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23andMe Sheds Light on a Family Mystery

My quest to identify my German great-great grandmother never ends. If I am not actively working on the project, it still simmers in the back of my mind.

We inherited such brief information about this woman. My great-aunt (the German woman’s granddaughter) told me in the 1980’s that her grandmother’s name was Katherine Stillenbaugh. She came to America when she was eight years old, and she died at Indianapolis shortly after giving birth in 1865 to her only child, my great-grandmother.

My great-uncle, the informant on his mother’s death certificate in 1961, gave the name of his grandmother as Katherine Stanabaugh.

Both these records date from a century after my second great-grandmother lived. People who never knew her, people with little formal education, created these records.

What is the truth? Who was she? More importantly, who were her people?

Through years of work with the U.S. census and Indiana records, I made a little progress. I learned that there are few, if any, Stillenbaugh or Stanabaugh families in Germany or the US. The one or two I found have no connection to Indiana or a Civil War era woman named Katherine.

I learned that Germans usually spell the female name with a “C” instead of a “K”, as in Catherine, Catharine, or Catherina.

I learned that when you cannot find information about early American women, the standard advice is to follow the men in their lives because the men created more records. My second great-grandfather’s name was Thomas Sherman, a blacksmith from Kentucky.

Sometime during the early 1860’s, he and other siblings resettled in Indiana, south of Indianapolis. When I looked at the names of their neighbors, a found a large German clan named Stilgenbauer, a name some of them Anglicized to Stillabower. The name struck me as so similar to the names I had been researching.

I hypothesized that my Katherine belongs to this German family. Various branches of this group had daughters named Catherine. Is one of them mine?

None appeared to fit the bill exactly. Some seem too old, others too young. Some of the right age were born in America, not Germany. I could find no record of any of them marrying someone named Sherman. It seemed I would never find an answer.

Then DNA testing came along. My father and I submitted our samples, and I began combing the databases looking for matches to Stilgenbauer/Stillabower descendants. Several months ago, I found one, and his family was from Indiana. He works as a genealogy librarian, but he could not identify my Katherine.

This week I uncovered another match to an Indiana Stillabower. With two DNA matches who match each other and us, I am feeling pretty confident that I have found my kin.

Indiana county histories tell me that all the Stilgenbauer/Stillabower descendants claim a common ancestor, Georg Valentin Stilgenbauer (1773-1845) from Bavaria. He must be my ancestor, too.

But where do I fit in? Georg had three sons who settled in Indiana. Jacob (1796-1865), Adam (1801-1863), and Johan Michael (1804-1881) all settled in Brown County.

Jacob’s son, Johan Nicholas (1823-1905), spelled his name as Stillabower. He eventually moved on to the northern edge of Bartholomew County. My great-grandmother was born in April, 1865 just a few miles north of there in Edinburg, Johnson County. Was she Nicholas’ granddaughter? Nicholas did have a daughter named Catherine who was 18 years old in 1865.

But this Catherine did not die in 1865. Instead, she married a man named Long that same year and lived to have a family with him.

So the story still does not match up, but I am getting closer. It may take better scientific skills than I possess to interpret the DNA results that continue to come in. Nevertheless, I hope to resolve this puzzle someday. My great-grandmother’s maternal grandfather was likely one of the Stilgenbauer brothers who settled in Brown County, Indiana.

 

 

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