Recently, my aunt Carol (Roberts) Fischer honored me with the gift of becoming the next custodian of the Walsh-Roberts family Bible, preserved in our family since 1884. The Bible is still gorgeous, despite having suffered the ravages of time, and it must have been quite splendid when it was new. Its sheer size—standing at almost four inches tall—and weight have caused the binding to fall apart. Although the front cover has come off, none of the pages are loose. I’m looking into having it rebound in a way that preserves the front and back covers, so it can continue to be enjoyed for the next 140 years.
The inscription on the flyleaf reads, “Martha A. Welch, Her Book, St. Catharines, March 24th, 1884.” I don’t know the possible significance of the date. Martha Agnes (Dodds) Walsh (or Welch) was born 11 March 1859, so perhaps the Bible was a somewhat-belated gift for her 25th birthday. When this Bible was presented to her, Martha would have been a young mother of three little girls: 5-year-old Marion, 3 1/2-year-old Clara Ellen, and 7-month-old Katherine Elizabeth (my great-grandmother).
The Bible features an elaborate presentation page stamped with gold leaf which states, “Presented to Martha Agnes Walsh from Robert Dodds, March 1884. Robert Dodds was Martha’s father—my great-great-great-grandfather—who was born circa 1817 in England, and lived in St. Catharines, Ontario, and Yarmouth (Elgin County) Ontario, prior to his death in 1906. The handwriting on this page is different from the handwriting on the flyleaf, and I would like to think this page was inscribed by Robert Dodds himself, but I doubt it, for reasons I’ll discuss shortly.
Census records described Robert as a Methodist in 1861 and 1881, and as a member of the Church of England in 1871, 1891, and 1901. Martha’s husband, Henry Walsh, was a nominal Roman Catholic, but apparently not practicing. Martha raised their children in the Episcopal faith. It’s unsurprising, then, that Robert selected this translation of the Bible to give to Martha, since it contains the King James version of the New Testament in parallel with the Revised Version.
The Revised Version of the New Testament was first published in 1881, while the Old Testament and Apocrypha were not published until 1885 and 1894, respectively.1 This explains why the title page specifies, “Revised New Testament,” rather than simply, “Revised Version.”
The Bible is replete with numerous illustrations, such as the ones shown below.
The Bible also includes some charming and helpful Bible study aids, such as maps, lists of parables and miracles, tables of measures of weights, lengths, coins, etc.; a “Table of Kindred and Affinity forbidden to Marry together,” a “Complete List of the High Priests of the Hebrews,” “Remarkable Rivers and Lakes,” and more.
Also included is a summary of the “Principal Events of the History of the World from A.D. 98 to 1882,” by Rev. William Brown, D.D. I suspect that this is the same Rev. William Brown, D.D. (1766–1835), who wrote Antiquities of the Jews and served as pastor of Eskdalemuir parish in Scotland.4
The Bible has had a few additions inserted between its pages over the years, such as this poplar (?) leaf.
I wonder if there was some special significance there. Who put it there? Was it Martha, or one of the subsequent owners of the Bible? Was it merely a pretty autumn leaf, whose color has now faded, that was pressed between the pages of the Bible so it could dry flat, or was it from a favorite tree that was meaningful to Martha in some way? Was the leaf inserted into the Bible at random, or deliberately placed at the start of the New Testament?
Genealogical Data from the Walsh-Roberts Family Bible
Of course, an important part of any old family Bible, from a genealogist’s perspective, is the compilation of family births, marriages and deaths that were carefully recorded in its pages, and this Bible does not disappoint. Inserted on a loose card within the Bible is the only marriage record we have for Martha Agnes Dodds and Henry Walsh.
The certificate states that Henry Welsh [sic] and Martha Agnes Dodds were married on 22 November 1877 at Niagara Suspension Bridge in the State of New York by Jos. L. Bennett, Minister. The two names recorded to the left of his were presumably the witnesses, Mary L. Dier and Jacob A. Gutbrodt. This certificate will be analyzed in greater depth in a future blog post.
In addition to the marriage certificate stored within the pages of the Bible, Martha’s marriage record was also inscribed in a place of honor within the book itself.
The handwriting on this page, especially the way “Walsh” and “Dodds” are written, appears to be the same as the handwriting on the presentation page of the Bible, which causes me to suspect that it was Martha who inscribed both of these pages, rather than her father, Robert Dodds. It’s also interesting to note that Henry’s name was spelled “Walsh,” here, rather than “Welsh,” which was the spelling used on the certificate. The place of marriage was noted to be Niagara Falls, rather than the older designation, “Suspension Bridge, New York,”
A certificate of marriage for Martha’s daughter, Katherine Walsh, to John Frank Roberts (recorded as Frank John) was similarly preserved within the pages of the Bible.
According to this certificate, Frank John Roberts and Katherine (abbreviated as Katr) Walsh of Buffalo, New York, were married by Albert L. Grein, the pastor of Pilgrim Church, on 10 June 1903. The witnesses to the marriage were Frances Hurst and Edward Doersam. This may be the only record of this marriage that exists; I wrote to Pilgrim Congregational Church (currently know as Pilgrim-St. Luke’s United Church of Christ)5 back in September 2020 to see if they had a copy of the marriage record, and was informed that they have no records dating back that far, and that it was probably “in the records we lost in one of the two electrical fires we’ve had over the years.” 6
While we don’t have a wedding photo of John Frank Roberts and Katherine Walsh, we do have one photo of them, taken at about the same time.
There is also this portrait taken to commemorate their 50th wedding anniversary in 1953.
In addition to the two loose marriage certificates that were kept with the Bible, the Bible contained pages for Births, Marriages, Deaths, and Memoranda.
The dates of birth for all of Martha’s ten children were recorded, although the identical ink used in each entry suggests that they may have been inscribed all at the same time, rather than being inscribed individually when each child was born. Henry and Martha’s own birth dates finish the list. I’m especially fond of the unusual spelling of Katherine Walsh’s name that her mother used, “Catheryne,” which would not be out of place in our modern era. Although the Henry and Martha Walsh and their oldest four children were born in St. Catharines, the family migrated to Buffalo, New York in 1887, where all of the younger children were born, beginning with Agnes.
The deaths inscribed in the Bible seem to have been filled in closer to the time of each event, as evidenced by the different handwritings and inks. After Martha Walsh died in 1935, the Bible passed into the hands of her daughter, Katherine (Walsh) Roberts. The latest event recorded was the death of Clara B. (Walsh) Ulrich in 1960.
The inscription page for marriages is shown below.
The first two marriages seem to have been inscribed at the same time as the births, since the ink and handwriting are the same. I’m amused by the fact that the grooms’ names were apparently an afterthought, inserted in a different handwriting made subsequent to the original entry.
The Bible also contains a page of memoranda, which include entries about world events that Martha or Katherine presumably considered to be significant, such as the Pan American Exposition,7 held in Buffalo in 1901; the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1903 (formally known as the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition8 and held in 1904), and the “San Francis. Fair,” (Panama-Pacific International Exposition)9 held in 1915. In addition to these events, there is the curious note, “Stewart at 13 mts. (^on the table) could kick his left hind leg.” It’s unclear exactly what was meant by this, and in a spirit of charity, I’ve been trying to avoid dwelling on the implications of this statement for Uncle Stewart’s motor development or physical appearance. In any case, these memoranda certainly add to the unique charm and character of this family Bible.
Last, but certainly not least, are several pages of family photos at the end of the Bible.
Aunt Carol was able to identify the individuals in most of these photos for me, and her notes are provided in the captions.
Katherine Roberts was, by all accounts, a loving grandmother who doted on her grandchildren. She is shown below in the summer of 1942 with five of those grandchildren, and a sixth in the portrait on the wall behind her
Katherine passed her family Bible to her daughter, Cathlyn Roberts, who, in turn, passed it down to Aunt Carol (her niece), since Aunt Carol had established herself by that point as the family historian for her generation. I’m honored and delighted to be the next caretaker of the Walsh-Roberts family Bible, with all its precious inscriptions, photos, and certificates, that serve to document our family’s history.
Featured image: Cover of the Walsh-Roberts family Bible.
4 William Brown, D.D., Minister of Eskdalemuir, Antiquities of the Jews, Carefully Compiles from Authentic Sources and Their Customs Illustrated from Modern Travels, in Two Volumes, Volume I (London: Rodwell and Martin, 1820); e-book, Google Books (https://books.google.com/ : 16 November 2022); and
November 1 and 2 are two important days in the Roman Catholic tradition—the feasts of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. On All Saints’ Day, November 1, we celebrate the Church Triumphant—all the faithful deceased, known and unknown, who are now saints in heaven with God. On All Souls’ Day, November 2, our focus shifts to the Church Penitent—all the faithful departed whose souls must undergo purification (Purgatory) in order to enter the joy of heaven. We, the living, are the Church Militant, and together with the Church Triumphant and the Church Penitent, we make up the Communion of Saints. The basic premise of the Communion of Saints is that we’re all in this together: the prayers of the living can benefit those in purgatory, and the intercession of the saints can aide those of us who are still struggling through life.
This act of praying for others is so important, that the Catholic Church designates praying for the living and the deceased as one of the seven Spiritual Acts of Mercy. So, on All Souls’ Day, especially, we are encouraged to remember and pray for our deceased family members. Praying for the faithful departed can certainly be done in a general way, but many of us like to remember our family members by name. Consequently, All Souls’ Day is a holiday that Catholic genealogists can really embrace in a big way, since genealogy is all about the identification of our ancestors by name.
