2021 is on its way out, and we’re about to get a fresh start with 2022. It’s traditional to reflect on the past year and consider our accomplishments, as well as our goals and resolutions for the new year, and this practice seems to be no less relevant to genealogical research. With that in mind, I’ve been taking stock of my genealogical triumphs and tribulations from 2021, and creating some research resolutions for the new year.
Connecting the Dodds
In 2021, I furthered my understanding of the history of my Dodds family. As of 2020, I had traced the family of Robert and Catherine (Grant) Dodds to 1871, when they were living in Yarmouth township in East Elgin, Ontario. I knew the fates of the parents, Robert and Catherine, after 1871, as well as the fates of their oldest three daughters, Hannah, Isabella, and Margaret. I also knew what became of their youngest two children, Martha Agnes (my great-great-grandmother), and Warner Howard. However, three of their sons—Alexander, John H., and Gilbert M.—disappeared from Canadian records after 1871. Thanks to clues gained from DNA matches, I was able to discover a second marriage which produced two children for Alexander Dodds, prior to his death in Buffalo in 1899. I was also able to discover the record for Gilbert’s death in Buffalo in 1898. Furthermore, DNA was instrumental once again in determining that John H. Dodds migrated to Pennsylvania, where he and Gilbert were working as day laborers in 1880. Although Gilbert eventually moved on to Buffalo, where other family members were also living, John remained in Pennsylvania, married Lena Frazier in 1892, and settled in Pike Township (Potter County) to raise a family.
Archival Acquisitions and Album Assembly
In the spring and early summer, researching my roots gave way to other demands on my time as I dealt with the task of cleaning out my parents’ home in preparation for sale. I’ve been slowly working my way through that pile of boxes in my basement, finding new homes for all their books and furnishings with sentimental value. However, I have yet to start scanning all the family photos and documents which I acquired. Similarly, I’m still chipping away at the process of filling my daughter’s baby album—never mind that she graduated from high school in June. I took a break when I realized that, having waited this long, it makes more sense to do the job right by organizing all the materials first, rather than grabbing the first box of photos from the time of her birth and hoping that additional photos from that era don’t turn up in other boxes. I think if I can get all the family photos and documents scanned and organized, with physical copies stored in archival boxes or albums, and digital images edited to include meta data, I will be satisfied. It may take the rest of my life to accomplish that, but it would mean that my kids could inherit a manageable, accessible family history collection.
Autosomal DNA testing has been a consistent theme in my genealogy research in 2021. DNA Painter has allowed me to coordinate my research across test companies through ongoing development of my ancestral chromosome map. Over the summer, I was able to connect for the first time to living descendants of my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, Wojciech Słoński and Marianna Duras. I was thrilled to be able to add them as a new ancestral couple to my chromosome map, bringing the total to 16 ancestral couples from whom I can now verify my genetic descent. Of course, there are still some ancestral lines where DNA has not yet shed any light, due to a small number of “close” (3rd-5th cousin level) DNA matches. This is often because the families were small, with few living descendants, or because those descendants live in countries such as Poland, where DNA testing is relatively uncommon. Lack of available data on living individuals in Poland—for example, from newspaper obituaries, or public records databases such as we have in the U.S.—makes it difficult to identify living individuals for target testing, but perhaps this can be a focus of my research in 2022.
Honing in on the Hodgkinsons
In October, I spent some time researching my Hodgkinson ancestors, a well-researched family of Canadian Loyalists. I was especially excited to discover a baptismal record for Ellender “Huskinson,” whom I believe to be a previously-unknown daughter of John Hodgkinson and his first wife, Mary Moore. I examined a number of hypotheses regarding the origins of the Hodgkinson family, based on assertions made by family trees online, and discovered that these hypotheses ranged from “possibly true,” to “patently false.” I also started some research into the history of Mary Hodgkinson, who was named as godmother to Ellender Hodgkinson, and who was (I believe) a sister to John. I hope to write about this in another blog post early in 2022.
Caus(in) for Celebration
Of course, the biggest discovery of the year for me was the identification of the parents of my great-great-great-grandmother, Mary Magdalene (Causin) Roberts, and their place of origin in Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France. This discovery was made through identification of the family’s FANs—specifically, a godmother named Anna Maria Hensy, who was mentioned in the baptismal record for Maria Magdalena Gosÿ—combined with evidence from family trees of DNA matches who descend from that same godmother, Mary Ann/Anna Maria (Hanses/Hanzi/Heinze) Schneider. Even though my process was not perfect, this breakthrough has had a profound impact on my research. Although I haven’t blogged about all the individuals I’ve been able to add to my tree as a result, I can now state definitively that Mary Magdalene (Causin/Cossin) Roberts was born in Buffalo, New York on 14 August 1832 to Joseph Antoine Cossin (“Gosÿ”) and Marie Agathe Hentzÿ, who were married in the village of Pfetterhouse, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, on 8 September 1829. Marie Agathe was the daughter of Dionisÿ Hensÿ and Agnes Antony, while Joseph Antoine was the son of Jakob Cossin and Barbara Maker from the nearby village of Seppois-le-Bas (or Niedersept, in German). Figure 1 summarizes the ancestors in my direct line that I’ve been able to add to my tree as a result of this breakthrough.
Rounding out the year, I was able to locate some ancestral signatures in Detroit probate records for my Roberts ancestors, Michael Roberts and Frank M. Roberts. I wrote about the Martin-Opitz-Bibliothek as a source for vital records, particularly for those with ancestors from the Warmia historical region. Finally, I analyzed Ancestry’s newest ethnicity estimates for a family group (mine!) consisting of four children, their parents, and both sets of grandparents. All in all, 2021 presented ample opportunities for me to do what I love to do: research my family tree using all the tools, technologies, and resources I can muster, discover the stories of my ancestors as told in historical documents, and share my findings.
A Look Ahead
As I think about what I’d like to accomplish in the new year, a few research projects stand out, listed below, in no particular order:
I’d like to continue my research into the Hodgkinson family, both in North America and in England, to see if I can convince myself that the Loyalist Hodgkinsons of Grantham, Upper Canada were really born in Mansfield, England.
I’d love to be able to leverage DNA and FAN research to identify the parents of Catherine (Grant) Dodds and their place of origin, in the same way that I was able to answer those questions in the case of Mary Magdalene Causin.
I hope to further my research into the Causin/Cossin and Hentzy/Hensy families in records from Haut-Rhin, Alsace.
On my mom’s side, I’d like to resume the search for the elusive Antonina (Naciążek) Zarzycka, my great-great-grandmother, in the hope of being able to find a birth, marriage or death record for her that would reveal her parents’ names. Failing that, I would like to explore alternative historical sources for evidence of her origins, such as Księgi Ludności Stałej (permanent population registers).
I’d love to utilize that same magic combination of FAN plus DNA research to discover the origins of my Murre/Muri ancestors, who immigrated to Buffalo, New York in 1869 from somewhere in Bavaria.
I’d like to invest more time in learning to decipher German handwriting, and gain proficiency in translating German records, so that I can independently research my German and Alsatian ancestors, as well as my husband’s ancestors who were Poles from the Prussian partition.
