Kühner (Keener) Genealogie in Amerika

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Surnames/tags: Kühner Keener Kenner
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"Looking back over the long and devious roads that lie between the barbarism of the past and the civilization of today, thinking of the centuries that rolled like waves between these distant shores, we can form some idea of what our fathers suffered — of the mistakes they made — some idea of their ignorance, their stupidity — and some idea of their sense, their goodness, their heroism.”


Goals and objectives

The American Immigrant Wall of Honor (at Ellis Island) currently honors only one member of the Kühner (Keener) family, Casper Keener (CE 1680–1762), “among those courageous men and women who came to this country in search of personal freedom, economic opportunity and a future of hope for their families.” However, Casper (Gasper) was not the first (of many) Kühner (Keener) families of Palantine emigrates that became "Pennsylvania Dutch." The goal of this project is to document the first German-speaking Kühner (Keener) immigrants in America and their notable (dead) descendants as well as any surviving architectural structures or interesting places and things associated with this family in North or South America. This project will also explore the etymology of the Kühner (Keener) surname and common given names of family members.

As Wikipedia notes, "Keener is an English or Irish surname or an anglicized version of the German surname Kühner, which is derived from Kühn and the Old German kühn (keen)." Only a handful of notable living Americans are included in the Wikipedia with this surname, including the wonderful American actress Catherine Keener (Harper Lee in Capote) whose father apparently descended from Peter), as well as a "pioneer in the field of mathematical physiology and cardiology" who uses chaos theory to model the human heartbeat, and a "professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary" who "work[s] for ethnic reconciliation in the U.S. and Africa." While it is not clear if James or Craig are descended from German Keener families, it is notable that the only notable dead Kühner (Keener) listed in the Wikipedia is John Christian, whose “strenuous life was bound up with the city of New Orleans” and was "highly esteemed by Jefferson Davis." Less notable members of the family remained in Pennsylvania and made lot's of bologna and Keener Wieners (not the trademarked ones). Others settled in North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Baltimore, New Orleans, and other places. This project seeks to identify other dead notables (broadly speaking) and document their connections to early Kühner immigrants.

Early and notable Keener Amerikaner

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Immigrants named Keener and notable descendants

Here are the Kühner (Keener) family immigrants to Amerika that have been confirmed, listed by date of immigration, and notable descendants. An accompanying narrative is also available.

