Finding Immigrant Descendants – aka- Identifying John Kirsch

Often, people ask how they can find someone to DNA test for a line whose surname they don’t carry.

There are indeed ways to do this, to stitch information snippets together, and if anyone can do this, a genealogist can excavate those gems and tie them back together. Genealogists have been described as crazy, insane, extremely focused, OCD and let’s not forget, tenacious.  And you know what, that’s all true – every word of it.  We tend to wear all that as a badge of honor, actually.

But sometimes, immigrants in particular can really test our mettle. Often, relatively recent immigrants are the worst to find DNA candidates for.

Why?

Because people in the old country don’t often embrace DNA testing, or genealogy for that matter, with the same veracity we do, if at all.

Why not?

Because they know where they are from, or at least they think they do, because their family “has been there forever.”

How long is forever?

Who knows, but long enough that they don’t think they were ever from anyplace else. And so, no need for searching for ancestral roots because they are “here,” wherever here happens to be, right underfoot.

Not to mention the little issue of a language barrier between us in the here and now and them in the ancestral country.

On the other hand, once one of the family line immigrates to the New World, be it the US, Canada, Australia or someplace else, the process of ancestral forgetting begins and within a couple of generations, events and places are no more than a fuzzy memory of a half-remembered story that may or may not be accurate. You know, like those three brothers stories.

If that ancestor arrived in say, 1650, they have had 300+ years to have accumulated descendants since arriving. Doing a bit of math, if they had 10 children who each had 10 children in each 25 year generation, between now and then, they now have about 1 billion descendants.  Ok, so let’s say only 5 children survived in each generation and the generation average is 30 years.  Now we only have 2 million or so.  Ok, but let’s say that the past 100 years since the advent of birth control, the number of descendants didn’t increase, just maintained itself.  Then we’d only have between 15,000 and 80,000 descendants.  And at least a few of those would surely be males who carry the surname.  At least one can hope.

Contrast that to Philip Jacob Kirsch, born in Mutterstadt, Germany in 1806, married in 1829 to Katharina Barbara Lemmert and had their first child in September of the following year. They were fortunate, because most of their children survived.  I am fortunate because the births of all of their children except the last child are dutifully recorded in the church in Mutterstadt.

Child Birth Death Marriage Offspring
Philipp Jacob Sept. 19, 1830 Sept. 9, 1905 Never married None
Katharine Barbara Kirsch Jan. 6, 1833 Aug. 2, 1900 Johann Martin Koehler 4 daughters, 2 lived, one uncertain, 4 grandchildren
Johannes June 14, 1835 Living in Indianapolis in 1917 per brother Jacob’s obituary ? ?
Martin September 16, 1838 Not heard of after Civil War, not mentioned in his brother’s 1905 will None known None known
Jacob May 1, 1841 July 23, 1917 Barbara Drechsel 4 daughters, 2 sons, 2 grandsons
Johann William Kirsch January 3, 1844 Before September 1904 Caroline Kuntz His brother’s will in 1905 says he is dead and has 1 girl and 2 boys
Anna Maria Kirsch Jan. 11, 1847 After 1917, per brother Jacob’s obituary Bernard Kramer Per census, 9 children, 4 living in 1910
Andrew Kirsch Feb. 6, 1849 Circa 1851, before 1860 None None

As you can see, our chances of finding a male Kirsch to Y DNA test aren’t wonderful, but there are possibilities through some male children, bolded above.

The total number of next generation descendants for Philip Jacob and Katharina Barbara were 8 children, 7 of which lived past childhood. Those children only produced 14 known grandchildren, with a few more possibilities.  In other words, the descendants doubled themselves, but after this generation, birth control came into play and large families became the exception and not the norm.

Unfortunately, these descendants tended to move away, and their names of John and William were quite common, so they are very difficult to identify if you don’t know where to look.

A couple years ago, a genealogist, Mike, who descended from one John Kirsch contacted me. He was looking for possible parents of his John Kirsch who lived in Indianapolis, had found Philip Jacob Kirsch in the Ripley County 1850 census with a son John, added two and two together and came up with parents.

I was skeptical. Not only did that seem just too convenient, but also because John is such a common name.  There were other John Kirsch’s too, like another John Kirsch in Lawrenceburg, Dearborn County, right next door to Ripley County, who was born in about 1838.  Mike’s John Kirsch’s tombstone says he was born in 1837, not 1835 as the actual church record, below, says of Philip Jacob Kirsch’s son, Johann (John in the US,) from Ripley county.

Johann 1835 church record

The Mutterstadt church registry entry above in 1835 for Johannes Kirsch shows his birth on June 14th and then his christening 7 days later on June 21st.  It also says he emigrated to America with his parents in 1847 and gives his parents’ and godparents’ names.

