by John E. Ruch, FRHSC, CMH, UE

The following MUST READ article by John E. Ruch [s/o Winnifred Hendershot Ruch A1] was originally published in 2 parts in the January and May 1991 issues of HENDERSHOT RESEARCHERS NEWSLETTER, edited and published by Evelyn S. Baer. John has revised it for 2003.

(In what follows, please excuse me for speaking as if all Hendershots descend from one line of immigrants. They do not, but there is a strong tendency for us to think that way especially when it comes to this subject.}


Sooner or later every Hendershot will hear the story of the von Hayderschatts -- ³ancestors² of our family, and sooner or later some wet blanket like me takes the romance out of it. It must be stated immediately that the Hendershot claim to descent from the von Hayderschatts, and to bear their coat of arms is simply NOT justified by history.* Beginning in 1974, I investigated these claims and found them to be without any documentary foundation or even a tradition that has a really credible source. Nevertheless since the 1890ıs, like a bad weed, these claims have taken firm root in many places and are almost impossible to eradicate. New researchers soon find the old writings about the noble tradition**, and become enthralled by the lure of a lost heritage. Unfortunately for them, their attempts to verify it will be wasteful of time, money and sentiment, and will probably result in murderous thoughts toward the author of the tall tale Cleveland B. Hendershott [Cleveland Blanchard Hendershott 1868-1940, s/o Robert 1850 C2]. At the outset, I should emphasize that cousin Cleveland was a good genealogist when he stuck to the facts and families with whom he had personal contact. But, he would go off the deep end whenever facts failed, or where traditions stood alone, or when he tried to bridge gaps to the distant past.

Around 1940, when I was about age 10, my great aunt Elizabeth talked to me about our family history, and with great pride showed me the ³Hendershot Coat of Arms². Hendershot relatives of her generation from California to Canada had an unshakable belief in the genuineness of this heraldic story, although they could not follow the reasoning of Cleveland Hendershott who created this fiction, which at best was very shakey. After a high school art class, in which I indulged my own heraldic urges by painting the coat of arms amateurishly in a number of ways and sizes, I put it in the back of my mind. The tale of noble ancestors only re-emerged from my memory in 1974 when an illness forced me to change my direction of interest. During my recovery, my mother presented me with Alfred Hendershotıs important contribution to Hendershot genealogy, based on Clevelandıs research. Being of a younger generation than either, I had advantages they did not. I had more education and experience in historical research, and had travelled in Germany and studied the language. The clues in Alfredıs book now set me off on the trail of the ³noble Hendershot Hayderschatt family². To ³crack the case² took many hours of research and several hundred letter counting enquiries from me, and replies from experts and archives. I had to follow both the genealogical and the heraldic trails to be sure of the facts about our family, and of this particular coat of arms. The family story began to unravel in six or eight months, but it was not until another year passed that the myth of ³nobility² lay in ruins on my desk.

³Per aspera ad astra² (Through rough ways to the stars) runs the family motto invented by CBH. It would be truer if it could be translated as ³Through hard work from star studded dreams back to plowing the old farm².


In simplest terms, I approached the ³noble tradition² as if it were a problem in simple common sense. I asked myself the questions: What did we know for certain: what else did we need to know that might prove the case? When I had answered those questions, I proceeded to dig into history and the archives to find the historical details. The problem could be researched from two highly specialized approaches: (A) through the direct genealogical enquiry, (B) through tracking the heraldic pretensions (using ³pretensions² in the historical sense of ³claims²).

Approach (A): The actual story of how I traced the German Hendershot family is material for another article. More important for now is what I found so far, that the earliest members of the Hendershot family (that I discovered), were illiterate and feisty farmers, tenants of a large farm called Naumburger Hof near Meisenheim in the German Palatinate in 1673. They could not write, but made their marks on leases. They were clearly not of the educated, noble class. Wilhelm, the father, was identified as a lapsed Catholic, coming originally from the old Duchy of Berg, a small province running 30 - 40 miles southeast from Dusseldorf. He came to the Meisenheim area in the 1660ıs and married a strict Lutheran woman. He died 1688 in his middle age, leaving her to finish raising a family of eight children.

Approach (B): To follow the coat of arms, I went into heraldry -- the study of such arms and their history, and so on. This necessarily involves genealogy because specific coats of arms belonged to specific people. Arms were passed on by inheritance to their direct heirs, and they jealously protected them from misappropriation by other, unrelated people. My heraldic enquiry began with searching armorials, i.e. dictionaries of arms and their owners. Although there are now additional, newer reference books to consult, I came to realize later that in using the old standard texts printed in the 1800ıs, I was following in Cleveland's footsteps. I also contacted numerous heraldic authorities both in North America and Europe including Great Britain.

