Betsy Ross

Everyone knows the story of Betsy Ross… the woman who made the first flag for an emerging nation – The United States of America.

The problem is, no one knows if the story is true. Historians have scoured the records, and nothing has been found to substantiate the legend. Well, except for one tantalizing entry in the records of the Pennsylvania State Navy Board, dated May 29th, 1777.

Minutes of the PA State Naval Board 1777

“An Order on William Webb to Elizabeth Ross for fourteen Pounds Twelve Shillings and two pence for Making Ships Colours &c. Put into William Richards’ Store … £14.12.2”

Now, “Colours” is a term referring to the Battle Ensign, or flag, under which a ship was sailing. So the Pennsylvania State Navy Board was authorizing a payment to Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross to make flags for their ships. This shows that Betsy did indeed make flags, which lends credence to the story that she was previously approached by George Washington to create a new flag for the United States.

One of the members of the Navy Board at this time was Samuel Massey, my 6th Great Uncle. Samuel was a successful merchant in Philadelphia, running a business with his partner Benjamin Mifflin, importing “coffee, flour, sugar, corn, rum, tea, chocolate, rice and other coastwise trade commodities,” and entered into “joint ventures to export flour, cloth, salt, clothing, rice, brandy, coffee, spices, cotton, and other goods to the West Indies and coastal North American ports.” He was also very much involved with politics and the formation of our country, serving as a member of the Committee of Inspection and Observation for Philadelphia in 1774-5, a delegate to the Provincial Convention of Pennsylvania in 1775, a Judge of Election for the Constitutional Convention of Pennsylvania in 1776, a member of the Pennsylvania State Navy Board in 1777, and Commissioner to Forfeit Estates of Traitors in 1778.

Now this somewhat famous Samuel had a little brother named Ebenezer. Ebenezer was not as successful in business or politics, but was a simple scrivener by profession. A scrivener was a professional scribe, a person who made their living by writing or copying written material. Samuel appeared to have gotten a job at the Navy Board for his little brother, as Ebenezer was appointed the Secretary of that organization on March 27, 1777. He served in this position through at least July 30th of that year, and probably until September, 1777, when Philadelphia was evacuated as the British invaded.

This led me to wonder… could Ebenezer Massey, my 5th Great Grandfather, have been the person who wrote the only recorded evidence that Betsy Ross might have created the first American flag?

How could I prove that Ebenezer wrote it?

In the estate papers of James Claxton, father of Ebenezer’s wife Jane, is an original letter that Ebenezer wrote to make an official complaint against the executor of the estate.

Letter from Ebenezer Massey 1782

Could I compare this letter, dated September 15, 1782, with the Navy Board Meeting Minutes from May 29, 1777 to see if they matched?


Minutes of the PA State Naval Board 1777 - Annotated

Letter from Ebenezer Massey 1782 - Annotated

On the top are the Navy Board minutes which mention Betsy Ross, and on the bottom is the letter written by Ebenezer in 1782. Note the similarities in the circled letters. The double looped capital “O”, the straight lines of the capital “W”, the lowercase “z”, the form and ending loop of the capital “S”, the curved loop back of the lowercase “d”, the swooping loop at the top of the capital “P”, and the ampersand in “&c” and “&”. Not all letters are exact, but Ebenezer did not always form his letters in the same manner. For example, take a look at how he formed the capital “J” in the word “Justices” in the heading at the top and in the second line of the body in the word “James”, and compare that to how he formed the “J” in “James” just two lines lower. The man who wrote the minutes on the top also formed his “J”s differently. Note the “J” in “Junk” in the first entry, and the “J” in “Jacob” in the third entry. This last “J” is very similar to the way Ebenezer wrote the “J” in “James” on line 4, but the “J” in “Junk” appears to have elements of both of Ebenezer’s “J”s. Thus, the man who wrote the document on the top occasionally varied the way he wrote certain letters, as did the man who wrote the letter on the bottom, known to have been Ebenezer Massey.

Based upon this comparison, it is my claim that my 5th Great Grandfather on my direct male line, Ebenezer Massey, was likely the individual who wrote the only known record proving that Betsy Ross made flags, and offering evidence to support the claim that she created the first flag of the United States of America.

Do you think I’m right?

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DNA Ethnicity and Inheritance Patterns

“My sister and I both received our DNA Ethnicity Results and they don’t match! Why?”  As more people have their DNA tested, this seemingly impossible outcome keeps popping up. Let’s dig into why this is not only possible, but probable.

In the following image, the ethnicity results of my mother Sharon, her brother Warren, and sister Nancy are shown. As you can see, there are similarities, but there are some obvious differences as well. How on earth could this happen? After all, brothers and sisters have the same parents, so they should match ethnicity results exactly, right? Wrong.

Screen Shot 2018-06-09 at 2.16.29 PM

Each person has 23 pairs of chromosomes, numbered Chromosome 1 through Chromosome 22, plus the “sex” chromosomes “X” and “Y”. Males have two copies of 1-22 (one each from their mother, another copy from their father), an “X” from their mother, and a “Y” from their father. Females have two copies of 1-22 (one each from their mother, another copy from their father), an “X” from their mother, and an “X” from their father”.


