The SWEERS Connection

Find your ancestors in Revolutionary War Rolls.

Before I left for vacation two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a lady named Nancy, who coincidentally hails from Yakima, Washington, just a three-hour drive from my hometown. Nancy has been chasing the HILT family all over Maine and Massachusetts, she says, and she found my record of Peter HILT who married Margaret ZWIERS on my WorldConnect database at RootsWeb.

First off, if you aren’t familiar with WorldConnect, it is a place at RootsWeb where you can upload your family tree database in GEDCOM format. Information on living persons is automatically “cleaned” from viewers on the Internet, for privacy’s sake. As a submitter of my GEDCOM, I can use my database as a backup file in the event of a computer crash, home fire, natural disaster, etc. and download a copy of my entire GEDCOM back into my computer in the event that it is necessary. Did I mention this is free, as is everything on RootsWeb?

One of the nifty features of WorldConnect–and this feature is also available at many of the other databases at RootsWeb–is the ability to add Post-ems. Say that you, like Nancy, were searching for Peter HILT and you found him on my WorldConnect database. When you click on his file, you can then click on the “Add Post-em” link near the top of the page. You will then be prompted to register for a free member account, if you don’t already have one and are signed in. Next you will be able to leave a Post-em; think of it as an electronic sticky note. This will include your name, e-mail address, and a short message, such as “Hi, I’m researching this individual, too!” or “I have records that show a different death date for this individual.” You can leave the URL and title of your website or blog, if you wish, and then create a password for security’s sake. After you click the “post” button, an e-mail will be sent to me, and we can connect further, if we desire.

Anyway, back to my SWEERS family. From my research, I knew that a Daniel ZWIERS, a Palatine born in Germany, immigrated to the U.S. on the galley Ann, where he landed in Philadelphia on 27 September 1746. Then I have no more record of him until 1762, when he and his wife Margery join the First Church of Lancaster, Worcester Co., Massachusetts on June 18th. He and his family lived in the Lancaster area until his death in 1779. Thus far, I’ve been able to determine that he and Margery had at least six children: Jacob, Daniel Jr., Margaret (who married Peter HILT), Barbara (who married William SHAW), Peter, and a son who was “killed with a cart” in Lancaster on 30 April 1765.

Jacob, Peter, and Daniel Jr. (my ancestor) all served in the Revolution; the first two for Massachusetts, and Daniel for Vermont. In fact, I’ve recently found Daniel in the Revolutionary War Rolls at Footnote (more on that another time). I’ve been able to trace this family all through New England, New York, Ontario and into Michigan, as the name has evolved from ZWIERS to ZWEARS, then SWEARS and finally, SWEERS. But what has puzzled me was that 19-year gap from Daniel Sr.’s arrival in Philadelphia until his appearance in Lancaster. And why Lancaster? It was a Puritan stronghold, and to my knowledge, no Palatines were in the area. Where in the Palatine did Daniel and Margery hail from? I haven’t been able to find them in histories of Palatine immigrants. Nancy may have the answers.

She sent me copies of pages from the book, Broad Bay Pioneers: 18th Century German-Speaking Settlers of Present-Day Waldoboro, Maine by Wilford W. Whitaker and Gary T. Horlacher. I found a long history of the HILT family, as well as a short mention of the ZWIERS family, stating that the name “Zwier” was an occupational surname, “meaning a member of a two person group in court or other official duties.” According to this book, the original spelling was “Zweier.” Hmmm…I know just enough German to know that Zwier and Zweier would have two distinct pronunciations–zhveer and zhvy-er, respectively–so I wonder about the accuracy of this.

The book continues that the ZWIERS family’s origins in Germany are unknown and that Daniel apparently arrived in Boston on 9 November 1751 on the Priscilla, coming to Broad Bay later. Broad Bay Plantation was a settlement founded in 1748 by German immigrants from the Rheinland area (the present-day Rheinland-Pfalz [also known as Rhineland-Palatinate] area of Germany is the home of the Palatines). The settlement is now known as Waldoboro, Lincoln Co., Maine.

Daniel’s daughter Margaret is listed, with a birthdate that I did not have, as well as a child of Margaret and Peter’s, and some information on grandchildren of this couple. The children I had in my database as being the offspring of Peter and Margaret actually turn out to be children of Peter and his second wife, Anna Margaretha Löbensaler, whom he married in early 1768 (giving me a probable death date of 1767 for Margaret ZWIERS).

There is also information on another possible son of Daniel and Margery, born about 1751. This cannot be the same as the unknown son who died in 1765 in Lancaster, as the former was married with children who were born in 1779 and 1787.

There’s a Daniel ZWAUR who signs a petition in Broadbay in 1788. This cannot be Daniel ZWIERS, I, as he died in Lancaster in 1779. It could be his son, my ancestor, Daniel ZWEARS, II who has a 17-year gap between records I’ve found for him as a member of First Church in Lancaster in 1773 and his appearance on the 1790 Federal Census for Dummerston, Windham Co., Vermont.

Unfortunately, Broad Bay Pioneers has no sources cited for its information, according to Nancy, so it’s difficult to determine where the authors got their information and how accurate it is. It does provide me with some possible answers to my questions, especially informing me that there was a settlement of German Protestants in New England at the time my ZWIERSes were living in the area. Maine was considered a part of Massachusetts in those days, and it wasn’t unusual for people to move back and forth between those two areas.

A couple of theories I’ve since developed with this information that will bear further investigation include:

  • 1. My Daniel ZWIERS first came to what is now the U.S. in 1746 on the galley, Ann, to Philadelphia without his wife and children. He worked to save money to bring the rest of the family over, returning to Germany to fetch them, and arriving on the Priscilla in Broad Bay, Maine in 1751. Later, he moved to Lancaster, Massachusetts in 1762, where he lived for the remainder of his days.
  • 2. The Daniel ZWIERS who appears in Philadelphia is not my ancestor, but another immigrant with the same name. My Daniel does not come to America until 1751, arriving in Broad Bay.

This information excites me, because this family is one of my few colonial families that does not already have a published history. It’s much more fun to do the research yourself than to discover that the history has been done to death, as what has happened all-too-frequently in my many Puritan and Pilgrim lines!

P.S. This is only one of two known German ancestral lines that I have. The other is my ENGBRENGHOF line, a family that came from Burgsteinfurt, Westfalen to the province of Friesland, the Netherlands between 1774 and 1778, and married into my DOLSTRA line there in the village of Marrum, municipality of Ferwerderadeel.

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