Sunday, May 18, 2014

52 Ancestors Challenge -- Mathias Risch, Sr. -- Our Farmer in Dearborn County, Indiana

     Thanks to  Amy Johnson Crow  for leading me into this 52 Ancestors Challenge.  On her blog, No Story Too Small, she posts a weekly update linking to ancestor stories by the challenge participants. Being involved in this group is bringing me to a better understanding of my ancestors. And reading other researchers' stories is great fun. Let's see if I can meet the challenge!
     Mathias Risch, Sr. is one of the few rural ancestors I have in all of our family lines.  Mathias and Maria (Weiss) Risch emigrated from Hugstetten, Baden in 1828 to the farming communityBreann Perkins. in Kelso Township, Dearborn County, Indiana.  I am posting here the ancestral chart of my grandniece, Breann Perkins, to Mathias Risch, Sr, her fifth great grandfather.  Breann is another family member celebrating a birthday in May.  And I wanted to give her a special historical present! image
The Risch home in America, Dearborn County, is located in southeastern Indiana along the Ohio River, Kelso Township being in the northwestern section. Repeatedly, the historical descriptions of the Dearborn County area praise the fertile farming land and the dense forests that provided timber for building homes and wagons. Kelso Township had been organized just two years before the Risch family arrived and only one small town existed in the township. I found an interesting historical article by Chris McHenry posted on the Lawrenceburg (Indiana) Public Library website that helps create the scene when the Risches came.  Mr. McHenry begins this history talking about the first settlers in the 1700s living off the land, clearing space in the dense forests and about Indian tribes inhabiting the area.  Then, after the War of 1812, other settlers began to flock to the area.  Here's his description:
"People had begun arriving from other countries, as well as New England other eastern states and Kentucky, to buy the low cost government land available to them.  Schools and churches and stores (as well as distilleries) began to operate and Dearborn County farm products were shipped by flatboat to the south. By 1830, the population of Dearborn County was 14,573, and it was the second biggest county in the state. No longer a frontier outpost, Dearborn County was a thriving center of agriculture and business. With the arrival of the 1830s and 1840s came several waves of German immigrants. In the main, Catholic immigrants tended to settle in the northeastern part of the county, and in Lawrenceburg and Aurora, while Lutherans gravitated toward the southwestern part of the area, along with the two biggest towns. "
       When searching for a clearer understanding of farmers' circumstances in southeastern Indiana around 1828, I found an informative book at written in 1915 by one of the prominent citizens of Dearborn County,  Archibald Shaw.  Shaw's accountings in "Dearborn County, Indiana, Her People, Industries and Institutions" carried me off, reading about the land, the people and the events that established this area. I learned that Kelso Township, where the Risch family made their home, was organized in 1826, two years before they arrived.  The town of Dover was the only established settlement in their township, until New Alsace was established in 1838, near Mathias's farmland. Also, by the 1830s some roads were built through the forests, assisting the farmers in moving their stock, wheat, corn and other agricultural products.  They transported these products 15 to 20 miles to the Ohio River on wagons to sell there or to be transported by flatboats south for sale.
      Fortunately, I have a more personal information about Mathias Risch from a fellow descendant, Mary Cathryn Zimmer, who wrote a treasure of a family history entitled Louis M. Risch Family and Ancestors.  Her writing provides heaps of background that leads me directly to the original sources. She details the earliest record of the family in Dearborn County -- "Deed Record C, page 225, of that county, in which 76.28 acres of land were purchased on 31 October 1828 by Mathias Risch from Martin Schnetz and his wife, Anna, for the sum of $100.00.  This land was situated in Section 18, Township 7, Range 2, West in the State of Indiana, Dearborn County, in what was then Kelso Township."  Based on church records in Baden noting when the family departed for America, June 1828,  Mathias bought this land about five months after he and his family left their Hugstetten home for their voyage across the Atlantic.
