A Cure for a Cut: PA Dutch Folk Medicine

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When we think about Halloween today, witches are one of the iconic figures of the holiday. Part of that image is the boiling cauldron, where the witch makes preparations for her spells and conjures up many of her evil potions. While the image of the witch is often viewed as frightening, real-life folk medicine has a long history in Berks County.

Often called “Pow-Wow,” this practice can resemble our modern conceptions of witchcraft. What if you lived in Berks County or another Pennsylvania Dutch area and you accidentally cut yourself? A document in the Berks History Center collection, and written in Pennsylvania Dutch, offers an answer. It reads:  “press the thumb on the wound and say that I should not die and the wound should not bleed, nor swell, nor fester until the mother of God bears her second son, until all the water flows up the mountain.” With this little “spell,” and a bit of pressure on the wound, the bleeding was supposed to stop. The BHC Library contains other documents on Pennsylvania Dutch folk medicine and folk religion.

Written by guest blogger, Sean Anderson as part of a project funded by the National Endowment for Humanities entitled: Metadata, Marketing, and a Local Archive: Creating Popular Interest from Archival Sources at the Berks History Center Research Library.

 

The Hexerai Letter: Supernatural or Super Strange?

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With Halloween approaching it may be interesting to explore some of the more supernatural beliefs found in Berks County. The manuscript collection at the Berks History Center Research Library holds a remarkable illustrated document from 1816 that fits this theme.

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Written mostly in Pennsylvania German, the letter prophesied that terrible events were about to occur based on the political news of the day. Called the Hexerai letter, its most striking feature is a myriad of hand drawn pictures inside. The author drew in vivid detail blood red moons, arch angels, demons, a mysterious clock, and a rendition of the day of judgment. One picture, in particular, tells the document’s story. The picture shows a devil with the number 666 written under its eyes and the name Jackson emblazoned across its forehead. That devil is General Andrew Jackson, who the author thought would soon bring doom upon the country. Produced during a time exploding with religious revival and emerging political individuality and expression, this document has much to offer researchers of the early nineteenth century.

Written by guest blogger, Sean Anderson as part of a project funded by the National Endowment for Humanities entitled: Metadata, Marketing, and a Local Archive: Creating Popular Interest from Archival Sources at the Berks History Center Research Library.

 

Hats Off to History!

During our inventory at the Berks History Center, we recently discovered two U.S. Army hats which are both nearly 190 years old!  However, both hats are shrouded in mystery.

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Stove Pipe Shako from the Berks History Center Museum Textile Collection

The first hat is a style known as a stove pipe shako. While it is missing its original brim and a plume which attached at the top, its condition is surprisingly solid for its age. The emblem on this hat was used between 1833 and 1851 by U.S. Dragoon regiments – horse mounted units that would later be known as cavalry. Unfortunately, that is all we know about this hat. We do not know who used it, and in fact we do not even know how it came to be in our collection.

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Bicorne Hat from the Berks History Center Museum Textile Collection

The second hat is known as a bicorne hat. It is in excellent condition, and we can infer several bits of information from its design. The style of the insignia, for example, was used by the U.S. Army between 1821 and 1851. In addition, the hat is marked with the name and address of its maker: William H. Horstmann & Sons, North Third Street, Philadelphia. It is well documented that Horstmann & Sons only operated at this location from 1830 to 1857.

We know that the Berks History Center received the bicorne hat in 1937, and its donor reported that it belonged to a Major David Hocker. Unfortunately, our predecessors did not record any additional information about this person, and to add to the confusion, they incorrectly recorded the hat as having belonged to “Mayor” David Hocker. To date, we have not yet been able to identify a Major Hocker connected with Berks County or the United States Army.

While there are many questions with both of these hats, they are both unique artifacts.  Our hope is that additional research will help us to better ascertain to whom each belonged and how each is connected to Berks County.

Article Researched & Written by Bradley K. Smith

Taproom Treasure: Uncovering Old Glory

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When Rick Polityka first caught a glimpse of the front cover of The Historical Review of Berks County (Vol. 82. #1, Winter 2016-2017) he had a nagging suspicion that he was looking at something familiar. The photo, depicting a vintage winter scene, captured a number of adults sitting upon a large sled. In this particular issue, the editor of The Review, Charles J. Adams III, had called for readers to assist in identifying the location and date of the photograph, a mysterious item from the Berks History Center’s research library collection.

