Monday, January 16, 2017

Using DNA to Trace 18th Century German Immigrants

Are you struggling to identify the origins of your eighteenth century immigrant ancestors? DNA may prove to be a useful tool in supplementing genealogical records for these early immigrants.  Last week I wrote about my maternal grandmother, Elaine Coffman and her baby book from her first few years in New York City.

I was well acquainted with my grandmother and her sister, Vivian Coffman McGrath.  I also know their half brother, Ernest Ellsworth Coffman, Jr. who we call "Uncle Ernie".  We have a wealth of knowledge about the Coffman line but it starts to get a little shadowy when we start to trace back to the original German immigrant in the early days of Kentucky.

I feel very fortunate that Uncle Ernie  was agreeable to taking a y-DNA test to trace the Coffman line further back.  I got to know Uncle Ernie as a young lad.  Occasionally I would see him when he would visit "Gram Elaine" in Lake Tahoe.  We started to correspond and then email each other after I began the Coffman genealogy research.  I love his writing style and am fortunate to have several of his stories that I have added to the family history archive.   I ordered a y-DNA test for Uncle Ernie before Christmas and we are anxiously awaiting the results of the test from Family Tree DNA.

There is a pretty well developed database for the Coffman family at the following webpage sponsored by Family Tree DNA: Kauffman/Coffman/Kaufman Project - Y-DNA Classic Chart.

There is an ancestor on the list who has some history which seems to fit with some of the stories that have been passed down in our Coffman line.  Here are the specifications for the test of interest: 

Kit Number: 316309; Paternal Ancestor Name: Jacob Coffman, death 1792, KY; Country of Origin: Germany; Haplogroup: I-YP1084

Starting with Uncle Ernie, here is the path to that German immigrant:  Ernest Ellsworth Coffman Jr. 1932 CA> Ernest Ellsworth Coffman Sr. 1879 IL-1934 CA>Archibald Wilson Coffman 1850 IL-1935 CA> William Fowler Coffman 1815 KY-1905 IL > Jacob Coffman 1780 Germany or KY- 1855 IL > Jacob Coffman, the original immigrant from Germany.

We are fortunate to have several oral histories that were preserved about the early origin of our Coffman line.

"The father Jacob, a native of Germany, came to this country when four years old and settled in Kentucky, where they subsisted by digging the ginseng and selling it, and hunting deer and dressing their skins.  He was well acquainted with Daniel Boone.  He moved to Illinois, and was there during the Black Hawk war [1832], in which he took part.  He was the first man to settle in Burlington, Iowa, which place he found while swimming the Mississippi River after Indians for whom he had a deadly hatred. When sixty-two years of age he moved to Missouri, to a town called Jamestown, five miles from St. Joseph [Buchanan County].   He became so fond of frontier life that he followed it until his death, which occurred in Illinois, at the age of seventy-two years. He shot his last deer in Illinois, while on horseback, shortly before his death. His son Alfred has the old rifle with which he killed the deer.  Seven of the children of Jacob Coffman are living, the youngest being sixty six years of age."
SOURCE: History of Sacramento County, 1890, by Winfield J. Davis, CA State Library #qc979.453 D2; mfm#C115 #13 Book 2382; p. 479 From the sketch of Alfred Coffman, son of Jacob Coffman 1780-1855

I never ceased to be amazed that our Coffman family was written up in an early history of Sacramento County.  I was born in Sacramento in 1954 and I did not realize that Alfred Coffman had come to California in 1875 and that his nephew, Archibald Coffman, followed his uncle to California prior to 1880.  I was practically dumbfounded when I learned that Alfred Coffman was one of the founders of Elk Grove High School where my wife, Robin Harrington, graduated about one hundred years later.

I have found no record to substantiate the claim that Jacob Coffman 1780-1855 was the first man to settle in Burlington, Iowa, however Isaac Crenshaw, a neighbor of Jacob's, did lead a party of Illinois settlers to the Burlington area.  I have not yet checked early land claims but the histories of the area do not mention Jacob Coffman.  There are several other statements that I have been attempting to prove over the years.  The service in the Black Hawk War was has been substantiated by a bounty land claim. The relationship with Daniel Boone is  little more difficult to prove.

The most interesting aspect of this oral history is the deadly hatred of Indians.  This attitude toward Indians might be explained by the following story by another descendant of Jacob Coffman 1780-1855.

