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.

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!

 

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.

 

 

A Brief History of Berks County, part 1

After 5 1/2 years assisting researchers in the Henry Janssen Library, it is interesting to learn how little people know of their ancestors and the time in which they lived.  The following is a brief history of Berks County, as I have learned it, by answering research request.  All of us at the Henry Janssen Library, have reviewed and interpreted multiple resources to formulate answers to help researchers understand the early history of the county. We are not expert historians writing a thesis, just teachers trying to make connections for people so they understand their family’s history.  I will not be citing those sources, however if you are interested in learning more, please contact me and I can point you to some books that may be of interest.  Many of the early histories are online at https://archive.org/, which is an online book database.  You can view these editions on your kindle, as a pdf, or just on your computer.  If more researchers understood the time their ancestors lived, I truly believe they would have a greater appreciation of their ancestors and realize you do not need to be famous to make history!

Statement: “My ancestor was born in Berks County in 1684.”

Answer:  No, not likely.

Why:  In 1684, the only people in Berks County were the Lenni Lenape, also known as the Delaware Indians. On February 28, 1681, King Charles II granted a land charter to William Penn as a payment for a debt owed to Penn’s father.  We celebrate this transaction every year.  Charter Day, celebrated on March 9 this year, is sponsored by PHMC and is a free event at the Daniel Boone and Conrad Weiser Homesteads.  Pennsylvania turned 333 years old in 2014 and the original charter went on exhibit at Pennsbury Manor.  William Penn instituted the colonial government on March 4, 1681.  In 1682, Penn signed a peace treaty with Tammany, leader of the Delaware tribe, which allowed for the settlement of Philadelphia.  The Philadelphia area was originally the Delaware village of Shackamaxon.  In 1701, Penn issued a Charter, establishing Philadelphia as a city.

While today, Philadelphia encompasses roughly 141.6 square miles, in 1701, it was considerably smaller and surrounded by forests. Eventually, as immigrants began arriving from Germany (mainly), Sweden and beyond, the population pushed out and began exploring the wilderness.  On October 21, 1701, William Penn granted, Swedish Lutheran Minister, Andreas Rudman 10,000 acres along the Manatawny Creek.  This area, as it turns out, was a significant economic center for the Delaware Indians with trails leading to Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylvania.  The first settlers to reach Berks County established Morlatton Village, now Douglassville in 1716, fifteen years after the land grant.  From Morlatton Village, settlers begin buying up land in the Oley Valley, forming what are now Oley, Earl, Pike, District and Rockland Townships.  In 1723, Conrad Weiser arrived with a group of settlers from the Schoharie Region in New York and started the settlement of what are now Bern and Heidelberg Townships.

Something to remember: Berks County is still Indian Territory and all land belongs to the Delaware.  As more settlers arrive, they start taking more land not covered in the earlier treaties.  In 1737, the Penn Family and the Delaware signed the highly disputed Walking Purchase Treaty.  Because of the Treaty, the Penn’s gained ownership over 1,200,000 acres of land, which encompasses the present-day counties of Bucks, Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton, Pike and Schuylkill.  This left Berks County open for settlement.

Your ancestors might have been in Pennsylvania in the late 1600s, but they were not in Berks County.

Coming up…How your ancestors came to Berks County

Image of the Charter to William Penn from the PHMC website:

Golden Rules of Genealogy

If you are familiar with the world of Social Media, then you know there are various avenues in which to share ideas with the world.  One of these venues is Pintrest.  Simply speaking, it is a virtual bulletin board that you can pin recipes, ideas, quotes, and pictures to for a later date.  While perusing my account the other night, I came across this “Pin”, which was posted by a friend of mine.  It is from a website called: gotgenealogy.com, based out of Oakland, California.  My additions are italicized.  Just a little rules to remember.

