I'm a family historian with 20 years of experience in researching my family's origins in Poland, Germany, the U.S. and Canada. You can find me on Facebook, where I'm an administrator for the groups "Polish Genealogy,""Polish Culture, Food and Traditions," and "Genealogy Translations." I'm a member of the Polish Genealogical Society of America, the Polish Genealogical Society of New York State, the Polish Genealogical Society of Massachusetts, and the Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Southeast. I also enjoy sharing research strategies and resources via genealogy lectures and webinars, which I've given for the PGSMA, PGSNYS, Central Massachusetts Genealogical Society, New England Historic Genealogical Society, and Massachusetts Society of Genealogists.
In my last post, I wrote about my recent confirmation of the parents of Mary Magdalene (Causin/Cossin) Roberts and the discovery of their place of origin in Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France. Although this was a thrilling breakthrough for me, in hindsight, I’m frankly amazed that it took me this long to find them. Let’s unpack the process and see what can be learned from it.
1. Thorough Documentary Research is Always Key
Although this was definitely a stubborn research problem, it’s probably overstating the case to call it a “brick wall” because the documentary research was far from complete. The Genealogical Proof Standard requires “reasonably exhaustive” documentary research, and it’s up to the researcher to identify all collections that are potentially relevant to the research problem and add them to the research plan. Although I’ve been chipping away at research in onsite collections in Detroit as time and money (and the pandemic….) permit, I had not yet examined all of the relevant birth, marriage and death records from the Roberts’ parish in Detroit, Old St. Mary’s, either in person or by proxy. Similarly, my local Family History Center has not been open for quite a while due to the pandemic, making it difficult to research digitized collections with restricted access, such as the church records from St. Louis in Buffalo, where I might have found death records that offered a transcription of “Cossin” that would have been more recognizable. So, it’s entirely possible that this problem could have been solved solely through documentary research, given enough time and focused effort.
2. Don’t Overlook Online Family Trees
Even if I had accepted immediately that the Maria Magdalena Gosÿ who was baptized at St. Louis church in Buffalo, was my Maria Magdalena Causin, I would have had to rely on FAN research for the identification of their ancestral village, since the baptismal record did not mention the parents’ place of origin. So, finding those family trees that mentioned Anna Maria/Maria Anna Hentzi was a critical clue. One of the things I find most surprising is that searches for “Anna Maria Hensy” did not turn up results for Anna Maria/Maria Anna Hentzy Schneider, given the number of family trees in which she appears. Even now, when I repeat those searches to see if I can tease her out of the database, using only the search parameters I knew previously (before the trees from the DNA matches gave me her married surname), she is not readily found. I like to think I’m not a rookie when it comes to database searches, and I certainly tried a variety of search parameters, based on what I knew for a fact, and as well as what I could speculate.
Assuming that the godmother was actually present at the baptism of Maria Magdalena “Gosÿ,” I knew that “Maria Anna Hensy” was living in Buffalo in 1832, was most likely born in France, and was probably between the ages of 16 and 60 when she served as godmother, suggesting a birth between 1772 and 1816, although I suspected that a narrower range from 1800–1816 was more likely. I guessed that she was also probably living in Detroit by 1857 when Maria Magdalena was married, so I set up parallel searches with either Buffalo or Detroit specified as her place of residence. I tired varying the specificity of the search, leaving out some information, such as approximate year of birth, and I also tried making the search more restrictive by specifying “exact search” for some parameters, such as her place of birth in France. I used wild card characters to try to circumvent problems with variant spellings in the surname, and I performed all these same searches at FamilySearch, since they offer a different assortment of indexed databases. Despite all that, no promising candidates emerged for further research until DNA matches permitted me to focus on particular family trees.
Why might this be? Good question. One thing I did not do was try drilling down to the Public Member Trees database, specifically. It’s standard research practice among experienced researchers to drill down to a particular database where the research target is expected to be found, e.g. “1870 United States Federal Census,” or “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” especially when the desired results don’t turn up readily in broader searches of all the databases, or within a sub-category of databases, like “Immigration & Emigration” or “Census & Voter Lists.” So, although I searched for “Maria Anna Hensy,” in specific historical records databases (e.g. 1840 census, 1850 census, etc.), my research log indicates that I never drilled down to the Public Member Trees to look for clues. I suspect this reflects some unconscious bias on my part—mea culpa! I’m so accustomed to frustration over all the inaccuracies that I find in so many online trees, that I failed to give these trees the consideration they deserved in generating good leads. When I repeat those searches for Maria Anna Hensy in the Public Member Trees database, the correct Maria Anna/Anna Maria Hentzy Schneider shows up in the first page of search results.
3. Analyze the Surname Hints from DNAGedcom
Had I also dug deeper into Aunt Betty’s DNA matches using some of analytical tools out there, I might have found my Cossins sooner. Several weeks ago, I ran a Collins-Leeds analysis at DNAGedcom on all of Aunt Betty’s matches at Ancestry that were within the 20–300 centiMorgan (cM) range, and the results included an enormous cluster with 36 members, whom I realize now are all related through the Hensy line (Figure 1). I’ve written a little previously about DNAGedcom, and more information can be found on their website. However, the purpose of autocluster analysis tools like this is to sort your autosomal DNA match list into clusters of people who are related to each other through a common line of descent.
The really cool thing about DNAGedcom for these analyses is the amount of information that is provided—assuming you take the time to dig into it, which I had not done previously. For that cluster shown in Figure 1, you’ll notice that some of the pink squares are marked with a green leaf. Those leaves mark the intersections of two DNA testers who have family trees linked to their DNA tests, and hovering the cursor over those squares will reveal the names of individuals found in both trees. You can even go one better and tap on any colored square (marked with a leaf or not) to see the option to “View Cluster,” or “View Chromo[some] Browser,” as shown in Figure 2.
The data used for this autocluster analysis came from Ancestry, and much to the dismay of pretty much everyone interested in genetic genealogy, Ancestry does not offer a chromosome browser or any sort of segment data. So, the “View Chromo Browser” option will not work here, although it would work if these data were gathered from another source like 23&Me. However, clicking on “View Cluster” brings up the chart shown in Figure 3. Names of testers have been redacted for privacy.
Clicking on the name of anyone in that list will take you to the DNA match page for that person at Ancestry. Tree icons on the left indicate those matches with linked family trees. Nice information, but if you keep scrolling down, it gets even better. After identifying the individuals with whom DNA is shared in each cluster, DNAGedcom goes one step further, identifying individual ancestors who appear in the family trees linked to those matches (Figure 4).
The names of the DNA matches who own each family tree are listed in the column on the far right, and have been redacted for privacy, but the chart indicates that Nicolaus, Johann Anton, and Servatius Thelen all appear in 4 different family trees of individual members of Cluster 7, as do Anna Maria and Andrew Schneider and Peter Simon. As it happens, the most recent common ancestral couple between Aunt Betty and these matches—Dionisy Hentzy and Agnes Antony— is not mentioned in this top part of the list. However, if we were to scroll down a bit, we would find them (Figure 5).
Admittedly, this is still a “Some Assembly Required” type of tool. The ancestor list for a given cluster identified by DNAGedcom does not immediately identify the most recent common ancestral couple. However, in conjunction with a list of ancestral FANs, and with guidance from the public member trees, which explain the relationships between individuals mentioned in the list, this is a powerful tool, indeed.
4. Use All the Information in Each Historical Record
The mistake that galls me the most in all of this is that I failed to fully examine the death record for Mary M. Roberts until I sat down to write that first blog post about this discovery. (Actually, had I blogged about my “brick wall” with Maria Magdalena earlier, I might have found my answers faster, since writing about something always forces me to review, organize, and reanalyze my information.) When I looked at my evidence for her date of death, I noticed that I had her probate packet and cemetery records, but I was still citing the index entry for her Michigan death certificate, which I had obtained years ago, and not the original record, which is now readily available online. Duh! One of the cardinal rules of genealogy is to always go to the original source, rather than trusting the information in an index, because so often there is additional information in the original, or there are transcription errors that are caught after viewing the original. Such was the case here, as well. The index entry, shown in Figure 6, only states that Mary M. Roberts was born “abt. 1833.”1
However, the entry from the death register contains more information than was indexed regarding her precise age at the time of death.2 The death register states that she was 61 years, 6 months, and 10 days old when she died, as shown in Figure 7.
When I ran this through a date calculator (such as this one), it points to a birth date of 17 August 1832. This is almost an exact match to the birth date of 14 August 1832 that was noted on the baptismal record for Maria Magdalena “Gosÿ” from St. Louis Church in Buffalo.
Had I made this connection sooner, I would have been much more confident in accepting that baptismal record as the correct one for Mary Magdalene Causin/Casin/Curzon/Couzens. I guess this is why we have Genealogy Do-Overs. All of us start our research by making rookie errors, so at the very least, it’s important to periodically step back and re-evaluate the search to see what is really known, and to make sure that nothing has been overlooked. Better still, consider a full-blown, Thomas MacEntee-style Do Over, which I have never yet had the courage to do.
Not all breakthroughs are the result of elegant or sophisticated methodology. Sometimes, you just keep hacking away at a problem, and you get to the answer in the end, and that’s what happened here. While the origins of the Causin family could possibly have been discovered, in time, using thorough documentary research in church records from Detroit and Buffalo, the process was expedited when the focus switched from the Causin surname to the Hentzy surname of one of their FANs. With the addition of insight gained from examination of DNA matches, the process was expedited still further. The combination of cluster research, autosomal DNA matching, and standard documentary research, is so powerful that it can even overcome a flawed research process. So, while this may not have been a pretty victory, it was a victory nonetheless. I’ll take it.
1 “Michigan, U.S., Deaths and Burials Index, 1869-1995,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 17 November 2021), Mary M. Roberts, died 27 February 1894, citing Family History Library film no. 1377697.
Recently, a long-standing “brick wall” came tumbling down, and I’m still reveling in the victory. I was finally able to definitively identify the parents of my great-great-great-grandmother, Maria Magdalena (Causin) Roberts, and establish their place of origin. This has been a research problem for nearly a decade, so it’s an especially sweet victory. Here’s how it unfolded.
Introducing Mary Magdalene Roberts
Mary Magdalene (or Maria Magdalena) Roberts has been quite the mystery for me, but it’s not as if she left no traces whatsoever in the historical record. On the contrary, her life is well-documented from the time of her marriage until the time of her death. I knew that Mary was born in New York about 1833–1834 and that she died on 27 February 1894 in Dearborn, Michigan.1 She married Michael Roberts (formerly Michael Ruppert), a German immigrant from the village of Heßloch in Rhineland-Palatinate, and together they became the parents of eight children, four of whom outlived her. However, her family’s origins prior to her marriage were considerably less clear. The record of Mary’s marriage to Michael Ruppert from Old St. Mary’s (Roman Catholic) Church in Detroit is shown in Figure 1.2
The record is in Latin, and states that Michael Rupert married Magdalena Causin on 12 May 1857, and names Michael’s brother, Arnold Rupert, as a witness, along with Maria Brant (?). Unfortunately, the record does not provide the names of the parents of the bride and groom, and neither were Maria Magdalena’s parents identified on her death record.3 However, the death record stated that her parents were born in Switzerland, and the 1880 census reported that both her parents were born in France.4
Mary’s place of birth was identified as Buffalo, New York, on baptismal records for her children from Old St. Mary’s, and these records provided additional evidence for her maiden name. Figures 3a and b show the baptismal record for Franc. Henricus (Franz Heinrich, or Francis Henry) Ruppert in 1866.5
In this image, the mother’s name in the column at the far right, slightly cut off in the photo, appears to be “Magdalena Causin.”
The first column on the left in Figure 3b is the mother’s place of birth, which was identified as Buffalo, New York. The godparents, recorded in the next column, were Franciscus (Frank) Rupert and Catherine Rupert, the baby’s paternal grandparents.
Similarly, Buffalo was identified as the Mary Magdalene’s place of birth in the baptismal record for her son, Franz Georg, in 1871 (Figure 4b), but the mother’s name looks more like Casin or Cosin than Causin (Figure 4a).6
The godparents noted here were Franz Rupert, again, and “Charl.” (presumably Charlotte) Braun, and again, Magdalena was reported to have been born in Buffalo.
To further complicate the issue of Mary Magdalene’s maiden name, it was recorded as Couzens on the death record for her daughter, Katherine “Kitty” Hecker (Figure 5).7
Moreover, Mary’s maiden name was reported as Curzon in the brief biographical entry about her son, Frank M. Roberts, which appeared in the Buffalo Artists’ Register published in 1926 (Figure 6).8
The Search for Causins in Buffalo
With no hard evidence for her parents’ names, but pretty good evidence for a birth in Buffalo, New York, circa 1833, my Aunt Carol and I hoped to find a baptismal record for Mary Causin/Casin/Couzens/Curzon in the church records from St. Louis parish in Buffalo. St. Louis was the only Roman Catholic church in Buffalo at that time, having been established by immigrants from Germany, France and Ireland in 1829, and records are available from the Family History Library, originally on microfilm (currently digitized).9 Aunt Carol had a chance to review them first, and was disappointed to discover no good matches for a baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Causin. Her best guess was an 1832 baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Krauter, daughter of Matthias Krauter and Anna Eva Knab, but she conceded that this was a shot in the dark. I took a look at the film myself, and similarly struck out. Broad searches in indexed databases at Ancestry and FamilySearch for “C*s*n” living in Buffalo in 1832 produced plenty of results for Casin, Cassin, Cushion, Cousin, etc. but many of the individuals identified were Irish or English, arrived in Buffalo too late, or were ruled out for other reasons. A History of Germans in Buffalo and Erie County, New York, published in 1898, contains a list of the German heads of household of St. Louis parish in 1832, but there were no surnames similar to Causin.10 We had no knowledge of any siblings that Maria Magdalena might have had, and no evidence for the family’s whereabouts from the time between her birth in Buffalo circa 1833, and her marriage in Detroit in 1857. Whoever Mary Magdalene’s parents were, they seemed to have left no trace of their time in Buffalo.
Hoping to get some new perspective on the problem, I posted in the Facebook group for the Western New York Genealogical Society back in 2013, wondering if there might be some other places besides St. Louis church that Mary might have been baptized.11 Admin Nancy Archdekin came through with an interesting suggestion: a birth record from St. Louis parish that Aunt Carol and I had overlooked, for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ, daughter of Joseph Antonius Gosÿ and Maria Agatha Hensy (Figure 7).12
According to this record, Maria Magdalena Gosÿ was born on 14 August 1832 and baptized (“renata vero”) the same day, with godparents Joseph Lang and Maria Anna Hensy. I was intrigued. I could see how “Gosÿ” might be a phonetic approximation of “Causin,” if the latter were pronounced with a nasal French ending. Could Gosÿ be the “correct,” original version of the surname, and all the subsequent records got it wrong? Searches for Gosÿ in Buffalo in 1832 were negative, suggesting that the name was a misspelled version of something. Could it be Causin?
I put that record on the back shelf, thinking that we had not yet exhausted documentary research which may still produce some leads or insights. I searched the 1840 census in both Detroit and Buffalo, the Buffalo, New York, Death Index, and Buffalo city directories, chasing down every Cousin, Cossin, Causin, Cassin, Curson, Cozzens, and any other surnames that seemed remotely similar phonetically. I checked probate records from Wayne County, Michigan, for any references to Mary as an heir, and although Mary was not mentioned specifically, I came up with one promising reference to “Pierre Casson (Coussin),” that was at least close to the right name. However, subsequent searches suggest that he may have been French Canadian rather than Alsatian. Still, it was a lead that I could have pursued further. I checked probate records in Buffalo, as well, but found nothing. Church records from Old St. Mary’s might still be revealing. Perhaps they have records of premarital investigations, which sometimes provided more information about the bride and groom than is found in the actual marriage record? Furthermore, church records (deaths, in particular) from both St. Louis in Buffalo and St. Mary’s in Detroit had not yet been examined. There was—and still is—work to be done.
