IV: Bickels and Pickels
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
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.