The Berks History Center recently discovered several invitations from 1787, each requesting that a Miss Esther Keim accompany the sender to dances held at venues in the Reading area. While the identity of the admirer remains a mystery, his affection for Esther is clear. Interestingly, each of the invitations is written on the reverse side of a playing card.
While the recipient may have been Esther Keim Schlegel (1771-1843) of Fleetwood, circumstantial evidence suggests that the recipient was likely Esther de Benneville Keim (1774-1830) of Reading. Unfortunately for her mystery admirer, Esther never married.
The author of these invitations was not the only person who thought highly of Esther Keim. Writing in 1874, her relative Henry May Keim said that “the old people of Reading to this day speak of her many deeds of good will and charity. Her heart and means went for the encouragement of every act”.
In 2015, staff of the Berks History Center discovered an extremely early and original map of Pennsylvania, published in 1759 by Nicholas Scull, II (1687-1761). Scull was the Surveyor General of Pennsylvania from 1748 until 1761, and his 1759 map of Pennsylvania is considered by some historians to be the first map of the entire colony. Of interest is the Northwest border of Berks County: since none had been established, none is shown. IN 1770, Nicholas’ grandson, William Scull, published an updated version of his grandfather’s map. During inventory work completed in 2016, staff found an original copy of this map as well.
The Himmelsbrief or ‘heaven’s letter’ was a charm which a person carried or hung in their home for protection against evil. The most common iteration was the Magdeburg Letter which purportedly fell from the sky in 1783 after having been written by God Himself. Scholars have discovered that the text of the Magdeburg Himmelsbrief existed in central Europe at least as early as the fifteenth century, and would have already been known for centuries when German-speaking immigrants brought the concept with them to Pennsylvania. This particular Himmelsbrief belonged to John Huyett, a Pennsylvania-German who lived in Cumru Township from 1798 to 1887. It was printed by a J. Rohr of Philadelphia, probably about 1850.
This certificate was written and signed in 1726 by officials of Minfeld, a community in the Palatinate region of what is today southwest Germany. It requests that the bearers, Jean and Susan (DeHarcourt) Bertolet, “be extended… every desired aid and assistance,” as they “remove themselves to the new country of Pennsylvania.”
Born to Huguenot families who had fled religious persecution in France, the Bertolets had been living in Minfeld for fourteen years before immigrating to Pennsylvania and settling in the Oley Valley. They retained the certificate as a cherished reminder of their family’s heritage.
Discover more stories about the origins and lives of Berks County’s founding immigrants at this month’s Second Saturday program on January 14, 2017.
Who would have thought there was so much Lincoln history at the Berks History Center? With our December Second Saturday program coming up, we were curious! – What can our collection tell us about this national tragedy and controversy? Here is what we found in the Henry Janssen Library’s Capt. James McKnight Collection.
Captain James McKnight received this General Order in November 1865 asking persons involved with the capture of John Wilkes Booth and other Lincoln conspirators to submit their reward claims by the end of December. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton offered an unprecedented $100,000 ($50,000 for Booth and $25,000 each for John Surratt and David Herold) to those who assisted. In the end, that sum was paid out to numerous investigators and the 16th New York Calvary Regiment.
(From AC 150, Capt. James McKnight Collection, BHC’s Henry Janssen Library; and Folio Broadside, no. 39 [Rare Book RR] Copy 1, from the Library of Congress)
The most frequent question I get is: How can I preserve and save my family documents. I will often ask questions to try and figure out the current condition to make recommendations. My basic recommendations are: 1. Unfold the documents and store flat. Documents tear along fold lines. Unfolding these documents, will take the stress off of the fold. 2. Do not store archival material in direct sunlight. The UV light will cause the documents and photographs to fade. 3. Do not store artwork, documents or photographs on outside walls. Outside walls have the most contact with outdoor temperature fluctuations and will expand and contract depending on the weather conditions, causing your material to expand and contract. 4. Do not store your documents in attics or basements, because of the lack of control over temperature and humidity and risk of flooding. Too much humidity can cause mold growth and too little humidity can make archival material brittle. Both accelerate the deterioration of archival material. 5. If your documents are rolled and maintain their tube-like shape, do not unroll them. Unrolling them will cause them to break at stress points along the roll. The documents will need to be humidified and once relaxed, can then be viewed.
When I started working here, I made the recommendation that documents could be humidified in a steamy bathroom. After a couple of long hot showers, the documents would begin to relax and then could be better handled. I made that recommendation, because I had tested it in my bathroom when I was living in New York. It worked great; until this past winter. The Henry Janssen Library is climate controlled, up to a certain point. During the winter the boiler is turned on and, in theory, I should be able to build up humidity in our humidifier. We use the double garbage can method, with distilled water. However, this past winter, nothing I did could get enough humidity into the chamber to humidify some tightly rolled documents. As a last resort, I took them home to use my trusty bathroom method. The bathroom humidification chamber didn’t work and I ended up bring the HJL’s humidification system home and finished the project.