I also had some nagging doubts. What if Mary was never baptized? There was some evidence that the Alsatian community in Buffalo in the 1820s was “not unduly devout;” might her parents have omitted that rite?13 This hypothesis might have been more likely had Mary been born in Buffalo prior to 1829, but if a Catholic church was already in existence by about 1833 when she was born, it seemed probable that she would have been baptized there. But then another concern presented itself. In my research experience, many immigrants approximated their place of origin to the closest big city. What if Mary was not born in Buffalo, but near it? I’d found evidence in my research for Alsatian families farming in rural communities throughout the Western New York area, from Buffalo to Rochester. Maybe she was born in one of those communities?
Clues from the Causins’ Cluster
Since cluster research (also known as FAN research, research into an ancestor’s Friends/family, Associates, and Neighbors) has been so fruitful for me in the past, I decided to take a closer look at Maria Brant (or Brandt) and Charlotte Braun, two of the Roberts family’s FANS who were noted on church records, and were not known family members. Again, nothing jumped out at me; surveys of indexed records did not produce any good candidates who were born in France, Alsace, or Switzerland and who might have been connected to Mary. I kept coming back to that baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ: the mother and the godmother had the same surname, Hensy, and I suspected that they were at least cousins, if not sisters. Searches for “Hensy” in Buffalo and Detroit suggested that this surname, too, may have been misspelled, and I quickly discovered a plethora of German surname possibilities from indexed records, including Hintse, Hantz, Hense, Hentzi, Hentz, Hentzy, Hans, and even Hohensee. There were no obvious matches for Maria Anna Hensy, however. Something more was needed to shed light on this research problem, and I hoped that something would be DNA.
DNA to the Rescue
Although I could have used my own DNA match lists, I have in my arsenal DNA match lists for both my Dad and his paternal aunt. Aunt Betty is two generations closer to Mary Magdalene Roberts than I am, and she should have inherited roughly 12.5% of her DNA from this particular ancestor. With so much “Causin” DNA, I expected that it would not be too difficult to identify matches in Aunt Betty’s match list that are related to us through Mary Magdalene Causin. Nonetheless, it took some time to get to the point where I had identified enough matches that were probably related through the ancestors of Mary Magdalene Causin—and not one of our other German or Alsatian ancestors—that I could try to compare family trees and look for common surnames and places.
And that’s when it happened.
I was looking through Aunt Betty’s DNA matches one evening for something completely unrelated to Causin research. I was examining the public tree associated with one of her matches, when a name jumped out at me: Anna Maria Hanzi, who was married on 8 October 1838 to Moritz Schneider at Old St. Mary’s church in Detroit. It suddenly dawned on me that this must be the Anna Maria “Hensy” of the baptismal record! Shared matches for this person included people I’d previously identified as having probable Causin ancestry, and several of them had public trees. All of them had Mary Ann (Anna Maria) Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze in them, and Ancestry reported that this same Mary Ann (Anna Maria) Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze appeared in 326 trees, quite a number of which cited a birth in 1814 in “Vaterhunn,” Alsace, France—information which was supposed to have come from the church record of Anna Maria’s marriage at Old St. Mary’s. Furthermore, Anna Maria’s parents were identified as Dionysius/Dennis Hanzi and Agatha (__), both of whom also immigrated to Michigan. The fact that this Mary Ann/Anna Maria had the same name as Mary Magdalene’s godmother, was also married in Detroit, and was showing up in the family trees of multiple DNA matches to Aunt Betty, could not possibly be a mere coincidence. This was the key to the whole problem!
A quick internet search revealed that “Vaterhunn” does not exist. It may have been a phonetic misrendering of whatever village name was provided orally to the priest, or it may have been a mistranscription by whomever tried to decipher the handwriting in the church record, or a combination of these. My first thought was that I needed to write to the church to request a copy of the marriage record. Although these records have been microfilmed and are available for research as part of the Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library, the Collection is temporarily unavailable (as of this writing) due to major renovations at the library. Obtaining the record from the church so I could see the handwriting myself seemed like the fastest way to discover what the real village name ought to be.
In the meantime, I decided to take a shot at guessing what the town name should have been. Lacking a good gazetteer for Alsace, I approximated one by searching the FamilySearch catalog for “France, Haut-Rhin,” and then drilling down to “Places within Haut-Rhin” for a list of about 400 locations for which FamilySearch has microfilmed/digitized records. I have no idea how complete this coverage is, but it seemed like a good start. Since many vital records for Haut-Rhin are online, I started searching for a civil birth registration for Maria Anna/Anna Maria Hentze in 1814, to confirm the location. I thought perhaps that the “-hunn” in “Vaterhunn” might be “-heim,” instead, so I checked records from Waltenheim, Wettolsheim, Battenheim and Bartenheim for a few years around 1814, but did not find Anna Maria’s birth, nor even evidence for the existence of the Hentze surname in these locations.
Not feeling especially patient at this point, I switched gears and searched the Alsace & Lorraine Genealogy Facebook group for “Vaterhunn.” If there are 326 family trees out there that mention Anna Maria Hanzi in them, and a large percentage of them repeat this information about “Vaterhunn,” then I figured it was quite possible that someone before me had sought help in trying to identify this village. Lo, and behold, I discovered an old post from 2014 in which a group member (whom I’ll call “OP”) had asked about this very same question, for the very same reason.14 The comment thread was incomplete; it looked as though some comments had been deleted, but it appeared that a baptismal record had been located by a member of the group. A second search of the group’s history for OP’s name produced a second thread in which she requested a translation of a birth record which had been found by a group member previously—a birth record for Anna Maria Hentze.15 The record came from a collection of civil birth registrations for the village of Pfetterhouse—the elusive “Vaterhunn” mentioned in the oft-cited marriage record for Anna Maria Hentze. I quickly looked up the original birth record, which confirmed that Maria Anna Hensÿ was born 29 April 1814 to Dionisÿ Hensÿ, a 34-year-old laborer, and his wife, Agnes.16 Having nailed down the location, I started searching marriages records for Pfetterhouse for the marriage of Joseph Antoine “Gosÿ” and Maria Agatha Hensÿ, and voilà! I discovered their civil marriage record on 8 September 1829 (Figures 8a and 8b).17
“No. 6, Cassin, Joseph Antoine Avec Marie Agathe Hentzÿ, Le 8 Septembre 1829
L’an mil huit cent vingt neuf le huit septembre à quatre heures après midi pardevant nous Jacques [Hemis?], maire et officier de l’etat civil de la commune de Pfetterhausen, canton d‘hirsingen, arrondissement d’altKirch département du haut-rhin, sont comparus le sieur Joseph Antoine Cossin, cordonnier né le douze thermidor l’an neuf de la republique constaté par l’extrait de naissance de la commune de Seppois le bas domicilié à Pfetterhausen fils majeur légitime de feu Jacques Cossin cultivateur et de feu Barbara Maker en leur vivant domicilié à Seppois le bas, le père décedé le dix avril mil huit cent quatorze constaté par l’extrait mortuaire du dit lieu, et la mère décedé la quatorze germinal an onze de la republique constaté par l’extrait de décé de Seppois le bas, et quant aux aieuls, le dit Cossin s’est présenté avec quatre habitans de la commune de Seppois le bas, les nommés François Joseph Wendlinger cultivateur âgé de soixante sept ans, Joseph Waller cultivateur âgé de cinquante sept ans, Moritz Cossin cultivateur âgé de cinquante six ans, et Antoine Martin marschal ferrant âgé de cinquante trois ans tous les quatre nous ont déclaré qu’ils n’ont point de connaissance et ne savent pas ôu les aïeul du dit Joseph Antoine Cossin sont décedés et d‘aprés la lettre de M. le maire Colin de Seppois le bas qui est àjointe, il parait et justifie qu’ils ne sont pas no plus inscrits dans les archives de la commune, et la demoiselle Marie Agatha Hentzy journalliere née le vingt sept mars mil huit cent onze constaté par l’extrait de naissance de Pfetterhausen fille mineure de Thienisy Hentzy cabaretier et d’Agnoise Antony ses père et mère tous les trois domiciliés au dit lieu à présent et consentant les quels nous ont requis de procéder à celebration du mariage projété entre eux, dont les publications ont été faites devant la porte principale de notre Maison commune, savoir, la première le dimanche vingt trois aôut et la seconde le dimanche trente même mois de la présente année, chaquefois à l’heure de midi, et aucune opposition au dit mariage ne nous ayant été signiffiée [?], faisant droit à leur requition et après leur avoir donné lecture de toutes les pièces ci dessus mentionnées du chapitre six du titre cinq du code civil intitule du mariage, nous avons demandé aux future Epoux et Epouse, s’ils quelent se prendre pour mari et pour femme chaqu’un d’eux ayant repondu séparement et affirmatisement Déclarons au nom de la loi que le sieur Joseph Antoine Cossin et la demoiselle Marie Agatha Hentzy sont unis par le mariage, de tout quoi nous avons dressé acte en presence des sus dits quatre habitans de Seppois le bas témoins, dont aucun n’est pas parentes ni alliés de l’un ni de l’autre des deux Epoux, les quels aprés lecture et interprétation en allemand faites, ont signé avec nous et les parties contractantes, dont aite, la mère Agnoise Antonÿ a déclaré ne savoir écrire. [Signed] Joseph Antonÿ Cossin, Frantz J. Wendlinger, Joseph Waller, Moritz Cossin, Antonÿ Martus, J. Hemis [?], maire.”
I’ve translated the record below:
“The year one thousand eight hundred and twenty nine on the eighth of September at four o’clock in the afternoon. Before Us, Jacques [Hemis?], mayor and civil registrar of the commune of Pfetterhausen, Canton of Hirsingue, District of Altkirch, Department of Haut-Rhin, appeared Mr. Joseph Antoine Cossin, shoemaker, born on the twelfth [day of the French Republic month of] Thermidor of the year nine of the Republic, according to the birth record of the commune of Seppois-le-Bas; residing in Pfetterhausen, son of legal age of the late Jacques Cossin, farmer, and of the late Barbara Maker in their lifetime residing in Seppois-le-Bas, the father deceased on the tenth of April eighteen hundred and fourteen according to the mortuary extract of the said place, and the mother died on the fourteenth [day of the French Republic month of] Germinal [in the] year eleven of the Republic, according to the extracted death record of Seppois-le-Bas, and as for the grandparents, the said Cossin presented us with four inhabitants of the commune of Seppois-le-Bas, by name, François Joseph Wendlinger, farmer, age sixty-seven years; Joseph Waller, farmer, aged fifty-seven; Moritz Cossin, farmer, aged fifty-six years, and Antoine Martin, blacksmith, aged fifty-three years; all four declared to us that they have no knowledge and do not know where the grandparents of the said Joseph Antoine Cossin are deceased and according to the attached letter of Mr. Colin, the mayor of Seppois-le-Bas, it appears and can be judged that they are no longer registered in the archives of the of the commune; and the Miss Marie Agatha Hentzy, [female] day laborer, born on March twenty-seventh, eighteen hundred and eleven, as verified by the extract of birth of Pfetterhausen, minor daughter of Thienisy Hentzy, cabaret owner, and of Agnoise Antony; her father and mother all three domiciled in the said place at present and consenting, who have required us to proceed to the celebration of the marriage planned between them, of which the publications were made in front of the main door of our common House; namely, the first one on Sunday, August twenty-third, and the second one on Sunday, the thirtieth [day of the] same month of the present year, each time at the hour of noon; and after no opposition to the said marriage [was found], and after having read them all of the documents from Chapter Six of Title Five of the Civil Code pertaining to marriage, we have asked the future spouses, if they want to take each other as husband and wife [and] each of them having answered separately and affirmatively, We declare in the name of the law that Mr. Joseph Antoine Cossin and Marie Agatha Hentzy are united in marriage, of which we have drawn up an Act in the presence of the above-mentioned four witnesses of Seppois-le-Bas, none of whom is related to either of the two Spouses, who after reading and interpreting in German, have signed with us and the contracting parties; the mother Agnoise Antonÿ declared [that she does] not know how to write. [Signed] Joseph Antonÿ Coſsin, Frantz J. Wendlinger, Joseph Waller, Moritz Coſsin, Antonÿ Martus, J. Hemis [?], Mayor.”
The groom’s name was recorded as Joseph Antoine Cossin, with a “long s,” (Figure 9), and the names of the bride and groom are an exact match to the names of the parents of Maria Magdalena in the baptismal record from St. Louis church in Buffalo, eliminating any further doubt that the “Gosÿ” of the baptismal record was intended to be something closer to the “Causin” more commonly found on records pertaining to Mary Magdalene Roberts.
Joseph’s parents were identified as Jacques Cossin and Barbara (née Maker) Cossin, both deceased—a brand-new ancestral couple for me to research! I even got a bonus ancestral signature on the second page, where Joseph himself signed the record. The record is packed with genealogical gold, including the dates of birth of both the bride and groom and the dates of death of both of the groom’s parents. Some of the dates are given according to the old calendar of the French Republic, created after the French Revolution. Steve Morse offers a handy tool for converting old French Republic dates into their modern Gregorian calendar equivalents, and after conversion, we see that Joseph Antoine Cosson was born 28 July 1804, and his mother, Barbara, died 1 April 1806, when Joseph was just two years old.
The Cossin family was from the nearby village of Seppois-le-Bas, shown on the map in Figure 10, and the two villages are just a stone’s throw away from the Swiss border.
The marriage record tells the story of Joseph Cossin’s process of fulfilling the legal requirements of the Napoleonic Code for marriage by rounding up four witnesses to accompany him to the mayor’s office. The Code specified that, in cases where the parents of a bride or groom of legal age for marriage were deceased, the permission of the grandparents was nonetheless required, until the age of 30 for grooms and 25 for brides. Article 155 further states,
“In case of the absence of the ancestor to whom the respectful act ought to have been made, the celebration of the marriage may be proceeded in, on producing a judgment given declaring absence, or in default of such judgment that which shall have directed an inquiry, or if such latter judgment shall not yet have been pronounced, an act of notoriety delivered by the justice of the peace of the place where the ancestor had his last known domicil. This act shall contain the deposition or four witnesses officially summoned by the justice of the peace.”19
So, in order to avoid possible fines and imprisonment, Messieurs les maires of the communes of Seppois-le-Bas and Pfetterhouse had to carefully document that Joseph’s grandparents were deceased and that he had no family members whose consent was required for the marriage. Although the record states that none of the witnesses were related to either the bride or the groom, the fact that one of the witnesses, Moritz Cossin, shares a surname with the groom and was from the same small village, suggests that he may, in fact, have been a distant relative, although they were apparently unaware of any relationship.
On the bride’s side, the record states that she was the daughter of “Thienisy” Hentzy, cabaret owner, and of Agnoise Antony, which are reasonable phonetic matches to the Dionisy and Agnes Hentzy who were reported to be the parents of Maria Anna Hentzy Schneider, according to numerous family trees on Ancestry. This confirms that Mary Magdalene’s godmother, Anna Maria Hensy, was in fact, her aunt.
While many genealogical research questions remain, this is such a satisfying breakthrough for me, and I look forward to growing my family tree in this fertile ground of records from both the U.S. and France. From Causin to Curzon to Gosÿ and back to Cossin; from Pfetterhouse to Buffalo to Detroit to “Vaterhunn,” this has been quite a journey of discovery. And yet, in hindsight, I’m frankly amazed that it took me this long to find them. In my next post, I’ll share all the missteps I made, the things I wish I had done differently, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Featured image: The author at the grave of Mary Magdalene Roberts, Mt. Elliott Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit, Valerie Koselka.
