The Families of Adam Keith

The Name Has Been Changed

In Aunt Beulah’s booklet was the following quote pertaining to the earliest record she had found about our family;


“Jacob [Keith] and Sophia [his wife] left Germany in 1770.  First they settled in Pennsylvania.  Later they moved to Kentucky, Ohio, and finally Missouri.” [Note: I thought it interesting at the time that according to her information source, Jacob and Sophia left Germany, yet she had dedicated a generous portion of her booklet to Scotland and clan Keith.]


So, off I went, searching with all the naiveté my lack of genealogical knowledge could muster for any record of a Jacob Keith in Pennsylvania in the mid-to-late 18th century. Keep in mind during the brief diatribe that follows that I had no earthly idea how many variations of the name Keith could exist.  I spent a ridiculous amount of time researching Sir William Keith, the lieutenant governor of the province of Pennsylvania from 1717 to 1726 because he was of Scottish descent and it would be cool to have an “important person” as a descendant.  It just wasn’t meant to be.


Since my wife and I were living in Fairfax, Virginia at the time of the initial research, I made what ended up to be about half-a-dozen or so 4 hour round-trip driving excursions to the site of the Pennsylvania Archives in Harrisburg.  On the first trip I spent the entire time getting acquainted with what seemed to be, at the time, a never ending labyrinth of indexed information.  Don’t get me wrong, the staff there would have been more than willing to help me conquer the maze, had I but bothered to ask.  I’m sure it’s the male “I don’t need to ask directions” gene.  You know, the one that’s bound with the “nor do I need to read the directions” gene.  I digress.  On the second trip I found the following bit of information in the Revolutionary War Military Abstract Card file;


A Michael Keith had served in the 4th Battalion, Class 4, of a Capt. Davies militia in Lancaster County, PA, June 17, 1779; the card comment read “poor man”. The comment, I’m sure, was speaking to Michael’s financial situation as opposed to  the character of Capt. Davis.


Still no Jacob Keith.


My wife gently suggested that perhaps I might want to try a subscription to one of the popular computerized on-line genealogy services.  She had read about the millions and millions of individual records they stored and they could be accessed with an easy-to-use search engine. That purchase, she hinted, might reduce the amount of road time and in the long run be cheaper.  That is the female “whatever I must do for my idiot husband to come to his senses” gene.


With my new toy, a popular computerized on-line genealogy service, I made nearly immediate progress.  First, I discovered that there are a very large number of ways the last name Keith can be indexed in stored records, including, in alphabetic order, Heath [because “H” looks like “K” in poor or hurried cursive], Heeth, Heith, Heth [because the “ei” ran together], Hieth, Hith, Keath, Keeth, Keth, Kieth, Kith, Keyth, Reith [because the “R” also looks like a “K” in poor or hurried cursive] and so on.  Secondly, in the 1790 US Federal Census for Huntingdon County, I found what I fondly called the “Huntingdon Six.”  Six heads of household who were living in near proximity to one another;


Lewis Keith, Adam Keyth, Adam Keyth Jr., Jacob Keyth, John Keyth, and Michle Keyth.


In 1790 the census takers recorded six pieces of information in the following order; [1] names of heads of families, [2] the number of free white males of 16 years and upwards including the heads of families, [3] free white males under 16 years, [4] free white females including heads of families, [5] all other free persons, and [5] slaves.  The entry for Jacob Keyth was:


Jacob Keyth, 1, 0, 3, 0, 0


In Aunt Beulah’s booklet was the following additional information about Jacob and Sophia Keith’s family; the oldest child Margaret was born in 1787, their second child Rachel in 1789, and the remaining seven children after 1790.  Eureka! 1 male and 3 females.  At this point I could have called it a done deal but, I pondered, as foolish men often do, who might the other five families be? and, did this Jacob move on to Kentucky, Ohio, and Missouri? Besides that, my 14 day free-trial period for the genealogy service had just expired and I was now “hooked on genealogy”. Note to self: buy annual subscription.


The first order of business was to discover who the other five Keith/Keyth heads of household were and what relationship, if any, they had to “my” Jacob.  Since there was very limited availability to records before 1790, or so I thought at the time, I headed back to the Pennsylvania archives. Two of the many many archival record groups that are available on micro-film are tax lists dating to the early 18th century and the Revolutionary War era militia roster or muster lists for most of the counties of Pennsylvania that were formed at that time.


