Category Archives: Research Tips

Tuesday’s Tip – Bound Apprenticeship/Indentured Servant Records

Summer is definitely upon us where I live and the temperature combined with the humidity is making the outdoors suffocating. So what better way to beat the heat than to sit in the air-conditioning and do a little internet genealogy! That’s exactly what I was doing yesterday when I came across a very interesting article in Google’s Newspaper Archive.

The Reading Eagle newspaper of June 30, 1895 featured an article entitled “An Old Indenture – A Relic of the Apprentice System of the Last Century Now in Possession of Warden Kintzer.” The upshot is that a gentleman named L. Y. Kintzer purchased a bureau at the estate sale of Daniel Sohl of Womelsdorf. Inside the bureau was an old legal document. It was an Indenture binding a child named Thomas Shaner to an apprenticeship with “Wintel” Weant. The contract was entered into by Thomas’ step-father Philip Cole and his wife Mary, on January 7, 1793 with the term of the apprenticeship being 17 years, 1 month and 9 days!

In addition to expressing what I interpreted as a bit of shock for the practice of binding out a child for such a long servitude, the article provided a full transcription of the Indenture. I was actually quite interested in the document because the Shaner family is one that I’ve researched pretty extensively. But Indentured Servant documents were new to me. And my knowledge of the practice of binding out children as apprentices was limited. I couldn’t help thinking that there was significance to the term of the indenture. Generally speaking, I would not have thought it legally possible for a parent to bind out a child past the point of the child attaining the age of majority. It has been my understanding (for the time period in question) the legal age for a male was 21 and for a female was 18. But that would mean Thomas was being bound out prior to the age of 4! Would or could parents actually do that??

A Google search turned up an article on Indentured Servants written by Karen Mullian  for the Albuquerque Genealogical Society in Feb 1999 [link]. She writes that the average age for a child to be bound out was 14, but that poor children may have been bound out as young as 18 months to 3 years old. She further states that the indenture could have been as long as 18-20 years – until the child reached the age of majority. It appears to me that this is what happened in the case of Thomas.

While it makes me sad to think about the practice of binding out young children, finding this transcribed Indenture document has shown me that these documents can be a valuable resource for gathering information on poor families. Being that they are poor, they probably aren’t buying property or leaving wills, so this might be one of the few types of documents from which to glean information.

This particular Indenture provided the following facts: 1) Thomas Shaner’s parents were Henry and Mary; 2) Henry Shaner died prior to January 1793; 3) Mary remarried prior to January 1793 to a man named Philip Cole; 4) Philip and Mary lived in Marlborough Township in Montgomery County, PA; 5) Thomas was apprenticed to be a carpenter.

There was an addendum to this particular indenture dated March 27, 1807. It states that Thomas Shaner disliked the carpentry trade because he could not learn it. He and Mr. Weant mutally agreed that Weant would sign Shaner’s indenture over to John Soll and that Thomas would be bound to him for the balance of the term. So an additional fact we know is that Thomas was definitely still alive as of March 1807. And, in addition to the above facts, we can conclude that it is likely Thomas was born February 16. 1789 since his indenture is up on February 16, 1810.

On a personal research note, I have a Thomas Shaner with unknown parents in my database. On February 25, 1810 he married Elizabeth Kurz. The marriage was recorded at Falkner Swamp Reformed Church in Montgomery County, PA. One other bit of information in Karen Mullian’s article is that indentured servants and bound apprentices could not marry until there indenture was completed. Notice that Thomas married Elizabeth Kurz about a week after the indenture ended. While I can’t say with 100% certainty that Thomas, son of Henry and Mary, was the same Thomas who married Elizabeth, it sure is looking like a good possibility!

So, getting back to the Tuesday Tip – be sure to add Indenture documents to your list of resources.

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Tuesday’s Tip – Consider ALL the Possibilities!

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!

Tuesday’s Tech Tip – Record it!

Back when I was first starting to gather up our family history for a school project for my daughter, we made the 2+ hour trip to visit my husband’s grandmother. I briefly (very briefly) considered bringing a video camera, but thought the better of it. I was afraid she would find the camera a distraction or maybe even a little uncomfortable. I know that I personally am very self-conscious when someone points one of those my direction! So we relied on taking notes the old fashioned way – by hand.

Unfortunately, this was not ideal. It’s hard (for me anyway) to take comprehensive notes as someone is speaking at a normal rate. Plus, I found myself so focused on the note taking that I didn’t get to ask some of the questions that I would have liked. So a couple of years later, when I had the opportunity to interview my Aunt and Uncle, I decided to use a digital voice recorder.

Digital voice recorders are essentially tape recorders without the tapes – and they are considerably smaller than most of the old tape recorders. As with most all electronic gadgets, the price range on digital voice recorders varies widely, but you can probably buy a decent quality one for under $50.

