5. Isaac Linton, Revolutionary Fraud?

The connection to Isaac Linton, and his ancestry, is covered in The Omnibus Ancestry. It is available through Lulu.

For many years the only information we had about my ancestor Isaac Linton’s background was a preposterous family legend, related in a great-grandson’s letter in 1933:

I.W. Linton

Did father [I. W. Linton] ever tell you the story of his grandfather’s father? He told it to us one time and I copied it as he told it to me.

Greatgrandfather’s father was Sir William Linton of the British Navy. His name was Livingstone and he was knighted for bravery in action at the Battle of Trafalgar… I do not know whether his imagination had been working overtime or not but I tell to you as he told it to us. That was the only thing I have ever been told beyond greatgrandfather Isaac Linton. There appeared to be something that he did not care to talk about. [16]

Someone’s imagination was at work, for in his lifetime Isaac Linton completed a Revolutionary War pension application stating that he was born 1764 in Frederick county, Maryland [1]. Therefore his family had been in America for at least 40 years before the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar.

Nevertheless family legends often contain a grain of truth. As the years passed, the last sentence in particular kept replaying in my head: “There appeared to be something that he did not care to talk about.”

Isaac’s Revolutionary War Claim

Isaac Linton was my ancestor through my grandfather Forest Joseph Boles. He married in 1793 in Frederick county, Maryland, to Susanna Richards, and about 1804 moved with his family to Brooke county, (now West) Virginia [1].

In 1832, Isaac completed a Revolutionary War pension application stating details of his birth and service. He had been born in Oct 1764, he said. In Aug 1777 he “Volunteered to serve six months as a militia man”, but was soon retired from service after repairing barracks in Fredericktown. On 31 Oct or 1 Nov 1777 he was recalled to service to complete his 6 months. In Dec 1778 he was drafted for further service, mostly involving guarding British prisoners at Fredericktown barracks. He was discharged in Mar 1778, but in Aug 1779 was again drafted. Following his final draft in Jan 1780 his company searched for Tories, and he was part of the guard when three were hung. Isaac declared that he had no documentary evidence and knew of no one who could attest his service. He did, however, produce three character witnesses who swore that Isaac was “reputed and believed” to be a Revolutionary War veteran [16].

The result of Isaac’s application was protracted review, undoubtedly the result of disbelief that he initially served at age 12. Apparently it was assumed that at such a tender age he was a drummer, for in an 1835 restatement of his service, he responded, “I was not musician but private soldier”. Approval of his application was a near thing, as indicated both by the restatement and by a comment written in his file by W.G. Singleton, the man responsible for prosecuting application fraud [2]:

… this man is truly unfortunate in doty [duty] to say the least– If he is correct in his doty he is clearly wrong in everything else– my opinion is he is an impostur– by character I understand is vain-

Nevertheless a pension was granted, and began paying $50 annually [1].

Was Isaac a Revolutionary War Veteran?

One outstanding feature of genealogy is that it is cumulative. Records continually come to light that once transcribed or digitized become part of the permanent record. In the late 1980s or 1990s I became a beneficiary of the transcription process when I came across the only known Revolutionary-era record of Isaac Linton. It consisted simply of his name on an Oath of Fidelity and Support [1]. Although it had been transcribed and published in 1928, I only became aware of it through a 1985 reprinting.

The Oath of Fidelity and Support originated in an act of the Maryland Assembly in 1777. It required all free males over the age of 18, save those actively serving in the military, to renounce the King of England and to pledge allegiance to Maryland’s Revolutionary government. All oaths were to be completed before Mar 1778 [15], although in practice some were completed in that month. Isaac Linton took the oath in Prince Georges county, Maryland, about the month of Feb 1778.