  • ????: Peter (1687 - 1757) - son of Casper Kuhner (and a possible brother of the immigrant Casper listed below, but there's no proof of this). It is not known when Peter arrived in America, but his three sons arrived in 1727.
  • 1727: (William) Ulrich I (1710 - 1784) - arrived in Pennsylvania onboard the James Goodwill with two brothers named Adam and Hans) according to the Foot Family History. In 1745 Ulrich purchases 300 acres on "NR Shenandoah adjacent to George Byrne and Hugh Devinie, by the Great Waggon Road" that Casper and his family (see below) took to the North Carolina Backcountry by 1752. Little is known about Adam and Hans, but some of Peter and (William) Ulrich's descendants (assuming William William) is William Ulrich, but there's no proof of this) were "among the oldest settlers" of Taylor county, West Virginia and "one of the most noted in the early history of this section of Western Virginia." According to Gaines v. Keener (decided April 14, 1900, West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals), a "Samuel B. Keener owned a tract of land containing one hundred and sixty acres, in Taylor County, and in October, 1875, he divided the same into four parts, prepared and executed deeds to his four children, conveying to each a portion thereof, which deeds he retained in his possession, in a chest among his private papers. During his lifetime said Keener disposed of all said tract except thirty-eight and three-fourths acres in the deed executed in 1875 to William and Elizabeth Keener. On this tract said Samuel B. Keener continued to reside until his death, and while living there, on August 20, 1894, he executed and delivered a deed to George I. Keener." Other apparent descendants of (William) Ulrich:
  • Horace Ulrich - a circuit rider who left the Methodist Conference for 15 years after the Trail of Tears (because they didn't speak out or do more about this genocide?) and was reappointed as the superintendent of a Cherokee school in NC in 1850 where he learned the Cherokee language and used the Sequoyah alphabet and syllabary in his instruction. He built and lived in a log cabin that is the oldest architectural structure at a Cherokee site in North Carolina today.
  • Joseph - Ulrich's brother "Joe" was "instrumental in getting locals to buy and sell property making possible the Qualla Indian Reservation" in Cherokee, North Carolina.
  • John W. ("Logan") Keener - one of many so-called Confederate veterans (including "Little Bill" Kirk of North Carolina) who claimed to have been among those who fired the shots that mortally wounded Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville, but Logan's regiment isn't on the Confederate Order of Battle at Chancellorsville and was apparently in West Virginia taking part in the (militarily successful but politically failed) Jones-Imboden Raid at the time. Given the political outcome in his state just one month later (West Virginia was admitted as the 35th state of the Union), Logan probably wished he had pulled the trigger in Chancellorsville.
  • 1738: Casper (1680–1762) - arrived in Pennsylvania onboard the Thistle and migrated to Lincoln County, North Carolina by 1752, where he was one of the "honored heroes who subdued the foes of husbandry in a wild unsettled region” (Alfred Nixon, 1908). Notable descendants of Casper include:
  • Abraham and his descendants (see below).
  • 1739: Melchior (1720 - 1798) - arrived in Pennsylvania onboard the Snow Betsey and eventually settled in Baltimore, Maryland, where he became a wealthy shipping merchant. "We must observe once for all that mobbing men of doubtful principles is not the way to gain friends to the cause of America." - Maryland (Colony) Council of Safety to local Whig leaders in 1777 on behalf of Melchior, a Tory who "hath lately been very ill used" by some Irish Whigs. At the time Melchior was the president of what is known as "the oldest civic organization in the United States," which was founded in his Baltimore store in 1763, and a wealthy shipping merchant on the committee that managed the "scheme of Lottery" that created what is known as the "oldest continuously operating public market system in the United States" today. Notable descendants of Melchior include:
  • John Christian - Bishop and CSA Chaplain west of the Mississippi who "had the richest Teutonic blood in his veins" and was "highly esteemed by Jefferson Davis." When he died he was “one of the most remarkable men in the South” whose “strenuous life was bound up with the city of New Orleans.” John “feared any movement that looked toward organic union with anything or anybody” and “resented the slightest imputation upon the motives of his people, and never apologized for a single act.”
  • 1741: Abraham (1717 - 1795), son of Casper - arrived in Pennsylvania onboard the Lydia and migrated to Lincoln County, North Carolina where his father settled. Arrived late for the Battle of Ramsour's Mill but didn't shoot his friend, the wounded Whig Sherriff who was fleeing the battlefield. Notable descendants of Abraham include:
  • Andrew Jackson Kenner (1815-1884), thought to be the son of Abraham Jr. (1752-1835) who left Lincoln County sometime after 1790 (the only comment in the court record of the sale of his belongings was “Me leaving here”). Andrew Jackson Kenner acquired Jefferson Davis's homestead in Kentucky after the Davis family left Christian County. He ran a tavern there and may have buried the large farm bell that belonged to Jeff Davis's father. His "keenest regret at death was loving his children."