11860 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 142, dwelling no. 1066, household no. 1148, Mary Roberts in household of Michael Roberts; digital image, Ancestry (http://ancestry.com : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 566 of 1,438 rolls; and
1870 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 476B, dwelling no. 998, household no. 1114, Magdalena Robert in household of Michael Robert; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 713 of 1,761 rolls; and
Wayne County Probate Court (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan), Probate packet no. 19856, Mary M. Roberts, died 27 February 1894; digital images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 28 June 2021), “Probate estate packets, 1797-1901,” FHL Film no.967194, path: Wayne > Probate packets 1894 no 19805-19856 > images 975-984.
2 Roman Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s parish (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, USA), “Marriages, 1835-1866”, 1857, no. 15 (?), marriage record for Michael Ruppert and Magdalena Causin, Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32A, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan, USA. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.
4 1880 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, city of Detroit, Enumeration District 298, page 123A, dwelling no. 92, household no. 92, Mary Roberts in household of Michael Roberts; database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 1 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 613 of 1,454 rolls.
5 Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary’s parish (Greektown, Detroit, Michigan, USA), “Baptisms, 1866-1919,” 1866, no. 194, Franc. Henricus Rupert, born 29 August 1866, Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.
6 Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary’s parish (Greektown, Detroit, Michigan, USA), “Baptisms, 1866-1919,” 1871, line 188, Franz Georg Rupert, baptized 8 October; Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan. Photo credit Valerie Koselka.
7 “Michigan, U.S., Death Records 1867-1952,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 30 October 2021), Katherine Hecker, died 13 June 1942, file no. 293521, citing Michigan Department of Community Health, Division for Vital Records and Health Statistics; Lansing, Michigan.
8 Lee F. Heacock, The Buffalo artists’ register : a general review of the activities of representative organizations of Buffalo, N.Y. … related to … the creative and interpretive arts (Buffalo, New York: Heacock Publishing Company, 1926), pp 381-382, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, 1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo, New York.
12 Roman Catholic Church, St. Louis parish (Buffalo, Erie, New York), Church records, 1829-1910, Baptisms 1829-1881, 1832, unnumbered entries in chronological order, Maria Magdalena Gosÿ, 14 August 1832.
13Andrew P. Yox, “The Parochial Context of Trusteeism: Buffalo’s St. Louis Church, 1828-1855,” The Catholic Historical Review, vol. 76, no. 4, Catholic University of America Press, 1990, pp. 712–33; JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org/stable/25023400 : 1 November 2021).
For most genealogists, vital records create the backbone of a family tree, so it’s important for us to be able to locate the ones we need for our research. As a general rule, those of us researching Polish ancestors expect to find vital records in local registry offices, parish offices, state archives, and diocesan archives. However, it’s important to remember that sometimes, we find them in libraries or other repositories that are further from the beaten path. Once such library that’s recently come onto my radar, thanks to a tip from my colleague in Germany, Marcel Elias, is the Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek, located in Herne, Germany.
Why Should I Care About This Library?
The Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek offers unique collections which can be accessed online, as well as those which must be accessed in person. As their website states,
“The collections of Martin-Opitz-Library, founded in 1948, cover the history and culture of Germans in East Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe. An emphasis of the collection is the historical eastern provinces of Prussia. It is the largest scientific library of this kind in Germany.”
The library holds church books—both Roman Catholic and Protestant—as well as a few civil registers, for a number of locations that may be of interest to those researching Polish ancestors. Locations include places in Warmia-Masuria, Silesia, Pomerania, Greater Poland, Galicia, and Volhynia, and online collections include both digitized scans (original sources) as well as abstracts and transcriptions (derivative sources). Many of the transcripts are found in the 62-volume collection known as the Hipplersche Kirchenbücher (Hippler’s Church Books). Dr. Erich Hippler (1892–1969) made complete transcripts of all the baptisms, marriages and deaths recorded from a number of parishes in the northern Warmia area, which encompass the period from 1485–1882. In some cases, the original books no longer exist, making these transcripts invaluable as a genealogical resource.
In many cases, the collections found in the Martin-Opitz-Library are complementary to those found in other repositories. For example, Roman Catholic parish books for Samoklensk in Kreis Schubin, known today as Samoklęski Duże in gmina Szubin in the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, are available in several collections which span the period from 1750–1830. These records predate the collections available from FamilySearch, which are images of original records held by the Archiwum Archidiecezjalne w Gnieźnie (Archdiocesan Archive in Gniezno) and include vital records from 1831–1951. (The end date of that collection is nominal; in practice, birth records are protected by Polish privacy laws for 100 years, and marriage and death records are protected for 80 years, which might explain why the more recent collections have not yet been digitized by FamilySearch.) For the parish of Giedlarowa in gmina Leżajsk, Subcarpathian Voivodeship, in the former Galicia region, the Martin-Opitz library has a collection of baptisms from 1787–1827. In contrast, FamilySearch has no vital records for this parish, and the Archiwum Państwowe w Rzeszowie (state archive in Rzeszów) only has 19th-century records starting in 1852 (plus some 20th-century holdings). Although the Archidiecezjalne w Przemyślu (archdiocesan archive in Przemyśl) can often be counted on to have collections of Roman Catholic church books for parishes in this area, even they only have records for Giedlarowa dating back to 1826, at least according to the Ekstrakty Metrykalne w Archiwum Diecezjalnem Przemyskiem, which is an old catalog of the holdings of this archive created by Fr. Dr. Jan Kwolek and published in 1928. Besides the vital records, the Martin-Opitz-Library offers an interesting collection of postcards from Łódź with a focus on 20th-century images prior to World War I; a Galicia-German Archive, a collection focused on Volhynian Germans, assorted maps, and so much more.
Since this is a German library, you’re likely to find places referred to by their German names, and you may be wondering how to convert those names to their current Polish equivalents. There are two good options for that. The first is Kartenmeister, where you can search Uwe-Karsten Krickhahn’s database of locations according to their German names, and the results will include alternate names for each place in Polish, Russian, or Lithuanian. The second option is the Meyers Gazetteer, where you can search for a German place name, then view the results on the map, varying the transparency so that the default, historical map fades into the modern map, revealing the current place name.
How Do I Search the Holdings of This Library?
You’ll probably want to search both the digital offerings and also the library’s catalog. I found it worthwhile to browse to the genealogy collections from the main page, since that method permits a bit of an overview of some of the different collections along the way. The library’s homepage is shown in Figure 1.
Although the site offers options for English and Polish as well as German, those translation features are a little glitchy, as of this writing. For example, if you’re viewing a page other than the home page and you select “English,” the site kicks you back to the home page, rather than translating the current page. Nonetheless, if you click on “More Collections” (boxed in green), and then choose “Digitale Sammlungen” (digital collections), as shown in Figure 2, you can eventually get to the site’s “Familienforschung” (Genealogy) page.
At any point during this process, you can always cheat and machine translate the page using Chrome as your browser. Right-click anywhere on the webpage, and the box shown above the blue arrow in Figure 3 will pop up, offering you the option to Translate to English. Alternatively, stick with German and click on “Familienforschung” (Genealogy), boxed in green, or browse first to some of those other collections that may be of interest.
Figure 4 shows the machine-translated version of the Genealogy page. You can also shortcut the process by navigating to this page directly.
Once you’re on the Genealogy page, you’ll probably want to view “Church records,” unless your ancestors happened to be from Reinswalde/Złotnik or Rogsen/Rogoziniec, both in Lubusz Voivodeship, or Zimdarse/Siemidarżno in West Pomeranian Voivodeship, as these are currently the only locations for which civil vital registrations are available online.
When you select “Church records” (or “Kirchenbücher,” if you’re continuing in the German original), you’ll have options to view the special collection of Hippler’s Church Books from the Warmia-Masuria region, Warmian church book films, or further parish registers. The Warmian church book films include digitized vital records from two locations, Mehlsack/Pieniezno in the present-day Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, and Tiefenau/Tychnowy in the Pomeranian Voivodeship. The further parish registers (“weitere Kirchenbücher”) consist of church books from 44 parishes (mostly Protestant) located throughout Poland today (Figure 5).
Hippler’s Church Books and the Warmian church book films are really the highlight of this library’s digital offerings, in terms of vital records, because Dr. Hippler seemed to be intent on creating accurate transcriptions.
On Abstracts and Rabbit Holes: A Word of Caution
In contrast, one should exercise caution in using some of the books from the “weitere Kirchenbücher” (further parish registers). As an interesting example, I chose to examine the library’s collection of Roman Catholic church books, identified as being from Kazimierza Wielka from 1802–1845 (Figure 6).
This collection consists of typed abstracts of the church books, as well as a 109-page alphabetized index of the individuals whose vital events are recorded in those books. Apparently, these abstracts are not complete, but were created selectively, aimed at identifying individuals of German descent, so the record numbers are not continuous, going from 4 to 6 to 54 and 55, as shown in Figure 7.
Unfortunately, I hit a snag when I tried to find the original records that were abstracted here. Roman Catholic books from Kazimierza Wielka (located northeast of Kraków in the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship) are digitized at GenBaza, which has images from the duplikat books (1810–1939), held by the state archive of Kielce (Archiwum Państwowe w Kielcach), as well as the unikat books (1690–1868) held by the diocesan archive in Kielce (Archiwum Diecezjalne w Kielcach). The duplikat books were created from the original church records (unikat) at the end of each year and stored in the archives of the district court, and for Kazimierza Wielka, many books from both the unikat and duplikat collections have survived. (More information on the practice of creating vital records books can be found here.) Unikat scans from the diocesan archive from 1690–1870 can also be found in Metryki, which makes them slightly more accessible than the scans in GenBaza since Metryki does not require a login. Moreover, records from Kazimierza Wielka are indexed at Geneteka (1670–1874).
With all those resources available online, it was easy to look up birth record number 4 from 1827 for Kazimierza Wielka from the unikat records of the diocesan archive in Kielce, and this is shown in Figure 8. That birth record was clearly not a birth record for Karoline Wilhelmine Emilie Bohr, as suggested by the typed abstract from Figure 7, but rather one for Błażej Czupierda, son of Kazimierz and Franciszka née Wrześniak.
Figure 9 shows the duplikat version of this same record from the state archive in Kielce, and it, too, confirmed that the fourth birth recorded in 1827 in Kazimierza Wielka was that of Błażej Czupierda, not Karoline Wilhelmine Emilie Bohr.
Since both of those original records agreed, the only logical explanation was that the parish had been misidentified. Mapa.szukacz.pl identifies 14 places within the borders of Poland today called Kazimierz. So which Kazimierz was the source of the abstracts held by the Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek?
Closer examination of the other abstracted records in Figure 7 revealed references to other local villages that were presumably located within the parish, such as Krzywiec in no. 54, Rąbień in no. 55, and “Konst.,” in no. 4, where Karoline Bohr herself was born. Already deep inside the rabbit hole, I checked out Krzywiec and Rąbień in Mapa.szukacz.pl. There’s only one Rąbień in Poland and it’s near Łódź. Similarly, there’s a village called Krzywiec near there, and “Konst.” must be Konstantynów Łódzki. Lo, and behold, “Kazimierza Wielka” must be Kazimierz, presently located in gmina Lutomiersk, within Pabianice County, Łódź Voivodeship (Figure 10).
If nothing else, this exercise really underscored for me the richness and abundance of historical records that are now available online, thanks to the efforts of volunteers from Polish genealogical societies and Polish archives. It also underscored the need for careful evaluation and understanding of source material for genealogical research.
Using the Catalog of the Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek
As is true for most other libraries and archives, the digitized offerings available at the website of the Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek represent only a small fraction of their holdings. To see what else they have that might be relevant to one’s research, it’s necessary to check the catalog. This can be accessed from the search bar at the top (“Suchen und Finden”) of the home page shown in Figure 1. Since this is a German site, I like to use correct German spellings for my search terms, as a rule. However, the search engine does not seem to be particularly fussy about diacritics. A search for “Kirchenbucher” came up with the same 1,779 results as a search for “Kirchenbücher,” and a search for “Krakow” returned results for “Kraków.” One thing that does not seem to be readily available is a complete list of parishes for which the library holds original books, whether digitized or not. Most librarians and archivists are extremely helpful, however, so a quick email is probably all that will be required in order to confirm the availability of collections that may be of interest.
Knowing where to find collections of historical documents that are relevant (or potentially so) to our research is important for all genealogists, and sometimes those collections may be found in places that are a bit off the beaten path. Poland’s tumultuous history and changing borders can make it even more challenging to locate records, and metrical books can sometimes turn up in surprising places, after being hidden from—or confiscated by—invading armies. When in doubt, professional, onsite researchers can be invaluable allies in our quest to locate records. In cases where originals no longer exist, derivative sources can help fill in the blanks. However, it’s important to evaluate them carefully, making an effort to understand why they were created, and by whom, and what originals were used in their creation. Hopefully some of you readers will be able to find your ancestors in these records from the Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek. If you do, be sure to let me know in the comments. Happy researching!
In my last post, I summarized the basic vital data about John Hodgkinson, United Empire Loyalist (U.E.), that I believe is supported by evidence from the historical record. However, there are quite a few family trees out there that make some unusual claims and connections to this family, and offer no evidence to support those assertions. Today, I’d like to discuss a few of the common claims regarding the origins and immediate family of John Hodgkinson.
Let’s begin with a few of the most popular statements found in family trees pertaining to John Hodgkinson, U.E.:
John Hodgkinson was born 29 November 1750 in London, England.
John Hodgkinson was born 29 December 1753 in Mansfield, Nottingham, England to John Hodgkinson and Sarah Godley.
John Hodgkinson was married to Sarah Carey Marle on 6 June 1781 in St. Leonards, Shoreditch, London, England.
John Hodgkinson died on 26 October 1826.
John Hodgkinson had other children besides the ones discussed previously (namely, Samuel, Ellender, Francis, and Robert).
Let’s examine these individually.
Statement 1: John Hodgkinson was born 29 November 1750 in London, England
Records from the Hodgkinson Family Burying Ground indicate that John Hodgkinson, U.E., was born in 1750 and died in 1832,1 but there is no specific birth date suggested by Canadian records, nor do we have any definitive evidence for where he might have been born. Certainly, as a Loyalist, he was living in the American Colonies prior to the start of the Revolutionary War, but that’s about all we know for sure. The lack of promising matches for John’s birth or baptism in indexed collections of American Colonial records suggests that there might be some merit to the hypothesis of a birth in England, however. Moreover, the Greater London area was something of a hotspot for this surname in 1881, based on the surname distribution map shown in Figure 1.2 Unfortunately, data for years prior to 1881 are not available, but assuming it’s safe (?) to extrapolate these data to the previous century, then we can infer that the Hodgkinson surname was also quite prevalent in Lancashire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Cheshire, Yorkshire, and Staffordshire at the time of John Hodgkinson’s birth. (The popularity within those counties varies based on the the specific parameter in consideration—incidence, frequency, or rank within the area.)
Unfortunately, geographic surname distributions are not especially helpful at predicting a family’s origins when it comes to relatively popular surnames. It doesn’t matter if there were only nine Hodgkinsons living in Northumberland in 1881; if you can definitively trace your ancestry back to them, then you don’t care that the surname is relatively rare in Northumberland. So, while it’s entirely possible that John Hodgkinson, U.E., was born in London on 29 November 1750—and plenty of people seem to believe this to be true, based on all those online trees out there—there needs to be some evidence for this assertion, because that’s certainly not the only place he could have been born. In fact, a quick search of indexed records on FamilySearch for “John Hodgkinson” born in London, England in 1750, produces a slew of possible vital records from all over England. “Hodgkinson” is just not an especially unique surname, so it’s not clear to me how a certain percentage of the Genealogical Community at Large decided that this information was reliable.
