Niagara Falls: Not Just for Honeymooners—Also, for Genealogists!

Our recent trip to Niagara Falls was not for “the honeymoon we never had,” but to learn more about my only Canadian ancestor—GGG Grandfather Captain Robert Henry Dee, Esquire—who immigrated to Upper Canada (now Ontario) c. 1819. Robert Henry was born c. 1788 to Thomas and Anne Dee, He was baptized on 2 April 1788 in Weyhill, Hampshire County on the southern coast of England.[1]


Capt. Robert H. Dee Commissariat Uniform

Captain Dee served as the Deputy Commissariat in the Napoleonic Wars for fourteen years. “As Commissariat, Captain Dee was in charge of military supplies,” responsible for overseeing military food and equipment.”[2] He was also aide-de-Camp, or personal assistant, to General Sir Peregrine Maitland. They served together in the Peninsular War and possibly at the Battle of Waterloo.[3] Captain Dee married Elizabeth Ottley (1796-1876) on 31 March 1819 at St. Cuthbert’s Church, Thetford, Norfolk, England.[4] She was the daughter of Matthew and Elisabeth (Hill) Ottley.[5] One year later they followed Maitland to Upper Canada, now Ontario.







In 1818 General Maitland was summoned to Stamford, Upper Canada to serve as lieutenant governor until 1828.[6] As aide-de-camp to Maitland, Captain Dee joined him about 1819. On 2 November 1824 he purchased the 100-acre lot no. 56 on the Portage Road “that was part of one of John Burch’s Crown Grants.”[7] He then donated 3.5 acres off “the western extremity of the Dee farm” for the Stamford Green, the only village green in Canada. The Dee family kept this land open “for the benefit and enjoyment of the public,” from 1821 until 1909. Stamford Green is now controlled by a Board of Trustees.[8]

Stamford Green
Church of St. John the Evangelist

On 20 September 1820 Mr. R. H. Dee also donated the land for the construction of the Old St. John’s Anglican Church. Building began in 1821, and it was consecrated in 1825.[9] In 1827 he donated more land to the church for  a church yard and burial ground.[10] Because of the donations of land, an additional 25 pounds, and a “wooden armchair used in the vestries,” a window was dedicated to “commemorate the liberality of Robert Henry Dee and Elizabeth Dee to this Church.”[11] An historical marker also commemorates his “additional financial support and gifts of land and furnishings” to the church.[12]


Board of Health Order
Order to Create a General Board of Health

After his military career, Robert Henry Dee Esquire remained involved in the community. On 23 September 1822, Robert and six others joined the Dalhousie [Masonic] Lodge in Niagara.[13] According to an 1824 document signed by four of the members, including R. H. Dee, the lodge closed “from want of funds till more advantageous circumstances arise.”[14] On 25 June 1832, Robert Henry Dee was present at a Special Session that created a General Board of Health in the Town of Niagara. This Order “coincided with the cholera epidemic of 1832 and was likely created in an attempt to control the spread of the disease.”[15]





Robert Henry was possibly in poor health, as he also wrote his will three days later on 28 June 1832.[16] In October 1833, he also wrote that he was not well.[17] He died at the young age of 46 on 11 November 1833 at Stamford. Robert left seven children under age fourteen with his wife, Elizabeth, who was two months pregnant. He was buried in the family plot at the Church of St. John the Evangelist. Also buried there are Elizabeth (d. 1876), father-in-law, Matthew Ottley (d. 1845), and children Frances Ann, Harriet Martha, and John Matthew, MD.[18]

Dee Cemetery Plot, Front Left in Church Yard & Burial Ground

The house which Captain Dee built c. 1824, now 3252 Portage Road, was later enlarged.[19] All eight of Robert and Elizabeth’s children were likely born in Stamford: William Hornblow (c. 1820-1875), my GG grandfather; Francis Ottley (1821-1892); Henry Ontario (1823-1904); Thomas Wicken (1825-1897), who married Julia Hamilton from Niagara on the Lake and likely introduced William to his future wife in Wisconsin; Frances Ann (1828-1900); Robert Hill (1829-1908); Harriet Martha (1832-1909); and John Matthew, MD (1834-1913), born just seven months after his father’s death.

