Sunday, May 22, 2022

Connecting to Communities


The news from is that they are once again adding to their website more of what they dub "DNA Communities." In particular—and this is what caught my eye—the latest addition includes an increase from seventy one to over two hundred communities affiliated with the southern United States.

This is not the first time Ancestry has added to their collection of DNA Communities. About this time last year, they put out an announcement detailing fifty five new communities, mostly surrounding the Mediterranean, plus their first east African community. As they did last year, I suspect the new communities will appear gradually as they roll out the updates to subscribers.

The story behind how Ancestry puts together these communities is interesting in itself. Using a network analysis method known as community detection, Ancestry begins by assembling a network of the millions of subscribers in their database. From that point, they cull out the individuals who share a greater number of DNA matches with each other, and separate them from the rest of the network. They then fine-tune their results with information from subscribers' family trees.

Of course, they keep an eye on details like migration pathways. One particular clue is the observation of differences between birth locations of parents and their children. But there are also factors which determine strength or weakness of such community connections. For instance, the greater the number of generations separating the subscriber from a community, the less likely it will be for a connection to be identified.

In other words, I would not likely find myself part of my paternal grandfather's New York Polish community (if there was one) because of several details. First, the rest of my grandfather's community immigrated to Milwaukee, not New York, so he would be an outlier. In addition, any connection would be to my grandfather, not a closer generation—and, for that matter, those were both "long" generations (spanning nearly fifty years in one case). 

So, how did my mother's southern genes fare in this latest update? As soon as I saw the news about this update, you can be sure I checked. I'm hoping this case, too, will be a matter of rolling out the results gradually. My results, at this point, haven't budged from where they stood before the announcement: only two communities, including one sub-community. My DNA Communities: Georgia and Florida Settlers, with its sub-category of South-Central Georgia, Lower South Carolina, and Florida settlers; and secondly, early Georgia Coastal Plain and Northern Florida Settlers.

Of course, I'm hoping to see an update, but would not be surprised if the results remain the same. These are, after all, my ancestors who are portrayed by these results. And that was just exactly who they were: just as the DNA Communities portrayed them.


Saturday, May 21, 2022

Not the Same There as Here


Last week I mentioned traveling to Florida and, while there, getting the brainy idea to shop for antique photos. After all, I've had a grand time rescuing the cabinet cards I've found in antique stores up in Gold Rush country near my home in California. A little change of venue wouldn't scramble results too horribly, would they?

Think again. It's not the same there as it is here. I guess every place is different. While it is true that a location like Florida would be a prime place to gather photographs from all over North America—after all, snow birds come from Canada, too—a key factor necessary in the mix for success is shopkeepers' ability to curate available resources. Apparently, while the various shopkeepers managed to assemble some interesting collectibles, the location I chose in central Florida was not home to anyone able to amass the type of photo I was seeking.

While I have rescued photos from later periods—recall my discovery of the Irish photo album from the late 1930s—the date is not the only detail on my shopping list. My Florida shopping foray led me to more recent specimens—think Polaroids and other snapshots from the fifties and sixties—but it also included several older samples. Yet, with every format from earlier eras came a disappointment: the photos lacked the key ingredients that assist me in returning rescued photos to family members. I need a name as well as a location at the minimum to begin my search for the identity of the photo's subject.

It broke my heart, during last week's exploration in Florida, to walk away from several otherwise fine family photos from Morristown, New Jersey, for example, but even though the pictures were exactly what I was looking for, they provided none of the clues which make rescuing and returning the photos possible. Yes, several stores may include photographs in their merchandise, but not all photographs lend themselves to this type of rescue operation. Either that, or someone else has beat me to all the best sale items.

No matter what reason caused me to walk away empty-handed, the search reminded me of what fun it was to start a photo-rescuing project in the first place. I have Connie from Forgotten Old Photos to thank for the inspiration—and advice as I got started—and several resources close at hand in my own state for finding eligible samples. Perhaps now that I'm home, this would be a perfect time to take up this challenge once again. After all, people traveled from all over the continent to Gold Rush country, too.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Examining the Hypothetical


If the two sisters in the household of Gregory Metzger didn't die in the county they called home, where did they die? More importantly, where did Gregory Metzger himself meet his end? And where was his will filed?

