When U.S. Civil War veteran Timothy Matthias Snyder died suddenly from a heart attack in Ashland, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania on 10 May 1889—at the age of 49—his loved ones had already endured pain and suffering on a scale unimaginable to most families today.
He and his wife, Catharine (Boyer) Snyder, lost four children over a 10-year period during the 1870s and 1880s. One, Mark, was stillborn; the others—Henry (12 February 1871-13 June 1871), Laura Sevilla (4 September 1879-7 April 1880) and Franklin (22 July 1881-27 August 1881)—died in infancy. Although the children’s graves remain unidentified to this day, Snyder family researchers have determined that they were most likely interred somewhere on the grounds of the Brock Cemetery in Ashland, Pennsylvania because, according to his headstone and burial records, that is where Timothy M. Snyder was laid to rest with full military honors.
Those burial records also provide important clues regarding the Snyder family’s quality of life in the aftermath of America’s Civil War, as do Schuylkill County’s newspapers of that era.
A Challenging Time to Be Alive
Like many other mid to late 19th century American families, Tim Snyder and his wife and children struggled to make ends meet on his carpenter’s wages during the two decades following the U.S. Civil War—particularly during the Panic of 1873 when the world was pushed into a six-year economic recession and depression. If this had not been problematic enough, his family and neighbors were often forced to drink and bathe in impure water which exposed them to life-threatening diseases.
Additionally, after having been wounded in battle twice, Tim Snyder became one of the many 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers who developed health problems after the war. While his knee wound may have hampered his work as a carpenter, it was heart disease that finally claimed his life—a condition which likely had its genesis during the war. Others who fought beside him also had similar health concerns, many of which were attributed by physicians to the grueling marches and labor-intensive duties they had undertaken in harsh climates. The sheer stress of combat engagements also took their toll; several men were ultimately diagnosed with mental health issues, including “Soldier’s Heart”—what is known today as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—a condition which present day researchers believe leads to early heart disease for trauma survivors. Consequently, a significantly high percentage of 47th Pennsylvanian lives were shortened by conditions ranging from chronic diarrhea to heart, kidney and lung diseases.
Their wives and children also often suffered during and after the war. Tim’s wife—Catharine Snyder—battled persistent lung diseases throughout her life, according to newspaper accounts and her burial records. This fragility likely contributed to one of Kate’s children being stillborn, and diminished her ability to care for her surviving children at other times throughout her life. When her husband died suddenly, his friends and fellow Civil War Veterans—Hugh Drummond, Jonathan Moyer and Stephen Reese—were the ones to approach Schuylkill County officials for help procuring a headstone and arranging for his burial with military honors at Brock Cemetery in Ashland. Eight months pregnant at the time with their final child, Salome, Kate was apparently not involved in this process; her name appears nowhere on the paperwork.
Even with this help from her husband’s friends, the impact of Tim Snyder’s sudden death was evidently so traumatic for Kate and her children that it set off a cascade of tragedies. Her youngest daughter, Sallie, who had been born on 14 June 1889—almost a month to the day after Tim Snyder died—passed away on 17 June 1890—just three days after her first birthday. The exact location of her grave remains unknown as of this writing.
Then, sometime before Christmas in 1895, Kate Snyder fell seriously ill with pneumonia. Also sickened by disease in mid-December of that same year was daughter, Florence M. Snyder. Although Flora had thrived as a child since her birth in Ashland on 12 March 1883, she was one of several children in the community who contracted diphtheria during that sad winter. Withering away from the suffocating effects of the disease, she finally succumbed on 3 January 1896. According to Schuylkill County death records, she was then laid to rest at Ashland’s Brock Cemetery.
Afterward, Kate Snyder continued her convalescence; in February 1896, Reading newspapers finally reported her condition as “improved.” She then made several difficult decisions in order to keep her remaining children alive. These are their abridged stories.
The Surviving Children of Timothy M. Snyder
The third child born to Tim and Kate Snyder, John Hartranft Snyder became the first to survive infancy. Born in Ashland on 13 November 1873, he was named by his parents in honor of John Frederick Hartranft, the former Union Army officer in charge of the prison where the key Lincoln assassination conspirators were held and tried. As Pennsylvania’s 17th Governor, Hartranft also took office the same year that John H. Snyder was born (1873).
