Sunday, 23 October 2011

Exciting progress on "the other side" of the family: Mauritz & Becher

For many years, Dad and I have worked on the Smith family tree. We have also researched Mom's Lockerbie family as well, although she's never been as interested as we've been. Thankfully, a few others in that family had done a ton of work on the Lockerbie and May histories, so we had a head start.

We've always had our hands full with the Smiths etc., so I have also not made a major effort to seek out information about the Taylor/Becher branch of the family. This may be of interest to our boys one day, however, as it is Doug's family history. I accepted the low-hanging fruit as I could get it, through family conversations and Ancestry, and thought maybe someone in one of those families would be interested enough to do the serious research.

I remembered a few weeks ago that the Taylors and Browns came from Ontario, so I set out to make a list of the records I need to pursue when Dad and I go to Toronto to visit the provincial archives next spring. That got me thinking about the "in-law" trees, and I took a look at the big gap in our larger tree. The Mauritz and Becher families are quite sparsely populated, so I emailed Auntie Elly (my mother-in-law's sister) to ask if she had any new information.

We had a wonderful family celebration yesterday, and I mentioned to my mother-in-law, Carol, that I had sent a note to Elly, and explained that I really would like to fill in more of her family history for the sake of our children. Carol remembered that Elly had given her a package of information recently, and wondered if I'd like to read it over. Oh my goodness, what a gift!! I scanned the information quickly, and asked if I could borrow it for awhile, as I'd like to make a copy.

This morning I sat down to read it more carefully, and realized there are details of at least 2 new generations of the Mauritz family, and some very interesting stories about life in Romania and the surrounding area. There are also maps, and an explanation of where the family migrated to, and why they moved so much.

Next I began to read a document called "Recalling the Past: A Return to the Hartl Homestead," which was written in July 1994. I have not yet quite sorted out the connection, but it includes some members of the Becher family. I truly hope we have more information about Leopold Becher's history, as we really don't know anything about his past, or his parents. At first glance, there doesn't appear to be much, but I will take some time to check more thoroughly soon.

I hope to hear from Auntie Elly at some point, as I am guessing she has a wealth of knowledge, and she may be inclined to share with me. Fingers crossed!

Monday, 17 October 2011

New info from Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania!

Friday was quite a day. Just as I sat down to mull over what we'd found on our trip, I received an email message from Tom, our helpful volunteer at the Historical Society of Schuylkill County. He said they had found the will & estate records for old William Hay, who we found buried in Auburn, Pennsylvania. What great and unexpected news!!

Tom said he and Doc Pete had found the records at the Schuylkill County courthouse, which Dad and I didn't have time to visit last week. They are making a copy for us, and will mail it soon.

Some days you just count your blessings for the generosity of others.

Can't wait to see what the will says, and I hope we learn something about the missing generation of this family.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Mt. Moriah cemetery in Philadelphia

Friday, October 7, 2011

Feeling positive about our results of yesterday's visit to Pottsville, we decided to take some time to see the sights of Philadelphia. Really, it would just be wrong somehow to be here for the better part of a week without seeing the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. After breakfast, we walked to 5th and Market, and signed up for the hop-on, hop-off tour, which took us on a 90 minute drive around the city highlights on a double-decker bus. We meandered back towards the hotel, and stopped at the Mumbai Bistro for a quick and tasty lunch.

Once we got back to the hotel, I checked the email, and found a response from Ken Milano. I called his cell phone, and asked if he would be willing to take us to Mt. Moriah cemetery. We had determined that visiting Frankford and the Cedar Hill cemetery would be too much to do today, and furthermore, Haldane Hay's grave at Cedar Hill was less important to see compared to seeing Edward MacHarg's final resting place at Mt. Moriah, as I am directly descended from that line. Ken cautioned us that Mt. Moriah was overgrown, as the cemetery owners walked away from it in April this year. I had read the same in the news, but I hoped it might not be too bad. I had the map of the area from our visit to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and knew where the plot was, so off we went.

Ken picked us up within about 20 minutes, and we headed toward the cemetery. He got us there, but it looked pretty bad from the road. We circled back and Ken drove in on the overgrown path, which was quite rough. After awhile, we saw a marker that indicated “Section 130” and noticed a car with the trunk open a bit further down the side path. Ken continued along, musing that it could be someone burying a body or something equally as sinister, and we came to a dead end. Unsure of where to go next, at Dad's urging, we turned around and went back to where the car was parked. There in the middle of the cemetery was a man mowing around one specific section. We asked him if he knew where we were in relation to the map we had, and he said he was maintaining Section 131, which was where some Methodist ministers were buried. Since the cemetery had been abandoned, he had been visiting every 2 weeks to maintain that section. Quite amazing, as it was not easy to access. He encouraged us to try to access the section we wanted, as it was adjacent to the Navy part of the cemetery, which was still being maintained by the military. We went back out to the main path, and continued along to what we figured was Section 142. Dad went ahead on foot, and paced out his best guess as to where it would be. As usual, he was bang on.

