When Scott Hertzog was in the eighth grade, he interviewed his grandmother and created a family tree for a school genealogy project that sparked an interest in his family’s centuries-old farm outside Ephrata.
Now, 30 years later, Hertzog has published an ambitious 330-page book that traces the history of the historic property, from the late 1600s to today, called “My First 250 Years: The Story of the Hertzog Homestead.”
The Penn Manor High School English teacher decided to write the book following the death of his father, an amateur historian who had amassed detailed records of the Hertzog, Metzler, Buch, and Meyer families that built and/or lived on the homestead.
When Kenneth Hertzog passed away unexpectedly in 2012 prior to an anniversary celebration of the Metzlers’ arrival in America, Scott stepped in to take over his research.
“He gave me a foundation to build on,” Hertzog says. “I wanted to solve the mysteries of the unknowns.” That led to the book project – Hertzog’s first – which involved four years of intensive research at area historical societies, on the Internet, and through interviews with relatives and neighbors.
Along the way, he uncovered some interesting facts. For one, Hertzog learned that he is a descendant of Martin Luther, founder or the 16th century Protestant Reformation that led Anabaptists – among them Hertzog’s ancestors – to flee Europe for the uncharted land of America.
One of those settlers, Elias Meyer, acquired the homestead property directly from William Penn’s sons in the mid-1700s. Meyer’s son, Peter, built the barn that still stands on the Hertzog Homestead from 1765 to 1770. The original farmhouse was constructed five years later and expanded in 1840.
The book chronicles the challenges and triumphs of Elias, Peter and those who came after them and their roles in the larger community. Dozens of colorful illustrations, historic photos and rare documents and maps help tell the story across the generations.
“Writing a book forced me to not get lazy in my research; it forced me to be a little more diligent,” says Hertzog, who is the eighth generation of his family to live on the farm, which now includes a bed & breakfast. “It was fascinating to learn the tie-ins to what was happening in America at the time.”
During the Civil War, for instance, three Metzler brothers living on the farm followed much different paths. One was a conscientious objector; another was exempt from military service by marriage; and the third served in the Illinois Cavalry. He did not violate his pacifist beliefs, however, because he served as a veterinary surgeon removed from direct combat.
Hertzog learned that most of his ancestors had to pursue outside jobs to keep the farm solvent, and they relied heavily on neighbors and family members to survive. He hopes readers take away from the book how interconnected people in a community truly are.
“It’s important not to forget that what we do in our lives has an impact on the people around us,” Hertzog says. “The idea of preserving the history of the farm is important to me, and I want to pass this on to my children.”
Congratulations, Scott, on the publication of your book!