Captain Robert Henry, Esquire & Elizabeth (Ottley) Dee House, Portage Road

While walking around this property and photographing the house, I was lucky enough to meet Bev, the home’s current owner. Because she was leaving, we exchanged business cards and promised to email each other. Three days later, I received an email from her husband, Steven, sorry that we missed each other. He also invited us back to help celebrate the 200th “birthday” of the Dee house this summer. As they have also been researching this family, I sent him my Robert Henry Dee family research. Although not blood relatives, we share a family, and are now house relatives.

[1] “England, Hampshire Bishop’s Transcripts 1680-1892,” database, FamilySearch, Robert Henry Dee, son of Thomas and Anne Dee, Weyhill.

[2] Also, “3227 Portage Rd. Originally Built by Captain Robert H. Dee,” Historic Niagara Collections, photograph and description. For fourteen years, see Land Petitions of Upper Canada, 1763-1865, Robert Henry Dee, Stanford, 1829, vol. 159, Bundle D-16, Petition no. 20, RG1 L3, microfilm C-1876, digital images 152-155; Library and Archives of Canada.

[3] “Commissariat Uniform of Captain Robert Henry Dee, c 1819,” sign describing Dee-Maitland relationship, Niagara Falls Museum, Niagara Falls, Ontario Canada.

[4] “England Select Marriages, 1538-1973,” digital images, Ancestry, Norfolk Church of England Registers, Dee-Ottley, 31 March 1819; Norfolk Record Office, Norwich, Norfolk, England.

[5] “England Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” transcript, Ancestry, Elisabeth Ottley, b. 5 Oct 1796, bap. 30 Oct 1796, parents Matthew and Elisabeth Ottley.

[6] George A. Seibel, “Stamford Green,” The Niagara Portage Road: A History of the Portage on the West Bank of the Niagara River (City of Niagara Falls, Canada: 1990), 265.

[7] George A. Seibel, “Stamford Green,” The Niagara Portage Road: A History of the Portage on the West Bank of the Niagara River (City of Niagara Falls, Canada: 1990), 265. Also, “3227 Portage Rd. Originally Built by Captain Robert H. Dee,” Historic Niagara Collections, photograph and description. Also, Stamford Twp., Welland Co. Deeds, Old Series, 1796-1832, A:332-33, no. 6643, microfilm GS2893; Archives of Ontario, Toronto.

[8] George A. Seibel, “Stamford Green,” The Niagara Portage Road: A History of the Portage on the West Bank of the Niagara River (City of Niagara Falls, Canada: 1990), 265.

[9] Frank Goulding, 150 Years of Christian Witness, 1820-1970: Church of St. John The Evangelist (Stamford, 1970), 22-23, deed p. 26. Also, Donna M. Campbell, Church of St. John the Evangelist (Stamford) (Ontario, Canada: Ontario Genealogical society, undated), 1.

[10] Stamford, Niagara District, instrument no. 7353, Robert Henry Dee to Sir Peregrin Maitland for the Church of England church yard and burial ground, FHL microfilm GS 2893. Also, Stamford Twp., Welland Co., Old Series, 1796-1832, A: pp cut off, no. 7353, microfilm GS2893; Archives of Ontario, Toronto.

[11] Frank Goulding, 150 Years of Christian Witness, 1820-1970: Church of St. John The Evangelist (Stamford, 1970), 22, 28, 34.

[12] Ontario Heritage Foundation Ministry of Citizenship and Culture, “Church of St. John the Evangelist” marker, Portage Road, Stamford.

[13] “England, United Grand Lodge of England Freemason Membership Registers, 1751-1921,” registry image, Ancestry, Robert Henry Dee, Esquire, joined 23 Sep 1822, p. 20. These members were “Erased by Grand Lodge 3 Sep 1864.”

[14] Janet Carnochan, “Freemasons,” History of Niagara (In Part) (Toronto: William Briggs, 1914), 123.