Like his namesake, John Hartranft Snyder also grew up to become a respected Schuylkill County civic leader. As one of the co-founders of the Lavelle Telegraph and Telephone Company, he helped bring the first telephone service to homes in Lavelle, Ashland and surrounding communities. In 1896, after marrying Gordon native Minnie Rebecka Elizabeth Strohecker in Plymouth Meeting, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, he then began his own family with her in the Schuylkill County community of Lavelle. Their first child, Timothy Peter Snyder, opened his eyes for the first time at their Main Street home in 1898, followed by Nona May (1900), Helen Corrine (1901), John Sylvester (1904), Catharine Rebecka (1906), Lillian Estelle (1908), Chester Hartranft (1910), and Willard Emery (1917).
Sometime around the turn of the century, John H. Snyder’s widowed mother and surviving younger siblings became neighbors when they moved into a house near his home in Lavelle. John and his wife, Minnie, then opened a dry goods store on the ground floor of their Main Street residence, and helped fund the purchase of beautiful stained glass windows for their local church. Their children all survived infancy, and were educated in the local schools.
But as the new century progressed, back-to-back tragedies suddenly shook his family. In 1911, a fire destroyed the Snyder’s Main Street home, and in 1913, son Tim was fatally injured in a railroad accident at a local coal mine. Passing away that same day, Timothy P. Snyder was then interred at the Citizens’ Cemetery in Lavelle.
John H. Snyder battled back from this heartbreak, and survived another three decades until, following major surgery for cancer, he passed away at home on 5 August 1844; he was then laid to rest next to his son.
Timothy Grant Snyder—the second surviving son of Tim and Kate Snyder—made his first appearance at his parents’ Ashland home on 3 January 1876. Like his older brother, John, he was named for a Civil War icon—Ulysses S. Grant—the commanding general of the United States Army who planned the operations which finally ended America’s long and brutal Civil War.
A healthy infant who grew up to become a robust adult, the younger Tim Snyder enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1898 as his widowed mother continued to struggle financially. A private during the Spanish-American War, he was stationed at various naval yard facilities from Virginia to New Hampshire until assigned to the U.S.S. Buffalo, which sailed to Port Said, Egypt. From February to October 1899, he served aboard Admiral George Dewey’s flagship, the U.S.S. Olympia, and was then transferred back to land-based duty. Promoted to the rank of Corporal in 1900, he was next stationed aboard the U.S.S. Massachusetts and again on land at various naval yard posts. Awarded an honorable discharge on 25 April 1903, he returned home, where he initially resided with his mother and sister in Reading, Berks County, supporting them as a cutlery salesman.
After marrying Alice Blake, he began his own family with her in Reading, and embarked on a career with the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company—a life journey which ultimately required that he relocate his family to Allentown in Lehigh County, and saw him advance from brakeman to conductor. Injured on the job sometime around 1920, he passed away in Allentown on 11 December 1925, and was laid to rest there at that city’s St. Mark’s Cemetery.
William Emery Snyder—Tim and Kate Snyder’s third surviving son—had a more challenging start than his older brothers. Born in Ashland on 3 August 1885, he too was named for a respected military leader—Major-General William Hemsley Emory—the officer under whom his father’s former Civil War regiment served during the Union’s 1864 Red River, Louisiana and Shenandoah Valley, Virginia campaigns.
Unlike his older brothers, however, he was just a toddler when his father suddenly passed away. In the wake of this tragedy and his mother’s subsequent financial and health struggles, two of his siblings died (Salome in 1890 and Flora in 1896). As a result, his mother had little choice but to enroll him in the Soldiers’ Orphan Schools in Scotland, Greene Township, Franklin County, Pennsylvania in 1898.
William E. Snyder apparently did well at the school, completing his industrial training (or terming out at the age of 16) sometime around 1903. He then resumed life with his mother and surviving siblings at their home in Reading, Berks County, where he helped to support his family as a machinist. In 1909, Reading newspapers reported that his toe was crushed in a workplace accident while employed by the Reading Railroad.
After marrying Charlotte May Weidenhammer in Berks County sometime around 1909, he relocated with her to Toledo, Lucas County, Ohio, where he initially found work as a house painter and then secured and advanced from a position as a machinist to become chairman of the shop committee at Willys-Overland Motors, Inc., a company actively involved in producing Jeeps for the U.S. Army during World War II. In 1911, he and his wife welcomed their only child, Gaynelle May Snyder, to the world.
