Conrad Shelkey

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Conrad Shelkey (Schölges)
Bornc. 1757
Rheydt, Germany
DiedUnknown
Pennsylvania
OccupationLaborer, Tailor?
FatherJohann Henrich Schölges
MotherMaria Hoster

For many years, very little was known about the progenitor of the Shelkey family. The Shelkey surname appeared to come exclusively from Southwestern Pennsylvania, and only few other instances of the surname can be found not related to this family. Therefore, it had been inferred that the Shelkey name must have been an anglicized version of a more Germanic surname. Finding this previous surname proved to be quite the task, resulting in the Shelkey line being one of the hardest (and least optimistic) lines in the entire family. However, recent evidence clearly shows a resolution to this mystery.

Early Life and Emigration

Conrad was born in Rhedyt, Germany, a smaller town outside of Mönchengladbach. He was baptized on March 6th, 1757 with parents Johann Henrich and Maria Hoster. His baptism record is indexed on Ancestry but cannot be found in the actual record set. It appears that there is a missing page for his birth year.

Nothing is known until 1772, when he is listed as an indentured servant to Michael Bishop in Lower Milford Township, Pennsylvania. The actual immigration record to the colonies cannot be found, but it is assumed that they left anywhere from 1770-1772. He was indentured for 6 years, although he may have been released earlier depending on his involvement in the Revolutionary War, of which no records can be found.

Mysteriously, there is a notable gap in the historical record for Conrad. After 1772, there is no mention of Conrad until at least 1810 (see Straban record). In this time, nothing is known about him. Around the early 1800s, he must have married, but even her name isn't known. Maybe he stayed around Lower Milford Township after his indentured servitude expired, or maybe he immediately moved further west for better opportunities. His employer/master is known to have stayed in Lower Milford until he died in the early 1780s.

The Westmoreland County Biography

For years, the only known mention of a Conrad Shelkey came from a brief mention in a grandson's biography:

Jacob Zundel's maternal grandfather, Conrad Shelkey, was a native of Germany who immigrated to America prior to the struggle for Independence, and located near Chambersburg, Pa. He served during the Revolutionary War as a teamster and was a political follower of Thomas Jefferson.

Typically, biographies can tend to misrepresent the generation of immigration, and in some instances, families will simply claim they were born in the United States instead of abroad (e.g. Spaugy/Spacke line). However, Mary Shelkey, the only child that made it to the 1880 census (when they first ask for parents birth place), clearly states that her father was indeed born in Germany. Therefore, there was sufficient evidence for Conrad's birth in Germany.

However, no record of his involvement in the Revolutionary War has been found. Also, there has been no evidence of Conrad living around Chambersburg (more further).

The Straban Record

"Canrod Shickey" in the 1810 Census

One key issue with tracing Conrad's history is that no connection could be found to Chambersburg or Franklin County. However, one notable record was found years into researching the line, only because the record was wrongly indexed or transcribed as "Canrod" instead of "Conrad." This 1810 United States Census record lists a Conrad Shickey or Shukey as the head of household in Straban Township, Adams County, Pennsylvania. Most importantly, it perfectly lists every household member as we would expect it to have. We would have expected Conrad to be much older than his wife (he had served during the Revolutionary War 1775-1783) and for there to be 2 sons under the age of 10 and one daughter under the age of 10. All of these conditions, without one missing or any additional people, are seen on this record.

However, the surname, as it is written on the record, is questionable. It doesn't clearly state "Shelkey," but it does appear somewhat consistent. Ironically, no other record of this Conrad living anywhere in Adams County has been found yet.

Also, Straban Township is not exactly close to Chambersburg. In fact, it is about equidistant to both Chambersburg and York, which were the two closest major population centers. However, Gettysburg is much closer to Straban Township by almost 4 to 5 times the distance. So if this record is indeed our Conrad, then it is unknown why they chose Chambersburg as the nearest city. At the time of this book's writing, Gettysburg was already infamous from the Civil War, so it wasn't to avoid confusion. Perhaps Conrad later moved closer to Chambersburg, or maybe the jurisdictional lines have changed so significantly that Straban then was much closer than Straban now. On the other hand, it is possible this simply isn't our Conrad and that the record is of somebody else. Also, as mentioned further, Conrad did later settle in Fayette County, so why mention that he settled near Chambersburg? Maybe they were describing a much earlier time in Conrad's life?

Tax Records

Ironically, the solution to the Shelkey line came by pure coincidence. Whilst searching the tax records of Fayette County for the Stimmell line, I accidentally came across an entry for a Conrad Shelky in Bullskin Township. At the time, the current theory was that Conrad had settled somewhere else in Pennsylvania ("near Chambersburg") and that all the children had collectively gone further west on their own. This was supported by the biography mention and the lack of evidence of Conrad ever living near Fayette. These tax records clearly show a different story, one where Conrad came much earlier than previously thought. Upon further research, the following tax records were found:

Conrad Shelkey Tax Records
Year Residence Occupation Surname Spelling
1812 Bullskin Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania Taylor Shalgas
1813 Bullskin Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania Taylor Shalger
1814 Bullskin Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania Single Shalkins
1815 Bullskin Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania Single Shalkins
1819 Bullskin Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania Laborer Shelty
1824 Bullskin Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania Single Shelkey
1825 Bullskin Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania Single Shelky
1826 Bullskin Township, Fayette County, Pennsylvania Laborer Shelky

Surname

These tax records were the first evidence of the prior Germanic surname. For years, the search had centered around the hard "k" in Shelkey as being a dominant sound, and no potential records were ever found. With the new and softer "g" sound introduced, the proper German church records were then found. Following this discovery, a multitude of records were then found in Fayette and Westmoreland County using a soft "g", most notably in the Lutheran and Reformed church records. For example, Mount Pleasant church records indicated that Jacob's first few children were baptized under a "Scholge" name, along with numerous confirmation records. The Zion Church records in East Huntingdon even make mention that the "Schelge" surname is a variant with "Schelke", thus confirming the relationship between the two names.

Some of the earliest records in Germany, however, do appear to revert back to the use of "k" and "ck" in place of the "g". Therefore, because it varies so much throughout the centuries, no official surname is known, and it does appear to be rare and monogenic. For consistency, the use of "Schölges" will be generally used as the surname spelling until a more accepted spelling is found, or a clear change in spelling is seen in the record set.

Later Life and Death

The 1826 tax record is currently the latest known record of Conrad, and he has not yet been found in the 1830 census. Therefore, it is probable that he died between 1826 and 1830. No wills have been in both Fayette and Westmoreland County and no orphan's court records have been found in Fayette.