For many years, my family’s brick wall stood firm at the unknown parentage of Betsey Doty, who married Ebenezer Besse in Plymouth on 26 September 1776. They soon removed to Maine, where the births of their children went unrecorded. An unknown Doty in Plymouth cried out for a genetic solution.
The mt DNA line of my mother’s first cousin Avis Miller Shurtleff has been filled with surprises. 1 Avis is Betsey’s matrilineal descendant, so I hoped her genetic information might crack the case—and it did! Two exact mt DNAs hits, with genetic distances of zero, matched Avis with two other people who had well-documented ancestries from Plymouth, Massachusetts. Combined traditional research and genetic evidence unlocked Betsey’s mt DNA line. Our common ancestor was Juliana Carpenter, who married George Morton in Leiden on 23 July 1612. I published an article in The Maine Genealogist summarizing the evidence and explaining why we missed connecting Betsey Doty to her parents, Stephen and Hannah (Bartlett) Doty.2Continue reading Genetic Distance Zero→
I wrote about Margaret (Mulligan) Kelleher and her infant son John Cornelius Kelleher a few months ago in a previous Vita Brevis post. While I thought the trail had gone cold, I wanted to try looking one more time at the Tewksbury Almshouse records. As you may recall from my previous blog post, according to records, Margaret and John were sent to the Tewksbury Almshouse after being given a meal at Boston’s Temporary Home for Women and Children.
I had previously searched for “Kelleher, Margaret” and “Kelleher, John” with no results returned, but I realized that might not be the end of the road. As genealogists, we get used to performing searches on larger genealogy sites which use Soundex —a system which indexes names by sound, and can therefore return search results which include similar-sounding names. However, many smaller and nonprofit archives don’t have this feature, meaning that researchers must manually search for different possible variations of a name. I decided to try a few different versions, and finally came across a John C. Kellaher, recorded with his mother Margaret! Continue reading Stories of People in Poverty: The Trail Continues→
This past May, I taught a class on 18th century Pennsylvania and highlighted some documents I had discovered for my Pennsylvania ancestors. As I prepared for the class, I reflected on one of the biggest brick walls I had encountered in my own family research, and thought about what advice I’d give to someone researching their own colonial ancestors. After looking back at my own challenges and triumphs, I came up with three recommendations: don’t trust family lore or uncited published genealogies, consider various spellings of the surname, and visit the local historical society.
For years and years, I tried to breakdown a brick wall that seemed to plague every descendant of my 6th great-grandfather William Ashton of Bristol, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. A quote from one of the many compilations by his descendants had this to say about William and his ancestry:
“The first Ashton, in this country, of our family was neither banished for crime nor traded for tobacco, but belonged to one of the oldest titled families of England. He was, as I understand, disowned because he espoused the Quaker faith. This Ashton family were related to the Hutchinson’s of England, one of whom, Thomas Hutchinson, was colonial governor of Massachusetts.”
On November 2, 2022, my husband and I welcomed our first child: a son, named Jack William for his great-grandfathers. Several weeks after Jack’s birth, I requested a copy of his birth certificate from the town offices, an errand which immediately reminded me of submitting vital records requests for genealogical research. Obtaining my son’s birth record was far simpler—I only had to wait a few minutes—and I left the town offices that same day with the record in hand. I looked down at the certificate, with all the fields neatly filled out, and realized genealogical researchers are perhaps the only people who wouldn’t take this record for granted.
Vital records are often the first and best places to check when seeking information about our ancestors. But what is a researcher to do when a vital record simply doesn’t exist, or provides minimal information? In a previous blog post, I discussed the usefulness of family Bibles as vital records substitutes. There are numerous other record types that link parents and their children, with baptismal records and wills being the next best options. Other records that can identify the names of an ancestor’s children include the following types: Continue reading Linking Parents and Children—Without the Help of Vital Records→
The other day, I was confronted by an unexpected “hint” in my online family tree based on a DNA match. It outlined genetic ties between myself, an individual I had never heard of before named Samuel Morey, and the descendants of two of his children, Joseph Morey and Lucinda (Morey) Waterbury.1 It also alleged a possible additional Morey daughter, who was possibly the mother of my great-great-great grandmother Melinda (Adams) (Nestle) Dewey.2 I was immediately intrigued—I’ve been researching “Grandma Melinda” for years, but chasing her ancestry had always led me to a brick wall.