The 23 pairs of Human DNA

Each of us receives half of our DNA from our father, and half from our mother. Now if we all received all of dad’s and all of mom’s DNA, each generation would receive double the amount of DNA, and there would be major issues. Each of us actually has the same amount of DNA, so while we receive one half from each parent, this also means that we only receive half of each parent’s DNA! This means that half of each of your parents’ DNA was not inherited by you.

But what determines which half we get from each parent? Basically, roll of the dice. When each egg and sperm cell are created, they receive a random shuffle of half of that person’s DNA.

Let’s take just one pair of the 23 pairs each person has. Let’s look at the one numbered 18, outlined in red in the image above, and rotate it on it’s side.


One of these copies of Chromosome 18 came from this person’s father, and the other from their mother. Each cell in our bodies has a copy of each of these.

By comparing three or more siblings’ DNA results via a technique called “visual phasing”, it is possible to determine where the random shuffling took place, and then determine which of the grandparents each of these shuffled pieces came from.

The following colorful spreadsheet shows both of the copies of Chromosome 18 that were inherited by each of the siblings (Warren, Nancy, and Sharon), one copy coming from their father (top row) and one from their mother (bottom row).

Screen Shot 2018-06-09 at 2.06.17 PM

It appears that the copy of Chromosome 18 that Warren received from his father came from her grandfather Alva (orange section), and the other half came from her grandmother, Maud (blue section). Nancy received a little portion from Alva, followed by a large section from Maud, and then a piece from Alva. Sharon got almost the reverse of what Warren got – the starting portion from Maud, and the trailing portion from Alva.

For their maternal copies of Chromosome 18, I have not yet determined confidently whether the purple and green sections were linked to their grandfather Guy, or their grandmother Vera, but I suspect that purple was Guy and green was Vera. Warren received the starting portion from Guy, and a longer trailing section from Vera. Nancy was the same, but she received more from her grandmother than her brother did Sharon received about 90% from Vera, with a small trailing portion from Guy.

Just for the sake of an example, let’s examine the maternal Chromosome 18 from Warren, Nancy and Sharon.

Screen Shot 2018-06-09 at 3.06.17 PM

Now let’s just imagine that Guy was 100% German background, and Vera was 100% English background (which is NOT the case for my family, but it simplifies this example). That means for Chromosome 18, Warren would have inherited about 40% German and 60% English, Nancy 20% German and 80% English, and Sharon 90% English and 10% German. Duplicate this for the other copy of Chromosome 18, and for the other chromosomes, sum up the percentages, and you will have each of these brothers and sisters with their own inherited ethnic origins. Each will have different percentages even though they have the same parents.

While siblings may have exactly the same genealogical heritage, DNA inheritance patterns mean that each receives a different shuffled mix of DNA from their parents, which often impact ethnicity results.

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My Photo Collection

I remember when I was a little boy and we went to visit my Great Grandma Stevens in Long Beach, she had this large closet off of the hallway and it was filled with things which I was fascinated by. What history was hidden in there? On the wall of the closet was a very large framed photo of nine people, taken about 1910. Every time I would visit, I would ask her who was in the photo and she would tell me the names of her mother and her 8 brothers and sisters, lined up in three rows in their order of birth – 3 girls, 3 boys, and 3 girls.

When I was 11, I started to plot out my family tree and kept asking questions of my parents, grandparents, my 3 great grandmothers, and my great grandfather, and a life-long hobby was born.

At some point when I was a young teenager, my Grandma Doyle gave me 21 old photos, as long as I promised to take care of them. I was so excited! This began my life-long passion with collection, sorting, identifying, and sharing family photographs.

The following is a little history of this collection.


One of my early indexes, typed with an old-fashioned typewriter, 147 photos in the collection.


Second Generation index, handwritten, 1,721 photos in the collection.

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My photo index was then moved to an Excel Spreadsheet, 1,846 photos in the collection.

Screen Shot 2012-08-20 at 8.51.53 AM

The index has now been imported into Apple’s Aperture 3 program, with each data field associated with a scanned version of the photo.

Screen Shot 2012-08-20 at 8.51.03 AM

The Apple Aperture 3 database currently holds 9,645 items, mostly photos, but also scans of old documents, genealogical correspondence, etc.


Each photo is cataloged, numbered, placed in an acid-free envelope, which is then placed in an acid-free archival storage box. All of this location information is stored in my database, allowing me to quickly and easily locate any original in the collection.


Grandpa Doyle’s Slide Collection, dating from 1948 to 1976. There are an estimated 2,400 slides, only a third of which I have scanned so far. Eight boxes, six trays per box, and up to 54 slides per tray. Of course the specific location is being stored in the database.


Various sets of slides collected over the years that have not yet been scanned into the collection.


Mom & Dad’s photo collection. I have spent hours organizing these photos by year and matching each photo up to the negatives. Still a lot more organization needed before I can begin cataloging and scanning. This stack of boxes is chest-high.


A four-drawer file cabinet holds my research notes, genealogical correspondence, etc. Note the 8mm film collection on top.


Some of the family heirlooms in the collection.


A fireproof safe holds the most important treasures.


Two fireproof file cabinets hold boxes of cataloged photos and other treasures.


Grandma & Grandpa Shetrone’s photo collection – only some of which has been cataloged and scanned.


Grandma and Grandpa Shetrone’s photo collection. None of this material has yet been cataloged or scanned.

I have been extremely fortunate to have been able to collect all of these family photographs and heirlooms, and consider it my duty to help to organize and preserve these items. I am crossing my fingers that someone in the next generation is interested enough to carry on this work.

