Wednesday, March 8, 2017


First of all, isn't indenture a funny word? Indenture means a formal contract between two parties for services, but the French root of the word means to notch or dent. So how does this word Indenture have this meaning?

"Such contracts (especially between master craftsmen and apprentices) were written in full identical versions on a sheet of parchment, which was then cut apart in a zigzag, or "notched" line. Each party took one, and the genuineness of a document of indenture could be proved by laying it beside its counterpart."

The subject of indenture has come to attention lately with my recent study of the PHL tax lists. The earlier tax lists (1767, 1769, and 1774) I've studied spell out the names of indentured servants as taxable assets! Don't ask me how this detail seems to have flown right by me in the past. The most shining example is with my ancestor, Georg Sommer. In both the 1767 and 1769 tax list of Lower Dublin, George Summers was taxed for 4 horses, 4 cows, and 10 sheep. Enough said, moving on. But wait! In the preceding entry we find Mary Ashton, who was taxed for 250 acres, a dwelling, several negros, horses, cows, and sheep, and she was also taxed on 25L for Geo. Summers. How can this be?

Georg Sommer arrived in PHL in 1752, so why was he indentured for so long? Typically, the term of service was 5-7 years, at least that's my understanding. But then I remembered Georg brought his family from Germany - a wife and 2 children (at least). So let's say the term was 5 years x 4 = 20 years that Georg was working off the passage. By 1772 he was a free man, and in 1774 tax lists, there was no George Summers in Lower Dublin any more, but there was one in Northern Liberties-East, which is where John Menge had his inn.  So I'm thinking George might have been with his son-in-law's family until he moved to NJ around 1775. I'm guessing the Sommer and Menge families removed to NJ together, for indeed, in 1776, Ernst Menge (also previously indentured, btw) was applying for a tavern license in Oxford, NJ. Interesting, eh?

All of which really changes my idea of my ancestor, Georg Sommer. I always thought he was well off after working for Mr. Kuckh in Freistett, but maybe not so much. It's hard to imagine how hard Georg worked for 20 years to pay off his family's passage AND to save enough to buy that 400 acres in NJ. At least that is the picture I imagine. As many as 50% to 70% of Germans coming to America in the 1700s came as redemptioners, and certainly several accounts exist telling of poor conditions suffered by them both during and after their voyages. But was indenture always miserable?

I think it may also be true that indenture could be a mutually agreeable form of employment, both for widowed landowners like Mary Ashton and for German newcomers who did't have many resources and didn't know the language. According to one source I found, you could continue to be indentured if you wanted to be. Depending on the contract, maybe it wasn't a bad deal. It appears in Georg Sommer's case, he had a place to live with his family, he could come and go and acquire his own things, like his own livestock for which he was taxed and presumably could pay for, while also working on Mary Ashton's 250 acres. Maybe this was America's first temp employment agency in action?

And finally, let me throw in my observations about the tax math pertaining to indentured servants. Mary Ashton was taxed on 25L for George Summers' service, which I assume was the amount she paid for the contract. The tax she owed was 60% of that contract amount, or 15L, annually! So if the contract was for 5 years, she paid a total of 75L tax on top of the 25L contract for Georg Sommer's services. Nevertheless, I bet she didn't need an instruction booklet to fill out 20 pages of cross-eyed forms before handing over her due to the tax collector.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Northern Liberties - East Meets West

It's been a long while since I posted anything about the Mann family because it really seemed like we had that one "all sewn up." But other recent research has lead me to the Northern Liberties of Philadelphia, and in the back of my brain I remembered that's where the Mange (early American spelling of Mann) brothers lived. So I decided it was as good a time as any to review what I thought I knew. It seems there was a lot that I glossed over back when I started researching the Mann's. Finding them in Germany was pretty darned exciting back then (a whole 6 years ago), and didn't necessitate any understanding of their lives in Philadelphia. But now the time to understand better has come. You can read more about my updated understanding of the Mange family in the Northern Liberties here.

But here's one of the lessons learned in this round of research. The source I've been focused on has been the PHL tax lists, and for the Northern Liberties, residents were divided between Northern Liberties-East and Northern Liberties-West. It doesn't appear that the residents in the two areas were taxed differently, but I think the division was created because the area was so vast that one assessor could not handle it all. So they split the area, but what was the dividing line? I'm sure the answer to that question is written somewhere in plain sight, but I just haven't found it yet. Then to add to the fun, there was the Northern Liberties district, just northeast of the city, and the Northern Liberties township which was also north of the city, but vast in area, and which eventually saw other townships carved out of it. So how does any of this relate to the tax lists?

