Finding the Ancestors of Levi Bectell

One of my long term research goals is to trace all the descendants of my immigrant ancestor Johan George Bechtel who settled near what is now Amity, Berks County, Pennsylvania. So when I was recently asked if Levi Bectell, who died in Utah in 1909, might connect back to my Pennsylvania Bechtels, I naturally wanted to learn more about this man and his ancestors. Here’s what I was able to find.

1898-utahLevi died Saturday, September 25, 1909 in Grantsville, Tooele County, Utah. He was a sheep herder and had been riding his horse to a nearby ranch for supplies when the horse bucked and threw him to the ground. He survived the initial fall and was transported to the town of Grantsville, but died before medical help arrived. This information comes from his obituary, which appeared in the Deseret Evening News on Wednesday, September 29th. It further goes on to say that he was between 60 and 70 years of age and left a wife and seven children.

There is a find-a-grave memorial for Levi which gives his birth year as 1836 and links him to 2 wives and 11 children. Of the 11 linked children on find-a-grave, 5 pre-deceased him. There is no photo of Levi’s grave, but there is one of a generic “Bectell” tombstone with no first names – such as one might find to identify a family plot.  (You may also note that, according to find-a-grave, Levi’s second wife was his step-daughter and that his marriage to her took place before the death of his first wife. My guess is that the dates and relationships are probably correct. His obituary implies that he was of the Mormon faith and given the time period he may have had concurrent wives.)

Using the family composition information provided on find-a-grave, Levi and his wives and children can be found in the censuses as follows: in 1870 they are in Grantsville, Utah, in 1880 in Grouse Creek, Utah, and in 1900 back in Grantsville. These enumerations no doubt represent Levi’s family despite spelling variations (Bectell in 1870 and 1880 and Bechtol in 1900), age variations for Levi (22 in 1870, 33 in 1880 and 63 in 1900) and inconsistencies the place of birth for him and his parents. In 1870 he claims to have been born in Missouri, but in 1880 and 1900 he claims he was born in Illinois. In 1880 he claims both his parents were born in Illinois, but in 1900 he says they were born in Pennsylvania.

So what’s up with all the conflicting and contradictory data? Well, the census data also shows that Levi could not read or write English. This goes a long way toward explaining the spelling variations of his surname. Furthermore, in a newspaper article which appeared in the The Salt Lake Herald on November 7, 1893, Levi said that he did not know his age. He also stated, “I left home when I was a little fellow, and I’ve been around here ever since. I had to walk here when I came — to drive cattle. This town was a good deal smaller then than it is now.” The same article states that Levi lived in the area for 27 years which puts his arrival in the Grantsville area around 1864.

So the challenge, of course, is to find Levi prior to the 1870 census and to attempt to identify his parents. The first step is a search of the 1860 and 1850 censuses, taking into account all the various spellings and misspellings of the surname as well as variations in the given name and/or the use of an initial only.  After evaluating the possibilities the most promising match seems to be the 1860 enumeration of Levi Bextell in Jennings, Crawford County, Indiana. He was aged 13 and born in Kentucky. His parents were John and Elizabeth, both also born in Kentucky. The siblings were Nancy, Elizabeth, Maria and Melinda – all younger.

There are a couple of reasons why this Levi is a promising match to the one who later shows up in Utah. First, the age of 13 corresponds pretty well with the ages given in 1870 and 1880, which were 22 and 33, respectively. And although by 1893 Levi claims to be unsure of his age and by 1900 has aged up to 63, I would tend to give more credence to the ages provided in the earlier censuses. If the age discrepancy truly is a result of him being confused as to his age, I can’t see him thinking he was 22 when he was really 32. I have a much easier time believing the confusion sets in later in life. Additionally,  we see the names Nancy, Elizabeth and Melinda repeated in the names of Levi’s daughters. And while Nancy and Elizabeth are fairly common, Melinda is a little less so – at least in my experience.

Going back to the 1850 census, the family of John, Elizabeth and Levi Bectel are in Jefferson County, Kentucky. Also in the household are 20 year old Squire Bectel and 18 year old Fielding Bectel – possible younger brothers of John or close relatives of some sort.

