ancestor story, dna

John Baptiste Jerrain – Part One, Brick Wall

John Baptiste Jerrain and Willow Jeane
John Baptiste Jerrain & Willow Jeane

John Baptiste Jerrain is my 3rd great-grandfather.  He was born in France and immigrated to the US as a child.  As with many immigrants in my family, his known story begins with his marriage.  The whispers of his prior life are barely perceptible and were steadily fading with time.

My Grandma Deane, my dearly missed genealogy partner-in-crime, pursued the John Baptiste Jerrain brick wall for years.  YEARS!  Grandpa Jerrain is her great-grandfather, the grandfather of her mother.  She wanted to identify his family, his exact birthplace in France, his story.  She was born two years after he passed, and like me, had little information to fuel her research.  But every bit of effort she put in added details to his story.

But it wasn’t just Grandma Deane’s effort, it was also the very diligent research efforts of my sister, Megan, that helped build up our files on John, his wife, and his children.

So, what did we know?

grandma deane, 5.10.2017 fanchart, crop copy


On the 24th of April, 1871, in Kankakee County, Illinois, John married Esther Estelle Therien.

John & Estelle are easy to track through the census after their marriage.

In 1880 they are living in Papineau, Iroquois, Illinois.  John is listed under the name “J.B. Jerrain”, as a farmer who was born in France.  He lists his parents as also being born in France.  He is listed as being 28 years old which gives him an approximate birth year of 1852.  Estelle is also 28, born in Canada, with both parents also being born in Canada.  Living with them are three sons, John – age 8, Arthur – age 1, Victor – 1 month, all born in Illinois.

By 1900 John & Estelle had moved to Chicago.  They are found living in the household of Estelle’s sister & brother-in-law, Aglae & Clifford LaFave on Laflin Street.  John is found under the name “John B Jerein”.  He is listed as a carpenter, born June 1851, immigration year of 1853, born in France, parents born in France.  Living in the house are John, his wife Estelle, daughter Emma – born May 1882, and son John – born November 1892.

1910 finds John & Estelle still in Chicago.  They appear to be living in the household of a non-relative but that isn’t perfectly clear from the record.  John and Estelle’s information is consistent with previous census records.  John gives an age of 58, born in France with parents born in France and he is still working as a carpenter.  He claims an immigration year of 1853 and status as a Naturalized citizen.  Only one son is living with them, John, age 17.  John’s name is listed as “John B. Gerrain” on this census.

Just shy of two months after the 1910 Census was recorded, Estelle died in Chicago on 26 June 1910.  John would live 20 more years without her.

Estelle’s obituary offers some interesting insight into John and Estelle’s life together.  The image can be found here.  This is the transcription:


“Died at Her Home in Chicago Last Saturday, and Brought Here for Interment.

“Miss Estell Therien was born in Canada on June 8th 1851.  She was yet only a child when her parents came to this country and settled at St. Anne.  When about the age of 20, she was united in marriage to John Jerrain, and to this union six children were born, two of whom preceeded their mother to that better land.

“Mr. Jerrain was formerly engaged in farming, but sold the farm a few years ago to engage in the mercantile business.  Since leaving here they have resided in Kankakee, Momence and for the last three years in Chicago, where they have established a very successsul business.

“Mrs. Jerrain died last Saturday, after a short illness and was brought here on Monday for burial.

“Funeral services were held at the Presbyterian church on Tuesday at one o’clock p.m.  Rev. P. Beauchamp officiating, and the remains were deposited in the St. Anne cemetery.

“The deceased leaves to mourn an aged father and mother, husband, three sons and one daughter, two brothers; Rock and Abner Therien, and two sisters, Mrs. Adel Perreault and Mrs. Cleophas Lefave as well as a large number of other relatives and friends.

“Mrs. Jerrain was well and favorably known here as was attested by the large concourse which assembled at the last sad rites.  The places of business in the village were closed during the hour of the funeral as a mark of respect to her memory.  The deepest sympathy of the community is extended to the near relatives in their bereavement.”

I find it interesting that the obit claims they had lived in Chicago for only the last three years.  I wonder if the 1900 census doesn’t represent a final move to Chicago but just a short time there?  It looks like I need to spend some time in the Chicago City Directories on Fold3 to nail down the date of their move.

In 1920, John is living in Chicago at 3133 Archer Avenue.  He rents his home, gives an age of 68, immigration year of 1864 and naturalization year of 1870.  He states he was born in France and that his parents were also born in France.  He is now the proprietor of a Grocery Store.

John Baptiste Jerrain, In his store, 1910
John Baptiste Jerrain, in his store, 1910

This photo comes from the collection that was included with the Maffit Family book.  Its file name is “John Baptiste Jerrain, in his store, 1910”.

Back to that 1920 Census – living with John are his son Arthur, daughter-in-law Charlotte, and four grandchildren – Arthur, Melba, Ormond, and Elaine.  John’s son Arthur is working in management for a Gas Company.

