Beyond History Blog

Clark Gable’s German Roots

Andrea Bentschneider - 16. November 2015 - Birthdays, Celebrities, General, German-American

On 16 November 1960, Clark Gable, one of the most iconic and successful Hollywood actors, passed away. Born in 1901, he had made movie history with classics such as “Mutiny on the Bounty” and “Gone with the Wind”. He was said to be a box-office guarantee and was honoured with an Academy Award for his role in “It happened one night” in 1934. He played alongside Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly, just to name a few, and became a movie legend.

His family background unfortunately wasn’t all that shiny. His mother died when Gable was a toddler and his family faced financial problems a lot – when he decided to become an actor, at first he had to build up his chronically undernourished body. His family history though is very interesting from a genealogical point of view. The roots of Gable’s father went back to Native Americans while his mother apparently had German heritage: Adeline née Hershelman was born in 1869 to John and rosetta Clark Hershelman in Pennsylvania. They were part of the cultural group called Pennsylvania Dutch.

This was the name for early German immigrants that settled especially in Pennsylvania. The biggest immigration waves happened from the late 17th to the late 18th century. Their own dialect was called Pennsylvania Dutch as well – the word Dutch here refers not to Dutch people, but to the German word “deutsch”. Clark Gables great grandfather, Johann Jakob Hershelman, had migrated from Trippstadt, Germany, to the US in the mid-19th century. Back then, Trippstadt belonged to the kingdom of Bavaria, today is part of the federal state Rhineland-Palatine.

This way the American icon Clark Gable also carried a piece of migration history with him and pleases us today not only with his movies but also from a genealogical viewpoint!

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