Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Real Me

Check out the navigation bar above! I just added a new page showing my DNA information. Can't get much more 'real' than me at a cellular level!

2015 is going to be the Year of DNA Analysis for me. Be prepared for a lot of posts regarding my obsession with hunt for DNA relationships. I'll share some of my successes, and the parts of the testing process that were both helpful and annoying!

Starting in 2013, I first tested at 23andMe. I was really fortunate that some of my dad's second cousins also tested. Having people to compare to makes DNA searching a w-h-o-l-e lot easier. I have since tested with Ancestry and had my results transferred to Family Tree DNA. Each of my parents have taken one test as well.

I use the free analysis site to enhance my pool of potential cousins, and I primarily use GenomeMate to analyze my results in a database format.

DNA searching, or more properly, genetic genealogy, is not an easy quest. It can be frustrating both scientifically and genealogically. But if you are up to the challenge, finding and understanding DNA relationships is incredibly satisfying!

These are the 'Big Three' DNA testing companies:


Family Tree DNA

There are also three main types of tests, in order of genealogical usefulness:

autosomal, which tests both sides of your family, back a few generations
Y-DNA, which tests your father's father's father's... line
mitochondrial, or mtDNA, which tests your mother's mother's mother's... line

Autosomal testing, which all three companies provide for about $99US, will catch the most potential cousins. Y-DNA testing can be helpful to locate where your paternal ancestors may have originated. I am presently testing my brother so I can hopefully learn more about my paternal Irish heritage. Mitochondrial is probably the least useful, mostly because women's names changed so frequently and having a paper trail many generations back is very rare.

To learn more about DNA testing, check out the multiple resources located on the ISOGG (International Society of Genetic Genealogy) wiki pages.

I would love to hear about other DNA experiences. Feel free to comment here or on any of my future posts.

© 2015 Sally Knudsen

Sunday, January 11, 2015

How Many Named Ancestors?: 2015 Edition

Happy New Year!

My first post of 2015 is a little fun - Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, that is. And obviously, Saturday night has now moved into Sunday morning. Better late than never.

+Randy Seaver proposed this latest 'genealogy quest' on his blog and it's a good way to assess my knowns and unknowns.

The proposal 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 that big research dropoff shows up.

Here's my chart:

I also prepared a similar post last year. And yes, there have been some improvements!

In yellow above are the generations where I found new ancestors. Well, they've always been there but I finally figured out their names ;)

I made a circle chart in my Legacy program to count the knowns and unknowns. My biggest dropoff comes at Level 7, the great-great-great-great-grandparents. Most of my knowns in this period were born in the early 1800's. So it appears I have a real research block beyond that century line.

The records I have the farthest (in fact, to 12 generations) are two French-Canadian lines and one colonial American line. I also have had good luck with my maternal grandmother's Prussian ancestry. I have one ancestral couple identified to the 10th generation and three couples to the ninth generation.

The records I have the most work to do are my dad's paternal Irish lines, where they end at Level 7 across the board. I have no known Irish ancestor born earlier than the early 1800's. [A personal aside: my brother is taking a Y-DNA test, so maybe that will improve things for next year - cross your fingers!]

Last year's total percent known was 16.52. This year's is 19.16, an increase of 27 ancestors.

So I found a few peeps!

Thanks for the idea, Randy!

© 2015 Sally Knudsen

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

#52Ancestors (52) The Big Bad 2014 Challenge Wrap-Up


One year ago, I embarked upon the 52 Ancestors Challenge. The challenge was proposed by +Amy Johnson Crow as a way to revisit, re-research and remember your ancestors. I organized my posts mostly by alphabet and did a pretty good job of posting once a week through the year.

The Most Viewed Post was: (33) John Joseph McBride: A Victim of Proofreading followed by (22) Benjamin Joslin: An 1836 Death By Poisoning?.

Clearly, you readers went for the sensationalism!

The Least Viewed Post was: (43) John Patrick Riley

What?! No love for my Irish ancestors?

The Most Commented Upon Post was: (9) Peter Countryman: Dead and In Debt

I was pretty proud of that post :)

I was grateful to complete the challenge. Mostly, it was an opportunity to revisit ancestors and research I completed long ago. It helped me to see many of them in a fresh light and determine my next steps. Most of my brick walls are still brick walls, but to refresh my memory and consider new paths of exploration is immensely helpful moving forward.

Thank you to all who have read my posts. Congratulations to all of you who completed the challenge, in full or in part. Good luck to those of you who journey on to next year's challenge! And Happy New Year!

Here is my list of post subjects and a link to each post.

Recap 2014

Friday, December 26, 2014

#52Ancestors (51) Amelia Tenney Countryman

As we reach the end of the year, and in my case, the alphabet, my penultimate #52Ancestors entry is a maternal great-great-great-grandmother.

