Friday, December 8, 2017

Photographic Treasures from a "New" Cousin

Thanks to DNA, I discovered a "new" cousin. Well, not exactly new, because I knew she existed. However, I had no idea a particular first cousin, twice removed on my father's paternal side was still living. After all, dad's father, and almost all of his great-aunts and great-uncles (except for one) have passed away.

So what were the odds of my paternal grandfather's first cousin still being alive?

Well, one of her four children tested with Ancestry and we were a match. I reached out to him just to introduce myself, because I already knew how we were related based on our family trees. The name was familiar to me and I asked about his parents.

Imagine my surprise when his mother - my grandpa's first cousin - was the person who emailed me! This dear woman is 91-years-old and we have emailed steadily for a few months now, which has been absolutely delightful.

I learned that even though she has four children (my dad's second cousins, all in their sixties, like him), none of them have children. So what did this lovely first cousin, twice removed do recently?

Knowing how passionate I am about genealogy and how keen I am to learn more about the people in our family, particularly those in my great and great-great grandparents generations, she sent me an envelope full of wonderful photographs. Originals for me to keep.

Here are some of the treasures I received from her:

John William Wood: Photographic Treasures from a "New" Cousin - New England Genealogy
Great-great grandpa, John WIlliam Wood (1874-1928), about 21-years-old here, circa 1895.

John William Wood: Photographic Treasures from a "New" Cousin - New England Genealogy
Great-great grandpa John William Wood, circa 1928. Born in Manchester, England, married Lulu Lyman in 1897 in Willimantic, Connecticut. Died of Hodgkin;s Disease in Willimantic, Connecticut.

Lulu Gertrude Lyman: Photographic Treasures from a "New" Cousin - New England Genealogy
Great-great grandma, Lulu Gertrude Lyman (1874-1963), about 16 here, circa 1890.

Lulu Gertrude Lyman: Photographic Treasures from a "New" Cousin - New England Genealogy
Great-great grandma, Lulu Gertrude Lyman, full body shot, circa 1890. Born in Mansfield, Connecticut. Her second husband was just after her money! Died in Plympton, Massachusetts, cared for my her daughter, my great-grandma.

William Chapman Lyman: Photographic Treasures from a "New" Cousin - New England Genealogy
William Chapman Lyman (1840-1920), father of Lulu, in his G. A. R. hat and medals. He served during the Civil War from 1863-1865, when he received a disability discharge. Born in Bolton, Connecticut and died in Willimantic, Connecticut. 
She also sent several photographs of Wood aunts and uncles, such wonderful things to have. I shared them with my sister, who discovered a love of genealogy this year, and added those I kept to my family album.

DNA has turned up some unexpected and fantastic connections this year. I am looking forward to what the growing databases and new cousin connections may bring in 2018!

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Working With DNA Matches

DNA is a fantastic tool that has really exploded in popularity lately. For those just delving into DNA testing, you might wonder what to do next when you receive your results. Here's what I do and a couple of caveats.

The first is to remember that DNA results may open a can of worms! I think Judy Russell has written some marvelous posts on this (but doesn't she always write marvelous posts?), and they are well worth reading.

I am still working on my 245 centimorgan mystery match and, alas, not getting anywhere. I hope one of these days, she will resume responding to me but, for now, I'm letting sleeping dogs lie. DNA can turn up unexpected relationships that not everyone is ready to deal with at the time. As eager as we are to solve mysteries, some folks may need time to process what they learn.

The other caveat is your mileage may vary. DNA won't give you all the answers, but it's a fantastic tool to add to existing traditional research methods. It cannot take the place of those methods as Blaine Bettinger emphasizes time and again.

So, without further ado, here are some tips on working through your matches.

1.  Start a spreadsheet.

It can be Excel or a similar program or a Google Sheet - whatever you prefer and are comfortable using. But start a spreadsheet to maintain your matches' information.