[15] “Order to Create a General Board of Health I the Town of Niagara, June 25, 1832: Brock University Special Collections & Archives,” digital image, Our Ontario, Present—Robert Henry Dee.

[16] Lincoln Co. Surrogate Court estate files, RG 22-234, alphabetically filed, Robert Henry Dee will, 28 Jun 1832; FHL microfilm MS 8409; Ontario Archives

[17] Land Petitions of Upper Canada, 1763-1865, Robert Henry Dee, Stanford, 1829, vol. 160, Bundle D-18, Petition no. 50, RG1 L3, microfilm C-1877, digital images 188-190; Library and Archives of Canada.

[18] Donna M. Campbell, “Cemetery Transcriptions,” Church of St. John the Evangelist (Stamford) (Ontario, Canada: Ontario Genealogical society, undated), 2.

[19] “3227 Portage Rd. Originally Built by Captain Robert H. Dee,” Historic Niagara Collections, photograph and description.

Be the Link – Part II

Last week, I wrote of our “re-meeting” with my Praser family—my paternal side—in Chicago. After immigrating in 1920, my grandparents, Marie (Supenova) and Edward Pracser, welcomed Marie’s brother in 1923. Stefan “Steve” Supena was the third child, and only son, of Stefan and Maria (Fuscikova) Supena. At the age of 16 and on his own, Steve emigrated from Slovakia to Chicago. In 1925, he met and married Elizabeth “Bessie” Trampota. Their son, Ronald, was born in 1933. Ron married Nancy Novy in 1956, and they had five children. Several years ago, I found Sheri, the wife of one of Ron and Nancy’s sons, on FaceBook. Sheri has been the conduit to my Supena family.

Sheri put me in contact with her sister-in-law, Mary, who emailed me additional information on her family. It turns out that they lived within a half-hour drive of where I grew up—but I don’t remember ever meeting them. Mary’s family was surprised to learn that Steve’s first cousins still live in Slovakia—but not as surprised as my Slovak family was to learn about Steve. Family lore in Slovakia was that “Steve went to the United States and was never heard from again.” This all changed when my Slovak family gave me a photograph of Ron from his eighth grade graduation. Obviously, someone in Slovakia knew that Steve was alive, well, and married with a son. But that was 70 years ago!!

This year, I tasked myself with the job of being the link between east and west, Slovakia and the U.S., the Supenas, Hrnčiříks, and Prasers. And thanks to Sheri, we began the “linking” in March while on our trip to Chicago. Sheri arranged for dinner at their favorite local Italian restaurant in Elmhurst where they are regulars—Pazzi di Pizza. She must have known that Tom and I were looking forward to pizza in Chicago! The food was great, but as always, the best part was meeting new family. I will try again to introduce the Supena women that Tom and I met. And yes, he was the only male with five women—and he did just fine.

Mini Supena Reunion
Ann, Sheri, Tom, Pam, Mary, Nancy

Sheri married into the Supena family. But like I’ve said, she was the conduit that brought us all together. She is so much a part of this family, it seemed like they were all sisters. Her husband, Paul, sells building supplies, so we could commiserate about the last down-turn in the economy and how it affected the building industry—and the catalyst that sent me to genealogy. Sheri and Paul are also huge Chicago sports fans. YAY! Sheri is very involved in the Alzheimer’s Association, but her paying job is as an actor! She may just be an extra in television shows and movies filmed in Chicago, but someday . . . . And then the surprise came. The restaurant staff brought out a birthday cake?!? A total surprise for her sister-in-law, Ann—and me! Ann’s birthday is four days before mine. How thoughtful was that!?!

Sherri’s two sisters-in-law were also at dinner. Ann, of course. Yes, we almost share a birthday, but she is the youngest of her five siblings and nine years younger than me. But she was delightful. Having just returned from a trip to Florida, she accepted everyone’s teasing about returning to frigid Chicago weather with a tan. Her sister, Mary, has shared a lot of information with me about their Supena family. She wrote two articles for the Medijugorje Magazine, both of which talk about her father. Because of her emails, I was able to piece together and fill in a considerable amount of information about my grandmother’s brother, Steve, and her father, Ron.

