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Nicole Williams

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Nicole Williams traces her family history back generations to an ancestor who travelled from Germany with his family. The family settled down in Pennsylvania and rarely left.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Please contact Immigration History Research Center staff for permissions not covered by this Creative Commons license.

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The first of my maternal family to immigrate to America was one Mr. Yahn, his wife Caroline, and their two children Godfreye and Lewis. They came over via ship in 1835 from western Germany where they had lived in the providence of Schlüchtern in the town Vollmerz. Unfortunately Mr. Yahn would not make it to America and was subsequently buried at sea. The rest of the family would settle in Perry Township, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania.

Lewis would go on to become a weaver and Godfreye a farmer and Sunday school teacher. The boys married the Swick sisters, Nancy and Lucinda, from Beaver County, Pennsylvania, and started families. Not of all their children made it, which was very commonplace in those times, but my family would also be subjected to the harsh times of the Civil War. We fought on the side of the Union but Yahn Jr. would be captured and put in Andersonville prison, which was notoriously brutal to soldiers, where he would die. The prison was only operational for 14 months and during that time, of the 45,000 soldiers held there, 13,000 would die from disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, overcrowding, or exposure to the elements.

I can trace my direct lineage through Lewis Yahn and Nancy Swick. They would have a child in 1851, Martin Luther Yahn, who later married Belinda Cable, and they would have a child in 1876, Clarence W. Yahn, who would marry Elizabeth Sweeney and they would have a child in 1909, Evelyn Yahn, who married twice, but had a child with Howard Springer in 1928. Ruth Springer who married twice, but had a child with John E. Kunkle in 1952, Belinda L. Kunkle who is my mother. Up until then, my brothers and I were the only members of our family born outside Pennsylvania, and in my lifetime we still owned an acre of land in El Wood City, Pennsylvania, which is about 30 miles outside of Pittsburg.

My mother, grandmother, great grandmother and my great aunt Phyllis would move west in 1955. They lived in Cleveland, Ohio for a year before making it to San Francisco. My mom’s only real memory of Ohio was throwing a snowball in her mom’s face, which is very much on par with our family of jokesters.

These brave women would make it to San Francisco late in the year of 1956 and settle in the extremely foggy Sunset District. My mother’s strongest memory of her first year here was the 1957 earthquake, which was a 5.7 on the Richter scale and was the biggest earthquake felt in the Bay Area since 1906.

My mother continues to live in San Francisco, as well as my two brothers who have never moved out of the city, while I, on the other hand have moved all over northern California. I have lived in in Arcata, Belmont, San Leandro, Concord, just to name a few, but have put roots down for the last 10 years in Oakland. I love living here it’s about 15 degrees hotter than San Francisco but I can still get into the city in 25 minutes without traffic. The story of our family is probably not unique but learning how we weaved our place into American history for the last ten generations makes me proud.