A Brief History of Berks County, part 2

Flight of Five http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockport_(city),_New_York

Many of you probably do not know that I am not originally from Berks County.  I was born and raised in Lockport, New York, which is roughly 30 minutes northeast of Niagara Falls and an hour north of Buffalo.  Lockport, while having many claims to fame, is known for having the most locks along the Erie Canal.  In fact they are currently restoring the flight of five (as they were known) to make them operational again.  Growing up, I used to listen to my Great-Grandmother tell us, how she liked to make produce deliveries in Buffalo with her father, because she had to stay overnight at a hotel.  I never could figure out why, until much later when I realized they traveled by horse.  An hour trip today, was a half-day to a day trip at the turn of the century.

The German Immigrants, who traveled to Berks County in 18th Century, did not have the luxury of planes, trains and automobiles.  Their journey started a lot farther away than Lockport and many did not survive crossing the Atlantic Ocean.  The decision to leave one’s home is never easy, especially when you know you will never see your friends and family again.  Germany did not become a unified country until 1871.  Until then, Germany consisted on many principalities and the Princes ruled however, they saw fit and took whatever they wanted.  Someone interested in traveling, needed to seek permission from the Prince before leaving and anyone accumulating any amount of money (if found) were looked at suspiciously and the money could be confiscated.

The trip to America was not free.  Immigrants saved what they could and often left in the middle of the night, when the Prince was not looking.  As they traveled down the Rhine, each Prince stopped the travelers and demanded fees for their passage through their principality, after they paid the captain for his services.  Many were penniless by the time they reached the port town.  The trip down the Rhine could take a couple weeks, if you were able to travel by boat.  At the port town, such as Amsterdam, Immigrants purchased their passage to America.  The trip across the Atlantic took roughly three months.  When the ship landed in Philadelphia, sailors rounded up the men, walked them to the Immigration Office or Courthouse, where the Immigrants took the Oath of Allegiance to the King of England.  They returned to the ship to settle their debt with the Captain.

If they were able to pay for their passage in full, the Captain allowed the Immigrant to leave the ship.  If the Immigrant could not pay for the passage, the Captain kept him/her or families on board until someone paid for their release.  This Indenture (Indentured Servants, Redemptioners) was a private contract and the individual agreed to work for a number of years until his debt was paid.  We have heard that there might be records of these contracts in Philadelphia.  However, we do not have confirmation on this yet.  The Indentures left the ship with the person who bought their freedom.  If the Immigrant paid for the passage, he/she or they headed toward Germantown, where they had family and friends.  Many stayed in Germantown long enough to earn enough money to buy their own land and then headed west toward Berks County. 

There is an old saying…”All roads lead to Rome.”  Unfortunately, there were no roads leading to Berks County; at least not until the mid-to late 18th century.  Traveling through unknown territory, through forests, by foot, would have taken a couple of days.  What lay ahead was a future full of hard work and promise.

Many new researchers are often surprised when we explain that their Immigrant did not “land” in Berks County.  One researcher recently wondered if their ancestor traveled Interstate 81 to Virginia.  We forget how easy moving from one place to another is because of automobiles, interstates highways, roads and planes.  We have our ancestors to thank for that!

Written by former BHC Archivist, Kim Brown.

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:

Written by former BHC Archivist, Kim Brown.

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.

Written by former BHC Archivist, Kim Brown.

…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.


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.


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…


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.

Written by former BHC Archivist, Kim Brown.

High School Yearbooks

I have a slightly inactive Yahoo email account.  It’s inactive, because the only thing I use it for is my Fantasy Hockey League I have with my friends.  So, I only check it during the fall through the season.  Regardless of the state of the Hockey Season this year, I opened up my Yahoo account and found the following email from a Library Aid at Wyomissing.  It was sent in February and I apologize for not seeing it.  I don’t exactly know how she got my yahoo address.  Regardless, it’s a follow up to a question I asked back on December 23, 2011 in the post Voted Most Smartest, regarding Colophon, the Wymossing High School Yearbook.  Ms. Ellen Weaver responded and answered that question.

