Sarah Rash’s and Perhaps Mary Warren’s Mitochondrial DNA – 52 Ancestors #359

Using the FamilySearch “Relatives at RootsTech” app that was available in the month or so surrounding RootsTech (but not now), I connected with a cousin who is a direct matrilineal descendant of Sarah Rash, our common ancestor.

My cousin, who descends through Sarah’s daughter Rhoda Shepherd, very kindly agreed to take a full sequence mitochondrial DNA test so we now have information about Sarah Rash’s matrilineal origins.

I wrote about Sarah Rash and what we know of her life in Sarah Rash (1748-1829), Church Founder and Grandmother of Nearly 100.

Mitochondrial DNA Inheritance

Women contribute their mitochondrial DNA to all of their children, but only females pass it on. Therefore, mitochondrial DNA is never divided, watered down or mixed with the DNA of the father. Mitochondrial DNA provides an invaluable periscope view directly back in time for our matrilineal ancestors – our direct mother’s, mother’s, mother’s line on up our tree.

Sarah Rash was born to Joseph Rash and wife, Mary, purportedly Mary Warren.  Sarah’s mitochondrial DNA also belongs to her mother Mary. That would be Mary Warren if indeed Mary Warren is Sarah’s mother. Mary Warren’s parents are unknown. However, there is a Warren family in Spotsylvania County, VA, where the Rash family lived in that timeframe.


My goals for seeking a mitochondrial DNA test for Sarah Rash’s descendant are:

  • To confirm Sarah’s genealogical accuracy by matching another descendant, preferably through another daughter or sister of Sarah.
  • To learn what we can from Sarah’s haplogroup. You don’t know what you don’t know.
  • To gather evidence to confirm or perhaps disprove that Sarah’s mother is Mary Warren.
  • To potentially extend Sarah’s line backward in time.

The Process

Several people have asked me to step through the analysis process that I use for mitochondrial DNA results, so let’s do that.

What can we tell about Sarah’s ancestors through her mitochondrial DNA?.

Sarah’s Matrilineal Line is Not Native

Sometimes when the mother of an early pioneer settler can’t be identified, the “go-to” assumption is that she might be Native American.

Sarah’s haplogroup is U5a2a1d which is definitely NOT Native.

We can dispel this thought permanently.

Since Sarah’s matrilineal ancestors aren’t Native, where are they from?

Where Are Sarah’s Ancestors From?

Using the public mitochondrial tree, here, we see the following countries displayed for haplogroup U5a2a1d.

Sarah’s haplogroup is found most often in the US, which means brick-walled here, followed by England, Ireland, and less-frequent other locations. Note that two people claim Native, the feather, but that can mean either they are mistaken, or they have entered information for their mother’s “side” of the family or their literal “oldest ancestor,” not their specific matrilineal line.

Regardless, haplogroup U is unquestionably not Native.

Matches Map

Sometimes the matches map, which shows the geographic locations of your matches’ most distant matrilineal linear ancestor is very informative, but not so in this case.

Of 74 full sequence matches, only 4, plus the tester whose pin is white, have entered the locations of their matrilineal ancestors.

One of these contains a male name, so we know that’s incorrect.

This is really sad – a wasted opportunity. Imagine how useful this could be with 74 pins instead of 4, and one of those being recorded incorrectly.


The mutations tab shows you the mutations you have that are either extra or missing from your haplogroup assignment. This means that these may be combined in the next version of the haplotree to form a new haplogroup.

My cousin has 5 extra mutations, but at least three of those are in unstable areas that I’m sure will not be utilized as haplogroup-forming. The other two mutations are insertions at one single location and I doubt those will be used either.

I wrote about haplogroup formation in the article, Mitochondrial DNA: Part 3 – Haplogroups Unraveled, including a list of unstable and common mutations. Suffice it to say that very common locations like 16519 and 315 insertions aren’t useful to form haplogroups. Some very common mutations, such as insertions at locations 309 and 315 and deletions at 522 and 523 aren’t even counted in matching/differences.

What these unstable mutations actually tell me, relative to Sarah Rash’s DNA is that I need to pay attention to the GD1 (genetic distance of 1) matches, meaning people who have only one mutation difference from my cousin. Given that my cousin’s extra mutations, differences from her defined haplogroup, are in unstable regions, close matches such as GD1 or even GD2 could be quite relevant. It all depends on the difference.

Of course, we can’t see the mutations of the people my cousin matches, so those with a GD1 or GD2 may have mutations on a stable marker that my cousin doesn’t have.


My cousin has a total of 74 full sequence matches, of which 31 are exact matches, 18 have trees and 12 have listed an earliest known ancestor (EKA). If you haven’t done so, here’s how to enter your EKA.

Of course, the EKA of my cousin’s matches may or may not agree with the earliest matrilineal person in their tree. And the tree may or may not have more than one or two people. Regardless, every hint is worth follow-up.

Think of these as diamonds in the rough.


I viewed the trees of each of the matches that have uploaded trees. I also made a list of the earliest known ancestors for matches that didn’t have trees so I could be cognizant of watching for those names.

Many trees only had a few generations, but I used Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, and WikiTree to see if I could reasonably complete the tree back a little further. Of these, I particularly like WikiTree because I think it tends to be more accurate AND it allows for people to enter that they carry the mitochondrial DNA of specific ancestors. As it turns out, no one has done that for Sarah Rash, or her purported mother, Mary Warren, but if they had, it would provide a confirmation opportunity.

I did find something quite interesting.

Who is Jane Davis?

The EKA of Elizabeth, one of my cousin’s matches, is Jane Davis who was born in 1690.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth did not upload a GEDCOM file or create a tree, so I turned to other trees elsewhere to see what I could unearth about Jane Davis.

I need to state emphatically that what I’m about to tell you needs to be taken with the entire salt lick, not just a grain.

Remember, we’re looking for hints and evidence here, not foregone conclusions – although admittedly, those would be nice.

According to (cringe) some trees, Jane Davis was the wife of one William Warren who was born 1678 in Surry County, VA and died on September 29, 1764 in Edgecombe County, NC. I have not confirmed any of this. Gathering evidence is the first step in the process.

IF this is accurate, William Warren and Jane Davis may be the parents of Mary Warren, the purported mother of Sarah Rash.

Notice all of those weasel words – if, may, purported. That’s where we have to start. In weaselworld.

Obviously, this needs a LOT of traditional genealogy work, but here’s the great news…I now have something to work with and someone else, Elizabeth, who appears one way or another to be descended from this line.

The Good News

Whether or not Jane Davis is accurate or not, I’d wager that we are looking at the same line because Elizabeth matches my cousin’s mitochondrial DNA. I need to email Elizabeth to see if she descends through Sarah Rash. If so, that’s confirmation of this line.

If not, and she descends through a daughter of someone else in this same line, like one of Mary Warren’s sisters, that’s evidence and a HUGE HINT that I can use to confirm Mary Warren as the mother of Sarah Rash. Confirming her mother would also confirm that Mary’s father is William Warren – so would provide evidence for both of Sarah’s parents.

Additional Tools – Advanced Matches

Next, I used Advanced Matches to query for anyone who matches at both the full sequence level and in Family Finder. There were no matches, which doesn’t surprise me since it’s quite a way back in time.

Notice that the link to upload a family tree is in this section, along with the public haplotree I used earlier.

Family Finder

Checking my cousin’s Family Finder matches and searching for surnames, I immediately checked for myself and my known cousins from that line. No cigar, but our common ancestor is many generations in the past.

Checking the Rash surname for my cousin shows a match to someone who descends from Joseph Rash’s brother, William Rash whose children also migrated to Claiborne County, TN along with Sarah Rash’s daughter, Elizabeth Shepherd who married William McNiel.

My cousin has numerous autosomal matches to the McNiel line as well. The Vannoy, McNiel, Shepherd, and Rash lines were all found in Wilkes County, NC together before migrating to Claiborne and Hancock Counties in Tennessee. Before Wilkes County, the Rash, Warren, and McNiel families were in Spotsylvania and nearby counties in Virginia.

Goal Fulfillment

How did we do fulfilling our original goals?

Goal Comment
To confirm Sarah’s genealogical accuracy by matching another descendant. Perhaps – We have that lead to follow up on with Elizabeth and her EKA of Jane Davis. We also have several relevant autosomal matches.
To learn what we can learn from her haplogroup. Yes – Not Native and probably from England or Ireland. That is useful and makes sense.
To confirm her mother as Mary Warren. We now have hints and tools. We need to hear what Elizabeth has to say. I may be able to extract more information by viewing trees individually with people my cousin matches on Family Finder.
To potentially extend Sarah’s line backward in time. We now have a great hint and information to work with, both mitochondrial and autosomal. Jane Davis may be the wife of William Warren, which might well confirm Mary Warren as the daughter of William Warren. It’s too soon to tell but my fingers are crossed for a descendant of Jane Davis from a different daughter through all females.

Sometimes answers come in a gulley-washer, and other times, we have to dig and sift over time for the gems. Let’s create a plan.

What’s Next?

There’s a lot we can do, but maybe one of the best places to start would be to attempt to assemble information about the Warren families of Spotsylvania County, VA. This Thomas Warren might be a good place to begin or maybe work my way up from Mary Warren, here.

I need to focus on both traditional genealogy and genetic autosomal matches at all of the vendors. My cousin’s DNA is only at FamilyTreeDNA, but my results and those of several other cousins are found at several vendors.

I can use Genetic Affairs’ tools to see if I cluster with other people descended from the Warren family. My cousin can set up an account and do the same thing if she wishes. AutoTree and AutoKinship may help with that.

Using traditional genealogy, if I can identify other sisters of Mary Warren (daughters of Jane Davis,) I can ask people descended from them through all females to take a mitochondrial DNA test. If they match my cousin, that’s an exceptionally compelling piece of evidence.

Of course, I can do more work on the mitochondrial DNA matches we already have by emailing and asking for genealogy information. The piece of evidence we need might be right under our noses.

The Warren Family

If you descend from a Warren family in the Spotsylvania County area in the 1600s through 1700s, would you please check your matches to see if you have me, Vannoy, McNiel, McNeil, Rash or Shepherd matches? I’d love to narrow this down.

If you descend through all females from William Warren or another Warren family who would have been having children in the Spotsylvania County from about 1710 to maybe 1740, would you please reach out to me? If we can pinpoint a likely family for Mary Warren who was reportedly born in 1726, I’d love to do a confirming mitochondrial DNA test.


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Barbara Drechsel Kirsch, Proprietor of a Tavern, Restaurant, Railroad Depot Office & Cigar Store – 52 Ancestors #358

Barbara Drechsel, wife of Jacob Kirsch never wanted to own a tavern. It’s nothing she ever aspired to. In fact, she may not have wanted to own it, even when she did. And she assuredly did NOT want to own it quite the way it unfolded.

It pays to keep in touch with friends at the historical society. Jenny messaged me this week with the original deed by which Barbara came into possession of the Kirsch House which included the actual house where the family lived, hotel, restaurant, bar, cigar store, and railroad ticket office.

The Deed

The outside of the document stated that this was a warranty deed conveying property from Jacob Kirsch to Barbara Kirsch and was recorded on March 28, 1887 at 9 in the morning. Jacob acknowledged that he executed the deed.

Seems simple enough, right?

The flip side is the actual original deed itself, complete with Jacob’s signature! Hurray!!! Original deeds are not kept by the county clerk, but copied by hand into the deed book.

I have absolutely no idea how the original deed came to be held at the local museum, but I’m exceedingly grateful that it did. Barbara Kirsch sold the Kirsch house some 34 years later, in 1921, and eventually went to Wabash to live with her daughter. Somehow, the deed found its way to the historical society a century after Barbara sold the Kirsch House.

The Deed is “Unusual”

This document itself was very…um…unusual.

To begin with, Jacob and Barbara were husband and wife. They were married in 1866, bought the Kirsch House property in 1875, had several children, and no, they did not get divorced. That was my first thought too.

I originally found the recording of the deed back in 1989 or 1990, but I had never seen the actual deed itself, nor the additional information it contained.

To begin with, Jacob states that he conveyed the property to Barbara for the sum of $10,000. Wow! I assumed it has been for the standard $1 and love, but it’s not. I wonder why not?

No place does it say that Barbara is Jacob’s wife. For a few years, I wondered if there was some mistake. But no, there’s no mistake.

Did money actually change hands? Doubtful. Where would Barbara Drechsel Kirsch have obtained $10,000 that was hers alone? Both of her parents were still living, so there was no inheritance.

What was going on?

What Does the Deed Say?

Being the ? part of in lots two hundred and eighty (280) and two hundred and eighty five (285) in the City of Aurora and bounded as follows towit: <metes and bounds>

My eyes kind of glaze over the metes and bounds when city lots are described, because I already know quite well where this property is located. Not to mention this handwriting is atrocious.

The interesting part followed the land description.

Also the following described personal property towit: All the household, dining room and kitchen furniture now contained in the house situate in the above described real estate; also all the barroom and office furniture, fixtures, liquors, cigars and all pertaining to the bar and office on said premises.

In other words, not just the Kirsch House itself, but the tavern, hotel, restaurant, cigar store, and railroad office business within the Kirsch House. Jacob also sold fine cigars and liquor, and now Barbara did too.

The 1880s ushered in the golden age of Cigars. Smoking cigars was considered very cultured, gentlemanly, and desirable. Trimming and lighting a cigar appropriately was an art in and of itself. Was Barbara a cigar aficionado? And a bartender when necessary? I bet she was.

This wasn’t just a formality. Barbara took her ownership very seriously as illustrated by her stationery.

In the newspapers over the next few years, I found a few mentions of Jacob as proprietor – muscle memory or an assumption on the part of the reporters perhaps, but eventually, I found stationery with Barbara’s name listed as proprietor.

Jacob died in 1917 and after that, everyone would have known Barbara owned the property and not thought anything of it under those circumstances. I’d wager most everyone knew about the 1887 transaction as well, because, everyone but EVERYONE knew about “the incident.”

The townspeople all might have known then, but it wasn’t until 2008 that I discovered the back story because, by the time Mom came along, no one discussed what had happened in 1886.

It had become an intentionally forgotten dark little secret.

The 1886 Drama

Jacob Kirsch was involved in a lynching in 1886, specifically on August 19th. This lynching probably isn’t exactly what you think when you think of a lynching.

A white man described in the newspaper as a “tramp bricklayer” by the name of William F. Watkins became drunk on the job (again) and was dismissed from a construction site in Aurora. He returned, even drunker, and stabbed Louis Hilbert, the man who had fired him, four times. The victim died on the spot – and the stabbing itself was witnessed by several men. That attack was calculated, intentional, cold-blooded murder.

Louis Hilbert was a well-liked and respected local contractor and a group of men attending the summer farmer’s fair caught and restrained Watkins, waiting for the constable. The crowd quickly grew, saw Hilbert’s lifeless bodying laying in a pool of his own blood, and became further enraged.

Watkins was taken to the local coal yard of the distillery a couple of blocks away and hanged from a derrick by a crowd of hundreds. Watkins was dead 20 minutes or so after he had killed Hilbert.

No criminal charges were filed against anyone.

February 26, 1887

Jacob signed the deed conveying the property to Barbara on February 26th of the following year. Apparently, even though neither criminal charges nor a civil lawsuit hadn’t been filed, Jacob knew something was in the offing.

Jacob was only 46 years old and a sharpshooter, but his signature looks shaky. Was he trembling when he signed?

March 3, 1887

On March 3, 1887, the Indianapolis, Indiana newspaper reported that a suit was initiated in Federal Court in Indianapolis by Watkins’s heirs against a group of men accused of murdering Watkins. The amount of the damages claimed was $10,000. The actual complaint was filed on March 2, 1887.

March 17, 1887

On March 17, 1887, the administrator of William Watkins’ estate filed a document in the suit against several men in the death of Watkins detailing their allegations and demands.

March 28, 1887

The deed between Jacob and Barbara was recorded.