Also, set a limit on how many centimorgans you're going to stop at on the spreadsheet. I stop at 30 centimorgans. This isn't to say that matches at 29 or less aren't worth pursuing, but rather that your will spend days, maybe even weeks, transcribing your matches into the spreadsheet! For matches with smaller centimorgans that I'm actively working with, I keep separate notes relevant to the specific ancestor(s) being discussed or researched.

Family Tree DNA allows you to download all matches into a spreadsheet, so that makes an excellent starting point. After that, you can add tabs for other services you've used or uploaded to.

Here is what mine looks like (with personal information redacted, of course):

The tabs for MyHeritage and GEDMatch are fairly similar, as far as details, so I didn't share every single tab. You certainly get the idea as far as how I organize information and then use color coding.

2. Begin with who you know.

If 2nd cousin Mary and Uncle Fred tested, and they are matches on whatever testing company you've used, make note of the relationship. Your known relatives are going to make triangulation so much easier.

3.  Work through Shared Ancestor Hints.

If you used Ancestry to test, consider the Shared Ancestor Hints (the green leaf that shakes at you) the low-hanging fruit. The same goes for MyHeritage DNA, which shows a shared ancestor on the Review page of a match, if you both have a family tree available with the common ancestor in it.

I like to mark my known relatives, the one easiest to pinpoint, and the Shared Ancestor Hints with the yellow star on Ancestry. If the tree is private, I send a nice message explaining that we have a shared ancestor, but I can't see it because their tree is private (which I certainly respect). I ask if they would mind letting me know the ancestor(s) and the calculated relationship, as I am focused on a very specific ancestor and anyone who might be connected to that particular person.

Like any online communication, it's about 50-50. Some people answer, some don't. Those who respond are generally nice. I've only had one response I would consider snarky.

4. Document proven lines with a visual chart.

This is really useful in helping illustrate questionable lineages. I simply create a 6-generation fan chart in Legacy and then add a red asterisk to each person proven by DNA matches. What I mean by proven is that I've found at least 3 or more people who descend from the same ancestor, who share DNA with me.

I'm a visual person, so this allows me to see where the "gaps" are as far as DNA. Of course, this doesn't mean I'm not descended from the people not yet proven by DNA. It may mean other descendants haven't tested yet. Or it may mean I need to rethink what I know about my family. ;)

Here's my chart as it currently stands with living people redacted:

As you can see, every ancestor is marked proven, except for a handful of immigrant ancestors and my Benson ancestor.

5. Reach out.

After all that typing, reviewing Shared Ancestor Hints, and organizing your spreadsheet, I bet you're tired, right? Sorry, no sleep for you! Now it's time to reach out to the closest matches - the ones in that 90+ centimorgan range - and find out how you're related.

Trust me when I say you're going to find it far easier to determine how you're related to these folks than to the ones who share fewer centimorgans than you. Working through close matches and getting to know your 2nd and 3rd cousins will do a few things.

Besides expanding your knowledge of your close DNA matches a.k.a newfound cousins, it will give you people with whom you can triangulate when working on more distant matches. Having several known connections on both your maternal and paternal sides will make the job of reaching whatever goal you set when choosing to test your DNA just a little bit easier.

Plus, who knows? You might find that these cousins are as passionate about genealogy as you are, live nearby, or share some awesome traits with you!

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Maximize Genealogical Subscriptions

We put a considerable investment of time and money into genealogy. It's important to make the most of your subscriptions, especially if you find them expensive or even cost prohibitive, and think you probably won't be able to renew. Here are some ideas:

1. Download every document relevant to your family. 

That's a lot of work, I know, but it might be for the best. As much as I would love to maintain my Ancestry World subscription, it's expensive and my income fluctuates from month to month. So when it comes time to renew, that might just be something I don't keep. When I come across pertinent records from Canada and England, I make sure to download them to my computer, so I always have access.

2. Focus only on the paid sites for as long as your subscription lasts.

We can get so much for free elsewhere, but if the records you want/need are behind a paywall, then put your time and energy into researching only on that site until the subscription lapses.

