Published December 26, 2017

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My four-great-grandfather Peter Beidler died in his 30s of consumption. I knew his widow Barbara (maiden name Spohn) had married a George Merkel after Peter’s death.

But what about the rest of Barbara’s life?

For that I had no clue – until now.

That’s because genealogical information about our ancestors sometimes comes to us in the smallest of mentions and from the most out-of-the-way sources.

A particular class of such sources are the account books, day books and ledgers for businesses from days gone by.

More than a thousand of these books are housed at the Landis Valley Village & Farm Museum’s collections.

That’s where I found two volumes from the tombstone-cutting Moers family of Reading, Berks County.

One of their entries showed “Henry Beidler to a Head Stone for the Decd. Barbara Merkel.” This Henry was Peter and Barbara’s son. It showed a down payment for a tombstone (along with a foot stone and 158 letters of engraving) on 22 October 1822.

So, from one of those “smallest of mentions” I now can confidently state that Barbara Spohn Beidler Merkel had died by that date in 1822.

The collection of business ledgers comes from the same source of most of the artifacts – brothers Henry Kinzer Landis (1865 – 1955) and George Diller Landis (1867 – 1954), who opened the museum in 1925 at their Landis Valley residence, according to Mike Emery, the Landis Valley museum educator.

While most of the ledgers came from businesses in Lancaster County, there are a smattering of books from the counties surrounding Lancaster, from Lebanon to Berks to Chester counties.

General stores, blacksmiths, veterinarians, lawyers, tax collectors and distillers are all represented.

The books’ schemes of organization vary. “Day books” are literally that – like a day-by-day diary of the business – while account books may be put together by clients. Some of the ledgers combine both approaches.

The Moers ledgers were especially useful to Emery, an expert in old cemeteries and tombstones of the Pennsylvania Germans. The two ledgers in the collection document decades of the Moers family’s work and business practices. “There’s even a page from the early 1800s when the moved from the old monetary system of Pennsylvania pounds, shillings and pence and started reckoning all the accounts in dollars,” Emery said.

Please note that the Landis Valley site’s collections only are currently accessible for scholarly research or examination.  “The museum curators may limit access for research or examination by policy, space, staff availability, or care and security of the collections,” according to the policy on its website, which includes form for “Collections access for purposes of research.”

Further information is available at the URL,


  1. Lois Smith

    4 months ago  

    WOW!! Who would have thought of using such a resource for finding genealogical information??? Great tip!

  2. Rick Bender

    4 months ago  

    Fascinating. I had no idea such volumes were there.
    You’ve reminded me: I have a Lebanon County Historical Society annual publication that included some paragraphs from an old Historical Society lecture (and publication) (1920s, I think) that referred to some time books (c1800) for Union Forge. Since I suspect(ed) my 3rd-g-grandfather worked there at that time, I looked for the time books.
    I couldn’t find them.
    Some time later I took one of the field trips with the Lancaster County Mennonite Historical Society and went to the State Library and the Archives in Harrisburg. (By the way, while at the library, we were aided by an older gentleman who knew the place inside-out and who I suspect is pictured with you in an earlier column.) Well, the time books weren’t at the library. And they weren’t at the Archives either; however, a young man there, who was new to the force, said he’d seen them, he was sure of it, and since his previous job experience was in Philadelphia, well, that was probably where he saw them. Sure enough, he located them for me there, and then I went to Philly and got the books and found some names that look right..
    Now I have to back down Highway 30, right?