It’s interesting that the amount of the transaction is $10,000, the same amount as the lawsuit’s demand. However, the lawsuit named several defendants in addition to Jacob. Perhaps the thought was that $10,000 was the MOST that could be found against Jacob (or anyone) – although at the time of the conveyance the suit had not been filed. Ironically, that deed would have confirmed to Watkins’s attorney that Jacob did have $10,000. Clearly, this conveyance was designed to protect the Kirsch House from the lawsuit and limit the damage to no more than $10,000 which was equivalent to over $300,000 in today’s dollars.

Of course, it’s possible that the deed was backdated to before the lawsuit was filed, given that it wasn’t recorded until March 28th. However, a notary witnessed Jacob’s signature on February 26th. Was that normal at that time? There’s no way to know without looking at other original deeds and original deeds are not generally available.

May 23, 1889

Two years later, Jacob offered to settle for $5, which Watkin’s attorney refused. The parties agreed to a trial without a jury, and the judge found in favor of the defendants. The Kirsch House would have been safe, but Barbara owned the Kirsch House, and everything in it, for the remainder of her life.

Barbara was no hands-off owner. She ran the establishment both before and after Jacob’s death – through a litany of tragedies described in this article about her life.

In fact, Barbara ran the Kirsch House just as any man of the time would have done, with one exception. A man would not have also done all the cooking and cleaning for both the family and the guests.

I can’t help but wonder why the property was never deeded back to Jacob after the legal jeopardy had passed.

A Female Proprietor

A female proprietor was unheard of – but Barbara did what she needed to do, although the couple appeared to have run the establishment together as long as Jacob was able. I know for sure he tended bar, at least from time to time.

Jacob and Barbara are pictured above in a colorized photo (thank you MyHeritage) sometime between 1905 and 1909.

Jacob had an unfortunate hunting accident in October of 1892 where he was shot in the side of his head. He was expected to die, but miraculously lived. The wound badly damaged his ear and face, and cost him his eye. He was fitted with a glass eye which he would pop out at will and scare the neighborhood children who came to visit with him as he sat outside under the awning in front of the Kirsch House.

Jacob was never the same, and if Barbara wasn’t already shouldering the majority of the responsibility for the Kirsch House, she assuredly was after the gunshot wound.

Surprisingly, Jacob continued competitive trap shooting after his accident with amazing success, winning a tri-state championship in the 1890s. Jacob progressively slowed down and his health declined until his death of stomach cancer in 1917. Barbara’s responsibilities increased.

The Kirsch House advertisements during this time read, “The house is pleasantly situated near the railroad depot and will be found the most desirable place in the city of Aurora at which to stop. Good wines, liquors, and cigars.”

I can’t help but wonder if the Kirsch House sported the obligatory stereotypical Cigar Store Indian, perched perhaps outside on the sidewalk or near the ticket window. The Cigar Store Indian became a very effective form of visual advertisement.

How did Jacob actually feel about Barbara owning the Kirsch House and all the contents? Was it perhaps a private joke between them, or conversely, no laughing matter.

The Kirsch House Back Then

When Mom, my daughter, and I visited the Kirsch House in the late 1980s, almost exactly a hundred years after Jacob signed the deed to Barbara, the building was 130-140 years old, built in the 1850s, and not in good repair.

The original bar was still present and functioning, and on the top of the bar was decoupaged a postcard from yesteryear.

You could see the public entry doors, at left, leading into the bar and public dining room, the barroom window advertising “Fine Cigars” and the family entrance into the parlor, at right. Guest rooms were located on the second floor.

Another view shows the depot and the black window, by the horse’s head, where train tickets were sold and freight shipped. That would have been the office referenced by Jacob in the deed.

The Kirsch house functioned as both a ticket seller for people and for shipping freight too. The door showing near the pole, at right, was the easy quick entrance into the restaurant/bar for thirsty travelers while they waited for their train.

The Brick

During our visit, Mom found a brick that had fallen out of the wall of the Kirsch House, then known by a different name, when a window had been replaced. Mom asked if she could have the brick that was laying in the alleyway.

I took a photo of the postcards on the bar, and Mom asked her friend to paint the Kirsch House, with its celebrated awning over the sidewalk and neighboring depot on the brick.

Mom loved the result.

This painted brick lived with Mom for many years and now resides with me.

As of December 2021, the Kirsch House building is once again being repaired and restored, granted another chapter in its long life. Barbara, the 34-year proprietor, would be quite pleased that her Kirsch House lives on.


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Dorcas Johnson’s Mitochondrial DNA Secret Revealed – 52 Ancestors #357

Dorcas (also spelled Darcus) Johnson was born about 1750 and died about 1835. We know she died in Claiborne County, Tennessee, but the location of her birth has always been assumed to be Virginia.

You know there’s already trouble brewing when you read that assume word, right?

Dorcas, in the early genealogies, was reported to be the daughter of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips, but always a skeptic, I had my doubts. I’m working through the various options to prove or disprove that connection. I wrote about my initial findings, here.

What we do know, positively, about Dorcas is that she married Jacob Dobkins in Dunmore County, Virginia, in 1775. There’s no date listed, but it is shown between the September and October marriages.

Dunmore County was renamed as Shenandoah a few years later, so all of the early Dunmore County records aren’t “missing,” they are Shenandoah County records.

Dorcas and Jacob migrated to eastern Tennesee, probably before Tennessee was even a state n the 1790s, settling in Jefferson County on the White Horn Branch of Bent Creek, Near Bull’s Gap. By 1800, they had moved once again to the fledgling Claiborne County when it was first formed. Dorcas Johnson and Jacob Dobkins spent the rest of their lives in Claiborne County, Tennessee.

The Johnson Books

Peter Johnson’s descendants wrote several early books in the 1900s about that family, specifically focused on the child they descended from. More recently, Eric E. Johnson wrote a book where he distilled the earlier books and added a great deal of original research compiled over decades. Eric has very graciously shared and I am ever so grateful for his generosity.

Dorcas’s Siblings

Not all early books report the same children for Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips, so I’ve prepared a composite list of children, as follows:

  • Richard (Derrick, Derrie) Johnson (1746-1818) married Dorcas Dungan in Pennsylvania and later, Elizabeth Nash in Westmoreland County, PA. Richard was born in Cumberland County, PA and died in Jefferson County, Ohio.
  • Dorcas Johnson (c1748/1750 – c1831/1835) married Jacob Dobkins in 1775 in Dunmore/Shenandoah County. Dorcas is reported in one of the early Johnson books and was reported to have married Reuben Dobkins. She married Reuben’s brother, Jacob. Jacob’s other brother, Evan Dobkins, married one Margaret Johnson, earlier in 1775 in the same location where Dorcas married. However, Margaret Johnson is not listed in any of the Johnson books.
  • James Johnson (1752-1826), was born in Pennsylvania and died in Lawrence County, Illinois after having lived in Indiana for some time. He married Elizabeth Lindsay in 1783.
  • Solomon Johnson (1765-1843), apparently the youngest child was born near Greencastle, Cumberland (now Franklin) County, Pennsylvania and died in Forward Township, Allegheny County, PA. He inherited his father’s land and married the neighbor, Frances (Fanny) Warne in 1790. It was Solomon’s Bible records that provided Peter Johnson’s wife’s name as Mary Philips. It’s worth noting that Solomon named a daughter, Dorcas, and the Dorcas Johnson who married Jacob Dobkins named a son Solomon.

Two other sources report Peter’s wife’s first name as Polly which is a well-known nickname for Mary. The only source for Mary Polly Phillips’ surname is the Solomon Johnson Bible.

Four additional daughters are reported with much less specific information available.

  • Mary Johnson – Nothing known.
  • Polly Johnson – Nothing known, although it has been speculated that Mary and Polly were one person, and possibly Richard’s only child by his first wife that Peter Johnson and Mary/Polly Philips took to raise when Richard’s wife died. If this is the case, then Mary would have been born about 1768 and can therefore NOT be the Margaret Johnson who married Evan Dobkins in 1775.
  • Rebecca Johnson, possibly born about 1762. One book states that Rebecca married John Stephens or Stevens and moved to Monongahela County, West Virginia but nothing more is known. This same source states that Stephens served with Richard Johnson in the Revolutionary War, although that could be militia duty. This line needs to be fleshed out and could prove critical. What happened to Rebecca Johnson?
  • Rachel Johnson is reported to have married a John Dobkins and possibly moved to Knox County, Indiana, but nothing more is known. Jacob Dobkins’ brother, John Dobkins married Elizabeth Holman. It’s possible that there’s an unknown brother, or Rachel is the Johnson daughter who married Reuben Dobkins. Dorcas was reported to have married Reuben, but she married Jacob.

In the various Johnson books, two Johnson daughters are reported to have married Dobkins men, and indeed, that’s exactly what happened, but the first names don’t match exactly

If indeed Dorcas Johnson is the full sibling of Mary, Polly, Rebecca or Rachel Johnson, they would carry the same mitochondrial DNA passed to them from their mother – which they in turn would have passed on.

This means that if we can locate someone descended from those daughters through all females to the current generation (which can be male), their mitochondrial DNA should match at the full sequence level.

In summary, we know very little about Mary Polly Philips herself. We don’t know who her parents were, nor if she had siblings. We also don’t really know how many children, specifically daughters, she had.

Where Did Mary Polly Philips Come From?

One of the books reports that Mary Polly Philip’s son, Richard, born in 1746, also known as Derrie, was born in Amsterdam. We know this cannot be true because Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips were already living in Antrim Township of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania by 1742 when he obtained a land grant.

However, since Derrie is a Dutch nickname for Richard, the story that Dorcas was Dutch, or spoke Dutch, may have originated from this nickname. This does beg the question of how Richard obtained that nickname.

The Pennsylvania Dutch settled heavily in Cumberland County where the couple is first found, so it’s possible that Mary Polly may have spoken German. Regardless, one of the family histories states that she didn’t speak English when she married Peter Johnson which raises the question of how they communicated.

Of course, this is confounding given that many early genealogies suggest or state that they were either Scottish, Scots-Irish or Welsh. One history suggests that Peter settled at Wilmington, Delaware, then lived at Head of Elk, Maryland which are both Swedish settlements.

Peter Johnson was supposed to have a brother James and they were both supposed to be from Scotland, with noble peerage, nonetheless.

And another report had Peter sailing from Amsterdam where he had been born.

Clearly these can’t all be true.

Bottom line is this – we don’t know anything about where either Peter or his wife’s families originated. The first actual data we have is Peter’s 1742 land grant in Cumberland County, PA, an area settled by both the Germans and Scots-Irish.

We have a real mystery on our hands.

Not to mention that we still don’t know positively that the Dorcas reported in Peter Johnson’s line who married a Reuben Dobkins is the same person as “my” Dorcas who married Jacob Dobkins. However, given the autosomal matches, I’m quite comfortable at this point, between both documentary and genetic evidence, in confidently adding Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips as Dorcas Johnson Dobkins’ parents.

Well, that is, unless someone or something proves me wrong.

One thing is abundantly clear, if Dorcas isn’t their daughter, she’s related to them in some fashion because many of Peter Johnson’s descendants and Dorcas Johnson Dobkins’ descendants match and triangulate when comparing autosomal DNA.

Mitochondrial DNA

Dorcas Johnson inherited her mitochondrial DNA from her mother, whoever that was, who inherited it from her mother, on up the line.

Mitochondrial DNA is never mixed with the DNA of the father, so it’s never divided or diluted. In other words, except for an occasional mutation, it’s passed intact from mothers to all of their children. However, only females pass it on.

In the current generation, males can take a mitochondrial DNA test so long as they descend through all females from the ancestor whose mitochondrial DNA is being sought. In other words, their mother’s mother’s mother’s line on up the tree through all mothers.

I’ve been fortunate enough to find two direct descendants of Dorcas Johnson Dobkins through all female lines (different daughters) who were kind enough to take a mitochondrial DNA test.

Not only did they match each other, they also matched other people at the full sequence level.

What did we discover?


Dorcas’s descendants were determined to be haplogroup H2a1, a European haplogroup found dispersed widely across Europe.

This can put to rest any speculation about Native American heritage which often arises when a woman’s parents are unknown.

What Information Can Be Gleaned from the Haplogroup Alone?

Using the public mitochondrial DNA tree, we can see that H2a1 is found in 57 countries as identified by testers’ earliest known ancestor (EKA) entries.

This is one reason why it’s important to enter earliest ancestor information (under the gear when you mouse over your name in the upper right-hand corner, under Genealogy in Account Settings.)

But that’s not the only reason to enter as much information as possible. Everyone helps everyone else in genetic genealogy by providing complete information, or as complete as possible.


Dorcas’s descendants who took the mitochondrial DNA test have a total of 299 HVR1, HVR2 and Coding Region matches. Today, testers can only order the mtFull product which tests the entire 16,569 locations of the mitochondria. Years back, people could order a partial test that only tested part of the mitochondria, called the HVR1 (HVR=Hypervariable Region) or the combined HVR1 & HVR2 regions.

You can select to view matches at the full sequence level, or people you match at the HVR1 or HVR2 level which will include people who did not take the higher mtFull test.

While some people are inclined to ignore their HVR1 and HVR2 results, I don’t because I’m always on the hunt for someone with a common ancestor or other useful information who did NOT test at the full sequence level.

You just never know where you’re going to find that critical match so don’t neglect any potential place to find leads.

To begin, I’m focusing on the full sequence matches that have a genetic distance of 0. GD0 simply means those testers match exactly with no mutations difference.

My cousin has 9 exact matches.

Matilda Holt is Dorcas’s granddaughter.

I viewed the trees for the closest matches and added some additional info.

I viewed the trees, worked several back in time, and found a few other testers who also descend from Dorcas.

One match remains a tantalizing mystery.

Bobby’s line hits a dead-end in Claiborne County, Tennessee, but I cannot connect the dots in Dorcas’s line.

Evan Dobkins, Jacob’s brother who married Margaret Johnson lived in Washington County, VA until the 1790s, but reportedly died in Claiborne County about 1835. Bobby’s EKA could be a grandchild of Dorcas that is previously unknown. She could also be the granddaughter of Margaret Johnson who married Evan Dobkins. I traced his line back to a woman born in 1824 and noted as Catherine Brooks in her marriage to Thomas Brooks in 1847. The Brooks family were close neighbors and did intermarry with the Dobkins family.

I emailed my cousin’s other matches; Karen, Catherine, Leotta, and Betty, and heard back from only one with no information.

With no earliest known ancestor, no tree, and no reply, I’m stuck on these matches, at least for now.

Let’s take a look at the GD1 matches, meaning those with one mutation difference and see what we can find there.

GD1 Matches

My cousin has 36 GD1 matches, meaning one mutation difference. Might they be useful?

Hmmm, well, here’s something interesting. With one exception, these earliest known ancestors certainly are not English, Welsh or Scots-Irish. They also aren’t German or Dutch.

I attempted to build a tree for Sarah Anna Wilson who was born in 1823 and died in 1858, but without additional information, I quickly ran into too much ambiguity.

Maybe there’s better information in the rest of the GD1 matches’ earliest known ancestors.

These people all look to be…Scandinavian?

Let’s take a look at the Matches Map.

Matches Map

On the matches map, only a few of the 36 GD1 matches filled in the location of their earliest known ancestor. This can be done on either the matches map, or when you complete the earliest known ancestor information.

Exact matches are red, and GD1, 1 step matches, are orange.

All 10 of the GD1 matches that have completed their locations are found in Scandinavia, one in Denmark and Sweden, respectively, with the rest concentrated in Finland.

In fact, the largest cluster anyplace is found in Finland, with a second pronounced cluster along the eastern side of Sweden.

Generally speaking, the green 3-step matches would be “older” or more distant than the yellow 2-step matches that would be older than the orange one-step matches which would be older than the red exact matches.

What Does This Mean?

I’d surely like more data. Scandinavian testers are wonderful about entering their EKA information, as compared to many US testers, but I’d still like to see more. Some show ancestors but no location, and some show nothing evident.

I’m going to dig.

Where Can I Find More Info?

