Mitochondrial DNA Webinar is Free for 5 Days PLUS Mitochondrial DNA Test Now on Sale

Wow, the Wringing Every Drop Out of Mitochondrial DNA webinar yesterday was SO MUCH FUN. The lovely comments from attendees below the video say it all. Thank you to the 1800 or so people who signed up, joined us for the webinar and provided those kind reviews.

I’m so glad that folks are excited and already making breakthroughs using their mitochondrial DNA results.

In the webinar, I not only explained HOW mitochondrial DNA works and what your mutations and results mean, but shared some of my secrets of how to make mitochondrial DNA work harder for your genealogy.

Thanks to Legacy Family Tree Webinars, the webinar is still free for everyone through May 4th and can be viewed here.

Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll see.

The accompanying 34-page syllabus for the webinar is a feature of a paid membership.

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Here are a few of my other webinars available in the library.

The most popular webinar, though, is my Genealogy Case Study session with more than 27,000 views. That’s amazing to me. 27,000 is the size of some stadiums and EVERYONE is interested in DNA.

Mother’s Day DNA Mitochondrial DNA Sale

Sweetening the mitochondrial deal, the full sequence mitochondrial DNA test is on sale right now at FamilyTreeDNA for Mother’s Day for $139 (through May 9th) which represents a $20 savings.

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Build Your Genealogical DNA Pedigree Chart

Don’t forget, to build your DNA pedigree chart, you’ll need to find people to test for the mitochondrial DNA of the ancestors in your tree whose mitochondrial DNA you don’t carry personally.

Men and women both have their mother’s mitochondrial DNA, who has her mother’s, on up the tree in a straight matrilineal line, of course (pink arrow) – but testing your father will provide you with your paternal grandmother’s mitochondrial DNA.

In this chart, the colored hearts track back to the ancestors that color represents – in other words – that person’s matrilineal ancestors.

Who do you know among your current relatives that would be candidates to test to represent specific ancestors? First cousins, second cousins, aunts, uncles, your Dad? You only need one tester per ancestral line unless there is some uncertainty about the maternal genealogy of that line.

In the webinar, I discuss some of the methods I use to find testing candidates descended from a female ancestor through all women to the current generation, which can be men. Men can test because they have the mitochondrial DNA of their mothers, but men just don’t pass it on to their children. Only mothers pass it on.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Like I said in the webinar, you don’t know what you don’t know. I found an unexpected surprise in my own mother’s line and found a Native ancestor in another line when a cousin tested. I try to locate someone from every ancestral line and provide that person with a mitochondrial DNA testing scholarship.

Even if the match you desperately need to break through that brick wall isn’t there today, your mitochondrial DNA is waiting and fishing 24×7. That match may appear tomorrow or the next day. If you don’t test, that critical match might be waiting for you, but you’ll never know.

There’s no better time to order tests than when they are on sale. The mitochondrial DNA mtFull test normally costs $159 but is on sale, here for $139 now through May 9th.


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Wringing Every Drop Out of Mitochondrial DNA – FREE Webinar

Please join me on Wednesday, April 27th at 2 PM EDT for Wringing Every Drop out of Mitochondrial DNA at Legacy Family Tree Webinars.

  • In this webinar, we will learn step-by-step how to utilize mitochondrial DNA testing at FamilyTreeDNA to get the most out of your results.
  • We begin with mitochondrial education, then we’ll look at little-known methods to obtain information, even if your match doesn’t have a tree.
  • We’ll talk about using resources such as Geni, WikiTree Ancestry’s ThruLines, MyHeritage’s Theories of Family Relativity, and others to break down mitochondrial brick walls.
  • We’ll discuss FamilyTreeDNA projects and show an example of using mitochondrial DNA in conjunction with autosomal for a slam-dunk.
  • Last, we’ll have an update about The Million Mito Project and why it’s important to you.

You can register at this link and enjoy the webinar for free.

Webinar is Free for 7 Days

Legacy Family Tree Webinars provide free access to webinars for 7 days. However, if you subscribe for $49.95, you also have access to the syllabus AND all 1762 other webinars in the library.

You can click here to subscribe and enter the code 1750 at checkout to receive a 50% discount (for new subscribers only) through the end of April.


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Where Was Peter Johnston (c1720-c1794) in 1775? – 52 Ancestors #355

Working with my cousin, Greg Simkins, we’ve proven that we share common ancestors in the article DNA Shows Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips Are My Relatives, But Are They My Ancestors?.

In the weeks since I wrote that article, I’ve been digging, and digging, and digging. By now, I’m about halfway to China, I’m sure.

Let’s start in the middle, at the most important part, because if I can ELIMINATE Peter Johnson as my ancestor, Dorcas Johnson’s parent, then I don’t really need to reconstruct all of Peter Johnson’s life. Right?

Conversely, I’d love to confirm him as my ancestor.

Dorcas (also spelled Darcus and other ways) has been attributed as one of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips’ children, but the source of that information has always been murky. Maybe murky isn’t the right word. Absent would be more accurate.

What we do know is that Dorcas or Darcus Johnson married Jacob Dobkins in Shenandoah County, Virginia in 1775.

We also know that Margaret Johnson, also attributed as a daughter of Peter Johnston and his wife married Jacob’s brother, Evan Dobkins on January 30, 1775 in the same location.

Dunmore County was formed in 1772, then renamed Shenandoah in 1778. Dunmore County records are now Shenandoah County records.

Of course, the Revolutionary War occurred during this timeframe – and that’s evident looking at the marriage records. 1775 looks to be nearly complete, at least through early October. Records end at that point, with nothing in 1776. Five marriages are recorded in 1777, then one in 1782. People didn’t stop getting married. The records are missing.

I was hoping to find another Johnson or Johnston who married during this timeframe, but no cigar on this one.

It’s worth noting that the Shenandoah County index on Ancestry is incomplete and does NOT list the Johnston/Dobkins marriages while the transcribed records in the same book, if you read page by page, do.

Tax Records

I located an obscure tax list for the rent rolls for Dunmore County, VA from 1774-1776.

Part of that tax list had been published, so I joined an organization simply to access those lists in their past journals. Unfortunately, the excepts were only for the families of interest to a specific researcher, not the entire tax list.

I contacted the Library of Virginia who referred me elsewhere.

I discovered that the Huntington Library in San Marino, California owns those original tax lists as part of the Robert Alonzo Brock Collection, Fairfax Family Northern Neck Proprietary papers, 1675-1843, Series V. Personal papers collection, Accession 41008, Reel 4624.

I contacted the Huntington library and was told the tax lists have not been transcribed, but are microfilmed. I was welcome to come in and read them in person.

That’s not an option. I cannot visit in person, and my local library does not participate in interlibrary loan. I reached out to nearby colleges and universities where I was also told that “no one has microfilm readers anymore.”

The helpful Huntington librarian informed me that they have a digitization option if the records can be safely handled. I requested a quote, paid the bill, and a few weeks later, received the digitized records.

I was SO VERY EXCITED. Would I find Peter Johnston living beside or near the Dobkins family? Or maybe a different Johnston family?

Hmmm, no Johnston, Johnson or anything similar.

Worse yet, NO DOBKINS or anything similar either.

This is NOT a full tax list. It’s probably just a list for one district. And not the right district either.

Clearly, it does NOT include the area where John Dobkins, Jacob and Evan’s father, lived.

What other records exist that might show us if Peter Johnston, or some other Johnston, lived in Dunmore/Shenandoah County, or even a neighboring county?

Where did Jacob and Evan Dobkins parents live? Did they live near a county border? Should I also be looking in an adjacent county for Johnston/Johnson males?

I’m getting desperate.

What’s Next?

I found a book, Life Along Holman’s Creek by Rev. J. Floyd Wine written in 1982, and of course, out of print.

John Dobkins had a land grant on or near Holman’s Creek, so I thought this book might include something about both John Dobkins and, if I’m lucky, Peter Johnston.

Sure enough, I found John Dobkins right on Holman’s Creek.

Now we’re cooking with gas. I started reading every grant individually. Of course, this map of land grants probably doesn’t include more than the first sale, if that. Any subsequent sale after the land was originally applied for through a warrant or granted via patent would have been recorded. Sometimes the sale occurred between those two steps.

I discovered something alright, but not at ALL what I expected.


Those neighbors names look really familiar. Zirkle. Where did I see that before?

Wait!!!! What????


These are my MOTHER’S SIDE Miller line relatives from Pennsylvania and Maryland. Living right next to my father’s ancestor, John Dobkins.


I knew that there had been oral history of the Garbers and Wine’s along with my ancestor’s son, Lodowick Miller moving to Shenandoah County after their land was confiscated in Maryland for being unwilling to fight in the Revolution. Their Brethren pietist religion forbade taking up arms.

Here they are, neighboring John Dobkins in Shenandoah County.

Good Heavens. What a mess I have.

Ummm, The Alternate Glass is Full View

Now, however, for the good news. The mitochondrial DNA of my ancestor Philip Jacob Miller’s wife, Magdalena tracks back through matches to the Zircle/Circle family and perhaps to the Myer(s) family. The Circle family is listed right with several Millers. Notice Henry Myer with more Zirkle/Circles.

I may have just accidentally hit the motherlode and now “all I have to do” is track these families back to either Frederick County, MD or York Co., PA around 1750 AND see if I can find a Magdalena among the proper families. This is a LOT more difficult than it seems because many Brethren families didn’t file wills or deeds with county clerks.

I need to spend time unraveling this knot, but today, I’m searching for Johnston. Johnston – not Miller/Garber/Myer/Zirkle/Wine. We find one Jacob Stutzman too, and the Stutzman family is closely allied with the Millers. In fact, the original Johann Michael Miller immigrant was half brothers with Jacob Stutzman.

Ironically, this means I’m related to the author whose ancestors are probably buried in the Wine Cemetery right on Holman’s Greek. Lodowich Mueller/Miller settled in Shenandoah County about the time of the Revolution. His daughter, Susannah married Michael Wine whose family had also migrated from the Frederick County, Maryland area.

Fortunately, the book has a lovely index, and there is NOT ONE SINGLE JOHNSTON or similar surname.

Struck out AGAIN!

Chancery Suits

Would I be lucky enough for Peter Johnston or any Johnston from Shenandoah County to be listed in a chancery suit? The Virginia State Library provides a chancery index, but I found no evidence of any Johnston other than a 1799 suit in which one George Oakley states that he bought a track of land in “Gooney Run” from George Johnston “some considerable time ago,” but he does not say when. John Turner is the defendant who also apparently encroached onto Oakley’s land. The G in Gooney may not be a G.

This does not seem relevant.

Land Grants

I was not able to find any Northern Neck land grants for Peter Johnston. Nearby grants would be reflected on the Wine map, and they are not.

Deeds and Court Notes

I still have my fingers crossed for either deeds or court notes.

I used Family Search’s wiki and catalog, here.

I found that Family Search has digitized Shenandoah County Deed Books A, B, C and D from 1772-1784. There are no Johnson or Johnston deeds.

I reviewed the next four years, just in case.

In 1787, William Johnson Jr and Bryan Johnson served as witnesses.

The court records don’t seem to exist for this timeframe.

I’m really striking out.

What’s left?

What Else is Available?

Four separate books have been written about the Johnson family.

The book, Johnson Records – With Records of Associated Families, The Warnes and Suttons by Helen Clark Biedel was copyrighted in 1955.

This book quotes from earlier books and focuses on the records of the author’s line.

I took copious notes, but found myself terribly frustrated.

I was hoping to discover why Dorcas Johnson and her sister, Margaret were attributed to Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips.

That information was omitted.

Much of what was reported just didn’t make sense. Sources provided conflicting information, but Helen copiously reported it all for the reader to digest. She couldn’t figure it out either.

Excavating the Box

I’ve been unpacking boxes in my office and putting things away.

In a file folder labeled Johnson, I discovered another book. Actually, it’s a copy of a portion of a book that I found at the Allen County Public Library. They have an awesome family history book collection.

The Johnson Gathering , The Family History of Peter Johnson (c1720-c1796), Allegheny Co., PA by Eric E. Johnson was published in 2001.

Eric wrote a wonderful book, carefully analyzing earlier works and adding his own research as well. Better yet, it’s fully footnoted and sourced.

Eric divided the work into three parts. I’ll quote relevant information from each, while adding my own work.

