Saturday, September 10, 2016

Francois (Frank) Loescher – Family In America?

I have written before about Francois Loescher, my second great grandfather, who was born in Reichstett, Alsase  on 2 October 1848. (1)  His life and death in his new county was all to short for his wife, children and friends in Peoria and Kickapoo, Illinois.  But what about his journey to America?  Did he come alone or was he with a family member?  Well…you guessed it!  There is another family story that has been passed down to me.  

The Story

In 1977 my great grandmother, Lucy Loescher Stenger, daughter of Francois, gave an oral history to the Peoria County Bicentennial Commission. (2)  In this interview she recalls her understanding of her father’s coming to America.

“My dad came from Alsace Lorraine, France.  He and a cousin came over together.  He came to Peoria but his cousin went to Colchester and it was years and years later that they met again – 25 years afterward.  It was through a fellow who was going through town.  He remembered this man in Colchester and he mentioned him to grandpa and grandpa recognized the name that was a cousin.  I remember that – it was after we moved to Kickapoo.” (2)

Other versions of this story I have heard say that the “fellow” mentioned in Lucy’s story was a peddler who would pass through Kickapoo periodically.  The next time the peddler was in Colchester he told the cousin about the Kickapoo Loescher family.  At some point the Colchester cousin and some of his family came to Kickapoo.  There was great rejoicing at this family reunion and it was the talk of Kickapoo for some time to come.

I have always enjoyed reunion stories and this one is no exception especially since it is one within my own ancestors.  How exciting to be reunited with family that you have lost track of and who knew you when you were young.  Imagine the excitement there must have been in both men’s families to introduce their wives and children to extended family members.

But is this story true?  Is there another Loescher family out there that I am related to?

The Search

About ten years ago I started searching to see if I could find another Loescher family in Colchester, Illinois.  Colchester is a town in McDonough County in western Illinois.  I did some searches on and initially came up empty.  But then I decided to search using alternative spellings for the last name.  Bingo!!  I found several people in a public member tree with the name of “Lescher”.   The head of that family tree was a “Lawrence Lescher” who died in McDonough County in 1929 and was born in 1848.  Wow…right place, right age but was this my “Colchester cousin”?

I sent a message to the tree owner and told them about this family story and that I was trying to find out if there was any possibility that this “Lawrence Lescher” could be related to me.  It was not very long after that the tree owner replied that “Lawrence Lescher” was an ancestor of hers.  She did not know much about him before he came to the US and really did not know when he came over or where he came from.  All she knew was about his life in Colchester once Lawrence settled there.  She was very interested in the story though and the possibility that we were related.  We agreed we would keep in touch and that both of us would continue to search for additional information that could positively tie our families together.

And Along Comes DNA

About a year ago I decided it was time to take a DNA test to see what that could do for some of my research “brick walls”.  There was not a specific reason for testing other than to find new cousins along branches of my tree that are rather thin.  Fortunately, I was also able to convince both of my parents to test also.  I was hoping that this would be helpful in sorting out matches as to which side of the family I should look to find common ancestors.  Also, because they were one generation older than I was I might find more matches with their results than just me doing the testing alone.

Once I got all of the initial results from all of us, I had many more DNA matches than I was expecting.  Most were on my mom’s side and most of them I was able to identify as being on my maternal grandfather’s family.  But…there were a couple of matches that were particularly interesting to me.  There was no common ancestor in our family trees so that meant I had to really dig through the match’s trees to see if I could recognize any surnames.  And there it was…..Lescher!!  Sure enough these two very distant DNA matches were descendants of the Lawrence Lescher I had found some years ago.

I reached out to the person who was managing the DNA results for these two matches only to find out it was the same person I had been in touch with previously.  The matches were siblings of hers.  The amount of DNA we share is not large so it definitely means there are several generations between our common ancestors.

But the amount of shared DNA also means that it is more than just a coincidence.  It strengthens our hypothesis that the Colchester, Illinois Lescher family is in some way related to the Loescher family of Kickapoo, Illinois.

Next Steps

Well…as is usually the case with family history and genealogy, more research is needed.  We need to figure out for sure how our families are (or if) they are related.  We need to determine if Lawrence and Francois came over together from Alsace to America.  We need to identify our common ancestor.  None of this will be easy or quick and some of the research will need to be done in Alsace.

Lessons Learned

This situation has taught me several things.  Don’t ever give up on a brick wall or a trail that has gone cold.  Keep searching; keep looking; keep digging.  Secondly, the power of DNA to unlock and reignite the past is powerful.  It is a highly useful tool to us in conjunction with the well-defined research roadmap for traditional genealogy. 

Finally…Family stores and family lore are very important and need to be documented and researched just as any other genealogy research question.  Many times there is at least some degree of truth to them and in this case they could be vital to unlocking another part of my past and family tree.

Links To Related Posts - 

The Death of Frank Loescher - Kickapoo, Illinois
The Loescher Saloon - Kickapoo, Illinois
Frank A Loescher - The Oldest and Only Son
Rose Loescher - The Mystery of Her Birth

(1) Copy of Civil birth registration for “Loescher, Francois” from the Counsel General of Bas-Rhin.  This was obtained by a French cousin for the author in 2014..
(2) Lucy Loescher Stenger, Peoria County, Illinois, interview by Peg Kronenberg for the Peoria County Bicentenial Commission, 31 May 1977; transcript of interview, tape 46, copy privately held by author, 2007.

Copyright ©2016 – Diane Minor – All Rights Reserved.