While the Rosary is a popular Catholic devotion for prayer and meditation, it occurred to me that its structure could also lend itself to use in offering a spiritual bouquet for All Souls’ Day. For those who might be unfamiliar with the term, a spiritual bouquet is “a collection of private devotional acts and prayers chosen and performed by one person for the benefit of another.”1 For those who might be unfamiliar with the Rosary, it’s a set of prayers that are recited, using a special string of 60 beads as an aid in keeping track of the progression through the prayers. A Rosary consists of opening prayers, then five sets of prayers called “decades,” followed by closing prayers. Each decade consists of an Our Father, followed by the Hail Mary (repeated ten times), and then the Glory Be. While it’s common to meditate on one of twenty Mysteries—events that took place during the life and death of Jesus and His Mother, Mary—while praying the Rosary, it’s also acceptable to focus on the words of the prayers themselves. I think that approach is easier if one is offering each prayer for a different ancestor or ancestral couple.
There are many ways that the Rosary can be adapted to pray for one’s ancestors, depending on where one begins with the family tree. In my Rosary, I wanted to include the souls of deceased members of both my family, and my husband’s. Since my mother is the only one of our parents who is deceased, I decided to offer the “Hail, Holy Queen” prayer (one of the closing prayers) for her, and offer the ten Hail Mary prayers of each decade for the souls of our grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents, as shown below in Version 1. Praying one decade each for my father-in-law’s family, my mother-in-law’s family, my father’s family, and my mother’s family, leaves one extra decade, which I decided to offer for all souls who have no one to pray for them.
As an alternative, I also set up a version focused only on my family (Version 2). In this version, the first decade is again offered for those souls who have no one to pray for them, followed by a decade each for my paternal grandfather and his family, my paternal grandmother and her family, my maternal grandfather and his family, and my maternal grandmother and her family. It’s a little easier to follow when using an example with names, so I’ve created examples for both Version 1 and Version 2, below. However, please note that in both versions, grandparents’ names have been redacted to protect the privacy of the living (my husband’s parents and my dad).
If you, too, are a Catholic genealogist, you can easily adapt one of these strategies to fit your own family tree. I made it easier for myself by printing out a “cheat sheet” with the names on it, but more power to you if you can do this from memory! Since it takes a little more focus, this is the sort of Rosary that lends itself to a quiet time and place, rather than a “Rosary on the run,” that you might say while you’re out walking or in the car.
May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
All Souls’ Day Rosary: Version 1
Opening prayers: As usual.
First decade: All souls who have no one to pray for them.
Second decade: My father-in-law’s family
Husband’s paternal grandfather
Husband’s paternal grandmother
Paternal grandfather’s father, Michael Szczepankiewicz
Genealogy research is fundamentally about resolving questions of identity and pedigree, and those questions proliferate when researching ancestors with popular surnames. When there were two or more individuals the same name living in the same area, at the same time, it can be challenging to sort out historical records. However, indirect evidence can often help us fill in the blanks, which was the case for me recently, as I sorted out some newspaper birth and death notices for my Walsh/Welch/Welsh family.
The Thomas Welch Family of St. Catharines, Ontario, and Buffalo, New York
My great-great-great-grandparents, Robert and Elizabeth (Hodgkinson) Walsh, had eight children, the seventh of whom was their son, Thomas John Walsh. Thomas John Walsh was born 10 February 1859 in St. Catharines, Ontario, and was baptized as John Walsh on 13 March 1859 at the cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria.1 Thomas J. Walsh (or Welsh, or Welch) married Edith M. Dewey, and although no record of their marriage has been discovered, we can surmise that they married circa 1893 based on information found in the 1930 U.S. census (Figure 1).2
Like many of the other Walsh siblings, Thomas was predominantly recorded under the “Welch” surname variant in his later years, and like them, he also migrated from St. Catharines to Buffalo, New York. So, it was not unexpected to find Thomas recorded in the 1930 census in Buffalo under the name Thomas J. Welch. As shown in Figure 1, the small household consisted of Thomas and his wife, Edith, plus one daughter—24-year-old Nellie Welch—and a boarder, Louis Runzer.
The 1930 census is unique in that it asked individuals to state their age at first marriage (Column 15), and Thomas was recorded as having been married at the age of 33, while Edith was recorded as having married at 23. Based on their respective ages in 1930 (70 years for Thomas and 60 for Edith), we can estimate that they married circa 1893. Earlier census records, e.g. in 19013 and 1915,4 similarly make no mention of children other than Nellie. Small families were rare in that time period, which suggests that Thomas and Edith may have had additional children who died in infancy or early childhood.
Three “New” Welches
I found evidence in newspapers for three more children who were previously unknown: Edith Margaret Welch, Mary Verna Welch, and an unnamed Welch son. Figure 2 shows the death notice published in the St. Catharines Standard for Edith M. Welch.5
Note that this death notice is not currently available online at Newspapers.com; this was found through a search in the Local Names Index database of the St. Catharines Public Library, which then provided a copy of the notice for me from microfilm in their collection. (Gems such as that Local Names Index are a great reason to check out the resources of the public library in each town where your ancestors lived.) The death notice specifies that the deceased, Edith M. Welch, was the daughter of Thomas J. Welch and Edith Welch. Since the mother’s name was also stated, it’s probable that Edith M. was a daughter of “my” Thomas Walsh/Welsh/Welch, rather that some other Thomas Welch who might have been living in St. Catharines concurrently.
A corresponding death certificate (Figure 3) further identifies the little girl as Edith Margaret Welch, and informs us that she was 2 years and 4 months old at the time of death, suggesting a date of birth around November 1903.6
Although the death certificate does not state parents’ names, the family’s religion—Roman Catholic— is consistent with existing evidence for the Walsh/Welch family. The family’s residence was noted to be on King Street. Edith Margaret’s baptismal record (Figure 4) confirmed parents’ names as Thomas Welch and Edith Dewey, providing direct evidence that she was, in fact, one of “my” Walsh/Welches.7
The baptismal record further states that Edith Margaret was born in Buffalo, New York, on 25 November 1903 and baptized by Rev. Denis Morris on 28 February 1904. Only one godparent, Mrs. Hugh Malloy, was noted.
The Other Thomas Welch
The next two newspaper records I discovered were a little harder to place, since they did not identify the child’s mother in either case. On 14 September 1906, the St. Catharines Standard reported that 3-month-old Mary Verna Welch had died the previous day from cholera infantum (Figure 5).8
Additionally, on 15 July 1908, the St. Catharines Standard reported that a baby boy was born to Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Welch of Lake Street on 14 July 1908 (Figure 6).9
I always associate Lake Street with my Walshes, since I had evidence from city directories that my Walsh family was living there in 1874 and 1879, and in 1885, based on parish census records.10 So, my first thought was that this Thomas Welch family might be “mine.” However, a search of the 1911 census for Thomas Welch revealed a different Thomas Welch family, living at 63 Queen Street (which intersects Lake Street) in St. Catharines at that time, with wife Anna and five children (Figure 7).11
The youngest of Thomas and Anna Welch’s five children was a son named Michael, born in July 1908. This corresponds well with the date of the newspaper birth announcement, implying that the child whose birth was announced was Michael Welch, son of Thomas and Anna. Moreover, census data indicate that the family of Thomas and Edith Welch migrated to the U.S. circa 1906–1907, prior to the birth of this child in 1908.12 All these data combine to suggest that the Welch baby in the newspaper birth announcement is not the son of Thomas and Edith, and therefore is not relevant to my research.
But what about Mary Verna? Her age suggests that she was born about June 1906, just three months after Edith Margaret died. Was she actually Edith Margaret’s sister, or could this have been another child of the other Thomas Welch? A birth in 1906 would place her neatly between the births of Thomas and Anna Welch’s daughter, Marguerite, in 1904, and Michael in 1908. Granted, they already had a daughter named Mary, but if they intended to call this daughter “Verna,” it may have been that the name “Mary” was tacked on at baptism. (Catholic tradition prefers that a child is named for a saint, so it sometimes happened that the priest would add on a saint’s name at baptism—often Mary or Joseph—in cases where the parents preferred another name for the child.)
A burial record for Mary Verna might identify her parents. The death noticed mentioned “Rev. Dean Morris” who conducted Mary Verna’s burial service, and it was this same priest, the Reverend Dean Denis Morris, pastor of the parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria, who baptized Edith Margaret Welch.13 Unfortunately, church burial records for this parish are not available online, so it’s not possible to use those to quickly confirm the names of Mary Verna’s parents. Moreover, although baptismal records from St. Catherine of Alexandria are online, no baptismal record was found for her. The information needed to assign Mary Verna to one of the Thomas Welch families was found in her death certificate, however (Figure 8).14
Although the death certificate did not identify Mary Verna’s parents, it stated that her residence at the time of death was on King Street. You may recall from Figure 3 that King Street was noted to be the residence of the Thomas and Edith Welch family in 1906, when Edith Margaret Welch died. Based on this information, I believe that Mary Verna Welch was the daughter of Thomas and Edith (Dewey) Welch, and not Thomas and Anna Welch.
Indirect evidence can help us to fill in the blanks, and permit at least a tentative placement of an individual within a family tree. However, it’s important to keep an open mind, and be willing to revise conclusions as necessary if new evidence is eventually discovered. Further research in church records from Buffalo may turn up baptismal records for Mary Verna Welch and Nellie Welch—whose baptismal record is also absent from the records of St. Catherine’s—which would likely offer direct evidence for Mary Verna’s parents. Obviously, I would expect such evidence to be consistent with my present hypothesis, that Mary Verna was the daughter of Thomas and Edith (Dewey) Welch. But if I’m wrong, it would not be the first time I’ve had to go back to the drawing board and revise a hypothesis. To quote my former undergraduate research mentor, “Keep gathering data, and truth will emerge!”
1Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), “Parish Registers, 1852-1910,” 1859, baptismal record for John Walsh, accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 12 October 2022), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860, image 88 of 104. “
21930 United States Federal Census, Erie County population schedule, Buffalo Ward 26, Enumeration District 333, Sheet 18B, family no. 314, Thomas J. Welch household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 12 October 2022), citing United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. Washington, D.C., National Archives and Records Administration, 1930. T626, 2,667 rolls, no specific roll cited; FHL microfilm no. 2341168.
31901 Census of Canada, Ontario population schedule, Lincoln and Niagara District no. 85, St. Catharines City Sub-district K, Division no. 2, Sheet no. 4, family no. 35, Thos. Welsh household; digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca : 12 October 2022), citing microfilm T-6480, RG31 – Statistics Canada, Item no. 3598169, Image no. z000079736.
41915 New York State Census, Erie County population schedule, Buffalo Ward 23, Assembly District 02, Election District 01, page 19, lines 12-35, Thos. J. Welch household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 12 October 2022); citing state population census schedules, 1915, New York State Archives, Albany, New York.
5 St. Catharines Standard (St. Catharines, Ontario), 22 March 1906, p 3, death notice for Edith M. Welch; image from microfilm, St. Catharines Public Library, Special Collections, 54 Church Street, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.
6“Ontario, Canada, Deaths and Deaths Overseas, 1869-1948,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 12 October 2022), Edith Margaret Welch, died 21 March 1906, citing St. Catharines, Lincoln, Ontario, yr 1906 certificate no. 017490, Registrar General; Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 1,854,401.
7Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Baptisms, 1860-1906, p 169, unnumbered entries in chronological order, Edith Margaret Welch, born 25 November 1903; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 12 October 2022), FHL film no. 1309899/DGS no. 5107195, image 171 of 177.
8St. Catharines Standard (St. Catharines, Ontario),14 September 1906 (Friday), p 4, col. 3, death notice for Mary Verna Welch; digital image, Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com : 12 October 2022).
9 Ibid.,15 July 1908 (Friday), p 3, col. 5, birth notice for unnamed son of Thomas Welch; digital image, Newspapers (https://www.newspapers.com : 12 October 2022).
William W. Evans, Gazetteer and business directory of Lincoln and Welland counties for 1879 (Brantford, Ontario, Canada: William W. Evans, 1878), entries for Welch, Henry; Welch, Welch, J.G.; Welch, Robert; Welch, Robert Jr.; and Welch, Thos. J,, accessed as browsable images, “Canadian Directories Collection,” Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca : 12 October 2022), path: Southwestern Ontario Counties > Gazetteer and business directory of Lincoln and Welland counties for 1879 > e010780629_p3.pdf, page 23 of 28; and
Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Niagara, Ontario, Canada), Parish Census 1885-86 (Liber Status Animarum), p. 18, Mrs. Walsh household on Lake Street; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 12 October 2022), path: “Canada, Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” > Lincoln > St. Catherines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Censuses 1885–1886 > image 19 of 116.
111911 Census of Canada, Ontario population schedule, Lincoln District no. 93, St. Catharines City Sub-district no. 39 (St. Andrews Ward), Sheet no. 5, family no. 58, Thomas Welch household; digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca : 12 October 2022), citing microfilm T-20383, RG31—Statistics Canada, item no. 6330696, image no. e002000645.
12 1915 New York State census; 1930 United States Federal Census. See footnotes 4 and 2.
This summer, I had the pleasure of spending some time back in Western New York, visiting family. One of the highlights of our time there was fondly known (albeit maybe just to me!) as the great Canadian Family History Road Trip Extravaganza (CFHRTE): a day-trip excursion to St. Catharines, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Queenston Heights, Niagara Falls, and Chippewa, visiting churches, cemeteries, and tourist attractions that were important to my distant family history, as well as my personal family history. Two of my adult children were with us during our visit to Western New York, and I persuaded them and my husband to accompany me on this sentimental journey. Our first stop was Victoria Lawn Cemetery in St. Catharines, and although none of them are especially interested in genealogy, they gamely trudged through the cemetery on one of the hottest days of the summer, looking for my Walshes and Hodgkinsons and Dodds with me.
This was my first visit to Victoria Lawn, although my Aunt Carol had visited the cemetery many years ago to photograph our family graves there. However, we’ve made some progress in our research on our Walsh ancestors since her visit, so I was able to make some new connections this time that we did not make previously. Specifically, I was thrilled to discover the grave of Maria McNamara, immediately adjacent to the graves of Robert and Elizabeth (Hodgkinson) Walsh.
The Walsh Family of St. Catharines, Revisted
In order to understand the significance of this discovery, a quick review of earlier research is required. I’ve written about my search for the origins of my elusive Walsh ancestors previously (here, here, and here, for example), but to briefly recap, Robert Walsh/Welsh/Welch was my great-great-great-grandfather, a Roman Catholic born in Ireland between 1808 and 1816. He immigrated to Canada at some point before 1843 (prior to the Irish Potato Famine, which began in 1845), and settled in St. Catharines, where he worked as a tailor. Circa 1843–1844, he married Elizabeth Hodgkinson, an Anglican native of Upper Canada. They had eight children together prior to his death in 1881. No direct evidence for Robert’s parents or specific place of origin in Ireland can be found in historical records, including church, census, civil vital registrations, cemetery, newspaper, land, or probate records.
Frequently, problems like this one can be solved through a combination of FAN research (also known as cluster research, or research into an ancestor’s Friends, Associates, and Neighbors) and genetic genealogy (DNA testing), and I’ve used this strategy successfully in the past to identify the origins of my Causin/Cossin family, and my Murri family. Unfortunately, thus far, DNA testing has not offered any substantial insights, for reasons which seem to be related more to small family size with few descendants, rather than a misattributed parentage event. Similarly, FAN research has yet to yield any solid clues regarding the Walsh’s place of origin in Ireland, despite efforts which have included mapping the birthplaces of Irish immigrants to St. Catharines that were mentioned in the earliest marriage records from the cathedral parish of St. Catherine of Alexandria. However, FAN research has been more successful at identifying potential parents for Robert Walsh.
My FAN research has focused primarily on two individuals, Thomas Walsh/Welsh/Welch, and Maria (Walsh) McNamara. They were siblings to each other, based on evidence from their marriage records from St. Catherine of Alexandria cathedral. The record of Thomas Walsh’s marriage to Maryann Cronin on 9 May 1861 is shown in Figure 1,1 and the record of Maria Walsh’s marriage to Patrick McNamara on 8 August 1867 is shown in Figure 2.2
Thomas’s parents were identified as “Jas. Walsh” and “Cath.e Cavanah,” while Maria’s parents were recorded as James Walsh and Catherine Cavanagh. I suspect that Robert Walsh may have been another child of James and Catherine (Cavanagh) Walsh, or perhaps a son of James Walsh by a different wife, given the 22–30 year age difference between Robert and Maria. (Dates of birth for each of them vary, depending on the source).
Evidence for this hypothesis that Robert was Thomas and Maria’s sibling or half-sibling is summarized in the following timeline:
1843-1844: Robert Walsh married Elizabeth Hodgkinson, probably in the cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (records prior to 1852 are lost).
9 November 1844: Robert and Elizabeth’s first child was born, a son whom they named James George Walsh. Irish naming tradition dictates that the oldest son should be named after the paternal grandfather.
1859: Robert and Elizabeth Walsh’s fourth son, Thomas Walsh, was born. Godparents were Thomas Walsh and Bridget Walsh.
January 1861: Thomas Walsh and “B. Maria” Walsh were living with with Robert Walsh’s family in the 1861 census, which is the earliest census date available for St. Catharines.
May 1861: Thomas Walsh married Maryann Cronin in front of witnesses Michael O’Laughlan and Maria Walsh.
1867: Maria Walsh married Patrick McNamara. The wedding may have occurred in haste, since the record notes a dispensation from “two calls” (two of the customary three banns), and there was only one witness (C. Hanigan?). However, parish records contain no baptisms for any children of this couple, before or after the marriage.
1869: Thomas Walsh’s second daughter, Catherine Josephine Walsh, was born. Godparents were Michael Cronan (sic) and Maryann (sic) McNamara.
1874: Thomas Walsh’s only son was born, whom he named Robert Francis Walsh. Godparents were Robert Walsh and Maria McNamara.
My current hypothesis also supposes that the above-mentioned “Bridget Walsh” and “B. Maria Walsh,” are one and the same person as Maria (Walsh) McNamara, and my reasoning was explained previously. Essentially, there is a lack of evidence from historical records for other candidates for “B. Maria Walsh” who would be of the right age to be the B. Maria in the 1861 census. Moreover, the timeline suggests a transition in her preferred name, from Bridget to B. Maria to Maria, which is similar to other members of this family who came to use their middle name preferentially (e.g. James George Walsh, who was buried as George James Welch.)
The Plot Thickens
That brings us back to the present, and my CFHRTE. I had just finished photographing the monument that marks the grave of Robert and Elizabeth Walsh and their son, Joseph P. Walsh, when I turned around to discover the grave of Maria McNamara, immediately adjacent!