As a way to apologize for taking so long to see it, I am printing her response in full.  I hope enjoy it.  I’ll be checking my yahoo account more often now.  Thanks for the information Ellen!

Hi Kimberly,

I found your blog in my on-going quest to fill out our collection of yearbooks here at the Wyomissing High School library.  It’s funny that I found it now, because I am working on designing a display featuring past and present Wyomissing students.  We have many students whose parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and even great-grandparents attended Wyomissing and I am excited about putting something together.  Every time I start working on this, my regular tasks at the library fade into the background  (shhhh)  and I get completely absorbed into old Wyomissing.  I also live here, so it is even more interesting to me.

Anyhow, here is the lengthy answer to your Wyomissing Colophon question, which I found in the 1930 yearbook.  1930 was the first year for the Colophon, the previous yearbook was the Blue and White, started in 1924.

“To the Reader

Beyond doubt, you have wondered as the the reason for the change of name of this, the Annual of Wyomissing High School.  The alteration in the the title implies no dissatisfaction with the prevailing colors of our Alma Mater-Blue and White.  Rather, have our years under this banner, heightened our respect.

The new title-Colophon-is linguistically of Grecian derivation.  Shortly after the invention of the printing press, (that perfect medium for the transmission of all progress) printers sought some symbol, which might be attached to works of highest merit.  Those masters of the Craft of Printing, who possessed the right to employ their stamp on their products, were the ones with greatest skill and pride in their art.  Because we desire to emulate these craftsmen in producing the best, the name Colophon has been selected.

We have tried to realize the true responsibility that is inherent in any creative enterprise.  In consequence this Annual is to us as a painting to its artist, a piece of statuary to its sculptor;  or a poem to its creator.  In its form and substance it is an expression of ourselves.

That this Annual may meet with your approval,  that it may furnish you with a history of Wyomissing High School in the year 1929-1930;  and that it may win from you the judgment, that we have complied with our theme, to wit, have progressed to some extent beyond the labors of our predecessors; these are the ardent hopes of


Don’t you love it!  Lots of SAT words in there…

You might like to know that the 1930 yearbook was the first hardback, it has a gorgeous pink and black Art Deco-style cover and futuristic endpapers.  There is also pink, blueish-purple and yellow ink used in some of the design work and graphics, it’s just beautiful.  There is also a listing of alumni, by class, going back to 1911, which I believe may have been the first high school class. The first high school principal was hired in 1908.  There is also a history of Community Progress beginning with Aboriginal Inhabitants and some great pictures.  It’s interesting to me, that in the middle of the Great Depression they created what is a very expensive-looking book-although most early Wyomissing yearbooks cost $1.00

It is really  cool.

So glad I found your blog!

Ellen Weaver
LIbrary Aide
Wyomissing Junior/Senior High School

Written by former BHC Archivist, Kim Brown.

Susanna Cox

So, a couple years ago, not too long after I arrived in Berks County, I was asked to review a new book on Susanna Cox.  While I had only been in Berks County, probably a year, I had heard all the stories and after reading the book, went to the primary resources, most of which were in the HJL (none of the Collection Names or resources at this facility were properly cited, they actually were not referenced at all…a BIG pet peeve of mine) and knew a good deal about the history.  One does not need to grow up with an area’s history to make an informed decision.  Being an outsider, apparently did not make me a trustworthy source when it came to this review and the author’s took offense.  What interested me most about the book was the discussion on the evolution of criminal investigation, forensic pathology and criminal prosecution and not the Susanna Cox story, which was the same story told to me by researchers, volunteers and Louis Richards, Susanna’s first biographer.  Unfortunately for Susanna, everything mentioned in the book was either too new or came later and was of no help to her case, nor do I think it would have made a difference in the outcome.

