(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Erie Post Office (Postcard Series)

Postcard; post marked 1914; collection of the author.

Postcard; post marked 1914; collection of the author.

This beauty was demolished in 1937, and replaced with the U.S. District Courthouse that now sits on South Park Row at the corner of State Street. Built in 1887 under the direction of renowned American architect Mifflin Elmen Bell, it opened in 1888, and functioned as both a post office and federal courthouse.[1]

For more information on the construction of the building, see Debbi Lyon’s post, “Old Federal Courthouse Was Majestic,” over at Old Time Erie.

Wordless Wednesday is a weekly blogging prompt sponsored by Geneabloggers.


[1] Erie Federal Courthouse, “History of the Federal Judiciary,” Federal Judicial Center (http://www.fjc.gov : accessed February 2016).

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Erie County Courthouse (Postcard Series)

Postcard; postmarked Erie, 1947; collection of the author.

Postcard; postmarked Erie, 1947; collection of the author.

Erie’s County Courthouse, located at 140 West Sixth Street, was erected and opened for business in May 1855.

Erie County was established 12 March 1800, but for its first three years, it was attached to Crawford County. The very first Erie court was held in 1803, at Goerge Buehler’s hotel at the corner of French and Third Streets. The first official courthouse was erected on the West Park, north of the soldier’s monument, in 1808. That building, and its entire contents, burned 23 March 1823. A new building, built on the footprint of the first, took two years to complete, and served as the county seat for thirty years.[1]

Wordless Wednesday is a weekly blogging prompt sponsored by Geneabloggers.

[1] Samuel P. Bates, History of Erie County… (Chicago: Warner & Beers, 1884), 512-514.

Erie County History


I stopped by the Hagen History Center the other day and had a nice chat with Annita, who, if you don’t know her, is the historical society’s archivist, having served as such long enough to be the go-to person for everything that’s happened in the County for the last two hundred years, give or take… 🙂

The Reading Room, aside from being gorgeous, smells of cherry wood and old books, and, as befitting a library of history, gives one a sense of being in the presence of greatness, as if perhaps Erie’s pioneers and early industrialists are looking over our shoulders, guiding us through the sea of their business and personal papers, helping us to reconstruct Erie County’s formative years and unveil the part they played in making it was it is today.

The staff at the history center has been hard at work filling the rooms of the Watson-Curtze Mansion with exhibits of all sorts. I believe there are eleven. Particularly delightful is the collection of vintage postcards. The Herculean task of moving the archives into the new storage space at the back of the Carriage House is on a brief hold until the supports for the mezzanine that will hold the 3-D collections and the movable shelving for everything else, arrive. The archives’ holdings are in storage at the old site and are difficult to access. I’d recommend checking with Annita ahead of a research visit, if you need something during the transition.

Thomas B. Hagen History Center

The Erie Society for Genealogical Research has moved its office to the newly opened Thomas B. Hagen History Center, in the Carriage House of the Watson-Curtze Mansion at 356 West Sixth Street.

new reading room

The grand opening gala was held on August 29th. It was a lovely evening. The renovated Carriage House is beautiful, although I was sad to see that it appears the research space in the new reading room is quite a bit smaller than the old space on State Street. As a volunteer in the Archives, and a member of the ESGR, I recall many times when the old reading room was filled to capacity, so I do wonder if we’ll end up fighting each other for a chair when the new space is open for researchers, Thursdays through Saturdays, 11am to 5pm. Note that hours have changed and researchers no longer have access to the library on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so plan accordingly! Also, if you need to research in the library’s microfilm collection, you may want to hold off for a bit, or at least call before stopping by, as they hadn’t moved the microfilm readers as of yesterday.