I must have stared at this hint for hours. Did I really want to go down that rabbit hole again? But looking more closely at Samuel Morey, I realized that he might just be the guy who could provide me with a Mayflower line for my mother.(Okay, I know that might make me seem like a snob, but I’ve been looking for one for years.) It appears thatSamuel Morey has a well-documented ancestry to Mayflower passenger Richard Warren. 3 I decided that the best thing I could do was to mull through the facts, and come up with some genealogical arguments both for and against my relationship with Samuel Morey and his ties to the Mayflower.Continue reading Chasing Grandma→
Did you know that, at least as of 2021, there were more than 16,000 genealogy-based groups on Facebook?1 Say what you will about the platform in general, using targeted genealogy groups can be a boon to research. I have been taking advantage of them—specifically, groups based on geographic locations—for more than ten years, beginning when I discovered a Finnish Genealogy group when I was planning an ancestral trip to Finland. In fact, I would say that if you don’t have a Facebook account already, it’s worth joining simply to take advantage of this resource in your research. A recent experience has taught me this lesson once again.
Locational genealogy groups are populated with family historians, the kind we rub shoulders with at genealogy events and at NEHGS and other repositories, the kind we correspond with via Ancestry and other genealogy websites. In other words, they’re populated with people who are eager to help and love to search. In the Finnish group, I connected with people who had visited my ancestral town already, and could offer hints on what to do when there. I was also able to connect with a genealogist in the town, who offered to serve as guide and translator, and with cousins I’d never met, both American and Finnish. Making those connections made my two tripsto Finland extremely memorable. I met several of the cousins there and in Stockholm, and one has since visited me in Massachusetts.
Take for example the family of EDWARD JACKSON (EF),1 on whose ENEF sketch I am currently working. Edward was a post- Great Migration Begins immigrant, arriving in New England in 1642 or 1643 with his first wife, Frances (married in England in 1631) and their four surviving children. Then in 1649, Edward married Elizabeth (Newgate) Oliver, widow of JOHN OLIVER (EF), whom she had married about 1637, and daughter of Great Migration immigrant JOHN NEWGATE (GM 1633). Elizabeth’s sister, Sarah Newgate, married John Oliver’s brother, PETER OLIVER (EF). Edward Jackson had children by both of his wives, and Elizabeth had children by both of her husbands. Continue reading Genealogical Clusters→
Simply put, Irish research is difficult. Beyond missing and incomplete records, there are many obstacles that can frustrate even the most seasoned genealogist. In my opinion, an obstacle that is often overlooked is the variation of Irish surnames.
Recently, I was researching a Crowley family that I theorized had roots in Castletownbere, in County Cork. Despite available parish records, I could not locate this family among the registers. I did locate a very promising Cohane family—however, Crowley and Cohane are very different names, so, I disregarded the connection at first. Continue reading Surname Variants in Ireland→
Death certificates can add depth to a family tree, but when the parent names for the deceased are documented incorrectly, it can lead research down the wrong path—especially when contending with a common Irish surname.
The only source with direct evidence naming my great-grandmother Margaret’s parents was a death record from Brooklyn, New York, in 1936, listing her father’s name as Patrick Morrissey and her mother’s name as Margaret Powers. The informant for this death record was Margaret’s daughter Marion (Mary Ann) Lilley. Marion would have been an unreliable source to supply the names of Margaret’s parents, since they had died long before Marion was born.2 No birth record for Margaret A. Morrissey, born around 1870 in Pennsylvania, was found to exist. Official Pennsylvania vital records (birth, death, and marriage) registrations were not enacted in Pennsylvania until 1906, and 1896 at the county level.3Continue reading Finding Clues in Unexpected Places→
In a recent post I examined the curious case of young “lodger” George Stepper, who was enumerated in the 1920 census in the home of Joshua and Mary (Craven) Harron in Revere, Massachusetts. As I eventually discovered, he was their nephew, and lived with them for more than twenty years after his young widowed mother died. Further research into the Harron, Stepper, and Craven families revealed that each of these families suffered a rash of premature deaths and other adversities.
Following George Stepper’s descendants exposed another misidentified “boarder” in the 1920 census, as well as many other inaccuracies in official records. Moreover, like the Harrons and Cravens, George’s descendants experienced their own family problems, including out-of-wedlock births, infidelity, divorces, stillborn children, and early deaths.
As related in Part I, George married Miriam Frances Kelley in 1941. Miriam was born in Lynn on 10 November 1912 to Frederick Clifford Kelley(1893-1937) – who appears in various records as Frederick C., F. Clifford, or Fred – and Irene Nora Girard (1894-1968). Their marriage record shows that Fred was 21 and Irene 18 when they wed on 1 August 1912 in Hartford, Connecticut, just two months before Miriam was born; actually, it was Fred’s 19th birthday. Fred’s parents were Frederick A. W. Kelley (1866-1948) and Annie Laura Handren (1859-1954). Annie, born in St. Martins, New Brunswick, Canada, was one of eleven children, three of whom did not survive childhood. Continue reading Lodgers or Relatives? (Part II)→