3. Before subscribing, make a list of the items you think you'll find on the site.

We often discover information free online or for a more reasonable price by getting it directly from the source (i.e. a birth, marriage, or death record from a town hall). Be sure you need access to that site for what you need before investing in the subscription.

4. Don't just research for yourself.

You might get more out of the site if you are also research for a spouse, partner, in-law, cousin, aunt, uncle, or other family member. I know I have family members interested in genealogy who don't have the same time for it or interest level as I do. So I happily work on their ancestry as well, while I'm at it.

5. Consider the amount of time you spend on the site.

If you find you're spending more time on the website than you thought, it might be worth continuing to invest in it. In fact, when you look at what you spend overall in a year on genealogy, it may be a relatively small percentage compared to other expenditures. If you feel any regret at cancelling a subscription, maybe it's a good idea to hold onto it.

If, however, you find all the site has to offer are repetitive records that already confirm the work you've done by traditional means, it makes perfect sense not to waste your money.

6. Set goals and have a research plan.

Finally, keep in mind there is no magic online solution to most genealogical mysteries. So many records remain offline and not digitized. You can often find what you're looking for with a well-defined goal, and a detailed research plan. This could keep you from sinking hundreds of dollars into sites that promise to find your ancestors, only to turn up the same information you already know or have rejected in the past.

Sometimes, the time spent in a library, cranking through a microfilm, is going to be far more worthwhile than what a night at home searching a subscription site might yield.

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

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

Sunday, August 6, 2017

My Shaw Ancestors in Middleborough, Massachusetts

I love the town of Middleborough. Because I grew up in Bridgewater, I got to visit Middleborough very often as a child and young adult. That included going to the Middleborough Fair every year with my dad and sister and I have very fond memories of it.

My paternal grandmother was a Shaw, so she and her ancestors spent most of their lives in Middleborough and Carver. Here was see Grandma as a high school graduate:

Barbara Estella Shaw

My grandmother was the only surviving daughter of her family, so her parents doted on her. She also had three brothers who survived. Her twin died when he was only three.

Her father, Harrison Clifford Shaw, and grandfather, Erastus Bartlett Shaw, had a poultry and egg business:

Shaw Poultry Trucks

As I mentioned, Harrison and his wife, Nina, had seven children, including my grandmother. I believe this could be their first child, Herbert, pictured here:

Harrison Clifford Shaw and Nina Gertrude Blake

Harrison's father, Erastus, was a farmer. His obituary even referred to him as "the last of the old farmers."

Erastus was the son of Harrison Shaw and Adeline Bent. Unfortunately, I don't have photos any of them - just their death notices and relevant genealogical records. So I don't know much about their lives. Erastus was born in Carver, but spent his life in Middleborough.

Unfortunately, Erastus's parents died when he was quite young. Plymouth County Probate Court records show that his brother-in-law, Ebenezer A. Shaw, petitioned for guardianship. Erastus was then reared by his brother-in-law, Ebenezer, and sister, Sarah.

I can't imagine what losing his parents at a young age must have done to him, but it's good that he had older siblings willing to care for him. Erastus went on to be a success in his life with his business. He had two marriages - the first to Lucy Cora Maria Philips and the second to Emma Anna Murphy, my mysterious great-great grandmother.

With Lucy, Erastus had two daughters, one of whom survived to adulthood. With Emma, he had only my great-grandfather, Harrison Clifford Shaw.

I treasure the photos I have of the family and really wish I could find some of Erastus and Emma. Several of my Shaw cousins still live in Carver, Middleborough, and surrounding areas. I think the last time I saw them was 2006 or so. I guess I need to get home for a visit next year!

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

And DNA Makes Six...

Or "In Which Wendy Receives a Most Unexpected DNA Match"

Once upon a time, there were five of us - Andy, Bryan, myself, April, and - five years later - Danielle:

And DNA Makes Six...
Bryan, Wendy (me), Andy & April

Five first cousins who got together for summer breaks and the occasional Christmas. 

And then DNA changed our world.