The ESGR’s office space is, as I understand it, located on the second floor of the Carriage House, which I did not have a chance to see the evening of the Gala. I believe there may also be a larger room of the size needed to hold our monthly membership meetings; however, I’m not sure the second floor can accommodate visitors who have trouble with stairs, as, unlike the old history center, there is no elevator. [Is it just me, or is this a strange and rather major oversight?] The first floor reading room doesn’t appear large enough for our meetings, particularly those featuring a guest speaker, but I could be entirely wrong on this point as I’d had at least a glass and a half of champagne before I took the tour 🙂 At any rate, the staff at the historical society has done a remarkable job with this move, although I fear they may be too exhausted at this point to enjoy the results of their preternatural efforts. It’s a gorgeous space, and will be a joy to work in. And, no small matter, parking is ample and free!

The Erie news did a nice story on the new space: http://www.goerie.com/gala-celebrates-hagen-history-center-renovations#

While a volunteer of both the ECHS and the ESGR, I speak for neither of those organizations, and the opinions and observations expressed here are entirely my own.

Index to N.W. Russell’s Manuscript on Erie County History

The pioneers of Erie County were proud of their efforts to settle the wilds of what was only newly part of Northwest Pennsylvania, and the Russell family was no different. Captain Nathaniel Williard Russell, son of early settler Hamlin Russell, and grandson of Revolutionary War patriot Nathaniel Russell, of Connecticut, is credited with recording much of the county’s early days. He wrote a series of newspaper articles on the History of Erie County which ran in The (Erie) Gazette from 1870 to 1886. He also co–authored Part II of Warner & Beers’ county history. An index of names from his original manuscript, housed at the Erie County Historical Society’s Library & Archives, was compiled by the Erie Society for Genealogical Research (ESGR) in 2001.That index is in the process of being published, over a number of issues, in the ESGR’s quarterly bulletin, Keystone Kuzzins, wherein, if you sign up to have the issues sent to you digitally, you will be able to search on names.

The impetus for Russell’s work, according to the publishers of Warner & Beers’ 1884 History of Erie County, a death bed conversation between Nathaniel and his ailing father Hamlin, in which the elder man is alleged to have said:1

I have made a great mistake in not keeping, for the good of future generations, a historical record of the advent and progress of the early settlers. Your retentive memory can yet collect them, and put them in a shape that will be of great use to the inhabitants hereafter. Promise me you will do so.

And, so he did, in the form of a weekly column in the Erie Gazette, spanning 1870–1886.2  He also co–authored, with Benjamin Whitman, Part II of Warner & Beers History, dealing with the settlement and development of the county. Nelson also acknowledges his reliance on Nathaniel’s work in his Biographical, Dictionary, and Historical Reference, published in 1896.3

Apart from the fact that, as researchers, we are fortunate there was such a man as Nathaniel Russell, with a passion for history and a wish, much like our own, to preserve it for future generations, we must also take heed: We are the Nathan Russells of our time. As you study the documents made by your ancestors, and diligently record the information within, also task yourself with noting the history of the eras and the context in which your ancestors made those records. It makes a difference. It gives us a better understanding of our origins and heritage and preserves it for those who pick up the work we leave behind, either to carry it on or merely to learn from whence they came.


1.  The History of Erie County… (Chicago: Warner & Beers, 1884), iii.

2.  See WorldCat’s listing on the newspaper articles at http://www.worldcat.org/title/history-of-erie-county/oclc/31134414&referer=brief_results : accessed May 2015.

3.  S.B. Nelson, Biographical, Dictionary, and Historical Reference Book of Erie County, Pennsylvania (Erie: S.B. Nelson, 1896), iii.


Migration Paths Which Led Our Ancestors to Western Pennsylvania

Our ancestors led lives as complex as ours are today. They celebrated milestones and events just like we do; they weathered hardships similar to ours; and, their actions were driven by the same hopes and fears that we face today. We tend to think that in the ‘good ole days’ back when life was simple, our ancestors lived their entire lives in one place. Family and community were everything. Travel was always difficult and often dangerous. Wagons and saddle bags were the only means for moving belongings. But, colonists and immigrants were a hardy bunch. They’d already survived a trip across the Atlantic and they were adventurers at heart. As the land of the eastern part of our country filled up, our ancestors looked westward. The earliest among them were attracted to a frontier of abundant, virgin land. Later, the draw was industry and opportunity. Some received bounty land for military service, many moved for economic or politic reasons, others followed religious leaders. They migrated with extended family and friends and tended to follow established routes, many of which were laid out by Native Americans long before the colonists arrived. Studying the routes and learning about the push and pull factors of any given time period can help us better understand our forebears and provide clues to the origins of ancestors who seemingly appeared out of thin air.

