Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Power of Speed


Real value is no longer created by traditional measures of productivity. It's created by personal interactions, innovation, creative solutions, resilience, and the power of speed.
~Seth Godin
The Song of Significance

Finally getting down to reading a recent acquisition in my anti-library, I felt a quote literally leap off the pages of entrepreneur Seth Godin's latest, The Song of Significance. It was that phrase, "the power of speed," which resonated. After all, if it hadn't been for FamilySearch's latest development in speed-researching (otherwise known as Full Text search at FamilySearch Labs), I couldn't have gone speed-sliding down my mother-in-law's matriline quite so deftly.

Think of it:, by virtue of having accessed a faster way to page through endless legal documents, has created real value for those who need such creative solutions. The mind-numbing guesswork of paging through unindexed files, reading—no, oops, not the right page once again—line after line of indecipherable handwriting has finally come to its end. If, of course, the Labs Full Text test turns out to be a keeper.

The FamilySearch Labs example gets me thinking in broader application categories. What, for instance, if we applied that Seth Godin maxim to our current situation with waning member participation in local genealogical societies? Could the thought of personal interactions, innovation, or creative solutions speak to our dilemma there? I know that once Covid forced us to couple our traditional meeting format with the newer tech of online connectivity, we gained some benefits—but lost some personal interactions and resilience. Does this mean we face a zero sum game?

I tend to take that call to create "real value" as a call to return to personal connections. When our local genealogical society, after wandering the desert of online-only meetings for three years, decided to create a new, in-person get-together event just because, the energy level in the room was palpable. That buzz told me people really need this connection—even if it hasn't been the "way we always do things." All we added was personal interactions—but that is exactly the element we were sorely needing.

Maybe it only takes just one change to resurrect a wilting organization. We'll try others too, of course, but it is reassuring to see what a big response can come from such a simple change. After all, as Seth Godin likes to point out, real change can trigger a network effect of its own—which amplifies the signal we want to send even farther and faster.  

Friday, April 12, 2024

Duly Documented


Admittedly, there is nothing to compare with looking at an age-old document and realizing the signature at the bottom of the page—or even the "X" in its place—belonged to one's own ancestor. Conversely, there is nothing quite like the frustration of reading a digitized copy of an 1804 document and getting to that final line, only to realize the surname of that ancestor didn't quite make it into the picture.

So...was it her? Or was that just wishful thinking?

Despite that being the case in the record of Walter Teal's marriage to Mary Ijams, I didn't have to wait long to find my answer. Thankfully, Mary was one of the unnamed daughters in William Ijams' 1815 will who, after awaiting the slow-moving process of probate to duly run its course, had to sign to acknowledge receipt of her inheritance. Better yet, the probate documents identified her not only as the wife of Walter Teal, but listed her specifically as "formerly Mary Ijams."

I had first made that discovery last year, while researching my mother-in-law's matriline for mtDNA purposes. From that point, though, I've yet to discover what became of Mary and her husband, Walter Teal. Granted, their season of raising a family—if that was part of their life's story—would have fallen to the years before census records named each member of a household. The only information those early enumerations provided would be age ranges and genders. Whether those household teenagers called Mary "mom," I'd have no way of knowing.

Still, without exploring the possible lead, I'd have nothing on this other daughter of my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother. Considering that, I think it's time to play genealogy guinea pig again, and test possible leads for Walter and Mary Teal.

Fortunately for us, there was an 1830 census record for a man by that same name—Walter Teal—in the same Ohio county where he had married Mary: Fairfield County. Listed in that household was one man between the ages of forty and forty nine, along with one woman in that same age bracket. In addition, the household included two males between the ages of ten and fourteen, plus another one in his twenties. Of particular interest to me, searching for other descendants from the same matriline, was the entry for one young girl between five and nine years of age, plus two others in their later teen years.

Was this the household of our Walter and Mary? Hard to say, not knowing the date at which Mary might have been born. An 1804 wedding might imply Mary was about eighteen to twenty years of age by that point which, extrapolated out to that 1830 census, would make sense to see her fall within the forty to forty nine year bracket. And the couple certainly had remained in the same county where Mary's parents had settled. But we can never just assume—even in a rural county during its early years of settlement—that there wouldn't be more than one man by the same name. And it's the man's name we would have to rely on during a time period like that. Pick the wrong name twin and we'd be led to mistaken conclusions.

Next week, we'll see whether we can follow Walter Teal through the next decade of his life to learn more about this family, especially to see whether we are chasing the right couple.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Didn't "Daughter Out"


It was years ago when I first ran into the phrase, "daughtered out." Perhaps it was during a time when Y-DNA was the preferred—or perhaps only—DNA test used for purposes of genealogy. Following the patriline for Y-DNA meant, of course, that one was following a male line of descent which featured one detail in common for each match: sharing the same surname. The difficulty with trying to piece together a genealogy based on that surname was that, in any given generation, it was possible for a man in that line to not have any sons who could thus pass along the surname. In other words, that man would have "daughtered out."