There can be little doubt it was my ancestor who took the oath because he is the only one of the name who has been identified in Maryland at the time, following extensive search using highly cumulated records. Yet astute readers will recognize potential contradictions to Isaac’s pension application. First, the oath was taken in Prince Georges, not Frederick county. The locations are some distance apart. Yet Isaac testified that he served a cumulative total of 6 months from Aug 1777, with some time off in the middle; thus he was probably still in the militia in Frederick, by his account, when the oath was taken in Prince Georges. Of course the oath’s date is imprecise, as were his claimed dates of service, so there is some room for error. But note that the oath was only for males over age 18. Isaac, in other words, must have been born before 1761, not in 1764 as he claimed. That is a flat contradiction, and a very curious one. Given that claiming to have volunteered at age 12 was bound to raise questions, why would he have understated his true age?

Here we enter the realm of speculation, and readers are free to draw their own conclusions. However, I believe Isaac’s statement of age is the “smoking gun” strongly suggesting fraud in the pension application. I think that Isaac, knowing he had taken the oath and that it was for nonserving males age 18 and over, intentionally understated his age in order to dissociate himself from it. In other words if confronted with the oath, which implied that he had not served, he could claim that it was a different, older man named Isaac Linton. Certainly given the low degree of record cumulation in the first half of the 1800s, no one could say with certainty that another Isaac Linton hadn’t existed.

Other Considerations

My ancestor can’t defend himself, so it is fair to dig deeper into the record to see whether other details of his claim were true. In his application he made several mentions of officers under whom he claimed to have served. Those whose full names were given included Adjutant John Mimm, Capt. Ralph Hillary, Capt. John Burket, Capt. Moses Chapline, Lt. Joseph Madding, and Ens. Ralph Crabb. A Capt. Benjamin Murdock was also mentioned [16].

Of these the only one who completely checks out was Benjamin Murdock, who was a Lt. of the first Maryland Regiment of Continental troops in Mar 1779, and a Capt. in July 1780 [9]. Isaac said that in early 1779, Continental officer Capt. Benjamin Murdock performed enlistment duty in Fredericktown.

Another who comes close was Capt. Ralph Hillary. One Elisha Griffith stated that he served under Ralph Hillary and mostly guarded prisoners and magazines at Fredericktown [6], an account similar to that of Isaac. However, pension applicants named Chisholm Griffith and James Ball indicated that after they enlisted under Capt. Hillary (in Griffith’s case in June 1777), they joined the army under Gen. Washington and fought at the battle of Germantown [4, 5] in Oct 1777. Isaac made no such claim.

The other names do not closely match known soldiers for a couple of reasons. Four show mismatching geography. The only John Mimm I can identify as a Revolutionary soldier was a Lt. from York county, Pennsylvania, in 1778 [3]. A John Burkett served in 1776, but as a Continental private from Calvert county, Maryland [7], not as Isaac stated a militia Capt. from Frederick county in 1779. A Joseph Madden (sic, Madding?) was a Lt., but from Virginia [10]. Finally, Ralph Crabb was a 2nd Lt. who enlisted for Continental service from the militia of Prince Georges co, Maryland, in Dec 1776 [11]. Crabb’s case is particularly problematic because Isaac said that Crabb was an Ensign in the Frederick county militia in 1777, an error in both location and rank.

That leaves Capt. Moses Chapline, perhaps the most interesting case of all. He was of some prominence in early portions of the Revolutionary War, but resigned from the Continental service in Oct 1777 [9]. Isaac indicated he served under him for 3 months beginning in Jan 1780, during the search for Tories. However, I have been unable to locate convincing evidence of Chapline’s service as late as 1780. Although it is sometimes stated that he was wounded at the battle of Cowpens in 1780 [13], this may be a confusion with Samuel Chapline [12].

All told, these records are not good for Isaac’s credibility. Although some error might be expected because of the long delay between the Revolution and his pension application, his statements were so specific as to name and place as to call for evaluation using a fairly high standard. It is hard to see how his application statements meet that standard. Again readers are free to draw their own conclusions — but remember, “There appeared to be something that he did not care to talk about.”

