Heart of a Southern Woman

A snapshot of life one blog post at a time.

Genealogy Research Identifies Easter Traditions from Relatives and Ancestors Worldwide


In my genealogical research, I have learned that my family is a typical American melting pot of ethnic origins! Our ancestors hail from Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, and Switzerland—at least. As we are preparing for our own Easter celebration, I was wondering how similar or how different some of my ancestor’s traditions might have been.  

Our own traditions include attending church as we were raised Protestant and believe that Easter represents the death and the rising of Jesus Christ, Son of God, to save us all from our sins and to give us eternal life.  It is basically, the basis of our Faith, and, is such an important time in the life of Christians.  We celebrate Easter with a long season of Lent.  However, Holy Week is marked with Maundy Thursday Communion in church on the Thursday before Easter Sunday.  This communion celebrates the Lord’s last supper with his disciples. On Good Friday, we gather at church to mourn the death of Christ upon the cross. Our own church holds a “Tenebrae service of Shadows”.  One of our daughters will sing special music with the choir, “One Sacrifice”.   The service itself begins with 14 lighted candles in the sanctuary, and as Christ walks his final passion, each candle is extinguished to signify his abandonment.  Easter Sunday, we gather to celebrate the joy of Christ’s resurrection and His salvation for each of us individually throughout the whole world. This is an astounding day for many of us faith wise!

Part of the joy of Easter at our house is gathering with family and friends for dinner.  Many in the United States serve ham for this dinner with other spring vegetables especially like asparagus and carrots for the Easter bunny. Surely you see turkey and beef as well. My own sister, however, serves a Crown Roast of Lamb every Easter without fail!  Bunny rabbit salads made of half pears are a treat for our family.

Since our family includes young grandchildren, an Easter egg hunt is in order for the day!  Of course, we give the children Easter baskets full of trinkets, chocolate, and other candy.  We hard boil and decorate Easter eggs as well.  In our own family, we often hide the baskets and the children have to follow clues to find them!

Easter 2015, hunting eggs with Katy and Evie

This is one way to hunt eggs! -grandchildren of author, personal library, HY Holshouser. 

Evie, Katy, and Liam with Easter Bunny, 2016

Grandchildren visiting the Easter Bunny—from the personal library of this author, H Y Holshouser.

What about our Hogue ancestors from Scotland?  I understand that they especially were sheepherders and that their and most Scottish Easter dinners include roasted lamb!  As with us in America, chocolate is the taste of the day!  Dessert might be chocolate cake and coffee! Chocolate eggs and bunnies are ever present for both! Easter egg hunts, horse displays, and battle reenactments make for fun and festive occasions. Of course, churches throughout Scotland hold special Easter services like ours, to celebrate Christ’s rising from death and giving us the grace of salvation. We had many ministers, mainly Presbyterian, in our Hogue family.  In fact, we are told that our first immigrant from Scotland was a Covenanter.  A covenanter was one of the many Scottish people who fought against the Catholics for the right to have their own personal covenant with God. In fact, his persecution by the Catholics apparently led to his flight to America.

Our Kearse family from Ireland and the same ancient family, the Des Cearsais of France, how did they celebrate Easter?  The French word for Easter is Pâques. To say Happy Easter, you can say “Joyeuses Pâques or “Bonnes Pâques.”  According to my general research, Easter is an important holiday in France also. It is a religious one, and a lively, fun time with Easter egg hunts to honor the coming of Spring. Like Ireland, roast lamb is the choice for a large family meal. In Ireland, it is also an important religious holiday as well, with many traditions. Confession on Good Friday, silence on the Saturday before Easter lends to a meditative state. Eggs take center stage on Easter as they are given up for the forty days of lent by many.  Chocolate eggs, decorated eggs—all symbolizing Spring, new beginnings, renewal and joy!

What about the Langhornes and others from England? Among many lovely and fun Easter traditions, Easter parades are one of the greatest. Children and adults don new clothes for good luck, and often children make elaborate paper hats to wear as they march in their local town parades!  Fun! Egg rolling, hot cross buns, Simnel cake, Morris dancing, and so much more contradicts the vision of the staid Englishmen and women! 

Abingdon Traditional Morris Dancing Princess Royal


Our marvelous Italian ancestors and relatives add so much spirit to our family. The BottosRaffosRivaros, Costas, DeSantos,  and more, mostly originate in the coastal area of northwestern Italy, near Genoa. Italy of course, is home to the Vatican, and the place for the pilgrimage of so many Catholics on Easter.  My mother’s Italian ancestors were Catholic as well.  Mass on Good Friday in St. Peter’s Basilica is followed by the Pope leading a candlelight procession on a walk symbolizing Christ’s walk to the cross.  Our own church reenacts this walk to the cross, and we are protestants.  