For the Mange brothers, they all started out in NL-E, at least up through 1769. Then suddenly Ernst was in NL-W while John remained in NL-E. Even after Ernst removed to New Jersey around 1776, he apparently leased his property in NL-W where his lessees were recorded paying the taxes on his property (in those days, the occupier, not the owner paid property tax!). After the war, Ernst finally sold his NL-W property to his brother, John, after which point John was recorded being taxed in both NL-E and NL-W!

The trick to this one was all about Howdy Neighbor! I made a careful list of the neighbors for each Mange property over the years, and one name appeared over and over next to Ernst's NL-W property: James Nevill, a tavernkeeper. The Nevell family persisted at the same location until at last PHL city directories were published. In 1793, Nevill's widow, a tavernkeeper, was recorded at 466 N. 2nd St. That got me wondering about the widow of John Mange, and sure enough she too appeared in the directory as a tavernkeeper at 219 N. 2nd St. That's interesting - same street, maybe a few blocks apart. And yet Ernst's property was always taxed in NL-W and John's in NL-E.

Finally I found a reference that said this:

"...when the first census was conducted, the numbering system was changed again. All of the buildings on the north or east sides of streets were given odd numbers and those on the south and west were given even numbers." 

And there you have it. John Mange had an odd number address on N. 2nd Street, and so was taxed in NL-E. Ernst Mange had an even number address, and so was taxed in NL-W. At least in the Northern Liberties district, it appears that the dividing line was N. 2nd St. My thought is that 2nd St. up to and then along Germantown Ave. constituted the dividing line for the Northern Liberties township, although I'll be honest and say I haven't verified that yet.

Now that I've come to this happy conclusion, I look it all over and wonder a little so what? I mean in the big scheme of things how does the Northern Liberties tax division boundary matter to a genealogist? In my case, and by some fluke, my family was living right on the line, and the fact that they were has helped me to locate them with some degree of accuracy. And frankly, what might matter more is how much I've learned about the history of the Northern Liberties in the last two weeks. I can still be curious, I can still expand my understanding, and I can still enjoy a better and more complete picture of my ancestors' lives.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Summers Feud

It's been a relatively quiet year for my Summers research, but I did receive one notable contact from a researcher in Ontario, Canada who is a descendant of William Loder of Sussex, New Jersey, the same William Loder whose estate was associated with a major New Jersey court case against John Summers, Esq. and his sons. This researcher has located some letters in Canadian archives that were written from John Kinney Jr. in New Jersey, who was an executor of the William Loder estate there, to Loder descendants who had relocated to Canada but who still had an interest in the New Jersey case against the Summers. Kinney was writing to the Loder relations to explain the long delays in getting the case settled. In fact, it appears that even after the case was decided (against the Summers), payment to the Loder descendants for debts owed was not forthcoming by the stubborn Summers. William Loder died in 1817, and according to the Canadian researcher, the Canadian Loder descendants did not receive final settlement on the New Jersey property in question until 1855! That's a long time.

It's hard to imagine what might have caused this situation which almost seems to have escalated from a property dispute to a feud. Did it have to do with bad feelings between American and Loyalist allegiances? Or was it really a case of fraud and swindle on the part of the Summers? It's hard to understand given that John Summers Esq. had himself been serving in the New Jersey judicial system. What we do know is that the oldest son of John Esq. died in 1814, shortly after the War of 1812. Another son died in 1825 just before John Esq. himself died in 1827 in the middle of all the legal proceedings. Then a third son, William, died suddenly in 1832 from a lightning strike. The remaining two Summers sons, John and Jacob, packed up nearly all the remaining Summers families and migrated to Michigan by the mid-1830s leaving behind in New Jersey this unresolved Loder case and no good will.

But the good news is that the reasons that fuel conflict often melt away with time. While in SLC recently, I was able to locate the 1818 Sussex deed that started the Loder-Summers dispute, and we were amazed to find a map drawn at the end of the deed, which shows the house of Judge Summers and the Loder land surrounding it. How cool is that? In locating a few other Loder deeds, we were further able to establish the names of the previous Loder generation, which had previously been unknown to our Canadian researcher. Yeah! I love genealogy, working with other researchers, and making peace in time for Xmas.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Matthias Sommer of Moncton, New Brunswick?

