Chasing Chestnuts


My last name is Chastain which I believe translates to chestnut in Old French. I recall reading somewhere that Chastain was probably first used as a name for someone who lived near a chestnut tree. I’ve seen almost countless spelling variations including Chasteen, Chastaine, Chastaigne, and Chastaignier.

Through most of my life, all I had known about my particular Chastain line was that my great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather, and great-great-great grandfather were all buried in the same cemetery in Northern Pennsylvania. Sadly, my grandfather just joined them last November. Now Peter Alexander Chastain, Peter Alexander Chastain II, Peter Alexander Chastain III, and Peter Alexander Chastain IV (my grandfather) are all laid to rest in the ancient dirt of the Appalachian Plateau. The first Peter Alexander Chastain, my great-great-great-grandfather, was born in Schwabendorf, Germany in 1820. He was the first Chastain of my line to come to America, emigrating from Germany in 1860.

I recently learned from my father, thanks to some family documents kept by my great-great-aunt Dora Chastain Lehman, that the name of the first Peter Alexander Chastain’s father was Christian. Christian Chastain, my great-great-great-great-grandfather, that is where the line ends for us. Somewhere in Germany, near the beginning of the 19th century, there is a trail that I hope to pick up. And, hopefully, answers to some questions such as what was a family with a French surname doing in Germany?

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