Still trying to piece together the complete family of my husband's third great-grandfather, Michael Metzger, I'm not quite sure yet whether Gregory even fits in the picture. True, his home was right next to that of Michael's namesake son in the Perry County, Ohio, Jackson Township. And two of the women living in Gregory's home—Joanna and Mary Ann—were listed as sisters in the 1880 census, presumably after Gregory's own passing. But why were there no records of their deaths in Perry County?

My first guess was that perhaps each of them had died while visiting an as-yet-unnamed family member living in a different county. Since I am still missing two names to round out the elder Michael's possible nine children—and that's even counting those hypothetical three, Michael, Joanna, and Mary Ann—I wondered whether discovering the identity of the other missing two might point us in the direction of the place of death for these hypothetical three.

Conveniently, there's DNA testing to help guide us in matching up some of these hypothetical siblings. While my husband's ThruLines results for the Metzger family don't include any matches descending from Gregory, Mary Ann, or Joanna, there are two other names for which he does have matches. One, listed on ThruLines as Joseph John Metzger, seems to line up neatly with the Find A Grave entry for a man by the same name, buried in nearby Knox County, Ohio. The other one linked by Find A Grave, for Johann Metzger's burial in Indiana, seems less likely but also happens to be included among my husband's ThruLines results.

While Ancestry's ThruLines is a matter of both DNA and subscribers' family trees, I can't simply toss the information because some trees on that site include errors. You know what that means: I'll need to double check by doing some grunt work of my own with research on each of these men to figure out what made them decide to leave the rest of the family behind in Perry County, Ohio.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Without a Trace


Here's a curiosity: when we trace the life trajectory of our ancestors, we expect that, at some point, each person will have reached the end of their years. At that point, family members—or at least someone—will have buried their departed loved one and, at least in previous centuries, have marked their final resting place as a memorial. How, then, for a family member who lived—and, presumably, died—in the same place for decades, can we not find a trace of their passing?

I'm closing in on the supposed nine children of my husband's third great-grandfather, Michael Metzger. In addition to the four I already knew about—Michael's namesake son plus daughter Elizabeth and other two sons Henry and Jacob—we've been considering the household next door to the younger Michael's home in Jackson Township in Perry County, Ohio. In that home, the oldest listed in the 1850 census—shortly after the elder Michael's death—was a man by the name of Gregory Metzger. 

We've since discovered that two of the Metzger women in Gregory's household were eventually noted to be sisters. That, we discovered in the 1880 census, after Gregory's supposed death.

Today, I was working on locating some death records on this Metzger household. While deaths in Ohio before the 1900s were generally not noted at the state level, I happened to know from multiple trips to the Perry County courthouse years ago that the county had kept an index of deaths in the last few decades of the 1800s. Though I kept photocopied pages listing family surnames from previous visits, I had recently discovered that the entire index is now digitized and available on

Since the two Metzger sisters we discussed yesterday had been buried in Perry County—easily seen by their memorials at Find A Grave—I thought that would be a good start for pulling up their records on the Perry County death index. Since Mary Ann Metzger was the one of the two sisters to have died the most recently, I checked first for her name—and found no entry.

Puzzled, I took a look at the entire Metzger section for Perry County. Though there were many Metzger names listed, there was none for either Mary Ann or her sister Joanna. 

Well, what about that alternate spelling, Metzgar? Since it was listed right above the alphabetical entries for Metzger deaths, I scrolled up the page to take a look. 


Obviously, from the photographs included on their Find A Grave memorials, both Joanna and Mary Ann were buried in Perry County. Since it was not unusual in that era for a person to have died in a different location and then to be returned to their family's burial plot back home, I began wondering just where the two women might have died.

While considering that issue, I realized someone else was missing from the death index: the very person whose will I had been seeking—Gregory. His name was missing from the Perry County Death Index as well.

I confess, that's when I caved and recalled that Find A Grave volunteers had entered two additional names as children of the elder Michael Metzger. While I certainly appreciate all the work these volunteers have done for the website, I have learned to hesitate about outright acceptance of such suggestions as document-able reality. I've found errors in the past.