  • John (abt. 1788 - aft. 1860), son of Martin and father of John Andrew Jackson (1825 - 1899), moved to Tennessee by 1820. His grandson, John (abt. 1847 - 1865) enlisted in the Union Army in 1865 and served for a short time as a railroad track guard in Whitfield County Georgia, where he died from measles less than two months later.
  • Other grandsons (Martin and David, sons of John) moved to Etowah County, Alabama and "lived in the area before the Cherokee were removed" where their "names were recorded in the old Avery store ledger book in the Cherokee Nation of 1835."
  • Lawson Washington (1821 - 1905), a grandson of John, ran a limestone quarry rich in calcium and iron that is still "considered to be of world-class significance." Located on (or near) the historic Casper Keener farmstead, it helped fuel an industrial revolution in the area (Ironton) in the early 1800s and supplied materials that were used to build many of the first brick structures in Lincolnton, NC. There was also a Keener Mining Company in Oklahoma, but its not clear yet how (or if) they tie into this Keener bush. However, Martin and Jacob (Abraham's sons) moved to Keener, Alabama which has 158 nearby mining deposits.
  • Elijah Washington (1857 - 1929), a son of Lawson, was the police chief of Lincolnton, NC and the Sherriff of Lincoln County. "Professor Keener" gave speeches locally on the difficulties of enforcing prohibition and was quoted by the local press on the meaning of a corn cob hoodoo that was found in Lincoln County in 1907.
  • Walter Ney ("Frank") (1880 - 1931), a son of Elijah, was described by the Raleigh News & Observer as ”a man of inquiring mind, ready decisions, [and] strong opinions” who “expressed himself forcefully and effectively.” The lawyer, one-term state representative for Lincoln County, North Carolina, and the "Dixie Editor" at the Durham Morning Herald was a moderate conservative Democrat in the Jim Crow south, who favored regulation of firearms and automobiles, defended Muzzey's history against those "who would rather have their personal opinion set forth even if at the sacrifice of fact," supported the teaching of evolution in (religious) schools prior to the Scopes Monkey Trial, and spoke out forcefully against lynchings but didn't believe the mob should be treated too harshly and "look(ed) to the future with uneasiness" over the possibility of federal anti-lynching laws.
  • George Washington (1858 - 1935), a livery stable owner and a "real curiosity" politically (1892), whose 20th century dream of going into the aviation business went up in flames (1901).
  • 1851: Karl and Ludwig Wilhelm (1834-1912), a corporal in the Union Army who became "Lewis William Keener" and settled in northern Ohio where he enlisted in the Union Army almost a decade later, because there was “nothing else we can do if we want to preserve freedom for ourselves and our children.”
  • 1847: Gottlieb Kühner (1820 - 1865), who immigrated to the U.S> with his wife, Sophia, and died a month and a half after Lee surrendered to Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
  • Gotlip Kuhner, a man who had five wives (the first went insane, the second or third tried to kill him) and started "butchering for the local market [in Ohio] and peddling his meat throughout the neighborhood in a small wagon drawn by a yoke of oxen." In 1904, Gotlip [sic] founded, with his sons, the Kuhner Packing Company in Muncie, Indiana and upgraded from bovine-drawn wagons to Keener trucks memorialized on posters still available today from Amazon and Walmart.
  • ????: Unknown: Immigrant ancestors of Jacob Keener, Sr. and his son, Jacob, Jr., of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania were both Union soldiers during the Civil War. Jr. would later move to Kansas and become a pioneer settler of West Eureka Township.
  • ????: Unknown: Immigrant ancestors of Jacob Keener - an early settler of South Bend Indiana, and possibly the namesake for, Keener Township, Jasper County, Indiana. Jacob was a stockholder of the Union Cabinet company as well as a politician, policeman, and saloon owner who established the Apollo - the "first German garden and place of amusement" in South Bend and a "favorite resort for politicians of both parties."
  • ????: Unknown: Immigrant ancestors of Sid C. Keener - a genealogically unconnected sportswriter and editor for several St. Louis, Missouri newspapers (early 1900's until 1951) and Director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York (1952 to 1963), Sid was a long-time personal friend of Ty Bobb who accepted the gold record for “Who’s On First?” from Abbott and Costello live on the “The Steve Allen Show" after they performed their classic routine for what some claim was the last time (1956).
  • ????: Unknown: Immigrant ancestors of Fanny Keener, who was in a gun fight with Nathan Pasten, her black coachmen, in 1890. "She was very eccentric." Both Fanny and Nathan survived, but Nathan got six years.
  • ????: Unknown: Immigrant ancestors of Clyde E. Keener, whose vaudeville orchestra (1926) entertained Californians in the early 20th century. He died in 1942. Clyde's father (Henry) and grandfather (J.D.) were pioneers of Visalia, California, and J.D. was said to have been the first man to bring cattle to California and Nevada.
  • ????: Unknown: Immigrant ancestors of William Albert Keener, a late 19th and early 20th century Columbia and Harvard legal scholar and New York State Supreme Court justice from Augusta, Georgia who was a member (with young Woodrow Wilson) of Augusta's Lightfoot Baseball Club.

