Tuesday Tip: use Lord’s Supper registers as early census alternative

imageIf you have a German-American ancestor who was residing in colonial Philadelphia, it might be worthwhile to check the Lord’s Supper guest register for St. Michael and Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1755-1763.

It can be found online via Ancestry.com’s Pennsylvania and New Jersey Church and Town Records, 1708-1985.

What’s remarkable about this register is that it’s a mini-census record of personal data that might aid further research.  It is particularly useful in narrowing down the year of immigration.

In fact, one of the main reasons for documenting those who took the sacrament of Lord’s Supper was to provide evidence of such so that immigrants could be naturalized as citizens of British North America.

The Plantation Act of 1740 required Protestant immigrants living in the Colonies for at least seven years (and who had not left said Colonies for longer than two months) to produce court certificates that they had taken the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in a Protestant or Reformed church three months before taking the oath to become a citizen of Great Britain.

Besides names of single parishioners, the register also lists husbands and wives. Then in columns to the right of the names it contains the following information on each person:

  • how many years in America
  • how many children
  • age
  • miscellaneous notes

The miscellaneous notes, though sometimes difficult to read, generally give indication of residence. This can include a Philadelphia neighborhood like Kensington or Frankfurt (Frankford).

Considering that St. Michael and Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church was one of the first (and main) Lutheran churches for colonial Philadelphia’s sizable German-American population, this is a great resource for those with ancestors who were parishioners.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 16.34.53

In this 1761 register, Jacob Bender is listed as age 37 and wife, Dorothea is listed as having immigrated to Philadelphia 19 years prior, the mother of 7 children and age 32. [image detail from Ancestry.com]

A search under my Bender family progenitor revealed some interesting things.

The entries (dated 1761) for Jacob Bender and his wife correctly listed their ages and the number of children born to them at that time.  The information is also accurate in listing Dorothea Bender as having been in the country for 19 years.

Jacob, however, had no number entered in that particular column.

Could this omission mean (as I have long suspected) that Jacob Bender was born in America?

The miscellaneous notes indicate his residence being in the Germantown Borough, which could be another big clue.

Jacob Bender bought a considerable amount of land after this register was made in the western Northern Liberties township (today’s Allegheny West neighborhood).  However, I have not located any deeds prior to 1771, even though Jacob married and had children in Philadelphia decades earlier.

Where was he living? Apparently in Germantown.

Was it on inherited land or with other family?

I have long thought that if Jacob was born in America, he almost certainly was born in Germantown and connected to the earliest German settlement there.

There’s a family legend which claims that Jacob is the son of a Jacob Bender/Painter who immigrated in 1693 and settled in Pelham area of Germantown (today Mt. Airy).

Plus, he does not appear to have a connection with any other Bender/Painter families in Northern Liberties or of St. Michael & Zion Lutheran Church, except for one –  Johannes Painter/Penter (d. 1768) and his wife, Carolina, who were the sponsors of Jacob and Dorothea’s daughter, Carolina. I’ve found no other mention of this couple in St. Michael & Zion’s records, so I am still unsure of how they relate.

Furthermore, a search under Bender and Painter surnames in Persons Naturalized in the Province of Pennsylvania, 1740-1773 yielded no entries for Jacob Bender/Painter, although there is a “Johann Jacob Binder” who took the oath listed as having received the sacrament in 1761. But this appears to be the same Johann Jacob Binder also among the parishioners on the 1761 Lord’s Supper register who immigrated in 1750.

So, it would appear that Jacob Bender just may have been born (ca. 1724) in colonial Pennsylvania. Now if I could only find proof…

Copyright (c) 2016 by Jana Shea. All materials protected under the laws of copyright. Do not copy or reproduce without author’s permission.

Good read: NPR’s ‘DNA, Genealogy And The Search For Who We Are’

wintertree1A recently published NPR article ponders the connection between DNA and family history and appears to the be the first piece in what could be an intriguing ongoing series.

