How Much Time?

We all get assumptions in our heads based upon our own experience. No matter how good we are at stripping preconceived notions away, there’s that occasional time when the hope and desire to make a discovery causes us to let our assumption filter down.

The connection between me and the DNA tester (and her sister). I’ve changed a few names to protect the innocent.

And there’s always the time when we forget that our personal family experience is not every family’s experience and may not even be the experience of all our ancestral families or all our relatives.

I’ve been continuing work on my DNA matches that appear to be connected to me through my two Irish immigrant ancestors (my great-great-grandparents). My hope is to find DNA matches that I share with other descendants of those Irish immigrants who are more distantly related to me than currently known descendants of those immigrants. Those more distant matches may be able to help me learn more about my Irish roots because the connection we share is a generation or more beyond the known information I have on my Irish ancestors. Such is the hope.

So I got excited about two matches. AncestryDNA predicted that they were between 4th and 6th cousins to me and that we share 32 and 26 cM of autosomal DNA at AncestryDNA. That suggested that they connected to me in a location in my pedigree earlier than my earliest known Irish ancestor–John Neill of Drumachose Parish, County Derry. Most of the known DNA matches to me through the Neill family are second or third great-grandchildren of this John Neill. I’m in the latter category.

The relationship predictor is an estimate. The relationship predictor does not include any prediction about “generations removed.” That removed notion is also a measure of the distance of our relationship.

After some online sleuthing, I determined how the matches with whom I share 32 and 26 cM of autosomal DNA are related to each other and to me. They weren’t connected through an earlier Neill ancestor before my John Neill. In fact they are descendants of my gg-grandfather–John’s son. The “problem” is that they are gggg-grandchildren of my gg-grandfather. They are two generations “removed” from me. In other words, their connection to our common ancestor is two generations further than my connection to that common ancestor. That’s why our relationship is so distant. These two cousins are (as of this writing) in their mid-to-late teens and were likely tested at the request of their grandmother, who is my third cousin (our great-grandfathers were brothers).

While I am well aware of how people reproduce and the ages at which that can happen, I got a little stuck in my own experience. My Neill grandfather and the Neill gg-grandfather of these two matches were first cousins born one year apart (1903 and 1904 respectively). My grandfather did not have children until his mid-to-late thirties. My own father did not have children until his later twenties. The gg-grandfather of these two matches started having children in his early twenties. In the case of my branch of the family, the generations were stretched over more time than in the other branch.

I also didn’t think these matches would be as young as they were. Their ages and the fact that they are two generations further than my connection to Samuel made it on the surface appear that our connection was probably further back than it was.

That’s why it is good not to make assumptions about how a DNA match connects to you. It is also good to remember that generational stretch can vary between different families.

But because of that generational stretch, it is advised to look and see if there are any living descendants of your problem ancestors who are more closely related to that ancestor than you are. If that’s the case, there’s a good probability that person has more of that problem ancestor’s DNA in their system than you do.

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Those “Dots” at AncestryDNA

I’ve used the dots to help with some visual sorting of my DNA matches at AncestryDNA. Various shades of yellow/red/orange were used to “tag” shared matches I had with matches who were known descendants of John Neill of Drumachose Parish, County Derry, Ireland.

A match having more dots does not mean that match is more related to me. I started working the unknown matches who had the largest number of dots, hoping they would be easier to figure out. That was not always the case. What was helpful was keeping a master list of the names that had at least one dot (what AncestryDNA calls “groups”) handy. Those names that are in a group can easily be seen for a specific group by using the drop down menus in my AncestryDNA test results matches page.

While some of the user names (omitted in the illustration) are somewhat cryptic, enough of them (at least in my experience) are real names or relatively close enough to the real name, that having a list is handy when performing searches of databases, websites, etc. in an attempt to determine the identity of ancestry of a match.