For each person, I’m going to utilize several resources, as follows:

  • Trees on FamilyTreeDNA (please, let there be trees)
  • Earliest known ancestor (EKA)
  • Ancestry/MyHeritage/FamilySearch to extend trees or location locations for listed ancestors
  • Email address on tester’s profile card
  • Google their name, ancestor or email
  • Social media
  • Surnames/locations on their FamilyTreeDNA profile card
  • WikiTree/Geni and other publicly available resources

Even just the email address of a tester can provide me with a country. In this case, Finland. If the tester lives in Finland today, there’s a good chance that their ancestor was from Finland too.

Sometimes the Ancestral Surnames provide locations as well.

Search everyplace.

Create A New Map

Using Google My Maps, a free tool, I created a new map with only the GD1 matches and the location information that I unearthed.

I found at least general (country level) locations for a total of 30 of 36 GD1 matches. Ten are the locations provided by the testers on the Matches Map, but I found an additional 26. All of the locations, with one exception, were found in either Finland or Sweden. One was found in Denmark.

Some locations were the same for multiple testers, but they did not have the same ancestors.

While I’m still missing 6 GD1 match locations, with one exception noted previously, the names of the matches look Scandinavian as well.

This message is loud and clear.

Dorcas’s ancestors were Scandinavian before they came to the US. There’s no question. And likely from Finland.


So, maybe Dorcas really didn’t speak English.

But if she didn’t speak English, how did she communicate with her Scottish or Scots-Irish or maybe Dutch husband? The language of love only suffices under specific circumstances😊

And how did they get to Pennsylvania?

But wait?

Didn’t one of the family histories suggest that Peter Johnson was from Wilmington, Delaware and then from Head of Elk, now Elkton, Maryland?

Weren’t those both Swedish settlements?

Head of Elk, Maryland

Sure enough, Head of Elk, Maryland was settled by Swedish mariners and fishermen from Fort Casimir, Delaware, now New Castle, in 1694 – just 15 miles or so upriver.

Here, moving right to left, we see Fort Casmir, Delaware, then Elkton, Maryland, followed by the location on the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania where Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips settled in 1742.

One of those early Johnson books says that Peter Johnson spent some time in Frederick County, Virginia which would be near Winchester, Virginia, halfway between 1742 and 1775 on the map. However, many modern researchers discount that and presume that Virginia was mistaken for Maryland. The 1742 land bordered on and extended into Frederick County, Maryland.

However, since Dorcas Johnson married Jacob Dobkins whose father lived on Holman Creek in Dunmore County in 1775, and Rachel Johnson was supposed to have married a John Dobkins, and, Margaret Johnson married Evan Dobkins, Peter Johnson HAD to have spent at least some time in that location in 1775 if these were his daughters. Those girls were certainly not traveling alone during the Revolutionary War.

By 1780, Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips were in Allegheny County, by Pittsburg where they spent the rest of their lives.

Their daughters had moved on to East Tennessee with their Dobkins husbands, assuming that indeed, Dorcas Johnson is the daughter of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips.

Conclusions Anyone?

I’m always hesitant to draw conclusions.

However, I would suggest the following:

  • I would expect Scandinavian mitochondrial DNA to be found in a Swedish settlement that also happened to include people from Finland and Denmark.
  • It would be unlikely for Scandinavian mitochondrial DNA to be found in a heavily Scots-Irish and German area such as Cumberland County, PA and Frederick County, MD.
  • We have several triangulated matches between my cousin, Greg, who descends from one of Peter Johnson’s sons and Dorcas Johnson Dobkins’ descendants through multiple children.
  • I match several people autosomally who descend from Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips through their other children.
  • Mary Polly Phillips doesn’t sound very Scandinavian. Was her name anglicized?

How Can We Firm This Up?

The best way to verify that Dorcas Johnson descends from Mary Polly Phillips is to test another person who descends through all females to the current generation through a different daughter. If they are sisters, both descending from Mary Polly Phillips, their descendants’ mitochondrial DNA will match very closely if not exactly.

The only other potential daughters are:

  • Rachel who is reported to have married a Dobkins male, possibly John, and maybe moved to Knox County, Indiana.
  • Margaret Johnson married Evan Dobkins, but she isn’t reported as a daughter of Mary Polly Phillips.
  • Rebecca who may have married John Stephens and might have moved to West Virginia.

That’s a whole lot of maybe.

Finding Rebecca and a mitochondrial DNA descendant would be a huge step in the right direction. The only record I can find that might be Rebecca is in December of 1821 when John Stephens’ will is probated in Boone County, KY with wife, Rachel, daughters Salley, Catharine, Rebecca, Mary, and Rachel who is encouraged to never go back to live with John Smith. Wonderful, a Smith – every genealogists nightmare.

If you descend from this couple, PLEASE get in touch with me!

It doesn’t look like this avenue is very promising, so let’s think outside the box and get creative.

Peter Johnson’s Y DNA

Given that Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips were married, they assuredly had to be able to talk, so either she spoke English, or he spoke her Native tongue.

One of the stories about Peter’s family is that he was either Swedish or Dutch, and that his family was from the New Sweden settlement in America.

If this is accurate, then Peter Johnson would have Scandinavian Y and mitochondrial DNA. Since men don’t pass their mitochondrial DNA on to their offspring, that route is not available to us, but what about his Y DNA?

Is there a Y DNA test through a Johnson male descendant of Peter Johnson, and if so, what information does it convey?

Can we use the Y DNA test of a descendant of Peter Johnson to help confirm that Dorcas Johnson is the daughter of Mary Polly Philips? How would that work?

Stay tuned!


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The Circus Came to Town – 52 Ancestors #356

I’m not sure how to begin this article, or where. The beginning is a bit fuzzy, but the end is clear, crystal clear.

This chapter began when I was looking for my mother and father in the 1950 census, just a few short weeks ago. They weren’t married, at least not to each other at that time. I don’t even know if they had met. I wasn’t a gleam in anyone’s eye for several years in the future. And, truth be told, I came just a hair’s breadth from never existing.

I found my father living in Chicago in the census, but have been unable to locate Mom. At this point, I probably won’t, at least not before the census is indexed.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time reconstructing Mom’s timeline in the late 1940s and 1950, hoping for a hint of where to look.

Early 1950 was a transition in mother’s life. Literally, a door slammed in her face.

Before we visit the 1940s and 1950s, let’s fast forward a few years.

Peru, Indiana

When I was a child, my grandparents lived in Silver Lake, Indiana, and mother and I lived in Kokomo, an hour or so away.

That drive was exciting, especially the crooked part between Wabash and US 31. The old road, today, Business 24, follows the Wabash River – the old Indian path, then the pioneer and settlers’ road right through the center of Peru.

The road threaded and shimmied along between the Wabash River and the railroad tracks. At one place, we could stop and use the old hand pump beside the river to get a drink of water.

I vividly remember an old weathered red round barn along that stretch of the road, now long gone.

Peru was known as the Circus City, which made perfect sense to me.

Why was Peru, in the middle of Indiana called the Circus City?

That answer seemed evident to me as a child too.

Just south of Peru, if we were lucky – very, very lucky – we could catch a glimpse of the circus animals in the yard by barns.

Circus animals, in a yard in Peru, Indiana? How did that happen?

Winter Quarters

The circus wintered over just south of Peru, or it least it did at one time. This property had a long circus history beginning in the 1870s, not long after the Civil War. The circus property eventually developed into a small village, then declined.

In 1929, Ringling Brothers bought the winter circus headquarters south of Peru on today’s US 31 which included 30 buildings, horse stables, training facilities, shops to repair and build festive circus wagons, tractors, a hospital, commissary, general store, bunkhouses, a restaurant and more. You can take a look, here, at the buildings being restored.

Today they are known as the Terrell Jacobs Circus Barns.

I remember the land at this intersection, even though the intersection itself looks different today.

These two barns are massive and were built to house the entire cadre of circus animals.

Sometimes, when you drove by, you could see the elephants outside, or maybe large cats or camels. It all seemed magical. From time to time, Mom would pull over and we could watch along the fence line for a while.

One of the barns, at right, is hidden behind trees from the road. It’s actually larger than the smaller barn you can see well, as shown in the aerial above.

In years past, there were more buildings.

The Circus waned during the Great Depression. In 1941 Ringling burned 126 of their decorated wagons, taking the remainder to Sarasota, Florida, and selling the Peru property by 1944.

In the mid/late 1940s into the early 1950s, the Peru property was used by other circuses and for training by Terrell Jacobs who had a wild animal act and performed independently with several circuses, including Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey.

By the 1960s, this location outside Peru was used for the Kelly Circus Winter Quarters and a roadside attraction called Pipe Creek Wild Animal Farm which featured small amusement rides and animal acts.

As a young child, when Mom and I drove by these barns, by then pretty decrepit, sometimes she would tell me stories about the circus and the elephants.

It never occurred to me that my mother might have a connection to the circus.

I had never seen an elephant before, so a real, live elephant or two or three was something I would never forget.

Of course, I had an entire raft of questions for my mother.

Why are elephants in Peru, and how did they get there?

The circus used to winter there, she said.

But it’s summer, Mom.

Yes, but for a long time, before the circus moved to Florida, it used to winter in that location, beside the huge barns.

Bigger barns than I had ever seen. Gigantic barns!

Why did the circus move to Florida?

It was warmer in Florida for the performers and the animals.

What performers, Mom?

There were lots of performers that did all kinds of things.

What kinds of things?

Acrobats and clowns and animal trainers.

Then Mom explained that sometimes training those beautiful elephants was mean to them.

I cried, because one day the elephant had oh so very gently reached through the fence and touched my tiny hand with her velvety trunk. She seemed almost human to me. It seemed wrong that she had to live behind the fence. Some of those retired circus elephants could still be alive today.

I could tell that Mom was really uncomfortable talking about the circus and the animals. I stopped asking questions, but I continued to crane my neck to hopefully catch a glimpse of those elephants, wishing them well every time we drove by.

Inevitably, the circus would “come to town,” just like the circus had been coming to towns for decades across America. I desperately wanted to attend. All the other children were going with their parents, making plans. The excitement was palpable.

Mom relented, reluctantly. We purchased tickets and made our way through the crowd to our bleacher seats in the stands high inside the big top.

As I sat there, mesmerized, the lights and glittery costumes were fantastic, awe-inspiring. The performers in the spotlights seemed larger than life. Children aspired to be that amazing – but mother cautioned me that circus life was not all it was cracked up to be.

She mentioned sadness and loneliness.

But the performers all looked so happy – singing and smiling and flying through the air above the floor on trapezes and ropes. These people were so brave.

According to Mom, it was all an act.

Neither the animals nor the humans were happy, but they all performed for the people who thronged to see the circus. What else would they do, if they didn’t perform in the circus, she asked.

It never occurred to me to wonder how or why mother would know that. Truthfully, I wasn’t entirely sure I believed her. After all, they looked so doggone happy.

How could they be unhappy? And why would they stay if they were?

The Circus

Circus life was intended to look glamourous and to be entertaining. You can view the circus in this 1949 short “moving picture.”

The lives of both the performers and animals were chaotic.

Most circuses moved to a new location by train every day, AND performed twice a day. That’s 7 towns and 14 performances a week during the spring, summer, and fall. Circus life was exhausting.

The larger circuses sometimes stayed a day or two in each location because setting up the massive big top, often a block in length was no small feat. The elephants helped with that too.

Often the train traveled at night, waking up in a new location.

Circuses wintered someplace stationary to repair and train, originally in Peru, Indiana, then in Sarasota, Florida beginning in the 1920s and continuing until 1960. The Peru circus moved to Sarasota in the 1940s.

Today, the Sarasota winter circus site has been developed into a subdivision, but you can still see the outline of the original fairgrounds.

No trace remains today, except the historical marker at the red pin and street names like Circus Boulevard.

Circuses were intended to be exciting and entertaining – accompanied by midways and carnivals with sideshows. Food, games, and performances – pretty much anything to dazzle you and part you with your $$.

This Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey “Congress of Freaks” (their description, not mine) gives you some idea of what people would pay to see. While staring at people who are different bothers me intensely today, these people in that time and place may have had no other alternatives to earn wages and support themselves. Some of their stories speak to incredible fortitude and success.

After all, the circus was about shock value and entertainment. They wanted you to go home and tell your neighbor about the tallest and smallest or conjoined twins, perhaps, so they would want to come and see too.

Families and relationships between performers were formed around circus life.

For those who have never seen the movie, The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman, it’s definitely worth a watch, particularly his musical performance, here and Keala Settle’ here. Keala, who plays the bearded woman says it all and her performance in the actual movie is amazing.

I can’t help but think of Mother when I hear Keala sing.

The circus matinees were sometimes free in order to attract people. Who, in town, wanted to be left out of the excitement? There were all kinds of things to buy.

In 1930, the circus train of the Greatest Show on Earth was a whopping 90 cars long which included bright and colorful circus wagons, animal cars, baggage wagons, dining and sleeper cars, and any number of unique sights. Some trains became too long and were divided into groups of 25 cars each, with the advance cars holding the items needed first for setup.

The performers lived in the cars, permanently, in cramped settings allowing few personal items, several roommates to a car.

Everything needed to function was encapsulated on the circus train. Food, laundry, and on the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey train in the 1940s, even a dry-cleaning facility was available for the performer’s costumes as they traveled.

At the next location, unloading the train and then walking to the circus grounds, which were ideally near or beside the train tracks, was a sight to behold. Sometimes the elephants were paraded through town, largest to smallest, holding each other by the tail, to attract attention, generate excitement, and announce that indeed, the circus had arrived. Never any other time in your life would you see an elephant in your town, maybe even in front of your house.

Often, the entire town turned out to watch the process, beginning to end.

The circus tent was nearly a block long and people marveled at the entire circus construction process – and that was before the actual performance itself.

Life for circus performances was different than that of anyone else. Establishing permanent relationships with anyone not with the circus was nearly impossible. How was one to raise children in the circus environment? What if a performer became pregnant? Or even sick, for that matter?

The circus was also a haven for runaways. Who hasn’t heard the phrase, “run away and join the circus.”? No one would ever find you. No one would likely look.

Some people might just have had something to hide, or maybe were hiding from someone.

Perception of the Circus

Women performers were intentionally scantily clad and wore leotards and body-shaped clothes. While some people were enthralled, enchanted, and entertained, others were horrified and equated the circus with sin, depravity, and damnation.

Not everyone was happy when the circus came to town. In northern Indiana, and assuredly other places too, some groups of people including members of very conservative religions were staunchly opposed to the circus and what it represented.

To begin with, and just for starters, the women were immodest. Tempting men. Showing their ankles and even their knees and legs. FOR SHAME!!!!

The Brethren, Amish, and Mennonites, known collectively as Anabaptists, attempt to distance themselves from perceived immorality and anything that would distract them and their families from a simple, unadorned Godly life. Their clothes were dark or black and to this day, many Amish don’t drive cars or have electricity in their homes. Women wear prayer caps, don’t cut their hair and pin it up under their prayer cap. Men don’t shave.

The circus was anything but conservative. In fact, it was intentionally the polar opposite. Flashy and flamboyant.

The circus was perceived as somewhat seedy, at best, attracting winos and people of ill repute. That perception was not entirely wrong. But it wasn’t entirely right either. Not everyone deserved to be tarred with the same brush.

The Ferverda and Miller Families

My grandfather, John Ferverda, mother’s father, was raised in a Brethren home, smack dab in the center of a very conservative Pietist community that stretched across several counties in northern Indiana. His parents were long-time members of the Salem Brethren Church.

His mother was Eva Miller, a descendant of several generations of Brethren families who had been opposed to specific activities within their communities since before they immigrated to the US in the early 1700s. They allowed their land to be confiscated instead of providing service in the Revolutionary War. They moved to a new frontier in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and then another in Indiana. They didn’t take sides in the War of 1812 or the Civil War either. By the time WWI came along, three of Eva’s sons served and the boys were indeed drummed out of the church.

John married a Lutheran woman and he too was the equivalent of excommunicated, called shunning in those religions. Treated as unclean and dirtied by the world, they weren’t even allowed to eat with other Brethren family members, at least not Brethren in good standing.

A few years ago, a cousin told me that her grandmother, the daughter of one of the Miller men, had gone to either the circus or the carnival with a boy. She came home to find her clothes on the porch. She was not welcome back. Not then. Not later that night. Not ever.