Peter Johnston’s Early Years

We don’t know where Peter was born, but on April 26, 1742, he received a 100-acre land warrant in Hopewell Township, Lancaster County, PA, the part that became Cumberland County in 1750 and then Antrim Township in Franklin County in 1784.

Peter’s land was located in Robert Crunchton’s settlement, between Crunchton’s property and the temporary dividing line between Maryland and Pennsylvania. When Petre’s land was surveyed, it was actually 152 acres with the southern border on the temporary line. He and wife Mary sold this land warrant in August 1769 to James Cross.

Both signed with their marks. I’m incredibly grateful to Eric for not only finding his signature on several original documents, but comparing it to assure that this was the same man in various locations. He consistently signed with his mark, which the county clerks faithfully drew in each book when the documents were recorded.

I converted the temporary state line information obtained from the Royal Court in England from 39 degrees, 43 minutes and 18 second into latitude to locate the temporary state line. Of course, we don’t know the exact longitude location on that line for Peter’s land, but if it’s exactly dead center south of Greencastle, it’s located at the red pin, below.

Antrim township runs along the state line from the red arrow at right to the red arrow at left, a total of approximately 5 miles.

Remember that I mentioned that the Dobkins family is found beside the Miller family, including Lodowick in Shenandoah County, Virginia? The Miller land in Frederick County, MD is located in and near the red square.

If Peter were at least 22 years old when he applied for his original land in 1742, that places his birth in 1720 or earlier. I’d say it is more likely that he was closer to 30, which would place his birth about 1712, more or less. We can safely say that Peter was born sometimes between 1710 and 1720, but no later than 1721.

Two of the other Johnson books state that he was born about 1735 and arrived from Scotland. He clearly did not apply for land at the age of 7. One of the other books states his birth location was either Holland or Sweden.

More on this later.

In 1745, Peter also applied for 500 acres of land in Washington County, MD, the portion that would become Frederick County, Maryland. For reference purposes, there are 640 acres in a square mile so Peter owned just over that much – a total of 652 acres between both parcels.

This land was obtained from Thomas Cresap, and was literally ON the temporary state line, which means it was involved in that long-standing boundary dispute aptly named Cresap’s War.

Peter’s land, named “Johnson’s Desire” in Frederick County was surveyed and stated to be “about 5 miles from where the line crosses Conegocheeg.”

Fortunately, we know exactly where the line crosses Conococheague Creek because that’s the left line of Antrim Township at the red arrow, above.

Using Google Map’s scale, approximately 5 miles is almost exactly on this small branch of Marsh Run, above.

This appears to be the old state line, named State Line Road.

This area is lush farmland today. The red dot is where the tip of the spring is located. All farms needed fresh water.

Peter’s land probably encompassed a total of about 650 acres, more than a square mile, approximately the area shown above. It could have been shifted slightly north including the State Line Road, but one thing is certain. There was at least one, if not two working farms which are likely still working farms today, perhaps even with some of the same buildings. If not, the houses and barns are likely located in the same location as the originals. The heart of a farm doesn’t change.

A view of one farm looking south driving along State Line Road, with the mountains in the background.

This very old barn at the bend in the road might well have been Peter’s, or one of his neighbors. Note the vintage home in the background.

Below, from Reidtown Road in Maryland, looking north across what was assuredly Peter’s land.

I don’t know where, exactly, but Peter’s land bordered the old state line, the larger portion found in Maryland.

On the map above, State Line road is marked with red arrows at top.

There are several large farms that could have been Peter’s original land, and eventually, his son Richard’s.

These farms were and still are owned by German Brethren families. Even today, the nearby Hollowell Church is Brethren.

In 1756-1757, Peter was living in Pennsylvania, according to the tax debt book of Washington County. His land was west of the South Mountains, which fits this location perfectly.

After 1757, he moved across the border to Maryland and in 1766, sold a small part of this land to Abraham Gantsinger without his wife’s signature. In 1770, he, with wife Mary, sold land to Henry Stalb and recorded the deed to James Cross.

Eric suggests that Mary Polly Philips may have died and Peter remarried during this time to another Mary. That’s certainly possible, but I’ve also seen lots of wives accidentally omitted from deed records.

Another reason may have been that Mary had taken refuge elsewhere during the French and Indian War. Yes, Peter Johnson was living in the middle of a war.

The French and Indian War

These photos look peaceful and idyllic today, but this area wasn’t always this way.

There is a good possibility that Peter was a member of the local militia during the French and Indian War between 1753 and 1763.

In Franklin County, PA, there was a blockade called “Cross’s Fort” that was attacked by Indians in July and August of 1757. In the book about this war by Louis Waddel, it states that the fort was ‘located on the Conococheague (River), probably in Franklin County There may been a connection between Peter and this fort. Peter sold his land to James Cross in 1769. This James Cross may be related to the Cross’s who built the fort. If so, his mother was a Miller. You can read more about Cross’s Fort and the war with the Indians, here.

Beginning in 1755, Frederick County was literally abandoned. Everyone found someplace to go. I wrote about these events in the article about Magdalena Miller, here – start with the section titled “New Life in Frederick County, Maryland”.

Often, the fleeing families went “back” to wherever than had come from, seeking refuge with relatives. Sometimes the local ministers shepherded the women and children while the men remained to guard the farms – until they simply could no longer do so.

Where did the Johnston family go during this time? If they were married about the time Peter received his first land grant in 1742, their eldest child would have been coming of age during this time and they would have had a household full of children to keep safe. Furthermore, Mary was till giving birth in 1765, so would have been pregnant and having babies someplace in exile.

Philip Jacob Miller and his family lived near Maugansville, just a few miles from Peter Johnson. Note that Peter Johnson’s migration path paralleled the Millers to Bedford County, then to Shenandoah as well.

Many who remained in the Cumberland and Frederick County area were scalped in 1756. Frederick County was entirely abandoned in 1757 and 1758. Many residents returned slowly, not at all certain that the area was safe again. Most had to rebuild everything from scratch.

By 1763, Pontiac’s War began and once again, Frederick County and the surrounding area was abandoned, at least into 1764.

Pontiac’s War ended in 1768 and the western frontier opened. Some people returned, settled on their existing lands, and rebuilt, but many either returned slowly, or not at all. If one had to rebuild, did they want to rebuild there or someplace on the new frontier? The years between 1753 and 1769 had been hell on the frontier. Why not try someplace new.

Antrim Township

Taxes are a wonderful thing. Because the land in Pennsylvania actually belonged to William Penn, settlers received warrants which meant they could live on the land and improve it, eventually would receive a patent, but had to pay yearly rent/tax to the proprietor. Often those tax lists still exist.

Eric tells us that Peter Johnson is found on the Antrim Township tax list between 1751 and 1770, nearly 20 years, with a few missing.

  • 1751
  • 1753
  • 1762-66
  • 1768-69
  • 1770

His name is spelled variously as Jonston and Johnston.

The years where Peter is absent could be due to the fact that the family had evacuated, or, the lists may not exist at all. Those absentee years line up exactly with the French and Indian War evacuations.

If Peter was born about 1710, he would have been nearing 60 by 1770. If born in 1720, he would have been 50. Not a young man anymore. Most men of that age simply want to farm their existing land, not clear new land on the frontier. Clearing land is backbreaking, dangerous work.

The tax lists of 1762-1769, except for 1763, show Peter with 100 acres of land. 1763 shows him with 150. The 1769 list indicates that he cleared half of his land, so 50 acres, tree by tree. He sold his land in 1769 and in 1770, has only a horse and a cow.

Beginning in 1768, his son Richard begins paying taxes separately, suggesting that Richard is perhaps 25 years old, more or less, and likely the eldest son and married. This suggests he was probably married by 1767.

If Richard was born in 1743, that correlates nicely with Peter’s land grant in 1742.

In 1769, Richard’s name is spelled as Derrick and in 1770, he has a warrant of his own for 70 acres.

Solomon’s Bible Records

The Bible of Peter’s son, Solomon either still exists or did exist when one of the earlier books was being written.

That Bible record gives Solomon’s birth location as “near Greencastle, PA” which is indeed in Antrim Township of present-day Franklin County.

Eric tells us that it’s Solomon’s Bible records that provide a list of the names of the children of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips, including Mary’s name. I’ve added summary information for each child.

  • James Johnson – Born in 1752, married Elizabeth Lindsey in 1783, moved to Harrison, then Knox County, Indiana, and died in Lawrence County, Illinois in 1826. He was a private in the Revolutionary War, serving with his brother Richard in Rostraver Twp., Westmoreland County, PA.
  • Polly Johnson – nothing known
  • Dorcas Johnson – My ancestor, born about 1748, married Jacob Dobkins in 1775 and moved to Tennessee.
  • Rebecca Johnson born about 1755. One book reports that she married John Stephens/Stevens and moved to Monongahela County, West Virginia. One John Stephens served with her brother Richard in the Revolutionary War.
  • Rachel Johnson – May have married a John Dobbins (Dobkins) and moved to Knox County, Indiana by 1807.
  • Derie (Derrick, Deverick, Darrick, Richard) Johnson – Born in 1746, moved to Jefferson County, Ohio in 1801 on land purchased from a John Johnson of Washington Co., PA. The deeds states that Richard is from the same location. (Note that earlier researchers have speculated that Derie is short for Derrick, the Dutch name for Richard.) His will was probated in April of 1818. He married first to Dorcas Dungan around 1764 but before 1768, probably either in Pennsylvania or wherever the family sheltered during Pontiac’s War. She died after having one known child, Polly. Richard married in 1774 to Elizabeth Nash in Westmoreland County.
  • Solomon Johnson – Born in January of 1765 near Greencastle, PA, was married to Fanny Warne in 1790 in Allegheny County by the Presbyterian minister and remained on Peter’s land in Allegheny Co, PA until his death in 1843. Solomon did exactly what his father did – deeded his land to two sons before his death. Solomon and his wife are both buried at Round Hill Cemetery. Solomon visited his brother in Ohio at least twice. Solomon named one of his children after his sister, Dorcas who was living near Bull’s Gap, Tennessee, and she named a son Solomon.

I hope they had letters, because it’s doubtful Dorocas and Solomon ever saw each other again.

It was a very long, treacherous, mountainous way from Bull’s Gap to Allegheny County. They obviously loved one another. Dorcas was the oldest female and Solomon, her baby brother some 17 years younger. She likely took care of him as a child, especially if their mother did die.

The Mystery Solved!

Eric found Peter and Mary’s children’s names in two separate books, although the second only shows children Richard, Solomon and Mary. Mary is not found in the first book. However, Polly, a common nickname for Mary, is.

So, we’ve FINALLY solved the mystery of where the information about Dorcas arose. Now we know the source of why Dorcas was attributed to Peter – and it’s a Bible record. I do wish we had a copy of the actual Bible record itself, but this will suffice.

Eric goes on to report from the earlier sources that Dorcas married Reuben Dobbins and Rachel married another Dobbins whose name may have been John. He doesn’t know where they went or what happened to these daughters, but I do.

This information is partially accurate.

Dorcas married Jacob Dobkins in 1775.

Margaret married Evan Dobkins in 1775.

But what about Rachel? What other Dobkins boys were available?

Reuben Dobkins married Elizabeth or Polly Holman whose father was Capt. Jacob Holman of Holman’s Creek fame.

John Dobkins married Elizabeth Holman, Polly’s sister.

Of course, that doesn’t mean either of those men couldn’t have married twice, or that the info I have about their wives is accurate.

Eric stated that nothing more is known of Dorcas, Rachel or Mary.

Mary may be the Margaret Johnson who married Evan Dobkins. Eric suggested that perhaps Mary was Richard’s daughter, Polly, the child of his first wife. Richard didn’t remarry (that we know of) for several years, and it’s certainly possible that Peter and Mary raised this grandchild.

It’s also possible that yet another daughter, Rachel, married another Dobkins brother.

The Revolutionary War Years

This is where Peter’s life gets quite interesting. It’s obviously critical to discover where Peter was in 1775 when his daughters were marrying in Dunmore County. Those girls certainly weren’t traveling alone. They wouldn’t have been before the war, but they assuredly were not during a conflict.

We know their two brothers served in Rostraver Township in Westmoreland County, PA, but where was Peter and where was his family?

Peter sold the last of his land in Maryland in 1770 and disappears, resurfacing in Bedford County, PA in 1772 as a single freeman, which I find rather odd. I should probably mention that several Brethren families from Frederick County also went to Bedford County, including…you guessed it…the Millers.