This is just a modest sample of my research aspirations. If I ever did manage to succeed in accomplishing each of these goals, I could try to discover the origins in Ireland for my Walsh ancestors, identify the maiden name of Christina Hodgkinson, and plan another trip to Poland for onsite research in the ancestral parish of my Zieliński ancestors. The supply of research questions is endless, as is the fascination that accompanies the search for answers, and the satisfaction when victory is attained. Nonetheless, these six items seem like a good place to start, and I’m itching to get started. So, how about you? What are your genealogical goals, hopes, and dreams for the new year? Whatever they may be, I wish you success, prosperity, and joy in the journey.
Back in March 2019, I wrote about the most recent ethnicity estimates from Ancestry DNA for three generations of my family: myself, my husband, all four of our parents, and our four children. Since this is a rather unique data set, I thought it would be interesting to see what insights such analysis might offer about DNA inheritance, and also about the limitations inherent to these estimates.
Ancestry DNA has updated their ethnicity estimates several times since that first blog post, adding new reference groups and Genetic Communities™ for increased granularity. Last month, they released another update, bringing the total number of Genetic Communities™ to 61 for Poland. So, this seems like a good time to revisit that concept and compare the newest ethnicity estimates for my family members to each other and to those previous estimates, to see how they have changed over time.
For those who might be unfamiliar with the term, Ancestry’s Genetic Communities™ are the result of Ancestry’s effort to identify more precisely the regions from which each DNA tester’s ancestors originated. They’re assigned automatically, so if Ancestry is able to place you into one of their Communities, they will, without any requirement to opt-in. Ancestry’s algorithm takes into consideration the family trees of clusters of DNA testers who all match each other, and uses the locations mentioned in those family trees to identify birthplaces or migration destinations common to the group. Theoretically, if a majority of the family trees incorrectly identified a place of origin for a group of people, the algorithm might be thrown off, but I suspect that this risk is minimized due to the size of Ancestry’s database.
With this most recent update, Ancestry correctly assigned me to a Genetic Community of those with ancestry from Southeast Poland, and further refined that to Northeastern Lesser Poland (Figure 1).
I’ve traced my Klaus and Liguz ancestors to villages in that region between Szczucin and Mielec, so Ancestry nailed that one. Moreover, they were able to be even more precise with my mother’s estimate, specifying Dąbrowa County as one of her ancestral places of origin (Figure 2).
I was also assigned to the Genetic Community of Northeast Poland, indicated by the larger yellow area on the map in Figure 3, with a further assignment to the Łódź Province and Surrounding Area Community.
Zooming in on that map reveals that the “Łódź” area is defined rather broadly, so I’m not surprised that their map encompasses my ancestry from parishes that are in the Mazowieckie province, but are only a few kilometers east of the border with Łódź province. However, I am a little surprised by the extent to which these Genetic Communities overlap, and by the fact that I was not assigned to all of the Genetic Communities that cover a particular geographic area. For example, the geographic region identified as “Łódź Province and Surrounding Area” encompasses my ancestry from parishes in Słupca County, Wielkopolska, nearly 150 km west of Łódź. However, Ancestry has identified other Genetic Communities (e.g. West Central Poland Community, Greater Poland Community, and Central Poland Community) which also cover this region. The map in Figure 4 defines the geographic region identified as the place of origin of those in the definition of the Central Poland Community, so one might expect that someone with roots in Słupca County—located west of Konin and east of Poznań—would be assigned to this community, but that was not the case for me. My mother-in-law was assigned to this area, however, so the map shown in Figure 4 comes from her ethnicity estimate.
Of course, these estimates and Genetic Community assignments are still a work in progress, and we have every reason to expect that the accuracy will continue to improve over time. With that in mind, here is the table which compares the ethnicity estimates for my family, consisting of a group of four siblings, their parents, and all four grandparents (Figure 5). For each ethnicity component, the reported value is given in bold, with the range indicated in the line below. Check marks indicate the Genetic Communities that were assigned to each tester. A dash indicates that a person was not assigned to a particular ethnic group or Genetic Community. Ancestry tests for over 1500 ethnicities, but only the ten groups shown were reported in ethnicity estimates for members of my family.
As with my previous post, it’ll be helpful to discuss the ethnicities in my family based on pedigree. The ancestors of my father-in-law (“Paternal Grandpa” in the chart) were ethnic Poles from the Russian and Prussian partitions as far back as I’ve been able to discover. (A brief discussion of the partitions of Poland and subsequent border changes is found here.) My mother-in-law’s (“Paternal Grandma’s”) ancestors were also ethnic Poles, from the Prussian partition. My mother’s (“Maternal Grandma’s”) family were ethnic Poles from the Russian and Austrian partitions. My father’s (“Maternal Grandpa’s”) ancestry is more mixed. His mother’s family was entirely German, and his father’s family was half German/Alsatian, half English/Irish/Scottish.
Based on those pedigrees, “Paternal Grandpa, “Paternal Grandma,” “Dad,” and “Maternal Grandma” should all be 100% Polish ethnicity, since all of their ancestors were Poles, living in Polish lands, as far back as I have traced thus far. I’m half Polish, since all my ancestors on my Mom’s side were Polish and none of my Dad’s ancestors were, and my kids, then, are 75% Polish.
For comparison, the summary chart for the data from March 2019 is shown in Figure 6.
In comparison with these earlier data, the November 2021 ethnicity estimates for each person have not changed significantly. My father-in-law (“Paternal Grandpa”), for example, was previously reported to be 83% Eastern Europe & Russia,16% Baltic States, and 2% Finland; in this current estimate, 84% of his ethnicity was Eastern Europe & Russia, with 11% Baltic, and 5% Sweden & Denmark. The Baltic and Sweden & Denmark components may or may not be real, since the reported ranges indicate 0% at the low end. It may happen that these components eventually disappear, just as the “Finland” component did, as the ethnicity estimates are continually refined. However, it’s also possible that these components are real, and reflect retained traces of more ancient ancestry. Time will tell.
My father-in-law was also assigned to some Genetic Communities™, specifically, the Northeast Poland community, with additional sub-assignments of Central & Northeast Poland, Central Poland, and Łódź Province and Surrounding Area. Given the degree of overlap between those communities, I think this is, at best, a modest improvement over the simple statement that his ethnicity is Polish, but it’s a step in the right direction, at least.
