The Mahon Schoolhouse in Otego Twp near Brownstown, IL. My mother attended school here in the 1920s and early 1930s. This photo from the 1990s has hung in my office for a long time. The schoolhouse has since collapsed.

The Mahon Schoolhouse in Otego Twp near Brownstown, IL. My mother attended school here in the 1920s and early 1930s. This photo from the 1990s has hung in my office for a long time. The schoolhouse has since collapsed.

A few years ago my family and I visited Ireland. At the Blarney Castle gift shop (yes, we all kissed the stone!), I purchased keychains for myself and Mahon relatives in Illinois. I asked the clerk, “How would you pronounced that name?” She looked at me puzzled but said, “MAY-on.” I explained that I was from the states and we said it, “ma-HON,” but I hadn’t been sure if that was the Irish pronunciation.

The Mahons are my only Irish family—handy credentials when I first met one of my best friends, who is Irish Catholic to his bones. My great-great-grandmother was named Caroline (Mahon) Crawford, 1844-1921; I write about the Crawford family here. She is buried in the Pilcher Cemetery, beside her husband Andrew, and also among most of his siblings and not far from her (Caroline’s) brother Jacob Mahon (1856-1877). One of my hometown friends is a fourth cousin via Jacob and half-second cousin through the Strobels!  Family connections are always fun to make.

I actually have a lock of Caroline Crawford’s hair. Grandma Grace (the source of nearly all my information about and appreciation of family history) said that it was saved when Caroline died.

Caroline’s parents were John and Eliza (Lansford) Mahon. John lived 1806-1880, and Eliza lived 1820-1911. She and

Baby Harold Crawford (my  mom's brother), grandfather Josiah Crawford, great-grandfather John Crawford, great-great-grandmother Caroline Mahon Crawford, 3-great-grandmother Eliza Mahon

Baby Harold Crawford (my mom’s brother), grandfather Josiah Crawford, great-grandfather John Crawford, great-great-grandmother Caroline Mahon Crawford, 3-great-grandmother Eliza Mahon

Caroline sat for two five-generation photos in 1909, although Grandma said that Eliza didn’t want to pose very badly. John and Eliza are buried in the German Reformed Cemetery, on IL route 185 southeast of Vandalia. Grandma said that John only wanted a rock for his grave because that is all Jesus had. But several years ago, Mahon relatives helpfully placed a dated marker on their graves. Among their children were Caroline and Harriet (who married Crawford brothers), and Jacob.

(The rest of this material comes from Mr. Robert Mahon, a St. Louis cousin whom I met in 1974 and who had traced a lot of the family.) John Mahon’s parents were Doctor and Dolly (Lansford) Mahon. Doctor lived 1786-1860, Dolly from 1787-1860. Eliza was a daughter of Dollly’s brother Isham; so she and John were first cousins. Mr. Mahon told me that Doctor and Dolly were probably buried in Wilbertown Township of Fayette County but no one knows where.

Doctor had five brothers, James, Thomas D., Pleasant, Barrett, and Dennizen. (I know: some of these are unusual names!).

Lawn of Fayette Co. IL Courthouse. Thanks to my Facebook friend Gloria for taking this photo.

Lawn of Fayette Co. IL Courthouse. Thanks to my Facebook friend Gloria for taking this photo.

According to Mr. Mahon’s notes, “John’s six sons were in the Cascade, Virginia, area by 1790. James may have settled near Bowling Green, Kentucky. Doctor and Thomas came to Illinois. Pleasant stayed in Virginia but his son, Wesley, came to Illinois and raised a large family there. Little record of Barnett and Dennizen.” Thomas was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. My high school classmate (and sixth cousin) Sherry has done a lot of research about this, her ancestor. Thomas is honored in Vandalia with his name on the memorial to locally-buried Revolution veterans (which includes one of my Carson ancestors). Thomas Mahon’s Find-a-Grave page is here.

Those six brothers—Doctor, Thomas, James, Pleasant, Barrett, and Dennizen—were the children of John Mahon and his wife, Jane Byrd (or Dial). John Mahon was our Irish immigrant ancestor. He settled near Fredericksburg, VA in the early 1700s. According to Mr. Mahon’s notes, “John was killed when he resisted British as they ransacked his home.” I wonder if that’s a story, similar to my other ancestor Paul Crawford supposedly being killed by Indians, especially since Doctor was born after the end of the war. But it still makes a good family story.

Another 1909 photo of Eliza Mahon and her daughter Caroline Crawford, with Caroline's daughter Alice Rush, Alice's son Andy Rush, and Andy's daughter Ruth.

Another 1909 photo of Eliza Mahon and her daughter Caroline Crawford, with Caroline’s daughter Alice Rush, Alice’s son Andy Rush, and Andy’s daughter Ruth.

In another post on this blog, I tell the story of how I became interested in genealogy as a junior high and high school

Baby Harold Crawford (my  mom's brother), grandfather Josiah Crawford, great-grandfather John Crawford, great-great-grandmother Caroline Mahon Crawford, 3-great-grandmother Eliza Mahon

Baby Harold Crawford (my mom’s brother), grandfather Josiah Crawford, great-grandfather John Crawford, great-great-grandmother Caroline Mahon Crawford, 3-great-grandmother Eliza Mahon. 1909

student in my hometown, Vandalia (Fayette County), IL. My grandma, Grace (Pilcher) Crawford, who lived out in the country from Vandalia in Otego Township, had been inspired by her cousin who compiled the Pilcher family genealogy, and so Grandma considered writing up the history of the Crawfords. She had a wonderful collection of family photos, clippings, and information. I hoped to help her with the work. After her death, I carried on the work and dedicated the family history to her.

That history consisted of the descendants of my 3-great-grandparents, Paul and Susan Crawford. We knew little about Paul; family tradition indicated he was killed by Indians in Ohio (surely a legend; most Indians were gone from Ohio by that time). Susan brought their eight children to Otego township —which is the location of several of my mother’s ancestral families (as I wrote about elsewhere on this blog) like the Pilchers, Mahons, Williams, and Washburns, Grandma had great information about seven of the eight children except for #6, Jacob Crawford, who had settled in Brown County, Illinois.

As it turned out, a genealogist named John Denhalter contacted me in around 1974, as I was putting the finishing touches on the “family tree.” He had information about Paul Crawford and his father, and also information about Jacob Crawford’s family. But he had little concerning the rest of the family. So we were able to supplement each other’s research!