A Final Irony

Interestingly, even if Isaac’s military service should be disallowed, female descendants still qualify for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. That is because signers of the Oath of Fidelity and Support are considered to have rendered a patriotic service [14]. Thus while Isaac’s oath may impeach his service statement, it also qualifies descendants for the D.A.R.

Should more substantial evidence of service be needed, Boles-Bowers descendants have about two dozen ancestral Revolutionary soldiers to choose from [1]. Barth-Hickey descendants have five [1]. Among all of these is at least one story for another day.

The connection to Isaac Linton, and his ancestry, is covered in The Omnibus Ancestry. It is available through Lulu.


[1] Boles, D.B. (2016). The Omnibus Ancestry. Available for download through Lulu.com.

[2] Information retrieved from http://www.southerncampaign.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Harris-SCAR-Summer-2014v5.pdf (2015).

[3] Information retrieved from http://archive.org/stream/continentalcongr00prow/continentalcongr00prow_djvu.txt (2015).

[4] Information retrieved from http://files.usgwarchives.net/md/frederick/military/revwar/pension/griffith-c.txt (2015).

[5] Information retrieved from http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~inallcem/soldiers/ball.html (2015).

[6] Information retrieved from http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=90704847 (2015).

[7] Information retrieved from http://aomol.msa.maryland.gov/000001/000018/html/am18–34.html (2015).

[8] Information retrieved from http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=jerry_bruhn&id=I299 (2015).

[9] Ancestry.com. Maryland Archives, 1658-1783 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2003.

[10] Information retrieved from http://www.geni.com/people/Joseph-Madden/6000000008104586849 (2015).

[11] Hienton, L.J. (no date). Prince George’s Heritage. Baltimore, Md: The Md. Historical Society.

[12] Newmarket News [N.H. newspaper], 14 May 1936.

[13] Dare, M.J.L. (1902). Chaplines from Maryland and Virginia. Washington, DC: The Franklin Print.

[14] Information retrieved from http://www.dar.org/national-society/acceptable-service (2015).

[15] Information retrieved from http://www.mdhs.org/findingaid/oaths-fidelity-or-oaths-allegiance-1775-1778-ms-3088 (2015).

[16] Boles, H.W., & Boles, D.B. (1986). Some Earlier Americans: Boles-Linton Ancestors. Decorah, Iowa: The Anundsen Publishing Co.  Available for download through Lulu.


You may also be interested in visiting the Bolesbooks website or the Bolesbooks Facebook page.

4. Dugal McQueen, Scottish Rebel and Gateway Ancestor to Royalty

The Scottish ancestry of Dugal McQueen is fully extended in the The Omnibus Ancestry. It is available through Lulu.

Dugal McQueen arrived in Maryland in 1716 aboard the ironically named “Friendship”, probably in chains and certainly under edict never to return to his native Scotland. He had been captured the previous autumn at the battle of Preston, part of the doomed first Jacobite rebellion aimed at restoring the Stuarts to the throne [1]. Given a choice between exile and the barbaric ritual of hanging, drawing, and quartering, he and his fellow transportees had sensibly chosen exile.

From this ill-starred beginning descended a numerous and prosperous American family. It included the actor Steve McQueen, star of The Blob, The Great Escape, The Cincinnati Kid, The Sand Pebbles, Bullitt, The Getaway, Papillon, and many other films of the 1950s through 1980 [5]. He was my distant cousin, for I descend from Dugal McQueen through my grandfather Loren Ellsworth Bowers [1].

My genealogical interest in Dugal has been intense, because he is my only confirmed Highland immigrant ancestor. He was recorded at his prison in Lancaster Castle as a resident of the parish of Moy, co. Inverness, Scotland [1]. There the Macqueen clan was seated at Corrybrough, Little Corrybrough, Pollochaig, and Raigbeg, among other locations.