Cherokee, enslaved and mixed race people named Keener

  • Monroe Graham (1800-1895), the last known African-born resident of Lincoln County, North Carolina (1895), and Fannie (possibly his sister) - enslaved by John and willed to his son, Martin.
  • "[S]ixteen...negroes...consisting of men, women and children" owned by Michael, John's other son.
  • Enslaved “mulatto” girl named Sena" raised by Henry Keener and sold to John Motz then E. Caldwell in Lincoln County, North Carolina, she ran away in 1849.
  • A free "mulatto" woman named Mary Keener who lived next door to Marcus Bost and his wife Nancy in Catawba County according to the 1850 census (Gary Freeze, Volume 1).
  • Keener surname among members on the Cherokee Dawes final census rolls, such as Hattie (Card 11031), daughter of Joseph Keener (Cherokee by Blood Card #6907) and Polly Bigfeather (Cherokee by Blood Card #7776), and Corp. Joseph W. “Joe” Keener, who apparently fled Oklahoma for Kansas and joined a volunteer infantry regiment to support the Union during the American Civil War. Or his son, Thomas "Tom" Keener. How did Cherokee people come to have the Keener surname? Rev. Ulrich's school?

Specific places & things associated with Keener family members

Etymology & Transformation of Names

Like other German surnames, Kühner has been anglicized in a variety of ways over the past few centuries. While some family names (like Zimmermann) were literally translated (to Carpenter), others (like Finger, which has the same meaning and spelling in English, and Schenck which doesn't but translates to tavern keeper if you drop the second "c" or to slug of you add an "e" at the end) remained largely unchanged. However, some names (like Kühner and Rahmsauer) spawned a rich variety of phonetic transformations into English names.

"An investigation into the history of a family named Rahmsauer that emigrated from Germany into North Carolina some two hundred and fifty years ago revealed the fact that in about two centuries the name was found in the following forms: Ramsauer, Ramsaur, Ramsour, Ramseur, Ramser, Ramsir, Sirram, Ram, Sheep, Lamb. The United States offer a fertile field for the study of the transformation and translation of family names." - Charles William Super, A History of the German Language (1893).

On the Kühner (Keener) surname...

"According to the Dictionary of American Family Names (2013, Oxford University Press) the Kühner (Knörr, Köener) surname is a derivative of Kühn, which is derived from the Old High German Conrad (Konrad, Konrat) – the name of several medieval German Kaisers such as Conrad II, Holy Roman Emperor from 1027 until 1039. The family of related German surnames includes Kuntz, Koons, Kuhne, Kuehn, Kuhns, Kihn, Coon, Coons, Coen, Coone, Kunz, Kuntz, Kuhne, Kohn, Kuehne, and Kühne. These surnames are derived from the Old German adjective kühn meaning “bold, daring, audacious, hardy, valiant, [and] venturesome,” which is from the Proto-Germanic kōniz ‎(“knowledgeable, skillful, experienced, clever, capable”), from Proto-Indo-European ǵenə-, ǵnō- ‎(“to know”), according to the Wiktionary.
In modern English, the adjective (or adverb) is keen (keener, keenest) and is defined as “having a fine edge or point”; “showing a quick and ardent responsiveness”; “intellectually alert”; or “wonderful, excellent” - in which case you can prefix it with “peachy”- if intended ironically (Merriam-Webster). But according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it appears to have meant both brave and skilled originally with a notion of “to be able” which is perhaps aspirational and connected to the source of the English verb can. The English keen is also derived from the Proto-Indo-European root ǵenə-, ǵnō- ‎(“to know”). Old Irish added the notion of “lament loudly over the dead, bitterly wail” which was popularized as professional mourners in Richard Condon's imaginary book, The Keener's Manual.
The Keener surname is pronounced kēnər (just like the English word keener), which is similar to the German pronunciation of Kühner (without the ewww). The surname has been anglicized in a variety of other ways including: Khner, Kienar, Khnert, Kenar, Kinar, Kuner, Kner, Kiener, Keene, Kunner, Kenner, Keemer, Kiner, Keuhner, Kuehner, Kiehner, Kuhnerin, Kaner, Keihner, Keined, Keiner, Keinert, Kuhner, Keehner, Kyner, and Kyhner. However, note that Keener (and possibly other variants) is also a fairly common English or Irish surname." - Wilhelm Kühner (2017)

