Sunday, March 31, 2019

The short stories of two George Gibsons

Today I realized I haven't written a blog post since February, and it's the last day of March! This year is flying by much too quickly, so before the month expires, I wanted to share a story I've rediscovered this weekend - that of my second-great-granduncle, George Gibson

I only have a handful of records the record the major events of his life, but I'm grateful to even have this much information on him. As I wrote last year, for many years I had nothing but one record that showed they existed at all. George was born in New Brunswick, Canada, about 1862, and was the youngest known child of Henry and Ann (Stephenson) Gibson. He was quite young when his parents died, about 10 when Henry passed away and 15 when Ann died. He was found in the 1881 Canada census living with his older sister Sarah (Gibson) Harris and her family. Interestingly, Sarah named her oldest son George, perhaps after her younger brother.

By 1881, he had found work as a brick maker, the occupation he would stay with for the rest of his life. Ten years later, the 1891 census shows he was still single, living with the family of Hugh Hamilton, a carpenter. I don't know of any relationship to the Hamiltons, so he may have just been a boarder there. His religion at the time may have been Methodist (the handwriting is hard to read), which is interesting as he'd grown up in a family that belonged to the Church of Ireland.

Two households above George in that census was the family of Patrick McDonald. Patrick and his wife were Irish Catholics, and Patrick worked as a shoemaker. He and his wife had six children living with them, the oldest of which was their 25-year-old daughter Kate. Four years later, George and Kate were married in Fredericton, New Brunswick. George apparently made some life changes for Kate, as their marriage listed his religion as Catholic. The marriage record is actually what gave me the maiden name of George's mother, so I LOVE this record! Despite the fact that Kate was 28 years old at the time of her marriage to George, the marriage record notes that she had obtained the consent of her parents. Makes me wonder how much influence her parents had over the lives of their grown children.

The next census, the 1901 Canada census, showed George and Kate were doing pretty well. They had two children, a son named George and a daughter named Catherine, and had a 17-year-old live-in domestic named Margaret Buckley. George Jr. was 4 and Catherine was 1. George Sr. had steady work as a laborer at the brick works, working 12 months out of the year and bringing home $500 a year.

Everything changed the next year. On July 13th, 1902, George Sr. died of pneumonia. His death record doesn't say how long he had pneumonia before he died, no who his physician was, so it may have been too quick for a doctor to have been able to treat him. He was only 40 years old when he passed away - the same age I am now. I can't imagine the shock and pain and grief his wife went through, or how she had to explain to her little children, only 5 and 2, why their dad was gone. I have a 5-year-old now, so it really drives the situation home for me.

Kate seems to have carried on without George. She moved in with her aunt Mary (a widow like herself, though whether she was a widow at the time Kate and her kids moved in I don't know). Kate's brother, John McDonald, lived with them as well, but had no occupation listed in the 1911 census. Kate did not either, so Mary, who worked as a coat maker for a tailor shop, may have been the breadwinner for the whole family group. Still, George and Catherine were able to attend school that year, so the children were provided for at a level that allowed them to obtain an education.

Sadly, tragedy befell the family again. About 1916, George had a tubercular hip, which as I understand it was either tubercular arthritis in the hip. He suffered with this for two years, until it claimed his life on 16 February 1918. His occupation was listed on his death record as "school boy." He was only 21. I feel so badly for Kate, having to bury her husband, and then her son. Kate lived another 13 years after her son's passing. She died at the Fredericton Municipal Home on September 28th, 1931 of a cerebral hemorrhage. Her death record says she was 70, but based on census records, she may have been closer to 64. I don't know yet what became of Catherine (the informant for Kate's death certificate was the matron of the Municipal Home) but I hope she got to live a long and full life. Stories like that of my cousins George and George, and Kate and Catherine, really make me appreciate all that I have been blessed with - health, family, an occupation (two, actually) that I love, my church membership, and a life that has been blessed with relatively little loss. I know the pain of burying a child, but not parents or siblings or spouses. Really makes you grateful for the generations before us that endured so much so that we could have the life that we do.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

And the father is...