Another interesting difference between the 2019 ethnicity estimate and the current estimate is the increase in my Dad’s (“Maternal Grandpa’s”) reported Scottish ethnicity. This is due to Ancestry’s attempt in 2020 to differentiate between the closely-related ethnic groups in the United Kingdom. As explained in this blog post by Barry Starr, Ph.D., Director of Scientific Communications at Ancestry, earlier reference panels included only two groups for this region, an Irish/Celtic/Gaelic group and an Anglo-Saxon/British/English group. In 2020, Ancestry added additional reference panels in an attempt to offer increased granularity, so testers with U.K. ancestry could now be assigned to one or more of four ethnic groups for this region: England & Northwestern Europe, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
Unfortunately, this particular change to the algorithm led to inflated estimates of Scottish ancestry for many of us. In 2019, my Dad’s combined “Ireland & Scotland” component represented 4% of his ethnicity (range = 0–5%). For comparison, we can calculate Dad’s ethnicity by pedigree. His most recent Irish ancestor was his great-great-grandfather, Robert Walsh, from whom Dad would have received, on average, 6.25% of his DNA. Another great-great-grandmother, Catherine (Grant) Dodds, was the source of Dad’s Scottish ancestry, but her family’s origins are unclear, as she herself was most likely born in Canada of parents or grandparents who were Scottish immigrants. If we assume that Catherine’s ancestry was purely Scottish, then Dad would be expected to inherit 6.25% Scottish ethnicity from her, for a total of 12.5% “Ireland & Scotland.” So, the 4% “Ireland & Scotland” reported in 2019 falls short of that, partly due to the random nature of DNA inheritance through recombination—Dad may simply have inherited less than the average amount of DNA from each of those two ancestors—and partly due to the inexact science of generating ethnicity estimates.
However, in Dad’s current ethnicity estimate, his Scottish component is inflated to a whopping 31% (range = 12–33%), while his Irish estimate is 3% (range = 0–7%), and his England & Northwest Europe component comes in at 18% (range = 0–51%). These changes are the result of that attempt in 2020 to distinguish between Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and English/Northwestern European ethnicities, and they effectively double his total U.K. ancestry, which should be about 25% since all of his English/Irish/Scottish roots are through one grandmother, Katherine (Walsh) Roberts. (Dad’s other three grandparents were all German or Alsatian.) I suspect that this over-estimate of Scottish ancestry will be resolved in a future ethnicity estimate update.
I think the rest of the data in the charts largely speak for themselves, so an exhaustive analysis of each person’s results is unnecessary. However, a few observations can be made:
Both Child 1 and Child 4 both had ethnicities reported that were not detected in the tests of either their parents or their grandparents. Child 1 was reported to have 1% DNA (range = 0–4%) from Sardinia, and Child 4 was reported to have 6% (range = 0–12%) DNA from Norway. Since DNA cannot “skip a generation,” these results cannot reflect any true ethnic origins in those areas. Since we only recognize that that these results are spurious by comparing them with data from both parents, this illustrates the need for caution in interpreting ethnicities reported at values less than about 10%.
Even if a reported ethnicity matches the known pedigree, checking the range of values is recommended; anything that dwindles down to 0% should be taken with a grain of salt, in the most conservative interpretation.
Ancestry’s Genetic Communities™, identified in conjunction with place data from family trees, track well across generations. There were no Communities assigned to children which were not also assigned to their parents, and in one case, a parent’s data exhibited a higher degree of accuracy and precision ((Northeastern Lesser Poland > Dąbrowa County) than was detected in the child.
Identification of Genetic Communities™ did not always line up with known data about ancestral origins, even when those origins are confirmed through DNA matches. Despite having a grandmother born in Greater Poland and having deep ancestry in that region confirmed by DNA matches, my mother was not assigned to this Community. Despite having no evidence of ancestry from places further south than Greater Poland, my mother-in-law was assigned to the Southeast Poland Genetic Community. Go figure.
At the end of the day, these are only estimates of one’s ethnicity, and they are liable to change, modestly or significantly, as additional testers enter the data pool and new reference populations are added for comparison. DNA match lists are ultimately more useful than ethnicity estimates in answering genealogical research questions, but it’s nonetheless fascinating to see how these estimates play out within a family group.
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 St. Joseph’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 St. Joseph’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.
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.
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!
Like many of the genetic genealogists out there, I’ve come to love DNA Painter as a tool for getting the most out of my DNA test data. So, today I want to share how I use it to help me better understand my DNA matches.
In order to keep this post fairly short and sweet, I’m going to assume that anyone reading this will have some familiarity with the basic concepts in genetic genealogy. If you don’t, you might want to read about using your match list at Ancestry, or check out some of my advice for beginners, relating to DNA testing, or visit one of the many other blogs or Facebook groups out there that are geared toward genetic genealogy.
DNA Painter is a fantastic tool for many reasons, but I especially love it because it gives me one place to keep all my segment data from the various test companies (Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, and 23&Me) or third-party applications (GEDmatch) that provide it, visually identifying which segments were inherited from which ancestors. Why is this helpful? Here’s an example.
Let’s say I have a match at 23&Me who is entirely unknown to me. We’ll call him K.C. (All initials of living individuals have been changed in this post.) He has no information in his profile on 23&Me regarding where he lives, when he was born, or any surnames he’s researching. Half his ancestry is Northwestern European, and the other half is Ashkenazi Jewish, so we’re almost certainly related on the Northwestern European side. His breakdown within that category isn’t especially helpful; we’re both a mix of British & Irish, French & German, and Broadly Northwestern European in varying proportions, which represents my paternal side. I don’t know where he lives or when he was born, and his name is sufficiently common that standard internet search techniques (e.g. searching for death notices in which he’s named as a surviving relative, or searches of databases such as Ancestry and Newspapers) don’t offer any clues. He’s pretty much a mystery.
An examination of Relatives in Common offers some insights, however. 23&Me reports that K.C. and I have relatives in common, which include E.T., E.S., and K.M., and that we all share DNA overlap, which is typically an indication that a particular segment of DNA was passed down to each of us from a common ancestor. Unfortunately, the situation with the latter two matches is not much better than it is with K.C. There’s not much information to go on in their profiles, and I don’t know how I’m related to them. However, I do have one glimmer of hope that I can leverage: E.T. is my second cousin. In “View DNA Details” at the 23&Me site, I select, “Compare with More Relatives,” and take a closer look at Chromosome 7, where we all share DNA, using myself as the base comparison (Figure 1).
In the diagram above, the underlying gray represents my paternal Chromosome 7. The purple segments are where my second cousin, E.T., shares DNA with me on that chromosome. As per the key, the orange segment represents shared DNA that I share with K.C., the yellow is shared DNA with E.S., and the blue is shared DNA with K.M. The areas where the colored regions stack on top of each other are areas of triangulation, where we all match each other, presumably because we share a common ancestor. But which ancestor might that be?
While my match list at 23&Me doesn’t provide any clues in that regard, my ancestral chromosome map from DNA Painter does. My ancestral chromosome map represents a visual summary of all of my known DNA match data from any test company or third-party application which provides segment data. Each time I’m able to document a genealogical relationship between myself and a living relative whose DNA data are found at one of those websites, I can “paint” the segments of shared DNA onto my ancestral chromosome map, and assign those segments to the common ancestral couple from whom that DNA match and I both descend. The more complete I can make my map, the more useful it is at informing my understanding of unknown DNA matches.
Let’s take a look at my paternal Chromosome 7 on my map from DNA Painter (Figure 2).
The map consists of a number of colored bars of varying lengths. Each bar represents a segment of DNA shared between me and a living DNA match. I’ve removed the names of the matches in most cases, although the colored bars that are relevant to this discussion are identified by black bars on the right, labelled with the pseudo-initials of the DNA match.
