Category Archives: BOAL

PA Frontier History Day

A day of events, called PA Frontier History Day, is focusing on colonial life in Pennsylvania. It is a joint venture of Midtown Scholar Bookstore and the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art, both in the Harrisburg area.

I love reading about the period. Different branches of my family lived in Pennsylvania during the colonial and early republic eras.

It is sometimes hard to re­member amid the urban and rural sprawl surround­ing Harrisburg, but this re­gion was once the frontier for European settlers, and that even once the colony of Pennsylvania was founded, the western edge of the state was still a wilderness.

Some authors will be there, including Brady Crytzer and Pulitzer Prize nominee Scott Weidensaul. Crytzer is the author of Fort Pitt: A Frontier Histo­ry and Weidensaul wrote The First Frontier: The Forgotten His­tory of Struggle, Savagery and Endurance in Early America.

The book [The First Frontier] . . . traces more than two centuries of widely forgotten clashes and culture shock between European settlers and the natives living be­tween the Atlantic and the Appalachians.


Sinking Creek Presbyterian Church in Rebersburg

An Amish buggy heads into Rebersburg.
An Amish buggy heads into Rebersburg.

Yesterday I began browsing through all of the database collections at One such collection, Pennsylvania, Church and Town Records, 1708-1985, caught my attention.

I began looking for information on James Hill, supposedly born on June 22 in 1763 in Pennsylvania. I didn’t find anyone or any information to connect to James, so I went down another avenue of possibilities: the Boal family.

More than four thousand records (4,356 to be precise) with the surname Boal are within this particular database.

I first started looking for John Boal. John Shannon Boal was the grandfather of my great grandmother, Geneva Estella Darling. John’s daughter Nettie Ann Boal, her mother, married Jerome Harvey Darling.

One my recurring problems is that there are multiple men named John Boal. In fact, there are a few men sharing the middle initial as well, John S. Boal. It has been impossible to find his Civil War unit. Now I’ve come to learn some of them likely shared precisely the same name: John Shannon Boal.

One “J Shannon Boal” died in 1896. He was buried on March 29, 1896 at the Sinking Creek Presbyterian Church in Rebersburg.

Rebersburg is a town in central Pennsylvania. It is in Centre County.

Another “J Shannon Boal” was buried on April 14, 1911, once again at the church in Rebersburg.

My John S. Boal died in 1878 in Iowa.

As early as 1784, there is a John Boal in Pennsylvania. He was associated with a man named Henry C. Krupp, perhaps an employer.

The earliest recording of the Boal name at the Sinking Creek Presbyterian Church that I can find is 1841.

George Boal was listed on June 30, 1841. Some of the Shannons are listed there too, and his wife Sarah. A George W. Boal (“Geo W Boal”) is recorded again in April 1846.

A William Boal, the same name as John Shannon Boal’s father, is listed as having “left” and is now “dead,” according to whoever was logging the information. I assume this was the pastor. Just below William’s name is Melissa Boal, with the same notation as having left, except apparently still living at the time.

I was beginning to think this was indeed John’s father. William Boal left Pennsylvania for Iowa, where he died in 1880.

A William Boal is listed as having been buried sometime between 1868 and 1917. This time frame fits with the date of William’s death in Iowa.

However, I later learned more about William and Melissa. The years don’t match.

So not only are there a few John Boals running around, there were multiple Williams too.

The source is microfilm reel 361 in Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


The Presbyterian Tradition

The First Presbyterian Church in Derry, Northern Ireland
The First Presbyterian Church in Derry, Northern Ireland

While at the central library the other day, I walked down an aisle and noticed some books on Scottish and Irish ancestry.

One, the Handbook on Irish Genealogy, had some good notes on the Presbyterians. It was published by Heraldic Artists Ltd., Trinity Street, Dublin.

My Boal ancestors and related lines were Presbyterians, in Northern Ireland and America. Because of this fact, it is overwhelming likely that they were originally from Scotland.

PRESBYTERIAN RECORDS. The Presbyterian tradition has always been very strong in Ireland ever since the first Minister Edward Brice settled in Ballycarry near Larne in County Antrim in 1613.

I’ve never heard of Brice before nor read of the significance of the year 1613.

