Until a year or so ago I had spent my whole life comfortable in the knowledge that my last name was Jacobs — that my father’s last name was Jacobs, as was his father’s, and conceivably many generations before that were in fact a long line of men bearing the last name of Jacobs. I had no reason to doubt this knowledge. Learning that I am not a Jacobs was most decidedly NOT something I anticipated happening when I started working on my genealogy.
My interest in learning about my family can be directly attributed to a distant cousin, Clarence Jacobs. Clarence and his son, Steve, have been working on the Jacobs’ family tree for well over 40 years. And they’ve done most of it without the aid of the internet. Clarence has written a huge book – a good six-inches high – hand-typed on a manual typewriter – chronicling the history of the Jacobs family. Clarence typed up a brief version of this history and presented it to my father many, many years ago. Thankfully my dad left it to me. And about four years ago I delved into it in earnest and caught the genealogy bug.
This 40+ years of work that Clarence and Steve have done has resulted in a tremendous amount of information being gathered about my family – but always there was this brick wall by the name of John Jacobs, Sr. He is my 5th great grandfather. He is our brick wall.
John Jacobs is buried in Chester, Vermont. According to his tombstone he was 90 years old when he died on January 2, 1822. This means he should have been born in 1731. However, most people who’s trees I’ve looked at on Ancestry.com or other online sites have either assumed he was the John Jacobs who was born in 1732 in Hingham, MA, or the John Jacobs born in 1732 in Rehoboth, MA. Either of these would tie our John Jacobs into the Nicholas Jacob line – Nicholas being the first Jacob to have come to this country.
But there has never been conclusive proof of who John of Chester really was. In 2012 I traveled to Chester, Vermont and bought a book on the history of Chester published by the Chester Historical Society. One thing that Clarence & Steve Jacobs uncovered in their extensive research was that John, Sr. was a blacksmith. A piece of information that makes the following story, taken from the Chester Historical Society’s book most intriguing:
“John Jacobs Hover was born in Holland. When but a lad he came to America and settled with his parents in the state of Pennsylvania. Being a young fellow and loving excitement, as all boys do, he started on a trip to the state of Vermont. On the way he was pursued by Indians. Night descended on the lad of twenty, and he crawled into a hollow log. The Indians crept up on him and turned the log around. All they found was a spider’s web spun on the outside of the log. Disappointed, they went away. In the morning John Hover started again on his journey. He arrived safely in Chester without anymore thrilling experiences that we know. He settled here and built a place now owned by Charles Holden. He was a blacksmith by trade, and with the help of a son did a rather large business here. Mr. Hover married and had four sons. Mrs. Clara Howard Smith is a descendent of this family, her grandfather being one of the Hover sons. After Hover died, Jacobs lived in this house [the Charles Holden home], then a man by the name of Henry Church occupied it.”
Chester Historical Society MMXI, History of Chester, Vermont, 37 (no publication year given).
This book mentioned elsewhere that the town of Chester at one time had three different blacksmith shops. So I wondered, could there really have been one shop owned by a John Jacobs and one owned by a John Jacobs Hover? It seemed highly unlikely. So I researched John Jacobs Hover and found a book titled “American ancestry: giving name and descent, in the male line, of Americans whose ancestors settled in the United States previous to the Declaration of Independence, Volume 6.” In this book is an entry for the genealogy of George Lowell Fletcher of Chester, Vermont. George married Emily Cedoro Jacobs. “Her gt.-gr.-father, John, came to Chester from Penn., his name originally John Jacobs Hover, but the Hover was dropped . . . .”
I then researched Emily Jacobs and learned that Emily was born in 1821 in Chester, VT. Her parents are Cyrus & Elizabeth Jacobs.
Cyrus is the son of John Jacobs & Hannah Bowker.
John is the son of John Jacobs, Sr., buried in Chester, VT, making him Emily’s great grandfather. Thus begging the question: Is John Jacobs, Sr., buried in Chester, Vermont, actually John Jacobs Hover? Could this be why his parentage has been so difficult to trace? As a descendant of John Jacobs, Sr., I and two other descendants have taken DNA tests and have found zero links to the Nicholas Jacob line. In fact, aside from proving Clarence, Steve, and I are cousins, there is no link of any kind to anyone name Jacobs. But there are DNA links to Hoover/Hover surnames.
It would seem from this information that I am not a Jacobs – I’m a Hover. And even though we’ve made this possible breakthrough it’s only resulted in a new brick wall. We have no idea who John’s parents were. Making matters more difficult is that the Pennsylvania Dutch had a variety of spellings of the Hover last name – including Hoover and Huber.
There are so many questions – such as why did John leave his family? Why did he drop the Hover name? Was family life so bad that he just wanted to escape and start over? Was the religious upbringing overly strict and confining? Was the family situation abusive? Was he just a rebellious young man who wanted to prove he could make it on his own without his family’s help? So many questions – but the most important of these are who was he? Who were his parents? What was his history? No marriage records have ever been found. No record of his wife’s maiden name. His children were all born as Jacobs – in New Hampshire – so at some point it seems he must have left Chester – moved to New Hampshire – and then moved back to Chester. He served in the Revolutionary War as John Jacobs – but no pension records were filed so we can’t find any information through those. We are just at a dead end. Our only hope seems to be for more people to take DNA tests so we can figure out where we fit in the Hover/Hoover/Huber line and maybe one day break down this seemingly indestructible brick wall.