From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

The Almus Hill / Almus Lentz Legend

DNA answer to a family tree question.


According to the story that was passed down in my family, our great-great grandfather Almus Lentz was born in Germany. By the time he was 8 or 9 years old, he was an orphan. He stowed away on a ship that was headed for America, but mid-voyage, shiphands discovered him and hauled him up to meet the captain. A kindly Irish couple named Hill took pity on the frightened lad and paid his passage. In America, the Hills took Almus into their home and continued to provide for him. They had no children of their own, so Almus was like a son to them, He even took their name, becoming Almus Hill and giving up his old name, Almus Lentz. This was how our family acquired the Hill name.

As I researched Almus Hill/Lentz around the internet and corresponded with other descendants, I learned that there were other versions of this legend. In one branch of the family, it was told that Almus was an out-of-wedlock child born to a Lentz girl in Ohio. To hide this birth, the wealthy Lentz family gave the newborn baby Almus to their housemaid Mary Ann Hill. They told her to take the child and raise it as her own because they never wanted to see it again. Thus, little Almus should have been a Lentz, but he became a Hill.

In another branch of the family, a similar story claimed that either the wealthy Mr. Lentz fathered a child (Almus) with a servant girl, or Almus was the son of an unmarried Lentz girl. Whatever the case, Almus lived in the Lentz home until he was 8 or 9 years old. One day, Mr. Lentz decided to free himself of this unwanted child. He gave Almus to John and Mary Ann Hill who worked for the Lentz family. The Hills were told to take the boy and leave and never to speak to anyone of this boy being a Lentz. So, Almus Lentz became Almus Hill. This version of the legend also included the adult Almus calling the Lentz family "filthy rich bastards" and saying that the Lentz family was from Austria.

In each case, these stories, told by Almus Hill to his children, were faithfully passed down through several generations to the present day.


Facts contradict the Hill/Lentz legend


Family tree researchers have never found any evidence that the Lentz stories are true. All the evidence pointed to a much less dramatic birth and childhood for Almus Hill. His parents, John Hill (1821-1849) and Mary Ann Jones (1824-1844), were married on February 26, 1843, in Trumbull County, Ohio. Almus was born on December 23, 1843. His mother Mary Ann died on June 20, 1844, of unknown causes. She was buried in Mahoning County, Ohio.

Soon after his wife's death, John Hill enlisted in the Army (4th Infantry, Company C) and was sent to Fort Scott, Kansas. When hostile relations with Mexico became war in 1846, John Hill's company was immediately sent to Mexico under the command of Zachary Taylor. In the Battle of Monterey in September, 1846, during the first day of heavy street fighting, John Hill was severely wounded. He was discharged from the Army on April 4, 1847, at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, and died on May 31, 1849. He was buried beside his wife Mary Ann in Mahoning County, Ohio.

When his father died in 1849, six-year-old Almus Hill was an orphan. We don't know who took care of him after his mother died or while his father was in the Army. We do know that Almus was living in the home of Robert and Rachel Hill of Ashland County, Ohio, in 1850. Robert Hill was Almus's uncle -- probably a great uncle. He and Rachel had just one child, a daughter who was 11 years older than Almus.

Almus grew up with Robert and Rachel in Ashland County, Ohio. He married an Ashland County girl, Lucinda Martin, and they had seven children who survived to adulthood. In the late 1870s, Almus inherited his mother Mary Ann Jones's share of Jones land in Mahoning County.

All of the facts in the above four paragraphs are supported by historic records. I'll add one comment -- Almus's role in the Robert Hill household was probably very similar to being an only child.


DNA solves the riddle


How could the documented facts about Almus Hill be so different than the faithfully remembered, faithfully retold legends about him? This question bothered me. I eventually realized that only DNA testing would ever definitively settle the Hill-or-Lentz question.

When I found a DNA study of 517 people named Hill, I wrote to the project administrator (a Mr. Hill, of course) with some questions. He suggested that a Hill male from my family contribute DNA for testing. Even if it did not match anyone at present, perhaps it would match someone in the future. Within the same DNA company, I also found a Lentz study.

I thought about it for a few months, and finally I asked my brother to contribute a sample. He graciously agreed, and I submitted the order. The sample kit arrived quickly. My brother swabbed the inside of his cheek as directed, and returned the kit to the company. Within a month, we had the results-- 35 out of 37 markers matched with Mr. Hill of California. This close of a match is considered significant. Odds were good that we shared a common ancestor within 10 generations.

I contacted the Mr. Hill of the matching DNA sample, and he confirmed that he is descended from William Hill, a younger brother of our John Hill. Our first common ancestor is Rogers Hill (1799-1883), the father of both John and William. Rogers is my great-great-great-great grandfather.

We had no matches with any Lentz DNA samples. In fact, our Hill DNA is of a different haplogroup than any of the Lentz samples. (The haplogroups are the main branches on the family tree of mankind.) Beyond that, when I submitted my brother's DNA results to a much larger database of Y-test results that includes results from various other DNA companies, we still didn't match with any Lentz DNA.


Will we ever know?


The picture is still incomplete. Why did Almus Hill tell these stories to his children? Why did he choose the name Lentz for his stories? Did he hear stories of this sort from someone else, or did he invent them on his own? Was there perhaps an earlier Lentz/Hill ancestor whose story Almus appropriated? We may never solve these mysteries, but we can thank the DNA for proving two things beyond a doubt:

  • Almus Hill's father was a Hill.
  • Almus Hill's father was not a Lentz.
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This article was written by Genevieve L. Netz and originally published as a blog post at  http://prairiebluestem.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-almus-hill-almus-lentz-legend.html . Copyright 2012 Genevieve L. Netz. All rights reserved. Permission is granted for attaching this article to Hill family trees as long as this entire notice is included. Any other use requires written permission. gnetz51@gmail.com

 Download a PDF of this article to include in your family tree files.

2 comments:

Collagemama said...

This makes me wonder about some of the oft-told legends in my tree. Well done.

Genevieve said...

Honestly, I feel like I've betrayed those who faithfully passed on the legends. I'll probably always feel a little guilty for exposing Almus with fancy technology and ruining his stories.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.