My Favourite Find

The theme for Week 2 of the 2022 edition of “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” is “Favorite Find.”

Of all the documents I’ve come across in my research into my family’s past, the one that stands out for me is perhaps the one that took me the longest to find – the baptism of my second great grandmother, Sarah.

First, a bit of background.

Sarah was always a mystery to me. I knew from her headstone in Carleton County, New Brunswick, Canada that she was born in Germany in 1833,

Gravestone of Lauchlen Patterson and Sarah, his wife,
St. Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery in Newburg, Carleton County, New Brunswick © 1996, Nicole Adams

My grandfather passed on a family story that Lauchlen was born in Scotland and had met his wife, Sarafina, “on the boat on the way over” This seems to be a common story that ranks up there with the old chestnuts: “We’re related to royalty” and “Our ancestor was a Native American princess”What seemed too fishy to me, even in those naive early days of my genealogy hobby, was that he had the same story to tell about his other grandparents. Apparently, both sets met each other on the passenger ship on the voyage to North America. I had the feeling one or both of these stories was fiction.

He was insistent that, although her name was on the headstone as Sarah, her full name was Sarafina Kenner and he had a very faded picture of her.

Sarafina (Kenner) Patterson, about 1910

Over the years, I’ve found records of her life in North America, but I could not find anything about her specific place of birth in Germany.

Tracing backward, I went from her gravestone and provincial death record in New Brunswick, through the census returns for 1911, 1901, 1891, 1881 and 1871 and found her each time with the birth location of Germany or Prussia. However, I could not find the couple in New Brunswick in the 1861 census.

Where were they? Looking more carefully at the 1871 census, I noted that their eldest child Alexander (born 1862) had United States listed as his birth location.

Aha! I was hot on the trail now!

I should note here that I made this discovery in 2001, in the early days of Ancestry.com. (Yes, I’ve been a subscriber for that long!) Not everything is online now, but WAY less of it was available then.

Luckily, a search brought up 2 promising possibilities: an index entry for a marriage of a Lauchlen Patterson and Sarah Kenner marrying in Portsmouth, Ohio in 1859 and the same couple in the 1860 census, also in Portsmouth. In the latter, Sarah’s birth location was given as Hesse Darmstadt. I had a more precise potential birth location, great news!

On a roll now, I sent a letter to the county courthouse requesting the marriage record as it was not scanned and online yet. I felt sure this could give me more information, perhaps even the names of their parents.

What I got was very disappointing.

1859 Marriage of Lauchlin Patterson and Sarah Kenner

Oh well, at least I had the Hesse Darmstadt clue, right? Not really that useful, as it turned out. At that time, there were very few digitized church records for Germany and as Hesse Darmstadt is a big region, it was going to be difficult to find her without hiring a researcher in Germany, which wasn’t in the budget.

So, I went back to beating the bushes in the records in Canada and the US. Although she died in Canada, Sarafina’s children had moved all over the US. I tracked their movements and collected documents, hoping her birth location would be recorded on them.

It never was.

I remember at this time my father expressing disappointment that I seemed to have filled out my mother’s side quite nicely, but on his side, I couldn’t get past his great grandparents. I think he felt I was deliberately neglecting his tree, but no matter how hard I tried, it seemed the mystery of Sarafina was destined to remain unsolved.

it stayed this way for a long time and it was only through DNA testing that I finally solved this puzzle. Sadly, it came after Dad had died.

DNA unravels the mystery

In 2017, through testing the DNA of my father’s sisters and cousin, I found that they all had significant matches in the Ohio area that didn’t match any of our other family lines. I felt sure this had to be the German connection because Sarah and Lauchlan were married in Ohio, and Sarah must have had family there.

After building out family trees for each of these DNA matches, I found a common name among their ancestors – Kirner/ Koerner. This was very close to Kinner which we had always thought was Sarah’s surname.

They all traced back to a Leo Kirner from Biberach, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. I was able to find him listed in a FamilySearch online tree with attached church records.

As my eyes traveled down the list of his siblings, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the name of his youngest sister — Seraphine. I had finally found her!

She was baptized on 7 March 1834 in Biberach, the youngest of eight children born to Philipp Kirner and Theresia Rehm.

The record of her baptism is hands down my favourite find. (so far). I’ll admit, I had to get help reading the old German script.

1834 Baptism of Seraphine Kirner

This record has opened up a whole new branch of the family and I have already taken a few branches back further than some of my mother’s lines.

Dad would be impressed.

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