I was pretty sure I knew what a tax list was but the concept of the militia list was foreign to me. Shortly prior to, during, and shortly after the Revolutionary War there were two basic types of soldiers available for combat in America.  One was the “line” forces.  They were men who had volunteered or were drafted for the army and were paid by the government to fight.  They would be like the “regular army” of today.  The second group was the local militia. They were able men of the age 18 to 53 from a local area who could be called to fight as needed by the army; like the “national guard” of today.  Each county was responsible for maintaining a roster of the men in each of the local militia and for conducting fairly regular drill sessions.  The non-officers of each militia were listed by a class system usually numbered 1 through 8.  These classes determined which group of men would be called to service first, a lower number, then later, a higher number.


At the archives on the Huntingdon County, PA tax list for 1788 and 1789 I found the following men:


1788 Adam Keech, Adam Keech Jr., Michael Keech, John Keith, Jacob Keech

1789 Adam Keith, Adam Keith Jr. Michael Keith, Jacob Keith, John Keith


With the exception of Lewis Keith this was obviously the same group of men.  But, being the clever dimwit that I am, I noted the spelling of the last name in 1788 list and filed that away for future use, which, as it turned out, would be important. After some additional fumbling with tax lists, I discovered that Huntingdon Co. PA was formed in 1786 from the northern 1/3 area of neighboring Bedford County and tax list and/or militia rosters before 1786 would be found in the records of Bedford Co. PA.  The following tax list information was found for Bedford Co. [Note: The last name spellings are as they appeared on the tax lists.]


1775 Adam Kich

1776 Adam Keen

1779 Adam Keith, Michael Keith [written next to Michael’s name, “not in the county”]

1780 Adam Keith, Michael Keith [did not pay direct tax, not in the county]

1781 Adam Keath, Michael Keith [did not pay direct tax, not in the county]

1783 Adam Keith, Adam Keith, Jr.

1784 Adam Keeth, Adam Keith, Jr., Mich Keeth

1785 Adam Keith Sr., Adam Keith, Jr., Michal Keith

1786 Adam Keath, Adam Keath, Jr., Michail Keath


This was interesting.  Jacob and John Keith did not appear at all in Bedford Co. and Michael, not until 1779, and not actually in the county until 1784.  Where were they?  My feeble mind struck on three alternatives; [1] they were not old enough to be taxed and they were living with someone else, [2] they were old enough to be taxed but they owned no property and were living with someone else, or [3] they were being taxed somewhere else. Believe it or not, I DID remember the Michael Keith I had earlier found on the Revolutionary War Extract Card file and went looking in Lancaster Co. PA.  Guess what ?, the following tax list and militia muster roll information was found in Brecknock Township and Caernarvon Township, neighboring townships on the eastern border of Lancaster Co. PA next to Berks Co. PA;


Tax 1758 Adam Gig [“John” written after the name], Brecknock Twp.

Tax 1759 Adam Gigg, Balser Gigg, Brecknock Twp.

Tax 1763 Adam Gige, Michael Gige, Brecknock Twp.

Tax 1767 Adam Gige [farmer], Michael Jaeig, Brecknock Twp., Berks Co. PA

Tax 1769 Adam Geege [smith], Michael Geaith, Brecknock Twp., Bolser Kich [smith], Caernarvon Twp.

Tax 1770 Adam Geeth, Brecknock Twp., Bolser Kich, Caenarvon Twp.

Tax 1771 Adam Geeth, Michael Geig [inmate, meant living with another person but a property owner] Brecknock Twp., Balsor Ketch, Caernarvon Twp.

Tax 1772 Adam Gid, Michael Geeg [inmate], Brecknock Twp.

Tax 1773 Adam Geege, Michael Geege [inmate], Brecknock Twp.

Tax 1775 Adam Geege, Michael Geege, Widow Geege Brecknock Twp.

Tax 1776 Michael Geeg Brecknock Twp.

Mus 1777 Michael Keith 4th class, Capt. Davies, Lancaster Co.

Tax 1778 Adam Geg, Michael Geige, Adam Geeb [freeman, meaning, appropriately enough, unmarried], Brecknock Twp.

Tax 1779 Adam Geege, Michael Geege [inmate], Brecknock Twp.