Golden Rules of Genealogy

In no particular order

1.  Spelling Doesn’t Count – Back in the day folks couldn’t spell and many could barely write, so how a name sounds is more important than how it’s spelled.  Use wild card or Soundex Searches to help find variant spellings of names.  Remember…when researching in Berks County there is the added variant of multiple spellings of an ancestor’s name in German and how English speakers heard and spelled those German names.

 2.  Assume Nothing – Check all your facts, don’t assume that any particular document is right or wrong, and always try to find other independent sources to corroborate your facts as much as possible.  Verify, verify, verify.  For instance don’t assume that:

  1. your ancestors were married
  2. census information is accurate
  3. vital (or other) records were correct
  4. your ancestor’s life events were recorded
  5. ancestors had the same name as their enslaver
  6. that official documents (i.e. birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates) have always been in existence
  7. that our ancestors recorded the same kind of information we do today
  8. that life events and customs we celebrate today, were as important to our ancestors

3.  Use Discretion – NEVER LIE in your genealogy reports, but use discretion when reporting family information, especially when it involves living relatives.

4.  Always Document Your Sources, No Matter How Much They Contradict One Another – Over time, you will compile more data and those once seemingly contradictory pieces of evidence may prove to be just the pieces of the puzzle you need to prove or disprove your theory.  Be consistent as you cite your sources.  There are standard citation formats, but even if you just make up your own format for listing your sources, be consistent with it.  You want your descendants to be able to retrace your steps, so you always cite your sources.

5.  Most Dates Are Approximate – It’s okay to state that someone was born “abt. 1845,” or died “May 1915” if you don’t have an exact date or where various documents have different dates.  Which date is correct?”  They all are.

6.  If Unsure, Say So – Future researchers will thank you for being honest if you simply say that you cannot prove a specific fact, yet you “suspect” such and such is true.  Don’t fudge the facts.  EVER.

7.  You CANNOT Do it All Online – Yes, we love doing research online and there’s nothing better than using the computer to find new sources, view digital images of original documents and even connect with relatives.  For genealogists, the internet will never replace the wonderful work of libraries, county courthouses, archives, and historical societies.  Do as much as you can online, then turn off your computer and hit the bricks!  And, if you think it is so cool seeing that digital image of an original document, imagine what it would be like to hold it in your hands!

8.  Just Because It’s Online Doesn’t Mean It’s True – The internet is a wonderful thing but it’s filled with oodles of bad information.  Don’t make the mistake of believing anything you find online at face value.  Verify against other sources, even if you paid for the information you found online.  Consult the original source whenever possible.  This includes Ancestry.com.  They are an excellent place to start, but there is a lot of bad information floating around.  Never trust a source that doesn’t provide their citations.  If you can’t go back to the original, don’t believe the information.

9.  Pass Along Your Research – No matter how many decades you spend researching your family, your research will never be done.  Plan on passing along your research to the next generation of researchers.  Leave excellent notes, cite all your sources, explain your shorthand…in essence, leave your research the way you’d have liked to have found it.  Try not to abbreviate.  If you do abbreviate, write down the code and leave it where it can be found by researchers.  Abbreviations used today, did not mean the same today as they did in the past and vice versa; and they will not mean the same in 50 years.  Taking the time to write something completely, than abbreviating, will save future generations time in trying to decipher your work.

10.  Don’t Die With Your Stories Still In You – Diving credit to Dr. Wayne Dyer for his “Don’t die with your music still in you,” we want to remind you to tell the stories as completely and as accurately as possible.  Genealogy isn’t about just doing research.  Genealogy is about telling the stories and ensuring that your ancestor’s legacies live on for generations to come.  Without the stories, the research won’t do anyone much good.  The legacy of your ancestors rests in your capable hands.  Doing the research is fine, but always remember that you have been chosen to tell their stories.

11.  DNA Is Not A Trump Card – DNA is just one of many possible sources of information you can use to verify of deny a relationship.  Human error occurs when the results are transcribed, thereby providing false information.  DNA results should always be used in concert with other sources.