"...The grandparents of Mrs. [Aaron] DeWitt, Jacob and Ezra (Fowler) Coffman, were born in Kentucky, and he was a son of Jacob Coffman, a native of Germany.  When Jacob Coffman, Mrs. DeWitt's grandfather was three years old the family started for Illinois, and when they reached the Illinois side of the Ohio River they were attacked by the Indians and old grandfather was killed.  His wife, two sons and a negro servant escaped, fled to the woods and kept on traveling until the crow of a rooster told them they had reached a white settlement.  They finally made their way to McDonough County, where they entered land from the government, but none of the survivors ever forgot their terrible experience with the hostile Red Men."    
SOURCE: Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois & History of Hancock Co. Scofield Vol. 11; Chicago, Illinois : Munsell Pub. Co., 1921; Salt Lake City, Utah : Digitized by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 2009; page 1186 in the sketch of Aaron DeWitt.

The wife of Aaron DeWitt was Sarah Coffman, daughter of William Fowler Coffman and Elizabeth Wilson.  Sarah was a sister of my second great grandfather, Archibald Coffman 1850-1935.  She may have garbled the story a bit.  The three year old that was traveling to Illinois was probably her father, William Fowler Coffman.  The obituary of William F. Coffman tells the following version of the story:

"William F. Coffman was born in Kentucky, July 30, 1815.  When he was three years of age the family removed to Jefferson county, Illinois where they remained twelve years, when in 1830 they came to this vicinity where he has since resided." SOURCE: LaHarper, LaHarpe, Illinois, 15 Sep 1905

There are elements of these stories which bear some similarity to the following story about a Jacob Coffman who was an early settler in what is now Anderson County, Kentucky.

"Jacob Coffman was one of the first, it not the first, to build his cabin or fort, in what is now Anderson county. His fort, or strong cabin (It was not one of the large stations or forts), stood on the corner lot made by what is now Woodford and Main streets, the lot now (1928) occupied by the Presbyterian church. This cabin was put up between February 3, 1780 and June 23, 1780, the time he made his 1,000 acre entry, the second entry using the term, "adjoining his settlement and around the same." Here Coffman lived from 1780 until his death by Indians in 1792.
"As to where he came from, the records of Anderson and Franklin counties are silent. Quite a number of Dutch settlers came to Kentucky at a very early date, and he may have been one of these..."
"Jacob Coffman, Sr., was killed in 1792, and there were several versions of his death, how it occurred and where. Mr. W. S. McBrayer gave the writer the version that many old people thought the Indians did not kill him, but that Samuel Arbuckle killed him in order to get his land, and that he was killed near the brick residence of John C. McBrayer on the Clifton pike. Samuel Arbuckle did finally get the title to the lots of Jacob, Jr., and Hannah, and the greater part of Nellie's, but the records show that he got it many years after the death of Jacob, Sr., and that he paid prices for it that compared with prices paid for other similar land in the community."
"The most reasonable version of Jacob, Sr.'s, death heard by the writer, and it was heard many times years ago, was that he and his wife were walking not far from Coffman's Station one Sunday afternoon when they discovered two Indians not far away and apparently approaching them. Coffman sent his wife to the station to bar the doors, as he thought the Indians did not intend harm and he could get rid of them. He walked to where they were and some talk occurred, but suddenly the Indians clubbed him to death and scalped him. The alarm was given and a number of people got together under the command of Major Herman Bowmar living in Woodford county, and a deputy sheriff living in that county, came and tried to track the Indians. but could find no trace of them. (Collin's History, Vol. 2.)"
"The summer and fall of 1792 saw the last incursion into any part of central Kentucky, and the killing of Coffman here, and of a Mr. Todd in South Frankfort, were the last killings by Indians."
SOURCE: A history of Anderson County [database on-line]. Provo, UT: Operations Inc, 2005. Original data: McKee, Lewis W.. A history of Anderson County. Baltimore: Regional Pub. Co., 1975. The 1975 version was a reprint of A History of Anderson County Begun in 1884 By Major Lewis W. McKee, and concluded in 1936 By Mrs. Lydia K. Bond; Published by Roberts Printing Co., Frankfort, 1936.
One of the facts that Lewis McKee added to his narrative was that the widow of Jacob Coffman and her daughter, Nellie [AKA Eleanor] moved to Clay County, Missouri, where they were living on June 2, 1830, when Nellie sold the residue of her land to Samuel Arbuckle for $1,200.  Jacob Coffman 1780-1855 was known to have been in Buchanan County Missouri with some of his sons for a short time in the 1830's.  Several of his descendants are known to have been born in Buchanan County and the 1830 census shows a Jacob Coffman.

Several of my Coffman kinfolk have already latched onto this Jacob Coffman from the Anderson County, Kentucky history.  I will be contacting them for an explanation of their rationale. Perhaps the DNA results will help us solve this mystery.  We can only hope!

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