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Monday, August 1, 2022

A Serendipitous Genealogy discovery

Sometimes the most important documents, photos, or artifacts in our family history come to us from distant family who kindly passes on wonderful treasures like the family bible or a photo of a long-lost relative.  As the extended family all know that I have a passion for genealogy, often envelopes or boxes of items get passed on to the nutty family historian.  Sometimes the treasures are right under our noses, and we had them all along.


I was in charge of the care of my mother's house in Pennsylvania during the summers when she stayed at the ancestral home on the Chesapeake. One hot July day in 1997 early in my family history journey I was doing the weekly chores sorting mail and watering plants when I remembered a scene as a young girl talking to my father in my parent's basement when he pulled out an old photo of his puppy and one of his mother who had died in 1912.  It occurred to me that the photos were still in the house, and I poured over every box I could find without success.  Discouraged, I sat in Daddy's easy chair to think and spoke out loud my frustration and plea for guidance. Suddenly I had an idea for a hideaway in the basement, zoomed down the stairs, and within minutes had two old wooden trunks filled with documents, photos, jewelry, locks of hair, tin types, albums, newspapers, and more.  I was crying so hard that when I called my mother in Maryland I couldn't make myself understood and frightened her.  It took some time to convince her they were tears of joy.


Inside the wooden box were documents from the family including a legal-size sheet that described a 1920 family reunion of the Eisenberg/Jones family.[1]  It gave some history that led me to research our connection, and all at once I was related to a family that settled in Pennsylvania before William Penn! I spent the summer learning all about "New Sweden" along the Delaware River that was settled starting in 1638. On 27 September 1997, the descendants of the Swedish colonists held several events in Pennsylvania and Delaware to celebrate their heritage. I attended the annual Mans Jones Day in Berks County at the house owned by one of my ancestors in 1701.[2]   The Historical Preservation Trust of Berks County had people dressed in colonial garb and I ate lunch in the nearby colonial tavern. The next day the state of Delaware sponsored the launch of a replica of a Swedish ship, the Kalmar Nyckel, which brought many of the Swedish colonists to America. It is to be the official "tall ship" of Delaware because the first landing of the original Kalmar Nyckel was near present-day Wilmington.[3] 


One of the most prized treasures coming from one of the wooden trunks was a letter. Dad's aunt Mary had written the letter to her uncle who was living in  Delaware County in 1895. The letter was a description of the birth of my dad who weighed ten pounds. His exhausted mother allowed her mother to choose the family name, Joseph. What a wonderful document this letter is! Many baby pictures and unlabeled family photos were also part of the trunk's treasures.[4]  


It is such a wonderful gift to be able to honor those who came before us and understand ourselves a little better as a result of getting to know them.  Knowing that sometimes we are lucky to stumble over artifacts to illuminate their lives makes the journey that much more special and aids in honoring our ancestors.

[1]. George E. Fry, "History of the Eisenberg-Jones Reunion," 15 July 1922. This legal size paper was stored in a wooden

trunk found in the home of Joseph R. Bowman, the grandson of Philip Eisenberg Heavner. Joseph was raised in Philip's 

home and inherited many family documents and photos when his mother, then grandparents died. Philip's wife 

Catherine attended several family reunions as shown in photos also found in the trunks. The 1922 document seems 

to be a brochure handed out at a family reunion.

"Eisenberg-Jones family record," digital image, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/eisenbergjonesfa00unse : 

accessed 16 July 2022); originally published by the Historical Committee of the Eisenberg-Jones Family Association, 

Philadelphia, 1923.

[2]"Mouns Jones House," database, Historic Preservation Trust of Berks County 

(http://historicpreservationtrust.org/historic-properties/morlatton-village/mouns-jones-house/ : accessed 16 July 2022).

[3]"Our History," database, Kalmar Nyckel (https://www.kalmarnyckel.org/our-history : accessed 16 July 2022).

[4]. Two wooden trunks holding various family papers and photos, ca. 1880-30; privately held by Carol Bowman Kehler,

[ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Pennsylvania, 1997. Found in the basement workshop of Joseph R. Bowman at his home in 

Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania ca. 1997. Daughters Carol and Elizabeth cataloged, labeled when possible, and reviewed items.

Daughter Carol remembers her father viewing pictures of his mother in the workshop ca. 1965, probably taken out of the 

trunks to view.