Joseph Lemuel Chester

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Joseph Lemuel Chester
Joseph Lemuel Chester.jpg
Born (1821-04-30)April 30, 1821
Norwich, Connecticut
Died April 26, 1882(1882-04-26) (aged 60)
Nationality American
Occupation genealogist

Joseph Lemuel Chester (1821–1882) was an American genealogist.


Chester was born in Norwich, Connecticut on the April 30, 1821. His father, Joseph Chester, was a grocer, who, after dying in 1832, left little property to his family. His mother was Prudee, the daughter of Major Eleazer Tracy. After the death of her first husband, she married the Reverend John Hall, of Ohio's Ashtabula Episcopal Church. At an early age, Chester became a teacher at a school in Ballston, New York, and in 1837 he was appointed clerk of a land agency office in Warren, Ohio. In 1838, at age seventeen, he moved to New York in order to study law. But he ended that pursuit and became employed as a clerk by Tappan & Co., a silk merchant firm.[1]

Joseph Chester's literary tastes developed at an early age. While in New York he contributed articles to newspapers and magazines of his day with a poetic character. The Knickerbocker for January 1843 contains a poem by him, entitled Greenwood Cemetery, and signed Julian Cramer, his best known pseudonym. The same year his first volume, Greenwood Cemetery and Other Poems, was published in New York and Boston.[1]

He also lectured and visited many of the States as an advocate of temperance. Around 1845, Chester moved back to Philadelphia where he obtained a job as a merchant's clerk. In 1847, and for some years subsequently, he was a commissioner of deeds. From 1845 to 1850 he was also the musical editor of Godey's Lady's Book. In 1852, he became one of the editors of the Philadelphia Inquirer and of the Daily Sun; and on the consolidation of the city of Philadelphia, Chester was elected a member of the city council in 1854.[1]

During several sessions of Congress in Washington he visited the city as a corresponding editor and as an assistant clerk in the House of Representatives. He was appointed by the Honorable James Pollock, who was the governor of Pennsylvania from 1855–8, as one of his aides-de-camp. Chester was given the military rank of colonel, an appellation by which he was afterwards always known.[2]

While in Washington, he was employed to sell patent rights in England, and leaving his native country, landed at Liverpool on September 6, 1858. Various causes prevented him from succeeding in his undertaking, but he settled in London and made it his residence till his death.[2]

For a time, he kept up his connection with the American newspaper press and for about three years furnished a weekly letter from London to the Philadelphia Inquirer. His first work in his new home was John Rogers, the Compiler of the First Authorized English Bible, the Pioneer of the English Reformation, and its First Martyr, a book of labor and research at last told on his constitution.[2]

Joseph Lemuel Chester died at his residence, 124, Southwark Park Road, London, on May 26, 1882 and was buried in Nunhead Cemetery on May 31.[2]

Genealogical career[edit]

After the American Civil War had broken out and while he was thinking of returning to America, Chester received a commission from the United States government for a service which he could render in England. In the following year, he obtained free access to Doctors' Commons as a literary inquirer to examine all wills recorded previous to 1700 to make copies. He continued with this position for twenty years collecting materials illustrating the ancestry of American families. In the meantime he made special searches for clients and investigated the English descent of noted Americans. Some of these monographs have been printed by himself or others, but most likely the greater number remain in manuscript in the hands of his clients. Unfortunately, Chester did not live long enough to publish a pedigree of President George Washington, a favorite subject of his for many years; he was unable to satisfy himself as to the actual emigrant whence the American family descended.

In pursuance of his genealogical labors he made extensive extracts from parish registers. At his death, Chester left eighty-seven folio volumes of such extracts each more than four hundred pages with seventy of the volumes carefully indexed. The matriculation register of the University of Oxford, another source of his information, was copied by him between 1866 and 1869. He next made extensive extracts from The Old Marriage Allegations in the Bishop of London's Register, extending from 1598 to 1710. His major work in London was the editing and annotating of The Marriage, Baptismal, and Burial Registers of the Collegiate Church or Abbey of St. Peter, Westminster, dedicated to Queen Victoria. He spent ten years on this book and allowed the Harleian Society to issue it as one of their publications. In recognition of his work, Columbia College of New York City conferred on him the honorary degree of LL.D. in 1877, and on June 22, 1881 the University of Oxford granted him the degree of D.C.L.

Chester was one of the founders of the Harleian Society in 1869, a member of the first council of the Royal Historical Society in 1870, and a member of many other learned societies both in England and in America. He generously spent half his time replying to the inquiries of his numerous correspondents.[2]

Chester's literary executor, George Edward Cokayne, Norroy King of Arms, sold the manuscript of the Matriculations at the University of Oxford for £1,500, and five volumes of Marriage Allegations in the Bishop of London's Register, &c., for £500 to Leonard Lawrie Hartley. When Hartley died, these manuscripts were purchased (1885) by Mr. Quaritch. The Matriculations were printed in eight volumes (1891) and the Marriages in one volume (1887) under the editorship of Joseph Foster. The Harleian Society also printed the Marriages from a duplicate copy of Chester's manuscript in 1887.


  1. Greenwood Cemetery and other Poems 1843
  2. A Treatise on the Law of Repulsion 1853
  3. Educational Laws of Virginia, the Personal Narrative of Mrs. Margaret Douglas 1854
  4. John Rogers, the compiler of the First Authorised English Bible 1861
  5. The Marriage, Baptismal, and Burial Registers of the Abbey of St. Peter, Westminster 1876, which, besides being brought out in the Publications of the Harleian Society, was also Privately Printed for the Author.
  6. The Reiester Booke of Saynte Denis Backchurch parishe 1878
  7. The Parish Registers of St. Mary Aldermary, London 1880
  8. The Visitation of London 1880, in which he assisted J. J. Howard, LL.D., in editing
  9. The Parish Registers of St. Thomas the Apostle, London 1881
  10. The Parish Registers of St. Michael, Cornhill, London 1882

He was also a contributor to the Register, the Heraldic Journal, the Herald and Genealogist, Transactions of Royal Historical Society, Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Athenæum, the Academy, Notes and Queries, and other publications.


  1. ^ a b c Boase 1885, p. 201.
  2. ^ a b c d e Boase 1885, p. 202.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainBoase, George Clement (1887). "Chester, Joseph Lemuel". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography 10. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 201–203. ; Endnotes:

  • Latting's Memoir of Col. Chester, 1882
  • Dean's Memoir of Col. J. L. Chester, 1884, with a portrait
  • Marshall's Genealogist, vi. 189*–92* (1882)
  • Athenæum, 3 June 1882, p. 699
  • Academy, 3 June 1882, pp. 394–5, by W. P. Courtney
  • Biograph and Review, May 1881, pp. 455–8
  • Palatine Note-book, ii. 156.

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