• Kristin Wenger

Wills Bust Brick Walls (#52Ancestors week 9: Where there's a will...)

I started with these two photographs:


Fannie M. (Erisman) Becker (1822-1913) [1]

Eric’s 3x great grandmother


Fannie’s son, Jacob E. Becker (1848-1933) [2]

Eric’s great-great grandfather


As you can see from the chart below, my husband’s grandfather was a double Becker. As his name (John Becker Becker) implied, both his mother and father came from families with the surname Becker. John’s mother, Alice Moyer Becker, was part of the “Pine Hill” Becker family, which I profiled in a previous story His father, Ira Hershey Becker, came from a different Becker line, about which we had less information. My mother-in-law shared the photographs of the two oldest generations in her collection, and I decided to see what I could learn about this Becker family.


Specifically, I was looking for more details about John H. Becker (Fannie’s husband and Jacob’s father). Disclaimer: if you’d rather not follow the details of my research, just skip to the map at the end to see where a will led me:



I had learned that his name was John H. Becker from Jacob’s death certificate, but the only other identifying information was that he was born in Pennsylvania.[3] As early as the 1860 census, Fannie was listed as a widow and lived the rest of her life with her son Jacob. She never remarried or had any other children.[4] Pennsylvania did not start keeping death records until 1906, but I was lucky enough to find a registration of death for John Becker during the brief window (1852-1854) that this record was kept.[5]


Registration of Death for John Becker, 1852


From this record, we learn that John Becker died of bronchitis at the young age of 31 on 3 October 1852. He was a farmer in East Hempfield Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who left a widow named Fanny (Ehrisman) and one child named Jacob E. Becker. His parents were listed as John Becker and Susan Foust (note the initial surname was crossed out).[6]


I had definitely found the correct family. Poor Fanny, who lived to the age of 90, was widowed before she reached her 30th birthday. Jacob was left fatherless at the age of three.

But here is where I hit the infamous “brick wall.” The father of the deceased John H. Becker was also named John Becker. As I would discover, there were numerous men named John Becker (sometimes spelled Baker) in the area. His wife’s name was not much help in easily accessible records because, prior to 1850, only heads of households (not individuals) were listed, making pre-1850 research much more challenging.


Enter this week’s writing prompt, “Where there’s a will…”

This case study of John Becker will highlight why wills, in combination with deeds, can be the most useful tool for finding out more about your family pre-1850.


Given John H. Becker’s death date of 3 October 1852, I searched for a will in close proximity to 1852.

A close-up image for legibility of the beginning of John Becker's 1852 will. A full transcription is provided below.


Will of John Becker[7]

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Will Book V: 306-307

Written 12 September 1852; proved 25 October 1852

NOTE: This transcription contains punctuation, capitalization, and spelling as in the original document.


“In the name of God, Amen. I, John Becker of East Hempfield Township in the County of Lancaster and State of Pennsylvania, Farmer, being weak in body and of sound mind, memory, and understanding, but considering the uncertainty of this transitory life, do make and publish this my last Will and Testament in manner and form following, to wit.
First, It is my Will and I do order, that all my just debts and funeral expenses be duly paid and satisfied as soon as conveniently can be after my decease.
Item. I give and bequeath unto my dear wife Fanny as much of my household and kitchen furniture as she shall choose to take: all or so much of my provision on hand at my death in the house and cellar, Wheat, Corn, potatoes, and firewood ready for use, as she should want for her use, also cider and apples for her use, one or two Cows of her choice, two Hogs, also hay and pasture for said cows and hogs; And the right to live in this my mansion house, and to occupy as much room as she should want for her use, one half of the cellar, privilege in the wash and bake house and part of the garden, so long as the Farm is not sold; and in case my hereinafter named executor shall sell the Farm, he shall then provide again a good home for my loving Wife Fanny.
Item. I give and bequeath unto my only child son Jacob – my plantation or tract of land in East Hempfield township, Lancaster County, containing One hundred and nineteen Acres and some perches of land, adjoining lands of Michael Moor, John Gross, Christian B. Peifer, and Mary Becker. In case my hereinafter named executor should think proper and adviseable one or two years after my decease to sell my Farm, he shall sell by public sale, and I give him full power to give good and lawful deed or deeds of same. I also appoint my herein after named executor to be Guardian over and for my son Jacob. In case my son Jacob would die under age, I do order that my hereinafter executor shall make sale of all such goods that my Wife shall not want.
And lastly I nominate, constitute, and appoint my brother-in-law Christian M. Erisman to be my Executor of this Will, hereby revoking all other wills, legacies, and bequests by me heretofore made, and declaring this and no other to be my last Will and Testament.
In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal the twelfth day of September, A.D. one thousand eight hundred and fifty two.
John Becker (seal)
Signed, sealed and declared by the said Testator as his last will and testament, in the presence of us
Samuel Martzall
Johannes Boffameyer
John Stauffer”

What have we learned from the will?

  • John cared deeply for his wife and made specific provisions for her well-being after his death.

  • John owned a 119-acre farm in East Hempfield Township, which he bequeathed to his only son, Jacob. (Next step: Research deeds to see if we can find the exact location of the farm. Adjoining property owners who were named will be useful.)

