12/16/11 rev. 4/28/13 & 1/9/17
My wife Susan’s paternal grandmother was Sarah Jane Baer Miller (1891-1972). She was just a simple home manager and wife of a farmer. A nearby namesake, Somerset County, PA, Judge William Jacob Baer (1826-1908), served from the bench for many years, is still held in highest esteem among his professional ancestors, and is probably the most famous local representative of the Baer family in America. (See “Famous Baers of Somerset County.”) Unfortunately, a direct link between his Brothersvalley Twp. family in the southern part of the county and our Quemahoning Twp. Baers in the north has not yet been discovered. At this time we are confident that it will be, eventually. One reason I am so sure is that only recently have several interesting marital ties between the two locales, in this case our Baers and various Miller families, been uncovered. We’ll discuss some possible connections between Sarah Jane Baer Miller’s maternal grandparents, Sarah Miller Baer and Elizabeth Miller Baer, and her daughter-in-law, Hilda Krause Miller’s (1921-1997) maternal Miller grandparents from the same Brothersvalley Twp. area. (I use the term “grandparents” in the general sense here.) If we can connect these Millers, surely we can connect the Baers! Though from different Christian persuasions, most had come from Europe to Eastern Pennsylvania then to Somerset County.
This article will also provide further details of our Christian Baer line, list the possible spellings and meanings of the surname, and provide information on additional famous American Baers.
Although we consider the possibility of our connection to Johann/John Jacob Bare (c.1763-after 1821) who farmed in nearby Franklin County, PA, we know that our earliest Somerset County Baer, Christian (1800-1862), was born in Germany. But, as many as 50 persons with that surname had already settled in Berks and Lehigh Counties before 1750, according to various public records. A Christophel or Christian, or as he was affectionately called, Stoffel, had two sons, John and Melchoir. Their names were on the passenger list of the Phoenix, which arrived in Philadelphia in 1743. Other records show that there had been two other Johns in PA as early as 1710. Which of these Baers might have been our Christian’s ancestor or relative, if any? We just don’t know at this time. We’ll get back to genealogy in a minute, but first let’s consider some name history and meaning.
Our original surname was spelled Bär (mit umlaut), but today one may find as many as eight different additional English spellings: Barr, Bare, Bahr, Bair, Baer, Baehr, Bair, and Bear
From the Middle High German, the name is considered one of several metonymic occupational or place references, that is as a figure of speech where one thing refers to another. The first Baer might have been someone who kept a performing bear or someone who lived in a house that looked like a bear cave. It’s possible the the name is a shortened from of the German word for “bright,” which is “beraht.” In the Dutch the name can be a put down, as in “one who is naked” or “wears ragged clothes.” In the Anglo-Saxon, the famous Beowolf was actually “bee wolf,” or a bear who eats honey. In French, the common name Albert is pronounced “Al-BAER,” with just “Baer” as a nickname. English Names with associated meanings include Bernard, Barney, and Bernat, or “bold as a bear.”
Of the many famous Americans “bearing” the name, there is a painter, a journalist, a boxer, several politicians, and a lawyer. (Go to HouseofNames.com.) Probably the better known were World War II Brigadier-General Joseph Augustus Baer (1878-1958) and actor Max Baer (b.1937) who played Jethro on TV’s The Beverly Hillbillies.
Now, as far as our family is concerned, one of the first written mentions is in the 1906 History of Bedford & Somerset Counties. It says that Christian “Glades” Miller, Jr. (1779-1865), a Mennonite living near Berlin, PA, was father to several sons and five daughters. One, Elizabeth (1809-1878), may have married our patriarch, Christian Baer. Other sources list our Elizabeth Miller Baer’s father as simply “Christian,” not the son of Christian “Glades” Miller, Sr. Yet another possibility has been that our Christian Baer married the daughter of Conemaugh Township’s first Amish bishop, Christian “Schmidt” Miller, but we found that his Elizabeth married her father’s successor, yet another man named Christian, but in this case Yoder. Research is ongoing for our Christian Baer’s in-laws. This couple and their family appears in several Stoneycreek Twp. Federal censes, including the 1850, which lists Christian Baer as age 49, born in Germany, and working as a farmer. Elisabeth is age 41, and their third child is Abraham, age 17, the next in our Baer ancestral line.
Like the Old Testament patriarch, this Abraham married a Sarah (1843-1925), but she was Brethren and should not to be confused with their granddaughter, the earlier mentioned Sarah Jane Baer, who also married a Miller, the ancestor of Lutheran Joseph “Yost” Miller (1748-1811). Thus, within four generations, our Baers married into three lines from separate and distinct Miller families. (See chart in “Multiple Marriages.”) To further compound the irony, those three Baer generations who married Millers came from and/or settled into different walks of faith: Elisabeth and Christian, the Amish-Mennonite; Sarah and Abraham, the Brethren; and Sarah Jane and Howard, the Lutheran. This has been confirmed through their respective cemetery records: Blough Mennonite, Maple Spring Church of the Brethren, and St. James Lutheran. Today, their descendants, four generations of Paul Baers and Howard Millers, still live in northern Somerset County, and of many different additional Christian denominations we might add.
So, in conclusion, if our Christian Baer was born in 1800 in Germany, as the U.S. Census reports, then surely his parents were not among the Eastern Pennsylvania immigrants who had arrived before 1750, but they possible knew or were related to those who came from Berks to resettle in Somerset County around 1782. Research continues, but if the past few years are any indication of the delightful surprises awaiting us, we proceed gladly.
“Baer.” Name Lab
“Baer Family.” Berks County, PA. p.1638
“Christian Baer.” 1850 U.S. Census. Stoneycreek Twp. Somerset Co, PA
“Miller Family.” History of Bedford & Somerset Counties, PA. 1906
Last revised: 1/9/17