After some contemplation, it finally hit him. He had seen this sled before! Not only in the photograph, but he had actually seen this artifact up close and in person! He wasn’t entirely sure his hunch was accurate. However, he was curious enough to investigate the mystery.

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Rick called a few friends and headed to one his favorite local watering holes, The Northeast Taproom. There, with the permission of the owner, Rick and his friends ventured down into the dark, dusty basement of the Northeast Taproom. Sitting along the wall, covered in dust and boxes, Rick uncovered a very large sled, 19 feet in length.

This exciting discovery was just the beginning of Rick’s journey uncovering the history and mystery behind what we now know to be, “Old Glory,” the hand-built, Berks County tiller from the early 1900s. Rick wrote about his adventure and research in an article that will be published in the Spring 2017 Issue of The Historical Review of Berks County. 

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The name “Old Glory” can be read on the face of the sled.

To read Rick’s entire story and research about Old Glory, subscribe to The Historical Review of Berks County. Copies of The Review can also be purchased in the Berks History Center Museum Store.

Rick Polityka is a local history enthusiast,  lifelong Reading resident, and a long-time member and volunteer at the Berks History Center.

Remembering the U.S.S. Maine & a local Monument at the Henry Janssen Library

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(From the Postcard Collection, Henry Janssen Library at Berks History Center)

Today in 1898, the U.S.S. Maine exploded and sank in the Port of Havana. 267 Americans were killed, including one man from Reading–Frank Anders. Many at the time believed Spain deliberately blew up the ship because it was sent to the area during Cuba’s revolt against Spain. The Spanish-American War started about two months later. Parts of the ship were salvaged after the explosion, including an anchor later presented to the City of Reading. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt unveiled the monument, which still stands in City Park, on July 31, 1914. The monument was rededicated in 2014.

In addition to numerous postcards depicting the anchor in City Park, we also have two scrapbooks in the Henry Janssen Library compiled by Frank Anders’ family.

Why Archives Matter

For the past seven years, I have had the honor and privilege of being the keeper and protector of Berks County’s history.  I’ve held 200 year old documents and catalogued and interpreted thousands of archival material for use by researchers.  I have grown to love and appreciate this community’s long, rich history.  I did not need to be born in Berks County to understand the Berks County way of life.

While we all claim to love history, how many of you really, truly know your own history?  I’ve met my fair share of “history buffs”; a term that usually refers to someone who occasionally watches the History Channel or reads a book.  I’ve also met my fair share of historians, researchers who have spent years digging up documents, trying to absorb as much as they can about a person, event or building and who want to share and engage people in conversation.  History is more than genealogy, the collection of names and dates.  It is the study of how people lived and interacted with each other, their surroundings and events.  Granted, I have an advantage over our community.  I get to come to work in a building full of stories waiting to be uncovered and told.  But as an “outsider” (because I am a New Yorker), I know more about Berks County, than my native husband, and probably some of you.

Why do Archives Matter?

Genealogy is a huge commodity.  According to a recent article in the Colonial Williamsburg Spring 2015 Magazine, Ancestry.com cleared $540.4 million in 2013.  I can’t even fathom that much money.  There are over 100 different genealogical websites for use by researchers, not to mention the websites that will tell you which top 10 or 25 are the best to use.  I ask myself, why when more and more people are joining ancestry and doing genealogy, why are we seeing less and less people at library’s such as the Henry Janssen Library?  The Colonial Williamsburg article goes on to try and entice people to visit their archival holdings, because not all of it is online.

I’m not going to criticize online resources, such as Ancestry.com.  They are a great tool in helping to track ancestors and making government documents, such as pension records and census records, available to the public.  However, it is still just a tool, a database, and many of the records (and family trees) are incomplete, inaccurate, and in many instances wrong.  As an undergrad and graduate student in history, we are taught to seek out sources, leave no stone unturned.  Your best resource is the bibliography, or works cited, pages in the back of secondary resources.  They provide ideas on where to turn next.  They list primary resources and where to find them.  Unfortunately, the new generation of researchers, don’t know how to use indexes in the back of books to find information on a specific page.  Because they only seek out to collect information, and only specific information, they cannot create the story, nor do they see the whole picture.  These researchers tackle their research with the understanding that, if it is not online, it does not exist.