Initially, I took my DNA tests in hopes of breaking down a specific brick wall. I won't repeat Emma Anna Murphy's mystery here, as I've already shared it often. But she is my great-great grandmother, the one I've chased for almost 25 years.

Emma had only one child that we know of: my great-grandfather, Harrison Clifford Shaw, born 9 May 1889 in Middleborough, Massachusetts. Harrison married Nina Gertrude Blake on 28 January 1912 in Middleborough. Together they had 7 children, 4 of whom survived to adulthood:

1. Herbert Clifford Shaw (1912-1982) - no children

2. Inez Adelaide Shaw (1915-1915)

3. Alice M. Shaw (1916-1916)

4. Robert Henry Shaw (1918-1979) - three children

5. Kenneth Linwood Shaw (1921-2006) - three children

6. Barbara Estella Shaw (twin; 1923-2006) - four children

7. Laurence Bartlett Shaw (twin; 1923-1927)

Of course we know all of our first cousins, right? Most of us grow up around them. We certainly thought we knew ours, anyway. Just the five of us...

My grandmother Barbara was married twice and had four children. With her first husband, Dean Burleigh Jennings, she had:

1. Jon Bartlett Jennings (1945-1983) - no children

2. A daughter - mother of Andy, Bryan and Danielle

With her second husband, Vincent Allen Wood, she had:

3. Lawrence Allen Wood (1951-2001) - no children

4. A son - father of me and my sister

What came to me via DNA testing did not turn out to be a connection to an ancestor, but to the present.

A Surprising New Match

As of this week, I had been able to work every single close DNA match, except for one. I knew she didn't match my mother or any of my maternal relatives who tested, so I could narrow her down to a paternal relative. But our paper trails do not meet. So I set aside the mystery of the woman with whom I share 245 centimorgans on 15 segments for a while.

On Monday, I noticed eight new matches. My immediate assumption was that they would fall into the 4th cousin-to-distant range, but you never know. I skimmed over my first page of results, not expecting to see a fresh face.

But there she was - a fresh face we will call K.

Ancestry predicted a first cousin relationship based on 395 centimorgans shared over 19 segments.
My maternal first cousins match me at 904 and 759 centimorgans respectively, so I figured this was a second cousin match or a first cousin to one of my grandparents. But my Nana's (maternal grandmother) first cousins match me at 215 and 190 centimorgans each. Interesting.

First, I checked our shared matches and saw that she was not a maternal relative. Great. That narrowed things down, but also made it more difficult, because I had only one confirmed paternal relative to check her against. And she did not match him, which seemed to rule out the Wood side of my family.

But, interestingly enough, she was a match to my other close mystery match.

Hmm... Okay, then. I looked at her family tree, wondering if any of the five names she had listed in it were familiar.

"Interesting," I told myself. "Her father has the same name as my uncle. She must be a Wood after all."

My latest speculation about my other mystery match revolved around my paternal great-great grandparents on the Wood side, so it made sense. However, she doesn't match my known Wood DNA match either.

Naturally, I sent this new match - K - a message with the names of my grandparents and all four of my paternal great-grandparents - Wood, Wood (no, that's not a typo), Shaw, and Blake. I told her where they were from and asked if the names rang a bell.

Her response came swiftly:

I was born in 1969 to Jon Bartlett Wood "Woody" from Middleboro, MA. I know he went to BU and was in the Coast Guard and had 2 brothers and 1 sister. 
I was given up for adoption two months after my birth because my biological parents did not want to get married.
I was able to track down my biological mother, but because my biological father died in his early 20's I couldn't find much about his family.
Does that name sound familiar to you?

If you've ever had an experience like this, you can imagine how I felt as I tried to respond.

Uncle Jon? A daughter? My beloved uncle, whose untimely death when his ship - the SS Marine Electric - sank in 1983... Whose death shook us all... He had a daughter? A part of him still living in this world?

I probably came across as a crazy lady in my response to K:


You're Uncle Jon's daughter? HE HAD KIDS? OH MY GOD. SERIOUSLY.