Writer Alva Noë makes the distinction between genetic, or DNA ancestors and pedigree ancestors, and touches on some important facts and thoughts to consider when it comes to utilizing consumer DNA testing as a tool for exploring one’s genealogy.

Particularly helpful, his article links to the University College London’s page on genetic ancestry testing, which has the most clear explanation of autosomal DNA testing I’ve thus far encountered.

But it’s the notion that with ancestry what’s most important is family, and that family is about relationships and not necessarily genetics, that resonates with me.

I am reminded of a quote introduced to me decades ago by my late Dad which reflected one of his core beliefs:
“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.” Richard Bach

And I think of my 20-month old son, who will never know either one of his biological grandfathers, but instead has formed a special bond with my stepdad – the man who will always be Grandpa to him.  Genes don’t tell the full story of family and sometimes we forget that in pursuit of our lineage.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Jana Shea. All materials protected under the laws of copyright. Do not copy or reproduce without author’s permission.

The Three Sarahs, part 3

photograph of downed tree limb blocking roadIllegitimacy often poses serious challenges to tracing one’s roots. This is the roadblock I face with the third of The Three Sarahs.

Sara Rebold/Sarah Raybold, wife of Godfrey a Bender, was born 6 Sept. 1765 in Germantown township, Philadelphia.

Her death date is listed in the church registers of St. Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germantown. From the exact age in years, months and days recorded at her burial, I could easily calculate her birth date.

But finding a baptism record proved tricky.

I initially presumed that Sarah’s father was a Rebold/Raybold.

She shared a close relationship with her mother, Mary, who I learned was a young widow. It was only after finally figuring out to whom Mary had been wed did I realize that Sarah and her brother, George, were illegitimate children, born several years after Mary’s husband had died.

Still, I had a birth date to go by and the knowledge that the family was Lutheran and resided in Germantown at that time. That narrowed down the church to St Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran.

I had hoped to find a baptism with perhaps a notation of who the father was or at least a sponsor or two to further investigate for a possible connection.

No such luck in locating a baptism. What I found instead was a 1780 confirmation record which gave Sarah’s age, further proving the 1765 year correct. Her father was noted as being Jacob Rehbold.

Since that was the name of her mother’s late husband deceased some five years prior to Sarah’s birth, I dismissed the notation as an erroneous recording by a new pastor who was unfamiliar with the timeline. The new pastor probably only knew that Mary was a widow of Jacob Rebold who never remarried and made the assumption that he was the father.

No additional clues could be obtained from George’s 1774 baptism, which occurred 13 years after his birth. No parents nor sponsors are noted and there is also no mention of his illegitimate status. He was, however, listed as being age 15, which is incorrect and can be proven by the baptismal registers for Jacob and Mary Rebold’s two sons, who were born in 1758 and 1760 and died in infancy.

Then I came across some crazy scandal that played out in the newspapers of the time, involving Sarah’s mother and brother-in-law, Anthony Hubbard. The man with whom they had a public dispute accused Mary Rebold of having bore two illegitimate children by her stepson.

What the… what?!?

Jacob Rebold was indeed a widower with five  children when he married Mary. One of those children was his eldest son, Jacob.

Was this son Sarah’s (and George’s) father?

The elder Jacob Rebold left a will written in 1760, just two weeks before he died, which clearly states his son Jacob was not yet 21 years-old. Since he also wills his eldest (and already married) daughter to receive her share four years after his death, it would seem that the junior Jacob turned 21 in 1764.

Intriguingly, it also states a desire for his son and widow to keep the estate intact and raise the younger children together until the junior Jacob attains full age.

A recipe for illicit love?

The Rebold homestead was put up for sale in 1764, further indicating that is indeed the year the younger Jacob arrived at full age.

That would make him 21 when Sarah would have been conceived and 17 or 18 when George was. Their mother was 18 years older than her stepson. Kind of creepy, but not beyond the realm of possibility.

