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.

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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.

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.