        Ms. Zimmer goes on to explain in her book that "when Mathias Risch, Sr., bought his land from Martin Schnetz, he paid $100.0 for 76.28 acres, which is about $1.31 per acre.  Each quarter section of land contained, theoretically, 160 acres, but due to the curvature of the earth, the actual land contained within a quarter could vary slightly.  For that reason the half-quarter of Section 18 bought by Mathias Risch, Sr., contained 76.28 acres rather than 80 acres."  On the land ownership map of Dearborn County for 1860 at the Library of Congress, Mathias Risch's name appears on this plot of land. He and his family had taken this monumental step to their new place in Indiana.  What now?
        I did some more research in my history sources to see what they say about these immigrants. Since we don't have personal diaries or journals kept by our ancestors, I'm using  the historical accounts of others to paint the picture of my own family.  This "Tribute to the Early Settler" written by the Dearborn County author I mentioned earlier, Archibald Shaw, brought to mind Mathias Risch and his family:
Dearborn County, Indiana, Early Immigrants
      All of this information about the purchase of land by Mathias and the circumstances for new residents makes you want more specifics about the family. Doesn't it?  How was it that they survived when first arriving? These historical references do tell us that the land of the area was abundant and that the farmers produced all they needed for their family livelihoods. 
      Another question - Did Mathias have other family besides his wife, Maria, to help with farming and building their home?  We do have the 1830 Federal Census for Kelso Township, Dearborn County, Indiana, that enumerates Mathias Risch, white male between the ages of 40 and 50, and one white female between 40 and 50; and five males who are presumed to be their sons. (They actually are: Mathias, Jr., Dominic, Jacob, David M. and John.)  Sounds like their were extra hands to help with getting established in the new country.  And since the numbers of Germans steadily grew in the county, we may find that others from Hugstetten, Baden, came to this community as well. (Note to me: Start checking out those neighbors.)  That's for another story.
     But speaking of being a farmer in Dearborn County, Indiana, I'll end this story about Mathias Risch's life as a farmer with another historical piece, from the "History of Dearborn and Ohio Counties, Indiana"  that's available online at Internet Archives:
"The labor of opening a farm in a forest of large oaks, maples and hickories was very great and the difficulty was increased by the thick growing spice bushes.  Not only were trees to be cut down; the branches were to be cut off from the trunk, and, with the undergrowth of bushes, gathered together for burning.  The trunks of the large trees were to be divided and rolled into heaps and reduced into ashes.  With hard labor the unaided settler could clear and burn an acre of land in three weeks.  It usually required six or seven years for the pioneer to open a small farm and build a better house than his first cabin of round logs." 
      The Mathias Risch story is one of dreams and determination, as so many immigrant stories are.  I'm sure I speak for the hoards of Risch descendants when I thank Mathias posthumously for having the guts to pursue his dream of establishing a farm in Dearborn County, Indiana.  Do you have some information that I don't about this family history?    I'd  enjoy adding your knowledge to these family chronicles.  So, feel free to let me know what you're thinking or ask a question by clicking on the "Comment" below.
Thanks again for visiting Indiana Ties.
You may read more about the Risch family here:

A Brief History of Dearborn County, Chris McHenry, Lawrenceburg Public Library District website
Dearborn County, Indiana, Her People, Industries and Institutions, Editor, Archibald Shaw, 1915, Indianapolis, Indiana, Internet Archives website
Louis M. Risch Family and Ancestors, Mary Cathryn Zimmer, 1994, Columbia MD, Book in my personal library. 
History of Dearborn and Ohio Counties, Indiana, Chicago, 1885, Internet Archives
Copyright © 2014 Nancy Niehaus Hurley


  1. I enjoyed reading your post! I also have an ancestor who lived for a time in Dearborn County.

    1. Thanks Brenna, Glad to hear from a fellow Dearborn County, IN, researcher. I see from your blog that you have some Fayette Co. connections also. And I have those too! I'll keep looking and maybe we'll have more to share.

  2. Thank you for sharing this! Most of my ancestors can be traced to Dearborn County upon arriving in the United States and I've spent so much "virtual" time scouring different records/ancestry that I feel as if I live there myself.


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