The junior Jacob Rebold later moved to the Southwark neighborhood, close to his full siblings and away from his step-family and half-sister.

So, I’m trying to figure out how to determine if this centuries old rumor is true and, if not, who then is Sarah’s father.

Her mother was fairly well-to-do and so she may not have been subject to any kind of bastardy trial, if such records exist.

George’s only son died young, so even if he and Sarah shared the same father there is no chance to trace the Y-DNA.

My next step will probably be to head to the Philadelphia City Archives to check the Court of Common Pleas appearance dockets and execution dockets to see if there is any record of case/action against Mary Rebold for having two children born out of wedlock.

It may be awhile before I can get an opportunity to do so.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Jana Shea. All materials protected under the laws of copyright. Do not copy or reproduce without author’s permission.

Tuesday Tip: online Irish parish registers

photograph of silhouetted winter trees

I recently discovered an invaluable resource for researching Irish ancestors. I’m six months late to this party, but figured it was worthwhile to write about in case others have yet to come across this information goldmine.

Catholic Parish Registers at the NLI is the National Library of Ireland’s online collection of scanned baptisms and marriage registers from the majority of Catholic parishes in both Ireland and Northern Ireland, covering years up to 1880.

The best thing is that it’s free!

My paternal grandfather was 100 percent Irish-American, his father’s parents having immigrated from County Kerry, Ireland and his mother’s parents immigrants from Northern Ireland’s County Tyrone.

I’ve had great success in the past with finding parish records for my County Kerry ancestors through irishgenealogy.ie, but until last summer, when the NLI’s records went live, online parish records for County Tyrone were available only through subscription to rootsireland.ie.

To search for one’s ancestors on the NLI site, you must first enter the village, townland or parish into the search engine bar at the top right corner of the web page. That will bring up the collection of scanned registers for the relevant diocese.

Next comes the hard work of scouring the images for your ancestors’ names. There’s a great filter to help narrow things down by year and even by moth and year, if you happen to know that information.

Fair warning:   the handwriting is so faint for some of the records that they are nearly impossible to read.

The good news is that there are image enhancement tools to adjust contrast, brightness and even to inverse the image.

It’s a fantastic resource and I look forward to researching my County Tyrone kin…

Copyright (c) 2016 by Jana Shea. All materials protected under the laws of copyright. Do not copy or reproduce without author’s permission.

Peter Reuter: The Dramatic Hall years

 

Wheatley Dramatic Hall

A sketch of the Dramatic Hall as it looked circa 1880. [detail from newspaper sketch, originally published in The North American, Philadelphia, May 1, 1904]

One of the more fascinating chapters of my third great-grandfather, Peter Reuter’s life involves his time running the Dramatic Hall at Fifth and Gaskill Sts. (511 S. Fifth St.) in Philadelphia.

Wheatley Dramatic Hall (so named for actor William Wheatley whose troupe, the Wheatley Dramatic Association took up residence at the theater in the 1860s) was a building with its own impressive and colorful history. Its name was shortened during the seven years Peter was in charge.

After a decade of running a saloon at 817 Filbert St., Peter relocated next door to the hall at 509 S. Fifth St. and initially ran his business solo. But by 1885, Peter formed a partnership with his friend, Frederick Autenrieth, a bookkeeper.

It was at this time that Peter also expanded the business to include running the Dramatic Hall and leased both properties from the German Catholic Literary Institute.

511 S. 5th map

Dramatic Hall was located on S. 5th St., next door to Peter Reuter’s saloon. [Map data (c) 2016 Google]

The saloon and hall were located on the northern edge of the city’s Queen Village neighborhood.

Now one of the toniest sections downtown, it was formerly the center of the city’s free black community and had a reputation for filthy streets, overcrowded conditions and lack of baths. By mid-19th century, Queen Village had become a hub for immigrants.

Peter and his family lived above the saloon, which, together with the hall, were smack in the middle of the Jewish quarter.

