Last weekend, I went shopping at a rummage sale sponsored by the Miles Memorial Hospital League in Damariscotta, Maine. My husband and kids and I found all kinds of treasures — books and a glass bowl and a doormat, to name a few items — and I happily paid for everything and headed to the car. My husband followed a few minutes later with a dusty old wooden trunk. I suppose he knew better than to get my opinion before he paid for it; I would have said no. Instead, I asked what he was going to do with it. He said he planned to "put stuff in it."
I didn’t have much more to say about the trunk until after we got home and he cleaned it. He came to report that there was a name on the trunk. Well, that got me interested. He couldn’t read the writing in the lid but I had no trouble deciphering “Rev. A. Zeller, 1518 Huey St, McKeesport, Pa.” Then I was off and typing.
Using Google, I soon had a reference to the Rev. Albert Zeller of McKeesport in an online edition of Genealogical and Personal History of Western Pennsylvania (1915). Rev. Zeller, a German Evangelical minister, was born in Württemberg, and immigrated in 1855 to become a missionary to German settlers in western Missouri. Later, over the course of his 53-year career, he served in Cleveland, Buffalo, and Rochester — also “filling many pulpits by invitation.” I wondered if he used the trunk as he traveled to his various speaking engagements. I continued to look for more information and, on Ancestry.com, I even found a submitted ancestral chart and group sheet of the family — and a photograph of Rev. Zeller! (This information is accessible only to Ancestry.com subscribers.)
Next, I tried to identify Rev. Zeller in each federal census year but found no connection to McKeesport or any part of Pennsylvania. I returned to the Western Pennsylvania history and wondered if I was off by a generation. Rev. Albert Zeller’s son, also named Albert Zeller, was born in Centerville, Illinois, in 1866. In 1893, he arrived in McKeesport, where he set up a medical practice, married Harriet Trimble, and had three children. “The family residence is at 1518 Huey St., where Dr. Zeller erected a fine brick house in 1909.”
The trunk, though, clearly states “Rev.” A. Zeller — not “Dr.” My only theory is that Rev. Zeller may have visited his son in McKeesport — or perhaps even lived with him for a time — and labeled the trunk accordingly. And how did the trunk end up at the rummage sale in Mid-coast Maine? Perhaps a descendant of Rev. Zeller brought it north. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know anything further, although I’m sure the trunk’s journey would make a fascinating story if it could be told. Learning about Rev. Zeller has caused the trunk to acquire a lot more interest for me. I’ll make sure my husband puts some extra good "stuff" in it.