Maybe John Kirsch who died in 1927 in Indianapolis is neither of these John Kirsch’s.

To make matters even worse, there is a possibility that the Kirsch family in Lawrenceburg is related back in the old country to the Kirsch family in Ripley County, who subsequently moved to Aurora, also in Dearborn County. Let me translate, if that is true, autosomal DNA could give a match between John’s descendant, Mike, and my mother and it would not confirm that John was the son of Philip Jacob Kirsch.

So, the only thing to do was to set out to prove, or disprove, John as the son of Philip Jacob Kirsch of Ripley County.

But how?

Mike provided the information that his John was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery and had died on January 10, 1927, according to the markers at the cemetery. John was buried with his wife, Mary, and his son, Frank.

John Kirsch headstone

The headstones from FindAGrave confirm this and showed us that Frank also died in 1927, the same year as his father, and was born in 1858.

Frank Kirsch headstone

Mike personally knew these to be his family members and had been to the cemetery.

Mike had found a marriage record in Ripley County for a John Kirsch to a Mary Blatz or Blotz on February 18, 1856 – but we couldn’t tell if that John and Mary was this John and Mary. We also didn’t know if that Ripley County John was the son of Philip Jacob Kirsch.

From here, we begin to follow the breadcrumb trail.

We agreed that we needed to do three things at that time:

  • Contact the cemetery to see if they have additional information
  • Contact the Indianapolis Public Library to see if they hold an obituary for John or Mary
  • Obtain a death certificate for John Kirsch

There were fees associated with the cemetery records and the death certificate, not to mention restrictions on who can order death certificate and that they sometimes take forever to arrive. I wrote a letter to the Indianapolis Public library, but received no reply.  The letter found its way to the bottom of my pile where it reposed for a year.

However, as I began writing the 52 Ancestor’s article for Philip Jacob Kirsch, finding son John became more important. I thought I recalled that Mike’s John Kirsch had a son…and maybe…just maybe…a DNA candidate.

I contacted Mike again, and he had gotten busy too, so neither of us had obtained John’s records.

So, I set about a course of discovery.

First, I reviewed all census records I could find for John.

In 1850, he is living with his parents.

In 1860, I can’t find him anyplace, but he would have been married and had son Frank already, who was born in 1858. I do find a John Kirsch in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, born in 1838, married to a Margaret, with a young son, John, age 3 months.   That John is the son of an older John Kirsch, also living in Lawrenceburg.

In 1870, I find Frank and Mary in Indianapolis with son Frank, 12, confirming that 1858 birth year, and a daughter, Louisa, age 3. John works in a spoke factory.

In 1880, we find the John Kirsch of Lawrenceburg still living in Lawrenceburg, still married to Margaret, with an ever-growing family including children whose names do not include Frank and Louisa. We also find John Kirsch in Indianapolis, wife Mary, daughter Louisa, now age 12 and son, Andrew age 2.  Furthermore, we now know that Mary is Mary Blotz because Lena Blotz, age 68, John’s mother-in-law, is living with them.  A big bingo!

John Kirsch 1880 census

The 1890 census is missing, of course, but the 1900 Indianapolis census shows us that John gives his birth month and year as June of 1835, not 1837 as his cemetery stone says. He says he immigrated in 1846, has lived in the US for 53 years, is a spoke turner and has had 6 children, but only three are living.  By process of elimination, those children have to be Frank, Louisa and Andrew.

John Kirsch 1900 census

I called the Crown Hill cemetery and they provided additional information about Mary. She died on December 26, 1905.

Sure enough, the 1910 census shows us that John, a widow, is now living with daughter Louisa and her husband Oliver Hald, that John immigrated in 1847 and is naturalized. He is listed as the father-in-law.

In 1920, John is still living with Louisa and Oliver and says he immigrated in 1845 and is naturalized.

John dies in 1927.

The Crown Hill Cemetery told me over the phone that they sometimes have records provided by the family, and for a nominal fee, they will look “in the vault.” And even better news.  Instant gratification.  They take credit cards!!!

Indeed, the treasure from the vault tells us that John’s birthplace is given by the family as “Mutterstadt” in Germany and his birth date is given as June 16, 1837. His age was given as 89, but in reality, he was 91 years and 7 months.  John got shortchanged.

John, Mary and son Frank are buried on the Hald plot along with their daughter Louisa and her husband, Oliver.

The Indianapolis Public Library searched for an obituary for both John and Mary Kirsch in all three Indianapolis newspapers of the time, to no avail.