Posted in family history, family photos, family tree, genealogy, photo identification | 4 Comments

The Tailor Shop

Wilhelm Treffeisen

Wilhelm Treffeisen in front of his Tailor Shop

In 1980, when I was just 16, I wrote to Lura Treffeisen, my grandfather’s cousin, to see if she might be able to help me with my family research. She and her niece Janet were both working on the “family tree” and were very excited to hear from me. We exchanged several letters over the years, but in one of the first, Lura sent this photo of my great great grandfather, Wilhelm Treffeisen, standing in front of his tailor shop in Philadelphia.

When my Aunt Alma died in 2010, she willed all of her belongings to charity. The auction company was supposed to put aside all family photographs and heirlooms, but apparently some were actually sold at auction! I was very fortunate that the woman who purchased them was also a genealogist, and although she was selling them, she would prefer that they go to a family member. She made sure to add all of the inscriptions on the photos when she posted them to eBay. I probably would never have known that they were sold at auction had I not received an email from a cousin, asking if I had seen a photo currently for sale on eBay. I followed the link that he had sent, and sure enough, it was one of *my* family! I quickly purchased it, but then I got to thinking. What if there had been more than one for sale? I quickly searched the seller’s other items for sale, and found there were fifteen photos for sale. I quickly purchased them all, and in less than a week, they were in my hands.

Wilhelm Treffeisen and Family in front of his Tailor Shop

Wilhelm Treffeisen Family

One of the photos was another photo of Wilhelm in front of his tailor shop, this time with his family. I had never seen this one! How exciting! Receiving this one caused me to go pull out the other one for comparison. At first, I assumed that they were taken in the same location, but then I started noticing differences. The sign out front was different. The arched windows on one door appeared narrower. One had two panes of glass in the front, the other had three. I realized that although both were his tailor shops, they were different shops.

I wondered if I might be able to figure out where they had been taken? Which photo was earlier? When were they taken?

I went back through all of my research and started a list of all of his known locations. I used census records, vital records, and city directories to come up with the following list:

  • 1880 909 Gordon St.
  • 1881 909 Gordon St.
  • 1882 613 N 3rd St.
  • 1883 1213 N 5th St.
  • 1885 1213 N 5th St.
  • 1886 1218 N 5th St.
  • 1889 840 N 3rd St.
  • 1890 840 N 3rd St.
  • 1892 410 Fairmount Ave.
  • 1895 410 Fairmount Ave.
  • 1897 504 N. 4th St.

In 1880 and 1881, he was living at the same address as his brother Jakob (a shoemaker), who was older & helped bring him to America, so I doubted either of these photos were taken at the 909 Gordon Street address. Besides, they didn’t have 2 children at this time, so really the 909 & 613 addresses are ruled out.

Since Lura had died, I asked my cousin Janet if she had inherited Lura’s genealogical materials and old photos. She had! I asked her to search to see if she could find the original of the copy that Lura had sent me over 30 years ago. She did! She scanned it and sent the updated version:

Wilhelm Treffeisen's Tailor Shop

Wilhelm Treffeisen’s Tailor Shop

This version had something that the 1980 copy did not – a portion of the photo on the right-hand side that had been cropped out. Note the neighborhood children watching the spectacle of a photographer at work. Interesting details, but it didn’t help me.

Address of Tailor Shop

Partial Address visible in better copy of Tailor Shop Photo

Then I noticed that this version had something else – additional detail! If you zoom in on the pane of glass above the door behind him, you can make out portions of three numbers. To me, it appeared to be an “8”, followed by a number I couldn’t quite make out, followed by a number which was rounded at the top – perhaps a “0” or an “8”. There is only one address on his list of known locations that matched – 840 North 3rd Street, Philadelphia. Since I know that he resided at other locations in 1886 and 1892, I can now date this photo to sometime between those years, and probably to about 1889 or 1890 when he was listed in the city directory. I believe this photo was probably taken for an advertisement for his new shop.

Could I also identify the location of the other photo? With the “840” address ruled out, that left five other addresses. However, he has children in this photo, and based upon their ages, I ruled out all locations other than the 1213 and 410 addresses.

The 410 address is still standing, and can be seen on Google Street View. Although it looks similar, this address has the door on the left of the large window, so I think it can be ruled out.

The address 1213 North 5th Street, Philadelphia, PA seems to be the most likely, which would date this photo to 1883-1888. Since Becky, the youngest child who was listed on the back of the photo as the younger of the two children, wasn’t born till 1891, it is unlikely that this was her. In fact, it is most probable that the children were Amelia and William, Jr., born in 1881 and 1883, which would suggest a date for the photo of about 1885.

Thus, I believe that this photo was taken about 1885 at 1213 N. 5th St., Philadelphia, PA, and that the subjects are an unknown man, Wilhelm and Bertha (Schreier) Treffeisen, and their children Amelia and William, Jr.