One of my genealogy goals for 2018 was to identify the biological father of my great-aunt, Bettye Harris. I tried a few times throughout the year to work on that, but the test results for her daughter didn't give me any good leads at 23andMe, FamilyTreeDNA, or MyHeritage. I realized that if I really wanted to make some headway on this mystery, I needed to have Bettye's daughter test at Ancestry. When I asked if she was up for doing one more test, she graciously said yes and even paid for it (always a bonus!). I had hoped to get the results around Christmas last year, but something went wrong at Ancestry and they couldn't process the test. So they shipped another kit out to her, and she spit again, and this time the test processed correctly. The results came in on Saturday evening, and I immediately set to work.

Most of her closest matches were paternal relatives, first cousins or their kids. But then, in her list of second cousin-ish matches, was one match (I'll call her Amy) with an extensive pedigree, with no familiar names - nothing from any known branch of Bettye's family tree. I got excited, thinking this could be from the mystery line! The family seemed to be mostly Welsh and English, with surnames like Owens and Bowen and Evans. As I looked at the list of matches Bettye's daughter shared with Amy, none of her paternal matches were listed, nor were any maternal matches from my side of her family. I found several matches that Bettye and Amy shared that all descended from the same couple - William Bowen and Anna Evans, born in Wales in the 1820s, so a little over a hundred years before Bettye was born. That was enough space for there to be at least three generations between them and Bettye, maybe four. William and Anna were Amy's paternal great-grandparents. Their daughter Anna Bowen and her husband Albert Owens were Amy's grandparents.

While going through Amy's shared matches, I found one match from Amy's Owens side, which connected to Albert Owens' grandfather, Owen Pritchard Owens, but through an uncle of Albert's, not through Albert himself. The only way it made sense for there to be a connection to both the Bowen and Owens sides is for Bettye to be related to both. The easiest way for that to happen was for Bettye to be descended from both families. Albert and Anna were the only connection between those two families I could find.

Albert and Anna married in Wisconsin somewhere around 1896. They had eight sons and one daughter, though she died as an infant. Their sons were born between 1898 and 1910, which doesn't really leave enough time for any of them to grow up, have a child to grow up enough to father Bettye. That meant that Bettye's father was likely one of their sons! So of course they had eight. :P

I knew right off that Bettye wasn't the daughter of two of them, Rexford and William James, as they were the ancestors of the close matches, and if Bettye was the daughter of either of them, the amount of shared DNA would have been much higher. I found census records showing Albert and Anna moved their family to Florida pretty early on after getting married, though two of the sons, Roy and Albert, apparently moved to Montana in the 1930s, right around the time that Bettye was born. Newspaper articles showed they lived in Philipsburg, where James Harris, the man who raised Bettye, was originally from. That Harris family connection to Philipsburg means James and Edna, Bettye's mother, likely visited Philipsburg often, as it was only 53 miles or so from Butte, where James and Edna lived at the time. So the right people were in the right place at the right time, and the DNA evidence and paper trail both make sense.

A little more digging in newspapers led me to articles describing how the whole Owens family would visit Philipsburg in the summers, but they don't say when that tradition started. So it is technically possible that one of the other sons aside from Roy or Albert could have been Bettye's father. In my mind, it makes the most sense for it to be Roy or Albert though, because they had the longest history in the area, and I know they were both in the area at the right time. The only way to know for sure would be to identify a living descendant and have them do a DNA test and see how much DNA is shared. Roy apparently didn't have any children (his obituary only names step-children) but Albert might. I don't know if I need to go that far, as I've already determined the family and therefore the ancestry of Bettye's paternal side, so if her descendants want to know, they can take that up themselves. Unless curiosity gets the better of me down the road. :)

I'm still in a bit of shock at having finally solved this mystery. It's been hanging silently over my head since we discovered this almost seven years ago. It really underscores the power of DNA and genetic genealogy, both to find out something like this occurred, and then determine who out of all the possible people that lived in that place and time was the father of a girl born to an obscure family in western Montana in the 1930s.

Interesting side note - both Roy and Albert died sudden, unexpected deaths. Roy died of an apparent heart attack early one morning, which was more shocking because he had been at work the night before and nothing appeared wrong. Albert died in a work accident, and was crushed to death by the bed of a dump truck after being trapped there while unloading it. For both of the candidates for Bettye's father to die like they did is just very odd.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Genes Day Friday - Fred Gibson's Top 20

I'm going to try a new blog post series, I'm calling it the Top 20. I'll be going over my relatives' top five matches from each testing company they've tested at, and what that match shows me about our family. Of course, the Top 20 will only include matches that I didn't test, because what would be the point of talking about my grandpa matching my dad? That was kind of expected. So to kick of the series, I'm starting with my paternal grandfather, Fred Gibson. Of course, I won't be using their real names, because they haven't consented to being spotlighted like this in public like this.