[T]he Presbyterian Historical Society has an impressive list of baptismal and marriage registers prior to 1820. Also among the Society’s records are copies of the Religious Census of 1766 for many parishes in Ulster, lists of Protestant householders for counties, Antrim, Derry and Donegal 1740 as well as a census (or what virtually amounts to one) of Presbyterians taken in the year 1775.

Being a rebel in church matters was frowned upon.

Another source of information are the Certificates of Tranference which were given to members leaving a district to show that they were free of church censure. They took the form of brief life histories.

The Presbyterian Historical Society’s HQ is listed as Church House, Fisherwick Place, Belfast. I don’t know if they are still there.

After looking through lists of records on microfilm, sadly, the ones for Derry (also known as Londonderry, which I finally found an explanation for) are quite limited. I am hoping I might find what I’m looking for in Catholic or Anglican archives.

Finally do remember that for historical reasons records of Presbyterian births and marriages will often be found in the registers of the Established Church. So do not overlook that source if your ancestors happen to be of Irish Presbyterian stock.


Memorial Day in Boalsburg

Some of my ancestors, the Boal family and related branches, lived in central Pennsylvania, in a town named after them, Boalsburg. It is one of the towns claiming to be the first place where Memorial Day was celebrated.

According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, roughly two dozen places claim to be the primary source of the holiday, an assertion found on plaques, on Web sites and in the dogged avowals of local historians across the country.

Yesterday, Boalsburg continued the long tradition.

[The] women in Boalsburg, Pa., which has a claim as the holiday’s birthplace, began decorating graves each year as early as October 1864.


A Distant Boal Cousin

A fellow descendant of the Boal family, a woman named Dee, sent me a note the other day. We have been corresponding back and forth since. In the 19th century her family was living near mine in Washington County, Iowa, unbeknownst to any of us, until now.

Hi, I saw where you posted  the grave of William Boal, died 1880, in Washington County, Iowa. I was wondering if you’re connected to him, or John Shannon Boal? I have some questions you may be able to answer. Do you know where his wife died and where she’s buried? Do you know anything about any of his other children? I know his daughter, Sarah, married James Harrison, and raised several Boal children, but don’t know about the others, do you? William had a brother, George Welch Boal, born Feb,.1790, County Derry, and the family sailed soon after his birth. George married Sarah Cummings Shannon, daughter of John and Martha Caldwell Shannon, and believed to be sister of Anna Shannon Boal. William and Anna had several children; Martha, Mary, John, James,Sarah, Margaret,George and William. We were in Solon, Iowa a couple of years ago, but didn’t find very much. I have some papers from that area, and  really can’t connect things, yet. Let me know if you’re connected to this family, and if you have a lot of information, I live in Pennsylvania. Hope to hear from you.    Dee

I sent her a variety of links, including one for the genealogy portion of the Boal Museum website and a direct link to my Boal relatives listed there. I also sent links to information on the graves of John S. and Ann Almeda. Lastly, I sent off a discussion thread from a forum and the family tree of the Foster clan. After my initial reply she sent more details on her side.

Hi. Thank you for answering, my gr-gr-grandfather was James Boal, born 1805, and he was brother to your William. Anyway, 1870 census has Boal, J.S. 31, farmer, born Pa.; Almeda,26, born Ohio; their children, Nettie, 5 , Jimmie, 3, and Stella, 5/12, all born Iowa. They are living in Lime Creek Twp., Washington Co. Iowa In the 1880 census, Nettie, 14, and Stella, 9, are living with James and Sarah Harrison,Graham Twp., Johnson Co. Iowa. Sarah is sister of James. I believe the Harrisons also raised my gr-grandfather’s orphaned children, but it was 1884, and by 1900 they were adults so have found no definate proof yet. I don’t have any problem with you sharing anything I give you. I truly believe the more you share the more you get back. I’m just not that savvy with the computer. Do you have the Boal lineage back to James from Ireland?  Do you have knowledge of the David Boal that was the founder of Boalsburg, Pa.? There’s some interesting stories, and I do know David and James were connected, I just don’t know how. I definately will keep in touch, and hopefully we’ll help each other.  Thanks, Dee


Cemetery Science

Since I have ancestors buried in Boalsburg, this caught my attention.

