Albert H. Gerberich diaries
Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107
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Albert Horwell Gerberich (1898-1965) was born February 23, 1898 in Williamstown, Pennsylvania, the son of Albert Henry Gerberich (1864-1966) and Martha E. (Horwell) Gerberich (1864-1948). A sister, Eleanor Lear Gerberich (1899-1918), was born the next year. His father was a school teacher and public school administrator, and also worked for a time as a clerk at the Midvale Steel Company at Coatesville, Pennsylvania. His mother, a native of Staffordshire, England, was the daughter of Reverend Samuel Horwell (1837-1923), a Methodist clergyman.
Gerberich graduated from Parkesburg High School at the age of sixteen as class valedictorian. He attended Dickinson College in Carlisle from 1914 to 1918. After college he applied to the Consular Service and received an appointment in 1919. He served in a series of positions from 1920 through 1925, first as Vice Consul at Puerto Cortes, Honduras (1920-1922), then as Vice Consul and later Consul at Bremerhaven, Germany (1922-1924), and Consul at Maracaibo, Venezuela (1924-1925). He was in Honduras during a period of great political upheaval: there were at least seventeen uprisings or attempted coups from 1920-1923 following the so-called “Banana Wars.” While in Germany he witnessed the social upheaval of the Weimar Republic and the early rise of Nazism. After leaving the consular service in Bremerhaven in August, 1924, he spent some time at home in Parkesburg before being appointed to his new position in Maracaibo. It is unclear why he became unsatisfied with consular service, but shortly after his appointment, on his twenty-seventh birthday, he summarily resigned stating, “I can simply stand it no longer. This eternal, unjoyous, empty-hearted existence away from t he only loved ones I have on earth.” (Volume 4, Page 70)
Gerberich attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania from 1925 to 1926, earning his M.A. in “Romanics and Germanics.” During this period he also taught school for the first time as a replacement teacher in Commercial Spanish at West Philadelphia High School, and with his father he commenced his serious interest in genealogy. It was also at this time that he met a Nora Thompson, then living in Upper Darby. After several months’ courtship, he and Nora married. Unfortunately, the marriage was unsuccessful, and the couple divorced in 1933. From 1928 until 1941 Gerberich was a Professor of Modern Languages at his alma mater, Dickinson College, teaching German and Spanish. In 1930, while attending the German School at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, he met his future wife, Gisela Margit Heim-Zimanyi (1898-1953), an immigrant from Hungary whom he would court and eventually marry in 1934. Gisela, or “Gizi” was a cataloger at Cleveland Public Library, also an accomplished ceramic artist. Their marriage was a happy one. Gisela accompanied her husband to diplomatic posts in Central and South America. In 1935 Gerberich published Essays in Verse, including several poems dedicated to his wife. Their marriage remained childless.
Gerberich attended the Linguistic Institute of America summer program in New York in 1931, and became increasingly involved in the activities of this organization. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1932; his doctoral dissertation was Luther and the English Bible (printed Lancaster, 1933). He was named professor of romance languages at Dickinson shortly after receiving his doctorate, where he also continued to teach German.
While teaching at Dickinson Gerberich decided to resign from his academic position and return to foreign service. By June of 1941 he was being solicited by the Department of State to accept a permanent post abroad, and by September of that year he was serving at San Jose, Costa Rica, as Civil Attaché to the American legation, with Gisela by his side. He later served in the same capacity at Bogota, Colombia from 1944 to 1946. Upon returning to the United States he held a number of positions at the Department of State. During this period his mother passed away (1948), and on January 16, 1953, his wife Gisela suddenly died of apparent heart failure.
Gerberich retired in 1960, and spent most of the rest of his life with his father at their home in Bethesda, Maryland. He died on April 14, 1965, after what seems to have been a struggle with cancer. His father, Albert Henry Gerberich, was the only immediate family member to survive him; he died the following year in Saint Petersburg, Florida at the age of 102.