Erie, Pennsylvania, is an ethnic melting pot. Early settlers were looking for land. Later, waves of immigrants from all over Europe and Asia were attracted by opportunities which arose as industry developed along the Great Lakes. Periods of heavy migration, particular to our region, stemmed from:

1. Seventeenth century New Englanders enticed by open land
2. Post American Revolution, military bounty land.
3. Early 1800s, development of industry along canals and railroads

The first two were primarily rural to rural. The last was usually rural to urban. If you have a general idea when your ancestor arrived in Erie, study the U.S. history of that period. Was there a war? Was there crop failure or economic crisis? What were the predominant roadways and water systems in place at the time. Using historical context, you may be able to trace your ancestor’s elusive origins, by working backwards. Study maps of the time period. Your ancestor may not have made the trip west all at once. It was much more common for migrants to stop along the way for months or even years at a time, while they earned the money needed to continue on their journey. There are two excellent resources for learning more about the specific trails and routes which impacted Erie:

Eldridge, Carrie. An Atlas of Appalachian Trails to the Ohio River. Huntington, WV: CDM Printing, 1998.Eldridge, Carrie. An Atlas of Northern Trails Westward from New England. Huntington, WV: CDM Printing, 2000.

In modern times, when migration was motivated by industry, ancestors can be followed through census records. But moves west before the 1850s are harder to trace. Erie’s population grew from migration along several well–known routes.

The primary early route west from New England was the Mohawk Trail, which followed the Mohawk River. Massachusetts colonists often took a military road known as the “Old Connecticut Path,” westward from Boston to Albany, across the Berkshires, where it joined with the Mohawk Trail. This route crossed the Hudson River and then took a northerly route through the Appalachian Mountains. Loyalists took these trails into Canada, during and immediately after the American Revolution. It was along this route that the Erie Canal and railroads were built, and later the Massachusetts and New York Thruways.

If your ancestors arrived in the mid to late 1800s, especially single young men, they may have come with the canal or railroad. Look along the New York Thruway to find towns where he might have stopped for a period of time.

Braddock’s Road was a southerly route west across the Appalachian Mountains. Developed as a military road during the French and Indian Wars, this route led from the southern colonies to the Pittsburgh area. It was a route taken by many Scotch–Irish, and it was also popular among trappers and traders, heading toward trading settlements in Ohio and Michigan. If your ancestors only stopped in Erie briefly, they could have been on their way farther west.

Forbes’ Road, also military in its origins, led from Philadelphia and Harrisburg, crossing the middle of Pennsylvania to arrive at Pittsburgh.


Reference material for this article was found in Beverly Whitaker’s United States Migration Patterns, National Institute for Genealogical Studies, Toronto. Also, Ray Allen Billington’s Westward Expansion: a History of the American Frontier. 5th Ed. New York: Macmillan, 1982.

Finding Genealogical Gems Tucked Away in Libraries & Archives

I volunteered last month in the ECHS Library & Archives, tasked with packing a special collection of rare books, readying them for the impending move to the archives new location on 6th Street. The particular unit I worked on contained three shelves of books from the Battles Collection. I might have gotten the job done sooner, but as I picked up each title to wrap it in tissue and bubble wrap, an overwhelming curiosity urged me to open its cover, and look through the first few pages. I was particularly drawn to, no surprise, the dictionaries, grammar, and spelling books, inscribed with the names of their young owners. Many of them belonged to CHARLOTTE M. and JAMES WEBSTER, JR., of New York and, later, Girard. Naturally, having a penchant for family history, I wondered all kinds of things: Were they siblings? Did both survive to adulthood? Did Charlotte use her education, privileged as she must have been to be receiving a formal one in the first decade of the 1800s? And, how were they related to the Battles family?