The Mackintosh Muniments

A major advance in tracing the exile’s genealogical origins came from a message thread hosted by Ancestry.com, implying that Dugal was mentioned in the published muniments (i.e., archived documents) of the Mackintosh clan [1,2]. I was subsequently able to access this at an out-of-town library during a personal trip. The_ruins_of_Shenachie

What I found was extraordinary. Dugal was mentioned as being of “Pollockack” [Pollochaig] in 1714 when he leased land from the Mackintoshes at the west end of Ruthven, a tiny settlement on the northwest bank of the Findhorn River near Tomatin. He had married in Scotland a woman of social prominence, namely Elizabeth, the sister of Lachlan Mackintosh, the 20th chief (or laird) of clan Mackintosh. By her he had a daughter Anne [1,2]. Neither Elizabeth nor Anne joined Dugal in exile. From other sources I learned he remarried years later in Maryland, ca 1726?, to a wife named Grace who bore his American children, one of whom was my ancestor [1]. Presumably this followed Elizabeth’s death.

Antiquarian Contributions

Even more extraordinary discoveries were to follow, courtesy of a great genealogical revolution. (I mentioned another such revolution, the creation of the International Genealogical Index and its successors, in a previous post.) Just within the last few years a great many out-of-copyright books have become available as high-quality PDFs through such free services as Google Books, the HathiTrust Digital Library, and the Allen County [Indiana] Public Library Internet Archive. Because the late 1800s and early 1900s were a golden age of genealogical publication, this has placed a great deal of research within easy access of any computer browser.

Among the recently accessible books was an antiquarian publication dating from the 1890s [1]. Its author aimed to tell the history of the parish of Moy. Noting that the parish was dominated by the Mackintosh clan, with the laird holding nearly 70,000 acres including land along the river Findhorn, he nevertheless launched into a brief history of Pollochaig, which had long been in possession of the Macqueens. In his account there was an interesting piece of information: A John Macqueen of Pollochaig, son of Dougal and living in the early 1700s, had married Anne, sister of chief Lachlan Mackintosh [1].

If John lived in the early 18th century, his father was of too early a generation to be the exile. Thus while the appearance of the name Dougal seemed meaningful, what relationship if any existed to the later Dugal the author could not or did not say.

That information, fortunately, was provided by another out-of-copyright work, this time a Highland historical magazine also dating from the 1890s [1]. It indicated that John Macqueen, certainly the same man referred to above, had a son Donald [sic], who married Elizabeth, also stated to have been the sister of chief Lachlan Mackintosh. Furthermore, the son was stated to have been an officer of the 1715 rising and as a consequence was banished to America. This was a clear reference to Dugal (not Donald) McQueen, known from the Mackintosh muniments as the husband of Elizabeth Mackintosh and certainly a man banished to America [1].

Dugal, the immigrant, was therefore the son of John Macqueen and Anne Mackintosh. But how could both father and son have married sisters of chief Lachlan Mackintosh?

That answer was provided by published Mackintosh genealogies, for Lachlan, the 20th chief, was the son of Lachlan, the 19th chief [1]. Manifestly, John had married Anne, sister of the 19th chief, and his son Dugal had married his first cousin Elizabeth, sister of the 20th chief. Such marriages were not uncommon following their legalization in 1567 [3], accounting for perhaps 3.5% of marriages among the landed gentry (although that figure is for the British Isles more generally) [4].

In any case Dugal, it was clear, was the son of John Macqueen by Anne, daughter of William Mackintosh, the 18th chief, and his wife Margaret Graham [1].

An Explosion of Prominent Scottish Landed, Noble, and Royal Lines

Anne Mackintosh was what one might call “connected”, and massively so. Through her parents she descended from dozens of the most prominent Scottish families of the 1600s on back. They included among others the families of Beaton, Campbell, Drummond, Gordon, Graham, Grant, Halyburton, Hamilton, Keith, Kennedy, Learmonth, Lindsay, Mackenzie, Maule, Murray, Ogilvy, Rollo (Rollock), Rose, Ruthven, Scrymgeour, Sinclair, and Stewart [1].

