Luzerne County

WEEK 19 – Augustus Hettig and how he found a way

The family story goes that my great, great grandfather, Augustus, was 17 years old in 1867 and was faced with having to mandatory service in the military. Not wanting to serve, he apparently found a way to escape it, and came to America instead. So, he is the subject of Week 19 of the 52 Ancestor Challenge, in which the theme is “There’s a Way.”

Unproven facts say that Augustus was born about May 27, 1850, in Leipzig, Germany. His true name is not known, but some family members think it might have been Leppart.

The Austro-Prussian War was taking place around this time frame. The Kingdom of Prussia formed the North German Confederation with allies, and took control of government, military and foreign affairs. Mandatory military service was being enforced by the Prussian government.

For whatever reasons, Augustus did not want to be forced to enter the military and be forced to go to war. So, he made his way to the port at Bremen and was said to have stowed away on a ship that was bound to America. On the ship, he had befriended a family with the last name of Hettig, who took Augustus under their wing. Augustus went on to live with this Hettig family and took on their last name and he was known as Augustus Hettig ever since.

I had discovered that Augustus did in fact, live with a Hettig family. I found him at the age of 20 living in the 1870 Census with Valentine and Sofia Hettig in White Haven, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Valentine and Sofia had 3 other sons living with them: Alvin, age 12; Lewis, age 10; and Otto age 7.

HETTIGValentine_nat2Luzerne County did not have naturalization records for Augustus, but they did have them for Valentine. These records indicated that Valentine had come to America on June 5, 1867 in New York.


A search of the passenger records confirmed this. Valentine Hettig, his wife Sofia and their sons, Alvin, Lewis and Otto were found on the passenger arrival records on the Baltic, which arrived on June 5, 1867.  There no SSBalticPassengerAugustus “Hettig” listed. However, right under Valentine Hettig and his family, was an “Aug. Schnabel, age 17.” Could this possibly be my great, great grandfather? Is this how he had found his way to America and his new life?

Someday, I hope to learn more and find an answer to that question.






  1. Friday, November 3, 1933; page 6, col 5. Obituary for August Hettig., The Otsego Farmer, Cooperstown, New York.
  2., 1870 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2009),, Year: 1870; Census Place: White Haven, Luzerne, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1365; Page: 393B; Image: 57; Family History Library Film: 552864. Record for August Hetick.

  3. Luzerne, Pennsylvania, Petition record, Valentine Hettick..; Luzerne County Courthouse, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

  4. Year: 1867; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 280; Line: 11; List Number: 528




WEEK 6 – 2015: Reuben Keiper – How did he get So Far Away?

I had planned on writing about another ancestor for this week’s 52 Ancestors challenge and theme “So Far Away.” However, I went a little “far away” myself when I became distracted and might have discovered a little bit of a break in a brick wall that my 3rd great grandfather, Reuben Keiper, has been hiding behind for a long time.

My Keiper ancestors have been quite a challenge for me. The family myth has always been that my great great grandmother, Sarah Jane Keiper, was a full-blood Indian who was adopted. I had never found proof to support that myth. Sarah’s death certificate said she was born April 16, 1853 in White Haven, PA and her parents were Reuben Keiper and Elizabeth Prutzman. I found Sarah living with Reuben and Elizabeth and other siblings in Kidder Township, Carbon County, PA in the 1860 census. Reuben’s birthdate was estimated to be around 1820. He and Elizabeth had at least 8 children: Mary, Henry, Hannah, Caroline, Rose, Sarah, Franklin and Alice. There are numerous Keiper and Prutzman families spread across Luzerne, Carbon and Monroe counties. I had never been able to connect Reuben and Elizabeth to any of these other families.

Several years ago, I obtained a copy of Reuben’s will from the Carbon County Courthouse, in Jim Thorpe, PA, hoping to learn more about Reuben. I learned a little bit more, but what puzzled me was that the will stated that he was living in Clinton County, Indiana, at the time the will was written in 1883. It also said that he had been living with his daughter, Rose Wasser, for years in her home in White Haven, PA. Why was Reuben suddenly living so far away in Indiana, after living in Pennsylvania all his life, and clearly was in “declining health?”

Last will of Reuben Keiper

Last will of Reuben Keiper. Carbon County Orphan’s Court Records.

I may have found the answer early this morning. It all started when I decided to check Facebook first thing this morning. A post in the Luzerne County Genealogy Facebook group about adding more issues of the Wilkes-Barre Record caught my eye. This prompted me to go and do some searches, including the surname, Keiper.

This actually led to several random searches in a few newspapers in the Luzerne County area. One result was an obituary in a Pittson newspaper for a Samuel Eckhart who died in 1916. Samuel had three surviving sisters; one of those being a “Mrs. Franklin Keiper.” I knew that Reuben had a son named Franklin and that he had married Amelia Eckhart. What was interesting was that the other sisters also married men with the surname of Keiper! There was a “Mrs. James Keiper” and a “Mrs. Reuben Keiper.”

Long story short, this led me to start looking at the Pennsylvania Death Certificate collection and census records on and finding a whole mess of other Keiper families, some with the same first names. In fact, I am still in the process of sorting them all out and trying to figure out if and how they are all related. As I discovered more names, I would go back to and do a search to see if I could find any obituaries to help me sort things out. One of the names, that I did a search for was “Amos Keiper.”