Mother (GASP) Danced

The Anabaptist religions don’t include musical instruments in church, or at least they didn’t then. They do sing hymns, but without musical accompaniment.

Dancing was strictly forbidden and condemned as immoral.

As I recall from my youth, if something seemed like fun, by all means, don’t do it.

When dancing, bodies were moved in a sensual way or could be interpreted as such.

Dancers wore makeup. Dance outfits were tight and colorful and showed “things.” Heaven forbid – no, just no.

My grandparents moved about 20 miles down the road from where my grandfather was raised. They lived across the road from my grandfather’s equally as backslidden brother, Roscoe, who also married a woman outside the church. In fact, he divorced and married twice.

Women were expected to be subservient to their husbands, NO MATTER WHAT, and divorce was viewed as adultery.

If Roscoe hadn’t already been shunned, that would clearly have done it. Not only those two things, but he and two of his brothers chose to serve their country in the military.

Mother began dancing at about the same time as mother’s Miller cousin was thrown out of her home and excised from her family for going to the circus or carnival. It doesn’t matter whether it was the circus or carnival, because the circus included a carnival or midway, and they were viewed as equally bad. Very, very family-splitting-worthy bad.

I won’t even comment about what they expected would happen to a young teenage female who had to find a place to live and sleep for the night. Throwing her out seems counter-productive – but I digress.

About the same time, mother became very ill and was diagnosed with Rheumatic Fever. At ten years of age, her heart was damaged. The doctors told her parents that they recommended ballet dance to strengthen her heart. It was literally a matter of life and death, but there was a problem, aside from the community’s anti-dancing bias.

In the tiny town of Silver Lake, there were no dance instructors. Not only that, there wasn’t even anyone living there who danced and could give mother lessons.

My grandparents decided to drive mother to Fort Wayne, 40 miles each way in their Model-T Ford, twice a week, for dance lessons. The neighbors be damned. Mother’s health was more important.

My grandmother began playing the piano for mother who practiced ballet in the music room. Then, mother began performing in dance recitals with her dance class in Fort Wayne.

Tongues wagged. That area wasn’t entirely conservative, but primarily so. Dancing was against the rules and perceived as immoral by many, many religions – not just the Anabaptists.

Yes, mother wore costumes and YOU COULD SEE HER ARMS AND LEGS!!!

She was only a child but made to feel that dancing was dirty and immoral – and therefore so was she.

Even one of the local ministers thought girls who danced were inviting the affections of “any male.” And yes, he was “any male.”

Nothing hypocritical about condemning her from one side of his mouth while trying to take advantage of the situation. Nope, nothing to see there. Move along folks. After all, it was HER fault, right, because SHE invited men by dancing. Of course, a 10-year-old inviting grown men. (I hope you can hear my dripping sarcasm.)

Yes, indeed, dancing was immoral and so were dancers, even young girls who danced to strengthen their hearts after being deathly ill for a year.

It’s difficult to not be affected by all of that targeted negativity.

Mother continued to dance, then taught dancing.

She married her high school sweetheart just before he shipped off for overseas during WWII.

Mom became pregnant during their abbreviated honeymoon and lived with her parents, waiting for her new husband to return from the war so they could set up housekeeping and begin their married life.

He came home from the war alright, just not to her. Suffice it to say that Mom was heartbroken. Clearly, there was no future for them, and divorce resulted at a time when divorce was quite uncommon.

If tongues were wagging before, they were out of control and slapping tonsils by that time. Of COURSE the marriage failed. Mom DANCED! Never mind that she had been living at home with her parents and baby and doing nothing else for that entire time and HE was the one who stepped out. Or more accurately stated, he came home to someone else.

Once divorced, Mom had to somehow figure out how to support herself and her son.

Her dream, the American dream of getting married, settling down, and having a baby was dead. That dream could only exist with a husband.

Now Mom was not only a dancer, she was a divorced dancer. Might as well have that scarlet letter D tattooed dead center on her forehead. The depths of her perceived immorality now seemed bottomless.

There was absolutely no future for her in Silver Lake or in any conservative location. But she had to somehow support and care for her child.

The arrangement arrived upon by all parties concerned, including both grandmothers, was that my grandparents would retain physical custody of my half-brother, my mother would work and Dan, her former husband, would pay $4 a week child support to my grandparents.

A very unusual arrangement for 1943 or 1944.

My mother only had one skill set. You guessed it. Dancing. She had no choice. There were no jobs in Silver Lake, she had no other skills and no “decent man” back then and there would EVER consider marrying a sullied divorcee who DANCED!

Within a few months, Mom borrowed clothes, traveled to Chicago and auditioned for the Dorothy Hild Dancers who performed exclusively at the upscale lakeside Edgewater Beach Hotel, opening for famous acts like Bing Crosby.

Being welcomed into the dance troupe meant that Mom “turned pro,” beginning her professional dancing career.

Mom’s dream was to become a bookkeeper, but she had a child to support.


In Chicago, Mom met Frank Sadowski, a medical student and the brother of one of the other Dorothy Hild Dancers. Mom and Frank fell in love and became engaged before he shipped out overseas. Once again, she could look forward to the future out from under the grey cloud of criticism that loomed, ever-waiting, back home in Indiana.

On April 19, 1945, Frank was killed in action attempting to save another man.

Not only was mother’s world destroyed, she was devasted. Hope for the future was gone. Back in Indiana, those wagging tongues blamed an immoral lifestyle – suggesting that mother deserved whatever happened to her – no matter how bad that something might be.

By this time, mother had lost any hope for a “normal” married life; lost her first husband to an unwelcome divorce, lost her son due to the circumstances, and lost the love of her life to death.

Frank was handsome, kind, and brave. Everything she could ever want. He loved her for who she was, loved her son, and he was gone.

Mom really struggled with Frank’s death – not just then – but throughout her remaining life. I wrote Frank’s story as I uncovered the details, to honor both of them, here.

Frank’s body wasn’t returned home, at least not right away. Mom said there was no closure with no body and no funeral.

On May 8th, just three weeks after Frank’s death, Mom appeared in a jubilant public Chicago celebration when a truce was reached in Europe. Frank had died needlessly. Mom was glad for others, but tears slid down her face as she sang in the performance.

Mom became incredibly thin during this time, almost emaciated.

Mom was still dancing with Dorothy Hild in May and June, but by September of 1945, she had struck out on her own as a solo act character dancer – an entertainer in high-end show clubs where she was compared to Miss America.

Mother kept scrapbooks that detailed her performances when something was printed in newspapers. She cut and pasted ads detailing her appearances across the eastern half of the US. Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, and along the Mississippi River near St. Louis, specifically in Cairo, Illinois.

But then….

Radio Silence

Mom stopped clipping items for her scrapbook, or maybe a scrapbook is missing. Regardless, we know nothing after late 1945, although there are many undated clippings from across the country.

At MyHeritage, I found a newspaper article in the Warsaw Daily Times in Indiana dated October 8, 1947, that reported that my grandparents traveled to Cairo, Illinois to bring Mom home because she had broken two bones in her foot. Mom was to remain home with her parents until the broken bones healed.

Mom later told me that a dancer’s feet never really heal when bones are broken.

I can just hear the neighbors, can’t you? ‘You know, if she hadn’t been dancing…”

I don’t know how long Mom remained in Silver Lake, but I’m sure she was miserable there. My brother would have been 4. If there was nothing in Silver Lake for mother 3 or 4 years earlier, there was even less for her there in 1947.

She still had no skills other than dancing.

By sometime in 1948, mother was performing again.

We find Mom starring as “Miss Zenith Radio,” performing in Omaha, Nebraska.

For the first time, I noticed that the emcee is a person who appears to suffer from dwarfism. This may or may not be relevant, but keep it in mind.


To say that Frank’s death rocked Mom’s world would be an understatement.

Mom said that after the war ended, dancing engagements were more difficult to procure, and things had changed. There was less interest in big bands and the clubs were becoming more interested in less clothing, a style of dancing Mom personally did not embrace

Some people already considered professional dancing of any type as burlesque, which originally meant a type of variety show but eventually became synonymous with striptease. Recently a historian documenting the life of dancers in Chicago referred to ballroom and upscale hotel dance troupes like the Dorothy Hild Dancers as family burlesque.

Unless you were morally opposed to dancing, these dancers did nothing that would be objectional for any family member to see.

By Christianmsufan88 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

In fact, families frequented the posh Edgewater Beach Hotel Marine Dining Room where the show would commence after dinner.

Mother continued to dance, but I could tell her heart wasn’t in it. Frank’s body had still not been returned from Okinawa. I think there was a tiny piece of her that hoped against hope that Frank was somehow still alive. That there had been a case of mistaken identity and one day she would discover Frank was actually in the hospital someplace, not in a temporary or unmarked grave.

Military records show that Frank’s father ordered his headstone in February 1949, and Frank was finally laid to rest on March 23, 1949, in Chicago.

Frank’s own father, a physician, apparently had doubts as well and performed an autopsy of sorts to assure that the body in the coffin was really Frank. It was. I can’t fathom what that father went through, opening his son’s casket and body bag.

Somehow that seems to have been a fork-in-the-road turning point in Mom’s life.

The next chronological record I found in her “Suitcase of Life” with the scrapbooks that she left me was her performer’s union card.

On June 1, 1949, Mom withdrew her membership in the American Guild of Variety Artists in Chicago which was a labor union that supported performing artists, including entertainers and circus performers.

Whatever Mom had been doing, wherever, she seemed to retire at this point, but why?

What was she doing?

And where?

Did the return of Frank’s body and his burial have anything to do with that?

What I didn’t know, at least not at that point, is that something was missing.

Mother Meets William Foy Large

There were gaps in mother’s life after Frank’s death, specifically part of 1947, most of 1948, and the first few months of 1949.

At some point during this time, she met William Foy Large, known as Foy.

Sit down.

Brace yourself for this…

Foy was a one-legged acrobat who performed with the circus.

Additionally, he ran a dry-cleaning operation on the circus train.

And appeared in “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” Sideshows.

She didn’t just meet him, she married him.

Far away, in Florida.

On April 26, 1949, mother and Foy applied for a marriage license in Tampa, Florida. According to their application, he was 22 years older than her. Mom was only 26, even though she had lived through a lifetime of Hellish grief already. He was 48.

If you’re picking your jaw up off the floor, well, so did I.

I knew that she had been married briefly and that his surname was Large, but there was a whole lot I didn’t know. Probably a whole lot I still don’t know and never will.

Here’s what I do know, positively. My mother was suffering and had been, at least since Frank’s death. Earlier, she had become socially ostracized in the small town where she grew up – beginning when she was 10 years old. There was no place left to turn.

Women who are “marked” within their community never have the opportunity to recover.

Their only option is to leave and “live it down” elsewhere, even if the “it” in this case was simply dancing to strengthen her heart as a 10-year-old child. Everyplace and everything Mom tried unraveled, adding another layer of sorrow and another negative stripe to her supposed “desirability” to a male in good social standing. Certainly, that applied to males where she grew up who by that time had married their high school sweethearts and were already farming and raising families.

Maybe Mom had all she could take. Reached her breaking point.

Maybe Mom ran away to join the circus too, ran away to marry one of the performers.

Maybe she just wanted to escape and start over someplace else.

Maybe she found common ground with Foy, and he understood – having lived much of that himself.

Four days later, the marriage license was issued, and they were married by a judge on April 30, 1949.

Mom had the one and only photo of them together tucked into this certificate of marriage, so I would presume that was their wedding day, outside, after the nuptials. She is holding her hand with a ring on “the ring finger” so that’s it’s visible on her purse.

April 30th

If that date looks familiar to you, it’s because it was exactly today’s date, 73 years ago.

Additionally, Mom passed away, exactly 16 years ago today.

The anniversary of mother’s death has always been quite difficult for me. It’s not just a day, but the two weeks leading up to her death – so more of a season. She suffered during those two weeks, which meant I suffered – both of us needlessly.

Now I’ve discovered there was more to this date than I knew.

What Happened?

How the heck did Mom meet up with Foy and get to Florida?

According to their marriage license application, she was living in Silver Lake and he gave his address as Windsor, California. Both listed their occupations as entertainers.

The circus wintered in Sarasota, Florida, just south of Tampa where Mom married Foy just 35 days after Frank was buried.

A month later, on June 1st, Mom withdrew her membership from the American Guild of Variety Artists.

Did she return to Chicago to do that? Did she mail something? Did she actually submit her resignation before she left? Was this her commitment to a new life with Foy? Goodbye to the past?

My first thought was that perhaps she was performing with the circus, but that same union represented circus performers.

The rest of the story, the part Mom did eventually tell me plus what I’ve found out since make that scenario unlikely.

What Do We Know About William Foy Large?

William Foy Large’s life was no bowl of cherries either.

He was born in Lancaster, Texas on August 28, 1894. How is it even possible that my mother was married to a man born in the 19th century and old enough to be her father?

In 1900, the Large family was still living near Dallas, Texas, but by the 1910 census, they had moved to a farm in Ohio.

In 1917, Foy registered for the draft giving his address as Aberdeen Avenue, Linden Heights, Ohio, part of the Dayton metropolitan area. He was a “telegrath operator” (sic) for the B&O Railroad in Blacklick, Ohio, just east of Columbus. He was single, Caucasian and claimed a military exemption because of the loss of “mi leg” (sic). He was tall and slender, with dark blue eyes and light-colored hair.

In 1920 on the census, Foy is 25 years old and is living with his parents in a different location in Ohio, but still listed as a telegraph operator at the railroad office.

As luck would have it, his application for employment dated July 8, 1920, with the Pacific Railway still exists. He claims he doesn’t use alcohol, but the answer to question 13 just chilled me to the bone.

“Have you ever suffered any physical injury?

William: Yes

“If so, state when, where and nature of injury.”

William: July 15, 1902. Portsmouth Ohio – left leg amputated

I’m sure that’s a date he never forgot until the day he died.

However, when asked if any ailment or defect might render him unfit for railroad service, he answered “no.”

That says a lot about his perspective.

On December 7, 1923, Foy married Martha Vannerson in Maricopa, Arizona. The newspaper article announcing their marriage said he was from Columbus, Ohio and she was from Chicago.

What were they doing in Maricopa, Arizona?

This next item provides a clue.

On November 9, 1925, a photo of Foy and another performer are shown as acrobats with the Bob Morton Circus in St. Petersburg, Florida.

An article a couple of days later explains the men’s unusual stories more fully.

And yes, for the record, I’m horrified about the Klan. I had no idea they hired circuses and other acts for entertainment and probably to raise money for their dastardly deeds.

Thanks to this article, we now know how Foy joined the circus, although mother’s version is slightly less glamourous. Mom said he joined as a ticket seller, but let’s face it, that doesn’t make NEARLY as good of a story as the one-legged acrobat who secretly excelled, conquering his disability and then burst upon the circus scene so grandly that the show was stopped because he was just that dazzling.

Personally, I’d like to believe the newspaper version.

A few days later, on November 18th, the St. Petersburg paper reports that Mr. and Mrs. W. F. Large of Columbus, Ohio are guests at the Floronton Hotel during their sojourn in the city. Clearly, Martha was along.

Apparently, the dynamic acrobatic duo didn’t last long, because by 1930, Foy was living in New York City.

In the 1930 census, he’s living at 109 West 46th Street in Manhattan, a lodger, along with a whole raft of other lodgers. Additionally, he’s married, shown with Martha, age 19, also married and one Albert Large, age 70, widowed. All three are shown as actors in the theater as are many of the other lodgers, although some have no occupation listed at all.

Albert appears to be Foy’s 70-year-old widowed father. This is confusing because his father is also enumerated in California and was never an actor.

The head of household is a printer, so I wonder if all of these lodgers are renting rooms above a print shop.

That address looks to be right about here today, in the heart of the Theater District, just a block off Times Square and two blocks from Rockefeller Center. It looks like Foy gave acting a hero’s try.

Martha, a beautiful lady, would become a performer in the Barnes-Floto Circus and other circuses, later.

On April 2, 1932, the Spokane, Washington, newspaper stated that at the Fox Theater, two one-legged men, Foy Large and Frank Morgner were exceptionally clever in an athletic feature.