Regardless, the Susanna Cox case has followed me over the past 3 years, and not that I find it overtly fascinating, we just keep finding references to it in little ways.  The following was found by accident.  My assistant Lisa brought a book to my attention, while she was getting ready to relabel and re-shelve it because it had just been re-inventoried.  This Genealogy is full of little “histories” that I hope to blog more about, but for now…here is a new version of the Susanna Cox History. (spellings and grammar are kept to how the original author wrote it…or I tried to.  Grammar was not important in 1886)

1776-1876 Centennial Book of Reminiscences, Traditions, Recollections, Habits, Manners, and Customs, and of what I Know of the Older TImes.  Written Expressly for the Van Reed Family.  J Van Reed, 1876.

pp.118-122 “What I know of Olden Times  Execution of Susanna Cox

Of what I know, and heard tell of Hanging.  The first case I recollect of, and of which I shall give a condensed account was Susanna Cox.  A girl of 17 years of age who resided for 5 years in the family of Jacob Gehr, a farmer in Oley Township was delivered in the spring of the year 1809 of an illegitimate child, the body of which was found by Mr. Gehr wrapped in an old coat, and concealed in a hole under a closet in a room over the washhouse.  A corners inquest examined the body, and found the under jaw broken, and a piece of twisted tow stuffed in its throat.  The jury had made out that the child was born alive, which the girl however denied, she was tried before Judge Spayed, and convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to be HungShe subsequently made a full confession of her guilt.  Her execution took place on the 10 of June the same year 1809.  Never (I am told) such a numerous collection of People took place before.  Every body, it seamed symphacited [sympathized] with the unfortunate girl, and all with one accord, declared that Mr. Gehr should be hung, beside her, for reason to be presumed.

[I should note here that in the Broadsides and the two known histories on Susanna Cox, mentioned a “Mr. M” as the father of Susanna’s child and everyone assumed that Mr. M was a Mertz.  However, in random discussions when reading the latest history, I thought, like most people might today, the only person she would have had constant contact with would be Mr. Gehr.  J. Van Reed is the first account to accuse Susanna’s employer/Master as the child’s father.  I wonder how right he could be?  It is still listed as a Berks Mystery today!]

The Hanging was as aforesaid numerously attended. The taverns where all crowded the preceeding eavning, and all night wagons loaded with people from the country were passing through the streets, some comeing upwards of 70 Miles, (Executions then were yet Public) to see this unfortunate girl terminating her Earthly existance.  The Execution took place on what then was called Gallows-Hill.  from a calculation made by the space taken up by the spectators the number of people present must have been 25,000.  A little after 11 o’clock the mornful prosession moved from the Prisson (which then stood at the NE Corner of Washington and Sixth Streed Reading).  The unfortunate girl with a firm step and a smile on her countenance walked steight up to the awful place of Execution on the Commens at the foot of the hill supported and comforted by two Ministers of the Gospel.  After a small and appropriate Prayer for the wrong she had done had been delivered by her, she then ascended the scoffold and after the death – Warrant had been read to her.  She again most ernestly supplicated for Mercy, and for forgiveness of Sin and transgressions &c and biding a last farewell to all around her in a pitiful and solmen manner after which the cart on which she stood was drawn from under her.  She was lunched into eternity without a struggle.  The greatest decency was ubheld during the whole awful scene, and tears of symphathy were seen flowing very freely from the almost numberless croud of spectators.  It was indeed a day of SORROW from an eye witness. (yet living but guile an old man) to the above execution.  I have repeatitly obtained the following perticulars, the Girl

