Monday, October 9, 2017

Genealogy Humor: Persistence

Genealogy Humor: Persistence
Great-Grandpa, Harrison Shaw, is not amused.
If there's one thing we can get caught up in as genealogists, it's the excitement of the hunt. And when a new clue comes our way, very little revs are engines the way that possibility does.

In my work trying to determine how my 245 centimorgan (dad's 393 centimorgan) match is related to me, I have sent her many emails. After a few, I started to wonder if something else might be coming through my words... something like what really goes through my mind when I am trying to be diplomatic. 

Here is a handy-dandy translation guide for those of us who send emails and those who might be receiving them and wondering - or perhaps catching onto! - what we're were really thinking:

Email number 1: "I see you have Irish in your ethnicity estimate. Out of curiosity which side of your family is Irish?"

Translation: "I have an idea of how we're related, but I'm still trying to figure it out."

Email number 2: "Have any of your cousins also had their DNA tested or would they be willing to?"

Translation: "Throw me a bone here. I can't figure out how we're related and I don't want to tell you that I think your great-grandfather was actually the illegitimate child of my great-great-grandmother."

Email number 3: "Would you be willing to upload your results to GEDMatch? This would be a great way to further examine the chromosomes we share."

Translation: "I'm not psycho or obsessed, I swear!"

So what are the subtle or not-so-subtle ways you have reached out to a DNA match or other person who might hold the key to certain genealogical answers you seek?

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Saturday, September 30, 2017

My 19th Century Immigrant Ancestors

Over the decades, of course I've found plenty of information regarding my Mayflower, Anne and Great Migration immigrant ancestors. But mysteries remain when it comes to my 19th century immigrant ancestors, especially those from Ireland. I thought I would take a look and start working up timelines on my ancestors who immigrated to the United States between 1800 and 1900.

I'll start with the most recent ones and work my way back.


Bartolomeo Giovanni Michele Galfre and his wife, Ernesta Maddalena Bergamasco, emigrated separately from Italy to the United States.

Great-great grandpa Galfre was born 22 January 1869 in San Beningo, Torino, Italy. His brother's descendants, my cousins, now live in Busca, Cuneo. Bartolomeo immigrated in 1897 via Ellis Island.

Great-great grandma Ernesta was born 12 May 1875, possibly in Moneglia. They were married in 1894 and lived in San Remo at first. She followed Grandpa Galfre to the U.S. around 1899 or so. They settled in Middleborough, Massachusetts.

We know quite a bit about their lives, though Ernesta's family still remains a little bit of a mystery for us.


My 19th Century Immigrant Ancestors
SS Germanic
Thomas Wood and Sarah Ann Gray are my third great-grandparents. Thomas was born about 1845 in the Ancoats district of Manchester, England. He was baptized in 1851 in St. Philip's.

Sarah Ann Gray was born in 1848 in Manchester, and she and Thomas were married 18 July 1869, per the marriage record from the General Register Office.

It seems Thomas and Sarah had fairly normal lives in England. I'm not sure what brought them to Connecticut on the Germanic in 1878, along with my great-great grandfather John (born 1874) and their two daughters. But it looks like they continued to have nice, normal, uneventful lives in the U.S. Tracing distant cousins through English records has been fairly easy.


Here are my troublesome recent immigrant ancestors - the ones for whom I have not been able to find an exact place (parish, village, town, city, or county) of birth. While the dates of birth and first appearance in U.S. records for my husband's Callahan ancestors make it quite apparent that they probably immigrated during the time of the famine, my Irish ancestors are harder to pinpoint.

My third great-grandparents, James Cassidy and Mary Ann Livingston, were married 4 May 1869 in Brockton (formerly North Bridgewater), Massachusetts. They lived in Brockton until their deaths in 1901 (James) and 1886 (Mary Ann).

Of course, both James and Mary Ann must have emigrated from Ireland before 1869, but it looks like it was sometime after 1860, since they do not appear in that census.

James was born about 1839 and Mary Ann was born about 1844. The potato blight struck in 1845 and lasted until 1855, so somehow James and Mary Ann managed to make it through it. What brought them to the U.S. after the fact, between 1860 and 1869? Was their family poor or actually doing fine there?

