KATHERINE FLORY AND THE ZODIAC
ROXANN FLORA RHEA
Katherine Flory, alleged daughter of Joseph Flory, who was said to
been born at sea prior to the landing of the Ship Hope on August 28, 1733, is
best known for what we do not know or cannot prove about her. We don't know if she had a baptismal
certificate as stated by Walter Bunderman in his book, nor do we know what ever became of it.
He translated the purported document from German to English as follows: "Kathleen Flory
is (word missing)...on this 8th day of September in year of our Lord 1733 in
sign of the virgin". It is an understatement to say that the name Kathleen is suspect as a
German name! Dick Gethmann gave an excellent description of the document in a Flora
Listserve: "The document has two fold marks, it is partially torn, and it looks like there are
some stains on it. It has 'decoration' both around and within the document, which makes reading
it difficult". I have not seen the photocopy in Bunderman's book.
After consulting with the Lutheran Archives in
Philadelphia (about 1998) I was assured that baptismal certificates were commonly issued to Lutheran
families in Colonial America.
"In sign of the virgin"...is Virgin written in Latin (Virgo) or in
German (jungfrau)? Are we seeing evidence of a Zodiac sign written in a church
document. Impossible, I thought. The wording sounded almost Roman Catholic. My inquiries pertained to
written Zodiac signs (not symbols). A German correspondent of mine answered my
these signs by saying that the German Mennonites used Zodiac signs in their family Bibles
because they did not
like the month names used by the government and by the official church.
I placed requests (in August, 1999)on the Brethren Listserve and the
Flora Listserve for information re signs of the Zodiac being used in the recording of
births. Many folks gave personal experience with old family records and several had expertise
in the Signs of the Zodiac. It became apparent that the usage was widespread, albeit,
not entirely consistent. Brethren and Mennonite denominations were mentioned frequently.
Several inquiries led to a contact with a librarian from a Mennonite
university in Harrisonburg, VA, who was able to give me some solid answers. She
said that in their collection, they have many books with family records written in them.
It is very common for the birth records to give both the date of birth and the sign of the
Zodiac (such as In the sign of the Virgin, Taurus, Capricorn, etc.). As far as she knows this
practice was common to Germanic families regardless of denomination. Most of the collection
is Mennonite, but one appears to be Reformed, another Brethren. She has no way of knowing
if the signs were significant other than for marking an event. She does know that
Mennonite (and other German families) often noted the signs/phases of the moon in
A sociologist at Elizabethtown College in PA. referred me to a
Lutheran pastor, known as an expert on Pennsylvania German culture. The pastor and I
spoke by phone (July, 2001). His comments indicated that the Zodiac signs were used by both Germans
and Pennsylvania Germans from about 1700 to about 1770. They were used in almanacs and
in the recording of births, etc. and included a 24 hour Zodiac. Folk beliefs and
superstitions probably played a large part in their usage. I believe he also mentioned the moon
signs; he has "possibly" seen Zodiac signs used in Church records as well
as in family
records. He also felt that the name Kathleen was out of place in a German document. His final statement
was that one cannot build a theory concerning which religion was involved, based on usage
of Zodiac signs.
Regarding the time frame mentioned by the Lutheran minister, I would
cite a reference in a the book titled "Christian Gish of Virginia" compiled by Josephine
Costello Huffaker in 1989. A specific devoted "Dunkard" family is mentioned,
and the family Bible contains entries (in German) of each family birth including
day, time of day and month. These appear to use one Zodiac sign for hour of birth and another for month of birth. The
father reportedly used the Zodiac signs daily for guidance. Later one of the sons kept his
family records in his Bible
using a Zodiac sign only for the hour of the birth. These two Bibles covered a period of time
from the 1790's until 1833. (Section D pp. 1-2 and p.7).
Another contact was made in August, 2001 with a gentleman from the
Lutheran Archives in Philadelphia. My description of the alleged "baptismal
certificate" prompted him to remark that he agreed with my view that it was part of a family
Bible or some other family record...not a baptismal certificate. He has never come across an
entry in a church book which contained signs of the Zodiac in the body of the entry....most are
quite sparse, and the date of birth is almost always only day/month/year. It is possible that
symbols of Zodiac signs could have been built into the Fraktur art (a German style of type
of angular, broken lines) used in baptismal certificates. Might these be the
"decorations" Dick referred to? In addition, the gentleman from the Archives
commented that the Pennsylvania Germans were certainly well aware of the Zodiac and other folk beliefs. He
remembers his own parents dealing with plantings depending on the phases of the moon, certain
days of the year, etc. Almanacs always contained the full layout of signs of the Zodiac for
the entire year.
It appears that the use of Zodiac signs by Germanic peoples
had little to do with their religious denomination. I have not explored the many facets of
Zodiac signs (sun, moon, and Ascendant signs), since my focus was on the use of signs, not the
signs themselves. Although this report is not "scholarly,"
perhaps some light will be shed (sunlight or moonlight, take your
choice) on the subject. The Katherine problem is, unfortunately, still with us! My conclusions
about her are, of course, my personal opinions. The religious affiliation
of both Katherine and Joseph remains unknown, as does much of their
history. Would the old requirement
of Brethren rebaptism be a factor? If her name were Kathleen, as Bunderman indicated in his
translation, we are certainly not dealing with a German female. It is my feeling that the
preponderance of evidence would indicate that Bunderman's representation of a "baptismal
certificate" was incorrect and that the "document" is from a family birth record or
Bible record. If
this is the case, we can possibly say with a fair degree of certainty that Katherine was not
born at sea, since the ship landed on 28 August, 1733. Bunderman felt that the "birth at sea"
story was a Naff family tradition. Interesting, since she was, after all, supposed to be a Flory
who married a Naff. I still carry Katherine only as a possible spouse of Jacob
Naff...perhaps a second wife. To date there is virtually no proof of this relationship
other than her grandson, the Rev. Isaac N. Naff's autobiography (about
1894), which apparently also no
longer exists. He referred to Katherine as Eva, which presents an entirely different set of
All of my references are not named, purely because I did not obtain
their permission to do so. Although I am unable to answer comments or questions, I will
enjoy reading whatever others may contribute. It is obvious that a copy of the Bunderman
"certificate" needs to be submitted for translation by someone with expertise in reading German
script. Dick Gethmann suggested this to me quite some time ago. Volunteers?
The image of the
certificate below was graciously supplied by William Lucas and Dan Hagy.