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This antique notebook sold at auction for $35 in August, 2015

Even when historical pieces aren’t necessarily valuable in terms of money, very often the most interesting antiquarian items are the ones that tell personal stories. We always enjoy learning a bit about the original owners of items we come across like this little slice of 19th century Pennsylvania history.

This small pocket sized ledger covers familial dealings between the years 1859 – 1887. Seventy-one pages have been used to record handwritten financial transactions through the American Civil War era and beyond; the rest of the pages remain blank.

Measuring 4” x 5.5”, the book’s leather cover shows faint traces of an original handwritten title in ink which reads: John S. Oberly to Julia Ann Hillman 1859

The first page is dated December 5, 1859: “Received of John S. Oberly one of the trustees of the last will and testament of Abraham Shimer deceased the sum of forty eight dollars and sixty cents divident of the Farmers and Mechanics Bank of Easton for the last six months.” Signed Julia A. Hillman

The ledger was originally owned by Julia Ann Hillman of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and is a detailed record of her dealings with her brother in law, John S. Oberly (1809-1887) of Bethlehem township, Northampton county, Pennsylvania. The entries for the most part deal with the dividends of the estate of Julia Hillman’s late father, Abraham Shimer.


Considered a man of utmost integrity and honesty, John Oberly was for many years chosen as a custodian for monies and acted as a settler for estates in the Bethlehem, PA area. A beloved town citizen, Oberly also acted as the local school director and regularly held positions of authority.

Other names which may be of genealogical interest include that of Oberly’s son, Erwin; Elizabeth Shimer, Augustus B. Shimer, Franklin Peters, Daniel Kramer, Nathan and Susanna Grim, George and Aaron Bachman, William Chapman, Clement Steward, Emma Maria Frankenfield. The second-to-last entry is dated July 13, 1887, just 5 days before John Oberly’s death. The final entry is dated October 12, 1887 and states that Oberly’s widow, Catherine, stood in for her late husband and completed this final transaction for her sister Julia.

An online article about the kindly Oberly states that: “His advice was being constantly sought, and some of his trusts were only ended with his life. He was on friendly relations with his neighbors, and those who loved him most were those who knew him longest and best. He had a pleasant salutation and a cheerful smile for everybody he met, and his kindly blue-gray eyes lighted up and heightened the expression of his face whenever he engaged in conversation. Under all circumstances he was the same, unruffled in his feelings, cool and deliberate in his judgment.”