Monday, June 20, 2011

The Bizarre, Sad, and Regrettable: Selections of Deaths from the 'Federal Mortality Schedules'

Between 1850 and 1880, an often under utilized historical resource was kept by the Federal government, a 'record group' commonly referred to simply as, the 'Mortality Schedules' or the Non-Population Census Schedules: 1850-1880, composed for all the states within the Union. It is particularly a great supplement for family 'vital records' research, a valuable compilation available not only at the various 'Regional Libraries of the National Archives,' but also at such popular genealogical web sites as, which one can examine online here at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

The Mortality Schedules list such important information as the names of every person who died within the year of the census, from 'January first through June first of the 'census year itself,'  but also to June first of the previous year as well, thus including portions of 1849, 1859, 1869, and 1879. They also provide such significant data as the following: age of the deceased, place of birth, month in which the person died, his or her occupation, profession or trade, as well as the individual's cause of death, plus the number of days or months they were ill.

Thus, the 'potential for gleaning serious 'social history' facts and statistics from the information contained within these records are enormous, everything from infant mortality rates, ethnicity, the types of diseases which ravaged or plagued a given locality at particular times or seasons of the year, as well as 'accidents' common for that period of history, which people were prone to be victims.

Also, often times a 'recorder', in the 'Remarks' section, included at the bottom of the page, additional data not required, which gave an added depth or insight into the actual history of a given area, as well as the productivity of the soil, climate, and water sources.

For example, within the 'Remarks' portion for 'Schedule 3, of the 'Mortality Schedule: 'First Ward of Allegheny City, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, p.641, 'ending 1st June, 1850,' the recorder states:

"This First Ward as the Fourth, is bounded by the Allegheny River, indeed I may say that a portion of it is now in the River; that to which I allude is known to the old residents here by the name of Kill Bucks Island, the name of an Indian, who for his faithfulness to the Whites in troublesome times, Received from PA, a farmland to reside upon it-in early times, so that he might be under their protection from hostile Indians.

This Island, is no more, the River some years ago, has swept every vestige of this historic spot away. Nothing now remains but a Gravel Bank to designate where Kill Buck lived and when our old and long departed friend, Roderick McKinney Raised plentifully corn and wheat. Col. Smith in his interesting narrative in the year 1755, when a Courier to the French in Fort Duquesne, says the day after Braddock's defeat {1755} he could see the savages across the River in Motion making their preparations in order to burn the English prisoners taken at Braddock's Field..."

For 'Schedule 3, for 'Shaler Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania,' 1st June, 1860, p.3, one can read of the death of a Mary O'hara, age 34, married, born in Ireland, who died in October (thus in 1859), of "voluntary starvation." At the bottom of the page, in the 'Remarks' section, the recorder stated how, "Mary Ann O'hara, actually starved herself to death. She would neither eat or drink any thing, for 14 days previous to her death." Regrettably, we aren't told why Mary starved herself to death, but these 'individual' details, as well as the existence of a death record at this time, is a valuable and rare tool, usually not available in Pennsylvania vital records for most counties, except perhaps in a church record, or even within a more rare newspaper obituary.

I have found accounts within various Pennsylvania Mortality Schedules, of individuals who "became insane,"  the cause listed as "Spiritualism," which was very popular within the 19th-century. Regrettably, one frequent cause of death which is often recorded, is that of women, such as that of Catherine McFarland, of Philadelphia's 'Fourth Ward,' who "was murdered by her husband while he was drunk," to a number of ladies who are often described as having been "burned to death by her clothes taking fire from a pipe which she was smoking and died instantly."

