Mar 142013

Wedding RingsDead woman signs prenuptial agreement under an assumed name. Was that to disguise the fact that she had died 10 years earlier? Probably not; perhaps there is a more realistic explanation! Let me back up and tell you how I got myself into this strange quagmire…

I have been researching the Kneppers of Fairfield County Ohio. They are my mother’s maternal grandmother’s line. I am hoping to prove my descent from one of the Kneppers who lived in Fairfield County prior to 1820 for application to the Fairfield County Pioneers and the First Families of Ohio lineage societies. Part of my research has focused on Jacob Knepper (1772-1847) and his wife, Elizabeth Flick (1779-1831).

Fortunately, I live only 16 miles from the St. Louis County Library which houses the book loan collection of the National Genealogical Society. In that collection I found Genealogy of the Knepper Family in the United States, 1681-1911 by Margaret Knepper (1906), revised by Ethel Knepper in 1911. The author acknowledges that the book contains errors and hopes that it will lay the foundation for a “more creditable work on the same subject.” While the primary focus of the book is not my direct line, it includes a chapter on Jacob Knepper and Elizabeth Flick – including a descendancy outline of their 11 children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and spouses (where known). While none of the stories or transcriptions in the book related to Jacob and Elizabeth’s descendants, it was a great source for pointing me in the right direction about their descendants.

Next, I discovered the Knepper Line on the website. Here I found an extended eight generation descendancy outline starting with Tilmann Knepper (1627-1706). The website issues a clear caveat emptor: “as a compilation from a wide variety of sources, this database clearly does not meet any standard for authoritative genealogical proof. Much of it is hearsay or family legend. However, I hope it is useful or, at least, fun.” This was one of the places, but not the first, where I found a transcription of Jacob Knepper last will and testament and a transcription of the execution of a prenuptial agreement between Jacob and Elizabeth.

Yesterday I downloaded a copy of Jacob Knepper’s will from the Fairfield County Probate Court’s Will Book #3 ( I have made my own transcription. I have not yet been able to locate online either the prenuptial agreement (Pick away County, Deed Book 22, page 485) or the execution of the agreement in Fairfield County. In the absence of the originals, I began to look more closely at the transcriptions. I noted that the transcription began: “Whereas prior to the marriage of Jacob Knepper and Mary Knepper they made a marriage contract which, after said marriage and on the eleventh day of July, A.D. 1840 was reduced to writing and signed by each of them…” The pre-nup was a verbal agreement which did not get put into writing until after the marriage. A question kept nagging at me: Why Mary and not Elizabeth? I know, names are not always what we expect them to be. Perhaps she was Mary Elizabeth Flick; but I had nothing to suggested that. Perhaps she was just called Mary, even though I can find no evidence that Mary is any form of an abbreviation or nickname for Elizabeth. (I remember that I had a friend in high school whose nickname was “Pete” because her father had wanted a son.  Names and nicknames can easily surprise.)

An additional nagging fact was that Jacob Knepper had a second wife – Mary Bowman. Could it be … ? Then I saw the basic clue that I had overlooked (as had all those who simply copied the transcribed pre-nup to Elizabeth Flick’s file in their Ancestry Tree). Elizabeth Flick died in 1831. The pre-nup was signed in 1840 and executed shortly after Jacob’s death in 1847.

No, Elizabeth (Flick) Knepper had not signed the prenuptial agreement with Jacob Knepper 9 years after her death. The prenuptial agreement was between Jacob Knepper and his second wife, Mary Bowman. It was Mary Bowman who, when she came to the marriage, was “wealthy in her own right and by judicious management, she and her husband were able to give each of their children land or the equivalent in money.”

My learnings:

  1. Scrutiny does NOT mean simply downloading information purportedly about an ancestor and then doing the “genealogy happy dance.” (I actually had done the happy dance when I first encountered the pre-nup. I called my mother and reported while dancing. How does one un-dance the “happy dance?”)
  2. Look once; look twice; look again and again… and pay attention to those “naggings” that occur at the fringe of consciousness while exploring genealogical data. (As a friend taught me many years ago, “Trust your intuition!”)
  3. More Googling wouldn’t have helped in this situation; nor would mapping; nor would another trip to the library. A time-line would have helped!  After all, I had all the information I needed to make a good (correct) decision about the data.
  4. Brendan Gill (Here at the New Yorker) was right: “If the unexamined life is not worth living, the unexamined past is not worth possessing [my emphasis]; it bears fruit only by being held continuously up to the light, and is as changeable and as full of surprises, pleasant and unpleasant, as the future.” (This quote now goes in a prominent place above my computer monitor.)

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