Category Archives: Johannes Whitmer

52 Documents in 52 Weeks #21: A Church Record in the Most Unexpected Place

Sometimes, serendipity strikes in the most unexpected ways. Way back when my genealogy buddy Nancy and I both lived in southern California (I can’t believe it was over 25 years ago!), we both were at home moms because we had young children. We only lived a few miles apart, both in Alta Loma, but instead of packing up children for car trips, Nancy and I spoke often on the telephone. Occasionally, we talked about kids, but we both loved to talk about genealogy.

At the time, I was hard at work tracking down my husband’s Whitmer family. They migrated after the Revolutionary War from Frederick County, Maryland through Virginia before settling permanently in Muhlenburg County, Kentucky.

I knew that the family had lived in Botetourt County, Virginia in the early 1800s, but then I found a Goodspeed biography about one of John Whitmer’s sons, Valentine, who had been born in 1786. I elatedly called Nancy because the article actually said he had been born in Rockingham County. The Whitmers were German and Nancy had been researching her husband’s Bender/Painter line, who were also German and had lived in Rockingham County.

My questions mainly had to do with wondering how many German church records were available for that time period in that county. Nancy pulled out her notes and papers on her Bender family research and shared a copy of the one single page of baptismal records she had from the Friedens Church. Henry Bender/Painter’s baptism was recorded on it (although it is a typed transcription of the fragile original records.

Here is the page she shared with me:

Heinrich Bender (Painter) with yellow arrow
Born 1 September, Baptized 3 December 1786

I was particularly excited to learn that Friedens Church is still active today, located in Mt. Crawford, Virginia.

Have you noticed anything else about this single page of baptismal records that Nancy had? If not, take another, closer look.

Hint: Look at the last entry on the page!

Nancy’s one page of records from this church also included the baptism of Valentine Whitmer, son of Johannes and Catherine Whitmer, born 26 October and baptized on Christmas Day, 25 December 1786.

Now what are the odds of that??? By the way, this story made the cut for Hank Jones’ book, Psychic Roots.

I guess the moral of this story is to be sure to ask your friends if they have any good genealogical records that you, too, might need. 🙂


German Origins of John Whitmer – One Year Later

Exactly one year ago, I began my John Whitmer experiment.

A quick recap – in the 1990’s I had researched and proven the German family origins of John Whitmer (1752-1828) of Frederick County, Maryland and Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. John has thousands of descendants, but a check of online family trees turned up 357 trees. 355 of them either had no parents for John Whitmer or incorrectly identified them.

I emailed the online tree owners with information about John’s origins and a link to my blog posts, where I typed the text of my published research into a multi-part series, with complete citations for all of my sources.

I posted updates a couple of times during the year, but with the 2016 New Year upon us, my Whitmer experiment crossed my mind and I decided to take another look at the online family trees.

Last year, I took the time to sort out and eliminate trees which were obviously duplicates (with earlier and later versions) posted by the same person. This year, with no plans to manually email all those tree owners again, I didn’t even attempt sorting out duplicate trees with the same owner.

I received a number of comments about the progress of my experiment, with several people saying that even three months might not be long enough for some people to have time to update their trees.

Well, a year has now gone by and I’d say unless someone had major life issues, they would have found a moment to at least enter or correct the names of John’s parents.

The one year results are as depressing as the three month results, but there is a tiny bit of improvement.

The current count of total online trees on one particular site, which shall remain unnamed, is 383. One of those is mine, so we’ll go with a total of 382. Remember, duplicate trees have not been eliminated from this count and I have no way of knowing whether any new trees have been posted during this year.

Well, there are now a total of 12 – yes, 12 – trees that correctly show John’s parents as Johannes Whitmer and Maria Elisabetha Holtz. One of those trees is mine, so that means11 of the hundreds of people I emailed updated their trees. I think I had thank yous from about 9 people who said they would correct their information at the three month mark.

This is a great lesson in not trusting information online. Many of the people with online trees are “name” collectors. They don’t research on their own and seem to blindly accept information already posted. I provided documented sources linking the Whitmer family of Frederick County, Maryland to the Whitmers and other allied families of Barbelroth, Germany. Even with documentation, only about 3% (of last year’s 357 tree count) updated their family trees. That is not only depressing, it’s kind of scary.

End of the experiment!

A Hint of a Clue Might Be All That Is Needed

Sometimes, it seems as if ancestors are jumping in front of us, yelling “Here I am,” while, at other times, it seems more likely that the ancestors are so well hidden that they might never be found. It is these ancestors that become our proverbial brick walls.

I have to admit that my own “empty branches” aren’t all that empty, but it isn’t because of a lack of brick walls. Instead, I believe it is directly related to my research methods. The one I use most often to break through brick walls is “Leave no stone unturned.”

Now, for many people, “no stone unturned” means that it can’t be found online. In my mind, “no stone unturned” means checking library catalogs for books available that cover historical and/or genealogical information in the locale of interest. It means visiting libraries to browse through those books if they aren’t digitally available. It means writing letters to local genealogical and historical societies and to local court houses and possibly churches. It means reading microfilms of records that might include tax lists, compiled genealogies, unpublished court house records and miscellaneous information.

I do all that because you never know where you might find that hint of a clue, a clue that might be quite obscure.

That is exactly how I broke through the John Whitmer German origins brick wall years ago. I never would have been able to prove his parentage and find his home village if I had overlooked even one stone, or in this case, a little pebble.

The pebble that totally destroyed this brick wall was one sentence (and if I remember correctly, it was actually in a footnote that was on page 106 of volume 2) in a book that I browsed on a library shelf. Calvin E. Schildknecht was the editor of a three volume history, Monocacy and Catoctin: Some Settlers of Western Maryland and Adjacent Pennsylvania and Their Descendants, 1725-1988, published in 1989.

What I found was a statement that a John Whitmore had emigrated to Frederick County, Maryland from Barbelroth, Zweibrucken, Germany in 1753.

I could find nothing else in Maryland resources that talked about this John “Whitmore” from Barbelroth. However, there were two or three John Whitmore/Wittmer/Whitmers living in the area at that time.

Next, I checked the old IGI (International Genealogical Index) microfiche at my local family history center. There were, indeed, Whitmers of various spellings in Barbelroth records in the mid 1700’s.

My last step was to order the microfilms of those relevant church records. The result? The brick wall was gone. People rarely migrated alone to new places. The Whitmer family traveled with other Barbelroth residents, including John’s wife’s family, to Maryland. Together, they disappeared from the German church records and, together, they appeared in the Frederick County, Maryland church records.

Remember: Leave no stone unturned!