1. His closest match at ancestry is on his mom's side. She's a granddaughter of Heinrich Joseph, Sam Joseph's older brother. Their common ancestors are Fred's great-grandparents, Ludwig Heinrich Joseph and Justine Witt. That makes her Fred's second cousin. She shares 347 cM with Fred, which is right in line for a second cousin. The cool thing is, everyone on their shared match list is connect to Ludwig, Justine, or their descendants. Now if only I had a chromosome browser to map those sections of DNA...

2. His next match is another Joseph relative. She doesn't have a tree up, and I can't find her online anywhere, but she looks like a second cousin (283 cM), and she shares a ton of Joseph relatives. Some of that Joseph DNA carried down to my dad, my sister and me too, so that was cool to see.

3. The next match is really interesting, and would be even more interesting if I knew her name and family tree in full. She matches on Fred's dad's side, and is a shared match with both Gibson and Cain relatives. That means she is likely a descendant of John Gibson and Catherine Cain, Fred's grandparents. They have 205 cM of DNA in common, so she's still pretty close. If only she'd log in to the Ancestry account and respond! But at least I can use her shared match list to find more Gibson connections.

4. Next up is another Joseph side match. She's a great-granddaughter of Christina "Tina" Joseph, Sam Joseph's sister. There's actually quite a few of Tina's descendants that have tested at Ancestry, so piecing together her family has been pretty easy. But it's great to have so many Joseph relatives to talk to, because when I first started out in researching my family history, the Joseph side was one that I knew the least about. Not any more!

5. Number five is actually the son of match 1. Every generation gets about half of what their parents have. This match shares 162 cM, just under half of what his mother shares with Fred. It's cool to see the laws of genetics play out like that right in front of you.

1. The closest match at 23andMe is a granddaughter of Fred's uncle Elmer Joseph. It was pretty cool to find out that Elmer's descendants have tested, as grandpa knew Elmer pretty well, and has talked a lot about him. She shares 515 cM with, perfect for the first cousin once removed relationship they have.

2-4. I'm lumping these together because they are all children of Elmer's granddaughter.

5. This match is Fred's closest Gibson match at 23andMe. She is a great-granddaughter of Fred's aunt Annie Condon, his dad's only sister. One day I hope to get a picture of her, as Fred knew her really well and has lots of stories about her and her sons. It was from one of the Condon's that Fred heard about how his grandfather, John Gibson, would wait outside the Catholic church his wife Catherine (Cain) Gibson attended, never going inside, and walking home with her afterwards.

1. The closest match at FTDNA was a real surprise. This cousin has ancestry from the same part of New Brunswick, Canada, that the Gibsons lived in for 40 years. He matches my other Gibson line relatives, but not the Cain ones, so he's gotta be connected to the Gibsons. As near as we can tell, he's descended from one of John Gibson's brothers, but we don't know which one. I'm thinking of trying to trace the lines forward and find some people to test, but it's been tough going to do that. So far my only success was tracing one of the sister's lines to about the 1980s. Not giving up on solving this one though! He shares 144 cM of DNA with Fred, so the match is real.

2. This one, I have absolutely no idea how she's connected. She doesn't match any of the Gibson or Joseph matches at FTDNA, and she shares just over 100 cM, so this one is a real puzzler.

3. Now this match was really exciting. He is a Gibson side match, and he has recent ancestry from Ireland! His grandmother's surname was Stephenson, which I found out not long ago was the maiden name of my 3rd-great-grandmother, Ann (Stephenson) Gibson, and she was from County Fermanagh, where my Gibsons emigrated from! I was hoping to hear back from him and see if he's found any more, but nothing yet. Maybe I should email him. He's another match over 100 cM so worth pursuing.

4. This one is another puzzler. Only 66 cM, but he doesn't match any of the Gibson or Joseph matches on here, including the cousins I've had tested. No idea where he fits in.

5. The last one at FTDNA is a Gibson match, and is a shared match with 1 and 3. She doesn't have a tree, and she shares just under 50 cM, so unless she puts up a tree, I probably won't pursue this one anytime soon.

