Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sommer Siblings and Their Spouses

Now that the excitement of Canadian travels is over, I look over the pile of other projects calling for attention, and it's hard to know where to go next. But now it's the youngest Freistett Sommer brother, Martin 1729-1799, who has me wishing we could somehow find out if he had any descendants who might have made it into our present world. Even though I have already given a couple years of attention to this question, a fresh look has brought new answers! Here is my research trail:

I was looking one more time at the grandson of Freistett Martin 1729-1799, and son of Martin 1770-1811, the blacksmith of Waggoner's Alley, namely John H. Somers (baptized as Johann Heinrich Sommer), 1800~1830. As we know, a couple of years ago I found an 1831 petition by Cecelia Kinnaman for guardianship of her granddaughter, Sarah Somers, daughter of John H. Somers, who had recently died. I suddenly got newly interested in Cecelia, especially finding her in the 1840 census of Greenwich, New Jersey, which is the very area where my ancestor, Georg Sommer/George Summers, moved to when he left PHL. Following the Kinnaman trail, I found there were a couple Kinnaman families (probably originally German, Kuehneman) in Sussex County (later Warren County). There is a great source about the Kinnamon families (available on ancestry), but ultimately this source cannot place Cecelia (see p. 376). Distraction Alert!

I subsequently found the marriage between John H. Somers and Susannah Ann Kinnemore in Jan. 1820 at the First Reformed Church. So voila, it looks like Susannah could well have been Cecelia's daughter. But what's this? There is another marriage record in 1825, at StM&Z no less, between Jeremiah Bamford and Susan Kinneamann. But it doesn't stop there. Next I found that Jeremiah Bamford had a first marriage to Sarah Sommer in 1818. It just so happens that John H. Somers had an older sister named Sarah. Sure enough, there is record of Sarah Bamford's death in 1821 at the age of 23, an age that fits with her baptism record for this family group.

So the timeline of this relationship scramble looks like this:
  • 1818: Jeremiah Bamford married Sarah Somers (John H. Somers' sister)
  • 1820: John H Somers married Susannah Ann Kinnaman.
  • 1821: Sarah Somers Bamford, wife of Jeremiah, died.
  • 1822: Birth of Sarah C. Somers, daughter of John H. Somers and Susannah Kinnaman.  Was she named for John's beloved sister who had just died?
  • 1825: Susan Kinnaman married Jeremiah Bamford. The marriage record says that both of them were single. Jeremiah was, but was Susan?
  • 1827: John H. Somers, of Dauphin County, PA, executed a deed involving his interest in his father's property on Waggoner's Alley in PHL.
  • 1831: Cecelia Kinnaman filed a petition to Orphan's Court for guardianship of her granddaughter, Sarah Somers, stating that the father, John H. Somers had been dead for a year.
The only conclusion I can come to here is that John H. Somers and Susan Kinnaman divorced very shortly after their marriage, even though they had at least one child together (Sarah). So given all these cross-ties, the relationship formula between the Sommer siblings and their spouses looks like this:  A+B and C+D, where A and C are the Sommer siblings, Sarah and John H. After the Sommer siblings dropped out from death and separation, B+D married and lived happily for many years.

My biggest question is this: why didn't Susan take her daughter, Sarah Somers, born from her first marriage into her second marriage with Jeremiah Bamford? From the census data, Sarah Somers never lived with the Bamford family. In other words, why did Cecelia petition for guardianship of the child, Sarah Somers, saying that the Sommer orphan had nobody and nothing when, in fact, the child's mother was alive and remarried? In addition, the children that Jeremiah Bamford and Susan had together were well aware of their half-sister, Sarah Cecelia Somers – who later married Jonathan Simpkins. (Special thanks to researcher, Andrea Batcho, who had already figured out much of this family arrangement.)

There might be any number of answers to this question, but for now, this is the one I have settled on: Cecelia, whoever she was (probably not German), simply wanted to raise her granddaughter. And it seems very likely to me that Grandma Cecelia was well loved. Why? Because Sarah Cecelia Somers Simpkins named her only daughter Cecelia (later married William G. Harris). Add to that six Simpkins sons, and the legacy of Martin Sommer of Freistett most surely lives on today.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Spelling and DNA

Here's some exciting news, or seemingly so! I am a member of ancestry and took their autosomal dna test awhile ago, but I haven't checked on my matches for a long time. When I did so today, I realized that I have never searched for matches with those who have the surname spelling of SOMERS in their family tree. The surname spelling used by my Freistett Sommer family in America became almost immediately SUMMERS (at least in my branch), although some of the early generations kept the German spelling of SOMMER. But the Canadian spelling eventually became SOMERS, so I wondered if a match might appear between me and somebody with the name Somers in their family tree.

