Johann Michael Kirsch’s Signature – But Which One? – 52 Ancestors #353

In the article, “The Saga of the Three Johann Michael Kirschs,” we described the upheaval that took place in Fussgoenheim in 1743 when the Hallberg family usurped two-thirds of the village from the residents. Two Johann Michael Kirsch’s, the mayor and the baker, were both evicted, along with their families, and went down the road to live in neighboring Ellerstadt – essentially as refugees and serfs.

Ellerstadt was literally within eyesight, a mile and a half away. However, Ellerstadt was outside the reach of the Hallbergs. Given that the Kirsch men weren’t citizens of Ellerstadt, they would have joined the community as second-class citizens, but safe nonetheless.

Hallberg confiscated their property in Fussgoenheim and sold their belongings. Somehow, probably working as laborers, they survived in neighboring Ellerstadt until they were allowed to return to Fussgoenheim in 1753. Some Kirsch family members never returned to Fussgoenheim, but both Johann Michael Kirschs did.

Johann Michael Kirsch was dismissed as mayor by Hallberg in 1757. Apparently, he was the “mayor in exile” for that decade when the family lived in Ellerstadt. After returning to Fussgoenheim, their ancestral village, the Kirsch family maintained connections with families in Ellerstadt. For example, we found in an October 1759 church record where Elias Kirsch, the son of Johann Michael Kirsch, described as the “former praiseworthy mayor” stood as a godparent to a baby born in Ellerstadt.

As it turns out, Elias Kirsch was my ancestor, which makes Johann Michael Kirsch, the mayor, my ancestor too. I’m so grateful that Elias’s father is so clearly identified in that baptism record. My cousin, Tom, searched the Ellerstadt records for any occurrence of the given name of Elias which was how he found that entry. Otherwise, I’d STILL not know which Johann Michael Kirsch was Elias’s father.

The Former Praiseworthy Mayor

The church records in Fussgoenheim are incomplete during this timeframe. The only record we have that gives us a hint about the death of either Johann Michael Kirsch, the mayor, or Johann Michael Kirsh, the baker, is that one 1759 Ellerstadt church entry that referenced “the former praiseworthy mayor.”

Normally, in German records, the phrase “former” means the person being referenced is deceased. However, now I wonder if what is actually meant in this record is something different. Specifically, because they referred to Michael as “praiseworthy.” This unusually flowery language in an official church record seems, in a way, to be taking a swipe at the much-despised Hallbergs by waxing eloquently about how wonderful the Michael Kirsch is that Hallberg evicted for a decade, then dismissed as mayor. All of that history would have been summarized for anyone “in the know” in just those 4 words. But is that was the minister was doing?

Johann Michael Kirsch had suffered greatly but never backed down. This record may be poking the bear, in essence, and letting Michael and everyone else know how much the Ellerstadt citizens cared about Michael and the wrong that befell him. Hallberg couldn’t hurt or damage the Ellerstadt citizens, but he assuredly used strongarm tactics and sought revenge on the citizens of Fussgoenheim, the village he ruled, when they refused to accept his “resurvey” of the land. Michael Kirsch was their brave leader, apparently even in exile.

All of this leads me to the question – was Johann Michael Kirsch, “the former praiseworthy mayor,” still alive and visiting Ellerstadt in 1761?

In this instance, did the word former mean formerly the mayor, or deceased?

Another Record Surfaces

In genealogy, we have to constantly reevaluate conclusions, especially when we discover new records.

We know there were two Johann Michael Kirschs, first cousins both born in Fussgoenheim between about 1700 and 1705, both evicted from Fussgoenheim in 1743, both settled in Ellerstadt, both returned to Fussgoenheim in 1753, both with wives named Anna Margaretha but no known surname, and neither Michael with a death record. Could this be more difficult?

Recently, my friend Christoph found an Ellerstadt record pertaining to my Koehler family who lived there. That record led to a German website that led to a man who, as luck would have it, is also my cousin – Günter Lauer. Definitely my lucky day!!!

Günter is a genealogist too and knows a LOT about the Koehler family and Ellerstadt history. More about that coming soon.

Günter has been very generous, sending documents, information, and photos to Christoph to translate and send on to me.

One of the Ellerstadt documents provided by Günter dates from 1761.

Günter and Christoph tell us:

The handwritten document is about the village of Ellerstadt being given as pledge by count von Wartenberg to the margrave of Baden. The document was written by a notary by the name of Johann Georg Anton Vogel, who on his way to Ellerstadt took with him two witnesses from Fußgönnheim, Johann Michael Kirsch and Vallentin Löw. The signatures of these two witnesses are on the last page of the document.