Dramatic Hall was a lively community gathering place for numerous groups such as Fifth ward political parties, the Anti-Poverty Society, the first Jewish Immigrant Association, a Hebrew Sunday School, fraternal lodges, trade unions and, of course, opera and theater companies.

Here, renown black actor R. Henri Strange performed numerous Shakespearean plays (notably Othello with an all-black cast, save for a white Iago) and honed his portrayal of Shylock before premiering The Merchant of Venice at the Academy of Music in 1890. By 1889, famed Yiddish theater actor and singer, Boris Thomashefsky formed his acting troupe, the Oriental Theatre Company, making the hall its headquarters.

The hall also saw drama of another kind in raucous meetings of anarchists, such as the Pioneers of Freedom. Things could easily get out of hand, as when a speech given by Max Staller allegedly incited a bloody riot at the hall during the Cloakmakers Strike of 1890, leading to several arrests.

No doubt, Peter mixed it up with many a colorful personality and built an extensive network of friends and associates. It was quite a different lifestyle than that found in his home village of Bundenbach, Prussia.

Colored Thespians Win

Peter Reuter was successfully sued by The Philadelphia Amateur Dramatic Association for breach of contract. [originally published 16 Oct 1888 in the Philadelphia Times]

However, 1888 saw a turbulent turn of events for his business. In January, the Dramatic Hall was put up for sale and five days later, Peter’s business partner (the namesake and godparent of his second son, Frederick) committed suicide.

By March, the hall had new owners, a Hungarian-Jewish congregation, Chevra Emunath Israel-Oheb.

It meant the hall’s days as a theater would soon end.

If these events weren’t stressful enough, Peter was sued for $1000 by the Philadelphia Amateur Dramatic Association for breach of contract in October. The case, which he lost (the verdict against him was for $124.35), made the newspapers.

HIgh rent 2

“Extortionate demands” in rent led Peter Reuter to move on to his next successful business venture (and residence). [originally published 15 Mar 1892 in the Philadelphia Times]

 

 

 

 

 

He continued to lease the hall until 1891, when it underwent renovations to convert the building into a synagogue.

Peter ran the saloon next door for another year before moving onto to his next venture. He publicly contended that the rent charged by the new owners forced him to move.

The change would lead to a new and more prosperous chapter in his life.

511 S. 5th current

Modern utilitarian townhouses have been built where the Wheatley Dramatic Hall once stood. [image data June 2014 (c) 2016 Google]

Copyright (c) 2016 by Jana Shea. All materials protected under the laws of copyright. Do not copy or reproduce without author’s permission.

 

The Three Sarahs, part 2

Sarah (Tuttle) Bender death certificate

Sarah (Tuttle) Bender’s death certificate contains erroneous information.

Continuing on about my brick walls, The Three Sarahs, let me introduce the next Sarah.

She has eluded me for years.

Sarah Tuttle, the wife of Philip Hess Bender, Sr., was born 7 Apr. 1831 in Pennsylvania, according to her death certificate and this date roughly matches her age given in census records.

She died in 1914, nearly a decade after Pennsylvania began requiring civil registration. So finding out the names of her folks should have been no problem, since parents’ names, if known, were recorded.

But, of course, it wasn’t as simple as that.

I already knew her maiden name was Tuttle from being listed as such on her children’s death certificates.

On her own death certificate, Sarah’s parents are listed as Chas. Bender and Sara Tutle, names provided by the undertaker, who acted as the informant.

Obviously, he got the information wrong.

My guess is that the undertaker handled the informant duties for the grieving family. Maybe they were asked for their grandfather’s name and confusedly gave the name of the paternal grandfather, Charles Bender. Perhaps the next question asked was, “Mother’s name?”, meaning Sarah’s mother but they confusedly thought he was asking for Sarah’s maiden name.

