For folks who want to trace their family’s history, there was a valuable list of resources in the Inquirer a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve been researching my ancestors for years, and what struck me about that list is how easy it is now to do your searching and researching at home.

Through the years, I’ve spent a lot of time going to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Urban Archives at Temple University and other such places. The Inky’s list showed that most such institutions now have websites I can access from home and for free. Also, there is now This service is not free but constantly comes up with new information about my family that makes the monthly fee worthwhile.

A few weeks ago, Ancestry acquired the records of an old Methodist church in New York City, which had gone out of business or whatever a church goes out of when it closes down for good.

Ancestry supplied me with the image of a page from the church’s records of marriages performed there. It showed that on Sept. 20, 1883, my grandfather was married to Amanda Brower, of Brooklyn.

Whoa! I never heard of Amanda, and I can’t think of anybody living to ask about her. I knew of my father’s mother and step-mother, but that earlier marriage is a complete surprise.

There’s no doubt it was Grandpop. The record says he was from Baltimore, which he was. And his name was listed as William F. P. Smart, and he always signed with those middle initials.

The F. P. stood for Fletcher Pence. When I was young, I was never wise enough or nosey enough to ask him, or others who might know, who the initials stood for or why he used them.

When I started delving into the family’s past, I found a doctor of that name in Baltimore street directories of that era.

I contacted various Pences online but got no clue from any of them as to why my grandfather had that double middle name or why he considered it an important part of his signature.

Researching my mother’s side of the family was equally peculiar. There were unusual uncles and cousins that my mother and grandmother talked about.

Only recently, from census results, cemetery records and memories of confused and confusing relatives, did I confirm the reality that my great-great-grandfather was a bigamist.

As I. Jacob Hartley, he had one family. As Isaac J. Hartley, he had another wife and children.

I suspect that my mother knew about it. She identified a man who lived near us as “a sort of uncle.” If I asked anything about him or other Hartleys whose name came up, she had a way of answering some other question and diverting the subject.

Not long ago, I established that “both” men were reported as dying on the same day and were recorded as being buried on the same day in the same cemetery. That must have been an interesting funeral.

All the current Trumpian cussing and discussing about immigrants forgets that they will be some Americans’ ancestors some day. One of my father’s grandmothers came over from Ireland, and one of my mother’s grandfathers from Germany. On the distant other hand, my oldest immigrant ancestor, one Andreas Huttenloch, arrived in Philly from Germany in 1753.

They hadn’t built any walls yet.

Visit columnist Jim Smart’s website at

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