Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thriller Thursday: Always an Accomplice, Never a Bandit

Until recently, I had thought the only scoundrels in my family tree were the growing number of alcoholics. Enter George O. Shaffer. George Shaffer was my grandmother's brother. I never knew him, but my mother did. She told me he was 'a funny old bird' and my grandmother Sarah fretted over him often. He never married, he appeared and disappeared at random, and he sometimes drove a cab.

While browsing the digital archives for Delaware County, PA, and searching for newspaper mentions of my relatives, I did a search for George. At first I was skeptical about what I found, then, the evidence mounted.

Uncle George Shaffer was a convicted accomplice to Cliff Redden, known as the 'Flash Bandit' in the mid 1940s1. Together with Flash and another accomplice, George participated in at least seven armed robberies and three car thefts. He was sentenced to 50-100 years of hard labor and solitary confinement at Eastern State Penitentiary2.

Eastern State closed its doors in 1971, but evidence suggests he was already released by this time. George's mother, Sadie, passed away in 1964, and her obituary indicates that her son George was residing in Folcroft, PA3. I am working on obtaining the records of his incarceration to pin down the exact dates.

While some might say an armed robber deserves 50-100 years in prison, at least one person disagreed. John Parmer Gates, minister of the Upland Baptist Church, wrote an impassioned letter to the editor of the Chester Times4. George Shaffer, he wrote, "was hit by an automobile, which injured his right frontal lobe. He still bears a large scar which runs from above the forehead to the cheek. In the Army, while stationed in England and while in transit to the United States he was confined to a psychopathic ward. He was given an honorable discharge with a bill of poor health." All facts which the minister believed should have been considered at sentencing.
1"Young Bandits Admit Staging Three Holdups," Chester Times, 2 Feb 1946, p. 1.
2'"'Flash's' Pals Get 50 Years for Robberies," Chester Times, 25 Mar 1946, p. 1.
3"Winnberg [obituary]," Delaware County Daily Times, 17 Feb 1964, p. 4.
4"Upland Pastor Writes [Letter to the Times editor]," Chester Times, 28 Mar 1946, p. 6.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Military Monday: Union Cemetery in Redwood City, CA

My partner and I spent the holiday weekend in Central/Northern California, visiting friends and relatives. My girlfriend is kind enough to indulge me in my love of cemeteries, so we visited two over our trip. The second was Union Cemetery in Redwood City. This cemetery contains the graves of Civil War soldiers and their family members. I checked Find A Grave before we headed out, and it looked as though less than 1,000 of the approximately 2,400 graves had been added. There was work to do.

The cemetery is relatively well maintained, but obviously some graves are worse off, simply due to age. Some of the stones were marble, with concrete backing them to preserve the stone and avoid cracking. I think these stones are so beautiful. Other than the penchant they seem to have for cracking, the lettering seems to hold up pretty well.

We took photos of several graves, and I was happy to see some of them had not been added to Find A Grave yet. Others were listed, but with no photo attached. Unfortunately I was not able to fulfill the requests listed for the cemetery. I only had about an hour before we had to hit the road. It was a great trip, made more special by the addition of some records to Find A Grave. I think I will try to visit a cemetery each new place I go. It seems like a neat way of commemorating the trip.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Funeral Card Friday: Mary Hannigan

I found this funeral card in my mom's boxes of assorted photos and memorabilia. Mary E. (Brennan) Hannigan was my mother's grandmother. This card was of particular interest to me, as I didn't know her date of death, and neither my mom or grandmother were able to tell me for sure. No one could remember where my great grandmother was buried either. Forunately, the funeral home that is listed on this card is still in business, and they responded very quickly to my message. My grandmother is buried in Saint Mary's cemetery in Salem, New Jersey1.
1Robert Laughrey , "Re: contact form message,"email to Stacy McConnell, 24 Oct 2012.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Workday Wednesday: The Warwick Hotel

My second great grandfather, Frederick Gledhill, was born in 18821. He was a lifetime Philadelphian, and unfortunately lost his wife, Elizabeth, during the birth of their youngest daughter2. Throughout the decades, I've been able to trace Fred's employment via census records and draft registrations. He worked a variety of jobs, from 1900 where he is listed as a teamster3, to chauffering1, landscape gardening4, and finally working in a hotel5.

The 1940 census found Fred living with his son (also named Fred), and his occupation is listed as "houseman" in a hotel. When Fred registered for the draft two years later, he provided further information on his employment. His employer is listed as The Warwick Hotel6.

