Tag Archives: Philadelphia

Our Visit to Laurel Hill Cemetery

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelaphia PA (1)

A View of the Cemetery

One of the items that had been on my genealogy to-do list for quite some time was to visit the Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. I had been through their online records and knew that quite a few people with the surnames I research were buried there. Many of them were in my database as either proven or possible cousins. I not only wanted to get some tombstone photos for my personal records and find-a-grave, but also to find the additional information that might be on the tombstones. (The online cemetery records only show the section/plot and the date of burial.)

One of the reasons I had not been there before was that I was trying to convince The Spouse to accompany me on this trip — actually I wanted him to drive. It’s not that it is that far — less than an hour if the traffic isn’t bad. The problem is that while my car (SUV, actually) is great for transporting multiple kids and their gear, it’s not so great navigating narrow, unfamiliar city streets. At least not with me driving it – LOL! So I was really excited and somewhat surprised when he agreed to go there with me Sunday afternoon. Our somewhat reluctant 13 year-old came with us as well. Actually, it’s quite telling how upset The Spouse is with the way his beloved Eagles are playing that he agreed to the cemetery trip on Eagles game day! But I digress….

In preparation for the trip, I created a spreadsheet based on the information gathered from my online search of the Laurel Hill Cemetery records. The format was pretty simple – I had columns for Surname, First Name, Section, Plot and Burial Date. I had about 80 people in the spreadsheet but only about 24 unique plots. I also printed out the cemetery map – which indicated each section.  My plan was that once we reached the cemetery, we would proceed through the list, section by section, find the relevant plot(s), take the photos and mark off the names on the spreadsheet. Quick, simple, efficient. Unfortunately, as you can imagine, everything did NOT go according to the plan!

First, we took the “scenic” route there and so the trip took longer than expected – meaning we would have less time to spend at the cemetery since gates close at 4:00. Then there is the cemetery itself – it’s huge and the roads are very narrow with limited space to pull off and park. Armed with my cemetery map and spreadsheet, I had a false sense of confidence in our ability to quickly find the grave sites of interest, thus thinking that a stop in the cemetery office was unnecessary. We drove rather aimlessly at first, just trying to find a spot where we could pull over and park. We finally found a spot near section Y.

At first I was thinking that this was good. I had a Bechtel family plot on my list in section Y that we would be able to start with. Unfortunately it’s a little difficult for a first-time visitor to figure out the boundaries of each section since they just sort of all flow together. The three of us searched for about 30 minutes before finding the Bechtels – only later realizing that most of that time we spent searching we had drifted into the adjacent sections.  Then, when we finally find the plot, there are only 4 tombstones instead of the expected 7 and one of those was completely worn and unreadable. Ugh!

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia PA (photo 2)

View from Section Y (or is it W at this point??)

At this point, I was feeling a little discouraged and thinking we needed to come up with a plan B. The Spouse and the Reluctant Teenager, not really being into genealogy in the first place, wholeheartedly concurred. So our next stop was the cemetery office. We were hoping someone there would be able to pinpoint where the plots were located within each section. At this point my high hopes of locating all 23 of the remaining plots on my list in one afternoon were dashed. (Actually, I knew this after about the first 10 minutes, when we were having problems finding the Bechtel plot.) So I chose 4 plots, which the man working at the office helped me locate on the large master plot map they have on display. I then marked the approximate locations on the printed map that I had brought from home. Surprisingly, before we left the office, The Spouse had struck up a conversation with the helpful cemetery worker about the various military generals and other famous people buried in the cemetery. Who knew!

I am happy to report that we found all four of the plots that the cemetery worker helped us pinpoint on the map – and in searching for those, we also found a few others that were on my list. The cemetery sits high on a hill above the Schuylkill River adjacent to Fairmont Park, so we also saw some absolutely stunning views! All told, I took about 50 photographs – including tombstones for people on my list, tombstones of people in adjacent plots (in case they are related), tombstones of people with familiar surnames that we stumbled upon while searching, and a few that were simply of the amazing views.

Yesterday I cropped and processed the photos and added memorials to find-a-grave [link]. A few of the people whose tombstones I photographed already had memorials, so I just added the photos. I’ve also added some of the photos to this posting. All in all, I think even The Spouse and The Reluctant Teenager had an enjoyable afternoon. Ever hopeful, I am looking forward to our next road trip to Laurel Hill Cemetery and finding the remaining plots and tombstones on my list!!

Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia PA (photo 3)

View of the Schuylkill River and Kelly Drive

Friday’s Find – Laurel Hill Cemetery (Philadelphia, PA) Website

Laurel Hill Cemetery, located in the East Falls section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is the final resting place for many famous and not so famous Philadelphians. Founded in 1836, it is one of the few cemeteries designated as a National Historic Landmark. It comprises about 78 acres divided into three sections: North, Central and South. If you have ancestors or extended family who lived in Phladelphia in the mid-nineteenth to early-twentieth centuries, there is a very good chance that one or more may be buried in this cemetery.

And the best news – Laurel Hill has an excellent website that you can check out here. In addition to detailed historical information, the website also has a searchable database!! To access it, go to the main website, select “Resources” on the side menu bar, then “Records” on the top menu bar. From there, just click on “Search” and enter your ancestor/relative’s surname. The results include the Section and Lot number, so if you are planning to visit the cemetery, you have a pretty good approximation of where to look for the grave.

This is definitely a site to add to your Resource List or Toolbox if your researching Philadelphians!

Thriller Thursday – The Shocking Murder of Sarah Bechtel

It’s time for another Thriller Thursday article, a weekly prompting post suggested by members of Geneabloggers. This one is the story of the ill-fated lives of William and Sarah Bechtel of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

It was Saturday, April 1st 1848, and the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was still reeling from the horrific murder of Mrs. Rademacher, who had been stabbed twelve to fourteen times as she lay sleeping in her bed. Her husband, a book seller and homeopathic druggiest, was also severely cut and badly beaten in the attack. The perpetrator had recently been caught and the city was still very much a buzz with the latest developments in the case. And so to have another murder just a few weeks later was frightful and appalling…

Sarah Bechtel was about twenty-six years old back on April 1, 1848. She was a young wife and mother. She had given birth to several children, but only one was still living. Her husband, William Bechtel, was a boatsman and, in fact, on the day of the murder he had been down by the river arranging for an upcoming trip on the Schuylkill Canal.

Presumably the Bechtels were not wealthy. They lived in an apartment on Schuylkill and Thompson Streets in a section of the city known as the District of Penn. It was located near Girard College. On the day of the murder, Sarah and her upstairs neighbor had gone down to Fairmount Park to see if her husband was on board his boat.  Thus she was not at home when he returned that evening with two friends.

Reportedly, William Bechtel had been drinking much of the day. Although it was said the couple often argued, William did not seem upset when Sarah first arrived back home that night. Shortly thereafter, however, he apparently snapped. In front of several witnesses, he grabbed her by the hair, jerked her head back and slit her throat with a jack-knife. Despite the fact that two physicians were summoned immediately, Sarah bled profusely and died about a half an hour after the attack.

William then apparently tried to commit suicide by slitting his own throat with the same knife, but that wound proved not to be serious and he was taken into custody. Once in jail it was reported that William became a “raving maniac.” He had several periods in which he became quite violent and caused bodily harm to himself and those watching him. In mid-May he was moved from the county prison to the insane department of the Blockley Alms House.

William’s murder trial occurred in the beginning of July in 1848. He was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to the Eastern State Penitentiary for ten years. The conventional wisdom was that he committed the act in a fit of jealous rage fueled by the alcohol that he had consumed. There was some question as to whether or not he had any reason to suspect that his wife was in any way unfaithful, leaving open the possibility that the whole tragic situation was brought about by his own delusions.

As a postscript to this story, a death notice appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper  for a William Bechtel, aged about 40, who died May 14, 1859.  It could be the same William, but at this point I don’t know for sure. I would love to hear from anyone who has further information on William or Sarah. I am still trying to determine if they are connected to my Bechtel line.

Note that the information contained in this posting comes from several newspaper articles that reported the event back in the spring and summer of 1848.

Friday’s Find – Historic Philadelphia, PA Maps

I was recently trying to geographically analyze census data from the mid to late 1800s. More specifically, I was looking at various families of the same surname who were living in the city of Philadelphia. I was trying to get a feel for the proximity of the various neighborhoods in which they lived and potentially a better feel for their relative socio-economic status. The problem was that I was unfamiliar with the neighborhoods and their locations within the city.

I was finally able to find an incredible mapping site that is almost too good to be true! The site is  The Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network. On the site is an Interactive Maps Viewer tool. It contains various historic maps of Philadelphia and is designed such that they can be overlaid with a semi-transparent current Philadelphia streets map!

The map viewer works much like any graphics software that supports layers. In this case each layer is one of the maps. You are able to toggle the visibility of each layer/map independently as well as adjust it’s transparency with a slider control. You can also drag the various layers/maps up or down the stack.

The maps are very high-resolution, so you can zoom in close and see the details. In fact, the only drawback could be the load time if you have a slow internet connection. If you’re looking for historic Philadelphia maps, this is definitely a resource worth checking out.