A resident of Toledo for 34 years, he battled cancer during his later years. Hospitalized for the final three weeks of his life, William Emery Snyder died at Flower Hospital in Toledo on 6 July 1944. Cremated on 10 July, the Boyer-Feilbach Mortuary, Collingwood Memorial handled his funeral arrangements; his cremains were then inurned at Toledo’s Woodlawn Cemetery. Following her death in 1962, his widow was buried at Hope Cemetery in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Their daughter, Gaynelle, who had grown up to become an educator in the Toledo public schools, passed away in 2005 while in hospice care; her body was donated to a local university in support of scientific research.
The first and only one of Tim and Kate Snyder’s daughters to survive to adulthood, Lillie May Snyder was destined to become a role model for future generations of Snyder women—despite her own rocky start. Born in Ashland on 13 September 1887, she was just two years old when her father died suddenly from a heart attack, just three when her youngest sister died in infancy, and just nine when she lost her older sister, Flora, to diphtheria. That same year (1896), she also nearly lost her mother to pneumonia.
In the wake of those heartbreaking experiences, she then watched all three of her older brothers depart from the Snyder family’s Ashland home. John, who married in 1896, moved with his new wife to the neighboring Schuylkill County community of Lavelle. Tim, who enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1898, was ultimately transferred between naval bases and ships throughout the Spanish-American War, making it difficult for him to visit her until he was honorably discharged in 1903. And William, who left the home in 1898, also found it challenging to return after he was shipped off to the Soldiers’ Orphan School in Scotland, Greene Township, Franklin County, Pennsylvania.
Relocated by her mother to Lavelle around the turn of the century, Lillie May briefly resided across from her brother, John, and his growing family until being moved again by her mother sometime around 1910. After resettling in Reading, Berks County, she found factory work as a knitter in order to help support her mother, who continued to struggle with health issues while trying to survive on a small U.S. Civil War Widow’s Pension. Barely getting by on $8 per month in 1891, life improved slightly when Kate Snyder’s pension checks increased to $12 per month in 1908 and $25 per month in October 1917.
Meanwhile, the upheaval and family illnesses had left an indelible mark. Sometime after her arrival in Reading, Lillie May Snyder pursued the training needed to secure work as a licensed practical nurse. She then obtained a position as a governess to David and Sandra Kelsey, the children of prominent Berks County dentist, Jules Kelsey, D.D.S. In doing so, she also became a role model for her niece, Lillian Estelle Snyder, who graduated from the Reading Hospital School of Nursing as a registered nurse, relocated to Boston, and became a head nurse in the women’s and children’s ward at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital during the 1940s. Intensely interested in the cause and prevention of infectious diseases, Lillian E. Snyder later became a head nurse at the Allentown Hospital before embarking on a nursing career with the Merck pharmaceutical company. She was beloved not just by her siblings, but by her many nieces and nephews.
Well acquainted with her Aunt Lillie May, Lillian E. Snyder also knew and interacted with her grandmother (Lillie May’s mother), Kate Snyder, who finally succumbed to complications from tuberculosis at her home on Church Street in Reading on 8 August 1918. The funeral arrangements for Kate Snyder were handled by George R. Schaeffer, a funeral director in Kutztown who was the brother-in-law of Kate’s son, William Emery Snyder. Records at the time documented that her body was clothed in a simple white dress and that her remains were transported to Ashland for burial at Brock Cemetery. The precise location of her grave, however, remains unidentified.
Lillie May Snyder also evidently influenced the career choice of at least one of the children in her care—Jules Kelsey’s daughter, Sandra, who became a respected pediatrician at the Reading Hospital. (When she passed away in 2016, former patients who signed her condolence book noted that Sandra was “a sharp lady” who “never forgot anything,” and called her “a gift” who “was comforting to parents and kids alike … caring and so good at what she did.”)
Lillie May was able to shape the young minds around her because she continued in the employ of Dr. Kelsey through the1940s, making a life for herself as a single, working woman following her own mother’s passing. Researchers believe that she may have remained in his employment until her death; however, Reading city directories show that, during the 1940s, she opted to relocate from her residence at Dr. Kelsey’s home to the 12th Street house of her cousin, Albert Boyer, while continuing to work as a nurse.
As she aged, the arc of her life followed a familiar pattern. Suffering from heart disease, she was eventually hospitalized at Berks Heim in Berks County, and passed away there on 16 May 1956. She was the last surviving member of the immediate family of Civil War veteran Timothy M. Snyder.