Warwick Hotel Postcard, 1940s

It's really exciting to be able to see the exact location where my ancestor worked. The facade has not changed much since the hotel was built, and thankfully there are old photos and postcards of the Warwick still floating around. A little piece of my personal history found on the Register of Historic Places!
1World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005, entry for Fred Gledhill, citing original record Registration Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1907766, Draft Board: 42.
2Richard J. Gledhill, Sr., Barbara Gledhill-Begg, and Stacy McConnell. Oral interview, 12 October 2012, by Stacy McConnell at Richard's home in Secane, Pennsylvania. DVD recording in the possession of Stacy McConnell, Azusa, California.
31900 U.S. census, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Philadelphia, 30th Ward, enumeration district (ED) 772, sheet 9, dwelling 175, family 179, Fred Gledhill household; digital images, (; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm 1241472, roll 1472.
41930 U.S. census, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Philadelphia, 40th Ward, enumeration district (ED) 51-240, sheet 17A, dwelling 174, family 186, Fred J. Gledhill household; digital images, (; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm 2341865, roll 2131.
51940 U.S. census, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Philadelphia, 40th Ward, enumeration district (ED) 51-1633, sheet 9A, dwelling 129, Frederick J. Gledhill, Jr. household; digital images, (; citing National Archives and Records Administration, microfilm roll Roll: T627_3737.
6World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010, entry for Frederick Joseph Gledhill, citing original record Registration Location: Pennsylvania; Microfilm Series: M1951; Microfilm Roll: 111.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday (Or rather, tomestone-less Tuesday)

One of my recent trips that did not go so well was to visit Mount Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia. Through death records (and some kind help from an Ancestry member!), I learned that two of my great grandmother, Mary Sellers's, previously unknown sisters were buried here.

My mom, girlfriend, and I went in early October of this year.I was prepared for the place to be in disrepair, as the cemetery is abandoned with little upkeep. When we first entered, the front of the cemetery looked decent, but the farther you move from the street, the worse the upkeep is. By the time we reached section 15, where my family is buried, it was not looking pretty.

We could see grave markers buried under the foliage, but there was no way to reach them without some serious landscaping tools. We're talking machetes. Unfortunately, these tombstones remain a mystery for now. Buried in this section were:

Josephine Sellers1
06/20/1912 - 12/05/1912

Elizabeth Rebecca Sellers2
03/20/1901 - 12/04/1919

My great grandmother was raised in an orphanage from the age of 5 years old, and she did not have the opportunity to know much about most of her family members. In this particular family, there were at least 13 children, and only four that I am aware of survived to adulthood. I am searching for all the information I can get about her siblings now. I think Old Grandmom (as we charmingly called her) would like their stories to be known.
1Josephine Sellers, Death (5 Dec 1912); “Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates Index, 1803-1915,” digital image, ( : accessed 20 Nov 2012), citing Death Records, microfilm 1421355, Philadelphia City Archives.
2Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, compiler, "Mount Moriah Cemetery Interrment Records," database, accessed by Lyla Taylor (28 Sep 2012). Database entry for Elizabeth Sellers (?-1919).

Monday, November 19, 2012

Some good luck in the graveyard

I took a trip home to Pennsylvania last month (and got trapped by Hurricane Sandy!). My extended stay was the perfect opportunity for my mom and I to go on the hunt for some family graves.

Earlier in the month, my mom had gifted to me a genealogy treasure--a battered metal box containing the Mass cards, flower list, and guest book from my great grandfather's funeral. Finding any information about this particular branch of the family tree is rare. The oldest living person is my maternal grandmother, who seems neither interested in, nor particularly knowledgeable about, our family history. This funeral box was from her father, Martin Hannigan's, funeral. It also contained the deed to the burial plot, and dates of interment for both of Martin's parents1. Jackpot.

Armed with the knowledge that these three family members were buried together at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Cheltenham, PA, I told Mom we were going visiting. (Sidebar--how the hell do you say Sepulchre? I have no idea, so I'm going with Holy Sep, as the cemetery staff referred to it). This cemetery is still in use, and the woman working in the office was kind enough to copy the information on our family for us.

This is the headstone for my second great grandmother, Mary Gilbride Hannigan. Her husband, John, and son, Martin, are buried in this plot along with her. Martin evidently chose not to have his father's name added to the tombstone. My grandmother did not add Martin's name either, for reasons unknown to me. She speaks very highly of her father, and he died unfortunately young. Graves without headstones are incredibly sad to me. We have quite a few in our family. I am thinking perhaps I will add Martin's name to the stone. I would like him to be properly remembered.
1Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham, PA, Burial record (1961), Martin Hannigan.

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