12.  Anything You Post Online Will Be “Borrowed” – You need to accept the fact that any family information you post online will be “borrowed” or outright stolen, and you will probably not get credit for all your hard work.  This is the nature of the beast…the internet.  Get over it.

13.  Don’t Assume Research is Free – Research takes time and money.  It is an investment, just like any hobby.  When contacting research institutions, don’t assume they will provide you with all the information you want for free.  These institutions have research fees.  These fees are used to keep the collections safe, the lights on and the doors open.  If you don’t want to pay the fees, visit the institution.  Most institutions have websites and research fees will be posted.  DO NOT mail in a request, without appropriate fees.

14.  Be As Specific As Possible – Know what you are searching for before calling or visiting a research institution.  Libraries, courthouses, archives and historical societies are keepers of original documents.  They provide these documents to assist with your research.  If your questions are too vague, information cannot be found or will be overlooked.  Also, remember to provide the research institution with the variation of spellings your ancestors used to help locate all appropriate information.

Calling All Researchers…..

The Historical Review of Berks County is accepting articles for the following issues, with preference given to that Issue’s chosen category:

Summer 2014 Issue, articles due by March 14, 2014:

  • Civil Rights
  • Recollections on Berks County Parks

Fall 2014 Issue, articles due by June 13, 2014:

  • 50th Anniversary of the start of World War I
  • Thanksgiving Holiday Celebrations

Winter 2014/2015 Issue, articles due by September 12, 2014:

  • 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812
  • River Transportation, Schuylkill Navigation System, Union Canal, Schuylkill River

In addition to these themes, we are looking for researched articles or personal recollections on a variety of topics on Berks County history, and Berks County connections to U.S. History Events.  While any period will be accepted, we are especially looking for history events for the following years: 1714, 1764, 1814, 1864, 1914 and 1964.

All Articles should be between 1,000-2,000 max (exceptions could be made for an article over 2,000).  We also welcome graphics, which include (but are not limited to) pie charts, graphs, tables and photographs.  Any images found in the Henry Janssen Library are free for use for any article in the Review.  Authors must visit the library and choose their own images for publication.

When possible, articles should be properly cited with footnotes (or endnotes) and a bibliography.  For more information regarding citations, please visit: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/turabian/turabian_citationguide.html, or contact Kim Brown at krichards@berkshistory.org.

Please Note:  The Editorial Board reserves the rights to edit or condense articles before publication in the Review.

Review
Fall 2013 Historical Review of Berks County

…Do solemnly and sincerely Declare and Swear

We whose names are hereunto Subscribed Do solemnly and sincerely Declare and Swear, (or affirm,) That the State of Pennsylvania is and of right ought to be a free Sovereign and Independent State – and I do forever renounce all Allegiance, Subjection and Obedience to the King or Crown of Great Britain, and I do further swear (or solemnly, sincerely, and truely declare and affirm) that I never have since the declaration of Independence, directly or Indirectly aided, assisted, abetted or in any wise countenanced the King of Great Britain, his Generals, fleets or armies; or their adherents in their claims upon these United States, and that I have ever since the declaration of the Independence thereof demeaned myself as a faithfull citizen and subject of this or some one of the United States, and that I will at all times maintain and support the freedom, sovereignty and Independence thereof.

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A researcher doing their family genealogy, at some point, may happen upon the words written above.  Known as the Oath of Allegiance, this particular oath was in force in Pennsylvania between June 13, 1777 and March 13, 1789 and is one of the main primary resources to prove admittance into the Daughters, Sons or Children of the American Revolutions (DAR, SAR and CAR).

That would not be the first oath the early settlers of Berks County would take, though it would be their last.  Early German settlers were required to take an Oath upon landing in Philadelphia, swearing allegiance to King George II, and his successors, and the proprietors of Pennsylvania before they could enter the city and begin their new life.  Members elected to the Pennsylvania Convention, which would later form the government for the Commonwealth, were required to take an oath, which was very religious and compelled the acknowledgement of the Christian Religion: “I, –, do profess faith in God the Father and in Jesus Christ his Eternal Son, the true God, and in the Holy Spirit one God blessed evermore, and do acknowledge the sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration” (Wescott, viv).