My plan with using the dots was to temporarily assign them to matches of a known match in an attempt to determine other matches. I “star” matches that have been determined so that I can easily see who has been determined. My notes for a determined match always begin with “Descendant of.” That phrase usually shows up where the notes are partially displayed. Both things help me to quickly know if a match has been determined. It may be redundant, but since one never knows how AncestryDNA might change the interface in the future, I’ve decided not to change how I use the stars and the notes as I like to be able to quickly see what’s been figured out.

When I made dots on my Neill descendants who had done DNA testing at AncestryDNA, I did not make groups for all the shared matches of known Neill descendants. I only focused on certain branches of the family:

  • descendants of Alexander Neill–son of John–who remained in Ireland and died there. Many of these descendants settled in the general area of Gary, Indiana, by the 1920s.
  • descendants of Samuel Neill (died 1912)–son of John–who immigrated to Hancock County, Illinois, in the 1860s. Most of his descendants have lived in the area for several generations. The only descendants of Samuel whose DNA matches were analyzed were descendants of the following children:
    • John
    • Samuel
    • William
    • Joseph

Samuel had other children whose descendants have done DNA testing. They were not initially a part of my work on the Neill Irish matches. Those children, Charles (my great-grandfather), Mary, and Sarah, all married individuals who were also descendants of James and Elizabeth (Chaney) Rampley (my third great-grandparents) and Augusta and Melinda (Sledd) Newman (my fifth great-grandparents).

After I left out Charles, Mary, and Sarah Neill’s matches, I initially concentrated only on a subset of the Neill matches I had tagged: the descendants of Alexander Neill and Samuel’s son Joseph. Alexander’s family had never lived in or near Hancock County, Illinois, and their shared matches with me would not be likely to have some connection with each other that they did not have with me. Samuel’s son Joseph had only one child who grew up in and lived in Montana where most of his family remained. They were also unlikely to share duplicate connections.

A “Final” Thought on Dots

Dots are for sorting. The best way to sort depends in part on the genealogical and DNA tree of the testee. Currently users have twenty-four dots (which AncestryDNA calls “groups”). I’ve decided to reserve at least twenty of these dots for temporary sorting purposes–when I’m working on a certain subset of my matches.

But I’m thinking of assigning some dots permanently to a group to help me with my analysis over the long term. Doing that effectively requires some analysis of my known ancestry.

My maternal ancestry consists of immigrants from a handful of Ostfriesen villages who basically settled in three small settlements in Hancock and Adams Counties in Illinois. Many of the families were related to each other before they crossed the pond and the number of multiple relationships only increased in the first few generations after their settlement beginning in the 1860s. I’ve got numerous double and triple cousins that only requires tracing the lineage back to my third or fourth great grandparents. Many of these matches are related to each other in additional ways that do not immediately connect to me. This compounds the analysis. I thought about reserving a dot for a match that I know is to my maternal side, but decided not to. The main reason for this is that I have a fair share of my maternal matches determined already and the shared matches of any match usually makes it abundantly clear to me that a match is related through my maternal side.

When I sifted through my Irish immigrant matches, I decided where another permanent “flag” or two would be helpful on my matches on my paternal side:

  • known or probable descendants of the “Neill/Rampley/Newman” dynasty (descendants of Charles, Mary, and Sarah Neill from above). The word “dynasty” is an exaggeration, but given the shared ancestry the spouses of these Neill siblings have knowing that is helpful for my analysis.
  • DNA matches who appear to have significant southwestern Hancock County or northwestern Adams County connections. I need to firm up my definition of who would fit into this category, but in viewing my Neill and other paternal matches, I’ve run across several individuals who were both related to me and who were related to each other on a separate family. What we had in common was that our families had lived in this general area for several generations–increasing the chance that there were multiple relationships. This is something I need to know about the match throughout the long term as I analyze my matches as it impacts more than just one subset of my matches.

