Berlin, Ohio: Reconnecting With My Roots in Amish Country!

amish in ohio country farm

My trip to Berlin, Ohio, also known as Amish Country, was so rewarding on a personal level. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I’m Amish royalty. Ok, royalty might be stretching it, especially considering that Amish folks are too modest to throw around such terms.

But I did learn at a young age that I was descended from Christian Shetler/Schoettler, who apparently founded an Amish settlement in Pennsylvania in the 1800s. I’ve even heard that someone in our family still has the original land grant signed by William Penn himself!

So when the state of Ohio and Holmes County invited me to make a stop in Berlin, Ohio, the heart of Amish Country, I knew I had a great opportunity to get to know the local Amish and Mennonite communities and to reconnect with my roots.

Shetler is a big name in the Amish world. Surely there had to be some distant relatives living in the area…

shetler road amish country ohio

My History With the Amish in Ohio

My grandfather was born Amish. He was one of 18 siblings, and as far as I know, all of the others remained Amish. He left the religion as a young man and became an electrician (oh, the irony.)

I didn’t ask much about my Amish ancestry growing up, but when I started getting older, I discovered that as an infant, I had traveled with my parents to New York state to visit some Amish relatives.

That was exciting on a number of levels. The idea that I could actually meet Amish uncles and cousins had previously seemed unthinkable. Didn’t they shun everyone who leaves the community? Didn’t they avoid “English” (non-Amish) people? I had little real knowledge or understanding of the Amish and their views on outsiders.

A few years back, I went with my dad and grandfather to an Amish event, essentially a massive garage sale in which dozens of Amish families came to meet and sell things to each other and to local non-Amish folks.

At this event I learned that not only was my grandfather not being shunned; he was greeted cordially and introduced me to some of my Amish relatives, including one of his sisters who remembered me from the time she last saw me as a baby.

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amish-farming berlin ohio

During this trip I discovered the existence of a softcover book called “The Christian Shetler Family History” that tracked our ancestry back to the 1800s. At the time, I thought it was an interesting novelty item, but later I would wish I had obtained a copy myself.

Meeting My Relatives in Berlin, Ohio

Holmes County, Ohio is home to around 38,000 Amish residents, making it the largest Amish community in the world. As part of my visit, I hooked up with Amish Heartland Tours for a backroads trip around the area.

When Linda, my guide, heard that I was curious whether there were any folks in the area with my last name, she knew just where to go. One of the things Amish Heartland Tours offers is the chance to have a meal with an Amish family, and there’s a Shetler family that participates in the program.

It was too early for dinner, but we headed over there to say hello. The family welcomed us and chatted with us for a bit. As a recreational volleyball player, I was particularly interested to hear that their daughter plays volleyball, which is popular in many Amish communities (do a YouTube search if you’re so inclined.)

berlin-buggy

Amish Country and Berlin, Ohio provided me with a special personal moment.

 

After I mentioned my last name, they brought out a copy of the Family History book that I had been seeking. It didn’t take long to flip through and find my grandfather’s name.

We confirmed that this family and I share a common great-great-grandfather, which produced smiles around the room. We shared a really nice moment upon realizing that the unlikely pairing of this Amish family from Berlin and this restless travel blogger from Chicago were family.

The book allowed me to trace my ancestry back to Christian Shetler, who was born in 1804 in Germany. Further online research that night uncovered a family website with additional information that traced my family tree back to a Michael Schoettler who emigrated from Switzerland to Germany in 1726.

How many people can say they were able to trace their ancestry back 300 years in less than 24 hours time? I was grateful that the Amish keep insanely detailed genealogy books, and grateful that I had gotten the opportunity to connect with relatives whom I had never met.

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The visit was one of my most satisfying travel moments ever and provided further proof that often the best thing about travel isn’t the attractions you see, but the people you meet.

Tips for Visiting Berlin, Ohio

Berlin, Ohio is centrally located in the state, slightly more to the eastern side. You can see that it’s centrally located between three major metropolitan areas. That makes it an easy drive for many midwesterners.

berlin ohio amish country map

Berlin is about a 90-minute drive from Cleveland, two hours from Pittsburgh, and just under two hours from Columbus.