At the Henry Janssen Library, and other research archives across the country, we have a wealth of knowledge that goes beyond names and dates.  The documents kept in our walls tell the stories of the county and the people who forged through the wilderness to make a home.  These same people, helped to alter State and National events.  History does not exist in a bubble.  What happens elsewhere ripples across time and space and influences the course of events.  These resources are not online, not because archival institutions are being mean, or preventing researchers from accessing the information.  This information is in countless boxes and folders and need to be used as a whole.  These collections provide insight into the stories that make history.  Holding a 200 year old document has more impact on learning, then just reading the words on the page.  It reminds us that living, breathing, human beings existed, created, lived and left their legacy for the future to find.  This experience happens when you visit the Henry Janssen Library

Interest in our history is waning, which is surprising when there are always Berks County connections to State and National events.  Our collections are waiting for someone to come and uncover their secrets.   And yes, there will be secrets…good and bad.  Write an article for the Historical Review.  Come in and volunteer.  Record your history, not just names and dates.  History is the story of us; without us, the story stops.

Written by former Archivist, Kim Brown.

Scholla: Thanks to Good Queen Anne November 19, 1941

11/19/1941 Thanks to Good Queen Anne

Two Hundred and Thirty Years ago there were thousands of refugees from the German states of Europe, cluttering the ports of London, seeking refuge from the unspeakable horrors of wanton lust and religious persecution. The great mother-heart of Queen Anne Stuart of England had been touched by the plight of these people. The long purse of the kingdom was opened for their sustenance, while they waited for ships to carry them to America.

Beneficiaries of this bounty were not ungrateful to Her Majesty and the British people, as is shown by the accompanying testimonial which the writer found in the Public Record Office in London in 1939. It is an acknowledgement of indebtedness which we do well to review at this time…

The early settlers of western Berks were among those who received the benevolence of the British Crown.

Here are a few of the names of the early Palatines who finally settled in the Tulpehocken valley:

Martin Batdorf

Phillip Brown

John Christman

Conrad Diffenbach

Michael Emmerich

Lenhart Feeg

Godfrey Fidler

Micahel Harner

Peter Klopp

John Lantz

Abraham Lantz

Abraham Laucks

Adam Lesch

Nicholas Riem (Ream)

Lenhart Rieth (Reed)

Frederick Schaeffer

Marden Stupp

Adam Walborn

John Troutman

Baltzer Anspach

Ludwig Blum

Hans Boyer

Francis Brossman

Nicholas Deck

Michael Ernst

Sebastian Fisher

Nicholas Kinzer

Jonas Kitzmiller

Peter Lebo

Conrad Long

Mattias Minnich

Peter Schell

George Unruh

Conrad Weiser

Franz Wenrich

Frederick Winter

John Zeller

Peter Zerbe

In some cases the spelling has been altered to conform to current usage. Anyone who is familiar with the family names of the Tulpehockens and the Heidelbergs in Berks will readily recognize that almost all of these names still prevail. Of course there were thousands of other names among the Palatines. We have selected those which appear most familiar.

Blessed Land! And Happy People! Govern’d by the Nursing Mother of Europe and the Best of Queens! Whose unbounded Mercy and Charity has receiv’d us, despicable Strangers from afar off, into Her own Dominions where we have found a Supply of all things necessary to our present Subsistence; for which we bless and praise Almighty God, the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty and all Her Good Subjects, from the highest Degree to those of the meanest Capacity; and to sincerely and faithfully promise to our utmost Powers for the Future to render ourselves Thankful to God and Serviceable to Her Majesty and all her good subjects, in what way soever Her Goodness is pleas’d to dispose of Us:

And, in the meantime, to be instant in our prayers, that God would return the Charity of well disposed people a thousand-fold into their own Bosoms, which is all the Requittal that can, at present, be made by us poor distressed Protestant Palatines.

London

1710 A.D.

Queen Anne. Portrait by Michael Dahl, 1705
Queen Anne. Portrait by Michael Dahl, 1705

Humidity And Your Documents

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.