The matriarch of this family is Nancy (Novy) Supena. Nancy is a charming woman who was married to Ron, Steve’s son and my grandmother’s nephew, for 59 years. Ron died in October 2015 but is remembered fondly. Mary said, “My dad was truly a gentle man, a very kind man, a man of faith, and a most loving husband, father and grandfather.” Ron was my dad’s first cousin, and a groomsman in my parents’ wedding. Nancy and Ron met in high school. After their marriage in 1956, Ron joined the military—and the family moved a lot. They finally settled in Oak Brook with their five children where Ron ran a successful law practice for many years. Nancy summed up our dinner meeting with the best thing anyone could have said, “It feels like we’ve always known you.”

Needless to say, I can’t wait to see this family again, and hopefully meet Mary and Ann’s brothers. They will all definitely be invited to our future Pracser-Supena reunion!

Peter Nagy – My Slovak Repository Guide

As I prepare to leave for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG), I’m also getting ready to spend three whirl-wind evenings at the Family History Library. According to my SLIG syllabus, it’s “the largest genealogical library in the world.” So most people would assume that I’ll head straight to the Slovak resources. But not this time. Next week I’ll concentrate on the US and Canadian ancestors. But why???

About a year ago, in preparation for our second visit to Slovakia, I contacted Peter Nagy of CentroConsult, a Slovak genealogist that I found through the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG). I hired Peter because I knew that he was familiar with resources in western Slovakia where my paternal grandparents immigrated from. What could Peter do that I couldn’t? He knew the Slovak system, specifically:

  • The different repositories and what records they held
  • The forms that needed to be filled out to obtain the records
  • What was needed to prove my relationship to get the records – my passport, my birth certificate and my father’s birth certificate
  • How to cite the various Slovak records
  • The language!

But the first thing that Peter did for me, was what I do for my clients—make me focus! I was only going to have a day to research there, so of course I wanted to know “everything” about the Supena and Pracser/Konas families (more about Pracser and Konas later). Luckily, Peter was patient and coached me through the Slovak genealogy process. He also began the research before our September 2016 trip. Because he knew where to look, he found and translated my great grandparents’ marriage record, which verified known information and provided some new details. In Slovakia, you don’t get copies of original records. All are derivative certificates taken from the original registers. But the one thing we could not locate was my grandmother’s birth record. We always knew she was born in Nitra. Right……

Nitra City Hall

After we did all we could via e-mail, we set our meeting date and place—Nitra City Hall, in the town where my grandmother grew up. At City Hall, we got my great grandfather’s death record and my grandparents’ marriage record. We were given the certified transcript, but were also allowed to view the actual registry to see if any other information might be apparent. Unfortunately no copies or photographs of these registries are allowed. And again, the birth place of my grandmother was not listed.

But because the family was Roman Catholic, we decided to walk to the parish and see if there might be a church marriage record for my grandmother, giving me her birth place and the church they were married in. As luck would have it, the office was closed.

Our next stop was the archives for the Nitra region, similar to our county archives. There we found a 1919 census record on microfilm. Unfortunately the copier was not working, so I was allowed to photograph the screen on the reader. It gave information typical to a US census—address, family members and birth years, nationality, religion and literacy.

The next leg or our trip was to Sered, where my grandfather grew up. Two years ago, a mystery was discovered that to this day has not been solved—but Peter and I have not given up. My family has always known our surname to be Pracser. But in all the Slovak records, my grandfather’s and great grandparents’ surname is listed as Konas. The first time Pracser is noted is on the ship’s manifest when the two couples immigrated. To try to get to the bottom of this mystery, Peter suggested that we check my grandfather’s sister’s birth record—she was the youngest—at the Sered City Hall. Again, the name was Konas. BUT, because Peter asked to look at the original registry, he turned the page and saw that Elizabeth had a twin brother that was stillborn. I would never have known this without the help of an experienced genealogist who knew the system and the language. Three towns and two repositories later, it was time to say good-bye to our new friend and guide…until I returned home!