Statement 2: John Hodgkinson was born 29 December 1753 in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England to John Hodgkinson and Sarah Godley
This second hypothesis is perhaps even more popular than the first, and what makes it so intriguing is that some evidence is offered for this assertion. Several Hodgkinson trees online cite birth records for John Hodgkinson, William Hodgkinson, and a purported sister, Mary Hodgkinson, all baptized in Mansfield, and all of whom were recorded as children of John and Sarah Hodgkinson.3 Moreover, there’s a marriage record for John Hodgkinson and Sarah Godley, who are assumed to be the parents of these children.4 John’s “birth record” is shown in Figure 2.
On the surface, these data fit the research problem nicely, and it’s very appealing to hope that this hypothesis might be true. Mansfield in Nottinghamshire lies squarely within that “Hodgkinson surname hot zone” shown in Figure 1. Although no maiden name was reported for the mother on the baptismal records of John (baptized 29 December 1753), Mary (baptized 6 April 1755), and William (baptized 10 April 1759), it’s logical to suppose that they might be siblings since the parents’ names are the same in all cases, and they were all baptized in the same place. The marriage of John Hodgkinson “Senior” and Sarah Godley in Mansfield England on 25 June 1752 would fit nicely with the timing of the children’s births, suggesting that this groom and bride might be the same John and Sarah Hodgkinson that were identified in the baptismal records. But how does this family group compare with existing data for the Loyalist Hodgkinsons?
Well, John’s baptism in 1753 is sufficiently close to his documented birth date of 1750 as to make this plausible, especially since the birth date recorded in the Hodgkinson Burying Ground records may have been calculated from his supposed age at the time of death, which may have been “off” by a few years. The structure of this family group is consistent with Canadian evidence indicating that John Hodgkinson was older than his brother, William, as well. It’s also possible that the Mary Hodgkinson identified in the baptismal record could be the “Mary Huskinson” who was recorded as the godmother to Ellender “Huskinson” in the records of the Dutch Reformed Church in Schaghticoke.5 However, if this hypothesis is correct, then William was baptized quite a long time after his birth on 12 August 1751, which is the date cited by the transcript of grave markers from the Hodgkinson Family Burying Ground.6 Could it be that he was actually born in 1751, but baptized as late as 1759? That seems unlikely, in light of existing evidence that the vast majority of babies were baptized within a week after birth in 16th- and 17th-century England.7 Nonetheless, exceptions did exist, and some families were more lax than others in baptizing their children soon after birth. Furthermore, if this were true for the Hodgkinson family of Mansfield, it would also help to reconcile that discrepancy between John’s date of birth according to his grave marker (1750) and his date of baptism.
Any time we find an “index only” record, such as these records for the baptisms of the Hodgkinson siblings and the marriage record for John Hodgkinson and Sarah Godley, it’s useful to go to the source and view the original documents from which the indexed information was taken. John Hodgkinson’s birth record was found in Ancestry’s “England and Wales Christening Index, 1530–1980” database, and the marriage record for John Hodgkinson (“Senior”) and Sarah Godley was similarly found in Ancestry’s “England and Wales Marriages, 1538–1988” database. As the source for the information in both these databases, Ancestry cites the British Isles Vital Records Index, 2nd Edition, published by the Genealogical Society of Utah (the progenitor of FamilySearch) as the source. So in this case, the source of the information is an index citing another index.
A similar situation occurs when searching for these individuals at FamilySearch. William’s and Mary’s birth records can be found in the database, “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” and I suspect that John must be in there as well, although he was curiously absent in searches of the database, both broad and narrow. Mary’s search result is shown in Figure 3.
This particular database is one of FamilySearch‘s “Legacy” databases. Unlike collections of indexed historical records from one particular place, FamilySearch‘s Legacy collections are compilations of records obtained from a variety of sources, including user-contributed (i.e. unverified) data previously published in the International Genealogical Index (IGI). As FamilySearch cautions on their Wiki article about this database, “As this is an index of records compiled from various sources, it is strongly recommended that you verify any information you find with original records.”
Where to find those original records? An easy way to do that is to click on the drop-down arrow for “Document Information.” This displays important information about the original source, as shown in Figure 4, including the digital folder number and the microfilm number.
FamilySearch has recently made some updates to their website, and that may be why some of the search features and links seem “glitchy” to me. You’d think, for example, that clicking on the microfilm number shown in Figure 4 would take you to the catalog entry for that film number. Unfortunately, it links instead to a “No Results Found” page in the Records search. That means we have to take matters into our own hands and navigate to the FamilySearch Catalog, and from there, choose “Search for Film/Fiche Number,” and then paste in (or retype) the film number, 503789. That brings up the page shown in Figure 5.
This tells us that Film number 503789 contains Bishop’s transcripts from two different parishes in Nottinghamshire, Linby and Mansfield. Since the indexed entry stated that the Hodgkinsons were from Mansfield, we can assume it’s that second collection, “Items 2–3: Bishop’s transcripts, Mansfield (Nottingham), 1598–1903” that must contain the images of the baptismal records for John, William and Mary Hodgkinson. (In fact, as an alternative to looking up the film number contained in the Document Information, we could also search according to Place [Mansfield] in the FamilySearch Catalog and find the original images that way.)
Following through with either one of those methods will bring us to the page shown in Figure 6, which contains details on the available Bishop’s transcripts from the parish of Mansfield.
At last, our efforts are rewarded with the information that items 2–3 on film 503789 contain “Baptisms, marriages, burials, 1598–1760,” which is right where we would expect to find the three Hodgkinson baptismal records and the parents’ marriage record. Since the images are not available for home viewing, I had to visit my local FamilySearch Affiliate Library in order to obtain copies. Unfortunately, the original images contain no additional information beyond what was indexed. William Hodgkinson’s birth is shown in Figure 7 as an example.8
So what does this do for us in evaluating the hypothesis that John Hodgkinson, U.E., was baptized in Mansfield on 29 December 1753 and was the son of John Hodgkinson and Sarah, whose maiden name was probably Godley? As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out. Reasonably exhaustive research is one of the criteria required by the Genealogical Proof Standard before we can consider this hypothesis to be proven. While evidence from Canadian records may well have been exhausted, there may still be some insight that can be gained from deeper research in British records. Do John, William and Mary Hodgkinson “disappear” from British records, or can potentially relevant marriage or death records be found, which might imply that these individuals did not emigrate? Do the original parish vital records (not bishop’s transcripts) contain any information not found in the copies? Can evidence for the departure of John, William and Mary Hodgkinson be found in parish chest records from Mansfield? Can probate records be discovered for John Senior or Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson, which mention children living in the American Colonies? Until answers are found to these questions, I think it can only be said that this is an interesting—and plausible—hypothesis in need of further research.
Statement 3: John Hodgkinson was married to Sarah Carey Marle on 6 June 1781 in St. Leonards, Shoreditch, London, England.
Moving right along, there are a number of family trees that contain the claim that the Sarah Hodgkinson who was married to John Hodgkinson, U.E., was in fact, Sarah Carey Marle (1782–1854). According to these trees, Sarah was the mother of Samuel, Robert, and Francis Hodgkinson of Grantham, Upper Canada. These claims originate with this marriage record for John Hodgkinson and Sarah Carey from St. Leonard’s Church (also known as Shoreditch Church) in London (Figure 8).9
This marriage record can be considered as solid evidence that a John Hodgkinson, widower, married Sarah Carey on 6 June 1781 in the presence of Mary Stoneley and William Burgess at Shoreditch Church, but it’s an obvious case of mistaken identity to assume that this record has anything at all to do with John Hodgkinson, U.E.. Sarah Spencer was clearly identified as the wife of John Hodgkinson in his land petition, and in 1781, John was presumably in active service with Butler’s Rangers, since they did not disband until 1784.10 It’s unlikely that he took a quick jaunt back to England to enter a bigamous marriage with Sarah Carey. Sorry, folks, you’ve got the wrong John Hodgkinson.
Statement 4: John Hodgkinson died on 26 October 1826.
John’s grave marker stated that he died in 1832, with no specific date given.11 He does not appear in the index of wills for Lincoln County, Ontario (1796-1918), which is good evidence that he did not leave a will, which might have been helpful in narrowing down a date of death.12 Barring the discovery of any previously-unknown church death records or newspaper obituaries, the date on that grave marker seems to provide the best estimate for John Hodgkinson’s date of death. So where does the date of 26 October 1826 come from? I suspect that this error stems from confusion with the date of death of John’s wife, Sarah Hodgkinson. There’s good evidence that she died in 1826; her death notice was published in the Farmer’s Journal and Welland Canal Intelligencer on Wednesday, 1 November 1826, stating, “Died…In Grantham, on Tuesday last, of dropsy, Mrs. Sarah Hodgkinson, wife of Mr. John Hodgkinson, at an advanced age. The funeral will take place at his residence tomorrow, at 12 o’clock, at noon.”13 Although “Tuesday last” seems to suggest the previous day, 31 October 1826, it could be argued that perhaps the previous Tuesday, 24 October, was meant. Regardless of which date you prefer, it was clearly Sarah Hodgkinson who died in October 1826, and not John, since the wording of the death notice strongly suggests that he was still alive and would be present at his wife’s funeral on 2 November.
Statement 5: John Hodgkinson had other children besides the ones discussed previously (namely, Samuel, Ellender, Francis, and Robert).
There are quite a few family trees out there that attach additional children to John Hodgkinson, U.E., and either of the two wives, Mary Moore and Sarah Spencer, who are supported by evidence from historical documents. Some assert that John had a son, William James Hodgkinson, or a son, Spencer Hodgkinson. Others claim that he had a daughter, Rebecca, or a daughter, Sarah. No sources are cited for these claims, and I believe that’s because there aren’t any to cite. Let’s remember that there was an important monetary advantage to being the son or daughter of a Loyalist in Upper Canada in the late 18th- and early 19th centuries, since each son or daughter of a Loyalist was entitled to a free land grant (typically 200 acres) from the British Crown. It would be unusual for any children of John Hodgkinson who survived to adulthood to neglect this opportunity for free land, and no other land petitions exist for children of John Hodgkinson except for those already cited, for Samuel, Francis and Robert. You don’t have to take my word for that; consider evidence from William D. Reid’s book, The Loyalists in Ontario: The Sons and Daughters of the American Loyalists of Upper Canada, in which he, too, identifies only these children of John Hodgkinson (Figure 9).14
Of course, one could argue that William James, Spencer, Sarah, or Rebecca were nonetheless children of John Hodgkinson, but that they died before reaching an age at which they could petition for a land grant. After all, there is no land petition for Ellender Hodgkinson, yet I’m of the opinion that she was a child of John Hodgkinson and his first wife, Mary Moore. However, the difference is that there is a baptismal record identifying Ellender as a child of John and Mary “Huskinson,” as discussed in my last post, whereas I can find no evidence that these other putative children actually do belong in this family group. It’s not enough to say, “Hmm… I’ve got a Rebecca Hodkginson who was supposed to have been born in Canada in the right time frame for her to be the daughter of John Hodgkinson, U.E… I guess she must be his daughter!” Essentially, that is proposing a hypothesis, and it’s perfectly okay to do that, as long as your online tree indicates in some way that this is your own, unproven, pet theory. To avoid confusing newbies, however, it’s probably more prudent to keep those trees private, so that you can provide appropriate cautions about the hypothetical relationships in your tree when curious people write to you for more information.
Although the Hodgkinson family presents just one example, the issue of hasty, careless, or poorly-reasoned research is pervasive in the world of genealogy. I want to emphasize that I’m not trying to “name and shame” anyone. In fact, I deliberately avoided citing specific online trees where these errors are found. Instead, my hope is to encourage family historians to be a bit more critical and discerning when evaluating evidence from historical sources, rather than jumping on the “same name” bandwagon. We all make mistakes, and in our enthusiasm for pushing back just one generation further, it can be easy to overlook pesky facts that don’t fit our hypotheses very well. However, we owe it to ourselves and to our ancestors to get their stories right, to the best of our ability.
4“England and Wales Marriages, 1538–1988,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com/ : 10 October 2021), John Hodgkinson and Sarah Godley, 25 June 1752, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England.
5 “U.S., Dutch Reformed Church Records in Selected States, 1639-1989,” database with images, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 10 October 2021), Ellender Huskinson, baptized 23 November 1778; citing Holland Society of New York; New York, New York; Deer Park, Vol II, Book 11.
8“Bishop’s transcripts, Mansfield (Nottingham), 1598-1903,” Baptisms, marriages, burials, 1598-1760, 1759, Baptisms, William Hodgkinson, son of John and Sarah Hodgkinson, 10 April 1759; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 7 October 2021), FHL film no. 503789/DGS no. 7565515, image 551 of 566.
9“London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1936,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 10 October 2021), John Hodgkinson and Sarah Carey, 6 June 1781; citing London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; London Church of England Parish Registers; Reference Number: P91/LEN/A/01/MS 7498/12.
Ernest Cruikshank, The Story of Butler’s Rangers and the Settlement of Niagara (Welland, Ontario: Tribune Printing House, 1893), p. 113; ebook, Project Gutenburg Canada (https://gutenberg.ca/: 10 October 2021).
11 Parnell, p 2.
12Lincoln County (Ontario) Registrar of Deeds, “Will Index, 1796–1918;” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 10 October 2021), surnames beginning with “H,” images 55–68 of 160.
13Farmers’ Journal and Welland Canal Intelligencer (St. Catharines, Upper Canada), 1 November 1826 (Wednesday), p 3, col 4, death notice for Sarah Hodgkinson; online images, Google News (https://news.google.com/ : 10 October 2021).
14William D. Reid, The Loyalists in Ontario: The Sons and Daughters of the American Loyalists of Upper Canada (Lambertville, NJ, USA: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1973), p 150, Hodgkinson, John of Grantham; ebook, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 10 October 2021).
Lately, I’ve been exploring some DNA matches on my Dad’s side of the family that have me pondering the murky origins of my Hodgkinson ancestry. In comparison with my maternal Polish ancestors, the Hodgkinsons have been very well-researched, as they were United Empire Loyalists and early settlers of Upper Canada (what is now Ontario). Yet despite this fact, there are a number of basic genealogical research questions which remain unanswered, due to the general difficulty of research in relatively sparse early Canadian records. Of course, difficult research problems inspire all sorts of speculation and theories, and that’s not a bad thing. Proposing hypotheses, and then testing them against evidence from the historical record, is an integral part of genealogy. However, some of the assertions made about this family seem to be so unfounded, that I wonder if there isn’t more data out there that isn’t cited in these family trees, and that I’m somehow overlooking. So today, I’d like to explore some of the evidence for John Hodgkinson, U.E.—my 5x-great-grandfather—that is found in historical documents.
What We Know About John Hodgkinson, U.E.
The most basic version of the narrative asserts that he was born circa 1750 and died circa 1832, and that he was a United Empire Loyalist (U.E.) who served during the American Revolutionary War as a private in Butler’s Rangers, and was married first to Mary Moore, with whom he had his oldest son, Samuel Hodgkinson. At some point she died, and he remarried Sarah Spencer. Sarah was the daughter of Robert Spencer, U.E., who had served alongside John in Butler’s Rangers. The date of Mary’s death is unknown. One can speculate that she may have died as a result of harsh conditions in the Loyalist refugee camps,1 but it’s also possible that she died after 1784, when the Hodgkinsons and other Rangers’ families were settled on land grants from the Crown in Grantham township on the Niagara Peninsula. John had two additional sons besides Samuel, Francis and Robert, who are generally believed to be from his second wife since they were born circa 1790 and 1792, respectively.
