An Abandoned School, 2 Cameras and a Determined Researcher

It was another cold, crisp and overcast October afternoon here in Shamokin, and on October 24 this historical researcher spent it onsite and in the field. But not, as you might expect, at the modern and comfortable local library; or even the dusty shelves of the Sunbury courthouse. Instead, the past came closer than that on Friday in a bit of good old-fashioned exploring–through the (somewhat eerie) twists and turns of a century-old local landmark.

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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!

Blog remodeling & off for the courthouse

I was up at 5 am this morning, even though I had the alarm set for 6:30. I’m rarely up this early, but soon I’ll be heading out to the county courthouse in Sunbury. My task list includes:

  • Try to find MHK’s will. (I know there had to have been one, and if there was, it is on file. And I must find it.)
  • See if the courthouse has any additional probate records, other than just the will books. Especially in the case of Darlington Kulp’s estate, there should be much more paperwork than a three-page will/administration.
  • Look up other wills, including those of: Clayton, Chester, Gilbert and Ella Kulp. (Howard moved to Lewistown, Mifflin County; unfortunately I have no access to those records at the moment.)

In other words, today will be spent in the Register of Wills office, and any basement rooms which may house additional records. I know the deed books are down there. And what a fascinating place the basement is! Long corridor, locked doors, stone walls, low ceilings, old books. Exciting!

I will try to get photos of the town and scenery, but my digital camera is low on batteries and my cell phone needs to be “topped up.” (Paid.) It’s 25 cents for every photo you email from the cell phone, so I won’t be able to send too many.

I have given the blog a new look. I am thinking of changing the header image, too, but I’ll need to work on that sometime. I also plan to change some of the pages around, and add new content. Hope this looks better!

And, after reading Ruth Stephens’ blog, Bluebonnet Country Genealogy, the other day, I followed her example and went and got myself a custom signature for my posts from MyLiveSignature.com. Nice site, might great for designing logos too, if you can use the white background.

Updates & miscellaneous

Well, I did call the author of the article mentioned in my last entry, but he said it would be better if we talked in person (suggested the library), and I informed him that it wouldn’t be immediately possible, car trouble, but I am going to call again soon as I am back on the road earlier than expected!

I had a few searching tasks in mind at the cemetery today, so I headed over there looking for various burials in block 23, didn’t find anything; but I did take a photo of the view from the rear of the cemetery, it is atop the hill and you can see a great deal of the town from there. Pardon the photo quality–it was my camera phone and I couldn’t keep it still, the height was rather dizzying I have to say! 🙂

Looking north, on the steps near Block 23 (rear of cemetery)

Looking north, on the steps near Block 23 (rear of cemetery)

The courthouse trip I mentioned earlier I now have scheduled for the end of the month. However, I still do not trust the car for long trips so I have arranged to have a friend drive me there. He is often very busy with work, etc., so something may come up then, but so far next week is what we have planned.

More news: Recently I emailed a church by the name of Christ Lutheran in–where do you suppose?–Barto. This town, in Berks County in the area of Washington Township and Bally (formerly Goshenhoppen in the 18th C or thereabouts), was the home of Darlington R. Kulp around the 1850’s and 60’s. Census records say it was actually Washington Township, but an 1876 map indicates that Barto was part of the township, so in other words we’re talking about the same general area. It is, by the way, on the border with Montgomery County and just a few miles north of Pottstown in that county, where Darlington was raised. Directly across the border is Niantic, where his parents were buried. His eldest son, Monroe Henry, was born in Barto, October 23, 1858.

In fact, several of Darlington’s children were born in the Washington Township area, excepting Chester Grant who was born in Schultzville, Chester County; Howard, Gilbert, and the twins (who, sadly, died in infancy in 1869), who were all born in Shamokin. I’ve never been able to find much information on the Berks County connection, so when I heard about the Christ Lutheran Church located so near to where they lived, I immediately decided to find out how long ago it had been founded. Of course, D.R. Kulp’s short biographies from Bell’s and Floyd’s indicate that he belonged to the German Reformed Church before he moved to Shamokin, but then, I figured that if it had existed back then and was so nearby, they probably wouldn’t have minded. It was a very rural area and in those days people often had to wait for a traveling priest to come by, so if there was even a Lutheran church anywhere in the area, I highly believe they would have attended there. (And perhaps the bios are wrong.)

So, I found the email address for Christ Lutheran Church on their webpage, located here, and sent them a message asking when the church was founded. Someone by the name of Melissa replied and said that it had actually been founded in 1836, but she didn’t think they had any records from the 1850’s to the 1860’s, just the later years of the 19th century and afterward. However, she said that if she ever found out anything about it, or talked to anyone who might remember what became of them, she would let me know.

So the question is, was the church located in Barto at that time? Or was it originally located elsewhere? The Berks County PAGenWeb and PAGenWeb Archives pages have comprehensive lists of Berks County churches, but I did not see anything about the Christ Lutheran Church there. Confusing.

So, we’ll see what develops in the next couple of days. I hope the Sunbury trip will turn out well; but I think I am sure to find something there. I have a long, detailed, (and now organized!) list made up, and I am fairly confident at least some of the tasks will yield useful information.

Oh, and there’s the ILL deliveries today. Am still waiting for the Halifax Bicentennial.

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Update 09/02/08: Schultzville, Chester County? Oh, please. Turns out it was Berks County, and yes, in the Washington Township area. Don’t trust those obituaries!

Time to swat self again

Today, after having been busy for several days, mostly because of the holiday, I set out for the library again. (No ILL deliveries yet, I’m afraid.) I didn’t have much to do, but I thought I’d search out a death record for someone or other. However, the dates I was looking for weren’t there, so I instead took out the reel of microfilm for wills from the early 1900’s. I didn’t expect to find much, as my previous experience with the wills there had been that they are all administrations (no actual information about what was bequeathed to whom, just a basic overview written after the estate was settled). However, having nothing better to do, I decided to look for the administration for the estate of Elizabeth Gilbert Kulp, mother of Monroe H.; she died in 1902.

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What to say

Subject line cannot express my complete, amazed, disbelieving joy…I have just talked with the great-granddaughter of Chester Grant Kulp. Yes, she has documents, photos…and the family Bible. She says she has done family research before, and will be happy to copy some files for me.

This is truly, indescribably amazing. In fact, these will be the first manuscripts I have ever seen. Literal manuscripts. I wonder how old the family Bible is; I didn’t have a chance to ask, I was so overwhelmed. And who knows what else could be found? This will be my first truly personal look into the family’s past. To me, even the old wills on file at the courthouse were personal, but this is something that will yield incalculable insight and detail that I simply never had before. The family Bible…I am in tears of joy!

I simply don’t know what to say. It’s too heavenly to believe!

Called again

Just called the lady who is a descendant of Chester G. Kulp again; was told she wasn’t home but I should call back around 9:30 tonight. Hopefully, she may know something. Chester is one of the few close relatives of M.H. Kulp whose descendants I’ve been able to trace all the way to someone still living (MHK himself had no children).