What We Realize and What We Don’t

Ida (Trautvetter) Neill, taken at the Cecil and Ida (Trautvetter) Neill farm, north of Carthage, Hancock County, Illinois, 1950s. The barn pictured is the one referenced in this post.

Memories are often made when we don’t realize it. Sometimes later we realize those are the best memories of all.

It was towards the end of my senior year of high school when my Dad discovered that I had a day off in school in the middle of May–senior skip day it was called. It was a day of final exams and seniors didn’t have to take them and didn’t have to attend school either.

Therefore, according to my Dad, it was the perfect day to clean out the west side of the barn. It was also the same day as the senior party at some location that I have either forgotten or never knew in the first place. If Dad decided it was the day to clean out the barn, then it was the day to clean out the barn. And so that is what we did.

Grandma Neill was right there in the thick of things. It was several years before a series of strokes caused Grandma to become less mobile and, at seventy-five, she had no difficulty helping. So on that warm spring day, Grandma (in her house dress and knee high rubber boots), my Dad, and I cleaned out the west side of the barn. After all, the “bnure,” which is how “manure” always sounded when Grandma said it needed to be dealt with. Dad used the “H” with a small loader on it to scoop up some of the mess, but pitchforks were main instrument of getting the manure in the manure spreader. When the “bnure” spreader was full, Dad would go out and spread it while Grandma and I remained in the barn and filled up the small loader on the front end of the H and scraped some manure from the cement wall that formed the west ends of the barn.

So off Dad went.

My Dad had a handful of phrases he would use that we all had heard many times. Cliches that spoke of eternal truths one would learn first hand when they were an adult, “wait til you start paying the bills,” “life ain’t a bed of roses,” and “you don’t realize it” were three favorites.

Exactly how it started after Dad had left has been lost to time, but Grandma must have said something and I quipped back “Grandma you don’t realize it, life ain’t a bed of roses.” She laughed. She knew I was kidding and that I’d never tell her something like that in any serious way.

And so Grandma replied “Wait til you start paying bills.”

We were working. We weren’t loafing. The scoop on the front of the H got filled with bnure, and we did the other scraping that we were supposed to do. But along the way,

“Grandma…wait til you start paying the bills.”

The irony was lost on me then. It’s not lost on me now. I was telling a seventy-five year old woman that she didn’t know what life was like. This was a woman who had lived away from home since she was twenty-five, had (along with her husband) grown up pretty poor, and had worked on the farm “like a man” (as some used to say). Grandma knew what life was like.

She laughed and replied “Life ain’t a bed of roses.”

I laughed and told Grandma “you don’t realize it.”

We were both laughing as we shoveled cow shit. Work was sometimes difficult enough. One could have a little fun while doing it. We kept teasing each other with Dad’s retorts until we heard it.

The tractor was returning. We stopped laughing. I don’t think either one of had to tell the other that the time for hilarity was temporarily over. There wasn’t really supposed to be laughing while one was supposed to be working and we didn’t want to have to explain to Dad what was so darn funny.

Dad returned. We filled up the spreader and Dad went to spread it. As soon as he was out of earshot, we started again. I don’t remember who was the instigator and I’m certain it really doesn’t matter. Our laughter subsided when we heard the tractor return.

I don’t know if my classmates have memories of that senior party. I certainly don’t. But I do remember helping Dad and Grandma clean out the west side of the barn.

And I do have one of the fondest memories of Grandma as a result. It just took me a long time to realize it.


Is Your Label the Problem?

The pictures are not that unique or special. In fact, digital images of them were made to ask readers in another forum whether preserving every photograph in your possession was worth it. The first image (with only one block of typed text) was the one I used in my initial post. Looking at it later, I realized that where I had put the text was misleading.

Original image with text suggesting bottom picture is their home.

My text, added in the spirit of including provenance in images I post, suggested that one the homes across the street could have been my grandparents’ home. At the very least the text was not as clear as it could have been. In making the images, I knew which image was their home. I was in it numerous times. But someone else won’t have that knowledge.

Always make certain that your labelling of images is clear–particularly if you are including multiple photographs in one digital image. The addition of text is to capture provenance and to identify the images as clearly as possible. What is in your head does not count for anything if it does not get put on the image.

