Who Needs Sleep?

Break through! A cousin match sitting in queue since the beginning but unable to understand its significance without context, has yielded its sScreen Shot 2017-05-01 at 10.30.29 AMecret.  I built a tree based on this cousin match at 131 centimorgans across 5 DNA segments.  His family hailed from Missouri some from the Hannibal area, which I admit is what drew my attention because I am a devout Twain hound.  I was too focused on Hannibal and the newspaper connection to see what was right before my eyes. An English immigrant that connected to another tree I was working from my first cousin match.

I had built separate trees because my first cousin didn’t have a tree so I built one through my own research.  The 3rd cousin, I didn’t know how he fit but I could see he share my first cousin, but how? The name Black was in both trees, but it’s a very common name.  the Blacks in both trees seemed to originate in Durham, England.  I found the parents for the first cousin’s Black ancestor, and low and behold it was the same in the 3rd cousin’s tree-BINGO we have a match.  I had a bridge and I knew now I was on to a true path to biological connection. We shared these common ancestors, a couple from England who had at least two daughters immigrate to America.

These two young women were fairly easy to trace with their families.  The only downside was that the trees were large.  As I built I saw that other DNA matches began to fall into place within one of the young woman’s trees.  She had settled in Southern Illinois with her husband and matched my first cousin match.  I soon saw many of my 3rd and 4th cousin matches falling into the extended family tree. I solidly matched the Black’s from England but I also matched my first cousin’s other side of the family also.  How could this be? She didn’t share enough DNA with me to be an Aunt and her daughter didn’t share enough DNA to be my first cousin.

I was only sleeping about 4 hours a night now.  I had a paid subscription to Newspapers.com and I was cross referencing obituaries with names, filling in living relatives when possible.  I even looked people up on Facebook to see if I could match them to the information I had.  Did anyone look like me?  So far, no.  That meant little, I needed to follow the DNA evidence.  I had built out the matches family tree back to her Grandparents with their siblilngs.  I most likely shared these Grandparents with her somehow because I had other DNA matches that shared these same people.  I traced obituaries and filled in all of the children’s names and traced their obituaries.

Twelve children, but I had quite a bit of difficulty tracking down one son. It looked like he passed away within a week of his wife and the obit was more than brief, it listed none of his children.  UGH!  I began looking for secondary sources for information of him.  I searched all newspapers for any articles and began to come up with some information that I could piece together. Looking at census records I could come up with at least three daughters in the 1940 census.  I cross referenced them with newspaper articles, bingo! I came up with wedding announcements. That gave me married names for daughters. None of the information matched my biological mother. I had to be looking at my biological father’s family.

A search brought up an obituary for one of the sisters.  That’s where I found the name of a brother. The brother had to have been born after the 1940 census.  I knew that my father was 21 when I was born. I searched his name in Ancestry records and a marriage record for South Bend, Indiana came up for the year that I was born.  That put him in the area that I was born, near the time I was born. Who was this woman? She wasn’t my birthmother, she didn’t match her information.  If this man was my biological father was he running around the countryside courting young women?

There were more questions than answers.  How could I confirm or reject this person from my match list? I would need to put my DNA matches in my tree and see how I fit. The last thing I would want to do is contact someone that was not related. I had about 15 more matches to place before I would be confident enough to reach out to someone. Looming over it all is that constant fear of secondary rejection.  Discarded once. I don’t want to be discarded twice.

Do You Have My Eyes?

Throughout my life I wondered who I looked like, in families this is easy, you look like Mom, Dad, or Grandma. It’s not eaIMG_4790sy when you’ve never met anyone you are biologically related to. When I went shopping I wondered, did I have any brothers or sisters out there? Had I ever walked by them, saw them at a basketball game, or on T.V.?  What if I was related to my husband? We have been married 25 years! What if we are a bad hillbilly joke? This is going to require some dysfunctional greeting cards.

Evidentially I may look like several people whom I don’t know because I have had occasions of mistaken identity occur.  Not like when someone gets close and they realize you’re not the person they thought you were type either, I have had full-blown, people insisting they knew me when I have never seen them before in my life. The last time someone insisted they knew me was in Nashville, Tennessee in of all places a Library at a book sale, because I am addicted to books and can’t help buying them, even on vacation.  I was over 400 miles from home when a women and her daughter rather adamantly insisted they knew me.   I said I had no clue who they were,  they felt I was blowing them off so they accused me of being a snot.  It shocked me. I was in a library, isn’t there decorum in a library?  I reached in my purse and pulled out my driver’s license to prove my identity, I was frankly shocked.