I spent a couple of days expanding upon this initial research, looking at additional databases on ancestry, familysearch and a couple of other sites. At this point I am fairly certain that the Levi Bectell who died in 1909 in Utah was born about 1846 in Kentucky and was the son of John Beghtol and Elizabeth Collins. As for the Pennsylvania connection, Levi’s grandfather, John Beghtol Sr. was born in Pennsylvania about 1785. While this John may tie into one of the Bechtel families in southern Pennsylvania, he does not appear to tie into my John George Bechtel line.

I have posted a tree on Ancestry.com to capture the information I found on Levi, his family and various other related Beghtols with roots in Kentucky and Illinois. I will update it as I come across more information. If you are not a paid subscriber and are interested in this tree, let me know and I will send you an invite to access it.

A Day of Remembrance

war-cemetery

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. The date and time that marked the end of fighting in the war that was supposed to end all wars. Known variously as Armistice Day, Veterans Day and Remembrance Day, November 11th is now a holiday celebrated in many nations throughout the world.

Both my grandfather, Walter Leonard Dilliplane, and his younger brother, Alvin Freeman Dilliplane, served in the Great War. They bravely fought to liberate France from German occupation. My grandfather was one of the lucky ones. He came home, got married and eventually had three sons, the youngest being my father.

His brother Alvin was not as lucky. He was killed in action on September 7, 1918. He died three days shy of his 21st birthday and 2 months and 4 days shy of the armistice.

Alvin was a hero on the battlefield – perhaps even a bit reckless. On September 5, 1918, the Harrisburg Telegraph, in reporting on battles near Fismette, France in the previous month, included the following excerpt, “Private Alvin F. Dilliplane, of Pottstown, another Pennsylvania boy, showed remarkable bravery at the self-imposed task of rescuing wounded after they had been abandoned.”

For his actions at the Fismete battle, Alvin received an official citation for bravery. It stated that “Private Alvin F. Dilliplane, with utter disregard for personal safety, went forward in daylight to the rescue of wounded men approximately 400 yards in front of our lines, succeeding one of them at that time and the other after dark.”

It would be nice to think that the men he rescued survived and returned to their families. But I have no way of knowing who they were or what happened to them in the long run. For his part, Alvin never made it home. He is buried at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in Picardie, France.

And so on this Veteran’s Days please take some time to remember those who served in all the various wars and conflicts and especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Bechtel Reunion of 2014 — Recap

20140719_124243About a month ago my husband and I attended the Bechtel Family Reunion at the Swamp Picnic Grove near New Hanover Lutheran Church in Gilbertsville, PA. While the focus of this reunion was on the descendants of the six Bechtel men who (along with their families) immigrated to Pennsylvania in the early to mid 1700s, it was open to all who trace their ancestry to any Bechtel ancestor — including any variant spelling. We had a very enjoyable afternoon meeting and speaking with distant cousins and sampling all the wonderful PA Dutch side dishes and desserts that attendees brought to accompany the catered main course.

20140719_124318Judy Gilson, the organizer, brought quite a large assortment of memorabilia, documents and photographs, and others did as well. The day was rounded out with music, games for the children and a professional photographer. It was especially nice to hear the family stories from the various attendees.

I was personally excited to find that among Judy’s Bechtel memorabilia was a copy of the John George Bechtel family tree produced by great-grandson Franklin Bechtel Gilbert in the early to mid 1860s. Franklin Gilbert was born in Montgomery County in 1826 to Matthias Gilbert and Hannah Bechtel. He grew up in Philadelphia and became an upholsterer. He joined the Union Army in the Civil War and later became a physician. In 1867 he traveled to Europe. One of the purposes of the trip was to secure any inheritance related to the estate of his great-great grandfather Bechtel. Family lore is that John George Bechtel, the immigrant and the great-grandfather of Franklin Gilbert returned to Europe to settle his father’s estate circa 1748. He never made it back to Pennsylvania as it was said that he died on the return voyage.

Thus, about 120 years later, Franklin Bechtel Gilbert was on a mission find what became of the Bechtel estate. Prior to his trip Franklin made an effort to identify and contact all of John George’s descendants for written authorization to act on the entire family’s behalf in securing the inheritance due them. I can only assume that he was unsuccessful in his endeavor as no family stories exist that speak of his success.