  • He named one of Fannie’s brothers, Christian M. Erisman, as Executor. (A brother could provide additional avenues to research Fannie’s family.)

  • Based on the 1850 census for East Hempfield Township, the witnesses were neighbors.[8] (Note: This makes me wonder if John had siblings. None are mentioned as beneficiaries, executors, or witnesses.)

I decided to find the deed for the East Hempfield farm, working backwards from Jacob E. Becker’s ownership.

The deed provides a key piece of information, transcribed in the excerpt below:


Jacob E. and Anna E. Becker to Elmer K. and Cora M. Brandt, Deed

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Deed Book K28: 417

29 December 1926


“Being a large part of the same premises which John Becker by his last will and testament dated June 25th 1844…did devise unto his two sons John and Solomon K. Becker as tenants in common…”

This 1844 will appears to be that of John H. Becker’s father John Becker and it indicates that John H. had a brother named Solomon K. Becker.[9] With that information in hand, the next step is to find the 1844 will and mine it for additional details. An image of a portion of the will appears below, followed by a transcription.


A portion of the 1844 will of John Becker (Sr.). The complete transcription is below.


Will of John Becker[10]

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Will Book T: 426-427

Written 25 June 1844; proved 13 July 1844


“In the name of God, Amen. I, John Becker of the County of Lancaster and State of Pennsylvania, farmer, being weak in body and of sound mind, memory and understanding, but considering the uncertainty of this transitory life, do make and publish this my last will and testament in manner and form following to wit.
First, it is my will, and I do order, that all my just debts and funeral expenses be duly paid and satisfied, as soon as conveniently can be after my decease.
Item. It is my will and I do order, that my dear Wife and the rest of my family are to continue keeping house until April 1st in the year A.D. 1848, the same as if I myself had been living, always however to the best advantage of the estate.
Item. I give and bequeath unto my dear Wife as much household and kitchen furniture as she thinks necessary to have for her use, after the year A.D. 1848.
Item. I give and bequeath unto my two sons, John and Solomon (after the year 1848) the farm now in the occupancy of Daniel Shreiner, situate in East Hempfield township, in the County and State aforesaid, and containing one hundred and twelve acres, they the said John and Solomon to have the said farm in common, until one or the other can purchase the one or the other’s share. I do further order that my hereinafter mentioned Executors shall be or act as Guardians for my son Solomon from the said year A.D. 1848 until he arrives to the age of twenty one years.
Item. I give and bequeath unto my daughter Charlotte the farm on which I now reside, situate in Warwick Township and containing Fifty three acres, she the said Charlotte to get possession on the first day of April A.D. 1848. I do further order that my two sons John and Solomon and my daughter Charlotte shall at or about the first day of April A.D. 1848, each of them choose one man, and those three men shall value and appraise the above mentioned farms at a fair and honest valuation, and the said John, Solomon, and Charlotte shall take the said farms at the valuation of the said appraisers.
Item. I give and bequeath unto my beloved Wife the interest of twenty eight hundred dollars, so long as she shall remain my widow, the said twenty eight hundred dollars to remain charged on the said farms during the natural life of my dear wife or so long as she remains my widow, in form following, to wit. One thousand dollars thereof to be charged on John’s share, one thousand dollars to be charged on Solomon’s share, and eight hundred dollars in Charlotte’s share, the interest thereof, to be paid unto my dear wife each and every year, during her widowhood, after the appraisers have valued and appraised as mentioned above, the balance or remainder of the valuation, after deducting the twenty eight hundred dollars, shall be divided or apportioned unto my four children, John, Solomon, Charlotte, and Elias, in trust only for the said Elias. I do order that my hereinafter named Executors shall with the one fourth part, or the said Elias’s share, purchase a property at some convenient place, for the use of the said Elias during his natural life, and after his death to go to his lawful heirs.
I do further order that at the death or termination of the widowhood of my dear Wife, the said twenty eight hundred dollars shall be paid by my three children, John, Solomon, and Charlotte, and to be divided among my four children, John, Solomon, Charlotte, and Elias, or in trust only however of the said Elias. I do further order my hereinafter named Executors to put Elias’s share to interest or purchase some property for his use, subject to the same conditions as above.
And as touching the remainder of my personal property as not yet disposed of, shall be sold by public sale by my Executors and distributed among my four children above named, in the same manner as above mentioned; and I do further order that the proceeds of the two farms, or the overplus of the same, shall be applied to furnishing the children with house furniture and other necessaries, that is the overplus of the proceeds of the farms from the time of my death until the year A.D. 1848.
And lastly I nominate, constitute, and appoint my son John and my friend Simon Minnich (farmer) to be the executors of this will, hereby revoking all other wills, legacies, and bequests, by me heretofore made, and declaring this and no other to be my last will and testament.
In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal the twenty fifth day of June, one thousand eight hundred & forty four.
Johannes [Becker] seal
Signed, sealed and declared by the said testator as his last will and testament in the presence of us.
John M. Summy
Jacob Fordney

Key information disclosed by the 1844 will: [11]

  • There were four children: John and Solomon (mentioned in the deed), also a daughter named Charlotte and a younger son named Elias.