I typed up the material as best as I could. I was seventeen in 1974 and not a very good typist. I also finished copying all the inscriptions in the Pilcher Cemetery. I still have the manuscripts, current only to 1975, but they are still handy for remembering the relationships of various cousins. While working on the material, I became interested in the history of Fayette County generally, and thus I embarked on research about Vandalia’s period as state capital, which eventually became my first published book.

But the summer of 1974 shines in my memory. I had my own car, such as it was; I was enjoying the hobby of genealogy; I tried to go barefooted as much as possible (figuring that copying inscriptions in a country cemetery didn’t require shoes); and I felt a fresh, meaningful sense of place that has remained with me throughout the years, becoming (as Frank Zappa put it) a kind of “conceptual continuity” for all my subsequent work.

Back to the Crawfords. As Mr. Denhalter informed me, my 4-great-grandfather was William Crawford, who was born January 3, 1785 in New Jersey, and died March 19, 1853 in Waldo, OH. Where’s Waldo? It’s a tiny village in Marion County, on U.S. 23 north of Columbus.  A man named James Crawford was probably his father. William is buried in Waldo: here is his page. His wife was named Mary (b. 1788 in Pennsylvania), and they had children:

1 Priscilla (b. 1804 in PA), m. Andrew Straub on March 3, 1825

2 Jacob, b. 1806 in PA, m. Julia Ann Miller on Dec. 10, 1829

3 Hanna, b. 1807 in PA. Married John Powell on Dec. 29, 1829

4 Paul, b. 1809 in Ohio, m. Susanna Straub

5 Ebenezer, b. 1810 in Ohio. Married Catharine

6 William, b. Oct. 6, 1812. Unmarried.

7 Peter, b. 1814. Married Hanna.

8 Margaret, b. 1816, married Stephen Curren on April 7, 1836

9 Calvin, b. 1818, married Elizabeth Moses on April 5, 1839

10 Elijah, b. 1820. Married Elizabeth Claypold on June 7, 1854.

CrawfordPaul Crawford, my 3-great-grandfather, was born March 16, 1809 in Marlborough (Delaware Co), Ohio and died April 16, 1847 in Waldo, OH. Mr. Denhalter told me that the blank, white stone beside that of William Crawford in the Waldo Cemetery is the grave of Paul Crawford. He married Susan (or Susanna) Straub, my 3-great-grandmother who brought their eight children to Fayette County, IL, thus establishing our Crawford family in the Vandalia area.

Based on Mr. Denhalter’s research, I wrote in the Crawford history: “Susanna’s great-grandfather, Andreas Straub, was born along the southern border of Germany. He attended Catholic schools to become a priest, according to hsi parents’ wishes. BUt in early manhood, he left Germany for America, arriving on the brigantine Mary on August 25, 1742. He sttled at what later became Columbia in Lancaster Count, PA, where he purchased land and became a successful farmer. The History of Northumberland Co., PA, indicates, ‘He was a good neighbor and true friend, and was on very friendly terms with the Wright brothers, the founders of Columbia and Wrightsville.’ His children were Andrew, Valentine, and daughters Mrs.  Hougendobler and Mrs. Merkle.

“Andrew Straub was born Feb. 14, 1748 in Columbia, and died Aug. 2, 1806 at Milton, PA. He married Mary Eveline Walter on May 1, 1787. As a boy, he was bound out to Mr. Bashore to learn the millwright trade. Bashore, however, made him work the trade in the day and split rails at night. After four weeks of this, Andrew took up the trade with the wrights. Before the war, Andrew built his first mill on the Chillisquaque creek above Northumberland, bringing iron from Columbia by canoe. He also built a mill on the White deer creek, in teh present Union county. He enlisted in the Continental Army and after he war, he moved to MIlton and in April 1784 to Columbia. Andrew donated much land in Milton for churches and schools. His philanthropic gestures significantly advanced businesses there.”

Here is the Find-a-Grave page for Andrew, with a link to Mary—my 5-great-grandparents. According to Mr. Denhalter, the children of Andrew and Mary Straub were:

1 Andrew, d. after Aug. 20, 1827. Married Barbara

2 Joseph, b. Feb. 10, 1793. Married Elizabeth Follmer

3Abraham, b. Dec. 9, 1794, d. Aug. 21, 1864. Married Nancy Billiet on Nov. 29, 1821.

4 Isaac, b. Dec. 9, 1794, d. Dec. 17, 1875. Married Harriet

5 Susanna. Married — Rhodes

6 Esther. Married — Lawrence Rachel, married —Jodon

7 Mary, married — Smith

8 Christian, and also three infants

The children of Andrew and Barbara Straub were:

1 Andrew, b. 1798 in Northampton. Married Priscilla Crawford on March 3, 1825

2 Joseph, born 1800

3 Susannah, born 1809. Married Paul Crawford.

I continue: “The 1850 census for Marion County, OhIo lists Susannah Crawford with children Mary Ann, Andrew, Susan, Sarah, Jcob, Martin, and Calvin; apparently Barbara [the second child, after Mary Ann] was already in Fayette Co., IL and married, since her first child was born there in April 1850. They are all found in the 1860 Fayette Co. census save Jacob, who was living in Brown Co., Illinois.”

The rest of my material was from Grandma. The traditional date of the Crawfords’ arrival in Fayette County is 1852 or 1853, and traditionally, Susanna is said to have settled in the area of Otego township south of what is now the Agronomy Research Center of University of Illinois. Later she moved a mile or two northeast, to what is called the Mahon District

Susan Crawford 1809-1875. Grave in the Pilcher Cemetery near Brownstown, IL

(around section 14). “It is said that Susan attended a quilting one day, took sick, and soon died. Her death was not recorded in county records, which begin in 1877.”

My family “tree” consisted of the descendants of the eight children of Paul and Susanna. The eight were:

1 Mary Ann, born Sept. 30, 1825, Died March 1, 1856. married Martin Scrote. Children: Adaline, Dvid, Tabitha

I tell the story of Martin Scrote here. Here is Mary Ann’s Find-a-Grave page.