I believe all of these facts to be true. John Hodgkinson’s original grave marker provided a birth date of 1750 and a death date of 1832, although this marker no longer exists, as the original Hodgkinson Family Burying Ground was moved in November 1913 to make way for the Welland Ship Canal, and all human remains were relocated to Victoria Lawn Cemetery in St. Catharines.2 There is good evidence that both John Hodgkinson and his brother, William, served in Butler’s Rangers.3 Evidence for John’s marriage to Sarah Spencer includes the fact that his land petition stated that he was “married to Sarah the daughter of Robert Spencer, a Loyalist U.E.,”4 and Sarah’s death notice further identifies her as “Mrs. Sarah Hodgkinson, wife of Mr. John Hodgkinson” of Grantham (Figure 1).5
John Hodgkinson’s sons were all identified as such in their land petitions. Samuel’s petition stated that he “… is the Son of John Hodgkinson of Grantham/is on the U.E. List…” (Figure 2).6 The phrasing used here could possibly be construed to mean that Samuel Hodgkinson himself was on the U.E. List, not just his father, which is perhaps a hint at his birth in the U.S., although Samuel would have been a child and not a Loyalist per se at the time of his family’s arrival in Upper Canada.
Francis’s petition from 26 November 1815 similarly stated that “your Petitioner is the son of John Hodgkinson of the Township of Grantham in the District of Niagara, a U.E. Loyalist….” and that “he is of the age of Twenty-five Years,”7 which suggests a birth year circa 1790. Last, but not least, Robert’s petition, dated 24 November 1815, two days earlier than his brother’s, uses the same wording, stating that he “is the son of John Hodgkinson of the Township of Grantham in the District of Niagara, a U.E. Loyalist….” and that “he is of the age of Twenty-three Years.”8 This implies that he was born circa 1792, which is consistent with other evidence.
“Schaghticoke Samuel” or “Burlington Samuel”?
The statement that John Hodgkinson’s first wife was Mary Moore, who was the mother of his oldest son, Samuel, is where things start to get interesting. There is only one piece of evidence that is commonly cited for this assertion, which is a baptismal record for Samuel “Hadgkinsson” found in the records of the Reformed Dutch Church of Schaghticoke (New York), 1750–1866, which were recopied by Rev. Abraham H. Meyers between 3 December 1878 and 4 March 1879 (Figure 3).9
It’s entirely plausible to me that the Samuel “Hadgkisson” described in this record is the same Samuel Hodgkinson described in that land petition. Schaghticoke, New York, is a small town located in the Hudson River Valley near Albany, and a number of Loyalists from Butler’s Rangers originated in that area. The sponsors were Wm. Hadgkisson and Mary Moore, consistent with the fact that John Hodgkinson, U.E., had a brother named William. So far, so good.
However, there’s another birth record for a Samuel Hodgkinson that is often referenced to substantiate claims that the Hodgkinson family was originally from New Jersey, and that is the record shown in Figure 4 from the register of St. Mary’s (Episcopal) Church in Burlington, New Jersey, which was published by the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania back in 1903 (Figure 4).10
According to this record, Samuel, son of John and Mary Hodgkinson, was born 22 September 1775 and baptized 12 November 1775 in Burlington, New Jersey. Mary’s maiden name is not specified. Since the birth dates of “Schaghticoke Samuel” and “Burlington Samuel” are reasonably close in time, either one of them could be the Samuel Hodgkinson of Grantham, Upper Canada. More evidence is needed before anything could be stated definitively about the place of birth of Samuel Hodgkinson, U.E. However, one theory that I do not subscribe to, is that these records represent the same Samuel Hodgkinson, whose baptism was recorded twice, first in New Jersey and then in New York. It’s also not possible that “Schaghticoke Samuel” was a second son of the same John and Mary Hodgkinson, named after “Burlington Samuel” died in infancy, because “Burlington Samuel” was still alive in November 1775 and “Schaghticoke Samuel” was already born and baptized only three months later, in February.
As crazy as this may sound, I think it’s much more plausible that there were actually two distinct couples named John and Mary Hodgkinson, who lived concurrently in the American Colonies and had sons named Samuel. The records from St. Mary’s Church in Burlington contain multiple references to Hodgkinsons, including a baptismal record for another son of John and Mary Hodgkinson named Peter Aris Hodgkinson, who was born 2 June 1769, as well as a burial record for a Mary Hodgkinson on 26 March 1808, and a burial record for John Hodgkinson on 19 April 1814.11 While there’s no guarantee that the John and Mary from the burial records are the same John and Mary who were the parents of Peter and Samuel, it’s certainly possible that this is true, and this would imply that the Burlington Hodgkinsons were still living in New Jersey long after the Loyalist Hodgkinsons had settled in Upper Canada. Furthermore, there’s a marriage record for a Samuel Hodgkinson and Elizabeth Frankfort on 30 November 1803 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which is just 21 miles from Burlington, New Jersey,12 and also a death record for a Samuel Hodgkinson who died 28 November 1841 in Philadelphia at the age of 68, suggesting a birth circa 1773.13 Although further evidence is needed before we could conclude definitively that it was “Burlington Samuel” who first married Elizabeth Frankfort and then died in Philadelphia in 1841, the existence of any evidence for a Samuel Hodgkinson who continued to live in this vicinity after 1784 (when the families of Butler’s Rangers had settled in Upper Canada), argues against the hypothesis that “Burlington Samuel” is Samuel Hodgkinson, U.E.
Enter Ellender Hodgkinson
Although it’s difficult to imagine that there could be any “new” discoveries with a family so well-researched as the Hodgkinsons, there is one additional family member that I have never seen mentioned. The records from the Dutch Reformed Church in Schaghticoke contain a record which seems likely to pertain to this same John and Mary Hodgkinson: the baptism of Ellender “Huskinson” on 23 November 1778 (Figure 5).14
Between the fact that these records were recopied, and the usual lack of consistent surname spellings in documents from this era, I’m not too bothered by the fact that John’s surname was recorded as “Huskinson” rather than “Hodgkinson,” and Mary’s was recorded as “More” instead of “Moore.” The sponsors were noted to be Mary Stephenson and Mary Huskinson, and it’s possible that “Mary” Stephenson’s given name was recorded in error. The typical custom was to have a godfather and a godmother, rather than two godmothers, and that pattern is noted in this book as well, with the godfather’s name recorded first in all the other entries. For that reason, I suspect that a man’s name should have been recorded in place of “Mary” for the Stephenson godparent. The child’s unusual given name, Ellender, is supposedly derived from a German word meaning “foreigner” or “stranger.”15 No further references to John and Mary Hodgkinson/Huskinson appear in the records of the Dutch Reformed Church in Schaghticoke, which is consistent with the hypothesis that they were Loyalists and would probably have left New York at some point after the British defeat at the Battle of Saratoga.
The name Ellender (or Elender) is not a name I’ve encountered much in my research, but I’ve seen it exactly twice before. In the 1881 census, there is an “Elender M. Walsh” (indexed as “Elenden”), age 24, living with the family of Robert and Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh (Figure 6).16
“Elender’s” age makes it clear that she is Robert and Elizabeth’s daughter, more commonly recorded as Ellen or Nellie (née Walsh) DeVere (1856–1906). Ellender Hodgkinson would have been Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh’s grandaunt (or great-aunt, if you prefer that terminology), so it’s possible that Ellen/Nellie/Elender was intended to be the namesake of Ellender Hodgkinson. This theory may be a bit of a reach since this 1881 census was the only time Nellie was recorded as Elender. In 1861 and 1871, for example, she was Ellen;17 she was baptized as Eleanor Margaret,18 and she was married and buried as Nellie.19
And yet, this family contains not one, but two Elenders, in a census for which there were only 13 examples in the entire country of given names beginning with “Elend-.” Who is the second Elender? By 1881, Robert and Elizabeth’s second son, Henry (my great-great-grandfather) was married to Martha Agnes Dodds, and they were the parents of two daughters, Marion and Clara Ellen. Marion (or Marian) was born 8 October 1878,20 which corresponds well with the two-and-a-half-year-old “Mary Ann” recorded on the census, and Clara’s birth on 19 September 1880 makes her an obvious match for 6-month-old “Elender.”21 Perhaps I’m guilty of attaching too much significance to what may have been two simple errors on the part of the census-taker. Nonetheless, I’m inclined to interpret the duplication of this unusual given name as evidence that the Ellender “Huskinson” who was baptized in Schaghticoke in 1778, was in fact a daughter of John Hodgkinson, U.E., and that his granddaughter, Elizabeth Walsh, was aware of Ellender’s existence, and that Ellender’s name was deliberately preserved in the Walsh family. (It may have been that the “honorees” themselves, Nellie and Clara, were not especially thrilled with the name, and that’s why we only see this one reference to it.)
Returning now to John Hodgkinson, the next time his family is mentioned in historical records is in the “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th March 1783,” contained within the collection known as the Haldimand Papers. These returns documented families of Loyalists who lived in refugee camps in Quebec and received public assistance from the Crown. I’ve discussed this refugee list previously, along with the one dated 24 July 1783, in which the family of John Hodgkinson was also enumerated.22 In both of those refugee lists, the Hodgkinson family was said to consist of one woman, no men or male children, one female child over age six and one female child under age six, for a total of three persons. John himself seems to be absent from this tally since no men were recorded with the family, but perhaps this is explained by the fact that Butler’s Rangers did not disband until June 1784, so John was not yet reunited with his family. The two children who have thus far been identified as having been born to John and Mary (Moore) Hodgkinson, Samuel and Ellender, would have been about ages seven and four, respectively, if we assume that the baptismal dates reported in the church records from Schaghticoke were roughly equivalent to their birth dates. Those ages line up with those of the children described in the refugee lists, although one inconsistency is that Samuel was misrecorded as female.
Although some additional documents exist (e.g. land records) which mention John Hodgkinson, U.E., beyond those mentioned here, they only serve to confirm these basic facts, or to enrich our understanding of his life in Upper Canada. I have yet to discover additional historical records that shed light on John’s early life. Nonetheless, some speculation exists about the identities of John’s parents, siblings, and even additional children beyond the ones mentioned here. In my next post, I’ll discuss them.
Featured image: Extract from Smyth, David William. “A Map of the Province of Upper Canada, describing all the new settlements, townships, &c. with the countries adjacent, from Quebec to Lake Huron. (1st ed.) Compiled, at the request of His Excellency Major General John G. Simcoe, First Lieutenant Governor, by David William Smyth Esqr., Surveyor General. London, published by W. Faden, Geographer to His Majesty and to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, Charing Cross, April 12th 1800. Accompanied with a topographical Description. Price 10s. & 6d,” David Rumsey Map Collection, http://www.davidrumsey.com/maps3638.html : 5 October 2021), Licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
5Farmers’ Journal and Welland Canal Intelligencer (St. Catharines, Upper Canada), 1 November 1826 (Wednesday), p 3, col 4, death notice for Sarah Hodgkinson; online images, Google News (https://news.google.com/ : 5 October 2021).
9“U.S., Dutch Reformed Church Records in Selected States, 1639-1989,” database with images, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 5 October 2021), Samuel Hadgkisson, baptized 22 February 1776; citing Holland Society of New York; New York, New York; Deer Park, Vol II, Book 11.
10Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, “Register of St. Mary’s Church, Burlington, N.J.: The Register of the Church C. of St. Ann’s at Burlington,” Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania(2)3, 1903, pp 241-302; p 278, baptismal record for Samuel Hodgkinson, born 22 September 1775 June 1769; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 5 October 2021), image 262 of 444.
11Ibid., p 262, baptismal record for Peter Aris Hodgkinson, 13 August 1769; p 286, burial record for Mary Hodgkinson, 26 March 1808; and p 288, burial record for John Hodgkinson, 19 April 1814.
12“Pennsylvania, U.S., Compiled Marriage Records, 1700-1821,” database with images, Ancestry ((https://ancestry.com : 5 October 2021), Samuel Hodgkinson and Elizabeth Frankfort, 30 November 1803, citing records from Second Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, 1763-1812, found in Pennsylvania Marriage Records. Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Archives Printed Series, 1876. Series 2, Series 6.
13“Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., Death Certificates Index, 1803–1915,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 5 October 2021), Samuel Hodgkinson, born c. 1773, died 28 November 1841.
14 “U.S., Dutch Reformed Church Records in Selected States, 1639-1989,” database with images, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 5 October 2021), Ellender Huskinson, baptized 23 November 1778; citing Holland Society of New York; New York, New York; Deer Park, Vol II, Book 11.
161881 census of Canada, schedule no. 1 — Nominal Return of the Living, Ontario, Lincoln District no. 145, St. Catharines Sub-District A, Division no. 2, Family no. 140, p 26, Robt. Welsh family; digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca : 5 October 2021), item no. 3790055, image no. e008188289; citing Microfilm: C-13254 Reference: RG31 – Statistics Canada.
17 1861 census of Canada, population schedule, Canada West (Ontario), Lincoln District, St. Catharines Sub-District, p 96, lines 37–47, Robert Walsh household; digital image, Library and Archives Canada, (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/ : 5 October 2021), item no. 2721097, image no. 4391560_00231; citing microfilm C-1049; and
1871 census of Canada, Schedule 1 — Nominal Return of the Living, Ontario, Lincoln District no. 21, St. Catharines Sub-District B, Division no. 2, p 64, Family no. 225, Robert Walsh household; digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/ : 5 October 2021), Item no. 2782126, image no. 4396294_00191; citing microfilm C-9922, RG31 – Statistics Canada.
18Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, 1857, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, “Baptism Ellenor Walsh,” accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org: 5 October 2021), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines, > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 72 of 104. Principal’s name was recorded as “Ellenor” in the margin and “Eleanor Margaret” within the body of the record.
19 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Marriages 1858-1910, 1883, unnumbered entries in chronological order, Charles Dolfin and Nellie Welsh, 26 May 1883; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org: 5 October 2021), path: “Canada, Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” > Lincoln County > St Catharines, > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 30 of 48; and
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/148014987/nellie-m-de_vere : accessed 05 October 2021), memorial page for Nellie M Welch De Vere (1857-1906), Find a Grave Memorial ID 148014987, citing Victoria Lawn Cemetery, St. Catharines, Niagara Regional Municipality, Ontario, Canada ; Maintained by C (contributor 48635147).
20 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, 1878, baptismal record for Marian Walsh, born 8 October 1878; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 5 October 2021), path: “Canada, Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” > Lincoln County > St Catharines, > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms 1860-1906 > image 98 of 177.
21 “Ontario Births, 1869-1911,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : 5 October 2021), Clara Ellen Welch, 19 Sep 1880; citing Birth, St. Catharines, Lincoln, Ontario, Canada, citing Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 1,845,399.
22 “British Library, formerly British Museum, Additional Manuscripts 21804-21834, Haldimand Paper,” citing John Hodgkinson in, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th March 1783,” LAC reel H-1654, Returns of Loyalists in Canada, n.d., 1778-1787, MG 21, 21826, B-166, accessed as browsable images, Héritage (http://heritage.canadiana.ca : 5 October 2021), images 730-748 out of 1240, Image 745; and
Ibid., refugee list from 24 July 1783, images 749-764 out of 1240, Image 762.