Always review your image commentary to make certain it accurately reflects what you intend for it to.


My Ancestry Pools

I am big on visualization–when it serves a purpose. I don’t like making charts, graphs, etc. just because I can and only because someone may be impressed with it. This chart, grouping my ancestry into what I’ve generally called “pools,” puts on paper what has been in my head for years.

The pools are geographically based except for one: the Neill-Rampley pool. I created that pool because three members of the Neill family married into the Rampley family between around 1900 and 1910, making many of us descendants of both. Descendants of the other pools also tended to marry descendants of the same group or they remained distinct from the other group (except for my one ancestor who married into another group either because of happenstance or the fact that they moved). I have been aware of these groupings for years and have found them helpful in analyzing my DNA matches as well. Most of my DNA matches can be placed into one of these same groups.

The Neill-Rampley group actually has origins in three distinct areas: Ireland, generally Maryland, and Virginia. Because they were part of a larger pool, they were called puddles (I realize the analogy starts to fall here). More distantly-related DNA matches in this group usually fall into one of these three groups. The Irish puddle could have been two separate puddles because the two members of the Irish immigrant couple were from distinct regions of Ireland. I could have done the same thing with the German pool as it is highly likely, based on the immigrants in that group, that my Germans are from three separate regions of Germany as well. In hindsight I may do that as it will be helpful in analyzing my DNA matches from those portions of my family.

Sometimes just trying to put on paper what is in our head can be a learning process in itself.


Ten Sheep for the Habben Family of Five

It always pays to read the details. Genealogical discoveries, large and small, are often obtained from thinking about the implications of everything written in a document.

That’s true with the appraisement of the estate of Mimka L. Habben in Hancock County, Illinois, in the spring of 1877. Illinois state statute dictated what was to be a part of the “widow’s award” before the bills of the estate were paid. The award could be actual items in the household and barns or the cash equivalent if the family so chose or did not have the specific items. The “widow’s award” was so that not all of the family’s personal effects would be sold to pay bills and leave them without. Books, a sewing machine, family beds, the stove, household and kitchen furniture, some livestock, provisions for a specific period of time, and other items were included.

State statute–and the appraisement form–indicated that widow’s award was to include two sheep per member of the household. Antje, widow of Mimka L. Habben was awarded ten sheep. This suggests that there were five people in her household at the time of the appraisement. The family was awarded two cows–one for every four members of the family. That number is consistent with five members of the household.

After all, you can’t have a fractional cow. Five household members would have warranted 1.25 cows. To give the family their 1.25 cows meant they’d get two cows.

In this appraisement I learned that the Habben household in the Spring of 1877 consisted of five people. That told me that four of Antje’s children were living with her. The probate papers indicate that Mimka’s heirs at the time of his death were:

  • Jann Mimka Habben–a son
  • Johann Mimka Habben–a son
  • George Mimka Habben –a son
  • Antje Habben–a daughter
  • Meta Fecht–a married daughter
  • Meta Huls–a granddaughter

Meta Hul’s mother predeceased Mimka Habben. Meta would have been seven years old at the time of this estate appraisement. In 1880, she is known to have been living with her grandmother, Antje and her mother’s siblings who were still living at home.

Was Meta living with her grandmother in 1877? Was she living elsewhere? Was she not considered a member of the household for the purposes of the estate appraisement? I will need to review state statute to see if it mentions specifically who qualifies as a household member.

The items Mimka L. Habben owned at his death, beyond the items in the widow’s award, would be inventoried and appraised. If there was not money to pay the bills of his estate, the appraised items could have been sold to pay those bills.

But what of Meta? I don’t know and didn’t think about it until I got to looking at these sheep.

And here I thought I had all the answers when I saw they got ten sheep.


Engaging Family History

What makes for engaging family history?

I am certain it’s not a mere rambling of names and dates–even if there are a great deal of documents in chronological order. That’s a great way to share and preserve what has been located, but I’m not certain it is all that engaging. I’ve read a great deal of those things and while they are useful for research analysis I don’t think they are all that fun to read.

