It’s always wise to periodically conduct a Google search on your ancestors. With more and more records, old books and other potential sources of information being digitized each day, you never know when you might find something new.
Recently, I discovered that my great-great grandfather, Philip Hess Bender, Jr. was appointed a position within the Philadelphia Police Department in 1876.
I consider the two decades of research on the Bender family of Philadelphia, particularly my own direct line, to be quite comprehensive. And yet, here was a new revelation about Philip Jr.’s life.
From the notation, it appears he was part of the vice unit in the PPD’s 24th district for just two years, resigning in 1878.
A Philly cop in the late 19th century
Of course, learning this led to some further exploration. For insight on the history of law enforcement in 19th century Philadelphia, Howard O. Sprogle’s Philadelphia Police Past and Present is a must read.
The PPD went through some reorganization and major reforms after Mayor William S. Stokely took office in 1871. For starters, he increased the force by 1000 men shortly after he was elected. Philadelphia had the second largest population in the nation at that time, increasing nearly 20 percent over the decade prior. Then came the Panic of 1873. The nation was plunged into a depression and with it came the desperation which caused crime, particularly vice, to escalate. Stokely added another 200 men to the police department’s ranks.
When Philip Jr. joined the force Philadelphia was gearing up to host the Centennial Exposition. The eight-month long event attracted more than 9 million visitors and some of the nation’s worst criminals.
Stokely added 300 extra officers to offset the city’s need for more police protection.
In addition, on March 20, 1876, Philadelphia’s Select Council (predecessor to today’s City Council) passed an ordinance to take a census of inhabitants during the Centennial. The work was entirely carried out by police patrolmen in April. Since Philip was appointed on March 30, he likely contributed to that enumeration.
During his brief time with the PPD, he also helped restore order in the city during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.
It’s incredible how one tidbit of new information can lead to fascinating discoveries about past events and how they impacted the lives of those who lived during those times. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy nerding it up in pursuit of my ancestors.
For tips on how to get the most out of a Google search for ancestors, check out this Family History Daily article.
Copyright (c) 2015 by Jana Shea. All materials protected under the laws of copyright. Do not copy or reproduce without author’s permission.