It occurred to me that this small collection of schoolbooks, dating from as early as 1786, is a rich source of information about the Webster family. The subject and condition of the books hint at the family’s lifestyle and provide context to their family activities. The copyright dates place the family in a particular decade and suggest ages of the children. The inscriptions in the front situate the family and suggests migration patterns. The use of such things as “Jr.” in a name provides clues to paternity. The very signature themselves could potentially be useful in establishing identity in records made by persons of the same names later in life. Wow! I can definitely see this kind of resource coming in handy when reconstructing families who predate more typical types of genealogy sources, both here in Erie County, and elsewhere. So, add this to your arsenal of records to check when creating your research plans. Check catalogs at historical societies, libraries, and archives in the communities where your ancestors live. And don’t forget—if your find something useful, take the time to write a complete source citation!!

(This article was originally published in the November 2014 issue of Keystone Kuzzins, the Erie Society for Genealogical Research’s quarterly newsletter.)

Genealogy & the Computer Users of Erie

One of our own was the featured speaker at tonight’s Erie Society for Genealogical Research’s monthly meeting.

Dave Howell spoke about the Computer Users of Erie (CUE) which has a genealogy special interest group that meets at 7:00pm on the first Tuesday of every month. The genealogy group was organized twenty years ago, by four or five CUE members who shared an interest in learning how to research their family history. They were novices, and their mission was to learn how to do online genealogy, to develop a legacy they could pass on to their children and grandchildren, and to have fun doing it.

One of their first tasks was deciding on a software program which would produce family charts and narrative histories. They chose Legacy Genealogy software, and still use it today. They also decided to invest in one search engine. They chose Ancestry and were allowed to have a group membership which allows three online sessions at one time. Some members have their own Ancestry subscription, but for those who don’t, they have the option of buying into the group subscription. The cost varies year to year, depending on how many memberships sign opt in, but it’s typically $15 to $20 each.

The group meets at members’ homes. They tackle research problems members are having, and troubleshoot members’ software problems, working collectively to find solutions. There are lots of happy discoveries and laughter, and over the years the group has developed quite a camaraderie. They have also offered classes, geared at helping others get started on their own genealogy research.

Anyone interested in joining is invited to come to one or two meetings, and if they decide to join, a membership to the CUE is $24/year. You can find more information at the group’s website: www.cuerie.com

Looking for a death in Erie County, Pennsylvania?

(This article was previously published in Keystone Kuzzins, Vol. 42, no. 2, the quarterly bulletin of the Erie Society for Genealogical Research.)

In 2011, Pennsylvania State Senate Bill 361 was approved, amending the Vital Statistics Law of 1953, thereby granting public access to birth certificates for people born at least 105 years ago, and death certificates for anyone dead at least 50 years. Birth and death indices are published on the PA Department of Health Website and certified copies can be ordered from the Department of Vital Records in New Castle. However, effective 1 July 2013, non–certified copies, including those for genealogical purposes, are only available through the PA State Archives, and the turnaround time can be quite lengthy. Fortunately, Ancestry is endeavoring to digitize all of the public death records, and has recently published the images in a searchable database which, at present, covers the period of 1906–1924. Thank you Ancestry! The database, entitled appropriately enough “Pennsylvania, Death Certificates 1906–1924,” is projected to be complete through 1963 by the end of this year. Although Ancestry is a subscription site, Erie County public library patrons have free access to the site, and Pennsylvania residents can access Ancestry’s database via a free Pennsylvania account, which can be set up here.

Erie City newspapers, dating back to around 1822, have been microfilmed and can be viewed in the Heritage Room at the Blasco Public Library. An online index to the obituaries is searchable on the library’s website. As of today (May 9th) the index is current through 31 January 2014. Although the index is online, the obituaries themselves are not. That requires a visit to the library or, for a small fee, the library’s staff will send you an image of the published obituary.