The key tells us that my ancestral map of my paternal Chromsosome 7 consists of DNA segments that can be traced to one of three ancestral couples: Wenzeslaus Meier and Anna Goetz (my great-great-grandparents), Katherine Walsh and John Frank Roberts (my great-grandparents), and Robert Walsh and Elizabeth Hodgkinson (my great-great-great-grandparents). Figure 2a shows a family tree, for reference.
We know that my paternal copy of every autosome (Chromosomes 1-22) will contain DNA inherited from both my dad’s mother, Marie Boehringer, and my dad’s father, Harry Roberts. We can take this a step further. Any DNA which I inherited from my paternal grandmother, Marie Boehringer, must have been given to her by either her father, John Boehringer, or her mother, Anna Meier. Similarly, any DNA which I inherited from my paternal grandfather must have come from either his father, John Frank Roberts, or his mother, Katherine Walsh. So each and every one of my paternal autosomes could be said to be a mixture of Roberts, Walsh, Boehringer, and Meier DNA. Bear in mind that the same pattern would be true for the chromosomes I inherited from my mom; those chromosomes must represent the four surnames of her grandparents.)
Going back now to the chromosome map, the map gets further refined as I am able to identify DNA matches with whom I share more distant ancestry. As mentioned, there’s a green segment on the map that represents DNA inherited from my great-great-great-grandparents, Robert Walsh and Elizabeth Hodgkinson. They were the grandparents of Katherine Walsh, so it makes sense that this green segment of DNA would necessarily overlap with the royal blue DNA segment that I share with a Walsh/Roberts descendant. If it somehow overlapped with the light blue of the Meier/Goetz line, it would be an indication that I’d made some errors in assigning segments to ancestors. That green segment now helps me refine my understanding of my DNA in that region. When I only have the royal blue segment to consider, I know only that either John Frank Roberts or Katherine Walsh contributed that DNA. However, thanks to the additional data—that green segment—I know that the portion of the royal blue “Roberts/Walsh DNA” that overlaps with the green “Walsh/Hodgkinson DNA” in Figure 2 must have come from Katherine Walsh and not John Frank Roberts.
Now let’s see how this map can give me a starting point for understanding how I’m related to those unknown DNA matches, K.C., E.S., and K.M. As mentioned, E.T. is the only one of these DNA matches shown in Figure 1 to whom I know how I’m related; she’s my second cousin. So let’s start by focusing only on the segments of Chromosome 7 where I match her (Figure 3).
Since there’s a lot going on, visually, in the ancestral chromosome map shown in Figure 2, I’ve marked with stars those three segments where E.T. matches me, so it’s a little easier to focus on them (Figure 4).
As you can see in Figures 1 and 3, there’s a break between the segments of DNA that I share with E.T., represented as that gray region disrupting the purple regions, that runs from (approximately) position 32,356,335 to position 55,601,336. This represents DNA that E.T. and I do not share. This break is highlighted in the zoomed-in, side-by-side comparison of the chromosome map from 23&Me with the ancestral chromosome map from DNA Painter (Figure 5).
Notice that the first half of that gap corresponds to that 13 cM segment of DNA, colored in green, that I share with I.N., whose common ancestors with me were Robert Walsh and Elizabeth Hodgkinson. So, this tells me that in the first part of the gap region where I don’t share DNA with E.T., I inherited my DNA from the Walsh line. That’s important, because when we go back to Figure 1, the first part of that gap is where I share DNA with those unknown DNA matches, K.C., E.S., and K.M. So this tells me that it’s very likely that the common ancestors from which all of us descend are from the Walsh/Hodgkinson line (Figure 6).
At this point, you may be saying, “Who cares?!” But I think it’s incredibly cool and powerful that I can go from having no information at all about three of my DNA matches on 23&Me, to suddenly knowing that we must be related through some common ancestor of either Robert Walsh or Elizabeth Hodgkinson, even when I have no matches in the 23&Me database to cousins with whom Robert and Elizabeth are the most recent common ancestral couple. Thank you, DNA Painter!
Please note that DNA Painter also offers the option to paint segment data from unknown matches directly into one’s chromosome map, so I could have made this same observation about my relationship to K.C., E.S., and K.M. that way. However, my personal preference is to keep my chromosome map “clean” and not add segment data until I determine how the match is related to me. In the end, it doesn’t matter so much how we make these observations; the point is that we have the tools that make the observations possible. Going forward, I can write to these matches to see if they’ll give me further information about their family trees, I can look for clues in the family trees of additional shared matches, and I can play the long game and see what other matches are added to the test company databases over time that might shed some light on the situation. Ultimately, DNA matches can offer fantastic clues to help answer genealogical questions and identify unknown ancestors, so it’s worth taking the time to explore those matches.
Discoveries on my Dodds line are coming thick and fast these days, thanks to hints found in my paternal aunt’s DNA match list. This past week, I discovered the fate of one John H. Dodds, the fifth child of my great-great-great-grandparents, Robert and Catherine (Grant or Irving?) Dodds. I’ve written about my Dodds family recently, and the question of Catherine’s parentage is one of the brick walls in my research, which was summarized here.
Introducing John Dodds
Like his brother, Alexander, who was the subject of my last blog post, John Dodds was first found to be living with his family in St. Catharines, Ontario, in 1861 (Figure 1). John was seven years old, suggesting a birth year circa 1854. His father, Robert Dodds, was a laborer, born circa 1822 in England, and a W[esleyan] Methodist. His mother, Katherine [sic] Dodds, was born in Upper Canada circa 1830, according to this document, but that year is suspect since their oldest child, Hannah, was recorded as being 19 years of age, which would imply that Catherine gave birth to her at the age of 12.
By 1871, the family had moved to Yarmouth Township in Elgin County (Figure 2). John H. Dodds was reported to be 18 years of age, which suggests a birth year circa 1853. He was born in Ontario, was employed as a laborer, and was reported to be of English origin through his father, but of the Presbyterian faith, along with his Scottish mother. Despite the family’s varying religious practices, the names and ages of the family members confirm that this is the same Dodds family found in 1861. This census also suggests a more reasonable birth year of 1820 for John’s mother, Catherine Dodds, since she and her husband were both noted to be 51 years of age.
After this census, however, John H. Dodds seemed to disappear. There were no good matches for him living anywhere near other members of his family, and his name was sufficiently common that chasing down each John Dodds living in North America after 1871 seemed like a thankless task. As was the case with Alexander, the trail grew cold in absence of better clues.
DNA Shows the Way, Again
However, buoyed by my recent success with tracking down Alexander Dodds, I went back to Ancestry DNA to see if I could use my paternal grand-aunt’s match list to find any additional clues to illuminate my Dodds research. Although I most often use the “shared matches” feature for this, this time around I did a search of the match list for any matches which mentioned the surname Dodds in their family tree. A match came up to a woman whom I’ll call B.Y. (again, not her real initials) whose public, linked tree featured a great-great-grandfather named John Dodds. Although the parents of this John Dodds were not known, there was some promising evidence in the tree that suggested that this might be “my” John Dodds, son of Robert and Catherine. For starters, the 1900 census showed that John Dodds was born in February 1860 in English Canada, i.e. Ontario (Figure 3).
