Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Luck of MY Irish

County Tyrone coat of arms
I've always known I was of Irish descent. It was nice of my various DNA tests to confirm it. The testing companies show my ancestral heritage to be about 50% Irish. Most of it is from my dad's family.

I always had trouble actually FINDING my Irish ancestors. As more and more records became available, I did. They led me on a hunt for McBrides from Illinois to Birtley in County Durham, England and finally to County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. But like many researchers, this is where I got stuck.

Knowing County Tyrone was pretty cool, but not quite enough. I wanted to know where. Like, exactly where? Like, what parish and townland where?

DNA to the Rescue

I've done DNA testing everywhere possible. It's been more than four years since I got my first set of results back, and at times it can be tedious and frustrating. I hope to use my DNA to map my entire chromosome and use those segment matches to locate other distant relatives and confirm ancestries. 

I have never been a died-in-the-wool fan of AncestryDNA due to its lack of segment data and spotty messaging system. I continue to pursue matches there but don't expect much. However... I did have a breakthrough!

Last October, I had a new "third cousin" named Jessica show up in my results. She did not match my mom, who also tested at Ancestry, so this was intriguing. She had a handful of people in her tree from Chicago. She also had some unique names I could trace back to Joliet, Illinois, where my dad and I were born. Yet, I still didn't recognize the names. I sent Jessica a message and didn't hear a thing. Typical. I waited another month and sent a second. Still nothing.

In April, Jessica wrote back.

***pick me up off the floor***

She apologized for just receiving my messages and for not really understanding how to reply within the system (see, Ancestry 😠).

We discovered we are second cousins once removed (2C1R) through our shared McBride ancestor, John Joseph.

These are the only matches Jessica and I have in common. I had written to WM via his wife and learned we had emailed many years ago. WM is also a McBride descendant but his wife, the family historian, was stuck at the same place as me. They, however, still live in County Durham. Their daughter Jess had also tested.

Then I wrote to John. John had no tree but since he already matched two known McBride cousins, it was worth a shot. Two days later, I heard from John. He likely had to be picked up off of his floor! 

Here is the McBride descent and DNA tree:

Blue and pink are the ancestor and known children; green are descendant DNA testers

Bridget McBride married in Ireland. Alexander, Jane, Daniel, and Edward all married in Birtley and all named Daniel as their father. They all lived near each other and worked in various mines.

From my new cousin John I learned that his great-grandfather Felix was sent back to Ireland after his parents had a number of children die. They hoped for a better life for him. He eventually married and emigrated to Scotland. My ancestor Daniel did similarly: he and Mary Ann lost their first two children to scarlet fever, then sailed for America in 1880 with their surviving son, John.

John and I exchanged a number of emails with records and family stories. His mother is 93 and she thought she was the last of the McBrides. Surprise! I also learned that when Felix was sent back to Ireland, it was to where Alexander came from - Dunnamore.

Dunnamore is a village located in Kildress Parish near the city of Cookstown, almost centrally located in Northern Ireland. It even has a neolithic stone circle called Beaghmore. Swoon.
Beaghmore Stone Circle

I have more work to do to find traces of my McBrides in Ireland. The teen and young adult siblings left Ireland for England between 1851 (not on the UK census) and 1861 (all on the UK census). Did their parents, or at least Daniel as head of household, die and the famine forced an exodus? Griffith's Valuation was in its early stages and doesn't show a Daniel in Kildress. The Catholic parish registers at the National Library of Ireland do not have any of the siblings' birth records in Kildress.  The search goes on. 

For now, I'm happy to have Dunnamore as an ancestral home.

© 2017 Sally Knudsen


Coat of arms courtesy Kanchelskis [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Beaghmore photo courtesy Kenneth Allen [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Spencer DNA

My bucket list "who are your parents?" ancestor is my 4th great-grandfather, Asa SPENCER. His story is here and his database information is here. And seriously, I'm not getting any younger...