  • Compile a list of all known addresses for your family members. When you find a photo with a visible address, you can quickly search this file for a match.
  • If you have a photo with no visible address, use this address list to see if the homes where the family lived are still standing using Google Maps or Google Street View to try to find a matching location.
  • Use the ages of people in the photographs to obtain a tentative range of years that the photo may have been taken.
  • If you have duplicated photos, track down the originals for better copies.
  • SHARE your photos – I never would have seen the one for sale on eBay had a distant cousin not recognized it as the same man as one I had previously shared with him.
  • If you find yourself in the unfortunate predicament of seeing a family photo on eBay, be sure to check all other lots for sale by the same seller.
Posted in family history, family photos, family tree, genealogy, photo identification | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

A Forgotten Murder-Suicide Attempt

Bill, Becky, baby Tim, and Lloyd Doyle

My Great Grandmother Bertha Ida ‘Becky’ (Treffeisen) (Massey) Doyle was a quiet, small-framed woman that I remember coming to holidays and major family events. Here you can see her holding me at just two weeks old, a four-generation photo.

I’ve learned a lot about Becky’s life over the years, by interviewing her several times, asking questions, and asking family members about her. However, I am shocked that something as major as an attempt on her life would not have been mentioned. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, as she probably wanted to forget that it had ever happened.

When she was a teenager, Becky had worked as a nanny for the children of the rich and influential Howard Butcher, Jr. family of Philadelphia. Mr. Butcher was a banker, broker, financier, and a member of the Philadelphia and New York Stock Exchanges.

Becky and one of the Butcher children

Becky and one of the Butcher children

Becky and two of the Butcher children

While researching my Great Grandmother, I decided to do a bit of research on this family as well, on the off chance that I might learn something of my family. I had downloaded several PDF files, and had just about finished reviewing them. While clearing off my computer’s desktop, I almost tossed the last PDF file in the trash, but decided to open it to see what it might contain. WOW! I was not prepared for what it revealed.

According to the newspaper article, and the others that I subsequently found, Becky had been working for the Butchers along with a Japanese man named Torao Nomura, who was employed as the butler. He had come to America to earn some money for the family he had hoped to start with his fiancé Komito, but shortly after arriving, he learned that she had committed suicide. Also, he had sustained head injuries during a break-in of the Butcher residence during the summer of 1908, and had been experiencing painful headaches ever since.

Becky sympathized with Nomura and tried to befriend him, even inviting him to her family’s home in Philadelphia for Christmas Dinner in 1908.  Becky said “he evidently mistook my sympathy for love. I turned away his advances as gently as possible, but he persisted in paying me attentions.”

On January 5, 1909, while the Butchers were away for the night in Philadelphia, Nomura approached Becky and asked her if she could love him. She said no, and then Nomura stated that he was going to kill himself. Becky, frightened, asked if he was going to hurt her. He said no, but then pulled out a gun. She ran down the hall and into the bedroom with the four sleeping children. I can imagine Becky wanting to get to the room and lock the door in order to protect the children. Nomura followed her and jumped over the bed, coming face-to-face with her. He shot her in the mouth, and then quietly left the room. She ran out of the house to get help, hearing gunshots as she reached the front door. As she got to the front gate, Mr. and Mrs. Butcher, just arriving home, found her bleeding profusely from her mouth.

Mr. Butcher checked for the gunman and found him dying on his bed. He called the police, and took Becky up the hill to a drug store until a Dr. arrived with a car and took her to the hospital, while Mrs. Butcher no doubt comforted her frightened children. Nomura died, but thankfully Becky had just a few teeth missing and a bullet lodged in the roof of her mouth, but it was not life threatening. It’s frightening to think that if she had died, I would not be here to write this.

The articles state that after Nomura had been injured by the intruders the previous summer, they had obtained medical assistance for him, and I’m sure that after this event, the Butchers took very good care of Becky. After all, not only had Becky been a trusted nanny to their children, but three of her sisters and her mother had all at one time worked for the family.

Note how many different ways that Becky’s surname was spelled in the various newspaper articles: Treszeron, Treserson, Treseron, Trieffesen, and Trieffiessen. Not one of them got the spelling correct, so there was little chance that I would have found these articles if I had just searched for her name. It was only when I searched for the Butcher family that this was uncovered.


  • Research associates of your family – you never know what you might uncover.
  • Don’t believe everything in print – note the story differences in the following articles. There are spelling differences, story differences, and in one, Becky is supposedly killed.


Philadelphia, Jan. 5. – Taormina Namoro, Japanese butler in the house of Howard Butcher, a prominent broker living at Ardmore, in a fit of jealousy this morning, shot a housemaid and killed himself.

– Denver Post, January 5, 1909


Japanese Marine’s Affection For an American Girl Leads to Attempted Murder and Suicide.

ARDMORE, Pa., Jan. 6. – The always dismal story of love between members of different races figured as the background of tragedy here last night in which a Japanese butler shot and wounded a young white woman who repulsed his love, and then took his own life.

The dead man was Torao Nomura, and is said to have been a scion of a distinguished family in Japan. He was a veteran of the war between Russia and Japan, and participated in the famous Battle of the straits of Tushima, in which Admiral Togo destroyed the fleet of Rojestvensky. He held a master mariner’s license and spoke several languages.

The wounded girl is met Miss Bertha Trieffiessen, aged 18 years, of West Philadelphia. Both were employed in the home of Howard Butcher, of the banking firm of Rhodes, Sinkler & Butcher, of Philadelphia. The Japanese was Butler, and Miss Trieffiessen governess to the four children of the Butchers.

Tried to Kill Her.