  • The father John Becker owned two farms: one in East Hempfield Township of 112 acres and one in Warwick Township of 53 acres. At the time the will was written in June 1844, the Becker family lived on the Warwick Township farm which was given to the daughter Charlotte (rather unusual at the time). Daniel Shreiner was farming the East Hempfield Township property which was bequeathed to brothers John and Solomon for occupation in 1848.


Based on this information, I did additional research on each of the four children which uncovered several interesting items, but exceeds the scope of this article.


To sum up, given the two photographs I started with, I wanted to learn more about John H. Becker, the husband of Fannie and father of Jacob.

Using just a few key records, we have discovered not only his birth and death dates, but his parents, three siblings, his loving provision for his wife and son, and the exact location of his farm.


The deed provided enough specific information that even without land platting, we can locate it today:

  • The land is within East Hempfield Township.

  • It borders the eastern edge of Colebrook Road.

  • It borders the Lancaster and Manheim State Road (Route 72, Manheim Pike)

  • It borders the northern edge of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad.[12]

Lancaster County readers may recognize the map below. The railroad track is highlighted in yellow.

Many will recognize Root’s or the Junction Center, home of WJTL.[13] Root’s started as a poultry auction in 1925 by A.W. Root.[14] In 1930, Jacob E. Becker was living just one dwelling away from Elmer Brandt, to whom he sold the majority of his land in 1926. Just three more dwellings away was the household of A.W. Root.[15]


Do you see the red line on the map? That indicates a short little road now named Becker Road. Hmm, I wonder how it got its name? Now whenever Eric and I take our kids to Root’s on a Tuesday summer evening to stock up on fresh produce, I think about how cool it is that my kids are walking around on the land that belonged to their fifth great grandparents, and perhaps generations before that. I guess I still have more research to do!


Take-aways for your family history:

Wills and deeds may take more effort to access, but they contain invaluable primary information that you may not be able to find anywhere else. If you are stuck at a brick wall, particularly before 1850, a will may be just the source you need!


If you’d like to follow my #52Ancestors series, click here to sign up so you never miss a week.


Are wills and deeds out of your comfort zone? Let me know how I can help.


Sources:

[1] Pennsylvania Department of Health, Certificate of Death no. 26468, Fanny Becker, 28 March 1913, Lancaster County; viewed at "Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966," digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 February 2018); citing Series 11.90: Death Certificates 1906 -1966, Record Group 11: Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg.


[2] Pennsylvania Department of Health, Certificate of Death no. 63805, Jacob E. Becker, Sr., 18 July 1933, Lancaster County; viewed at "Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966," digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 February 2018); citing Series 11.90: Death Certificates 1906 -1966, Record Group 11: Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg.


[3] Ibid.


[4] 1860 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, East Hempfield Township, page 59 (penned), page 301 (stamped), dwelling 441, family 457, Fannie Becker; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 February 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 1120. Also, 1910 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, East Hempfield Township, Enumeration District (ED) 51, sheets 9-B and 10-A, dwelling 224, family 241, Jacob E. Becker household; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 February 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1353.


[5] “How to Find Pennsylvania Death Records,” FamilySearch Wiki (https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/How_to_Find_Pennsylvania_Death_Records : accessed 17 February 2018).


[6] Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Registration of Death no. 107, John Becker, 3 October 1852; digital image, “Pennsylvania, Deaths, 1852-1854,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 February 2018) > Pennsylvania, Deaths, 1852-1854 > Lancaster > image 55.


[7] Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Will Book V: 306-307, John Becker, 12 September 1852; Lancaster County Archives, Lancaster.


[8] 1850 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, East Hempfield Township, page 305 (penned), page 152 (stamped), dwelling 316, family 316, John Baker [Becker]; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 February 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 788. See also family 314 (Martzall) and 317 (Stauffer).


[9] Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Deed Book K, Vol. 28: 417, Jacob E. Becker et ux to Elmer K. Brandt et ux, 29 December 1926; Lancaster County Archives, Lancaster; digital image, Lancaster County Office of the Recorder of Deeds (http://www.lancasterdeeds.com : accessed 17 February 2018).


[10] Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Will Book V: 306-307, John Becker, 12 September 1852; Lancaster County Archives, Lancaster.


[11] Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Will Book T: 426-427, John Becker, 25 June 1844; Lancaster County Archives, Lancaster.


[12] Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Deed Book K, Vol. 28: 417, Becker to Brandt, 29 December 1926.


[13] Google Maps (http://www.maps.google.com : accessed 17 February 2018), search for “Root’s Country Market.”


[14] “History,” Root’s Country Market & Auction (http://www.rootsmarket.com/history.php : accessed 17 February 2018).


[15] 1930 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, East Hempfield Township, Enumeration District (ED) 36-31, sheet 17-B, dwelling 412, family 420, Jacob E. Becker in Alpheus V. Becker household; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 February 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 2056. For Elmer K. Brandt and Abraham W. Root, see sheet 17-A, families 419 and 416.