As an interesting tidbit, one of the older family histories reported that Peter’s wife, Mary only spoke Dutch. “Dutch” could have been German, meaning “Pennsylvania Dutch.” Of course, that would also mean that Peter had to have a command of the language she spoke. Or this could be nothing more than a myth, but Peter’s settlement among and movements with the German families needs to be taken into consideration. Of course, that could be nothing more than local influence. People talked and shared concerns and information.

In 1773, Peter is listed in Rostraver Township which was at that time, all of southwest Pennsylvania. He is listed as an “inmate” which doesn’t mean what we think of today. In that time and place, according to Eric, an inmate was “a boarder or renter of land whose personal property is taxable.” In other words, he was probably renting a farm and trying the area out before purchasing. He would likely have stayed at least one growing season. He obviously left, because his daughters married in 1775 in Shenandoah (then Dunmore) County, VA.

Part of Rostraver Township became Elizabeth Township in Allegheny County in 1788 where Peter eventually settled.

Peter is absent in the official records for an entire decade, then we find him again in 1783 and 1786 in Rotsraver Township, then located in Westmoreland County.

The “Family Record of Peter Johnson and his Descendants Together with Notes on Related Families” states that Peter spent the Revolutionary War years in Virginia, but provides no additional information. Eric says there was circumstantial evidence that he was in Virginia, but doesn’t say what that evidence is.

One of the Johnson books that Eric utilized stated that Peter came from Winchester, which is found in Frederick County, VA, which Eric suggests is accurate, in part because it’s the head of Braddock’s Road that led to Fort Pitt that would one day become Pittsburg. Peter’s Allegheny County property was in this vicinity, just a few miles south of the end of Braddock’s Road. Braddock’s Road may have passed as close as two miles away, near Round Hill, following an Indian trail.

Frederick County, VA, is about 50 miles from Holman’s Creek where John Dobkins lived, and this part of Shenandoah County was at one time Frederick County. Note that Frederick Co., MD is not the same as or connected to Frederick County, VA.

One item reported by Eric that may or may not be relevant is a Frederick County, VA deed from one Richard and Percilla Johnson in 1773 which mentions their son, Peter. We have no idea if this is the same Peter. I don’t have a copy of this deed and I can’t find anything online about this couple. Our Peter would have been between 53 and 63 in 1773.

Of course, we have Dorcas and Margaret marrying the two Dobkins boys in Shenandoah County in 1775, then some Peter appears again in Cumberland County, PA in 1778, taking an oath of allegiance.

Is this the same Peter?

Was Peter going back and forth between Virginia and Pennsylvania?

In 1777, all Cumberland County males between the ages of 18 and 53 were drafted to serve in the local militia units to protect the residents from Indian attack. If Peter were born in 1710, he would have been 67 by that time. If he were born in 1720, he would have been 57.

Later, a Peter Johnson is reported in the militia in Cumberland County. It’s difficult to believe this is our Peter, because we know that by 1773, Peter was in Bedford County and by 1775, in Shenandoah County, VA with his family. I have to wonder if there is another Peter Johnson we don’t know about. Our Peter does not have a reported son by the name of Peter.

Eric suggests that Peter’s first wife, Mary died between Solomon’s birth in January of 1765 and the deed without her name in April of 1766.

The 1783 tax record for Westmoreland County shows Peter and one other person. Most of Peter’s children would have been grown by this time, except perhaps for Solomon who was born in 1765 and would have been 18. This tax list was supposed to determine the number of people in a household, so it should have been complete.

Did the Johnston and Dobkins Families Know Each Other?

I’m still looking for some connection between the Johnston and Dobkins families.

These families clearly came into contact with each other. Is there any indication that they knew each other before, or even after, 1775?


In the Augusta County, VA will book, one William Hill wrote his will January 27, 1748 and died a few months later. His wife’s name was Mary and she was the executor along with Thomas Moore. The witnesses were John Dobikin and Isaac Johnson who both proved the will on May 17, 1749.

John Dobikin is another spelling for John Dobkins, the father of the Dobkins boys.

But who was Isaac Johnson?

Did these men know each other. Were they related, either to each other or the Hill family?

This may or may not be significant. Remember that name, Isaac Johnson, because you’ll see it again later.

Later Years

Peter secured a land warrant for his Rostraver Township land in 1786 when it was still a part of Westmoreland County. It was surveyed in 1787 by which time it was in Elizabeth Township of Allegheny County.

Peter’s neighbor, Joseph Warne, whose daughter married Solomon Johnson, settled on his land in 1769 and obtained a Virginia title. Joseph had to have it resurveyed and the title reissued by Pennsylvania after the border dispute was settled in 1780. Yes, Peter Johnston moved to yet another location with a border dispute. In fact, it was the very same border dispute, just the westward end. The entire border dispute was eventually settled when the Mason-Dixon line was surveyed. 

In 1788, Joseph Warner’s patent states that the land to his west, which would have been Peter’s land, was vacant.

However, the survey map clearly shows Johnston’s land, Johnston spelled with the t.

Where was Peter Johnston living or was the Warner survey in error?

Peter’s land warrant states that he had to pay interest from 1780, which definitively places him on this specific piece of land by that time. 1780 was also the date at which a land dispute between Pennsylvania and Virginia involving this land was resolved and Pennsylvania became the taxing authority.

The 1790 census shows one Andrew Johnston (page 1), who isn’t known to be related and a William Johnson as well. We find Solomon Johnson with 1 male under 16, 1 male over 15, and one female. His name is written beside the Applegate family which tells us Solomon is living in the homeplace. Peter’s granddaughter, Polly Johnson through son Richard Johnson married Garrett Wall Applegate.

We know that Peter’s son, Richard Johnston was still living there, or at least owned land in 1790, even though he does not appear in the census.

Recorder’s office, Allegheny Co., Pa., Vol. 2, p. 222: 4-18-1790 Peter Johnston, Allegheny Co., Elizabeth Twp., Yeoman, to Solomon Johnston 133 A. “drain of Monongahela River in Elizabeth Twp., Allegheny Co., adjoining lands of Joseph Beckett, Richard Johnston, William Applegate, and heirs of Joseph Warne. Deed to said Peter 5-28-1787 City of Philadelphia. To Solomon, his ” junior son” with ” the fatherly love and affection which he hath and doth bear ” for Solomon and 5 shillings. Peter reserves use for life. Witnessed Joseph Beckett, Lucy Beckett, James Clendenin. Recorded 9-18-1790.

On 4-24-1790 Peter Johnston appeared to acknowledge writing and receipt of money.

In 1791, Richard purchased the 224 acres of land of Thomas Applegate immediately adjacent his father. Maybe that’s where he had been living all along.

On November 25, 1798, Peter’s land patent for 152.75 acres on a branch of the Monongahela River called Waggoner’s run was issued to his youngest son, Solomon. Peter had deeded this land, called “Peace” to Solomon on April 18, 1790 which was recorded exactly 5 months later. The deed states that Peter has possession for the balance of his life, although he would be unlikely to be able to work the land. Solomon couldn’t sell the land until after Peter’s death. By this time, Peter would have been at least 70 years old if he was born in 1720 and approaching 80 if born in 1710.

Perhaps after living in two areas contested by two states, and moving back and forth several times, Peter had finally found his peaceful place and named it thus.

In 1798, Solomon is taxed as the owner of a two-story house, 22X26 with 7 windows and 84 lights. Lights would be candles, but that’s a lot of candles.

This is a very large house for this timeframe. This was likely 8 11×13 rooms, or maybe just 6 with one large room downstairs. That would explain the 7 windows. One room would clearly be the kitchen. The upstairs rooms would have been bedrooms, or at least the bedrooms for the children.

This home was very likely built by Peter and likely where he died as well. A visit to the courthouse would probably allow us to bring those deeds forward in time and trace the exact land, but I can do a fairly good job using the old plat map plus Google Maps today.

Let’s take a drive.

Peter Johnson’s “Peace”

Forward Township is located just south of Pittsburg, bordered by the Monongahela River on the north, west, and south sides.

This is a rough estimate, of course, based on the original survey and the land today. The contours of the river help immensely, as do the streams.

The road south of Peter’s land parallels the river, and the land on the north side of that road rises away from the river. In other words, Peter’s land would not flood.

The small roads that border Peter’s land on the east and west are upon treed ridges.

Rostosky Ridge Road probably travels over a small piece of Peter’s land or at least abuts it on the west and the same for Sunnyside Hollow Road on the east.

I “drove” up both hoping to get a view of the cleared land that Peter, then Solomon would have farmed.

Of course, in Peter’s day, no road existed, and the entire area he had to clear was original growth forest.

I’m fairly certain this was adjacent Peter’s land

The right turn onto unpaved Country Lane which leads to two houses continues to rise. Those two houses were assuredly on Peter’s land.

The next turn, on the right side, rises too, but it’s at least paved.

However, the paved road appears to facilitate trucks, perhaps, while the unpaved road just leads to homes.

In this view, the first dirt “Country Lane” leads to the barns and house. The second paved road, at left, leads to what looks like a surface mining operation of some sort.

At least part of Sunnyside Hollow Road appears to have actually been on Peter’s land when comparing the terrain map with the land grant map, looking at streams and watercourses.

The little creek on the east is today called Sunfish Run. Peter’s warrant mentions Waggoner’s Run, which is not reflected on any current map, but appears to be present-day Sunfish Run. Most smaller springs would have been unnamed or just known as “Peter’s spring.” Fresh water and a good spring was critical in selecting a homesite. The house was not located far from the head of the spring so that the water was always fresh and clean.

Peter’s land was sheltered by the rapid rise beside the Monongahela River and by the forest. His land had freshwater streams, was relatively flat, clearable, and farmable. Indeed, we can see the assets that would have attracted the family to settle here.

This little bridge on Sunnyside Hollow Road correlates with the small stream on Peter’s land. Below this bridge, guardrails protect the left side of the road from a steep drop, but above, the land again rises to the left.

I can’t help but wonder where Peter’s house was located on this land.

Was it roughly where the houses are today?

They look to be somewhat centered on his land.

This zoomed in view shows the present-day property lines. Peter’s original survey lines are still clearly visible.

Click to enlarge images.

Here’s the north portion of Peter’s survey lands

And here’s the south part.

This indicates that a portion of the large branch stream that runs west to east and connects with Sunfish Run was indeed owned by Peter, which means his land extended further north than I thought. Maybe that was Waggoner’s Run.

Now that we know exactly where Peter’s lands laid on Sunnyside Hollow Road, let’s start on his boundary and drive up the road.

You can see the stream running along the road, at right.

This curve is the point where Peter’s land stopped and the stream crossed what is now the road, and runs along the left side of the road to the Monongahela. Peter owned a strip of land on the east side as well.

Was Peter’s land carved in the unusual shape it was in order to provide Peter with this intersection of streams?

I don’t know what crops Peter grew, but today, sunflowers are widely grown in the region, with sunflower fields located just a mile or so north of Peter’s land.

In other places, driving the roads near Peter’s land, the farms look like any other farms – plowed fields and bales of hay.

This panoramic view from a high point a mile or so further north overlooks Peter’s land and those hills in the distance.

Did Peter ever stand on his land overlooking the Monongahela and think about those years living near Holman’s Creek back in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, 200 miles and a lifetime distant? Did he wonder about his two daughters who had married there, then moved on to Tennessee with their new husbands. Did he regret that he had moved to Virginia, even for that short time because his daughters were forever gone?

They weren’t the only ones of course. Eventually, all of his children, except Solomon would set out for the west-ward-moving frontier. By selling his land to Solomon, Peter delayed the inevitable by one generation. Eventually, all of Solomon’s children would leave Pennsylvania behind.

Peter’s Death

Peter’s patent was transferred to Solomon on November 25, 1796, which is the date associated with Peter’s death. However, I’m not convinced he didn’t die before the census in 1790 since he retained right to the land in the deed.

He signed the deed on April 24, 1790 but as of the census day, August 2, 1790, he is not recorded as living with Solomon.

One of the earlier family histories states that both Peter and Mary were buried in the now-sprawling Round Hill Cemetery in nearby Elizabeth Township.

If this is accurate, then clearly Mary did not die in Cumberland County, PA between 1765 and 1766.

