The Strangest Index You Ever Saw

Or at least the strangest index I ever saw. I suppose there must be a good reason for it, but I can’t think of one!

Following a link on the Dauphin County PAGenWeb page today, I ended up at the county’s Public Access website, which included PDF files of an index to county court records of some type, organized into volumes by surname initial. I didn’t think there’d be much to find there, but it appeared to be a very comprehensive index–1785-1973–and long and complete indexes like that are so rare on the web, that I decided to check it out.

Well, early on in my research I’d been introduced to the odd county records method of indexing by initials instead of by surname and then first name, but when I read this index I have to say I was seriously baffled. Here is a transcription of their explanation on the first page:

To Locate Names in Index

Determine first key-letter following initial letter in Family Name. Find section number in the column headed by said key-letter, opposite given name initial desired. Names not containing a key-letter will be located under “Misc.” Corporations, etc., will be located under the first key-letter following the initial letter in the first word of the name, or if no key-letter, under “Misc.” Always omit the article “The.”

I actually had to go over this about a dozen times before I figured out what they meant. In case you missed it too, here is what they are trying to say:

There are five key-letters: l, m, n, r and t. To find someone in an index, first go of course to the volume with the proper surname initial. Let’s say you’re looking for the surname Smith. In the S volume, you must then locate the first key-letter which appears in the surname. For your Smith ancestor it would therefore be m. There is a table on the first page of the volume, under the explanation, with columns labeled with the key-letters. Go to the “m” column, then find the cell which matches up with the first letter of your ancestor’s first name. This cell will list the section number. (Some initials are grouped, for example Herbert Smith and Ira Smith will be in the same section number.) However, if your ancestor’s surname was Davis for example, you will notice there are no key-letters so you must go to the “Misc.” column. In the PDF format they have online, you don’t need to bother with the section numbers, but you do need to follow the key-letter system by going to the bookmark list which (in my version of Acrobat) is at the left of the page, selecting the key-letter, and then the first name initial.

According to the cover image, somebody patented this l-m-n-r-t system. Well, good for them, but, but, um…why do we need it? I’ve never seen it before, and neither has my mom–and she has been a reader of just about everything that can be read for the past half century. If anybody knows the reason behind this system, feel free to let me know, and share your thoughts. Have you used this type of index before, and what do you think of it?

The “Farmer”

[This article is written for the 54th Carnival of Genealogy, which is to be posted at What’s Past is Prologue.]

The topic for this edition of Carnival of Genealogy is: “The Family Language…Does your family use words and phrases that no one else knows or understands? Where did they come from? Did you ever try to explain your ‘family language’ to outsiders? Tell a story about your family-coined words, phrases, or nicknames.”

Well, at first this didn’t seem to have much relevance to my own historical research, but that thing about the nicknames caught my attention. Family-coined words and phrases may not apply, but unusual nicknames–that certainly does apply!

Monroe Kulp (1858-1911), the prominent Shamokin, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania native foremost in my research, was frequently known by the nickname of “Farmer.” You’ll notice it just about anywhere in reference to him–recent local history books, even newspaper articles from his own time. However, he had no direct connection to farming, and thus the source of the nickname has always been a bit of a mystery.

Continue reading

A possible first photo

I’ve been kind of busy lately so I haven’t been writing as faithfully in this blog, but the evening before last I received a very exciting email which may have provided the first photograph I have found yet–of one of the most important persons in my research.

On August 11, I wrote to the curator of the Historical Society of Dauphin County, asking about a very extensive photo collection they have. Their website says it contains over 1 million images, so I thought I had a fair shot at finding some relevant portraits. For a start, I asked if they had anything about Sarah McConnell or her husband William C. Detweiler; including a few dates and places with my query for clarification.

August 12, evening, I did a final check of my inbox before heading to bed. For the past couple of days it seemed like both my email accounts had been really dead, no messages from anybody, no spam even! 😦 So I didn’t expect to find much. But, to my delight, there was a response from the curator at the Dauphin County Historical Society. The curator wrote:

Hi Val. I searched our photo collection and came up with nothing for Sarah McConnell. The only Detweiler photos that turned up was Philip Detweiler and a group picture that includes a William C. Detweiler dated 4/15/1871. Pictured seated left to right: William A. Kelker, William Calder, Charles C. Lombaert, standing in rear William C. Detweiler. Not sure if he is Champlin Detweiler. I’ve attached a low resolution preview of these images.

In 1871 Detweiler would have been about 15 years old. I haven’t verified if it’s actually him or not, but I would say it is, since it’s a rather uncommon name and there isn’t anyone else in the 1870 census for Dauphin County listed by that name. The man in the photo identified as Detweiler does seem to have been relatively young, although perhaps not as young as 15, but that’s just my impression. Could the date of 1871 be incorrect, perhaps?

