Monthly Archives: May 2011

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.

Wordless Wednesday – Ada Evans Garner

Another posting for the Wordless Wednesday series at Geneabloggers.

Ada Evans Garner

Credits: family photo of Ada Evans Garner, circa early 1920s; layout created with my own scrapbook kit.

Tuesday’s Tip – Reunion Essentials

Summer is fast approaching and many of us are making plans to attend one or more family reunions. Maybe it’s a small, informal gathering of adult siblings and their families or maybe it’s a large gathering of the descendants of a common ancestor. I put together a short list of items that as a genealogist/family historian you may want to consider bringing with you to the reunion.

  1. First and foremost is a good quality camera – I prefer digital, but film works just as well. You’ll need this to take photos of the event as well as the attendees. You can use the macro setting to get close-ups of small artifacts or family heirlooms that might be on display. Depending on the venue, you may want to bring a tripod or monopod. Charge your batteries the day before and bring spares if possible. Also, clear off your memory card or purchase a new one so that you don’t run out of space mid-way through the day.
  2. Bring pre-printed cards with your name and email (or phone number) to hand out to the relatives you’ll want to stay in contact with. You can buy sheets of blank business cards at an office supply store. Then use a word processor or even a graphics program to design your card and print them at home. You may even want to include the name of the reunion to make it easy for your relatives to remember when and where they got your card.
  3. If feasible, bring photographs or other artifacts or heirlooms that you own to display and show to your cousins. Use common sense when deciding what to bring. You certainly don’t want valuables or irreplaceable photos to be damaged or stolen. Keep in mind that many reunions are in public parks so be cautious about leaving your belongings unattended.
  4. If you own a portable scanner, such as a Flip-Pal or a wand scanner, bring it along. You never know what photos, clippings, etc your relatives may bring. If the owner of the item allows it, you might be able to get a better quality copy with the scanner than by taking a photograph – particularly if the lighting is poor. And, of course, don’t forget to bring extra batteries. (See my recent review of the Flip-Pal here.)
  5. You may also want to consider bringing your genealogy data (or at least a relevant subset). You can use this to compare notes with your relatives as well as to help you identify exactly how you are related to the cousins you meet. Gadgets are great for this. Many smart phones have genealogy apps as do the ipod touch/ipad and android tablets. You could even bring a netbook or small laptop with your data. If you’re not into the electronic gadgets, you could always bring a binder or notebook with hard-copy charts.
  6. Bring something with which to take notes, jot down emails, phone numbers, etc.  You could use a pen and paper for this or use your smart phone/ipod/android/netbook/laptop/etc.
  7. One additional item I would throw in my bag is a USB thumb drive. I brought one of these with me to a reunion a couple of years ago and a distant cousin was kind enough to copy digital photos of our mutual many times great-grandparents onto it from his laptop. So I got the photos right there on the spot – no waiting for email, etc. In return, I created a gedcom of the relevant part of my family tree and put it on the flash drive so he could copy it onto his computer.
Well, that’s my little list of reunion essentials. What do you think? Did I miss anything?

Friday’s Find – Historical Maps of Pittsburgh PA

Last week’s Friday’s Find was historical maps of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This week we move across the state to a site hosted by the University of Pittsburgh that has a great collection of historical maps of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and vicinity. Check it out here.

The format of the maps at this site is quite a bit different than the layered maps of Philadelphia, but the content is (I think) equally as useful. For my own research, I was focusing on the City of Pittsburgh Geodetic and Topographic Survey Maps. I was trying to locate the street where my husband’s great-grandfather lived when he was naturalized in the early 1920s. Not being familiar with Pittsburgh, I was not having very much luck. The street was not showing up on current maps, so I suspected that it was either renamed or closed down.

As it turns out, I was able to find the street on the older maps on the University of Pittsburgh site. Then, by comparing the older maps to newer ones, I was able to determine that the neighborhood where the street was located was subsumed by the expansion of the J&L Steel plant. This lead me to search the area newspapers and I was able to find an article describing the expansion. (The article, however, did not name any of the condemned streets by name.)  In my case these maps were key in helping me find the information I was seeking.

So the Pittsburgh maps are my Friday Find for this week. Hopefully someone else might find them as useful as I did!