An Elusive Grandfather’s Granddaughter Agrees to a DNA Test

When there is no paper trail, DNA has the potential to open genealogical doors.

And that’s what I am hoping to do. I have a relative who was adopted by two different families in the 1890s. The first set died when the relative was small child and another family took him and a brother (perhaps biological, perhaps not). His biological parents are unknown. The brother cannot be located after the 1900 census. After the relative and his wife had four children, he left the family and was never heard from again. The possible unknown connections for him are significant. A DNA test may relatives from his family of origin.

And, given that he was only in his early thirties when he left his wife and children, it is possible that he had other children.  Basically what is really known about this man begins when he was adopted by the second family in the 1890s and ends when he left his wife and children around 1918.

A granddaughter and daughter of this man has agreed to a AncestryDNA test.

While I’m waiting for the results, I need to review the paper trail of the ancestry of this granddaughter so that I can make the best use of the test results when they arrive. The DNA test will not just contain information about the person of of interest–the tester has other grandparents as well. The ancestry of her other three grandparents is relatively well-documented–at least through three or four generations beyond the other grandparents of the person being tested. Sifting out the elusive grandfather’s matches from those of the known grandparents will be one of the first things that I need to do.

Fortunately this will be made easier by the nature of the tester’s ancestry. Until the tests have been taken our discussion will and analysis of this problem will be somewhat vague. The tester’s paternal grandparents are from rural Missouri and almost entirely of Southern United States ancestry hailing from Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. The tester’s maternal grandmother was virtually entirely French-Canadian. It is hoped that the elusive maternal grandfather (born probably in Chicago), the adopted man who evaporated after he reproduced, has a background that is distinct from these individuals.

That won’t be known until the test has been taken. The analysis of the results will by partially stymied by AncestryDNA submitters with no trees or with incomplete trees.

I’m hoping that enough of the matches of the tester have trees that I can determine how some of them are related. Then I hopefully will be able to see what matches are shared with those “determined people” that I can eliminate as being matches of the elusive grandfather. That’s the plan.

We will have an update when the results are back. Stay tuned.

AncestryDNA is running a sale through 15 August and now is the perfect time for me to purchase these two tests.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+PinterestLinkedInShare Updates “U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007” is indicating that “U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007” has been updated as of today. It’s been on the site for some time.

There’s no indication of how the database has been updated or how significant that change is.

The database is a wonderful source for 20th century United States research, but there are a few points to keep in mind:

  • it does not include everyone in the United States who had a Social Security Number
  • place names may have been spelled irregularly-Barthage, Illinois, for Carthage, Illinois, is one easy example. These names most likely are not tagged in such a way as to be found on a county based search using the county in which Carthage is located.
  • place names can be truncated, merely chopping off some of the last characters–the data received from the Social Security Administration was computerized data some of which was created when truncation of names was necessary

    Search box for “U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007”

  • some incorrect or non-standard place names are tagged to the correct locations and will come up on search results that include the geographic reference–others will not. My grandmother’s place of birth is listed in U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 as “Tioga,Walker,Illinois.” This is a reference to Tioga in Walker Township in Hancock County, Illinois. Fortunately it is returned as a hit when a search for her name and a place of birth in Hancock County, Illinois, is conducted.
  • names may be spelled in unusual ways–sometimes they were spelled that way on the application and some times the handwritten application for a number was difficult to read
  • be creative when using the search box


DNA Might Alter Your Reality

People lie for a variety of reasons. Sometimes those reasons are to hide scandal or the eyes of law enforcement. Sometimes those reasons are to protect individuals from knowing certain information. I’m not going to debate the ethics of lying–whether or when it is appropriate or not.

Paper documentation, since it contains statements by people, can also contain lies.  Sometimes those records contain statements that, while not true, are what the informant actually believed. And sometimes those records contain information apparently dreamed up by the informant.

DNA reflects reality.  Not the perception of reality that we may, through no fault of our own, believe to be the truth. DNA does not care one whit about family tradition, what it says on the birth record, and what Uncle Herman said on his death bed.

DNA does not reflect the altered reality your grandfather wanted to pass along to his descendants. It does not reflect the modified story grandma told her family to “save the family name.” DNA reflects the parental events as they actually happened, not how someone later wished they had. DNA is not about wishes.

When genealogists take a DNA test they are often hoping to solve an old family mystery or to see “for fun” what their ancient ethnic origins are. Those are good reasons. But there are other discoveries that may be thrust upon the test taker, ones that are unexpected. Discoveries involving parents that aren’t parents, siblings that aren’t siblings, or unexpected siblings make headlines and draw attention. Growing up as an only child and learning another submitter is a genetic sibling can be shocking to say the least. These discoveries can have a significant impact on other people besides the test taker.