Heraldry is very intensively researched in Germany. So when the top German heraldic experts shook their heads and told me they couldn't find any Hendershot family at all let alone nobles, I knew it would be really tough proceeding any further. Over many months I found important clues in the following order :
(1) an entry in J.B. Rietstap's ARMORIAL GENERAL under Hayderschatt which coincided with the information Cleveland gave, that is : the basic description of the arms, the date of ennoblement 1612, and location as Regensburg in Bavaria. Cleveland must have found this before he started looking for the Hayderschatts. (2) Nothing is known in Regensburg about Hayderschatt or Hendershot families.
(3) However, Cleveland had added that the Royal Bavarian Heralds in Munich had a painting of the arms. Those heralds, of course, no longer exist and genealogical experts in Munich know of no such painting. After much thought, I decided to try another tack here later.
(4) I cast the heraldic net wider asking experts in the provinces and other Germanic countries surrounding Bavaria. From an expert on nobility in Vienna came a late 19th century reference to the Hayderschatts' coat of arms. This was based on a certified copy, dated 1613, in Nurnberg of the Hayderschatts' actual charter of nobility.***
(5) From the German National Museum in Nurnberg came a photocopy of the document itself. It identified three Hayderschatts as imperial soldiers who had fought in the Netherlands and on the Turkish frontier. The copy had been made at an obscure place called Marimont or Morimont.
(6) I searched and found several such places, narrowing it down to two possibles, one in the Switzerland-Alsace border area, the other in the Lorraine-Luxembourg border area, but information on these places is very scarce and records almost non-existent.
( 7) My search for records of both areas was inconclusive, but after extensive enquiries I was rewarded by information from Luxembourg that the Hayderschatt's coat of arms once belonged to a Luxembourgish family, locally called Heuderscheid (after their home village of Heiderscheid) and that the senior descendant of this family then alive was the Count de Maigret in Paris.
(8) From the aged Count I received information that the Heuderscheid/ Hayderschatt family had died out in the male line in the mid-17th century, and the female side had married into the Maigret family and taken their small estates in the Luxembourg and Metz area with them. Repeated warfare in the Luxembourg-Metz area has destroyed many archives. So it has not been possible to find the location of that family's estates. Although it seems less obvious than a compounding of the surnames Hayder and Schatt, language experts find the transformation of Heuder- or Heiderscheid into Hayderschatt more in accord with early 17th century corruptions of words from different parts of the country.


There remained a number of puzzling loose ends. In some cases, where a clue exists to his source, I have tried to check CBH's statements. In other cases, learned men who have looked at Cleveland's work, notice that he includes a few unusual details which are correct, but they cannot understand where he found them, or whether they were just lucky guesses. As an example of the first kind, let me take the reference to heralds. Cleveland stated quite definitely that the Royal Bavarian Heralds in Munich had a painting of the Hayderschatt arms, and in another place said that this College of Heralds had supplied him with a sketch of them. In those days before World War I, when Bavaria still had a king, it was open to anyone to write to the heralds and check on this. So sixty years later on the chance that the heralds' records still survived through a revolution and two world wars, I asked the Bavarian state archives if the records did survive, and if so, did they include correspondence of the early 1890's with a certain Cleveland B. Hendershot of Chicago?


And behold, light came from the east! Indeed ³there is correspondence² was the archivist's reply. It amounted to thirteen letters to and fro. Putting this in my own words, it is quite clear from the letters that CBH was full of wind and was playing the heralds for suckers. He gave not a single item of proof that bore out any connection between Hendershots and von Hayderschatts. It was all based on his say so, although he pretended to have some documentation. After he pestered them for some time, one of the heralds drew him a sketch of the arms described by Rietstap. Cleveland crowed to the heralds when he received this, ³It is exactly the same design as borne for generations by my family on various old objects.² To his relatives he pontificated something like this, "It proves we are related, and since the heralds sent this sketch to me, they must believe and confirm that we really are Hayderschatt descendants." I believe he had prevaricated so much on previous occasions about the issue that he was cornered now and decided to lie his way out of it.

Little did he, or the heralds for that matter, know that an unexpected twist awaited which proved he was talking through his hat. The heralds had found the same description he had, Rietstap's printed description (1884). He had not mentioned this to them for it would have betrayed his general lack of knowledge. However, after finding the copy of 1613, I discovered that a mistake had been made in Rietstap which gave the arms a distinctly different appearance from the originals, proving to me that CBH had absolutely no family heirlooms decorated with the real Hayderschatt arms. Cleveland Hendershot claimed in 1893 that these arms had been in use by his family for a long time.


It remains to show how Cleveland fancifully bridged gaps to the distant past. Like every eager family historian, he must have searched hopefully through an endless number of dictionaries. Like the rest of us, he was constantly frustrated to find nothing about the Hendershots in Germany. Unfortunately for us he fantasized, taking whatever seemed to him as likely explanations, and stated his imaginings as absolute truth. He also embroidered traditions, invented supposed relics, and told some tall tales. Here are two building blocks upon which he constructed the ³ancient foundation² of his family.