Once at home, the question of my grandmother’s birth place continued to nag at me, and I still hadn’t contacted the Catholic Parish. I emailed Peter, and he said that if I wrote the letter, he would translate it for me. I wrote, he edited and translated and off it went in the postal mail. Within a week, I received an email from the pastor, asking me if I spoke Slovak. I said no, but copied Peter, who said he would translate for me. Almost immediately, I received another email with attached scans of the marriage registry—with my grandmother’s birth place! It was not Nitra, but what looks to be basically a small town grown up around a train station, a town called Čiky, part of Palárikovo. Peter found her birth registry on FamilySearch, then ordered the record from the archives. Was the family traveling to Nitra when they had to make an impromptu stop to welcome my grandmother?? We may never know.

St. Peter & Paul Church
Nitra Castle

My final question—for this round—was what church did my grandparents get marry in? The pastor quickly responded to my email: St. Peter and Pavol Church, the church we visited on our first trip to the Nitra Castle, closest to their home.

Many thanks go to Peter Nagy. I know that I couldn’t have been as efficient or thorough without him, and that he will continue to be there for me as I continue the quest into my Slovak ancestry and the Pracser/Konas mystery.

Peter Nagy with Pam in Nitra

One Young Genealogist That Is SO Into It

Daniel's GenealogyTwo years ago, my 13 year-old nephew asked me if I was going to do his dad’s genealogy like I did his mom’s – my sister. I said sure, but he could do it. Little did I know that I created a monster, because Daniel loved the thrill of the hunt as well as the record analysis. While I was hoping to impress upon him the importance of citations and correlation of evidence, just having someone else in my family interested in genealogy was wonderful.

I started him off with paper and pencil, so his first question – so appropriate for his generation – was, “Can’t this be done on the computer?” Why yes, yes it can, but sometimes it’s good to do both. His Christmas present that year was RootsMagic 7 software. However, with computer crashes, it’s been a little slow going for him, so I told him about Drop Box. Now we share information and I can help from three hours away.

When I told others about his interest, they were jealous. How do we get the younger generation involved? Well, I wasn’t hooked until age 55, and wish I would have started sooner. Everywhere, genealogists ask the same question, so I decided to go right to the “original source” and ask the 15-year old about his genealogy experiences. Below is the interview:

Pam:    What got you interested in genealogy – besides me?

Daniel: The fact that this history of our family is so unknown and you always have a little drive to find out the secrets of your family’s past.

Pam:    Has anyone else in your family done research on your dad’s Italian side?

Daniel: No one has done much research into my family’s history. My grandmother did some, but she isn’t alive anymore.

Pam:    What is the most frustrating part? How do you deal with it?

Daniel: Losing all your data – computer malfunctions! And thinking you have a lead and it turns out there’s no way it could be possible. You just keep pushing and don’t let it hinder your motive.

Pam:    What is the best part? What do you think would attract younger people to genealogy?

Daniel: When you finally put a piece in the puzzle and it makes you satisfied to know that you’ve gone one step closer into your family’s history. You have to be a creative hands-on learner who always wants to do more.

Pam:    Do you have any friends who “get” genealogy? Should family history be taught in school?

Daniel: It’s not a highly talked about subject. If it was taught in school, it would have to be an optional class – it’s not for everyone. It would teach people what to look for when looking through documents to find what was a match. History and genealogy could be tied together. Doing projects in history to find people in the past is like finding your own family.

Pam:    How do you keep track of your genealogy family?

Daniel: I use diagrams and charts the most, on a computer program, because they show up in a “pretty diagram.” [Air quotes]

Pam:    Where are you now in your research?

Daniel: When my grandmother died, my family asked me who each family member was and how they were related. I’m working on being our family history expert.

Pam:    Any final thoughts that you’d like to share?

Daniel: Binders are useful. Organization is the key. You can’t trust electronics – don’t rely on computers for everything.


As you can see from our short chat, our two generations are closer than we think!

