It was very hard for me to chose an ancestor this week. In the end I decided to write about my 3x’s great-grandmother, Mary Swavely Dilliplane. Her name is a favorite simply because I found it! I did it by examining her FAN club (family, associates and neighbors), developing a theory for her parentage and then finding records to prove it. It was a combination of research and analysis to develop the theory and luck in that there was direct evidence in her father’s probate file to confirm it.
I have briefly written about Mary and finding her family on this blog before here and here. This post will go into more detail. There were several factors that made it so difficult to identify her. First, she died prior to 1850 and was never enumerated by name on any census. Second, neither she nor her husband Thomas Dilliplane have a tombstone that I have been able to find. So I had no dates — not even a birth year. (Remember prior to 1850 people were only identified by tick marks in age range buckets.) But I did have a starting point. There is a very comprehensive and well-researched book, “The Delaplaines of America,” written by Marvin Delaplane in 1998.1 It had her as Mary with maiden name unknown.
So how did her first name come to be know? Well, there were two records that suggested that her first name was Mary. One was the 1853 Berks county death record for her son Joshua.2 Pennsylvania counties were supposed to record births and deaths from 1852-1854, but not all complied and not all records survived. It was fortuitous that the record for Joshua existed. It did not provide her maiden name, but it did give us a first name of Mary. (This was the source cited in the Delaplanes of America book.)
The second record that seemed to identify her was the 1819 baptism of Samuel, son of Francis and Maris Dellekum.[sic]3 At first blush, this records appears to be for an entirely different family. But it is a transcription. I have not been able to see the original handwritten record, but I have looked at many other early church records and they can be nearly illegible. If the first letter of T was mistaken for an F, I can see how someone could come up with Francis instead of Thomas for the father’s first name. Also, I wasn’t able to find any Dellekum family in other Berks county records (census, tax lists, etc) in or around 1819, leading me to believe that the last name was misspelled/misinterpreted as well. When you are researching a last name like Dilliplane, you have to be open to many spelling variations — and this seemed like it might be one of the more creative ones!
One of the first steps I took in trying to identify Mary’s maiden name and her parents was to look at the census data and try to pin down an approximate year of birth. The first census that shows Thomas Dilliplane as a head of household is 1820.4 He and his family are living in Earl Township, Berks, Pennsylvania. They are also there in 1830 and 1840.5,6
I created a little chart for the birth year of his presumed wife in those three census years. Looking at the overlap between the birth year ranges for the various census years – and taking the information provided at face value – Thomas’ wife would have been born between 1790 and 1794.
On to the FAN club. Ideally, the first set of records I would consider would be the baptismal records for the children. The reason is that baptismal sponsors were often, though not always, relatives. I have found that it is worth doing at least some cursory research on the sponsors to see if there is a familial connection to either the father or mother of the baptized child. Unfortunately, in this case there was only one baptismal record to consider. And there was a bit of uncertainty that the record even applied to this family. But you have to work with what you’ve got. The baptismal sponsors for Samuel “Dellekum” were Samuel Schwabely and Maria Ritchard. Since Mary and Maria are usually variants of the same name, it seemed unlikely Maria Ritchard would be a sister to Mary Dilliplane. So while I was keeping both Swavely and Richard (and variant spellings) in mind, I was a little more focused on Swavely.
The next step was to see who was enumerated near to Thomas Dilliplane in the various censuses. In particular, I wanted to see if there were any Swavely families living nearby. In 1820, there was an Adam Swafle two lines above Thomas. In 1830 Adam was four lines above Thomas. (This time the last name looked more like Swevely.) And in 1840, Adam was three lines above Thomas. Presuming that Adam was the oldest male in these census records, he was more of the age to be a father to Mary than a brother.
Things really started to come together when I found the 5 Nov 1793 baptismal record for a Maria Schweffle, daughter of Adam and Esther, at St. Paul’s Reformed Church, Amityville, Berks, Pennsylvania. According to the record, Maria was born 8 Oct 1793 of the same year.7 As it turns out Swavley (like Dilliplane) is another last name with creative spelling variations in early records. [Note — St. Paul’s church, where Maria’s baptism was recorded, is pictured in the photo at the beginning of this post.]
The last piece of the puzzle came together when I was able to access the 1842 Berks county PA probate file of Adam Swavely.8 Since Adam, a land owner, died intestate his son John filed a petition with the court to sell the land. In it John named all of Adam’s heirs. This included the then surviving children of Adam’s deceased daughter Mary, who had been married to Thomas Dilliplane. It was extremely lucky that this document exists because it provides direct evidence of Mary’s parents. It also names Mary’s children and tells which are of age and which are still minors.
So there’s the story of finding Mary’s maiden name – as well as her parents and children. As I mentioned at the beginning , it took some research and analysis and a fair amount of luck in that records containing direct evidence existed and were even available online!
- G. David Thayer, editor, The Delaplaines of America, Third Printing edition (Salem, Oregon: Rapidsoft Press, 2004.) Originally authored by Marvin G. Delaplane, 1998
- Berks County Deaths 1852 – 1855 (online – transcribed from Berks County Court house). Record for Joshua Dilliplane
- Ancestry.com, “Pennsylvania, Church and Town Records, 1708 -1985.” Database and images., (accessed 1 Feb 2012); birth/baptism of Samuel Dellekum; citing the records of St. Joseph’s Hill Church (Pike township, PA).
- 1820 U. S. Federal Census population schedules (National Archives and Records Administration), Series: M33 Roll: 99 Page: 132. Household of Thos. Dilplain
- 1830 U. S. Federal Census population schedules (National Archives and Records Administration), Series: M19 Roll: 143 Page: 434. Household of Thos. Dilplain
- 1840 U. S. Federal Census population schedules (National Archives and Records Administration), Series: M704 Roll: 438 Page: 346. Household of Thomas Dellpliane
- Ancestry.com, “Pennsylvania, Church and Town Records, 1708 -1985.” Database and images., (accessed 1 Feb 2012); birth/baptism of Maria Schweffle; citing the records of St. Paul’s Reformed Church (Amity township, Berks PA).
- “Pennsylvania Probate Records, 1683-1994,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9S7-Z9QD-D?cc=1999196&wc=9P9S-MNR%3A268499201%2C282535302 : 3 July 2014), Berks > Estates 1800-1850 Stocker, John-Swavely, Samuel > image 2337 of 2398; county courthouses, Pennsylvania. Probate file of Adam Swavely, 1842, Earl Township, Berks, PA.