Kilmer Family's German Origins
Gary T. Horlacher, 1995
Many of us have made trips on, and often we have the wonderful fortune to locate information that was unanticipated. Such was the case with a research trip that solved a mystery in my own family.
Because of the challenge and the rewards that come from the struggle, Palatine German research has become a favorite of mine. This research includes Germans who came to America about 1709-1773.
Many of these Germans came from protestant German towns in areas bordering France and in southern Germany. These towns were devastated in the 17th century during the 30-Years War and the later Wars of Succession. They were subsequently repopulated in the late 17th and early 18th centuries by Huguenots, Germans from other areas, and Swiss settlers. By the mid-18th century, these settlements had already supplied a surplus population and many of the second and third generation of new colonists in these areas; their neighbors decided to move again, this time to America.
Since a large area which fits this description included what was called the "Pfalz" or Palatinate, all Germans who came to America prior to the Revolutionary War are often referred to as Palatines even though many of them were from other German states or areas (i.e. Baden, Württemberg, Bavaria, Rhineland, Alsace-Loraine, Switzerland, or Hessen).
Many books and articles have provided clues to the origins of thousands of Germans who came in the 18th century to New York, New England, Nova Scotia, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas. The information from these books comes from German and colonial records such as requests for permission to leave their feudal lords' lands, notations in church books of going to America, records in America that list origins, petitions or letters sent to Germany encouraging emigration, etc.
Authors such as Annette Kunselman Burgert, Hank Jones, Don Yoder, Carl Boyer, Werner Hacker, Clifford Neal Smith, and many others have made studies of certain areas or groups of Germans or compiled lists of origins of Palatine Germans. Likewise the I.G.I. (International Genealogical Index(1)) is becoming an invaluable resource for this type of research, which source includes extractions of all available early church records from some areas of the Palatinate.
For over a hundred years, genealogists have been gathering information and researching the origins of one such German family that came to New York in 1709-1710: the Kilmer family. My own research on this family began in an effort to sort out the genealogy of several Kilmer cousins who had intermarried in Kansas and Nebraska. In 1986, my genealogy of this family became the fourth major book published on this family(2).
Each of these genealogical works built on the previous ones and identified the immigrant as Johann Georg Kilmer or in Dutch, Johannes Jurrian Kulmer. The work of Hank Jones(3) identified the origins of several of the female lines who married into the Kilmer family, but the origin of the Kilmer family still remained a mystery.
Early researchers believed the name in Germany may have been Kuhlmann or some variation of that. Having made an extensive study of Americanization of German surnames, and knowing the subsequent history of the family, this possibility seemed quite unlikely. Very few New York records reported the name as Kuhlmann. Most of these early records list the family as Kilmer, Killmer, Kilmore, etc. It seemed much more likely that the family had a German name that ended in -mer and not -mann(4)! Hank Jones also showed that Kuhlmann and Kilmer families were two different families and that ours was the Kilmer family.
For the previous five years, I had been doing a lot of German Palatine research(5) and all this time have been keeping an eye out for this family in Germany. Some clues had been found, but nothing definite.
The name Kilmer was not a common name in Germany. Some leads of where the name appeared in Germany came from general sources. In the latest edition of the I.G.I. (International Genealogical Index), the name Killmer (sic) was listed in the towns of Altengronau and Abterode, both in the German state of Hessen. Since the records from these towns had not been microfilmed, it was not possible to determine if they were related to my family. Also, while searching the records of the town of Herborn there was a Nicholaus Kulmer of Spangenberg (also in Hessen) listed. The origins of people who intermarried with this family in America was also studied, but no patterns seemed evident.
In the meantime, I planned a research trip to Germany in March 1994 to do client work and locate records unavailable in Salt Lake. As the Kilmer names listed in the IGI from Altengronau seemed reminiscent of the same family in New York, it seemed like a good lead. I decided I would take my leads on the family with me and if I should pass through this particular area of Germany on other research, I would stop and see if the records could briefly be searched for my Kilmer ancestors.
On my way from Bavaria to Northern Germany, I was able to alter my course a little and go through this town. It happened to be on Easter Weekend and when I arrived in the town of Altengronau and they were holding church services. It was raining, which is not unusual any time of year in Germany. As the church services were ending I decided to wait until the minister came out and ask him about looking at the early Lutheran church records.