Franklin County at the Pennsylvania State Archives – The Conclusion

Tracking the Criminal in My Family Tree – Part II

By Michele R. Wade

Following is the conclusion to Michele’s experiences of researching her genealogy at the Pennsylvania State Archives with the help of Aaron McWilliams, their Reference Archivist. As you may recall from Part I, “Surprisingly we were just getting to the good stuff…”

Aaron, reading over the sentencing records, noticed a note at the bottom that said, “Dec. 29, 1944 See opinion filed in #208 March Sess. 1939 for change in sentence.”  He realized there was another sentencing record for Wayne. (Aaron obviously has had more experience with the criminal justice system than I.)  So he pulled the #208 sentencing file and found that Wayne was charged and convicted of “Escape”.  What?!?  Furthermore, this charge was in March 1939, which would have been after Wayne had finished his minimum sentence in October 1937.  Now I was really confused – he escaped after leaving prison?  However, at the bottom of the Escape sentencing record there are notes referencing a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed by Wayne.  This led us to the Original Records files at the archives.

Up to this point to do research I just had to sign in to their entry book with name, date, and time, and I could use all the microfilmed records.  To use the Original Records (these are the original paper records) you must register at the archives.  This is just a one page registration form and you have to show a photo ID.  They go over the rules of handling the original files and making copies of them.  I was lucky as the original files for Wayne were a wealth of information about his criminal proceedings.

Eastern State PenitentiaryIn the original file there was Wayne’s Writ of Habeas Corpus petition, along with the warden’s response and the court’s verdict to the petition.  In September 1934, Wayne broke into a car dealership and stole a Ford sedan, plus automobile parts and tools.  He was caught and convicted of Larceny of motor vehicle, Larceny, and Felonious Entry and sentenced to 3 to 12 years at Eastern State Penitentiary.  Wayne served 3 years and 8 months and was released on parole June 1938.  His parole was for 8 years and 4 months.  In August 1938, just two months later, Wayne was involved in a hit and run accident in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania and taken to jail. This was the time period of the letter Wayne sent to try and get money for an attorney to defend him.  I guess he didn’t get the money or the attorney as he was convicted of “Failure to Stop at the Scene of a Motor Accident and Render Assistance” and sentenced to 6 months and 7 days in Dauphin County Prison.  On March 22, 1939, Wayne walked away from the Dauphin County Prison.  He claimed he finished serving his sentence on March 15th.  The warden strongly disagreed that Wayne was a free man and charged him with Escape.  The long and short of it was that Wayne had served his time for the hit and run but because of that, his parole was revoked and he was not at liberty to leave the prison.  On March 29, 1939, Wayne was returned to Eastern State to finish serving his paroled time of 8 years and 4 months.  This was where he was when he sent the postcard to his uncle.

In October 1944, Wayne petitioned the court for two main points.  First he claimed, repeatedly, that he did not escape from prison because he had served his time for the hit and run and was a free man being wrongly held.  The second point he claimed in the petition was that he had been advised that his maximum sentence was incorrect and should have only been 10 years, not 12.  The judge ruled that Wayne did escape from prison but that the 1 to 2 year sentence for Escape is too long and must be reduced to 6 months and 7 days. Punishment for Escape can not be longer than the original sentence the inmate was serving.  Additionally Wayne was correct – the maximum sentence allowed then for Larceny of a motor vehicle and Felonious Entry was only 10 years.  So Wayne’s sentence at Eastern State was reduced by two years.  However, when he was released from Eastern State he had to return to Dauphin County Prison to serve his time for his prison escape.

At the end of the day I can not believe the amount of information I found at the PA State Archives, largely with the excellent help of Aaron McWilliams.  If you are wondering what happened to Wayne after all this, I have to tell you, I can find no evidence that Wayne had any more problems with the law.  Wayne visited family in Chambersburg often and seemed to live a quiet life.  His obituary talked about his 17 years of employment at the Howard Johnson Restaurant at Lawns.  I hope you enjoyed my stroll down penitentiary lane.


Michele Wade is a graduate of the Chambersburg Area Senior High School and Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University. She has been researching  her family’s genealogy since 1997 and volunteers in the genealogy library at the Franklin County Historical Society. Michelle lives outside of Chambersburg near Ft. McCord with her husband Jimmy, and sons Gus and Jesse.