Susanna Cox

as a good looking girl; with black eyes and hair and red cheeks. She appeared to have manifested a wonderful degree of resignation, in regard of her fate.  On the eavening before the Execution she was visited in Prison by an old lady to whome she showed the Shroud that had been made for her.  The poor girl said “This is too long for me I can’t walk well in it tomorrow.  I beleave I will put a tuck in it.”  Dressed in her garment of death, She walked up Penn Street from the Jail to the hill, behind the cart which contained her coffin and was supported on each side by a clergyman.  The day was very hot and the sun in full meredian, in passing a Pump which stood on Penn Street below Seventh on the site no No 635.  She asked for a drink of water to drink the Sheriff stopped the cart, and brought her a pint measure of fresh water, which she drank.  The Gallows Erected on the side of the Hill at the head of Penn Street which consisted principally of two upright and cross pieces, in the middle of which the rope was tied.  Susanna mounted the cart and when the rope had been adjusted and the cap drawn over her eyes the cart was drivin from under her, and she was Suspended for some 10 minutes.  She contracted her Shoulders and gave signs of life.  The Hangman seeing this, took hold of her feet, and gave her body a jerk, one of her slippers comeing off fell to the ground which created one continuous moan through the croud at the limited time her body was taken down and a couble of physiscians bled her freely and jabbed her all over to restore life if possible but it was found that her neck had been broken by the Hangmans jerk.  The entire concourse of the spectators where effected to tears by the heart = ending specticle Indignation was loudly expressed against the Hangman, Who was a German, and a stranger in the place.  Who was hired by Sheriff Marks to perform the duty of hanging.  Towards Eavning this JACK KELCH came down (Gallowhill now Fifth) Street from the jail and was observed some Bully of the Town who was standing on the S.E corner of Sixth and Penn Street who went across the street to where Jamesons Cloathing Store now is and procured a Cow – Skin caught the hangman and flayed him so desperately that the blood ran down his legs.  Twenty silver 1/2 dollars the blood-money he had obtained for hes serveses as poor Susanna’s Executioner, dropped out of his pocket, which when he had picked up, he made off down Sixth Street as fast as he could, crased [crossed] over the Lancaster Ferry and was never heard off again in this neighborhood.  The body of Poor Susanna was givin to her friends and buried in the vicinity of Hampdon.

Follow-up.  The Susanna Cox story is (or was) taught to every child in school and is reenacted three times a day at the Kutztown Folk Festival.  Her’s is a story that Berks County wants remembered.  Some facts, they choose to forget.  For instance, the rope, made for the hanging, was too short.  So, while everyone remembers that Susanna was standing on the cart that carried her coffin, they forget that she was actually standing on top of her coffin in the cart, so they could get the rope to reach her neck.  Susanna was buried on a farm belonging to her brother-in-law, somewhere around the vicinity of Albright College.  She was in an unmarked grave, because her sister did not want her body disturbed.  It is believed that road crews working in the Hampden Heights area a few years ago, came across an unmarked grave and found the body of a female.  It was removed to a site unknown.  Everyone speculated that it was Susanna.  Susanna Cox goes done in Pennsylvania History as being the last woman hung publicly in the Commonwealth.  Not something I would like to be known for.  Some historians say she didn’t do it, others say she did.  Was Mr. Gehr the father or Mr. Mertz?  And who is Mr. Mertz?  For better or worse, the story of Susanna Cox sparks interest in her story and almost compels you to seek out more information.

I will share more from J Van Reed’s diary a little later.  It is one of the better “finds” found in the library.  I will also try and gather some information on him as well.

Written by former BHC Archivist, Kim Brown.

The stuff our ancestors did not want us to know

When you think about your ancestors, what do you envision?  I, personally, envision people along the lines of “what my grade-school teachers taught us about the puritans”.  Hardworking, patriotic, a little uptight, god-fearing.  My Great-grandmother, Ethel Coulter Richards, was a school-teacher, in a one-room schoolhouse.  Helped her husband on the family dairy farm, was a devout Methodist and was president of the local chapter of the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union).  My mom would tell us stories of how the cousins, during family reunions, would try to hide the fact they were drinking beer from her.  Grammy was a force to be reckoned with and an awesome person. It was her Great-grandfather that served during the American Revolution.  I somehow imagine all my ancestors to be like that.  And I am not the only one.