Mus 1779 Michael Keith 4th class, Lt. Elliot, Lancaster Co.

Tax 1780 Adam Geege, Michael Geege, Brecknock Twp.

Tax 1781 Adam Geege, Michael Geege, Brecknock Twp.

Mus 1781 Michael Kyth  4th class, Adam Kyth  2nd class, Capt. Samuel Elliot, Lancaster Co.

Tax 1782 Adam Geig, Michael Geeg, Brecknock Twp.

Mus 1782 Michael Keyth  4th class, Adam Keyth 2nd class, Capt. Samuel Elliot, Lancaster Co.

Tax 1785 Widow Geege, Brecknock Twp.


So, what did all of this gobbledygook mean?  After verifying that Capt. Davies and Lt., then Capt. Samuel Elliot, indeed lived in the Brecknock and Caernarvon Township area of Lancaster County, a number of conclusions could be drawn:


>> I was seeing the transformation of a last name that appeared to be Germanic in origin to an “Americanized” version. Gig/Gige/Geege to Keith.


>> A new given name Balser/Bolser/Balsor had emerged.


>> Michael had come from Lancaster Co. to Bedford Co. PA about 1784.


>> There was an older Adam who never appeared on a muster list meaning he was 58 years plus in 1776.


>> The older Adam likely died about 1783 or 1784 as a “Widow Geege” was listed in 1785.


>> There was a younger Adam who appeared, unmarried, on the tax list in 1778, and was likely the same Adam who appeared on the militia roster in 1781 and 1782.


>> Neither of these “Adams” were the same Adam Kich/Keen/Keith/Keath that was on the Bedford Co. tax lists in 1775, 1776, 1779, 1780, 1781.  It’s the “being in two places at the same time” thing.


>> Jacob and John Keith were likely too young to be on a tax list or a militia roster before 1885 in either Bedford or Lancaster Co.’s.


A bunch of new clues were now available and another direction to search; immigration records because it appeared as though the early period surnames were likely Germanic in origin.


I searched the immigration section of my computer genealogy toy for “sounds like” Geege and, voile!, enter Ella Gieg, my friend that I mentioned in the Dedication, and the published works she had done about Germanic immigration.  After poring through nearly twenty different immigration related citations by Ella I discovered the following two entries;


9/24/1753, Ship Neptune, Master John Mason, arriving in Philadelphia by way of Rotterdam and Cowes, among 145 passengers was Johann Baltzer Geich, age 19


10/1/1754, Ship Phoenix, Master John Spurrier, arriving in Philadelphia by way of Rotterdam and Cowes, among 545 passengers was Johann Adam Gieg 48, wife Juliana, Hieronymus Gieg 20, Johann Michael Gieg 17, Anna Catharina Gieg, 13, Maria Catharina Gieg 11, Johann Ludwig Gieg 7, and Johann Jacob Gieg 2.


This was much more than a coincidence. The surname Gieg was “right on” and the given names Adam, Michael, Jacob, and Baltzer were matches. The dates of arrival were about right since Adam Gig had first appeared on the Brecknock Township, Lancaster Co. PA tax list in 1758.  The very next day I “Googled” Ella and found her mailing address in Germany.  I sent her a letter explaining who I was, what I was doing with my genealogy work, what I had found and what additional information, if any could she provide.  Stupid me, I did include my mailing address but did not include a self-addressed envelope with a bunch of stamps on it. But, could she read English? or would she respond since I was obviously too cheap to at least provide postage.  I would hopefully soon find out.


About three weeks later, much to my surprise and wonderment, a letter arrived from Ella Gieg. Oh boy, not only could she read and write English very well and provide additional information, her husband Wilhelm Gieg and I were distantly related !  I’ll bet she was as surprised as I was when she got my letter. Ella’s highly informative five page letter included the following;


The family Gieg,


Johann Adam Gieg b. 6/12/1706 in Höchst, Breuberg, Hessen Darmstadt, a master smith

Juliana [Schuchard] Giege b. ca 1713 in Höchst, Breuberg, Hessen Darmstadt

Johann Balthasar Gieg b. 8/10/1733 in Höchst, Breuberg, Hessen Darmstadt, a smith

