ancestry, Blog, genealogy

Excavating My Roots – Lost Genealogy

I have written about my genealogy research here many times before. It is an endless search for those who came before to help understand who we are today. There is an almost mystical connection to places that seem to be crafted in our DNA. Filling in the gaps is well suited for problem-solvers and it does not take much to reignite the flames if the search has stalled

Two weeks ago, Ancestry updated their ethnicity estimates. This is done as more and more people have their DNA tested and they can better correlate how our DNA compares to other people globally. It is a bit of hocus-pocus at best since there is, of course, no way to test the DNA of people long deceased.

The biggest change in this update for me was the more granular breakdown of England and Northwest Europe. My old results were:

Ethnicity estimates

My new results show the more definitive breakdown:

I am very aware of my English roots. They are very well documented on one side of the family. I am also somewhat aware of my Irish roots, but since it appears my Irish ancestors (two brothers) came to this country in 1774 and settled in York county, PA, there are no ship manifests from that time, so that is where my knowledge of my Irish heritage ends. I have no knowledge of Scottish or German or Swedish roots which I attribute to possibly fluid borders and migrations at the time.

Getting beyond these brick walls is necessary to go further back on your ancestral line. But, this little change was enough to inspire me to dig a little more into some of the brick walls. The big one for me is finding information on my paternal great-grandfather who I have written about on this blog before.

I decided to try an avenue I had never tried before. I contacted the church my paternal grandparents attended and eventually all of my nuclear family attended as well. Small churches’ documentation is not anything like what seems to be available to larger Catholic churches for example.

But, last night I received an email from the current pastor of the church. I received the membership records for my family back to my paternal grandparents. I now know when and where they were baptized and when memberships were transferred to other churches. I even know what minister baptized each of them. And that’s where I found my glimmer of hope.

My dad was baptized in the church by his uncle (my great-grandmother’s brother). He is also the same person that reported the death of my great-grandmother which means he may have had knowledge of what happened to my paternal great-grandfather who was run out of town on a rail according to family oral history.

The pastor is now seeking out conversations with a 90 year old person who was raised and lived in the community his whole life. It is a long shot, but I am hopeful one little scribble on a piece of paper may unlock a door that has been shut for over a century. Fingers crossed.

ancestry, Blog, Family, genealogy

Genealogy Tools

Day 146

Ancestry recently released some new tools which I am having fun exploring tonight. I have not spent a lot of time on my family tree lately, so these new tools peaked my interest a little.

Genealogy Goals

I have a few things I am anxious to resolve in my family tree. One I wrote about recently — finding the final resting place of my paternal great-grandfather.

The second is to resolve the brick walls, or dead-ends, in my family tree to further my research. I have made some progress, but so many questions remain.

The third is to possibly find my nephew who my sister gave up for adoption. I wrote about this process in this post on my old blog: The Lies Women Tell. I am hopeful to at least make the connection, even if there is no relationship.

Ancestry DNA

I submitted my DNA in hopes of finding some relatives and connecting a few dots. Well, the DNA confused a few things, rather than resolve them. It appears my cousin and I are not biological cousins. That throws a wrench in what we both thought we knew.

ThruLines, just released by Ancestry, allows you to see your DNA matches and suggests which person or line on your tree the relationship might likely be made. Not 100% accurate, but every hint helps.

They have also added something called MyTreeTags you can add on the tree which will further define things you know (or don’t know) about the individual.

It also appears there is some color coding being added which helps you isolate the relationships of individuals who have tested through Ancestry. I do not think this will be of great use to me because most of my family has not tested.

So, that’s been the extent of my day. I will try to come back and update you once I have learned a little more.

ancestry, Blog, Family, genealogy, Home

Letters From Home

Day 15

I love letters. I love the penmanship and I love reading them and hearing the words in the voice of the person that wrote them. The few letters I have from my mother are magical to me. I read them and hear the tenor and inflections of her voice. I sometimes think I have forgotten how she sounded, but reading her words opens a synapse in my brain that allows it to all come flooding back.

Old Letters Are The Best

letters2I recently came into some papers that belonged to my Aunt. I am not sure she ever threw anything away and while some could criticize her for that, I would never. Amongst these papers were notebooks of handwritten letters from my Grandmother to my Aunt.