St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, Andreas Tille – Own work, Permission details Quote of http://fam-tille.de/italien/rom/2004_030.html – Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this images under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published


As I understand it from relatives, northern Italian Easter feasts often feature ham, like us!  Interesting. Of course, salami is a big choice as well.  Colomba, a dove shaped cake, made of almonds, egg whites, and sugar, is probably the most famous cake and available worldwide these days.

Italian bread with almonds and sugar,Colomba-Pasquale

Colomba Pasquale, An Italian Sweet bread J.P.Lon~commonswiki

What about our German JungblutsYoungbloods? And my husband’s Haulzhausen—Holshouser family?  According to a wonderful article from DW –Deutsche Welle —  http://www.dw.com/en/german-easter-traditions/a-1520904 — the Germans of course, also celebrate a religious holiday like most Christians.

Although mainly a Christian holiday commemorating the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Easter also marks the beginning of spring. The Germans, of course, have a whole range of customs and traditions to celebrate the change of seasons in proper fashion.

A time for eggs and bunnies

Eggs and bunnies are two of the oldest symbols of Easter in Germany and every spring shops boom with eggs and bunnies made of chocolate, cardboard or flowers in different sizes and wrappings.

The tradition for using eggs and bunnies for Easter originates from pagan worshipping where they were symbols of fertility and new birth and traditionally used for celebrations of the coming of the spring.

The Germans have a number of egg games which the children play over the holidays. One tradition is to blow eggs and paint them in multiple colours and patterns on Good Friday. The eggs are then put in a basket for the Easter bunny — Osterhase— to hide around the house on the night leading up to Easter Sunday. On the morning of Easter Sunday, the children go hunting for the eggs and often find that the Easter bunny has also left chocolate eggs and Easter presents for them to find.

It is also a custom that friends exchange the painted eggs as gifts or that young people in love paint eggs for their sweetheart.” Now that is a different tradition, which I find so special and romantic!  

For the Netherlands and our Van Vreeland, Van Swol, Voorhees, and Banta families, what was Easter like for them? According to many articles, they celebrate much the way we do…. or we celebrate much the way they do!  One of our favorite meals is a festive brunch and apparently, it is theirs as well:  eggs, cheese, ham, rolls…and did I say eggs?  The Dutch also take great pride in providing the thousands of tulips to decorate St. Peter’s in Rome for the Pope’s Easter service.  Wow!  Back home, they are also known for their beautiful painted eggs.  However, they do not have the Easter bunny, but the “Paashaas, the Easter hare!  

Our ancestors represent many more countries and traditions from around the world, but as you and I can readily see, we are more alike than different.  This Easter, as I pray, and as I play, I will have a keener sense of connectedness due to my genealogical research, and our worldwide collaboration.

Until we meet again, Helen Youngblood Holshouser




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Nicholas Martiau, Ancestor of George Washington and Jamestown Colony Engineer– 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks




Correction and Update, April 24, 2018. Upon researching more thoroughly I discovered that I had made a mistake in my research for this blog post. As it turns out, Nicholas Martiau is not my 9th Great-Grandfather.  I can only apologize and set the record straight for those who used this blog post as evidence for their own relationship to Nicholas Martiau.  As it turns out, while Nicholas Martiau’s daughter Mary Jane Martiau, 1631-1701 did marry my 8th great-grandfather, John Scarsbrook, b. 1627.  they only had two daughters together.  My ancestor John Scarsbrook born  1676, was the son of John Scarsbrook, 1627, and his second wife Elizabeth, unknown maiden name. (Note: 1. 1679: Mrs. Elizabeth BUSHROD wrote her will. She names Elizabeth, wife of Col. John SCARSBROOK.
2.  1679, 18 Apr: John SCASBROOK of York Co. wrote his will. He named his two oldest daughters Jane DUKE and Elizabeth CONDON executrices and directs that anything recovered from Mrs. BUSHROD’s estate be divided among his four minor children, Martha, Mary, Hannah and John SCASBROOK. )  Even though Nicholas Martiau may not be my direct ancestor, he is an important figure in American history, and I am pleased to have learned about him.  The rest of the history included in this post about Martiau is correct, only our relationship was incorrect.

In working on my genealogy of ancestors from the Jamestown Colony, I learned of a man named Nicholas Martiau, 1591-1657, who holds a strong place in American and Virginia history! He was a French Huguenot, a military engineer appointed by King James I (King James VI of Scotland) of England, at the express petition and sponsorship of the Earl of Huntington, to come to America and help build the fort at Yorktown, Virginia. He served as a Burgess from Jamestown in 1623. Many, many stories are written about Nicholas Martiau on ancestry.com, some of which contradict each other, unfortunately. However, between these and the scholarly works like that of John Baer Stoudt’s book entitled Nicolas Martiau–Adventurous Huguenot, certain facts emerge. 