In my current case, using the mitochondrial DNA test to help in researching the matriline of my mother-in-law, I would have loved it if her ancestors had "daughtered out." However, with aggravating frequency, those women belonging to her matriline often did the opposite: if they had any children at all, the offspring was comprised solely of sons. Very rarely did I see any daughters.

I'm not done yet with my travels through my mother-in-law's matriline. While in the background—where I'm stuck on a dispute over whether her sixth great-grandmother was daughter of Lewis Duvall of colonial Maryland—I'm seeking documents to resolve the genealogical impasse, for purposes of daily posts from this genealogical guinea pig, I've taken to seeking any and all female descendants. And finding very little at all for her mtDNA results.

In many cases, more sons were born to these ancestors than daughters. For those few families which included female descendants, quite a few of those daughters either never married, or had childless marriages. In other cases, a female descendant who married might have had several children, all of whom would be sons. Where were those "daughtered out" families when I needed them?!

I am working my way down the lines of descent for the daughters of Elizabeth Howard, my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother. The reasons for this choice of starting point take in the difficulty of locating descendants for Elizabeth's two sisters, Rachel and Sarah. There is more work to do on those searches, but while that is ongoing in the background, following Elizabeth's own daughters seems easier. And easy progress would be encouraging right now.

Elizabeth and her husband, William Ijams, chose to move from the area in Maryland where their ancestors had settled for generations. Their new home was in Fairfield County, Ohio, where William died in the early years of the 1800s. Because their daughter Sarah was in my mother-in-law's direct line, that was one line which I've already checked quite thoroughly. It is Sarah's sisters—Rebecca, Comfort, Rachel, and Mary—whose descendants I need to pursue.

I have yet to find any descendants at all for Rebecca. Comfort, while having four daughters herself, seemed to be blessed with many grandsons, at least for those daughters who married at all. On the other hand, Rachel and Mary, while marrying in the early years of the 1800s in Fairfield County, seem to have disappeared off the face of the earth. For Mary, though, there may be a slight sign of just where she went after disappearing from her home in Ohio—but I can't yet be sure.

You know what that means: I'll have to once again play the genealogical guinea pig and test a hypothesis. For this, we'll need a few days to pursue Mary and her likely husband, Walter Teal, after the date of their 1804 wedding in Fairfield County, Ohio. We'll begin tackling that question tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Getting Un-Stuck


Getting stuck in the big middle of a family history mystery can be no fun. When the momentum drags to a halt, the first—and only—thing on my mind is how to get unstuck. While I'm not sure I'll soon see that shift in perspective, here is where I've ground to an abrupt stop.

I had been merrily chugging along on my mother-in-law's matriline, that generation-to-generation line of mothers only. From her third great-grandmother Sarah Ijams, I had slipped from central Ohio back to Maryland, home of Sarah's mother Elizabeth Howard. Then, thanks to mentions in family wills, it was an easy move to her mother, Rachel Ridgely, and then up another generation to her father William Ridgely, the one who died in 1755, mentioning in his will his wife Elizabeth.

Elizabeth, as I had discovered in last year's exploration of old genealogy books, was said to have been born into the Duvall family of colonial Maryland. According to those books, that Elizabeth was daughter of Lewis Duvall and his wife Martha, another Ridgely. 

When I followed that line from those old genealogy books and then tried to verify them with documentation, finding Lewis Duvall's will became my genealogical crash pad. Lewis Duvall had a wife named Martha, alright, but none of his four daughters was named Elizabeth. Where did Elizabeth come from?

The first reasonable guess would be that there was more than one Lewis Duvall in Anne Arundel County,  Maryland. There, we run into the other assertion found in some books: that when Elizabeth Duvall married William Ridgely, she was marrying her cousin. Where did that notion come from? Another genealogy book? I still can't find any details on that.

To complicate, there was indeed another Lewis Duvall in the area. He had a wife by another name, of course, and it would be worth our while to check out who this man was, and whether there was any mention of his descendants in his own will. In particular, did he happen to have a daughter named Elizabeth?

No matter who Elizabeth, wife of William Ridgely, turns out to be, that will provide the next stepping stone in our leap to the distant past through the cousin matches linked to my husband's mitochondrial DNA test results. Warning, though: this will not be easy.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Research Roadblock


Sometimes, even a full day of searching can yield no results. That's the research roadblock I'm facing in this current project. Pushing back a few generations on my mother-in-law's matriline seemed to be a promising prospect—as long as I was making progress. Once I hit that warning sign that one woman's parents might not have been the ones others were thinking of, I couldn't find documentation to point me in one direction or the other.