A number of noble ancestors were among them, the latest-living of which was Sir John Murray, Earl of Tullibardine (1550-1613). There were also royal descents from King James II of Scotland (1430-1460), King Jean II of France (1319-1364), and King Edward III of England (1312-1377), among many others. In other words, Dugal McQueen was a gateway ancestor. A gateway ancestor is a genealogical predecessor, generally an immigrant, whose own genealogy can be traced to kings and queens, thereby providing all descendants with such ancestry [1].

In this case intense genealogical interest paid off . . . royally.

The Scottish ancestry of Dugal McQueen is fully extended in the The Omnibus Ancestry. It is available through Lulu.


[1] Boles, D.B. (2016). The  Omnibus Ancestry.  Tuscaloosa, AL: private print.  Available through Lulu.

[2] Information retrieved from http://boards.ancestry.com/localities.britisles.scotland.inv.general/650.3/mb.ashx (2015).

[3] Parker, H. (2012). “In All Gudly Haste”: The Formation of Marriage in Scotland, c. 1350 – 1600. Thesis presented to the University of Guelph.

[4] Information retrieved from http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/38/6/1453.full (2015).

[5] Information retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_McQueen (2015).

Picture attribution: Frances Watts, The ruins of Shenachie – geograph.org.uk – 667349.jpg, retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_ruins_of_Shenachie_-_geograph.org.uk_-_667349.jpg#file. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. (NB: Pollochaig has been mapped as “Shenachie” since 1908-9.)

3. The Jolliffe Family Descent from Barbara Blaugdone, Quaker Sufferer

A genealogist constantly judges the relative worth of varying lines of evidence, sorting and sifting in an attempt to arrive at the truth. One excellent example of this is provided by the descent of the Jolliffe family of Frederick county, Virginia, from Barbara Blaugdone, Quaker sufferer and entrant in a number of books on women’s history.

Jolliffe, J. gravestoneI descend from John Jolliffe through my grandmother Audra Foster Boles.  John was born in Frederick county in 1768, and died in Johnson county, Indiana, in 1851 (though his gravestone, possibly placed at some delay after his death, says 1850).  John was the son of James Jolliffe (ca 1734?-1771).   The Quaker connection can be traced backward in time beginning with that generation. In 1759 James was disowned by Friends, as the Quakers were known, probably for marrying “out of unity” — in other words, to a non-Quaker (in this case Hannah Springer).

What is less certain is whether James’ father William Jolliffe, Sr., was also a Friend. William was placed on the roll of attorneys in Frederick county in 1743, and was subsequently known as the “Quakers’ lawyer”, having the law business of the local Hopewell Monthly Meeting. However, while a number of his family members were clearly in membership, William does not appear in that capacity in the meeting’s records. He is nevertheless said to have been buried in the meeting’s cemetery.

According to the much-cited Historical, Genealogical, and Biographical Account of the Jolliffe Family of Virginia, published by W. Jolliffe in 1893, William Jolliffe, Sr., was the son of Joseph Jolliffe and wife Ruth, of Norfolk county, Virginia. This assertion, however, rested on only the slimmest of evidence, specifically a then-existent family legend that Joseph and Ruth had a son James who had a brother William — who in turn had left the area and had never been heard from again. As the author noted, he was otherwise unable to find any record of William in Norfolk county. Nor does there appear to be a record of James there.

The assertion is troubling for two other reasons as well. First, Norfolk and Frederick counties are about 220 road miles apart, a long distance to bridge with an assumption that the same surname in both places indicates relationship. Second, the names of Joseph and Ruth do not appear among the known children of William (William, John, Edmund, and James), or the children of his son James (William, Ann, Drew, Elizabeth, John, and Margaret), an unusual circumstance at a place and time when namesakes were considered important.

A competing account of William Jolliffe’s origins was provided in more modern times by the discovery, published by Cecil O’Dell in 1995, that a William Jolliffe sold land in Bucks county, Pennsylvania, in 1736. This was only a year before William of Frederick county is first known to have appeared in Virginia, as he witnessed a deed in Orange county, one of two parent counties of Frederick county, in 1737.