I don’t want to have too many permanent group/dot categories as I want them to be something that when I see it, I can easily remember it. I also want the permanent group/dot categories to be something that will actually help me with my matches and not just an exercise I do because I can and so that I can say I did it. There needs to be a purpose.


Learn more about my AncestryDNA 2019 webinar–available for immediate download.

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Comparing Population and Agricultural Schedules in 1885–Different Names for the Same People

Agricultural census schedules are not always just about farming. They can also provide clues to what is in the population schedules as well.

Finding Tamme Tammen in the 1885 population schedules for the Nebraska State Census proved to be somewhat difficult.

Finding him in the agricultural census schedules (shown on the left hand side in the image below) was not a problem. He was enumerated as Talman F. Tammen on that enumeration.

Before manually browsing the images (which would not have been too hard), I decided to search for the other farmers on the ag census and see if I could find them. My theory was that they should be listed together. I also thought that the reason I couldn’t find him was because the name was probably blurry or difficult to read on the population schedule.

A search for R. Costin located the page on which Tammen is listed. His last name certainly appears to be “Tammen” to me, but that’s probably because that’s what I’m looking for.

The interesting this is that he is listed as “Tom” in the population schedule and Talman in the agricultural schedule. His ag schedule neighbor, John F. Gronewold, is apparently listed as John Griswold in the population schedule.

There are several lessons here other than the approach I took to finding Tamme in the population schedule. Names can easily be anglicized–but the surprise here was that the enumerator chose to use different names in the differing enumerations. That just struck me as interesting.

And I have not even analyzed the ag schedule for additional clues. But it did help me to interpret “correctly” the names from the population schedule.

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Same Age One Day a Year

November 10th was always the day.

The one day a year my great-grandparents, Mimka and Tjode (Goldenstein) Habben were the same age. Otherwise Mimka was one year older than Tjode.

Mimka was born 11 November 1881 in Prairie Township, Hancock County, Illinois. Tjode was born on 10 November 1882 in Dawson County, Nebraska. The couple married in the parsonage of the Zion Lutheran Church in Carthage, Illinois, on Christmas Eve in 1907. How they met is something of a mystery, but it is known that Mimka’s family, who lived a few miles west of Carthage, had attended the Zion church for some time–the pastor of the same church had married Mimka’s parents as well.

After leaving Nebraska and returning to Illinois, Tjode’s parents lived near Basco, Hancock County, Illinois, and attended the Immanuel Lutheran Church near Basco. Tjode worked for a time in Carthage as a hired girl for the Mack family and it’s possible she attended the Zion church during this time.

It’s not every couple who shares an age for one day a year.

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Trace that Match Earlier

I’m working on a man I’ll call Bubba Bartels who was born in the later 18th century in Massachusetts, spent most of his adult life in Vermont, and may have lived in a few other locations.

Bubba’s in the big tree at FamilySearcch. That tree indicates that this Bubba died in Upcounty County, New York, in 1841. There are some other online trees that state the same information but there is no other source besides a circle of tree references. Repetition of the same details is not an indication that they are right. It only means the information has been repeated.

My Bubba Bartels is fairly well documented in one Vermont county from about 1806 through 1840 through land transactions, census records, a warning out, and birth records of his children. It’s possible that he moved to Upcounty County, New York, after the 1840 census enumeration since there are no other records of him in Vermont after 1840. It’s possible that he died in Upcounty in 1841 as the online tree indicates.

But the Bubba Bartels who supposedly died in Upcounty? So far I have been unable to locate any item mentioning his death there other than online tree references to other online trees. But there’s another problem bigger than the online trees circular references. Bubba appears in the 1840 census in Upcounty and a smattering of other records in Upcounty while my known Bubba was in Vermont. It’s starting to look like there’s more than one Bubba Bartels.

That’s always the possibility when there’s a match to your ancestor that requires your ancestor to move from point A to point B that the person in point B was living there when your person already had himself parked in Point A the entire time.