It would be like reading a “series bible” used by an author when creating a book series. For those who are so inclined, it would be comparable to reading a glossary or dictionary. Those are not bad activities and some of us engage in them more than we may care to admit, but it’s not writing designed to actively engage an audience to read it from start to finish.

I’ve often seen a discussion of the difference between genealogy and family history. I think I’m settled on the difference. The “genealogy” is the reference item used when a specific fact or piece of information is desired. The family history is more readable.

Sometimes more readable…depends on the author.


The Biggest Shared Match May be Inconsequential

I’m occasionally reminded when going through my AncestryDNA matches that shared matches are helpful, but that they can be misleading as well.

My match Linda shares 28 cM with me on 1 segment. She is a descendant of my 3rd great-grandparents Clark and Mary (Dingman) Sargent. The shared match with whom I share the most DNA myself is one I’ll call “cc.” Cc is a known descendant of a different set of 3rd great-grandparents, Mimke and Antje (Jaspers) Habben. The Dingmans and the Sargents have no connections to each other. The Habbens were Ostfriesens and the Sargents have no known connections to that area at all.

The other shared matches with Linda are all other known descendants of ancestors of Clark and Mary (Dingman) Sargent. Cc is an outlier in terms out analyzing my matches. Somewhere in their ancestry, cc and Linda have a common ancestor with each other that they do not share with me.

Do not assume that all the shared matches you have with a person have to be related to you through the same family. It is possible that they share a connection with each other that they do not share with you.

This is just one reason why it is important to identify as many of your matches as you can…even on those families “you didn’t test DNA for.”


The Birth Certificate: An American History

I’ve not read it yet, but this looks interesting–The Birth Certificate: An American History, by Susan J. Pearson and published by the University of North Carolina Press . Given how genealogists rely on civil records of birth and how they have changed over the years, there hopefully will be some good background information in here. Understanding the “why” behind the records we use in our genealogical research is crucial to fully understanding them. Like all records, birth certificates were not created for genealogists but over time have come to serve more and more purposes. This should be a good read. We’ll have an update after I’ve had a chance to read through its pages.


At Her Father’s House in 1817

The 17 December 1878 statement of Thomas Tredway indicated that Jemima DeMoss and Elisha Meads were married in Harford County, Maryland, “at her fathers [John DeMoss, Jr.] house in Harford County” on 9 November 1817.

I do not think that’s strong enough evidence to conclude that Jemima’s mother was deceased on the date of Jemima’s marriage. Use of the word “father’s” to describe the real property of a person’s parents in the 19th century was not uncommon. Her father could actually have been deceased at the time of the marriage as well–even though the word “late” or “deceased” was not used in the reference–and her mother could have been living.

I already knew that John DeMoss, Jr. lived in Harford County, Maryland, but the statement would have been helpful had that not been known. I knew that John owned real estate, but the reference to his “farm” would have suggested real estate ownership instead of him being a tenant farmer.


My “Incomplete” Tree

My ahnentafel chart (an ancestor table that lists direct-line ancestors) had blanks in it. I don’t have any gaps until I get to my third-great-grandparents. That’s where the blanks in my pedigree start. I don’t have the names of three of my Irish ancestors in that generation.

And it grows from there.

In my 4th great-grandparent generation, there are eight ancestors of probable Irish origin whose names are not currently known. They may never be. Another 4th great-grandmother, probably from Pennsylvania or Maryland, is also a mystery. The number of blanks only increases as my tree goes into the generation of my 5th great-grandparents and beyond. Unknown ancestors from New York State and various areas of the American South are unknown to me at this time. They may remain that way.

I don’t know what percent of my tree in the generation of my 5th or 6th great-grandparents is incomplete. It’s not because I cannot calculate percentages. I don’t care because it frankly does not matter. I’m not in a competition. Some locations and time periods are more difficult to establish parent-child connections in. Some ancestors, for one reason or another, are more difficult to trace to their parentage.

The goal for me is to document as many ancestors as I can as completely as possible. Sometimes that is easier to do than others. There’s no need to set an arbitrary benchmark to meet.

We have the ancestors we have with the research challenges that come with them. It’s the path of discovery that matters…not the largest accumulation of names and relationships.