Stuck, I tried to wiggle my way out of the impasse. Since the whole goal of this month's Twelve Most Wanted goal was to push as far back in time as possible on my mother-in-law's matriline for DNA purposes, an alternate step might be to at least reverse course and conduct descendancy research on the women I had identified as likely collateral lines.

Even there, though, I'm running into roadblocks. Remember, these are women born in colonial Maryland—a time period when little is mentioned about women, other than to see them married, or, for the fortunate few, to see them properly endowed with the legacy due them from their well-to-do father.

Silence on the paper trail does not necessarily mean those women were never married. Nor does it imply they didn't descend from families bestowing legacies. This simply could mean that the documents I'm seeking did not endure the test of time, or were destroyed in subsequent upheavals of later ages.

Or perhaps the document is still out there, but misfiled due to clerical error, or even illegible handwriting or impossible spelling. Try, for instance, a surname like McElfresh, which I've already seem spelled several different—admittedly creative—ways. How to search for possibilities like that? Wildcards are nice in theory, but when the results yield options numbering upwards of a thousand, the idea of "exhaustive search" takes on a dimension I'm not willing to pursue.

I'll still poke around, looking for signs of those daughters of the most recent common ancestor on my mother-in-law's matriline, but I guarantee it won't make for scintillating reports. We'll have to change our approach slightly, to see if there is another route to lead us to our end goal. 

Monday, April 8, 2024

Not the Only One in Town

If William Ridgely, my mother-in-law's sixth great-grandfather, needed to mention his father's name in his 1755 will to differentiate himself from others in town with that same name, we'll likely have to do the same with his wife Elizabeth. Though I consider it fortunate that we are dealing with residents in a rather small colonial province—Maryland—it still appears that there may be some disputes as to the true identity of William's wife Elizabeth. She, too, may not have been the only one in town with that name.

Using old genealogy books covering the legal documents of that era, I've run across claims that Elizabeth was daughter of Lewis Duvall and his wife, Martha Ridgely. I've also found statements in such books that when Elizabeth married William, she was marrying her cousin. However, when I look to the will of her supposed father Lewis, I find mention of three daughters: Martha, Susanna, and Anne

Notice: no mention of anyone named Elizabeth.

True, Lewis Duvall's 1724 testament also lacked mention of any wife. Perhaps, in addition to his wife predeceasing him, we could assume any daughter named Elizabeth might have done likewise. But when we realize William Ridgely's will indicated his wife Elizabeth was still very much alive in 1755, we realize the futility of trying to make that theory stick.

So who did Elizabeth, William Ridgely's wife, really belong to? 

Sunday, April 7, 2024



We've just come to the end of a long but pleasant week in our region's corner of the genealogical world: our regional council just hosted a week-long Family History Week, with the culminating day's sessions held at our state archives up at the capital. Driving home after the last session, satisfied with the outcome but still exhausted, it occurred to me it might be nice to just do some light family history research to round out the evening—and today's post.

With that, I turned to's ThruLines tool to see what DNA matches my husband might have to Elizabeth Howard, my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandmother. Even though Elizabeth is on my mother-in-law's matriline—and my husband stands in for her on that mitochondrial DNA test—any of her descendants in this generation could still be matchable using the regular autosomal DNA test as well. She's still within reach based on that more widely-used test.

While it is unfortunate that we never had the opportunity to capture a snapshot of my mother-in-law's DNA—she passed about five years before I started testing family member—Elizabeth Howard is still my husband's fifth great-grandmother. And that is certainly reachable.

Turning to ThruLines, I noticed that Ancestry identified fifty eight of their customers who seem to be descendants of Elizabeth Howard and match my husband's DNA results. That's a promising number, considering that he is just at the outside reaches of possible autosomal matches. But when I look closer at those fifty eight matches, I notice one thing: most of the names proposed seem to descend from supposed children of Elizabeth whose names I never found in documentation. In fact, I noticed a few of those "matches" did have familiar surnames in their tree—from an entirely different family line.

While it is incredible to think that I can find current-day descendants of this woman born in the mid-1700s who still share genetic material with my husband, I am not so awed by the thought as to lose my sensibilities about double-checking the rudimentary tools we use to determine just how we relate to another person. ThruLines is so helpful, agreed, but it warrants a thorough fact-checking every time we put it through its paces.

The bigger challenge, of course, will be to push my mother-in-law's matriline back far enough to then switch direction and conduct descendancy research on the collateral lines of that earliest mother on the matriline. That will come soon enough.

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