Franklin County at the Pennsylvania State Archives

As a genealogist, you get comfortable with the repositories you visit often – the local historical society, the town library, the county courthouse. But few families stay in the same place their entire lives. That’s why a trip to the Pennsylvania State Archives was on my list. I needed to research original microfilmed Franklin County tax records for a client. To make the two-hour round trip to Harrisburg more interesting, I invited a friend, Michele Wade. As an added bonus, she agreed to let me post her article on researching at the archives. Below is part one of her ancestor’s story.

Tracking the Criminal in My Family Tree – Part I

By Michele R. Wade

My father is always bringing me various papers and photos that he knows will help in researching our family.  One day he gave me a postcard addressed to my great grandfather, from nephew Wayne.  The uniqueness of the postcard was because Wayne sent it from prison.  Due to the postcard we knew Wayne had spent time incarcerated, but I was curious about what he had done to end up in prison.  A few years later we came across an old letter from Wayne to his brother asking for money to hire an attorney to defend him in court.  He said that if he doesn’t succeed in his defense he would be returned to serve the eight years of his parole.  This led me to believe that it was a significant crime Wayne committed to have to serve eight years in prison.

Honestly, I had no idea how to research a criminal conviction.  I have to admit, thankfully, I am pretty clueless about the criminal justice system.  From the postmark on the postcard I did know Wayne was incarcerated November 9, 1943 in Graterford, Pa.  A quick search of the internet let me know there was a Graterford Prison, better known as Eastern State Penitentiary, near Philadelphia.  Built in 1929, it is Pennsylvania’s largest maximum-security prison.  That raised my curiosity even more…what did Wayne do?  The next clues came from the letter that actually was dated earlier than the postcard.  The letter is dated September 17, 1938, and Wayne sent it from Harrisburg, Pa.

PA State ArchivesIn February, Pam Anderson from Anderson Construction & Genealogy Services invited me along to tour the Pennsylvania State Archives, with some research time after the tour.  I checked out the State Archives website before we went and happened to see they have state penitentiary records.  On a Wednesday morning we met Mr. Aaron McWilliams, Reference Archivist, for a tour.  The tour gave us an overview of all the information available at the Archives and how to do research there – a very worthwhile tour.

[Thanks to Aaron for providing the photo, taken by Joshua Stahlman, an archivist at the Pennsylvania State Archives.]

After the tour, Pam settled in with the microfilmed tax records and Aaron helped me start my research of Wayne.  Based on the letter dated September 1938, we pulled the microfilm of Eastern State Penitentiary’s intake records.  So while I looked through 1937-1939 intake records, Aaron looked to see if he could find any commutation records.  These are records of inmates petitioning the court to have their sentences reduced or commuted.  These records would have detailed information about Wayne’s sentencing. I had no luck finding Wayne in the 1937-1939 intake records.  However, Aaron came up with a copy of a card where Wayne asked for a hearing with the court. Unfortunately for him, the court refused the hearing.  Fortunately for us, the card gave us the date Wayne made his request which was May 1936.  This date was earlier than we were looking at in the prison records.  So I started hunting earlier on the intake records.  Bingo! Wayne arrived at Eastern State Penitentiary on December 29, 1934, and his inmate number was D-260.

Back to the microfilm to pull the sentencing records for Oct. 4, 1934. With each new find, we got more and more information about Wayne.  The sentencing records told us Wayne was convicted of “Larceny, Receiving Stolen Goods, and Felonious Entry”.  He was sentenced to not more than twelve years nor less than three years.  The earliest Wayne could leave prison was October 1937; he must serve the three-year minimum.  I was thrilled to finally know the how and why Wayne ended up in Graterford Prison.  I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my father.  Dad always wondered about that prison postcard.  I thought I had completed my research.  Surprisingly we were just getting to the good stuff.

(To be continued!)

Michele Wade is a graduate of the Chambersburg Area Senior High School and Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University. She has been researching  her family’s genealogy since 1997 and volunteers in the genealogy library at the Franklin County Historical Society. Michelle lives outside of Chambersburg near Ft. McCord with her husband Jimmy, and sons Gus and Jesse.

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