My identity proven, they apologized.   They thought I was pretending not to know them.  While this was the most disturbing of the incidents, it was not the first that occurred and I don’t think it will be the last.  After the fact, I wondered who the other woman was? Could I actually be related to her? Was she a sister or a cousin I don’t know?

What I know in my ‘non-identifying information’ is scant.  I assume I don’t have relatives in Tennessee, I could be wrong.  People are quite mobile and move great distances for work and family relocation. I also know that faces are basically all the same layout and there are people who look-alike but aren’t related.  If I knew my family I could easily shrug this off and maybe not think another thing of it. No big deal.  Not knowing is the crux, secrecy is the festering point.

I’m blaming all those Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie books.  You, Miss Marple, you made my brain ask the big why? Hercule Poirot, you made me see the details. To ask if there could be something else behind the what if and the why.  To ask questions and demand answers that others are born into.  I want to fill in blanks with answers on my medical forms and on my family tree.  It’s not too much to ask, to come into the light from the shadow of the past.

Not At The Table

Every holiday weekend, means family and dinner.  I battled the crowds to get the customary Easter dinner fixings. I planned baskets for my kids and treats for after dinner. Setting the table I see who is not there, not only those who have passed but those I haven’t found.  I would like nothing better than to fill those empty seats with relatives.

I feel numb drifting through my growing family tree, these people have no meaning to me yet.  They are a mystery to be solved, they lack a tangibility.  So, I need a break.  The one advantage of being adopted and loving genealogy is more families to research.  I turned to my husband’s known parentage and known but not researched tree. He was told a story, but some of the story wasn’t exactly true.  That sounds familiar right? Good to know that adoptees are not the only ones that are fibbed to.


Myself and my husband Mark in his full MCPherson kit on Lake Chautauqua, New York

I’ve been researching his paternal family tree, because the truth seems to vary by the teller.

His Grandmother’s line is wonderful, there is such diversity and good documentation to follow! She was a McPherson and her mother was a Cooper. Sounds pretty Scottish and Irish right? Mark, my husband wears a McPherson tartan with pride celebrating his Scottish roots, however, with some digging, the immigration of the McPherson clan was an interesting one.  The McPherson branch took a route through Canada, like many loyal to the crown.  Landing on Prince Edward Island they were didn’t stay to find brides like Anne Shirley they forged westward to Montreal, Quebec.

Knowing history as well as genealogy can be beneficial, with a little research I found some facts about early Quebec. Early Quebec was overwhelmingly male inhabited, about 80%, there was a desperate shortage of women to marry.  As a result from 1634-1662 Filles a Marier, young women were sponsored to come over, they signed a marriage contract, however, she had the right to refuse her potential spouse and some did on arrival.  The Filles a Marier brought 262 young women to Quebec to become wives and the foundation of society in the wilderness.

Later the state sponsored the Filles du Roi, King’s Daughters. 774 Filles du Roi were recruited, of which 414 were orphans. Providing these young women with a dowry and transport as well as pick of the eligible bachelors, it was “The Bachelorette” circa 1663, with more aromatics.  These young woman had to brave many hardships as well as ridicule of the established families who started rumors that they were prostitutes or thieves. I imagine there is nothing better to do in a small community than to spread rumors, somethings never change.

Martin McPherson found himself a nice French girl, Marie Billet, who lucky for my husband, was a descendant of one of those brave women who embarked from France as a Filles a Marier.  If it hadn’t been for that first step into the unknown he would have never existed.  We all have our unknowns, for adoptees our unknown biological families hold mystery and fear of what we will find.  I love uncovering family treasures through old records. Taking a break from my own mystery reaffirms why I am searching. I need my own answers, I need my own stories.

Jumping In

My Non-Identifying information or non-id told me very little about who I was searching for, but it did have some clues.  One very good one was that father’s family was large.  My DNA matches through Ancestry could be used to match my non-id, however, I needed a way to organize the information that made sense and followed an established system.  Thankfully, I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Ancestrys’ family tree building program is good, but I had problems with it glitching with duplications that I had to go back and delete. I spent hours deleting and correcting, especially with the huge families that I found with the first top matches I had.  Family Tree Magazine offers free forms that I used to organize the massive information.  I needed to view the multiple branches all at once but on Ancestry I could only view a small section at a time.

A large dry erase board is another option for organization. I didn’t have room in my home for one, but I could see the advantage to keeping the information organized through a large dry ease board, or simply just use it to work a section at a time before transferring them to a sheet or computer program. There is one caveat, however, when copying work be careful.  It is very easy to transpose names, dates, or other information. Inadvertently you may create an error in your tree, double-check the information as you transfer.

