The family church, in more ways than one

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I should really just retitle this blog “Tim’s Adventures in Historical Documents.”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.

Brackbill Farm: no needle in the haystack yet

I was a little premature with my sketch of the history of the Brackbill Farm two weeks ago. As you’ll recall, the farmhouse says it was built by Abraham and Barbara Hershey in 1857 (or maybe 1867–the sign isn’t very clear in the photo I took from the ground). And I was very excited to find the microfilmed deed books of Lancaster County so that I could start figuring out how it passed from their hands to my great-great grandfather Elam Brackbill.

Turns out that just reading the microfilm was akin to sequentially looking at sectors on a hard disk. If there was an organizational structure there, it wasn’t apparent to me–each book was chronologically ordered, but there was no relationship between book numbers. So I couldn’t even find which book had the deeds from the 1896-1897 timeframe that I guessed to be the date of sale of the farm.

The Internet to the rescue. The Southern Lancaster County Historical Society photographed the Indexes of Grantors for all those deeds, meaning if you know who sold the property, you can go to the photo pages, read the book number and page, punch them into the online microfilm reader, and read the deed. So I found four or five deeds relating to the estate of Abraham Hershey and his wife Barbara and started reading avidly.

And was crestfallen. Each of the deeds conveyed property, to heirs or others through sale, but all of the property was on the wrong side of Rt. 30, in Paradise or Strasburg, or in the townships of Eden and Bart. As near as I can tell, the family property’s mailing address should be in or near Salisbury Township, but so far none of the Abraham Hershey deeds have turned up in Salisbury.

The good news, I suppose, is that the indexes only represent the years up to about 1893, so it’s still possible that the second volume of the index will show a deed in about the right time period showing Elam Brackbill’s purchase of it. And I’m now certain that Elam purchased it; a newspaper record from 1905 talked about his residence in Salisbury Township. (Special hat tip to the Access Pennsylvania Digital Repository, a really well put together research site.)

So we’re not back to square one, but I still haven’t found the relevant information. It’s frustrating, knowing that it’s somewhere in that massive pile of microfilm and that I simply don’t have the key to find it.

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

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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.

Reunion on the iPhone: Genealogy on the go

reunionI got an email from someone the other day asking about one of my ancestors (Andrew Hershey, 1702-1792). I get this sort of email all the time, since my family tree is online, and normally I’d have looked up the answer to the questions and emailed back. The problem was, I was on my iPhone and didn’t have access to my detailed genealogy research. I found myself thinking, I wonder if there’s a good genealogy app for the iPhone. Maybe something that will read my GEDCOM export and display it nicely. It would be really great if Reunion were on my phone, though.

So I hit the app store, and the first app in the search results for genealogy was … Reunion! Leister Pro has done an iPhone client that allows you to bring your genealogy data with you, and sync it back to your Mac when you’re done… sort of.

I have about 4000 records in my family data, and opening and browsing it is quick and painless. The UI is splendid, taking all the best parts of the Reunion “family card” display and porting them painlessly to the iPhone. Images are supported, and the experience is almost like sitting in front of my Mac.

There was one glitch I encountered–somehow my sources data didn’t seem to move from my Mac, something I’ll need to investigate further–and two missing features. On the iPhone it would seem natural to provide the ability to add a photo from the phone’s photo list or from the built-in camera to an entry; neither is currently supported. And the app relies on a Bonjour based syncing strategy — turn on your phone, click a button on your Mac, and the syncing happens over your WiFi network — that happens separately from the phone’s main sync loop. Based on your opinion of iPhone syncing, this may be a good or bad thing, but surely there are other sync methods available that wouldn’t require a separate action.

Right now these are quibbles–I’m generally very pleased with the app, and thrilled Ididn’t have to find a new genealogy app just for the iPhone.