The only thing I know for certain about James and Mary Ann is that they were Catholic. I've done some collateral research on their children, and I have James and Mary Ann's parents' names, but I have yet to get beyond that. Naturally, I wonder what brought them to the U.S. On the upside, Cassidy and Livingston are not among the most common names in Ireland. So this might make figuring out their origins slightly easier. I will have to apply the FAN Club principle to really figure this out, though.

Finally, I have my 4th great-grandfather, Edward Marshall Haley. Edward was born 8 September 1810. While his death record says Dublin, I have yet to confirm that, so I don't take it for granted.

According to a letter written by one of his great-great grandchildren, he was a Protestant from Northern Ireland and went to college in Dublin. Even though he was Protestant, I still checked the rolls of Trinity College, since they were freely available, to ensure he was not a student there.

Per the letter, at one point Edward took the money his family sent him and used it to emigrate to the U.S. I don't know how old he was or when he left Ireland, but I do know he was married in Plymouth, Massachusetts by 5 February 1830 to Clarissa Barrett. They remained in Plympton from 1850 until sometime after 1880, and died in Middleborough.

While I've researched every single one of Edward's 12 children and all their descendants, that has not yielded additional information. Edward's death record gives his parents as Thomas and Mary, but that is all. I do not know if Edward had siblings or any other family members or connections to Ireland in his community in Massachusetts.

A Question of Paternity

These Irish ancestors are on my mother's side of the family, though no Irish shows up in hers or her brother's ethnicity estimates. Why is that, especially considering my father shows a solid 19% Irish in his ethnicity estimate from his great grandmother (good ol' Emma Anna Murphy) and possibly from his great-great grandmother, Sarah Ann Gray (her parents may have been Irish)?

Well, my mother's father's paternity is... iffy. Grandpa Haley's father may or may not have been Herbert Haley.

Of course, we should take DNA test ethnicity estimates with a grain of salt, but I find it interesting that my mother's estimates don't show any Irish whatsoever for her supposed great-great grandparents (James Cassidy and Mary Ann Livingston), at least.

This is one of the reasons we - my mother, maternal uncle (haplogroup R-M269), and their children - have taken DNA tests: to see if we can prove or disprove and then determine my maternal grandfather's parentage.

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, September 24, 2017

An Update to My 245 Centimorgan Mystery: My Father's Results

Good morning!

So my father's DNA results came in with an interesting ethnicity estimate (19% Irish, eh? Possibly confirms that my mysterious great-great grandma Emma's father was Irish and possibly also takes into account the fact that my 4th great-grandfather, William Gray, was Irish).

However, what really interested me was, of course, utilizing my father's results for triangulation purposes. My mother has also tested and I can triangulate with her on Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, and GEDMatch, which is very useful. I was particularly interested in my father's test results, which I manage, because of the 245 Centimorgan Mystery I wrote about last month.

I was able to narrow this match down to definitely being related to my paternal grandmother. That's great in and of itself. Even with my parents to compare against, it's not always easy to narrow down even further to one of their parents.

Ancestry estimates this 245 cM match to be a 2nd cousin, which is possible, but I think it's unlikely with our generational difference. She could be a 2nd cousin, once removed. She could also be a half-cousin.

Initially, I was able to compare her to my half first cousin, with whom I share 395 centimorgans. This half first cousin descends from my paternal grandmother, but not my paternal grandfather, as grandma had two marriages and two children from each of her marriages. Thus, I was able to narrow my mystery match, who matches us both, down to being related on my paternal grandmother's side.

My father's results showed he shares 869 cM shared with my half first cousin, his niece through his half brother. So it's great to confirm that relationship!

I asked both my half first cousin and sister to let me know what they share with our mystery match. Here are the results:

155 cM - my sister and mystery match

171 cM - our half first cousin and mystery match

245 cM - me and mystery match

393 cM - dad and mystery match

This is quite a range and definitely points to this person being related to my dad in many ways, such as:

  • Half first cousin
  • First cousin, once removed
  • Second cousin

That's just a rough range estimate, but the question remains: how is she related to us?

Of course, my father and I don't have all the same matches. He has plenty I don't have and that will be helpful to me in the future. Right now, however, I'm focused on this mystery match. If I can't figure out how our 245/393 cM cousin is related to us, what hope do I have of figuring out matches with lesser shared centimorgans?