There were 9 matches between me and people who have the surname Somers in their family tree.  Of those, 2 have their family tree locked or unavailable, and of the other 7, one was a descendant of both Anna Catharina Sommer (m. CHAPPELL) and Eva (Magdalena or Salome/Sarah, m. ALLEN), both daughters of Mathias and Christiana! The possible range of this match is 5th-8th cousins, which is exactly right if the common ancestors between Canadian and American Sommer's are Matthias Sommer and Anna Barbara Hubscher of Freistett. Looking more through the family tree of this dna match (a female, btw), most families listed are Canadian going way back, and mostly in New Brunswick. I don't see any other way I could be related to this person except through the Sommer family of Freistett.  Pretty cool, eh?

Two main lessons in this episode:  One. Even though I have taken the autosomal dna test, I have found that it helps my paper genealogy almost not at all. But now I have new respect, especially seeing that the DNA of females does indeed matter to establishing family connections. Two. I've always known that the spelling of surnames can be and often is all over the place, especially the farther back you go. I wasn't, however, remembering that consideration when reviewing DNA matches. It's more work to check every alternative spelling, but if you have some awareness of geographical regions and the married names of your female ancestors, you might recognize and confirm some previously elusive connections.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Connecting Canadian Sommer Families to Freistett

Having just returned from Moncton, New Brunswick where they celebrated the 251st anniversary of the German settlers from Philadelphia landing there in 1766, the genealogy cat is officially out of the bag in announcing my research that confirms Mathias Sommer of Moncton was originally from Freistett. You can read about the highlights on Facebook, or you can access my research article here. I'm happy to say that a shortened version of this article has been published by Generations, a journal of the New Brunswick Genealogical Society (Summer 2017, Volume 39, No 2, p. 3). The shortened version contains an update to my simple Sommer diagram, which you can access here.

To be honest, my head is still spinning from this adventure. Less than a decade ago, I would never have seen myself spending large amounts of time in places like Salt Lake City and Philadelphia, nor traveling to destinations like Freistett or now Moncton. To be sure my eyesight has suffered from so many hours squinting at screen after screen of nearly indecipherable genealogical documents, but the list of correspondents and genealogy friends just keeps growing. I particularly enjoy this networking aspect of the work, and I rather doubt I'd still be doing this without all the myriad conversations leading to insights which have broadened my own horizons and those of all our family tree.

So while I have tried to thank everybody who I met so quickly in Moncton last week, I also send out thanks to all my research kin. It's one kind of gift to just love doing this work, but the gift of making so many diverse connections in this present-day crazy world has been an unexpected gift that touches me deeply.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Menge-Sommer MishMash

I've been going through the PHL deeds one more time, this time with more careful attention to the years following 1800. What I found was an 1842 deed that quite clearly names the 8 children and their spouses of John Summers. Unfortunately, it does not say exactly when this John Summers died, but it did say that he was the son of Catherine Rash who, in her 1799 will, bequeathed 15 acres in Northern Liberties (later Penn Twp) to her son John and his descendants.

For those who haven't exactly followed all my roller coaster research results in the last many years, I will try to succinctly tell you who the main characters in this episode are:

First remember that I have established there were at least two seemingly unrelated Sommer families who arrived in PHL around the same time:
  • Freistett (FR) clan arrived 1748-1752 (brothers Georg, Johannes, and Martin in 1752, brother Mathias some time before that) 
  • Hoch-Weisel (HW) clan arrived 1754 aboard the ship Edinburgh (father Hermann with 5 sons - Philip, Henry, Martin, Peter, and Matthias) 
Next remember that my Menge/Mann family arrived in PHL in 1754, also aboard the ship Edinburgh (brothers Henry, Ernst, Johannes). It was Ernst Menge who married the German-born daughter of Georg Sommer of the FR clan, and begat my family line.

It's not really a surprise, however, that the HW Sommer family also connected with my Menge family since they arrived on the same ship, and did hail from the same area of Hesse. In 1769, Hermann Sommer's youngest son, Peter, married Henry Menge's oldest daughter, Anna Catharina, and they had three children: Joh. Ernst (John), Margaretha (m. Jacob Lybrand), and Catharine (m. Archibald Woodruff). The bigger news, at least for me at the time, was discovering that Peter and Catharina divorced (she claimed he was unfaithful), and then she remarried in 1784 to Nicholas Rausch (various spellings). Catherina Rausch died in 1800, and through her will, the Northern Liberties property went to her son John Sommer. John had married Hannah Harrison, and now thanks to this 1842 deed, we know who their eight children were: Catherine (m. John Hackett), Elisabeth (m. Samuel Weiss), Margaret, John P (m. Rachel), Hanna Ann (m. James Miller), Harrison (m. Susan), Harriet, and Louisa (m. Alexander H. Blair).