When it comes to genetic genealogy, it’s best to hope that each generation in your family tree was large, with lots of descendants living in countries where DNA testing is popular. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. Small families, and families in which many of the distant cousins are living in a place where DNA testing is not as popular (e.g. Poland) make it difficult to find those DNA matches that can lead to breakthroughs in your research. Whether you know, or only suspect, that this is the case for your family, you can visualize the situation using some of the available tools out there, such as Leeds worksheets, and Collins-Leeds matrices.
What is the Leeds Method?
Back in 2018, which is a lifetime ago in the world of genetic genealogy, researcher Dana Leeds described her method for color-coding DNA matches using a spreadsheet, which she developed in order to help a client identify his biological family. Elegant in its simplicity, the Leeds Method took off, and it inspired a number of next-generation automated tools which cluster a tester’s DNA matches based on shared ancestry. Sites which offer autocluster tools include MyHeritage, DNAGedcom, Genetic Affairs, and GEDMatch, and AncestryDNA’s colored-dot grouping tool is also based on this method. With all these automated options available, it’s become a bit passé to create a Leeds Method spreadsheet manually. Nonetheless, I want to share one with you here, because it’s a compact visual aid for illustrating some “structural defects” in my mom’s family tree, and their impact on her DNA match list.
Figure 1 shows a Leeds Method worksheet created from my mother’s list of DNA matches on Ancestry.
Leeds’ basic goal was to sort a list of DNA matches into four clusters, representing matches who are related to the tester through each of that person’s four grandparents. Individuals to whom we are related through only one of our four grandparents are our second cousins, so second cousins would be ideal test subjects for creating a Leeds worksheet. Thanks to the random nature of DNA inheritance, the amount of DNA shared between any two second cousins can vary, but typically, they share about 200 centiMorgans (cM) DNA, where a cM is the unit used to express genetic distance. (More cM shared = closer genetic relationship.) The exact amount of shared DNA between two second cousins can be as little as 41 cM, and as much as 592 cM, according to data gathered by Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project.
With that in mind, Leeds opted to focus on DNA matches who shared between 90 cM and 400 cM DNA. Using her method, a color is assigned to the first match in the the list who shares between 90–400 cM with the tester, and then that same color is assigned to all the shared matches (or “in common with”) matches. This process is repeated until all the matches who share 90–400 cM have been assigned a color. Ideally, you want to exclude first cousins (1C), and descendants of first cousins (1C1R, 1C2R, etc.), because they will match you on two grandparents, not just one. This can be a little tricky if your family tree is not well-developed, because the amount of DNA shared between two people who are 1C1R, 1C2R, or 1C3R, can fall within that 90–400 cM range. However, the beauty of the Leeds Method is that it works even if you don’t know precisely how you’re related to someone, so having a few “mystery” matches in your worksheet that are 1C1R, etc., shouldn’t throw you off too much.
The 33 matches shown in Figure 1 were culled from my mom’s top 52 matches. Since I do know how most of my mom’s top matches are related to her, I took those first 52 matches and subtracted out all children, grandchildren, first cousins, and their descendants, who would match Mom on more than one grandparent. I removed the names of the DNA matches to protect their privacy, but they’re identified by the documentary relationship (if known), as well as by the amount of shared DNA in both cM and number of shared segments. The next ten columns, labelled 1 through 10, are the result of sorting Mom’s match list according to the Leeds Method. In column 1, the blue bars represent matches to whom Mom is related through one of the ancestors of her maternal grandmother, Veronica (née) Grzesiak. The red bars in column 2 represent matches to whom Mom is related through one of the ancestors of her paternal grandmother, Genevieve (née) Klaus. Columns 3 and 4 represent those matches to whom Mom is related through her paternal grandfathers, John Zazycki (purple bars) and Joseph Zielinski (green bars).
This brings us to the first observation I’d like to make. By looking at those four columns, it’s pretty clear that Mom has substantially more DNA matches who are related to her through the families of her grandmothers (Grzesiak and Klaus, blue and red), than she does through the families of her grandfathers (Zazycki and Zielinski, purple and green). She has exactly one match at this level who is related to her through John Zazycki: a 2C1R who is descended from John’s older sister, Marianna (née Zarzycka) Gruberska. Worse, I have to go all the way down to the level of a 4C2R to find a match that’s related to my mom through her grandfather Joseph Zielinski. The common ancestors between Mom and that match are my 6x-great-grandparents, Stanisław and Urszula Swięcicki, who lived back when there was still a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and who had already finished having children by the time of the final partition of Poland in 1795. (The story of that DNA match can be found here.) In other words, Mom has few-to-no “close” matches, depending on how you define “close,” who are related to her through either of her grandfathers.
So, what factors cause this phenomenon? In the case of the Zielinski family, my mother’s grandfather was the only one of the ten children in his family to survive long enough to marry and have children. This means that my mother has no second cousins who are related to her through her Zielinski family, and second cousins are what the Leeds Method hopes to exploit when developing initial groupings. The situation with the Zazycki family may be similar. My mother’s Zazycki grandfather, John, was one of eleven children, six of whom (including John) had children. John was the only one of his siblings to immigrate to the U.S., however, and it seems that not many of his siblings’ descendants opted to immigrate, either. Research is ongoing, but thus far it appears that only John’s eldest sister, Marianna Gruberska, had any children who immigrated. Presumably, the descendants of the other Zazycki (or Zarzycki) siblings remained in Poland. It may be that more of those Zarzycki relatives from Poland will start showing up in my DNA match lists, as DNA testing becomes more affordable and more popular among Poles. Time will tell. And If there are cousins in Poland who might be testing their DNA, it’s more likely that they’ll be showing up in DNA databases from MyHeritage and FamilyTree DNA, since those sites are are more popular than Ancestry DNA in Poland. So, I keep checking all the databases regularly, but thus far the situation has been similar in all of them, with few matches on the Zazycki and Zieliński sides.
Of course, any time one observes a lack of DNA matches to one particular line, there’s always the possibility of a misattributed parentage event, also known as a non-paternity event, or NPE. I’d be more likely to suspect this if Mom had no matches to a particular line, rather than a few distant ones. I’d be even more likely to suspect an NPE if I could find documentary evidence to suggest that a family was large and had plenty of descendants, and she still had no DNA matches. However, the fact that Mom has DNA matches to documented cousins on her Zielinski and Zazycki lines, and that the amount of DNA shared between her and those matches is within the expected range for the documented relationships, suggests that NPEs are not the issue here. (Or at least, it suggests that there are no NPEs that occurred in the generations between Mom and the ancestral couple shared between her and each DNA match.)
Rather than viewing the glass as half empty, it might be better to focus on all those DNA matches to the Grzesiak and Klaus families. Columns 5 through 10 indicate which matches are descendants of particular ancestral couples. In the case of the relatively close DNA matches shown in Figure 1, all but two of the Grzesiak matches are descendants of mom’s great-grandparents, Józef Grzesiak and Marianna Krawczyńska, as indicated by the light blue bars in column 5. The other two matches near the bottom, which are noted with a dark blue bar but not a light blue one, are not in my tree yet, so additional work is needed to make the documentary connection. However, we know they must be related somehow to the Grzesiak family because of all the matches they share in common with documented Grzesiak descendants. The Klaus matches are even more abundant, and can be broken down into descendants of various couples who were ancestors of either Andrzej Klaus, mom’s great-grandfather, or Marianna Łącka, mom’s great-grandmother.
Autoclusters: The Leeds Method on Steroids
Of course, thanks to the wonders of modern technology and gifted software engineers, we can go one better. Figure 2 shows a screenshot of the top portion of Mom’s autoclusters report at MyHeritage.
This utilizes the same principle as the Leeds Method spreadsheet, except it does the heavy lifting for you, automatically clustering your matches into groups which likely share a common ancestor. Each square on the grid represents a comparison of one of Mom’s DNA matches to another, and colored squares represent two people who match each other, in addition to matching my mom. You’ll note that there are some uncolored squares within each cluster; these occur because it’s possible that two members of a cluster will not match each other (even though they both match Mom) due to the random nature of DNA inheritance. So, I can gain insight into Mom’s relationship to all the members in the orange cluster shown in Figure 2, simply by determining her connection to one member of this cluster.
While it’s sometimes possible (e.g. with DNAGedcom) to vary the parameters for inclusion to create tighter or looser groups, that’s not possible with the autocluster tool at MyHeritage. MyHeritage utilizes an algorithm that automatically adjusts that parameters to yield the best clusters for each kit. Note also that not all of a tester’s matches will appear on the grid. MyHeritage provides a ReadMe file with each autocluster analysis which specifies the parameters that were used, the number of kits included in the analysis, and the names of DNA matches who were not included in the analysis as well. In my mom’s case, 109 DNA matches were used to create 26 clusters; 41 matches were excluded because they did not have any shared matches, and another 127 matches were excluded because, although they met the criteria for inclusion in the analysis, they would have ended up in singleton clusters (matching each other and Mom and no one else).
As MyHeritage states in their explanatory ReadMe file, “Everyone in a cluster will be on the same ancestral line, although the most recent common ancestor between any of the matches, and between you and any match, may vary. The generational level of the clusters may vary as well. One may be your paternal grandmother’s branch, and another may be your paternal great-grandfather’s branch.” This can be illustrated using the red cluster shown at the top left in Figure 2. This cluster represents 10 testers who are related to Mom through her grandmother, Weronika Grzesiak. I know how we’re related to eight of them: five of the matches share Weronika’s parents, Józef Grzesiak and Marianna Krawcyńska as the most recent common ancestral couple, and three share Józef Grzesiak’s maternal grandparents, Maciej Dąbrowski and Barbara Słońska, as the most recent common ancestral couple. Descendants of this couple were highlighted in light blue in Figure 1. So, the remaining two mystery matches in that red cluster shown in Figure 2 might be related to to Mom through a bit of DNA inherited from any of the ancestors of Weronika Grzesiak; we can’t really claim to know anything more definitive than that from these data.
The beauty of the autocluster option is that it eliminates the necessity of going through a match list by hand and tagging each match with a colored dot based on shared matches. Although the clusters themselves are extremely informative, it’s also worth noting the DNA matches who were omitted from the cluster analysis. In Mom’s case, one of the matches who was omitted due to lack of any shared matches was a 5th cousin who matches her through her Wilczek line. Since Mom descends from the Wilczeks through her paternal grandfather, it’s disappointing, but unsurprising, that there are no shared matches between Mom and her Wilczek 5th cousin, given the general lack of DNA matches who are related to Mom through either of her grandfathers.
Extrapolating to Other Surname Lines
For want of a better term, I’ll call the relative lack of DNA matches to Mom through either of her paternal grandfathers the “Small Family/International Family Effect.” Unfortunately, it seems to be at work on my Dad’s side of the family as well. I had high hopes that DNA testing might provide some clues regarding the birthplace in Ireland of my great-great-great-grandfather, Robert Walsh. Despite the fact that I’ve identified DNA matches with whom Robert Walsh and his wife, Elizabeth Hodgkinson, are the most recent common ancestors, DNA has not provided any strong leads to Walsh relatives in Ireland as of yet. I’ve even tested my father’s 100-year-old paternal aunt, whose great-grandfather was Robert Walsh. She would be expected to have more numerous and genetically closer DNA matches to this line than I would, since she inherited a greater percentage of Robert Walsh’s DNA. One might have expected that some of her matches would include Walshes from a particular location in Ireland, or even that one region of Ireland might stand out as an area from which a preponderance of DNA matches originated. However, no great leads have turned up yet. Similarly, DNA has not been especially illuminating as of yet with another brick wall ancestor, Maria Magdalena (née Causin/Casin/Couzens/Curzon) Roberts, who also seems to have come from a very small family which left few descendants. Does that mean that my DNA test results can’t help me? No, it just means that there’s nothing obvious to leverage, no low-hanging fruit to harvest.
There is hope, of course. By identifying “autoclusters of interest” that seem to share common ancestors on my brick-wall lines, I can examine their family trees of DNA matches within those clusters, or attempt to build family trees for them if none are available, and search for common surnames and ancestral locations. It should be noted that some sites (e.g. DNAGedcom) even have automated tools for identifying common ancestors based on GEDCOM files (family tree files) that are associated with DNA test kits. Another possible approach is to use research into an ancestor’s social network of friends, associates and neighbors (i.e. his “FAN club”) to identify putative parents for a brick-wall ancestor, trace their descendants forward to the present day, and then do autosomal target testing on individuals who would be predicted to share DNA, based on this hypothesis. Where there’s a will, there’s usually a way.
It can be incredibly rewarding to connect DNA matches to your family tree. Thanks to DNA matches, I’ve been able to discover and connect with distant cousins that I never knew I had, some of whom have even been willing to share old family photos. I’ve been able to track down a number of “lost” siblings of my ancestors who disappeared from the records. And DNA is an especially powerful tool when leveraged for tracking migrations of relatives with popular surnames. However, small families with few descendants can produce “lopsided” DNA match lists, which can be readily visualized using Leeds and Collins-Leeds clustering techniques. While these analytical methods won’t fix “structural defects” in your family tree, they can help you make the most of the matches you do have.
We genealogists love finding our ancestors’ signatures, right? Of course we do.
Well, recently I found what I believe are the authentic signatures of both my great-great-great-grandfather, Michael Roberts, and his son, my great-great-grandfather, Michael Frank (a.k.a Frank Michael) Roberts. Let me set the stage with a brief introduction to these gentlemen.
Michael Roberts (1834–1895)
It was the winter of 1894 when Michael Roberts lost his wife. It had been almost 37 years since Michael wed the former Maria Magdalena Causin in the beautiful Roman Catholic church of St. Joseph in Detroit, Michigan on 12 May 1857.1 The details of how they met, and whether it was a happy marriage or not, have been lost to time, but it is known that Michael was a German immigrant, born in the village of Heßloch in the Rhenish Hesse region of the Grand Duchy of Hesse (commonly known as Hesse-Darmstadt) to Franz Ruppert and Catherine, née Schulmerich.2 In 1853, he immigrated to Detroit, Michigan with his parents, his 17-year-old brother, Arnold, and his 15-year-old sister, Catherine.3 Although there is no notation on the manifest to reflect this, the family believed that Catherine died at sea, as explained in the following letter (Figure 1), written by Michael’s sister, Mary Roberts Standfield, to his grandson, John Frank Roberts.4
The letter also confirms that the family’s original surname, Ruppert, was changed to Roberts upon settling in Detroit, and that Michael’s oldest brother, Johann Georg, or George, as he was known in the U.S., arrived in Detroit before the rest of his family, settling there in 1851.4
Following his marriage, Michael worked as a carpenter to support his family.5 Michael and Mary had eight children, of whom the oldest four have living descendants. The family data are summarized below (Figure 2).
Michael Frank (aka Frank Michael) Roberts (1858–1930)
Although I have no photographs of Michael Roberts, his oldest son, Michael Frank (known in later life as Frank Michael), is the stalwart Victorian gentleman shown here (Figure 3).
In that winter of 1894, when his mother died, Frank was a 35-year-old architect living in Buffalo, New York;7 married, with four children. Frank had married Mary Elizabeth Wagner back in their hometown of Detroit, but they relocated their family to Buffalo about nine years earlier, in 1885.8 Mary Elizabeth was home, raising their four sons: 15-year-old Harry, 10-year-old John, 7-year-old George, and 3-year-old Bert.9
And so it was that on 27 February 1894, Mary Magdalene Roberts died intestate (without having written a will) in Nankin Township, Michigan. Her husband, Michael, petitioned the court for administration of her estate (Figure 4).10
According to this petition, Mary Roberts was in possession of an estate valued at approximately $800, which would be the equivalent of about $25,396 in today’s dollars.11 Since she died without naming an executor to handle her financial affairs following her death, her husband had to formally request this authority from the court. The document identifies Mary’s heirs at law, who were her children and husband, as
Michael F. Roberts, son, 36 years old, resides in Buffalo, N.Y.