2 Barbara, born March 9, 1829, died January 25, 1873 married Edmonson M. Williams, who was born c. 1824 and died in Kansas, place and date unknown. Edmonson was my great-great-grandfather Josiah Williams’ brother, as explained here. Children: Susanna, Marian, Andrew, Ada, Morris, Barbara Ann,

Andrew Crawford (1831-1880)

Andrew Crawford (1831-1880)

Sarah Jane, Paul Ira, May, John

3 Andrew, March 11, 1831 or 1832, died Sept. 30, 1880, married Caroline Mahon, who was born April 4, 1844 and died in1921. Children, John, Alice, Rosella, Paul, William, Andrew (Andrew and Caroline are my great-great-grandparents; their

John and Susan Crawford, sons (l to r) Marvin, Josiah, Charlie, and daughters (l to r) Adeline, Ruby, Mary. 1899

John and Susan Crawford, sons (l to r) Marvin, Josiah, Charlie, and daughters (l to r) Adeline, Ruby, Mary. 1899

son John is my mother’s paternal grandfather. John married Susan Williams, whose father was Josiah Williams, just mentioned. Susan’s mother was Margaret Brown Williams, and I discuss the Brown family here.) John and Susan’s children were: Josiah, Marvin, Charles, Adeline, Ruby, Mary, Nell, and Ruth. I never knew my grandfather Josiah, nor his brother Marvin (who died young in 1909), but the other six children were my beloved great-uncle and great-aunts, very dear people to my growing-up years.

4 Sarah, August 19, 1833, died November 26, 1911, married David Washburn (who was my great-great-grandfather George Washburn’s brother; that family is discussed here). David was born Feb. 15, 1825 and died January 30, 1893 Adopted children: Charles, Jeanetta

5 Susan, born April 19, 1836 and died March 5, 1898. Married Leroy Washburn (David and George’s brother), who was born Nov. 19, 1836 and died Dec. 16, 1908 Children: T. S. (Toltin Sylvester), Ira, Roselma

6 Jacob, Aug. 30, 1839, died Dec. 21, 1924. First married Ann Elizabeth Parks (1847-1864). Their child was named Charles. Jacob then married Isabella Briggs (1848-1932) married Isabel Children: Louisa, Myrtle, Emma, Eva, Lula, Ona, Bessie, and Lewis. Jacob was the only one of the eight children not to live in the Vandalia area, and the only one not buried in the Pilcher Cemetery. He was a minister who lived in Brown County, Illinois. His Find-a-Grave page is here.

7 Martin Van Buren Crawford, born May 18, 1841, died Feb. 26, 1904. He first mamarried Elizabeth Bolt (1849-1893). Their chilren were Frank, Paul, Elta, James, Andrew, and Grover. Martin then married Mary Lennie (Apple) King (1862-1938), and their children were Martin and Floyd. Frank Crawford’s son was Cecil C. Crawford, a minister and teacher whose theological writings were influential for me: I write about Cecil and his family here.

8 Calvin (1844-1916), married (1) Harriet Mahon (1853-1884). Their children were: Barbara and Jacob. Calvin’s second marriage was to Rosetta Bolt Mahon (1855-1927). Their children: Bessie, Lewis. Lewis was the first Vandalia-area casualty in World War I; I write about him here.

More interrelationships: Rosetta and Elizabeth Bolt were sisters. Rosetta had been married to Jacob Mahon, who was the brother of Caroline Mahon Crawford, and also of Harriet Mahon. So Calvin was related to Jacob Mahon by being married to (1) his sister and then (2) his widow, and (3) because Calvin’s brother Andrew was married to another of Jacob’s sisters.)

Although I assume it was not intentional, Paul and Susan’s children (except for Jacob, #6) are buried in the Pilcher Cemetery in a more or less straight line (though not always next to each other), in chronological order of birth. If you visit the cemetery, there is a kind of lane through the middle of the small cemetery. On the north part of that lane, on the right (just beyond the place where a great tree once grew), is Mary Ann Scrote, the oldest child, and then to her right (moving south) is Barbara Williams, the second child. Their mother Susan Crawford is buried nearby. Then Andrew (#3) and Caroline, then still moving south, Sarah (#4) and David, and then Susan (#5) and Leroy. My grandmother told me that Martin Van Buren Crawford (#7) is buried in an unmarked grave just to the south of Susan and Leroy’s stone. And last in that line is Calvin (#8) and his family. Across from Calvin and his family are my grandparents, great-grandparents (Crawford and Pilcher), and other close relatives of mine.

One more connection: my great-grandfather John Crawford kept his canceled checks and bills in an oatmeal box. At this end of this essay, I tell how John helped get me interested in Bible study, fifty years after his death. I already acknowledged the role of cousin Cecil Crawford in inspiring me toward religious work.

Finally: isn’t “Martin Van Buren Crawford” an awesome name? He also had a son named Grover Cleveland Crawford. Were they democrats? My Crawford grandparents were very strong FDR democrats. So there is another influence in my professional work, connected back to Otego Township: my grandma wanted me to be interested in Bible study (she gave me a Bible dictionary that I still use in my freelance curriculum writing) and she had an interest in linking faith with social topics, which remained with me, too.

After a busy semester that included a book deadline, I’m getting back to posting my old genealogical notes onto this blog.

This is a picture of my great-great-grandparents, Josiah and Margaret Williams. They are my mom’s paternal grandmother’s parents, buried (along with so many other of my maternal relatives) in thScan 16e Pilcher Cemetery near Brownstown, Illinois. I tell the story, here, of exploring that cemetery during my high school years and recording the inscriptions. I tell the story of the Williams family here.

Josiah was 20 years older than Margaret, and was first married to her older sister Winnaford. The sisters’ birth name was Brown—and the Browns are an interesting family in my ancestry.

In my genealogy files I have Brown family notes from another genealogist, Glenore Cole, but I don’t remember when Glenore sent these to me. (The pages are yellow, so I’m assuming it was back in the 1970s, when I did so much genealogy.) According to the notes, James and Eliza (Baldwin) Brown are the early ancestors of this branch—my 6-great-grandparents.

They were the parents of: James Brown, born Apr. 29, 1708 in Middlesex Co, VA, died March 3, 1784 in Culpepper Co., VA. Married in c. 1736 to Elizabeth Poole, born April 1719 in Gloucester Co., VA. Her parents were George and Elizabeth Poole.

The children of James and Elizabeth:

1 Hezekiah, born 1738 in Spotsylvania Co., VA, died Aug 29, 1821 in Frankfort, KY. Married to Anne Stubblefield, second marriage to Mrs. Sarah Long.