At [a] cemetery . . . in central Pennsylvania, Boalsburg Cemetery, she and her students have undertaken a wide range of projections, including comparing weathering rates of different types of stones (nearly all are granite or marble), and gleaning information about the history of the local community, such as how long people lived.

It’s an article about how gravestones have weathered through the years and what that can tell us about pollution. The group of researchers have dubbed it the Gravestone Project.

To a geologist, a gravestone can offer information other rocks can’t. One project is using gravestones to better understand how the elements, particularly acid rain, are weathering rocks around the world, and how that’s changed over time.


The Boalsburg Columbus Ball

As a Boal descendant, I like to keep track of the goings-on. Tonight is the Boalsburg Columbus Ball at the Boal Mansion Museum. Obviously the event is timed to coincide with Columbus Day.

The ball will celebrate “Boalsburg’s unique connection in the Columbus Chapel with the great explorer.” Besides contra-dancing, whatever that is, to live music, champagne and fine food, some historical figures will be on hand, including pioneer David Boal, Colonel Theodore Davis Boal, and Christopher Columbus, of course. Others will also be in period dress.

It’s nice to see that political correctness hasn’t infected every part of the country. The caricature of Columbus as an evil white dude eagerly slaughtering natives is revisionist garbage.



Another blog I just found thanks to one of my Google Alerts (searching for the keyword Boalsburg) is written by a doctor from Philadelphia. He’s written a series of posts on central Pennsylvania, including one devoted solely to Boalsburg, a town named for the Boal family from Northern Ireland, of which I am a descendant.

They were what’s known as Ulster Scots. Their namesake town is five miles east of State College, home of Penn State and Joe Paterno, who’s been the football coach there for ages. According to the doc, Boalsburg “is by far the most interesting place in Central Pennsylvania” and describes it as “a photographer’s dream, and well worth anyone’s drive around the main streets.”

He gives a tremendous amount of background on just how and why the Ulster Scots, including my Boal and Welch ancestors, decided on specifically immigrating to this part of Pennsylvania.

The Scots in Northern Ireland were much resented by their Roman Catholic neighbors, and gladly accepted James Logan’s offer to come to William Penn’s haven of religious freedom, in return for their settling near the Indians. This was Logan’s solution to the problem of keeping peace between the pacifist Quakers in Philadelphia, and the sensitivities of the Indians about settlers on their ancient lands. The Quakers wanted to avoid conflict with the Indians, wouldn’t sell them either liquor or gunpowder, while Logan was under orders from Penn’s descendants to sell the land. So, being Scotch-Irish himself, he felt confident his relatives would find ways of coping with the problem. Much of the turmoil of Pontiac’s War and the French and Indian Wars, the marauding Paxtang Boys and King George’s War, grew out of the resulting conflicts between the two notoriously combative groups. In any event, this decision explains why Scotch-Irish settled the frontier early, and surprisingly far west of the centers of Pennsylvania Dutch settlement.

One of the traditions among the Ulster Scots is the town diamond, a section of land often used as a public space.

[T]he town itself is laid out around the most perfect surviving example of a Scotch-Irish diamond. . . . The Scotch Irish had a tradition of favoring the cross-roads of two main highways. Their habit was to cut off the four corners of an intersection, leaving a diamond-shaped park in the middle. Traditionally, the enlarged intersection would have a flagpole in the middle.Naturally, the diamond was a good place to put a post office, a general store, or a tavern. A man named Boal put up an early tavern, and this diamond became Boalsburg. . . . [T]here is a log cabin near the diamond, with a dozen Boal tombstones in front of it.

Figuring out how my Boal ancestors fit into the family tree hasn’t been easy. The research on this is far from comprehensive. The details get a little murky. There are so many with the same names that tracking pedigrees is difficult.

At some time, the Boal family moved out of the center of town to a mansion about half a mile away.

It’s not as simple as one Boal family. There were many branches, and whether or not they were all related isn’t clear. However, moving on, the mansion is now a museum.

The walls are hung with dozens of sabers and swords from many different wars, each with its story. There are muskets and rifles, dating back to the Revolutionary War.

Then the story starts getting over-the-top weird, with claims of connections to Spain, Columbus, and Jesus Christ himself.