Hieronymus Gieg b. 12/12/1734 in Höchst, Breuberg, Hessen Darmstadt

Johann Michael Gieg b. 2/3/1737 in Höchst, Breuberg, Hessen Darmstadt, a smith

Johann Adam Gieg b. 11/30/1738 in Höchst, Breuberg, Hessen Darmstadt

Anna Catharina Gieg b. 2/8/1741 in Höchst, Breuberg, Hessen Darmstadt

Maria Catharine Gieg b. 9/25/1742 in Höchst, Breuberg, Hessen Darmstadt

Maria Barbara Gieg b. 1/2/1745 d. 1/27/1749 in Höchst, Breuberg, Hessen Darmstadt

Johann Ludwig Gieg b. 5/22/1747 in Höchst, Breuberg, Hessen Darmstadt

Johannes Giege b. 7/15/1749 d. 2/20/1752 in Höchst, Breuberg, Hessen Darmstadt

Johann Jacob Gieg b. 6/3/1752 in Höchst, Breuberg, Hessen Darmstadt


Ella confirmed the immigration information that I had found, and thanked me for reading her work, albeit the English translation.


Other than the half-a-dozen or so expressions and words of German I had become acquainted with at some point in my life, I couldn’t speak a wit of German let alone any skills whatsoever with pronunciation. So, I wondered aloud, fortunately in front of my wife, “how in the world could the name Gieg become Keith”.  Judy glanced quickly in my direction and said, “sweetie, write Ella another letter.” She didn’t end her response with “you fool”, but, I saw it in her eyes. “Danke schön”, I wittily replied, silently thanking Wayne Newton. Off went another letter to Ella with a self-addressed stamped envelope included.


A question, among others, I asked Ella was;  How would the surname “Gieg” have been  pronounced by family members and possibly have been interpreted by officials in America as some form of the surname “Keith”? The answer came about five weeks later.


“Gieg is pronounced ‘geesh’ with a ‘g’ as in go or gun, ‘ie’ as in bee or free and ‘g’ as the ‘sh’ in fish or dish. [The] G or K is often mixed up, for example the following family names are written sometimes with G and sometimes with K; Grall or Krall, Grell or Krell.  The English names spelled ‘Geeth’, ‘Keeth’, and ‘Kyth’ sounds, in German, more like geesh.  Still, nowadays people pronounce our name [geesh]…only people [who] are not born in our area pronounce our name [geek].”


There I had it.  The people that recorded militia muster roles in Brecknock Township of Lancaster Co. PA in the 1770’s were simply writing down a name that sounded like the name they heard being said to them and Keith became this Gieg family’s name in America.  Ironically, the patriarch Adam never adopted the Keith name.  His will, written in German and subsequently translated to English, listed his name as Adam Gieg.  Other “pockets” of the family used the Keith surname at later dates than the Huntingdon County PA group. Adam Keith’s will of 1849 in Cambria Co. PA listed his name as Adam Keith but it was signed, in German, Adam Gieg. [Note: This Adam was a son of Johann Ludwig, or Lewis Gieg, an adopted son of the patriarch Adam.]  In areas that had a high concentration of Germanic immigrants, where members of this family lived, such as Lebanon Township of Lancaster Co. PA and Chanceford and Windsor Townships of York Co. PA, the Gieg or Geich name was used until as late as 1860 in census information.  One small branch of the family adopted the spelling of their name as Keath.  But, eventually most all of the members of this family adopted the name Keith.


For a short time I was disappointed that my family was not of Scottish origin. After all, I had a tie and a shirt made from the Keith clan tartan, and a nicely varnished plaque I bought at Disneyworld  with the Keith coat-of-arms. My Dad repeatedly told the story of a fight between the Keith and Gunn clans.  Apparently the Gunn’s decided to fight the Keith’s over some sort of land dispute. At the battle site, the Gunn’s, counting horseman, believed they were evenly matched with the Keith’s only to discover that all of the Keith horseman had another clan member riding on the side of the horse unseen by the Gunn’s. [Note: This battle may have actually happened; The Battle of Champions fought in 1478 between the clans Gunn and Keith] I really never remembered who won the fight, which, of course, wasn’t the point of the story. My sister made a trip to Keith, Scotland, and counted the over one thousand Keith names in the telephone book. The Germanic heritage did, however, align with Aunt Beulah’s research and I now had some overseas information to gather before returning again to American research.