Tag Archives: John Whitmer

German Origins of John Whitmer, 3 Years Later

Three years ago, I decided to try an experiment.

My husband’s 5X great grandfather, John Whitmer, was born in Barbelroth, Germany and emigrated to Frederick County, Maryland when he was a young boy in the 1750s.

As an adult, he moved westward, first to Botetourt County, Virginia and then, finally, to Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, where he died in 1828.

I wrote a long article published by the Kentucky Genealogical Society, which won second prize that year for best work, proving John’s parentage and  supported records found by encompassing his FAN (family, associates, neighbors) club. He was the son of Johannes Wittmer/Whitmer and Maria Elisabetha Holtz, who settled in Fredericktown, Maryland.

John Whitmer and his wife, Catherine, MAIDEN NAME UNKNOWN, (in spite of many online trees calling her Catherine Valde Tarwater) have hundreds, if not thousands of descendants today.

Understandably, there are many (almost 400) public member trees on Ancestry that include John Whitmer. However, I noticed back in 2015 that most of them either had no known parents for John Whitmer or they attributed him to Michael Whitmer and Barbara Oster of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania with absolutely no source citations.

My experiment consisted of emailing all of the tree owners who had current contact information and sharing a link to my KGS article, which I posted on my blog, and politely encouraged each to read my article for documentation concerning his origins.

First, here is my republished article from 2015:

German Origins of John Whitmer, Muhlenberg Co., KY, Part 1

German Origins of John Whitmer, Muhlenberg Co., KY, Part 2

German Origins of John Whitmer, Muhlenberg Co., KY, Part 3

I posted a couple of updates about results, which were dismal, during 2015 and in January 2016, but didn’t address the experiment at all in 2017.

I should have known better, but out of curiosity, I decided to take a look today to see how things were looking. While there were 292 trees in 2015 and 382 trees in 2016, today there are but 183 trees (AND MINE IS NOT ONE OF THEM) coming up in the Ancestry search engine. That must be because there are no documents in their databases that prove his origins and I refuse to cite another Ancestry member tree as my source. I guess the other 109 tree owners won’t do that either, so many trees don’t turn up as hits.

The statistics remain just as dismal today.

2015 – 292 public member trees with 6 having John’s correct origins
2016 – 382 public member trees with 12 having his correct origins

2018 – 183 public member trees with 6 having his correct origins

So, in 2015, about 2% of the trees were accurate. That jumped up to a whopping 3% correct in 2016.  The accuracy level remains at 3% today. I do wonder, though, how many trees are hidden away that are correct, but not showing up as hits in the list?

As for those who have Michael Whitmer and wife Barbara of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania as John’s parents, I counted 96, yes, 96!!!! trees with that totally incorrect information. Not a one of them has a single document cited as a source. Most have a census record or two from 1810 and 1820 and/or Ancestry trees listed as the only sourced.

It is very sad that so many people don’t do their own research, they just copy, paste and merge. Incorrect information proliferates and multiplies. 50% of John Whitmer’s member trees have the wrong parents listed for him with no sources. A beginning researcher might think that there is safety in numbers – over half the trees have the same information, so it must be correct, right??? Nope, wrong. Very wrong.

It is even sadder that people who are handed a documented, fully sourced study still don’t bother to correct their online trees.

Researcher beware when digging for information in online family trees!


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!


John Whitmer Online Experiment – 6 Months Later

Back in January and February 2015, I wrote about the 350+ online family trees for John Whitmer, born 1752 and died 1828 in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky and parents assigned to him in those trees.

The original count of online family trees for John showed only three with his correct parents, one of which was my own tree. Many had Michael Whitmer  and Barbara Oster of Lancaster, PA as his parents, while most of the rest had no parents named at all.

I emailed the 350+ tree owners to share my Whitmer research, which documented the family’s live in Barbelroth, Germany and migration to Frederick County, Maryland about 1755. Since that time, I’ve received replies from about 30, or less than 10%, of the tree owners. Only one person who replied insisted that Michael and Barbara Whitmer were the correct parents and that I was totally wrong. My answer was that I would love to see documentation to prove me wrong, but then never heard another word.

By 4 February 2015, the new tree count showed nine trees with John’s correct parents, Johannes Whitmer and Maria Elisabetha Holtz.

I hadn’t thought about my experiment for a while, but Randy Seaver jarred my memory with a post on 31 July 2015 – Lesson Learned Again – Don’t Trust Online Family Trees, which, in fact, was an update of another of his own posts on the topic, published on 24 April 2012. Randy lamented the fact that it has taken so long to bring the number of online trees with correct parental information for his Susanna Page all the way up to 1%!!!

Seeing as six months have passed since my own experiment, I was spurred on to take a new count of the online trees with correct parents for John Whitmer. There are now a grand total of thirteen correct trees, including my own. There are still 201 online trees that name John Whitmer’s parents as Michael Whitmer of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

That was after my 350 emails to all those tree owners with links to my completely sourced published article outlining John’s family and ancestral home in Germany.

I totally agree with Randy’s wise advice – don’t blindly trust online family trees. Do your own research and verify dates, places and other factual information. Contact a tree owner if they have information posted that you don’t have about a family member or if their information doesn’t match your own research.

Many are put off by trees that have few or no sources cited on them. That doesn’t bother me at all – my own tree has few sources because I choose to keep that information in the Notes section of my software and I don’t use the source templates. My reasoning is that my online tree is totally there as “cousin bait.” I want to hear from distant cousins and if everything I have is already out there online, I think it is less likely that I will hear from others.

My advice: Reach out to others, ask questions, share resources, prove your lines and, if someone emails you documented research about your ancestor, take the time to read it through and, please, update your own family tree!