With so many different DNA testing sites, you can only use the tools each has available. My mom Jo (a Spencer descendant) and I both tested at Ancestry. As we all know, Ancestry will not provide us nerds with a chromosome browser or segments, so we have to make do. Ancestry does provide us with "Shared Matches" and the total centimorgans (cMs) and number of segments shared with a match. Using those tools, I created this spreadsheet, read from bottom to top:

My legend:

Bold denotes those who have tested at Ancestry
Total cMs and number of segments, provided by Ancestry, as matched to my mom Jo
Orange = all shared matches with Aleta
Blue = all shared matches with RH
Green = all shared matches with Eleda
Red = all shared matches with RC
Black = all shared matches with Ed S
Everyone here matches my mom Jo

What I tried to do in my head was visualize how these mini-groups of people matched each other. And what prompted the visualization was the recurring matches to the various HULING descendants. Ooh, a pattern! I had no Hulings in my own research, nor do my known cousins here, Eleda, Aleta, and RC, all of whom I have corresponded with and can verify descent from my Asa Spencer.

The testers RH and Katie show up as the first 4th cousin matches in my mom's Shared Matches list. None appear to have transferred to Gedmatch or FTDNA. Of course, I have messaged all of the other testers to no avail, which led me to the spreadsheet. 

Honestly, I think I did a pretty good job transferring my musings to paper.

Tell me what you think. Do you think I should pursue a relationship between the Spencers and Hulings? If so, what might the relationship be? Where else in the tree should I look? What else can I do to help determine Asa's parents? Is this a legit way to show relationships without segments? Help me, DNA!

© 2017 Sally Knudsen

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Test Post

This is a test.

I previously used a client to forward my blog posts to Twitter...and then it shut down. I have registered with And my first post came up with duplicate appendages:

Trying again. I checked the settings and they only appear once.

If they duplicate again, any ideas?

Monday, January 2, 2017

How Many Ancestors: 2017 Edition

Happy New Year!

My first post of 2017 is an update to the ongoing "how many ancestors have you identified" quest.

The idea is to list the "known by name" ancestors at each genealogical level: parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. As the potential ancestors double and the available records decrease over time, let's check mine and see where my research challenges are.

I realize now that I didn't do this assessment in 2016, so this will be two year's worth of progress. And progress there was!

Here's my chart from 2015:

And here is 2017's:

Go me!

In green above are the generations where I found new ancestors over the past two years.

In Level 7, the 4x great-grandparents, I made zero progress. The missing ancestors are my Irish lines. I may be forever stuck here.

In Level 8, the 5x great-grandparents, I made a LOT of progress, mostly filling in information through further research. This includes finding books on my colonial American lines, and locating more records in my French-Canadian lines.

The biggest jump is in the last group, the 7x great-grandparents. I quadrupled 2015's number. This is almost singularly due to my big break in my maternal grandmother's Wurttemberg lines. Once I broke through that brick wall this summer, the records filled in so much history. I wish you all would have Wurttemberg Lutheran ancestors,

When I first did this exercise in 2014, I had identified 160, or 16.5% of my direct ancestors through 10 generations.

In 2015, I had 196, or 19%.

By 2017, I had a whopping 319, or 31%.

The oldest record I have to date is my maternal 10th great-grandparents, Veit SUFFEL and Maria LACHENMAIER of Rudersberg in Wurttemberg. They were married in 1649:

Happy New Year and Happy Searching!

© 2017 Sally Knudsen

Sunday, December 4, 2016

In a Cave in Germany

I wish this was the cave I was visiting
I haven't posted in some time, but that doesn't mean nothing has been happening genealogy-wise lately.

I have been in a cave in Wurttemberg. Not an actual cave, but I've been in my basement research cave, after a MAJOR breakthrough this summer.

Reality also struck with both highs and lows in my family over the past few months. My younger son won the Illinois high school state cross country title and signed for a wonderful college scholarship. My older son's cross country team was second in the NAIA college championship and he's on track for another semester on the Dean's List. The lows came by way of my father's death, my maternal grandmother's death, and one of my son's coach's death. It was a very emotional fall.

Genealogy is my "touchstone," the one thing that keeps my brain functioning and me tethered to some sort of reality.

On with the show.

My grandmother that recently passed provided my German ancestry. Her mother was full Prussian (I know that's not an ethnicity but it's where her people lived for hundreds of years) and her Hummel father was mostly German by way of southwest Germany near Stuttgart. I have a copy of the family's church record from Michigan where they finally settled giving clues to their German villages. But I was very uncertain how to search for records. I contacted fellow genealogist Barbara Schmidt (@BarbFFm on Twitter) and she helped me get an idea of the village and Lutheran parish system. After that, I took a chance and ordered some FamilySearch microfilms for the area and crossed my fingers. It worked.