In the three years since starting at the Historical Society of Berks County, I have yet to have a day where I haven’t learned some juicy detail of someone’s past.  While we have these images of what we think our ancestors are like, the opposite is always the case.  There are black sheeps in every family and uncovering them can be really fun.  Some of our ancestors behaved just as badly as we do today.  For instance:

We had a researcher in over the past summer, who discovered that one of her family members (married) had an affair with a woman.  Both the mistress and the wife became pregnant around the same time, gave birth within the same week, both had sons and both named their sons after the man.  Talk about a scandal.  The mistress ended up moving across the Lancaster County border.  The researcher was trying to figure out which mother bore her family line.  When you have two boys, named the same, born almost at the same time and living in the same area, it makes for a little bit of a History Mystery.

Our researcher’s genealogies always contain an illicit affair, a deadbeat husband, a family alcoholic, children born out of wedlock, or before a nine-month wedding anniversary.  Some might even have the stories you don’t talk about, but have laws crafted that we make fun of as being stupid or weird laws on the books.  In one such case, a friend of the HJL just recently discovered one of his ancestors was an art forger, due to an article in the New York Times.  Who knew?  Actually, this is a pretty big deal.  He passed a painting off as being of Mary Todd Lincoln.  The painting hung in the governor’s mansion in Springfield, IL before moving to it’s current home at the Lincoln Library.  It wasn’t until conservators started cleaning the painting they discovered the forgery.  To read further: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/arts/design/portrait-of-mary-todd-lincoln-is-deemed-a-hoax.html?_r=1.

Not all is bad though, we had another researcher, whose ancestor was Governor of Pennsylvania.  What makes him pretty unique, was that he was the Union soldier in charge on the Lincoln Conspirators.  You really never know what you might uncover!

Other than what is written down, we only ever know the facts about someone.  When they were born, baptized, married and died.  We can garner some information from an obituary, but those only tell the best of someone.  Despite their faults or because of their accomplishments, it helped us get to where we are today.  We might have a black sheep in our family, but it makes the family stories more interesting.  The next time you picture our ancestors, picture them with a little bit of you.  It will help them come to life and make them more real.

Something to Ponder

I am currently reviewing the Board Minutes for the Historical Society in order to develop a better understanding of the 143-year history of the Society’s library. While reading, I came across an interesting passage.

BACKGROUND: April 12, 1870.  The corresponding secretary Henry M. Keim read a letter during the board meeting from a Mr. W. C. Reikel of Bethlehem making “inquiries in reference to the Leinbach Family in Oley Township, Berks County, and asking assistance in his effort to investigate its early history.”  In an effort to assist Mr. Reikel, the Board moved to form a committee consisting of Mr. Daniel Ermentrout (Member of the Finance Committee) and Society Vice-President Jesse G. Hawley (better known for owning the Reading Eagle at the time) to gather the information and send it to Mr. Reikel.  Neither of them actually sat on the Library Committee mind you, and I do not believe they had a librarian at the time.

SIDE NOTE: This request today would still be complicated.  With the amount of history stored in the library on the Leinbach family alone, a researcher would need to be more specific in this request.  In all actuality, if this request came through email, I would immediately reply sending information regarding our Genealogical Services and request that they be more specific.  What family member are you looking for?  Do you roughly know the dates of your ancestors?  What are you trying to prove or disprove?  We at the HJL deal in primary resources and we cannot “perform” original research.  In 1870, this request was made more complicated by the fact that the library was still in its infancy.  The “Oley/Leinbach” Committee (a term I dubbed) did not have access to the wealth of information at our fingertips.  I believe this is why the committee was formed.  If we had to have, a committee formed every time a research request comes in, researchers would never get their information in a timely manner.

Back to the matter on hand.  While I am sure Mr. Reikel received a very thorough report from the Oley/Leinbach Committee, it is what is written in the Minutes that struck me as odd.  “The committee appointed at last meeting to obtain information concerning early settlements in Oley Township in this county, through Daniel Ermentrout made a partial report, stating that the committee together with several members of the society had visited Oley Township and had been received very pleasantly by the inhabitants there of, especially by Mrs. Dr. P. G. Bertolet who gave into the hands of the committee some very valuable documents to be returned to her after inspection by the society….”  The Minutes go on to explain that the committee will present a full report, once their investigation is finished.