She and Philip H. Bender were married in late 1850 or early 1851, but exhaustive searches in Philadelphia church marriage registers of all denominations at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania have not yielded any record of their union.

This is likely because they married in the defunct First Presbyterian Church of Northern Liberties, whose records have been lost.

That might also explain why I’ve found little record of the few Tuttle families in Philadelphia – who primarily lived in the Northern Liberties and lower Kensington neighborhoods (Fishtown).

The only records I’ve found for those Tuttle households are city directories, early census records and early Philadelphia physician death returns.

As for early record of Sarah, it appears as though she was a domestic in the Joseph and Ann (née Hoffman) Armbruster family just prior to marrying Philip, according to the 1850 census.

Tuttle as a surname could be from a number of origins.

There is a fairly well documented Tuttle family line from New England, but I have not found a connection to any of those lines.

Tuttle, could be an Irish or even German surname – perhaps indicating that Sarah’s family were immigrants?

The Tuttle families in Philly have really left me with little to go on – lack of wills, deeds, church records – it’s so very frustrating.

The only other clue I have is that a 63 year-old Eliza Perkins was enumerated with Philip and Sarah’s family in the 1860 census. Was she a relative, boarder or a domestic?  Interestingly, 10 years earlier an Elizabeth Tuttle, born around the same time, was enumerated with 24-year old John Perkins. Is this the same woman? And, if so, how is she related to Sarah?  I have not been able to locate her death record, so she, too, remains a mystery.

Le sigh…

Copyright (c) 2016 by Jana Shea. All materials protected under the laws of copyright. Do not copy or reproduce without author’s permission.

 

The DNA plunge

I’ve always been a bit curious about geneatology – using DNA to trace family lines.

When the technology first appeared to be gaining some traction, I was living in the Netherlands an ocean away from my family and pretty damn broke to boot. It seemed an indulgence for another day.

Especially since back then Y-DNA was the hot new thing in genealogy and I am female.

Sure, I’m curious as to what Y-DNA could reveal about my most ancient male ancestors. But my real interest in DNA testing is in its use as a tool to bust brick walls in my own research.

Y-DNA testing was super spendy then and so was mitochondrial DNA testing (still are).

Autosomal DNA testing wasn’t available then and I only recently gained an understanding of what it is and why it is best to test the oldest generation.

Sadly, I learned that too late to test my Grandmom.

When the holidays came around this time, I had an urge to nab one of the discount offers out there. I did some research on the top three companies offering DNA testing for genealogical purposes and decided to take the plunge with FamilyTreeDNA.

I’ve tested myself and I hope also to get my Mom to test as well.

My hope is that I’m not too distant from at least two brick wall paternal ancestors for some kind of break-through revelation. I hope for the same on my maternal Jewish line.

I am also mildly curious about what the results will conclude about my ethnic makeup, though I’m not expecting any surprises there.

Waiting for the test to arrive and now the even longer build up for the results has me feeling a bit like a kid anticipating Christmas. It’s kind of like the excitement in visiting Santa to tell him your wishes then having to wait a few weeks to see what he brings!

In the meantime, I’ve been reading a lot of DNA-related stories and news items and I have to admit I’m seriously fascinated by the subject.

I’m particularly interested to know what effect endogamy will have on my DNA results, considering its prevalence in my family tree.

Time will tell…

Copyright (c) 2016 by Jana Shea. All materials protected under the laws of copyright. Do not copy or reproduce without author’s permission.

 

The Three Sarahs, part 1

square photograph of three tall evergreen treesLike every genealogist, I have my share of so-called brick wall ancestors. Ones for whom a paper trail is scant or missing.

On my paternal grandmother’s side there are three such ancestors, each with the given name Sarah.

The origins for two of “The Three Sarahs” have long been a mystery with very few clues and even fewer records to assist in figuring out their background. The third Sarah was an illegitimate birth, with no record of  who her father may have been.

This post concerns the Sarah for whom I have the least amount of information.

