The family church, in more ways than one


I should really just retitle this blog “Tim’s Adventures in Historical Documents.” I keep finding really interesting stuff when I dig.

Today’s interesting find is probably only interesting to my Lancaster County family, but here goes: the Leacock Presbyterian Church in Paradise, PA, which was my mother’s family’s church since at least the early part of the 20th century, has a deeper connection to the family than we knew.

I was looking through deeds, as lately I seem wont to do, when I decided to stop checking out property sold by Abraham Hershey and look for what was sold by his father and mother, Christian and Susanna. And, though I still didn’t find who sold the barn, I found something more interesting: a deed, on pp. 459 and 460 of the old deed book Z7, dated June 12, 1840, recording the sale of land in what was then Strasburg to the trustees of the old Leacock Presbyterian Church, so that they could “erect and build… a house or place of worship, for the use of the members of the Presbyterian Church…”

If you look closely at the photo above, at its maximum resolution on the Flickr page, you’ll see a dedication stone listing the beginning of the building in 1840. The land that Christian and Susanna Hershey sold the trustees for the princely sum of $286.87 became the home of the “new” Leacock Presbyterian Church, the church that my great-grandfather and his family then attended, in which my parents got married, in whose graveyard now resides a fair number of my kin. It gave me a bit of a shiver knowing that my connection to that church goes back even further.

Family history: when was it the “Brackbill” farm?


I got email yesterday that there was a fair amount of storm damage at the Brackbill Farm in Lancaster County, PA earlier this week. The storm uprooted half a dozen old trees, and sent major chunks of other ash and locust trees flying, with the result that the old cabin and bunkhouse near the creek were heavily damaged. They had stood for over 50 years, so the loss was pretty painful, but fortunately the main buildings and the people on the farm were spared.

But it got me thinking. I learned yesterday more of the provenance of the cabin–which great-uncle built it; which of my first-cousins-once-removed helped–than I knew about the provenance of the actual farm. So I had to do some digging. I already knew that the farm had been the home of my great grandfather and his large family, and I had noticed in 2003 the dedication name on the side of the house that said Hershey rather than Brackbill. A few years later I went back and took a better picture, and was able to decipher the stone entirely; it said “Built by Abraham & Barbara Hershey 1857.” That’s interesting, I thought. There are plenty of Brackbill/Hershey marriages, but I knew Harry G. Brackbill hadn’t married a Hershey (that’s my great grandparents Harry and Esta above, in front of the farmhouse). So what was the connection?

I went back and looked at my genealogy. It seems Abraham Hershey was Harry’s great-uncle–his mother, Barbara Hershey, was the daughter of Christian Hershey, Abraham’s brother. (He was also Harry’s wife Esta’s great-uncle, but that’s a story for another time.) But Abraham had children of his own. How did the farm end up in the Brackbill family?

This week I found some clues, finally, in the magnificent MennObits archive of old Mennonite obituaries. There we find obituaries for both Abraham and Barbara, and some pieces start to fall into place. Abraham passed away in 1887 and Barbara in 1904, and Barbara spent the last seven or eight years of her life living with her children. Presumably she would have lived at the farm if it was still in the family, and had the children living with her (it’s a large farmhouse with enough room for large families). So sometime around 1896 or 1897, the farm may have been sold. My mother thinks that it was sold to Harry’s father, Elam, but I haven’t been able to find anything to confirm that.

The good news is that the historic deeds of Lancaster County, from the 19th century through 1980, have been made available online. The bad news is that the files are in unindexed images, and there are hundreds of pages of books. So I will find the answer… maybe within the next year.

Friday: too busy working …

… to write anything halfway intelligent, so you get this instead.

But Estaminet has been writing a fair bit; check out her travel journals from her Oregon trip.

She’s back staying with us, and our parents come in late tonight, so it’ll be a fun full house. This is, of course, the other reason I’m not writing so much–lots of stuff to take care of before I pick them up from the airport.

And I’ll be checking out the temporary James Hook lobster shack this weekend to see if they’ve been able to resume any level of retail operations. It would be great to get some in time for my dad’s birthday.

N. Marie Brackbill, 1943 – 2008

My aunt Marie passed away Monday afternoon. This one hurts. Unlike my grandfather, who had been in ill health for quite a few years before his death in January, we didn’t even know how sick she was until two months ago.

My aunt was one of the strongest people I know. Stricken with juvenile arthritis at the age of nine and spending the next two years in the hospital recovering, she was put on a path at an early age that might have limited her potential. But she recovered her mobility (albeit with the aid of multiple joint replacements over the years), learned to drive, went to college, became a teacher, and then did a career change into accounting, business, and quantitative analysis. She was always independent, stubbornly so, living alone for many years.

