By Rhonda Chalfant Contributing Columnist
May 6, 2014
Researching an individual can be a daunting task, as any genealogist can attest. Several sources are available, but may not always contain the information the researcher needs. Local histories, biographical dictionaries, city directories, census records, and public records of land ownership provide a great deal of information.
Another source is the Sanborn Insurance Maps, which detail the shape, size, and materials used to construct buildings. The Sanborn Maps begin in the 1880s and continue through the 1920s for most Missouri communities and are available online.
The Biographical and Portrait Dictionary of Johnson and Pettis County provides information about prominent families in the two counties. It also provides genealogical information about the individuals it describes, with special emphasis on military service and church activities. The biography of Sedalian Henry Chapel reveals the emphasis placed on an individual’s background.
Henry’s father, Stephen H. Chapel, was born in Massachusetts to a family that had come from England to Rhode Island before the Revolutionary War. Stephen’s father served in the Colonial Army. His mother’s family had come from Scotland to Nantucket; her father, Thomas Baker, was captain of a whaling ship that was lost at sea.
Stephen worked as a pattern maker and made gauges in a plant in Massachusetts. He was known as an honest and upright man with a “strict sense of honor.”
Stephen married Alice Baker; the couple had 13 children. Twelve of the children lived to adulthood, a surprising statistic at a time when infants and children succumbed to diseases that children today are protected from by immunizations and medications.
One of their children, Charles, died on a ship during the Civil War. Another son, Thomas, served as a lieutenant for the Union Army during the Civil War. The Biographical and Portrait Dictionary does not tell much about most of the other children, but gives a great deal of information about Henry.
Their son Henry was born in 1839. He was raised in Massachusetts and attended elementary school there before beginning an apprenticeship as a machinist.
Henry worked at the Troy and Boston Railroad Shops for three years before changing to a job as a railroad fireman. He worked until 1865 at the Hosman Tunnel Railroad before moving to New York City where he served as Master Mechanic on the Brooklyn and Coney Island Railroad.
In 1864 while in New York, Henry married Mary Atwater, a young woman from Nassau, N.Y. Her father was a farmer and hardware merchant who had served in the Union Army in the Civil War.
Stephen and Alice Chapel moved to Missouri with several of their children before the Civil War. They settled in Dresden, where Alice, a devout member of the Methodist Church, was known for her piety. Alice died in Dresden in 1890 at the age of 88.
Henry joined his parents in Missouri in 1867 and settled in Sedalia, where he worked on the railroads. When the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad began service southwest in 1870, he was one of the first engineers on the line, operating Engine No. 34.
In February 1876, Henry began working as an engineer for the Missouri Pacific Railroad. In 1895, the year the Biographical and Portrait Dictionary was printed, he was the engineer on the passenger train which regularly ran the 95 miles between Sedalia and Kansas City. He was described as “one of the most reliable and trustworthy engineers on the road.”
Henry and Mary had five children, William H., a fireman on the Missouri Pacific; Charles A., a brakeman on the Katy; Lillie, Floyd, and Maude, who were still at home. The family lived at 714 E. Broadway, across from the Katy Railroad Hospital. Unfortunately, the Sanborn Insurance Maps do not show the homes on the north side of Broadway, so we cannot know much about the family’s home. It is possible the house is still standing, as some of the homes in that block appear to date from the 1890s.
The couple were active in the community. Henry was a member of the Granite Lodge No. 272, A. F. & A. M., the Order of Chosen Friends, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, Division No. 178, where he served as an officer. He was a Republican.
Mary was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and was active in the Women’s Relief Corps, an organization dedicated to helping others, particularly Union veterans of the Civil War and their families.
The Biographical and Portrait Dictionary described Henry and Mary as “among the best people in Sedalia.”