As I worked in my potential birth father’s family the tree grew and it became clear that my first cousin match wasn’t my first cousin. I worked up the family tree to her Grandparents.  It was most likely that we shared these same relatives because I noticed that I also had matches to both sides of these two peoples families.  They had twelve children and I had to work out the families for each to see if any of them remotely matched my non-identifiying information or if my non-identifying information might be a fiction and I should just focus on the DNA.

Getting a subscription to Newspapers.com was a necessity for me as most of these people were from Illinois.  Thankifully, the newspapers that covered the areas that these people lived in were included in the subsciption service.  Tracking down twelve seperate individuals, their marriages, children, deaths, and obits would be hours of computers work.  Would it be worth it?  What did I want from it? That remained to be seen, I mainly wanted to know where I came from and have simple answers, the answers were out there, I just had to work to find them.

Using all the Tools in the Box

Ancestry has unveiled a new Genetic Communities feature that will show genetic ancestry and migration routes of your ancestors based on DNA, family trees, and records.  Can you spot the weak link?  It glared at me right away since lately it has been an issue for me on Ancestry, inaccurate family trees.

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This is my ancestors alleged genetic routes.

I am sitting in paradise, literally, on Maui. Blue skies, waves, the Aloha spirit every where and I can’t leave genealogy alone.  I almost gave myself whiplash when we passed a beautiful cemetery on the north shore, I was itching to walk it to see the markers and honor those whom I never knew. Ancestry decided to unveil a new feature in the middle of my vacation and it has been bothering me since the unveiling. The thorn in my foot, others’ family trees.  I have been through thousands of others’ family trees, some excellent well documented trees, others, that are the genealogy equivalent of graffiti, no documentation copy and paste from other trees or facts changed to fit, with attribution erased.

I wonder why do it, vanity? Why have a trees with 25,000 people? What’s the point if it’s not accurate with documentation? The handy-dandy DNA Origins is here to help with projects.  I assume that may be how I got linked to founders of New York City since I can find no ancestors even remotely linked to that part of New York. I suppose now I can manipulate my tree to reflect that new information, but that’s not my style.  I like to research, I am all about the hunt and the facts. Hunting and fact-finding become difficult as you delve further back in time.  It is consuming and it is anything but easy when done properly.

Can you learn anything from the new feature? Yes.  Most likely it will point to communities that at least some of your relatives migrated through, HOWEVER, the information will only be as good as the trees associated with information.  So, if everyone in your line has misattributed someone, which can happen if they are all copying and pasting the same mistake of the same common relative then boom wrong migration route.

It is usually not done with malice. Most people want to have a nice tree, like everyone else, some just don’t want to do the work.  I have found errors in my own work and hoped no one copied it. I have went back and removed names from one of my trees because I couldn’t find documentation to confirm them and I didn’t want people copying them.  We are all human, we all make errors.  I remember my computer science teacher in high school telling me, junk in junk out.  That is no different from the analytic process for family trees for migration.  What we can hope for is that there is much more wheat than chaff in the process or that Ancestry will weed out the trees that don’t have documentation in their trees, however, when viewing my list my top match who I know, has no tree and is listed-it makes me wonder.

Where DO I Go from Here?

Great, the DNA results are in, I get the concept of building a tree based on matching to see where I might fit.  How can I use matches that either don’t have information or have private trees?  Last week a poster in one of the forums I belong to suggested deleting people because they added no value to his experience on Ancestry if they didn’t have a visible tree.  I felt  both sad and frustrated that he failed to grasp the larger picture of what a match with no visible information could mean to someone doing research.

I will take for example my matches on Ancestry.  My two highest matches were two individuals that show as what Ancestry calls a First Cousin at around 1100 centimorgans and what Ancestry calls a second cousin at 480 centimorgans. The only problem was that the first cousin had no information and just a user name and the 2nd cousin had a very common user name and a three node visible from the landing page, and those names appeared private. If I had followed the gentleman’s philosophy I would have discarded them both as rubbish clogging my feed, however, I am not a person that knee jerks.

I used another Ancestry feature, the Shared Matches button.  When selected I could see that my two top matches were related.  How were they related? The only way to find that out was to build a tree out and be able to place them in it. Matches this close would most likely signal that we shared Grandparents if we were truly first cousins, however, there are other reasons to share that high of centimorgans with a match.  They could be a First Cousin, Half -Aunt, Uncle, Niece, Nephew, Great Grandparent, Great Grandchild, Great Niece or Nephew.

For the second cousin match, the DNA prediction chart suggested-First Cousin Once Removed, Half-First Cousin, Half-Great Niece, Nephew, Aunt or Uncle.  This seemed more puzzling.  To make matters more confusing neither of the matches had been on in almost a year.  Ancestry has stated that they will not send out emails to lapsed users via in system messages, because it bogs down their servers.  I think it would be a great way to get people to renew their memberships-“Hey you’ve got mail, renew your membership and connect with family.” Turn it into marketing for the positive, but I don’t work for you, Ancestry I just log in every day and am frustrated by the lack of message system use.