Having some sense of the Hummel family already, I started working with my great-great-great-grandmother's Ebinger line, which I knew only by the two children who emigrated to America. Fortunately, my microfilm guesses were correct as I found both of their births in the Dafern parish records. Then with lots of scrolling, it was off to the races. Suddenly, I had a huge German family!

Johann Lorenz Hummel (1843-1901)
Christina Karolina Ebinger (1849-1895)

At home, I tried finding more records at Ancestry. Amazingly, not only did I find records, but I found the same digitized microfilm records as the ones I had ordered. And thus, I have scarcely left my computer in the evenings because I keep. finding. people.

Some of the interesting things I have encountered (your mileage my vary):

  • the vital records are pristine, accurate, and cross-referenceable by date/age and parents/father
  • you definitely need creative database skills
  • surnames are underlined about 99% of the time
  • Jerg of the 1600's became Georg of the 1700's
  • Johannes is not the same as Johann, but Hans and Johann are usually interchangeable
  • you "hope" for an illegitimate birth because the pastor went out of his way to describe the circumstances of the birth, then "hope" the father acknowledged the child
  • learn to read upside down because that's how many illegitimate births were noted!
  • in the 1730's, there was a sudden use of astrological symbols in the birth records
  • the records are a "moveable feast" because all the births may be in one parish but the marriages in the neighboring parish
  • and so much more!

I am (proudly) at the name-collecting stage. This has been a fascinating few months of work. Here is my database if you'd like to check for common ancestors. 

Come find me in Germany (in my mind)!

* German diacriticals and spellings omitted here because...American keyboard ;)

© 2016 Sally Knudsen

Photo credit: By Enzyklofant (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Mad Dash to Mad Town

While taking breaks from my DNA matching, I am doing my best to shore up some of my family lines that are a little neglected. One is my maternal grandfather's COUNTRYMAN line.

My earliest known ancestors were Peter Countryman (read about his probate here) and his wife, Matilda AMES. Peter and Matilda had seven known children, and possibly eight, when they both died in their 40's from causes I have yet to discover. The family were early settlers of Ingham County, Michigan, around 1834.

I have a lot of speculative information about Peter's ancestry from the help of many excellent Countryman researchers, but Matilda and her Ames family had continued to be a mystery. One of my distant cousins hoped we could find a connection to the famous Ames brothers, Oakes and Oliver, who were instrumental in the expansion of the transcontinental railroad - and the scandals that followed. Alas, we are not.

I would check Google and Google Books every once in a while to see if any clues popped up. Earlier this year, this did:

Google Books snippet view

Ingham County, Michigan! This was a real lead! But darn that snippet view. No matter what combination of names I searched for, I could not get farther. No way was I going to attempt to guess who her parents and family might be. I then used WorldCat to locate the book as no print copies appeared to be available for purchase. WorldCat showed six copies in the United States. The closest was at the State of Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison.

So I went.

I have been though Madison but never stopped, so I decided this would be a me-cation or day-cation or genea-cation, or, you know, one day alone! Madison is just over a two hour drive from my house. In addition to the Society library, my destinations included the University of Wisconsin campus and the shores of Lake Mendota.

State of Wisconsin Historical Society

The building is a library, archives and research center. The Society has occupied the building since 1900. The staff was very helpful in directing me to my book's location on the 6th floor. The building had those wonderful old book smells and creaky door sounds.

Here is the book:

Descendants of William Ames of Braintree, Massachusetts
by Ann Theopold Chaplin, CG
published 2004

It is very possible that this book has never even been touched before. I pulled it out of the stack and it looks like it came fresh from the printer. It was a traditional descendancy, so I first located Matilda's family, then went forward and backward noting my particular lines. I took the book to the public scanner, and after a few minutes of scanning, printing and $2.87, I had my information. (Yes, I copied the source citations and cover matter, 'natch).

I drove around the UW campus, picked up some lunch, and sat along Lake Mendota and enjoyed the beautiful day.

along Picnic Point, looking toward the capitol dome

Native American burial mounds along Picnic Point

wild daisies along the trail

Wisconsin state capitol building

Then it was back to Illinois, home of corn and soybeans...and wind.

I haven't yet entered my new information into my family tree program yet. I have read through it a couple of times. And a huge shout out to Ms. Chaplin for the book - your efforts have not been in vain.

I am savoring the moment - both of my new-found ancestors and my day away.

© 2016 Sally Knudsen