2 James, born April 19, 1742 in Mansfield, near Fredericksburg, VA, died June 24, 1825 in Bourbon Co., KY Married to Ann Davis on Nov. 15, 1764. Mary (c. 1740-Nov. 29, 1764). Married James Michael Rice George Henry (c. 1745 – after 1821). (Glenore Cole’s notes indicates that James’ and Ann’s son William Brown was an early settler of Sangamon Co., IL—as were my dad’s ancestors whom I discuss here. Did these families on my dad’s and my mom’s side of the family know each other during early 1830s? As with my dad’s ancestors, William Brown has a nice history in John Carroll Power’s 1876 History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County, Illinois, pp. 146-148.)

3 Elizabeth

4 Sarah

5 Ann

Hezekiah Brown moved to Frankfort, KY in c. 1799. His first wife, Anne Stubblefield was born in c. 1747, possibly in King George Co., VA, and died before 1784. Her parents were Thomas and Ellen (Hackley) Stubblefield. Hezekiah and Anne’s children:

Ellen (Nelly), born April 22, 1764, died Sept. 1856, married to Matthew Newton Clarke

2 Mary (Molly), born c. 1766, died beofre 1819, married William Waters

3 Frances (Frankey), born Feb. 27, 1768, died Nov. 12, 1835. Married Rodham Priest Thomas, born c. 1770, died before 1819.

4 Jael (Jaly), born c. 1771/2, died before 1805.

5 Hezekiah, born c. 1773 in Culpepper Co., VA, died in 1845 or 6 in Fayette Co., IL. His two wives were – — Danks (or Daniels), and Delilah Currance. So Hezekiah, my 4-great-grandfather, was the pioneer of Fayette County, IL., but so was his sister Elizabeth:

6 Elizabeth (Betsy), born c. 1774. Married to Allan Thompson. I’ll talk about them below.

7 Ann, born 1775, married to James Mason and then Matthew Templeman

8 Lucy, born Feb. 10, 1782, died Oct. 3, 1863, married John D. Richardson

9 Henry (Harry), born c. 1783. Married to Mary Fitzgerald

Hezekiah (II) and Dorrance Currance’s children:

1 William D. (9/6/1798 to 4/26,1859), married Mary Hunter Currance

2 George D. (9/7/1803 to 12/17/1847, married Nancy Carneal

3 Henry (born 1809, probably in Logan Co., KY died 10/16/1856 in Fayette Co. IL, married Susan Pilcher (on May 3, 1832) and then Ann (Austin) Nichols (1819 – March 20, 1899) on Nov. 22 1841. He served in the Black Hawk War in Illinois.

4 Two daughters.

Henry and Ann Brown’s children:

1 Winnaford Ann (born 1834, died before March 1858), married to Josiah Williams on Dec. 5, 1852 by Rev. Benjamin D. Mahon.

2 George, born 1836

3 Margaret Adeline, born 1838, died July 28, 1893. Married on March 25, 1858 to Josiah Williams, who had been married to her older sister.

So we’re back to Josiah and Margaret Williams, my great-great-grandparents, whose daughter Susan married John Crawford—and they are my mom’s paternal grandparents, buried beside my own grandparents in the Pilcher Cemetery near Brownstown, IL.

Josiah and Margaret are buried in the same cemetery; I always wondered if Josiah’s first wife, Margaret’s sister Winnaford, is buried there, too, but there is no grave marker to know.

This is the line of my direct ancestors, but I need to back up and talk about my 4-great aunt, Elizabeth (Brown) Thompson, who was sister of my 3-great-grandfather Henry Brown’s sister. The 1878 History of Fayette County, Illinois mentions Elizabeth twice, though not by name, but rather as the mother of Vandalia pioneer Benjamin Ward Thompson (pp. 25, 60). The history indicates that the Thompsons moved to Fayette County in 1819 and settled a mile and a half south of Vandalia, in township section 29. 1819 was the year Vandalia was founded! Thompson, who was 13 that year, lived the rest of his life in Vandalia and was considered one of the beloved “old settlers.” The history indicates that “Mr. Thompson’s father died when his son was twelve years of age; consequently he was thrown entirely upon his own resources. He struggled alone, and the fact of his having so repeatedly been elected to important positions is the best commendtar that can be passed upon his life and character as a man and citizen” (p. 60).

B. Ward Thompson married Susana Bayle in 1828. Although Thompson is buried in the old Vandalia cemetery, Susanna is buried among my Pilcher and Gatewood ancestors in the Winslow Pilcher family cemetery. Nearby is Susanna and Ward’s daughter, Elizabeth, who married a son of Rev. Benjamin Mahon (my 3-great uncle in that family), whom I mentioned above as the pastor who married Winnaford and Josiah.

Back to Elizabeth Thompson. Her son was a notable Vandalian, and two of Elizabeth’s daughters married notable Vandalians.

One, also named Elizabeth, married John A. Wakefield, another early settler of the Vandalia area—and the first white settler of Otego Township, where most of my mom’s side of the family settled. WakefiIMG_1084eld wrote a history of the Black Hawk War which is still considered an important primary source for that tragic conflict. His Find-a-Grave page provides some of his interesting life.

Another of Elizabeth’s daughters, Margaret, married Frederick Hollman, a German immigrant who was a key person in the establishment of Vandalia in 1819-1820. He was a member of the Ernst colony, a group of impoverished Germans under the leadership of Ferdinand Ernst, who settled in Vandalia in late 1820. Although Ernst died young and Hollman moved away, other members of the colony became important figures in later Vandalia history. My first book, High on the Okaw’s Western Bank: Vandalia, Illinois, 1819-1839, had an entire chapter devoted to the Ernst Colony, and I also wrote two articles on the colony, including this one.

So these two important early Vandalians are related to me by marriage: nephews-in-law of my 3-great-grandfather Henry Brown.

I haven’t posted to this blog for a while, because of other commitments. Now that things have gotten a little easier, I’m back to posting some things. Here is another installment of my family history: the Strobel family.


John and Emma Strobel, c. 1930. My dad said he took the picture.

When I was a teenager, I traced my mother’s side of the family, and then I hoped to write up a Strobel family tree. But then I went to college, became involved in other things, and drifted away from genealogy. Also, all my Strobel great-aunts and -uncles were deceased by 1961, when I was 4, and so I lacked that whole generation to interview. Such interviews had been crucial when I traced the Crawfords.

But I did trace my grandfather’s generation (he is number eight below) and the names of my father’s generation. Why is my name “Stroble” and all these people are named “Strobel”? Because my grandfather spelled the name both ways, and that was the way he spelled the name for my dad’s birth certificate. Grandfather’s tombstone has Stroble and his obituary has Strobel. In those days, you could spell your name as you wished, I suppose.