This oath is definitely not something one would expect their elected representatives to a convention, about to form the government of the Commonwealth, to take.  Before assuming their positions, Justices of the Peace, appointed by the Convention, had to take an “oath of renunciation of the authority of George III, and one of allegiance to the State of Pennsylvania” (Wescott, xv).

On September 28, 1776, the Convention adopted a Constitution and immediately put it into practice.  “Members of the Assembly before taking their seats were obliged to take an oath or affirmation to support the Constitution, and to act faithfully, and to subscribe a declaration of a belief in one God the Creator and Governor of the Universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked, and that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by divine inspiration” (Wescott, xv).  While today we might find this oath objectionable because of the Separation of Church and State written into the U.S. Constitution, members of the 1776 Assembly took offense because it did not require a belief in Jesus Christ and left government positions open to people of non-Christianity based religions and even Deists.

In June of 1777, the Legislature passed a Militia Law that not only enrolled all men fit for military service, but also required an oath of allegiance and a test.  Persons were required to take a test to prove their allegiance, by answering a series of questions.  The Militia Law, with the Oath requirement, is the first time that the Commonwealth required an oath from someone other than a public official.  Because of this act, we have “Book D”, or the ledger that contains the names of men in Berks County, who took the Oath of Allegiance.

The Oath, not only solidified allegiance to Pennsylvania and the United States (as it was later tweaked for members of the Continental Army), but also served as a Rite of Passage making a person (or grown child) a citizen.  In 1784, members of the Assembly called into question the need for the Oath of Allegiance and Test Laws.  In March, a petition was presented, under the idea that “unanimity and harmony could not exist at a time when one part of the people were deprived of certain benefits which others enjoyed”, and requested that a committee be appointed to revise the law to reflect these new attitudes. (Wescott, xxxii).  This petition was almost unanimously defeated and sparked a 3-year debate regarding the rights of Pennsylvania Citizens.  A few successful attempts were made at repealing and altering the Test Laws and Oath of Allegiance.  In 1788, the Assembly appointed a committee, which reported:

That however proper it may have been during the late war, when, and by the division of a powerful nation it became necessary for individuals to make a solemn declaration of their attachment to one of the other of the contending parties, to your committee it appears that in times of peace and of well established government they are not only useless but highly pernicious, by disqualifying a large body of the people from exercising many necessary offices and throwing the whole burthen thereof on others, and also by alienating the affections of tender through, perhaps, mistaken minds, from a Government which by its invidious distinctions they are led to consider as hostile to their peace and happiness.   (Wescott, xli).

In response to the committee’s suggestion, on March 13, 1789 the Assembly repealed all laws requiring any oath or affirmation of allegiance and restored citizenship to persons disenfranchised by former laws.  Foreigners were still required to take an oath of allegiance to become a citizen (still enforce today) and their names are registered by the Recorder of Deeds.

Title

Donated in 1910, “A True List of Persons Names which has taken the oath of allegiance & fidelity to the State of Pennsylvania”, is, I believe an invaluable historical resource.  Locked in my office, the “Oath” only comes out on special occasions.  Inside is a who’s who of Berks County’s finest families.  A few were able to sign then names, while Clerks, such as Henry Christ, wrote the rest.  On December 8, 1787, the last group of Berks County residents took the oath.

Henry Christ

For more information…

Bibliography:

Wescott, Thompson. Names of Persons Who Took The Oath of Allegiance to the State of Pennsylvania, Between the Years 1777 and 1789, With A History of the “Test Laws” of Pennsylvania.  Philadelphia: John Campbell. 1865.  

Strassburger, Ralph Beaver.  Pennsylvania German Pioneers.  A Publication of the Original Lists of Arrivals In the Port of Philadelphia from 1727 to 1808. Edited by William John Hinke.  Norristown: Pennsylvania German Society. 1934.