The following excerpt is taken from the introduction to the Morton Montgomery Project which is an online, searchable transcription of Morton Montgomery's collection "Historical and Biographical Annals of Berks County Pennsylvania".
Introduction to the Morton Montgomery Project
In 1909, Morton Montgomery composed the Historical and Biographical Annals of Berks County Pennsylvania. It was one in a series of books prepared by the county for publication by the Beers Publishing Company out of Chicago.
It included a history of the county, histories of the townships, and biographies of anyone who wished to participate in the project. County citizens were encouraged to write histories of their families and submit them for publication. As you will see, the type of information that is included varied from entry to entry. In some cases, the entries include dates, places, and names of all the children since the first ancestor arrived in America. Other entries are shorter and simply depict a few paragraphs about a single citizen.
Interestingly you will find that most of the people included were "outstanding members" of their community. In reading through the biographies, you will find very few "black sheep," not a single horse thief, I don't believe, let alone stories of murders or robberies. Most of the people represented were law abiding, church going, philanthropic, and industrious. But then, who would want to preserve that part of a family's history with inclusion of "disgrace" brought against a family member in such an exclusive publication? Often the material was no more than memory of a family member. Before you accept the material in these volumes, you should use other sources to verify the family as you find it here.
One important note: Montgomery did not verify the information that is included in his work. So the volumes contain many errors. For example, dates may be incorrect, children may have been omitted, or incorrect names were included.
About Morton Montgomery
Morton Montgomery was a Reading attorney who lived in the 1000 block of Penn Street. During the last twenty years of the nineteenth century, Morton Montgomery undertook the colossal task of writing a comprehensive history of Berks County. His first edition was published in 1886. It included origins and growth of the townships, history of the political scene, stories about immigration and naturalization, war history, records of taxes paid, churches built and cemeteries established.
His obsession with knowing everything possible about the county eventually led him to work on an even more comprehensive history. Specifically, this led to the extensive colletion of biographies included in the second volume of the two volume book. Morton Montgomery published the Historical and Biographical Annals of Berks County Pennsylvania in 1909. It contains almost 2000 pages painstakingly prepared by Morton Montgomery and published by the Beers Publishing Company of Chicago.
In preparation, county citizens were contacted, interviewed, and encouraged to write their histories and submit them for publication. There was no attempt to establish the reliability of any of the information. Montgomery was interested in presenting "a true picture of a community as they saw themselves." However, he made every effort to include a broad spectrum of families living in the county at the time. Families participated by subscription and those who had long biographies and full page pictures paid a good sum of money for their inclusion. Therefore, more "established" families tended to create longer stories about their progenitors. All in all, though, the representation was fairly consistent with the composite of the people living in the county at the turn of the century.
Montgomery was a member of the Berks County Historical Society for many years. He spoke many times on subjects pertaining to the county. But, while pursuing these intellectual and historical hobbies of his, he neglected his wife, his children, and his law practice. Ultimately his family left him to his ventures and moved to Montgomery County. He stayed in Reading until his last years when he moved to Allentown where he died.
The Historical and Biographical Annals of Berks County Pennsylvania was compiled by Morton L. Montgomery in two volumes and published by J. H. Beers & Company of Chicago in 1909.
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