Mr. and Mrs. Butcher spent last evening in Philadelphia, and returning to their residence around 11 o’clock, found the girl near the Gateway, blood gushing from her mouth. Though scarcely able to speak by reason of her injury, she managed to make known that the butler had attempted to kill her and had probably ended his own life. She had taken flight to sound an alarm, forgetting for the nonce her own sufferings.

Mr. Butcher hurried to the room of the butler. He found Nomura prostrate on his bed, bleeding from a number of wounds in the head. A 35-calibre pistol lay by his side. Mr. Butcher immediately telephoned to the police and then, half-led, half-carried the wounded girl up Ardmore avenue to King’s drug store, where she was cared for until Dr. George I. MacLeod, of Valley Road, arrived with his automobile and carried her to the Bryn Mawr Hospital. There it was found that the bullet fired at her by the Japanese had knocked out several of her teeth and lodged in the roof of her mouth, but without inflicting serious injury.

In the meantime Officer Samuel Greer been appraised of the shooting and had reached the Butcher residence, where he found the wounded Japanese expiring. He died before a doctor could arrive.

A telegram addressed to the Japanese Mission, New York, was found, conveying unmistakable evidence that the dead was premeditated. It read: “Died unnatural death at 10 P.M. Nomura.”

A note to Mr. Butcher requested that the message be forwarded.

The first explanation of the tragedy came this morning, when the injured girl made a statement to Coroner King. She said that while they were alone in the house with the children, the butler had asked whether she could not love him. When she replied in the negative he threatened to shoot himself. The girl asked whether he intended to harm her, and he replied that he did not.

A moment later, however, there was a gleam of a pistol. Affrighted, the girl dashed through the hallway and into the children’s room, the Butler following. He leaped across the bed of the sleeping children, coming face to face with the frantic young woman. There was a shot, the bullet entering her mouth.

After firing at the girl, Nomura walked out and went to his own room, while the wounded girl ran down the stairs and out of the house. As she reached the front door she heard several pistol shots.

Came Here After War.

There is something of pathos in the story of the Japanese. It is said that after the war with Russia he came to America to try to make a fortune for his sweetheart in Japan, but soon after his arrival in this country he learned that the girl had committed suicide.

Although the police and coroner believe that jealousy was the motive for the act of Nomura, physicians say that temporary insanity, the result of an injury received last summer, was probably the cause. Nomura was known along the Main Line as an athlete, and as a master of jiu-jitsu.

Last summer several tramps invaded the home of the Butchers in the absence of the family. Nomura picked two of them up with the jiu-jitsu hold and threw them with great violence to the floor.

Realizing that his two companions have been worsted, a third tramp picked up a base ball bat and smashed the little Jap across the head with it. He was unconscious for 10 hours and for several weeks was in a highly nervous condition.

According to the girl’s statement, Nomura had been in love with her for some time. She says that he had talked to her of his unfortunate love affair in Japan and she sympathized with him.

“He evidently mistook my sympathy for love,” said the girl. “I turned away his advances as gently as possible, but he persisted in paying me attentions.

“On Christmas Day he took dinner with me at my mother’s home. After dinner, during a conversation, he asked me what American girls did when a man fell in love with them. I told him that sometimes they married the man and sometimes they jilted him.

“After this he appeared rather q[uiet] but I paid no attention to that. [After] Christmas he did not speak to love until last night.”

– Wilkes-Barre Times, January 6, 1909


Main-Line Butler, Insane From Old Wound and Unrequited Love, Commits Double Crime

Special to The Inquirer.

Torao Nomura


ARDMORE, Pa., Jan. 5. – Upon her refusal to reciprocate his affection and thereby filled the place made vacant by the death of affianced bride in Japan, Torao Nomura, 22 years old, a Japanese butler in the family of Howard Butcher, of 122 Ardmore avenue, last night seriously wounded Bertha Triffesen, an 18-year-old governess, and then fired five bullets into his brain. He died half an hour later. The bullet intended to kill the girl entered her mouth and inflicted a painful injury, but she is expected to recover by physicians at the Bryn Mawr Hospital.

Nomura is thought to have become insane through grief for his dead sweetheart and the effects of a blow on the head received while battling with burglars in his employer’s residence.

Miss Trieffesen, it is reported, accepted the Butler’s attentions in a joking way for some time, thinking his remarks simply pleasantries between fellow employees.

When she realized that Namora was in earnest she began to repulse him.

Last night, the injured girl told Coroner King, while Mr. and Mrs. Butcher were in this city, he approached the governess in the hall and made a final attempt to win her affection.

Jumped over the bed

When she refused to listen to his suit, he threatened to shoot himself. The girl asked whether he intended to harm her, and he is said to have replied that he did not.

There was a sudden gleam of a pistol. The girl dashed through the hallway and into the children’s room, the butler following. Across the bed of the sleeping children he leaped, coming face-to-face with the young woman. There was a shot, the bullet entering her mouth. Nomura then went to his own room and as she fled downstairs Miss Trieffeson heard the repeated reports of the gun as the butler carried out his threat to end his own existence.

When Mr. Butcher and his wife return to their home about 10:30 they met the wounded girl as she rushed from the house. Blood was streaming from her mouth and she was able to give only a hazy account of what had occurred.

Telegram told of death

Mr. Butcher and his wife ran up to the room occupied by the butler. They found him unconscious. The revolver was on the bed alongside his outstretched hand. Dr. McCloud and Greer, a policeman, were summoned. Before the physician arrived Nomura expired.

