A recent study shows that nearly all of the 26,000 Amish living in our area descended from the same 100 people. When a handful of families migrated here from Pennsylvania some 200 years ago, I’ll bet they had no idea they were starting a community that would one day be that large!
One of those legendary pioneer Amish families is the Hochstetlers, who were attacked by Indians during the French and Indian War in 1757. After refusing to shoot at their attackers because they wanted to honor the Biblical commandment to love your enemies, half the family was killed and the other half was carried off to captivity. Nearly every Amish person I’ve met claims they are part of the Hochstetler family. At least one of our employees makes that claim as well, and he’s not even Amish. I used to be amused by these claims. How could all these people possibly be descended from one family? Now it turns out that maybe they are all telling the truth!
Another famous character from Amish history is White Jonas Stutzman. He was the only Amish person to have worn only white (thus the name). He was also one of the first Europeans to live in this area and almost certainly the first Amish person to have done so.
He was so convinced that Jesus Christ would return to earth soon, that he built a giant chair for him to sit in. You can see the actual chair Jonas built for Jesus at the Behalt Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center near our store. Jonas wanted to make sure he was ready spiritually and physically. Many of the Amish I know (including the aforementioned employee of Lehman’s) also claim to be part of White Jonas’ family. And, as it turns out, they have a one in 20 chance of being right!
Some seven or eight generations later, local Amish families have intermarried so many times that it is said any given husband and wife can be related as many as 20 different ways. The study I mentioned in the first paragraph theorized that all this inter-marriage would result in higher rates of cancer. In fact the opposite turned out to be true.
â€œThe Amish are at an increased risk for a number of genetic disorders but they probably have protection against many types of cancer both through their lifestyle â€“ there is very little tobacco or alcohol use and limited sexual partners â€“ and through genes that may reduce their susceptibility to cancer,â€ said co-author Dr Judith Westman in the journal Cancer Causes and Control.
Many have told me they think the Amish are held back by the way their faith prevents them from using modern technology. You can add to that a very limited gene pool and more intermarriage than most anybody. I suppose by the standards of most folks, the typical Amish child doesn’t have much of a chance.
I’ve lived among the Amish for most of my life. Despite unique challenges, most of them are successful by pretty much any measure. There are exceptions, of course. But happy, well-adjusted families are commonplace. Strong communities, financial security, love and laughter abound.
The truth is that the Amish aren’t that much different from the rest of us. Their lives are shaped by a complex mixture of nature, nurture, family and faith. But, what really counts for all of us (Amish or not), is the choices we make.