Sometimes, a small piece of information, such as a funeral notice in a newspaper, is the only evidence we can find that an individual existed. But this is enough to ensure that the individual is not forgotten.
Some years ago while researching collateral family lines in the pastoral records of Aaron S. Leinbach, I discovered the burial records for Samuel Bingeman, his wife, Caroline, a daughter, Hannah and her nine-week-old child, Earl. It was interesting to note that Samuel died on 14 July 1888 and ten days later on 24 July 1888 his daughter, Hannah, died. More grief befell the family when on 25 July 1888 Samuel’s wife, Caroline, and grandson, Earl, died. The cause of death for all four was determined to be typhoid malaria. I made note of the dates and source and moved on to other families.
Later, in the hope of learning more about my collateral families instead of only their names and dates, I decided to search for the obituaries of these four individuals. I did not find an obituary but did find a funeral notice for the triple funeral of Caroline, Hannah, and Earl Bingeman.
One of the largest funerals held in Reading, Pennsylvania up to that time began at the home of the family, at 509 South 14th Street. It is a small house that still stands, and how they got two coffins into the front room I will never know. Two policemen were placed at the front door as over 500 people viewed the bodies at the house. One coffin contained the body of Caroline, the other the bodies of Hannah and her young child. At the church service it was estimated that 1,500 people crowded into the edifice, while hundreds waited outside unable to enter. The bodies were buried next to Samuel, who had been interred in the church cemetery the previous week.
Last year, I attempted to try and find the final resting place, with no luck. By asking one of the local residents, I learned that the church yard had previously been across the street from the church. However, many years ago the legible tombstones were transcribed, and then all the stones were removed and buried. The bodies remained. If you visit the old cemetery today you can see the settled ground where the graves are located but no markers to indicate who lies where.
A pastor’s record and a newspaper are the only remnants that tell the tragic story of this family. However, by reading the newspaper accounts of the funeral I was impressed with the feeling that this family, which will not be found in any history book, contributed to and was well-loved by their community. While their final resting place is long forgotten, they are not. And no individual should be forgotten.