In December of 1932, William and Martha are listed on an incoming British passenger list, New York to Southampton. They were headed for the Joster Agency, Leicester Square, in London, noted as performers. Others on the same ship were headed to the Palladium Theater in London, the most famous variety theater in the world. Leicester Square is the entertainment hub of London, including the Royal Opera House.

A few months later, on April 28, 1933, William Foy Large, without Martha, is listed aboard the SS Gerolstein which sailed from Le Havre, France to New York. He listed his birth date and location, but his address in the US is shown as Windsor, California, Route 1, Box 158.

Apparently, he was done with New York City.

Foy is listed on the voter registration list between 1938-1940 at the same Windsor, Sonoma County, California address as his father who is listed as a farmer. Foy is noted as a rancher. Apparently, his father’s home is Foy’s “home base.” I’m guessing Foy wasn’t actually home often.

It’s through Foy’s divorce from Martha, published in the Logansport, Indiana newspaper on January 3, 1936, that we find Foy’s connection to Peru, Indiana.

Where was Foy on March 1, 1935? I have no idea. Apparently, neither did Martha.

Given the divorce, it’s safe to say that Foy spent some nontrivial amount of time in Peru, the home of the Hagonbeck-Wallace Circus that wintered there. That circus split from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey in 1935.

The history of circuses in the US is similar to the mergers of banks- a knotted tangle. Purchases and mergers and many of the same families behind various organizations.

Their divorce was granted on March 16, 1936.

Foy was free to go his own way, although it appears that he already had. Although in that time and place, there was no such thing as “no-fault” divorce, so maybe the couple just decided Foy would be “at fault” so they could get divorced.

This time, Foy’s adventures took him all the way to another continent – Australia!

The story of Frank’s leg was told in a Melbourne, Australia newspaper in December of 1938.

I thought I recalled Mom saying he lost his leg in a train accident – caught between boxcars as a child and then run over. I still cringe just thinking about that.

The next day, this photo appeared in the Perth Sunday Times stating that they were with the Ripley “Believe it or Not” Strip. I’m guessing Foy is the man at left.

Another article says they had the courage to offset the tragic disability of the loss of a leg each by capitalizing their misfortune into a really first-class athletic show – one that would make for more fortunate brethren look to their laurels.

It appears that in addition to being performers, they were also in the sideshows as “freaks.”

On March 5, 1939, according to the ship’s manifest, Foy returned from Sydney, Australia, landing in San Francisco, his home listed once again at the Windsor, California address. He spent (at least) three months in Australia.

I don’t find Foy was in the 1940 census. He wasn’t living with his 80-year-old father on Laughlin Road between Mark West Station Road and Slusser Road in Healdsburg, Sonoma County, California. I doubt that many circus performers were accounted for in the census.

I don’t know what crops they raised back then, but today, Laughlin Road is wine country.

Never one to let moss grow under his feet, or foot, when he registered for the draft in 1942 (probably April 27th), he registered in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, but he gave his address as Windsor, Sonoma County, California at the same address he had been using for years.

Then 48 years old, Foy gave W.A. Large, his father, at the same address as the person who will always know where he lives. Six feet tall and 145 pounds, Foy had blue eyes, brown hair, and a light complexion. This left leg was “off above the knee.”

In 1944, he and Martha were living in an apartment in Newport News, Virginia according to the city directory.

Wait? What? Is that even possible? They were divorced in 1936 – 8 years earlier.

Maybe there’s another William F. Large with a wife named Martha V.? I suppose it’s possible, but it’s very unlikely.

After that sighting in1944, we don’t find Foy again for several years. However, by inference, I can tell you where he was at least part of that time.

Peru and Florida Again

Somehow, Foy and Mother met. How I wish I had asked more questions while I could. I didn’t, because I could tell Mom was uncomfortable with this topic. She was embarrassed about this entire episode, probably, in part because he had abandoned her. Yep, he dumped Mom, and that story sounds very familiar. Maybe Martha and Mom should have compared notes before she married Foy.

Hindsight is always 20-20.

Was their courtship one of immediate infatuation? Love at first sight? Was Foy an excellent actor, knowing how to mold himself to be, at least for a short amount of time, what women wanted? Mom did mention that he was very handsome and we already know he was athletic.

The circus wintered in Tampa, Florida, where Mom married William Foy Large just a month and a few days after Frank’s burial.

They were married by a judge, here in the Tampa Courthouse. Marched up those steps twice – once to apply and once to pick up the license and find the judge.

Did Mom call her parents afterward to tell them? She must have felt quite alone. No wedding gown or celebration with family.

Did Mom meet Foy in or near Peru, near her parent’s home? Had she gone back home to deal with Frank’s death and such?

Did they travel to Florida together to marry, which would suggest strongly that my grandparents did not approve?

Or, did she meet Foy and correspond with him over time – later joining him for matrimony?

Why did she marry Foy? Foy was 28 years older than she was, born in 1894. Did she know that before she married him? She wouldn’t have been the first bride to discover those types of discrepancies by looking at dates on her soon-to-be husband’s marriage application while waiting for the judge.

How did Mom get to Florida anyway? I’m suspecting she traveled by train. She would not have owned a car and there were lots of train tracks into Sarasota thanks to the circus.

The interstates didn’t exist then, either. Just two-lane highways.

“Old Florida,” Homosassa, an hour north of Tampa looked like this in 1950. Did Mom see the countryside dressed in gently blowing Spanish Moss passing by as she swayed back and forth in the train car lumbering across the country? Was she hopeful, or did she have a premonition that something wasn’t quite right?

What was mother signing up for?

What was circus life like?

Circus Life in Florida in 1949/1950

I was able to find several photos of the winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus at the Library of Congress and Florida’s archives.

The Ringling family was quite wealthy, with a mansion and upscale hotel in Sarasota, Florida. However, the performers were anything but and the circus’s winter quarters were at the Sarasota County fairgrounds.

The circus winter quarters was not a vacation. It could better be viewed as an extended practice session.

Circus wagons got a fresh coat of paint. New acts were developed. Maintenance was performed and new costumes created.

The Big Top was erected in a field. Local residents came to see the free shows on Sundays.

Abandoned Ringling Brothers Circus bleachers and buildings in Sarasota after they left in 1960.

Mother probably sat in these very bleachers just a decade earlier.

The circus train cars were repaired and maintained as well. The circus train was more than a mile long and functioned not only as transportation and a home on wheels but as a traveling advertisement too.

This aerial photo of the Sarasota Ringling Brothers winter quarters was taken in 1951.

Notice the many railyards at bottom. The winter quarters included housing for the performers, staff, and animals. A few people rented short-term accommodations outside of the complex, near or in Gibsonton that became known as a sideshow wintering “carney” town that catered to circus members. Gibsonton even had a post office with a dwarf-height counter and became known as the place where everyone who lived there had run away with the circus. Many circus and carnival members retired in Gibsonton among people “like themselves.”

Another 1951 aerial view of the circus winter quarters.

The Big Top is erected, at right. The dormitory is the large white building that housed up to 1600 members of the cast and crew.

A rare color photo from 1949 shows the audience watching performances.

Free shows every Sunday were available for the locals.

The elephants performing on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Is Mom one of the people sitting in the bleachers? If not that day, then certainly another.

The dorm building is shown in the background.

The circus winter quarters were self-sufficient – just like the circus trains were.

In the late 1940s, Loomis Dean, a photographer rode along with the circus for a year and took some amazing documentary photos. You can read more, here.

In an interview in the 1990s, Loomis summed circus life up pretty well:

The privacy was minimal, and the ambiance created by this conglomeration of athletes and beauties and adventurers and freaks and con merchants often resembled a pressure cooker on a slow flame. There were some bizarre happenings, to be sure, most of which occurred in the wee hours in the vast darkness of the railroad yards. Invariably, the yards were surrounded by an assortment of seedy bars and hotels. These were grim and grimy places under the best of circumstances, although they took on a kind of spooky Dante’s Inferno glitter when the circus mob descended into town, pouring into its streets and saloons.

The last Sarasota winter show of the 1947 season. The circus normally left its winter quarters sometime in March.

In 1948, crowds gather to watch the circus train leave winter quarters in Sarasota.

The arrival and departure of the circus was an event itself. Locals all came out to watch- waving goodbye or welcoming the circus home again.

The circus wasn’t just a career or a job – it was a way of life. Sometimes for generations.

If you were going to marry a circus performer, or worker, you were going to work in the circus too. Nobody rode for free. Work was the price of admission.

Everyone worked. Married circus couples who had children often taught their children age-appropriate acts, such as trampoline as early as age 5. Kids sold tickets and other non-dangerous work.

A marriage where both partners didn’t travel with the circus wasn’t likely to survive. As difficult as circus life was, people did marry and lived their entire adult life traveling with various circuses.

According to the embedded photographer:

Love always seemed on the mind of circus folk, although given the cramped quarters, liaisons often took place in lumberyards, warehouses, or even, in extremis, ditches. For all the licentiousness of these scenes, however, I was surprised to discover that the circus had a rigid sexual caste system that made certain relationships taboo.

At the lowest level were the casual laborers, most of whom were winos who joined the show for a few days or weeks and then disappeared into the void. One level up were the workingmen—the roustabouts and the canvasbacks. Then there were the wranglers and grooms who took care of the 1,000 animals on the train. Above them were the sideshow freaks, above them were the propmen and riggers, and above them were the ushers and band members.

The young showgirls were next up the ladder, and one rung higher still were the monied aristocracy, aka the ticket sellers. The Brahmins were the featured acts, the executives, and of course, the stars.

Based on this, Foy, both a performer and a “freak” was far from the bottom social rung. Based on his marriages, he clearly mixed it up with the young showgirls. If he actually was a ticket seller at some point, he was higher still, which might explain his attraction to the decades-younger female performers.

The circus train, steaming into the circus grounds, returned to winter quarters sometime in October or November, although the timeframe varied. Sometimes, if problems occurred such as the horrific 1944 Hartford fire, a circus would retire to winter quarters early.

Everyone must have looked forward to this break and opportunity to recharge and regroup. This was the only chance to stay in one place for more than a night or two, at most.

Often, practice was held outside.

The acrobats are flying above and dogs are being trained below. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus included a thousand animals.

Circus performers exiting the train in Sarasota in 1951 during the filming of the award-winning, highly-acclaimed movie, The Greatest Show on Earth which was filmed on-site – in Sarasota and along 60,000 miles of train tracks. If I didn’t know better, and the year is off by one year, 1950 vs 1951, I would swear that the dark-haired woman at right on the steps is Mother. You can watch a clip, here.

Did Mother Understand What Circus Life Meant?

Is Circus life what mother signed up for? Did she understand what that meant?

She was a beautiful woman and a talented performer, but circus life was different than dancing with the Dorothy Hild Dancers. For beginners, there was an entire culture attached to the circus that was very different from the comparatively sheltered professional dance troupes.

Did mother and Foy marry in Florida just before the circus left their winter quarters for performances across the country? Did she accompany him? Did she perform with the circus or work one of the jobs?

Based once again on scanty information, I believe that shortly after their wedding, such as it was, Foy left with the circus train, and mother stayed in Florida.

Obituaries are notoriously wrong in terms of locations of descendants, but Foy’s mother’s obituary, published on July 8, 1949, in California says Foy is a resident of New York City.

I’m guessing here, but I’d wager that Foy spent the 1949 summer on the road, or more specifically, on the train, criss-crossing the country without mother.

Whatever brought Mother and Foy together didn’t last.

If she didn’t accompany Foy on the train, what did she do while he was gone? Did she stay in Florida and get a job there? Did she return to Indiana, intending to go back to Florida when the circus returned to winter quarters?

Was there a plan? She had already resigned from the union, so she was unlikely to be performing someplace.

Whatever she thought was going to happen, I’m sure this wasn’t in mother’s plan.

Mom and Foy were married in Tampa. The circus wintered in Sarasota, but he filed for divorce in Charlotte County, Florida only 9 months after they were married.

Was that where mother was living in January of 1950?

Mother said that she was divorced from William Foy Large in Bradenton Florida. That’s not the same location, but it is right beside Sarasota. Perhaps that’s where she was living, at least part of the time. The divorce was final on March 21, 1950.

It appears that the winter quarter hiatus was just long enough to get either married or divorced.

I need to order those divorce records. For one thing, they may help me know where to look for mother in the 1950 census, taken just a month later. No wonder I can’t find her.

Mom may have been living someplace in Florida. I know one place she isn’t living – with her parents in Indiana.

Mom didn’t talk much about this marriage, but when, as an adult, I found a photo of Mom and Foy along with the Certificate of Marriage, she did explain, at least somewhat.

Mom said they were never really able to live together after they were married, as they were both traveling. She said she received divorce papers shortly after they were married as he “was never one to be alone.”  She indicated that she wasn’t surprised, but I could tell that it still pained her. She would only have been 26 in 1949 when they married and just turned 27 when she received divorce papers. Rejected again!

My heart aches for my young mother. In the 9 years since she graduated from high school, she had married her high school sweetheart, only to have her husband come home to someone new without even telling her he was home.

Then, divorced, she went to Chicago to dance to support her son.

She met Frank who was killed.

She may have gone back home to regroup.

She met Foy and everything must have seemed rosy.

She journeyed to Florida to begin a new chapter of her life, only to find herself alone. I’m presuming here that her parents did not approve.

Was she even able to go home for Christmas in 1949 to see her parents and son?

Then, just after New Year’s, she was served with divorce papers, again.

She had already withdrawn from the performers’ union.

What was she to do?

What would she do?

Where would she go?

What Happened to Foy?

He got married again, and quickly.

On November 21, 1950, the Sarasota newspaper reports that William Foy Large, age 50 had taken a marriage license with Angela Antalek Reynolds, age 31, also of Sarasota.

According to her 1947 petition for naturalization in Sarasota, Florida, she was a circus performer who was born in Hungary, immigrated in 1937, and married a US citizen in 1943.

Maybe now Mom’s comment about Foy never being alone makes more sense – especially taken in combination with the commentary about life on the circus trains from the embedded photojournalist.

Maybe that’s what Foy was doing on the circus train while they were married.

Apparently, Foy remained in Florida, at least for a few years.

In 1953, he flipped his car.

March 2, 1955 – Ringling Brothers may attempt again to air-condition the Big Top. Also Foy Large is back from a European Thrift Tour.

In 1955, he is living in the waterfront Franklin Manor apartments in Sarasota on the Tamiami Trail where he files the intention to register the business name of Swift Deluxe Cleaners and Laundry Services. This suggests he may no longer be traveling with the circus.

In 1958, Foy is living in the La Tosca Trailer Park (owned by the Canestrelli Circus family on Fruitville Road) in Sarasota, Florida, and petitions the city council for an agreement to have a concession stand on the Ringling Causeway opened to competitive bidding. He says he would offer better service than is presently being offered. That petition was eventually denied.

By 1958, Foy was 64 years old. His days as an acrobat were probably long behind him, which is why he was likely petitioning to open a concession and a cleaners.

He was planning for his Act 2, except for Foy, it was act several-hundred and something.

At some point, he divorced again given that his third wife married someone else.

I lost track of Foy other than discovering that he died in San Francisco, California on April 8, 1979. To the best of my knowledge, Mother had no contact with him after their divorce. She wasn’t angry with him. He was simply inconsequential and didn’t exist. I know she was embarrassed about that whole episode.

She might have run away to marry the acrobat and join the circus, or not, but she came back.

What About Mother?

I’m still hoping to locate Mom in the 1950 census, although this search for her has probably provided more information and insight than the census itself ever could. I wish I could just ask her. I wish I had asked her.

Mom eventually went back to Indiana, but I don’t know when, or where.

In 1951 and 1952, mother was living in Fort Wayne. In 1951, according to the city directory, she was working as a salesperson at Lerner’s Department store and by 1952, she was assistant manager.

In 1951, she lived at 534 Meyer in this cute little yellow house.

In 1952, she lived at 514 Madison, a building that no longer exists.

At some point, Mother returned to Chicago and lived with a widow woman named Mommie McKenzie who rented to female boarders.

