A Single Fact May Be a Breakthrough

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A Single Fact May Be a Breakthrough

2012-07-17 07:12


As a genealogical researcher, I always feel disappointed when I have worked for a client for two hours or more, and I have found little, sometimes nothing, in the way of new information. That’s not exactly true, since I will provide (as part of HSP’s Research by Mail service) a detailed list of what I have looked at, which does provide a service—these sources don’t need to be looked at again. Still, it is a little frustrating.

Recently, I was researching the Stringfellow family of Delaware and Chester counties. I was restlessly casting about for the parents of a Mahlon Stringfellow, the great great great grandfather of the client, and for information on his marriage to Margaret Williams, who (according to an unverified account) came from a prominent Quaker family. Some of the Stringfellows were Methodists. After the allotted two hours, I had not found anything.

The client asked if I could search a little more. I searched some more, and, just as I was about to stop, I finally found a Darby Monthly Meeting minute of significance—on November 29, 1825, a Margaret Stringfellow (formerly Williams) was disowned for marrying out of unity with Friends. In other words, Margaret Williams had married a non-Quaker, which was a violation of Quaker discipline, and she had not (at least adequately) condemned her own action. (By the way, if Margaret had issued an acceptable paper of self-condemnation, she would have remained a Quaker in good standing, and remain married to Mahlon Stringfellow, since separation or divorce was an even more serious moral transgression.) I also discovered that Margaret evidently was the daughter of Thomas and Sarah Williams, who later moved, and were accepted by Concord Monthly Meeting (and later moved again, returning to the jurisdiction of Darby Monthly Meeting).

In any event, after 3.5 hours, I did not feel I had found that much. But the reaction from the client indicated otherwise. Eureka! Verifying the marriage had been a brick wall for 10 years! This was a breakthrough! It was also exciting because Margaret had braved strong disapproval to be with Mahlon, and had refused to disavow her marriage, an action also taken by a Lucy Malin, who was disowned by Goshen Monthly Meeting for marrying George Stringfellow, another of her Stringfellow ancestors. I steered the client toward the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore University, which very possibly holds the testimonies of disownment of  Margaret and Lucy Stringfellow. The client was very happy, and I was happy, too.


Submitted by Ned Donoghue (not verified) on

Earlier this week I had my "Eureka!" moment when i decided to drop by the HSP and just take a look in the Henry Drinker collection. Henry Drinker sold my 4G-Grandfather some land in 1797. Wondered what his life as a wealthy Quaker merchant and land speculator was like. When i first looked at the finding aid for the collection, i spotted something I have been looking for for 2.5 years of scholarly researching in over 35 libraries, archives, and other repositories--- the name of my 4G-Grandfather and the word "folder". Nowhere had i yet found any written word of his. When I got the box 15 min later, the folder was not in there where it should be and i felt a lot of frustration. So, i asked for the next box. 15 min later there it was, and yes the folder was incorrectly included in the wrong box, and in there and i found four letters from my guy to HD, merchant. It was huge. And just because on the spur of the moment, i was downtown and decided to go. Earlier online i had read the finding aid but in that version of the finding aid there was NO mention of the folder in my guy's name. So i had to be a little persistent several times. And that find was huge for me. It will make my book so much better.

Submitted by David Haugaard (not verified) on

You have given a good example of how patience and persistence often reward the researcher at HSP. We have so many manuscripts (original documents of various types)--roughly 21 million, if I remember correctly. We have many collections that are well-processed, but many others that are not. Your persistence resulted in finding four letters of great relevance to your research.

As for what the life of a wealthy merchant and landowner was like--I used to think it involved very long hours working. Yet diaries (such as Elizabeth Drinker, wife of Henry Drinker of Drinker and James reveal that much time was spent socializing. You might work long hours at certain times of the year, but at other times there is much time for leisure, particularly conversation. People also often just arrived--if they are part of your social circle, you were supposed to at least spend a little time with them, if you are home.

I wrote a biographical sketch of Abel James, the senior partner of Henry Drinker. James & Drinker was one of the steadiest merchant firms in Philadelphia, yet due to a tragic miscalculation (stocking up on English goods, expecting much business immediately after the Revolution) James went bankrupt. Bankruptcy was a frequent threat to merchants, including wealthy ones. And, sadly, Henry Drinker headed the creditors overseeing James diminishing assets.

Submitted by Robert Fanelli (not verified) on


I wonder if you would be willing to share your biographical sketch of Abel James with me. I am trying to learn more about him, in particular his interests and dealings leading up to and duirng the Revolution.

Thank you!


Submitted by Lesley (not verified) on

Can anyone recommend a genealogical researcher who can do some work for me in the Quaker Records at Swarthmore?


Submitted by David Haugaard (not verified) on

At the Historical Society we have a research service, which will visit Center City repositories (actually, including Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania archives). Normally we don't go outside of Center City. The exception would be if we had a full day's work at a repository outside of Center City. I have much experience working with Quaker records, and I would provide some tips for the researcher who visited Swarthmore.Information on rates for "premium service" can be found at http://hsp.org/collections/library-services/research-by-mail

There also are researcher lists on the web site of the State Library of Pennsylvania and the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania. I visited www.ancestryinstitution.com and found only a few Quaker records.

I hope you find a good researcher who can search your ancestors at Swarthmore's Quaker library.
Please let me know how your search works out.

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