Here are my great-grandparents: John Strobel, b. Jan. 1, 1840, d. Aug 26, 1932. He married Emma Hotz,  b. July 7, 1846, d. July 7, 1937. They married June 20, 1865.

Their children: Mary, Lena, John, Ann, George, Charles, Amelia, Andrew, Gustave, Edward.

1. Mary Elizabeth (Lizzie) Strobel, Dec. 31, 1866, d. Aug. 30, 1904, married Frederick G. Schaefer, May 3, 1863 (in Germany), March 7, 1922: Children: Fred, Lady, Karl, Margaret

2. Lena Strobel, b. Oct. 18, 1868, d. 1955. Married Frank Hoffman, who lived 1864-1924 No children

3. John William Strobel, Dec. 12, 1870 to May 5, 1942. Married Sadie Durban. Children: Mary, Angeline,

4. Ann Strobel, b. May 11, 1872, d. Sept. 24, 1872

5. George Strobel, b. Nov. 13, 1873 Married Mamie Philips. Children: Lena, Lillie, Blanche, Emma,

6. Charles Nicholas Strobel, Nov. 5, 1876 till Nov. 27, 1961. Married Lillie E. Watkins, May 7, 1886 till Jan. 20, 1949. Their children: Tina, Leta, Jesse, Evalena, Donna, Delmar, Fred, Charles, Virgil, June. I want to add here that Dad was close to his first cousins in this family branch.

7. Amelia Strobel, August 20, 1880 till Sept. 7, 1961. Married Charles Holman, Oct. 11, 1877 till Oct. 1, 1951. Children: Van, Ethel, Paul, Leo, John, Mildred, Lucille, two infants, Gwendolyn and Leonard (twins, surnamed Holdman), Helen Mae (surnamed Holdman).

8. Andrew Christian Strobel, born Aug,7, 1882, died May 7, 1935. Married Permelia Jane Carson, March 22, 1890, d. Oct. 30, 1991. Her family, the Carsons and Colburns, are described elsewhere in this blog. Andy and Janie’s children: Paul (my dad) and Mary Gladys.

9. Gustave Strobel, Nov. 24, 1884 till Nov. 22, 1885.

10. James Edward Strobel, Oct. 12, 1887, Jan. 27, 1961. A World War I veteran, he never married, and was known locally for his horses. A person on the “Vandalia Memories” Facebook page wondered if I was any relation to Ed Strobel, because he was such a nice person and he let her ride his horses when she was little.

Around 1970 or 1971, my parents and I visited the St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Highland, IL. We found Gustave (“Gussie”) Strobel’s grave. Now that we’re in the era of the internet, there is that awesome site called Find-a-Grave, which identified a grave in Highland as my great-grandfather John’s father, Andreas Strobel (1804-Jan. 31, 1863): http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=strobel&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSob=n&GSsr=121&GRid=20406248&df=all&

Here is John’s page: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=25252546

Gustave’s: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=116669941

My great-grandmother Emma Strobel’s parents are also buried in that cemetery—which I didn’t realize when my parents and I visited it in the 1970s. They were Christian Hotz (Dec. 19, 1817, from Oestringen, Baden and came to America in 1841), died Feb. 22, 1902 in Highland. He married to Maria Eva Weber, who lived Feb. 22, 1822 till July 7, 1898. They married July 28, 1840. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=93228685

Here also is my blog post about John Strobel, including the text of his 1932 obituary. http://paulstroble.blogspot.com/2009/05/my-civil-war-ancestor.html

I always liked my ancestry, although it is almost wholly British, Irish, and German, not untypical of central and southern Illinois. As I’ve described elsewhere on this blog, I’ve a family branch that began with a Mayflower passenger, a branch in colonial Virginia (which, unfortunately, included generations of slave owners). One branch (which I still

Andy and Janie Stroble, c. 1908

Andy and Janie Stroble, c. 1908

need to write about for this blog) includes a historian of the tragic Black Hawk War in 1832. Other branches from Scotland, Ireland, and Wales arrived before the Revolution. The Strobel branch, however, came much later, in the 1840s, reflecting that great emigration from the German states in the mid 19th century. They were also German Catholic, not a popular immigrant group among some Protestants at the time, which makes me wonder what kinds of experiences they had in Illinois. They were the last of my family groups to arrive in America. Though they first settled in Madison County, Illinois, John and Emma eventually moved over to Fayette County, IL, in time for my grandfather to be born there in 1882. And so by 1882, all of my family groups were in place in Fayette County, where I was eventually born and raised.

I’ll think about my grandfather this coming May 7th, the 80th anniversary of his death. He and my dad (who was 22 in 1935) walked together among the stores on S. Fifth Street in Vandalia, and Andy “just caught the door handle and fell,” in Dad’s words. He died of a stroke, age 52. “Everyone knew Dad, and liked him,” my father would say wistfully, and I’ve always wondered what nice times Andy and I missed because our lives did not overlap.


I was chatting on Facebook with three different people, all of us in a kind of post-Advent slump.

Traditionally viewed, Advent is a time of longing for Christ. We symbolically anticipate his birth but look toward his second coming. Then at Christmastide, we celebrate and honor his birth as well as the revelation of his divinity (Epiphany, or Theophany in the eastern churches).

But in actuality, we expend our celebratory energies during Advent, culminating in the multiple Christmas Eve services. Afterward, many of us begin to take down and box up our holiday decorations, and many pastors (at least in my own circles) take well-deserved time-off during some portion of Christmastide.

Rather than feeling guilty about not keeping Christmastide more festive, I wonder if we should simply recognize that our holidays have evolved to this point. Advent and Christmas are, already, a complex assortment of traditions: Christian, non-Christian religious, and secular/economic. The Christian liturgical year begins on the first Sunday of Advent with the anticipation of a big, festive season, and then we can move into our new year with a fresh sense of Christ, even if we’re a little tired for a while.


My previous post had to do with the grief and tragedy evoked on Holy Innocents’ Day. Looking through some of my books for blog ideas, I found some good thoughts in a favorite text, The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality by Ronald Rolheiser (New York: Doubleday, 1999). In one section, Rolheiser talks about the grief of recognizing life’s unfairness.

We know that life is unfair, but sometimes we have to “process” that fact. We had dreams but they didn’t work out, we’re disappointed, we don’t feel as valued as we’d like (p. 163). The prodigal son’s older brother is an example. His circumstance is not dire like the younger son’s. The older brother’s life seems pretty good! Yet he feels bitter, let-down, and left out. He feels no joy (p. 163).

