Diving into Polish records

I have had the fortune of hiring two fabulous Polish genealogists to help me in the past. They were worth every penny, but I would need far more pennies to afford their services again. So I was faced with a choice: either save up, or try researching Polish records myself. The biggest obstacle in this was indeed, just me! I simply lacked confidence that I could read baptisms and marriages from the 1800s in the Polish language. But my passion and determination to find my ancestors was stronger, so I searched Familysearch.org to see if they had a microfilm of my ancestor’s parish. They did!! And not just one microfilm, but many. Oh boy. Now I was excited.


To prepare I researched what Polish words I would need to be able to recognize. For example: Birth, daughter, father, godparents, etc. Looking at handwriting from the time period I was researching (1800-1855) was helpful as well. Unlike my later ancestor’s records, these would not be in Russian, but I was prepared there too: I told my Russian boyfriend he was on call if I needed assistance!

And what do you know? I found my ancestors! To be more specific, the baptism of my 4th great grandmother Julianna Sokolowska. She was born 15 Feb 1831 in Wolka Piaseczna, Podlaskie region to Teodor Sokolowski and Marianna Halicka.


Julianna Sokolowska’s baptism. 

The next weekend I searched for Julianna’s marriage record to Stanislaw Zyskowski and once again had success:


Marriage of Julianna Sokolowska & Stanislaw Zyskowski

And it doesn’t end there! My next challenge is finding the marriage of Teodor Sokolowski and Marianna Halicka. These parish records are older and harder to read, but time, thoroughness, and patience will find them. Trust me, I have to repeat that to myself as I search, ha!

I hope those of you who might be holding back reading records in a language you do not know reconsider and give it a try. For the $9 I paid Familysearch to rent the microfilm, I am forever grateful.

Categories: Ancestry, Family History, Genealogy, Halicka, history, Podlaskie, Poland, Polska, Sokolowski, Zyskowski | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Witchcraft, Lawyers, and Reverends!

Halloween is creeping up on us!  I thought it appropriate to blog about my ancestors connected to the witch trials. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the term witch craft or witch trials I picture scenes from my favorite Halloween movie Hocus Pocus.


Witches from Hocus Pocus (1993)

In reality those accused of being witches or of dabbling in witchcraft were nothing like Hocus Pocus. Reaching back to what I learned in high school, being accused of witch craft had more to do with town politics, character assassination, and fear of the unknown or anyone who dared to be different.


As I began researching my father’s massive Colonial-American genealogy I thought, would I suddenly find my ancestors embroiled in the witch trials? The answer? Yep! But not in the way I originally thought. The first ancestor I discovered was a 10th great grandfather: Thomas Burnham, born 1619 in England. He was an early Puritan settler in Connecticut (Podunk and Hartford).

Thomas was a lawyer and saved the life of Abigail Betts, a school teacher accused of witchcraft and blasphemy. Thomas argued that in England blasphemy was not a capital crime, and thus that in colonial-Connecticut should not be either. Despite his successful defense and saving of Abigail, he was stripped of his rights to further practice law. On a personal note I have to say I truly admire Thomas stepping up and defending this woman’s right to speech, even if it did offend a few (okay, probably more like the entire Puritan community). It is not easy to go against the status quo.

Who did I find next? Another 10th great grandfather, Reverend James Fitch.


                                                                           Headstone for Rev. James Fitch

Back in Hartford, Connecticut (final home of Thomas Burnham!) witch trials were taking place when Alice Young was found guilty of witch craft and executed in 1647. Similar trials took place all over Connecticut, ending in about 43 trials. However, Norwich, Connecticut had not experienced the hysteria….until 1684. A young woman began experiencing uncontrolled fits, flailing on the ground and screaming in pain. Concerned friends and family turned to their Reverend for answers: who was responsible for the demonic possession of this girl?

Reverend Fitch’s response is best summarized by the Norwich historical society:

“Reverend Fitch refused their demands, calmly informing them that any procedure that attempts to uncover the responsible witch was, in itself, a form of witchcraft. He then went on to say, “I will pray with her and say psalms with the rest of you”, for that is the best way to proceed in this matter. In so doing, Fitch took control of the situation, quickly snuffing out the flames of fear which had so often resulted in community hysteria and executions.  Reverend Fitch reports of freeing the young girl of her symptoms, not by blaming human witches for causing them, nor placing the blame on demonic possession, but instead, by convincing her that God was willing to forgive her sins, and of Christ’s mercy for her. “

Wow, how inspiring was he?! I am thankful for Rev. Fitch’s cool thinking and compassionate approach. I truly feel honored to have these men as my ancestors and they remind me to always defend those unjustly accused or bullied.

Do you have ancestors accused of witchcraft, who defended those accused, or an ancestor who accused someone of witch craft? If so, please do share in the comments! Happy Halloween and All Saint’s Day readers.

