Tag Archives: Bechtel

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.

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

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:


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!

UPDATE: Thanks to Omer I have a much better translation.

Sudden 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 pronunciation: “death by suffocation, caused by an attack of apoplexy at the lunch table.” The deceased was about 45 years old.

Thriller Thursday – Poor Little Thomas Bechtel

Are you up to date with all your vaccinations and immunizations? Are your children? Today’s Thriller Thursday posting is a reminder that life in the 19th century was fraught with hidden dangers. It was a time when even a minor scratch or cut could cause horrible suffering and even death…

It was late August of 1876 and eleven year old Thomas Bechtel, son of Thomas Sr. and Annie,  was enjoying the dog-days of summer. He and his younger brother were outside playing in their yard in East Coventry Township, Chester County, PA. The younger boy was holding a stick and chasing his big brother. Thomas stopped short and his younger brother accidentally poked him just above the ankle with his stick. It was a minor cut and neither the brothers nor their parents gave it much thought until a couple of days later. At that point Thomas’ leg began to swell and become inflamed. Thomas suffered terrible pain for the next few days, finally dying of lockjaw (now known as tetanus) on August 31, 1876.  His obituary was published in the Montgomery Ledger (a Pottstown newspaper) on September 5th. He was just shy of his twelfth birthday.

Thomas was my 3rd cousin, 3 x’s removed. His parents were Thomas and Annie (nee unknown) Bechtel and his paternal grandparents were Charles Bechtel and Isabella Jack. If you also have connections to this family, feel free to contact me.

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun (a day late!!)

Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings suggested this on his Saturday Night Genealogy Fun blog post. The mission was to list your 16 great-great grandparents, determine the country and/or state in which they resided at their birth and death, and for extra-credit make a pie chart. Well, first of all, we were out shopping for a bike rack last night (long story), and I never saw his post until very late. So I’m posting a day late! (Better late than never, right?) Since every single one of my great-great grands were born and died in Pennsyvlania, in the good ole USA, I’m skipping the pie chart. It would just be a circle!! I would break it down by counties, but living at the junction of three counties and with my ancestors moving around, I’m afraid it might not be all that accurate.

William Dilliplane, son of Thomas Delaplaine and Mary, born 1820 in Berks County, Pennsylvania; died March 18, 1897 in Berks County, Pennsylvania; married Rachel Yoder Weidner about 1845 probably in Berks County, PA,

Rachel Yoder Weidner, daughter of William P. Weidner and Susanna Yoder, born November 1824 in Berks County, Pennsylvania; died April 1902 in Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Henry Boughter, son of Martin Buchter and Elizabeth Baer, born February 5, 1825 in Berks County, PA; died March 22, 1887 in Pottstown, Montgomery County, PA; married Rachel Levengood in August 1, 1847 at New Hanover Lutheran Church, Montgomery County, PA.

Rachel Levengood, daughter of Matthias Levengood and Elizabeth Reinert, born March 9, 1825 in Oley, Berks County, PA; died May 26, 1911 in Pottstown, Montgomery County, PA

Henry M. Sassaman, son of Andrew Sassaman and Lydia Moser; born October 15, 1835 in Berks County, PA; died August 29, 1922 in Pottstown, Montgomery County, PA; married Harriet Garver on April 4, 1859 at Trinity Reformed Church, Pottstown, Montgomery County, PA

Harriet Garver, daughter of Jacob Garber and Ann Campbell; born December 14, 1836 in Berks County, PA; died May 26, 1906 in Pottstown, Montgomery County, PA.

Augustus L. Bechtel, son of George Bechtel and Catherine Levengood; born August 11, 1832 in West Pottsgrove, Montgomery County, PA; died July 23, 1900 in Glasgow, Montgomery County, PA; married Catherine Bucher about 1851.

Catherine Bucher, daughter of Henry Bucher and Hannah Moser; born February 18, 1836 probably in Pottsgrove, Montgomery County, PA; died July 19, 1905 in Stowe, Montgomery County, PA.

David Garner, son of John Garner and Mary Pennypacker, born July 22, 1831 in Chester County, PA; died October 1, 1918 in Phoenixville, Chester County, PA; married Margaret Youngblood on January 31, 1861 at Brownback’s Church, Chester County, PA

Margaret Youngblood, daughter of Isaac Youngblood and Sarah Whiteside, born April 7, 1836 in Chester County, PA; died October 13, 1914 in Phoenixville, Chester County, PA.

Charles Morgan James, son of Benjamin Franklin James and Margaret Liggett, born July 3, 1837 in Marsh, Chester County, PA; died August 1, 1908 in Coventryville, PA; married Emma E. Ibach on February 28, 1861 in Pottstown, Montgomery County, PA.

Emma E. Ibach, daughter of William Ibach and Sarah Wien, born October 20, 1835 in Berks County, PA; died July 3, 1884 in Philadelphia, PA.

John P. Evans, son of Amos Evans and Catherine Keeley, born July 12, 1840 probably in Limerick, Montgomery County, PA; died October 3, 1906 in East Coventry, Chester County, PA; married Mary Newman on January 2, 1867 in Limerick, Montgomery County, PA.

Mary Newman, daughter of Abraham Newman and Rebecca Derr, born on September 3, 1846 probably in Montgomery County, PA; died August 1, 1916, probably in Pottstown, Montgomery County, PA.

Enos H. Shaner, son of Daniel Shaner and Mary Ann Hoff, born May 1, 1845 probably in North Coventry, Chester County, PA; died July 15, 1897 in Cedarville, Chester County, PA; married Adeline E. Miller January 22, 1868 at Brownback’s Church, Chester County, PA.

Adeline E. Miller, daughter of George K. Miller and Mary Ann Evans, born April 7, 1848 probably in Limerick, Montgomery County, PA; died June 28, 1923 in Cedarville, Chester County, PA.

And there you have it – my great-great-grands. Thanks, Randy, for the Saturday Night Genealogy Fun suggestion!!