How many of us can sympathize with the older brother! Life is unfair, but it is unfair in different ways for different people. We wish things were different in the way life has been unfair for us, while someone else may wish he/she had our lives!

Rolheiser suggests that we go ahead and grieve, because grieving helps us eventually to let the old things go. He calls this “letting the old give us its blessing” (p. 164). “We face many deaths within our lives and the choice is ours as to whether those deaths will be terminal (sniffing out life and spirit) or whether they will be paschal (opening us to new life and new spirit). Grieving is the key to the latter” (p. 164).

In John’s gospel, when Mary Magdalene encountered the risen Jesus, Jesus tells her not to cling to her. Rolheiser suggests that Mary is trying to cling to what she has known and loved about Jesus–to cling the past. When she can grieve the Jesus she has known and open herself to the new circumstance, then she can receive a new spirit (pp. 164-165). (My own thought: you can see similarities of these ideas with the Buddhist teachings about attachment and non-attachment.)

I’m a very slow griever, unfortunately. But letting the past bless us, even the painful and/or abusive experiences, is to recognize that what has happened has happened, to accept the unfairness, to grieve, and then, hopefully, “to “attain the joy and delights that are in fact possible for us” (p. 164).

Twenty years after the Srebrenica Children Massacre, two years after Sandy Hook, two weeks after the massacre at the school in Peshawar…. although the historicity of the massacre of the innocents (Matthew 2:16-18) has been disputed, we’re sadly able to know that such a thing could happen. These last several months we’ve been lamenting the deaths of individual young people, too.

“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’”

Holy Innocents’ Day is December 27 in the Marionite Church, December 29 in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and December 28 in the Church of England, the Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

The story in Matthew parallels yet another Gentile persecution: Exodus 1:15-22. Studying the Matthew scripture for a writing project, I wondered about the role of Rachel in this passage. She was Jacob’s beloved wife among the four women with whom he had children. Rachel was mother of the youngest, Joseph and Benjamin, but she died giving birth to Benjamin. So I wanted to dig deeper into Jeremiah’s passage.

I got online and found the Jewish Women’s Archive Encyclopedia. There, Tikva Frymer-Kensky writes, “Rachel, who died young, becomes an image of tragic womanhood. Her tomb remained as a landmark (see 1 Sam 10:2) and a testimony to her. She and Leah were remembered as the two ‘who together built up the house of Israel’ (Ruth 4:11). Rachel was the ancestress of the Northern Kingdom, which was called Ephraim after Joseph’s son. After Ephraim and Benjamin were exiled by the Assyrians, Rachel was remembered as the classic mother who mourns and intercedes for her children. More than a hundred years after the exile of the North, Jeremiah had a vision of Rachel still mourning, still grieving for her lost children. Moreover, he realized that her mourning served as an effective intercession, for God promised to reward her efforts and return her children (Jer 31:15–21). After the biblical period, ‘Mother Rachel’ continued to be celebrated as a powerful intercessor for the people of Israel.”(1)

I found another article that reflects upon Rachel, and the fact that she was buried along the road to Bethlehem. Please read this article by Simon Jacobson, which is a heartfelt piece about human dignity and Rachel’s concern for sufferers, very apropos for this day. http://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/1414106/jewish/A-Mothers-Tears.htm


1. Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. “Rachel: Bible.” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 20 March 2009. Jewish Women’s Archive. (Viewed on October 14, 2014) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/rachel-bible>.

2. Jacobson, Simon, “A Mother’s Tears: Rachel weeps for her children.” The Jewish Woman: Chabad.org. (Viewed on December 28, 2014)

Wake Up, Cries the Watchmen: Bach’s Cantatas for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity

This coming Sunday, November 23rd, is the final Sunday of the liturgical year!

As I’ve written before, I purchased this 56-CD set of Bach’s sacred cantatas last fall. I listened to CDs 52-56 first (cantatas corresponding to Advent and Christmas), and then listened to 1 through 51, and so I’ve reached the end of my “journey” of listening this week as I arrive at CD 51, the cantatas for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity. The CD photo is of an old woman from Rajasthan, India, and the cantatas are: “Wohl dem, der sich auf seinen Gott” (BWV 139, “Happy is he who can trust his God”), “Nur jedem das Seine!” (BWV 163, “To each only his due”), “Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht!” (BWV 52, “False world, I do not trust you!”). Added to these is the cantata for the seldom-occurring 27th Sunday: “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (BWV 140, “Wake up, cries the watchmen’s voice”).

This coming Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent, is also Christ the King Sunday. The theme of the three 23rd Sunday pieces is the question posted to Jesus concerning paying taxes to Caesar. One can stretch that meaning to affirm that Christ is our true ruler above all others, whether emperor, premier, or fussy Congress. BWV 139, which Gardiner writes exists in parts that have to be augmented rather than a complete score, is filled with contrasts between the sincere trust of the believer to the raging of the devil to assurance in God’s care for the believer. Satan also figures in BWV 163, wherein the writer of the text, Salomo Franck who was a frequent librettist for Bach, connects the money of Caesar symbolically with the counterfeit currency of the devil.

BWV 52 returns to the theme of some earlier cantatas: the “false world” that cannot satisfy.

False world, I do not trust you!
Here I must dwell among scorpions
and false serpents.
Your countenance,
though outwardly so friendly,
secretly plots ruin….

For the opening sinfonia Bach uses a previous draft of the first movement of the first Brandenburg Concerto. Because the theme of the cantata is the disappointment of the world (compared to the true peace of God and Heaven), Bach seems to be drawing a connection between the everyday pursuits in which we’re all involved, with the assurance and lasting joy of “God’s companionability” (Gardiner).

Because Easter usually doesn’t fall so early to allow for a 27th Sunday after Trinity, it’s sad that Bach’s cantata for this day was thus seldom heard in his churches during his own day. BWV 140, “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” is a long-time favorite and one of Bach’s most famous. “a cantata without weakness, without a dull bar, techincally, emotionally and spiritually of the highest order,” writes a musicologist quoted by Gardiner. In the CD notes the conductor describes several of Bach’s techniques, including a sense of telescoped time—in this case, the always necessary need for watchfulness. And since the theme is the coming of the Bridegroom in Jesus’ parables, “Bach has no compunction in stealing the clothes of contemporary operative love-duets” in his sacred music.

