Ulrich Bernhart: Resolving an Evidentiary Conflict


Ulrich Bernhart is the maternal progenitor I noted in my last post with whom  I’d not gotten very far, research-wise. In this post, I’m happy to report  his birth year has been fixed and his burial site has been located and, with the help of a willing newbie to genealogy (whom,  we discovered, is a 2nd cousin — always a plus, ) we were able to resolve an evidentiary conflict which was standing in the way of determining his birth year and burial location.  The evidentiary conflict came because of our sometime reliance on experience and unwillingness to see things with fresher eyes. In my own case, I had overlooked some key evidence, and my cousin was relying on family data that was also flawed. Yet together, we resolved the issue.

How?  Our first step was to go back over the data she’s received from family — some of it dating to 1932 by a cousin who’d compiled a family history using older, but well-known secondary sources and had,  in his compilation,  missed key evidence. An aunt had likewise compiled some data, but it played almost no role in the conflict. Here’s how it played out:

Having reviewed the passenger list from the Anderson which arrived in Philadelphia on August 25th, 1751, I found  our progenitor, Ulrich  and his brother, Hans both listed; to  my cousin, Andrea, ( who already had this data,) she was certain Ulrich was born in 1748.  I was not so sure.  Andrea was sure because, according to a  source used by  another of her cousins, the same birth year was given on Ulrich’s tombstone which he’d found referenced in that  oft-cited 1899 edition by William Egle,  Notes And Queries.  In this entry,  Egle listed some names he discovered after strolling  around the older section of a York County Mennonite cemetery. (A cemetery, I believed to be the York Road Cemetery in Hanover, Pennsylvania, a belief which turned out — also — to be wrong.) Turns out, it is another boneyard rather similarly named,  though situated in Grove Spring.  Seems the Mennonites insist on naming all their cemeteries in York County, “Mennonite Meetinghouse Cemetery”. Silly me for not catching that one.  Ergo,  to my stuffy mind,  the guy buried in the Grove Spring cemetery couldn’t be the same guy as the one who arrived in 1751 because, I insisted,  3-year-olds didn’t sign Oaths of Abjuration.   Ta-da! Besides, unlike my cousin,  who had only a transcript of the signatures, I  had an — a-hem — facsimile of both siblings signatures.  Both were mature hands, you see — or so I insisted.  Brothers you say? Yes. We knew they were brothers because Hans had placed a personal ad in the March 22nd 1764 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, (that’s the famed Benjamin Franklin publication, by the way,) seeking Ulrich by name, and noted that they had been apart since their arrival in 1751.  So I had my evidence. What I was ignoring, and which my cousin deftly pointed out,  was that  Ulrich’s signature contained a big fat “X”  There was no big fat  X in Hans’s name. Big oops!

I was making the same mistake as her other cousin, but in a different way.  He too, thought there were two Ulrichs.  It wasn’t until I re-read a few things that I discovered all oath signatories had  to be a minimum  sixteen years of age to sign. Otherwise someone had to sign for them but they were allowed to put their mark on the page — an X usually, or some fancier version — if they wanted to be distinguished. Like many of the other oath signatories, Ulrich’s name bore an  X because, unlike his elder brother,  Hans, Ulrich wasn’t  signing for himself.  Duh!!  This meant two things: first, Hans was age sixteen or above and two, Ulrich who arrived in 1751  was probably that guy  whose headstone Egle found in his stroll in 1899 as he surveyed the Spring Grove Cemetery. Highly plausible indeed.  And thus was  our little evidentiary  knot untangled.   Let that be a lesson to us older trouts.

Andrea, if you’re reading this: my apologies,  cuz.   Good call.

Now,  as to who signed for Ulrich? Good question. Maybe his brother, or a sponsor; there’s no evidence among the signatories of a parent aboard that ship. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Update December, 2016:

The location of Ulrich Bernhardt’s burial location is the “York Road Cemetery” in Hanover, York County, Pennsylvania. This researcher established a memorial at http://www.findagrave.com, for Ulrich,  complete with an image of his headstone and a thumbnail bio sketch.

Update, August ,2014:  The search for Ulrich Bernhardt’s exact burial location in York County among the Mennonite cemeteries continues. None of the graveyard surveys of recent years of either the Bair Codorus Mennonite Church Cemetery in Manchester, York County or the Bair Mennonite Meeting House Cemetery in Spring Grove Borough, Heidelberg TWP, York County,  list an Ulrich Burnhart. It’s worth remembering, however, that when, in 1899, William Engles walked the Mennonite Cemetery in York County where he found both Ulrich’s and his wife, Catherine’s headstones, side by side, he translated the engravings he found from German.

On a more positive note,   a digitized image the headstone of Ulrich’s son, Phillip J. Bernhardt (1794-1867) who is interred in Saint Emanuel’s Union Cemetery, York County, Pennsylvania has been acquired. As well, the digitized death certificate of Phillip’s son, Edward Burnhardt, (1822-1908) has also been added to the database. Edward is interred in the Three Springs Cemetery on Church Street in Three Springs TWP, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania.

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About Alex Colvin

Senior, History, minoring in Anthropology, University of Houston. Charter President, Walter Prescott Webb Historical Society, (Webb UH Main 2014-2015) University of Houston. Additional credentials can be found in the CV / Services tab.
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