Catherine Hecker, daughter, 34 years old, resides in Nankin, Wayne Co., Mich.
Mary P. Stanfield [sic], “, 32 ” ” ” ” Detroit, Wayne Co., “
Anna Carlston [sic], “30 ” ” ” ” Nankin, Wayne Co., “
and your petitioner, husband of deceased, who resides in Nankin, Wayne County, Michigan.
These children were named in birth order, and their ages and places of residence are reasonably consistent with prior evidence. It’s worth noting that Mary’s and Anna’s married surnames were misspelled as “Stanfield,” rather than “Standfield,” and “Carlston,” rather than “Carlson,” which underscores the variability in surname spellings that exists in historical records.
The handwriting throughout the document is fairly uniform, and the formation of the M’s and the R’s where they appear in “Michael” and “Roberts” is consistent, suggesting that the document was written by a single person; namely, the notary public. However, the handwriting in the signature is distinctly different, which suggests that it was written by Michael Roberts himself (Figure 5).
Included within that same probate packet is a second petition for administration of an estate, this time written by Frank M. Roberts (Figure 6).
This petition similarly identifies the children of Michael and Mary Roberts, but goes on to state, “…that Michael Roberts, husband of said deceased and her survivor and administrator of said estate, has departed this life,” and therefore Frank M. Roberts requested that administration de bonis non of the estate be granted to his sister, Mary P. Standfield. Presumably it was a matter of convenience for Mary (or any of his sisters) to handle the estate rather than Frank, since they were still living in the Detroit area, but this is somewhat speculative. In any case, Frank’s distinctive signature included at the bottom of the document (Figure 7), in addition to his father’s signature, made this probate packet an exciting find for me.
1 Roman Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s parish (Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, USA), “Marriages, 1835-1866”, 1857, no. 15 (?), marriage record for Michael Ruppert and Magdalena Causin, Burton Historical Collection microfilm no. 1286, reel 32A, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave, Detroit, Michigan, USA.
2 Roman Catholic Church (Heßloch, Kr. Worms, Hesse, Germany), “Kirchenbuch, 1715-1876,” 1834, unnumbered entries in chronological order, baptismal record for Michael Ruppert, 1 February 1834, FHL microfilm no. 948719.
3 Manifest, SS Wm Tell, arriving 4 March 1853, p 9, lines 49-51, and p 10, lines 1-2, Franz Rupard family; imaged as “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 26 August 2021), citing National Archives microfilm publication M237, 1820-1897; List No. 146.
4 Mary Roberts Standfield (1862–1946), undated letter to her nephew, John Frank Roberts, Roberts family documents; privately held by Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
4 Manifest, SS Vancluse, arriving 30 May 1851, p 5, line 23, Geo. Rupert; imaged as “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 24 August 2021), citing National Archives microfilm publication M237, 1820-1897; List no. 599.
6 1860 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 142, dwelling no. 1066, household no. 1148, Michael Roberts household; digital image, Ancestry (http://ancestry.com : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 566 of 1,438 rolls; and
1870 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit Ward 6, page 476B, dwelling no. 998, household no. 1114, Michael Robert household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 713 of 1,761 rolls; and
1880 United States Federal Census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, city of Detroit, Enumeration District 298, page 123A, dwelling no. 92, household no. 92, Michael Roberts family; database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 6 July 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 613 of 1,454 rolls.
8 George Whitcomb, compiler, Buffalo City Directory (Buffalo: The Courier Company, 1885), p 751, Roberts, Frank; browsable images, New York Heritage Digital Collections (https://nyheritage.org/ : 24 August 2021), image 763 of 1076.
9 1900 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo Ward 23, Enumeration District 190, Sheet no. 5B, house no. 439, family no. 127, Frank M. Roberts household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 24 August 2021), citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm publication T623, 1854 rolls, no specific roll cited.
For a genealogist, any day that brings three new death certificates in the mail is a good day.
Back at the end of April, I wrote about my discovery of my great-great-granduncle, Alexander Dodds, who disappeared from documentary evidence in Canadian records after the 1881 census. Thanks to clues provided by DNA matches, I was able to determine that Alexander migrated to Buffalo, New York where he married Hazel Jean (or Jennie Hazel) McCarroll and had two children, Della and Spencer, prior to his death in 1899. While searching for his death record in the Buffalo, New York Death Index, I serendipitously came across the entry for the death certificate of his brother, Gilbert M. Dodds, who died in 1898. Then, since I was already writing to the Buffalo City Clerk to request those records, I decided to add in a request for the death certificate of their older sister, Isabella (née Dodds) Smith. I’d known previously that Isabella died in Buffalo, but I’d never gotten around to requesting a copy of the record, so this seemed to be a good time to do it. After a long wait, those death certificates finally arrived, so let’s analyze them here, in the context of my existing research into my Dodds family.
My burning questions regarding my Dodds family concern the origins of my great-great-great-grandparents, Robert and Catherine Dodds, whom I’ve written about previously. Evidence points pretty consistently to a birth circa 1817 in England for Robert, and possibly a specific date of 28 January 1817 as was reported (probably by Robert himself) in the 1901 census.1 Less is known about Catherine’s place of birth, however, and there’s even some doubt about her maiden name, since it has been reported as both Irving2 and Grant.3 In that regard, the death certificate for Isabella (née Dodds) Smith was most informative, since it was the only one of the three death certificates to mention a maiden name for Catherine. (Figure 1).
Unpacking the other details from the certificate first, we can see that Isabell [sic] H. Smith of 381 Rhode Island Street in Buffalo, died on 22 September 1917 due to a cerebral hemorrhage which she suffered about 6 weeks previously. A contributing cause of death was chronic myocarditis. Isabella was noted to be a widow, born 4 November 1844 in Canada, and she lived in the U.S. for 24 years prior to her death, spending all of that time in Buffalo. That suggests an arrival in 1893, which is a few years off from the arrival in 1897 which she reported in the 1910 census, but still in the same ballpark.5 No immigration record can be sought to confirm her arrival date since the U.S. did not begin documenting Canadian-born immigrants until 1 October 1906.6 Isabella was laid to rest in the Buffalo Cemetery on 25 September 1917, and the informant on the death certificate was her oldest daughter, Margaret (née Smith) Moorhouse, who lived with her. Margaret reported that Isabella’s parents were Robert Dodds and Catherine Grant, which lends further support to the hypothesis that Catherine’s maiden name was Grant and not Irving. However, Margaret identified both Robert and Catherine as having been born in Canada, and this is almost certainly incorrect in Robert’s case, in light of the substantial body of evidence supporting the assertion that he was born in England.
Next up, we have the death certificate for Alexander Dodds (Figure 2). The image I received is of rather low quality due to faded ink and darkened paper, but it’s nevertheless possible to read that Alexander Dodds died on 13 April 1899 due to pulmonary phthisis, which is more commonly known as tuberculosis. He was buried at Lakeside Cemetery on a date in April that’s difficult to make out, possibly the 23rd. Alexander was reported to be age 49 years, 1 month, and 25 days at the time of his death. Running that information through a date calculator points to a birth date of 19 February 1850, consistent with the expectation that he was born circa 1849-1850 based on his age reported in census records. He was a married laborer, born in Canada, who had been a resident in the U.S. for 15 years, and living in Buffalo for that entire time period. This suggests that he arrived in the U.S. circa 1884. Alexander’s parents’ names were reported to be Robert and Catherine, but no maiden name was given for his mother. Moreover, both parents were reported to have been born in England—a statement which is unlikely to be true in Catherine’s case. Alexander’s last place of residence was decipherable as Auburn Avenue, although the house number (212, perhaps?) is harder to read.
The fact that Alexander was buried at Lakeside Cemetery is new information for me. Lakeside is an old, historic cemetery located in Hamburg, New York, about 10 miles south of Buffalo. Lakeside is managed by the Forest Lawn group of cemeteries, and they happen to have a fantastic website where one can search burials and even download cemetery records, such as this burial card for my great-great-grandmother, Martha Dodds Walsh, another sibling of Alexander, Isabella and Gilbert. Unfortunately, the information for Alexander which is offered on the website is much more limited. The service card (Figure 3) barely confirms the information on the death certificate, inasmuch as there is a burial record for an Alexander Dodds, but it offers no details about date of death, or parents’ names.
Alexander’s age at the time of death, 40, is also in conflict with the information on the death certificate, which stated that he was 49 years old at the time of death. However, it may have been a transcription error, and in any case, the funeral director, “Geo. J. Altman,” is a match to the George J. Altman who was reported on Alexander’s death certificate as the undertaker.
Gilbert M. Dodds
Last, but not least, we have the death certificate for Gilbert M. Dodds (Figure 4).
The image quality here is only slightly better than that for Alexander’s death certificate, but the record states that Gilbert died on 4 January 1898 of pernicious anemia, a form of anemia caused by a deficiency in vitamin B12, with which he had been diagnosed five years previously. He was buried that same month in St. Catharines, Ontario, but the name of the cemetery was not provided, nor is the exact date of burial legible. Gilbert was reported to be age 42 years, 3 months and 25 days at the time of his death, suggesting a birth date of 11 September 1855. Estimates for his year of birth as suggested by census records and other documents ranged between 1855–1860, but the earliest records (e.g. the 1861 census)10 pointed to a birth year of 1855, so this certificate is in excellent agreement. He was married at the time of his death, and employed as a driver. As expected, Gilbert was born in Canada, but had been living in Buffalo for five years prior to his death, which implies an arrival in the U.S. circa 1893, so his arrival coincided with that of his sister, Isabella Smith. His last residence was at 408 Massachusetts Avenue, in close proximity to the final residences reported by his siblings (Figure 5). Finally, the certificate identifies Gilbert’s parents as Robert Dodds, born in England, and Catherine Dodds, born in Canada.
Experienced genealogists know how valuable death records can be, especially when they identify the parents of the deceased. They’re also relatively easy to obtain, with just a letter and a check in the mail, so I’m always amazed by the fact that so many family historians only mention them in their trees when the scans are available online. The most significant drawback is that the information on a death certificate was not provided by the individual himself or herself, but rather by a family member or some other individual who was more or less acquainted with the deceased. Thanks to these death certificates, I was able to discover exact dates of birth for Dodds siblings Alexander, Gilbert, and Isabella Smith, as well as an exact date of death for Alexander. I identified Alexander’s final resting place as Lakeview Cemetery, which opens up the possibility of further research in cemetery records, in case they might have anything that’s not online. I obtained corroborating evidence for a number of previously-known facts in my family tree. And, although these certificates did nothing to dispel the confusion over Catherine Dodds’ place of birth, the certificate for Isabella Smith added to the growing body of evidence in support of the hypothesis that Catherine was a Grant by birth. All in all, that was a pretty good day, indeed.
11901 Census of Canada, Ontario population schedule, Lincoln and Niagara district no. 85, St. Catharines sub-district K, division no. 6, household no. 117, James Carty household; database with images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/ : 17 August 2021), item no. 2026840, image no. z000079820, citing microfilm T-6480, RG31.
2 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1935, vol. 820, no. 4549, Martha Dodds Walsh, 11 August 1935; Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York.
3 “Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947,” database, FamilySearch, (https://familysearch.org/ : 8 May 2021), Hannah Carty, 3 June 1914; Deaths > 1914 > no 19125-22410 > image 370 of 1638; citing Registrar General. Archives of Ontario, Toronto.
4 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1917, vol. 273, no. 6001, Isabell H. Smith, 22 September 1917, Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York.
5 1910 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo Ward 21, Enumeration District 206, Sheet 7A, house no. 18 1/2, family no. 27, William Smith household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 18 August 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 947 of 1,178 rolls, FHL microfilm 1374960.
7 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1899, Vol. 34, no. 258, Alexander Dodds, 13 April 1899; Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo NY 14202.
8 Forest Lawn Cemetery Group, burial records database, Forest Lawn (https://forest-lawn.com/ : 18 August 2021), service card for Alexander Dodds, buried Lakeside Cemetery, block one, grave 142.
9 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1898, vol. 21, no. 71, Gilbert M. Dodds, 4 January 1898; Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo NY 14202.
10 1861 Census of Canada, population schedule, Canada West, Lincoln, Grantham, Enumeration District 4, p 80, lines 1-9, Robert Dodds household; digital images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx : 19 April 2021 ), Item no. 1884852, citing Microfilm C-1048-1049.
If you’re reading this, you probably know how time-consuming genealogy can be. The supply of historical documents and individuals to research is endless, so before sitting down for a research session, it’s important to always be asking ourselves, “What is it I want to know?” Having a specific question in mind can help drive you toward the sources of information that are most relevant to the problem.
When I’m researching a DNA match, for example, my essential question is, “How am I related to this person?” I’m not interested in fully documenting that person’s family history; I just want to get to the documents that will allow me to connect him or her to my family tree. I think of this method as “quick and dirty genealogy,” but “goal-focused genealogy” might be a more accurate description. During or after the research session, I’m still careful to create source citations for each document I find, extract each piece of information from each document (e.g. name, date and place of birth, place of residence, etc.), and attach those source citations to each fact I create in my family tree. Nonetheless, keeping my focus on the goal permits me to ignore a lot of “low-hanging fruit”—documents that turn up quickly in a search of historical records databases (e.g. Ancestry or FamilySearch), but aren’t likely to give me the information I need to solve the problem. For example, if the 1940 census and the 1920 census both turn up in a database search for a given research target, I’m likely to ignore the 1940 census and investigate the 1920 census result. Why? Because the 1940 census didn’t ask questions about year of immigration or year of naturalization, while the 1920 census did ask those questions, and the information provided by that census record about immigration and naturalization is relevant to the process of tracing immigrant ancestors back to the Old Country. Recently, staying goal-focused enabled me to discover, in about 20 minutes, how a DNA match was related to me, and it made me so happy that I want to share that story with you today.
Introducing Fred Kowalski
Since this is a story about our Polish origins, I’ll call my DNA match Fred Kowalski (not his real name). Fred appeared in my list of autosomal DNA matches at 23&Me, and we were reported to share DNA in a single segment consisting of 51 centimorgans (cM, a unit for measuring genetic distance) on Chromosome 15. Shared matches gave me no clues regarding how we might be related; I didn’t recognize a single name in the list. In his profile on 23&Me, Fred reported that all four grandparents were born in Poland, and he gave me six family surnames to work with, including one that was familiar to me: Słoński. Painting the match onto my chromosome map at DNA Painter revealed that the segment shared with Fred falls into a larger segment of DNA which I inherited from my maternal grandmother, consistent with my preliminary hypothesis that our relationship might be through the Słoński family. Fred’s real surname is not especially popular, so a quick internet search turned up an online obituary for his father. From there, I used the subscription database at Newspapers to find an obituary for his grandmother. I’ll begin the story with her.
The Bengier Family of Steubenville, Ohio
Fred’s grandparents were Peter J. and Constance A. Bengier of Steubenville, Ohio. Constance’s obituary was very informative, but for the sake of this narrative, the most important information was that she was born in Poland on 6 April 1889 to Joseph and Anna Kujawa, and that she married Peter Bengier on 4 February 1907.
Constance’s Social Security application (Figure 2) provided somewhat different information about her parents’ names, in that her father’s name was reported to be Stanley, rather than Joseph. Since Constance would have provided the information for this form herself, rather than another family member providing it after her death, we can consider the information from the Social Security Applications and Claims index to be more reliable than the obituary in this regard.
The 1930 census (Figure 3) provided additional details relevant to tracing the family back to Poland. Although the information on the entire family group is important when documenting the family history, my focus was on tracing the family back to Poland, and the data that was most germane to that issue is contained within the red box.
