Ona Lighthouse
 Surname Origins

Chapter IV: Bickels and Pickels

     In the course of researching different branches of the family tree, one often runs into what appears to be the proverbial brick wall. This appeared to be the case when trying to find the ancestors of my great-great grandfather, Anthony Bickel. We knew from Robert Safford Bickel’s biographical sketch that the family had once lived in Botetourt County, Virginia, but census records and land records failed to show any trace of them. We knew the names of his siblings, but not of his parents. Everything pointed to this being a dead end.
     Then, while on the track of another Bickel family, which ultimately turned out to be a false lead, a researcher from that family gave me a tip. Some Bickels went by the name of Pickel or Pickle. This is because when a German pronounces the name it comes out as a soft “B” and sounds to an American like he is saying pickle. Census takers and land office clerks wrote it down like it was pronounced. Some German immigrants would apparently accept this as an Anglicization. My two sisters and I picked up on this on a genealogy expedition to the charming little town of Fincastle, Virginia, population 282. This is the county seat of Botetourt County. We had searched through marriage, court, and land records to no avail. There didn’t seem to be any trace of the Bickels. I remembered the previous tip. We finally looked under Pickel, and eureka! There they were, all of the land transactions. This is where we finally found Jacob and Catharine’s names.
      Although there were exceptions, when the family lived in Pennsylvania and also back in Germany, they had gone by the name of Bickel. It was mostly after they came to Virginia that it was spelled Pickel or Pickle. After Jacob died, it was again spelled Bickel. The Pickel/Pickle spelling lasted for about twenty-five to thirty years. It was only in the last part of the nineteenth century that the spelling of names became more standardized so seeing the name spelled Bickle was also common, and some descendants today still spell it that way. Bickel was the original German spelling and Bickle became the anglicized version, which was adopted by some, but not by others. Both spellings were sometimes used on different occasions by the same person and sometimes even in the same document.
      Complicating the search in the Virginia and Pennsylvania records also was the fact that there were other families of Pickles, who had been Pickles all the way back to Germany. There are cases where the various families seem to intersect, in that they sometimes lived nearby each other in the same county. It is possible that those families may be distantly related, but we haven't found any concrete proof of that. There is one other Bickel line that started out in Germany, then went to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to West Virginia and then to Meigs County, Ohio, that underwent the same name changes as our family. Meigs County was once a part of Gallia County, where our family too, ultimately settled. I think it is very likely that these families were related to each other and that when Frederick and Dorothy Bickel came to Pennsylvania, they settled in Lancaster County because some relatives were already there.
      There are also two possible times where the name was recorded as Pickel in Pennsylvania. One of the muster rolls from Jacob’s militia unit listed him as Jacob Pickle. There are also land tax records in Lancaster and again in Dauphin County that list a Jacob Pickel. This is most likely our Jacob, but hasn’t yet been positively confirmed. I have corresponded with a descendant of the previously mentioned Tobias Bickel of near Myerstown and he too reported that the Pickel spelling had cropped up in his family as well.

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