Categories: Ancestors, Burnham, connecticut, Family History, fitch, Genealogy, halloween, witch trials, witchcraft | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Genealogy Happy Dance

Yesterday my last big genealogy brick wall was obliterated! Huzzah! There are still some pretty good mid-sized brick walls, but this was a biggie. My great great great grandma Elizabeth was born about 1837 in England. She arrived in the USA in 1853, and married Walter Murray (a native of Ireland) in 1856. Elizabeth lived out her life in Elmira, Chemung, New York.

For years I searched for a marriage document, birth records of her children, anything I could get my hands on to find her maiden name. Finally I ordered my great great grandma Margaret’s death certificate (Elizabeth and Walter’s first child) and lo’ and behold, there was the information that smashed through that brick wall. To be honest I was surprised, often I have received information on death certificates that is incorrect or no detailed information is provided.

Elizabeth’s maiden name was Curry, and she was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England. I found her in the 1851 English census working as a servant in a household as a nurse-girl (akin to a nanny).

1851 English Census

1851 English Census. Elizabeth Curry is the last person listed in the household.


Suddenly I felt a little Downton Abbey!

Elizabeth Curry’s deeper family history is from Ireland which fits since Liverpool has a strong Irish history.  I am curious to research more about life as a servant during this time period and how a young girl would employ herself a nurse-girl.  And of course, what being a nurse-girl entailed! I find Elizabeth very brave for living away from her family and working, and of course, for immigrating to the United States.

I am so very happy to have found you Elizabeth!

Categories: Brick Wall, Chemung, downton abbey, England, family, Genealogy, history, Ireland, Liverpool, Servant | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Back in the hot seat: John Vincent McDonald



John Vincent and Roseanne McDonald on their wedding day

Last month I posted about my quest to find out more about great-great grandfather John Vincent McDonald’s direct paternal lineage. I did this by having his direct male descendant G. McDonald test his Y chromosome. Since the Y chromosome is passed down directly from father to son (nearly) unchanged this was essentially like testing John Vincent – and his forefathers too!


Testing the Y chromosome can give deep insight into direct paternal lineage

The earliest I can confidently trace John Vincent’s paternal ancestry is to Ranald MacIsaac McDonald born about 1754 in Fort Augustus, Inverness-shire Scotland. What about after Ranald? Ranald’s great paternal grandfather may be Hugh McDonald, but I have not confirmed this yet. When the DNA results came in I was so excited! Oh heck, I still am. Immediately I noticed that my McDonald had only low matches on the 25th marker (matches on the 111th, 67th, and 37th marker are considered high). All of these men save one belonged to a set of Y chromosome mutations known as R1b-U106. R1b-U106 is strongly associated with men who belonged to Germanic/Scandinavian cultures. Certainly they were not limited to these cultures, but U106 dominates Germanic and some Scandinavian regions today.


Frequency of R1b-U106/S21

I was quite intrigued to think that my highlander McDonald lineage might belong to a Germanic invader or Danish Viking. I was ready to conclude based on his Y-DNA matches that he was U106, but tested him specifically for U106 just to be 100% sure. Lo’ and behold, the results came back negative! R1b-U106 was now off the table. The next step? Carefully selecting another Y mutation (SNP). I went with L21, another branch of R1b which dominates Ireland, England, Scotland, and western France.  As you may have  guessed, L21 is strongly associated with Celtic cultures.


Frequency of R1b-L21

I received the results today and am happy to say that my McDonald tested positive for R1b-L21. Now comes the task of narrowing down which subgroup under L21 my McDonald belongs to.  In my family tree I have not had a male lineage belong to L21 yet, so this is an exciting opportunity to learn about the L21 family.

DNA truly is a box within a box within a box!

Categories: Ancestors, DNA, family, Family History, Genealogy, haplogroup, L21, Scotland, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Speak to me, Irish grandmothers!

Okay, so until a time machine is invented  I can’t actually meet up and talk with my female Irish ancestors.

In the meantime I can use DNA to introduce me to my ancient ancestors, and I have done just that! This particular post focuses on my father’s direct maternal lineage. This is done by testing the mutations found in mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down from mother to child and continually from mother to daughter. For example I am female and received one X chromosome from my dad and one X from my mother. But, I inherited my mother’s mitochondrial DNA, not my father’s. Just as he inherited his mother’s mitochondrial DNA. See how it works?


Direct maternal lineage chart

The earliest I can paper trail trace my father’s maternal lineage is to Margaret Garvin born about 1833 in county Cork, Ireland. My dad went full monty and took the mtFullSequence test from Family Tree DNA which tests all three major parts of your mitochondrial DNA: HVR1 region, HVR2 region, and coding region. Family Tree DNA will match you with others who share your same mito mutations (called a haplogroup) and at what level. Matches below the coding region seldom result in finding a recently shared ancestor – even a match on the coding region may mean sharing a female ancestor 22 generations ago.

