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.

Update:  See my article, Jacob Sommer of Moreland, PA in American Revolution for more details about this ancestor of our Freistett Sommer family.  Also see the later footnote posted in this blog.

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 :-)

Grave Relocation

Because of documentation found in Michigan claiming that Jacob Summers of Macomb was related to a judge Jacob Summers of PHL, I've been doing a fair amount of research in PHL over the past year. The short answer is that Jacob Sommer of Moreland was related to our family, but not directly to the branch that migrated to Michigan. Still, it's interesting to note that the Michigan Summers must have known of their PHL family in order for that detail to have made its way into the family history.

But beyond the story, how to connect the dots between Jacob Sommer of Moreland and our family? The death record of Johannes (aka John) Sommer in 1792 identified him as being of Freistett, which connects Johannes to our family. That same death record said that Johannes had only one surviving child, and the only Sommer name that appears next in Moreland records is Jacob. But without any other records to establish relationships, I decided to resort to my backup strategy, which I call "Act As If." In this mode, I move forward, carefully and only so far, as if I know that Jacob was the son of Johannes and his wife, Anna Eva.

Thus moving forward from Jacob, I found the following descendants of Jacob Sommer of Moreland:
  • Dr. John Sommer
    • Jacob J. Sommer
    • Mary A. Sommer Potts
By the time I got to the grandchildren, Jacob J. and Mary A., I had nearly forgotten that I don't really know if these people belong to my Sommer family or not. But when I looked at the burial record for Jacob J. Sommer, my method found meaning. The burial record shows all the people buried in the Sommer plot at Laurel Hill Cemetery, which included Jacob J., Mary A. and her husband, Howard N. Potts, Louisa M. Sommer (mother of Jacob J. and Mary A.), and guess who? Johannes and Anna Eva Sommer, who were moved on 12 Oct 1874 from 5th and Cherry Sts.

Here is a snippet from the FHL catalog about St. Michael's and Zion Lutheran Church where I believe Johannes and Anna Eva were originally buried:
St. Michael's was built 1743-1748 at 5th and Arch St. and was the only Lutheran church in the city of Philadelphia until Zion Church was built at 4th and Cherry in 1769. By 1751 two pastors served the congregation and also served Zion when it was built. During the Revolutionary War St. Michael's was used as a garrison church by the British who allowed the Lutherans to use it at times; Zion was used as a British hospital. Both churches had to be rededicated after the war. In 1868 the lot on which Zion was located was sold and the congregation moved to Franklin and Race. In 1874 St. Michael's was sold and the congregation moved around until the 1900s when there was an apparent merger of both churches. St. Michaels-Zion Lutheran Church is located at 228 North Franklin Street (1980).
But not so fast. Apparently the above description is talking about the church, but not necessarily the cemetery. I can't find specific sources, but information found on message boards says that around 1861 most of the bodies in the cemetery of StM&Z were moved to Lehigh Ave. between 31st and 32nd. However, some remains were left behind only to be rediscovered when the U.S. Mint was built at 4th & Cherry Sts., which still stands today.

All I can think is that when the StM&Z cemetery was moved in 1861, Johannes and Anna Eva were among those left behind. But when St. Michael's church was itself sold in 1874, the descendants decided to move the great-grandparents to be among family.

All of which has brought me full circle. I have the 1758 StM&Z baptism record for Jacob, son of Johannes Sommer and his wife Anna Eva. I have the paper trail that leads from Jacob to Dr. John to Jacob J. and Mary A. And now we can see that Johannes and Anna Eva were moved from StM&Z cemetery to the burial plot of their great-grandchildren. It's a little more than connecting dots, I think. It's about claiming the remains of the original immigrants for this branch of the Sommer family.

UNCLE Jake Summers

We've had a long-standing question about our Summers family of Macomb, Michigan, which is this:

How was Jacob Summers 1787-1864 related to Jacob Summers 1808-1885?

The older man was a Michigan state legislator, who was also involved in banking, agriculture, and civil service. Two local histories as well as several newspaper articles referred to him as Uncle Jake.

The younger man was mostly a farmer, and was also involved in local civil service.  Deeds, court cases, and even his own will use the suffix "2d" after his name.

It has been easy to believe that Jacob 2d was the son of Uncle Jake because of the Michigan death register that states the parents of Jacob 2d were Jacob and Mary Summers (Mary having been one of three wives of Uncle Jake). But we have no way to know who reported that information, and the fact that Jacob 2d was born four years before Uncle Jake and Mary were married has always bothered me enough to wonder....

Where to go with this problem? First, let's talk about the suffix "2d." Wikipedia has this to say about numerical name suffixes:

“Alternatively, Jr's are sometimes referred to as "II". However, the original name carrier relative of a "II" is generally an uncle, cousin, or ancestor (including grandfather).”

So, hmmmm. Maybe the answer to the question has been staring us in the face. I have been taking the familiar name of “Uncle Jake” to mean that the public somehow saw the older Jacob Summers as a kind and wise gentleman - and how my brain came up with that association, I'm not exactly sure. What I've learned in researching the older Jacob is that his reputation was instead one of being rather eccentric and rough around the edges. So why was he called Uncle Jake?

This would be one of those AHA moments when I always wonder what took me so long to see the obvious. What if the “uncle” reference was literal? Of the two Jacob Summers in the area, the older man was the younger man's uncle! And interestingly, the references to “2d” did not appear in the records until after the death of Uncle Jake's brother, John Summers, Jr. in 1843. At that point, I believe, John Jr.'s son, Jacob, started calling himself '2d,' and others referred to his uncle, Uncle Jake, accordingly.