Could these have been the same men? Further information published by O’Dell showed that one Cuthbert Hayhurst was an adjacent land owner when William Jolliffe sold the Bucks county land. And in what must surely have been a “Eureka!” moment, O’Dell found that Cuthbert Hayhurst witnessed a mortgage of William Jolliffe in Frederick county in 1767.

Which line of evidence should be believed? The 1893 account, recycled through countless publications and web pages, including a 1994 book by my father and myself? In other words, the account with a large geographical discrepancy, no record of William or his putative brother in Norfolk county, and no repetition of parental names? Or the account in which an adjacent landowner in Pennsylvania became William Jolliffe’s witness in Virginia? Clearly the latter, as otherwise the coincidence is astonomically improbable.

The Jolliffe Descent from Barbara Blaugdone

O’Dell also learned that William Jolliffe had a wife named Mary Sheppard, of New York City, who in 1726 had bought the land sold in 1736. His account stopped there, but in short order I was able to work out a descent from Barbara Blaugdone. Mary was the daughter of John Sheppard, a cooper in New York City, and his wife Mary Watts. That Mary, born 1677, was of Bristol Friends’ Monthly Meeting in Bristol, England, and was the daughter of John Watts by his wife Mary Blaugdone, daughter of Barbara Blaugdone. John, the name of Mary Sheppard Jolliffe’s father, was a name found among her children, and among those of her son James. While the name Mary is not known to appear among the children, the names of the daughters of William and Mary are unknown.

Barbara Blaugdone, Quaker Sufferer

Barbara Blaugdone, born Barbara Brock in 1609 but widow of a Blaugdone husband whose given name is not known, died in 1704 in London, England. Toward the end of her life, in 1691, she published a remarkable autobiographical sketch, An Account of the Travels, Sufferings, and Persecutions of Barbara Blaugdone. In her highly readable account, she noted that she was a teacher in Bristol, England, when she converted to Quakerism in 1654. After losing most of her students because of her “dangerous” beliefs, she became a preacher. She obtained the release of Quaker prisoners at Basingstoke in 1655, and over the following two years undertook missionary trips to Ireland, meeting at one point with Henry Cromwell, then major general of forces but later Lord Deputy of Ireland.

Preaching in western England in 1657, she was imprisoned at Marlborough and went on a short hunger strike. She did the same in Exeter and was whipped in prison. During these early years she was at least twice in mortal danger, once when stabbed and once when a bystander narrowly prevented a butcher from striking her head with his cleaver. She also suffered shipwreck and piracy. While imprisoned in Dublin a man confessed to her that he had borne false witness against 5 men and women. However, the judge would not hear her and hanged them all, causing her to recall, “And a heavy day it was, and I bore and suffered much that day”. In 1681 she was again imprisoned, in Bristol, and in 1683 was fined the large sum of £60 for failure to attend the Anglican church.

Barbara’s life and writing have been included in a number of books on women’s history. They include A Historical Dictionary of British Women (2005); Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain (2014); Life Writings (2001), a volume of the series Early Modern Englishwoman; and Reading Early Modern Women: An Anthology of Texts in Manuscript and Print, 1550-1700 (2003). Her monograph is also frequently cited in Quaker histories.

What Was Barbara Blaugdone’s Background?

As forthcoming as Barbara was about her sufferings, she was remarkably circumspect when it came to her own family background. Yet sprinkled throughout her writing are references that suggest she may have been of the upper class, and that she consorted with nobility prior to becoming a Quaker. Thus, writing of a trip to Devonshire in 1654/5, she stated, “I went to the Earl of Bath’s, where I had formerly spent much time in vanity”, and that when she asked to speak to the countess, she “never asked me to go into her house, although I had eaten and drank at her table, and lodged there many a time”. Then of her imprisonment in Dublin, Ireland, which occurred about 1656, she wrote “there were some friends of mine, namely — Sir William King, Colonel Fare [sic, Fane?; see below], and the Lady Browne … came to see me, and they would needs go to this judge, to get me released . . . [they] told him they had known me from a child, and there was no harm in me at all”.