My dad’s result? The mutations in his mito DNA placed him in haplogroup: T2c-T146c (shorthand T2c).

mtDNA T was born about 29,000 years ago  in the East Mediterranean region and split into T1  and T2 about 21,000 years ago. T2c was born not long afterwards. Today T2 is dominant amongst the Udmurt populations (24%) and in the Netherlands (12%), Sardinia (10%), Iceland (10%), Switzerland (9.5%), Hungary (8.5%), and Ukraine (8.5%) to name a few. In Ireland T2 is found in 5.4% of the population.


Frequency of mtDNA T2 Courtesy of Eupedia

How about my father’s matches? He had three matches on the coding region – the highest level possible. All three matches have no recent connection to Ireland, their ancestral origins are from Norway.

If I look at dad’s mid-level matches, he has 4 Norse, 2 Swedish, and 2 Irish matches. It can be pretty difficult to associate a specific culture with mitochondrial DNA (as opposed to the Y chromosome), but it’s not impossible. At the moment I do not favor one theory over the other when it comes to my dad’s mtDNA origins. Was my T2c ancestor’s  culture Celtic? Or Norse/Germanic? The frequency of T2 at 10% in Iceland makes me wonder if these Icelandic T2’s were indigenous women or women who arrived with later male invaders to the island. Or, none of the above! My guess is as  good as yours and I plan on being on top of the latest research to find out more. Thoughts/ponderings are always welcome.

Categories: Ancestors, DNA, Family History, Genealogy, haplogroup, Ireland, mitochondrial, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ancestor Hot Seat: Franz Karl Bitsch


Wurzburg, Bavaria


Ah, Franz Karl Bitsch! The earliest known patriarch in my German ancestry. You see, I grew up thinking I had massive amounts of German genealogy because my German ancestors were highly successful in their careers (my great grandfather was a heavy weight in advertising and had lunches with Albert Einstein – my goodness!)

My family discussed the ‘successful Germans’ frequently, and traditional German customs prevailed on my dad’s side of the family. When it came down to researching my genealogy, I was surprised to find I was only 6% German. It seems my German male ancestors married Irish women early on, a fact unknown until my genealogy obsession took root.

I thought because my family had already researched the heck out of the Bitsch family that no surprises would pop up. Nope! One golden rule of genealogy: There are always surprises to be found.

Back to Franz Karl Bitsch: He was born about 1778 in either France or Germany (family lore says France). We first find find documentation of Franz Karl in Darmstadt in 1810. The document states that Franz and his wife Louise Charlotte Schmidt were arriving from Wurzburg, Bavaria, and that Franz was a jeweler. Indeed Franz would go on to run a successful business selling fine jewelry, china, and cut glass. The location of his shop was on a prominent street in Darmstadt (Rheinstrasse 2, near Luisenplatz). This was also close to the Archduke of Hesse’s home, and Franz spent many nights gambling with the Archduke and his peers.

By 1830, Franz’s business was failing and the shop moved to a less prominent street. I have a hunch this may have to do with his gambling habit. His wife Louise, my g-g-g-g grandmother, decided she would take herself and some of her children to America. In America, she would not be ashamed to work. Leaving Franz and her younger children behind, Louise arrived in Baltimore in 1833. Franz arrived in 1834 with Otto Friedrich Eberhart Wilhelm, my great great great grandfather.

I would like to take a moment to share this piece. Louise’s granddaughter Emilie Halbach recorded her grandmother and mother’s journey to America:


“The trip was a stormy one, and every time a storm came up, the steerage was closed at the entrance to the deck, so that in case of disaster, the people would have drowned like rats.  But all was well, Captain Graue must have taken a special liking to my grandmother and family, after having repeatedly spoken to them on the deck.  For instance, he got my mother to help him sort the mail that he carried to America, and in that way mother got to be a little more familiar with the English language.  When a storm came up, he would get Uncle Louie up with him, and told grandmother that if anything should happen he would take charge of the boy as his own child. 

So many of the tourists wore wooden shoes, and in a storm, when the ship heaved from one side to the other, the shoes would slide back and forth, so that in the morning the owners had quite a time to identify their own.  Well, this is the way it went for three months, December 1, 1832, to March 1, 1833. Captain Graue was very good to my folks.  Even before they left the ship, he pressed money into my grandmother’s hand saying that she was in a strange country and did not know what might happen.  If she did not need it, she could return it to him when they met again.  And she did.  They got along without using it and she gave it back to him when he was on again in June.”

