Who Was William Frank Byle?

Posted By BrokenClaw on November 20, 2011

Recently I received an email inquiry from a reader who was asking me about his great-grandfather, William Frank Byle (1868 – 1933), who appears in my North Annville Genealogy. Specifically, he wanted to know how I had come to the conclusion that William Frank was the son of Henry Byle. He correctly pointed out that, on the 1870 census of Fredericksburg in Lebanon County, although there was a William, age 1, in the household of Henry and Elizabeth Byle, there was also a Franklin, age 2, in the household of John and Rebecca Byle. He wondered if I had any other evidence that William Frank, who was known to his family as Frank, was the son of Henry and not the son of John. He also noted that I had added Henry Byle to the listing for Cedar Hill Cemetery (on the findagrave.com website) in Fredericksburg, where other members of the Byle family are interred. William Frank, on the other hand, is buried at the Bellegrove North cemetery, and I have a photograph of his gravestone, on which his name is inscribed, “WM. FRANK BYLE”.

I always appreciate hearing from descendants and am always open to corrections. So I began to review my notes and reconstruct my research. Without any new evidence or family history to the contrary, I still believed that William Frank Byle was the son of Henry and Elizabeth Byle. When I started to write a response to the email, I realized that it was a bit more involved than a few sentences, so I decided to write it as this blog post, as an example of the type of diligence that genealogy research requires.

To address the reader’s first issue, that William Frank’s age on the 1870 census is off by a year – he would have been two years old at the time – I can only say that inaccuracies of age, especially of children, are quite common on old censuses. It’s not unusual, for example, to see a child listed as 5 years old on one census, and 17 years old on the next census. We know that census takers may have relied on neighbors when a family wasn’t home.

Like the reader, I had researched several Civil War documents for Henry Byle, who served in Company L, 60th Regiment of the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry. There is no question that he is the same Henry Byle. According to the registry for Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, Henry Byle died 26 February 1879 and was buried at the “Village” cemetery in Fredericksburg. His Pennsylvania Veterans Burial Card specifically names “Ceder Hill” cemetery in Fredericksburg. It was these documents on which I based my entry on Find-a-Grave. I have never personally been to the Cedar Hill Cemetery. Additionally, the Civil War Pension Index card shows that Henry Byle was survived by his wife, Elizabeth.

My conclusion that William Frank Byle, who married Alice Huey, was the son of Henry and Elizabeth was based primarily on the information we find on the 1880 census. We know that Henry Byle died in 1879. Accordingly, we find Elizabeth Byle on the 1880 census as a single head of household with two small children, Henry and Matilda, still living in Fredericksburg. We find William F. Byle, age 12, as a pupil at the Mount Joy Soldiers’ Orphan School in Lancaster County. There were three other Byles at that school: Adam, James, and Levi. I had found two different census lists for the school, and in both instances, the three latter boys were listed together, while William F. was listed separately. To be clear, the “Orphans” school took Civil War orphans, as well as children of veterans who were unable to provide for them. We know that Levi was a son of John and that he died in 1898. His name is inscribed on the gravestone of John and Rebecca, along with two other infant sibling. In 1900, Rebecca Byle, now widowed, was living with her son, James, and she reported that she had borne five children, only two of whom were still living. Adam Byle, whose age is consistent with the Adam Byle mentioned above, was enumerated in Lebanon County through 1920. So it seemed that all five of Rebecca’s children are accounted for, and William Frank Byle was not one of them.

In the end, all of that circumstantial evidence went for naught, because a new document was later discovered which revealed the identity of William F. Byle’s parents. That document was William’s marriage application, on which he reported that his parents were “John B. & Rebecca Byle.” Additional information has come to light that Adam was the son of Henry and Elizabeth.


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