erastus was already courting a lively young woman named Emma Weaver. Emma was employed as a servant in the Howard Monyer household, which was also located on First Street, Lehighton.
On July 24, 1900 Erastus and Emma applied for a marriage license in Northampton County, PA. On July 26, 1900, Erastus and Emma took a drive to the small village Andreas, located in nearby Schuykill County, and were married by the Rev. Thomas Reber. And yes, it took quite a bit of digging to find that marriage record. Especially since Northampton County is close, but not that close. I wonder how they decided to apply for a marriage license there, and not just get one in Carbon County.
Erastus and Emma had 4 children: Arlington, Calvin, Harold and Ellen. Erastus got a job as a salesman with a local beef plant, Swift and Company where he worked for many years. The couple rented a home on Bankway Street in Lehighton. However, it was said that Emma became disillusioned with her role as a housewife and mother. She left Erastus and their children at some point before 1920. Emma remained in Lehighton, and did see her children from time to time. She and Erastus remained separated for the remainder of their lives, but never filed for divorce.
Erastus lived in Lehighton for many more years. He began seeing a woman named Mrs. Emma Miller, and he eventually moved in with her at her home in nearby Slatington, Lehigh County.
I asked my mother, if she had any memories of Erastus. She did not remember much, since he died while she was still kind of young. She did remember that when he drank coffee, he would pour it into his saucer first. Then he would pour it back into his cup and drink it. She guessed that he did that, so it would cool off faster.
Erastus died on December 26, 1942 in Slatington. His burial in the Lehighton Cemetery caused a bit of controversy. Since his eldest son, Arlington, was the one who was mainly in charge of the funeral arrangements and also bought the plot in the cemetery. His mother, Emma, was still alive at the time, and Arlington knew that he would one day be responsible for her funeral arrangements as well. So he bought the plot so that Emma would be buried next to Erastus, even though the couple had been separated for decades. Apparently, this upset Mrs. Miller, who had been the companion to Erastus for the last few years. Emma died ten years later. She and Erastus are both buried in the plot in the Lehighton Cemetery along with their sons, Arlington and Harold, and a grandson, Arthur.