However, it has been a great research day, not because of one big find, but by several  puzzle pieces connecting together, we have a much clearer picture of John Kirsch and who he is:

  • We’ve confirmed that this John of Indianapolis is indeed the John who married Mary Blotz in Ripley County in 1856 by virtue of his mother-in-law living with them in the 1880 census.
  • We’ve confirmed that he is not the John of Lawrenceburg who was born in 1838 and continued to live there while this John was living in Indianapolis, also by virtue of the 1880 census. Their children also have different names, thankfully.
  • We’ve confirmed that John’s birthplace was in Mutterstadt, the same location as Philip Jacob’s son, Johann, was born in 1835, by virtue of the records held by the Crown Hill Cemetery and the Mutterstadt church records.
  • We’ve also obtained, from the 1900 census, information given by John himself, that his birth month and year was in June of 1835, not 1837 as is carved on his tombstone. 1835 matches the birth and baptismal records for Johann Kirsch, son of Philip Jacob Kirsch and Katharina Barbara Lemmert in Mutterstadt.
  • John named his last child Andrew. Andreas was the name of his grandfather he would never have known and also the name of his baby brother who died at the age of about 2 and a half, when John would have been 15 or 16, living in Ripley County.
  • Lastly, Jacob Kirsch of Aurora, Indiana, the son of Philip Jacob Kirsch and Katharina Barbara Lemmert of Ripley County, died in 1917.  Jacob’s obituary says that his brother, John Kirsch lives in Indianapolis.  There is no other John Kirsch in Indianapolis in either the 1910 or 1920 census who is born within 25 years of 1835, so by process of elimination, this John Kirsch is the only candidate to be Jacob’s brother.

Ironically, John Kirsch’s death certificate arrived today.  His father’s name?  John.  However, his mother’s name and information was entirely blank.  John’s birth month and year were off too, based on what we know.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen incorrect death certificates, especially when it comes to the mother’s name.  Generally, they at least provide her first name, but not in this case.

However, with the combined information, I feel confident at this point that I have correctly identified the John Kirsch in Indianapolis as the son of Philip Jacob Kirsch and Katharina Barbara Lemmert of Mutterstadt, Germany and Ripley County, Indiana.  Yes, in spite of the death certificate data, provided by a distraught family.  Ironically, the cemetery and census information was far more useful.  It’s a good thing I didn’t receive the death certificate first and just give up, assuming it was correct and that John who died in 1927 was not our John.

What’s Next

I hope DNA.

I hope that Mike, being a genealogist, will agree to test autosomally.

Mike also has male Kirsch cousins he has agree to approach about Y DNA testing.  There is so much to be learned from this test.  Where did the Kirsch family come from?  What is their history before they adopted surnames?  I’m very excited about the possibility of Y DNA testing.  I truthfully thought we’d never find a candidate.

My fingers are crossed.

My toes are crossed.

My eyes are crossed.

My everything is crossed….

Here’s hoping!

10 thoughts on “Finding Immigrant Descendants – aka- Identifying John Kirsch

  1. “They know who they are because their family has been there forever.” No, they do not always know who they are. Because people are people, acting like people, then and now. In speaking to one of my dna cousins, very tactfully, he spoke of an ancestral grandmother who was considerably younger than her husband, “She strayed to one of the neighbors.” He had proved it with dna.

  2. I hope you get both the Y and autosomal testing done, then show us in great detail how it proves he is family. A great many of us have spent our money for FTDNA Tests but but you lost us when you used the Start, stop, length of segment,etc on various chromosomes, to determine who was really a match. Where do we find that data? Do we go back to the four letters?

  3. Ah! That glorious moment went you look one more time to all the little bits of info and everything seems to finally fall into place. ^_^

  4. That reminded me of a match I discovered and the conversation we had. I kept getting Russian matches on Gedmatch so I decided to try and investigate a bit. The top 2 matches with the most DNA I contacted. The Russian man was a bit skeptical and shocked He said that as far as he knew, none of his ancestors left Europe. I wrote him back and told him where we matched on the chromosome, the amount of DNA we had in common and sent a screenshot of the image from Gedmatch. He wrote back that he was going to have his parents tested. The second Russian match was a wonderful lady by the name of Elena. She was taken aback by the number of her relatives I matched at first. She was also unaware that relatives left Europe for the US. But her family has been extensively tested, so she was able to see what side of the family what line and how far back because I match her and the rest of the family on that Chromosome. Apparently the farthest she can go on that line is back to a region of Siberia. That part and all the Russian matches in general shocked me.

    • What is the largest cMs segment you share with each of the matches? How far back in time are you connecting up with your MRCA – most recent common ancestor? Do your matches 1 and 2, each match each other doing a one-to-one comparison at Gedmatch?

  5. Pingback: Phillip Jacob Kirsch (1806-1880), German Immigrant, 52 Ancestors #107 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  6. Pingback: Katharina Barbara Lemmert (1807-1889), The Pregnant Immigrant, 52 Ancestors #108 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

  7. Pingback: Andreas Kirsch (1772-1819) of Fussgoenheim, Bayern, Germany, 52 Ancestors #148 | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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