Wow, talk about being made of tough stuff. The family surname changed from Bitsch to Pietsch, and has remained so to this day in my family. But alas, Louise would not have a lot of time with her husband in America: In 1835 Franz returned to Darmstadt and died in 1848 at the age of 70. Franz had a Catholic burial. One thing I found fascinating about Franz and Louise was that he was Catholic and she was Lutheran. Their sons were baptized as Catholic, and their daughters baptized Lutheran. How common was this in families? I am not sure – still researching.

This tradition continued and my g-g-g grandpa Otto Pietsch (remember, RIP Bitsch spelling), a confirmed Catholic, married Anna Christina Kamrodt/Kamroth, an Evangelical Lutheran. The family and following generations prospered. But I had lingering questions about Otto’s father Franz: Was he from France? Where was he born? Would DNA testing help?

ottobitsch christinakamrodt

Otto Friedrich Eberhart Wilhelm Bitsch [Pietsch] and wife Anna Christina Kamrodt

I hired a wonderful German genealogist to search for Franz in Wurzburg. No birth or baptism record of any kind was found. However, said genealogist mentioned the following intriguing information:

 I was able to find a marriage record of certain Joannes Bietsch, who got married in Wurzburg on May 24, 1777. Any of above mentioned records would help us to prove if this is record of Franz Karl’s parents’ wedding. You will find the copy as attachment as well. What is interesting on it is: Joannes Bietsch was most probably an experienced teacher, was a son of Friedrich Bietsch, a soldier in the Legion from Flanders under the leading of seargants de Cariel and Joannees de Fuonderaag. Joannes was from the village/city of Eingen (I must locate it). He married Margaretha Barbara Schondorf, daughter of Joannes August Karl Schondorf, citizen of (here is more reading possible, it looks like Frankfurt am Main). Mother of Margaretha was Maria Margaretha Bucker, citizen of the same city. (later there are details about the announcment of the wedding)

I can’t help wondering if Franz is related to this family, and I intend to find out in the years to come (fingers crossed).

In the mean time, my cousin T. Pietsch had been kind enough to agree to take a Y-chromosome test from Family Tree DNA.

T. Pietsch is a direct male descendant of Franz Bitsch (and we share more recent Pietsch ancestors). By testing T’s chromosome, it was essentially the same as testing Franz’s Y chromosome since it was passed down directly to T. I was hoping testing the mutations on the Bitsch/Pietsch Y chromosome would give some insight to the deep origins of this direct paternal lineage. Weeks went by, and finally the results were in! His Y-DNA mutations placed him in haplogroup: T1a1a1 (shorthand: T-P77).


Frequency of Y haplogroup T in Europe, courtesy of Eupedia

T is rare in Europe, with about 1% of  European male lineages belonging to T.  You can see in the above map where it is heavily concentrated, and Franz’s particular subgroup T-P77 dominates Saudi Arabian, Mizrahi, and Ashkenazi Jewish populations.

There were no high level matches with other men, only a couple Y-DNA 25 marker matches. Distant, but still something! One man’s paternal lineage was from Germany, the other born and living in Qatar. The possibilities for how Franz’s T-P77 Y chromosome ended up in Germany are endless and tempting. I cannot wait to see what jewels I have yet to discover in researching the Bitsch family.

Categories: Ancestors, Bitsch, DNA, Family History, Flanders, France, Genealogy, Germany, haplogroup, Pietsch, T-P77, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My DNA Results


Since 2011 I have utilized DNA testing for genealogy purposes and with fantastic results.

Brick walls have been broken down, knowledge has been gained. The exciting thing about DNA is that with new information your results are constantly being readjusted. It is definitely a field you must “tune in” to in order to keep up!

My dad has DNA tested, as have my mother’s parents (and my mother) because testing the oldest generation possible is important. Especially when it comes to autosomal DNA, which tests your DNA about five generations back across all ancestral lines. Their autosomal DNA may contain results that are not present in you because the % is too small to register. You may be wondering: autosomal what?! An autosomal test breaks down your DNA and matches it to populations that it most closely resembles. You end up with estimates of ethnic/geographic ancestry.

Many a  blog will be posted about DNA results, surprises, and the smashing of those brick walls. Right now, I am sharing my results. You can only view your grandparent’s results so many times before thinking, “Well gosh, what does my DNA look like?!”


Your curious author

My ancestry is (picture me pulling out a long scroll): Irish, English, Scottish, Sardinian, Polish, Belarusian, Czech (Bohemian), Slovenian, German. There are also a few ancestors circa the 1600s from France and the Netherlands, as well as a g-g-g-g  Polish-Jewish grandmother (best not leave anyone out no matter how distant!)