The thought, however, nagged at me. After all, I have DNA test results at showing ThruLines connections to two other sons. What were their names? Were they the same as the two names listed at Find A Grave?

Sure enough, the names matched up. But I can't just take those assertions at face value. You know what that means: we'll have to examine the records for ourselves, check the documentation, and then trace those lines—including the DNA matches Ancestry has discovered for me—all the way back to the Metzger line from the early 1800s. It's time to build some additional hypothetical lines to the Metzger tree.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Sisters, After All


Sometimes, it takes looking a long way through documents before we spot the detail which answers the genealogy question we've been pursuing. In the case of the next-door Metzgers, neighbors of my husband's second great-grandfather, Michael Metzger, it took examining four separate census enumerations before I could find enough detail to fill in the blanks on this week's family history guess.

We've been wondering about Gregory, the Metzger next door, and in particular about the women in his Perry County, Ohio, household in the 1850 census. We had already discussed Elizabeth, who married Bernard Clouse and left the Metzger household before the 1860 census. But what about the two other Metzger women?

The older of the two women, according to the 1850 census, would have been born in 1814—and yet, we don't exactly know her name. According to that particular census, where the enumerator wrote over his own entry, she was either named Jeannie or Joannie.

It's times like this when I can't just rely on the information listed in one document. I can't be satisfied with the one entry—not when the handwriting presents problems. For consistency's sake, I check all the subsequent census records, as well.

As it turned out, in Jeannie-Joannie's case, the 1860 census gave her name as Joanna. But don't think that was the final verdict. We need to jump forward yet another ten years, just to double check. There, the confusing entry lists her name as Jonana, inspiring me to jump ahead yet another ten years.

Before we make that hasty jump, however, let's see what else the 1870 census shows us. By that point, Jeannie-Joannie-Joanna was listed as being born in Switzerland, a change from earlier records reporting her birthplace as Germany—something I had been questioning from the start of this month's research quest. Even more than that, though, was the confirmation that the other woman in the household—listed in those earlier enumerations as "Mary A."—was actually named Mary Ann.

Best of all, we see that perseverance pays off when we leap forward yet another ten years to the 1880 census, which finally includes not only a listing of the names of all household members, but provides their relationship as well. The gift to us from that 1880 census worker: Mary Ann and Joanna were sisters.

If we don't know anything more about Gregory—the once head of household who, by 1880, was no longer listed at that residence—we at least can say that two of the people living in his home were siblings. I tend to think the rest were siblings as well, but we need to keep looking for documentation before I feel safe claiming that conclusion. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Process of Elimination


As we go backwards in time, adding names to the family tree becomes more challenging. Sometimes, we don't have any way to access documentation to directly support our hypotheses. Then what?

For instance, right now I'm puzzling over whoever made up the family of my husband's third great-grandfather, Michael Metzger. Michael was an immigrant who lived his last days in a small county in Ohio. Where he came from is still one of my research questions. More to the point for this week's quandary is who else in his family he left behind at his 1843 death in Perry County.

So far, I haven't been able to locate a will. Perhaps Michael died intestate; that refers me to a different set of records to examine. In the meantime, I do know of four of Michael's children—but census records prior to his death show me by head count that there may have been up to nine children in his family. Right now, I'm in pursuit of the other five possible descendants.

Yesterday, we examined the 1850 census entry for a man by the name of Gregory Metzger who was enumerated right next door to a known child of Michael: his namesake son Michael. In Gregory's household were five people. Besides Gregory "Metzgar," the other adults were Jeannie (or possibly Joannie), Mary A., Elizabeth, and Henry.

While the age range leads me to believe that this was not a family of husband, wife, plus three children, I do wonder whether Gregory was the son who took in the remainder of his siblings after his parents' passing in the 1840s.