I don’t know if this burial location is speculation based on the assumption that Peter was from Scotland or Scots-Irish, or if it was based on something more. Round Hill is a Presbyterian Cemetery established in 1786. Several members of the Warne (Warner) family are buried there and it’s likely that Solomon Johnson is as well. Joseph Warne was one of the church founders, as well as Peter Johnson’s neighbor. Round Hill may have been the only available church to attend conveniently, and as one of my cousins once said, many attended the “church of convenience” as opposed to their preferred denomination which may have been absent where they lived.

The Round Hill Cemetery is about 5 miles from where Peter lived in Elizabeth Township. The Warne family lived between Peter and the church.

The reverend was the pastor from Cecil County, Maryland.

Peter’s Older Brother?

Peter Johnson reportedly had an older brother, James Johnson, Sheriff of Cumberland County.

The Johnson Records states that Peter came to this country with an older brother named James who was the Sheriff of Cumberland County. The Cumberland County tax lists up to 1765 show a James Johnston living in Antrim Township which is where Peter lived, but not near Peter – 4 or 5 miles as the crow flies.

They are the only two Johnston’s listed in this township. James died in 1765 and after this date the sons of James and Peter begin to appear in the tax returns.

Another source book, Your Ancestors, states that James was born in Rising Sun, Maryland and married first to Elizabeth Finley in 1732, then Elizabeth Brown in 1740. They lived near Shady Grove, about 3 miles east of Greencastle, while Peter lived on the border with Maryland.

A third source states that Elizabeth Finley, born Brown, married Major James Johnston of Annandale, Dumfrieshire, Scotland.

James made a will in1764 and died in 1765, noting his wife and children:

  • James
  • Thomas
  • John
  • Robert
  • Mary
  • Elizabeth
  • Martha

Several works indicate that James came to America in 1735 from County Antrim, Ireland.

This could have something to do with the 1735 date attributed orally to Peter Johnston’s arrival.

James Johnston was reported to be born before 1710 in Scotland. He received a warrant in 1737 for 400 acres in Hopewell Twp., Lancaster Co., PA in an area that would become Antrim Township in Franklin County.

Three of his sons served in the Revolutionary War and are buried in the family cemetery at Shady Grove.

There is also speculation that James was actually the father of Peter, not his brother. We don’t know when James was born, but he died 30 years before Peter.

If he was Peter’s father, then clearly, Elizabeth whom he married in 1740/41 is not Peter’s mother.

A Y-DNA test of male Johnston/Johnson descendants of both of these lines would confirm or refute that these two men shared a common lineage.

Peter’s Origins

Peter settled in two areas that were populated by both the Scots, specifically Scots-Irish, and Germans. Both of these groups of people were utilized as a barrier on the frontier between the English planters and the Indians. Both the Germans and the Scots-Irish came later than the English and were hungry for both religious freedom and land.

In his will, Peter refers to his son, Solomon, as his “junior son” which is a Scottish term for any son not the first-born. At the time he wrote his will, two of his sons were living with or near him, and Solomon was the junior son of the two.

Of course, there are also reports that Peter is buried in the Round Hill Presbyterian Cemetery, also providing a Scots-Irish or Scottish hint.

The reports of Peter’s origins vary widely. One source reported that he was born in 1735 in Scotland, which cannot be accurate given that his first land grant was in 1742 and his eldest son, Richard, is found in tax records in Cumberland County beginning in 1768.

Another source reports that Peter Janson immigrated in 1753. It’s true that one Peter Janson did immigrate in 1753, but again, this man cannot be our Peter Johnston because our Peter had land dealings in 1742, 11 years before Peter Janson arrived in Philadelphia.

The same source that correctly reported that Peter had spent the Rev War years in Virginia also tells us he was born in Scotland.

Eric pointed out that Peter sold his land in Pennsylvania and Maryland in 1769, the same year that the land west of the Appalachian Mountains was opened for settlement.

Eric provided the origin stories attributed to each of his sources in detail, in his book.

His sources are:

  1. The Biographical and Genealogical History of the Chapman-Johnson-Walace-Palmer family
  2. The Johnson Records with Records of Associated Families, The Warnes and Suttons
  3. The Family Record of Peter Johnson and his Descendants Together with Notes on Related Families
  4. A Genealogy of the Warne Family in America
  5. Solomon Johnson’s Bible Records
Source 1 2 3 4 5
Birth year 1735
Birth location Scotland Scotland Swedish or Dutch
Additional Info Pure Scottish but with Dutch noble lineage, has tartan Born in Amsterdam, Holland Peter is grandfather of Pres. Andrew Johnson
Settlement Settled in Swedish area of Wilmington, Delaware
Locations Lived in Head of Elk, MD and Winchester, VA Solomon born near Greencastle, PA
Surname Johnstone Janson, Jansem, Jonson Iensing or Iensen*
Wife Polly Polly Could not speak English when they married
Children Solomon, Derie, Polly, James, Rachel, Rebecca, Dorcas Richard, Solomon, Mary Solomon was their son Solomon son of Peter Johnson and Mary Philips
Family Older brother James
Military Served in Rev War
Immigration 1753 on the ship Richard from Rotterdam

*Early capital letters I and J were interchangeable.

Eric suggests that the author of the Chapman-Johnson book conflated the Lindsay and Johnson family oral histories regarding nobility.

It appears that the women who provided information to the author of the Johnson Records book conflated multiple Peter Johnsons, given that our Peter Johnson did not serve in the Revolutionary War. That book focused on son, Solomon.

The 1735 birth year and 1753 immigration date appear to be a conflation of multiple different Peter Johnsons, one of whom was from New York.

The report that Peter served in the Revolutionary War is much easier to understand, because another Peter did serve from Middlesex Township of Cumberland County.

Of course, I have to ask, who was that Peter?

Eric found nothing to connect James Johns(t)on in Cumberland County with Peter Johns(t)on. If they were brothers, I did find it unusual that Peter did not witness James’ 1764 will, nor did they seem to be connected or live close together.

However, Peter did name a child James, but James did not name a son Peter.

Eric states that James who died in 1765 was a descendant of the Johnson family of Annandale, Scotland who did have links to nobility.

Eric reports from the Book, Mother Cumberland, that the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania was nearly 100% Scotch or Scots-Irish in the 1740s and 1750s, so assuming that Peter was a part of that community was natural. However, that generalization isn’t true about Antrim Township, nor across the border in Frederick County, Maryland where many German families lived.

Eric concludes that Peter probably came from Cecil County, Maryland which was originally a part of New Sweden and later, New Netherlands before being taken over by the English. Dutch, Swedes, Finns and English settled there during the 1600s and early 1700s. Head of Elk is now Elkton, Maryland. This would also have been a safe place to seek refuge during the French and Indian War along with Pontiac’s War.

Eric points out that people surrounding Peter came from Cecil County. Peter’s son, Richard married Elizabeth Nash in 1774 who was from Cecil County. His first wife was Dorcas Dungan who he married between 1764 and 1767, during a time when the family would have been seeking refuge from Pontiac’s War someplace. There are Dungan’s found in Cecil County. One of Richard’s daughters also married into a Cecil County family. Perhaps even more compelling, though, is that the Rev. James Finley, the minister of the Round Hill Presbyterian Church in Allegheny County was from Cecil County.

Other families associated with Peter were from Cecil County, including: Allison, Caldwell, Crawford, Hicks, Phillips, Scott, Smith, and Thompson.

In Elizabeth Township of Allegheny County, many families originated in New Jersey which explains the nickname of “Jersey Settlement.” Many Dutch settled in New Jersey.

Dutch, Swedes and Finns

Eric’s research revealed that Dutch, Swedish, and Finnish families adopted the Johnson surname after the English took over New Amsterdam and New Sweden from the Dutch. All three of those countries used patronymics where Johnson would literally mean the son of John. In each generation, the surname would change to reflect the father’s given name. Peter Johnson’s son, Richard, would be named Richard Peterson in a patronymic system.

So while Johnson does sound English or Scottish, it was also a very common patronymic.

Eric reports that 6 Swedish or Finish families from New Sweden in Delaware adopted the Johnson name and two settled in Cecil County, Maryland. Three German families also utilized the Johnson surname. Dutch families from western Connecticut, New York and New Jersey did the same.

Richard Johnson, known as Dirk or Derrick died in Lancaster County in 1767, but no children are mentioned in his will. The family traditions of that family match the family traditions of Peter’s son, Richard.

The Dutch Cornelius Johnson settled in Frederick County, Maryland about 1750 after leaving New York and New Jersey.

Matthias Jonsson Hutt died in Salem County, New Jersey. Two of his sons, Oliver and Henry settled at Head of Elk, Cecil County, Maryland. Oliver had a son, Peter, born on May 31, 1720.

Of course, we can’t forget about Richard and Priscilla Johnson who were found in Frederick County, VA and mentioned a son named Peter in 1773.

A Peter Johnson and wife, Mary Ashcraft of Washington County, Maryland also had a son, Peter, but nothing more is known.

Who are Peter’s parents, and where did he come from before Lancaster County in 1742?

The DNA Story

As it turns out, DNA does indeed answer these questions – or at least points us in the right direction.

Peter’s descendants were scattered to the winds, their history forgotten. They would only be reunited again some 200+ years later by autosomal DNA.

However, it is Y DNA that provides the missing information about Peter’s ancestors. Autosomal DNA was critical in reuniting us, but can only do so much and stops short of what we need to unveil Peter’s ancestors and where they came from.

We need that elusive lynchpin puzzle piece.

What was Peter Johnston’s heritage? Where did his family come from? What do you think?

I’m not quite finished with this research, but I’ll answer this burning question in an article soon. Stay tuned!


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Million Mito Project Team – Introduction and Progress Update

Let me introduce you to the Million Mito Project team.

Left to right, Goran Runfeldt, Dr. Paul Maier, me, and Dr. Miguel Vilar. And yes, I know we look kind of like a band😊. The Merry Mito Band maybe, except, trust me, I can’t sing.

Yes, we finally, finally got to meet in person recently, and let me tell you, that was one joyful meeting. I hadn’t realized that while I know everyone, not everyone else had met in person before.

We have been working for almost two years together via Zoom, but separately. Just 10 days after the Million Mito Project was announced, we went into Covid lockdown.

It’s difficult to work remotely on such a huge collaborative project, but we have been making inroads, albeit slower than we had initially hoped.

Complicating this was the merger of FamilyTreeDNA with myDNA in January of 2021, with Bennett Greenspan stepping down as the CEO in that process. Bennett greenlit the Million Mito project initially. (Thank you, Bennett!)

Thankfully, the new CEO, Dr. Lior Rauschberger continued that greenlight without hesitation as soon our team was able to inform him about this wonderful scientific project that was underway. (Thank you, Lior!)

I can’t tell you what a HUGE relief that was.

While all change is challenging, and complicated by the Covid landscape, life events, and geographic distance, that merger really was the right decision. Lior is committed to scientific research, discovery, and the genealogy marketspace. He’s looking to expand, not contract.

You’re probably wondering where we are now in the Million Mito process.

Million Mito Project Update

I’d like to provide a brief update.

  • We have an academic paper in the final stages of the submission process, but this paper is not the final tree. It is, however, something extremely cool and important to the history of womankind! I can’t say more until publication, but I’ll write an article when the paper is published.
  • The team hopes to work with a million samples between all sources including FamilyTreeDNA testers, research-consented Genographic samples, Genbank, and other academic samples. Not all samples from those sources are full mitochondrial sequences, or necessarily pass our QC checks.

If you haven’t yet taken a full sequence test, you can help reach the one million goal by ordering a mitochondrial DNA test at FamilyTreeDNA, here. If you tested at a lower level some years back, please sign on to your account and upgrade so you can be a part of this scientific frontier.

  • We discovered that the authors of Phylotree never documented the “recipe” for reconstructing the tree behind the scenes, so we can’t exactly use the recipe for Phylotree as the basis for constructing a future tree.
  • We have been in the process of writing phylogenetic software that arrives at a similar tree to use as a baseline reference structure in order to preserve as many of the current Phylotree haplogroup names as possible.

Hand curation and placement is possible for hundreds or a few thousand samples, but it’s not possible for large numbers. While phylogenetic software to do this kind of work has existed for a long time, it typically can’t handle huge trees like what we are building.

Phylogenetic methods also struggle with highly recurrent mutations, and rapid star-burst expansions that we see on the human trees. A phylogenetic problem of this magnitude requires lots of innovations to correctly interpret lineage history from complex mutations.

Automated software to handle very large numbers of sequences must be adapted or developed.