Although the grave marker is difficult to read in this image, Canadian Headstones offers the following transcription: “In/Memory of/Maria/Wife of/P. McNamara/Died Dec. 3, 1887/In her 59th year/[Verse, illegible]/McNAMARA”3
Of course, the proximity of Maria McNamara’s grave to those of the Walshes made me wonder if additional information could be obtained from the cemetery regarding the purchaser of the plot in which she was buried. As it turns out, the plot owner cards from Victoria Lawn were microfilmed in 1981, and stored with the St. Catharines Library Special Collections. Jo-Anne Trousdale, a researcher from the Niagara Peninsula Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, provided me with copies of a number of the Walsh plot owner cards several years ago. However, as the cards don’t identify all the occupants of each plot, I didn’t make the connection with Maria McNamara until I visited the cemetery in person. Figure 4 shows the card for Section C, Division 61, Lot 1, which the cemetery confirmed as the location of Maria McNamara’s grave.4
The image is unfortunately a bit blurry, as Jo-Anne explained in her report: “These terribly fuzzy images are screen shots of the original negatives of record cards from Victoria Lawn Cemetery….It’s the only copy of these microfilmed reels and they’ve become quite ‘used.’ Sorry—they don’t print out any better from the microfilm reader and the photos of screen views here are the best I can get from the microfilm source.”5
Nonetheless, the card confirms that Robert Welch (i.e. Robert Walsh, Jr., son of Robert and Elizabeth), of 44 Welland Avenue West in the city of St. Catharines, was the owner of three plots, including the one described on this card (Section C, Division 61, Lot 1). The note on the card states, “Also owns E 1/2 – Lot 4 – C – 61/see other cards/also E 1/2 – 2 – H – 19.” Presumably, this notation means that the additional plots owned by Robert Welch consist of the east half of Lot 4 in Section C, Division 61, and the east half of Lot 2 in Section H, Division 19.
Significantly, Thomas Walsh, his wife Maryann, and their son, Robert F. Walsh (all under the surname “Welsh”) are buried in Section H, Division 19, Lot 2. Adjacent to those graves are the graves of Robert Welch; his wife, Caroline (Wales) Welch, and their daughter, Frances Maria Welch.
The McNamara Brothers of Killuran, County Clare
My excitement over this new discovery in the cemetery inspired me to renew my investigations of the Walsh family’s FAN circle. Maria McNamara’s marriage record, shown in Figure 2, identified Irish immigrant Patrick McNamara as the son of Timothy McNamara and Catherine Sullivan. Interestingly, parish records from St. Catherine of Alexandria document another son of Timothy McNamara and Catherine Sullivan: John McNamara, who married a widow, Margaret (Battle) McBride, on 23 November 1854.6 Their marriage record, shown in Figure 5, describes John McNamara as a “native of Kieluran (sic), Co. Clare Ireland,” and the son of Timothy McNamara and Catherine Soulivan (sic).
Irish history is undoubtedly riddled with Timothy McNamaras married to Catherine Sullivans, yet if we consider this fact within the FAN context, I think we can suppose that Patrick and John were brothers, since they were members of the same FAN circle. “Margaret Battle or McBride” was the godmother of Elizabeth Walsh, daughter of Robert and Elizabeth (Hodgkinson) Walsh, who was baptized on 11 June 1854, just a few months before Margaret McBride’s remarriage to John McNamara (Figure 6).
So, to recap, Robert and Elizabeth Walsh named Margaret (Battle) McBride as godmother to their daughter, Elizabeth, in June of 1854. In November of that same year, Margaret married John McNamara. In 1867, John’s younger brother, Patrick, married Robert’s younger (hypothetical) sister, Maria Walsh. Moreover, it’s probably no coincidence that the name John Fitzgerald was mentioned in both records, as a witness to the marriage of John McNamara and Margaret McBride, and also as godfather to Elizabeth Walsh. This places him, along with the McNamaras and Margaret Battle McBride, squarely within the Walshes’ FAN network. All of them will merit further investigation.
John McNamara’s place of origin, “Kieluran” in County Clare, suggests the location of Kelluran, which is a civil parish located in County Clare. While it’s a safe assumption that his brother, Patrick McNamara, was from the same place, can we then suppose that this might be the Walsh family’s place of origin as well? We can hope, but I think it’s a bit of a long shot, since I have not been able to discern a pattern of Irish immigrants in St. Catharines seeking to marry other immigrants from the same part of Ireland. This is evidenced by the fact that Margaret Battle herself was from a different county (Sligo) than her husband. Nonetheless, understanding the social network of brick-wall ancestors is the first step toward discovering the elusive origins of those ancestors.
Robert, Thomas, and Maria Walsh did not exist in a vacuum; they migrated along the same paths that others blazed before them. If I can discover common migration patterns among members of the Walshes’ FAN club, it just might lead me back to their roots in Ireland. And maybe that will be faster than sifting through every parish in Ireland where the surnames Walsh and Cavanagh coexist!
1Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Marriages 1858-1910, 1861, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, record for Thomas Walsh and Maryann Cronin, 9 May 1861, accessed as browsable images, “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 8 September 2022), path: Lincoln > St. Catharines > Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 9 of 48.
2Ibid.,1867, record for Patrick McNamara and Maria Walsh, 6 August 1867, image 18 of 48.
3“Headstones,” database, Canadian Headstones (https://canadianheadstones.ca/ : 8 September 2022), Maria McNamara/Wife of P. McNamara/Died Dec. 3, 1887/ In her 59th year/[Verse, illegible]/McNAMARA; citing Victoria Lawn Cemetery marker, Niagara (Lincoln & Welland Counties), Ontario.
4 Victoria Lawn Cemetery (St. Catharines, Niagara, Ontario, Canada), “Plot Owner Cards”, Cards for Robert Welch, 44 Welland Avenue West, for Section C, Division 61, Lot 1; Section C, Division 61, Lots E 1/2 – 4; Section H, Division 19, Lots E 1/2 – 2; images courtesy of Jo-Anne Trousdale, researcher, Niagara Peninsula Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society; and
Victoria Lawn Cemetery (St. Catharines, Niagara, Ontario, Canada) to Julie Szczepankiewicz, email regarding burial location of Marie (sic) McNamara, who was interred in 1887, in Section C, Division 61, Lot 1.
5 Jo-Anne Trousdale, St. Catharines, Ontario, research report to Julie Szczepankiewicz, “19-14 Szczepankiewicz Re Robert Walsh,” 18 May 2019, personally held by Julie Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
6 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860, 1854, unnumbered pages, marriage no. 42, John McNamara and Margaret Battle, 23 November 1854, browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 8 September 2022), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860, image 36 of 104.
Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), “Parish Registers, 1852-1910,” 1854, #88, baptismal record for Elizabeth Walsh, accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org: 22 April 2019), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, Marriages 1852-1860, image 28 of 104.
It’s hard to believe it, but I started this blog six years ago today as a way to share my family history discoveries and my enthusiasm for genealogy with fellow genealogists, distant cousins, research collaborators, and everyone in between. For six years, you’ve celebrated my successes with me and commiserated with my stumbling, offering encouragement for all those “brick walls.” I’ve shared my musings, insights, resources, and strategies, and you’ve shared your own tips, kind remarks, and research challenges. I’ve gotten to know new living cousins, and discovered dozens of “new” ancestors and deceased relatives to add to my family tree.
So what does six years of blogging look like, by the numbers? Like this:
I’ve written about ancestors who came from 57 unique places in 5 countries (the U.S., Canada, Poland, and Germany, and France), as well as my efforts to identify the unknown places of origin of my Irish-Canadian Walshes and my Scottish-Canadian Grants. They’ve been tough nuts to crack!
My favorite discoveries from the past six years, in no particular order:
The marriage record of my great-grandmother’s brother, Władysław/Walter Grzesiak, who unexpectedly married in Warsaw, 150 miles from his birthplace, which opened the door to additional new discoveries for my Grzesiak family.
The identification of distant cousins on my Klaus, Słoński, Wilczek, Panek, Dodds, Zarzycki, and Causin lines, made through DNA testing, which led to a clearer understanding of the migrations and dispersions of those families.
The discovery of a baptismal record for Ellender Hodgkinson, which spurred further research into her godmother, Mary Hodgkinson, which in turn led to the discovery of the last will and testament of John Hodgkinson, Sr., which identified previously unknown siblings of my 5x-great-grandfather, John Hodgkinson, and offered direct evidence that his father also immigrated to the U.S. from England.
The marriage record for my 3x-great-grandmother, Catherine Grentzinger, and her first husband, Victor Dehlinger, which opened doors into further discoveries into the origins of the Dehlinger and Grentzinger families.
The death records from Młodzieszyn for the siblings of my great-grandfather, Joseph Zielinski, which allowed me to piece together a timeline that finally explained why my grandfather returned to Poland with his parents in 1921.
The grave marker of Joseph and Gertrude (Wagner) Riel from Mt. Elliott Cemetery in Detroit, which identified Joseph’s place of birth in Germany, which allowed me to leverage the FAN principal and definitively identify the the place of origin of my Wagner ancestors.
Time certainly does fly when you’re having fun! I’m looking forward to further adventures in genealogy, and I’m excited to be able to share my discoveries with you. Thanks for all the positive feedback and encouragement over the past six years. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to have your company on this journey.
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.
Lately, I’ve been exploring some DNA matches on my Dad’s side of the family that have me pondering the murky origins of my Hodgkinson ancestry. In comparison with my maternal Polish ancestors, the Hodgkinsons have been very well-researched, as they were United Empire Loyalists and early settlers of Upper Canada (what is now Ontario). Yet despite this fact, there are a number of basic genealogical research questions which remain unanswered, due to the general difficulty of research in relatively sparse early Canadian records. Of course, difficult research problems inspire all sorts of speculation and theories, and that’s not a bad thing. Proposing hypotheses, and then testing them against evidence from the historical record, is an integral part of genealogy. However, some of the assertions made about this family seem to be so unfounded, that I wonder if there isn’t more data out there that isn’t cited in these family trees, and that I’m somehow overlooking. So today, I’d like to explore some of the evidence for John Hodgkinson, U.E.—my 5x-great-grandfather—that is found in historical documents.