Before you buy, however, check your existing gadgets. I had an inexpensive mp3 player that was capable of recording, so I used that. It was small – just slightly larger that a pack of gum and could sit very unobtrusively on the coffee table while we talked. Later I connected the mp3 player to my computer and uploaded the recording to my hard drive with my other genealogy data files. And this set of interviews was much easier on me as I didn’t have to focus on note-taking the entire time! Just make sure to familiarize yourself with how the recorder operates in advance — and, of course, make sure the device is fully charged before you start.

Would it be nice to have a video recording? Well, sure. But you have to weigh the factors for your situation. In my case, I thought the camera’s tendency to inhibit and distract out-weighed the benefit. The digital recorder is easier to forget about. Also, it’s a lot easier to toss a small device like that in your pocket or bag. In the case of the camera, I would have also probably needed to bring a tripod and the whole setup would have gotten a lot more complex.

So there you have it – record it! And while having a video is nice, consider an audio-only recording too. That’s my Tuesday Tip this week.

Tuesday’s Tip – Suggestions for Photographing Tombstones

With the recent Memorial Day holiday, I’ve been thinking about heading back out to the local cemeteries to get some more photographs. The last few weeks have been very rainy, so hopefully we’re due for some nice days soon! So in that vein, for today’s Tuesday’s Tip (a prompt suggested by members of Geneabloggers), I thought I would post some suggestions regarding tombstone photographs.

My goal with tombstone photography is to try to get the best photos that I can without introducing anything that may possibly cause damage to the tombstone. So I don’t bring chalk or shaving cream or anything like that. (Although, in one case, I did pour a little of my drinking water on the stone to try to bring out the very worn inscription.) I also don’t really like to carry around lots of photographic equipment (including my DSLR), so typically I just use a digital point and shoot camera. Mine is a couple of years old. It’s 7 megapixels with a 5x optical zoom.

In looking over the photos I taken, I would have to say that I tend to get the best results in mid-morning and mid-afternoon. I’ve found that these times have the least amount of glare and shadows. I have also found that I can pull out better details on slightly cloudy days versus very bright sunny ones. And I also try to avoid using flash because of the glare, but depending on the amount of shade, it sometimes can’t be helped.

Since my camera has a lot of megapixels, I don’t really take a lot of tight-in closeups, but I try to take stand back a bit to get the context — so that I can see adjacent graves. This really helps sort out family members, especially in the case of photographing tombstones of people with common surnames. And because of the high megapixels, I can crop out the individual tombstones and still have good quality images to upload to sties like findagrave. Also, by capturing some of the adjacent tombstones in the image (or just taking a few extra pictures of the area) you just may find that the next plot over is an married daughter and her husband or family!

One of the things I haven’t done previously, but plan to do next time I’m out photographing a cemetery, is to bring along my hand-held GPS and put it in the photograph with the gravestone . I probably won’t do this for every tombstone, but maybe for some of my closer relatives and direct ancestors. That way if I ever need to go back for any reason, I’ll have the lat-long location of the grave to within a few feet. Of course, this will require closeup photos in order to be able to read the coordinates on the GPS unit.

Another tip is that when I first drive up to a cemetery, I usually try to get a photograph of the sign – or the church sign if the cemetery is attached to a church. This way I know in which cemetery the photographs were taken, particularly if I am visiting more than one that day.

Oh, and one last tip. Bring extra batteries if possible and also make sure you’ve cleaned off your memory card so that you have enough free space. There’s nothing worse that getting three quarters of the way through the cemetery and having your camera batteries die. Unfortunately, since my camera uses a non-standard rechargeable battery (and I don’t own a spare) this has happened to me more that once!!!

Well, I guess that’s about it for now — just a few suggestions for cemetery photographs. If you have any others, feel free to leave a comment!

Tuesday’s Tip – Say it Out Loud

Tuesday’s Tip is another one of the daily prompts suggested by members of Geneabloggers (see link in side bar). My tip for this week is one that I use often. If I can’t find an individual or family (say, in the census or on a passenger list, etc), I try saying the last name out loud in my best imitation of what I think is the appropriate accent. The idea being that how you hear it may help you come up with alternate spellings that may not be obvious.

Many of my ancestors and relatives were (or intermarried with) the Pennsylvania Dutch variety of Germans. Some of the common letter exchanges I find are B changing to P (or vice versa) and a hard C or K changing to G (or vice versa). There are probably others, but these are the ones that come to mind as I sit here and write this. Other types of accents may turn J into H or W into V.

Basically, it’s just another way to come up with alternate spellings that might be too far off for Soundex or some of the other “fuzzy” matching algorithms used by some search engines.  And even in the case where these alternatives are returned by the “fuzzy” search, if you type the alternative in directly it may pop the individual or family you are seeking closer to the top of the returned list, saving you the trouble of wading through all the “wrong” results to get to the “right” one.

Hope this helps!