The first thing I checked for was any dubious paternity in our family and, of course, other DNA matches. Here's what things look like based on my grandmother's four grandparents:

Erastus Bartlett Shaw - several other DNA matches also match up to us on the Shaw side, from Erastus's father Harrison and back. My mystery match does not share any of these matches, so I've ruled out a non-paternity event or connection to the Shaws.

If I go back even further on this side, his mother Adeline Bent's ancestors are all also confirmed by DNA matches.

Emma Anna Murphy - my ongoing mystery and, truly, my best chance here. As you know, I've been pursuing her for 25 years. Lately, I've started to wonder if she was who she said she was. I have a couple of theories on how she and the match could possibly fit together.

Edward Henry Blake - at first, I suspected a non-paternity event on his side - in fact, I started to doubt he, himself, was a Blake. First of all, there is no birth certificate for him. Second, I hadn't encountered any Blake matches in many years of having my autosomal DNA available on Family Tree DNA and GEDMatch. But I also hadn't been looking for any. A little effort showed me there were several on Ancestry.

His mother, Nancy Allen, is also confirmed by DNA matches.

Ada Estella Gay - the Gay and Gleason sides (Ada's grandparents) are well-confirmed by DNA. I have not found as many matches on her mother's side, but I see no reason to believe any non-paternity event happened here.

I've taken endogamy into consideration, but research seven generations back on my match's line shows no shared ancestor(s) whatsoever. I've looked at my match's photograph and compared it to the other photos she has of her ancestors, and she definitely resembles her mother's side strongly. I'm not discounting that side, but I am focused on her father's side right now. Her father's side was mainly in Tiverton, Rhode Island and Fall River, Massachusetts. But where does this fit in with my family? Where is our connection? Emma seems like the only possibility when investigating from my end.

I am also building a family tree for my match on Ancestry, however. My initial pedigree chart and research was fairly superficial and I feel that digging in and confirming her family's events, and having all the children born to the family, could help. I'm also reaching out to our shared matches, trying to figure out the connection with them.

A visual chart helps a little bit, but mostly it leaves me scratching my head as I try to figure out where this person fits in to my family tree.

I don't want to get my hopes up that this person could be the break-through I need to figure out my great-great grandmother Emma's origins. But, so far, Emma seems like the only possibility since we only know bits and pieces (yet, nothing confirmed) about her life before she married Erastus Bartlett in Middleborough in 1888 .

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Genealogical & Personal Catch-Up

The end of August was busy, because I was hard at work on a book release. Now that it's just about done, I can take a moment to breathe and share what's happening here.


I'm so excited that my sister decided to test and my father finally submitted his. Now I have my entire immediate family - mother, father, and sister. It would be nice to have my half-brother (mom's son).

I also have my maternal grandmother, two of her maternal first cousins, my maternal uncle, and two of my maternal first cousins.

On my father's side, I have one of my father's paternal second cousins and my half-first cousin, the daughter we never knew my uncle had.

As you can see, I have more to work with on my mother's side than my father's as far as utilizing triangulation to resolve brick walls. However, I'm very happy with it. Not many genealogists have their parents, let alone a grandparent, tested. I really wish I could have had my paternal grandmother tested, since the brick wall I'm focused on is her grandmother, but grandma passed away in 2006.

Having my paternal first cousin as a match is a big help, since she descends only from my paternal grandmother and not my paternal grandfather. I'm also looking forward to having my dad's results before the end of the month.

My sister is coming over to the dark side. It's exciting to see her research her husband's family and she's having so much fun. She's also making sure to upload his results to all the places I recommended - GEDMATCH, Family Tree DNA, and MyHeritage. Since her husband's paternal heritage is African-American, we found that the paper trail kind of stops in Baltimore in 1900.

We know the names of his great-great grandparents and that his great-great grandfather came from Germantown, Pennsylvania, while his great-great grandmother came from Maryland. Both were born around the mid-1860s. We know the names of his great-great-great grandparents, but no other details. The last mention I found of his great-great grandparents was in the 1900 census in Baltimore.

So I let my sister know she's going to need to continue to build beyond the census trail with birth, marriage, and death records. I provided her with several sites about African-American genealogy. I've explained DNA triangulation to her and next week I plan to go over the cluster/sideways/FAN club technique.