Arrangements for her funeral fell to Mrs. Albert Boyer, the wife of her cousin, and were made with the help of Reading’s Gibson & Sanders Funeral Home. Although the remains of Lillie May Snyder were reportedly returned to Schuylkill County for burial at the “Ashland Cemetery,” her death certificate noted that her body was cremated. As of this writing, the exact location of her grave/inurnment also remains a mystery.
1. “A Badge from Admiral Dewey” and “Schuylkill County” (announcements of Timothy Grant Snyder’s service on Admiral Dewey’s flagship). Reading, Pennsylvania: Reading Eagle: 3 October 1899, 21 November 1899.
2. Application for Marriage License (Timothy G. Snyder and Alice M. Blake). Reading, Pennsylvania: Berks County Marriage Records, 4 November 1918.
3. Baptismal, marriage, military, death, and burial records of the Snyder family. Pennsylvania, California, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, Ohio, etc.: Snyder Family Archives, 1650-present and Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records (baptismal, marriage, death, and burial records of various churches across Pennsylvania). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, 1905-1956; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1776-1956.
4. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5, vol. 1. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
5. Lewis, Jim. “Not forgotten: She was both pediatrician and pioneer” (obituary of Sandra Rowan, MD, one of the children cared for by Lillie May Snyder). Reading, Pennsylvania: Reading Eagle, 16 July 2016.
6. Mrs. Timothy Snyder (pneumonia recovery), in “Schuylkill County.” Reading, Pennsylvania: Reading Eagle, 4 February 1896.
7. Reports of Maj. Gen. N. P. Banks (dated 6 April 1865), et. al., in The War of the Rebellion, Vol. XXXIV: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1891.
8. Schmidt, Lewis G. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.
9. Snyder, Catharine, John, Timothy, Lillie, and Salome, in A Directory of the Eleventh Census of the Population of Schuylkill County, Giving the Names and Ages of Males and Females, Published by Cities, Boroughs, Wards, Townships, Precincts or Towns, in Connection with a Business Directory of the Same for Advertising Purposes. Lebanon, Pennsylvania: E. A. Schartel, Publisher, 1891.
10. Snyder, Laurie. 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers: One Civil War Regiment’s Story. Retrieved Online: 10 May 2017.
11. Snyder, Lillie May, in Gibson & Sanders Funeral Home Records (1956). Reading, Pennsylvania: Sanders Funeral Home, retrieved in 2011.
12. Snyder, Miss Lillie (obituary and funeral notice). Reading, Pennsylvania: Reading Eagle, 16 and 18 May 1956.
13. Snyder, Timothy (Timothy Grant Snyder), in City Directories. Reading and Allentown, Pennsylvania: 1903-1925.
14. Snyder, Timothy G., in Muster Rolls, U.S. Marine Corps. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1898-1903.
15. Snyder, Timothy G., in Obituaries. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Morning Call, 12 December 1925.
16. Snyder, Timothy M., in Civil War Muster Rolls, in Records of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (Record Group 19, Series 19.11). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
17. Snyder, Timothy M. and Timothy G., in Pennsylvania Veterans’ Burial Index Cards. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, 1889 and 1925.
18. Snyder, Timothy M. and Snyder, Ellis A., in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.
19. Timothy M. Snyder and Catharine Snyder, et. al. in Claims for Widow and Minor Pensions, in U.S. Civil War Widows’ Pension Files. Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1889-1918.
20. Timothy Snyder and Henry D. Wharton (as “H. D. W.”), et. al., in Letters from the Sunbury Guards. Sunbury, Pennsylvania: Sunbury American, 1861-1866.
21. Timothy M. Snyder, Catherine [sic] Snyder, and William Snyder, in Annual Report of the Pennsylvania Commission of Soldiers’ Orphan Schools for the Year Ending May 31, 1901. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Wm. Stanley Ray, State Printer of Pennsylvania, 1901.
22. “Toe Crushed” (William E. Snyder). Reading, Pennsylvania: Reading Eagle, 21 December 1909.
23. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania (1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940): U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
24. U.S. Veterans’ Schedule (1890). Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
25. William Snyder and Melot, Gaynelle May (Snyder), in “Obituaries.” Toledo, Ohio. Toledo Blade, 7 July 1944 and 18 December 2005.
26. William Emery Snyder, in Death Certificates. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio Department of Health, 6 July 194r.