1. The Von Hayderschatt Claim
Cleveland must have found the name Hayderschatt while searching through RietstapŒs ARMORIAL GENERAL for the name Hendershot -- which, of course, was not there. He could find Hayder and Schatt families in the ALMANACH DE GOTHA. So, he probably said to himself, what could be more natural than the marriage of a Hayder gent to a Schatt lady, resulting in a hyphenated (and later compounded) name? Nothing, except that in the 16th and 17th centuries it was not customary to join two surnames in that way. This slight excursion into fantasy in turn became a springboard into the wildest, most intoxicating realm of imagination. In encyclopedias he found not only Hader but also the words Haydn, Hydn and Hyder. This was heady stuff indeed. Perhaps there was a distant relationship to the great composer Joseph Haydn! But without question, he continued to fantasize, the name Hayder and consequently Hayderschatt and Hendershot, must be descended from the state of H(a)yderabad in India and not just from any old citizen of that place, but from the royal family itself! At this point, Cleveland should have been gently led off to the local funny farm.

2. The von Heinrich zu Heinrichshoffen Claim.
When Cleveland checked in the ³blue books² for Hayderschatt or Hendershot families he would certainly not have found them, but in that exact spot alphabetically, he would have found the ³von Heinrich zu Heinrichshoffen² family. This name is written in a kind of noble German jargon. A free translation is ³the noble Heinrich family which has its seat at an estate called Heinrichshoffen². By a curious quirk of fate, in the early 1890ıs a member of that very family von Heinrich zu Heinrichshoffen actually resided in Chicago for a time. Cleveland may have met him and obtained general information from him, or he may only have known about him from the social pages of newspapers. He could have found out more from the ³blue books². In any case, our ardent fabricator tacked on a marriage between the noble von Heinrich and one of our ancestors as a kind of safety factor. If the Hayderschatt nobility claim was disproven, we could still claim to have noble blood through the female line.

3. Other Tall Stories
C.B. Hendershot was not the only one to insert tall stories in the genealogy. However, these ³traditions² often bear certain earmarks which strongly indicate that they were invented by CBH as he went along in corresponding with various branches of the Hendershots. Thus they were planted, possibly unconsciously, so that when they surfaced later, they appeared to come from different sources, and would give strong support to each other. One such story springs to mind. It supposedly proves the early American connection with von Hayderschatts, and it runs like this: There is a large flat stone in a stream in the north eastern U.S. which, conveniently, is only revealed at times of low water. Upon it is supposedly chiselled the coat of arms plus their names or initials by the earliest Hendershots in this country. Since no use of the ³Hayderschatt² arms by Hendershots before the time of CBH is reliably reported or seen for that matter this is another crock. If the stone and the carving on it actually exist, they must date from CBHıs time or later. The late WIlliam E. Hendershott, of happy memory, sent me another tale which came via his father, I believe from CBH. It has to do with a similar German noble family in the the town of Ober Dorla and the last of the line dying crazy in a tower. This was evidently used to explain the disappearance of the family name in the old country, and perhaps justifying a claim that the American Hendershots were the logical and legitimate successors of the extinct German line. The details are suspiciously like another story invented a generation ago for fun by a writer in Germany about the last Herr von Hundschied in the Palatinate. It involves religious troubles, conversion, disinheritance, madness, arson and the extinction of the family line in a castle fire.


Except for tidying up a few more loose ends, I felt I could go no farther in my quest. I was satisfied that there could have been no probable connection between an extinct noble name in Luxembourg-northern Lorraine area and a family of peasants near Dusseldorf. In trying to prove the claim to nobility, I had destroyed it. Now I sit back and ask myself, ³Have I achieved anything positive?² I find many good things which came out of the desire to find the actual facts of our ancestral stories. First, I learned many lessons from my own and other peopleıs mistakes. Among the other benefits were: joining genealogical, heraldic and historical societies, meeting and corresponding with some very remarkable people, and along the way learning a great deal of interesting information. For example, the noble Hayderschatt family was totally unknown to nearly every genealogist and heraldist when I began my enquiry, but I was able to pin it down for future researchers. Having learned some healthy lessons about research, I began to write historical articles about the family. Spinning off from that, as by-products of more research have come dozens of articles in specialized magazines, for the writing of which I have received, like icing on the cake, a Companion of Meritorious Heritage medal from the United Empire Loyalistsı Association of Canada, a Fellowship in the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada, and the Queenıs Golden Jubilee Medal.

John E. Ruch

* The accompanying illustration of the actual von Hayderschatt coat of arms is based on the drawing on the certified copy of the Patent (or Diploma or Charter) dated 1613. The ³Hendershot version² comes from Clevelandıs copy of the Bavarian heraldıs sketch.

** Unfortunately this is true of the GENEALOGY OF THE HENDERSHOT FAMILY IN AMERICA, by Alfred E. Hendershot, published 1961, which has the ³von Hayderschatt crest² emblazoned on the frontispiece, placed before the title page. Alfred included a section on this fable, stating these details, and unfortunately perpetuating these falsehoods far and wide. Alfred, being a conscientious genealogist, did make this disclaimer: ³Whether you accept this or not is up to you, I have only passed on the story.² I find it most unfortunate that he did so without emphasizing more strongly the highly questionable and unsupported claims stemming from a single source Cleveland B. Hendershot.

*** I transcribed the text of the Patent and translated it into English. It is maddeningly short of specific details, e.g. were the three Hayderschatts mentioned by name actually brothers, or of three generations, or just kinsmen? Where did they live, or where were they going to settle? Iım interested simply as a matter of curiosity. Fortunately, we donıt have to worry about that.