But there are other discoveries that could be made as well.

How will you and your first (or second) cousin react if it turns out that you really are not cousins at all, but in fact share no DNA? How will your cousin react to you if you were the one who convinced them to take the test? What if your test turns up first cousins when your family structure, as you believe it to be true and as you have been repeatedly told, suggests no first cousins?  Test results can impact other living individuals besides yourself. What if you and several descendants of your great-grandparents and all you match each other save one who matches no one else?

Any discovery into genealogy has the potential to shake up your living family members. Your Aunt Myrtle may argue with what is in the birth record if it does not agree with her view of reality. It’s difficult to argue with DNA.



A Widow Acknowledges In1867

In July of 1867, Catherine Belless of Fulton County, Illinois,  signing her mark and only referenced by her initials, acknowledged her receipt of property from the estate of her husband. It was her right to receive personal property from her husband’s estate.

Illinois State Statute allowed widows an allotment from their deceased husband’s estate to support themselves. That allotment could be in specific property (within certain limits) or in cash if those items were not a part of the deceased husband’s estate.

That “widow’s award” is what she is acknowledging the receipt of in this document.

Recd of Joseph Belless adm of the Estate of Peter Belless Decd Three Hundred & Eighty five Dollars + forty cents In Property at appraised value

July 26th 1867


C J [or L or I] Belless


[note–formatting issues forced me to put the signature on the left side–normally this would be placed approximately where it appeared in the original document]

While it may be frustrating that she is referred to by her initials, it is important to remember that everyone at the time knew who she was and what her name was. It might not have been deemed necessary to spell her full name out–although the middle initial could have been written a little more clearly.

Fortunately her name is spelled out in other documents involved in the settlement of Peter’s estate.

But it is always advised to try and understand the legal purpose of documents being utilized in genealogy research.


They Added the Name Later to Mimka’s 1881 Birth Return

Black and white digital images of original records present occasional challenges to the researcher. Not because the images are bad, but because sometimes there are clues in the colors that one cannot easily see. Sometimes those clues are significant and sometimes they are not.  Often the color that’s been stripped from a document is a clue in and of itself. That’s the case with this 1881 birth return for Mimka J. Habben from Hancock County, Illinois.

It’s fairly apparent from the image that Mimka’s name was written by someone other than the person who filled out most of the certificate. The style of handwriting  where his name is written is different and the color of the writing appears to be different from the rest of the document.  It also appears to have been written with a different writing utensil.

The middle name of his father was crossed out and corrected to be spelled as “Mimka” instead of Minken. It is difficult to determine if the cross out was done as the document was written or at some later point in time. While some of the handwriting appears darker than the rest of the document, the style of writing appears to be the same and it is probable that the individual completing the document had to re-ink their writing utensil at some point while completing the document.

But the name was clearly written in at a different point in time. It is difficult to say exactly when this was done. It may have been when Mimka needed a copy of the record for Social Security purposes. Or maybe not.

At any rate, my transcription of the document should indicate that the name appears to have been written in at a different point in time. Failing to note this in my transcription would be neglecting to include that clue. It would also be suggestive that I think the document was entirely completed by one person at the same point in time.

The fact that the name was written in later should not be cause for concern. A review of several records before and after Mimka’s located some with just last names written in or with names also apparently written at a different point in time.

Of course the record should be transcribed exactly as it is written. Mimka’s mother is given as Anna Hinra Habben. I may wish to transcribe this as Anna Hinra[sic] Habben as her middle name was Hinrichs, but that’s clearly not what is written on the document.

The return only specifies his place of birth as Prairie Township–that’s what I should record when citing this document. Family tradition is that he was born at home on the family farm which is in Prairie Township. This return is consistent with that precise place of birth, but does not prove it as it is not that specific. If this return is cited for a place of birth, it should be cited for Prairie Township as that is what it says.


My Beginnings with AncestryDNA Circles: Part II

Ancestry DNA “Circle” for descendants of Hinrich Jansen Ufkes as of 2 August 2017

The circles AncestryDNA at are still in beta stage (part I on the “circles” appeared here earlier).

The content in this post is current as of 2 August 2017. These comments reflect my own experience with the circles. That experience is largely based upon the amount of research I’ve already done, what families I’ve concentrated on, and my own ancestry.