Nicholas was born in 1591 on the Ile de Re, France, and raised a French Huguenot who learned to speak English by reading the Bible. Due to the religious persecution of Huguenots, his family escaped to England where he was naturalized English and was registered in a Huguenot church there. He left England and sailed for Virginia on the ship Francis Bona Ventura (sometimes seen as Francis Bonadventure) arriving in June 1620. His construction of a fence or palisade around the Jamestown Fort helped the settlers survive an Indian uprising in 1622. He was also instrumental in constructing the palisades at Yorktown, Fort Story, and Old Point Comfort, Fort Monroe. He can be seen in the first census taken in Jamestown in 1624 and was elected to the House of Burgesses from the colony. Later he served as a Burgess from Elizabeth City, Yorktown, and the Isle of Kent.  Nicholas also served as a Justice for the early court system of Virginia–with court sometimes being held in his home. 

Nicholas received land patents for bringing people over from England, and later as rewards for his work.  He settled on a 1300 acre plantation on the York River. His home apparently sat on a bluff overlooking a curve in the York River where it connects with the Chesapeake Bay.  What a beautiful place to live that must have been! Nicholas did not live to see his land become the modern-day site of Yorktown, Virginia, but his grandson donated or sold, depending on the report, 50 acres of land for the original site of that vibrant town in 1691.  The town’s creation established Yorktown as the principal location for shipping and receiving tobacco, and other goods via the port.  Wharves, warehouses, and other business buildings were established at the riverfront. In 1931, a monument was dedicated to Nicholas Martiau by the Martiau-Washington Memorial Association commemorating his accomplishments and his illustrious descendants like George Washington; Governor of Virginia, Thomas Nelson;  and Confederate Commander Robert E Lee.  An eleven-foot tall slab of Vermont granite, the monument sits on Ballard Street in Yorktown near where Martiau made his first home upon arrival in Virginia. Nicholas Martiau,  le buste de Nicholas Martiau, oeuvre du sculpteur Desire Bardot

We know that Nicholas was married three times. unfortunately, the name of his first wife and perhaps even two children are not recorded or at least have not been discovered at this writing. They are recorded as having arrived after him on  a separate ship. It is assumed that they died soon after arriving as did so many settlers.  In 1625, Nicholas married Jane Page Berkeley, the widow of a prominent man named Lt. Edward Berkeley–marrying her increased his social status.  Together they had a son Nicholas who died without children as well as a son Richard who died at age ten. Their three daughters, however, grew to adulthood and made great matches leading to the founding of many prominent Virginia families. His will can be found in the Virginia State Library in Richmond, Virginia and names his three daughters as Elizabeth,b. 1625 who married George Reade and leads to George Washington;  Sarah, b. 1629 who marries Capt. William Fuller; and Mary Jane, my own 8th great-grandmother who marries my 8th great-grandfather (convenient) John Scarsbrook. Nicholas marries a third time after Jane Berkeley’s death to Isabella, the widow of both Capt. Robert Felgate and George Beech with no children from this marriage.

Less you think Nicholas was a mild-mannered man, I’ll share one story that tells us more about his character. In 1635, Nicholas was a leader in a revolt against the tyranny of Royal Governor, Sir John Harvey. This was the first revolt against British authority in Virginia.  For his efforts, he was arrested and confined –but only for a brief while as Governor Harvey was deposed and Martiau released! He was a strong patriot, and it is interesting that his daughter Mary Jane married John Scarsbrook who was a leader in the Bacon rebellion! 

Nicholas is credited as the earliest American ancestor of President George Washington.  We can see the relationship in this descendancy chart:       

President George Washington (1732 – 1799)

is your 3rd great-grandson

father of President George Washington

mother of Augustine Washington Sr,

mother of Mildred Warner

mother of Mildred Reade

 Nicholas Martiau                                                                                                                                      You are the father of Elizabeth Martiau  

 In  St. Martin de Re, France, where Nicholas Martiau was born, in a garden behind the Ernest Cognacq Museum, there is a statue of George Washington, with the base of the monument featuring  a crest representing Martiau and his relationship to George Washington–dedicated by the American ambassador to France in 2007!     
Nicholas Martiau, George Washington statue,statue of George Washington w crest,  featuring Nicholas Martiau as Washington's earliest American ancestorNicholas Martiau Crest on George Washington Statue
Another caveat of being a descendant of Nicholas Martiau is that it qualifies them to join several “historical” organizations. One is “First Families of Virginia”, because Martiau arrived before the first census was taken in 1624.  His living in Jamestown qualifies his descendants for membership in the Jamestown Society also. Another important group to preserve our ancestor’s history is the “Nicolas Martiau Descendant Association”.  If I were going to join these groups however, my favorite I believe would be to belong to the august group of women with ancestors dating to early colonial Virginia called the “Grand Dames of Virginia”!
Here’s wishing you the most fun as you trace your own family tree! Helen
After writing this blog post, in May, 2014, my daughter Ali Holshouser Orcutt and her husband Greg Orcutt took their children to Yorktown where Greg took this picture of the plaque in Yorktown, Va. honoring Nicholas Martiau.
     Nicholas martiau plaque , pic. by Greg Orcutt, May, 2014





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