According to the Mortality Schedule for 1860, a man named John Guntzer, originally from Wurtemburg, Germany, died in Philadelphia's 'Second Ward,' in December of 1859, from being "caught in Machinery." The 'Registration of Deaths: 1803-1860,' a compilation of cemetery records and physician's returns, reports how Guntzer was buried in 'Lafayette Cemetery,' and had died December 9th, 1859, from, "Injuries accordingly received." The Philadelphia Public Ledger, for December 10th, 1859, gives the results of a 'Coroner's Inquest,' that the man had died "from the effects of injuries received at a sugar mill..," with the actual 'Lafayette Cemetery' records at the Historical Society, simply stating how Guntzer was 47 and had died from being "injured."

A Philadelphia mortality schedule recorder wrote in his 'Remarks' section, how in 1870, many individuals reported deaths from unknown causes, one telling him how "she supposed 'God sent for him," while a woman named Mary Bear, of 'North Coventry' in Chester County, Pennsylvania, died at the age of 64 in October of 1869, purportedly as the result of "being insane, wandered off into the woods and was found dead--evidently from fatigue and exposure."

William Shuler, age 54 on the other hand, died in June of 1869 in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Norriton Township, "while disinterring a dead body in {a} Cemetery, having a cut on his finger, had his blood poisoned, from which he died." 

The sad death, of a two-month old child, Frederick Charles Emder, is listed as having died in February of 1870, in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, "of neglect." Within the 'Remarks' section, more sordid details are given:

"Charles Emder was left at the Eagle Hotel, Bethlehem, PA, by some person unknown--and was adopted by Mr. & Mrs. Ember. But owing to neglect and exposure--besides being nearly drugged to death by its unnatural and fiendish mother, the kind people who took it were unable to raise it, and it died in a few days after they had baptized it, and given it their name."
Consequently, one can see the valuable contribution which Mortality Schedules can make in regard to individuals, as to the added details of a death, as perhaps recorded elsewhere in other 'record groups,' yet relate data which otherwise may have went totally unrecorded. These schedules once again, exist for the entire state of Pennsylvania, and are readily available for the public's perusal at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania; another example of the variety, diversity, and interesting materials awaiting both the academician and genealogist.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Jewish Merchant, Western American Indian Massacres, and their 'Philadelphia Connection' in the 19th Century'

Years ago, the prolific writer of Western fiction, the late Louis L'Amour, remarked how he was often asked where he obtained ideas for his numerous publications. He replied they "are out there by the thousands, wonderful stories...Many have never gotten into the histories...but one has only to listen, to look, and to live with awareness...Ours is a rich and wonderful world, and there are stories everywhere. Nobody should ever try to second-guess history, the facts are fantastic enough." (Education of a Wandering Man, NY: Bantam Books, 1989: pp's.29, 141).

L'Amour also stated that many of the above 'stories' included accounts of 'wagon train massacres,' which were indeed frequently found published within our nation's newspapers throughout the 19th-century. These included harrowing tales of conflicts between the Western Indians, civilians, as well as the traditional battles between the regular armed forces of the United States, both within and outside their various frontier forts, posts, and way-stations.

Naturally, when one envisions such dramatic occurrences as the above, as frequently found in stereotypical 'Western' novels or movies, the 'City of Philadelphia' doesn't readily come to mind, being far removed in distance from the Western states at that time.  However, as has been said repeatedly, "truth is stranger than fiction." Thus both fictitious and factual renditions of 'wagon train' and other 'Indian massacres' are surprisingly connected to the 'City of Brotherly Love' during the nineteenth century.

By the thousands, many Pennsylvanians like other Americans migrated as settlers and adventurers to the Western states for decades. One recent published account is that of Henry Jonathan Pickering of Susquehannah County, Pennsylvania, who along with "one hundred Pennsylvania men" journeyed in wagons during the Spring of 1877 to South Dakota, during its famous "Black Hills gold rush." (See, Cindy Haas Griffeth and Bill Haas, "When a Sioux Chief Met Our Grandmother," American Ancestors, Fall, 2010: 38-40).