What We Know About John Hodgkinson, U.E.
The most basic version of the narrative asserts that he was born circa 1750 and died circa 1832, and that he was a United Empire Loyalist (U.E.) who served during the American Revolutionary War as a private in Butler’s Rangers, and was married first to Mary Moore, with whom he had his oldest son, Samuel Hodgkinson. At some point she died, and he remarried Sarah Spencer. Sarah was the daughter of Robert Spencer, U.E., who had served alongside John in Butler’s Rangers. The date of Mary’s death is unknown. One can speculate that she may have died as a result of harsh conditions in the Loyalist refugee camps,1 but it’s also possible that she died after 1784, when the Hodgkinsons and other Rangers’ families were settled on land grants from the Crown in Grantham township on the Niagara Peninsula. John had two additional sons besides Samuel, Francis and Robert, who are generally believed to be from his second wife since they were born circa 1790 and 1792, respectively.
I believe all of these facts to be true. John Hodgkinson’s original grave marker provided a birth date of 1750 and a death date of 1832, although this marker no longer exists, as the original Hodgkinson Family Burying Ground was moved in November 1913 to make way for the Welland Ship Canal, and all human remains were relocated to Victoria Lawn Cemetery in St. Catharines.2 There is good evidence that both John Hodgkinson and his brother, William, served in Butler’s Rangers.3 Evidence for John’s marriage to Sarah Spencer includes the fact that his land petition stated that he was “married to Sarah the daughter of Robert Spencer, a Loyalist U.E.,”4 and Sarah’s death notice further identifies her as “Mrs. Sarah Hodgkinson, wife of Mr. John Hodgkinson” of Grantham (Figure 1).5
John Hodgkinson’s sons were all identified as such in their land petitions. Samuel’s petition stated that he “… is the Son of John Hodgkinson of Grantham/is on the U.E. List…” (Figure 2).6 The phrasing used here could possibly be construed to mean that Samuel Hodgkinson himself was on the U.E. List, not just his father, which is perhaps a hint at his birth in the U.S., although Samuel would have been a child and not a Loyalist per se at the time of his family’s arrival in Upper Canada.
Francis’s petition from 26 November 1815 similarly stated that “your Petitioner is the son of John Hodgkinson of the Township of Grantham in the District of Niagara, a U.E. Loyalist….” and that “he is of the age of Twenty-five Years,”7 which suggests a birth year circa 1790. Last, but not least, Robert’s petition, dated 24 November 1815, two days earlier than his brother’s, uses the same wording, stating that he “is the son of John Hodgkinson of the Township of Grantham in the District of Niagara, a U.E. Loyalist….” and that “he is of the age of Twenty-three Years.”8 This implies that he was born circa 1792, which is consistent with other evidence.
“Schaghticoke Samuel” or “Burlington Samuel”?
The statement that John Hodgkinson’s first wife was Mary Moore, who was the mother of his oldest son, Samuel, is where things start to get interesting. There is only one piece of evidence that is commonly cited for this assertion, which is a baptismal record for Samuel “Hadgkinsson” found in the records of the Reformed Dutch Church of Schaghticoke (New York), 1750–1866, which were recopied by Rev. Abraham H. Meyers between 3 December 1878 and 4 March 1879 (Figure 3).9
It’s entirely plausible to me that the Samuel “Hadgkisson” described in this record is the same Samuel Hodgkinson described in that land petition. Schaghticoke, New York, is a small town located in the Hudson River Valley near Albany, and a number of Loyalists from Butler’s Rangers originated in that area. The sponsors were Wm. Hadgkisson and Mary Moore, consistent with the fact that John Hodgkinson, U.E., had a brother named William. So far, so good.
However, there’s another birth record for a Samuel Hodgkinson that is often referenced to substantiate claims that the Hodgkinson family was originally from New Jersey, and that is the record shown in Figure 4 from the register of St. Mary’s (Episcopal) Church in Burlington, New Jersey, which was published by the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania back in 1903 (Figure 4).10
According to this record, Samuel, son of John and Mary Hodgkinson, was born 22 September 1775 and baptized 12 November 1775 in Burlington, New Jersey. Mary’s maiden name is not specified. Since the birth dates of “Schaghticoke Samuel” and “Burlington Samuel” are reasonably close in time, either one of them could be the Samuel Hodgkinson of Grantham, Upper Canada. More evidence is needed before anything could be stated definitively about the place of birth of Samuel Hodgkinson, U.E. However, one theory that I do not subscribe to, is that these records represent the same Samuel Hodgkinson, whose baptism was recorded twice, first in New Jersey and then in New York. It’s also not possible that “Schaghticoke Samuel” was a second son of the same John and Mary Hodgkinson, named after “Burlington Samuel” died in infancy, because “Burlington Samuel” was still alive in November 1775 and “Schaghticoke Samuel” was already born and baptized only three months later, in February.
As crazy as this may sound, I think it’s much more plausible that there were actually two distinct couples named John and Mary Hodgkinson, who lived concurrently in the American Colonies and had sons named Samuel. The records from St. Mary’s Church in Burlington contain multiple references to Hodgkinsons, including a baptismal record for another son of John and Mary Hodgkinson named Peter Aris Hodgkinson, who was born 2 June 1769, as well as a burial record for a Mary Hodgkinson on 26 March 1808, and a burial record for John Hodgkinson on 19 April 1814.11 While there’s no guarantee that the John and Mary from the burial records are the same John and Mary who were the parents of Peter and Samuel, it’s certainly possible that this is true, and this would imply that the Burlington Hodgkinsons were still living in New Jersey long after the Loyalist Hodgkinsons had settled in Upper Canada. Furthermore, there’s a marriage record for a Samuel Hodgkinson and Elizabeth Frankfort on 30 November 1803 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which is just 21 miles from Burlington, New Jersey,12 and also a death record for a Samuel Hodgkinson who died 28 November 1841 in Philadelphia at the age of 68, suggesting a birth circa 1773.13 Although further evidence is needed before we could conclude definitively that it was “Burlington Samuel” who first married Elizabeth Frankfort and then died in Philadelphia in 1841, the existence of any evidence for a Samuel Hodgkinson who continued to live in this vicinity after 1784 (when the families of Butler’s Rangers had settled in Upper Canada), argues against the hypothesis that “Burlington Samuel” is Samuel Hodgkinson, U.E.
Enter Ellender Hodgkinson
Although it’s difficult to imagine that there could be any “new” discoveries with a family so well-researched as the Hodgkinsons, there is one additional family member that I have never seen mentioned. The records from the Dutch Reformed Church in Schaghticoke contain a record which seems likely to pertain to this same John and Mary Hodgkinson: the baptism of Ellender “Huskinson” on 23 November 1778 (Figure 5).14
Between the fact that these records were recopied, and the usual lack of consistent surname spellings in documents from this era, I’m not too bothered by the fact that John’s surname was recorded as “Huskinson” rather than “Hodgkinson,” and Mary’s was recorded as “More” instead of “Moore.” The sponsors were noted to be Mary Stephenson and Mary Huskinson, and it’s possible that “Mary” Stephenson’s given name was recorded in error. The typical custom was to have a godfather and a godmother, rather than two godmothers, and that pattern is noted in this book as well, with the godfather’s name recorded first in all the other entries. For that reason, I suspect that a man’s name should have been recorded in place of “Mary” for the Stephenson godparent. The child’s unusual given name, Ellender, is supposedly derived from a German word meaning “foreigner” or “stranger.”15 No further references to John and Mary Hodgkinson/Huskinson appear in the records of the Dutch Reformed Church in Schaghticoke, which is consistent with the hypothesis that they were Loyalists and would probably have left New York at some point after the British defeat at the Battle of Saratoga.
The name Ellender (or Elender) is not a name I’ve encountered much in my research, but I’ve seen it exactly twice before. In the 1881 census, there is an “Elender M. Walsh” (indexed as “Elenden”), age 24, living with the family of Robert and Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh (Figure 6).16
“Elender’s” age makes it clear that she is Robert and Elizabeth’s daughter, more commonly recorded as Ellen or Nellie (née Walsh) DeVere (1856–1906). Ellender Hodgkinson would have been Elizabeth (née Hodgkinson) Walsh’s grandaunt (or great-aunt, if you prefer that terminology), so it’s possible that Ellen/Nellie/Elender was intended to be the namesake of Ellender Hodgkinson. This theory may be a bit of a reach since this 1881 census was the only time Nellie was recorded as Elender. In 1861 and 1871, for example, she was Ellen;17 she was baptized as Eleanor Margaret,18 and she was married and buried as Nellie.19
And yet, this family contains not one, but two Elenders, in a census for which there were only 13 examples in the entire country of given names beginning with “Elend-.” Who is the second Elender? By 1881, Robert and Elizabeth’s second son, Henry (my great-great-grandfather) was married to Martha Agnes Dodds, and they were the parents of two daughters, Marion and Clara Ellen. Marion (or Marian) was born 8 October 1878,20 which corresponds well with the two-and-a-half-year-old “Mary Ann” recorded on the census, and Clara’s birth on 19 September 1880 makes her an obvious match for 6-month-old “Elender.”21 Perhaps I’m guilty of attaching too much significance to what may have been two simple errors on the part of the census-taker. Nonetheless, I’m inclined to interpret the duplication of this unusual given name as evidence that the Ellender “Huskinson” who was baptized in Schaghticoke in 1778, was in fact a daughter of John Hodgkinson, U.E., and that his granddaughter, Elizabeth Walsh, was aware of Ellender’s existence, and that Ellender’s name was deliberately preserved in the Walsh family. (It may have been that the “honorees” themselves, Nellie and Clara, were not especially thrilled with the name, and that’s why we only see this one reference to it.)