K... Oh, we should talk on the phone! My number is xxx-xxx-xxxx. I can tell you all about my Uncle Jon!

Yes, the dreaded all-caps. But I was absolutely shaking. I had to know how this was possible.

For a few minutes, I paced back and forth and cried tears of joy.

I was always open to this sort of surprise, as well as the possibility of a mis-attributed parentage somewhere in the past or present. Always open to unexpected babies and Maury-style "he was NOT the father" discoveries.

Open, but not prepared for the tidal wave of shock and joy to know there was someone totally unexpected out there. A close relative none of us had ever known about.

The phone rang and in a rush of joy and excitement, K and I exchanged our stories, punctuated by "oh my god" every so often.

This woman, only 5 years older than me, was my first cousin. There was no doubt about it.

After that, I enlisted my sister's help. First we had to inform our dad and our aunt. This was their dearly departed brother's child, after all. Then we had to give K a chance to see the father she had never known.

Emails flew back and forth as I provided most of the genealogical information and what few photos I had.

At the close of every email, I told K if she needed space, we would give her space. And if she wanted to know more, we would give her more. We were excited, but we weren't about to push an insta-family on her. I wanted to respect her journey as an adoptee discovering her biological father's family.

Likewise, she has shown the utmost respect for us as a family unit who always knew a very specific set of people. 

Fortunately, and as I predicted to K, the responses of our family were completely positive. My father told my sister he is not surprised - he always thought Uncle Jon had a child out there somewhere. My uncle (speaking for my aunt, as she has been dealing with health issues) affirmed that this is very exciting and said, "We embrace her." He said it was only a pity we didn't know sooner.

I spent Monday in a haze of joy. My arms wouldn't stop tingling. I don't know how I managed to write those initial emails. I didn't fall asleep until close to 2 a.m.

But it was so worth it.

Being genealogists, we often want to help others find information. I always hoped that someday I could help an adoptee along their journey, because I know what it's like not to grow up with at least one parent.

I just never thought that adoptee would turn out to be someone so closely related to me.

Once upon a time, there were the five of us - Andy, Bryan, myself, April, and Danielle.

But now there are six.


Remember the mystery match who shares 245 centimorgans with me - the one I just can't connect to using a paper trail?

Because of K, I can rule out my dad's paternal ancestry which, interestingly enough, brings my focus on that match to only two likely sets of shared great-great grandparents: 

Edward Blake and Ada Gay or 

Erastus Shaw and - I bet you guessed it - Emma Murphy

I think it's safe to say that this story is To be continued...

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Are We or Aren't We Haleys?

One of the first names that really fascinated me as an adolescent beginning my genealogy journey was Haley. I didn't know why, but the surname just intrigued me. Maybe because it was my mother's side of the family and I didn't really know much about it.

As I researched, I learned that we were descended from Edward Marshall Haley. Edward was born in Ireland, though we do not know the town/parish or county of origin. He emigrated to Plymouth, Massachusetts sometime before 1830 and married Clarissa Barrett there on 5 February 1830. Between 1831 and 1851, they had 12 children, 10 of whom lived to adulthood.

Two sons were lost in the Civil War, one daughter died as a young adult, and another son died in middle age after the hardships he suffered during the war.

My family descends from the youngest son, Benjamin, and his first wife, Emma Jane Bonney.

Or do we?

There is a potential question of paternity with regard to my Grandpa Haley. We already know his mother, Mildred Marian Burrell, had 7 children by at least 3 other men. From what we understand, they are:

Unknown father

1. Joseph (1919), given the surname of St. Onge

Joseph William St. Onge, married 1920

2. Mary (1920)
3. Gertrude (1921)
4. William (1924)
5. Frank (1925)

Herbert Benjamin Haley (1896-1963)
Herbert Benjamin Haley (1896-1963)
Herbert Benjamin Haley, marriage date unknown

6. Herbert (1926), Joseph St. Onge appears as his father on the birth certificate
7. Lorraine (1927)

Joseph left the family in 1925 and Herbert, as I understand it from another grandchild, came in and saved the day. He did many wonderful things for Mildred (aka Millie) and the children. But it was still a very, very rough childhood for Mildred's children.

