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September 14, 2016 by tomneel

When we think of “Special Collections,” we often envision the archival section or featured aspect of local history in a public library setting, but there are entire libraries out there that are “special collections” in themselves. One of my favorites of all time is the Ohio Amish Library in Berlin, Ohio [pronounced burr-lun – accent on first syllable – not like the city in Germany].


This isn’t the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center just northeast of Berlin that is on every tourist’s list. Don’t miss that. Their 10 ft. x 265 ft. cyclorama portrays the Anabaptist story from 1525 Zurich, Switzerland to modern day [ – 5798 CR 77 Millersburg; phone 330-893-3192; open Mon to Sat 9-5 Mar to Nov and 9:30 to 4:30 Dec to Feb; $8.75 for 30-minute tour]. The library I am talking about – the Ohio Amish Library – isn’t on the tourist map. It sits quietly behind Kline Lumber a couple miles southeast of Berlin just past Hiland High School at 4292 State Route 39 Millersburg [phone: 330-893-4011 & this might be the lumber company!].

The Ohio Amish Library was founded as a non-profit in 1986. They were established to serve as an historical research library for the Amish community, not necessarily the public at large. Therefore, it would be best to call to make visitation arrangements first. The library has a large collection of local history in all regions settled by the Amish. Many are first editions in their original bindings that were donated by Amish families. You’ll also find many small family histories for most of the Amish surnames – Yoder, Troyer, Byler, Miller, etc. Because members of the faith marry within the community, it is important genetically to track relationships and the Amish realize this. One unique holding of the library is a large collection of Martyrs Mirrors. First published in Holland in 1660, this work includes testimony of Christian martyrs, chiefly Anabaptists, and was standard reading in early Amish homes. Jacob Gottschalk had the original translated into German in 1745 at the Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster Co PA. At 1,512 pages, it was the largest printed book prior to the Revolutionary War manufactured in America. The bindings, the type face, and the family records often inscribed within are impressive to view.

There are many standard works that may be used in Ohio to research Amish family history. Most communities have directories that list all residents. The first was compiled in 1940 in Millersburg, a 52-page work by H. N. Troyer that gave outlines of all Amish land tracts in Holmes County. The Ohio Amish Directory, Holmes County & Vicinity (1996), by Carlisle Press in Walnut Creek, is a more recent version. There are also directories for smaller communities in Ashland, Geauga, Madison, Medina, and Stark counties. Most directories today include maps with dots for residences but do not give the land holdings. Communities in Holmes County were most often settled by immigrants coming directly from Germany and Switzerland while other parts of Ohio were settled much later in the 1950s by migrants from eastern Pennsylvania and other overpopulated Amish regions.

Most Amish cemeteries have also been transcribed in separate publications. Ohio law permits family cemeteries but it is up to the County Commissioners. Ashland County, for example, discourages private burials and therefore just three common Amish cemeteries have been established. Tombstones are not in family lots but are in rows in the order of death. Holmes County allows burials on the family farm and there are therefore hundreds of Amish cemeteries there. Leroy Beachy published a Cemetery Directory of the Amish Community in Eastern Holmes County in 1975. Paul Keim’s Cemetery Directory of Ashland and Richland Counties (2000) is another example.

The Amish community has a rich history of lineage compilations in Ohio. One of the earliest was done in 1970 by Harold E. Cross with John Hopkins School of Medicine, Division of Medical Genetics, entitled Ohio Amish Genealogy, Holmes County and Vicinity. Early Amish Settlers of Geauga County, Ohio (1996) by John M. Byler is a later example. The Bible is Amish and Amish-Mennonite Genealogies by Hugh F. Gingerich and Rachel W. Kreider (1986). How about Emanuel H. Yoder’s Begenbenheiten fon Holmes county diener fon 200 yohr 1808-2008 if you can read the old German dialect preserved by the Amish.

Scholars have published many works on Amish origins overseas. Leroy Beachy’s Unser Leit, the Story of the Amish (2011) is great, and the two-volume set has a fantastic leather binding. Another is James W. Lowry’s Documents of Brotherly Love: Dutch Mennonite Aid to Swiss Anabaptists, published in 2007 by the Ohio Amish Library, subject of this story. Both Sides of the Ocean: Amish-Mennonites from Switzerland to America, by J. Virgil Miller (2002), is a valuable resource, and Samuel E. Wenger’s multi-volume set, A Tour of Ten (later Fourteen) Important Anabaptist and Reformed Sites in Rural Switzerland (2007), is also useful.

For a general story of the societal life of the Amish, I always recommend my friend Eli R. Beachy’s humorous, yet informative, booklet, Just Plain People: Tales and Truths of Amish Life (1993).

What do I remember most about my visit to the Ohio Amish Library? After finding a real family treasure in one of their holdings, my necessary photocopy included going outside to fire up the gas generator in order to get the copy machine running. Don’t expect to be able to plug in your laptops or charge your cell phones in an Amish library. It just isn’t happening! And visit the Ohio Amish Library on a sunny day!


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