I learned that the effectiveness of building up enough humidity in a bathroom, in order to hydrate documents is determined by the size of the bathroom. My bathroom in Gibraltar is twice the size of my old one in New York and has a window. Since the room is larger, it takes more steam to fill and less time for that steam to dissipate than in a smaller more compact space. The documents were not getting enough time to soak in the moisture. I forgot history preservation is also about physics.
In an ideal setting, including the Henry Janssen Library, all archival material would be stored in an area lower than 68 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity between 30-50% with very little fluctuation. Unfortunately, the recommended storage conditions are not the ideal living (or researching) conditions. Fortunately for the “Do-It-Yourselfers” following the recommendations above will set you on the track toward preservation.
The Northeast Document Conservation Center states that temperature and humidity control is vital to the preservation of archival material because unacceptable levels cause the deterioration of the material.… Heat accelerates deterioration: the rate of most chemical reactions, including deterioration, is approximately doubled with each increase in temperature of 18°F (10°C). High relative humidity provides the moisture necessary to promote harmful chemical reactions in materials and, in combination with high temperature, encourages mold growth and insect activity. Extremely low relative humidity, which can occur in winter in centrally heated buildings, may lead to desiccation and embrittlement of some materials. …Fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity are also damaging [because] …they respond to diurnal and seasonal changes…by expanding and contracting. Dimensional changes accelerate deterioration and lead to such visible damage as cockling paper, flaking ink, warped covers on books, and cracked emulsion on photographs. – www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/2.-the-environment/2.1-temperature,-relative-humidity,-light,-and-air-quality-basic-guidelines-for-preservation
December is almost over and I am sitting here surrounded by a mound of collections that I would love to finish before January 2nd, but realistically will not have finished until the end of next year. I am a little nostalgic this year, because of everything that has happened, and because I just finished the most awesome collection that can be found in almost every historical society across the country. This collection is the most under-utilized and never thought of primary resource. Do I have your attention yet? Are you wondering what collection could possibly be THAT interesting?
One of the most interesting primary resources that goes virtually unnoticed are yearbooks. That’s right….yearbooks. Now, in Berks County, we have a ton of schools, including the Boy’s High School, Girl’s High School and Standard Evening High School which all became Reading Senior High School. Some Townships had their own, like Shillington and Sinking Spring, until they merged into Wilson. Then, like in the case of Oley, after a while started printing separate yearbooks for their Elementary School and Middle School. These are just a few examples. I still wonder how they came up with their names like Colophon (Wyomissing High School) and Muhltohi (Muhlenberg Township High School). Maybe if I had the opportunity to read the inside it would be explained.
PLEASE NOTE: when requesting yearbooks in the HJL, researchers should request by Township, except for Reading. We all know the Arxalma is for Reading High School.
Now, why are they over-looked as primary resources? Go, grab your senior yearbook. Go ahead. Open it up. Now, when your done laughing at your hairstyle, clothes or what your friend wrote over her picture, really take a look. Yearbooks, especially a full run, whether it’s yours from Kindergarten till graduation, or a 50 year run for a school district are a treasure trove of information. While they “attempt” to document a school year, they actually chronicle clothing and hair styles, changes in attitudes and societal influences. Often, they document “current” events for a particular year all under the auspices of “Memories”. Best of all, they have photographs. So, if you can remember your grandmother’s maiden name and what year she graduated, you can see a picture of her, when she was 16, 17 or 18 and just starting to make her way in the world.
While they are a reminder of your past and 18 years of your life that some people want to forget, or in my case can’t really remember, they document a society. Currently, my yearbooks are at my parents house in New York. But I did happen upon one or two while processing for 1995. I am a graduate of Newfane Senior High, Class of 1995. In looking through those yearbooks, they reminded me of mine. Even though there is (what seems like) a gazillion miles distance between Berks County and Newfane, NY, we all had the same hair styles, clothes, and un-stylish glasses. We all acted the same, thought about the same things; all had the same hopes and dreams that were rudely dashed upon entering college. We all struck out into this world wanting to contribute and make something of ourselves, just like our parents (Class of 1960-something) and our grandparents (class of 1930-something). And lets face it…we all thought we had style back then!
So, while your home visiting family this Holiday Season, break out those yearbooks. Whether they are yours or your parents, take a look. You might be surprised at what you’ll learn or uncover within those pages that can add to a family discussion, or your research!
From all of us at the Henry Janssen Library have a very MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HANUKKAH and a very safe and HAPPY NEW YEAR!