Listening to all of Bach’s sacred cantatas, on the weeks of the Sundays (or feast days) for which they were written, has been a lovely experience. I’ve an old 6-LP set of Bach’s Advent and Christmas cantatas, and I used to have a 2-LP set of popular cantatas like “Ein Feste Burg” and “Wachet Auf.” I’ve played these often over the years, and now I’ve listened to nearly 180 more. It’s difficult to wrap one’s mind around the lifetime accomplishment of Bach, for he wrote a LOT more music than this.

I’m having a difficult time writing concluding words for this “journey” of listening, because I’m not really done. Now, I want to go back and re-listen to pieces that were particularly beautiful and meaningful. I’m also reluctant to stop a project that has been helpful during a year of bereavement, a health scare, and some ongoing challenges. How wonderful to pause during the middle of each week, listen to beautiful music in the early morning, read the CD notes, glance at the birds outside, and let my mind and heart wander a bit. I want to find a comparable habit for the upcoming liturgical year.

Racial and social issues have been in the news of my community, St. Louis, during the past several weeks. As I write this, no one is sure what is going to happen next, but a grand jury announcement is imminent. (Thus I’ve posted this a little early.) I found words from the cantata “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied!” (BWV 190, on CD 56), that offer hope for times ahead.

Now Jesus grant that with the new year
His anointed one too may flourish;
may He bless both trunk and branches,
that their fortune rise to the clouds.
Let Jesus bless both church and school,
may He bless all true teachers,
may He bless those who hear His teaching;
may He bless both council and court;
may He pour over every house
in our town the springs of blessing;
may He grant that once again
both peace and faith
may embrace within our borders.
Thus we shall live throughout the year in blessing.

(As the CD notes indicate, all English translations are by Richard Stokes)


Grace Much Greater than My Sins: Bach’s Cantatas for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity

Knowing that there were only two CDs in my “journey” to go, and with late-semester busyness at hand, I decided to listen to these last cantatas a little early. So the weekend of November 8-9 featured a lot of Bach music for me! Listening to Bach is a wonderful way to spend any day, however.

Bach’s cantatas for this coming weekend, the 22nd Sunday after Trinity, are: “Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht” (BWV 55, “I, wretched man, a slave to sin”), “Was soll ich aus dir machen, Ephraim?” (BWV 89, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?”), and “Mache dich, mein Geist, beret” (BWV 115, “Prepare yourself, my soul”). The cantata for the 24th Sunday, included in this concert, is: “O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort (BWV 60, “Eternity, O word of thunder”). This is CD 50 of the set, and the photo is of an older man, with a beautiful red beard, from Srinagar, Kashmir.

The Gospel lesson for the 22nd Sunday is Matthew 18:22-35, the story of the unjust steward. Conductor John Eliot Gardiner notes that BWV 89 is Bach’s only (extant) cantata for solo tenor, and traces the journey of the steward back to his master. The steward is sorrowful and fearful about his situation. But the concluding chorale gives confidence to any of us who may be downcast about our sinfulness; grace and peace will come to us, thanks to the merciful Lord. BWV 55 makes a similar journey:

Even if hell had a bed
for me and my sins,
the wrath of God would still be there.
The earth does not protect me,
it threatens to devour that monster that I am;
and if I soar to heaven,
God is there, who judges me.

Yike! But as in Hosea, God wavers in executing judgment; Gardiner writes, “the music comes to a temporary halt at the end of each anguished question posed by the bass singer, representing God’s divided mind.” At the end, the believer has assurance:

I do not deny my guilt,
but Thy mercy and Thy grace
is much greater than my sins,
which I always find within me.

The beautiful BWV 115 concerns “the believer trusting and refusing to be blown off course by ‘Satan’s cunning’ (conveyed by a vigorous semiguaver bariolage figure) or the sounding of the last trump.” The singers take the roles of the “slumbering” sinner, the friend who is giving confidence, and the one (represented by the bass) making sure the sinner does not become complacent.

God, who watches over your soul,
detests the night of sin;
He sends you the light of His grace
and desires, in return for these gifts,
which He promises you in abundance,
but openness of spirit.

In 2000, when most of these cantatas were recorded, there were 23 post-Trinity Sundays (because of comparative lateness of Easter that year), but the season can have 27 Sundays, so as on some of the other CDs of the past few weeks, Gardiner and his musicians include other cantatas. This Sunday, the additional cantata is BWV 60 for the 24th Sunday after Trinity. Gardiner writes that Bach called this cantata a “dialogue between Fear and Hope.” The alto and tenor represent “the divided soul, the one wracked by fear of death and shaken by the terrifying sound of eternity’s ‘word of thunder’, the other sustained by simple trust in God’s mercy…” Gardiner discusses in some detail Bach’s technique for depicting this “dialogue. As one would expect, Bach gives victory to hope.

As I listen to these pieces, I think of a topic that we’ve been discussing in one of my classes: social justice. Ferguson has been in the local and national news. In our class, we’re focusing upon God’s distress over systemic sins like racism and poverty. If we were writing the texts of Bach’s pieces, we might be calling cities and national leaders to cease their slumbering and awaken to God’s judgment.

It’s a balance to walk: too great a stress on personal repentance risks neglecting social problems, and vice versa. Although the upcoming Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year, it’s the end of the calendar year, when we can take stock of the previous months and contemplate next steps. How are we growing in our personal relationship with God? What about that relationship includes social service of some kind?

(As indicated in the CD notes, all English translations are by Richard Stokes.)


Help My Unbelief: Bach’s Cantatas for the 21st Sunday after Trinity

Three Sundays to go before Advent. My family and I have not started anything related to the holiday season, other than some early scheduling of events. In fact, our Halloween decorations are still up…

November 9 is the 21st Sunday after Trinity this year. Bach’s cantatas for this Sunday (CD 49 in this set) are “Ich glaube, lieber Herr, hilf meinem Unglauben!” (BWV 109, “Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief!”), “Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir” (BWV 38, “Out of the depths I cry to Thee”), “Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan” (BWV 98, “What God doth, is well done”), and “Ich habe meine Zuversicht” (BWV 188, “I have put my trust”). The CD photo is of a colorfully dressed young woman from Tibet.

