Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Sommer Orphans and Ground Rent

It seems there is no end to learning about how life worked in early PHL, and that learning just keeps coming thanks to help from more experienced research friends. To understand how the subject of ground rent has helped to correct a mistake I made about the genealogy of certain Sommer orphans, let me first set the stage:
  • In 2015, I found a PHL Orphan's Court record where three orphans of Martin Summers, Elizabeth, Edward, and George, over 14 but under 21, requested George Rudolph to oversee their personal estate. This record was dated September 1824, one month after probate records started to appear for Martin Sommer of Oxford twp, and thus I presumed the orphans belonged to Martin of Oxford. This record also mentioned that the orphans were due rental income from which $16 ground rent and taxes would be deducted. 
  • At roughly the same time, I found another Orphan's Court record which pertained to Martin Summers, blacksmith, son of Martin Sommer, the youngest Freistett immigrant. This record lead to an 1827 deed where John H Somer, an heir of Martin-Blacksmith, sold his interest in Waggoner's Alley to Peter Smith. That record also mentioned $16 of ground rent, a detail previously unnoticed by me. This has now lead me back to the 1794 deed where Martin-Blacksmith purchased the property in Waggoner's Alley from Mark Rodes, and there I have realized much more clearly the price that Martin agreed to pay Rodes was $16 ground rent "forever" with the option to pay the full price of $320 within the first 10 years, something Martin apparently never did. Oh my. 
  • Now we come to the recent discovery made by my fellow Sommer researcher, a sheriff's deed in 1833: 
Peter Smith vs. Edward Somers, Wm Somers, George Somers, deed to John Ely  
Without having yet located court records to explain what the law suit was about, this deed effectively sold the Waggoner's Alley property out of the Sommer family. The yearly ground rent of $16, however, was still due by Ely (whether he had become owner or just occupier is not yet clear to me). 
Given this string of evidence, we can see that the very specific ground rent amount of $16 kept showing up in relation to Martin-Blacksmith, and the names of two of the orphans, Edward and George, can be associated with Waggoner's Alley. It seems very likely that Elizabeth, Edward, and George were the youngest of Martin-Blacksmith's children, and as they grew older and after apparently their mother died (she was last noted in the PHL city directory in 1822), the orphans asked the court to assign them George Rudolph who seemed to know that the property on Waggoner's Alley was generating rent for the orphans, but also that $16 ground rent would be due from that income.

So the first task after all this is to make the genealogical correction: The Sommer orphans, Elizabeth, Edward, and George, were probably the children of Martin Summers the blacksmith who died in 1811, and not the children of Martin Sommer of Oxford who died in 1824. Based on other deed records, other children of Martin-Blacksmith included John H. and William.

The next task is to have a better understanding of ground rents in early PHL. To my understanding, in this case, the ground rent of $16 was 5% of the value or the principal of the property in 1794, which was $320, an amount that was set for only the first 10 years, and would have to be reset by Rodes if the occupier wished to buy later. At the time of the sale in 1833, the sheriff appraised the property at $800, an amount which the parties involved refused, and so the Waggoner's Alley property went to public auction where the highest bid was $500 by John Ely. Apparently Ely paid whoever won the Smith v. Somers case, then taking over the pesky $16 ground rent which was still to be paid. But to whom did this ground rent then go? Obviously there is still more to figure out about all this.

See how genealogy becomes a gateway for life-long learning?! In this case, click here and here to study up more about ground rents in early PHL.

Finally, if you got this far in reading this blog entry and share with me any understanding and appreciation for the importance of all these subtle details to our genealogy work, I'd like to make an offer. In order to pay forward some of the research kindness that has been extended to me, especially recently, I will take PHL deed lookup requests from individuals researching the Sommer surname in PHL before 1830, up to three deeds per person. And of course I reserve the right to respond as I have time. This offer is good to the end of 2017. Please contact me if you have interest and/or need help learning to use the free online PHL deed index.

Lesson learned here? Timing isn't everything. It's possible that something about the death of Martin of Oxford twp. triggered the orphans of Martin-Blacksmith to request a guardian one month after Martin-Oxford's death, but it's more likely that Martin-Blacksmith's widow had recently died, and THAT was the coincidental trigger.  My assumptions, as always, need to be reviewed and questioned, and thanks be for genealogy friends who help with that process!

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