These are my autosomal results via Ancestry.com’s AncestryDNA test:

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Pretty nifty! Now, one important thing to remember with autosomal DNA is that things are not always what they seem. Results are far from perfect: Some populations are not represented and other populations are used in their place. And that is just fine, I am a patient person enjoying the development of DNA. So, how do my results line up with my documented genealogy?

I would say pretty darn well. One feature I love is the range tool. You click on the population and your potential percentage is listed. I have demonstrated this with my Italian/Greek result. Paper trail wise, I am 6% Sardinian. The range places me at 0-9%. Very close!

My Irish and Scottish DNA seems to have merged. I am about 20% Irish and 12% Scottish. My Scots were from the western highlands (Hebrides) and I imagine their DNA is closer to Irish populations. Europe East follows with the second largest percentage. Paper trail wise I am about 40% East European, and the range tool indicates a possible higher percentage.

Scandinavian and Iberian are two populations not present in my genealogy, and this can easily be attributed  to the margin of error that happens with autosomal DNA. Scandinavian can represent any north European DNA, and Iberia may be clustering with my Italian ancestry. Time will tell! As mentioned before, results are always influx.

I was pleased to see a range of 0-4% of European Jewish DNA (averaging out at 1% as you see above). Could this be my 4th great grandmother making an appearance? European Jewish DNA often clusters (looks the same) as Italian, so that is also a possibility. Still, with a known ancestor it is not impossible.

You may be wondering about the Middle Eastern result. Typically the ME result showing up in those with European ancestry is ancient neolithic DNA. It is especially present in  those with Italian/Southern European ancestry.  How cool is that?

Here is to many more DNA adventures and discoveries!





Categories: Ancestors, Brick Wall, Czech Republic, DNA, England, Family History, Genealogy, Ireland, Italy, Jewish, Poland, Scotland, Slovenia, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Dream of Ancestors


Artist: Christer Karlstad 

Have you ever dreamed about your ancestors? I frequently dream about my paternal grandmother who passed in 2004. However, since deeply researching my genealogy I have dreamed of ancestors I never met.

The first dream was about my Polish ancestors. In this particular dream I was in a small house in Poland. There was straw all over the floor – this was not a modern day house – it felt 19th century. Five or six men and women were sitting in chairs and talking to me in my dream version of Polish (I am not fluent, so I can only assume my brain created it’s own version of Polish). I couldn’t understand what they were saying, and they were trying so hard to communicate with me!

In my genealogy research I had recently discovered unknown Jewish ancestry. My dream self  took one of my ancestors by the shoulders asking, “Who was Jewish? What happened?” My ancestors continued speaking in Polish and I still could not understand. At this point I woke up. I have not dreamed of my Polish ancestors since, though I do hope they visit again.

The next ancestor dream took place while researching my Sardinian ancestry.


Location of Sardinia

The Sardinian ancestors are my last big brick wall. I am faced with the same challenge I had with my Czech (Bohemian) ancestors: searching an entire country for my ancestors. After two years I found my Czechs, and now I am taking on Sardinia. My great great great grandpa Francesco Capelli arrived in Pennsylvania 8 Nov 1858 (according to naturalization records) with his wife (named either Angela or Martina) and my 4 year old great great grandpa Giovanni Francesco Capelli.

I am all to aware that what I see right before sleep greatly influences what I dream about. One tactic I hoped would narrow down the Capelli origins in Sardinia was a surname frequency map. Capelli was overwhelmingly found in northern Italy, but had a presence in Sardinia as well. That night I dreamed my great great grandpa Giovanni (my dream self seemed to know it was him and not Francesco) pointing to a zoomed-in map of Sardinia (like google maps, ancestor style!)


Giovanni, who went by John in America, pointed to Nuoro on the map and said the family was from there. I am sure while pouring over maps my brain logged Nuoro, but I think having your ancestor point it out to you in a dream is pretty darn cool. It is going to be even cooler to see if he was right! Stay tuned, I am just as curious as you are.


Many beautiful faces of Sardinia

My latest ancestor dream took place not long ago, and left me feeling peaceful and happy from the moment I awoke. This dream took place in Ireland, I was waiting for a train to pick me up in Dublin so I could visit a massive cemetery. While waiting for the train I ate a cheese sandwich in the station and shared information about my ancestors. As is common in dreams, I was suddenly transported to the most magical bright green valley where sheep grazed and a stone house stood. There a man came out and told me our ancestors had lived there for 10,000 years. He left me with a big toothy grin before I woke up. Nooooo, my mind said, please let’s go back to that peaceful place! Of course that did not happen, but it was a wonderful way to start my day.


Ireland ( National Geographic)

I haven’t tried to decode my dreams or assign them a deeper philosophical/spiritual meaning other than what I experienced: dreams of ancestors.

They have been simply lovely.

Please dear reader, do share your ancestor dreams.

