Rev. John McNair’s Famous Brother-In-Law, Dr. Daniel Kirkwood

Okay, maybe not famous to you and me, but I think if you are an astronomer, you might know who he is.

I first saw mention of Dr. Kirkwood in John McNair’s Princeton Theological Seminary alumni file. He was responding to inquiries about John McNair and his brother Solomon McNair.

Daniel Kirkwood letter pg 1 (PTS Alumni File)

Daniel Kirkwood letter pg 1 (John McNair PTS Alumni File)

Daniel Kirkwood letter pg 2 (John McNair PTS Alumni File)

Daniel Kirkwood letter pg 2 (John McNair PTS Alumni File)

The letter reveals that Daniel Kirkwood is married to Mrs. (Sarah Ann) Kirkwood, the youngest sibling of John and Solomon McNair.  He was quite knowledgeable about his wife’s family. Is it not funny how he writes the letter to Princeton Seminary rather than Sarah Ann? One professor to another? The letter was forwarded to Daniel by Mrs. McNair of Newtown, Pennsylvania.  She had been married to James McNair (2nd oldest sibling) until his death in 1872. The letter also gives details about the youngest McNair brother, Solomon, who also became a Presbyterian minister.

Solomon and Sarah McNair Family

Solomon and Sarah McNair Family

Kirkwood Observatory, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana (Durin at en.wikipedia)

Kirkwood Observatory, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana (Durin at en.wikipedia)

I looked up Daniel Kirkwood and aside from all the genealogy records, I found him in of all places Wikipedia. He studied asteroid orbits, was called the “American Kepler”, and had an asteroid, an observatory, a lunar crater and a street in Bloomington, Indiana named after him. Who knew?

By doing a quick study of the life of Daniel Kirkwood, this is what I learned about the McNair’s:

Kirkwood McNair Timeline

Kirkwood McNair Timeline

So why is this important?

  • We can surmise that John McNair most likely introduced his sister Sarah to Daniel Kirkwood. Sarah still lived with her mother in Bucks County, Pennsylvania and must have been visiting her brother John in Lancaster.  Did they meet at church or some other function? Did John marry them? Time to check Lancaster, PA records.
  • Solomon McNair went to Princeton Theological Seminary too! I need to order his alumni file.
  • The Kirkwood’s move to Riverside, California in 1889 where Sarah’s sister, Mary (McNair) Craven is living.
  • The Reverend’s John and Solomon were both in Lancaster County, PA in 1860’s and would have spent some time together before John’s death in 1867.
  • It shows that Rev. McNair and his family kept in contact with his sister Sarah and Dr. Kirkwood. Despite their physical distances of Indiana and New Jersey, they had kept in touch.
  • By following the geographic travels of Rev. McNair’s siblings, we can see where they overlapped and what type of society, culture and environment they moved in.
  • We can make some assumptions on the level of education and social status of Rev. McNair’s siblings that might have encouraged their marital matches.
  • I need to follow-up to find out where the papers of Professor Kirkwood went (Bloomington, Indiana?) and if they might have any other references to the McNair’s.

Have I mentioned lately how important it is to investigate the siblings?

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One Response to Rev. John McNair’s Famous Brother-In-Law, Dr. Daniel Kirkwood

  1. a gray says:

    What a great find.

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