We jumped out of the car, and began to check the various stones for names and dates. We were not sure how our map of the section should be oriented on the ground, so Ken began phoning in to a colleague to ask whether we were even in the correct place. We were astounded by the brambles and the poor state of the area, and looked across a low fence to see someone maintaining the military part of the cemetery. We were quite frustrated by our inability to make sense of the map, and to find Plot 13. After a series of phone inquiries, we eventually determined we were in the right general area.

The last call Ken made was to ask about the “Latimer” stone, and he was told that it was placed in Plot 13, which was supposed to be the MacHarg plot. Hmmm. We looked all around that area, and found some small stones on the ground labeled “L” and “M” - they were perhaps to indicate a specific row, or could be to indicate the two families? In any event, we continued to probe the ground all around these stones, but did not find MacHarg anywhere. It was a shame, but at least we could say we had tried to find Edward and two of his sons. For our purposes, we'll perhaps think of this "M" stone as a marker for the "MacHarg" family.

We packed up and got back into the car, and thanked Ken for his willingness to take us to the cemetery, and for his effort to get us to the correct section. We would never have made it to the specific area without his help, as a taxi would never have agreed to drive in there!

Pottsville and Auburn, Pennsylvania

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Up and out the door early, we picked up our rental vehicle at 7:30, and were pleasantly surprised to be given a Chev HHR as a mid-size option. It was more like an SUV, and perfect for our trip up to Pottsville. I was glad to have brought along our GPS, although Dad was great at navigating with the map.

There was an Occupy Wall Street protest planned at Philadelphia's City Hall, so we left the area using an alternate route. We were on the freeway before long, and realized our left signal light wasn't working, so it was a little uncomfortable until we had it repaired in Pottsville.

We went straight to the Pottsville Historical Society, as it opened at 10:00, and we were warmly welcomed by “Doc Pete” and Tom, who volunteered to help us with our research. They had an amazing array of resources, and Tom helped us by searching through the microfilm for naturalizations. We found 3 of those, some military information, and a few other bits of information which we were not certain were related to our family.

One of the books contained an inscription for the old William Hay's marker in the “Old Cemetery” in Auburn. It was quite interesting, as he was referred to as the Old Scotchman, which made us think there may not have been many Scots in the area.

We were surprised not to find much else about the family, and where they were after 1840 is still a bit of a mystery. I called over to the Presbyterian Church, and Audrey was very pleased to see me – I dashed right over, and she helped me look through their old baptisms, etc., but we came up empty-handed. She said there was a time when the records were not kept all that well, but I have to wonder if they went to church there at all.

We thought of going to the County Archives, but realized there wasn't much else to find there, as the Historical Society had such a rich collection. We exchanged email addresses with Tom and Pete, and offered them a donation, which they very much appreciated. Doc Pete insisted we take some fossils and a chunk of coal from the area, and gave us two pilsner glasses with official certificates. I hope they will keep their eyes open for information about the Hay family in the years to come.

We left Pottsville at about 3:00, and headed for the old cemetery in Auburn. Doc Pete had given us precise directions, which were perfect, as we likely would not have found it without his assistance. We were thrilled to see the old gravestone from the road – it was the first stone we spotted, and it was in pretty good shape, considering how long it had been there. There were no other Hays in the cemetery, but we were happy to have tracked down old William.

Our trip home was smooth sailing, as we felt pleased to have found some new information, and the traffic wasn't too bad heading back into Philadelphia. We returned the car and went back to the room to change before finding a nice fresh-food place to eat a light dinner.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Free Public Library & back to the City Archives & the Historical Society

We've been walking a lot, so today we decided to take a taxi to the library, as it would be a very long hike. It's quite an ornate building, similar in some ways to the Alberta Legislature Building, with a wide staircase and decorated pillars & high central ceiling. On the second floor, we found the Map room, and beside that, the Microfilm room. Groan!

The good news was that the staff were fabulous!! They went out of their way to help us with newspapers and maps, and the microfilm readers were much better than those we had found anywhere else. They had a reader that was connected to a computer, so I could scan images and save them to a flash drive, which was great. I found obituaries for Haldane Hay and James MacHarg, but in my excitement to save them, I forgot to note the name and date of the newspaper I was looking at. After lunch, I trudged back upstairs to find them again, and made paper copies and noted the sources. A lesson for me!!

