Roots & Branches: Distant cousin’s visit an informative experience

Some 20 years ago, my late mother, Mildred H. Beidler, had a visitor from the Midwest.

The visitor was one of those distant cousins you meet through genealogical happenstance.

Her name is Michelle Potter, and she is a descendant of Elias Machmer, who my mother recalled having been spoken of as a brother to Mom’s great-grandfather, Wellington B. Machmer.

Wellington lived into my mom’s teenage years and helped raise her after her mother died.

I even recalled, too, my mother saying that there was an “Uncle Aily” (perhaps “Eli” with a Pennsylvania Dutch accent) who went to Iowa in the late 1800s. There was communication back and forth about this relative who had ventured beyond the friendly confines of the “Pennsylvania German arc” that stretches from York and Lancaster to the Lehigh Valley.

Although I had never met Potter, I knew she felt strong ties to her Machmer heritage. We had corresponded when I was fortunate enough to find the German home village of the family. When I visited there in 2007, she was one of three people for whom I purchased stained-glass crests of Sprendlingen, the Rhineland town from which the Machmer family hailed.

So it was a great pleasure a week ago when, just as I was embarking on a “perimeter walk” around my six-acre homestead (something I try to do every spring and fall), that I was surprised by a car pulling up and a woman calling out to me, asking “Are you Jim Beidler?”

Of course, this turned out to Potter, my distant cousin in terms of blood but certainly a close kindred spirit in terms of appreciation for family history.

She was game to accompany me on my perimeter walk, where she told me more about her close family, and I updated her on rest of my mother’s life after Potter’s visit (Mom died in a nursing home in 2011; since 2004, I have been back in the house bought into the family by Wellington almost 100 years ago).

We reviewed a lot of the family history at my kitchen table and then went on a drive of sites related to the Machmer family (Wellington moved more than a dozen times in his life, but all of his stops along the way were within a few miles of each, making for a compact “road trip”).

When Elias and his family left for Iowa, they fit all their belongings in a covered wagon. It’s unknown how long their journey west took.

Potter and I both marveled at what a potentially perilous trip that must have been (Indeed, she recalls my mother’s recollection that the Pennsylvania Machmers remarked about the dangers the Iowa Machmers faced).

Today’s easy mobility stands in contrast to that — and a gathering of relatives makes such a meeting all-the-more worthwhile.

Contact Beidler either at Box 270, Lebanon, PA 17042 or by e-mail to Like him on Face­book (James M. Beidler) and follow him on Twitter, @JamesMBeidler.