They would go to the pet cemetery so Mommie McKenzie and her current fur-family members could visit the graves of those already passed over.

Mother met my father on a train, but I’m unclear whether she met him when she moved back to Chicago, or if she met him earlier and perhaps he had something to do with her moving back.

When Mom was pregnant for me, she worked in a department store in downtown Chicago in the dress department. Mom used to tell me about dressing the mannequins in the window. Those were days when department stores were full-service, and sales clerks assisted customers in the dressing room, bringing them items to try on.

The Final Ironic Twist

My brother John told me that at some point, Mom worked in Lafayette, Indiana as a bookkeeper, which, ironically, is what she originally wanted to do instead of dance.

Perhaps those heartbreaking relationships which I refuse to call “failed marriages,” because neither had even a remote chance of succeeding, were just stepping-stones on her journey to where she needed to be.

They were assuredly stepping-stones to me through my father.

My parents moving to Kokomo after I was born would be the gateway to eventually meeting my wonderful step-father after my father died and would launch me on my journey to where I sit today.

I can’t help but think about the possible path my life could have taken. Had her marriage to Foy worked out, I wouldn’t have been me. “Me,” as I know it, would never have existed.

I Hope You Dance

The beginning of this chapter in mother’s life was a bit murky, but the end was not. That door closed with a resounding slam.

Mother must have cried her way back to Indiana to lick her wounds and suffer the indignity of even more condemnation in Silver Lake. Truthfully, I hope those gossips never knew what happened, because you know they would have somehow blamed her.

It’s no wonder mother never wanted to discuss things she suspected would or might result in judgment. She had already suffered enough under that cruel mantle.

What I don’t think Mom ever knew is that there were also people who admired her and respected her for her bravery and fortitude. Few stood up to and survived that kind of systemic chastisement.

Mother’s cousin would be born in Silver Lake about the time Frank died, but before Mom’s Florida year. The cousin would grow up silently watching Mom, absorbing the fact that yes, one COULD leave and it was possible for a female to select a different path.

By the time her cousin was old enough to have internalized those epiphanies, Mom had passed through the gates of grief and was doing much better. All that was left for her young cousin to see was a brave woman who had beaten the odds. My cousin had no idea how painful and difficult that journey had been.

And yes, if you haven’t guessed, Mom also raised another one of those women.

Mother, on this, the anniversary of your passing from this earth, You Raise Me Up.

Go Rest High on That Mountain, now. Your work is done and you deserve it.

And Mom, I Really, Really Hope You’re Still Dancing.

I will forever miss you.

Thank you for persevering, even when it was horrifically painful and seemed impossible.

You won.


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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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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 Durkheim 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 Durkheim, only four and a half miles away, didn’t limit themselves to Bad Durkheim. 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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Johann Michael Kirsch’s Signature – But Which One? – 52 Ancestors #353

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

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

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

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

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

The Former Praiseworthy Mayor

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

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

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

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

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

Another Record Surfaces

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

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

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

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

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

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

Günter and Christoph tell us:

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

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

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

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

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

Which Michael Kirsch Signed?

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

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

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

Maybe Neither?

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

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

Most Likely Candidates

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

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

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

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

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


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Anna Elisabetha Scherer (1741-1784,) Innkeeper’s Daughter…and Wife – 52 Ancestors #352

How many inns would an innkeeper keep if an innkeeper could keep inns?

Apparently, innkeeping is a family affair. Naming your inn something regal like “The Lion” seems to be popular too. Anna Elisabetha Scherer can tell you all about that!

Anna Elisabetha Scherer was born on March 3, 1741 in Heuchelheim bei Frankenthal, Germany to Johann Philipp Scherer and Anna Margaretha whose surname is unknown.

Her baptismal record spanned two pages in the local Lutheran church book.

Elisabetha was baptized two days after her birth with her Godparents, Johann Nicolaus Dewald, master baker from here and his wife, Anna Margaretha standing up with her.

In Anna Elisabetha`s baptism record, her father is listed as the innkeeper of the Lion Inn (>Löwenwirt<). This means they probably lived close to the church and the town hall – all central locations that townspeople people frequented.

You can see photos of the church, here and here, along with some other historical buildings, including an old castle that looks nothing at all like my idea of a castle..

We know that Anna Elisabetha lived in an active village that was growing and expanding, because a home at Karolinenstrasse 6 includes an archway dated 1758 with letters L. R. T. above the archway.

Perhaps even more interesting is the building at 7 Hauptstrasse with a lion coat of arms painted over the doorway, along with grapevines suggesting wine. This building looks large enough to be an inn and is very centrally located.

In fact, it’s perfectly located at the intersection of the main street with the street leading to the church.

I’d say there is a good possibility that this is the location of The Lion Inn where Anna Elisabetha was born and lived as a child. At least until tragedy struck.

The Heuchelheim church was originally built in 1566 at the same location as a previous grave slab from the 1100s. The church was subsequently rebuilt in 1738 as it exists today. This causes me to wonder if at least part of the village was spared during the Thirty Years War, or there would have been no church left, at all. We know at least one burial crypt was preserved from 1605, plus the grave slab with its cross, now part of the south exterior wall.

Anna Elisabetha’s baptism would have taken place in the beautiful new church.

Pieces of the older church were incorporated into the corners and walls of the new church. What happened to the older church? Was it just old, or had the ravages of war taken their toll?

Elisabetha would have entered through these church doors every Sunday to worship, holding her parent’s hand.

She probably attended school in the Lutheran church, or perhaps in the minister’s home nearby.

Remnants of the 12th-century church, peeking out of the walls.

Originally, a cemetery surrounded the church but is now a green space with an ornamental fountain.

Today, the church is nestled in trees in the surrounding tranquil garden.

This church was only three years old when Anna Elisabetha was born, so she was baptized in the new church that her father may have helped to build, or at least kept the workers well-fed and watered at The Lion Inn.

This map from the 1840s shows the location of the church and surrounding cemetery, near the edge of town. The location I believe to be The Lion Inn is shown with the first red arrow at the bend of the main road where it intersects with Church Street.

I wonder if those double black dots represent a protective wall. If so, it didn’t close on the south, at least not in the 1800s. A wall would make sense, especially since the large building standing alone towards the right appears to be the old castle which at one time would have been surrounded by a protective wall. Most medieval villages were, with residents taking refuge in the church or inside the village walls should intruders arrive. Intruders and warring soldiers arrived all too often.

Elisabetha’s last name is also recorded in some places as Schererin, where the ending -in designates a female’s birth surname. Her father’s surname would have been Scherer which translates in English to scissors or clippers.

Growing up in Heuchelheim bei Frankenthal

Elisabetha was the second youngest of 8 children. Of course, we don’t know if all of the children lived to adulthood, but we know for sure that two did.

Elisabetha’s oldest sister, or at least the oldest one we know about, married on a crisp winter day in 1750 to Johann Jacob Mueller. Elisabetha would have been VERY excited at 8 years of age. Perhaps she was allowed to participate and maybe a new dress was made for her, or at least a new-to-her one handed down.

Elisabetha would have watched her sister, the radiant bride, with her adoring groom standing at this altar as the minister conferred their vows, perhaps dreaming of standing there one day herself.

But, that wasn’t to be.

Five years later, in the spring of 1755, just after Elisabetha’s 14th birthday, her father died. He was only 53 years old. Perhaps his death was unexpected.

What does an innkeeper’s wife do in a German village after her husband dies? We don’t know.

Fast Forward to Ellerstadt

The next information we find is Anna Elisabetha’s marriage 7 years later in Ellerstadt on June 29, 1762. Her marriage entry in the church suggests strongly that her mother had passed away too.

How did Anna Elisabetha come to live in Ellerstadt from Heuchelheim after her father’s death, and perhaps after her mother’s as well? Heuchelheim bei Frankenthal is 12 miles and 3 villages away. Not exactly next door. Maybe Elisabetha’s godparents lived in Ellerstadt. A child’s Godparents vowed to raise that child in the church if the parents perish before the child is an adult.

Did Elisabetha’s mother, Anna Margaretha, continue to work somehow as an innkeeper, or maybe in an inn providing services such as cooking and cleaning, at least as long as she could?

Sometime between the age of 14 when her father died and 21 when she married, her mother passed away too. She lost both parents before she was old enough to marry.

Anna Elisabetha married an older man who was also an innkeeper and whose inn was also named The Lion. Did her future husband help her mother after her father died? Or maybe Anna Elisabetha herself found work at Johann Peter Koehler’s inn in Ellerstadt after her parents died.

That’s a possibility!

Immediate Family

Anna Elisabeth married the widower, Peter Koehler, at 21 and inherited a ready-made family. Peter, then 38, already had 8 children. Their baby was just a year and two days old when his wife, Charlotta, died in March. He married Anna Elisabetha Scherer just three months later.

Marriage: 29 June 1762

The local innkeeper at the Löwenwirth (Lion’s Inn), Peter KÖHLER, widower with Anna Elisabetha SCHER(IN), the late Philipp SCHER(N) from Heuchelheim, surviving legitimate daughter were married after the reading of the three proclamation of the banns.

If the bans were read three times, a week apart, that means Peter would have married Elisabetha a month earlier if he could. Clearly, they knew each other and both were ready for a marriage, even if it probably wasn’t a romantic courtship in the way we think of falling in love today in our contemporary society. Perhaps it was more of an agreement.

Marriage meant survival. Peter was an innkeeper widower with a passel of kids and Elisabetha was an orphan, the daughter of innkeeper parents. She knew the drill. Marriage was a great solution for both people. Perhaps a bright spot in a bleak time. A new life and fresh start for everyone involved.

Unfortunately, the only part of the original Ellerstadt church remaining is the tower.

Anna Elisabetha married in the quaint church in the middle of wine country. Ellerstadt still celebrates its vintner heritage today. It wasn’t beer being served at the inn.

Anna Elisabetha immediately became a mother to 7 girls and their older brother. I wonder if she was more like a sister to the older children, being only 5 years older than her step-son.

Of course, she was the only mother the younger children, especially the baby, ever knew.

It’s possible that Elisabetha inherited even more children. Charlotta Braun was already a widow when Peter had married her. She could have already had children that remained with Peter after Charlotta’s death.

This 1840s map shows about 100 houses, maybe a few more, but a map of 1722 showed many fewer – just 60 or so, and the list of residents of 1761 indicated about 90 households.

When Elisabetha lived there, perhaps there were 80 houses or so. I can’t help but wonder how many people she was related to. Was she living among cousins or perhaps even aunts and uncles or siblings?

Upon her marriage, Elisabetha would have taken up residence with him at “The Lion,” the local inn where Peter was the innkeeper. Innkeepers and their families lived at the inn.

The original building no longer exists, but present-day 9 Ratstrasse in Ellerstadt where the Lion Inn was located can be seen with the little red dot on the map above from the 1840s.

You can see a rather large building in the rear, plus fields stretching further beyond.

The church was located just around the corner. This 1840s map had changed a bit from the 1700s when there was an alley or path of sorts about 3 houses to the west of the inn that led to the church.

The original church was rebuilt and enlarged in the 1890s. You can see that the footprint is quite different on the two maps and the new church was likely built over many of the older graves.

The Stork Visits

Anna Elisabetha’s own children began arriving in November of 1763. Thanks much to cousin Tom and my friend Chris for locating and translating these church records.

The new mother, father, the godparents and all of the children would have walked together along the path that fall day for the joyful baptism of the 4-day-old baby boy.

Baptism: 9 November 1763

On the 5th of the same (month, November), here a son was born at midday at 11 am. and on the 9th thereafter was baptized.  The father is Peter KÖHLER; the mother is Anna Elisabetha nee SCHER(IN). Godparents were: Johann Georg Hirtel from the Mutterstadt and Christina Barbara Hirtel(in) from Dannstadt, both of unmarried standing. The child received the name: Johann Georg.

This record is actually quite interesting and led me right down a rabbit hole. In 1763, these two Godparents, both with the Hoertel (or similar spelling, Hortel, Hartel) surname are noted as unmarried. However, on January 24, 1764, they were married to each other in Dannstadt.

They were actually first cousins, sharing one set of grandparents, Johann Georg Hoertel (1673-1749) and Maria Sibylla Renner (1686-1764).

Ironically, I’m related to both of these Godparents through several lines. People with capitalized names are my ancestors. I’m also related to the Renner family, but I don’t know who Maria Sibylla Renner’s parents are to connect her with the Renner family line.

Death: 22 November 1764

On the 22nd of the same (November) 1764 in the evening at 8 p.m. died Johann Georg and on the 24th of the same was buried in a Christian manner. He is the youngest son of the local Löwenwirth (innkeeper at the Lion Inn), Peter KÖHLER. Age 1 year, 2 weeks, 3 days.

How incredibly sad. Elisabetha’s first baby died and was assuredly buried in the churchyard.

Baptism: 10 March 1765

On the 7th of March 1765 in the afternoon at 2 p.m. was born a daughter and on the 10th of the same was baptized. The father is Peter KÖHLER, local innkeeper at the Löwenwirth (Lion’s Inn) from her. The mother is Anna Elisabetha nee SCHER(IN). Godparents were: Tobias KÖHLER, citizen and resident of Zeiskem (Zeiskam) and his wife, Anna Margaretha, from who she received the name: Anna Margaretha.

Peter’s brother and his wife stood as godparents.

Baptism: 20 December 1767

On the 16th of December 1767 a son was born in the afternoon between the hours of 2 and 3 p.m. here and of the 20th of the same was baptized: The father is Peter KÖHLER local innkeeper at the Löwenwirth (Lion’s Inn) here, the mother is Anna Elisabetha. Godparents were: the brother-in-law, Philipp Jacob WERNS, master miller in St. Grethen and his wife, Louise—from whom (the male) the child was baptized and received the name: Philipp Jacob.

Obviously, Louise was either Peter or Elisabetha’s sister. Sure enough, Louisa Barbara Koehler married Philip Jacob Werns in 1758.

Baptism: 3 June 1770

On the 31st of May in the morning between the hours of 5 and 6 a.m. was born here a daughter and on the 3rd of June 1770 was baptized: The father is Peter KOEHLER innkeeper at the Löwenwirth (Lion’s Inn) here. The mother is Anna Elisabetha. Godparents were: Jacob Wilhelm Renner, innkeeper at the Crown Inn in Danstatt and his wife, Maria Barbara, from whom the child received the name: Maria Barbara.

Jacob Wilhelm Renner married Maria Barbara Koehler. Jacob too was an innkeeper.

Baptism: 1 May 1772

On the 30th of April 1772 at midday between the hours of 11 and 12 a.m. was born here a daughter who was weak and on the 1st of May baptized. The father is Peter KOEHLER, innkeeper at the Löwenwirth (Lion’s Inn) here. The mother is Anna Elisabetha. Godparents were: Johann Jacob Müller, master miller in Heuchelheim and his wife, Anna Margaretha, from whom the child received the baptismal name of Marg(aretha) Elisa(betha).

Of course, this would be the child I would have expected to perish, but she didn’t and became my ancestor. It’s unusual that the child was named differently from the godmother.

Elisabetha’s oldest sister came for this baptism. Looks like we know how the Muller family received their surname.

Baptism: 25 February 1774

On the 23rd of February 1774 in the morning at about 1 a.m. was born here a daughter and on the 25th of the same was baptized. The father is Peter KÖHLER innkeeper at the Löwenwirth (Lion’s Inn) here. The mother is Anna Elisabetha. Godparents were: the local Evangelical Lutheran schoolmaster, H(err) Conrad Vigelius and his wife, Maria Eva from whom the child received the baptismal name of Maria Eva.

These families are intermingled, because in 1767, a Susanna Maria Vigelius married Johann Wilhelm Kirsch from Fussgoenheim and they lived out their lives in Ellerstadt.

Baptism: 25 September 1776

On the 23rd of September 1776 around 10 a.m. a daughter was born and on the 25th of the same was baptized. The father is Peter KOEHLER, lawyer (one who checks contracts for the village) here. The mother is Anna Elisabetha. Godparents were: Henrich Adam Meinhardt, citizen, resident here, and his wife, Anna Barbara from who the child received the baptismal name: Anna (Catharina penciled in later) Barbara.