Rolled Document
This is a rolled document before humidification.  You can see where the document has started to tear along the roll.  You can also see where the donor, at one point, tried to tape the tears to keep the document from breaking.  Please do not tape your documents.  The adhesive will add to the deterioration of the document.
Broken Photograph
This photograph has broken apart along the fold and is now in multiple pieces.  Curiosity got the best of the donor of this image.  When the first section broke off, he continued to unroll the image to see it in its entirety.  As a result, the image is in multiple pieces and cannot be put back together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

For more information on how you can humidify your documents, please check out this article “Practical Considerations for Humidifying and Flattening Paper” by Stephanie Watkins, found at: http://cool.conservation-us.org/coolaic/sg/bpg/annual/v21/bp21-15.pdf, or other resources through Google.

Written by former BHC Archivist, Kim Brown.

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

All in the Family

Have you ever wondered why it appears as if everyone in Berks County is related to each other?  Well, there is a reason for that.

It is 1730…something.  You are sitting on 900 acres with a big stone house, a big stone barn and some additional outbuildings.  You have actually done well carving out your wealth in the Pennsylvania wilderness.  One day, your wife looks at you and says it’s time to start marrying off the older children.  What to do?  You are isolated on your plot of land and meeting new people is a little difficult.  There is no match.com or eHarmony.  Your closest neighbor is at minimum a couple hundred acres away.  Therefore, to keep your wife happy, you pay one of your neighbors a visit and try to make a match.  Eventually, your daughters are married off and living on other farms.  Your son’s are married and their families are working on your land.  Your wife’s happy, your happy…done.

Matchmaking in the 18th and 19th century was definitely more complicated than that.  While it would make for some very interesting research, it will not help you in locating your family’s history.  What’s key to remember when doing your family’s genealogy/history is that 1: there is always a bigger picture and 2: it is all relative…literally.  People are always interacting with each other.  When you own a large tract of land and your neighbors own large tracts of land, it limits interaction, but there is still interaction, just not with a lot of people.  In a roundabout way, I am trying to suggest that you should not limit your research to just your family.  When you start researching families surrounding yours, you will notice connections and find information that you did not know exist.  So where do you look?

1. Deeds.  When performing a deed search, you need to be aware that there are different types of deeds and you need to attempt to look for them all to be successful.  There are:

  • Patent – is an exclusive land grant made by a sovereign entity, in this case the Penn Family, or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to a tract of land.  Really, what is important is that it establishes the first landholder in the chain of landholders.
  • Warrant – type of deed that says the landowner holds clear title to the land and can legally sell it.
  • Quitclaim Deed – is the opposite of a warrant, in that the owners selling the land cannot swear they have clear title to do so.
  • Indenture – is a legal transfer of property for a fixed and agreed upon amount of money.
  • Deed Poll – is a change of name on the deed.  It only obligates one party for the responsibility of the property.
  • Sheriff Sale Deed – usually is issued in cases, for instance, when property is sold to pay off debt.  This will sometimes describe how the property was seized by the county.

In some instances, names will appear on a deed, and you realize that it was the husband of a daughter that you did not know existed.  Believe me when I say, that they are bogged down in legal jargon and I am always amazed at the inability of the clerk to spell chestnut.  I always wonder how accurate the land surveys are after 50 years when that Chestnut sapling is grown and that stone shifted because someone tripped over it.  Regardless, the interesting part is through all of that, in the part I call “Change of Hands”.  That is were it relates how the property came into the hands of the grantor, who is now selling it.  Read the deed in its entirety, because you will never know what you will find.

2.  Wills.  They contain a wealth of information and like deeds, can point to family members that are not found in church records.  They might also prove a connection with another family or your family.  Some are very interesting to read because they can spell out in detail, how the children should provide for the care of their mother, including how many cows, lumber and water she is allotted.  Just like a deed, read the whole thing.

A lack of will is just as interesting.  When someone dies intestate, then the fate of their estate is decided at Orphan’s Court.  Just to clarify, this court has little to do with orphan’s.  Orphan’s Court is a probate court and is there to protect personal and property rights.  If you can’t find a will and your research trail is cold, check with the court for a ruling on the estate.  You never know what you will find and sometimes nothing is something.

