The phrase “small world” can be used to coin various things. Whether it’s naming the animatronic ride at Disneyland or an expression when strangers find out they know the same people, it is a long accepted idea that the world is not all that big. On Tuesday afternoon, David Butcher and Hans-Peter Rosenberger proved this sentiment true.
Butcher, a local historian, genealogist and museum curator, organized an event to honor his distant relative. Located at Kilvert Church, 21200 McGraw Rd., the modest house of worship was packed, every pew occupied with some guests even standing outside the building, craining their necks to get a better look.
All different ages were present, tables filled with homemade pies and sandwiches, the walls decorated with old photos and illustrations depicting the rich history of a close family. Family was the keyword for the event, titled “From Germany to Tablertown,” considering the two keynote speakers are cousins – albeit distant cousins.
Butcher, a resident of Stewart, Ohio, has devoted much of his life to family and ancestry. For a more in depth recount, refer to a previous Post article. In a nutshell, Butcher is the descendent of a white plantation owner’s son and an enslaved woman. Michael Tabler, the son, fathered six bi-racial children and brought them all to Southeast Ohio, where they were the foundation of Tablertown, now known as Kilvert.
Michael was a second-generation German, and his family had left the then Germania in 1732. The family arrived in present-day Pennsylvania and acquired land from the British Crown to then settle in Virginia and turn that land into plantations.
Many Americans hear the oral history of their relatives sailing from Europe to settle in the “New World,” and for Butcher, it wasn’t any different. The history of his family had been recounted for nearly 200 years.
The origin of the Tabler family was proven when Butcher received a call from Washington D.C. The man on the other line turned out to be Andrew Tabler. After watching a video about Butcher and Tablertown, the two discovered they were related.
After spending a few days with Andrew, Butcher later went on the trip to Germany and met their relatives Andrew had met prior.
“They were expecting Andrew, they weren’t expecting David Butcher,” Butcher said, laughing.
While in Germany, Butcher met Rosenberger. Coincidentally, Rosenberger is also a genealogist and the curator of a generational museum he has on his property. Butcher and Rosenberger spent the next two days picking cherries and getting to know one another.
Rosenberger said he knew what kind of person Butcher was when the two were sitting in an open-air restaurant and Rosenberger became cold. Immediately, Butcher offered his jacket to Rosenberger.
Rosenberger detailed this experience when giving a lecture about his family’s history to a very attentive audience. Displaying maps and photographs, he explained what life was like for Germans in the past centuries, as well as what led his and Butcher’s ancestors to seek a new life in the British Colonies.
Although it is unsure when the official change occurred, but Tabler is not even the original name of the family. Although pronounced similarly, “Dobler” is its German counterpart. A sector of the Dobler family still resides in Germany, with Albrecht Dobler present at Tuesday’s event.
In the middle of his presentation, Rosenberger requested all descendants of the Tabler family to raise their hands. Nearly half the room had their hands in the air. Beaming with pride, Butcher exclaimed it was the first time in 290 years that relatives from Germany and Tablertown had met.
Not having known he had African American family members, Rosenberger said the discovery was interesting.
“It was a major change,” he said. “I didn’t know much about African Americans.”
With the population of Black people in Germany marking only 1%, Rosenberger recounted he had not ever seen a Black person until he was six years old when, on a train, he was given a banana by an American soldier.
Rosenberger traveled to Chicago in 1972, where he witnessed the city in great turmoil and racial riots. After seeing the destruction of the city, he said he was appalled by racial inequality directed toward the Black community and is happy there seems to have been some progress made. Touching on the murder of George Floyd, Rosenberger said he has learned a lot about African American history and the improvements that need to be made.
“Having African American cousins, this makes the change,” Rosenberger said.
Butcher has been asked if he has hard feelings toward his white ancestors, but he said he sees no point in being angry. Although he laments that his ancestors were enslaved, he is adamant that it is important to learn from history and not to let it repeat itself.
“I thought, ‘Why would I be angry? This is our history,’” Butcher said.
Kenton Butcher was also present. After finishing his Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, he devoted himself to studying his family’s history.
“For me, it has always been a history I’ve known,” Kenton Butcher said. “Ever since I was young, my uncles have always told me, my Aunt Ada especially. For me, what’s been the shift has been the historical research, kind of corroborating stories we’ve been told.”
Kenton Butcher also said the most rewarding part about the entire process has been the new connections he has been able to make and help foster. Additionally, his research has allowed him to dive deeper into what his identity means to him.
“Black identity is not one thing,” he said. “There are many different ways of being Black in this country.”
Butcher called the event “historical” and said it meant the world to him that Rosenberger came all the way from Germany to speak. After all, it was a family reunion 290 years in the making.