According to the census, Constance Bengier was age 41, suggesting a birth year circa 1889, nicely consistent with previous data from the Social Security application and her obituary. The census record offers enough additional evidence (such as names of other family members) for us to be certain that this Constance Bengier is a match to the Constance Bengier in the obituary. Once we establish that fact, then the most important piece of new information found in this record is her year of immigration, 1910, and the fact that her husband and oldest daughter also reported immigrating in that year. We would expect to find all of them on the same passenger manifest, or possibly on two different manifests, if Peter came over first to secure employment and lodging before sending for his wife and child.
The critical pieces of information that are required at minimum in order to locate an immigrant in records from his or her home country are the person’s name, approximate date of birth, parents’ names, and specific place of origin. With Constance Kujawa Bengier, I was nearly ready. The missing piece was evidence for her place of origin.
The Bengier Family of Wola, But Which One?
Since the 1930 census provided information about the year of arrival, I decided to seek a passenger manifest next. The Hamburg emigration manifest popped up first, revealing that Konstancia (or Konstancja, modern Polish spelling) Bengier departed from the port of Hamburg on 29 September 1910 at the age of 21, along with her 3-month-old daughter, Walerya (or Waleria, in modern Polish; Figure 4).
The ages matched well with my expectations based on previous data. Given the propensity of immigrants for adapting their given names to sound more “American,” I was not surprised to find that the original name of the daughter, “Voila” (or Viola) from the 1930 census, was actually Waleria. If additional confirmation were required before concluding that this was the correct passenger manifest, the corresponding Ellis Island arrival manifest could also be located. In those days, it took about 2 weeks for a steamship to cross the Atlantic. Assuming no manifest turned up with a search of indexed records, one could browse the manifests in Ancestry’s database, “New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957,” and look for the arrival of the Cleveland at the port of New York some time in mid-October 1910. However, as it happens, Ancestry’s database is incomplete, and there are instances such as this where the arrival manifest is not found. If this happens, Ellis Island arrivals can be searched directly at the Ellis Island site, or via Steve Morse’s more sophisticated One-Step search form. (Konstancja’s Ellis Island arrival manifest is here. It confirms and extends the information found in the Hamburg emigration manifest, but I won’t discuss it in detail since it was not part of my original research process.)
The key piece of information found in this manifest that permitted me to advance the search was her place of residence, which was recorded as “Wola,” in Russia. (If you’re wondering why a woman who said she was Polish in 1930 might have been coming from Russia in 1910, there’s an overview of those border changes here.) Now, if this were an ordinary research process, and not one guided by DNA, I would have needed a time-out here to fall back and regroup, and seek additional sources of documentation for Konstancja’s place of birth. That’s because “Wola” is one of those Polish place names that’s so common that it strikes fear into the hearts of even seasoned Polish genealogists. Just how common is it? Mapa.szukacz.pl, which is an interactive Polish map site, reveals that there are 848 places called Wola, or containing Wola in the full name, within the borders of Poland today. And that’s not counting all the additional places called Wola that were previously part of Poland, but are outside of Poland’s current borders.
The situation would have been ameliorated somewhat by the fact that Konstancja’s Wola was recorded as being located in the Russian partition, so we could safely ignore all the places called Wola that were within the German and Austrian partitions. Nonetheless, that would still leave us with a lot of places called Wola to check, unless we could find some additional documentation (naturalization records, church records, military records, etc.) that might provide some geographic clues to help us narrow the field. However, this was not an ordinary research process; it’s a genetic genealogy story, and one with a happy ending.
The Missing Link
Since my hypothesis was that I was related to Konstancja Kujawa Bengier through the family of her mother, Anna Słońska, I immediately suspected that “Wola” might be Wola Koszucka, a village belonging to the Roman Catholic parish of Kowalewo-Opactwo, where I’d found records for my Słoński ancestors. This Wola was in the Russian Empire in 1910, so it would fit the description found in the passenger manifest. Records for this area are indexed in a number of different databases, including Geneteka, BaSIA, the Poznan [marriage] Project and Słupca Genealogy. Each of those databases has its strengths and weaknesses, and there’s a fair amount of overlapping coverage between them. I decided to cut to the chase and search for a marriage record for Stanisław Kujawa and Anna Słońska first, since that would tell me Anna’s parents’ names, rather than searching for a marriage record for Piotr Bengier and Konstancja Kujawa, or a birth record for Konstancja. I plugged in my search parameters at the Słupca Genealogy site, and there it was, bada boom, bada bing! The marriage record for Stanisław Kujawa and Anna Słońksa which connected the dots (Figure 5).
The record is in Russian, and here’s how I translate it:
This happened in Kowalewo on the first/thirteenth day of November in the year one thousand eight hundred eighty-two at three o’clock in the afternoon. We declare that in the presence of witnesses Antoni Zieliński, age fifty, and Józef Buczkowski, age forty, both owners* of Wola Koszutska, on this day was celebrated a religious marriage between Stanisław Kujawa, bachelor of Wilczna, born in Cienin Kościelny, 27-year-old son of the laborers Łukasz and his deceased wife, Wiktoria née Przybylska Kujawa, and Anna Słońska, single, born and residing with her parents in Wola Koszutska, daughter of Antoni and Marianna Słoński née Kowalska, age twenty-two. The marriage was preceded by three announcements published on the eighth, fifteenth, and twenty-second days of October of this year in the local parish churches of Kowalewo and Cienin Kościelny. The newlyweds declared that they had no prenuptial agreement between them. This Act was read to the illiterate newlyweds and witnesses, and was signed by Us only. [Signed] Fr. Rzekanowski.”
*хозяева, a word which can mean hosts, landlords, owners, proprietors, or masters. In my experience, it’s used to describe the same individuals who were described in Polish-language records as gospodarze, peasant farmers who owned their own land.
The record stated that Anna was the daughter of Antoni Słoński and Marianna Kowalska, and her age at the time of her marriage 22, suggested a birth year circa 1860. I checked my family tree, and there she was, quietly sitting there the whole time, waiting to be rediscovered. Many years ago, I had added Anna to my family tree when I found her birth record, but I had never gone further with seeking a marriage record for her, or birth records for her children. Anna was born on 14 July 1860,6 and she was in my tree because her father, Antoni, was the son of Bonawentura Słoński and his second wife, Marianna Muszyńska, as evidenced by both Antoni’s birth record7 and the record of his marriage to Marianna Kowalska.8 But wait, there’s more! Bonawentura Słoński was the brother of my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Barbara (nee Słońska) Dąbrowska. Barbara and Bonawentura were both children of Wojciech Słoński and Marianna Duras,9 and it is they who are the most recent shared ancestors between me and this DNA match, whom I can now state is my documented fifth cousin once removed. Wojciech Słoński and Marianna Duras are the genetic and documentary link that connects me to the Bengier family of Steubenville, Ohio.
1 “Deaths and Funerals: Mrs. C.A. Bengier,” The Weirton Daily Times (Weirton, West Virginia), 3 August 1970, p. 2, col. 1; Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com/ : 8 August 2021).
2 “Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 8 August 2021), Constance Anna Bengier, born 6 April 1889, SSN 268447885.
3 1930 United States Federal Census, Harrison County, Ohio, population schedule, Geman township, E.D. 34-10, Sheet 7B, dwelling no. 174, family no. 175, Pete Bengier household; database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 8 August 2021), citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm publication T626, 2,667 rolls, no specific roll cited.
4 Manifest, SS Cleveland, departing 29 September 1910, p 2226, lines 288 and 289, Konstancia Bengier and Walerya Bengier; imaged as “Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 8 August 2021), citing Staatsarchiv Hamburg; Hamburg, Deutschland; Hamburger Passagierlisten; Volume: 373-7 I, VIII A 1 Band 226; Page: 2222; Microfilm No.: K_1815.
DNA Painter is one of the coolest websites out there for genetic genealogy, offering an arsenal of tools to help genealogists visualize and understand their DNA matches through chromosome mapping. Let’s face it, there is tremendous aesthetic appeal in generating chromosome maps with neat little color-coded segments indicating specific chunks of DNA that can be traced back to a particular ancestor. But beyond just the aesthetics, it’s very useful to be able to predict how one must be related to an unknown DNA match, based on the location of the matching segment(s). In order to generate a useful chromosome map, however, there are decisions that must first be made about which matches to paint, so today I’d like to offer a few tips on how to do that, based on my own experience with using DNA Painter.
Getting Started with DNA Painter
DNA Painter is the brain child of Jonny Perl, a web developer and genealogist based in London, UK. He has created a very user-friendly site with a host of linked blog posts, webinars, videos, and instructions right on the site, making it easy for beginners to get started with chromosome mapping. Nonetheless, chromosome mapping isn’t exactly intuitive, and some thought is required to produce a good map. Therefore, there are some questions you should ask yourself before you begin.
What is My Goal?
For many of us, it’s inherently cool to be able to visualize a segment of DNA, lurking in nearly every cell of one’s body, and know that it was inherited from a particular ancestor who lived decades or centuries ago. If you’re content with knowing in a general way that your DNA was inherited from previous generations in your family, and you really don’t care about pinpointing a 46-centiMorgan segment on Chromosome 12 that you inherited from your great-great-great-grandfather, then maybe chromosome mapping isn’t your thing. But if you’d like to use a chromosome map to better understand your DNA match list, then your initial goal should be to create a map that identifies segments you inherited from each of your four grandparents.
On average, 25% of a person’s DNA was inherited from each of the four grandparents, but this number can vary a bit due to the randomness of genetic recombination. If you can identify on each chromosome the specific segments of DNA that were inherited from each grandparent, you can use this as a first step toward understanding unknown DNA matches.
Once you’ve established this goal, then you can decide which of your DNA matches to paint onto your chromosome map, based on the criterion of whether or not painting this match will bring you closer to your goal. The thing is, just because you can paint a match doesn’t mean you should paint it, as some of them will not be especially informative.
For example, if you have DNA test data from a parent, you could paint that on your chromosome map. But there’s no point in doing so, because you already know that you have inherited one of each of your 22 autosomes from your mother, and one from your father. By painting your DNA matches with a parent, all you’ve done is change the color of the canvas on which you’re painting your matches. Not sure what I mean by that? Figure 1 shows the blank canvas you start with, courtesy of DNA Painter.
Now let’s say I’ve tested my mother, and I want to paint that DNA match onto my chromosome map. Figure 2 shows how that looks.
You can see that all I’ve done here is to change those pink bars to lavender, which is not very informative. As a side note, you will see some regions on certain chromosomes where the lavender color does not “paint” all the way to the tip of the chromosome. That’s because those tips correspond to regions which exhibit a low density of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, or “snips”). Family Tree DNA does not test those SNP-poor regions, and since the segment data used in this map came from Family Tree DNA, we see those “unpainted” regions.
Similarly, some close matches, such as a full-blooded aunt or uncle, don’t help you identify the segments of DNA you inherited from each of your four grandparents. Why? A full-blooded aunt or uncle, let’s say on the paternal side, will have inherited a mix of DNA from your paternal grandparents, just as your father did. But painting these segments only tells you which bits of DNA were passed down from your grandparents to both the paternal aunt or uncle and to you. It doesn’t bring you any closer to knowing which paternal grandparent provided those segments. Additionally, painting DNA matches from a sibling onto your chromosome map isn’t particularly useful, because it only identifies segments that you both inherited from your parents. It doesn’t help you to assign those segments to either parent, or any grandparents.
Note that there are other great reasons for testing one’s siblings, and the data that comes from those tests can be very useful. For example, if you have data from three siblings, but none of their parents, you can do visual phasing, which will assign segments of DNA to each grandparent. Blaine Bettinger offers a 5-part tutorial on visual phasing here, and Andy and Devon Lee of Family History Fanatics offer a tutorial on visual phasing using only two siblings here. Note that visual phasing as described in these tutorials is not for the faint of heart; DNA Painter is much easier.
The best matches to paint are the ones with whom you share DNA from only one of your four grandparents, or those with whom you share DNA from generations earlier than that. Therefore, second cousins are ideal, as are any half first cousins you might have. Don’t despair, however, if you don’t have a huge selection of “ideal” matches to paint; you’ve just got to go with what you’ve got. My mom’s paternal grandfather, Joseph Zielinski, was the only one of the ten children in his family to marry and have children; all the rest died unmarried, before the age of 32. This means that every single one of Mom’s paternal second cousins is a match on her grandmother’s side. I have to go back at least one generation, to the level of 3C or more distant cousins, before I can hope to find any matches to her paternal grandfather’s family. Similarly, my paternal grandmother had only one sister who died at the age of 14, so my only paternal second cousins are on my grandfather’s side. If you know you come from a small family, it becomes even more important to research your family tree as thoroughly as you can, in the hope of identifying cousins from whom you can beg DNA samples.
Putting it all together, then, here is my list of tips for creating an ancestral chromosome map, focused on mapping your chromosomes to each of your four grandparents.
Don’t paint willy-nilly. Think before you paint, and ask yourself if painting this match will bring you closer to your goal of identifying (at minimum) segments inherited from each of your four grandparents.
Don’t paint matches to parents, full siblings, half siblings, or full aunts or uncles, as these will not help you identify segments inherited from each of your four grandparents. You can, of course, create separate profiles at DNA Painter for each person you test, and keep track of their DNA matches as well as your own. The ability to create multiple profiles for chromosome mapping is a benefit available with a subscription to DNA Painter; you can create one profile for free with a basic membership.
Similarly, matches to first cousins, and first cousins X-times removed, will not help you identify which portions of your chromosomes were inherited from which grandparent. Full first cousins share both grandparents with you on either your maternal or paternal side. Therefore it’s not possible to identify the grandparent who contributed the DNA from any segments you share, so painting those matches is not informative.
Try the Inferred Segment Generator for additional segments to map. This is a really neat tool that uses deductive reasoning to generate segments. I used it to generate segments from my maternal grandfather to paint onto my chromosome map. The principle here is simple: the chromosomes that I inherited from my mother must be a mixture of DNA she inherited from her mother, and DNA she inherited from her father. Since I was able to test my maternal grandmother before she passed away, I know precisely which segments I inherited from her. So, by deduction, I know that the remaining portions of my maternal chromosomes where I do not match Grandma, must have come from Grandpa.
If there’s good evidence (e.g. through triangulation) to suggest that a segment was inherited from an earlier ancestor (great-grandparent, great-great-grandparent, etc.) by all means, paint it.
If you have test data from a particular relative, additional test data from descendants of that relative will be less informative, so you may want to skip painting it. Figure 3 illustrates this. The blue bars represent DNA segments which I share with a documented third cousin (3C), and the red bars represent the DNA that I share with her daughter, my third cousin once removed (3C1R). I’ll definitely want to paint those blue segments onto my chromosome map at DNA Painter, because those segments represent DNA which I inherited from one of the great-great-grandparents that I have in common with that cousin. However, my 3C1R cannot inherit any DNA from our common ancestors unless it came through her parent (my 3C). The only exception to this would be in cases where her parents are related. So, the red bars will necessarily be fewer and shorter than the blue bars, and painting those segments of DNA onto my chromosome map will not provide any new information about regions of my own chromosomes that can be assigned to particular ancestral couples. Of course, you may choose to paint them anyway, if you just want to keep track of all of your DNA segment data this way, and you would definitely want to paint the matches to a 3C1R if you don’t have test data from your 3C.
At the end of the day, how you map your chromosomes is really a personal choice. Maybe you just want to create one heck of a colorful map, including data from your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and all your first cousins, and if that’s the case, then go for it! After some trial and error, I’ve found that this mapping strategy works best for me, because it focuses on quality of information, rather than quantity. Maybe it will help some of you, too. Happy mapping!