Returning now to John Hodgkinson, the next time his family is mentioned in historical records is in the “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th March 1783,” contained within the collection known as the Haldimand Papers. These returns documented families of Loyalists who lived in refugee camps in Quebec and received public assistance from the Crown. I’ve discussed this refugee list previously, along with the one dated 24 July 1783, in which the family of John Hodgkinson was also enumerated.22 In both of those refugee lists, the Hodgkinson family was said to consist of one woman, no men or male children, one female child over age six and one female child under age six, for a total of three persons. John himself seems to be absent from this tally since no men were recorded with the family, but perhaps this is explained by the fact that Butler’s Rangers did not disband until June 1784, so John was not yet reunited with his family. The two children who have thus far been identified as having been born to John and Mary (Moore) Hodgkinson, Samuel and Ellender, would have been about ages seven and four, respectively, if we assume that the baptismal dates reported in the church records from Schaghticoke were roughly equivalent to their birth dates. Those ages line up with those of the children described in the refugee lists, although one inconsistency is that Samuel was misrecorded as female.
Although some additional documents exist (e.g. land records) which mention John Hodgkinson, U.E., beyond those mentioned here, they only serve to confirm these basic facts, or to enrich our understanding of his life in Upper Canada. I have yet to discover additional historical records that shed light on John’s early life. Nonetheless, some speculation exists about the identities of John’s parents, siblings, and even additional children beyond the ones mentioned here. In my next post, I’ll discuss them.
Featured image: Extract from Smyth, David William. “A Map of the Province of Upper Canada, describing all the new settlements, townships, &c. with the countries adjacent, from Quebec to Lake Huron. (1st ed.) Compiled, at the request of His Excellency Major General John G. Simcoe, First Lieutenant Governor, by David William Smyth Esqr., Surveyor General. London, published by W. Faden, Geographer to His Majesty and to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, Charing Cross, April 12th 1800. Accompanied with a topographical Description. Price 10s. & 6d,” David Rumsey Map Collection, http://www.davidrumsey.com/maps3638.html : 5 October 2021), Licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
5Farmers’ Journal and Welland Canal Intelligencer (St. Catharines, Upper Canada), 1 November 1826 (Wednesday), p 3, col 4, death notice for Sarah Hodgkinson; online images, Google News (https://news.google.com/ : 5 October 2021).
9“U.S., Dutch Reformed Church Records in Selected States, 1639-1989,” database with images, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 5 October 2021), Samuel Hadgkisson, baptized 22 February 1776; citing Holland Society of New York; New York, New York; Deer Park, Vol II, Book 11.
10Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania, “Register of St. Mary’s Church, Burlington, N.J.: The Register of the Church C. of St. Ann’s at Burlington,” Publications of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania(2)3, 1903, pp 241-302; p 278, baptismal record for Samuel Hodgkinson, born 22 September 1775 June 1769; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : 5 October 2021), image 262 of 444.
11Ibid., p 262, baptismal record for Peter Aris Hodgkinson, 13 August 1769; p 286, burial record for Mary Hodgkinson, 26 March 1808; and p 288, burial record for John Hodgkinson, 19 April 1814.
12“Pennsylvania, U.S., Compiled Marriage Records, 1700-1821,” database with images, Ancestry ((https://ancestry.com : 5 October 2021), Samuel Hodgkinson and Elizabeth Frankfort, 30 November 1803, citing records from Second Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, 1763-1812, found in Pennsylvania Marriage Records. Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Archives Printed Series, 1876. Series 2, Series 6.
13“Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., Death Certificates Index, 1803–1915,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 5 October 2021), Samuel Hodgkinson, born c. 1773, died 28 November 1841.
14 “U.S., Dutch Reformed Church Records in Selected States, 1639-1989,” database with images, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 5 October 2021), Ellender Huskinson, baptized 23 November 1778; citing Holland Society of New York; New York, New York; Deer Park, Vol II, Book 11.
161881 census of Canada, schedule no. 1 — Nominal Return of the Living, Ontario, Lincoln District no. 145, St. Catharines Sub-District A, Division no. 2, Family no. 140, p 26, Robt. Welsh family; digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca : 5 October 2021), item no. 3790055, image no. e008188289; citing Microfilm: C-13254 Reference: RG31 – Statistics Canada.
17 1861 census of Canada, population schedule, Canada West (Ontario), Lincoln District, St. Catharines Sub-District, p 96, lines 37–47, Robert Walsh household; digital image, Library and Archives Canada, (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/ : 5 October 2021), item no. 2721097, image no. 4391560_00231; citing microfilm C-1049; and
1871 census of Canada, Schedule 1 — Nominal Return of the Living, Ontario, Lincoln District no. 21, St. Catharines Sub-District B, Division no. 2, p 64, Family no. 225, Robert Walsh household; digital image, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/ : 5 October 2021), Item no. 2782126, image no. 4396294_00191; citing microfilm C-9922, RG31 – Statistics Canada.
18Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, 1857, unnumbered pages, unnumbered entries in chronological order, “Baptism Ellenor Walsh,” accessed as “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org: 5 October 2021), path: Lincoln County > St Catharines, > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms, marriages 1852-1860 > image 72 of 104. Principal’s name was recorded as “Ellenor” in the margin and “Eleanor Margaret” within the body of the record.
19 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, Marriages 1858-1910, 1883, unnumbered entries in chronological order, Charles Dolfin and Nellie Welsh, 26 May 1883; digital image, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org: 5 October 2021), path: “Canada, Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” > Lincoln County > St Catharines, > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Marriages 1858-1910 > image 30 of 48; and
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/148014987/nellie-m-de_vere : accessed 05 October 2021), memorial page for Nellie M Welch De Vere (1857-1906), Find a Grave Memorial ID 148014987, citing Victoria Lawn Cemetery, St. Catharines, Niagara Regional Municipality, Ontario, Canada ; Maintained by C (contributor 48635147).
20 Roman Catholic Church, Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada), Parish Registers, 1852-1910, 1878, baptismal record for Marian Walsh, born 8 October 1878; browsable images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 5 October 2021), path: “Canada, Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923,” > Lincoln County > St Catharines, > Cathedral of St Catherine of Alexandria > Baptisms 1860-1906 > image 98 of 177.
21 “Ontario Births, 1869-1911,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : 5 October 2021), Clara Ellen Welch, 19 Sep 1880; citing Birth, St. Catharines, Lincoln, Ontario, Canada, citing Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 1,845,399.
22 “British Library, formerly British Museum, Additional Manuscripts 21804-21834, Haldimand Paper,” citing John Hodgkinson in, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th March 1783,” LAC reel H-1654, Returns of Loyalists in Canada, n.d., 1778-1787, MG 21, 21826, B-166, accessed as browsable images, Héritage (http://heritage.canadiana.ca : 5 October 2021), images 730-748 out of 1240, Image 745; and
Ibid., refugee list from 24 July 1783, images 749-764 out of 1240, Image 762.
When it comes to genetic genealogy, it’s best to hope that each generation in your family tree was large, with lots of descendants living in countries where DNA testing is popular. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. Small families, and families in which many of the distant cousins are living in a place where DNA testing is not as popular (e.g. Poland) make it difficult to find those DNA matches that can lead to breakthroughs in your research. Whether you know, or only suspect, that this is the case for your family, you can visualize the situation using some of the available tools out there, such as Leeds worksheets, and Collins-Leeds matrices.
What is the Leeds Method?
Back in 2018, which is a lifetime ago in the world of genetic genealogy, researcher Dana Leeds described her method for color-coding DNA matches using a spreadsheet, which she developed in order to help a client identify his biological family. Elegant in its simplicity, the Leeds Method took off, and it inspired a number of next-generation automated tools which cluster a tester’s DNA matches based on shared ancestry. Sites which offer autocluster tools include MyHeritage, DNAGedcom, Genetic Affairs, and GEDMatch, and AncestryDNA’s colored-dot grouping tool is also based on this method. With all these automated options available, it’s become a bit passé to create a Leeds Method spreadsheet manually. Nonetheless, I want to share one with you here, because it’s a compact visual aid for illustrating some “structural defects” in my mom’s family tree, and their impact on her DNA match list.
Figure 1 shows a Leeds Method worksheet created from my mother’s list of DNA matches on Ancestry.
Leeds’ basic goal was to sort a list of DNA matches into four clusters, representing matches who are related to the tester through each of that person’s four grandparents. Individuals to whom we are related through only one of our four grandparents are our second cousins, so second cousins would be ideal test subjects for creating a Leeds worksheet. Thanks to the random nature of DNA inheritance, the amount of DNA shared between any two second cousins can vary, but typically, they share about 200 centiMorgans (cM) DNA, where a cM is the unit used to express genetic distance. (More cM shared = closer genetic relationship.) The exact amount of shared DNA between two second cousins can be as little as 41 cM, and as much as 592 cM, according to data gathered by Blaine Bettinger’s Shared cM Project.
With that in mind, Leeds opted to focus on DNA matches who shared between 90 cM and 400 cM DNA. Using her method, a color is assigned to the first match in the the list who shares between 90–400 cM with the tester, and then that same color is assigned to all the shared matches (or “in common with”) matches. This process is repeated until all the matches who share 90–400 cM have been assigned a color. Ideally, you want to exclude first cousins (1C), and descendants of first cousins (1C1R, 1C2R, etc.), because they will match you on two grandparents, not just one. This can be a little tricky if your family tree is not well-developed, because the amount of DNA shared between two people who are 1C1R, 1C2R, or 1C3R, can fall within that 90–400 cM range. However, the beauty of the Leeds Method is that it works even if you don’t know precisely how you’re related to someone, so having a few “mystery” matches in your worksheet that are 1C1R, etc., shouldn’t throw you off too much.
