Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Salute to Sommer Revolutionary Pats

Of the three Sommer brothers who hailed from Freistett, Georg, John, and Martin, here is what I know of each brother during Revolutionary times:
  • Georg Sommer, the elder, lived in Oxford, NJ and has long been credited as being the Ensign in Capt. Mackey's company (First Regiment, Sussex). I never questioned this until I realized our understanding of Georg's obituary had been incorrect (click here for more info), and that Georg had suffered from cataracts for 11 years at the end of his life, leaving him blind. This would mean in 1776, he was 54 years old and having sight problems. For this reason, I tend to think that the man from Oxford who served as the Ensign for the New Jersey militia in 1777 was instead the son, George Summers, 1747-1825, who later moved to Bucks, PA.
    • However, if indeed George, the younger, served for New Jersey, maybe it was not he who served as a drummer in the 6th PA Regiment? This article about the fife, drum, and bugle during the Revolution is interesting. What's notable for our discussion is that if drummers were either boys or old men, George, the younger, was neither in 1777 - he was 30 years old. And, we must remember to consider there were likely other men of the name George Summers in Pennsylvania during the Revolution....
  • John Sommer of Moreland did not serve in the military, that we know of, but we do now know two related things about his involvement in the Revolution:
    • John buried his deeds when the British took over Philadelphia, and when he later dug them up, they were so damaged, he had to address the PA Assembly to have his lands recognized again. 
    • John's only surviving son, Jacob, an Ensign in the PA militia, was taken prisoner and held on Long Island for four years; Jacob would later become a PA State Senator. 
  • I have not yet found any indication that Martin Sommer served in the Revolution, and his sons were too young at that time to have served in the military; research is ongoing. 
There's good news and bad news here.

The bad news is that the various approved DAR/SAR applications that claim either George Summers, 1722-1785, or George Summers, 1747-1825, as Revolutionary ancestors are probably incorrect (see my article here) because:
  1. George Summers Sr. was older and going blind at the time of the Revolution - so he likely never served in any military unit, though this point could still use more study and discussion. 
  2. George Sr.'s son, George Jr., had only one son, John, who died in 1791 - so even though we know that George Jr. did serve militarily, we also know he did not have descendants to survive him. 
The good news, in my opinion, is that it's not our association to Revolutionary Patriots that really matters. I consider all these Sommer ancestors Patriots because one and all, women and children included, they participated in a collective desire for freedom which changed history, and continues to influence some of our deepest-felt values today. So thank you to all veterans of military service and their families for embodying the struggle of so many to lead better lives. On Veteran's Day and every day, thank you. 

I dedicate this post to the memory of my father, Major Richard C. Schaefer, USAF, 1933-2009. He did love history.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Philly Sommers

One of the early themes of my Sommer research was to differentiate Sommer families in early PHL, which has lead to the identification of two family groups: the Freistett clan, arriving 1752, and the Hoch-Weisel (H-W) clan arriving 1754. So now all one has to do is go through subsequent records coming foreward from that point, and apply the records we have to each clan. Oh my, where DO I get these ideas?

So to make it "simple," I decided to look ONLY for people (ok, men) with the name George and Martin. Why? Because I would like to know more about the line of Johann Martin Sommer, 1729-1799, the one line from the Freistett immigrants who we know the least about. This Martin Sommer had two sons born in PHL, George and Martin, who apparently survived to adulthood. So, theoretically, I should be able to sit down and find those of the next generation in censuses and other record groups.

With that in mind, I went about creating tables that combine all the characters named George or Martin from both the Freistett and H-W clans, adding a couple more tables to associate ages and locations. The result? It looks to me like a great big mess.

Let's just take one example. To my knowing, of the two Sommer clans, there would be a total of three Martin Summers in the 1800 PHL area who were of the age to be enumerated. But I count four Martin's enumerated, so ????. As for occupations, there was a Martin and a George who were both blacksmiths, George a carpenter, one or more Martin and George farmers, and of course, the Martin who worked at the U.S. Mint. It should be easy to pick out which George's and which Martin's belong to which Sommer clan, but no, a thousand times Nein. Why am I surprised?

At this point, I have the following observations:

Observation one: I believe the data that both Freistett and H-W family researchers have been working with could well be incomplete, and by that I mean there could well have been some additional Sommer/Summers children, sons particularly, who were born along the way to these families for whom no baptism record has been found. I think this problem has impacted the genealogy efforts of researchers of both Freistett and H-W clans. Nevertheless, there is no reason to think, especially during the time period in question, that the list of family members for each clan is necessarily complete.

