Born at Sea

First of all, today I have a confession to make.  I have found it very difficult the past couple of days to come up with blog posts  There are several reasons for this.  One is that I simply have found it difficult to locate a story that excites me.  Also, teaching and museum responsibilities have taken up a bunch of my time.  Add to that, for the last two days, my internet at home has been iffy at best.  However, when I found this story this morning, it got my juices flowing again.  It is my kind of story.  It has several interesting characteristics, and it has plenty of questions that needed to be answered.  Some of the questions still remain unresolved.

On December 1, 1838, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Gotthilf Traugott Ahner was born aboard the Copernicus, one of the ships carrying German immigrants heading to America as part of the Gesellschaft.  Gotthilf’s baptism was recorded later by Rev. Gotthold Loeber in the Trinity Lutheran Church, Altenburg church books.

Gotthilf Ahner baptism record – Trinity, Altenburg church books

It was listed in these church books under a section titled, “Church Information from Pastor Buerger’s Congregation in Seelitz, MO.”  I cannot read German very well, but in this record I can definitely see the birth date of  “1st Decbr 1838” and the name Copernicus.  Zion on the Mississippi also records the fact that Gotthilf was born at sea.  Not only was he born at sea, but the Copernicus left Germany on November 3rd and did not arrive in New Orleans until December 31st, so when Gotthilf was born, they were about halfway into their voyage, putting them way out in the middle of the Altlantic Ocean.  Gotthilf’s parents were August Friedrich, Jr. and Fredericka Dorothea (Schafer) Ahner.  You can also notice in the baptismal record that Rev. Loeber spelled their name as Ahnerts.  All subsequent records for this family indicate the Ahner spelling.

On board the Copernicus was a physician by the name of Dr. Friedrich Ehregott Schneider.  He must have assisted in the birth of Gotthilf.  Two of Gotthilf’s sponsors are notable.  One of them was Johanne Buerger, the wife of Rev. Ernst Moritz Buerger, the pastor of the Seelitz congregation.  Another sponsor was George Schieferdecker who at the time of the baptism was a Candidate of Theology.  He would later be the second pastor at Trinity in Altenburg and also the first pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Altenburg.

Gotthilf was born on December 1st.  On December 10th, his two year old sister, Amalia Theresia, died.  So Gotthilf was born at sea, and his sister died at sea…..all in a matter of ten days.

Theresia Ahner death record – Trinity, Altenburg church books

Rev. Buerger must have performed the funeral service for Amalia.  Pastor Buerger did not stay in Perry County very long and never got around to writing down his congregation’s records.  That is why Pastor Loeber wrote down what he knew about this congregation’s records at a later time.

One thing that is very confusing is the fact that there were two August Friedrich Ahners included right next to each other on the passenger list of the Copernicus.

Copernicus passenger list

For some reason, the two August Friedrichs came to be identified as August Friedrich, Sr. and August Friedrich, Jr. but we know by their ages that it is not a father/son situation.  And if that isn’t confusing enough, one of August Friedrich, Jr.’s sons was named Friedrich August.   There are some very confusing entries in the church books concerning these Ahners.

Gotthilf can be found later in the 1860 census as living in St. Louis, married to Regina (Phillips). This marriage took place in 1859.

1860 census – St. Louis, Missouri

Gotthilf was a printer.  The census record even notes that he was “born on sea from Saxony”.

In 1915, we find a city directory from St. Louis that shows an Ahner G Printing Co.


You cannot find 112 S. 2nd St. on a current map program.  If I have it figured correctly, this address would have been located very near the Gateway Arch and maybe a block away from the Old Cathedral.

Regina died in 1918 and according to a family tree found on, Gotthilf died in 1930.  Gotthilf is certainly an interesting story…….beginning in the midst of the Atlantic Ocean and ending up working in what later became the shadow of the Gateway Arch.



4 thoughts on “Born at Sea

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