More to the point, if you are related to this family line, I am related to you not through the HW Sommer clan, but through the Menge family of Sodel, Hessen, Germany, and even then the connection is not in my direct line. Even so, if there's a DNA match along this line, here is the explanation, as least as we understand it today!

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!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Updating the Legacy of John Mann

In the Menge/Mange/Mann family story I've pieced together before now, John Mange (1722-1790) was “just” the brother of my ancestor, Ernst Mange. But with the help of another PHL researcher, we've discovered there was much more to the story of John Menge/Mange/Mann.

First, we've always known that John was an innkeeper in the Northern Liberties (NL), but where?  In 1793, after John's death, Catharina Mange was listed in the PHL directory at 219 N. 2nd St. in the NL district. Following that address through subsequent directories, that address was renumbered in 1858 to 319 N. 2nd St. Sadly, that address no longer exists --- two interstate highways intersect in that general area today. Curiously, even after consulting multiple sources, we still don't know the name of John Mann's inn, so if anybody finds a clue, please let me know.

Second, we know that John had two wives, but apparently only one child who survived to adulthood, a daughter named Sarah. Here's a quick summary of what we have since learned of Sarah's story:
  • After her parents died (father in 1790, mother in 1795), Sarah was in possession of three properties:
    • her father's inn
    • property farther north on N. 2nd St. sold to her father by her uncle, Ernst Mange in 1783
    • property in Kensington that her mother, Catherine, had purchased from John Jacobs, shorty after John's death

  • In 1797, Sarah married Gottfried Schmidt, more familiarly known as Godfrey Smith. He was merchant, and he had a business at 103 N. 2nd St. called Smith and Helmuth, Merchants. Godfrey and Sarah had six children:  Maria Magdalena (m. Benjamin German), Henry F., Sarah, William L., Charles H., and George A.

  • According to the deed evidence, Godfrey liked to invest in real estate. In fact, he bought (or rather mortgaged) the property next door to John Mann's inn, which his wife Sarah had inherited. I'm sure the plan was to expand the inn and tavern business. But then, rather abruptly, Godfrey died, so Sarah was subsequently saddled with a mountain of Godfrey's debt and several small children. There is evidence that Sarah tried everything in the book NOT to sell her father's property, and it must have been a very hard and sad day when she decided she must sell it. She, of course, knew the history of it – that her father had come to PHL from Germany, that he had started the inn/tavern less than 10 years after arrival, and that he had stayed with it throughout the Revolution and including the British occupation of PHL. And Sarah also knew she was the only one to survive her parents' toils and ordeals. But she had the next generation to think of. So on 15 July 1815, Sarah Smith sold both her father's property as well as the neighboring property acquired by Godfrey Smith to an iron merchant named Frederick Stelwaggon for the price of four unpaid mortgages amounting to $8830. It appears that Frederick was already leasing Sarah's property for his business, for in the 1814 city directory we find the business Stelwaggon and Knight, iron merchants at 219 N. 2nd St.

  • But then who should Sarah marry next, apparently in 1816?  Mr. Frederick Stelwaggon! John Mann's inn, as well as the neighboring property were back in the family! Frederick and Sarah had two more daughters: Sarah Ann (Koons) and Emma Mathilda (Miller). Sarah also created a trust in 1819 that ensured properties that she came into the marriage with would go to her Smith children, and properties in Lower Merion that Frederick came into the marriage with would go to her children with Frederick.

  • Unfortunately, then there were some legal troubles in 1824 between Frederick and one of his step-sons, Henry F. Smith, involving the property originally purchased by Ernst Mange. A Montgomery County judgment ruled against Frederick. All this was followed by an 1835 district court case brought against Frederick and Sarah by Frederick's long-time business partner, Joseph Knight. This too resulted in losses for Frederick and Sarah. The details of these cases will still need to be further researched by those with the time to invest.
Both Frederick Stelwaggon and his wife Sarah died in 1848. Between Sarah's seven children, the legacy of John Mann of Södel, Hessen, Germany very likely carries on in America today.

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.