There are six of us in the AncestryDNA circle for Hinrich Jansen Ufkes. While we are all descendants of Hinrich, we all do not have “matching DNA” for each other. Given that Hinrich was born in 1797 and is my third-great-grandfather (and the second great-grandfather for MJN Match 1 with whom I have communicated) that’s not surprising. We all cannot contain all the DNA of all of our ancestors.

The circle shows which of us share matches. I only match three of the others in the circle. The diagram indicates which individuals match each other. Everyone matches at least two others in the circle and we all have Hinrich in our tree.

Some comments about DNA Match 1:

  • we are both actually descendants of Hinrich’s son Johann–my great-grandfather and DNA Match 1’s grandfather were brothers. Our Ufkes connection therefore is closer than Hinrich.
  • we are related in more than one way besides being Ufkes descendants. DNA Match 1 and I are actually triple cousins:
    • My great-great-grandfather Goldenstein and DNA Match 1’s great-grandmother Garrelts were brother and sister.
    • My great-great-great-grandmother Fecht and DNA Match 1’s great-great-grandmother Bruns were sister and brother.
  • based on how far back AncestryDNA goes to put people in circles, we’ll be in several together.

I have similar multiple “reasonably close” descents with several of my maternal relatives all of whom hailed from Ostfriesland, Germany (That’s what happens when small villages from Europe essentially migrate to form new small villages in the United States). How that will impact my circles I don’t know. At this writing, AncestryDNA only has a circle for one other set of my Ostfriesen ancestors. DNA Match 1 is in it as it is for the Johann Luken Jurgens Ehmen Goldenstein, father of the two siblings from which we descend.

I’m waiting for AncestryDNA to put people in the circles who do not have “trees” associated with their account. As of this writing I’m not seeing any individuals of that type in any of my circles.

While the circles are interesting, at this point I’m not making any great discoveries from them.  I will continue to look at the circles and write about them as warranted. I’m waiting for them to get out of beta stage as there are several couples from whom I descend where I am in the circle for one but not a circle for their spouse.

At this time I am not certain if that is because the circles are incomplete or if there are surprises in my tree. Based upon sharing DNA with relatives that I know, but who have not submitted trees, I’m leaning towards the conclusion that the circles are incomplete.

Your mileage may vary.

My mother-in-law’s maternal grandfather was adopted and “ran off” when the youngest child was under the age of 10. He was never to be heard from again. Her DNA test results will be very interesting because he could have both sibling and children of which we are not aware.



Ostfriesen First Names Poem

I first encountered this poem while searching the issues of the Ostfriesische Nachrichten for something or other in the 1903 issues. To find a poem comprised entirely of Ostfriesen first names was highly unusual, so I made a copy and transcribed it.

I’ve always loved the sound of the Platt first names–interestingly enough, my great-grandmother’s name of Tjode is not on the list, but most of my other Ostfriesian ancestor’s names are. The name of Uf(f)ke, from which my mother’s maiden name is derived as a patronym is not on the list either, but most others are. My maternal ancestors all hail from Ostfriesland, most from in and around Wiesens, Holtrop, Wrisse, etc.

Any errors in the transcription are mine.

From the 1 September 1903 issue

of the Ostfriesche Nachrichten [Breda, Iowa]

Ostfriesen Names

Men’s Names

Berend, Borjes, Himel,

Tonjes, Dorjes, Ihmel,

Oeke, Eike, Wielf,

Esdert, Gerjet, Stielf,

Untel, Garbrand, Wiebrand,

Ifebrand, Haat, Siebrand.

Evert, Ulfert, Eilert, Klaas,

Luppe, Mehme, Onke, Staas,

Onntje, Tiele, Harm, Tettrino,

Janto, Lubbert, Rickert, Krino,

Geffe, Remier, Dicke, Meimert,

Eielt, Swittert, Swirt, und Weinert.

Pupt und Koert,

Ulpt und Loert,

Jibbe, Jabbe,

Hibbe, Habbe,

Reipert, Focke,

Geike, Ocke,

Koob und Sweert,

Jan und Geerd.

Wirtje, Watje, Woltje, Wene,

Uptet, Eiffe, Henffen, Hene,

Suntje, Jurke, Steffen, Ee,

Silke, Liebte, Engelke, Thee,

Meine, Hootje, Harber, Hedlef,

Sjamme, Lutet, Aalef, Detlef.

Hilfert, Uelert, Ulert, Girk,

Tinnelt, Remert, Lammert, Dirk,

Eicke, Wilcke, Brunte, Weert,

Zobe, Zebe, Ehren, Leert,

Wiebt, Wobias, Wenert, Meus,

Folkert, Frerich, Uidt, Thaleus.

