So you just got your hot little hands on a copy of great-great-granddad’s will and he names “his brother-in-law Joe Blow” as one of his co-executors. Do you now throw your arms up in the air and do the genealogy happy dance because you have uncovered the long sought after maiden name your great-great grandmother? It’s tempting! But maybe it’s not quite time to break out the champagne. Here’s a true story from my family files.
Sebastian Keeley (sometimes spelled Keely) was my 5X’s great grandfather. At the time of his death he lived on a “plantation” in Vincent Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Records show he also operated a tavern. He died on November 8, 1777 at the age of 48. In his will he names as co-executors his wife Elizabeth, his son Matthias and his brother-in-law George Christman. It is my belief that this is where William Henry Egle, the Pennsylvania State Librarian who wrote a series of genealogy-related articles for the Harrisburg PA Daily Telegraph newspaper in the late 1800s, got his information. His Egle’s “Notes and Queries” is a multiple volume compilation of about 5000 pages containing historical and biographical information on families from eastern and central Pennsylvania. It is an important and widely available genealogical resource in Pennsylvania. And it says my 5x’s great grandmother was Elizabeth Christman.
So this is my starting point. Elizabeth Christman is my 5x’s great-grandmother. Now what? Well naturally I want to find her parents – my 6x’s great-grandparents. And this is where everything starts to fall apart.
The Keely family, headed by Sebastian’s father Valentine, arrived in American around 1728. Valentine settled in what would be become western Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Two of his children, Matthias and Sebastian settled across the river in Chester County when they became of age.
Daniel, patriarch of the Christman family, came to America 1730. He purchased land near Valentine Keely’s property in 1738. According to Christman genealogists, Daniel’s children were born between 1731 and 1744. Some of his children also wound up settling across the river in Chester County.
This area (i.e. northern Chester County and western Montgomery County, Pennsylvania) was not a huge population center. Despite pockets of housing developments, even in 2011 most people would characterize this area as relatively rural — particularly on the Chester County side of the river. So back in the late 1700s the population was downright sparse. This is good because there are a limited number of Keelys as well as a limited number of Christmans living in the area for us to analyze.
Now, as you’ll recall, Sebastian was born 1729. Logically, his spouse would be in the generation of Daniel’s children. There’s also a small chance Elizabeth could be a granddaughter of Daniel – particularly if he was widowed and she was a second wife. So let’s look at George Christman – Sebastian’s brother-in-law. In a deed dated 1801, the executors of the estate of Sebastian Keely sold land in Limerick township, Montgomery County to Jacob Keely (one of Sebastian’s sons). In that deed George Christman is described as a yeoman of Pikeland township. Now I have been told (correct me if I’m wrong) that in this case, the term of yeoman refers to a farmer who owned land. Through a combination of civil and church records, it can be proved that the George Christman who lived and owned land in Pikeland township, and who was of age to be an executor in 1777, was the son of Daniel Christman, the immigrant mentioned above. And George had a sister named Elizabeth!
So far so good, right? Well, let’s keep going with this. Daniel Christman died in 1760. In his will he describes his daughter Elizabeth as a spinster. So Elizabeth Christman was unmarried when her father wrote his will. So if Sebastian and Elizabeth married after Daniel’s death in 1760, all of their (legitimate) children would have been born after that and would have been under the age of 17 when Sebastian died in 1777. But baptism and other records show that Sebastian had at least 4 children born between 1754 and 1760, as well as four more between about 1762 and 1772. Egle apparently knew this. He implied that Elizabeth was the second wife of Sebastian. What he apparently did not realize, however, was that church records show that Elizabeth Christman, daughter of Daniel, married Johannes Haas/Hause on March 12, 1861. Burial records for Vincent Mennonite Cemetery (aka Rhoades Burial Ground) show that Elizabeth Hause, wife of Johannes, died in 1777.
As if that isn’t bad enough, when Elizabeth Keeley died in 1807, her son Jacob petitioned the orphan’s court to partition or sell land. Jacob was born in 1758. Jacob’s petition lists the names of his then living brothers and sisters as well as the surviving children of his deceased brother Sebastian. From the way this document is written, it would appear that Elizabeth was the mother of all of Sebastian’s known children. To top it off, the birth date of Elizabeth Christman, daughter of Daniel, as recorded in her baptism record, is inconsistent with the birth date inscribed on Elizabeth Keeley’s tombstone. It is, however, consistent with the birth date on the tombstone of Elizabeth Haas/Hause.
So where did we go wrong? Perhaps we found the wrong set of George/Elizabeth Christman siblings. But given the facts we have about George the executor, the only George Christman who possibly fits the bill is unequivocally also the son of Daniel. In the end, our entire premise for Elizabeth Keeley having the maiden name of Christman is the fact that Sebastian called George Christman his brother-in-law.
So who are your brother-in-laws? Strictly speaking your brother-in-law is the brother of your wife or the spouse of your sister. In the interest of space, in this case, George’s wife is not Sebastian’s sister. Nor did George have a deceased wife who was Sebastian’s sister. Nor did George have a deceased sister who was Sebastian’s first wife. That pretty much covers all the brother-in-law bases. Except one. My husband has three sisters. They are my sister-in-laws. Strictly speaking their husbands are not my brother-in-laws – but I’ve called them brother-in-laws. Don’t most people?
What if Sebastian’s wife and George’s wife were sisters. Would Sebastian call George his brother-in-law? Well, I think so and I think that’s exactly what happened in this case. George’s wife was Sophia Frey or Fry. I am slowly finding more information on the Frys in the area. So far, it’s all starting to fit together. There aren’t the glaring inconsistencies as there are with Daniel Christman’s daughter. But it’s still a little premature to start doing the happy dance. Of course, there’s also the bit about Elizabeth Christman. She was declared to be Sebastian’s wife by a very well-known, respected source over 100 years ago. It’s been an uphill battle trying to convince other Keeley/Keely researchers that that may not be the case!
So getting back to the Tuesday’s Tip — check all the possibilities. Particularly when it comes to relationships. Sometimes siblings are really half-siblings (or even step-siblings). Sometimes brothers are brothers-in-laws. (I also have a will where this is the case.) Sometimes adopted or step children are not explicitly identified as such. And sometimes a brother-in-law is, in the strictest sense of the word, not a brother-in-law but rather the spouse of your sister-in-law!