Birner Beginnings

Our German Family Tree says that Johann Birner was born on this day back in 1815.  There are problems in definitively stating that today would have been his birthday.  First of all, John was born in the Bavarian region of Germany, so we do not have a baptism record for him that would have given his date of birth.  Secondly, our German Family Tree only refers to one document that we can view to determine his birthday.  That was his death record, which was one of those that gave his exact age at the time of his death in years, months, and days.  One has to calculate his date of birth from those numbers.  By doing so using the numbers given in our GFT, one comes up with a birth date of July 18, 1815.  Having said that, I should point out that there are several family histories on that give July 12, 1815 as his birthday, but I could not find such a history with any documentation about his birth.

Before I continue, let me also say that there is not complete agreement on Johann’s name.  You will find his surname given as Börner, Bierner, Berner, or Birner.  Even his first name is an issue.  His marriage record says his first name was Friedrich.  Quite a few family histories on Ancestry give his name as Johann Gottlieb Birner.  I found only one such history that gives his name as Johann Friedrich Birner, and that one was created by our friend, Diane Anderson.

John Birner must have arrived in the United States prior to 1849.  The first documents we find for him are his marriage records.  He  married Ernestine Goethe.  His marriage date is another source for debate.  I can display two images of marriage records for John Birner.  Here is the first image.  It is definitely the more difficult of the two to read.

Birner Goethe marriage record Perry County
Birner/Goethe marriage record – Perry County, MO

At the end the third line from the top, you should be able to see the name Friedrich Birner followed by Ernestine Goethe.  Behind their names, you will see the words, “on the 1st of November”, and in front of their names, you will see the words, “on the 11th of October”.  Our German Family Tree gives this couple’s marriage date as November 1, 1849.  However, there are three couples’ marriages in the above image.  On the second line, where there is a large smudge, there is a date called the “??? day of September”.  The Birner/Goethe couple is the middle couple, so it would make sense that their marriage date would have been the middle one, which would have been October 11th.  The second image shown below is much more readable, and I think it settles the issue.

Birner Goethe marriage record 2 Perry County MO
Birner/Goethe marriage record – Perry County, MO

These three marriages occurred at the time when both Concordia, Frohna and Trinity, Altenburg were without a pastor.  Rev. Gotthold Loeber, who had been serving both those congregations in 1849, had died in August.  These marriages were conducted by Rev. Charles Gruber, whose name can be found in the red box on the first image.  He was the pastor in Uniontown.  The first two couples on the above images were members of Trinity, Altenburg.  There are no church records for those two weddings in the Trinity books.  The third wedding was a Frohna groom and a Uniontown bride.  That record can be found in the Grace, Uniontown books.

Now, we will take a look at the bride, Ernestine Göthe (the name had its umlaut removed and had an “e” added to become Goethe).  She was born on June 20, 1827 in Saxony, Germany, the daughter of Johann Gottlieb and Maria (Schmidt) Goethe.  This Goethe family was part of the Gesellschaft that arrived in 1839.  They came with the Gruber Group aboard the Johann Georg.  Johann Gottlieb was a cartwright, a person who worked on carts and wagons.  Below are the names of the Göthe family on that passenger list.

Goethe passenger list Gruber group
Göthe names – Johann Georg passenger list

One more daughter was born into this family after their arrival.  This surname was doomed to come to an end here in Perry County.  All of the Göthe children were girls.  Ernestine’s father died in 1847, so he was not present for Ernestine’s marriage.  John and Ernsestine Birner can be found in the 1850 census which says that John was a shoemaker.  Their first child, Henry, was just a baby.

John Birner 1850 census Brazeau Township MO
1850 census – Brazeau Township, MO

Our German Family Tree lists 7 children born to this Birner family.  One died at the age of 3.  We find this entry in the 1860 census.  This time, John is called a farmer.

John Birner 1860 census Brazeau Township MO
1860 census – Brazeau Township, MO

Next, we find the Birner’s in the 1870 census.

John Birner 1870 census Brazeau Township MO
1870 census – Brazeau Township, MO

The last census in which we find John Birner was the one taken in 1880.

John Birner 1880 census Brazeau Township MO
1880 census – Brazeau Township, MO

John Birner died on May 23, 1888 at the age of 72 years, 10 months, and 9 days.

John Birner death record Trinity Altenburg MO
John Birner death record – Trinity, Altenburg, MO

Our German Family Tree transcribes this record as 72 years, 10 months, and 5 days.  I think it says 9 days.  If that is the case, then not only is July 18th incorrect, but so is July 12th.  I calculate July 14th.  What do you think?

John should be buried in the Trinity Lutheran Cemetery, but he is not listed on as being there.  I took a trip to the cemetery on this beautiful morning in hopes of finding it.  Below you will see the general area where his tombstone should be.  Next to it is a photo of the only possible one that could have been John’s.  However, that stone could belong to a few others that we find in the Trinity death records around this time.

The tombstone that has fallen and lies on the ground is that of Hartmann Grebing, who happened to be married to Ernestine Goethe’s sister, Justina.  Hartmann died in July of 1888.

Ernestine Birner was still alive for two more censuses.  Here is the one taken in 1900.  She was living with her son, Martin.

Ernestine Birner 1900 census Brazeau Township MO
1900 census – Brazeau Township, MO

The last census in which she is included was in 1910.

Ernestine Birner 1910 census Brazeau Township MO
1910 census – Brazeau Township, MO

Ernestine Birner died in 1917 at the age of 89.  Her gravestone can be seen on Findagrave.

Ernestine Birner gravestone Trinity Altenburg MO
Ernestine Birner gravestone – Trinity, Altenburg, MO

The oldest child of John and Ernestine, Henry Birner, and his wife, Susanna, went on to have businesses in Wittenberg.   One of them was the Birner Hotel.  They are some main characters in my book, Wittenberg ’03 and my next book, Wittenberg ’04.  Their daughter’s marriage in 1904 will be described in the upcoming book.  I realized by writing this post that Ernestine was still alive for this marriage, so she will most likely show up for that wedding.

2 thoughts on “Birner Beginnings

  1. A couple of questions – my understanding from Viola Birner (the wife of Johanns grandson – Rev ETJ Birner – and my great grandmother) was that Ernestine was related to the famous Goethe of Germany. Secondly – any evidence related to where Johann might have entered the US? My searches haven’t turned up much. Thanks for all this research. Means a lot!


    1. I’m afraid I cannot help with either question. I did try to find an immigration document, but failed.


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