Sarah E. (maiden name unknown) was first wife of Samuel S. Brown, a lumberman and, later, proprietor of the Duncan House in Milroy, Mifflin Co., PA. She died at a young age, after bearing three children.

According to her grave marker in Milroy’s Woodlawn Cemetery, Sarah was born 12 Aug. 1852 and died 26 Aug. 1877.[1]

This closely matches an all too brief death notice found in the Lewistown Gazette newspaper which gives the death date as 27 Aug. 1877 and Sarah’s age as 25 years and 16 days.[2]

Her maiden name was missing from the death certificates of her two daughters and erroneously listed as Studer on that of her son.[3]

Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 11.35.18

My GGG-Grandmother, Sarah E. Brown’s maiden name is unknown.

I say erroneously because Studer was the maiden name of Samuel S. Brown’s second wife, Rebecca.

The error is understandable considering that the children were quite young when Sarah died. Rebecca was probably the maternal figure they best remembered, especially since she was also the mother of their two half-siblings and Studer was likely a name heard while growing up as being connected to the family.

Still, it is a clue regarding a potential maiden name… so I had to check out whether there was connection. After all, it wouldn’t be unusual to find a widower remarried to his deceased wife’s sister.

However, my research thus far has disproven connection to the Jacob and Theresa (Miller) Studer family, parents of Rebecca. Census records of 1860 and 1870 show no daughter named Sarah, though there is an intriguing gap of several years between Rebecca and the next oldest child – a gap that would be a perfect fit for Sarah’s age.

So… what else is known about the mysterious Sarah E. besides her birth and death dates?

It is highly probable that Sarah was of Pennsylvanian Dutch ancestry like her husband. That’s not a given though. Based on some of his siblings’ marriages, it would appear theirs was the first generation to wed spouses from different ethnic backgrounds.

She was also likely from Huntingdon Co., PA, but possibly from a neighboring county, like Mifflin, where she and Samuel moved after marriage.

Unfortunately, records from the 19th century are hard to come by in this region.

The LDS Family History Library catalog has very few church records for Huntingdon Co., and none for Lutheran or Brethren denominations, which would be the first place to check for a marriage register.

The wedding would have occurred circa 1870.

First-born child, son Jefferson William Brown was born in Aug. 1869, according to his death certificate – which would indicate a marriage likely in late 1868. But Sarah would have only been 16 in 1868, which seems a bit young. And I’m inclined to believe Jefferson was born a year or so later, as he is listed as being born in 1871 in most census records.

The only substantial clue found thus far is a marriage notation for a Sarah Martin and Samuel Brown in a compilation of Mifflin County marriages. Originally published in the Lewistown Gazette, the marriage occurred 24 March 1870. Sarah Martin was noted as being from Lewistown and Samuel Brown from Huntingdon County.[4]

It sure seems like a good fit, but whether this couple is indeed my Sarah and Samuel remains to be proven.

I cannot find this couple anywhere in the 1870 or subsequent census records. My Samuel Brown was enumerated in his parents’ household (Huntingdon County) in July 1870, a few months after when this wedding would have taken place. It’s possible Sarah was also residing there but omitted in error…

There is also no Sarah Martin in Lewistown in 1870, nor in 1860.

My paternal aunt is the only direct-line maternal descendent of Sarah among my close relatives. I’ve been contemplating whether a mtDNA study would be of any help in tracking Sarah’s origins…

Or would an autosomal DNA test be more helpful?


Footnotes

1.”Grave marker for Sarah E. Brown“, jpeg image, Find A Grave (Online: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012)

2.”Death notice for Sarah E. Brown“, jpeg image, Lewistown Gazette, Lewistown, Pennsylvania, USA, 5 September 1877.

3.”Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-19440“, jpeg image, Ancestry.com (Online: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc. 2014)

4. McClenahen, Dan, “Marriages of Mifflin County, 1822-1885”, (Reedsville, PA: Dan McClenahen,1981), p. 56.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Jana Shea. All materials protected under the laws of copyright. Do not copy or reproduce without author’s permission.