A birth year of 1860 would make him a few years younger than “my” John Dodds ought to be, given previous evidence that suggested a birth year circa 1853-1854. However, this census also notes that his wife, Lena Dodds, was born in January 1874, so it may have been that John was fudging a bit to minimize the 20-year age difference between him and his wife. The Dodds family was living in Pike township, Potter County, Pennsylvania—a rural area about 125 miles due south of Rochester, New York. Without this clue from DNA evidence, it’s safe to say I never would have thought to look for “my” John Dodds there, nor would I necessarily have recognized him as the same John Dodds, even if he did turn up in a search of this census. According to this census, John Dodds’ father was born in Canada and his mother was born in England, while the reverse is true for “my” John Dodds. Between that, and the discrepancy in his age, it would have been easy to dismiss any connection, based solely on this one document. But just wait.
By 1900, John had been married to his wife, Lena, for eight years, suggesting that they married circa 1892. John was employed as a farmer who owned his own farm. He was further reported to be an alien who had been living in the U.S. for 19 years, following his arrival in 1881. The year of arrival would explain his absence from the 1881 census of Canada. Lena Dodds was born in Pennsylvania, as were both of her parents. She was noted to be the mother of two children, both of whom were living at that time and appear in this census. Those children were Flossie H. Dodds, born February 1895, and Robert L. Dodds, born August 1897.
The death certificate for John and Lena’s son, Robert L. Dodds, confirmed the information in B.Y.’s linked tree, that Lena Dodds’ maiden name was Frazier (Figure 4).4
We can be certain that the Robert L. Dodds described in this death certificate is the same Robert L. Dodds as the son who appeared in the 1900 census because the date and place of birth, 20 August 1897 in [West] Pike, Pennsylvania, are a match.
John Dodds’ own death certificate confirmed that his father’s name was Robert Dodds (Figure 5).
According to this document, John Dodds died on 24 June 1941 in Ulysses, Pennsylvania—a borough in Potter County, the same county in which John was living in 1900. He was married, and his wife’s name was given only as Lena M. Dodds, no maiden name indicated. He was reported to have been born on 24 February 1860 in Canada, a data consistent with the date of February 1860 reported on the 1900 census. The day and month of birth may well be correct, even if the year is off. His father was identified as Robert Dodds, born in England, and his mother’s place of birth was identified as Canada, although her name was not known by the informant, Mrs. William Straitz of Coudersport, Pennsylvania.
So far, so good. Based on the preliminary evidence from these three documents, we can hypothesize that John Dodds of Potter County, Pennsylvania, who was the husband of Lena Frazier Dodds and was born in Canada circa 1860 to Robert Dodds and an unknown mother, is the same as the John H. Dodds in my family tree. If this hypothesis is correct, then B.Y. would be a second cousin twice removed (2C2R) to my Dad’s aunt. The amount of DNA shared between them, 51 centimorgans (cM), is consistent with this relationship, although other relationships are also possible, including 1/2 2C2R, which is statistically more probable than 2C2R. (That’s another question for another day.) At this point, I figured we could really use a marriage record for John Dodds and Lena Frazier, indicating parents’ names, to tie all this together.
You know those late-night research sessions where you’re on a roll, and things are moving fast, and in the heady excitement of the moment, you’re not making notes about the process as carefully as you should? If you’re reading this, of course you do. Well, that happened to me when I made the breakthrough discovery on my John Dodds research, and for the life of me, I can no longer recall exactly what it was that inspired me to look for the record of his marriage to Lena Frazier in New York, rather than in Pennsylvania. But for some reason, I did just that: I checked the Allegany County, New York pages of the New York GenWeb project. If you’re unfamiliar with the USA GenWeb Project, you should definitely check it out, drilling down to your particular counties of interest, because it’s a fantastic resource that has been a favorite of mine since its inception in the late 1990s. In this case, the Allegany County page offers vital records transcriptions, including a page of marriage transcriptions from the town of Willing, New York, covering 1849-1920 (Figure 6).
And there it is! Smoking-gun evidence that John Dodd [sic], the 34-year-old farmer residing in Potter County, Pennsylvania, who married Lina [sic] Frazier, was the son of Robert Dodd [sic] and Catherine Grant. John’s age suggests a birth year of 1857, a bit closer to the probable reality of 1853-1854, and he was born in Canada, as expected. One wonders if this was perhaps a second marriage for him, since a “1” was recorded in the “No. of marriage” column for Lena (indicating this was her first marriage) but there is no notation in the corresponding column for the groom. Of course, it may be that this information was merely omitted from the transcription. In a column on the far right, which does not appear in this image, it states that the marriage took place on 20 April 1891, which is an approximate match to the information from the 1900 census that they were married in 1892. In fact, when I wrote to the Willing town clerk to request a copy of the actual marriage record, she informed me that the marriage date according to their records was 20 April 1892, not 1891, so mistakes do happen. It may be that the original record is exceptionally faded or illegible, which impacted the indexer’s ability to read both the marriage date, and any information that may have been recorded in the “no. of marriage” column for the groom.
Of course, there’s quite a bit more research that can, and should, be done to tell this family’s story. Nonetheless, by this point I was so excited that I emailed my Aunt Carol to tell her I’d found our John Dodds, after which a busy week ensued with little time for additional research. However, Aunt Carol took up the cause and was able to fill out the family tree quite nicely with loads of additional documents. Among her discoveries were two documents that I found to be especially noteworthy. The first was an entry in the 1880 census from Foster Township in McKean County, Pennsylvania, for the household of Gilford [sic] and Jno. [sic] Dodd [sic], two laborers who were lodgers at a boarding house run by David and Caroline White (Figure 7).
The township of Foster is located just south of the New York-Pennsylvania border, and about 50 miles west of Willing, New York, where John Dodds would eventually marry Lena Frazier. “Jno” is an old-fashioned abbreviation for “John” commonly found in genealogical documents. John was reported to be single, and age 24, which suggests a birth year circa 1856. We’re inching ever closer to the years 1853-1854 reported in the earliest documents, which are likely to be the most accurate. He was born in Canada, to Canadian-born parents. A residence within the U.S. in 1880 would be fairly consistent with the immigration year of 1881 which John Dodds reported in the 1900 census.
John and “Gilford” Dodd were enumerated as their own household, separate from the household of the boarding-house owner and the other tenants, which might be construed as evidence for a family relationship, rather than John and “Gilford” being two random boarders who happened to share a surname. In fact, “Gilford” is likely to be Gilbert M. Dodds, John’s brother, who was age 15 in the 1871 census, suggesting a birth year circa 1856. Gilbert does not appear in the 1881 census of Canada, and this record does a nice job of explaining why that might be. According to this census, “Gilford” was single and age 22, which points to a birth year circa 1858. He, too, was said to have been born in Canada of Canadian-born parents. Gilbert would eventually marry Annie Mann on 11 November 1885 in Port Stanley, Elgin County, Ontario8 and I’m pretty sure he died in Buffalo, New York,9 but that’s another story for another day. (I’m still waiting for his death certificate to arrive in the mail!)