As we know, I've recently been looking at the possibility of other Freistett Sommer relations having come to America, in particular, the oldest brother of our family group, Matthias Sommer. I've been going over my previous studies of men named Matthias, and so many of the same questions still remain.

But given that the names of Matthias and Christina appear as sponsors on the first-born child in America to my ancestor Georg Sommer, I started looking again at that story. A number of people have done some wonderful research on the subject of Matthias Sommer and wife Christina who went from Philadelphia to Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada in 1766. Is it possible that the Matthias Sommer who went to Canada was the oldest brother from my Freistett family group?

Well, I say a definite maybe!  A couple of clues have surfaced which I would love to discuss with other interested researchers. Feel free to contact me for more discussion.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Jacob Sommer - A Footnote

Since this blog is meant to record not only discoveries, but also lessons learned, let me share with you a real head slap: Whenever I find a source mentioning my ancestor, LOOK FOR THE FINE PRINT!

When I previously recorded in my blog the sources where I had found mention of Jacob Sommer who served as a judge in PHL, I was operating under the assumption that the occupation of judge was Jacob's main lot in life. Now we know that Jacob was a judge toward the end of his life, but before that, he was many other things. Piecing all that together has been rather painstaking, I'll admit.

And then I stumbled upon a source I had missed previously. Here is the citation:

Mitchell, James T., “The District Court of the City and County of Philadelphia, An Address Delivered at the Final Adjournment of the Court, Jan. 4, 1875”, Report of the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Pennsylvania Bar Association held at Wilkes-Barre, PA, July 6 and 7, 1899; pp. 273-284. Mitchell was one of the judges of the Philadelphia district court, and the address was reprinted with his permission and with some additional notes by him.

On page 283 of this new source begins a description of Jacob Sommer that can be found, almost verbatim, in some of the other sources I have mentioned. It's entirely possible that I saw this source 'in passing' during various searches, but I saw only the snippet that matched text I knew had been used in other sources. But this time, thankfully, I looked more closely. Unlike the other sources, there is a footnote in the description of Jacob Sommer - not one, but three footnotes, the last of which reads:

There you have it. Except for the detail about Jacob being a prisoner in the Revolutionary War, the story of our Jacob Sommer is all there, and with a few additional details thrown in. And when I followed up on the Westcott's History of PHL reference, the detail about Jacob having been taken prisoner was confirmed. All my digging and analyzing and documenting about the life story of Jacob Sommer of Moreland can, in the end, be largely substantiated by this single footnote which I previously failed to notice or read.

So the lesson is, Beware of Snippets when you're looking at search matches. If the source title is different from others you've used, take the time and really look. I can't say I would trade the journey I've been on to find Jacob's story, but knowing about this footnote might have saved more than a few long hours while in the pursuit.

Sarah Summers HoH

I doubt that anybody ever dreams of becoming a HoH - Head of Household - but once you are one, it's official that you're in charge of something! And in looking over the 1830 U.S. census, there were a whole lot of men in charge, and for those very few households headed by women, we modern onlookers often assume those women were widows. Maybe they were, maybe they weren't?

Case in point: the 1830 census of Oxford, Warren, New Jersey shows Sarah Summers sandwiched between Jacob and William Summers, with John Summers just two doors down. So given that three Summers brothers are listed in the census, and two Summers brothers had died by then, and one of the deceased brothers (George) had a wife named Sarah, then we almost have to assume that Sarah Summers in the census was George's widow.

But the 1817 Orphan's Court record that made John Summers (Sr) guardian of 2 boys and 2 girls, orphans under 14, didn't quite make sense when compared to the 1830 Oxford census. I figured the very youngest of George's orphans, 2 boys and 2 girls, would have been 14 in 1830. But what do we see in 1830 in the household of Sarah Summers?  3 boys 5-15 and 1 girl 15-20. How could those be the children of George and Sarah?

As mentioned in my post Testimony, we recently found more court records that tell us, among other things, that Sarah remarried to John B. Innis in 1818. Then six years later, Innis died in 1824. Did Sarah change her name BACK to Summers by the time of the census? Even if she did, who are all the kids? Even taking into consideration Sarah's kids, Innis' kids from previous marriage, some kids dying or marrying, new kids being born, still I have not been able to make sense of the household of Sarah Summers in 1830 Oxford. Who the heck was Sarah Summers????

When I realize I'm asking the same question over and over again, and the answer isn't getting any closer, either I'm asking the wrong question, or I'm asking the right question but I'm already anticipating a certain answer in my head. Hmmmm. In this case, the only Sarah being considered was the wife of George, and there was the expectation blocking my view.

