Tag Archives: Keeley

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!

Thriller Thursday – Disaster on the Rails

Here’s another one for the Thriller Thursday series at Geneabloggers.

It was a cold, dark Friday evening in January. Snow blanketed the ground. The Atlantic Express train had departed Albany about 2:40 in the afternoon and was en route to New York City. The train was packed with passengers including quite a few politicians and prominent businessmen. Extra parlor-style passenger cars, as well as a second engine, had been added to the train to accommodate the all the travelers. The train was nearing the end of the 150-mile trip when an overheated axle forced it to stop. By now it was after 7 o’clock and the train was near the Spuyten Duyvil Junction.

Spuyten Duyvil. It was an area in the Southern Bronx named for the adjacent Spuyten Duyvil Creek – a body of water separating the Bronx from Manhattan. It is a Dutch phrase meaning Devil’s Whirlpool and is descriptive of the turbulence of the creek, particularly during high tide. And so to those of us predisposed to superstition, what could be more prophetic than to have disaster strike on the evening of Friday the Thirteenth near the Devil’s Whirpool?

The year was 1882, and the passengers, though inconvenienced by the unexpected stop, were keeping warm and comfortable with the stoves and lamps in the parlor cars. When it first became necessary to stop the train to let the overheated axle cool, the brakeman was supposed to walk back the track far enough so that he could use lanterns to signal any approaching train in enough time for it to stop. And in fact, this very night, just 13 minutes or so behind the Atlantic Express was the Tarrytown Special. It was pulling only three passenger cars and reportedly moving at speeds up to 25 miles per hour.

Now this particular section of the train track was said to mirror the curvature of the creek. It was described as curving like the letter S, with very few areas of straight line track. As it happened, the brakeman for the Atlantic Express walked back several lengths along the track with his latern. He was positioned near a curve in the track. Unfortunately, the Tarrytown Special conductor never saw the brakeman’s signal until he rounded the curve. At that point, he not only saw the signal lantern, but also the glowing lights of the Idlewild, the last car of the Atlantic Express.

The Tarrytown conductor may have signaled for the brakes to be applied, but the train had not slowly significantly before barreling into the Idlewild and ramming it into the next to the last car, the Empire. Both the Idlewild and the Empire were what was known as parlor-style palace cars. They were luxury cars that would have had individual chairs rather than bench seating. There was thought to be about 10 to 12 people in the Idlewild and as many as 18 or 19  in the Empire. However, since the train had stopped, some of the travelers had been wandering through the train. Upon impact, people in both the Idlewild and the Empire were thrown to the floor. The chairs, lanterns and stoves were toppled over. Some people were pinned under the debris. Fires were started when the stoves and lanterns were knocked over igniting the woodwork and upholstry. The Idlewild suffered the severest damage, followed closely by the Empire.

According to eye witness reports, most of the passengers probably survived the initial impact. Unfortunately, those in the Idlewild were pinned by debris and unable to escape the burning car on their own. Their cries and moans could be heard, but rescue efforts were hindered by the lack of axes to break through the crushed train cars and the debris. Also, there was little or no water readily available to douse the flames. In the absence of water, some would be rescuers threw snow on the fire. Most of those in Idlewild either burned to death or were overcome by the smoke before they could be freed.

Initial reports were that nine people, possibly more, died. Amazingly, after all the dust settled and some heretofore unaccounted for people were located, the number was revised to seven dead and several dozen injured. Those who were killed were NY State Senator Webster Wagner; Oliver B. Keeley, a stove manufacturer from Spring City Pennsylvania; newly married Parker Valentine, aged 22 and his bride, 19 year-old Louise Gaylord; Rev. Father Marechal; Mrs. Maud Brown; and Mr. D. L. Ransom. Only one passenger on the ill-fated Idlewild car survived, that being Miss Mary E. Daniels. She was badly burned, but apparently recovered from her injuries. Mr. Valentine Sr., the father of the groom who perished, was also on the train. He had happened to step out onto the back platform of the Idlewild just as the Tarrytown Express was bearing down on it. He managed to jump off the platform and escape to safety in the nick of time.

The story of the train wreck at Spuyten Duyvil, New York was reported throughout the nation. While the coroner’s inquest found fault with nearly all the personnel of both trains as well as the railroad officials for failing to put forth proper procedures to ensure the safety of passengers, the ultimate blame seemed to rest on the brakeman of the Atlantic Express. He was put on trial for manslaughter that November. Surprisingly, he was found not guilty.

My connection to this tragic story is Oliver B. Keeley. He was the son of Joseph Keeley and Anna Markle and he was my 3rd cousin, 4 times removed. He was only 36 years old when he died. He left a wife, Mary (nee Stauffer) and a young daughter named Clara.

The Keeley Motor and the Keeley Cure

Keeley “cousins” — frauds or visionaries???

It’s nearly impossible to research the Keely/Keeley surname for any length of time without coming across articles and information on John W. Keely and his infamous motor and Dr. Leslie Keeley and his nearly equally infamous gold cure for alcohol addiction. Both of these gentlemen and their dubious “inventions” garnered a lot of press in the late 1800s. I am certainly finding this to be the case with Historical Newspaper collection on Genealogybank. Luckily the search options provide an excluded words field, so by excluding motor and cure, a lot of these articles can be omitted from the results!

Just for the record, at this point, neither of these gentlemen appear to connect to my line of German Keely/Keeleys. I have found one tree on WorldConnect that says the father of Leslie Keeley was a Thomas Keeley who was born in Ireland and apparently immigrated to Canada sometime in the mid-1830s. My German Keely/Keelys came to Pennsylvania about 100 years before that. I do have some evidence to suggest that they may have been one of Palatinate families who first relocated to Ireland before coming to America, so I suppose there is a possible connection way back. That, however, is beyond the scope of what I am currently working on.