1. Fred's closest match here is another descendant of his uncle Elmer Joseph, making him a first cousin twice removed. I should point out too that Elmer's original name was Emil Joseph, and he (or his dad) anglicized it after they moved to Montana. He shares 467 cMs, so a great way to confirm Joseph side matches.

2. This is the same as #1 at FTDNA. He did the smart thing and tested at multiple companies (also at Ancestry and I think 23andMe as well).

3. Next up is another Joseph match. She doesn't have a tree on her account, but I can see she matches some of Fred's closest Joseph matches. She has 147 cM of shared DNA, so maybe 2nd cousin once removed, or first cousin twice removed.

4. This one turned out to be the same as #2 at FTDNA, but she had a tree attached to this account. The tree only shows most of her dad's side and none of her mom's but luckily we match on her dad's side. Turns out she's another descendant of Sam Joseph's sister Tina.

5. This one was amazing!!!! Turns out, I hadn't see her before today, so I went and checked out her tree to see how she matched up. Turns out, she is a descendant of Henry Gibson and Ann Stephenson, my 3rd-great-grandparents, through their daughter, Sarah Jane Gibson!! This is the first time I've found a DNA match to a cousin descended from Henry and Ann!!! She is Fred's second cousin twice removed, and shares 107 cM of DNA with him, which is perfect for that relationship. I have been wanting DNA confirmation that Henry and Ann were my people for years, I've had paper trail confirmation for a long time now, but I've always wanted to find another descendant and test them. Now I don't have to! I can use this connection to look for other people who are related to Henry and Ann, and maybe find some links to Ireland. I am bound and determined to find more info on my Gibson over there and then visit the country. One step closer!

So, in conclusion, this was an awesome and fun way to go through some of my grandpa's top matches, and it led to an amazing discovery! I think next time I'll do this with another grandparent's test. But which one?

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

What difference can one DNA test make?

When I got into DNA testing and genetic genealogy a few years ago, I learned about the "fishing in all ponds" philosophy. Basically, you test everyone you can, everywhere you can. The more tests you have out there, the more hooks in the water you have so to speak, and the more matches you're likely to make. So I tested my three living grandparents and my mom (my maternal grandfather passed away before I was born) at 23andMe, and transferred their data to FamilyTreeDNA, and then to MyHeritage. I tested my wife, my sister, a maternal aunt and myself at Ancestry, and counted myself covered. As mysteries began to unfold and my desire to see what DNA could really tell me grew, I tested additional relatives - my maternal aunt and uncle, my wife's parents, some more distant cousins, all at 23andMe or FamilyTreeDNA (I even sprung for one for a guy in Ireland I met through a mailing list, though he turned out to not be a match). Through these tests, I've found some amazing people, and learned incredible things about my family's past and present. Then, as I've started to do more genetic genealogy as a career, I've come to see AncestryDNA in a whole new light - the light of "we have 14 million people who have taken our test." For those who are adopted or for whatever other reason have no knowledge of their parents or other close relatives, AncestryDNA has become an absolutely essential test, primarily because of the sheer number of people who have tested there. The tools they offer are pretty good (though I would really love a chromosome browser) but since DNA testing is often a numbers game, you need to test where the chances of finding a match are greatest.

With that thought burning in my mind the last few months, I decided to expand my AncestryDNA testing group to include my parents, my paternal grandfather, and my mom's cousin Renne't (there's a mystery ancestor in her line I want to identify). For Renne't, I'm really excited about finding matches on her mystery line, and figuring out who that guy was. For my mom, it's more about finding people with new info and maybe some stories or pictures. For my grandpa, it's all about finding close matches to help me get past some brick walls, primarily on his Gibson/Cain side. I'm stuck at his great-grandparents, and DNA seems to be my one hope in getting past them. I have been waiting on the edge of my seat for the last week or two, waiting for his results to come in. I even saw him during the day today, and when he asked about the test, all I could say was "it's almost there." Then, when I came home tonight, the results were ready! At last!!

I started to dig in and was immediately shocked - he had 3 matches at the 2nd cousin level I had never heard of, and 16 matches at the 3rd cousin level!! I started working on determining how these close matches were related to him. His closest 2nd cousin turned out to be a descendant of his grandfather Samuel Joseph's brother Heinrich Joseph. Another 2nd cousin is a Joseph relative, though I'm not sure how yet. The third is a Gibson/Cain match, so I'm thinking she is a descendant of John Gibson and Catherine Cain somehow. So far so good!

