Four Holmes County Amish groups

Following yesterday’s post on the Ohio Amish shooting, there was some discussion on the group of Amish victim Rachel Yoder belonged to.

Rachel was apparently a member of the Andy Weaver Amish, which is colloquially known as the “Dan” Church (thanks to Michigan Mary, who was about a mile away at the time of the shooting Thursday, for filling in some gaps).

Rachel’s home community of Holmes County is unlike other large Amish settlements like Lancaster County and N. Indiana in one way: it is home to numerous Amish affiliations (if you’re wondering what terms like ‘affiliation’, ‘settlement’, and ‘district’ mean, try this short explanation).

amish groups ohio

Lancaster County and Northern Indiana are more-or-less comprised of a single unified group each.  While there are differences among church districts in those communities, there has not been anywhere the same degree of division and formation of new groups as has been seen in Holmes County.

Holmes County OH Amish affiliations

A brief outline of the 4 major Amish affiliations in Holmes County:

Old Order– the largest and what might be called the “mainstream” Amish affiliation in Holmes County.  They make up close to 2/3 of the total Amish population in Holmes Co.

New Order  This is a more “mission-oriented” offshoot from the Old Order which emerged in the 1960s.  They also dress plain and use the horse and buggy like other Amish.

Contrary to belief New Order Amish do not always use a higher level of technology than Old Order Amish; in some cases Old Order Amish can be more open to using certain technologies.  That said, there are groups of New Order Amish that even permit electricity and telephones in the home.  They make up around 10% of the total Amish population in the Holmes community.  More on New Order Amish.

amish mother daughterSwartzentruber– The most conservative Amish group.  Very limited technology, plainest dress, no SMV triangles on the buggy.  There are 3 subgroups of Swartzentruber Amish in Holmes County, comprising close to 10% of the total.  More info on the Swartzentruber Amish.

Andy Weaver– Between the Old Order and Swartzentruber in technology used and degree of conservatism.   Near 15% of the total Holmes Amish population.  Read more on the Andy Weaver Amish affiliation.

The names above are a bit misleading;  in a sense you can consider all of these groups “Old Order”.  In addition to these, there are about a half-dozen other subgroups in the Holmes County community which are typically offshoots of the affiliations listed above.

The circles are distinct, although that doesn’t mean that Amish don’t interact on many levels, including in the workplace, mission activity, and at events such as weddings, auctions and funerals.  An Amish Paradox does an excellent job detailing the differences among these groups.

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    1. SharonR

      Amish Groups

      Thanks for the explanation of “some” of the many groups of the Amish; I’m wondering what “district”, “settlement”, or “affiliation” are some of the Amish that are seen in the Mitchell, Indiana area (southern part of state)? While visiting our friends there, last year, we were told of them, and saw a few, in buggies, but our friends didn’t know ‘which’ group they might be of. Any ideas?

      1. Hi Sharon, I’m not really familiar with that community–which county is it? District is more a general term for congregation, while settlement would just be any established Amish community. Affiliation is more the “type” of Amish.

        1. SharonR

          Amish groups

          Hi, Erik,

          That would be Lawrence County, (Mitchell & Bedford) Indiana. Glad you cleared it up, about which is district, settlement and affiliation. There is so many different ones, it’s hard to know which is what. LOL

          Thanks, SharonR

          1. Al in Ky.

            Sharon and Erik — See my longer reply below. I forgot to
            mention in it that though most of the Swartzentruber Amish in this
            settlement live in Orange County and have Orleans or Paoli
            addresses, several of the families live in Lawrence County
            and have Mitchell addresses.

    2. Eli

      My father was born Amish in Holmes County but grew up Conservative Mennonite. Interestingly, both him and my uncle refer to Swartzentruber as Old Order and “regular” Amish as just Amish.

      I don’t know if anyone else uses it that way. Could just be an anomaly.

    3. David


      There are so many divisions. Which was the origanal that migrated to America?

      1. Lance

        There were 2 main migration periods of Amish to North America. The first was in the mid-1700s. They started in the area north of what is now greater Philadelphia, PA(Berks Co). They soon moved to Lancaster Co. and several other places in PA. Later they migrated to OH, IN, and IA. Most of the Amish all across North America are decedent from these original stock. These Amish speak a German dialect from the what was called the Alsace region. It is now called PA Dutch by outsiders and Deitsch by the Amish.