Peter’s occupation has changed from innkeeper to lawyer which does not mean he gave up one to do the other. It likely means he added an occupation of a higher social status.

Death: 27 December 1777

On the 27th of December 1777 in the afternoon at 1 p.m. died here and on the 28th was buried, Anna Catharina Barbara, youngest daughter of Peter KOEHLER, anwalt (lawyer, one who checks contracts for the village). Age 1 year, 3 months, and 3 days.

This was the second child Elisabetha lost at about this age. She must have been very anxious about the 14-15 month threshold from then on.

Baptism: 25 December 1778

On the 21st of December 1778 in the afternoon between 1 and 2 p.m. a son was born and on the 25th of the same was baptized. The father is Peter KOEHLER, lawyer (one who checks contracts for the village) here. The mother is Anna Elisabetha. Godparents were: Joh(ann) Martin Ullshöffer, innkeeper at the Oxen Inn in Brühl and his wife. The child received the baptismal name Johann Martin (to honor the godparent).

This record makes me gleeful. Johann Koehler’s mother was Anna Elisabetha Ulzhofer, also spelled Jllehofer and apparently also Ullshoffer. I don’t have a list of her siblings. Johann Martin Ullshoffer could be Peter’s uncle, or a cousin. Another innkeeper as well.

This baby was baptized on Christmas Day. The church was probably beautifully decorated with candles flickering and Christmas songs filling the air. Families would have exchanged gifts and celebrated the day before, on Christmas Eve, as is the German tradition.

The name Johann Martin, then simply Martin descended in both the Kirsch and Koehler families after they immigrated to Indiana. The traditional German Christmas celebration survived to my generation.

Peter and Elisabetha probably had no idea that the name Johann Martin originated sometime in the early 1700s, or earlier, on the right bank of the Rhine River, in Bruehl. In reality, by 1778, the name had likely been drifting downstream in the family since Martin Luther’s day (1483-1546.)

Baptism: 1 November 1781

On the 30th of October 1781 between the hours of 6 and 7 p.m. was born here a daughter and on the 1st of November was baptized: Margaretha Elisabetha. The father is Peter KOEHLER, lawyer (one who checks contracts for the village) here. The mother is Anna Elisabetha. Godparents were: H(err) Johannes Koehler, innkeeper in Rehhute legitimate wife, Margaretha Elisabetha.

Johannes Koehler is the half-brother of Peter Koehler. He lived and died in Rehutte and probably took over the innkeeper function from his father.

I realize that this is the second child named Margaretha Elisabetha, and that the first child did not die. She was confirmed in the church in 1785. I have no explanation for this dual occurrence of this same child’s name for the same parents.

Baptism: 11 January 1784

Maria Barbara Koehler was born in the afternoon at 3 o’clock. Godparents Johann Jacob Renner, citizen in Dannstadt and proprietor of the “Crone” (Crown) and his wife Maria Barbara Kohlerin.

Yet another innkeeper. Apparently, the profession was lucrative and probably required some type of apprenticeship.

Apparently, the first child named Maria Barbara who was born in May of 1770 had died. The godparents were the same people for this child’s birth.

Eleven days after Maria Barbara was born, her brother died.

Death: 22 January 1784

On the 22nd of the same (January) 1784 at 1 p.m. in the afternoon died and on the 24th of the same was buried, Johann Martin KÖHLER. Age 5 years, 1 month and 4 days. His father Peter, the anwalt (lawyer one who checks contracts for the village), here. His mother, Anna Elisabetha nee SCHEER(IN).

Death was not done with this family and remained lurking in the shadows, striking again 6 months later.

Death: 21 July 1784

On the 21st of July at 6 a.m. ………stroke and on the 23rd of the same was buried. Anna Elisabetha KÖHLER(IN), her husband is Peter KÖHLER, anwalt (lawyer, one who checks contracts for the village) and village mayor. Age 43 years, 4 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days.

Von Oliver Orschiedt – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Sadly, Anna Elisabeth died young, only age 43.

Her family would have walked the few houses down the village street, turned to the right, and filed into the church where Elisabetha’s children, step-children, step-grandchildren, and husband would have said their final goodbyes. Her baby girl, just six months old, not only would never know her mother, she wouldn’t even remember her.

Elisabetha’s long-lost grave remains someplace on the church property, either in the greenspace, beneath the fountain, or perhaps even beneath the new church.

Ironically, Elisabetha raised Charlotta’s children, and now someone else would raise hers. While typically the godparents raised orphaned children, these children still had a father. Perhaps his children from his first marriage that Elisabetha raised would have helped to raise their younger half-siblings.

Three years later, in July of 1785, Peter would marry once again to a widow, Anna Maria Volcker from Assenheim who may have had children of her own. Those families would have blended. My ancestor, Margaretha Elisabetha born in 1772 would have been raised as a teen by her step-mother, or maybe by her elder siblings.

We know that daughter Margaretha Elisabetha remained in Ellerstadt where church records show that she was confirmed in 1785. Her godparents lived in Heuchelheim.

Just a few years later, Anna Elisabetha Scherer’s older children began marrying. Her absence would have been pronounced, especially painful on days like this.

Marriage: 29 June 1789

On the 29th of the same (June) 1789 was married

Philipp Jacob KÖHLER, son of the Herr Peter KÖHLER, village mayor here and Anna Elisabetha nee SCHER(IN), legitimate begotten, unmarried son with Maria Catharina, legitimate begotten, unmarried daughter of Martin MERCK, citizen here and Maria Catharina nee HÜBER(IN).

Now, Peter was also the village mayor.

Unfortunately, Peter Koehler also died before his children were raised.

Death: 11 August 1791

On the 11th of August in the afternoon at 2 p.m. died and on the 13th was buried, Herr Johann Peter KÖHLER, village mayor, and löwenwirth (innkeeper at the Lion Inn) here.  Age: 67 years less 1 month, 2 weeks, 4 days.

When Peter died, his youngest child would have been just 6 years old.

Two years later, in the marriage record for Maria Eva Kohler, the reverend noted about Peter and Elisabetha, “both are no more.”

Marriage: 13 August 1793

Philipp Jacob RHODT, citizen in Feudenheim, widower with Maria Eva KÖHLER(IN), legitimate begotten, unmarried surviving daughter of the late Peter KÖHLER, former village mayor here and Anna Elisabetha nee SCHER(IN), both are no more.

Altogether, Anna Elisabetha had birthed or mothered at least 20 children, 12 that were born of her body. That on top of being an innkeeper’s daughter and then an innkeeper’s wife. It seemed like Elisabetha could do or survive just about anything, yet, she was suddenly gone – “no more” – all too soon. Taken suddenly by a stroke in her 43rd year.

Anna Elisabetha had joined her ancestors, but there just might be more information about life in Ellerstadt coming soon.


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Johann Peter Koehler (1724-1791), Innkeeper, Lawyer, Mayor of Ellerstadt – 52 Ancestors #351

My ancestor, Margaretha Elisabetha Koehler was born on April 30, 1772 in Ellerstadt, Germany to Johann Peter Koehler and Anna Elisabetha Scherer.

I wrote about the Kirsch and Koehler homes in neighboring Mutterstadt where Margaretha Elisabetha lived after her marriage, here.


The village of Ellerstadt is the heart of German wine country. The ideal location for an innkeeper. Johann Peter Koehler was just that, the innkeeper at The Lion, and an innkeeper with aspirations.

Ellerstadt was a small village in the 1700s when Peter Koehler lived there, although it had existed for hundreds of years, minus the years it was laid waste by invading armies. The first mention of Ellerstadt was in 783, nearly 1000 years before Peter took up residence.

Peter wasn’t born in Ellerstadt.


According to his death record, Peter was born on September 28, 1724. His parents were Johann Peter Theobald Koehler and Anna Elisabetha Ulzhofer and he was most likely born in the little village of Rehutte (Rehhutte), given that his father was the customs collector and innkeeper there. However, Rehutte was occupied by French troops from 1734-1745, so where the family might have lived during that time is open to speculation. Records from Rehutte would be very enlightening.

Peter spent his adult life in Ellerstadt.

We don’t know exactly when Peter took up residence there, but at age 22, on January 11, 1746, he married Charlotta Braun in Ellerstadt. He would have been a citizen by then, with a vocation sufficient to support a wife and family or he would not have been allowed to marry.


This map of Ellerstadt from the 1840s is probably very similar to life 50 years earlier, near the end of Peter’s time on earth. These are the streets that Peter would have walked, buttressed by the vineyards tended by the residents stretching long and narrow behind their homes.

Today, you can see the same roads embracing the beautiful “old,” village.

The lives of all of the villagers, their comings and goings, revolved around the center of the village where there was likely a communal well at one time and probably a marketplace too. You can easily see the Protestant church with the green roof near the old school on the corner.

There would have been a bakery nearby, the smell of freshly baked bread wafting down the street. Of course, every village had an inn that functioned as the local restaurant and pub, gathering place, and safe haven for travelers and their beasts.

The region’s fine wines would have been served at the tables there, and maybe some locally distilled fruit brandy too. Today there’s a generationally owned winery in Ellerstadt plus a few more in close proximity.

You have no idea how much I want to walk these streets.

Von Immanuel Giel – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The old white school, shown above on the corner, was likely something else before it served as a school. We know that during Peter’s day that the schoolmaster taught at the Lutheran church.

Kirchenstrasse runs alongside the church, north to south, and Ratstrasse, or city hall street, intersects in the center of town. The city hall would have been located there, as would the local inn. Peter would have lived and worked someplace in this long block. I’d bet that in the city’s dusty records, there is something that would tell us where the old Lion or Red Lion Inn was located, or where Peter lived, which might well have been the same building. His wife may well have cooked for the family and their guests.

Peter, his wives and some of his children are assuredly buried in the cemetery behind the church in long-lost graves. Many of his children married and moved away, to neighboring villages and eventually, some of his descendants sailed for America.

Ellerstadt History

Like the rest of the Palatinate, Ellerstadt was entirely abandoned during the Thirty Years War which began in 1618. While the war officially ended in 1648, families had either died or settled elsewhere and there was literally nothing to return to. Everythign was burned and gone, but some tried to return to their ancestral villages.

Repeated incursions lasted throughout the 1600s, with French troops once again ravaging the Palatinate from 1689-1697. Refugees fled across the Rhine, with some eventually returning after the French discovered that they needed people to work so they had someone to tax.

In 1707, Ellerstadt belonged to Casimir Kolb von Wartenberg and was part of the Imperial county that was of an Imperially immediate nature. An imperial immediate nature was a privileged political status rooted in feudal law under the Holy Roman Empire granting the holder a form of sovereignty, allowing them to extract taxes and tolls, among other forms of control. Often, they granted benefits to villagers such as allowing them to own some time of business, such as an inn. Of course, nothing was free – they would have selected a man they could depend on to pay their taxes.

We know that Peter was living in Ellerstadt by 1746 when he married and established himself as a citizen and innkeeper. A decade later in 1756 catastrophic weather conditions including hail destroyed the entire harvest.

Many people probably went hungry that year. Peter, then 32 years old and married for a decade had 6 children, including a babe in arms. What did they do? How did they survive? We’ll never know.

During almost the entire time that Peter lived in Ellerstadt, the village was owned by the Wartenbergs. However, in 1789, the impoverished Wartenbergs sold their rights to the Counts of Sickingen, another noble family who subsequently lost Ellerstadt, along with all of the Palatinate west of the Rhine to the French in 1794.

We don’t know exactly how many people lived in the village of Ellerstadt in the 1700s, but we do know that there were 24-30 families by 1548 and by 1614, that number had increased to 60-70. Of course, that was before the war.

The families who didn’t die left no later than 1620, and it’s unknown if any of the original families tried to return after 1650. A full generation had passed.

Regardless, Peter Koehler’s family was not from Ellerstadt, but Ellerstadt was probably a “young” village once again in the early and mid-1700s, in the process of rebuilding and reestablishing itself. If it was without an innkeeper, a newly established inn would have been quite welcome. Food, wine and travelers. More people and goods to tax, including luxuries like tea, coffee and chocolate.

By 1722, the population had not extended beyond the city center; Ratsstausse, Kirchenstrausse with Fliesstrasse bordering the south side of the village.

The 1840s map shows about 110 or so residences, but many are in the “newer” outskirts of town, outside the village center where the church would have been rebuilt. Perhaps there were 50 families when Peter lived in Ellerstadt, eventually serving as Mayor.

Peter died in 1791, before the French Revolution occurred in 1793 and 1794, once again ravaging Ellerstadt. Soldiers plundered homes and forced the inhabitants into labor if they did not flee across the Rhine River.

Peter’s home and the inn would have either been destroyed or at least repurposed – although soldiers like everyone else had to eat and likely enjoyed a drink. While Peter was gone, perhaps his inn survived due to its usefulness.

Reassembling Peter’s Life

Most of what we know about Peter came from the church records which of course reflect none of the turmoil taking place, at least not directly. Clearly, the family attended services regularly. All of Peter’s children were baptized in the church as was expected.

The church was the central, cohesive glue of the village, with the protestant religion a way of life in German Palatinate villages during this time. There was no Catholic church. The Thirty Years’ War had been about the differences between Catholicism and the Protestant faith and the protestants won.

Peter’s transcribed marriage record tells us that on the 11th of January, 1746, Johann Peter Koehler, legitimate son of the customs collector Mister Kohler was married to the local widow Braun’s daughter Charlotta, after 3 public announcements during open church services.

Charlotta died 16 years later, on March 6, 1762, in Ellerstadt.

Charlotta and Peter had 8 children between November of 1746 and March of 1761. There are two gaps of 4 years, suggesting that two children died, one in 1751 and one in 1759. Others might have died after they were christened during that timeframe.

Peter remarried shortly, just 3 months later, on June 29th, 1762 to Anna Elisabetha Scherer, 18 years his junior and the daughter of the innkeeper of the “Lion Inn” in Heuchelheim, about 20 miles away. Peter’s oldest child was only 5 years younger than his new wife who immediately acquired a family of 8 children, minus any who had died. The oldest was 16 and the youngest, an infant who would never have known any other mother other than Elisabetha.

The translation of their marriage record, courtesy of cousin Tom says:

The local innkeeper at the Löwenwirth (Lion’s Inn), Peter KÖHLER, widower with Anna Elisabetha SCHER(IN), the late Philipp SCHER(N) from Heuchelheim, surviving legitimate daughter were married after the reading of the three proclamation of the banns.

Their first child arrived in November of 1763.

In his daughter Christina Ottilia’s marriage record on August 4, 1763, Peter is referenced as “citizen and host of the Red Lion in Ellerstadt, of the reformed religion.”

In 1765, their child Anna Margaretha was christened with Peter’s brother, Tobias Kohler, citizen and resident of Zeiskem (Zeiskam) and his wife, Anna Margaretha, serving as godparents. Zeiskam is about 33 kilometers away, so not a trivial journey.

Until 1776, Peter was consistently referred to as the Innkeeper at the Lion’s Inn, but in September 1776 when a new daughter was christened, he was referred to as anwalt,” or “lawyer here”, meaning the person who checked the contracts for the village. Probably quite different than a lawyer today, but still a position of responsibility and one that required the trust of the residents. He was 52 years old.

Elisabetha had 11 children between 1763 and January 1784. She died on July 21, 1784, once again leaving Peter, then 60, a widower with young children ranging in age from 6 months to 19 years, plus his children from his first marriage who were all adults by that time.

Three of Peter and Elisabetha’s children had died, including young Johann Martin Koehler on January 22, 1784, just a few months before his mother. I wonder if something like typhoid, flu or maybe dysentery was affecting people in the village during that time.

After Elisabetha’s death, Peter waited nearly a year before remarrying on July 4, 1785 to the widow Anna Margaretha Volker of Assenheim, a neighbor village.

Elke translated the record as:

The 4th of July, Mister Peter Kohler, former mayor and widower and Anna Margarethe nee Volckerin, remaining widow of the former Johannes tock, former citizen and court cognant in Assenheim.

Former mayor suggests that in 1785, Peter was no longer mayor, but that may have changed.