One of the ways to eliminate a potential match is to trace that person in earlier records in the same location.

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Here a John, Thru a John, Messed up the John-John

Apparently the “Big Tree” at AncestryDNA has pulled information from some interesting submissions for my Neill family. There are basically two problems with what’s in the “Big Tree:”

  • John Neill (1774-1849) has left no documentary evidence to suggest he is the father of John Neill (my 3rd great-grandfather as shown in the illustration). The John Neill who was my 3rd great-grandfather lived in the general area of Drumachose parish from at least roughly 1830 until an unknown time. John Neill (my 3rd great-grandfather) had several children, including Samuel (my ancestor) and Alexander. Samuel and Alexander’s descendants have taken DNA tests at Ancestry.
  • The “Big Tree” apparently has three entries for John Neill all of whom are shown in the tree as siblings to each other. That is why the Alexander Neill shows up twice in my Thrulines.

Thrulines makes it appear that I share DNA matches with “descendants” of the John Neill (1774-1849). I don’t. All the matches are descendants of the John Neill from Drumachose parish–through his sons Samuel and Alexander.

As we’ve said before, ThruLines can be a sorting clue. Can be a clue. There are two key words there: can and clue.When the “Big Tree” is a big mess it can cloud the sorting process.

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They “Stole” My Information

This complaint runs around the internet like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off. But it’s worth noting what can be stolen and what cannot as well as what can be copyrighted and what cannot.

Facts cannot be copyrighted. I may spend a small fortune to discover that Johann George Trautvetter who was born in 1798 in Bad Salzungen, Germany, was the son of Erasmus Trautvetter. I can’t copyright that fact. If I write a five paragraph proof argument to establish it, those five paragraphs are subject to my copyright. The fact that Johann George was the son of Erasmus is not something I can copyright.

I can spend a slighter larger fortune documenting the children and grandchildren of Erasmus Trautvetter and then put that information on the internet. Those relationships, dates of birth, death, and marriage, are not copyrightable. They are not “my” information. Others can use it and not cite me, not give me credit, ask my permission, kiss my feet, etc. A lengthy narrative about Erasmus’ descendants with extra information and a dose of my literary whit? That is copyrightable and is “mine.” The general family structure is not.

If you are going to be outraged because someone uses “your” information without crediting you, there is one way to prevent that from happening completely:

don’t put it on the internet.

Remember: specific facts are different than longer written narratives. Those narratives are copyrighted. How practical it is to initiate a copyright infringement lawsuit is another matter entirely.

How you feel about someone “using” what you’ve put online is up to you. Just don’t be surprised if it happens.

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Riley Says…

We posted this several years ago at Genealogy Tip of the Day, but the points are good ones for all of us to remember:

  • No one cares about your research as much as you do.
  • No one will spend the time on it that you will.
  • Research methodically
  • Report accurately
  • Track what you use.
  • Cite what you use.

That pretty much says it all. And Riley the dog does have to wag his own tail. Just like we are responsible for our own research.

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Jumping Down from My Jumped to Conclusion

There’s a school of thought that says one should never share misconceptions or mistakes that one makes. I don’t attend that school. It seems to me that it’s instructive to share those mistakes or conclusions made to quickly to help others to not make them. Writing about those mistakes also helps me personally as it reduces the chance that they are made again.

When I get a new DNA match to a descendant of one of my Trautvetter families, there’s always a certain level of excitement. It’s one of the families I’m somewhat stuck on in certain places and another match is another possibility to learn something about the family that I did not already know. Infrequently it is an opportunity to contact a new cousin, but given how many DNA matches communicate with me that is not likely to happen.

A review of my matches indicated a new match which we’ll call “KE.” KE and I shared four matches. Three of those matches were ones that I had already determined. Two were descendants of my great-grandparents, George and Ida (Sargent) Trautvetter. One match was to a descendant of George’s parents, John Michael and Franciska (Bieger) Trautvetter. The other match is undetermined. The fact that KE has no shared matches that are known descendants of Ida (Sargent) Trautvetter’s parents, grandparents, etc. suggests that KE is connected through the family of John Michael and Franciska (because there are numerous descendants of Ida’s parents and ancestors with whom I share DNA at AncestryDNA).

