WEEK 15 – 2015: Erastus Sylvester Serfass

Erastus Sylvester Serfass with his 4 children: Arlington (who is standing) and Harold, Ellen and Calvin. (Original photo in possession of James Downs)

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.


21. Johannes Serfass – Revolutionary War Patriot

Today is July 4th, so deciding who to blog about for the 52 Ancestors challenge was a simple decision. My 5th great grandfather, Johannes Serfass, served in the Pennsylvania militia during the Revolutionary War.

Johannes, or “John” was born in Philadelphia on March 20, 1752 to Philip and Maria Catherina (Altemous) Serfass. Philip purchased land north of the Blue Mountain in Chestnuthill Township in what is now Monroe County, Pennsylvania and moved his family there so he could farm and develop the land around 1753. Philip and his neighbors named the land “Pleasant Valley.”

However, Philip and his neighbors were in danger of Indian attacks. In 1755, the Hoeth family, neighbors of the Serfass family, were massacred by Indians. Philip and his family fled to Nazareth, PA and resided at The Red Rose Inn, seeking refuge from the Moravian Congregation there. Many other of the Pleasant Valley residents followed suit.

The colonial government at the time responded to the growing Indian raids by building a series of forts. One of those forts was built on Philip Serfass’ land and was known as “Fort Norris.” After the forts were built, Philip and his family returned.

About 20 years later, the colonies found themselves in a Revolutionary War with Great Britain. Philip’s son, John, was among the many men that answered the call and went off to fight for their freedom. John served in the 4th Battalion, Northampton County in Captain John Gregory’s company as a clerk and a soldier.

Sometime before 1778, John married Susannah Hone. They had 15 children. John died on July 11, 1825 at his home in Chestnuthill Township. He is buried in the Salem Church Cemetery in Gilbert, PA.

11. Emma Weaver – My mysterious great grandmother

I was looking over my family tree last week, pondering on who to write about in my 52 Ancestors blog post. While looking at my pedigree in my online tree, I realized that I had only one great grandparent that I had no photo of: my great grandmother, Emma Weaver.

I had realized that I had just gathered the basic information about her: birth, marriage, death, her parents, and then just moved on. I had remembered my Mom telling me that her grandparents were separated and that she had never met her grandmother. She had seen her once in town, and someone pointed her out and told my Mom, “That lady is your grandmother.” Perhaps that was why I had just moved on from her and didn’t bother finding out more.

Emma Ursne Weaver was born on February 4, 1879 in the Mahoning Valley in Carbon County, Pennsylvania to Wilson and Henrietta (Gombert) Weaver. She was baptized by the Reverend Abraham Bartholomew on April 5,1879. Her sponsors were Nathan Gerber and Maria Seidel.


It had been hard to locate when and where she had married my great grandfather, Erastus Serfass at first. However, through Ancestry, one of my Mom’s cousins connected with me, and he actually had their marriage certificate! Erastus and Emma had both been living in Lehighton, Carbon County. However, they were married in the small village of Andreas, which was several miles away in neighboring Schuylkill County in the parsonage of the Rev. Thomas Reber. And on top of that, the marriage record was filed in Northampton County. Indeed a good lesson that perhaps the record you are looking for may be actually located in a county where your ancestors did not live.

Erastus and Emma had 4 children: Arlington, Calvin, Harold (my grandfather) and Ellen. At some point after the birth of Ellen in 1912 and in 1920, Emma had separated from Erastus and left her children as well. Why would someone leave their children behind?

I decided to ask my Mom, once again about her. I guess my Mom really wanted to know more too, because she called her cousin that very evening to learn more too. This cousin was the daughter of Emma’s eldest son, Arlington. Emma had been to their home for family holidays. No one knew exactly why Emma moved out and left her children. There was talk that Erastus did not think she was a good mother to the children. My Mom’s cousin thought she had heard that she had “some kind of addiction” but was not an alcoholic. She recalled that Emma used to live at the Exchange Hotel on First Street, Lehighton. She would see her sitting outside of the hotel and would wave to her as she walked by.

My Mom had also recalled speaking to the wife of another cousin. This woman’s mother-in-law was a sister to Emma. She said that they had all called her “Stella Dallas” because she “liked to dress up and wore make-up.” It was also said that Erastus had been supporting her financially.

ImageErastus and Emma never divorced. However, Erastus eventually had a long-standing relationship with another woman and had even moved in with her. He had died in her home in 1942 and was buried in Lehighton Cemetery. When Emma died on January 14, 1952, her children made the decision to bury her next to their father in the family plot. This decision did not sit well with the woman who had been Erastus’ companion.

Although the family gossip does not seem to favor Emma, I still would like to find out more about her. And I hope I might be able to find someone that may have a photo of her.



7. Aaron Serfass

This week’s story for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge is my 3rd great grandfather, Aaron Serfass.

Aaron was born on February 22, 1817 to successful farmer and shoemaker, Adam Serfass and his wife Christina (nee Berger) in Polk Township, Pennsylvania. He was baptized at the Salem Church Union Church in the village of Gilbert, PA. Sponsors were Jacob Serfass and Mary Bargen.

The Serfass family were well known and long established in Polk Township. Aaron’s great- grandfather, Philip Serfass, had arrived in Philadelphia from Germany in 1739, eventually buying land in Polk Township. His grandfather, Johannes “John” Serfass, served in the Revolutionary War as a soldier and a clerk under Captain John Gregory.

Aaron married Elizabeth Hawk, also from Polk Township, sometime around 1840. Aaron also took up farming and also did some blacksmithing. Aaron and Elizabeth had 8 children: Elizabeth, Joseph, Hannah, Adam, Christiana, Peter, Catherine and Mary Jane.

Aaron died at his home on March 26, 1893 at the age of 76, after being stricken with sudden paralysis. He is buried in the Jerusalem Church Cemetery in Trachsville, PA.