  • Furthermore, simply building upon an existing scaffold without automating the process does not provide an ongoing, sustainable procedure to discover where new dividing branches are discovered internally within the tree, versus at the tips. In other words, adding new branches based on common mutations is only easy when you’re simply appending a new haplogroup to an existing one.

For example, I might have a new haplogroup J1c2f1 derived from J1c2f. That’s easy. It’s another matter entirely if haplogroup J1 itself, high up in the tree, were broken into multiple new branches. Only automated software can “reconstruct” the tree regularly to discover new major branches as the results of more testers become available.


Let me share some examples of the kinds of challenges that we’ve encountered. Not only are these interesting, but they are also educational.

These figures are from Paul Maier’s RootsTech presentation, which I strongly recommend that you view, here.

Mitochondrial DNA is both fascinating and habit-forming. The more you know, the more you want to know.

Let’s start with the basics. Haplogroups are defined by one or more mutations that everyone upstream does NOT have, and everyone downstream DOES have.

Pretty simple so far, right!

Haplogroup-Defining Mutations

Here’s an example of a nice simple mutation that is one of the multiple mutations that define haplogroup L1, near the base of the mitochondrial tree (Mitochondrial Eve) in the center. At location 3666, the “normal” value is G, but in this branch, the G in that position has been replaced by an A.

You can see that the other haplogroups shown in the circle by black dots don’t have the G-to-A mutation at location 3666, but the red dot locations do carry that mutation. Therefore, G3666A is one of the mutations that defines haplogroup L1. Haplogroups can be defined by only one unique mutation, or multiple mutations.

Multiple Haplogroup-Defining Mutations

Haplogroups with multiple mutations that define that specific haplogroup are candidates to be split into multiple branches forming new haplogroups at some point in the future when other people test who have:

  1. One or the other of those mutations if there are only two
  2. A subset of the mutations
  3. But not all of the mutations

Click on images to enlarge

For example, in the view of the public mitochondrial haplotree at FamilyTreeDNA which you can view here, you see that haplogroup L1 is defined by a total of 6 mutations. Someday, people may test that only have half (or a portion) of those mutations which would cause haplogroup L1 to split or branch into two separate haplogroups.

Unstable Mutations

Some mitochondrial locations are unstable, such as 16519C, along with a few other hypervariable locations. By unstable, I mean that they have mutated back and forth in the tree many times. The historical branching patterns of such unstable mutations can be difficult to decipher (the technical term is “saturation”), suggesting perhaps that they should not be the foundation for a new haplogroup.

Do we ignore those unstable locations entirely?

After discounting those well-known unstable locations, we still find some mutations, often in the HVR (hypervariable) regions that occur close to 100 times in the full tree.

This mutation at location 150 from C to T occurred four distinct times just in this small subset of haplogroup L. You can see the 4 locations I’ve bracketed with red boxes.

Is C150T stable enough to form a haplogroup? Multiple haplogroups? Should it be used high in the tree if this affects the complete downstream structure?

This same mutation occurs additional times further downstream in the tree, as well.

Reverse Mutations

Of course, some haplogroups are defined by reverse mutations, where the original mutation reverts back to its original state.

What about locations that have as many as 3 reverse mutations, which means that one location mutates back and forth 6 times in total? Kind of like a drunken sailor zigging and zagging along the street.

If we counted each mutation and reversal as a new haplogroup, we would have 6 new haplogroups based on this one single location in one parent haplogroup. Is that accurate, or should we ignore it altogether?

Here’s an example of one mutation and a corresponding back mutation.

In this scenario, the mutation of location 7055 from A to G occurred once in the formation of haplogroup L1. However, a back mutation took place, signified by the ! (exclamation mark) after the A, which is a defining mutation for haplogroup L1c3. All of the other L1c haplogroups still carry the A to G mutation, while L1c3 does not.

In some scenarios, the same location bounces back and forth. Should it still be counted as a haplogroup defining mutation, or is it simply “noise”?


How do heteroplasmies play into this scenario?

Heteroplasmies occur when more than one value is discerned in an individual’s DNA at a specific location. Heteroplasmies do not define haplogroups, but they are reported in your personal results.

To be reported as a heteroplasmy, both values need to be detected at a level of over 20%. In the above scenario, if both G and A were found greater than 20% of the time, it would be counted at a heteroplasmy with a special notation.

For example, if G and A are both found more than 20% of the time, the notation would be R instead of either G or A. If the location was G7055, above, and G and A were both found above 20%, the notation would be G7055R.

However, if G was found 81% of the time or more, then it would be counted as G, which is “normal,” and if A was found 81% of the time or more, then the value would be reported as A, a mutation. If we see the normal state of G, then an A, then a G, is that a mutation and a back mutation? How many samples would need to contain that back mutation to count it as a mutation and not an aberration, an undetected borderline heteroplasmy slipping back and forth over the threshold, or simply noise?

Transitions Versus Transversions

There are two types of mutations, transitions and transversions, that probably should be weighted differently – but how differently, and why?

Some types of mutations occur more easily than others and are therefore more common. Paul explains this very well in his RootsTech video, but in a nutshell, transitions between T/C and A/G are much more common than transversions between A/C, G/T, C/G, and A/T. Therefore, transversions are noted with a small letter, shown above as T7624a.

In phylogenetics, the rarer mutation which is chemically less likely to occur (transversion) is weighted more heavily than the likelier mutations (transitions).


Insertions are another type of challenge. Insertions happen when extra DNA is inserted at a specific location, kind of like the genetic equivalent of cutting in line.

In this graphic, we see that at location 5899, there’s an extension of .XC, written as 5899.XC. This means that at this location, you’ll find an unknown or varying number of additional Cs inserted. Paul showed several example sequences in the box at upper left. In some people who have this mutation, there are only one or two inserted Cs. In other people, there are several Cs, shown in the bottom two sequences.

You might recognize this as a phenomenon similar to Y DNA STRs which are short tandem repeats. Of course, we don’t use STRs for haplogroup identification in Y DNA. How should we handle insertions, especially multiple insertions, in building the Mitotree?


We see deletions of DNA too, indicated by a small “d” after the location. In some cases, we find large deletions.

At location 8281, there is a 9 base-pair deletion (8281 through 8289) that is one of the haplogroup defining mutations for haplogroup L0a2. We find a 9 base-pair deletion in exactly the same location again within subclades of haplogroups B and U.

Is there something about this specific location that makes it more prone to deletions, and specifically a deletion of exactly 9 base pairs?

Seeking Answers

Of course, we’re seeking all of these answers.

The team has been writing code to create structural trees based on various scenarios and trying to determine which ones make the most sense, all factors considered.

The current official tree, meaning the 2016 Build 17 version of Phylotree, is based on about 8,000 samples. Working with one million versus 8,000 is a challenge that ramps exponentially, necessitating substantial computing power.

Working with 125 times more data provides amazing potential, but it has also introduced challenges that never had to be addressed before. It’s evident, to us at least, why Phylotree wasn’t updated after 2016. The tools simply don’t exist.

Sneak Peek

We fully expect hundreds if not thousands of new haplogroups to form. Today, Paul’s haplogroup is U5a2b2a which was formed about 5,000 years ago during the Bronze Age.

The haplogroup itself is useful to determine roughly where your ancestors were at that time, and often provide information about more recent population group history, but you need mitochondrial DNA matching to provide more genealogically useful information.

Paul’s test results show that he has 8 extra mutations, which means those mutations are in addition to his haplogroup-defining mutations. These extra mutations are what make genealogical matching so useful.

Paul has 16 full sequence matches that match him at a genetic distance of 3 mutations or less, although due to privacy restrictions at FamilyTreeDNA, we can’t see which matches share which mutations.

Given that Paul has 8 extra mutations, this means that it’s possible that one or more new haplogroups will be formed using some or all of those 8 extra mutations, and that those people who match him at a GD of 3 or less will very likely be members of a newly formed haplogroup.

Here’s a comparison of Paul’s haplogroup today, at left, with the newly created U5a2b2a branch and resulting subclades in a beta version of our experimental Mitotree, at right. This moves Paul’s new haplogroup, the pink node at right, from 5,000 to 500 years ago which is clearly within a genealogically relevant timeframe.

The single haplogroup, U5a2b2a, now has been expanded to 7 subgroups. If U5a2b2a is representative of the expansion capability of the entire tree, that’s a 7-fold increase.

Of Paul’s 16 matches, those with the same new haplogroup are those where he needs to focus his genealogical research.

Where Are We?

This is not a commitment, but we expect to release a sneak preview of the new Mitotree this year.

If you have extra or missing mutations, especially in the coding region, you and your close matches may very well receive a new, expanded haplogroup.

Highly refined haplogroups will improve the ability to use mitochondrial DNA for genealogical purposes – similar to what the Big Y-700 SNP testing and the expanded haplotree have done for Y DNA.

Like with Y DNA, you’ll want to use your new haplogroup in combination with genealogical trees.

The more people that test, the more success stories emerge, and the more people that WILL test. Just think what would happen if everyone who took a Y or autosomal DNA test also took a mitochondrial DNA test. We’d be bulldozing through brick walls every day.

I don’t know about you, but I have so many women in my trees with no parents. I need more tools and can hardly wait.


The new Mitotree is fueled by the Million Mito Project which is fueled by full sequence DNA testing, so please purchase yours today.

And yes, in case you were wondering, the new Mitotree will be free and public, just like the existing Mitochondrial DNA Tree and Y DNA Tree are at FamilyTreeDNA today.

You can read more about the Million Mito project here and here.

You can watch Paul’s Million Mito RootsTech presentation, here.

Paul, Miguel and I will be co-presenting Mitochondrial DNA Academy on Saturday, April 23, during the ECCGC Conference which you can read about here and register here.


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If Stone Could Speak: Koehler Family Life in Ellerstadt – 52 Ancestors #354

Not long after I published the article Johann Peter Koehler (1724-1791), Innkeeper, Lawyer, Mayor of Ellerstadt, my friend Chris sent me a note saying: “Please have a look at this website:”

The webpage is in German, of course, but above is the autotranslation, confirmed by Chris.

Wait? What? This winery was founded by Anna Barbara Koehler. Could that be true? Is she related to Johann Peter Koehler, the same Lowenwirt who died in 1791 and his wife, Anna Elisabetha Scherer? It sure looks like it!

Not only is there seemingly a connection via the Köhler family, but it also provides what seems to be an exact current address of the former Lion Inn. Am I really this lucky?

Look! The red pin shows 9 Ratstrasse. Is this where Johann Peter Koehler lived? The winery, today, is still located at the same location. Of course, the grapes are no longer grown behind the “inn” like they would have been in the 1700s.

In this aerial, you can see the old Inn, today’s Hammel winery business, the Lutheran church where the Koehler family baptized their children, married their true loves, and generations are buried.

It appears that Koehler blood still runs in the veins of Ellerstadt citizens.

My heart skipped a beat. Is this actually the location of Johann Peter Koehler’s inn? The current owners know they descend from a Koehler, but is it the same Koehler line? What else might they know?

Chris offered, if I wanted to contact the owner, to translate an email from me into German and send it off. Did I want to make contact, Chris asked?

OF COURSE! Is water wet?


From this point forward, all of the photos and documents are courtesy of Günter Lauer, except where noted or contemporary maps that I’ve provided through Google Maps.

Even if Günter is not the original author of the documents, he is responsible for providing the photos and transcribing most of the information, with the exception of information provided and translated by my friend, Chris. I have provided a few comments and links, but without the goodies provided by Günter and Chris, this article wouldn’t exist, at all.

A HUGE thank you to both of these gentlemen for their time, sharing, and permission to share with you.

From Chris

Günter Lauer from Ellerstadt responded and I think “we hit gold”. He attached numerous files.

His reply contains a letter with his response, a genealogical table showing his own connection to the Köhler family, all pages of a local history book of Ellerstadt and two maps, both with the inn “Zum roten Löwen” labeled on it (Ratstraße 9 in Ellerstadt, in front of today`s location of the Hammel winery that I linked to earlier).

Günter Lauer had even in 2010 transcribed an old unpublished book he found in an archive that lists all houses of Ellerstadt and their owner`s history. He attached the part concerning the house where the inn was located.

Günter Lauer’s Reply

Automated translation of Günter Lauer`s letter to Chris.