1930 finds John living in the household of his son, John, in Addison, DuPage, Illinois.  John Baptiste Jerrain is found under the name “John B Jerrain”.  His age is listed as 78.  His birthplace is France with both parents also being born in France.  He gives an immigration date of 1855 and states he is naturalized.  He is listed as retired.

About 8 months after the 1930 census was taken, John Baptiste Jerrain died in his son John’s home in Elmhurst.  Like his wife Estelle, he was buried in Saint Anne, Kankakee, Illinois.

His death certificate wasn’t the least bit informative about his parents or birth:

John B. Jerrain, 1930 Death Record

John’s own son didn’t know anything other than, “Dad was born in France.  So were his parents.  Annnnnnd that’s all I know folks.”

Our family records indicated that John was born “Near Verdun, France” 25 July 1852.  No mention of his parents or possible siblings in any family records.  We aren’t even sure where the “Near Verdun” tidbit came from.


So let’s recap the information regarding his name, birth, parentage, and immigration from the census and other records:

His Name –

  • On 1871 Marriage Record – John B Jerraine
  • 1880 Census – J. B. Jerrain
  • 1900 Census – John B Jerein
  • 1910 Census – John B Gerrain
  • 1920 Census – John Jerrain
  • 1930 Census – John B Jerrain
  • 1930 Death Record – John B Jerrain

His Birth –

  • 1880 Census – 1852 in France
  • 1900 Census – June 1851 in France
  • 1910 Census – 1852 in France
  • 1920 Census – 1852 in France
  • 1930 Census – 1852 in France
  • 1930 Death Record – 25 July 1852 in France

Parentage – every single record agrees that his parents were born in France.

Immigration year –

  • 1900 Census – 1853
  • 1910 Census – 1853
  • 1920 Census – 1864
  • 1930 Census – 1855


That is a lot of good, fairly consistent information about John’s birth and immigration.  Using that information I hoped I would find an immigration record or census record for John with his family because children between the possible ages of two and thirteen didn’t typically emigrate from France alone and end up in Illinois in the 1850s or 1860s.  Despite extensive efforts, no such immigration or census records were found.

Next, I considered the possibility that he may have immigrated with extended family.  I looked for other Jerrains around the world to get some ideas of what to look for and where.  I tried generalized searches of that surname on Ancestry, FamilySearch, Google, Facebook, and in the White Pages.  All of my hits seemed to be family members – living descendants of John.  I was starting to wonder if Jerrain was his actual surname.  I wasn’t connecting it anywhere on the globe.  I corresponded with a distant cousin who had heard some rumors that John’s mother brought him to America alone and that the supposed father was actually Irish and a sailor.  Hmmm… nothing about that seemed super likely but John did just sort of show up out of nowhere.  I started to wonder if he was orphaned at a young age.  But even then, why wasn’t he on the census somewhere in the US?

Then about two or three years ago, Ancestry finally had a few hits for “Jerrain” in Paris records.  I felt so relieved to see that spelling anywhere in the world outside of John’s descendants.  It gave me a tiny glimmer of hope.  But I still had no idea how to get John into France without some trace of his family with him in the US.  I wasn’t sure where else to look.

Then in July of 2017, I was reviewing my DNA matches on  I was in this general portion of my tree when something that Diahan Southard had said in a recent webinar popped into my head.  She said that your best matches are the ones that you have no surnames in common with.  Those trees just might point you to the surname you are missing.

Hmmm… could DNA be the key to finding John Baptiste Jerrain’s family?

Maybe so…

Would it even be possible when he was so many generations removed from me?

I didn’t know, but I was definitely going to find out!


…to be continued…




7 thoughts on “John Baptiste Jerrain – Part One, Brick Wall”

  1. A cliffhanger!! I am anxious to read your next post. One question: are Chicago directories on Fold3 and not Ancestry itself?

    1. Good question, Amy. There are a few years on Ancestry but Fold3 has the largest and most complete collection of Chicago City Directories. I don’t have a Fold3 subscription but the center does so I’ll just use theirs. I need to remember to look Grandpa Jerrain up as both a resident and business owner. I want to know where his store was. 🙂

      1. My Ancestry subscription includes Fold3 so I wonder whether searching on Ancestry would also pick up what’s on Fold3. I should keep this in mind the next time I am researching someone from Chicago. Thanks!

        1. Hi Amy, I don’t think it does. I have an Ancestry subscription and on occasion I find a record that I can view the index for on Ancestry but the image is at Fold3 so I can’t view it. I have found a few Chicago City Directory entries on Ancestry but they only have a few years while Fold3 seems to have at least 5 times the number of directories for Chicago (in the timeframe I am searching). Those extra directories only pulled up for me when I searched directly on Fold3. One little quirk – the OCR on Fold3 is pretty good, but not perfect so I doubled my results when I paged through. I searched by surname first, got all of those, then identified the additional years and paged through those to find my people. Good luck and you are welcome!

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