Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Shot in the Dark

I've looked long and hard for the origin of the patriarch of my Phillips family in Philadelphia, Richard Phillips, born ca. 1796. I knew he was born in England, and came to this country fairly early in his life. I have a deed where he was given a house in exchange for a debt in 1823, and that really helped pin it down a little.

Over time, I have searched naturalization records, passenger lists, and other online resources but have yet to find anything definitive. 

One day, while digging around in his family tree, I noticed something interesting. Richard had named one of his sons William. William, in turn, had named one of his sons William. Richard's daughter, Mary Jane Carpenter, had given her son the name William Phillips Carpenter, who named one of his sons the same.

It dawns on me that this name William must have some significance in the Phillips family. The most logical explanation would be that perhaps Richard's father had that name.

I pop on over to Family Search, and go to the Philadelphia death records. I put in the search: William Phillips, born in England between 1765 and 1780. One result that pops up looks promising. So I click on the link to see the document and start reading. William Phillips, Sr., born in England, check; born in 1776, check; died in 1861, occupation tailor, buried Baptist Ground Frankford.  Could be...

As I get to the bottom of the certificate I notice the address where this William Phillips died, 581 Wharton Street. It looked familiar to me. So I quickly look at Richard's death certificate and lo and behold the addresses are the same! Richard died on March 7, 1861 and his father William died in the same house on May 28, 1861. (1861 was a bad year for  the Phillips men - Richard's son William died in November that year.)

I quickly went to Genealogy Bank to see if I could find a death notice in the newspaper. Coincidentally, another William Phillips died on May 23 in Philadelphia also. But I managed to find my William and as the article was loading I begged for something interesting. And I got it!

His death notice stated that he was a soldier in the War of 1812 and that his funeral would be at the residence of his late son Richard Phillips, and gave the address. It also said that he would be buried at Frankford.

I did the happy dance so familiar to us genealogists when we find something significant :-)

The next day I sent a letter to the Philadelphia Register of Wills to see if they had a file for William. A couple weeks later they said there was no record found. Darnit.

I now know that the name William Phillips is pretty popular during the early to mid-1800s in Philadelphia.  I have dug through all of the city directories for that timeframe and still haven't really definitively found him. I cannot find him in the 1860 census. I did locate what could be him in the 1850 census living with two families I couldn't tie to him, so I'm not sure.

I dug through a whole bunch of naturalizations with no luck. I also waded through the Philly index of deeds and came up empty.

The conclusions so far: William was here by 1814; Richard came here with or to join his father;  if there is a William, Sr. it stands to reason there is a William, Jr.; they may have been Baptist (Richard's daughter Caroline was married by a Baptist minister) and William had some ties to the Frankford area of Philadelphia as he was buried there.
I did get help from a Philadelphia genealogist to try to find more about this family, but the results have been lukewarm at best. It's a tough time period and at this point, everything is a fishing expedition. 

But that's not the end of this story. Technology assists in a breakthrough in my next post.

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