My mother's brother submitted a Y-DNA test to Family Tree DNA several years ago, which included joining the Healy/Haley DNA project. However, we don't know of any other descendants of Edward Marshall Haley who have had their Y-DNA or atDNA tested.

I would love to say it's "safe" to assume Herbert is the father of my grandfather, but it's rarely safe to assume anything in genealogy. In this case, until a Y-DNA or atDNA match comes along that proves a connection, we remain tentative Haleys.

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Thursday, July 20, 2017

My Genealogy Toolbox

The "genealogy toolbox" is the big thing these days and, yes, I have one. To keep it neat and tidy, I keep everything on my Genealogy Resources page.

This page is broken down into the following categories:

Genealogy Podcasts - I've blogged about podcasts before. They are the best anything ever! I almost miss having a work commute (but I do love working for myself), so I squeeze in listening to podcasts whenever I can. This is every night for an hour before bed and whenever I'm doing housework.

Of course, I listen to a variety, but my toolbox specifically features genealogy podcasts.

Look-Ups - This is my personal library of books, mainly about Mayflower ancestors, other New England families, and Loyalists, and I am always happy to do look-ups for people.

New England - These resources include general ones, as well as those I return to again and again for Massachusetts, Maine, and Connecticut.

Canada - This is the source of the family mysteries I'm pursuing these days, which means I have general resources, as well as sites for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick here.

Of course, there are many tools and resources for DNA and genetic genealogy too.

I've also included links for researching African American ancestors as I work on my brother-in-law's family and general genealogy links. Unfortunately, I only have two at this time. And while I've found that you can use the usual records (vital statistics, censuses, directories, newspapers, Google books, etc.) to research African American ancestors, I would love to find more resources to share.

Finally, there is a list of general genealogy sites that most of us are aware of, but might be useful to the absolute beginner.

I hope these links are useful to you and I'm always looking for more to add to these categories for genealogical research.

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Friday, July 14, 2017

Working Through Ancestry DNA Matches

After having my mtDNA tested with Family Tree DNA in 2006 and adding the Family Finder in 2013, I thought I was done. Although I uploaded the results to GEDMATCH, I've never taken the time to master their tools or understand their system.

This year, I decided to "get serious" about working through my Family Tree DNA matches and finally also gave in to the Big, Bad

As much as I am not a fan of their prices, I couldn't ignore the fact that they have more than 4 million users in their DNA database OR that my mother, Nana, and two of my Nana's first cousins have tested there. Knowing I could use those existing results as part of the triangulation process helped me decide to go for it. And, yes, Ancestry managed to woo me into the world subscription, so I could get Canadian and British records. *shakes fist just a bit*

That said, I'm more pleased with the DNA service than I expected. Working your way through matches is simplified in a way. How is that?

The Hint Leaf

That little green leaf is your friend. It says, "Why yes, we've found that you and this match share an ancestor."

So my first step in working through my matches has been to look at the ones with leaves, note who our shared ancestors are, and then star the person so I know I've already looked at them. I'm sure people have different ways of organizing their match information and this is, currently, mine.

No Tree & The Privacy Lock

Oh dear. These are a little trickier. However, No Family Tree is a tad deceiving because, in some instances, there is a family tree. The person taking or managing the test just hasn't linked it to a user. So it's worth it to click these matches and see if there's an unlinked family tree.

Of course, those matches with a lock have made their family tree private. Depending on how close a match they are, which other matches you share them with, or how you're working your way through matches, you may or may not find it worth your while to contact them.

Most frustrating to me are the ones who have a hint leaf, showing me a shared ancestor is identified based on our match. It's like a tantalizing carrot held just out of reach by that layer of privacy the user has chosen to add.

In that case, I send a message that asks them a very specific question:

"Would you mind letting me know who our shared ancestor(s) is/are, just so I can make note of it?"