The ancestry of John W. Keeley, of motor fame, has been much harder to pin down. He was from the Philadelphia area. Supposedly his parents died when he was young and he was raised by his grandparents. Census data from 1880 shows that both his parents were born in PA. There is probably a pretty good chance he is related to my line, but I haven’t yet been able to make a connection. Possibly due to the dubious (some may say fraudulent) nature of his motor, articles and obituaries written about other Keeleys and Keelys who were his contemporaries do not claim him as a relative. And so the search continues!!

GenealogyBank

Several months back, I wrote on this blog about how I had decided not to renew my membership to Ancestry.com. Well, with the money I’m saving from that, I decided to subscribe to genealogybank. Genealogybank is a collection of scanned historical newspapers, recent obituaries, and some other content. I was particularly interested in the historical newspapers and the obituaries. I was familiar with genealogybank and actually had access to some of the historical newspaper content through my Godfrey Scholar subscription a few years ago. I also had access to genealogybank when they made their content free for a few days as a promotion a while back. And so I was very anxious to plug in a few of the surnames I research and see what I could find.

First off, I was able to find a very good account of the execution of William Henry Howe. Continue reading

Genealogy Mystery – Children of Jacob and Mary (Shimer) Keeley

I have decided to try something new. I am thinking that I will try to post a “Genealogical Mystery of the Month.” Who knows, perhaps someone will read it and be able to help!

If you have seen my genealogy website, you will know that one of the families I have researched extensively is the Keeley/Keely family of Chester County, PA.  Jacob Keeley, who was born March 25, 1758 and died April 13, 1814, was my 4th great grandfather. Jacob was the son of Sebastian and Elizabeth. He married Maria (a.k.a. Mary) Shimer, daughter of Michael, on March 17, 1782. Mary died the day after Jacob, on April 14, 1814. They are both buried at Brownback’s Church (present day Spring City, PA).

Per Zion Lutheran Church records: “Jacob Kiele, b. 1757, d. 15 May 1814; son of Sebastian and wife Elizabeth; married 1782; 3 sons and 6 daughters, all living; died of ‘hitsigen fieber.’” [Note that Hitziges Fieber is typhoid fever.] The children are identified in a Chester County Orphan’s Court petition filed October 31, 1814. They were Hannah, widow of John Saylor; Sebastian; Elizabeth, widow of Isaac Stetler; Jacob; George; Mary, wife of Abraham Haas/Hause; Esther; Sarah; and Catherine (the last three being minors.)

So, what became of the nine children? Most of my info (other than my direct line) is sketchy at best, but here’s what I have:

I believe that the eldest, Hannah, the widow of John Saylor, married Jacob Kalb on February 24, 1818. The last record I found for her was the 1850 census, at which time she and Jacob were living in Limerick. Hannah’s known children were Sarah, Maria and John Saylor (with first husband) and Israel Kalb (with second husband). If anyone has further information on her, please contact me.

The next child was Sebastian. He died June 16, 1819 and is buried at Brownback’s Church near his parents. I believe that he married Anna Levengood and that they may have had three children: Jacob (born about 1810 and died before 1900; married first Mary Ann Cassidy and second Catherine Swinehart), Elizabeth (born about 1813; married Peter L. Carl) and Sebastian (born 1817 and died 1899; married Maria Thomas). Unfortunately, this is mostly speculation based on 1) Montgomery County PA land records showing land transactions for a Sebastian Keeley and wife Ann in Limerick township in 1814; 2) New Hanover Lutheran marriage record for a Mrs. Anna Kuhley to Jesse Pennypacker on January 25, 1825; 3) the tombstone of Sebastian saying that it was erected by Jacob and Sebastian Keeley. My hypothesis is that they are his sons and that the afore mentioned Jacob and Sebastian are likely the ones who erected the tombstone. I would really like to hear from anyone with additional information on this family.

The third child was Elizabeth, widow of Isaac Stetler. So far I have been unable to find out if she remarried. There is an Elizabeth Stetler who died in Trappe, Montgomery County, PA on January 26, 1862, but that Elizabeth was aged 70 years, 5 months and 14 days – which doesn’t match the December 18, 1786 birth date for the daughter of Jacob and Mary. So the question remains, what ever happened to Elizabeth?

The next child was the son Jacob who married Sophia Shuler. He apparently died about 1828. That date comes from a biography of his son Davis in the Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Chester County, but there are so many errors in that bio that the death date of 1828 must be considered suspect too. So again, specific information on his death date and/or where he is buried would be appreciated.

The fifth child was George. I know that many researchers believe he married Sarah Rooke. However, I believe the George Keeley who married Sarah Rooke was the son of Jacob’s brother John, and thus a cousin to this George, who was born in 1792. So again any information would be appreciated.

The sixth child was Mary who was married to Abraham Haas. She and her husband apparently lived in Philadelphia for a while then removed to Northumberland County, PA, where she died May 3, 1849. The information I have on her and her family comes from a bio of her son-in-law Tobias Shurtz, which seems pretty accurate.

As for the seventh and eight children, Esther and Sarah, I have found no information on either of them and would appreciate any hints, clues, speculation, etc.

The youngest child was Catherine. She married Amos Evans and was my third great-grandmother. I have quite a bit of information on this line on my genealogy website.

So there it is. The mystery is what happened to the children of Jacob and Mary after the parents died in 1814. I’d love to hear from anyone who can add to what I have posted!