Question about the Löwenwirt of Ellerstadt

Dear Sir,

With pleasure I will answer your questions today. My great hobby is family research and I often try to help other people to find their ancestors. Closely connected with the family research is of course also the history of my place. Therefore it is also possible for me to answer questions about the dwelling of the persons concerned. So I can also answer your question about the location of the “Roter Lö-wen”. But I will come to that later.

But first I would like to show my connection to the ancestors of your friend [Roberta].

Click any image to enlarge. Günter’s Koehler lineage is shown in red boxes.

The representation begins with my ancestor Johann Peter Lauer who was married to Maria Theresia Koehler.

Theresia Koehler in turn was the daughter of Johann Peter Koehler. He was born in Ellerstadt in 1775 and worked as a baker in Seltz in Alsace. It would be interesting to clarify what had driven Johann Peter Koehler there. Ellerstadt belonged after the French Revolution to France, so employment in the French Seltz was no obstacle. In any case, he found employment in a bakery there and eventually married Anna-Maria Rohr, the wife of the deceased baker. Maria Theresia, their daughter, was born in Seltz in 1799.

The Koehler couple eventually returned to Ellerstadt. The time of their return, which may have had something to do with the political upheavals of 1815, is unknown. It is conceivable that it was no longer possible for him to stay in Seltz, because the borders had shifted in the meantime. The Palatinate had become Bavarian and Seltz remained French. He probably had to leave the country as a “foreigner” for this reason. Anna-Maria Rohr died in 1824 in Ellerstadt. Two years later Johann Peter Koehler married again.

Further details can be found in the attached appendices. His grandfather of the same name, Johann Peter Koehler [1724-1791] is probably the first Koehler in Ellerstadt, but he was certainly not born here, because a corresponding entry is not found in the church records.

In the baptismal register entry for Peter Koehler from 1747, above, the grandfather Johann Peter Koehler + uxor (wife) Ottilia from Rehhütte (near Limburgerhof) are named as “Petter” (godfather).

In the article of Roberta Estes however, Anna Elisabetha Ulzhofer is indicated as wife [of Johann Peter Koehler of Rehhütte]. What is correct? How did your friend come to this conclusion? However, I myself have not yet made an effort to do another search in the direction of “Rehhütte”.

Please note that Ottilla was a second wife and not the mother of Johann Peter Koehler born in 1724. I will cover this in a future article. Back to Günter’s letter.

In the attached family tree, you will also find the name Jonas Gregorius Huber. His son Andreas [green boxes] emigrated from Ellerstadt to America and he is the ancestor of the later American president Herbert Hoover [1874-1964].

Now I would like to come to your question, where did the Koehler family live?
As you can see from the so far unpublished “Häuserbuch” of our local historian Ernst Merk, which I have enclosed in extracts, at the entry Emil Hammel, it can be assumed that the today’s winery Hammel, Ratstraße 9 is to be regarded as the place where the Koehler family lived. It is the former location of the inn “Zum roten Löwen”. As Roberta Estes has already correctly found out, Anna Barbara Koehler was married to Johannes Hammel. The property is still occupied by their descendants.

Oh glory!!! It IS the original location.

For your orientation, I enclose village maps from the years 1834 and 2022.

Note that I do not (yet) have permission to use the 1834 map, and my contact has since become temporarily unavailable. When I receive permission, I will add the 1834 map, but Günter was kind enough to provide a contemporary map with the locations noted as well.

On the above map provided by Günter, the Winery is shown, the Pfarshaus (parsonage) dating from 1825, the old school from 1838 which is also the city hall, and the church of course.

This part of Ellerstadt is very nearly the same configuration as it was in 1834.

Furthermore, I enclose the “Commission protocol about the exchange of the Durlachian pledge against the Elector Palatine pledge on the von Mentzing village Gondelsheim” from the year 1761, which I found some time ago in the General State Archive Karlsruhe. It contains among other things a list of citizens and inhabitants. Listed are the persons who were probably present as witnesses at the public exchange negotiation in front of the Ellerstadt town hall. Peter Koehler is also mentioned there.

Further notes to the article by Roberta Estes:

The Koehler family did not see these two “new buildings.”

Günter is referring to the City Hall/school and church. The photo above is the Ellerstadt school which was constructed in 1838. The previous building was either torn down or incorporated into this building.

Furthermore, in 1830 the name Koehler disappears in Ellerstadt. Only the former parsonage which was built in 1825 might have been known by the bearers of the name Koehler. I have marked the mentioned buildings on the attached village maps.

In addition, I add the local history of Ellerstadt which Ernst Merk wrote in 1921. It contains a lot of details. Many sources cannot be found today due to war losses.

I think I have answered all your questions, but I am available for further inquiries at any time.

Best regards from Ellerstadt,

Günter Lauer

I cannot tell you how pleased I am to be in touch with my cousin, Günter, who has also been bitten by the genealogy/history bug.

The Merk House Book

From Chris:

As Günter Lauer lays out in the introduction, the manuscript of the house book of Ellerstadt was handwritten by Ernst Merk, but then never published before his death in 1964. Today, the manuscript is stored in “Landesarchiv Speyer, Bestand V 19, Nachlaß von Ernst Merk, Oberpostinspektor”, which would be the reference for the original manuscript. Günter Lauer transcribed the old handwriting of the house book (400 pages in total), but it is still unpublished. What he sent to me/us here, is an excerpt with the record for Ratstraße 9 and a couple of maps. You already have the 1832 map of Ellerstadt with house “no. 113”, Ratstraße 9, labeled on it. This house and its history is what the following text refers to. Whereever it is written “today” or “at present”, it refers to the time that Ernst Merk wrote it – sometime until 1964.

I asked Günter Lauer, if he would agree to publishing this part on the internet, but I assume that, alternatively, parts of the content in a rewritten form will do as well for you.

I took the Deepl translation of the text and curated some translations to make it more readable. Please find it below

Ratstrasse 9, excerpt from Ellerstadt house book written by Ernst Merk, transcribed by Günter Lauer in 2010, translated by Chris.

Source: “Landesarchiv Speyer, Bestand V 19, Nachlaß von Ernst Merk, Oberpostinspektor“

Emil Hammel; House No. 149167, Bes. No. 113, Plan No. 116, 116½, 117 (Ratstraße 9).

According to stock book entry no. 35, the western part of the house belonged in 1723 to Hans Nickel Hahnert as his second residence. His other house was to the west side next door (see house no. 151). Through his daughter Anna Katharina, who in 1730 married Johann Leonhardt Meenart, the house came into his possession. Johann Leonhardt had only one son Johann Nikolaus, but he was not listed as the next owner of the house of his father Johann Leonhardt. The house must therefore have passed from Johann Leonhardt Meinhardt directly to Johann Peter Köhler. Which of the two demolished the small house of Hahnert and rebuilt it cannot be determined.

Nikolaus Meinhardt is known as the owner of the present house of Michael Weber (see no. 55) since about the year 1790. In the years 1768 to 1790 he seems to have lived with his father.

In 1790 it was owned by the master baker and innkeeper “Zum roten Löwen”, [to the Red Lion] Johann Peter Köhler and his wife, widow Charlotte née Braun.

Note – Charlotte (Charlotta) Braun was Johann Peter Koehler’s [1724-1791] first wife. after her death in 1762, he married Anna Elisabetha Scherer, and after her death in 1784, he married Anna Margaretha Volcker. In 1790, he still owned the Red Lion but his wife at the time was not Charlotte. Their son, Johann Peter Koehler, born in 1747, married Maria Sophia Huber, daughter of the proprietor of the inn called “The Green Tree” in 1773 and had son Johann Peter Koehler in 1775 who would also become a baker. Johann Peter Koehler who married Maria Sophis Huber had four more children, among them Anna Barbara Koehler born in 1778 who married Johannes Hammel.

It’s interesting that Günter refers to Johann Peter Koehler 1724-1791 also as a master baker. We know his grandson, also named Johann Peter Koehler, born 1775, was indeed a baker, but this is the first reference to the elder Johann Peter Koehler as a master baker too – although it certainly makes sense.

Johann Leonhardt Meinhardt bought an additional area,15 shoes (4.56 meters) in width, from the owner of the adjoining house to the east house (today house Diehl).

According to the French directory, in 1802, the house was already built with two stories.

Through the daughter Anna Barbara of Peter Köhler the house was transferred in 1817 to her husband Johannes Hammel, who in return sold his former house to Johann Peter Köhler (today house Dr. Adolf Lauer No. 157). In 1853, the house was inherited by her husband Andreas Hammel I, who was married to Katharina Elisabetha née Frey, and then was inherited again by their son Wilhelm Hammel and his wife Maria née Hauck, who added a second barn. Then, in 1910, it was passed to their son Emil Hammel and his wife. Today it is owned by Wilhelm Hammel and his wife, née König.

 House History

The residential building of Wilhelm Hammel, house no. 149, plan no. 116, 116½ and 117 (Ratstraße 9) was demolished by the owner Wilhelm Hammel on April 22, 1961. The farm buildings were preserved.

The current owners graciously provided this photo of the original house prior to the demolition in 1961. Günter believes the photo was taken about 1920.

This was The Red Lion Inn where Johann Peter Koehler (1724-1791) lived with his wives, Charlotta Braun, Anna Elisabether Scherer and Anna Margaretha Volcker.

In 1723, this house belonged to Hans Nicolaus Hahnert as a second residential house. (The Hahnert family was already resident here in Ellerstadt in 1627. During the Thirty Years War, in 1632, the family moved due to the invasion of the troops of the League and the Swedes into the Palatinate and is mentioned again in 1700 in the church book). His first house stood to the west next door. Hans Nicolaus Hahnert had a wife and two children:

Caspar Hahnert
* 22.4.1700
∞ 8.3.1734 with Anna Catharina Meenart, daughter of Johannes Meenart

Anna Catharina Hahnert
* 2.10.1703
∞ 24.1.1730 with Johann Leonhardt Meenart, son of Johannes Meenart

Caspar received the first residential house, today the 1961 house of Ernst Merk, plan no. 114, house no. 151, and his sister Anna Catharina Hahnert received the house, which today belongs to Wilhelm Hammel.

Through their marriage with the two children Anna Catharina and Johann Leonhardt Meenart the Hahnert and Meinhardt families became relatives and in-laws. The descendants of Caspar lived in their house (Merk) until the year 1883. The family of Leonhardt Meenart became extinct already with his 2 grandchildren Johann Leonhardt and Johann Friedrich in 1765 and 1767.

Around the year 1740, Leonhardt Meenart, husband of Anna Katharina Hahnert, bought the house lot of the widow Werns, which was located to the east of his house, 15 shoes (= 4.52 meters) in width. It can be assumed that he now built the small house next to that of his father-in-law Hans Nicolaus Hahnert. and rebuilt it on the east side of his house square. During the demolition of the house in April 1961, a wall, at least the gable wall of Hahnert’s 2nd house, was cut 3 meters to the north from the village street.

A substantial reconstruction must have been made around or soon after the year 1750.

The son Johann Peter Köhler [1724-1791] of the Electoral Palatine tax collector Johann Peter Köhler [1696-1762] of the Rehhütte married in 1746 the daughter of the resident widow Charlotte Braun and is the immediate owner soon after Leonhardt Meenart. He can be proven in the files as owner of the house. Since no relationship of this family Braun with Köhler existed, he must have bought the house from Leonhardt Meenart and opened in it the inn “Zum roten Löwen”. But the small house was not sufficient for this purpose, so he decided to rebuild it thoroughly. His son, also named Johann Peter, expanded the business with a bakery.

This suggests that perhaps the son, Johann Peter Koehler, born in 1747, was acting as proprietor in 1790 and had added a bakery. Perhaps his father, age 66 but still with 8 children under the age of 20, who was also a lawyer and town mayor was sharing the responsibilities of the inn with his son who would one day take over from him entirely.

But the Köhler family [surname] also became extinct, like the Meenart family already around 1820.

The baker Köhler, married to a daughter of the “Grünebaumwirt” Huber, an ancestor of the American president Hoover, also had a daughter, who married on January 27, 1800, Johannes Hammel, son of Jakob and Elisabetha Trumm.

The house has remained with the descendants until today and is now in 1961 undergoing its third reconstruction.