These two types of documents are just as valuable to your research as the church records.  They are also the least used.  Just the other day, I had a researcher interested in knowing more about their property.  The first thing I asked them… “Did you read the deeds?”  Oh, I did a deed search (usually stated multiple times).  It is always 2 hours into the research that you send them out the door to the courthouse because they did not read the deeds.  Trust me…we know you didn’t read the deeds, just like we know you didn’t consider the wills…it’s our researcher intuition or psychic powers telling us.  If you need some help, bring in the photocopies, we are happy to assist.

When you live in a small community, everyone knows everything about you and it does seem like everyone is related.  It is a small town reality and perception all at the same time.  If you go back far enough, you can cross paths with just about anyone.  That is what keeps researching fun!

Written by former BHC Archivist, Kim Brown.

 

The History of Berks County, part 3

There is a famous saying “to see the forest through the trees.”  It means being able to see the big picture, not just the steps you need to take to achieve the big picture.  In your ancestor’s case, when they looked beyond the trees, they only saw more trees…and brush…and rivers, streams and a whole lot of forest.  Our early founding fathers had to create civilization out of the wilderness.  Land needed to be cleared for cultivation, roads needed to be cut.  A rough log or wooden house was built to provide shelter.  When the settlers earned enough money, the first permanent solid structure they build, tended to be the barn.  In Berks County, they look a lot like this:

From the Henry Janssen Library Collection
From the Henry Janssen Library Collection

These barns, also known as bank barns, often had multiple stories and sometimes built into the side of a bank, which assisted in accessing the multiple levels.  These structures usually had a stone foundation with upper sections made of wood.

As harvests grew and more income earned, a stone house replaced the rough log, or wooden house, additional buildings were added, and more land acquired.

As your ancestor is growing his land, other founders are growing their lands as well and the townships start taking shape.  There are two important references for determining if your ancestor is an early founder.  The first is entitled: The Petitioners: 18th-century Actions To Erect Present-day Berks County Townships, compiled by James M. Beidler and Florence Kline Heydt with assistance from Annette K. Burgert, 1991-1992.  This booklet contains photocopies and translations of the petitions, founding families of the townships of Alsace, Amity, Colebrookdale, Douglas, Exeter, Hereford, Maidencreek, Maxatawny, Oley, Richmond and Windsor signed, asking the Proprietors to create their township.  While each petition is different, they said the same thing:

“The Humble petition of ye Inhabitants of Maxaton to ye Hounourable the Justices of ye Court of Quarter Sessions held at Philada. ye 4th day of June 1742.
Humbley Sheweth: Whereas your Petitioners have been settled in those parts of this county for near twenty years past and have for several years paid our Taxes and County levies as well as some other of our Neighbours, But now being grown more popolus we find a Necessity to bring our Selves under your further notice and Protection.
Wherefore we humbley pray that you will be pleased, to order a Township to be Laid out Beginning in Bucks County Line and from thence Running South west one thousand seven Hundred & Sixty perches.  Thence North West one thousand three hundred and sixty pers.  Thence north East 1760 perches to Bucks County Line Then along ye same South East 1360 pers. to ye place of beginning containing fourteen thousand nine hundred and sixty acres of Land, draught therof being hereunto annexed and your petitioners as in duty bound shall ever Pray.”   (Maxatawny Township [1742], page 20)

Robeson Township
Robeson Township

The second reference book (my personal favorite) is entitled: Early Landowners of Pennsylvania: Atlas of Township Warrantee Maps of Berks County, PA, by Dr. Sharon MacInnes, 2006.  The Warrant Maps describe how the original land tracts were situated and who owned them.  We have these maps in the library and they usually span an entire table.  To the right, is the Warrant Map for Robeson Township.  Each tract is numbered and around the edges of the map are the corresponding numbers, with the Name of the owner, the acreage, and dates for the warrant, survey and patent.  Some other information might be included.  The Warrants are important, because it is the starting point of land ownership in the county.

We like to think that our ancestors took the Schuylkill Expressway to 422 and onto other routes, roads and highways, because we are trying to find a connection to them.  We easily forget that our ancestors created what we see today.

Written by former BHC Archivist, Kim Brown.