. . . The walls are covered with trophies and mementos, with five signatures of US Presidents identifiable. Lots of Boals seem to have married lots of European nobility, perhaps in one of these rooms. One old rake is quoted as saying he inherited three fortunes — and spent ’em all. Over and over again the theme emerges: the Boals were a military family, often raising their own regiments. Across the road in what seems surely to have once been Boal property, is the Military Museum, with real battleship cannons at the gate. Memorial Day was started here after the Civil War, and it is the headquarters of the local National Guard Division; it’s by far the most popular tourist attraction in town.

But off in one corner of the side yard of the mansion is a little stone house, perhaps two stories high. It is a replica of the Columbus family chapel in Spain, copied stone for stone. The stories vary somewhat between guides, but apparently two or more relatives were descended from Christopher Columbus, and while one Boal was Ambassador to Bolivia, he married a lady in waiting to the Queen who was also descended. . . . [T]he personal belongings of the Columbus family were judged to be the property of the Boals, so they were moved here to the chapel replica. . . . Two pieces of wood are still shown as pieces of the True Cross of Jesus, with authentication going back to the 5th Century, and numerous hand written journals are there. The Goya paintings and tapestries, and a solid gold crucifix are among the pieces which are now somewhere else. The matter is one of considerable embarrassment. Most of the many pieces which remain, are seemingly of the nature of things which would be enormously valuable if you knew what they were, but just about worthless if you don’t. In a sense, the best protection is the ignorance which surrounds them. The guide last month remembers one day when 27 visitors came to the Mansion, and many days when no one came. As he spoke, you could see at least five hundred cars parked in the Military Museum across the road. There may have been five cars parked in the diamond in the center of Boalsburg. It’s sort of a shame that this would be true, just as it makes you grit your teeth to imagine the indifference the whole place would receive if you moved it to Times Square. But, let’s face it, the main protection for these invaluable pieces of history lies in that general lack of interest in them.


Playing Around with Wolfram|Alpha

When I first heard of Wolfram|Alpha, in a news story, the search engine tool sounded pretty cool. And it is.

For some reason I don’t recall, I found myself at the site and decided to experiment with various keywords to see what results were returned. There may have been a link to something in one of my Google Alerts.1

My first search was Bytów, the town where my maternal great grandparents were married. It was a German town prior to World War II, but has been Polish since. Among the information given is a map of where it is located within Poland, the current weather, population figures, and nearby cities and airports. A chart shows a steady decline in population since 1999. The Baltic Sea is 36 miles to the northwest.

Searching for Pomorskie, the province where Bytów is located,  didn’t yield much. I decided to see what was available for Berlin, London, Dublin and Paris. Some of the city nicknames are cool. For example, London’s is The Big Smoke.

Then I moved onto surnames: Hill, Hay, Lentz, Wolf and Wolfe. Some, such as Fromke, Boal2, and Van Note, don’t have anything within the Wolfram universe. For some word searches, Scrabble scores (varying based on American or British spellings) and anagrams are given.

I then started playing around with Christian and complete names, starting with my own, Aaron Hill. Other neat features include having a list of people associated with a particular town or city and famous people with a given name. I searched for famous folks named Aaron.

I wanted to see what popped up when I typed James Hill, the name of the patriarch of the Hill family.

Moving onto to geographic place names, I went from Colo, Iowa to just plain Iowa to Watertown, South Dakota and Lake Preston, South Dakota, ending on South Dakota.

I then stumbled upon the examples pages. The ones that interest me the most and will likely be the most useful to me are: Human Genome, Words and Linguistics, Places and Geography, and People and History.


1. I’ve since remembered that a link to a page on Pommern, a place in Germany, was in my inbox, and, ever curious, I clicked on it. I was hoping it would have something to with Pommern the province, but Wolfram doesn’t have much on the region, even using the word Pomerania, merely giving the apparent dates of its existence, from 1013 AD to 1806, the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. However, I don’t think it is accurate. The end of Pomerania really should be placed in 1945, after the collapse of Nazi Germany.

2. There is a fish with the name boal.

The Irish in America

The Irish population of the United States based on statistics from the 1890 census.
The Irish population of the United States based on statistics from the 1890 census.

I discovered this map at a site dedicated to Irish genealogy. The Irish ancestors I know about, the Boals and Shannons, came from County Derry in Northern Ireland, and earlier from possibly County Donegal. It’s nice to have this map, as most of the 1890 census originals were destroyed in a fire.