Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sommer Originals

As the end of the year approaches, I realize I am still sorting through all the information garnered from the flurry of my Sommer research this year. So it's a good time to belatedly report on a highlight of my research adventures in 2015, and that was a visit to the Hagley Library in Wilmington, Delaware in late July.

In case you're wondering how I ended up in Delaware, I suppose I have google to thank. Awhile ago, I found a partial index on google books, you know the snippets that tantalizingly don't show you the whole book but just a sentence or two?  The book in question gave hints about Jacob Sommer, but said book can no longer be found, no library within a 1000 miles has it, etc., etc.  So it took some research on that source alone to find that the material being referenced in it currently resides at the Hagley.  It took nearly a year of me writing emails and finding a local researcher (a friend) to go there and make a copy of some things from that collection. What he sent me was enough for me to add the Hagley to my travel list. And boy, was it worth it! First of all, the Hagley is located on the most beautiful grounds in the most beautiful old yet modernized building I've ever worked in. What an absolute pleasure. Second, the box that got delivered to me in the research room was full of original documents written in the 1775 era, most of which had everything to do with our Sommer family of Moreland. This might be one of the few times I can recall having a swooning sensation while doing genealogy research.

While the images I now have of those precious documents cannot be reproduced or otherwise published until I get proper permissions from the Hagley, I can probably share the catalog description of the documents I viewed. I can say that to hold these original documents, which ranged across four generations from 1775 to 1899, to experience the close-to-crumbling paper, some of it appearing to have been scorched, to read the fading ink in the old handwriting, and take in the first-hand words of ancestors who lived through the birth of a new nation, was to be very personally moved. The document that stays with me most was this one:

On 18 Jun 1823, the Democratic Committee of Arrangement wrote a letter to Jacob Sommer Esq. informing him that he had been unanimously appointed to read the Declaration of Independence at the celebration of the 47th anniversary of the national independence. In 1823, Jacob Sommer was himself 65 years old. His parents had been German immigrants who had resisted the British through the days of the Philadelphia Campaign. Jacob, having joined the PA militia, had been captured by the British and held prisoner on Long Island for four years, and then returned home to become a PA state senator and later an associate judge. He had written and delivered addresses that expressed the passion of his belief in national freedom, and he continued to stay active in politics until the end of his life. Jacob Sommer had defined himself as an American Patriot.

Given that the family line of Jacob Sommer ended with his grandchildren, there has been nobody to remember this part of our Freistett family history. But now, thanks to technology and spirit of preservation held in places like the Hagley, we can know and appreciate a legacy that is now ours to proudly pass along.

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