Well, I did find an obituary and some articles about the one Amos Keiper I originally did a search for who was living in Luzerne County. However, it was this article in the March 7, 1883 Allentown Democrat, that really caught my eye:

The Allentown Democrat (Allentown, Pennsylvania) 7 Mar 1883, Wed • Page 2

The Allentown Democrat
(Allentown, Pennsylvania)
7 Mar 1883, Wed • Page 2

The article was a notice trying to locate relatives of an Amos Keiper who had lived in Clinton County, Indiana and died intestate and no heirs to his estate. Clinton County, Indiana was where my Reuben Keiper when he made his last will! I immediately opened up the digital copy of Reuben’s will just to make sure it was the same place. Not only did the locations match, but the witnesses for his will were Pernal K. Thomas and J.R. Brown. The same names listed as administrators for the estate of Amos Keiper in the newspaper article! Now, I may have found the answer as to why Reuben Keiper was so far away from home.

So my next step is to write to the Clinton County Circuit court for copies of Amos Keiper probate records and see if there are any more answers or clues. I know the day that SASE arrives back in my mailbox seems so far away.

So, that is my tale of how I totally got “so far away” off track from what I had originally planned for my blog post. I seemingly kept getting even further and further away on a meandering trail of newspaper articles, and census records, only to end up with something tied in back to my own direct line.

However, what really amazes me is that I somehow was able to connect all my morning’s research to this week’s theme.

13. Augustus and Sarah Jane (Keiper) Hettig



Monday will be the 144th wedding anniversary of my great great grandparents, Augustus and Sarah Jane Hettig. Both have somewhat unique family stories, and are both somewhat challenging to research. So I decided to honor them in this week’s 52 Ancestors blog post.

The story handed down was that Augustus wanted to escape military service in Germany and stowed away on a ship bound to America. He met a family on board that sympathized with him, so they basically “adopted” him while on board, and young Augustus took on their last name of “Hettig.” It was also said that his real last name was “Leppard.” One of my Mom’s aunts had given me a newspaper clipping of his obituary. It said that he was born in Leipsic, Germany on May 27, 1850 and that his parents were Valentine and Sofia (Manderling) Hettig.

So was this all true? I had heard that the “stowaway” story was quite common and to not completely trust it. I began by finding Augustus in the census records, living with Valentine and Sofie in White Haven, PA as Augustus Hettig. He was listed as a son at age 20, along with his younger “brothers,” Alven, age 12; Lewis, age 10; and Otto, age 7. I had also found Valentine’s naturalization papers which led me to the date Valentine arrived in America.


I had found Valentine and Sofie easily enough in ship passenger records. They arrived June 5, 1867 in New York on the S.S. Baltic. The ship left Germany at the port of Bremen. Valentine, Sofie, Alven, Lewis and Otto are all listed, but no Augustus Hettig, who would have been 17 at the time of arrival. However, listed immediately under the Hettig family was “Schnabel, Aug, 17.” Could the story be true and could this “Aug Schnabel” possibly be my great, great grandfather? However, I could not be sure and have not figured out if I could prove or disprove it. Thus, this is where I had hit my brick wall with my great great grandfather.

At this time, in nearby Kidder Township, Carbon County Pennsylvania, my great great grandmother, Sarah Jane Keiper was growing up. And Sarah Jane also had an interesting story handed down about her. It was said that she was actually a “full-blooded Indian that was adopted by German parents as an infant.” According to Sarah’s death record and census records, her parents were Reuben and Elizabeth (Prutzman) Keiper. She was born April 16, 1853. I have never been able to find proof of Sarah’s “adoption” and it’s possible such a document does not exist, since there probably were not adoptions recorded back in the 1850s. She was never listed as being Native American in any other her records, so I am unable to prove the Native American story. So, I hit my brick wall with Sarah Jane as well.

However, you can tell she kind of looked Native American in her photo. With her obvious dark coloring, she must have looked exotic to a young man who had just arrived to this land from Germany. And he must have intrigued her with his German accent and probably wild tales of stowing away on a boat. I imagine it did not take the two long at all to fall in love. Augustus and Sarah were married on April 14, 1870 in White Haven, PA and lived with the Hettig family after their marriage. Their first child, Reuben Oliver, was born a year later on April 16, 1871.

Augustus and Sarah eventually moved to the picturesque village of Noxon, PA in nearby Wyoming County. Augustus found employment as a lumberman, most likely at the Trexler & Turrel Lumber Company. Sarah took care of the home and their 9 children. Business was good in the town of Noxon, and the Lehigh Valley Railroad built and extension through there so that the lumber could be transported to other areas throughout the state. As Hettig brood got older, Augustus’ and Sarah’s sons; Reuben, Stewart, Stephen, Charles, and Wilson; all found employment through the railroad.

In 1927, Augustus and Sarah Jane left Pennsylvania to live in upstate New York, with their youngest daughter, Jessie May Hathaway. Both were now elderly and Sarah Jane was now an invalid with heart trouble. Sarah passed away on November 12, 1931. Augustus followed 2 years later on October 28, 1933. Both are buried in the Schnevus Cemetery in Schnevus, New York.

So, happy anniversary to my great great grandparents. Someday, I hope to break through at least one of your brick walls as an anniversary gift.