Categories: Ancestors, Dreams, Family History, Genealogy, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blood of my blood: Finding my Irish family.


When I was a freshman in college (fall 2006) I purchased a National Geographic magazine issue highlighting various wonders of the world. One of the articles featured Newgrange, a neolithic monument in County Meath, Ireland. Built around 3,200 BC, it is 1,000 years older than Stonehenge and 500 years older than the Egyptian Pyramids. Many mystical tales and legends are associated with Newgrange, and the ancient site is aligned with the winter solstice. As soon as I finished reading the article on Newgrange I knew I had to visit someday. I just had to.

March 17, 2011 the genealogy bug officially bit me. I had been watching an episode of Who do you think you are? and the episode was focused on Irish ancestry. (It was St. Patrick’s day, of course!) Obsessed with my family history and history in general, I thought: Okay, let’s finally do this. Time to find those ancestors.

I began with my father’s side. Over many months, I found a surprising amount of Irish ancestry that neither my dad or I had known about. My paternal grandmother never talked about her mother’s ancestors. I quickly found her mother, my great grandmother Lillian Frances Palmer, in various records that listed her place of birth as Chicago, Illinois.


Great grandmother, Lillian Frances Palmer


Lillian’s parents Joseph Sidney Palmer and Ellen Frances Manger were both born in New Orleans, Louisiana. The couple married in New Orleans on March 8 1886 and moved to Chicago when Joseph accepted a prominent position at a fruit company. When I read that Joseph listed his mother as being Irish in origin, and Ellen listed both of her parents as Irish in origin I was ecstatic! Finally, the mystery of my grandma’s mother’s people was unraveling. I started with the mother of Joseph Sidney Palmer.

Joseph’s mother, Ellen Bardin arrived in New Orleans as a very young girl. I have yet to find her passenger list papers, but by 1842 she was married to one G.W. Murray. Murray died in 1846, leaving Ellen with one young son. In 1851 Ellen married my g-g-g grandfather William Henry Palmer, co-owner of Brady and Palmer Lumber Co. Together they had five known children: William Lee (1852-1860), Virginia Anna (1854-1950), Mary Ellen (1856-1856), Thomas Melvin (1857-1880), and Joseph Sidney Palmer (1862-1908).

Ellen was widowed a second time when William Henry died of paralysis in 1870 at the age of 47. Ellen lived another 27 years until her death on April 24, 1897 – she was 75 years old. I found a wonderful obituary for Ellen in the Times Picayune:


Wow! If ever an obituary gave me the sense of an ancestors personality, this one did. I imagine Ellen as feisty, tough, with a tremendous giving nature. And so loved by her family and community to have such a piece published in her memory. Recently I discovered the Palmer plot in Greenwood, Cemetery, New Orleans. The family: William, Ellen, Mary Ellen, William Lee, Thomas Melvin, Virginia Anna, and John Murray (son from her first marriage) are all resting together.

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Ellen’s youngest son and my great grandfather, Joseph Sidney is buried in Chicago, IL with his wife Ellen. Finding their final resting place was an adventure best saved for another blog post!

As mentioned earlier, Joseph’s wife Ellen was the daughter of Irish immigrant parents: John H Magner and Margaret Garvin. John and Margaret were from Cork (not known if County or town), Ireland. They married 10 Nov 1853 in New Orleans and had five known children: David John (1858-1920), John Patrick (1861-1933), Thomas Patrick (1862-1918), Ellen Frances (1863-1908), and Margaret (1870-1906).

John H Magner worked as a drayman and Margaret as a housekeeper. Both are buried in the same cemetery as the Palmer family.

It was wonderful sharing this information with my family, but my Irish ancestors weren’t finished surprising me yet. On my paternal grandfather’s side I found my great great great grandfather Walter Murray was a native of Ireland. This was especially exciting because the origin of my father’s middle name, Walter, was a mystery. Now we knew the ancestor who inspired it!

Walter was born 18 May 1835 in Croghan, Roscommon, Ireland to James Murray and Margaret Fitzmaurice. I was fortunate in finding the baptism records for Walter’s siblings, and trailed his sister Catherine to England. Catherine married an Englishman of Irish origins and her descendants still live in England to this day. Through them I was able to find out that My g-g-g-g grandfather James Murray worked as a grocer.


Croghan, Roscommon, Ireland (photo courtesy of Kieran Campbell)

Oh, but it doesn’t end there folks. My dad and I had both taken autosomal DNA  tests (from Family Tree DNA) which break down your ethnicity the best it can by percentage. You are then matched with people in the company’s database who share your DNA and a relationship is predicted. My dad was predicted to be a 2nd-3rd cousin with a man born and living in Ireland. Interestingly, this was my dad’s closest DNA match. I was predicted to be his 2nd-4th cousin. Our Irish cousin (Matt) was just as excited to have found cousins living in the states. We narrowed down which side of the family we were related on by DNA testing my dad’s first cousin. The conclusion? Our connection was through the Walter Murray of Croghan, Roscommon branch.