It’s not her stubborn independence that I’ll remember as much as her sense of humor and her willingness to treat me as an adult when I was still very much a kid. She treasured the company of her cats, and let me name one of them. At the time we were both reading Lord of the Rings, so I suggested Boromir. Yes, it was a geeky thing to do, but she had already named one cat Bilbo Baggins, so we were very much on the same wavelength. Boromir it was. And she was always a lot of fun to be with. I still remember dinners out with her at the Corn Crib, a corny pizza place with a warped sense of humor (a sign above the door said, “In the event of nuclear war, will the last person to leave please turn off the soup!”).

It was during her early years as an accountant that she came to stay with my family when I was growing up. I think it was because she spent so much time with us that she had such a strong influence on me. I don’t think I’d be half the bookworm I am without her, and I know I wouldn’t be as brave. She was never one to hold back what she thought and never one to bite her tongue when she thought something was wrong. In her last days, we used to hold out hope that she would pull through by saying, “At least she’s still got her sharp tongue.” When my sister was sufficiently alarmed by updates on her health to drive through the night to get to see her, my aunt’s first words as she walked through the door at 3 am were “You’re an idiot!” And of course she was right, she was always right.

I’m really angry about her passing. To watch her struggle for so long against her various illnesses, only to see her get blindsided by the left hook of cancer, is maddening. Not only that: the fact that her cancer was so advanced when it was diagnosed makes me think, if only it had been caught sooner! But ultimately that’s self delusional: her cancer was a type that has a very poor cure rate, and we know it was very aggressive. I suppose I’m angriest for selfish reasons: I wanted her to be a part of my family’s life for a very long time. I miss you already, Aunt Marie.

Piece of the past

While I was in Pennsylvania, I helped my uncle move some junk out of the storage unit where we put some of my grandfather’s things. A few items held memories for me (I never could get comfortable on that fold-up metal cot, and was glad to see it go), but others were remnants: the boxes for his stereo, a piece of old demolished kitchen cabinets that was being used as a laundry table.

I happened to open one of the drawers in the aforementioned kitchen cabinets, and found an odd artifact: a hand drill, but looking like none I had ever seen. I asked my uncle about it, and he said he remembered using it with my grandfather on the farm back in the 1950s and 1960s. He said I could take it, so I brought it home.

The lettering on the gear handle said “Millers Falls Company, Greenfield, Mass.” A little searching turned up a history of the Millers Falls company and an illustration, description and photograph of our drill: a number 308, the so called “Buck Rogers” drill. The drill as manufactured featured red plastic grips and a fully enclosed gear, which had the benefit of keeping the mechanism working smoothly even after many years in a drawer. My grandfather’s was missing the box, and had white paint on both handles, but otherwise was intact. The handle still had some of the drill bits inside, though I haven’t looked closely to see if they are the originals.

It was oddly evocative to have this palmsize memento of my grandfather, who was so much bigger, whose hands fixed and built, fed and sheltered his family, until he couldn’t any more.

Waiting for a phone call

I came home from Pennsylvania on Saturday, which stands as one of the harder things that I’ve had to do. My aunt’s condition has been up and down. While I was there she was lucid, eating and drinking a little, watching the Phillies beat up St. Louis, and ornery (she complained to the nurses that while they had temporarily rolled her away from the TV, the Phillies got their first three runs of the game). But she’s in a lot of pain and keeps getting more and more health complications, and our guess as to how long she’ll be with us keeps spinning around to longer and shorter numbers.

I wish I could just have stayed there. A good part of my mind is still there. Now all I can do is wait for a phone call. My connection to my aunt and her status now comes in drips and drops over a long distance wire.

Light Blogging Day

Probably another light blogging day. I’ve gotten into the part of the semester where, despite my best efforts, every day is a fire drill.

Unfortunately I can’t post my current assignment to my blog–it’s too long and the subject matter (forgiveness vs. utilitarianist philosophy) is a little too far out to try to make work as blog matter. Maybe later I’ll figure out how to tie it all together.

Quick pointer: Esta talks about hooking my grandfather up on e-mail this morning. Esta’s always been better than I have about keeping family ties close, and this story shows why.

Update: I finally received my replacement power adapter (see the discussion of my fire hazard problem here). Fortunately my problem was in the AC cord and not the “yo-yo” itself. Apple made an incremental change to the adapter recently that rendered the plug incompatible with the receptacle on my PowerBook G3. However, the AC cord is compatible with my old yo-yo, and it’s charging merrily even as we speak. So to sum up: if your yo-yo is broken and it’s a model M7332, make sure you replace it with an adapter that’s designed for your G3. However, if it’s your AC cord, you can order either one and it will work.

Interestingly, both models are “Model M7332.” But the one that works with mine is manufactured by Delta Electronics in Thailand and the new one comes from Dongguan Samsung Electro-Mechanics.