Friday, September 4, 2015

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.


  1. As far as I can see, this evidence connects Johannes Sommer of Freistett to Jacob Sommer of Moreland and NOT to Jacob Sommer of Germantown as some family trees have claimed.

  2. I'm happy to report that some deeds have recently been discovered which further document this family line: John Sommer was survived by one child, Jacob, who was survived by one child, Dr. John, who was survived by two children, Jacob J. and Mary A.