Genealogy in Reference to the Historical Society of Berks County.
Mary Owen Steinmetz
The Genealogical Section of any Historical Society is a most important department, and the Historical Society of Berks County has one of the best genealogical sections for a County Society. It has been said that nearly every person can claim a Pennsylvania ancestor, and from inquires received, it seems that Berks County has produced many of the foregoing ancestors. Migrations from Berks County to Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky commenced about the middle of the 18th century, notably the Boones and Lincolns.
After the Revolutionary War again we find a great migration — many of the soldiers left to take up donation lands for their services in that momentus struggle.
With the opening up of the Ohio as a State in 1803, a great number of Berks County families emigrated to that State and Canada.
A story in connection, not yet verified, is that in the early part of the 19th century, Berks County had a very cold summer, frost every morning, crops could not mature. Being fearful and glowing accounts of the new country having reached them, the people started westward.
The question has been asked how does one find an ancestor?
First of all, the Historical Society has in its possessions the early tax lists from 1753 to 1840, with only a year or two missing during the Revolution, an excellent starting point to locate whether a resident of the county.
Church records of various denominations have been added to our collection and continually being consulted by our own members and visitors. As church records of Berks County with the exception of Episcopalian and Quaker records are in German, it necessitated translating these to be available for the general public.
County Histories of our own and neighboring counties, Lancaster, Chester, Schuykill, York, and family have their place in genealogy.
The census record of 1790, the first census authorized by the government, giving the head of the family, males over 16 years, males under 16 years, and females, is very helpful.
Publications of various Historical and Genealogical Societies are being continually added, and contain a great amount of information.
Records from two Berks County family Bibles were recently received, one from Indiana and the other from Utah, another proof of migration.
Another very great factor in genealogy is the collection of newspapers belonging to the Historical Society. Local and county newspapers form by far our outstanding collection, many being complete files of the publication and housed in a special room.
One of our most interested members has recorded from the newspapers, deaths of Revolutionary soldiers, another work on deaths of former residents of Berks County and a compilation of 2,500 marriages from the Reading Adler, all of which are much used.
To illustrate the value of newspapers in genealogy, a quotation from two of our early papers maybe of interest. Sometime ago a letter was received asking whether Abraham Kieffer, who died in Franklin County, was the same Abraham Kieffer who served in the Revolution from Berks County.
The Berks and Schuykill Journal, an English paper of August 18, 1855, contains the following — (quote): “Died in Letterkenny Township, Franklin County, PA, Mr. Abraham Kiefer Sr., in the 96th year of his age. He was born in Maxatawny Township, Berks County, in the year 1760, and when about 30 years of age he removed to Franklin County, where he lived for 65 years. He was twice in the early Revolution, first as a substitute for his father and afterwards on his own account. He was married 74 years ago at the age of 21 and survived the wife of his youth 22 years.
The “Reading Adler,” a German paper of November 28, 1865 (quote): “In Miami Township, Montgomery County, Ohio, on November 13, 1865, John Peter Leiss, aged 87 years, 9 months and 12 days. The deceased was born February, 1778, in Tulpehocken Township, Berks County, and a son of Henry Leiss and Barbara, born Meier. On Spetember 10, 1799, he married Maria Kalbach, who died November 29, 1813. He married February 19, 1815, Maria Catharine Schell. In April, 1836, emigrated to Ohio.”
One phase of genealogy is the lure of the family fortune, and the Historical Society has had serchers for all the well known names: Baker, Spang, Emerick, Annija Jans Bogardus (which involves the ground on which Trinity Church, New York stands) and now the Garret-Schaeffer fortune in the Philadlephia courts at present.
May I add a personal touch to say, that I have answered Berks County queries in 44 states, Alaska and England.
Genealogy is not a dry, uninteresting subject, it is more fascinating than a good mystery story or a complicated cross-word puzzle.