At a glance, this paragraph, matter of fact points out that after a trip to Oley, the committee gathered some information and that after their research had concluded would present their results to the board and Mr. Reikel.  However, when I really looked at it and then showed it to my Assistant Archivist Lisa, we thought it funny and strange.  First, we were surprised that twice they mentioned that Oley was part of Berks County, as if that might have been questioned.  Second, we pictured this small group of Reading Businessmen, dressed in white suits with white safari hats, trekking through the wilderness of Berks County with their sabers and muskets, being led by a guide, not knowing what to expect.  We imagined them getting to the Oley Township line and actually being greeted by the “inhabitants” and welcomed into the township and fed tea and cookies. Then we started wondering if this small committee had a previously bad experience, such as say maybe in Bern Township, where the inhabitants could have met our brave group of explorers at the township line with pitchforks and torches?  In all seriousness, I wonder how long it took them to get there.  They did not have cars and I imagine the Oley Turnpike was not paved and really rough in spots.  I wonder if any of them had been to Oley before.  Better yet, did they get lost on the way?

Ok, I have a very active imagination; especially on days spent reading mundane works like Board Minutes.  Regardless, of their trip, the Oley/Leinbach Committee set the stage for research and soon after other Township Histories were being generated and presented at the Board Meetings.  Eventually these works were gathered together and became the Transactions of the Historical Society, which eventually led to the Historical Review of Berks County, our quarterly journal.  Pretty neat when you think about it?!?

Where did you find that?

One of the first things I learned as an undergraduate in History, was to cite your sources.  Some professors tend to be sticklers on this topic.  You have an original idea, but still need to provide three sources to back up that idea.  Regardless, bibliographies, endnotes and footnotes do come in handy, especially when producing a body of literature, which you intend to be used by other researchers.

It still comes as a bit of a shock (like not knowing the difference between primary and secondary sources) that the bulk of the researchers visiting the library, DO NOT cite where they found their information.  For all of our researchers (onsite and offsite), we provide the title page free of charge.  This way they know where they found their information and can use this information for future research.  So, why do we have researchers refusing this service?  Are researchers so focused on obtaining the information, they fail to forget that where they found that information is just as important?  Are online sources and television shows, such as Ancestry.com and Who Do You Think You Are? downplaying the need for bibliographies and source information?

As a historian, I do not trust any article, genealogy, website, and so on, that uses historic information through multiple sources and those sources aren’t cited.  If you use an Archival Facility for information, remember to cite Collection Information and list the name of the library you found it in.  Do not take for granted that people will know where you found your information.  And, if researchers are not willing to divulge their bibliography/source list, I would not trust the work they are doing.  If you forget to write down a source, we will assist you the best we can.  But, please do not send an email, describing the book (color, thickness, etc) and think we are going to be able to locate it.  With over 10,000 books in our collection, after a while, they all tend to match the description.

So, I cannot stress this enough…CITE YOUR SOURCES.  Provide proper Bibliographies, Endnotes and Footnotes.
To better assist you with this here are a few sites (which I actually use in book form) that are good reference tools:

Diana Hacker – A Pocket Style Manual: http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/resdoc5e/RES5e_ch10_s1-0001.html

Chicago Manual Style: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

We also have printed sources in the library available upon request.

Happy Researching!

Water, Water Everywhere

It is no joke.  Berks County is flooded.  Rivers, streams and creeks exist where none existed in years.  As I was trying to zigzag my way home last night, trying to locate a road that was not closed, I started thinking about Disaster Recovery.  Not because I would have to undergo a recovery, but mostly because I kept thinking that, NO ONE ever thinks about Disaster Recovery until you are trying to scrap your family photo albums up off the basement floor into a garbage bag.  Being prepared and taking a few steps can help save your history.