I was excited to hand Dad a reel which I knew would contain Lily Hay & John Smith's marriage announcement, and we did find it, but it didn't contain any new information. We hoped it would say more about their parents or where they all lived, but were were disappointed. C'est la vie!

Once we were done there, I asked Dad to come back to the City Archives with me, as I had forgotten to check a couple of Lockerbie names while we were there. We zipped over, and spent about an hour the,re searching, but came up with nothing. Oh well -- at least I had no regrets, as I had been feeling badly about forgetting to check the first time.

When we were done there, it was about 3:30, so we took a taxi to the Historical Society, and Dad left me to work there. He'd had enough for one day, so went back to the hotel for a rest. I had a list in hand, and tackled what I could. I started out with a few books about Schuylkill County and Pottsville, but came up with nothing. Then I requested what I thought were old records from the old Presbyterian church in Frankford, but was sent to the microfilm room. Oh my goodness, at this point I had been staring at microfilm for hours, and couldn't imagine I'd find much, but it was my only hope.

First reel out of the box, and I found John Smith Jr. within a few minutes. We knew his month and year of birth, but had not found his birth record until now. So we now have his birth and baptism - yay!! A further search did not show anything for his younger siblings, so the family must have moved soon afterward. This reel also had John Smith & Lilly Hay's marriage, which Mandy Johnson had found a couple of years ago. Nice to see it for myself, though, and to realize it was the same source. I wished we had that nice reader/scanner in order to save this source, but at least we have a photocopy of it.

I packed up at this point and nearly ran back to the hotel to show Dad my newest little bit of information. We were both pretty tired, so didn't feel much like walking too far, and we went to a little Mediterranean/Italian place about a block away for dinner. They had great food, and we sat out at a table on the sidewalk and enjoyed watching some of the locals.

All in all, not a bad day, but a little short of my expectations. Thursday will be better, I hope, as we have reserved a car, and will be driving to Pottsville to check out the Hay family.

Presbyterian Archives & the Historical Society

Day two we walked about a mile to the Presbyterian Archives. A nice building, and we thought there would be some good potential to find more information about the Smith family in the Frankford area of Philadelphia. Sadly, none. The staff were quite helpful, and there is a nice place to work there, but the records we were looking for were nowhere to be found.

We walked back to our hotel, and stopped for lunch and coffee along the way to re-energize and to sort out our priorities. After freshening up, we tried the Historical society. They have an amazing collection of records, and we didn't realize we could have accessed an online tool beforehand to check out what they have available. We settled in at a table with great lighting, and off we went to see what we could find.

There were many stacks/shelves of family histories that had already been published, and also many county and church history books. Beyond that, there were countless records, ranging from letters to scrapbooks, that a person could request and read in a "restricted reading area" that was supervised. I found a letter from someone who had written to the society in the 1950's, requesting some information about the Hay family, but that was about it. The staff were very friendly and helpful, and each had a unique way of being able to help. They obviously enjoy their jobs, and make a good effort to assist.

We were pretty tired after a day of nearly no results, so off we went to re-assess our plan of action for Wednesday and beyond.  Dad suggested we find a good seafood restaurant, so off we went to Devon's, which was a good place to end the day!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Philadelphia City Archives

First day in Philly was spent at the City Archives, pretty much from opening to closing time. After being warned by local genealogists that it was a less than friendly place to work, we were pleasantly surprised to receive great service. We found a few birth records and some death records, and were sometimes allowed to look at the actual Birth Indexes and Birth Registers, as the microfilm was very difficult to read. We were told that in the very near future, people will not be allowed to handle these books, as they are very old and fragile. Perhaps the day will come when someone will take the time to scan these old books, and have them available as pdf's instead of microfilm.

For lunch we went to check out the "food trucks" about a block away, in the university area, and that was a perfect choice for a break. Lunch for 2 was only about $7.50!

Today we're off to the Presbyterian Church Archives ... hoping to find a few new leads!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Philadelphia, Here We Come!

After months of planning and doing as much research as possible ahead of time, we leave today for a week in Pennsylvania to research the Smith, Hay, MacHarg, Lockerbie, and Sundell families. Ultimately, we hope to find out more about John Smith, as he has remained so elusive over the many years we have researched our roots.

We have contacted a few professionals ahead of time, and have set out a plan of action for each day this week. We will no doubt find a few new bits of information, as there is much to find in Philadelphia and the surrounding area.

Stay tuned for our progress!