Fortunately for the John George Bechtel descendants who are family historians, Franklin Gilbert published an ornately detailed family tree depicting three to four generations of descendants. I have been trying to find a copy of this tree for several years and was absolutely thrilled to find it among Judy’s documents. A photograph of the tree appears below. Please contact me if you would like to view a hi-resolution copy.

Doc - 07-19-2014, 12-13 PM

Is Mary (Keeley) Lapp a Descendant of Valentine Keely of Skippack??

One of my research projects involves the identification of the descendants of Valentine Kiehle/Keely/Keeley who immigrated in 1728 and settled in the area of what is now Skippack, Montgomery County, PA. (He is my 6x’s great-grandfather.) So a couple of years ago when Mary (nee Keeley) Lapp showed up in the then new Pennsylvania and New Jersey Church and Town Records on Ancestry.com, I immediately looked for her in my database. The Ancestry record provided the information that she was born September 12, 1838, died Oct 7, 1919 and was the daughter of Henry and Mary (Poole) Keeley. Unfortunately, not only was Mary missing from my Keely/Keeley database, but I had no Henry Keeley-Mary Poole couple either. Nor could I find her in the census under either her maiden name or married name. Vexing. So Mary went onto a back burner for a while.

Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago. As many of you may know the early years of Pennsylvania death certificates (currently 1906-1944) are available online at Ancestry. (Note to researchers: This collection is available as part of  the US subscription but is also free to Pennsylvania residents when accessed through the PA portal.) While mining this collection for Keely/Keeley records I once again came upon Mary (nee Keeley) Lapp. Some key information gained from the death certificate was that Mary and her father Henry were born in Pennsylvania and her mother Mary Poole was born in Massachusetts. The death certificate further stated that prior to being admitted to the hospital in Norristown (where she died) she lived in Graterford, Montgomery County, PA.

Armed with the information that she supposedly was born, died and had a residence in Pennsylvania prior to her death, I once again I looked for her in the US Federal Censuses. And although I tried all sorts of spelling and misspelling variations of Keeley and Lapp, I was still unable to find Mary. Not in 1910, 1900, 1880, 1870, 1860 or 1850. Rejecting the possibilities that she avoided being enumerated in the census because she spent the bulk of her life abroad or that she and her family were somehow skipped over each and every decade, I went back to the death certificate to look for more clues.

The informant on the death certificate was Mrs. Samuel Koons of Graterford, PA, and she was identified as a daughter. Hoping to find more about Mary by finding out more about her daughter, my first goal was to determine Mrs. Koons’ first name by locating her in the 1920 census. I was really hoping that since she lived in Graterford in October of 1919 that she would still be there (and be enumerated) when the 1920 census was taken. The closest match was Samuel Koons, aged 68, and his wife Mary C., aged 60, of Perkiomen. They were also in Perkiomen in 1930 with Samuel aged 76 and Mary C. aged 71. But in 1910, Samuel, aged 56, is enumerated with wife Lizzie C., aged 54. And here I hit a snag — not only is the first name of the wife different, but the age is inconsistent.

Taking a step back, the 1930 census indicated that Mary C. was first married at age 19, which would have been about 1878 and that Samuel was first married at age 38, which would have been about 1896. Thus Mary C. was married to someone else prior to marrying Samuel. Based on the 1910 census Samuel had a prior marriage as well. This, of course, leaves a window of between 1910 and 1920 for the marriage of Samuel and Mary C. In searching further the Philadelphia marriage index shows a 1915 marriage between Samuel Koons and Mary C. Mishler.

A census search for Mary C. Mishler yielded a 1900 census for a widowed Mary C. Mishler, aged 41, living in Philadelphia with a son Herbert, aged 20. Going back, the 1880 census had a Silas Tucker, aged 40, with son-in-law Thomas Mishler, aged 25, Mary Mishler, aged 21, and Herbert, aged 1 in Lancaster, PA. In 1870, Silas Tucker, aged 36, Mary A., aged 30, Mary C., aged 11, and William H., aged 9, are enumerated in Lancaster.  And in 1860 Silas Tucker, aged 24, Mary A., aged 21, and May [sic], aged 1, are once again in Lancaster, PA. So presumably, Mary (nee Keeley) Lapp has been now been found in 1860 and 1870 living in Lancaster with her first husband, Silas Tucker. A little more digging shows her living in Philadelphia in 1880 with second husband Samuel Pearson and son William Tucker, aged 19. She is also in Philadelphia in 1900 as a 59 year-old widow and in 1910 as a 71 year-old widow. (Yes, the ages are a little off, but I am fairly certain it is her.)  In addition, the Philadelphia Marriage index shows a 1911 marriage between Mary Pearson and George W. Lapp.