Albert Gerberich maintained a lifelong interest in genealogy. Often accompanied by his father and as time allowed, he conducted extensive family history research at repositories across the United States. His research extended into American families that had migrated to Central and South America. In 1925, in collaboration with his father, he published the History of the Gerberich Family in America (1613-1925). He subsequently published The Brennerman History (1938) and The Backenstoss History (1949). He published frequent articles in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, notably the Quarterly’s Special Publication No. 4, “Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Tax Lists, 1751, 1756, 1757, 1758.” He quickly became known as one of the foremost authorities on the Pennsylvania Germans. He was a member of the National Genealogical Society since 1928 ( Vice-President 1947-1948), the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania since 1931, the Pennsylvania German Society, the Huguenot Society of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Historical Junto, a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, as well as a life-long member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
The Albert H. Gerberich diaries are contained in thirteen ledger-sized bound volumes, covering a period from January 1, 1911, when Albert was twelve, until April 7, 1965, seven days before his death. The volumes are paginated, and individual dates are clearly marked, usually with the year noted as a header at each page. Since there are no other titles or sections marked, it is impossible to discern any theme or activity without at least a cursory reading of the text. The daily entries include observations of a sentence or two, up to several pages. In the early diaries there are frequent footnotes and annotations appended later.
In addition to the entries themselves, Gerberich inserted material within the volumes. These ephemera have been gathered in Box 1 in files listed by volume number and in the order in which they were found in the volumes, regardless of chronology. Many volumes contained inserts dated outside the scope of the diary volume. Items removed include, among other things: correspondence, both personal and professional; lists of books read; concert and theater programs; academic grade reports; church service programs; newspaper clippings, some concerning Gerberich, others concerning world affairs or social commentary that he found interesting; travel brochures and miscellaneous items concerning personal finance. Often an item inserted will be referenced in the diary at or near the date of the item removed. Volume 1 contained several pages from his original Wanamaker Diary that he kept as a child, and subsequently transcribed into the present volumes. Three extended typewritten inserts include the article “Through Western Honduras on Muleback,” an account of his travels during June, 1921 (Volume 2); an undated account of Gerberich’s relationship with his first wife Nora, perhaps intended as a court deposition (Volume 4), and several confidential foreign service reports regarding cultural and political affairs in Costa Rica, undated, but probably prepared in 1942 (Volume 7 and 8). Several of his letters to his parents, especially those written during service abroad, are especially detailed and descriptive. There are almost no photographs of Gerberich or his family, but inserted in Volume 13 were two photographs of Albert with his wife. Also inserted in this volume was a newspaper article from April 28, 1962 that profiled his father , Albert Henry Gerberich, on his 98th birthday, including a photograph. An obituary of Albert’s wife, Gisela, was inserted in volume 11. Several letters pertaining to Gerberich’s foreign service throughout his career are in Spanish or German, not translated.
The value of the diaries rests in the commentary and daily observation that Gerberich makes concerning his experiences growing up in small-town Pennsylvania, his strict Methodist upbringing, his intellectual and academic pursuits, his career in academia and the consular service, and his outspoken opinions concerning contemporary society, politics and world affairs. He is a voracious reader and consumer of culture: concerts, theater, opera. He is something of a writer himself from childhood on, and comments critically throughout his life on many of the works that he reads, inserting lists of books read each year, anywhere from 35 books in 1930, to 126 read in 1957. He also includes his own poetry, as well as short pieces of original music. His genealogical activities are recorded in the form of his accounts of travel and research conducted, especially in central Pennsylvania. There is little in the nature of genealogical source material, with the exception of several extended entries pertaining to American colonists in Central America, beginning on July 18, 1939 and continuing through August (Volume 6), followed by occasional research entries during his Central American travels.
- Gerberich, A. H. (Albert Henry), 1864-
- Gerberich, Eleanor Lear, 1899-1918
- Gerberich, Gisela Margit, 1898-1953
- Gerberich, Martha E., 1864-1948
- Gerberich, Nora T., 1898-
- Dickinson College
- Personal observations--20th Century
- United States--Description and travel
- United States. Consular Service
- United States. Department of State
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by James R. DeWalt.
- Finding Aid Date
- ; 2015.
- Use Restrictions
Open to researchers without restriction.