My Grandmother was the family news conductor and her letters were always full of family news. She always filled you in on who got married, who was sick, what crops were planted and how many jars of jelly or green beans were ‘put away’.

In addition to letters from my Grandmother, were letters from my Uncles to their sister written during the war. I took the time to read the letters and decided they should go to my cousins so they could have a glimpse of their father’s life before they were born. I felt so good about mailing those letters and know how much they will mean to them.

I also cherish the penmanship and the flourish of words from a different time. As a child I was obsessed with the way a lower case ‘r’ was written — they looked much like an ‘n’. I loved it so much I started to use my newfound love of the letter ‘r’ in my school work much to my teacher’s chagrin.

Why Don’t We Write Letters?

I belong to a ‘snail mail’ group and have belonged to similar groups in the past. The current group started with a bang then drifted off to a small trickle of mail. This kind of mail is fun, but it is not like the old time letters from home.

Letters were once the only way to share news and updates with family and friends once people started drifting away from a central home place or when they went off to join the military. They waited weeks or months for news from loved ones when there was no other way to stay in touch.

Genealogical History

I was fortunate enough to get a copy of a letter from my 3X Great Grandmother. It was such a great slice of history from the time. To hear about the hardships they endured and the sadness and loneliness that set in when children started moving away from home was heart wrenching. It told the news of children born and children who had passed away. It is one of my greatest treasures.

I am contemplating scanning all the letters from my Grandmother to my Aunt and then donating the original letters to a historical museum. There is so much history there that generations to come would love to read about. But parting with them, well, that’s a hard decision.

Email Vs. Letters

There is something rather impersonal about an Email. There is no way to add enough underlines to the phrase ‘I love you’. You don’t see the words on the screen and recognize the font and know who it is from like you do handwriting.

A Lost Art

Maybe I’m just overly nostalgic, but I care about the loss of this art. It is sad to me that so many schools do not teach cursive any longer. It is becoming a lost art. I will never forget when I was teaching and wrote in cursive on the blackboard. I was shocked when my students could not read what I had written.

My Grandfather could not write anything but his name. I remember watching him practice writing his signature over and over on the backs of envelopes. When I started my genealogical research I found his ‘Old Man’s Draft Card’. My heart skipped a beat. There it was — my Grandfather’s well-practiced signature. I was overcome.

Those seven letters in that familiar script meant everything to me.

“The act of writing itself is like an act of love. There is contact. There is exchange too. We no longer know whether the words come out of the ink onto the page, or whether they emerge from the page itself where they were sleeping,
the ink merely giving them colour.”
Georges Rodenbach


ancestry, birthdays, Blog, Family, genealogy, grandmother, memories

My Grandmother’s Birthday

Day 11

Today would have been my grandmother’s 120th birthday. I think of her often but today almost slipped by without me acknowledging her. I have written about my grandparents and my parents many times in my other blog A Life Worth Living, but I do not like it when I get so busy I let days slip by.

BerthaRosettaWhat a grand lady she was. Very religious, very conscious of what everyone thought and very fastidious. (You can read more about her in the blog Happy Birthday Mam-Maw which I wrote in 2010.) I think she would have been very distraught living in 2018. Life has changed dramatically since she was born in 1897, but even more so since she passed away in 1969.

One of the memories I have of her was when I was seven or eight. I spent endless hours going through her jewelry box or spending time looking at old photos. One day I found a photo of her and some of her friends smoking a cigarette. Of course, me being me, I asked her about it and laughed because I believed I had ‘caught’ her smoking. The mood became very serious very fast. She explained that she and her friends were ‘pretending’ to smoke in the picture. She was ashamed of it now, some 30-40 years later. She told me she wished she had destroyed the photo so no one would ever see it.

Generational Mores

So many people of that generation felt guilty about so much. It’s a shame really because young people should live a fun life. Whether she ever smoked or not, I didn’t care. I loved her just the same. As a matter of fact it made me more curious about her – she earned an air of mystique in my mind that day.

It reminds me of a great article I read in the Washington Post written by Christine Organ “Parents, Stop Micromanaging Kids’ Relationships with Grandparents“. It’s a great article about the relationship forged between grandparents and their grandchildren. If you are a grandparent – or a parent who now has their parents as grandparents to their children – I highly recommend the article.