I clicked on the second cousins three person node that appeared to be nothing.  There in the node was what looked like a sister who had passed away.  I used that sister’s information to find her obituary online.  From the obituary I was able to get her mother’s name who was my first cousin match and also much too old to be my first cousin. So what was she to me then? That opened the rest of my family tree.  It was a large family, her mother’s family had 12 children on one side and 7 on the other that I would have to research each branch up to today to find possible matches.

If I had discarded these matches, it would have been foolish on my part hurting only me.  Find the good in each match.  Look at shared matches to find commonality, look for user names online to see where they fit into existing trees. Watch matches with no information, check back for added trees and added shared matches.  Someone may test they may become the bridge or the AHA! between you and a brick wall.  Message your matches if you’re still unsure, it MAY go through.

Maritime Monday but Why Do I Love Water?

Most of my life I have spent within either a few hundred yard of water or within no more than a quarter-mile.  Was there a deeper reason for that?  Is there something buried deep within my genetic code that demands that I live near water?  Could it be my own personal Feng Shui? Could be.  I know it had nothing to do with the family I was raised in.


Fishing for my first time in Alaska, it was not brilliant.

My adopted mom hates water with a passion.  As much as I love it, she loathes it.  So I know it’s not a matter of nurture.  My childhood home had a picturesque trout stream running through the back yard.  I spent humid summer days on the banks and in the spring fed waters beneath the deep green branches over head, lost for hours.  It was a childhood paradise, at least until myself and the other neighborhood kids would turn blue and have to get out.

As I have aged one constant has remained, my love of the water.  I feel at home on it and in it.  I now own a place on the ocean in Alaska.  I take out my skiff to fish by myself or whale watch, it’s where I am at peace.  The blue expanse and the white puff of a bow head chasing a school of fish my way just lights a fire in me.   I watch my neighbors hauling in their nets, the silver flashes of salmon and an eagle guarding over head.  It’s like I was meant to be here.  This seems right, but why?


This is my Star of the Low Tide  by my house in Alaska.   I love taking photos out my window.  I also sell prints on Etsy. (Shameless Plug)


That pesky DNA.  Nag, nag, nag, then an email, “Great News! Your AncestryDNA results are in.”  On March 30 of last year, it would mark caffeine driven ancestry fueled cram fest researching.  Pandora’s box was open.  Where were my sailors and fisherman? Oh! There they were!

I used methods recommended by groups like DNA Adoption to build my tree  I found a member of the Royal Navy, could this also be why I am a devoted consumer of BBC programming?  Then on the other tree I labeled maternal, I found a ship’s captain on the Great Lakes.  This sounds familiar, are these men where my love of the ocean, of being on the water came from? Without solid research, documentation, and fact checking it’s just fancy on my part.  This was a start.  My DNA was yielding a picture of those wonderful people who came before me.  Those sailors, those captains, those fishermen who worked hard to make something in the new world for their families.  I had set out like them on a course that was uncertain looking for discovery and my own truth.

It all started with Spit

The quest for dead relatives have led to a myriad of locations. The curse of everyone with a Southern Mother is the visits to Civil War battlefields, which are rife though out our country. Getting pummeled with statistics and facts that fit with which side of the Mason-Dixon Line you are on is just a given. I walked among the dead soldiers gleaming white headstones wondering if I too were related to any of them? Which side might they have fought on? Did they kill one of Mom’s relatives or did they fight alongside?

I needed to know. It was my heritage, it was my past to document.

For years I only had two sheets of type written paper that told so little about my background.  Non-identifying information.  I was a citizen without a past, it was verboten.  There are others like me denied access to records, to medical histories, to family genealogies, to simply human interaction, mainly because of fear. It is like the scarlet letter but this time that letter A is for Adoption.

All of that is changing with a little spit. Hello Genetic Genealogy!  Goodbye sealed records and family secrets.  I didn’t know what my test would reveal, no one really does, not even people who are certain about their backgrounds.  I did know that I was tired of not knowing.  I spent my whole life watching others research genealogy. Pre-revolutionary war genealogy has always been the subject of family reunions, yet something has been missing.

The “Big Three” personal DNA companies all offer excellent services and I researched before starting with Ancestry, or as I refer to them the GATEWAY DRUG.  I bought a membership and used the time waiting for my DNA to look through records to see if I might narrow the field, let’s just say I was off the mark and should have waited. What my searching did for me was teach me how to use the Ancestry system to my advantage and how to use Classmates to search yearbooks for possible matches.