Berlin isn’t a huge town, so you can see it all in a day. But there’s enough to do to spend a weekend if you like. Traffic can get backed up at times during the summer tourist season, since all the roads are only two lanes.

More Amish Country Content!

While many people think of Lancaster, Pennsylvania as the heart of Amish Country, Holmes County and Berlin have a larger population. Amish Country, Ohio is this month’s featured travel destination on the blog.

Click to read about the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center, how to find authentic Amish experiences, and visiting the famous Heini’s Cheese Factory in Holmes County.

These posts describe how the Amish and Mennonite communities in Berlin, Ohio live, how they feel about tourism, and how you can visit the Amish in Ohio responsibly.

About Quirky Travel Guy

Scott Shetler is a Seattle-based freelance writer & fan of indie rock, road trips, ice cream, squirrels on power lines, runaway shopping carts, and six-way intersections. Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, which may earn me a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase.

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14 Comments

  1. Hello Scott,
    We are related. My great grandfather 4 times is Christian Shetler. I live in central Ohio and have reconnected with many of our relatives over the last 2 years. Many of the Shetlers live in Wayne County and some have moved on to other settlements in Michigan, WV, Maryland and Missouri. My grandmother (Elizabeth Shetler) sister, Barbara is 96 and yougnest of 21 kids. I have been trying to track down more history of the family and your site helped. I have the soft back edition of the Christian Shetler- Fannie Nisely family history – it was a great start.
    Glad to find your posting.

  2. So interesting! I remember driving through Ohio when I was 15 and seeing Amish people in person for the first time, driving over the overpass as we spread under it. They waved the entire time! Very interesting people and history, can’t wait to read more!

  3. How neat! I’m not Amish, but friends say I am because of my lack of technological advances in my life. 😉

    I love Holmes County. I took a great tour there years ago and had dinner in a family home. I’m looking forward to reading more about your trip.

    1. Haha, you’re an honorary Amish 🙂 I wanted to do the dinner but it didn’t work out, but fortunately I was able to have a number of authentic interactions with Amish folks anyway.

  4. Scott:

    I love the Berlin area. Been there three times!! There is a certain Charm about the area too… I recall going to Heini’s Cheese Factory…parking in the rear and signs inside that said “We will gladly cut the cheese for you.”

    I think that the Berlin area is second only to the Lancaster, PA area in terms of a true Amish feel. I have been to Amish communities in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Ontario and West Virginia. Berlin beats them all!!

    Be proud of your Amish heritage Scott!! I suppose that is why you are still careless eh?

    Cheers
    Sumoflam

    1. I went to Heini’s as well! The homemade fudge and cheese were fantastic. I only spent a few minutes in Lancaster and didn’t see a lot of Amish, but I need to go back there.

  5. A great story Scott. I’m so excited that you linked up with your relatives.

    I’m a genealogy buff as well. Tracing my family has been interesting as they wrote nothing down and don’t remember anything. I have to wait for funerals to find out things as somehow people come out of the woodwork and remember things then.

    I’ve been to the Amish country; I may have been almost ran over one of your relatives; long story to be told over a beer though…

    I love that area of the country. I’ve visited some Amish in Kansas as well. Great food at the local sandwich spot.

    1. Thanks Kerwin. Getting into genealogy is fascinating. I have a friend who has spent a lot of time and effort to go back a few hundred years and it can be painstaking work. How far back have you been able to trace?

      1. My husband is the Shetler. I love that his history and ancestry is Amish. Combined with my Appalachian heritage of simplicity and living off the land we made a great pair. It’s such a rich history of a simple and loving people. His family is also from Ohio! Maybe distant cousins.

  6. What a great experience! I’m so glad for you that the Amish keep such great track of their history. Someone once supposedly traced my family’s roots back to biblical days, yet I don’t know where to find this information. It’s also great that your grandfather was greeted so warmly even though he left the religion. Leaving doesn’t seem an easy step to take, so I’m sure that meant a lot to him.

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