Observation two: Moreover, there is no reason at all to think that other people with the Sommer surname, i.e., those NOT from Freistett or H-W, could not have arrived from other places and settled in the PHL area. William Penn's offers for land were likely appealing to many, and one didn't have to be a German getting off the boat to apply.

Observation three: It's time to share the collective Sommer/Summers genealogy brain. It doesn't matter whether your roots are with the Freistett clan or the H-W clan, or whether you're unsure or don't know. If you are looking for the Sommer/Summers name in PHL between 1750 and 1830, you have a good reason to participate in this discussion. If you have the time and interest in helping to untangle Sommer family groups, I'll be happy to share research I've done to this point, and coordinate the sharing of whatever additional observations bubble to the top of all our Sommer searching.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

William Summers of Conshohocken

Ever heard of this guy? Born 1833, died 1921, notable all around Montgomery County, PA for his dedication to Summers genealogy? He was a member and librarian for the Montgomery County Historical Society. He subscribed with the Lewis publishing company and ended up having his genealogy published in three local history books. He personally replaced the falling-down grave of Philip Summers at St. John's Lutheran Churchyard, and donated a memorial plaque for George Summers to the Upper Dublin Lutheran Church. He is the guy who inspired A history of George Summers of Douglass and Lower Dublin townships, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania by G. Byron Summers, and probably inspired the Summers Family Association that used to hold reunions in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. (I've only heard bits about this latter part from very old message board posts, but have not been able to find any further information about this group, or who organized it, and when.) There's probably even more to be said about this William Summers that I still have no idea about. My gosh, where have I been?

And yet.....

I've just spent an afternoon writing a genealogical proof that aims to correct William Summers' published genealogy: click here. In essence, William had most of his ancestry right, especially the generations closest in time to himself. But he got the original immigrant to his line wrong: William thought his progenitor was "my" Georg Sommer 1722-1785 of Freistett who arrived in PHL in 1752, when evidence exists to show the progenitor of William's line was Hermann Sommer 1699-1767 of Hoch-Weisel who arrived in 1754. For reasons I don't really understand, Hermann Sommer, who had five sons, at least two of whom served in the Revolution, was all but forgotten in name even though the accomplishments of his descendants were well-remembered. And on the other hand, while the name of Georg Sommer was extolled as being the progenitor of Hermann's five sons, in reality, Georg had moved to New Jersey where he raised his family of two sons (one named George, who also served in the Revolution and later died in Warrington, PA) and five daughters. By the 1830s, the majority of Georg's descendants were on their way west.

What it comes down to lately is me arriving at different conclusions from what has been previously published (see my growing list of misTaken sources), and why is that? It's this thing called the internet, I suppose. Somebody like William Summers probably could have chased the Hoch-Weisel clan back several more generations if he had electronics. He could have had instant access to lots of other family trees and other people researching the same family and satellite maps and spreadsheets and evernote and google and webinars and omg, RootsTech. Maybe he even would have become certified and published in genealogical journals, just to be sure his genealogy was really, truly, officially official. But I would tell William to never mind that stuff. All this genea-hubbub is really just about remembering connections and the stories they create. Our job, to the best of our knowing, is to overcome forgetting, which comes much, much too easily and much, much too soon.

With that said, I think I'm going to adopt William Summers, even though he is not a blood relative of my Freistett Sommer family. I'm going to remember him as well as his example to commemorate those who came before. Sadly though, I see only a partial entry for William Summers and his family on findagrave, Montgomery Cemetery, Norristown, PA, which implies his gravestone is in some way damaged. Seems like a situation that could rightly be corrected....

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

1765 Ernest Mange Deed

This blog continues to be the source of unexpected but delightful contact with other researchers. Last week I heard from a Sommer/Summers researcher in Vermont. This person, who has access to a Philadelphia database of deeds (yes, I will be subscribing to that myself sooner than later), decided spontaneously, in the true genealogy spirit, to look up the surname Mange, and then to email the resulting deeds to me!

In a nutshell, we now have a 1765 deed from John Penn to Ernest Mange of the Northern Liberties, "German," who paid around 88 pounds for just under 5 acres in, I believe, the Northern Liberties. If anybody can tell me what 88 pounds would be worth in today's dollars, I'd love to know, but meanwhile, I tend to think it was alot of money. Where did Ernest get that kind of money? The one thing I can think of is that his first wife, Catharina Klockner, was a widow who had previously been married to Georg Ernst, who had been a Philadelphia tavern-keeper. Given that Ernest later applied for a tavern license in New Jersey (1776), citing his experience running a tavern in Philadelphia, perhaps we can assume that the tavern-keeping business was lucrative for him.