Ratstrasse 9, excerpt from Ellerstadt house book written by Ernst Merk, transcribed by Günter Lauer in 2010. Original source: “Landesarchiv Speyer, Bestand V 19, Nachlaß von Ernst Merk, Oberpostinspektor“

Ellerstadt Local History from Chris

I also flipped through the local history book of Ellerstadt by Ernst Merk, published in 1921. I did not read it page by page, so may have missed important parts, but this is what I could find, which I thought could be interesting for you:

Page 19 ff. (of PDF)

Here, a description of the local history in the 18th century starts. I do not translate it word by word, only the content:

  • In 1689, when Bad Dürkheim was burnt down in the course of the Orleans succession war, Ellerstadt also had to suffer.

Bad Dürkheim is only about four and a half miles from Ellerstadt. The Ellerstadt residents probably watched in horror as their neighbor village burned, fearing for their own lives. The Koehler family had not yet settled in Ellerstadt at this time. They lived 17 miles east, in Seckenheim, across the Rhine River. It would be two generations before Johann Peter Koehler, born in 1724, would settle in Ellerstadt about 1746. However, the stage was being set for what would follow from repeated invasions from France.

  • In 1707, Kasimir Kolb von Wartenberg was appointed as a count, along with his belongings, among them Ellerstadt.
  • In 1712, he died and his son started to accumulate a growing amount of debts, forcing him to give several of his belongings as pledge to the margrave Karl Friedrich von Baden – importantly along with the right to collect taxes.
  • When the French [military] crossed through Ellerstadt in 1713, the citizens fled into the church and erected a wall in front of both doors to better defend themselves. Source: Ellerstadt parish book.
  • The old parsonage of Ellerstadt was built in 1715, but demolished in 1825, so the existent parsonage, shown below, was not the one that your Köhler ancestors saw.

  • Page 25 economy: From an Ellerstadt directory from 1722, it can be seen that the belongings of the village were about the same as in 1921. But there were not as many vineyards as in 1921, but mainly acres.
  • The next section is long and includes information about the tax burden to the citizens. In 1744, several citizens complained that they were ordered to leave the town and all their property if they continued to refuse paying their share.

Johann Peter Koehler bought the house that would be The Red Lion Inn sometime around the time he married Charlotta Braun in 1746 and subsequently rebuilt the structure.

  • In 1751, Wartenberg tried to collect the taxes by force. the count ordered sergeant Straub, the mayor and one musqueteer to occupy the village streets on both sides and pledge all citizens who would not pay the taxes.

Johann Peter Koehler would have been living in Ellerstadt with his wife and young family at this time, but it’s unclearly exactly when he obtained this property and established the Lion inn.

  • Page 67: The Lion inn belonged to the family Köhler in 1753 and was located in the present [1921] house of Emil Hammel. In addition, there was the “Inn of the Green Tree”, which was located from about 1680 to 1840 in the present house of Jakob Merk. A third inn was owned in 1720 by Johann Braun, but its location cannot be determined, since at this time two families with this name existed in the village.

It’s interesting that Johann Braun owned another inn, especially given that Johann Peter Koehler married Charlotta Braun in 1746. We don’t know exactly how old Charlotta was at the time of their wedding, but we do know that she had a child in 1761 before her death a year later in 1762, so she was born about 1716 or later. Based on Peter’s age, I’d wager about 1724. She, referred to as the daughter of the local widow Braun when she married Peter Koehler, may well have been the daughter of Johann Braun, the innkeeper.

  • ­­­In 1761, the Electoral Palatinate bought the pledge from him, but there had been court dispute about it with the original owner, the von Wartenberg family. 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, mentioned earlier. The list further includes Peter Köhler (page 8, top) and the widow of a Jacob Kirsch (page 7, bottom). 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.

Charlotta Braun, Johann Peter Koehler’s wife died in March of 1762. A widower with several children and an inn to run, he married Anna Elisabetha Scherer in June of 1762.

  • The twenty years 1761-1781 had been a hard time for Ellerstadt, since its citizens were all Lutherans and felt suppressed by the Electoral Palatinate, which treated the Reformed and Catholics equally.
  • In 1781, the 1761 purchase/pledge of Ellerstadt was cancelled.
  • Each inn owner had to pay three guilder (abbreviated “fl”) each year for his right to run an inn with an inn sign (“Schild”), called “Schildgerechtigkeit”. In 1782, two inns existed. In addition, each inn owner had to pay one guilder and 15 kreuzer for each Ohm of sold wine and 20 kreuzer for each sold Ohm of beer. One Ohm was an old measure, equivalent to a fluid in the range of 35-45 US gallons, dependent on the region of Germany.

Between 1763 and 1784, Johann Peter Koehler and Anna Elisabetha Scherer had 13 children, in addition to the 8 children he had with Charlotta Braun. In July of 1784, Anna Elisabetha died. Once again a widower with small children, including a baby only six months old when Elizabetha passed away, he married his third wife, Anna Margaretha Volcker of Assenheim in July of 1785. Nothing more is known of her, but I also haven’t looked.

  • Since the von Wartenberg family`s debts did not lower, in 1789, Ellerstadt and other towns were sold in total to the grave Franz von Sickingen, a noble family from Baden.
  • In 1789, the French Revolution started and Ellerstadt suffered again in several ways in the following years until the final retreat of the French in 1813. The French occupied Frankenthal, Bad Dürkheim and mainly Lambsheim, which still had walls and ditches and served as their base.

In 1789, Johann Peter Koehler, the innkeeper, would have been 65 years old. Assuredly, the French soldiers who occupied Bad Dürkheim, only four and a half miles away, didn’t limit themselves to Bad Dürkheim. Did they recreate at the Lion Inn, eating, drinking, and spending money, or did they rampage through Ellerstadt and steal what they wanted? Peter’s death record just two years later shows that he was at one point the mayor of Ellerstadt. Was he mayor in 1789? Did he have even more problems at hand than his own inn and family?

  • [The following content from page 26.] Along with the revolution laws of the French Republic, the feudal taxes were abolished in May 1790, but not the interests of hereditary leaseholders. The latter were asked to make a one-time payment (15 times the yearly interest) to buy the belongings and get rid of the interests for good. Even after the retreat of the French, the above-mentioned regulations remained.

We don’t know the cause of death for Johann Peter Koehler in August of 1791, but given the stress level he had to be experiencing, I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if it wasn’t either a heart attack or stroke. He was only a month shy of 67 years old. Not elderly today, but without modern medicine back in 1791 which might have extended his life.

You can view six historical photos of Ellerstadt, here, apparently before automobiles. The second of six photos shows a woman pushing some type of cart with a basket and  one front wheel. I can close my eyes and see my ancestors pushing that same type of cart, along with the ox-drawn farm wagons. The third photo shows the beautiful grapevines with the church spire in the distance. Picture 4 shows fruit harvesting and the 5th and 6th photos look to be taken in a market setting, perhaps selling fruit or grapes destined to become wine.

Battle for the Dead

From Chris:

On page 52, an anecdote, which is not directly connected to your ancestors, but which I found interesting and which took place at the time your ancestors were living there. As mentioned above, in 1761, the before strongly Lutheran parish was handed over to the Electoral Palatinate with more tolerance to the Reformed belief. In 1754, when Ellerstadt was given as pledge to the margraves of Baden, the reformed pastor Michel from Gönnheim claimed to also have the right to provide services in the Ellerstadt church, while the Lutheran pastor claimed that it was his sole right to provide services.

A few years later, in 1761, the reformed Ellerstadt citizen Andreas Müller died. Both the Lutheran pastor Huth from Ellerstadt as well as the above-mentioned Reformed pastor Michel of Gönnheim entered the house of the dead along with school teachers and pupils. While the Lutherans started one song at the bedside of the deceased, the Reformed started to sing another song at the same time. In the Churchyard, both pastors gave their service to the deceased, the Lutheran pastor in the church, the Reformed pastor in the barn belonging to the deceased.

On another occasion, the burial of the Reformed citizen Johann Adam Braun was prevented by force by the Lutherans and thus the burial had to be postponed to the next Sunday. On this Sunday, several Reformed and also officials from other villages arrived in Ellerstadt. Since the Lutheran pastor Huth refused to hand out the church keys, the Reformed citizen Weilbrenner destroyed the church door and the burial took place in the Ellerstadt church.

History of Ellerstadt

At the end of the local Merk history book of Ellerstadt, on page 70f., there is a list of all family names, which were present in Ellerstadt at a given time [range]. “Köhler” is listed in the column “1736-1780” (in the continuation on page 71), but not for earlier years. That is consistent with Johann Peter Köhler, Lion Inn owner, having not been a citizen of Ellerstadt before that time.

Page 72 is titled “A list of all families who started here, sorted by the time they immigrated.” I struggle with this particular type font.

The Merk house book includes these lovely hand-drawn maps.

The 1722 map shows 64 structures, in addition to the church.

Johann Peter Koehler and his wives lived equidistant in time between the 1722 map (24 years before his first marriage in Ellerstadt) and the next map dated from 1807 (15 years after his death.)

It’s interesting to note that the original church on the 1722 map is shown with a walk from Ratstrasse to the church, but by 1807, that walkway or entrance no longer exists and has been replaced by a building which appears to be the parsonage and possibly the school. That walkway appeared to be wider than a normal walk, probably because it had to be large enough to approach the church with a cart or wagon carrying a casket.

The Lion Inn may have existed as an inn in 1722, but if so, it was rebuilt around the time Johann Peter Koehler purchased the property and established the Lion Inn after his 1746 marriage and before 1753 when we know he owned the inn.

I can’t tell exactly which house is the current 9 Ratstrasse, but I’d wager that it’s the third or fourth house below the walkway to the church.

There are no structures behind any of the buildings. These houses were farmhouses, arranged in the typical manner of German homes where the houses were clustered tightly together in a village for protection, the barns for livestock clustered tightly with the homes, with their respective fields stretching out behind the barns.

The main street had a stream on both sides which would be ideal for both people and livestock. It’s no wonder that humans had at one time selected this location and settled in Ellerstadt, first mentioned in the “Lorsch Codex“ in the year 783 as Alaridestath. By the 1700s, Ellerstadt was indeed already an “old“ village.

The French Invasion

From Chris:

I could not find or pinpoint quickly, when exactly your ancestor Margaretha Elisabetha Köhler Kirsch (1772-1823) married and moved to Fußgönheim. Anyway, I guess it must have been some time in the 1790s, which puts it within the time, at which the French troops terrified the Palatinate region, while bringing “freedom” for the people.

Margaretha Elisabetha Koehler was born in 1772 and married Andreas Kirsch from Fussgoenheim, probably sometime after 1792. Her first known child, Andreas Kirsch, was born in August of 1797 and baptized in Fussgoenheim. I believe she had one earlier child, Johann Wilhelm Kirsch, although we have no baptismal record. This suggests she was likely married between 1793 and 1795, probably amid the French military invasion which is why we have no records of either her marriage or the birth of her first child. She likely moved to Fussgoenheim at the time of her marriage.

What was life like then? What challenges did she face?

Brace yourself.

Here are two pages from a book published in 1796 about the time of the French occupation of the Palatinate, describing especially Ellerstadt. Though the description is probably only describing one side of the terror (as usual in conflicts), I think it still gives a rather strong impression of the life people lived in the Ellerstadt region at the time.

Does put worries of our daily life in context.

Note that this conflict began in 1792, just a few months after the death of Johann Peter Koehler. His widow and several of his children lived in Ellerstadt. Beginning in 1795 France occupied the German lands on the left bank of the Rhine for roughly two decades.

>Misery near Ellerstadt and Neustadt<

In this area, the misery can almost not be described and even less endured. Cash and food do not exist anymore. The French robbers have taken everything. The lamenting leaves the people bearly recognizable; most of them are sick and many, even the strongest, have crossed over to the better world due to the great misery. In Deidesheim, many private houses have been demolished, since the demanded levies could not be delivered. Even the comforting hope for an abundant harvest is devastated. The French send their horses over the most beautiful fields and let them willfully feed on the seeds and tread it into the ground. The fruit trees, abound with blossoms, are knocked down, and even the tender sprouts of the vinestock are destroyed. The fruitful gardens resemble desolate wasteland and at other times rich vineyards now stand bare and dull.

Even in the Saarbrücken and Zweibrücken region, shortage and starvation increase more and more. The people fall down with no strength left and die from hunger, and what the hunger did not destroy, is taken away by plague-like diseases. There are no doctors anymore in this unfortunate region. Fear of the enemy and lack of income scared away most of them and the few ones remaining became victims of the prevailing diseases themselves. Hence, nobody is left to help the suffering ones, who still could be saved. Furthermore, the pharmacies are robbed and destroyed in a way that far and wide not the least medicine is left.