Four years later, in 1789, when his son, Philip Jacob Kohler married, Peter was referenced once again as the village mayor.

Then Peter died, his demise recorded in the church record.

On August 11, 1791, Herr Johann Peter Kohler, village mayor and lowenwirth, Innkeeper at The Lion here, died. Age 67 years, less 1 month 2 weeks and 4 days.

This tells us that Peter was born on September 28, 1724, and that he was still both the mayor and an innkeeper at his death. The title Herr was used as a sign of respect.

Peter’s daughter Anna Elisabetha’s marriage record on August 18, 1801 says:

Anna Elisabetha Kohlerin of Ellerstadt, 21 years old born in Fussgoenheim the ? of Oct residing in Ellerstadt, daughter of the former Peter Koehler, former citizen and mayor in Ellerstadt and his wife anna Elisabetha nee Schererin.

She was born October 3, 1781.

Peter’s daughter’s August 13, 1793 marriage record says:

Philipp Jacob Rhodt, citizen in Freudenheim a widower to Maria Eva Kohlerin unmarried daughter of the former Peter Kohler, former mayor, from here and Anna Elisabetha, nee Scherin, both are no more.

In 1823, Peter’s daughter died, providing a final confirmation:

On the 21st of April 1823 died and on the 23rd was buried, Anna Margaretha Kirsch, widow of the late Andreas Kirsch, aged 49 years 11 months 22 days. Her parents: Peter Kohler from Ellerstadt and Anna Elisabetha Scherr.

The Lion Inn

It has been suggested that perhaps the Lion Inn has something to do with the Hallberg crest or coat of arms. It’s worth noting that the inn in Heuchelheim was also known as “The Lion.”

Von Immanuel Giel – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0,

This Hallberg crest is affixed to the pulpit in the Hallberg castle church in neighboring Fussgoenheim, less than 2 miles away. There are two lions on the crest, and one way to obtain the rights to open a local inn would be to sell Hallberg wine and name the establishment after the local noble’s crest animal.

A Confusing DNA Puzzle

Several years ago, my Koehler cousin was gracious enough to take an autosomal and Y DNA test to represent our Koehler line.

The results are very interesting.

The Renner family is also present in this part of Germany, primarily in Mutterstadt, but also found in neighboring Fussgoenheim, Schauernheim, Dannstadt and Assenheim. Perhaps even more interesting is that one Jacob Wilhelm Renner married Peter Koehler’s sister. The couple stood as godparents for one of Peter’s children.

The Renner and Koehler families were both in this part of Germany since before written records. It’s certainly possible that the Renner and Koehler families had a common paternal ancestor, before the advent of surnames. Celts and Germanic tribes settled along the Rhine River in prehistory, and Ceasar crossed the Rhine in 55 and 53 BCE. The Rhine River has always been Europe’s water superhighway, serving as both passageways and boundaries – and always worth fighting for.

In other words, families existed, as did armies, in the Palatinate long before surnames.

My Koehler cousin descends from Peter Koehler and Elisabetha through their son, Philip Jacob Koehler who married Maria Catharina Merck.

Today, my Koehler cousin’s Y DNA matches several Renner and Rennard men. So far, no Koehler surname matches on Y DNA, but, there’s more…

  • Autosomal matching shows a match to another descendant of Johann Peter Koehler and Anna Elisabetha Scherer through Philip Jacob Koehler and Maria Catharina Merck, through their daughter. Therefore, the path back to at least Philip Jacob Koehler seems to be clear and unbroken. If the Y DNA Koehler line of Ellerstadt had been broken between Philip Jacob Koehler and my Koehler cousin, he would NOT match anyone else descended from that couple autosomally, and he does.
  • In other words, if Peter Koehler and Elisabetha Scherer’s son, Philip Jacob Koehler had been their son, but his son was a Renner male, then the Y and autosomal link would both have been broken, so my cousin today could not match a descendant of either Philip Jacob Koehler or Peter Koehler.

There’s additional information to consider.

  • My cousin also matches another Koehler male on the Family Finder test, but that person has not taken the Y DNA test and hasn’t provided genealogical information.
  • Another interesting tidbit – we find another Koehler line autosomal match and a Renner Y DNA match both in Frederick County, Maryland in the 1700s. Is this important? I don’t know.
  • One of the Renner Y DNA test matches shows their ancestor, Johann Peter Renner in Oberschleichach, Hassberge, Bavaria and his father Adam Renner born in 1739 in Neuschleichach, Haßberge, Bavaria, Germany. His father, Johann Adam Renner was born in Oberschleichach in 1689. Given the Y DNA direct connection, this link between Koehler and Renner seems to reach back beyond the birth of Peter Koehler in 1724 in the Palatinate. This connection, 250 kilometers east of Ellerstadt and far from the Palatinate looks like it reaches back to or before the Thirty Years’ War.

I can’t help but think back to the devastation of the Thirty Years War in the early 1600s west of the Rhine in the Palatinate, and how many children were orphaned. Fighting continued throughout the 1600s and the 1700s weren’t exactly stable either. The French Revolution in the 1790s caused massive upheaval as well. Was an orphan child taken in and raised by another family? Did a Renner family take a Koehler child, or vice versa?

I would LOVE to test a Renner male from the Renner line that lived in Mutterstadt or nearby. I descend from Johann Peter Renner (1679-1746) there was well. If you’re a Renner male that fits this description, I have a DNA testing scholarship for you!

Were the paternal ancestors of both of these lines the same man prior to the adoption of surnames? Had their ancestors lived in this region since prehistory? The answer to this question is never going to be found in the records – and only shadows and hints exist in the Y and autosomal DNA of descendants.

Perhaps in time, enough other people will test both Y and autosomal DNA that we can refine our knowledge.

Until then, we can only piece tidbits together about how Johann Peter Koehler was related to the Renner family, and when.


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DNA Shows Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Philips Are My Relatives, But Are They My Ancestors? – 52 Ancestors #350

One of the requests by several people for 2022 article topics revolved in some way around solving challenges and showing my work.

In this case, I’m going to show both my work and the work of a newly-discovered cousin, Greg Simkins.

Let’s start by reminding you of something I said last week in Darcus Johnson (c1750-c1835) Chain Carrier – Say What??.

Darcus is reported in many trees to be the daughter of Peter Johnson (Johnston, Johnstone) and his wife Mary Polly Phillips. Peter reportedly lived in Pennsylvania and died in Allegheny County, PA. However, I am FAR from convinced that this couple was Darcus’s parents.

The distance from Shenandoah County, VA to Allegheny Co., PA is prohibitive for courting.

The Shenandoah County records need to be thoroughly researched with various Johnson families reconstructed. I’m hoping that perhaps someone has already done that and a Johnson family was living not terribly far from Jacob Dobkins father, John Dobkins. That would be the place to start.

Greg, Peter Johnson’s descendant through son James reached out to me.

Hi Roberta, I read your essay today on Dorcas Johnson. I wanted to write to you because I am a descendant of Dorcas’s brother James and have DNA matches to support our connection.

Clearly, I was very interested, but I learned long ago not to get too excited.

Then, Greg kindly shared his tree and DNA results with me. He was also generous enough to allow me to incorporate his information into this article. So yes, this article is possible entirely thanks to Greg.

I was guardedly excited about Greg’s communication, but I wasn’t prepared for the HUGE shock about to follow!


Greg has done his homework and stayed after school.

First, he tracked the descendants of Peter through all of his children, to present, where possible, and added them into his trees at the genealogy vendors. The vendors can do much better work for you with as much ammunition as you can provide.

Second, he has doggedly tracked matches at MyHeritage, FamilyTreeDNA, Ancestry and GEDmatch that descend through Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips’s children. By doggedly, I mean he has spent hundreds to thousands of hours by his estimation – and based on what I see, I would certainly agree. In doing so, he pushed his own line back from his great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Johnson, three generations to Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips – and proved its accuracy using DNA.

Altogether, Greg has identified almost 250 matches that descend from Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips, and mapped those segments across his chromosomes.

Greg made notes for each match by entering the number of matching cMs into their profile names as a suffix in his tree. For example, “David Johnson 10cM” instead of “David Johnson Jr.” or Sr.  That way, it’s easy to quickly see who is a match and by how much. Brilliant! I’m adopting that strategy. It won’t affect what other people see, because no living people are shown in trees.

Of course, DNA is on top of traditional genealogical research that we are all familiar with that connects people via deeds, wills, and other records.

Additionally, Greg records research information for individuals as a word document or pdf file and attaches them as documents to the person’s profile in his tree. His tree is searchable and shareable, so this means those resources are available to other people too. We want other researchers to find us and our records for EXACTLY this reason.

One thing to note is that if you are using Ancestry and use the Notes function on profiles, the notes don’t show to people with whom you share your tree, but links, sources and attached documents do.

Greg has included both “Other Sources” and “Web Links” below.

Click images to enlarge

For example, if I click on Greg’s link to Historic Pittsburg, I see the land grant location for Peter Johnson. Wow, this was unexpected.

Ok, I love maps and I’m hooked. Notice the names of the neighbors too. You’ll see Applegate again. Also, note that Thomas Applegate sold his patent to Richard Johnson. Remember the FAN club – friends and neighbors.

Ok, back to DNA for now.

The Children

Ancestors with large families are the best for finding present-day DNA matches. Of course, that’s because there are more candidates. More descendants and that means more people who might test someplace. This is also why you want to be sure to have your DNA in all 4 major DNA vendors, FamilyTreeDNA, MyHeritage, Ancestry, and 23andMe, plus GEDmatch.

This is a portion of Greg’s tree that includes the children of Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips. Note that two Johnson females married Dobkins men. I’ve always suspected that Margaret Johnson and Dorcas Johnson were sisters, but unless we could use mitochondrial DNA, or figure out who the parents of either Peter or Mary are, there’s no good way to prove it.

We’re gathering some very valuable evidence.

At Ancestry, Greg has 85 matches on his ThruLines for Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips, respectively.

  • Of course, Greg has the most matches for his own line through Peter’s son James Johnson (1752-1826) who married Elizabeth Lindsay and died in Lawrence County, IL: 35 matches.
  • Next is Margaret Johnson (1780-1833) who married Evan Dobkins in Dunmore County, VA, brother of my ancestor, Jacob Dobkins. She probably died in Cocke County, TN: 25 matches. Dorcas named one of her children Margaret and Margaret may have named one of her children Dorcas.
  • Solomon Johnson (1765-1843) married Frances Warne and stayed in Allegheny County, PA: 8 matches. Notice one of Peter’s neighbors was a Warner family. Dorcas named one of her children Solomon, a fairly unusual name.
  • Mary Johnson (1770-1833) married Garrett Wall Applegate and died in Harrison County, IN: 7 matches. The Applegates were Peter Johnson’s neighbors and Garrett served in the Revolutionary War in the 8th VA Regiment. Clearly, some of these settlers came from or spent time in Virginia.
  • Dorcas Johnson (c1750-c1835) married Jacob Dobkins in Dunmore County, VA and died in Claiborne County, TN: 5 matches.
  • Peter Johnson (1753-1840) married Eleanor “Nellie” Peter and died in Jefferson County, KY: 4 matches.
  • Richard D. Johnson (1752-1818) married Hannah Dungan and Elizabeth Nash: 2 matches.

Unfortunately, since most of those matches are between 7 and 20 cM, and Ancestry does not display shared matches under 20 cM, we can’t use Ancestry’s comparison tool to see if these people also match each other. That’s VERY unfortunate and extremely frustrating.

Greg matches more people from this line at MyHeritage, GEDmatch and FamilyTreeDNA, and thankfully, those vendors all three provide segment information AND shared match information.

Cousins Are Critical

While Greg, unfortunately, does not match me, he does match several of my cousins whose tests I manage.

Two of those cousins both descend from Darcus Johnson through her daughter Jenny Dobkins, through her daughter Elizabeth Campbell, through her daughter Rutha Dodson, through her sons John Y. Estes and Lazarus Estes, respectively.

Another descends through Jenny Dobkins son, William Newton Campbell for another 5 generations. These individuals all match on a 17 cM segment of Chromosome 20.

Other known cousins match Greg on different chromosomes.

Looking at their shared matches at FamilyTreeDNA, we find more Dobkins, Dodson and Campbell cousins, some that were previously unknown to me. One of those cousins also descends through William Newton Campbell’s daughter for another 4 generations and matches on the same segment of chromosome 20.


Emails have been flying back and forth between me and Greg, each one with some piece of information that one of us has found that we want to be sure the other has too. Having research buddies is wonderful!

Then, Greg sent a screenshot of a portion of his chromosome 20 from DNAPainter that includes the DNA of the cousins mentioned above. I didn’t realize Greg was using DNAPainter. It’s an understatement to say I’m thrilled because DNAPainter does the cross-vendor triangulation work automatically for you.

Just look at all of those matches that carry this Johnson/Phillips segment of chromosome 20. Holy chimloda.

Greg also sent his DNAPainter sharing link, and it turns out that this is only a partial list, with one of my cousins highlighted, dead center in the list of Peter Johnson’s and Mary Polly Phillip’s descendants. Greg has even more not shown.

Trying Not to Jump to Conclusions

I’m trying so hard NOT to jump to conclusions, but this is just SOOOO EXCITING!

Little doubt remains that indeed, Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips are the parents of Dorcas Johnson who married Jacob Dobkins and also of Margaret Johnson who married Evan Dobkins. I’ve eliminated the possibility of other common ancestors, as much as possible, and verified that the descent is through multiple children. This particular segment on chromosome 20 reaches across multiple children’s lines.

I say little doubt remains, because some doubt does remain. It’s possible that perhaps Dorcas and her sister weren’t actually daughters of Peter Johnson, but maybe children of his brother? Peter was reported to have a brother James, a sheriff in Cumberland County, PA. but again, we lack proof. If Dorcas is Peter Johnson’s niece, her descendants would still be expected to match some of the descendants of Peter and his wife.

Also complicating matters is the fact that Greg also has a Campbell brick wall with a James Campbell born about 1790 who lived in Fayette County, PA, in the far northwest corner of the state. Therefore, DNA matches through Dorcas Johnson Dobkins’s daughters Jenny and Elizabeth who married Campbell brothers need to be verified through her children’s lines that do NOT descend through her daughters who married Campbell men.

Nagging Questions

I know, I’m being a spoilsport, but I still have questions that need answers.

For example, I still need to account for how the Johnson girls managed to get to Shenandoah County, VA (Dunmore County at that time) to meet the Dobkins boys, spend enough time there to court, and then marry Evan and Jacob nine months apart in 1775. Surely they were living there. Young women simply did not travel, especially not great distances, and marriages occurred in the bride’s home county. Yet, they married in Shenandoah County, VA, not in PA.

What About the Records?

We are by no means done. In fact, I’ve just begun. I have some catching up to do. Greg has focused on Peter Johnson and Mary Polly Phillips in Pennsylvania. I need to focus on Virginia.

Of course, the next challenge is actual records.

What exists and what doesn’t? FamilySearch provides a list for Dunmore County, here, and Shenandoah, here.

Was Peter Johnson ever in Dunmore County that became Shenandoah County, VA, and if so when and where? If not, how the heck did his two daughters marry the Dobkins boys in 1775? Was there another Johnson man in Dunmore during that time? Was it James?

Where was Peter Johnson in 1775 when Dorcas and Margaret were marrying? Can we positively account for him in Pennsylvania or elsewhere?

Some information has been published about Peter Johnson, but those critical years are unaccounted for.

It appears that the Virginia Archives has a copy of the 1774-1776 rent rolls for Dunmore County, but they aren’t online. That’s the best place to start. Fingers crossed for one Peter Johnson living right beside John Dobkins, Jacob’s father. Now THAT would convince me.

Stay tuned!

Note – If you’d like to view Greg’s tree at Ancestry, its name is “MyHeritage Tree Simkins” and you can find it by searching for Maude Gertrude Wilson born in 1876 in Logan County, Illinois, died January 27, 1950 in Ramsey County, Minnesota, and married Harry A. Simkins. Elizabeth Ann Johnson (1830-1874) is Maude’s grandmother.


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