This is where it gets really exciting. As I was scrolling through his 3rd cousins, one of them has the last name of Rosenke. My jaw DROPPED. Rosenke is one of the variations Samuel Joseph's children gave in various records for their mother's maiden name, along with Rosen, Rozinko, and Rossenke. Sam's wife Pauline was probably from Volhynia, and I know she was born on 15 April 1868 (based on her death record), but I have no info on her parents, siblings, or any other relatives. So to see a DNA match with that name just made my heart jump. I checked and the match did not match with the more distant Joseph matches on Ancestry, which was good, as they shouldn't. I looked for shared Gibson matches, and didn't see any of those either. So I emailed the match, and am crossing my fingers for some good results.

In addition to the Rosenke connection, I found two matches with trees going back to Dennis Cain and Catherine Mulhearn, my grandpa's great-grandparents. I found another match with the Gibson surname, who I think is descended from my grandpa's uncle Thomas Gibson, who lived in Idaho. Then the one that got me most excited of all - a match with a Gibson ancestor from County Fermanagh, Ireland!! Her ancestor, Ann Gibson, was born in 1844 and married in County Fermanagh in 1866. Ann's father was Andrew Gibson, and he would have been about the same age as my grandpa's great-grandfather, Henry Gibson. This is the first time I've found anything about a connection to someone outside of Henry and his wife Ann (Stephenson) Gibson in the same place in Ireland my ancestors came from! There's a shared match that also descends from the same Ann Gibson. I emailed the matches, and while they may not have much info beyond their ancestor Ann, at least I have DNA matches with Gibson ancestry from the same location. That's a lot more than I had yesterday!

All of this came from one DNA test, and just the first couple hours of looking into the match list. I can't wait to see what there is to see when I really get into it! Plus my dad's results are pending, as are Renne't's, and with a little luck, I may get a couple of my dad's siblings to take a test for me as well, so my grandmother's DNA gets more representation on Ancestry.

So to answer the question I posed in the title - one DNA test can make ALL the difference. Even after 6 years of genetic genealogy research on my family, it seems I've only scratched the surface!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Kenneth Russell Feil - another baby gone too soon

Today, I had the chance to work on my own genealogy, and had my 10-year-old daughter Leah help me. She loves typing on a computer, and we've had some fun doing genealogy in the past, so she was excited to help me today. We started looking at the siblings of my 3rd-great-grandmother, Amelia (Waechter) Beilstein, who was born in Ohio in 1854. I saw that I didn't have much information on the family of Amelia's oldest brother, William Henry Waechter, so we started looking for info on his wife and their kids. We saw that William and his wife Annie (Schwartz) Beilstein had four children total, all born before 1900. One of those children didn't live to see 1900, but because he or she died before Pennsylvania started requiring birth and death certificates, I don't know if I'll be able to identify that fourth little one. That is especially sad to me, as I am the father of four children, and my fourth child, Levi, passed away at the age of two months. I would be devastated at the though of his memory being lost. But my grandpa's uncle John Henry Gibson (whose identity took me years to uncover because he likely died young as well) was finally identified several years after I first learned of his existence. So maybe someday I'll find this little cousin one day too.

Leah and I started looking up William and Annie's grandchildren, and found their oldest child Edna (Waechter) Holmes had three kids. I showed Leah how to add them to the database, and she had fun putting them in. It's so fun to see her get into it! While finding Edna's kids, we stumbled across her brother Russell's family, and found that he and his wife Annie (Deist) Waechter also had three kids. We had to break to get some lunch, and get things done around the home, and then I got back to genealogy later in the day. I decided to find the family of William and Annie's middle child, Florence Waechter. It turns out she and her older sister Edna got married at about the same time. However, Florence and her husband, Albert Feil, went on to have 12 children - twice as many as both her siblings put together! I wonder why they chose to have so many - was it a conscious choice, or did it just happen that way?

However, one thing stood out about Florence and Albert's children - they lost a little boy, their fourth child. His name was Kenneth Russell Feil, and he was born 28 May 1917. Exactly three months later, on 28 August 1917, he died of "cholera infantum," with asthma contributing to his death.