Considering that John Summers Jr. married his wife Jane in 1807, Jacob 2d could easily have been their oldest child. So this theory holds some water, in my opinion, and while still not proof of anything, I like the utter simplicity of this conclusion: Uncle Jake Summers and his nephew, Jacob 2d were both early pioneers to Macomb County, Michigan. During their lifetimes, there was likely no confusion about the identity of either Jacob Summers or their relationship to each other. But over 150 years later, it takes awhile to collect the puzzle pieces, put them together, and step back to see the big picture! At last, I feel like I'm looking at a picture of two Jacob Summers in Macomb, Michigan that makes sense.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Addressing Misinformation - Michigan Summers

I can't believe it's been four years since I first stumbled upon Michigan historical accounts that included how my Summers family got to Michigan and their various familial relationships. The research journey since then has been interesting but frustrating, involving a good deal of chasing my own tail. And why? Because I initially put much too much value on the assumed validity of said sources.

So in hopes that others may benefit from my tail-chasing, I'm going to list here the sources that researchers of Michigan Summers genealogy (Macomb and Oakland counties) should take with a grain of salt, but only where the narratives about Summers ancestry are concerned. I cannot vouch for the veracity of everything printed in these sources, yet I have found much of the historical content has definite research value.
  1. History of Macomb County, Michigan: containing an account of its settlement, growth, development and resources, etc., published 1882, pg 738; available on
  2. Early History of Michigan with Biographies of State Officers, Members of Congress, Judges and Legislators, published Lansing, 1888, pg 623; available on google books
What follows here are various details from these sources with my comments inserted. Realizing that a picture is worth a thousand words, I am also including here a simplified diagram of what I believe is true about my Sommer/Summers family (please do not publish or re-use without permission, esp. bcs it is subject to update). To understand better what I'm talking about, compare the diagram to the details given from the listed sources, which include:
  • The head of the Summers family was John Summers. [Depends on how you look at it. John Summers Esq. was first-generation born in America, and the father of the five sons repeatedly mentioned, so in that sense, he was the head of his family. But John Summers Esq. was born in America to his original immigrant parents, Joh. Georg Sommer and Anna Barabara Rub. In this sense, Georg Sommer was the head (one of the heads) of original immigrant families to America.]
  • John Summers came from Germany in 1752. [Incorrect. As mentioned, John Summers Esq. was born in America. HIS father, Joh. Georg Sommer, was one of three brothers who arrived in PHL in 1752 from Freistett, Germany.]
  • John Summers came with five sons, of whom the names Jacob and John are remembered. [Incorrect. John Summers Esq. died in New Jersey, and he had five sons, three of whom died in New Jersey, and two, Jacob and John, migrated to Michigan (thus they were remembered, at least in Michigan).]
  • Jacob was the youngest son of five born to Judge Jacob Sommers and wife Mary Hiles. [Incorrect. We believe Jacob was the youngest of the five sons mentioned, his father having been John Summers Esq. This Jacob, youngest son of John Esq. had three wives, and one was named married Mary Hiles. He became a Michigan state legislator and later in his life, he was an associate judge.]
  • The father of Michigan Jacob Summers was a Judge of Records in Philadelphia. [Incorrect. Jacob Sommer of Moreland (PHL), though related, was not connected to the Michigan Summers. Jacob of Moreland was, coincidentally, a PA state legislator and later in his life, he was also an associate judge. His will named only one son, Dr. John Sommer.]
In summary, the existing historical narratives mentioned here about the Michigan Summers family of Macomb & Oakland counties are full of details that in themselves have some truth, but when combined into the published narrative, the resulting story is altogether incorrect. It almost doesn't matter how the story got so mixed up, whether it was family members who simply repeated family myths or confused multiple people named John and Jacob, or publishers who mistranscribed or misunderstood certain details. What matters in 2015 is that we cannot corroborate these published stories. I would like to encourage other researchers to think twice before you build any part of your family tree based solely on the genealogical narrative published in these mentioned sources.

Missing Daughter of John Summers Jr.

First, I want to say that I've had a busy summer (!) of traveling and have much to post on the subject of Sommer in Philadelphia as well as Summers in Michigan.  But I'm still sorting and analyzing, so the write-up(s) will come soon - stay tuned!

Now on to the subject of the day. In looking more closely at the 1830 (NJ) and 1840 (MI) census for John Summers Jr., I noticed there was a female being enumerated who we haven't really accounted for in John's known children. The missing daughter was of an age in 1840 that she could have married before 1850, so I checked the Dibean marriage index.  Lo, there are two marriages before 1850 that I haven't seen before (additional details are shown in images on familysearch):
  • Caroline Summers, age 19, married H. H. Proctor, both of Shelby, Macomb, MI on 20 Jan 1842.  Witnesses: RM and Elizabeth McCracken. Minister: Abel Warren
  • Maria Summers, age 22, married Francis R. Chapel, both of Shelby, Macomb, MI on 16 Jan 1845.  Witnesses: Charles W. Chapel & John H. Kaple. Minister: F.B. Baug
In both cases, the bride was born in/abt 1823. Which one might have been the missing daughter of John?

It took me awhile, but I finally realized that Caroline Summers was the daughter of William Summers and Rachel Hoagland.  Mr. Proctor must have died soon after marriage because then in 1847, Caroline Proctor of Avon married Calvin Potter, and by 1860, Caroline was a widow (apparently) again.  What's interesting is to note that Caroline was of Shelby Twp in 1842, and her witnesses, the McCracken's were of Avon (just across the county line).

So that leaves Maria Summers. I believe she must have been the unaccounted-for daughter in the household of John Summers Jr. The witnesses to her marriage were of Sterling Twp. in Macomb. And then Maria must have died shortly after her marriage because on 25 Jan 1849, Francis R. Chapel married Freelove Covell. It does not appear that Maria had any children before she died, or if she did, the child probably did not survive.