Lutjen, Casjen, Soke,

Melchert, Garrelt, Foke,

Luhre, Ucke, Tamme,

Ubben, Fehde, Mamme,

Ede, Jelde, Onne,

Danje, Eute, Bonne.

Tato, Fiepto, Thilko,

Onno, Otto, Wilko,

Odo, Poppe, Renko,

Jarto, Enno, Menke,

Fieke, Ockje,

Dirtje, Focktje,

Almt, Gertje,

Olligtie, Weertje,

Moderte, Elske,

Jenningtje, Knellste.

Thalke, Sarke, Lamke,

Reenste, Brechtje, Samke,

Eie, Roolfte, Ecke,

Tonna, Wilmke, Becke,

Meemte, Lootje, Lientje,

Jantje, Harmke, Mientje.

Jabbo, Hano, Emme,

Habbo, Nanno, Hemmo,

Jibbo, Dodo, Eicko,

Hibbo, Uno, Henko.

Meiel, Weffel, Ottig, Meine,

Melmer, Bohle, Seven, Heine,

Tebbe, Eiffe, Eve, Ecke,

Hauwe, Weintje, Jellste, Decke.

Jbeling, Eitl, Bemer, Bene,

Folkert, Jellrich, Hinrich, Meme,

Tone, Jilde, Borchert, Fiehe,

Hennsmann, Oltmann, Tard und Hene,

Louth, Cozard, Siefke, Enne,

Julf, Eggo, Remmer, Menne,

Sede, Brune, Freert, Eteus,

Mennte, Mimke, Roolf, Poppen

Women’s Names

Wibke, Wocbke, Wubcke,

Roste, Imte, Lubke,

Swantje, Feentje, Haute,

Geelte, Tiede, Bauke,

Aaltje, Jilfte, Petje,

Tjabbend, Lieste, Gretje.

Bilda, Wea,

Wiemda, Kea,

Thea, Mina,

Hilka, Stina,

Tjalde, Manna,

Truda, Sunna,

Bena, Sina,

Hemke, Tina,

Berenda, Peta,

Lumka, Reta.

Antje, Geske, Gebke, Baufte,

Abte, Tatje, Rante, Aafte,

Hiemke, Hinte, Rerte, Theeste,

Rinnett, Wendel, Engle, Reeste,

Meifte, Jellfte, Greitje, Hientje,

Amke, Anke, Hille, Stientje.

Barber, Sieber, Dever, Hemke,

Bartje, Moder, Meite, Wemke,

Eimde, Lubje, Sieverte, Feike,

Sjante, True, Boke, Jeike,

Bete, Rinne, Betje, Lumke,

Aalfte, Tatje, Infe, Wumke,

Tede, Diene, Elmerich,


I have often used the poem to help me tell whether a first name is a male or female name, although after some years of experience, I am pretty good at name differentiation without having to refer to the poem.

Platt first names are unusual and I’m glad to have the poem as (in some cases), it helps me to get an idea of how a certain name was said.

The author is not listed on the poem.

And as my ancestors used to say, “Eala Frya Fresena.” 

Lever dood as Slaav”

Sometimes There Is Not Enough Writing

Reading handwriting can sometimes be a tricky business.

While it can sometimes be difficult to transcribe the handwriting of a court clerk, census taker, church pastor, etc., often there are several pages of handwriting to use as a point of reference. On those other pages there are names that are known, legal phrases that are common, boilerplate text that is used repeatedly, and other discernible items that can easily be transcribed. Those transcriptions can assist in the development of a “handwriting style guide” for the individual who wrote the record. That can assist the researcher in interpreting those words or phrases that look difficult on the surface.

Being familiar with common legal terms, especially when transcribing legal documents, goes a long way to improve a researcher’s transcription ability.

Sometimes that is not enough. Sometimes there is not much on which to go.

The researcher may only have on copy of an ancestor’s signature. Other records either did not require a signature or are record copies of documents that do not contain the real signature anyway. There can be problems with other records as well. The pastor may have written very few entries in the church register before he moved on to another location. The Justice of the Peace completing a marriage license may only have had a few blanks that needed to be filled and did not leave behind a significant amount of handwriting.

Sometimes one can search for other records the individual may have written or may have written in. There are times when these records can be located and other times when they cannot.

If one knows the time period and location in which the person grew up that may help in determining how the person may have been trained to write (particularly if the script they learned to write initially was non-English). Knowing the person’s probable educational level may help. But sometimes even this information is not really enough.

Sometimes reading a person’s handwriting is part science, part academic study, and part art.