by Valerie Nusbaum
Randy and I moved to Thurmont almost 30 years ago. We were welcomed warmly around town and generally accepted as part of the community. However, when new people move to any small town there’s always some hesitancy by the locals to grant the newcomers local status. We answered all the questions about where we came from and who our “people” were, but we knew we’d have many more years ahead of us lodged in the “move-in” category. We took part in town celebrations and activities, joined a few groups, supported local businesses (and started one of our own), and we still got the occasional suspicious look from someone whose lineage traced back more than 200 years with roots grounded in Thurmont soil.
Back in the day, Randy would go out to run errands around town and he’d come home laughing and overjoyed when someone—anyone—had recognized him. Randy came home one day and proudly proclaimed that he surely must be a local because the kid at the pizza place had given him a nickname and had yelled it at him out on the street. I’m not sure that being referred to as “Pepsi Man” makes one a local, but it made my hubby happy. Over the years, Randy has been called a few other names, but I won’t print those here.
We’ve lived in the same house for the last 29-plus years, and we’ve seen neighbors and old-timers come and go. We’re pretty much the old-timers now, and we consider ourselves locals, but we still get asked how long we’ve lived here. Occasionally, it turns into a competition that we usually lose, with the other party doing a head shake and an eye roll at our newness to the area.
So, imagine my surprise when Randy did some research into my family tree. He’d spent several years researching his own family history through Ancestry.com, complete with DNA testing. I’d held off on that for myself because the idea of drooling into a test tube just didn’t appeal to me, but that’s neither here nor there for the purposes of this column.
Randy showed me documentation that my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Matthaeus Ambrose emigrated from Germany sometime between 1696 when he was born and 1736. Old Matthaeus settled in—wait for it—Thurmont, Maryland! Oh, yes he did. Thurmont was actually Mechanicstown in those days, as we all know, but it’s still right here. Matthaeus married a local woman named Maria Catherine Spohn, and the couple had a son in 1736. Their son, William Henry Ambrose, grew up to become The Reverend Ambrose. So, my roots to this community not only go way back, but I’m also from good stock. Matthaeus and the family owned a flour mill on Owens Creek, and after his and Maria’s deaths in 1784 and 1780, respectively, some of the Ambroses migrated to Berkeley County, West Virginia.
Several generations later, my great-grandfather, George Wilson Ambrose, was born in West Virginia in 1868, and he moved to Brunswick, Maryland, to find work on the railroad. George and his wife, Eliza Catherine Hoaf, had twelve children, one of which was my dear grandfather, Ralphie.
Ralph and Ethel Virginia Whittington married and had four children, including my mother, Wanda, who lived almost all of her 90 years in Brunswick. Wanda married John Clifford Zombro from Bolivar, West Virginia, and I came along six years later.
Randy, who is from Walkersville (and Mount Pleasant), and I looked all over Frederick County for a place to call home. Things were quite different in Thurmont back in those days, but we liked the area and the people seemed nice. Heck, any small town with two big buffets couldn’t be bad, right? We chose a corner lot in what was to be a new, small development, and we built a modest house, adding more space when we outgrew what we started with. We’ve seen a lot of businesses and people come and go, and we’ve done our best to adapt. We’re still here and, like it or not, we plan to stay a while longer.
Speaking of Randy, I owe him a big “thank you” for doing this research for me. He worked hard on it and all I did was bake some brownies…and go with him to pick strawberries…and buy him dinner at Los Amigos. I also went out and cleaned the upholstery in his truck from when he got hot fudge all over the seats. Marriage is a give-and-take, no matter where we live.
It’s funny. I grew up in Brunswick and I had a wonderful childhood with my parents and brother, grandparents, and loads of cousins and aunts and uncles. I love my hometown and have the greatest respect for the people in it. The folks in Brunswick always did and still do treat me like a local and one of the old guard. But when I moved to Thurmont, I felt at home and now I know why. I can feel you shaking your head and rolling your eyes, and that’s just fine with me, but don’t tell me I’m not a local anymore.