First and foremost, important legal documents like your birth certificate, marriage certificate, family death certificates, passports, insurance policies, deeds, wills and probably a few other documents that are escaping me, should be stored in a Fireproof and Waterproof safe.  Many of these items, while some are replaceable and expensive to do so, are important enough to need following a crisis.  Keep them in a safe (no pun intended) location that is easily accessible.

If you have a basement, no matter how hard you try, items end up being stored down there.  If it floods, it is recommended that items be stored away from the walls in the middle of the room and raised up.  It is probably best to think of the last time your basement flooded, how far the water entered the room and how high up and start from there.  If items need to be stored on the floor, invest in Rubbermaid boxes with sealable lids.  Cardboards boxes are no match for water, but plastic will keep items dry and safe, and possibly float, which could be a bonus.  If your family photographs, life boxes or anything important is stored in the basement, plastic is the way to go.

Now, while the intricacies of a Recovery are to difficult to explain here, there are certain actions you can take to save items that were damaged:

MOST IMPORTANT: if your basement is now a swimming pool, keep in mind that there are electrical conduits around and probably breaker boxes.  If you cannot get your electricity shut off, DO NOT enter the water.  You will have to wait until the water recedes.

Documents, books, and photographs, are, believe it or not, in a semi-stable environment until the water starts drying.  For some items, there is nothing you will be able to do to recover them completely.  However, for the most part, these items sometime acclimate to their surroundings, until they change again.  The BIGGEST threat to all these items is not the water, but the mold that will ensue if you cannot cool and dehumidify your basement quickly and completely.  All the statistics on mold indicates that is forms and spreads within 24 hours.  I have seen it start forming and spread in less than 12.  Mold is the biggest destroyer of all items.  Combating that is a top priority because it is also a serious health issue!  Keep the air circulating for constant motion and drying purposes.

Documents and photographs can be recovered through air-drying.  Photographs need to be separated; the emulsion used in their manufacturing process, will turn sticky and once these items dry together, you will not be able to get them apart.  Once separated you can clothes pin them onto a line to air dry.  Documents, depending on weight of the paper when wet, can also be air-dried, or laid out on the floor.  Typically, in the library setting, we use blotting paper to assist in the “wicking” processes.  Paper towels should work.

However, Kitchen Paper Towels will not work.  This is important.  Manufacturers have designed them to lock moisture in and hold it in.  Paper towels, like the brown ones, that dry easily and do not have moisture lock are preferred and do work best.

Books tend to be a bit more difficult in the recovery process.  Improper handling of books can cause their spines to break and fall apart.  Books, like George M. Meiser IX, and Gloria Jean Meiser’s The Passing Scene, which are glossy coated, need to be treated carefully.  The pages of glossy covered books, needed to be interleafed with wax paper BEFORE the drying process starts, or the pages will stick together, and you will not get them apart.  For non-glossy format books, interleaving paper towels and standing them, wet side down will help gravity pull the water from the book.  Leave a portion of the paper towel around the edge of the book so when the water is wicked to the end, it can air dry and pull more moisture out.  When the bulk of the water is out, you might need to weight it down to finish the drying process, or you can end up with a book double its original size.

Wet items in frames need to be carefully removed from the frame so the item does not stick to the glass, rip apart and dries thoroughly.

These are just a few tips.  If you require more professional assistance, you can contact:

Berks Fire and Water Restorations, Inc. – http://bfwrestorations.com/

For professional archival assistance:

The Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts – http://www.ccaha.org/

and I like to give a shout out and mention the following organizations who assisted me in a library recovery 4 years or so ago:

The Northeast Document Conservation Center – http://www.nedcc.org/home.php

Document Reprocessors – http://documentreprocessors.com/

If at any point you have questions, please call the Historical Society, I will do my best to help point you in the right direction.  Stay Safe and Dry Berks County!