The 33 matches shown in Figure 1 were culled from my mom’s top 52 matches. Since I do know how most of my mom’s top matches are related to her, I took those first 52 matches and subtracted out all children, grandchildren, first cousins, and their descendants, who would match Mom on more than one grandparent. I removed the names of the DNA matches to protect their privacy, but they’re identified by the documentary relationship (if known), as well as by the amount of shared DNA in both cM and number of shared segments. The next ten columns, labelled 1 through 10, are the result of sorting Mom’s match list according to the Leeds Method. In column 1, the blue bars represent matches to whom Mom is related through one of the ancestors of her maternal grandmother, Veronica (née) Grzesiak. The red bars in column 2 represent matches to whom Mom is related through one of the ancestors of her paternal grandmother, Genevieve (née) Klaus. Columns 3 and 4 represent those matches to whom Mom is related through her paternal grandfathers, John Zazycki (purple bars) and Joseph Zielinski (green bars).
This brings us to the first observation I’d like to make. By looking at those four columns, it’s pretty clear that Mom has substantially more DNA matches who are related to her through the families of her grandmothers (Grzesiak and Klaus, blue and red), than she does through the families of her grandfathers (Zazycki and Zielinski, purple and green). She has exactly one match at this level who is related to her through John Zazycki: a 2C1R who is descended from John’s older sister, Marianna (née Zarzycka) Gruberska. Worse, I have to go all the way down to the level of a 4C2R to find a match that’s related to my mom through her grandfather Joseph Zielinski. The common ancestors between Mom and that match are my 6x-great-grandparents, Stanisław and Urszula Swięcicki, who lived back when there was still a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and who had already finished having children by the time of the final partition of Poland in 1795. (The story of that DNA match can be found here.) In other words, Mom has few-to-no “close” matches, depending on how you define “close,” who are related to her through either of her grandfathers.
So, what factors cause this phenomenon? In the case of the Zielinski family, my mother’s grandfather was the only one of the ten children in his family to survive long enough to marry and have children. This means that my mother has no second cousins who are related to her through her Zielinski family, and second cousins are what the Leeds Method hopes to exploit when developing initial groupings. The situation with the Zazycki family may be similar. My mother’s Zazycki grandfather, John, was one of eleven children, six of whom (including John) had children. John was the only one of his siblings to immigrate to the U.S., however, and it seems that not many of his siblings’ descendants opted to immigrate, either. Research is ongoing, but thus far it appears that only John’s eldest sister, Marianna Gruberska, had any children who immigrated. Presumably, the descendants of the other Zazycki (or Zarzycki) siblings remained in Poland. It may be that more of those Zarzycki relatives from Poland will start showing up in my DNA match lists, as DNA testing becomes more affordable and more popular among Poles. Time will tell. And If there are cousins in Poland who might be testing their DNA, it’s more likely that they’ll be showing up in DNA databases from MyHeritage and FamilyTree DNA, since those sites are are more popular than Ancestry DNA in Poland. So, I keep checking all the databases regularly, but thus far the situation has been similar in all of them, with few matches on the Zazycki and Zieliński sides.
Of course, any time one observes a lack of DNA matches to one particular line, there’s always the possibility of a misattributed parentage event, also known as a non-paternity event, or NPE. I’d be more likely to suspect this if Mom had no matches to a particular line, rather than a few distant ones. I’d be even more likely to suspect an NPE if I could find documentary evidence to suggest that a family was large and had plenty of descendants, and she still had no DNA matches. However, the fact that Mom has DNA matches to documented cousins on her Zielinski and Zazycki lines, and that the amount of DNA shared between her and those matches is within the expected range for the documented relationships, suggests that NPEs are not the issue here. (Or at least, it suggests that there are no NPEs that occurred in the generations between Mom and the ancestral couple shared between her and each DNA match.)
Rather than viewing the glass as half empty, it might be better to focus on all those DNA matches to the Grzesiak and Klaus families. Columns 5 through 10 indicate which matches are descendants of particular ancestral couples. In the case of the relatively close DNA matches shown in Figure 1, all but two of the Grzesiak matches are descendants of mom’s great-grandparents, Józef Grzesiak and Marianna Krawczyńska, as indicated by the light blue bars in column 5. The other two matches near the bottom, which are noted with a dark blue bar but not a light blue one, are not in my tree yet, so additional work is needed to make the documentary connection. However, we know they must be related somehow to the Grzesiak family because of all the matches they share in common with documented Grzesiak descendants. The Klaus matches are even more abundant, and can be broken down into descendants of various couples who were ancestors of either Andrzej Klaus, mom’s great-grandfather, or Marianna Łącka, mom’s great-grandmother.
Autoclusters: The Leeds Method on Steroids
Of course, thanks to the wonders of modern technology and gifted software engineers, we can go one better. Figure 2 shows a screenshot of the top portion of Mom’s autoclusters report at MyHeritage.
This utilizes the same principle as the Leeds Method spreadsheet, except it does the heavy lifting for you, automatically clustering your matches into groups which likely share a common ancestor. Each square on the grid represents a comparison of one of Mom’s DNA matches to another, and colored squares represent two people who match each other, in addition to matching my mom. You’ll note that there are some uncolored squares within each cluster; these occur because it’s possible that two members of a cluster will not match each other (even though they both match Mom) due to the random nature of DNA inheritance. So, I can gain insight into Mom’s relationship to all the members in the orange cluster shown in Figure 2, simply by determining her connection to one member of this cluster.
While it’s sometimes possible (e.g. with DNAGedcom) to vary the parameters for inclusion to create tighter or looser groups, that’s not possible with the autocluster tool at MyHeritage. MyHeritage utilizes an algorithm that automatically adjusts that parameters to yield the best clusters for each kit. Note also that not all of a tester’s matches will appear on the grid. MyHeritage provides a ReadMe file with each autocluster analysis which specifies the parameters that were used, the number of kits included in the analysis, and the names of DNA matches who were not included in the analysis as well. In my mom’s case, 109 DNA matches were used to create 26 clusters; 41 matches were excluded because they did not have any shared matches, and another 127 matches were excluded because, although they met the criteria for inclusion in the analysis, they would have ended up in singleton clusters (matching each other and Mom and no one else).
As MyHeritage states in their explanatory ReadMe file, “Everyone in a cluster will be on the same ancestral line, although the most recent common ancestor between any of the matches, and between you and any match, may vary. The generational level of the clusters may vary as well. One may be your paternal grandmother’s branch, and another may be your paternal great-grandfather’s branch.” This can be illustrated using the red cluster shown at the top left in Figure 2. This cluster represents 10 testers who are related to Mom through her grandmother, Weronika Grzesiak. I know how we’re related to eight of them: five of the matches share Weronika’s parents, Józef Grzesiak and Marianna Krawcyńska as the most recent common ancestral couple, and three share Józef Grzesiak’s maternal grandparents, Maciej Dąbrowski and Barbara Słońska, as the most recent common ancestral couple. Descendants of this couple were highlighted in light blue in Figure 1. So, the remaining two mystery matches in that red cluster shown in Figure 2 might be related to to Mom through a bit of DNA inherited from any of the ancestors of Weronika Grzesiak; we can’t really claim to know anything more definitive than that from these data.
The beauty of the autocluster option is that it eliminates the necessity of going through a match list by hand and tagging each match with a colored dot based on shared matches. Although the clusters themselves are extremely informative, it’s also worth noting the DNA matches who were omitted from the cluster analysis. In Mom’s case, one of the matches who was omitted due to lack of any shared matches was a 5th cousin who matches her through her Wilczek line. Since Mom descends from the Wilczeks through her paternal grandfather, it’s disappointing, but unsurprising, that there are no shared matches between Mom and her Wilczek 5th cousin, given the general lack of DNA matches who are related to Mom through either of her grandfathers.
Extrapolating to Other Surname Lines
For want of a better term, I’ll call the relative lack of DNA matches to Mom through either of her paternal grandfathers the “Small Family/International Family Effect.” Unfortunately, it seems to be at work on my Dad’s side of the family as well. I had high hopes that DNA testing might provide some clues regarding the birthplace in Ireland of my great-great-great-grandfather, Robert Walsh. Despite the fact that I’ve identified DNA matches with whom Robert Walsh and his wife, Elizabeth Hodgkinson, are the most recent common ancestors, DNA has not provided any strong leads to Walsh relatives in Ireland as of yet. I’ve even tested my father’s 100-year-old paternal aunt, whose great-grandfather was Robert Walsh. She would be expected to have more numerous and genetically closer DNA matches to this line than I would, since she inherited a greater percentage of Robert Walsh’s DNA. One might have expected that some of her matches would include Walshes from a particular location in Ireland, or even that one region of Ireland might stand out as an area from which a preponderance of DNA matches originated. However, no great leads have turned up yet. Similarly, DNA has not been especially illuminating as of yet with another brick wall ancestor, Maria Magdalena (née Causin/Casin/Couzens/Curzon) Roberts, who also seems to have come from a very small family which left few descendants. Does that mean that my DNA test results can’t help me? No, it just means that there’s nothing obvious to leverage, no low-hanging fruit to harvest.