We've also discovered a subsequent deed written in 1771 from Ernest Mange and Mary his wife of the Northern Liberties to William Will of the same place and recorded in 1774. The details of this one will have to wait until a future snow day when I have more time and, hopefully, patience to attempt transcription of a hard-to-read document.

And finally, there is also, apparently, a 1770s deed from Ernest Mange to John Mange, who was Ernest's brother. That one would be interesting to find - still looking on that one.

So wow. In 1765, our Ernest Mange was 33 years old, had been in America just over 10 years, and was married to a widow who had children from her previous marriage. It would be less than a year later when his wife would die weeks after childbirth, and Ernest would shortly thereafter marry a 17-year-old young woman named Maria Magdalena Sommer.  And so would begin a new family whose descendant would find herself writing this blog.

Thank you many times over for the generosity of those who share insights and resources associated with discovering and telling these kinds of stories. And may somebody else out there find this story, in turn, of some personal use.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Restoration of the Spirit

I've slowly been learning to expect the unexpected on my research trips, and here is my favorite story from genealogy travels this year.

While visiting Michigan in August, I made an unplanned detour to visit the Mt. Avon Cemetery in Rochester, MI and find the grave of one of my favorite subjects of interest these days, namely Jacob Summers, 1787-1864. We already have pictures of the Summers obelisk, but I always like to look around the area for clues that can't be seen from an internet photo.

So I scoped out ahead of time where to find the oldest graves in the cemetery, but much to my surprise, a number of cars and people were there when I arrived. I was puzzled because I thought it unlikely that somebody recently deceased was being buried in the oldest section of the cemetery. And besides, the people mulling around the graves were not exactly dressed for a funeral. So what was going on?

It took my brain awhile to register what I was witnessing:  gravestone restoration in progress. Broken stones were being plastered back together, and stones that have been blackened with years of lichen and soot were being cleaned, and I mean whitened! I was flabbergasted.

I immediately went to find our Jacob Summers to see if his obelisk had been done, but there it stood, rather darkened and leaning to one side. I found the person in charge to ask if Jacob's obelisk was in the queue to be cleaned, but he wasn't sure because the list of graves to be restored came from the city clerk. Well, it took me about 30 minutes to find a computer and WIFI to send a note to the city clerk to ask about Jacob's obelisk, and by the end of the day, I had confirmation that Jacob's obelisk was indeed to be included in the effort.  Yeah!

So it has taken awhile to get the post-restoration photos, but it's all been worth waiting for. I wish to bestow giant kudos upon Dave Carter at Carter's Cemetery Preservation, Lee Ann O'Connor, city clerk for the City of Rochester, and the citizens of the Rochester community. What a wonderful service has been paid to the past, present, and future to preserve the memory of our Michigan pioneers and settlers in such a way. We can all be proud of such efforts to honor those who came before when turning ourselves to look ahead.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Somerton Story

The research on Jacob Sommer of Philadelphia really picked up this year, especially after a member of the Northeast Philadelphia History Network took an interest in my blog late last year. Based on subsequent correspondence as well as a visit to the area this summer (with a personal tour of Somerton given by my NEPHN history guide, thank you very much), the story that has emerged about Jacob Sommer has, I think, surprised us all. I'm happy to say that the highlights of this collaborative research now appear on wikipedia - check it out here.

In many ways, this story is still evolving, still being discovered, so expect to see updates, which is the glory of the wikipedia model. Meanwhile, the facts we know now give us a wonderful picture of this branch of our Sommer family, who lead such extraordinary lives during a time when our country was just being born. I know I'm supposed to be objective about this work, but sometimes I can't be. I find myself immensely proud of all our Sommer ancestors, and welcome this new story into the rich legacy left for both our family and our country.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Judging History

For the record, we now have at least three, and possibly four, in the Sommer family who have been identified as judges:

  • Jacob Sommer of Philadelphia, 1758-1827
  • John Summers of New Jersey, 1759-1827
  • Jacob Summers of Michigan, 1787-1864

To be clear, it is nearly certain that none of these men had any formal education, and most certainly they were not trained lawyers, though maybe they should have been since all three were involved in legal cases. But lay judges were common in England, and for that matter, also in Germany, and thus the practice followed to colonial America and then west with the pioneers. In fact, 30 states today still retain a lay-judge system, including Colorado. Here is a snippet from a 2011 Denver Post article about lay judges:
Clifford Mays, who will retire from the Cheyenne County bench in November, is also a rancher. None of the three people nominated to fill his vacancy is a lawyer: One is a school superintendent, one works for a local historical society, and one is a wheat farmer.
I vote for the one who works for the historical society :-)