I'm trying not to overwhelm her. But I'm also stepping back and letting her do her own research, while offering resources and techniques. She seems to be having a lot of fun with it and I'm hoping that she will also want to analyze the brick wall I've been complaining about for over 25 years - our great-great grandmother. I could really use a research buddy! ;)


I'm going home for a visit next June! My sister and brother-in-law are renewing their vows, and I'm officiating the ceremony. I'm so excited to bring my husband to Massachusetts, so he can meet my father, possibly my mother, and other family members, as well as see where I grew up. But, of course, I also have every intention of doing some research while I'm there.

My first step is to go over my goals and see which repositories I would like to visit. NEHGS is probably the first place I would like to visit, since I'm sure there are non-digitized books, microfilms, or manuscripts I might want to take advantage of. Besides, it's been... ten years, I think, since I was last there.

Of course, my ultimate research destination is Nova Scotia. I would like to make that happen sometime this decade.


Summer is wrapping up and I won't miss it. The garden is full of tomatoes and butternut squash, cucumbers and cantaloupe, beans and watermelons. It looks like we'll also get a second harvest of peas, thanks to us planting again midway through the summer, after the first batch of peas had come and gone. The raspberries also gave us a second harvest.

We had fun watching the eclipse and it was 99.1% total here. Even though we could have driven south an hour to be at 100%, we had a great experience just watching in our own backyard. It felt like being on an alien planet when everything dimmed. The birds were quiet and automatic lights came on in response to the darkness. Even my teenager, who usually doesn't get all that enthusiastic about anything that isn't a video game, thought it was the coolest thing he had ever seen.

Everyone is sick this weekend, so that's not fun. I need to finish my latest book, which releases next weekend. Writing continues to go very well, with monthly book releases. Now that the kids are back in school - especially my youngest! - I finally have time to sit down in silence and write steadily. Summer was difficult in that regard, but I somehow muddled through.

Well, back to work. I may have a little flu, but I can't slow down now!

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Friday, August 11, 2017

A 245 Centimorgan Mystery: DNA Triangulation At Work

With my recent excitement over DNA discoveries (welcome to the family, new first cousin!), I've spent the past week or so sending my newest cousin photographs, family health information, and family history. I have more to send - how can one even explain all of this in mere weeks? But I want to give her space to process everything.

So as she's working on learning more about her newly-discovered biological family, I am turning my attention to the shared match I mentioned in my post about my new cousin.

As I said at the end of that post, this 245 cM match also matches my new cousin. My new cousin only matches me through a very specific line, which means my mystery match can only share one of two sets of great-great grandparents with me:

Edward Henry Blake and Ada Estella Gay


Erastus Bartlett Shaw and Emma Anna Murphy

I know this thanks to triangulating with my new first cousin match. My first cousin only shares my paternal grandmother, not my paternal grandfather. Why? Because my paternal grandmother had two marriages. She had two children from her first marriage (my oldest uncle and my aunt) and two children from her second marriage (my second uncle and my father). My new first cousin descends from my oldest uncle.

So since my 245 cM mystery match shares my first cousin as a match, I know it must be through an ancestor of our grandmother, Barbara Estella Shaw.

With a match of 245 cM, I know we're in the second cousin range. I've been in touch with this match and based on her age (she was born in 1947; I was born in 1974), I'd say we're looking at a once removed relationship in there.

It will help immensely when my father finally sends in his DNA test, but considering the closeness of the match, this would put her in first cousin territory with my dad. Maybe a first cousin, once removed.

That helps put this in perspective, but it's interesting to note that my grandmother only had 4 siblings and I'm only aware of 2 of them having children. I'm not saying there can't be surprises there, but that would mean this woman is (quite possibly) adopted and not aware of it.

So you can see it's rather tricky territory, as Judy Russell recently noted. (As a side note, I'm thrilled that Judy Russell is speaking at the Nebraska State Genealogical Society conference next year. Oh yes, I will be there!)

Since I'm not ready to pursue that idea just yet, the first thing I'm doing is backing up to my father's grandparents. This brings me to Harrison Clifford Shaw and Nina Gertrude Blake. I'm exploring the possibility that somewhere in my family is a mis-attributed parentage.

However, all I can do at this point is speculate. I am considering the mirror tree concept, but I do feel certain there's a mis-attributed parentage somewhere among our trees. Whether hers or mine, I won't know until I dig further.

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan