John Whitmer, born 24 June 1751 in Barbelroth, Germany; died 10 Dec 1828 in Muhlenberg County, KY and Catherine, his wife, born 1 Dec 1760; died 4 September 1838, also in Muhlenberg County, are my husband’s 5x great grandparents. (Dates taken from their gravestones at Grundy Cemetery. )
Unlike some family lines, they have hundreds, if not thousands of descendants. In April 1976, Dallis and (Sarah) Ann Whitmer published their work on the descendants of this couple and they did an amazing job, particularly since this happened in the pre-computer era. Their one major error was in attaching this John as a son of Michael Whitmer of Lancaster County, PA.
In the 1990’s, I spent many hours, days, weeks and months trying to prove the parentage of Johannes, known as John in Kentucky, and his wife, Catherine, whose maiden name was allegedly something like “Valde,” which could have been a corrupt spelling of a surname like “Welty.” I had also seen a reference to Catherine’s maiden name being “Tarwater,” but it was only heresay passed along orally. I have never found any primary document with that information on it.
In the Summer 1993 issue of Bluegrass Roots, the Kentucky Genealogy Society’s publication, my work on the Whitmer family was published as a lesson in how to research. I was very proud of that accomplishment and even prouder when I was told that I came in second place statewide for the best article submitted that year.
I will focus on John Whitmer at another time. Today, I want to tell you about his wife, Catherine, who is STILL a brick wall. I have an inkling of her maiden name, but that is only an educated guess based on records I have accumulated through the years on this couple.
Here is the introduction from my Whitmer article so you have some background on the family and the research I had done:
When I first began researching my husband’s family history, and rather quickly came upon the line of John and Catherine Whitmer, it appeared to me that it would be relatively easy to trace this family back for at least a couple more generation. The name did not seem terribly common and a maiden name of sorts (Valde) was given for Catherine. It could have been a corruption of “Welty.” What followed became a classic lesson in documenting all information firsthand, rather than accepting the word of others.
I began my search with the information about John Whitmer in Muhlenberg County, KY. Census records, land deeds, tax rolls, and John’s will provided more than enough primary documentation. However, I wanted to take him out of Kentucky back to his parents. A friend of mine saw an ad for a genealogical book titled The Family History of Eula Mae Miller Fisher. This Miller family was from Muhlenberg County and included some information on other local German families, such as the Shavers, who had ties by marriage to the Whitmers in Kentucky. I was very interested in this book because the Whitmers and other German families in the area appeared to be very clannish, intermarrying for at least 200 years. The Shavers had been traced from Botetourt County, VA. A while later, I also found a book called The Whitmer Family Genealogy about John and his Muhlenberg County descendants, put together for the Bicentennial by Dallis and Ann Whitmer. The Whitmers opened with an introduction that records had been compiled from cemeteries, court records, censuses, obituaries, marriage records, Bible records and archival information in Philadelphia. It also made the statement that there was an old Whitmer family Bible, written in German, that was given to John Whitmer by Frena Whitmer Nesbitt in 1809. This book also placed John Whitmer in the family of Michael and Barbara Whitmer of Manor Township, Lancaster County, PA.
Lastly, a quick check of the LDS Church IGI showed a listing for Jacob, John and Catherine Whitmer, children of John and Catherine, baptized in the German Reformed Church of Frederick, Maryland. The baptismal dates corresponded closely to birth dates on their gravestones in Kentucky, leading me to believe it was the same John Whitmer family.
There appeared to be quite a wealth of information about John Whitmer and his origins and enough information was provided in the various publications to being to prove this information to my own satisfaction, using primary sources.
However, as I wrote to confirm these facts, I quickly ran into stone walls. My only initial success was taking a guess that since the families were closely tied together in Kentucky and the Shavers came from Botetourt County, VA, perhaps John Whitmer followed the same route. The Botetourt County clerk found a marriage record for Martin Miller and Catherine Whitmer, identified as the daughter of John, married on 7 Jan 1808, although this marriage was omitted from the published volume of Botetourt marriages. My next venture proved that Frena Witmer Nesbitt could not have possibly given the Bible to John in 1809, as she had died by the time her father wrote his will in the 1790’s. Frena Witmer, wife of Nathaniel Nesbitt, was the daughter of Peter and Anna Catharine Baughman Witmer of Lebanon Township, Lancaster, PA, now Lebanon County, PA. Peter left a will dated 31 Oct 1794 which was probated in Jan 1795 in Dauphin County, now Lebanon County, PA.4 In it, he left equal shares of his “movables” to four living children and to children of deceased daughters Veronica (Frena) and Catharine.
Finally, I traced the old German Whitmer family Bible (published in 1736 in Basel, Switzerland) to Christus Gardens in Gatlinburg, TN, where the clerk made a photocopy of the handwritten material in the Bible, I sent a copy of the writing to a translator for the German Genealogical Society of America, telling her only that I wanted to know if a typed translation done in the 1940’s did, indeed, match the original Bible inscription stating that John’s wife’s name was Catherine Valde. (Click on the PDF below to see the Christus Garden letter, the letter from translator Ann Sherwin and the two hand written pages of family information from the Whitmer family Bible.)
Her reply was that the original writing was a list of names which, unknown to her, were the names of the children of John and Catherine Whitmer, apparently in birth order. The third child named was Catherine, my husband’s ancestress. For this fourth child, a son, Valentine, John wrote “Valde”, probably meaning the nickname “Velty” or “Felty”, frequently used for Valentine. No mention of John’s wife was made in the writing of the Bible, and apparently from the 1940 translation came the misinformation that his wife was “Catherine Valde”, which was actually a combination of the names of two of the children linked without a comma.
I had now disproven John’s parentage and Catherine’s maiden name. On the positive side, I could place him in Frederick, Maryland in the late 1770’s, in Botetourt County, VA in 1808 and in Muhlenberg County by the 1810 census.
If any of Catherine’s family migrated with the Whitmers through Virginia and Kentucky, it wasn’t evident from the records they left. No marriage record has been found for Johannes/John and Catherine, but they married circa 1778, probably in Maryland, so I focused my search on Frederick County.