However, one famous hoax that captured the attention of the nation, concerned the purported "Fort Buford Massacre," first published in one of Philadelphia's most prestigious newspapers, the renown Philadelphia Inquirer, for April 1st, 1867. Whether intentional or not, it has become a true 'April Fool's Joke,' in print, which eventually 'made the circuit' of the country's papers, throughout the month of April and into May of that year.

Purportedly, the commanding officer of the fort, a Capt. William G. Rankin, "his wife and child, and eighty soldiers of his command" in what is now North Dakota, were annihilated during a three-day siege, ending with "the killing of Mrs. Rankin by her husband to prevent her capture..." while he was said to have been tortured to death by the Indian attackers (see the New York Times, April 10, 1867; the sketch on 'Fort Buford' at Wikipedia; as well as Robert G. Athearn's article, "The Fort Buford 'Massacre,' in the Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol.41, No.4: March, 1955: pp's. 675-684). 

However, by May of 1867, most of the country came to realize that the so-called 'Buford Fort Massacre' had never truly transpired, especially once Rankin himself began sending communications to the contrary, revealing how he was very much alive!

Such published sensationalism in order to sell newspapers to a gullible public is of course nothing new. Plus, considering the primitive communication methods available at the time, it was easy for both reporters and the public-at-large, to believe what one first saw in print, via the telegraph, until further information was obtained by letter or personal eye-witness testimony. Thucydides, the ancient Athenian scholar, stated centuries before Christ that, "Sad to say, most people will believe the first story they hear."

Yet one falsehood does not negate the reality of other reported 'massacres' which did indeed occur during the 19th century throughout the West. One in particular, would actually involve as well, a Philadelphia Jewish resident named Leopold Snowberger.

The Philadelphia Public Ledger, for December 28, 1849, reported the death of a resident of the city, stating how: "On the 23d or 24th of October last, on the Plains, near Santa Fe, New Mexico, Mr. LEOPOLD SNOWBERGER, of this city, aged 56 years. He being one of the victims so brutally murdered by the savage Indians in company with Mr. J. M. White, a Santa Fe trader-leaving a wife and six small children in this city to mourn his untimely loss."  (not to be confused with the non-Jewish SNOWBERGER family, who came to Pennsylvania during the 18th-century, that were German Lutherans)

'Schedule 3,' of the Federal Mortality or Nonpopulation Census Schedules for Pennsylvania, 1850, "South Mulberry Ward" of Philadelphia, list the death of LEOPOLD SNOWBERGER, age 48, born in Germany, a 'Shirt Manufacturer' by profession, and his ''Cause of Death: Murdered."

The Public Ledger once again, for December 5, 1836, lists the marriage of "Mr. L. Snowberger, of Germany, to Miss BRINAH ABRAHAMS, daughter of Moses Abrahams, of the Northern Liberties," while the Federal Census of 1850: Philadelphia, South Mulberry Ward, (p.270), lists: BRINAH SNOWBERGER, age 24, 'Shirt Manufacturer,' born in PA, with children, ALISIA, ELIZABETH, LOUISA, ALBERT, HENRY, and ELLA, ages ten through one, the "six small children," all born in Pennsylvania as well.

Though Brinah Snowberger appears in various Philadelphia City Directories for years after her husband's death, as a 'Shirt Manufacturer' as well, living at 321 Cherry and later 237 Callowhill Streets, neither she, or her family, nor her husband appear in any probate records such as a Will, Administration, nor in the 'Orphan Court' records of Philadelphia, for 1849 and 1850 respectively.

Many contemporary and secondary accounts exist as to the life of J. M. White, who resided in Indepencence, Missouri, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, who frequently took wagon trains of merchandise to the West, a distance of some 800 miles. In 1849, he'd taken thirteen wagons, his wife, their youngest child, and a few employees, but when about 150 miles from Santa Fe, the party was attacked in an area frequented by marauding Apache, Commanche, and Ute Indian warriors, who regularly preyed upon any wagon-trains traveling within the region.