KE and I shared 23 cM across 1 segment. The descendant of my great-great-grandparents shared 73 cM with me across four segments. This suggests (but is not solid proof) that KE is more distantly related to me than the descendant of my great-great-grandparents.

I immediately began searching KE’s tree for some connection to the Trautvetter family, including looking for places of birth in Thuringia where the Trautvetter family was from. I also looked for places of birth in areas of the United States (particularly Campbell County, Kentucky, and Hancock County, Illinois) where known Trautvetter families immigrated. No luck.

Then it dawned on me.

KE is related to me through John and Franciska–not just John. KE could be related to me through Franciska’s family–perhaps descending from one of her siblings (she has full and half-siblings and that could account for the lower amount of DNA) or a sibling of one of Franciska’s parents or grandparents.

The more I got to thinking about it, the more likely it is that KE is related to me through Franciska and not her husband John. There are other descendants of John’s siblings and John’s parents in my matches. In fact there are quite a few and none of them show up as a shared match with KE. Going on probabilities, it seems more likely to me that KE is a relative through Franciska and not John.

The difficulty is that not much is known about Franciska’s parents other than the name of her father, her mother, and her maternal grandparents. That’s not much to go on, but it is a start and I need to refocus my work on KE operating under the working assumption that he is a relative of Franciska.

Back to the drawing board.

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Abraham’s Wife is the Key

We’ve discussed the Revolutionary War pension file of Elam/Alam Blaine before, but the testimony of Abraham Wickizer/Wickiser makes several key points about indirect proof and determining “why” that I thought I would discuss it again.


Testimony of Abraham Wickizer given in widow’s pension application of Katharine Blain, widow of Revolutionary War veteran Alam Blain, obtained digitally on Fold3.com
  from NARA microfilm series M804–pension W. 5834.

[begin transcription]
Also Abraham Wickiser of lawful age being first duly sworn by me as herein after certified deposes & says that he was Married to the oldest Daughter of Alam Blain deceased late Pentioner of the United states on the 9th day of November 1802 & that his wife was then said to be at little upwards of 18 years of age Also he says that his [illegible] William Blain did word for [Rychard?] on Richard Inman’s farm soon after he was Married  Says he never heard the relation of Husband 7 wife —– between Alam Blain & Catharine deputed by any person & further deponent saith not [signed] Abraham Wickizer]
[end transcription]

The image below shows the source information for this statement which comes from the pension file of Alam Blain:

The statement by Wickiser was made along with several other statements in January of 1848 in Delaware County, Ohio. The family’s movement from Hunterdon County, New Jersey into Wilkes-Barre County, Pennsylvania and eventually into Ohio is well-documented in the pension application.

In other testimony, the oldest daughter of Alam and Katharine/Catharine Blain is stated to also be named Katharine. Taken together the statements provide indirect evidence that Abraham/Abram Wickiser married Katharine Blaine, daughter of Alam and Catherine Blaine.

No other child’s marriage is mentioned in the pension of Alam Blain. Daughter Katherine’s is likely mentioned because her age (over 18) at the time of her marriage gets at her own parents’ date of marriage which the widow could not find an actual record of and which was needed for her Revolutionary War pension application.

There’s usually a reason why certain people provide information and others do not. Try to determine that reason. In this case the testimony of two people was needed to prove the actual relationship of the daughter to the parents. It was a fortunate discovery as researchers had been stymied on the parents of Katherine/Catherine/Catharine/Katharine Wickiser/Wickizer for years.

And never neglect the possible gold mine of pension records.

Note-American Revolutionary War pensions are completely every name indexed on Fold3.com.

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