Search of the Jap’s room resulted in the finding of three letters written by Nomura prior to the shooting. One of them was addressed to H. Asai, Y. M. C. A., 105 East Fifty-fourth street, New York; another to the Japanese consul at Washington, D.C., and a telegram also addressed “H. Asai.”

In the letter to Asai the writer asked that the recipient come on to Philadelphia at once, as he had died on unnatural death and that everything had been crossing him. The letter to the consul at Washington contained these words written in the Japanese language: “I am dead.”

Injured by Burglar

Coroner King, after an inquiry this morning, decided that an inquest was unnecessary. Nomura is thought to have been made insane by a blow on the head received while struggling to repulse burglars who entered the Butcher residence last summer.

The Butcher family was away for the summer vacation, and the house was in charge of Nomura. One evening he found thieves in the pantry. An expert in jiu-jitsu, he tackled the two invaders, and hurled both from the house. But in the mixup he had been dealt a blow over the head with a club. Repeatedly thereafter he complained of a pain in the head. His grief over the death of his sweetheart seemed to have been further accentuated. For him Mr. Butcher secured treatment by Dr. William J. Dugan, assistant neurologist at the Jefferson College, and his condition seemed improved.



Grieved Over Sweetheart’s Death

Nomura had been in the service of Mr. Butcher for several years and was well liked. He was studious and was a private pupil of an instructor of the Ardmore High School.

His brother is an officer on a Japanese man-of-war, and his family is said to be one of the foremost in Tokio. One of the prettiest of the fair ones of the Flowery Kingdom was little Komito, his sweetheart, daughter of a Japanese educator, and which match the parents had made in keeping with the Oriental custom. Nomura felt that he could not provide for a wife and decided to come to America to seek a fortune.

His intended bride, melancholy because of her betrothed’s absence, died soon after his departure. He was much affected by her death and this fact is thought to have contributed to the mental condition which caused last night’s tragedy.

The Japanese Consul in Philadelphia is expected to take charge of the body of young Nomura, which was removed to an undertaking establishment in Ardmore.

Miss Trieffesen is a daughter of Mrs. Brown, who lives in the vicinity of sixty-fifth and Vine streets, Philadelphia. Her sister Emma is a maid in the family of another well-known resident of Ardmore.

– Philadelphia Inquirer, January 6, 1909


First Tried to Kill a Maid Who Refused to Marry Him.

PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 5. – Nomro, a Japanese Butler, attempted to murder a maid and then shot himself to death last night at the home of Howard Butcher, Jr., a member of a Philadelphia brokerage firm, who lives at Bryn Mawr, a suburb. Mr. and Mrs. Butcher returned home after midnight and found their two small children, badly frightened, huddled in a room. Bertha Treserson, the maid, a rather pretty white girl of about 20 years, was missing.

A search of the house resulted in the finding of the body of the Japanese servant on a bed in his own room. There were two bullet wounds in the breast, and near him was found a note written in Japanese.

Neighbors were aroused and the missing girl was found in a drugstore unconscious. Her front teeth had been knocked out by a bullet. Removed to the Bryn Mawr Hospital the girl was revived. She told the police that the butler had asked her to marry him. Upon her refusal he pursued her to the room where the Butcher children were sleeping and shot her in the mouth. He then went to his own room and shot himself.

A telegram written in English addressed “Secretary Asi, New York,” was also found in the room of the Japanese. It reads: “Died unnatural death 10 o’clock. NOMRO.”

– The New York Times, January 6, 1909

Tragedy in Pennsylvania Household.

Philadelphia, Jan. 5. – A Japanese butler employed at the home of Howard Butcher, Jr., in Bryn Mawr, near here, last night shot Bertha Treszeron, a pretty white maid in the household, wounding her in the mouth. He then shot and killed himself. The girl says the Japanese shot her upon her refusal to marry him.

– Charlotte Observer, January 6, 1909

Butler, Rejected in Love, Turns Weapon on Girl, Then Kills Himself.


PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 5. – An attempt to murder a nurse maid was made last night by a Japanese servant, who afterward shot himself, at the home of Howard Butcher, Jr., member of a Philadelphia brokerage firm, who resides at Bryn Mawr, a suburb.

Mr. and Mrs. Butcher had been visiting and when they returned home after midnight, Bertha Treseron, the maid, a white girl of about twenty years was missing.

A quick search of the house resulted in the finding of the body of the Japanese servant in his own room. There were two bullet wounds in the breast.

Neighbors were aroused and the missing girl was found in a drugstore unconscious.

The girl was later revived and the police learned that the butler had asked her to marry him. Upon her refusal he pursued her to the bedroom where the Butcher children were sleeping and shot her in the mouth. He then went to his room and shot himself.

– Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), January 6, 1909

Butler Shoots Maid and Suicides.

Philadelphia, PA., Jan. 5. – a Japanese butler employed at the home of Howard Butcher, Jr., in Bryn Mawr, near here, last night Shot Bertha Treserson, a white maid in the house, wounding her in the mouth. He then shot and killed himself. The girl says the Japanese shot her upon refusal to marry him.

– Times Picayune, January 6, 1909

Principals in a Recent Tragedy.
Komito and Nomura
Upper picture shows Komito, daughter of a professor in the Tokyo university, who was to marry Torao Nomura, a young Japanese, who was a butler in the family of an Ardmore, Penn. banker. A few months ago, Komito committed suicide. Since then Torao has been acting strangely and last week he shot and killed a nursemaid in the bankers family and then killed himself.