Our first task is to examine whether any of those listed in 1850 could have been identical to the records I have for the known children of the elder Michael Metzger. The two I believe fulfill this case would be Elizabeth and Henry. Elizabeth, daughter of Michael, was born in Ohio in 1828 and eventually became wife of immigrant Bernard Clouse in 1852, according to Perry County marriage records. While the Elizabeth in Gregory's 1850 household would have been born approximately in 1829, we notice that she did not appear in that household for the subsequent census, which would make sense if these were one and the same person.

As for the younger person in Gregory Metzgar's household, Henry, we need to tread carefully in following him through subsequent enumerations. In Gregory's 1850 household, Henry was listed as being sixteen years of age and born in Ohio. That would give us an approximate year of birth in 1834. That would roughly match the date of the Henry Metzger, son of the elder Michael, as noted in later census records and on his own headstone.

And yet, if we take a peek at the next decade's census record for Gregory's family—in 1860—we note that there was not one but two people by the name of Henry Metzger. A second one joined the household, aged  fifteen. Whoever this second Henry was, he was not in the previous record for Gregory's household, nor was there any five year old listed in 1850. Whether this was another Metzger relative, I can't yet tell, but this warns me to proceed carefully as I research others in the Metzger family—and to keep the two Henrys straight.

What about the other two people in Gregory Metzgar's household? Who were they? We still need to determine the identity of Mary A. Metzgar and the woman with the unfortunate blot on her name—either Jeannie or Joannie Metzgar. While it seems reasonable that these two woman could be sisters of Gregory—and thus, also, of the younger Michael—we'll need first to explore Perry County records for any sign of these as-yet unknown Metzger descendants.  

Monday, May 16, 2022

The Metzgers Next Door


In the United States census following Michael Metzger's 1843 death, two Metzger men were listed consecutively in the Jackson Township portion of Ohio's Perry County. One was my husband's second great-grandfather, also named Michael Metzger. The other was a man not previously on my research radar: a forty year old immigrant named Gregory Metzger.

Looking at the younger Michael's household in that 1850 enumeration, we can see it gives the appearance of a young married couple. The next line after Michael's entry gives the name of a twenty year old woman named Catherine. Following that is the entry for what appears to be their infant daughter, Elisabeth, born in Ohio only seven months prior to the June 1 enumeration. Though it seems self-evident that we are looking at a young family in this census entry, I didn't leave that assumption without following this household through the decades and documents to confirm what seemed obvious.

Next door to Michael, however, was a household which, while seeming just as self-evidently to be a family, needs a bit more digging before we can arrive at a confident assertion. The household's listing on the very next line after Michael's census entry seems persuasive enough, since the enumerator's duties included entering household names as they came up on his rounds—and we may later be able to verify that location through other documents such as property records. But what I'd like to zoom in on today is the composition of that next door neighbor's household in particular.

The home was headed by a man named Gregory Metzger. Keep in mind, for the 1850 census in Perry County, there were only two households bearing that surname in the entire county. The likelihood that the two men are related is quite high. But who, exactly, was Gregory?

Looking at the household listing, at first glance it gives that same appearance of husband, wife, and children—until we look more closely. Besides forty year old Gregory, there is a thirty six year old woman listed. She is either named Jeannie or Joannie—hard to determine due to the enumerator's over-writing attempt at correction. However, when we inspect the ages of the three additional members of the Metzger household—Mary, Elizabeth, and Henry—we realize we need to proceed with more caution.

While sixteen year old Henry could very well be son of the first two named members of this household, we don't know for sure because the 1850 census did not include relationships in the enumeration process. Elizabeth, at twenty one, would be a squeeze as daughter of both Gregory and "Jeannie." If a child at all, she might be daughter of Gregory and a first, but now deceased, first wife. But Mary? There is no way we can explain that this twenty eight year old was a child of either of those first two adults.

That detail leads me to my hypothesis: could Gregory have been heading up a household of his siblings? After all, the elder Michael Metzger had died in 1843, and his wife the following year. Besides, the elder Michael's entry in the previous census indicated the possibility of up to nine children. I only know of four of them. Who were the other five? Using this listing in Gregory's 1850 household, this week we'll explore the possibility that besides Gregory, his household members Mary, Elizabeth, Henry, and even "Jeannie" were all children of the elder Michael Metzger and his wife Apollonia Rheyman.

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