Historical Methods Class Reveals a Family’s Past

 William Frick
William [Jack] Frick in Elizabeth Stice's Historical Methods class. 

Who were William, John and James Wallace? Was Judge James Wallace one of the Sons of the Revolution? And is William [Jack] Frick related to them? Professor of History Elizabeth Stice and her Historical Methods class attempt to reveal that and more.

Right after the fall semester started, Dr. Nathan Lane, associate provost for instruction, had an interesting conversation with his friend Jack Frick.  

“I have some boxes with historical documents. Do you think your students might find some use for them?” Frick asked Lane. “Sure,” said Lane, who collected the boxes and brought them to Stice. She thought they’d find some 1940s love letters or something like that, but was amazed at what they found.

“I knew my grandfather was an attorney in Philadelphia,” Frick told the class during a recent visit—now intrigued as they were about his family’s past. “So, I figured they came from him.”

Before moving to South Florida from Philadelphia in the 1950s, Frick’s mother, whose maiden name was Wallace, had kept these dusty old boxes tucked away in her attic for years. Upon moving, she gave the boxes to her son. And while he recognized that they were of some importance, he didn’t quite know what they contained.

As Stice’s class began to go through the boxes, they found three names in particular that stood out on legal documents such as deeds, wills, court summons and even sales receipts: John, James and William Wallace. That latter name was a red flag.

Could it be? They thought.

After much trail and fact-checking each individual piece, they learned that Frick’s maternal family tree was linked to another William Wallace, who originally came from Scotland. But, this Wallace was not related to Sir William Wallace, one of that country’s greatest national heroes, and the subject of the movie Braveheart [1995].

Some of the documents were hard to read, as most are from the 1700s and 1800s. Frick told the story of how his fifth grandfather, named William Wallace, had lived in Bucks County, just north of Philadelphia. Wallace was involved in the local politics and was sent from there to Philadelphia in 1776 to learn how to make gun powder to fight in the Revolutionary War.

A document of great importance is an application completed by Wallace to become one of the Sons of the Revolution. In it, there’s a list of all his grandfathers from multiple generations, including the names of James and John.

“This document here [pointing to a document encased in a glass frame] is a history lesson in itself,” Frick told the class. “John P. Wallace, from Philadelphia, is the name listed on the bottom of the document, dated 1872. They were raising funds for the Centennial. This is only ten years after the Civil War.”

Naturally, Frick wants to preserve these documents but he’s unsure how to proceed. Stice suggested the PBA archives, or the Bucks County Historical Society to ensure a long-term preservation, where researches and historians could access them better.

So far, the students have six pages of notes. And one document in particular raised laughter in the class as a student noted, “We found other family names that married into the Wallace family, like the Temples. On the back of a receipt there’s a note from a Temple who said, ‘Give me something to do or I’ll kill you!’ So we knew a family feud was going on!”

The class project of carefully going through the boxes, examining and cataloging each piece has been an incredible experience. As one student said, “It’s very beneficial to put into practice all these different concepts that we’ve been learning in class.”   

At the end of his visit, Frick was interested in hearing what the class hoped to accomplish by the end of the semester. And students took turns in telling him about their goals, mainly to establish the Wallace family tree and match all the pieces up.

“Even that first day was remarkable, and that’s part of history too,” affirmed Stice. “It’s that excitement of connecting with another time period, of analyzing old documents and matching handwritings. It has been a greater reveal than we expected.”


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