– Ann Arbor News, January 11, 1909

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The Christmas Tree Photo

Unknown Family Portrait

Unknown Family Portrait

I started collecting old family photographs when I was about 15. My first set of 74 pictures were given to me by my grandmother Audrey, who typically doesn’t place much sentimental value on old photographs. She was probably just happy to have cleaned out a drawer and found a home for them. Once other family members saw how much I treasured and cared for them, they started to add to my collection.

My other grandmother, Elva, was much more possessive – giving me a few photos here, a few there. About 1983, she gave me a set of photos including this one – an unknown family seated in front of a Christmas tree in what looks to be their living room, with an organ off to the side. At the time, she told me that she thought this was probably on her dad’s side of the family. I don’t know how many times I examined this photo – even looking at it with a magnifying glass to see if I could spot any clues to its identification. Little did I know that it would take me 28 years to finally solve the riddle.

I had very quickly determined that the older seated man was probably the same as the man in this set of photos:

I had received these four photographs a couple of years earlier from my grandmother, and they were in a cardboard album that folded out. I knew for sure that the man on the right was my Great Great Grandfather, Terry George Stevens, but the other three were unknown to me. I thought perhaps that the woman may have been his wife Cora Belle Allen, who had died in a Chicago hospital in 1900, and perhaps the other couple were her parents, Nathaniel Chandler and Emeline S. (Johnson) Allen. But that’s as far as I got – suspicions and possibilities.

Wedding Invitation

Wedding Invitation for Terry Stevens and Cora Allen, 1880.

In December, 2010, I was contacted by Janie Payne, a cousin also descended from Terry and Cora. We exchanged many emails, getting to know one another, and sharing scans of many old family photos. One of the scans that she sent me was this one – the wedding invitation for Terry and Cora, which hangs on her wall.

I don’t think I noticed the words right away, or at least not their significance, but one day they just screamed out to me – “At Their Home”. Yup, Terry and Cora had been married in her parents’ home. Then I noted the date of their marriage – “Thursday, January 1st, 1880”. If they were married in their home on New Years Day, that meant that it was not unlikely that the family Christmas Tree would still be up! It was all coming together.

I now believe that this photo was taken at the wedding of my Great Great Grandparents, Terry George Stevens and Cora Belle Allen, taken January 1, 1880 in the home of her parents, Nathaniel Chandler and Emeline S. (Johnson) Allen, in Willow Grove, Illinois. It took 28 years, but I finally identified not only the people, but also the event, the date, and the location!

Nathaniel Chandler Allen, Cora Belle Allen Stevens, Terry George Stevens, and Emeline S. Johnson Allen, taken at the Wedding of Terry and Cora, January 1, 1880, in Willow Grove, IL


  • Carefully examine and reexamine your old photos
  • Watch for clues, even the tiniest
  • Compare photos with each other
  • Reach out to cousins who might have materials which can help you
  • Don’t give up!
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Formal Family Portrait

Howard Butcher, Jr. Family

Portrait of an unknown family

One of the photos included in those I received from my Aunt Alma’s estate was this one – a formal portrait of an unknown family, taken in the first part of the twentieth century. I had no idea who the family was, so I studied the faces closely to see if I could spot any family resemblances.

I sent the photo off to relatives to see if they could recognize anyone, but no one could. I knew that you can’t always identify a photo right away, so from time to time I would review it and wonder, but move on.

Back when my Great Grandmother Becky was a teenager, she worked as a nanny to the influential and wealthy family of Howard Butcher, Jr. and his wife, the former Margaret Keen, daughter of William Williams Keen, the first brain surgeon in the United States. Family members recollected a bond stronger than that of just employer and employee, but more of a close friendship. Becky wasn’t the only family member that had worked for them, so had her mother and her sister Amelia. Amelia worked as their nanny when they traveled Europe, getting to see places like Florence, Rome, Rotterdam, London, and Luzerne – something not many average Philadelphia girls got to do in the early 1900s.

After Becky had married, had her daughter Alma and was pregnant with my grandfather Bill, she and her husband went through a bitter divorce. She reached out to Margaret Butcher, who helped her to find legal representation. After Becky moved with her children to California, she lost contact with the Butcher family.

Knowing that you can sometimes learn things by researching those associated with your family, I set out to discover a little more about this family. Margaret Keen had married Howard Butcher, Jr. and they had had children: Howard – 1901, Margaret – 1903, Dora – 1905, Mary Louisa ‘Polly’ – 1907, ‘Keen’ – about 1916, and Florence – about 1918.

I then found Passport Application records on and downloaded those images. When I took a closer look at the passport application photo for Howard Butcher, Jr., he looked familiar. Where had I seen that photo before?!? Aha! I quickly pulled up both the formal family portrait and the passport application – and it was the same person! Examining the passport application photos for the other family members clinched the identification. I had identified all of the people in this photo.

Howard Butcher, Jr.

Howard Butcher, Jr.