        The second migration was just before the American Civil War and these Amish are all called ‘Swiss’ Amish as they speak a dialect that comes from that region of Europe. They setting in several Mid-west communities, some of which are now extinct. They remain in Adams, Allen, Davies counties of Indiana and Aylmer Ontario. They have several daughter communities too. Most notably Seymour, Mo and Branch and Hillsdale Cos, MI.

        When Swiss Amish meet non-Swiss Amish, they often have to speak English, as the 2 dialects are just too different to communicate.

        If you want more details about Amish coming to America, I suggest ‘A History of the Amish’ by Steven M. Nolt.

    4. Al in Ky.

      I have several Amish friends in that area and visit there often.
      I have heard the settlement called by several different names —
      the “Orleans Settlement”, the “Orange County Settlement” or
      the “Orangeville Settlement”.
      There are three districts in the settlement — Orleans North,
      Orleans South, and Mitchell South. Mitchell South is sometimes
      called the Shetler District, taking the name of their bishop,
      Mose Shetler. Their affiliation is Swartzentruber Amish, one
      of the most conservative Amish affiliations.

      This group is not to be confused with the Amish who live mostly
      east of Paoli. Though the Paoli group is similar to the Orleans
      group in dress,low use of technology, non-use of SMV signs, etc., they are simply considered Old Order Amish and are not of the
      Swartzentruber affiliation.

      If you would stand on the Orange County/Washington County border
      near Livonia, within a twenty mile radius are four different
      Amish groups — Swartzentruber, Old Order near Paoli, Old Order
      near Salem, and New Order. The book Plain Diversity does a good
      job in explaining the differences and similarities between the
      groups. Reminds me a little of the four groups of Holmes County,
      though there are no Andy Weaver Amish in this Indiana area.

      1. SharonR

        Amish Groups

        Thanks AL — for your explanations of the settlements in Lawrence County, Indiana! Will have to look for the book you mentioned — Plain Diversity.
        Thanks, SharonR

      2. Lance


        In addition to the 4 current communities you mentioned, there are two defunct communities in the same 20 mile radius.

        There was a community north of Salem that was basically just like the main Elkhart/LaGrange/Nappanee Indiana community. It lasted about 10 years and achieved about 20 families in size before drifting apart. The last 2 families moved out about one year ago.

        Also, there was a buggy driving Old Order Mennonite group that was right on the Orange/Washington county line that never had more than 4 families. It lasted only a few years and ended more than a decade ago. They are still fondly remembered in the area.

        There is a non-plain, Holderman Mennonite church in between the Old Order and the New Order that really tried for a while to recruit from all the area Amish. To the best of my knowledge, none ever made the change. Their church is on Hardinsburg-Livonia Rd, just south of Livonia.

    5. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Details, details, details

      This is interesting stuff, thanks for elaborating on the who’s who.
      I have a quick question for everyone, by whom or how are district and settlements named? Is it done by the Amish folk gathering there, by the other communities living there, is it based on the nearest English community? How does that element work.

    6. Lance

      Naming the Community

      Communities are named by Amish that settle them. Divisions among the Amish have created different traditions. It is these traditions that dictate whether a community is named after a town, county, region or state. In other words, there is no set pattern among them, its just whatever they want. Makes studying them more interesting.

      1. Amish district names

        I agree with Lance, it is very interesting. If you look in Raber’s Almanac, for instance, basically all of the districts are given geographical names.

        But if you look in individual communities’ church directories, you may see bishops’ names given to identify the district. This is the case with Allen County, Indiana, or New Wilmington, PA, for example–geographical name in Raber’s, bishop’s name in their home directories.

        This may just reflect that Amish know districts better by who the leadership is rather than by a place name or cardinal point.

    7. Teresa B.

      Holmes county history

      Through my genealogy searches, I discovered that my great grandfather (Welch) was born in 1864 in Holmes county, at Holmesville, Ohio. He was of Scotch-Irish descent. Were the Amish located in Holmes county, Ohio during that time period? I have never heard of an Amish affiliation in my family. I do know that his family later traveled by covered wagon to Kansas, where they settled.

      Can you or any of your readers help with an answer to this? Thank you for your time.

      1. Teresa, Amish first settled in Holmes County in the early 1800s, so yes they would have been present when your great grandfather was there.