The Gospel lesson of all four is John 4:46-54, the healing of the nobleman’s son, but the title of BWV 109 is Mark 9:24. Conductor John Eliot Gardiner writes that Bach “sets up a wonderful series of antitheses to articulate the inner conflict between belief and doubt, and the way that faith is granted only after a period of doubt.” The conductor writes of the ways Bach musically sets up the conflict among the various numbers. For instance, in the third number, Bach depicts “the fearful quivering of the soul by means of jagged melodic shapes, unstable harmonies headed towards anguished second inversion chords, and persistent dotted rhythmic figures.” The cantata is a tempestuous journey toward faith and belief. For instance, the third number echoes Isaiah 42:3:

How uncertain is my hope,
how my anxious heart wavers!
The wick of faith hardly burns,
the almost broken reed now snaps,
fear constantly creates fresh pain.

But Christ knows that we are needful of his grace.

Compose yourself, doubting heart,
for Jesus still works wonders!
The eyes of faith shall witness
the healing power of the Lord;
though fulfilment seems so distant
you can rely on his promise.

BWV 38 continues the theme of the granting of faith, using the anguished Psalm 130. This cantata, too, “delays the provision and granting of help until the last possible moment,” after we have been through “signs and wonders” of sorrow and faith.

Though my despair, like chains,
fetters one misfortune to the next,
yet shall my Saviour free me suddenly from it all.
How soon will comfort’s dawn
succeed this night of woe and sorrow!

BWV 188, like two other cantatas from this late post-Trinity season, has a sinfonia drawn from a harpischord concerto. It is q quieter work, as is BWV 98, but likewise centering around the soul’s plea for faith and salvation.

God has a heart that brims with mercy;
and when He hears us lamenting…
His heart then breaks,
that He has mercy on us.
He keeps His word;
He says: Knock,
and it shall be opened unto you!
So let us from now on,
when we are in sore distress,
lift our hearts to God alone!

What things do you struggle with in your faith? I feel very fortunate that I’ve never felt so disappointed in or questioning of God that agnosticism, let alone atheism, were ever options. That’s partly because my childhood experiences with religion were mostly positive and thus provided a good foundation, and also, I worked on my faith and incorporated (even if haphazardly sometimes) prayer book readings, devotional reading, weekly worship, and reflective projects like this one into my weekly routine. I also ask other people for their prayers when things get rough. Busyness and “blues” would likely lead me off into spiritual dullness or deadness if I didn’t have these things. Other people have different or similar ways of nourishing their faith.

One of my struggles—although I think of it as an interesting quest—is to think of Christian faith in more universal terms. I love the idea that there are many paths to God, and thus I meditate on the similarities among world religions, while also affirming the uniqueness and power of Jesus Christ. For some people, this is a wavering of my faith, a contradiction. But I don’t see it that way.

My personal witness is that I see evidence of God’s guidance in my life over the long haul. Things in my life that were emotionally horrible and disappointing made sense in time (sometimes ten or twenty years later). Or, these difficult things that never made sense led to good things. I believe that the arcs and “story lines” of my life and my family’s demonstrate the truth of Romans 8:28. But I empathize with persons who don’t see such a thing in their own experience; plus, I acknowledge that there has been privilege in my life that made painful times never entirely devoid of hope and possibility. We should be careful not to assume that our own example should be normative for others.

The difficulties that Bach’s music explores are always timeless: life has struggles, temptations, grief, difficulties that we create and difficulties that are forced upon us. Faith can be very hard, especially when we have to be patient and wait for God when things are falling apart. Like the parent in Mark 9, we’ve just enough faith to ask for help. Knowing that God’s own heart breaks for us is a beautiful image, full of comfort and promise.

(As the CD notes indicate, all English translations are by Richard Stokes.)


O Great Wedding Feast: Bach’s Cantatas for the 20th Sunday after Trinity

As conductor John Eliot Gardiner writes, the Gospel lesson for this Sunday is Matthew 22:1-14, the parable of the wedding feast, which “prompts many figurative references to the soul as bride, to travel, to clothing and to food, such as Jesus as the ‘bread of life’.” The CD photo is a girl from Manang, Nepal. The wedding theme is used in all three cantatas. They are upbeat pieces to which I’ll return again.

In “Ach! ich sehe, itzt, da ich zur Hochzeit gehe” (BWV 162, “Ah! I see, now as I go to the wedding”) Bach’s text gives us the dire consequences of being on the wrong side of the “wedding,” that is, failing to put on the clothing of righteousness that signals our belonging to Christ. It is all about preparedness: when Christ comes (or when we die), we need to be ready.

“Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen” (BWV 49, “I go and seek with longing”) begins, as did BWV 169 two weeks ago, with a sinfonia that is also a movement in Bach’s BWV 1053 harpsichord concerto II in E major. Beautiful piece! This cantata is musically and lyrically more lush since the words are a loving dialogue between the Christ and soul (between bass and soprano: Magdalena Kožená is the soprano here). As Gardiner points out, the language and situation evokes the love-language of the Song of Songs.

“Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele” (BWV 180, “Adorn yourself, beloved soul”) is picturesque in different ways but, in keeping with the wedding theme, remind us of journeying to the wedding, the sight of the bride, the dancing and the feast. This is another occasion where Bach shows no concern for separating “sacred” and “secular” styles but instead writes dance music for a church service. But the key is not a wedding per se, but the need for the believer to be ready for Christ, to love Christ with one’s whole heart.

Rouse yourself: your Saviour knocks,
ah, open soon the door of your heart!
Though you in your rapture can
utter only broken words of joy to your Jesus.

How precious are the gifts of the sacred supper!
Nowhere can their like be found.
The things the world is wont
to deem precious are but glittering trifles;
a child of God desires to have this treasure and says:
Ah, how my spirit hungers,
friend of man, for Thy goodness!

A personal-Bible-study project that I keep meaning to do, is to gather commentaries and study Song of Songs. I’ve read the book but not in depth. It intrigues me that medieval monks dearly loved the book for its allegorical meaning of Christ and his church. For instance, many sermons by St. Bernard of Clairvaux are based on Song texts and extol the truths of Christian doctrine. To me, it’s beautiful love poetry between two people, but the symbolic reading has a long tradition.

I admit that it’s difficult for me sometimes to think of God’s love as affection. For all of the Apostle Paul’s epistolary expressions of love and concern, he also fusses and prods his congregations a great deal—and because my own parents could be fretful and scolding, it’s easy for me to think of God’s love for me tinged with disapproval. As downbeat as some of these post-Trinity cantatas can be, they also evoke God’s unconditional love for which the believer hungers.

(As the CD notes indicate, all English translations of Bach’s texts are by Richard Stokes.)