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Rev. Willis Heckler’s plan to tell the story of Maxatawny Church and its people has reached stage two.
A full accounting of the church registers have now been published in softcover book form. Lists of all baptisms, confirmations, marriages and deaths by Maxatawny pastors have been researched by Rev. Heckler more than14 years in libraries and genealogical centers from Lancaster to Reading to Philadelphia, to Allentown and Kutztown. Persons by the dozens have joined him in combing family bibles, certificates, and photographs from drawers and attics in homes.
The extended research in scattered places was necessitated by the fact that there was no Lutheran record book in church possession until 1921; and no Reformed record book until 1937. All prior ministerial acts were in personal records of the Maxatawny pastors. When those personal records were located in his search he discovered they were listed chronologically with little or no reference to which of their eight or more churches in a parish were the locale of the baptisms, weddings and funerals. This required considerable familiarity on Rev. Heckler’s part with the families of the Maxatawny region in the 19th and 20th centuries to pick from the volumes of records which ministrations pertained to Zion’s Church. Heckler counted on skills acquired during a quarter century living among this people with an attentive ear and deep concern, inadequate as it may yet have been.
Rev. Heckler notes that the Reformed “pastors Herman” in the 19th century recorded pastoral acts when they had time away from their farm duties at the Maxatawny estate. This meant sometimes months may pass and then their recall was less than perfect, many times simply in error. A researcher who worked from the original record book in Lancaster said the handwriting was so scrawled it appeared they wrote while riding horseback.
Reformed pastor, George B. Smith, had an unusual record system. He tallied all his baptisms, weddings and funerals on pocket datebooks . As expected eight of those datebooks are lost to eternity and Rev. Heckler had to glean what he could from other sources, namely old newspapers, tombstones, courthouse records and obituaries, accounting for much of what he was doing over the 14 years of research.
Lutheran pastors, such as Isaac Roeller, Benjamin Kramlich, Franklin Bernd, did far better with record keeping, even though the time span of research included locating their personal records.
In this book of church records, considered the second part of a planned trilogy of books on the history of Zion’s Union Church, Heckler developed a unique database that melds the records of the two congregations of the union church into one alphabetical list that facilitates record searches with far greater ease, speed and exactitude.
The volume of nearly 400 pages can be purchased from his home in Topton or from the Zion’s church office secretary Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Rev. Heckler notes that there are a few dozen copies of volume I still available. This first part of the Maxatawny trilogy records all the burials (2660+) in the church cemetery. When issued in 2010 it was an instant best-seller reaching out in sales to nineteen states. Heckler notes that volume three is underway and is planned as a hard cover book with lots of pictures, surrounded by concise, short stories on people, organizations, important moments, and community history.