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Like many other surnames, “Avant” was spelled every way possible over the years. We find the family recorded as Avant, Avent, Evant, Arent, Areint, Arentz, Arnet, Arant, Arrant, Arrand, Arndt and Arnz, among other spellings, from Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee to Arkansas, Texas and beyond.

Family researchers have identified an emigrant ancestor, Johann Herman Arndt, who arrived in Pennsylvania in the 1730s from Germany.

We can see how a surname like that could be heard, seen and written in many different ways, especially with the Arndts speaking their native Teutonic language when they arrived in the United States.

Records of our Butler County patriarch Jacob Avant’s lifetime, as well as those of his children’s lives, alternated between the “Avant” and “Arant” spellings.

Family members no longer had German language accents, but this was obviously a difficult name to spell consistently. And, in cursive handwriting, a lowercase “v” looks very much like an “r.”

Jacob himself was described as “Rev. Jacob Arant” (rather than Avant) in a Masonic memorial tribute when he died in 1878, as well as in his wife’s 1882 obituary.

“The funeral of Father Jacob Arant, of South Butler, will be preached on Sunday next, the 13th inst. The Masonic fraternity will pay the last tribute of respect due him by that Order. The funeral will take place at or near his residence,” reported The Greenville Advocate on October 10, 1878.

Remember – no computers, word processing programs, spell-check, email, iPhones or texting.

In our ancestors’ day, a handwritten page would have been given to the newspaper editor with the deceased person’s name and information for an obituary, and the same for any other news item.

And, in the 1800s, this usually meant that a quill pen was dipped in a bottle of ink and applied to a sheet of paper.

Was the nib of this bird-feather instrument trimmed to a nice sharp point, or was it a dull quill that made thick letters and ink blots as if a chicken ran across the page?

I’m sure all of you recognize the term “pen knife,” referring to a small knife that was used to sharpen and re-point a dull quill pen. It was the forerunner of today’s pocket knife.

A pen knife might also be used to sharpen a pencil. Like the quill pen, the pencil was another helpful innovation for those who could read and write.

The men who thought of inserting a narrow graphite rod into a wood casing (and there were several inventors and improvers) were VERY clever fellows.

The pencil SHARPENER came much later. We loved turning the crank and sharpening a handful of pencils from a wall-mounted pencil sharpener when I was in grammar school!

But my daddy sharpened many a pencil with his pen knife/pocket knife, as hard-working carpenters and other craftsmen still do today.

In the 19th century and earlier, pen knives were also essential for literate members of the population because they were used to slice the uncut edges of books and newspapers.

It was like slicing your own bread – you had to CUT the folded and bound pages of anything you wanted to open and read. Can you imagine?


Learn more about Butler County history with membership in The Butler County Historical & Genealogical Society, P. O. Box 561, Greenville, AL 36037. Read more about Butler County’s Beginnings here –, and, look for BCHGS on Facebook.

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