These references highlight a second aspect of genealogy, i.e., that it is never complete. The classical example is that every generation traced provides two parents to be further traced. In this case real persons were named in Barbara’s account to whom, potentially, she may have been related. The “Earl of Bath’s” must have been the Devonshire estate of the recently deceased Henry Bourchier, 5th (or 6th) Earl of Bath, whose widow was Rachel Fane, daughter of the Earl of Westmorland. Rachel had a brother Col. George Fane, whose son Sir Henry Fane was confirmed an estate near Limerick, Ireland, in 1668. Also near Limerick were the substantial lands of Sir William King and his wife Barbara Boyle, widow of Sir John Brown.

Barbara herself hinted that she may have been from Ireland, for she noted of her visit to Cork that “I was made to call to my relations and acquaintance … I came to witness that a prophet is not without honour, save in his own country”. It is possible that somewhere among the repeating names of Fane, King, and Brown, in Ireland, lies the origin of Barbara Blaugdone. Perhaps it merely awaits an enterprising genealogist to discover.

All references for the above statements are given in two volumes. The first is the all-in-one ancestry, The Omnibus Ancestry. That work updates and corrects, in brief form, material in the much more detailed volume, Ellis Ancestors: Some Immigrants, Colonists, and Pioneers (1994). Both books are available for download through Lulu.

You may also be interested in visiting the Bolesbooks website or the Bolesbooks Facebook page.

2. John Barth of Keokuk County, Iowa, and the Offhand Comment

John Barth immigrated to America in 1874, according to family legend to avoid conscription into the Prussian army. He wound up in Keokuk county, Iowa, where in 1876 he became the teacher of St. Peter and Paul Parish Church school in the tiny community of Clear Creek. Ten years later, his first wife Katharine Limbach having died, he married Mary Anna Rung, legendarily his music pupil at the school. Several moves followed: To Clinton county, Iowa, about 1888; to Barton county, Kansas, about 1890; and finally to a homestead near Edmond, Oklahoma county, Oklahoma, in 1893. John died in that area in 1906, either of consumption or a stray bullet from a bank robbery, depending on who told the story.

Barth, John.Lulu

A Mysterious Origin

John’s origin, however, was long shrouded in mystery. Family legend recorded that he was Catholic and that he was from Baden, Germany. Certainly he taught at a Catholic school, and his native country was confirmed by census records. But which Baden, the Grand Duchy or the namesake city within it? The conscription legend certainly made sense, for Baden had become part of the German Empire in 1871. But otherwise there was no clue to John’s origins.

An Offhand Comment

In 1985 my wife and I visited her great-aunt Rose Barth Boettcher in Litchfield, Illinois. Rose was the next-to-youngest and likely last surviving child of John Barth. During an interview she confirmed some of the old legends, including the conscription story. But she said she didn’t know anything more about her father’s origins — no exact place of origin in Baden, and no parents’ names. She did have a birthday for John, 28 May 1849, having included it in a typed “Family Register” she had compiled about 14 years previously. She had also written that he had no brothers, a stray fact gleaned from her father.

Toward the end of the interview, sensing that the opportunity might never arise again, I decided on one final effort. “Do you recall anything,” I emphasized, “that might help identify your father’s origins in Germany?”

Rose hesitated. Then she said offhandedly, “Well, I was named Rosanna Susanna by my parents, but the French priest who baptized me changed it to Rosalia Susanna. I was told I had been named for my grandmother.”

A Long Wait For The World To Change

So the matter stood for nearly 30 years. All attempts to determine the origin of John Barth failed. Even the monumental series of books Germans to America, by Glazier and Filby, failed to list any immigrant whose vital data unambiguously matched John’s.

Those 30 years saw enormous changes in the world of genealogy. The database known as the International Genealogical Index (IGI), which had first been published on microfiche in 1975 by the Church of Latter Day Saints, appeared in expanded form on CD in 1988. By the late 1990s, the internet came into widespread use, and in 1999 the IGI was incorporated into the on-line website FamilySearch.org [1].