That Matt and I shared an Irish ancestor so recently was astounding to me. Here I started my genealogy research not knowing I had any Irish ancestry, and now I was presented with living Irish relatives. How lucky I feel to be living in this day and age when science can help us reunite with long lost family blood lines.

October 2011 I was on a plane to Dublin, Ireland. It was happening. I had found a wonderful family in Malahide, a village minutes outside of Dublin city to host me. When my host mom picked me up from the airport, I knew this was going to be a great trip. She was so genuine, warm, and hospitable – as was the rest of my host family. I loved being introduced to Ireland through the eyes of a local family. People can be friendly and rude all over the world, but my experience in Ireland was overwhelmingly like that of my host family: genuine, friendly, hilarious, and hospitable.

Ireland 2011 493

Cousin Matt and I had a magical day of sharing family history and touring the surrounding areas of Dublin and county Wicklow where his parents and grandparents lived. One of our stops was in Glendalough, a glacial valley in Wicklow. Winds were nearing 60 MPH, which added to the dramatic history and lore of this mystical place. Hermit Priest St. Kevin lived in Glendalough in the 6th century and his settlement was destroyed in 1398 by English troops. A round tower built to ward off invaders loomed nearby. Stories of faeries, sea monsters, and religion surround this place.

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Matt and I have kept in touch (our entire families correspond!) and I am so grateful for the family connection. The rest of my time in Ireland was well spent. I lived the dream of visiting Newgrange and hunkering down to four feet and walking sideways into the neolithic tomb (quite a feat for this 5’10 girl). Spending time with the bog bodies housed in Dublin blew my mind. Well, the entire national museum blew my mind and viewing the exhibits of the ancient Celtic peoples was spiritually satisfying in ways I cannot describe. And the Viking exhibit, oh boy. When I saw the Viking Skeleton resting with his sword – he must have been 6 feet fall – I was glad I missed the heyday of Viking raids.

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Up close and personal with ancient ancestors

More highlights included visiting Connemara, Galway, the cliffs of Moher (winds were 80MPH – I was crawling on the ground!), the Burren, and Cong/Clonbur recreation area. Building friendships with my homestay family, cousin, and various locals made the trip for me because I do believe life is about relationships and people, not things. I was grateful to get in touch with my Irish heritage and cannot express how much I admire Ellen, John, Margaret, and Walter for leaving their homeland so that I might have more opportunities than they did. As someone who spent a year working in the Czech Republic with luxuries such as the airplane, phone, skype, internet, etc., the homesickness was still overwhelming. To imagine truly leaving home and knowing you will never return is devastating. But they did it, for themselves and future generations. And they thrived! There is still much of Ireland left for me to discover, and I must say I feel that familiar tug around my heart to visit again soon.

Below are various photos of my trip for your visual enjoyment. And please dear reader, feel free to share a journey in which you visited a place significant to your ancestry! Until my next post: Dia Duit and Slán go fóill.

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Categories: DNA, Family History, Genealogy, Ireland, Newgrange, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Ancestor Hot Seat: John Vincent McDonald

This post focuses on the direct paternal ancestry and Y chromosome of John Vincent McDonald.

John Vincent McDonald is one of my great great grandfathers (also spelled MacDonald on various documents).  John was born in Glengarry, Ontario, Canada on 3 November 1873 to parents John Jock MacIsaac McDonald Jr. and Isabella O’Brien. He married Roseanne McRauri McDonald (yes, McDonald is her maiden name!) and they moved to Ashland, Wisconsin to work and raise their family. John Vincent died 20 June 1953 at the age of eighty. John Vincent and Roseanne Macdonald

 Roseanne McDonald with John Vincent McDonald

John Vincent’s father, John Jock MacIsaac McDonald Jr. was a native from the Scottish highlands. He was born about 1827 in Fort Augustus, Inverness-shire. Check out this great photo of him, courtesy of my cousin Damien:


As you may have guessed, John Jock MacIsaac McDonald Jr.’s father was also named John Jock MacIsaac McDonald (born 1803 in Fort Augustus, Inverness-shire). How about John Jock senior’s father? Yup, we know who he was! Ranald MacIsaac McDonald born about 1754 in Fort Augustus, Inverness-shire. After Ranald the paternal ancestry becomes murky. According to Ranald’s death record, his father was Donald, who was the son of John Ban (Ban means fair/light), who was the son of Hugh McDonald. That’s quite a few generations back! You can bet your bippy I will be working hard to verify this information. Here is an overview of John Vincent’s direct paternal lineage so far:

John Vincent  Mcdonald -> John Jock MacIsaac McDonald Jr. -> John Jock MacIsaac McDonald -> Ranald McDonald -> Donald McDonald? -> John Ban McDonald? -> Hugh McDonald?

