Finding My Mystery Great-Great Grandfather

Steve Propes

With widely available and somewhat inexpensive DNA testing open to the public; with TV shows like Finding Your Roots on PBS and Who Do You Think You Are on a cable network near you, the idea of researching ancestry is in full bloom.

The only caveat, well, not only, but a leading caveat is thus: be careful who you want to dig up …figuratively of course…and be prepared to find out the good, the bad, the worse and the scandalous.

Take my own Propes family, please.

For centuries, the identity of the father of my great-great grandfather, Martin Valentine Propes was a complete mystery. Turns out his birth was the morality play of the day, his mother, Elizabeth Propes, was no doubt considered a wanton woman, literally exiled from her home and hearth, consigned to the wilderness and an early death.

The American adventure of the Propes lineage began on November 8, 1752, when Johann Adam Probst, age 29, immigrated to Philadelphia from Germany on the Louisa with one son, Johann Michael. The name Johann is equivalent to John in these times, but back when, the name Johann was often shown as Hans, thus creating an overwhelming number of men from German and Swiss extraction carrying that given name.

In this case, two men named Johann Adam Probst migrated to Philly that very year, making it a challenge to identify who was who. The year after Johann Adam’s arrival, Johann Nicholas Props was born to Johann Adam Probst and Maria Neu in Philadelphia, the year before George Washington defeated the French in a surprise attack in the first battle in the French & Indian War, killing Canadian commanding officer Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, his head split open with a tomahawk by Tanaghrisson. Times were tough in the wilderness.

In the midst of the Revolutionary War, Elizabeth Propts was born to Barbara Loker and Johann Nicholas Props in Shenandoah County, VA in 1776.

When the unmarried Elizabeth Propts was 25, Martin Valentine Propes was born on Oct. 2, 1801 in Rockingham Co, VA. About Martin’s father, no one was talking, so that part of the birth certificate was left blank. The Propts family was not pleased.

While I was researching this omission, a distant relative gave me very helpful facts that had been hidden away for centuries, literally. She had been told by her elderly grandmother, offspring of an equally very old grandmother who first spilled the paternal beans.

Martin Strickler, age 22, who in 1800 married another woman and already had one offspring, David Strickler in late 1800, was the missing father of Martin Valentine Propes, born ten months after David.

There were clues.

The first is obvious. Martin begat Martin.

Second clue: When Elizabeth Propts died in Jackson, Tennessee on Apr. 18, 1810, at age 8, orphan, his real, yet unacknowledged father, Martin Strickler became Martin Valentine Propes’ guardian. William Short was bondsman.

Third clue: In his 1857 will, Martin Strickler declared, “I give and bequeath unto Martin Propts the farm of 140 acres be it the same more or less I give the above named farm to Martin Propts even for a bond he holds against me for $660.”

Martin Valentine Propes had gone into indentured servitude on June 16, 1807 when overseers of poor were court ordered to bind Martin to Christian Kite to learn the trade of a cooper, barrel/cask maker, a go-between for the brewery and the innkeeper. Fairly dangerous trade – the bent metal on the casks can spring back at the mater – for a five-year old.

When grown, Martin Propes married into a fairly well-to-do Fultz family and had ten children, my great grandfather, Sebastian Booten Propes being the first to survive in 1825.

Sebastian’s younger sibling, Peachy Propes married Julia Strickler, daughter of Captain David Strickler, first son of Martin Strickler, grandfather to both Peachy and Julia, hardly peachy at all, likely never realizing their too-close relationship. In those remote areas, there were few families from which to choose. They had at least ten children.

Upcoming: the tragedy of Sebastian, who send my grandfather away to Kansas while still a minor child … and the Spanish Flu of 1918.


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