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.
Levi 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.