Start over. Looking over the Michigan deeds, the censuses, and maps yet one more time, I started to see possible connections between some Summers family members that I wasn't expecting, so I started some shuffling around on the tree. It seemed that two males who I thought might belong as sons of William could possibly have been sons of David. And then a new name, Alfred Summers, might also have had connections into David's family. So a little Musical Chairs, shuffle, shuffle, and now the family group of David Summers - the one who died in 1825 - contained 8 children, 7 boys and 1 girl. And who was the girl? She jumped off the page at me - SARAH! Yes, Sarah H. Summers who would have been 19 years old in 1830, the age category of one of two females in the 1830 Oxford household of Sarah Summers.

Let's look at that 1830 census just one more time. If David had 8 kids when he died, where did they go? Checking his brothers' households, sure enough, Jacob's household had two "extras", both males. We also know that Charles Summers petitioned for and was granted a guardian (William R. Longstreet). So that's three males added to the younger males in Sarah's household, which accounts for all the males in David's reshuffled family except one of the oldest, who we might expect was off on his own at that point. Suddenly it all fits.

In all likelihood, the 1830 Oxford household of Sarah Summers was really the household of Polly Horn Summers, widow of David Summers. Even though Polly was in fact enumerated in her own household, for some unknown reason, the census taker wrote down the name of Polly's only daughter, Sarah. Maybe Sarah was the one who answered the door that day of the Oxford census, and maybe she was pretty and easy to talk to. Or maybe Sarah was standing there in a Supergirl pose, the oldest sibling in a home with 3 little brothers and a recently grieving mother, and it was clear that Sarah Summers was the acting HoH.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Third Time Charm

By my calculations, the five sons of John Summers of Sussex, New Jersey, namely George, John Jr., William, David, and Jacob, had 40 children between them, and the majority of those (34-35) came to Michigan. Given the scarcity of records at the time - oh those darned pioneers, not stopping to record every little thing! - it's no wonder that piecing together which children belonged to which families has been a seemingly endless challenge.

So this post is about one of those many children, Jacob Summers 1808-1885, referred to during his lifetime as Jacob 2d. Which of the five Summers brothers was his father? Here is the history of me trying to find the connection:
  1. First, I believed, like many, that Jacob Summers 1787-1864 was the father of Jacob 2d. The death record of Jacob 2d stated that his parents were Jacob and Mary Summers, so that's clear enough. The problem is that a) we don't know who reported that information, and b) Jacob and Mary Summers were married in 1811 while Jacob 2d was born in 1808. Of course Jacob 2d could have been born out of wedlock, but there seemed to be cause to look more closely. Who else might have been the father of Jacob 2d? 
  2. Next, I considered that John Summers Jr. 1784-1843 was the father of Jacob 2d. John Jr. was my next choice because:
    • I came up with the bright idea that the older Jacob Summers was called "Uncle Jake" because he was truly the uncle of Jacob 2d 
    • besides Jacob, John Jr. was the only other brother to live long enough to migrate to MI (this particular thought was, it turns out, flawed - it doesn't matter if the father of Jacob 2d lived to migrate to MI....)
    • John Jr. and his wife Jane were married in 1807, and the first child who we believe belongs to this couple was born in 1810 - so there was room for Jacob 2d to fit into this family group. But the more time we've spent looking at probate records and deeds associated with John Jr., the less and less likely it seems that Jacob 2d was his son. Now what? 
  3. Now I am concluding that David Summers 1782-1825 was the father of Jacob 2d. David was one of three brothers who died in New Jersey before the family migration to MI. He married Mary Horn in 1806, and again, the first child who we believe belongs to this couple was born in 1810, so again, there is room for Jacob 2d to fit into this family group. And what other evidence do I have to support this idea? The process of elimination. If not Jacob and not John Jr., then of the brothers who died in NJ, I can make a case for why Jacob 2d was not the son of George or William. That leaves David. To read more details about this latest and greatest theory, click here
So there is my third swing at determining the parentage of Jacob Summers 2d, having already two strikes against me. If this one is a swing and a miss, I shall have to say I Tried. If it's a hit but a fly ball or a throw-out on first, I shall have to say Oh Well. If it's a hit that's headed past the outfielders, then I'll join the spectators in cheering for the home team. For all we know, perhaps one of those spectators is Jacob 2d himself.