Tag Archives: Johannes Whitmer

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!

My John Whitmer Family Tree Experiment – Update

The last few days have been interesting. If you read my posts on January 5-6 and 7 this week, I decided to contact all the people who had online family trees that contained John Whitmer who died in 1828 in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky.

John Whitmer, Page 61

First, in reviewing the trees, I originally counted 358 separate family trees on one site. Next, I sent individual messages to each person hosting the tree. Along the way, I recognized some obvious duplications of hosts – 66 to be exact and, even with that, I am sure there were several people who received at least two messages from free.  That reduced the number of individuals hosting trees to 292.

Interestingly, I came across three other trees whose hosts have chosen to not allow anyone to contact them. That left 289 tree hosts to whom I have written. Happily, most of the hosts had logged in to Ancestry within the last month and many within the last few days. I would estimate that 10-15% last logged in over a year ago. Those people may no longer have an active subscription.

I have received nineteen replies. One person said John was a collateral line that hadn’t been researched and they hadn’t had time to prune the tree. Another was actually descended from Michael and Barbara Whitmer and had erroneously added my John to their family. A couple others replied that they will look at the information and thanked me. Thirteen are direct descendants and mostly said that this line had either been a brick wall or they hadn’t yet researched it and seemed genuinely pleased to have all this new information about John’s origins.

One person wrote and said thank you, but they have done their own research and will keep what they have (which is wrong). I asked if they would share any documentation they had, but none has yet been offered. . . .

One wanted me to re-explain a three day post in a separate email and a second person simply wrote “I need more info.” They both got replies with this blog address.

I have already learned a bit myself about the way that some other people choose to research. Everyone has his/her own methods, which is fine, but I guess I don’t see the point in adding a lot of unverified information to my tree, not having checked any of the facts for myself, and then having to unlink/delete a lot of wrong data.  That seems like a lot of extra work, not to mention the fact that once something is on the internet, it is impossible to completely erase it.

I will post a final update in early February. I am most curious to see what changes are evident in the family trees four weeks later.

Plotting “Metes and Bounds” Property

After a somewhat choppy start to my blog writing, I think I am getting into a routine. I’ve told the stories of some of my ancestors and how I solved mysteries or opened some brick walls, but I haven’t gone into great detail about strategies that I’ve used.

Today, I want to tell you about DeedMapper. I try to stick to free software posted in my Favorites section. DeedMapper isn’t free, but when I first discovered it, it was a unique type of software.

Here was my problem:

Martin Miller married Catherine Whitmer in 1808 in Botetourt County, Virginia. Martin was born in 1785 in Pennsylvania, but I had no idea who his parents were. I knew Catherine was the daughter of Johannes/John Whitmer.

Martin and Catherine migrated with her family to Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, but a search of probate, land records, and marriages showed no apparent ties with any other Miller families there.

I then turned to Virginia records. There were several Miller families in Botetourt County at that time. Some appeared to be English speaking, while others were more likely to have been Germans. The Whitmers were definitely German speaking and Martin Miller appeared to also be German speaking.

Martin and Catherine’s sons, in birth order, were John, Jacob, Michael, David and Martin. The girls, in birth order, were Sarah, Rebecca and Catherine. That meant they didn’t follow traditional naming patterns since the first daughter would have been named Catherine for Catherine’s mother; John might have been the name of Martin’s father, but since it was Catherine’s father, too, I couldn’t tell if John was named for his maternal grandfather or if he might have been named for both grandfathers.

I also had no luck finding any clues or documents about a Martin Miller, born about 1785, somewhere in Pennsylvania, except for the 1850 census listing “my” Martin Miller.

During several visits to the library, I collected copies of land deeds for any Millers buying or selling land in Botetourt County between 1785 and 1820. Unless Martin traveled directly from Pennsylvania to marry Catherine in Virginia, which I sincerely hoped he hadn’t done, then he lived in Virginia for at least a while before he married. I hoped that he lived with his parents.

Back in the pre-internet days, when I was researching this problem, I needed a good, detailed map showing creeks, etc. so I could try to figure out where these different families lived. I bought a USGS survey map and used a map that came with DeedMapper.

I hand outlined areas that were mentioned in deeds. This can all be done in the software today, but remember, this was pre-internet.

I also remembered the old adage that, in the “olden” days, a young man usually courted a young lady who lived no further than five miles away because that was the maximum distance he could travel in a day and then return home.

I also obtained copies of land deeds for John Whitmer and was able to figure out the exact area he lived in, which today is downtown Roanoke, in Roanoke County.

For the multiple Miller transactions, I could sort of figure out where they were, but wanted a way to check my findings.

DeedMapper was the solution. Using the software, I entered the land descriptions. . . starting at a black sapling, 20 rods east, etc. The software plotted out the shape of the land and I was able to place the land “at the mouth of “X” River. I had a very good idea of where each property was in relation to John Whitmer’s home.

It turned out that the apparent English speakers lived in a different section of the county – closer to Fincastle and northwards and were living there earlier than this German group – and too far away from John Whitmer – sometimes 20 miles away – so it was unlikely that Martin was a child of any of those landowners.

However, there were two very likely candidates to be his father, both named Jacob Miller and both appeared to be German speaking.  The first Jacob was married to Margaret; this couple was elderly because Margaret was unable to travel to the courthouse to release her dower rights. This couple lived closer to John Whitmer than the English speaking Millers, but was  still some distance away. The second Jacob Miller had a wife named Sarah in 1797, but was remarried to an Elizabeth by the early 1800’s. The land descriptions make it clear that 1797 Jacob and 1813 Jacob are the same person. They lived very close to John Whitmer and no record of this Jacob was found in Botetourt County after an 1813 land deed.

Kentucky tax records prove that the Whitmers and Millers were in Kentucky by about 1812. This Jacob Miller is gone from Botetourt County records after this 1813 deed. It is possible that he died or he may have moved on.

Martin and Catherine named their second son Jacob and their third daughter was Sarah. They didn’t strictly follow their cultural naming patterns, but Jacob and Sarah were names they used and Jacob and Sarah Miller who lived so close to John Whitmer could possibly be Martin’s parents. Jacob and Margaret weren’t totally ruled out as possibilities, especially as I knew that they were older, but unless an unknown daughter died young, no daughter of Martin’s was named Margaret.

DeedMapper helped me visualize and plot out their properties and were they were located in relation to each other. If you are delving into a community where there are many with the same surnames in the same time period or you are using the FAN (Friends and Neighbors) technique to learn more about your family AND their property is described not in the Public Land Survey System (township, range and section), but in metes and bounds, then DeedMapper might be a resource that you consider. It is only available for Windows, though, which is a drawback for Mac users.

I learned a lot about land surveys using DeedMapper. First, those random sounding descriptions formed a very definitive pattern and, if the scribe made a mistake in writing out the description, it was immediately apparent on DeedMapper because the beginning and ending of the property didn’t close, that is, the ending point didn’t arrive back at the beginning point. I was surprised as how often that happened, but even with the error, it was possible to get a very good idea of the land shape and place it in the correct neighborhood.

Although I have a much more recent version of DeedMapper, I have not had the chance to delve back into analyzing metes and bounds deeds. I understand that it is now possible to integrate it into GPS coordinates and export it to KML (Google Earth). I am looking forward to trying out these capabilities.

After the land analysis, I still had no proof of Martin’s parents, but I had two possibilities – Jacob and Sarah or, possible but I thought less likely, Jacob and Margaret. I used the first version of DeedMapper, which came out in 1994. A number of years went by before I found another clue to Martin Miller’s parents.

That is tomorrow’s story. I hope you will come back to read the next chapter!