Margaret Keen Butcher

Margaret Keen Butcher

Howard Butcher, III

Howard Butcher, III

Dora Butcher

Dora Butcher

Mary Louisa Butcher

Mary Louisa ‘Polly’ Butcher

Based upon these findings, I believe this family portrait can now be positively identified as that of family friends Howard Butcher, Jr. and his wife Margaret Keen Butcher and their children. Because of the other children included, the baby must be William W. ‘Keen’ Butcher, born about 1916, which also dates the photo.

Howard Butcher, Jr. Family

The Howard Butcher, Jr. Family, about 1916 – (standing) Margaret Butcher, Howard Butcher III, and (seated) Howard Butcher, Jr., Dora Keen Butcher, William W. Keen Butcher (baby), Margaret Keen Butcher, and Mary L. Butcher

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Mystery Waterfront

Docked Ship

Unknown ship at an unknown dock

Unknown Waterfront Area

Unknown Waterfront Area

Among the items I inherited from my Great Aunt Alma were two old albums that had belonged to my Great Grandmother, Bertha ‘Becky’ Treffeisen. One of these, apparently from about 1912 to 1914, contained several photos that had been taken near what appeared to be a waterfront or a wharf. I had no idea of the specific location, but because Becky had lived in Philadelphia, I suspected they had been taken somewhere in that city.

In one photo there’s a ship docked next to a building with a gabled roof in a very industrial-looking area. In another, there appears to be three buildings next to a bridge with a very unusual rounded profile.

Atlantic Tugboat

The tugboat Atlantic hosts a large group

In another photo, what appears to be a tugboat named Atlantic is crowded with people and flying flags and banners. I noticed the same unusual bridge that was in the other photo, along with those three buildings on the side of the waterfront – one slightly taller, one slightly shorter, and one with a gabled roof. I now knew that these photos were taken near the same location, but I still didn’t know where.

One of the banners on the tugboat photo said “Atlantic” and another said “Atlantic Refining”. In 1917, when Becky’s husband Clarence Massey had provided information for his draft registration, he had stated that he was an “optometrist hospital assistant”, working for Atlantic Refining Co. at Point Breeze, Philadelphia. If this was an Atlantic Refining event, perhaps it was taken at that location.

Atlantic Refining Company

Atlantic Refining Company plant, 3314 Passyunk Avenue, Point Breeze, Philadelphia.

A Google search turned up a set of photos of the Atlantic Refining Company plant, dating from 1926 in the Digital Collections of The Library Company of Philadelphia. Included in these photos was one that was exactly what I needed. This photo shows the same bridge with the unique profile, along with the same three buildings – one slightly taller, one slightly shorter, and one with a gabled roof. I had found the location!

Current View of Passyunk Avenue Bridge from Google Maps

So what does the site look like today? I looked up the address of the plant in Google Maps and zoomed in, eventually locating the exact spot. Although the original bridge has been replaced, you can still see the same three buildings.

Based upon this research, I now know that these waterfront photos were taken at or near the Atlantic Refining Company Plant, along the Schuylkill River, just south of the Passyunk Avenue Bridge, in Philadelphia. Becky was probably there for corporate sponsored events at the invitation of her future husband, Clarence Massey, an employee at the plant.

Note that Atlantic Refining Company later merged with Richfield Oil Corp. to become Atlantic Richfield, now known as ARCO.

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Harper’s Weekly

In my further attempts to identify photos in my great grandmother’s photo album, I noticed this one, which I believe to be the matriarch of the influential Keen/Butcher family that my family worked with. This was probably Emma Keen, wife of William Keen, first brain surgeon in the U.S. In any case, I noticed that she is carrying some mail. Zooming in and rotating allowed me to see that this is an issue of Harper’s Weekly, a popular political magazine, published from 1857-1916. Google image searching allowed me to find one that fairly well matches, though I am not convinced it is the correct edition. If it is, this dates from about the date of the issue, March 9, 1912. What do you think? Did I get the right issue? Would you have seen the magazine and realized that it could help to date the photo?

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Alma’s Treasures

Aunt Alma

Alma and a few of her Kabuki paintings

Alma was my grandpa’s sister, and she was a hoot. She was so full of life and energy that you couldn’t help but be inspired to get up and do something – anything! She was a painter, and just a little bit eccentric. I loved that about her.

After Alma died in October, 2010, my family forgot to tell me. Yup – they just plain forgot. Since I live in Dallas and they live in California, sometimes things just get missed in the communications. It wasn’t until I asked Mom “How’s Alma doing?” and she stumbled with her words, realizing that I hadn’t known, that she told me that she had passed away several months prior.

Years before, Alma had informed me that she and her late husband had decided to give everything to charity. But what had at one time been just a concept was now reality. Just what does it mean to give everything to charity? Everything?? What about the family photographs, heirlooms, and other treasures? I had to find out! Because I had learned what had happened so late, her home had already been emptied by a company hired by the County. Strangers had gone through all of her things, including all of the things she had inherited from her mother, and her from her mother before that. I imagine that these workers had three choices – toss, sell, or put aside for the family.

Old Photo Albums

Two photo albums from Alma’s estate, dated about 1912-1914

It took a long time – about a year, but eventually the family did receive her photos and the older “genealogical” ones were shipped to me! I was fascinated with over 500 photos, some of whom I recognized, but many of which were complete strangers to me. If only I had been able to discuss them with Alma before she had died! I set about cataloging them, scanning them, and adding them to my collection. Once that was done, I started to try to identify who the people in the photos were, where they were taken, etc. Several of my upcoming posts will discuss these efforts.


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