I can’t help but think of the suffering of the people of Ukraine right now. Unfortunately, aggressors and human behavior haven’t changed much.

The Hammel Winery

Günter Lauer was kind enough to provide photos of the current winery in the same location as the original Lion Inn.

The metal lattice across the streets is an arbor for the grapevines you can see planted at the left of the photo, at the base of the metal pole. The vines grow up and across the streets, celebrating the wine-growing and wine-making history and culture of the region.

The Hammel Winery is shown in the distance on the right side by the second arbor. You can see the brown sign if you look closely. The old parsonage is the red building at the end of the street, with the white city hall just beyond the parsonage.

You can view more photos of Ellerstadt here.

Günter indicated that the wine barrel below was designed by the father Hammel of the current owner and was more of a hypothetical view of the original house based on the building torn down in 1961.

This carved wine barrel is certainly a beauty! What I wouldn’t give to just glimpse the inside of the original Lion Inn in its heyday. Have a meal, drink some local wine, and meet my ancestors.

Chris found a short YouTube video about Ellerstadt, more specifically the road Fließstraße, here. It’s in German, but provides us with at least a peek at part of Ellerstadt today.

The Protestant Church

The Protestant church of Ellerstadt that Johann Peter and his family attended in the 1700s was demolished in 1893 to make space for a larger church in 1894. Only the tower, built in the first third of the 16th century, was retained.

Ellerstadt residents were buried in the churchyard surrounding the church, of course, but there are no markers from before 1821.

The space behind the church is treed today.

Based on the size of the new church, some of the new building was built where graves would have been located. Today, this wall surrounds the cemetery.

From Chris:

I also forgot to send you yesterday one additional document I received from Günter Lauer. In 1994, at the centennial of the new Ellerstadt church rebuilt in 1894, he published a booklet about the history of the church.

Importantly, in this document on pages 7 and 8 you will find drawings from year 1884 of the original Ellerstadt church. The later drawings in the booklet are of the new, pompous church. As mentioned before, the church tower from the start of the 16th century is the only part that remained of the old church.

I can imagine my ancestors entering through the tower and sitting in the church pews as they listened to the minister. The rear and side doors would have been used during funerals to exit carrying the casket to bury the departed in the graveyard beside the church.

Did a bell in the tower call people to worship and announce the deaths of residents? Did the bell perhaps also warn of arriving or impending danger, like advancing soldiers?

A church stood on this location since antiquity.

  • Some church building stood in this location in 1270. That church would have been Catholic since Protestantism didn’t begin until the Reformation in the 16th century.
  • The church was Calvinist Reformed from 1561 on.
  • From about 1580 it was a Lutheran parish church.
  • From 1618 onward, only maintenance was performed during and after the Thirty Years’ War.
  • In 1713, the French soldiers plundered and ruined everything. The residents who had not fled retreated into the church and walled up the larger door to protect themselves from the marauders.

This is the church that Johann Peter Koehler and his family knew, loved and attended. Between marriages, funerals, regular services, baptisms, confirmations and preparing for those events, they were probably in the church almost every single day.

The Baptismal Font

Chris said:

Knowing the kind of things you are interested in, Roberta – there is another sweet in this booklet for you. There is a baptismal font in the church (low quality picture on last page), about which there is a note on page 23 that it was probably built around the same time as the church tower.

Günter kindly provided a better photo of the baptismal font.

So, this would be the baptismal font in which your Ellerstadt ancestors would have been baptized!

Margaretha Elisabetha was baptized in this very font on May 1st, 1772. I wonder if she was too weak to cry when the cold water touched her skin, or was the minister quite careful not to wake an already weak baby who might die at any moment? Did he simply touch her lightly on the head with wet fingers instead of pouring water over her?

According to information in the document provided with the photo by Günter, the architect of the 1895 church dated the font to the 12th or 13th century. Others feel that the font is “only” 500 years old, or so, dating from the first third of the 16th century when renovations were undertaken on the south side of the church. The font shows decorations from the late Gothic style dating from 1480-1525 which dates before the Reformation. The 1835 list of church assets includes the baptismal font and a pewter jug.

When the old church was demolished in September 1893, except for the tower which was incorporated into the new church, the font was retired to the garden of the vicarage where it remained for almost 80 years. Intentional or forgotten? We’ll never know.

When the vicarage was sold, the new owner, Wilhelm Hammel recognized the meaning of the “sandstone trough” in the garden and returned it to the church in 1974/5 where it was restored.

All 21 of Johann Peter Koehler’s babies, 8 with Charlotta Braun and 13 with Anna Elisabetha Scherer were baptized here. The pewter jug would have poured the water into the font, and the minister would then baptize the child when it was a few days old.

By Lucas Cranach the Younger and workshop – This file has been extracted from another file, Public Domain,

My ancestor, Margaretha Elisabetha Koehler, was baptized with the following latin entry recorded by the minister in the church book.

On the 30th of April, at noon, about 11 or 12 o’clock, was born here a little daughter and due to weakness, was baptized the 1st of May. The father is Peter Koehler, proprietor of “The Lion,” from here and the mother was Anna Elisabetha.

Margaretha Elisabetha did not perish, even though she was weak at birth and as implied by her hurried baptism, wasn’t expected to survive.

Of course, this baptismal font, if the font could talk, would regale us with stories about church members, tell us of the weddings it witnessed as an ignored bystander, waiting for the bride and groom to produce more babies to baptize.

The font witnessed beautiful brides, distraught parents, and sobbing widows. Confirmations to celebrate coming of age and funeral services – for all who are born are destined to die. Burials too, of course – some of which were the very same babies baptized just a short time earlier. Those must have been the worst.

Other times, when older people’s families celebrated the end of a long life well-lived, the baptismal font would remember that baby’s baptism decades earlier.

The baptismal font stood silent sentry and mute witness to everything. Life in the village of Ellerstadt swirled around it, unfiltered and raw, as it stood in the center of the church for 25 or 30 generations. The church itself transitioned from Catholic to Protestant. Preachers came and went, as did invading soldiers and village families. Some buried outside, and some seeking either refuge or their fortune elsewhere.

The church stood abandoned for two decades during the horrific Thirty Year’s War and the font would have wondered if God had forsaken all. Would anyone ever return? Had they all perished, with no one left to baptize?

Did any descendants of the original families that the font knew live in Ellerstadt in the 1700s when the Koehler family lived there, or later? Many families had probably died out altogether over the ensuing centuries. More than half of children born died before reaching adulthood, and that’s without taking into consideration warfare, plagues and pestilence.

At least three of Johann Peter’s children died young, in 1764, 1777, and 1784, and probably several more. After a sermon that may or may not have brought their parents any comfort, their tiny bodies were buried near the church in the churchyard. Eventually, their parents would be buried nearby.

We find no further record of eight more of Johann Peter Koehler’s children after their baptism. I have no idea what happened to them, but the font knows.

If only, if only stone could speak…


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Happy Census April Fool’s Day – aka – Where the Heck Are My Parents???

What did we expect anyway – combining those two events? That’s just an invitation to fate to mess with our heads.

Nevertheless, like the drunken fly willfully walking into the spider web like an addict, at 12:01 AM, I suddenly “remembered” that the 1950 census was released and just had to go and try it out instead of going to bed. Well, I told myself it was “before” going to bed but it was actually instead. Let’s just say I saw the sunrise from the far side instead of the near side and woke up a few hours later with my phone on my chest and my last piece of chocolate melted to me. We should have had a party. I think I have a genealogy hangover.

Yes, we addicts did put quite a load on the National Archives (NARA) system causing errors, but it didn’t go down entirely. Somebody in NARA-land heaved a huge sigh of relief. Never underestimate the tenacity or craziness of genealogists who were OF COURSE willing to stay up all night.

I wondered if NARA would actually be able to pull off the massive AI census index project – but they did. Hats off to their team! What an incredible gift – even if it is April Fool’s Day and my well-hidden ancestors are still laughing at my expense.

You can access the NARA census, here, and I provided a prep article here that shows you how to find enumeration districts which you will probably need.


I found the family members that I knew the location where they were living AND they weren’t living in large cities.

For example, my maternal grandparents were living at 107 East Main in Silver Lake, Indiana. That’s a very small town, so even though the AI didn’t record my grandparents, or brother who was living with them, I just paged through those records because I knew they were living in Silver Lake, and there was only one enumeration district. Easy peasy.

What was interesting to me was that my grandfather, who was the Lake Township Trustee had worked 72 hours the previous week, and my grandmother had worked 25 as a secretary.

The confusing part is that he was the trustee, and I don’t think she worked for the township. The enumerator mixed them up, apparently. So, was it her that worked 72 hours?

But, where was my mother? Back to that in a minute.

On the other side of my family, my paternal grandfather was living in Harlan County, Kentucky in a relatively remote location, up on Black Mountain. I half expected him NOT to be enumerated at all because he was a bootlegger, but lo and behold, there he is listed as a ”farmer.” Well, I guess that’s sort of farming.

The interesting thing about this record is that they have a boarder living with them, 22-year-old James Holcomb.

Their daughter, Evelyn had a child two years later, in 1952, reportedly with one Jake or Jack Halcomb, but that situation was always pretty hush-hush. I suspect that Jake Halcomb was actually James Holcomb, which makes a lot of sense. Her older sister was married to a William Halcomb, so I wonder if these men were brothers. Another mystery to solve.


My paternal grandmother, Ollie Bolton Robbins is missing. She lived in Chicago which had hundreds if not thousands of census enumeration districts. I checked the address given when she died in 1955, and where my father was reportedly living at that time, all to no avail. They were not living there in 1950.

My father is also missing. He had married Ellen Copack in 1949 in Chicago but I’ve been unable to obtain the actual marriage application from the Cook County Clerk’s office which would have (hopefully) contained the addresses of the bride and groom. By 1952, they were living in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

I checked both locations using the census name search but there were just too many entries to peruse them all. I need to be able to hunt at the vendors for William with a spouse of Ellen plus age information.

He was like a leaf in a windstorm, blowing from place to place, so who knows where he was in 1950.

My mother is also missing, and that’s a whole other story for another article. A chapter of her life I didn’t know much about is slowly unfolding, and not very easily either.

Let’s just say I expected to find her living with her parents and my half-brother, but she’s not there. I used a surname search in Chicago, Illinois where she had previously lived, in Fort Wayne, Indiana where she later lived, and in Florida where she was for about a year in 1949 through early 1950. At least, I think she was there in early 1950. Regardless, I can’t find her either with just a name search so I’ll have to wait until I can combine that search with age and other defining factors.

Patience is not my strong suit! I’m signing up for the new MyHeritage Census Helper to let them do the heavy lifting for me when their indexing is ready.

MyHeritage Census Helper

MyHeritage is offering their new Census Helper tool for free, just in time for the 1950 census. You can read about it, here.

All you have to do is upload your tree and MyHeritage prepares a list of people based on your tree information who are likely to be found in the 1950 census.

By clicking on the orange “Research” button, MyHeritage finds other records that are available now and will help to focus the 1950 census search.

I need to add some additional records for both my mother and father so that MyHeritage “knows” where to potentially look for them in 1950 when their indexed census records become available.

Of course, you can order a DNA test while you’re there, or upload your DNA file from another vendor, here, which is also free.

Juicy Finds!

It has been fun to watch social media today as people search for and find their relatives in the 1950 census.

One person discovered that their mother had a child they never knew existed. Of course, that begs the question of what happened to that child, and why the researcher had never heard of them. So many possibilities.

Another person discovered quite valuable information that required me to draw a chart to understand. It answered a WHOLE LOT of questions about situations only whispered about in that family.

A third person discovered that their father was divorced, and he had not yet married their mother. Of course, now that requires more research.

So many people receive unexpected close DNA relatives and the 1950 census information may well provide hints and clues that might at least provide breadcrumbs to those answers. In some cases, the answers are right there, in black and white. I keep expecting a half-sibling match, or their children or even grandchildren perhaps, but so far…I’m still waiting.

Are you in every database? You don’t want to miss any matches and you never know where that much-needed match might test. You can upload your DNA file to both MyHeritage and FamilyTreeDNA in addition to GEDmatch. I wrote free step-by-step upload/download instructions for all the vendors, here.

The discovery that really touched my heart, though, was the person who discovered that their father WAS the census enumerator. His handwriting reached out to say hello some 72 years later.

What a perfect April Fool’s Day.

What have you discovered?


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