My grandmother was not like the grandmother in the article, but I did like there was something about her I just didn’t know. Now that I am older and the pseudo-family genealogist, I am more interested in the small background stories of common every-day people than I am some glowing pedigree.

MamawI found an old black and white negative of my grandmother back when I was first interested in photography. I took it to the lab and printed it. As the image slowly appeared, I saw a woman I had never ever seen before. My grandmother – with her hair cascading around her shoulders and jeans rolled up sitting on a rock. My grandmother as a young woman.

It would be the first photo I would hand-color. I look at it now and see how much detail was lost in the negative. But that’s the photographer and artist in me. The little girl in me sees her grandmother as beautiful as can be without a care in the world. I love that woman as much or more as the woman who helped raise me.

So, Happy Birthday Mam-Maw. I have never forgotten you. I have so many vivid memories of our time together. This little girl still misses her grandmother.

“Having a grandmother is like having an army. This is a grand-child’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details.” 
Fredrik Backman





ancestry, Blog, Family, genealogy, Home, Journey

The Long and Winding Road

Day Three

I once read that our roots are firmly entwined in our DNA. The places where our ancestors settled, worked the ground and made a home is very much a part of who we are. Maybe this is why I feel so at home here in these mountains. It doesn’t matter  how stressed I am, once I see these mountains looming in the distance, I am able to release it and breathe again.

One of my favorite television shows is ‘Who Do You Think You Are’. I love watching these well-known people discover their ancestry. Some come from humble or dire circumstances and others from royalty. People in these shows often remark how much they were drawn to a place for years prior to knowing anything about their lineage.

phillipine funeral
My Grandparents Attending a Funeral in the Philippines

The search, for me, is cathartic. My sister, Rosie, tried to get me interested in her family research years ago and I just was not interested. I had struggles in my personal life at the time and learning about my ancestors was the furtherest thing from my mind. When she passed away years later, I was distraught because all her research was lost. My niece gave me access to her Ancestry account and there was nothing there. So, I started from scratch.

Questions Along the Way

My own family discoveries have been pretty remarkable. I now have a copy of a handwritten letter from my three times great-grandmother written in 1847. Her letters paint a remarkable picture of how difficult life was at that time. It has given me a greater appreciation about the struggles to make a path in preparation for my life, my home.

I have also taken a DNA test. I have discovered some unknown cousins and also discovered some misappropriated parentage somewhere in my Dad’s line. People I thought I was related to do not seem to be relatives at all. So, this mystery is yet to be unraveled.

As children, we always heard my paternal grandmother talk about her mother but rarely about her father. He disappeared – there were rumors he was ‘run out of town on a rail’. We might never know the back story, but what I have finally discovered is what I believe to be his final resting place. I have been working for a year to gain access to the site and I believe I will get there eventually. To ‘connect’ with some part of my great-grandfather holds great importance to me.

The Journey is Not Over

This long and winding road has definitely taken some twists and turns along the way. I know more about my family history than I ever thought I would. Some roads are dead ends – or brick walls as they are called in genealogy circles – and some go back as far as the 1100’s. I also know more about the tribulations of my ancestors and much more about the sorrows imposed by government institutions on the general population. I now commonly search ‘Bastardy Bonds’ when 10 years ago I did not even know those records existed.

This journey is not over – and will most likely not be over in my lifetime. I have managed to peak some interest in my children about their history, and I hope at some point they will take up where I left off.

For now, I am on solid ground. I know where I come from and how I got here. The people who came before me live on because I dug their history out of old crumbling pages in basements of libraries and court houses. My cousin shared a quote a few years ago and it has always resonated with me:

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”

I understand now more than ever why I feel so drawn to this place. It really is home.

img_2203“Over the course of the millennia, all these multitudes of ancestors, generation upon generation, have come down to this moment in time—to give birth to you. There has never been, nor will ever be, another like you. You have been given a tremendous responsibility. You carry the hopes and dreams of all those who have gone before. Hopes and dreams for a better world. What will you do with your time on this Earth? How will you contribute to the ongoing story of humankind?”
Laurence Overmire