30. Three Valentines: The Snyder / Snider Family of Germany, Rockingham County, Virginia, and Champaign County, Ohio

Some years ago while researching the Snyder / Snider family of Champaign county, Ohio — my mother’s ancestors — I ran across an unusual signature. It was on my ancestor’s court declaration concerning his service in the War of 1812. Following his brief testimony, he signed:


That stylized, unnecessary extension of the V in Valentine — sorry, I have to say it — stole my heart. It particularly did so because its author was 77 years old at the time. My ancestor was apparently a lifelong romantic!

By the 1870s when he made his declaration, the association of the heart glyph with Valentines was already well established. Accompanying is a picture of a Valentine card from that very decade. While the expression of sentiment seems a little tone deaf by modern standards, the association between love and the heart is clear.


The man with the heart-melting signature was John Valentine Snider, Jr. He was born in 1793 in Rockingham county, Virginia, the son of immigrant John Valentine Snider, Sr. — our second of three Valentines. Exactly when across the generations the heart glyph became associated with the given name will probably never be known. What has recently been discovered, however, is a third Valentine, far back in the family in Germany.

His discovery is actually the important part of the tale in this edition of The Genealogist’s Craft. For a number of decades, my father and I were stymied in identifying the exact German origin of Valentine, Sr. But then in 1992 an extraordinary revelation came by way of the mailbox. A new correspondent residing in Ohio sent along photocopies of two handwritten pages of birth information.  He wrote that they had been referred to in a 1904 letter as having been copied from “a family Bible since lost.”

The document contained the family record of the father of Valentine, Sr., as well as that of Valentine himself. It named the children of both generations and gave their birthdates. For the most part the transcription appeared to be literal, though judging from instances of fractured English grammar it had likely been translated from German by someone not fluent in that language.

An unusual feature of the entries is that they gave zodiac signs for each of the children, but in a manner that was unfamiliar. For example, the entries for two of the children of Valentine, Sr., born in the two very different months of January and October, both gave “Steer” as their sign. It now seems clear that in accordance with a practice previously noticed in Pennsylvania German custom [1], the zodiac of the birth records was lunar based, with signs changing roughly daily instead of monthly. Thus children with birth dates in separated months could indeed share the same sign.

A final notable feature of the document was that it stated that the “book” (i.e., Bible) had been purchased in Rissmuhl, Germany, in 1730. That was likely Rißmühl, a locality about a half mile NW of Stallwang, itself about 40 km east of Regensburg, Bavaria. Was this perhaps the geographic origin of the family? At the time the question could not be answered.

When I published the Snyder-Harbour Ancestry in 2005, I saw no reason not to give credence to this record, and accordingly provided an account of the father and siblings of Valentine, Sr., as well as what biographical information was available. I also photographically reproduced the two-page document in the book itself, because as I wrote in the text, the record was in danger of being lost to posterity. Annoyingly, however, when I searched the on-line databases of the time, corroboration of the birth records in the handwritten document continued to elude me.

In the decade since the book’s publication, however, databases have become more and more complete as extracts have continued to be made. It was with pleasure, then, that just before I first published the Omnibus Ancestry, I rechecked and finally found the children’s birth records, neatly laid out in extracts from German church records. The third Valentine was revealed, the grandfather of John Valentine Snider, Sr.

And Rißmühl? Most good genealogical stories leave a loose end or two for further investigation. That is certainly true in this case, for Rißmühl is almost 300 miles from the now-known German home of the Sniders. What on earth was one of my ancestors doing so far from home in 1730? Research will continue — my Valentine to the lives of our ancestors.

For more on the Snyder/Snider family, please see The Omnibus Ancestry, available for preview and download through Lulu.com at this link.  The Snyder-Harbour Ancestry is also still available there.


[1] Wertkin, G.C. (2004). Encyclopedia of American Folk Art. NY: Routledge.

Picture attributions: Public domain