A few years ago I visited Saint Paul’s Lebanon Lutheran Cemetery in Felton, York, Pennsylvania. I have many relatives who are buried there with surnames of Stabley/Stabler, Flinchbaugh, and Sechrist. It was a beautiful day to quietly wander through the headstones and enjoy the peacefulness that surrounded me.
Most of the headstones were in English, but one of my ancestors had a headstone written in German…William Sechrist.
William was my 5th great-grandfather on my dad’s side. He was born in York County, Pennsylvania to a Swiss father and a German mother.
The stone says “Geheiliget zum andenken von William Seachrist er ward geboren den 9ten May 1770 er ist gestorben den 22ten August 1850 er brachte sein alter auf 60 jahre 3 monat und 13 tage.” If you put this in Google translate it comes out as “Dedicated to the memory of William Seachrist He was born 9th May 1770 He died 22nd August 1850 He reached his age 60 years 5 months and 15 days.”
If you do the math, he would have been 80 years old, not 60, so I think the stone carver meant to etch 1830 and not 1850.
Census records are one of the most fundamental records in which to find your ancestors. They give so much information and provide clues to other records we can search for. But they are just a snapshot of place and time every 10 years. If you want to find out what happened between census years you have to look for records that were taken on a more regular basis. Tax records are one example of this, but so are city directories.
Frederick W. Stabley was my 2nd great-grandfather. Here he is with his wife Emma, who you can read more about here. I love this picture! My guess is it was taken in the late 1920s.
Frederick and Emma were married on 12 February 1871 in York County, Pennsylvania. 1 An article celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary spells out wonderful details about them and their family.
I have been able to find Frederick in every census record throughout his life. Starting in 1870, when Frederick was 20 years old, he is listed as a “carpenter.” That is such a generic term and I wanted to know more, so I turned to city directories.
York County, Pennsylvania has a wonderful city directory collection on Ancestry.com. This table shows him as a carpenter in each one during a portion of his adult life. There’s not much to glean from this except for his change of address. If you looked just at the census records, you would have missed his move to 286 Cottage Hill Avenue. All addresses are for York, Pennsylvania.
I’m glad I didn’t stop in 1915 because I would have missed so much more about Frederick and the kind of work he did.
In 1917 the York County City Directory showed Frederick was an assemblyman for the Hench & Dromgold Company. Did an ad like this prompt Frederick to work there?2
Hench & Dromgold made spring tooth harrows, a type of agricultural cultivator. Frederick already had experience working in this field. The 1910 census has his place of employment as the Spring Harrow Company.3
In the 1919 and 1921 directories Frederick was a woodworker for the Flinchbaugh Machine Company. Then from 1923 to 1927, he worked as a woodworker or bench hand for Frederick Blaebaum & Sons. Here’s an ad from 1922…perhaps Frederick saw this and decided it was a good move.4
Frederick died on 12 Jun 1932 in York, Pennsylvania.5 His death certificate says his occupation was “carpenter”…that generic term once again. By looking through each city directory I was able to find out what kind of carpenter he was painting a more detailed picture of his life.
Genealogy tip: Don’t stop at census records! Other types of records like city directories can give employment information, members of a household at the same address, and migration information.
1 “To Celebrate Golden Wedding,” York Daily Record (York, Pennsylvania), 10 Feb 1921, p. 8, col. 3.
2 “Men Wanted,” The York Gazette (York, Pennsylvania), 10 May 1917, p. 7, col. 7.
Unfortunately, the subject for this post is an easy one…Ben Stabley, my dad. He passed over a decade ago and sometimes it seems like yesterday. He was a great dad and loved his job as a chemist. But the thing that really set him apart was his music.
My mom, who is thankfully still with me, always said his music would be one of the things she missed most. Growing up both my parents were piano teachers, sometimes teaching at the same time. Mom would be in the living room on the Yamaha baby grand and dad would be in his study on an upright. As a kid, you got used to all that music pretty quickly.
He volunteered his time for 17 years to the Lion’s Club in Chester, Virginia for their annual fundraising variety show and for his church when they put on shows to raise money for a new organ. Here is a snippet of “I’ll Be Seeing You,” the last show he ever played in public in the late 1990s:
He requested this video be played at his funeral. As you can imagine there wasn’t a dry eye in the church.
Dad started playing at the age of seven and became very good quickly. He was asked to play for just about every event in middle and high school. He even played for his own baccalaureate services for high school graduation in June 1950.
When he went to Maryville College he was the go-to piano player for events there, too. Here he is in a town production called “Barn Warming” in 1957:1
Dad always found a way to share his gift. He started his own radio show in college, playing weekly on WGAP in Maryville, Tennessee. 2
Music was never missing from our lives as long as dad was around. He played for church when asked, had a gig playing dinner music at a steakhouse, and led many bands over the years, which included my brother, Ben, playing guitar. He also recorded floor music for my gymnastics routines…usually something classical.
My mom has tapes of some of the old Lion’s Club Shows and gets them out when she needs to hear him play. Ben Stabley and music were a joyful combination.
1 Maryville College, Chilhowean, 1956, p. 101.
2 Clipping from dad’s scrapbook, Unknown newspaper.