There is hope, of course. By identifying “autoclusters of interest” that seem to share common ancestors on my brick-wall lines, I can examine their family trees of DNA matches within those clusters, or attempt to build family trees for them if none are available, and search for common surnames and ancestral locations. It should be noted that some sites (e.g. DNAGedcom) even have automated tools for identifying common ancestors based on GEDCOM files (family tree files) that are associated with DNA test kits. Another possible approach is to use research into an ancestor’s social network of friends, associates and neighbors (i.e. his “FAN club”) to identify putative parents for a brick-wall ancestor, trace their descendants forward to the present day, and then do autosomal target testing on individuals who would be predicted to share DNA, based on this hypothesis. Where there’s a will, there’s usually a way.
It can be incredibly rewarding to connect DNA matches to your family tree. Thanks to DNA matches, I’ve been able to discover and connect with distant cousins that I never knew I had, some of whom have even been willing to share old family photos. I’ve been able to track down a number of “lost” siblings of my ancestors who disappeared from the records. And DNA is an especially powerful tool when leveraged for tracking migrations of relatives with popular surnames. However, small families with few descendants can produce “lopsided” DNA match lists, which can be readily visualized using Leeds and Collins-Leeds clustering techniques. While these analytical methods won’t fix “structural defects” in your family tree, they can help you make the most of the matches you do have.
For a genealogist, any day that brings three new death certificates in the mail is a good day.
Back at the end of April, I wrote about my discovery of my great-great-granduncle, Alexander Dodds, who disappeared from documentary evidence in Canadian records after the 1881 census. Thanks to clues provided by DNA matches, I was able to determine that Alexander migrated to Buffalo, New York where he married Hazel Jean (or Jennie Hazel) McCarroll and had two children, Della and Spencer, prior to his death in 1899. While searching for his death record in the Buffalo, New York Death Index, I serendipitously came across the entry for the death certificate of his brother, Gilbert M. Dodds, who died in 1898. Then, since I was already writing to the Buffalo City Clerk to request those records, I decided to add in a request for the death certificate of their older sister, Isabella (née Dodds) Smith. I’d known previously that Isabella died in Buffalo, but I’d never gotten around to requesting a copy of the record, so this seemed to be a good time to do it. After a long wait, those death certificates finally arrived, so let’s analyze them here, in the context of my existing research into my Dodds family.
My burning questions regarding my Dodds family concern the origins of my great-great-great-grandparents, Robert and Catherine Dodds, whom I’ve written about previously. Evidence points pretty consistently to a birth circa 1817 in England for Robert, and possibly a specific date of 28 January 1817 as was reported (probably by Robert himself) in the 1901 census.1 Less is known about Catherine’s place of birth, however, and there’s even some doubt about her maiden name, since it has been reported as both Irving2 and Grant.3 In that regard, the death certificate for Isabella (née Dodds) Smith was most informative, since it was the only one of the three death certificates to mention a maiden name for Catherine. (Figure 1).
Unpacking the other details from the certificate first, we can see that Isabell [sic] H. Smith of 381 Rhode Island Street in Buffalo, died on 22 September 1917 due to a cerebral hemorrhage which she suffered about 6 weeks previously. A contributing cause of death was chronic myocarditis. Isabella was noted to be a widow, born 4 November 1844 in Canada, and she lived in the U.S. for 24 years prior to her death, spending all of that time in Buffalo. That suggests an arrival in 1893, which is a few years off from the arrival in 1897 which she reported in the 1910 census, but still in the same ballpark.5 No immigration record can be sought to confirm her arrival date since the U.S. did not begin documenting Canadian-born immigrants until 1 October 1906.6 Isabella was laid to rest in the Buffalo Cemetery on 25 September 1917, and the informant on the death certificate was her oldest daughter, Margaret (née Smith) Moorhouse, who lived with her. Margaret reported that Isabella’s parents were Robert Dodds and Catherine Grant, which lends further support to the hypothesis that Catherine’s maiden name was Grant and not Irving. However, Margaret identified both Robert and Catherine as having been born in Canada, and this is almost certainly incorrect in Robert’s case, in light of the substantial body of evidence supporting the assertion that he was born in England.
Next up, we have the death certificate for Alexander Dodds (Figure 2). The image I received is of rather low quality due to faded ink and darkened paper, but it’s nevertheless possible to read that Alexander Dodds died on 13 April 1899 due to pulmonary phthisis, which is more commonly known as tuberculosis. He was buried at Lakeside Cemetery on a date in April that’s difficult to make out, possibly the 23rd. Alexander was reported to be age 49 years, 1 month, and 25 days at the time of his death. Running that information through a date calculator points to a birth date of 19 February 1850, consistent with the expectation that he was born circa 1849-1850 based on his age reported in census records. He was a married laborer, born in Canada, who had been a resident in the U.S. for 15 years, and living in Buffalo for that entire time period. This suggests that he arrived in the U.S. circa 1884. Alexander’s parents’ names were reported to be Robert and Catherine, but no maiden name was given for his mother. Moreover, both parents were reported to have been born in England—a statement which is unlikely to be true in Catherine’s case. Alexander’s last place of residence was decipherable as Auburn Avenue, although the house number (212, perhaps?) is harder to read.
The fact that Alexander was buried at Lakeside Cemetery is new information for me. Lakeside is an old, historic cemetery located in Hamburg, New York, about 10 miles south of Buffalo. Lakeside is managed by the Forest Lawn group of cemeteries, and they happen to have a fantastic website where one can search burials and even download cemetery records, such as this burial card for my great-great-grandmother, Martha Dodds Walsh, another sibling of Alexander, Isabella and Gilbert. Unfortunately, the information for Alexander which is offered on the website is much more limited. The service card (Figure 3) barely confirms the information on the death certificate, inasmuch as there is a burial record for an Alexander Dodds, but it offers no details about date of death, or parents’ names.
Alexander’s age at the time of death, 40, is also in conflict with the information on the death certificate, which stated that he was 49 years old at the time of death. However, it may have been a transcription error, and in any case, the funeral director, “Geo. J. Altman,” is a match to the George J. Altman who was reported on Alexander’s death certificate as the undertaker.
Gilbert M. Dodds
Last, but not least, we have the death certificate for Gilbert M. Dodds (Figure 4).
The image quality here is only slightly better than that for Alexander’s death certificate, but the record states that Gilbert died on 4 January 1898 of pernicious anemia, a form of anemia caused by a deficiency in vitamin B12, with which he had been diagnosed five years previously. He was buried that same month in St. Catharines, Ontario, but the name of the cemetery was not provided, nor is the exact date of burial legible. Gilbert was reported to be age 42 years, 3 months and 25 days at the time of his death, suggesting a birth date of 11 September 1855. Estimates for his year of birth as suggested by census records and other documents ranged between 1855–1860, but the earliest records (e.g. the 1861 census)10 pointed to a birth year of 1855, so this certificate is in excellent agreement. He was married at the time of his death, and employed as a driver. As expected, Gilbert was born in Canada, but had been living in Buffalo for five years prior to his death, which implies an arrival in the U.S. circa 1893, so his arrival coincided with that of his sister, Isabella Smith. His last residence was at 408 Massachusetts Avenue, in close proximity to the final residences reported by his siblings (Figure 5). Finally, the certificate identifies Gilbert’s parents as Robert Dodds, born in England, and Catherine Dodds, born in Canada.
Experienced genealogists know how valuable death records can be, especially when they identify the parents of the deceased. They’re also relatively easy to obtain, with just a letter and a check in the mail, so I’m always amazed by the fact that so many family historians only mention them in their trees when the scans are available online. The most significant drawback is that the information on a death certificate was not provided by the individual himself or herself, but rather by a family member or some other individual who was more or less acquainted with the deceased. Thanks to these death certificates, I was able to discover exact dates of birth for Dodds siblings Alexander, Gilbert, and Isabella Smith, as well as an exact date of death for Alexander. I identified Alexander’s final resting place as Lakeview Cemetery, which opens up the possibility of further research in cemetery records, in case they might have anything that’s not online. I obtained corroborating evidence for a number of previously-known facts in my family tree. And, although these certificates did nothing to dispel the confusion over Catherine Dodds’ place of birth, the certificate for Isabella Smith added to the growing body of evidence in support of the hypothesis that Catherine was a Grant by birth. All in all, that was a pretty good day, indeed.
11901 Census of Canada, Ontario population schedule, Lincoln and Niagara district no. 85, St. Catharines sub-district K, division no. 6, household no. 117, James Carty household; database with images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/ : 17 August 2021), item no. 2026840, image no. z000079820, citing microfilm T-6480, RG31.
2 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1935, vol. 820, no. 4549, Martha Dodds Walsh, 11 August 1935; Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York.
3 “Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947,” database, FamilySearch, (https://familysearch.org/ : 8 May 2021), Hannah Carty, 3 June 1914; Deaths > 1914 > no 19125-22410 > image 370 of 1638; citing Registrar General. Archives of Ontario, Toronto.
4 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1917, vol. 273, no. 6001, Isabell H. Smith, 22 September 1917, Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York.
5 1910 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo Ward 21, Enumeration District 206, Sheet 7A, house no. 18 1/2, family no. 27, William Smith household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 18 August 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 947 of 1,178 rolls, FHL microfilm 1374960.
7 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1899, Vol. 34, no. 258, Alexander Dodds, 13 April 1899; Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo NY 14202.
8 Forest Lawn Cemetery Group, burial records database, Forest Lawn (https://forest-lawn.com/ : 18 August 2021), service card for Alexander Dodds, buried Lakeside Cemetery, block one, grave 142.
9 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1898, vol. 21, no. 71, Gilbert M. Dodds, 4 January 1898; Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo NY 14202.
10 1861 Census of Canada, population schedule, Canada West, Lincoln, Grantham, Enumeration District 4, p 80, lines 1-9, Robert Dodds household; digital images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx : 19 April 2021 ), Item no. 1884852, citing Microfilm C-1048-1049.
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.