So to recap Mary’s timeline:

  • 12 Sep 1838 – born in PA to Henry and Mary (Poole) Keeley
  • est 1857 – married Silas Tucker
  • 1860 – in Lancaster with Silas Tucker and daughter
  • 1870 – in Lancaster with Silas Tucker and children
  • bet 1870 and 1880 – divorced Silas Tucker, married Samuel Pearson
  • 1880 – in Philadelphia with Samuel Pearson
  • 6 Aug 1897 – death of husband Samuel Pearson in Philadelphia
  • 1900 – in Philadelphia, widowed
  • 1910 – in Philadelphia, widowed
  • 1911 – married George W. Lapp in Philadelphia
  • by 1914 – living in Graterford, Montgomery, PA
  • 7 Oct 1919 – died in Norristown, PA

So although part of the mystery of Mary (nee Keeley) Tucker Pearson Lapp is solved, questions still remain. Where was she in 1850? Where in Pennsylvania was she born? Is she a descendant of Valentine of Skippack? If you have any further information on Mary, I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking and hopefully I will soon be able to get a handle on her parents and ancestry.

Decoding an old German-language Obituary

Prior to the craziness of the holidays, I was mining the “Reading Adler” on GenealogyBank for obituaries. The “Reading Adler” was a German language newspaper published in Reading Pennsylvania. GenealogyBank has scanned issues of the paper from 1796 to 1876. It’s been a small treasure trove for finding deaths and marriages of my Pennsylvania German ancestors and relatives who lived in the area. The big drawback, of course, is that all the articles are in German – a language foreign to me – and in a Fraktur font. Add to this the occasional misspelling and/or archaic spelling, poor image quality due to age and condition of the paper, and, well, there are challenges!

Fortunately, most of the “obituaries” I found were more like death notices – short and sweet and fairly easy to decipher with the help of a German Genealogy word list and a listing of English equivalents of Fraktur letters. But there were some longer, more detailed ones – and that’s where the fun began! I needed to decipher the Fraktur writing and enter the text into google translate. After much trial and error, I downloaded a fraktur font to my computer and typed a transcription into notepad. This step allow me to see how well my interpretation of the Fraktur matched the original, before copying and pasting into google translate.

The whole thing was very much an iterative process – typing my best guess at the letters/words and seeing if the result was something google could translate. For example, if you’re looking at a scanned image of an old newspaper and you see a word that looks like “thc,” you know right away it is really “the.” But if you aren’t familiar with the language and don’t know that “the” is a common English word, it’s a much harder problem. (i.e. Did you misinterpret the “c” or was it the “t” or the “h”?)

One such obituary that was of particular interest to me was that of a William Bechtel. His obituary appeared in the June 19, 1855 edition of the paper. Since it is against the terms of use of GenealogyBank to include a scan of his obituary in this blog post, I’ll include an image of the transcription that I made in a Fraktur font:

bechtel-william-jun-1855-transcription

And google’s translation:

“Alößlicher death. – A man of intemperate habits, named William Bechtel, from the neighborhood of Pottstown, who had taught at the guest house of Levi Savage here, is on the last Thursday when he dined, choking, probably by an attack of apoplexy. The Coroner held by Rühn investigation: Jury did the pronounciation: “death by suffocation, caused by an attack of apoplexy at the lunch table.” The deceased was about 45 years old.”

As you can see, google could not come up with a translation for the very first word. And I couldn’t come up with any letter substitutions that stayed “true” to the original scanned image and produced a meaningful translation. However, the rest, though a little stilted, looks pretty good.

My interest in this obituary is because I feel that there is a good possibility that William Bechtel was a descendant of my ancestor Johan George Bechtel who immigrated in 1743 and lived in the area that is now Amity Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania. I would love to hear from any Bechtel researchers who may know more about William. And if anyone can provide an improved translation – well, that would be wonderful too!