But more importantly with respect to the case of John Barth, during this period the LDS Church accelerated its massive push to enter genealogical records into the database. In 1988, an already impressive 147 million records had been indexed worldwide, of which some 19 million (13%) were German [1, 2]. But by 2013, 1 billion indexed entries were in the worldwide data base [3].

Repeated Searches, Then Success

Throughout this period I repeatedly searched the database in its various editions, failing to turn up relevant Barth records. But then, in 2012, something intriguing happened. The ever-expanding FamilySearch database turned up an indexed church record of a Johannes Barth, born 27 May 1850 in Handschuhsheim, near Heidelberg, Baden, Germany. The name was right and the place was appropriate. More importantly, the birthdate was tantalizingly similar to the one Rose had given for her father, 28 May 1849. Could these possibly be the same man?

That was the wrong question, as it turned out; I should have been looking at the women. For a closer examination of the church record showed that Johannes was the son of Susanna Jost. Aunt Rose’s offhand comment, made at the end of an interview almost three decades previously, had finally proven its value, identifying John by way of his mother in the Baden church records. Johannes was the son of Susanna by her husband Casimir Barth. In short order, several other observations confirmed the match.


Importantly, the church records showed no brothers of Johannes Barth, just as Rose had reported. He did have two sisters of record, one of them named Eva Catherina. Her marriage was found in Catholic church records, as was Casimir Barth’s christening, both helpful discoveries because the affiliation of the church in Handschuhsheim was ambiguous. Thus, both from the standpoint of being an only son, and Catholic, Johannes was a match to John. Furthermore, John had used the name Casimir for one of his own sons in America. Taken together, the circumstances were convincing in supporting the match.

But what about the close but not quite matching birth dates? There is a rule of thumb in genealogy that the earlier a birth year is reported in the historical record, the more accurate it is likely to be. Over time, memories distort and reported birthdates drift. An extreme example in my wife’s genealogy is the case of an ancestor named Hester Walcott Brownlee. She was born about 1810 according to her father’s 1820 pension statement; 1804/5 according to the 1850 and 1860 censuses; 1803/4 according to the 1870 census; 1794 according to an 1894 newspaper article; 1793 according to her 1898 death record; and 1792 according to her 1898 obituary. It is clear that the 1820 statement by her father must be the most accurate, for he surely would not have mistaken his 10-year-old daughter for age 28, as she would have been according to the obituary. What is striking is the pronounced drift toward older and older birth years as Hester aged.

In John Barth’s case the earliest known record of his birth year was in 1880, his first U.S. census record. On June 16th of that year he (or someone of his household) reported that he was 30 years of age — i.e., born between 17 June 1849 and 16 June 1850. That range of dates fit perfectly with the church record, but less well with Rose’s date. For its part, the one day difference, between the 27th and the 28th of May, can be considered negligible given the imperfections of reportage. Clearly, this was a match.

Additional Ancestors

An additional Barth generation proved to be traceable beyond Casimir. Susanna Jost, his memorably named wife, proved traceable for several more generations, with collateral lines to the Dietz, Ries, Stammler, and Wassermann families.

I surely would not have been willing to make the identification of John Barth as Johannes Barth on the basis of the imperfect birthdate match alone. Not a bad outcome from Aunt Rose’s offhand comment, reported in our single meeting nearly 30 years previously.


[1] Information retrieved from https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/International_Genealogical_Index (2014).

[2] Information retrieved from http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/International_Genealogical_Index_(IGI) (2014).

[3] Information retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FamilySearch (2014).

All other references for the above statements are given in two volumes. The first is the all-in-one ancestry, The Omnibus Ancestry. That work updates and corrects, in brief form, material in the much more detailed volume, Barth-Hickey Ancestry (1993). Both books are available for download through Lulu.

You may also be interested in visiting the Bolesbooks website or my Facebook page.

The quotations in the text are paraphrases from memory.