Obituaries published in the Erie Times News can also be found online at Legacy.com here. The date range for Legacy’s archive is 30 January 2002 through present day.

Although rarely accessible online, other types of death records which shouldn’t be overlooked include: probate and other court records, church and cemetery records, coroner and police reports, funeral home records (often, when a funeral home closed, their records were transferred to another company, and may still be available), nursing home, asylum, and state hospital records (although many of these are restricted by privacy laws), and the periodicals and other publications of fraternal orders and organizations.

Erie Cemetery Association’s Online Interment Database

The Erie Cemetery Association manages three separate cemeteries in Erie, Erie County, Pennsylvania:

  • Erie Cemetery, 2116 Chestnut Street, Erie
  • Wintergreen Gorge Cemetery, 2601 Norcross Road, Erie
  • Laurel Hill Cemetery, 4523 Love Road, Erie

The plan for a private, non-denominational cemetery in Erie was hatched in 1846, when a handful of residents offered to, at their own expense, purchase an appropriately sized piece of land; however, it did not officially get underway until December 1849, when a larger group of local citizens agreed to purchase seventy–five acres for $7,500. [1]

Those acquainted with Erie’s early history will no doubt recognize the names of some of the area’s earliest and best known pioneer families among the list of thirty–one subscribers who contributed financially to the project:

$100 each
George A. ELIOT
William HIMROD
George A. LYON
Irvin CAMP
William A. BROWN

$50 each
William KELLEY
William W. REED

Some additional contributors:
Mrs. R.S. REED, $50
John EVANS, $50
M.B. LOWRY, $50
J.C. BEEBE, $25
Thomas H. SILL, $25
John P. VINCENT, $25
John MOORE, $25
Andrew SCOTT, $10

On 29 January 1850, the cemetery was incorporated, and shortly thereafter the incorporators elected a board of seven managers: Charles M. REED, George A. ELIOT, William KELLEY, John GALBRAITH, Elisha BABBITT, William HIMROD, and A.W. BREWSTER. That seven in turn elected officers: George A. ELIOT, President, William A. BROWN, Secretary, and J.C. SPENCER, Treasurer. The group was granted deed on the land with a down payment of $1,500 and the understanding that the remaining $6,000 balance owed would be raised through the sale of burial lots.

H. Daniels was hired to design the grounds and the cemetery opened for business 20 May 1851.

Map of the Erie Cemetery Lots

Reprinted with the kind permission of Erie Cemetery Association

Reprinted with the kind permission of Erie Cemetery Association

The association’s website has some interesting information about the history of the cemetery, and biographies of some of its more famous residents. There is a searchable index of interments, although the burial records themselves are not accessible online.

To illustrate the detail available on the cemetery association’s website, I searched the interment index for records related to the Nicholson family, one of the earliest to settle in West Millcreek and Fairview. A sampling of information the search produced:




Additional Details



Nicholson Dr. John





Nicholson Eliza Jane



4.5′ W of NE cor Hd N


Nicholson George



Reint fr Presbyterian Grounds 3/25/1852


Nicholson George Sheldon





Nicholson Henry C.



Inner circle, E line, Hd E


Nicholson Jane



Reint fr Presbyterian Grounds 3/27/1852


Nicholson Jane



Reint fr Assoc Reform Grounds 6/22/1854

Nicholson Jane



Inner crcl abt 4.5′ W of Alex’s stone, Hd SW


Nicholson Jane Ball





Nicholson John



Reint fr Presbyterian Grounds


Nicholson John E.





Note: Some of the NICHOLSONs listed above died before the cemetery was established. The family, quite affluent in their community, purchased a large lot and had the remains exhumed from their original resting places and re-interred in the family lot. I suspect they were not the only family to do so.

[1] Samuel P. Bates, History of Erie County, Pennsylvania: containing a history of the county, its townships, towns, villages, schools, churches, industries, etc., portraits of early settlers and prominent men, biographies, history of Pennsylvania, statistical and miscellaneous matter, etc., etc.. (Chicago: Warner & Beers, 1884), 605-6.