The second neat bit of evidence that Aunt Carol found was the World War I draft registration card for John’s son, Robert Lawrence Dodds—the same Robert L. Dodds whose death certificate is shown in Figure 4. The subject of the draft card (Figure 8) resided at 504 Sullivan Street in Elmira, New York. He was born on 20 August 1897 in West Pike, Pennsylvania—information which matches that found on the death certificate for Robert L. Dodds exactly. His nearest relative was noted to be Lena Dodds, living in Ulysses, Pennsylvania, and a further identification of “mother” was written to the right of her name. Although his father’s name was not mentioned on this document, the form included a space for the father’s birthplace, and here it was noted that Robert Lawrence Dodds’ father was born in Port Stanley, Canada.
Port Stanley, Ontario, no longer exists as an independent municipality today. It’s a small place that was amalgamated with the village of Belmont and with Yarmouth Township—where the Dodds family was known to be living in 1871—to form the municipality of Central Elgin in 1998.11 Since the earliest document found to date for John Dodds was that 1861 census in which the family was living in St. Catharines, Ontario, the information from this draft card, if accurate, suggests a different timeline for the family of Robert and Catherine Dodds than the one I’ve been envisioning for them. If the family were living in Port Stanley circa 1853 when their son John was born, then perhaps Robert and Catherine started their marriage in Elgin County and then moved to St. Catherines, rather than the reverse. Of course, this is all speculative, and there are still many questions which have yet to be answered about the early life of the Dodds family, their migrations, and about the identities of Robert’s and Catherine’s parents. But little discoveries like the ones I’ve made this week give me hope that maybe, if I keep chipping away at it, those brick walls will eventually crumble.
1 Census of Canada, 1861, population schedule, Canada West, Lincoln, Grantham, E.D. 4, p 80, lines 1–9, Robert Dodds household, accessed as digital images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx : 28 April 2021 ), Item no. 1884852, citing Microfilm C-1048-1049.
2 Census of Canada, 1871, population schedule, Ontario, East Elgin, Yarmouth, David Parish, division no. 2, p 73, lines 2–8, Robert Dodds household, accessed as digital images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx : 28 April 2021 ), item no. 454129, citing Microfilm:C-9898, Reference:RG31.
3 1900 United States Federal Census, Potter, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Pike Township, enumeration district (ED) 107, sheet no. 2B, dwelling 35, family 38, John H. Dodds household; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : 8 May 2021); citing NARA microfilmT623, 1854 rolls, no roll specified.
4 “Pennsylvania, U.S., Death Certificates, 1906-1967,” database, Robert L. Dodds, 13 April 1968, certificate no. 040689-68; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 8 May 2021), certificate no. range 039901-042750, image 804 of 2909; citing Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906-1968. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
5 “Pennsylvania, U.S., Death Certificates, 1906-1967,” database, John Dodds, 24 June 1941, certificate no. 7817, digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 8 May 2021), certificate no. range 005251-008250, image 3142 of 3654; citing Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906-1968. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
6 Charlie Barrett, “Historic Records – Willing, Allegany Co., New York, Marriages, 1849-1920,” database, John Dodd and Lina Frazier, 20 April 1891, “Allegany County, New York,” NYGenWeb (http://allegany.nygenweb.net/index.html : 8 May 2021).
7 1880 United States Federal Census, McKean County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Foster Township, Enumeration District (E.D.) 77, Sheet 51A, household no. 787, Gilford and Jno. Dodd, digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 8 May 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1153 of 1,454 rolls.
8 “Ontario Marriages, 1869-1927,” database, 1885, no. 2663, marriage record for Gilbert M. Dodds and Annie Mann; digital image, Family Search (https://familysearch.org : 8 May 2021); citing Registrar General of Ontario, Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
9 Buffalo, Erie, New York, Death Index, 1897-1902, p. 206, Gilbert M. Dodds, Vol. 21, no. 71, 1898, and Alexander Dodds, Vol. 34, no. 258, 1899, digital images, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/ : 17 April 2021), image 225 of 1140, citing Index to Deaths, in Buffalo, New York, 1852-1944, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York.
10 “United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, FamilySearch, (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 8 May 2021), Robert Lawrence Dodds; Pennsylvania > Potter County; A-R > image 1017 of 3424; citing NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
In the days before direct-to-consumer autosomal DNA testing, my Dad used to joke, “Maternity is a fact; paternity is an opinion.” Despite this assertion, we sometimes find conflicting evidence in historical documents that raises questions about the identity of an individual’s mother. Recently, I was able to resolve such a conflict, identify the great-grandparents of a DNA match, and discover how that DNA match was related to my family.
An Unknown Cousin
The DNA match, whom I’ll call S.C., was not known to our family, yet we share a significant amount of DNA in common. With my Dad’s paternal aunt, S.C. shares 158 centimorgans (cM, a unit of genetic linkage) across 4 segments, and he shares even more DNA with my Dad—172 cM across 7 segments. He also shares DNA with a number of documented cousins who are also descendants of Dad’s great-great-grandparents, Robert and Catherine (__) Dodds. S.C. has an online tree which indicates that his grandfather was named Spencer Alexander Dodds, so this seemed to be a promising start. Spencer’s Canadian Expeditionary Forces personnel card is shown in Figure 1.
The card states that Spencer Alexander Dodds was born in Buffalo, New York, on 7 September 1895, a fact which was immediately intriguing. Although my great-great-great-grandparents, Robert and Catherine Dodds, lived in St. Catharines, Ontario, and Yarmouth township, Ontario, several of their children were known to have migrated to Buffalo, including my great-great-grandmother, Martha Agnes (née Dodds) Walsh. The name Alexander was also familiar to me, as one of Martha’s brothers was named Alexander Dodds.
The first documentary appearance of Alexander Dodds is in the 1861 Canadian Census, where he was found to be living with his parents, Robert and Catherine Dodds, in St. Catharines. He was their fourth child, and first son, born in Upper Canada about 1850 (Figure 2). His family’s religion was noted to be Methodist.
By 1871, the family had moved to Yarmouth Township in Elgin County (Figure 3). By this time, the older daughters had married, and Alexander was reported to be 21 years of age, which again suggests a birth year circa 1850. He was born in Ontario, was employed as a baker, and was reported to be of English origin through his father, but of the Presbyterian faith, along with his Scottish mother. Despite the family’s varying religious practices, the names and ages of the family members confirm that this is the same Dodds family found in 1861.
