Tag Archives: Bechtel

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:

bechtel-william-jun-1855-transcription

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!

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!!

Thriller Thursday – John A. Bechtel’s Accident

It time for Thriller Thursday, a prompt suggested by members of Geneabloggers. This week I have the story of the tragic train accident that took the life of John A. Bechtel of Reading, Pennsylvania.

John A. Bechtel was born March 6, 1843 in Pennsylvania. While I do not know who his parents were, according to census data, his father was born in Germany and his mother in Pennsylvania. In August of 1861 he enlisted in Company H of the Pennsylvania 88th Infantry and served in the Union Army in the Civil War.

In the mid 1860s John married Salinda Klemmer. Their four known children were William, Charles, Daniel and George. Per census data, there were also three other children who presumably died young. The family lived in Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania.

John was a long time employee of the P&R Railroad having worked for them for about 20 years. On April 23, 1891, he was working as a hind brakeman on a freight train on the Lebanon Valley line. It was 8 o’clock in the morning and the train was at the station at Womelsdorf where it had stopped to unload some cargo. John was standing on the hind platform of the caboose. The train jerked and John, who was about to put on the brake, lost his footing and fell onto the track.

As many as fifteen cars then rode over his legs. Both legs were horribly crushed – one above the knee and the other below. Dr. Horace Livingood was summoned and dressed the injuries. Incredibly, John was awake and conversing. He was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Reading and his family was summoned. He died shortly after noon, surrounded by his wife and 3 of his four sons.

A coroner’s inquest was held and it was determined that his death was from “accidental injuries.” Though John was described as a “careful railroader,” this was not his first accident. Apparently he had also fallen off a caboose at Wernersville a short time before. Sadly, John had been planning to quit his job at the railroad that week. He planned to move to Duluth, Minnesota where one of his sons was living. Unfortunately, he never got that chance.

If anyone has information about John’s parents or how he connects with other Bechtels living in the southeastern Pennsylvania area, I would love to hear from you.

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.