And then I tell them my specific goal with regard to my DNA test:

"I'm looking to connect with descendants of a very specific shared, brick wall ancestor and first trying to eliminate everyone on my match list with a leaf by their name."

That way, they know I'm not out to do anything nefarious. I'm just using process of elimination as my first step in working through my DNA matches.

Next step: triangulating those matches closest to the brick wall ancestor, since I would like to narrow down my focus to that ancestor and her spouses.

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A Photo of a Probable Great-Great Grandmother

Last year, my uncle sent me a family album and many wonderful loose photographs of the Shaw side of the family. These were mostly of my grandmother and her brothers, and their parents, Harrison Clifford Shaw and Nina Gertrude Blake.

One photo in particular, however, stood out to me. I thought maybe, just maybe it was one of my great-great grandmothers, either Emma (Murphy) (Regan) Shaw or Ada (Gay) Blake.

But then I dismissed that idea, because I was told it was probably "auntie" Madeline Wiley, a woman who served the family for several years. So I put the album away without really thinking about it.

The photo came back to mind recently, though, so I decided to look at it again. First I looked at the album and appreciated the fact that my uncle chose to send it to me. It had photos from my great-grandma Nina (Blake) Shaw's album, such as:

Shaw Family Photos - New England Genealogy | Wendy L. Callahan
Lawrence and Barbara Shaw (my grandmother and her twin brother, who died in 1927 at the age of 3 1/2)

Shaw Family Photos - New England Genealogy | Wendy L. Callahan
Nina Gertrude (Blake) Shaw (my great-grandmother)

Shaw Family Photos - New England Genealogy | Wendy L. Callahan
Nina and Harrison Shaw, with their first child, Herbert (my great-grandparents and great-uncle)
Beautiful, aren't they? And sad.

Nina had 7 children, only 4 of whom lived to adulthood. Two of the babies she lost were daughters, Inez and Alice. And then there was the untimely loss of my grandmother's own twin brother when he was only 3-years-old.

There was also a photo of "auntie" Madeline Wiley:

Shaw Family Photos - New England Genealogy | Wendy L. Callahan
"Auntie" Madeline Wiley

At first, I compared her to the photo I think is Emma or Ada and wondered if I was wrong. After all, both women have the same tan complexion and fairly similar facial features.

Shaw Family Photos - New England Genealogy | Wendy L. Callahan
Madeline Wiley side-by-side with ???

But then I remembered Madeline was quite a bit younger than both Ada and Emma. How much younger? I had never really researched Madeline, but I knew she was born in the 1800s in Massachusetts.

So I had to answer the question of whether or not the two women above are the same. A simple age comparison tells me they definitely are not.

Madeline was born in 1896 in Massachusetts. Both Ada and Emma were born in 1861 (give or take for Emma). Looking at the photo below, I also see my grandmother Barbara in the background, probably somewhere between ages 4 and 6. It makes sense that the woman in the foreground is her grandmother.

Which grandmother, though? Both of Barbara's grandmothers - Ada and Emma - were alive when she was born. They were both born in 1861. Ada lived until 1940 and Emma lived until 1945.

Of course, I truly hoped it would be Emma. All we know about Emma from family descriptions is she was very tall and skinny. This woman is certainly tall, but I wouldn't call her skinny.

If my grandmother Barbara was approximately 4 to 6-years-old in the photograph below, that means it was roughly 1927 to 1929. The woman in this photo is wearing black and I wonder if she's in mourning. It makes sense that someone born in 1861 would still observe older traditions of mourning.

If that is the case, it makes far more sense that the photo below is Ada (Gay) Blake, because her husband, Edward Blake, died in 1927 in Middleborough.