Amelia S. TENNEY (or possibly TENNY) was born about 1839, probably in Monroe County, New York. I have had quite a lot of difficulty locating Amelia with her birth family at any point prior to her marriage. You would think a fairly unique name like Amelia would help, but not so far.

How do we solve a problem like Amelia?

Over the years, I have formed some hypotheses about her beginnings. I worked with distant 'cousins' met on message boards who are certain my Amelia is part of their TENNEY family. Based on her census age and birthplace, I can narrow down suspects. It doesn't help that her purported father, Henry TENNEY died before the 1850 census and her purported mother, Harriet NOBLE, remarried at least two more times. That certainly broadens the playing field.

Her first good record is her marriage to Jacob COUNTRYMAN on 2 November 1855 in Iosco Township, Livingston County, Michigan. Harriet was only 16 and Jacob about 19. Jacob was orphaned at a very young age in next-door Ingham County. Now if Amelia also had a transient upbringing after her own father died, that might help explain why neither Amelia or Jacob, who could be working out as help, appear in census records. They did not have [surviving] children for almost nine years. Perhaps they were waiting to have more stability before having children? ...or had children that didn't survive? ...or just plain moved a lot? I may never know.

Jacob and Amelia, c 1880

They did have five daughters:

The children were all born in Tompkins Township, Jackson County, Michigan between 1864 and 1876. The family eventually moved just north into Ingham County where they remained. Amelia died 9 June 1891 according to her gravestone. They are buried in Graham Cemetery in Woodhull Township, Shiawassee County, Michigan. 

For future researching, I will continue on the leads I presently have. Interestingly, Harriet NOBLE, Amelia's purported mother, descends from some very old Massachusetts colonial lines through her NOBLE/CALLENDER and DEWEY/HAWES families. My own DNA results have connected me with several people who also descend from these families. 

Maybe my leads are better than I think!

Amelia's page in my database

© 2014 Sally Knudsen

Friday, December 19, 2014

#52Ancestors (50) Wilhelmina Stachel of Kreis Rosenberg

This week's ancestor is a maternal great-great-great-grandmother, Wilhelmina STACHEL.

You might tell by her name that she is part of my German ancestry. More precisely, she was born on the far eastern edge of West Prussia, near Gdansk in present-day Poland. I was fortunate enough (after a couple of false starts) to locate records of her parish on microfilm and gather numerous family records.

Wilhelmina was born on 29 January 1842 in the village of Peterkau (now Piotrkowo, Poland) in Kreis Rosenberg, West Prussia. Her parents were Christoph STACHEL and Gottliebe SCHMIDTKE. Christoph and Gottliebe married in Sommerau, a nearby village, and had at least eight children. Christoph died in 1872 and then most of the family immigrated to the United States.

Wilhelmina married Friedrich KOPKAU of Peterkau in 1864. They had four children in West Prussia and five more in northern Michigan where they first settled.

Wilhelmina STACHEL and Friedrich KOPKAU, c 1895

The STACHEL's and KOPKAU's were part of a group of West Prussians who settled in Lansing, Ingham, Michigan. They practiced the Evangelical Lutheran faith and began their own church - Trinity Evangelical Lutheran - in Lansing. This was the same church my family worshipped in until they left Michigan in the 1950's.

While these Prussians may not have been a true endogamous population (endogamy: the custom of marrying within a particular social or cultural group in accordance with custom or law), they certainly married among their own, first in West Prussia then in Lansing for the first few decades after arriving in Michigan. There were several small villages they came from originally, and then they lived within walking distance of one another in southeast Lansing. The census pages prove it!

My family ancestry is filled with the STACHEL and KOPKAU names from many different branches of the old Prussian trees. Some of the other contemporary names are:
  • Laskofski
  • Rominski
  • Fetzke
  • Papke
  • Erbe
  • Massuch
  • Murawski/Morofsky
There are many instances of sibling pairs marrying sibling pairs and neighbors marrying next-door neighbors. There were also relatively few given names used. I have so many couples with the names Friedrich, Wilhelm, Christoph, Carl and August and wives Wilhelmina, Augusta, Carolina, Louisa, and Gottliebe. They are, I'm certain, the reason family tree software was invented!

As I dig deeper into my DNA, I have made a couple of connections where we cannot determine a matching surname, but we all descend from families of Kreis Rosenberg. Untangling THAT web may prove a real challenge! 

Wilhelmina lived the rest of her life in Lansing. She died on 12 Feb 1914 and is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery with Friedrich and most of her family.

© 2014 Sally Knudsen

Thank you FreeDictionary

Thursday, December 11, 2014

#52Ancestors (49) Brick Wall Alert! Asa Spencer of Vermont

Asa SPENCER is a the father of Wright SPENCER of my last post. He is also my most distant SPENCER to date, and by definition, my brick wall.

He's probably more of a brick wall that I created, due to lack of time, travel budget, and familiarity with possible New England records in which to search.