Aside from paper-trail researching, I knew there was another way to gain insight into John Vincent’s McDonald lineage: Testing the Y chromosome.


Men inherit their Y chromosome from their father, who in turn inherited it from his father, who inherited it from his father, and so forth. Testing the mutations on the Y chromosome can indicate deep origins for the paternal lineage. Since John Vincent is no longer living, one of his living direct descendants G. McDonald agreed to take the Y chromosome test. Remember, this is essentially the same as John Vincent himself taking the Y chromosome test, since his Y chromosome was directly passed down to my cousin G. McDonald. I have had great experiences testing with Family Tree DNA so I ordered the YDNA-37 test. You can test 12, 25, 37, 67, or 111 markers. A 37 marker test is a good place to start. Family Tree DNA will show you which men in their database match you on the 12th, 25th, and 37th marker level.  A match on the 37th marker meaning you and your match shared the same paternal ancestor recently (recently meaning in the past 1-8 generations).

That this was a McDonald Y chromosome being tested doubly intrigued me. The patriarch of the McDonald clan and Celtic hero Somerled is theorized through various DNA testing projects to belong to a set of Y mutations known as haplogroup R1a. This specific branch of R1a Somerled belongs to is common among Nordic males, and it has been suggested that Somerled’s paternal ancestry was that of a Norse Viking. You can read more here: http://dna-project.clan-donald-usa.org/

Could my great great grandfather John Vincent be a direct descendant of Somerled? That would mean for hundreds of years the Y chromosome would had to have been passed down directly from Somerled to John Vincent, and thus directly to my cousin G. McDonald, uninterrupted. Whatever the outcome was, I knew I would be excited. There is nothing like DNA to reach back in time and introduce you to your ancient ancestors.

A few weeks later, I got my wish! The results were in. John Vincent’s McDonald lineage did not belong to Somerled’s R1a haplogroup, but nonetheless I found the results fascinating. The first thing I noticed was that the mutations on his Y chromosome placed him in the massive haplogroup of R1b, the most common Y chromosome haplogroup in Europe. Here is a map of where R1b is concentrated in Europe, courtesy of  Eupedia. http://www.eupedia.com/europe/Haplogroup_R1b_Y-DNA.shtml


Haplogroups are like a box within a box within a box. R1b is so massive, that it is more like an umbrella with many sub-haplogroups beneath it. I began looking to see which men G. McDonald matched with: he had zero matches on the 37th marker, and few matches on the 25th marker. I noticed that many of his matches on the 25th marker had taken extra tests to find out their subhaplogroup. There was a good chance if they belonged to a subhaplogroup, G. McDonald did too. The majority of  men belonged to R1b1a2a1a1a, known shorthand as R-U106. This is Eupedia’s concentration map of U106, also known as R-S21 by other testing companies.


Though without a doubt present in various cultures in Europe, R-U106 is strongly correlated with the ancient Germanic and to an extent, Scandinavian peoples. When R-U106 is found in Ireland, England, or Scotland it is not outlandish to think it arrived via the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Frisians, Normans, or Danish Vikings. Delightfully (for DNA junkies like myself), R-U106 is itself a huge umbrella subhaplogroup. Yes, that means I can test this Y chromosome for mutations UNDER U-106, hopefully narrowing my McDonald origins down even more. Luckily my McDonald matches had this same idea and had already tested positive for L164 and/or L48. I have yet to dig into these haplogroups but I am excited to do so.

To make sure I am not getting ahead of myself, I ordered the U-106 test for G. McDonald to 100% conclude he is positive for U106. His matches are a strong indication, but until there is a confirmation that is all they are!

And what about the men who match G. McDonald? In this case a 12 marker match is too distant to mean anything significant, so we move onto the 25 marker matches.  The origins of his 25th marker matches are as follows:

  • 8 with origins from England
  • 6 with origins from Germany
  • 3 with origins from Scotland
  • 2 with origins from Ireland
  • 1 with origins from the Netherlands
  • 1 with origins from France

What do these matches mean? Unfortunately, even the 25 marker matches are most likely too distant for us  to find a recent common ancestor, but the slant towards England and Germany does fit with the Germanic affiliation with U-106. How did this potential Germanic/Danish man end up in the Scottish highlands? The possibilities are endless. I am certainly inspired to dedicate some serious time studying the movements of various cultures, tribes, and wars in the surrounding area of Fort Augustus.

To be continued…


Categories: DNA, family, Genealogy, haplogroups, history, McDonald, mystery, R1b, Scotland, Somerled, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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