An Anecdotal Account of the SY / SEE Surname
By Charles M. Hall
When asked by our webmaster about my experience with Huguenots, I assured him that I do have some Huguenot ancestors. Although my example is narrow, I have hope that it will, in some way, help someone else with Huguenot ancestry.
Although my mother, Eleanor M. Hall, passed away in November (2000), I knew she had published a pamphlet, entitled; The SEE Family As I See it in 1984, which deals with our own Huguenot ancestors. In her research, she quoted extensively from an article by Mrs. Glenna SEE Hill, published in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record
I also knew that, although she had brought her research on the SEE Family to a logical conclusion, she had felt a great need to learn more about the family's origins. For myself, I had never actually done any research on this line. At least, that was the status of things until the summer of 1989. It was during that summer, that I was taking a genealogical field trip to the northeast part of East Germany, known at the time as The "DDR" (Deutsche Democratische Republik). I had taken similar 2-3 month trips the two preceding summers, but there was something special about that year. It was the year the wall came down.
My research in 1989 took me to the towns of Bismark and Plowen, near the city of Prenzlau, northeast of Berlin. I was in search of the surname HASENBANK, on behalf of one of my clients. In talking to some of the local residents, I learned that there was one Johnie SY, in the town of Bismark, who had HASENBANK ancestors. My meeting with Johnie SY was totally unforgettable. He reminded me of Peter Ustinov, who played a leading role in the movie; "Blackbeard's Ghost".
After telling Johnie about my HASENBANK research, and getting a rather doubtful response about his connection to my client's ancestors, I decided to capitalize on my presence at his door step and ask him about his SY family. Suddenly, I realized I had really pushed Blackbeard's hot button. He would have given me the moon if he thought he could have. He insisted we drive over to a neighboring dorf to visit his aunt and cousin to look at a book on the SY family, just in case we might be related; We went, we looked and we were!
There, near the front of the book, was my own ancestor, Jean SY, of Calais, province of Picardie, in France. The entry included his children and among them was my direct ancestor, Isaac SY.
I will now retrogress and tell what I already knew from my Mother's publication:
The Jean (Johnie) SY, who originated in Calais, Picardie, France, had 4 children. One of those children was Isaac, born in 1634. Isaac moved to Mannheim, on the Rhein River, in the German state of Baden and married a cousin and fellow French Huguenot emigrant, Esther SY (also spelled SEE), in 1657.
Isaac and Esther's first three children were born in Mannheim between the years 1668 and 1673. Their fourth child, Isaac Jr., was born in 1681, after the family moved to New York in the American Colonies. So, we see (pun intended), that Mannheim was merely a gathering place from which the Huguenots could emigrate to start a new life.
When I saw the SY family book, in Johnie's cousin's house, I was at first puzzled about how this DDR branch of the family could be related to our American SY (SEE) family. However, I soon became aware of how it was not only feasible, but totally logical. In reviewing the history of the dispersion of the French Huguenots, I learned that during the time of Pascal and DesCartes, the Huguenots represented some of the outstanding minds of France.
Their rights had been defended, by King Henry IV, when he signed the Edict of Nantes, in 1598. However, when the Louis Kings (XIV-XVI) came to power in the 1600's, the political climate for Huguenots became increasingly intolerable. Compensation for the lack of acceptance in their own country came, when they were cordially invited into neighboring countries.
One of these invitations, to settle in neighboring countries, came in the form of an edict by one of the Fredericks of Prussia. This King Frederick set aside a large area of land northeast of Berlin, in the Prussian province of Brandenburg and many of the Huguenots, from Mannheim, settled there, in the late 1600's and early 1700's. With one of these migrations, came members of our Jean SY family, originally from Picardie.
In conclusion, I would like to refer back to my 1989 trip to northeast DDR. When I arrived home in Utah, I informed my mother of the existence of the book about our Huguenot / German SY cousins. She was excited and disappointed; Excited to know that such a book was in existence, but disappointed that I was unable to acquire a copy of it. However, in the summer of 1990, we become twice blessed.
My client research took me back to the towns of Bismark and Plowen and while there I visited the dorf where I had seen the book. Unfortunately, Johnie SY had not been home. Also, his cousin and aunt were not home. The good news is, that the French Reformed parish church is very close to where the cousin and aunt lived, so I paid a visit to it. I found the son of the pastor to be home and very helpful. He told me his father would be home soon and invited me to wait. My wait paid big dividends.
When the pastor arrived, I described the book about the Huguenot SY Family and asked if he knew anything about it. He said; "Just a minute" and in a short time returned with a copy of the book. At this point I had difficulty containing my excitement, as I held the book and asked; "Would it be possible to get a copy of this book?" The pastor responded;"It is yours. Keep it." I could not believe what I was hearing. I offered earnestly to pay for the book, but he would not hear of it.
So, now, thanks to FEEFHS and John Movius, I finally have my opportunity to show the kind of gratitude deserved, to that French Reformed pastor, his son, Johnie SY, Johnie's aunt and cousin by submitting this article to the FEEFHS website. Oh yes, one more person deserves my and our thanks. Her name is Linda Frost Seamon, of Flagstaff, Arizona (daughter of my own first cousin, Ken Frost).
When Linda heard the miraculous story of the Huguenot/ SY book, she offered to enter the contents on her computer, so that many people could have access to the data it contains. After doing the entering, she submitted the data on all of the names in the book to the IGI (International Genealogical Index). So it now should be accessible to anyone who can get to an LDS Family History Branch Library.