At first glance, this might not appear to be the correct marriage record for Alexander Dodds, since his given name was recorded as Abraham, not Alexander. However, “Abraham” was noted to be a resident of Aylmer, which is only 7 miles from Yarmouth Centre, where the Dodds family was living when the 1871 census was enumerated. His age, 21 years, points to a birth year of 1850, which is the consistent with the year of birth of Alexander Dodds. The parents’ names, Robert and Catherine, are the same; he was born in Ontario, and he was a Methodist. Check, check, and check. However, Abraham was noted to be employed as a a teamster, rather than a baker. Taken together with the different name, this might be construed as evidence that Abraham and Alexander Dodds were two different individuals. However, if that were true, then we should be able to find an 11-year-old Abraham Dodds in the 1861 census, living with parents Robert and Catherine. A search of the entire 1861 census for Ab* Dod* at the Library and Archives Canada site results in a negative find—no good matches. Of course, one could argue that Abraham might have been missed by the census taker, or was living outside of Canada in 1861; there’s still room for doubt.
The 1881 census helps to resolve that doubt, however. Back in St. Catharines, where many of the Dodds children returned following the death of their mother in 1872, Alexander Dodds was found to be living with his wife, Elizabeth (Figure 5).
Alexander’s age points to a birth year of 1849 in Ontario. His religion, Church of England, falls under the broad umbrella of Protestantism that would be consistent with the Dodds’ religious practices. Alexander was employed as a teamster, his wife’s name was Elizabeth, and her ethnic origins were noted to be Dutch— consistent with a maiden name of Ostrander. In light of the entire body of evidence, it seems clear that Alexander and Abraham are the same individual, and that “Abraham” was recorded on the marriage record either by mistake, or because it was a middle name which he used occasionally.
The 1881 census was the last time that Alexander/Abraham appeared in a census of Canada. Searches for either Alex* or Ab* Dod* in the 1891 census produced no unequivocal matches for “my” Alexander Dodds anywhere in Canada. Neither were there any unequivocal matches for him in databases of U.S. or Canadian death records, or U.S. census records. The name is sufficiently common that the trail grew cold, in absence of better clues.
Connecting the Dodds
In light of this DNA match to S.C., a new hypothesis began to emerge. What if Spencer Alexander Dodds were the son of Alexander Abraham Dodds? The timeline works—Alexander would have been 45 years old when Spencer was born, not too old to father a child. If this proposed relationship is correct, it would mean that S.C. and my Dad’s paternal aunt would be second cousins once removed (2C1R). According to the Shared Centimorgan Project Tool, the amount of DNA shared between “Aunt Betty” and S.C., 158 cM, is extremely typical for a 2C1R relationship. The amount of DNA shared between S.C. and my Dad (172 cM) would also fit their proposed relationship (3C), according to this hypothesis, although it is on the high side. However, this hypothesis required some additional documentary research before it could be accepted. S.C.’s tree did not offer any clues about the father of Spencer Alexander Dodds. There was only that Canadian Expeditionary Forces personnel card that stated his mother’s name as Hazel Grand. Who was she, and what happened to Elizabeth (née Ostrander) Dodds?
To solve this mystery, I turned to the paper trail for Spencer Alexander Dodds. Since Spencer was born in Buffalo in 1895, I first sought him in the 1900 U.S. Federal census. He was not there. However, there was exactly one search result for Spencer Dodds in the 1901 census of Canada, living in the village of Lucknow, Bruce County, Ontario (Figure 6).
In this document, Spencer A. Dodds’ date of birth was reported as 27 August 1895, and it was noted that he was born in the U.S. Both of these facts are reasonably consistent with the information found on the military personnel card, which stated that he was born 7 September 1895 in Buffalo. Combined with the fact that there were no individuals named Spencer Dodds who were found to be living in the U.S. in 1900, it is very likely that this is the same Spencer Dodds who was described in that personnel card. The census further identifies Spencer as the son of 28-year-old Jane Dodds, born 21 March 1873 in Ontario. Significantly, Jane was noted to be a widow, and (less significantly) a Presbyterian of Irish extraction. In addition to her son, Spencer, Jane Dodds had a daughter, Della Dodds, born 8 October 1892 in the U.S. Both Della and Spencer were noted to be of Scottish extraction, which must have been a reference to their late father’s heritage.
Jane Dodds and her children were identified as the daughter and grandchildren of head-of-household Christiana Boland, a single, 47-year-old woman who was a Presbyterian of Irish extraction, born 15 July 1853 in Ontario. One suspects that the census-taker may have intended to record her as a widow since it would have been unusual in those days for a single woman to have four children living with her. However, there may have been some communication difficulties between Christiana and the census-taker, since Christiana’s native language was reported to be Gaelic, rather than English. (This fact is noted on the second column from the right in the census record, not shown in Figure 6.) The family group included Christiana’s sons, Alex, David, and Charles, as well as her 45-year-old brother, Michal [sic].
Jane, Hazel, and Elizabeth
From this information, we can infer that Jane and her husband, the putative Alexander Dodds, lived in Buffalo circa 1892–1895 when their children were born; that Alexander passed away some time between 1895 and 1901, and that Jane took her children back to Ontario to live with her family of origin after her husband’s death. However, the names are a problem. If Jane Dodds was the daughter of Christiana Boland, then her maiden name should have been Jane Boland, not Jane Grand. So then, if this theory is correct, how do we go from Jane Boland to Hazel Grand, and what happened to Elizabeth Ostrander?
A search of the 1900 U.S. Federal census produced a likely match for Jane Dodds (Figure 7).
She was living as a boarder in Buffalo, New York, at 145 East Ferry Street, in the household of William and Anna Watson. William Watson was reported to be a 45-year-old Scottish immigrant, born in September 1854, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1883. He was working as an electrician, and had only been married to his wife, Anna, for 2 years. Anna was William’s junior by 10 years, born in New York in May 1865, and the couple had no children. Their boarder was Jennie Dodds, a 28-year-old widow, born in “Canada Eng[lish],” i.e. Ontario, in March 1872—a date which agrees well with Jane Dodds’ date of birth as reported in the 1901 census. Jennie was the mother of 2 children, both of whom were still living, although neither one of them was living with her at the time of the census. This implies that they must have been living with other family members elsewhere, and in light of the 1901 census, it seems probable that these two children were Della and Spencer, already living with their grandmother in Lucknow, Ontario. Jennie reported that she immigrated to the U.S. in 1889. If this date is accurate, and if we assume that she and Alexander were married for about a year before Della’s birth in October 1892, then it suggests that they were married in Buffalo, rather than Ontario. The fact that Jane was already a widow by 1900 narrows down the timeframe for Alexander’s death, so we can now assume that he died between 1895 and 1900.
Dodds in the Death Index
My next step was a search of the Index to Deaths in Buffalo, New York. A search of the volume that covers 1895–1896 produced only one match for Dodd (Lillian H. Dodd) and no matches for Dodds. The volume that covers 1897–1902 was also searched, browsing all the D’s, which covered pages 189–228; pages 197 and 211 were noted to be missing. I was pleasantly surprised to find the death record for Alexander Dodds’ brother, Gilbert M. Dodds, in 1898, since he was previously believed to have died somewhere in Canada. In addition to Gilbert, this volume contained index entries for five additional individuals with the Dodd or Dodds surname: Catherine Dodds and Clara F. Dodd, both of whom died in 1898; Mary Ethel Dodds and Charles V. Dodds, both of whom died in 1900; and—drumroll, please!—Alexander Dodds, who died in 1899.8 I have no idea if, or how, those other Dodds may be more distantly related to me, but the death certificates for Gilbert and Alexander were ordered from the City of Buffalo and I’m waiting with bated breath for their arrival in the mail.