This week’s discovery

I have been in the process of writing my first ancestor profile all week. I’m a first-time mama to a very busy toddler and a freelance journalist, so time to compose comes in bite-sized chunks of a few minutes here and there.

But it was a discovery of a newspaper article containing some bit of scandal that has really caused the delay.   Because such a find, of course, always leads to more research.

I was double-checking a name of a saloon/restaurant my ancestor ran at the turn-of-last-century when I came across (via Google search) this clipping from an article in the Times of Philadelphia from 13 Oct 1888:

Times of Philadelphia article

I was able to find a second article which noted that my ancestor, Peter Reuter, lost the case.  Both of these articles have led to a fascinating discovery of another aspect of his life and times.

Besides finding previously unknown facts about my ancestor’s livelihood, I am understanding more about the neighborhood he and his young family resided in at that time and more about a long forgotten history of Philadelphia’s immigrant neighborhoods and the city’s theater culture.

The digging continues…

Copyright (c) 2015 by Jana Shea. All materials protected under the laws of copyright. Do not copy or reproduce without author’s permission.

 

Alternate sources: pew rentals and coffin receipts

pew holders

What can you do when the records that surely would contain a wealth of information about your ancestors no longer exist?

My 4th great-grandfather, Charles Bender, has long been one of the more elusive members of my family tree.

One of the big reasons why is that the church he joined as an adult is defunct and its records seemingly lost.

The First Presbyterian Church of Northern Liberties, was organized in 1813 out of the Second Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. It was originally located at 2nd and Coates Sts. (now Fairmount Ave.), but moved to 6th and Buttonwood Sts. until it dissolved in 1917. Besides being an important neighborhood parish, from which sprung three more congregations, it also had the distinction of organizing the first Sunday schools in Philadelphia.

So what became of the records of its parishioners?

Sadly, the only ones that appear to have survived are lists of pew rentals from 1820 to 1830.

Nicholas Helverson was a local coffin maker and undertaker who was charged with collecting the church’s pew rents. Thankfully, his descendants were thoughtful enough to gift his account ledgers to the Historical Society of Philadelphia.

It made sense to make a trip to the HSP and rifle through the ledgers, each sealed in a Ziplock bag stowed in a cardboard box in the special collections section. If Helverson was charged with collecting pew rents for the church, he surely must have been the go-to undertaker for its parishioners.

I already knew for certain Charles belonged to the church, from a published membership list (compiled from Helverson’s records), and notation in Thomas James Shepherd’s The Days that are Past, a history of the church’s organization.

Certainly, the baptisms of his children and perhaps even the marriages for those who survived to adulthood (Philip H. Bender, Sr.), and the burials for those who did not, occurred at First Presby of N.L.

Truly a genealogical tragedy that these records are gone!

But I was holding out hope that in Helverson’s records, I could at least find record of Charles’ burial in the account ledgers and maybe some of his deceased children’s names too.

No such luck.

Helverson’s coffin receipts, though vague when it comes to names (often recorded as “Mr. [insert surname]” or occasionally only as “A man from [insert street name]”, are usually well detailed when it comes to customer’s address and what the funeral expenses were for. These details include things such as who the coffin (including size if small) was made for, who paid for it (sometimes a relative), carriage or hearse arrangements and for whom.

Unfortunately, the years between 1830 and 1834 are a bit spotty.

From pension records, I gleaned that Charles’ death occurred in August or September 1832. I believe he may have died as a result of the cholera epidemic that was happening in Philadelphia during the late summer of 1832.

I was really hoping to learn the exact date.

All I did find was that for years Charles secured seating on pew 38 next to his dear friend, Philip Hess.  An interesting bit of information, but not the jackpot I had hoped for.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Jana Shea. All materials protected under the laws of copyright. Do not copy or reproduce without author’s permission.