Monday, December 12, 2022

Someone's Talking Timepieces


If you have ever availed yourself of the help offered on genealogical forums, perhaps it will come as no surprise to learn that timepiece collectors also resort to such online resources to talk about the minutiae of their specialty. That type of online forum, almost immediately, was where my search for the Eggert chronometer led me.

From what we learned last week about the navigational tool known as the marine chronometer, someone doing business as D. Eggert had been selling the device to the United States government as early as 1839. Whether that person was related to my Uncle DeMilt's watchmaking grandfather, John Eggert, I couldn't ascertain, simply because John had left his parents' home and married by 1850, the earliest U.S. census to record the names of each member of a household. I have no way—yet—to connect John to any Eggert relatives, let alone one with a first initial "D."

When I searched online for the name "John Eggert," one of the first results to pop up was a discussion on a watch and clock collectors' forum, begun by someone seeking more information on a chronometer maker by that same name. Only problem: that John lived in New Jersey, rather than in Brooklyn, New York, as had my John Eggert.

Checking on that discrepancy, I learned that despite John's business being conducted in New York, he and his family did live, for a brief time at least, in a place in Essex County, New Jersey, known as Millburn. According to the 1860 census, all five members of the John Eggert family, all born in New York, had made their residence in this New Jersey community. (By 1870, the Eggerts had returned to New York.) 

What unfolded from that online discussion on the watch collectors' forum turned out to be helpful in my own research project. Apparently, some timepiece collectors' interests extend to genealogy. The original member's query about John Eggert included a timeline for the D. Eggert business, leading me to some of the details I've already shared.

It was the reply to the original query which provided even more information—though it is information that certainly needs more support and documentation. While this may turn out to be a wild ride down a rabbit trail, since I don't yet know that, I'll examine this information like I would the work of a trailblazer.

Here are a few details from the responses to that query which helped light my research path so far. First was the date given of 1839, marking the point at which chronometer number 106 was sold to the government. Since we had already learned last week that the Eggert numbering system began at 100, this helps put that 1839 date in perspective, regarding the start of the business.

The respondent also quoted from the Whitney Chronometer book I had mentioned last week. From that forum reply, I learned that Dominic Eggert was supposedly born in Strasburg, Germany, in 1785, and moved to England to work as an apprentice to learn the watchmaking trade. After Dominic Eggert completed his apprenticeship in Bristol, England, he emigrated once again to New York City, where he opened his own shop.

This is where things get interesting—and will certainly be one detail I'll need to confirm. Perhaps starting his own business as a stranger in a new location didn't go so well for the young watchmaker. Shortly after his arrival in New York City, Dominic Eggert took a position making chronometers for the business of two brothers. The older of the two brothers died in 1835, and the younger brother decided to retire in 1839, passing the business to the brothers' associate, Dominic Eggert.

This may not turn out to be the tale of just any brothers, though. I found it compelling to discover the name of the men. When Dominic Eggert took over that chronometer business in 1839, he assumed ownership of a company run by B. and S. DeMilt. Since the name DeMilt figures so prominently in the Eggert family tree of my Uncle DeMilt, you know I've got to take a little detour this week to learn more about this other business partnership. 

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