Banishing the Elephant
Although this evidence of Alexander Dodds’ death in 1899 lends further support to my hypothesis about the relationship between S.C. and my family, it does nothing to banish the elephant in the room—the conflicting evidence for the name of Spencer’s mother, Hazel Grand/Jane Boland. Even if we assume that she was a second wife following the death of Elizabeth, it’s imperative that we obtain some sort of resolution to this discrepancy. Since the Canadian Expeditionary Forces personnel card noted that Spencer’s mother, Hazel Grand, was living in the town of Bracebridge in the Muskoka District in 1918, I sought evidence for her there. Lo, and behold! Her death certificate provided the key to this mystery (Figure 8).
The death certificate states that Hazel Jean Grant died in Muskoka Township on 7 December 1936 at the age of 67. She was born in Ontario on 21 March 1869, consistent with prior evidence indicating a date of birth of 21 March 1872 or 1873. She was reported to have been living in the township where the death occurred (Muskoka) for 33 years, which suggests that she moved there circa 1903, two years after her residence in Lucknow in 1901. Her husband was Chas. [Charles] H. Grant. Her father’s name was recorded as “Robt. A. McCarrol,” born in Scotland, and her mother was Christina Borland, born in Canada. The informant was her husband, Charles H. Grant, of Bracebridge, Muskoka.
I just love this death certificate for the instant resolution it brings to the problem. Jane, Jennie and Jean are all versions of the same name,10 and she had an additional given name of Hazel. The surname Grant (i.e. “Grand”) became her surname upon her remarriage after the death of Alexander Dodds. Her mother’s maiden name was Christina Borland, which confirms that this document pertains to the Jennie Dodds described in the 1901 census. Possibly due to that same language barrier, noted previously, Christina gave the census-taker her maiden name and not her married name (McCarrol). Spencer Alexander Dodds’ mother, Hazel Grand, was really Hazel Jean (or perhaps Jane Hazel) McCarrol Dodds Grant.
But Wait, There’s More!
As if this weren’t enough, a search for Jane McCarrol turned up a delightfully informative birth record for Charles Grant, Jr. (Figure 9).
This birth record reveals that Jennie H. McCarrol and Charles H. Grant had a son, Charles Grant, who was born in Bracebridge, Muskoka, on 26 October 1912. There was no house number available, but the family was living on Concession 13, Lots 7–8. The father, Charles H. Grant, was a farmer, and he and Jennie McCarrol were married on 7 January 1902 in Barrie (Simcoe County), Ontario. The birth record states that Jennie had been married previously, to Alexander Dodd [sic], and the birth was reported by the baby’s half-sister, Della Dodd—information which just wraps up the whole problem nicely with a big, shiny bow on top.
Of course, my research is not yet finished. (Is genealogy research ever finished?) There are still questions that need to be answered in order to have a more complete understanding of this family’s history, and there’s even some low-hanging fruit (such as baby Charles Grant’s death certificate) that I’m not going to take the time to harvest via analysis here. A death certificate for Elizabeth (Ostrander) Dodds, a marriage record for Alexander Dodds and Jennie McCarrol, and birth records for Della and Spencer Dodds, will provide further confirmation of the facts in this case, and those items have been added to my research plan. However, the DNA evidence, in combination with a growing body of documentary evidence, makes it clear that Alexander Dodds, son of Robert and Catherine (__) Dodds of St. Catherines and Elgin County, Ontario, is undoubtedly the same Alexander Dodds who married Jane/Jennie/Jean McCarrol and became the father of Della Dodds and Spencer Alexander Dodds before his death in Buffalo in 1899.
1 “Canada, World War I CEF Personnel Files, 1914-1918,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 28 April 2021), 12 M.D., 1st Depot Battalion, Saskatchewan Regiment, Regimental no. 3355666, Spencer Alexander Dodds, digital images, images 2157-2176 of 2726, citing Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; CEF Personnel Files; RG 150, Volume: Box 2558 – 44, Box 2558 (Dodds, Harry – Dods, Thomas Edward).
2 Census of Canada, 1861, population schedule, Canada West, Lincoln, Grantham, E.D. 4, p 80, lines 1–9, Robert Dodds household, accessed as digital images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx : 28 April 2021 ), Item no. 1884852, citing Microfilm C-1048-1049.
3 Census of Canada, 1871, population schedule, Ontario, East Elgin, Yarmouth, David Parish, division no. 2, p 73, lines 2–8, Robert Dodds household, accessed as digital images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx : 28 April 2021 ), item no. 454129, citing Microfilm:C-9898, Reference:RG31.
4 “Ontario Marriages, 1869-1927,”, database and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : 28 April 2021), Abraham Dodds and Elizabeth Ostrander, 28 December 1871, citing Marriages – registrations, 1869-1927; original index, 1869-1876; index, 1873-1927; and delayed registrations, 1892-1919, Vol. 15, Parry Sound District, Ontario, Perth, Bruce, Elgin, Grey, and Huron counties, p 265, image 270 of 399.
5 Census of Canada, 1881, population schedule, Ontario, Lincoln District no. 145, St. Catharines Sub-district A, Division no. 1, p 21, lines 6–7, Alexander Dodds household, accessed as digital images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx : 28 April 2021 ), item no. 3788256, citing Microfilm:C-13254, Reference:RG31.
6 1901 Census of Canada, population schedule, Ontario, Bruce West District no. 50, Lucknow Sub-district F, Division no. 1, p 9, lines 12–19, Christiana Boland household, accessed as digital images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx : 28 April 2021 ), Item no. 2026868, citing Microfilm: T-6462, Reference: RG31.
7 1900 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo Ward 17, E.D. 129, Sheet no. 1B, house no. 145., family no. 23, Jennie Dodds in William Watson household; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 28 April 2021), citing NARA digital publication T623, roll 1029.
8 “Buffalo, Erie, New York, Death Index, 1897-1902,” p. 206, Gilbert M. Dodds, Vol. 21, no. 71, 1898, and Alexander Dodds, Vol. 34, no. 258, 1899; digital images, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/ : 28 April 2021), image 225 of 1140, citing Index to Deaths in Buffalo, New York, 1852-1944, City Clerk’s Office, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York.
9 “Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947,” database and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ : 28 April 2021), Hazel Jean Grant, 7 December 1936, Muskoka, Ontario, certificate no. 025223; FHL film no. 2426606/DGS no. 4530550, image 1105 of 1796.
11 “Ontario Births, 1869-1912,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 28 April 2021), Charles Grant, 26 October 1912, certificate no. 032677; digital images, FHL film no. 2434985/DGS no 4530279, Births, stillbirths, and delayed registration with indexes > Births, no. 31030-38905 (v. 14-17) 1912 > 358 of 1626.