Friday, February 12, 2016

Introducing My Brick Wall - Joseph Knoch

To be fair, Joseph is just one of many brick walls in the Knoch family. If there's one constant in genealogy, it's the fact that for every brick wall you overcome there will be at least one more lurking behind it. Prioritizing the obstacles, then, becomes key to staying focused, energized, and not throwing your hands in the air in exasperation. Overcoming Joseph's brick wall is key to understanding the German roots of the Knoch family, which is why he's at the top of my brick wall priority list.

So what do I know (or think I know) about Joseph?
  • He was born in the German state of Saxony in 1795.
  • He married a woman named Eva Justine in Germany sometime prior to 1850.
  • He and Eva had four children in Saxony prior 1850.
  • He, his wife, and his four children arrived in New York in April of 1850 aboard the bark Nord America.
  • He purchased 42 acres of land in Springwells Township, Wayne County, Michigan in August of 1850.
  • By 1856, he was dead.
While each of these facts require strong documentation (and for some of them, I already have solid sources that I'll share in later posts), discovering evidence for the first three are key to breaching this brick wall.

Let's start by examining what I know concerning Joseph's birth and death. He first appears in the American record as a passenger - along with his family - on the bark Nord America as it enters New York harbor on 16 April 1850 from Hamburg, Germany. The passenger manifest lists his age as 55, which if it is to be believed would place Joseph's birth sometime between January and April of 1795. The manifest does not have a column for place of birth, but does record each passenger's last residence. For Joseph and his family, the name of the city/village/town that they left for American shores appears to be called Treba. While a significant clue, it doesn't necessarily mean that Joseph was born there. Besides, Treba is itself a mystery - but I'll save that for another post.

The Knoch family as passengers on the Nord America
Jumping ahead in time to the 1860 U.S. census, we find Joseph and Eva (Eve) living together in Springwells Township. There is a problem here, however. Joseph is only 29 years old while Eva is 60. This appears to be Joseph and Eva's son Joseph, as his age matches that of the passenger manifest, but Eva's age shows a 5-year discrepancy. Either the crewman of the Nord America charged with recording passengers or the census enumerator visiting the home in 1860 were given an incorrect age for Eva. In any case, the elder Joseph is nowhere to be found.

Eva and Joseph (the younger) Knoch in the 1860 census
At this point there are any number of reasons for Joseph (senior) to be absent from the census rolls. However, on 11 February 1856 a quit claim deed filed in Wayne County in which Joseph and Eva's son Frederick relinquishes his portion of the original Knoch property to his mother identifies Eva as the widow of Joseph Knoch. That's pretty strong evidence to suggest that Joseph died some time between August 1850 and February 1856. So far I've been unable to discover a death certificate for Joseph which, if found, would pinpoint his date of death and quite possibly shed some more light on his place of birth.

The sources found and discussed thus far haven't given any clues regarding where Joseph was born. For that, I leap ahead in time to the 1880 U.S. census - the first census to record the birthplace of an individual's parents. Looking at the entry for Joseph's son Christian (I haven't been able to locate Eva yet), he declares Saxony to be where his mother and father were born. While it's true that this is essentially hearsay, the entries that I was able to locate for Joseph's other children corroborate the Saxon roots. Still not 100% accurate, but it's the best I have so far.

The Christian Koch family in the 1880 census
In summary, the circumstantial evidence that I've been able to uncover suggests that Joseph was born in Saxony in/about 1795. Where to go from here is a bit of an unknown. I've never before attempted an examination of German records, so it's in more ways than one a foreign world for me. I can read the language fairly well, but knowing where to look is the most frustrating aspect.

In my next post, I'll try to tackle the frustration by examining where that starting point might lie.

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