On common male given names (via Wikipedia)...

  • Abraham (Abram) - a masculine given name of Biblical Hebrew origin, meaning exalted father. In the Bible, it was originally the name of the first of the three Biblical patriarchs, who later became known as Abraham.
  • Casper (Gasper) - derived from Chaldean "Gizbar" meaning "Treasurer", it appears in the Hebrew version of the Old Testament Book of Ezra (1:8) and is one of the traditional names assigned by folklore to the anonymous Magi mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew account of the Nativity of Jesus.
  • Melchior - the name given in later legend to one of the biblical Magi appearing in the Gospel of Matthew.
  • Peter - a common masculine given name derived from Greek Πέτρος, "petros" (meaning "stone, rock", via Latin "petra") and the traditional name given to the Biblical disciple who was the "rock" on which Jesus is said to have built his church (Matthew 16:18).
  • John - a common masculine given name in the English language of originally Semitic origin and derived from the Latin Ioannes and Iohannes, which are forms of the Greek name Iōannēs (Ἰωάννης), originally borne by Hellenized Jews transliterating the Hebrew name Yohanan (יוֹחָנָן‬),
  • Jacob - later Israel, is regarded as a Patriarch of the Israelites and the third Hebrew progenitor with whom God made a covenant according to the book of Genesis.
  • Henry (Heinrich) - an English male given name and surname derived from Old French Henri/Henry, itself derived from the Old Frankish name Heimeric/Ermerijc, from Common Germanic *Hainariks (from haim- "home" and rik "ruler"). In Old High German, the name was conflated with the name Haginrich (from hagin "enclosure" and rich "ruler") to form Heinrich.
  • Elijah - meaning "My God is Yahweh/YHWH or the Latinized form of Elias (/ɪˈlaɪəs/ ih-LY-əs), a prophet and a miracle worker who lived in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Ahab (9th century BC) according to the Books of Kings in the Hebrew Bible.
  • Ephraim - the second son of Joseph and Asenath according to the Book of Genesis.
  • Michael - a masculine given name that comes from Hebrew: מִיכָאֵל / מיכאל‎ (Mīkhāʼēl [miχaˈʔel]), derived from the question מי כאל mī kāʼēl, meaning "Who is like God?"
  • David - a common masculine given name of Biblical Hebrew origin, King David was a character of central importance in the Hebrew Bible and in Christian, Jewish and Islamic religious tradition
  • Ulrich - a German given name, derived from Old High German Uodalrich, Odalric, composed of the elements uodal- meaning "(noble) heritage" and -rich meaning "rich, powerful".
  • William (Wilhelm) - a popular given name of an old Germanic origin, it comes ultimately from the given name Wilhelm (cf. Old German Wilhelm > German Wilhelm and Old Norse Vilhjálmr). It is a compound of two distinct elements : wil = "will or desire"; helm; Old English helm "helmet, protection"; > English helm "knight's large helmet".
  • George Washington
  • James Madison
  • Andrew Jackson

On common female given names:

  • Anna
  • Catherine
  • Mary
  • Frances ("Fannie")
  • Margaretha (Margaret)
  • Barbara

Keener genealogy books of interest

How to join this project

Right now this project just has one member, William Keener, aka "Wilhelm Kühner." Will you join me? Would you be interested in reviewing or contributing to my next book? Please post a comment here on this page, or send me a private message. Thanks!

Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei. - unknown

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Categories: Keener Name Study