The basics:

  • born about 1783 in Rhode Island
  • married Sarah CALKINS about 1807 in Vermont
  • died 4 Mar 1859 in New York

Once I located his son Wright and analyzed the families and records regarding the Town of Sheldon and Varysburg, Wyoming, New York, I found Asa SPENCER - pretty much in the graveyard. He is buried with his wife Sarah CALKINS in Varysburg Cemetery:

He died in 1859. On the 1850 census he was listed as being born in Rhode Island. His children were pretty consistent in naming Rhode Island as their father's birthplace on later censuses, but sometimes they said Vermont. Still a good clue!

Asa appeared on the 1830 and 1840 censuses in Town of Sheldon. Tracing him backwards and knowing that my ancestor Wright was born in Shaftsbury, Bennington, Vermont, I found Asa there in 1810 and 1820.

After that, it gets foggy. Asa and Sarah's first known child was born in 1808. So their marriage was likely around 1805-1807. And Sarah's family came from up the road in Arlington, Bennington, Vermont. There are several SPENCER's in both Arlington and Shaftsbury, but from my (mostly) online wandering, I cannot locate an appropriate family.

In 1800, Asa would have only been about 17 or 18, not married and very unlikely a head of household.

Some of the other resources I have checked are Arnold's Vital Records of Rhode Island, 1636-1850 and writing to the Bennington Museum. Nuttin'.

I do have this though:

I can console myself knowing what my ancestor born in 1783 looks like even if I don't know his family!

Any ideas on searching in 1800ish Vermont? Or migration patterns from Rhode Island to Vermont? Or are you my SPENCER cousin? Let me know!

© 2014 Sally Knudsen

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

#52Ancestors (48) Wright Spencer - My Ancestral Star!

This #52Ancestors post is all about Wright SPENCER, my great-great-great-grandfather on my maternal side. He is the ancestor that started me on this crazy all-consuming pastime called genealogy.

Wright! Wright! My genealogical light!

Too hokey? Probably.

Wright SPENCER is the first ancestor I discovered that my family didn't know. My grandfather remembered hearing about his own grandfather, Asa SPENCER. But Wright was an intriguing new mystery SPENCER. We had a little leather pouch handed down with some old receipts and slips of paper. One had dates, which turned out be be Wright's life dates, presumably for his gravestone.

leather farm wallet do I begin researching and finding out who was Wright SPENCER? The likely place to begin was Michigan, since that's where my mother, grandfather and great-grandfather were all born. I learned how to order and use microfilms. Waiting for that spool to arrive just to find a census record was excruciating! But I succeeding in finding Wright with all the correct family names we knew. That's it - I was hooked!

Wright was born in Shaftsbury, Bennington, Vermont on 22 Jan 1811. He was the second child born to Asa SPENCER and Sarah CALKINS. About 1822, the SPENCER family moved west to Town of Sheldon in what was first Genesee County, New York (and later became Wyoming County). They owned farmland just west of the village of Varysburg. Eventually, Wright, his older brother Waterman and their father Asa all owned adjacent farms.

Wright married a local woman, Sarah 'Sally' JOSLIN in 1841. Land records show they purchased acreage in Ingham County, Michigan early in their marriage, but they never moved onto it. They had eight children, all in Sheldon, of which seven reached adulthood. Byron, the son who died, is buried in Varysburg Cemetery with his grandparents.

Wright and Sally and their children (Elizabeth, Benjamin, Asa, Edward, Cordelia, Washington and Addie) permanently moved to Locke Township, Ingham County, Michigan about 1868. How he traveled, I am not certain, but I know he used this trunk:

Wright Spencer's steamer trunk, c 1860, in my living room :)

They prospered in Locke, owning up to 100 acres of mostly farmland. When Wright became too old, Asa managed the farm. Their other children married and moved to various parts of Michigan. Sally died in 1895 and Wright followed in 1899. His death certificate states his cause of death was "softening of the brain" which was likely dementia or other effects of old age. He was a pioneer farmer who lived in three states and made it to 88 years of age.

When I lived in Michigan, I had the chance to meet with a cousin of my grandfather who I discovered was a keeper of photographs. I shared all my excitement over the ancestors I found, and she helped fill in stories and added some family photos. Then finally she had the big winner: a photograph of Wright. 

I shed tears. Like a baby. 

I never expected to see a photo of him. As we discussed Wright and Sally, I think she was measuring my enthusiasm. When our day was over, she hauled a large box from her car and said that I could have it if I liked. It was a 2' x 3' wooden framed charcoal sketch of the same photo made over 100 years ago. It hangs over my genealogy workspace to this day. Thank you, Charlene!

Wright Spencer with grandson, c 1896

Wright was my first real genealogy discovery and I am so happy he watches over me still.

© 2014 Sally Knudsen