In Ellerstadt, all male citizens, widows, and Jews were assembled in front of the city hall (located in Ratstraße 1, but the current building there was built in 1838, so the former city hall is not preserved,) to inform them about the change. A list was put up of everyone who was present and this list in alphabetical order is written down on pages 6 to 10 of the document. The first one on the list is pastor Huth. The list further includes Peter Köhler and the widow of a Jacob Kirsch.

Jacob Kirsch, the son of Johann Michael Kirsch, the mayor, had died in Ellerstadt on January 26, 1760, at about 35 years of age. His widow, Anna Catharina Elisabetha Klamm lived until February 1, 1768. It’s unknown if they had children. They married in 1750 in Ellerstadt, so it’s likely that children were born to the union.

If the Johann Michael Kirsch who signed his name in 1761 was the former mayor, the widow of Jacob Kirsch was his daughter-in-law. He would have been present the year before for the burial of his son and probably would have welcomed the opportunity to check on his 34-year-old daughter-in-law and perhaps visit with his grandchildren.

If the Johann Michael Kirsch who signed the document was the baker from Fussgoenheim, he was the first cousin of Johann Michael Kirsch, the major. He would have checked on Jacob’s widow while he was there too. Of course, she would have been standing among the men in front of the village hall that day when Ellerstadt’s unwelcome fate was revealed and their presence recorded for posterity.

Which Michael Kirsch Signed?

Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing which Johann Michael Kirsch signed that document as a witness. What we do know, for sure, is that the mayor would have unquestionably known how to write and sign his name. The baker may have been able to sign his name as well. Would the baker have been able to simply pick up and leave in the middle of the day when the notary rode through Fussgoenheim looking for witnesses? I don’t know. Perhaps he was finished baking which was likely done early each morning.

Maybe the notary recruited Michael the (former) Mayor because of his standing in the community – plus he could write. Or maybe Michael was at the village hall or the local inn, meaning the pub, with Valentin Low, visiting and sharing with other residents. The inn was the center of German village life, in addition, of course, to the church. The difference being of course that the church was only occupied from time to time, and the inn was occupied all the time.

What I wouldn’t give for either Michaels’ death record or some identification in that 1761 document. Just one or two words would do it. “Baker” or “former mayor” would work just fine! Perhaps they didn’t need to record that extra information, because only one Johann Michael Kirsch from Fussgoenheim was alive at that time.

Maybe Neither?

Umm, I hate to say this, but if that IS the case and only one Michael was alive, then the signature COULD belong to a third, younger, Johann Michael Kirsch who was born in July of 1730, the nephew of Mayor Michael Kirsch. We have this younger Michael’s birth record, but no marriage record and nothing after his 1742 confirmation, so we don’t know if he survived. Of course, the Kirsch families were expelled in 1743, not long after his confirmation, and returned a decade later when this Michael would have been 23 if he was living – probably not quite old enough to marry.

By 1761, the younger Michael would have been 31 years old, so we should find SOME record of him in Fussgoenheim if that’s where he was living, but we don’t. Not then, and not later, meaning if he had children and his name was recorded in their birth, marriage, or death records. This suggests that he either left or did not survive. Regardless, it’s very unlikely that he is the Michael living in Fussgoenheim in 1761.

Most Likely Candidates

I got all excited because I just KNEW we had discovered the rare signature of “my” Michael, but with further evaluation, I realized that we MIGHT have my ancestor’s signature, or that of his first cousin, the baker, or maybe even his nephew – although I think that’s the least likely scenario.

I WANT this to be my Michael’s signature, but I’d give it roughly 50-50 odds.

I thought I understood, but now, I don’t know how to interpret the 1759 record where Michael is described as “the former praiseworthy mayor.” Does “former” in this particular record mean deceased, or not? I don’t know. Maybe, in time, another record will surface to clarify. Would I be that fortunate?

What I DO know is that we have a wonderful fragment of history and in it, the signature of SOME Michael Kirsch from Fussgoenheim that just might be my ancestor. I can look at it and dream!

Many thanks to both Günter and Christoph for bringing this to light and to life.


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1 thought on “Johann Michael Kirsch’s Signature – But Which One? – 52 Ancestors #353

  1. This is a wonderful story among your many wonderful stories. I would like to discuss it with you and to share one of my own that involves use of many genealogical tools as well as serendipities.

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