In any case, it’s an amazing portrait. Though young, he had a very distinguished appearance, and must have been quite handsome. The photo has an informal and familiar air; the three men, Kelker, Calder and Lombaert, are seated languidly in the foreground, while Detweiler, slender and fair of countenance, stands behind them, his arm resting on Calder’s shoulder. While it’s clear they were probably friends, the Calder connection is especially interesting as Sarah McConnell’s brother, William McConnell’s, middle name was Calder. There were actually about three different William Calders in Dauphin County, according to maley.net’s Dauphin County biographical transcriptions. The one in this photo appears to be much older than his companions, 40-50 years old I would say, so he may be the William Calder listed in the transcription as having been born in 1821, and died in 1880 (possibly son of William Calder born 1788). I suspect that the Detweiler family had known the McConnells for a long time, so if William Calder was a good friend of the Detweiler family, he may also have known the McConnells, hence the namesake.

There are several Kelker families listed in the transcriptions, but no mention of a William. Also nothing on Lombaert, although in the photo he appeared to have been about the same age as Detweiler, probably in his teens.

This is truly a major find in my research. Originally, though, I didn’t think it was especially unusual that this collection of 1 million images included what I was looking for, but recently as I went over the email again (was too excited the first time to read everything!), I noticed that the curator had said there were only two Detweiler surname photos. (Never heard of Philip.) Well, I know that this family wasn’t the only one by that name in Harrisburg–there was also another lawyer by the name of Meade D. Detweiler, who was probably a relation although I don’t have any proof of a connection. He was, in fact, more prominent than the John S. Detweiler family, and I would have thought that in just about any Dauphin County collection there would be more information on him than William C., yet in a collection of a million photos, one of only two photographs with that surname just happened to be what I was looking for. Now that is luck.

Also today, I received an email from the genealogist at Trinity Episcopal. She couldn’t find much in the church records database, but she did some additional searching and came up with some interesting info. She has access to a local directory from 1900-1903 (wherever did she get that? I must know! 🙂 ), and there are some addresses listed I might want to check out. Also mention of MHK being affiliated with some company by the name of Montando Water Co. Interesting, never heard of it. She also says that Chester Kulp, his brother, who was an assistant postmaster, had children enrolled in the Washington School (built 1890, on Sunbury Street). Will have to ask about that.

The submission deadline for the next Carnival of Genealogy is tomorrow, and I have got to get to work on writing the article I will submit. I kept putting it off, as I thought I had plenty of time–and now all of a sudden it’s the 14th. Time flies!

John S. Detweiler’s Grave

Now mind you, I’ve been to the cemetery site, Find A Grave, before. Long, long ago I paid my first visit to its pages, only to leave eventually without finding a thing, and coming to the conclusion that they didn’t have many records at all.

But this was probably just because their site structure, navigation and search system needs to be taken apart and rebuilt from the ground up to work right–because they really do have a lot of records. Many grave listings also include photos. And when I took the time this afternoon to bushwhack my way around the quite contrary search engines, I found just that!

In the database for the Harrisburg Cemetery (not to be confused with East Harrisburg Cemetery, which I think is more recent), I found two burials with the surname Detweiler. The first was a Henry Detweiler, whose name I didn’t recognize–and the second was John S. Detweiler, who was the father of William Champlin Detweiler, first husband of Sarah W. Kulp.

The transcription indicates his birthdate was 1828, but this could be a reading error; Detweiler's biography from the Commemorative Biographical Encyclopedia lists his birthdate as 1829.

The transcription lists his birthdate as 1828, but this may be due to the illegibility of the headstone; Detweiler's biography from the Commemorative Biographical Encyclopedia indicates his birthdate was 1829.

In the East Harrisburg Cemetery, there are also listings for David and Susanna Detweiler–can’t be sure, as I don’t know much about them, but I think these were the parents of John S. Detweiler. However, the same photo was included for both listings and it appears to be of a monument with surname Mumma, so I don’t know exactly why that is. The page for Susanna Detweiler is here; John S. Detweiler here.

No info on William C., I’m afraid. But many thanks to Find A Grave–they really have an excellent database! They just need to work on that site navigation. 🙂

In other news…today I paid a visit to Trinity Episcopal Church, where I met the rector and a very helpful genealogist, on my quest for historical records. They both seemed generally familiar with the Kulp family history, but said although they have records, they are mostly vital statistics–baptisms, marriages, etc. However, the genealogist, whose name I’m afraid I missed, has apparently transcribed some of these records and told me she has a computer database up to the 1920’s. I gave her my email address and she said she would do some searching. Hopefully, this may turn up some leads.