The minister was fairly new to this town and was a young man. He lived in the nearby town of Neuengronau, where the church books were kept. He said he had to do services for the church there in an hour and after that I could check the records. That seemed fair.
Since there remained an hour, I decided to check out the town. The countryside had been so beautiful in this peaceful valley (Sinn Valley). On foot in the rain I traversed the town from one end to the other. This valley lies in the Hanau region east of Frankfurt. This area of Germany is not rushed by large industrial enterprises, but has a peaceful country feeling to it. It is also not heavilly populated, with several miles between towns. Everything was a beautiful green this time of year. By the time I was through I was drenched, but also had fallen in love with this town and hoped this might be the home of my ancestors.
I got to Neuengronau just in time to attend the church service there and enjoyed that experience very much. After the meeting, the minister took me in his home and pulled out the old church books. He let me look at the three oldest volummes which including christening, marriage, and burial records for the following years: 1650-1759, 1760-1774, and 1775-1799.
Although I was hopeful that this was the home of my Kilmer ancestors, there was a good possibility that it wasn't. I scoured the pages of these books as quickly and carefully as possible. There was a Georg Killmer who had children there between 1698-1706. He wasn't mentioned in later records, so this seemed like the perfect match. My excitement was mounting more and more. In about three hours I was able to copy all of the Kilmer-Killmer entries from the earliest records to 1799. By the time I was done, my hand ached and I had nearly dried out from the rain. I was so grateful to the minister for allowing me to come without an appointment, on a holiday, and while he had company and that he would still allow me search the records.
I then returned to Altengronau to took around some more and take some pictures. At the local store, they sold me a copy of the town history even though they weren't open for business(6). What an exciting time!
When I got home and had a chance to go through my notes, this is what I had on the family of George Killmer from Altengronau:
Georg Killmer had four children by his first wife Eve:
- Anna Elisabetha christened 14 Aug 1698
- Simon christened 18 Jun 1702 (twin)
- Michael christened 18 Jun 1702 (twin)
- Dorothea Elisabetha christened 23 Jun 1706
Eve died and was buried 14 Dec 1708. Georg Killmer married second time June 10, 1709. The minister left the name of this wife blank in the record book.
In analyzing this data and trying to determine if this was the correct family, the following evidence seemed to say it was:
- The names of the parents and children matched. We knew George Kilmer had at least a son named Simon and a daughter Elizabeth who would have been born in Germany. This matched and the name Simon was not a particularly common given name in Germany at the time.
- The family is not mentioned in any records after the marriage in June 1709. They must have left right about that same time. The marriage and death records of the town were searched up to 1800 and no mention of any members of this family were made subsequent to June 1709.
- As mentioned before the Kilmer family name only occurs in a few areas of Germany. The chances that there would be another Georg Kilmer with the right children's names who disappeared from all records at just the right time would be very unlikely.
Although I felt fairly confident that this was the right family, the real clincher that this was the right family came from the twin sons born in 1702. In the New York Hunter subsistence rolls from August 4, 1710 until March 25, 1712 there were four people in the household over 10 years of age and three people under the age of 10 (FHL #87883). Beginning June 24, 1712, we find six people over 10 years old and one under 10. There were the same number of people in the family, but between March 25 and June 24, 1712, two of the younger children became 10 years old! This must have been the right family as Simon and Michael both turned 10 in the second week of June 1712!
This, on top of the fact that the family disappears from the German records after 1709 and the right children's names are listed in Germany who show up in early church marriage and christening records of New York, was enough evidence to make the match(7)! My most favorite spot in Germany was indeed the hometown for my Kilmer ancestors prior to coming to America! What a wonderful, thrilling outcome from this research trip that had been totally unexpected!
After putting these notes together, the IGI was again searched and it was found that a Diane L. Deputy of my own town of Salt Lake City had submitted the names. Her ancestor Johann George Hufnagel and Elizabeth Anna Roeder emigrated from Altengronau in 1837 to Indiana. Elizabeth Anna Roeder was the granddaughter of Anna Catharina Killmer, who was born in 1747. This Anna Catharina Killmer was in turn the granddaughter of a Johannes Killmer, born about 1663, who would have been a brother to my immigrant ancestor.
After visiting with Diane Deputy, she was thrilled that her information had led to a break through on my own family where we had been stumped for a hundred years. One good moral to be gained from this story is for all serious genealogists to add their information into the IGI and Ancestral File and then not to overlook these sources when searching for difficult ancestors. I've really been on a high for a year now after making this discovery and perhaps someday will have another chance to visit this area of Germany to pursue a few new leads we have on the Kilmer family.
1. This is an index of names submitted to the LDS Family History Library since the late 19th century and includes many town records from all over the world that have been extracted as well as personal records that people have submitted.
2. Rev. C. H. Kilmer (1897): History of the Kilmer Family in America. David Glen Kilmer (1969): The Family of Johannes Jurrian Kulmer. Lawrence Harold Kilmer (1982): Kilmer, -a Genealogy/Chronology. Gary T. Horlacher (1986): Across the Prairie by Kilmer, Howe, Case, Howard, Sams, Slyter, Rasler, Miller, and Pease Families.
3. Hank Jones: The Palatine Families of New York. Universal City, CA: H.Z. Jones, 1985.
4. The German name Kuhlmann would probably have been Americanized to the more similiar sounding names of Coleman or Coolmann.
5. Will Whitaker and I published a genealogy of about 250 German families that settled in Broad Bay, Maine in 1742, 1751-1753 with their German origins and genealogies (Broad Bay Pioneers, published 1998 by Picton Press). I also had several clients interested in Pennsylvania German Palatine families over the last few years.
6. Elm, Hans. Chronik und Festschrift anläßlich dr 1200-Jahr-Feier [Altengronau 780-1980]. Zeitlofs: Schneider Druck, 1980. 8 marks.
7. See Hank Jones book, cited above.
Here are a few notes since this article has been online of additional feedback and information that has been gathered on the Kilmer Family:
- Dennis Killmer of Fort Worth, Texas has responded and has a 20 page genealogy of the Kilmer family on his website:
- Janet Ariciu also has a Kilmer website showing her ancestor John Kilmer who married in 1830s to Mary Meador Heard in Marion County, Tennessee or Georgia:
John Kilmer was born between 1790-1800 probably in Georgia or Tennessee. If anyone has further information on this southern branch of Kilmer's and could share it with us, I think this would be a fascinating study. My guess is that he may have been a son of George Kilmer of Botetourt County, Virginia and if not, my second guess would be the Kilmer family of Berkeley County, Virginia. If anyone has information on those Kilmer families perhaps they can share that with us to make this connection!
- Sue Foster has created a website with history and information about the part of Germany where the Kilmer family came from, in particular the nearby town of Oberkalbach, however the history is much the same for Altengronau. http://ursula.foster.cc
I have some notes about other Kilmers from my trip to Germany. In particular I was trying this time to find out what others towns near Altengronau had Kilmers where the family may have been from prior to about 1680. In particular, records of the Hanau Duchy in the State Archive of Marburg were searched. The following are highlights of what was identified:
- Salbuch Nr. 211: Grundbuch der Herrschaftlichen Güter yu Altengronau 1686. This was a register of the lands at Altengronau in 1686 listing who owned what land and whose lands bordered on it. It was a wonderful document and copies and notes were made. On page 37 we find Georg Kyllmer's farm which included only a house with no barn or stall. The main farm lot was between Simon Vepparten and Hans Caspar Schüsslern along the main road. It was appraised for 8 Mtr., 6 maass. Other Kilmers (Kyllmers) listed were Michell Kyllmer (p.39) and Frantz Kyllmer (p.41).
- Names from the tax lists for Altengronau Principality for 1663 and 1654 and other early tax lists were noted, but no Kilmers were listed in that region at that time.
- Court books (Regierungs Protokolle) from 1709 were searched, with hope that the family may have obtained a manumission or some other evidence of the emigration. There was a Frantz Killmer, shepherd at Marios, was punished 18 Jun 1709 and 26 Jul 1709.
- A volume concerning emigration to America in 1709-1711 from the Hanau Duchy included a lot of background information about the laws of emigration at this time. A copy of this book was made on microfilm and is in my possession, but I haven't had time to transcribe or translate it yet. It does not directly mention the Kilmer family but does mention a few other families and the governments reaction to their emigration.