Shaw Family Photos - New England Genealogy | Wendy L. Callahan
The woman I believe is Ada (Gay) Blake (my great-great grandmother)
The only other photo I have of Ada (Gay) Blake is the one of the July 4th picnic approximately 100+ years ago. That photo is, unfortunately, very blurry:

Blake Family July 4th Picnic - New England Genealogy | Wendy L. Callahan
From left to right: Pa Vaughan, Ma Vaughan, Ada Blake, Edward Blake; sitting in grass: Nina Blake, Sylvanus Vaughan; probably circa 1896 (Nina was born 1891, so she would be 5 here) because Sylvanus Vaughan, Sr. died in June of 1897. Oddly enough, Sylvanus, Jr. and Nina married half-siblings (both Shaws) and thus became sister-and-brother-in-law.

As you can see, Ada's face is washed out in the lighting, but it seems very reasonable to conclude that the photo of the older woman is her circa 1928. Also, because these photos all came from Nina Blake's photo album, it is more likely she would have a photo of her mother (who lived next door in 1930) than of her mother-in-law, Emma.

Of course, I really want this photo to be the mysterious Emma, but I appreciate it nonetheless. How many people are fortunate enough to have photographs of their family 100 years ago?

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Health Family Tree

One aspect of genealogy I tend not to think about often is how we can use the information gathered from our research to put together a health family tree.

I didn't really consider it until I connected with my mother and learned she was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time, I only had limited information on my father's side of the family. But as my knowledge of family history grew, I decided to create a "Health Family Tree" and instead of names, I wrote medical conditions on a pedigree chart.

This is a very useful tool to keep in my medical file, as well as to pass on to cousins, siblings and children:

"A Health Family Tree" - New England Genealogy

With it, I can see potential patterns that I might want to watch out for as far as my own health. For example, in addition to my mother being diagnosed with breast cancer, I know she's had a maternal aunt and two maternal cousins also diagnosed with breast and/or cervical cancer. If I look back at their paternal great-grandmother, I see that she died of breast cancer in 1930. This is useful for my doctor, because that means she can make appropriate recommendations for my health based upon my family history.

If I update this to put my daughter on the first line as "self," this chart would show that both her maternal and paternal grandmothers have been diagnosed with (and survived) breast cancer. So this could become a very important chart in my daughter's life as she enters adolescence and adulthood.

On my father's side, you can see that Type II diabetes is a concern, and my aunt was born with Type I diabetes.

I did leave out certain health concerns on this example for the sake of privacy, like the age at which my parents were diagnosed with cancer. I have also left out sensitive matters, such as alcoholism and mental health issues some of my family members and ancestors have dealt with, like bi-polar disorder and depression. But it's important to include those as well, to ensure you have a complete health history to hand to your doctor and children.

While I'm not interested in testing my DNA with 23andMe, I do like having my family's health history laid out on a pedigree chart, so doctors can see how this medical puzzle fits together.

Have you created a pedigree chart showing your health/medical family tree?

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"My Family Tree & Me" by Dusan Petricic - Another Cool Genealogy Book for Kids!

After sharing my thoughts this month on why LGBT Pride Month is important, I was very pleasantly surprised to come across My Family Tree & Me by Dusan Petricic.

I've been taking book after book out of the my local library in an effort to teach my 4-year-old about families and genealogy. My Family Tree & Me is set up in a nifty way:

When I read it starting at the front, I didn't realize it flipped around to be read from the back as well. So that was really neat! You read from the front to the middle to see the father's side and then from the back to the middle to see the mother's side.

I also love how the tree showed so much diversity. I didn't expect it at first.

The father's side is pretty much full of white redheads, which isn't the most exciting thing in the world. But then when I saw the mother's side, I was glad her family is Chinese. Something else that caught my eye, however, was the center illustration showing the entire family.

Because in addition to the mother being Chinese, it was nice to see that her sister's husband is African-American and her brother is portrayed with his partner/husband.

Genealogy and family tree books for kids tends to be white-washed and hetero, so it's really nice to see a departure from this. I appreciate this portrayal of a modern family, which helps reinforce the fact that I'm trying to teach my daughter that her choice of spouse does not have to be white or male. It should be someone she loves.

Copyright (c) 2017 Wendy L. Callahan