The party of which Leopold Snowberger was a member, purportedly ten in number, were later found dead and their bodies mutilated, specifically by a band of Jicarilla Apache commanded by a chief called White Wolf.  Mrs. White's body, when found by the military, had been tied to a willow tree, where she'd been shot to death with three arrows by her captors.

Interestingly, ALBERT SNOWBERGER, one of the sons of Leopold and Brinah, born in April of 1845, later served in Co. 'G,' of the 99th Pennsylvania Regiment, during the Civil War, but at the age of 18, died of wounds in January of 1863, received at the 'Battle of Fredericksburg' or Marye's Height, fought on December 13th, 1862 in Virginia. Though dying, he is said to have "waved his cap and urged his comrades on to victory," and breathed his last with his mother by his side, at a hospital in Washington, D.C. He was later interred in the 'Jewish Cemetery' or 'Burying Ground,' on Federal Street above Eleventh, in Philadelphia.

One wonders how Mrs. Snowberger felt, having first lost her husband years before to the Indians thousands of miles away, and now one of her sons, during a so-called 'Civil' conflict. Her family's story and others, await to be told in detail.

These and other such events can be gleaned, from the vast historical resources available, here at 'The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.'

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Crash of the Hindenburg

 ***This article appeared in the May 2011, HSP monthly email publication, "History Hits: Collecting & sharing the stories of Pennsylvania." For a free subscription, simply click here to enter your email address.***

The Hindenburg, a German airship built from 1931-1936, met disaster 74 years ago this month in Lakewood, New Jersey.  Once celebrated as a milestone in flight, the aircraft is now remembered as a tragedy and the end of an era for airships.    

U.S. Navy airship photograph 
The U.S. Navy also built airships similar to the Hindenburg.
The most remembered of these commercial passenger-carrying airships is the German D-LZ 129 Hindenburg, built by the Zeppelin Company.  German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838-1917) pioneered the development of rigid airships, such as the Hindenburg, in the early 20th century.  Zeppelin Company chairman Dr. Hugo Eckener named the airship after German Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934), who was the president of Germany from 1925 to 1934.  Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels wanted the airship to be named Adolf Hitler, which Eckener refused, although its rudder would eventually bear the swastika.  More than 803 feet in length, the mammoth dirigible called for a crew of 40 people, including 10 to 12 cooks, and provided berths for 72 passengers.  
Hindenburg Greets William Penn, newspaper front page 
"Hindenburg Greets William Penn,"  
August 9, 1936.

On March 4, 1936, the Hindenburg made its maiden test flight and would go on to complete 17 round trips across the Atlantic in that same year, carrying both passengers and freight.  The airship would occasionally fly over Philadelphia, as recorded in photographs and newspaper accounts across the city, especially in the now defunct Philadelphia Record.  Commanded by Captain Ernst Lehmann, the Hindenburg flew on August 8, 1936, for almost one full hour over Philadelphia, floating low in altitude over City Hall, William Penn's statue, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the dome of the Philadelphia Inquirer building.  
Unfortunately, disaster would strike.  On May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg burst into flames while landing at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey.  The crash killed 35 of the 97 individuals on board.  News coverage and radio accounts made this one of the most famous air disasters in history and led to the end of the use of rigid airships for commercial passengers.  The cause of the explosion of the Hindenburg has been debated for decades and has never been determined.  Some have considered sabotage, engine failure, and even a lightning strike.  The story of the disaster has become the subject of many books and movies, including the 1975 American film, The Hindenburg.  The airship's legacy is noted in the name of the famed hard-rock group Led Zeppelin, whose first album cover displayed a picture of the Hindenburg in flames.

As early as 1782, French forces had proposed the use of balloons to transport troops over British fortresses during war.  Later, during the American Civil War, an American aeronaut named T.S.C. Lowe utilized balloons in several military campaigns for reconnaissance missions and as bombers.  Eventually, these balloons, now called airships, blimps, or dirigibles, were not only employed during times of war, but also for civilian transportation.  


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