Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Aunt Jo


I guess the next worst thing to inheriting a collection of family pictures with no labels is to receive labels but no context. Marilyn's Aunt Jo was one of those relatives.

From the collection of family photographs I rescued from a local antique shop—thanks to a tip from a local genealogy-loving student—I had no problem at all spotting the photos of Aunt Jo. When I ran across the label on the first picture, I remembered instantly who Aunt Jo was. I recalled Marilyn sharing family stories which featured Aunt Jo favorably—although I can't exactly remember what the stories were about, or how Aunt Jo figured into Marilyn's family constellation. But she was there, undoubtedly there.

Now that the rescued photographs provided the prompt, I tried to see what I could find on Aunt Jo. I learned, for one, that "Aunt" was not just a title of respect bestowed upon a parent's friend, but a true blood relative of Marilyn's father, David Moore Sowle. Aunt Jo, David's sister, was born Josephine Lucille Sowle in Onalaska, Wisconsin, on June 22, 1913, five years after her brother's arrival in the household.

Aunt Jo likely moved to California with her parents, Joseph Leslie and Dora Moore Sowle, a break from the rest of the extended family, who had been in the La Crosse county area for generations. Living in California in the same household as Joe and Dora at the time of the 1940 census, Josephine was listed under her maiden name, but the record indicated she had been divorced. In California? Or Wisconsin? I couldn't find any record of that.

A year later, a twice-divorced man from Illinois by the name of Elza Glenn Smith enlisted in the army and was stationed at Los Angeles harbor. A year after that, he and Aunt Jo were married in a ceremony at Fort MacArthur.

Beside just one more detail, that is all I could learn about Marilyn's Aunt Jo from some online sleuthing. Other than the fun pictures I spotted in that rescued collection from the antique store, each one carefully labeled in Marilyn's hand with only the words, "Aunt Jo," all that was left were the memories kept by the niece she must have doted on. With no children of her own to keep her memory alive, Josephine Lucille Sowle Smith died in Los Angeles in 1957, still in her early forties.


Photographs: The above two pictures were labeled by Marilyn simply as "Aunt Jo" but the last one had the year, 1934, and the explanation, "Aunt Jo, Gram + Gramp," likely Marilyn's grandparents Joe and Dora Sowle.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

After David Met Olive


David Sowle may have spent most of his adult life in California, but he got his start in the tiny town of Onalaska, Wisconsin. There, his father had married Dora Moore, the daughter of what was deemed a "pioneer" family of that lumber region. Dora's family, in turn, had arrived in Onalaska generations before from the forested areas of Maine.

By the time David made his arrival in 1908, the town of Onalaska had been experiencing a twenty year long population slide to less than eleven hundred people. Meanwhile, the neighboring city of La Crosse was experiencing a steady expansion of their population through that same time period. It was inevitable that a young man during that time would look to the larger city for employment possibilities.

Though I may never learn how my mother-in-law Marilyn's parents actually met, in 1927, the La Crosse Tribune and Leader-Press was trumpeting the headline, "La Crosse Girl and Onalaska Man Married Saturday." David Sowle and Olive Brague exchanged their solemn vows at the parsonage of Saint Paul's Lutheran Church in La Crosse.

After a two week wedding trip to Chicago via Iowa, the couple set up housekeeping in La Crosse. That didn't last for long. After Marilyn's arrival the next year—plus a few more years of hard work in La Crosse—David and Olive moved their small family to southern California.

Apparently, they did not move alone. Though I can't determine who made the first move, it is easy to see that David's parents and sister also arrived at the same location. While the 1940 census showed David and Olive—plus young Marilyn—settled in Anaheim, Joe and Dora Moore Sowle and their daughter Josephine were living in neighboring Los Angeles. As David had, the elder Sowles stated they had been in California by at least 1935. Each family indicated their first stop in the state was in Los Angeles.

By 1940, Joe and Dora were in their mid fifties, so perhaps it is no surprise that they reported no occupation. Their twenty six year old daughter Josephine, by then already divorced and living with her parents, was working as a private secretary at a restaurant.

It's at a point like this when I wish I was researching a family which hadn't settled in such a big city as Los Angeles. A small town newspaper would pick up the kind of stories which could help a researcher piece together the timeline of an ancestor's life. Not so much the Los Angeles Times. And yet, I'm not left without any details on Marilyn's family—certainly not after having discovered that stash of family photographs put up for sale at a local antique shop.

While for "Aunt Jo" I don't have a tale written with many words, I am left with pictures—and isn't it those pictures which each are worth a thousand words? Tomorrow, we'll see what we can read into the several photographs I now have of Josephine Sowle from Marilyn's collection.

Photographs: Above, Marilyn labeled this snapshot "Mom + Dad 1928," making me wonder whether she had a specific event in mind. The photo most likely would have been taken after Marilyn was born that year, judging from her mother's appearance. Below: Marilyn labeled this one simply, "Dad," with his name written below. From the appearance of the landscape, this may have been taken near the hills that ring the Los Angeles basin, though it is hard to determine, due to the enormous population growth and urban expansion in the eighty years since their arrival in California.


Monday, June 28, 2021

California Dreamin'


There is something about California which has lured Americans from all parts of the nation—especially those snowy northern reaches of the country—to settle amidst the palm trees and golden opportunities, especially in the southern portion of the state. That was at least how life turned out for my mother-in-law's parents, escaping from Wisconsin to forge a new life in a sunnier realm.

Marilyn Sowle was once the possessor of the photograph collection which, unbeknownst to me, ended up in an antique shop here in my own town after her passing. Now that I've rescued a significant percentage of that collection, I realize there are several photos which might be worth returning to the descendants of distant family members I've never met. In the process of researching these connections, I'll be taking this week to share what I've found. But first things first: we need to properly introduce Marilyn and her family who once lived far from California in La Crosse and Onalaska, Wisconsin.

It was in the midst of a Wisconsin winter when Marilyn was born in 1928 to parents David and Olive Brague Sowle. Two years later, the 1930 census tells us that Marilyn's father was working as a shipping clerk for a La Crosse department store, while her mother had taken a position working at a nearby laundry service.

That scenario did not last for long—perhaps Marilyn's parents were doubling up on work duties in preparation for their move to California. Though I can't pinpoint the date when they left Wisconsin, the 1940 census indicated the Sowle family had made it to the Los Angeles area by at least 1935. By then, the enterprising David was working his way up in management at a canning company, and the family was living in the then-sleepy town of Anaheim.

Even in 1940, the family unit remained just the three of them: David, Olive, and Marilyn. My mother-in-law recalls that her mother, the eldest of nine children who had been expected to "help" with her younger siblings, recoiled at the thought of having a large family of her own. Yet perhaps there were other dynamics at play, even after the couple removed themselves far from the rest of their extended family.

It's that family they left behind which have become the faces peopling the photographs I never had a chance to see—until now. It is likely these were pictures handed to Marilyn after her parents' passing. As the dates recede backwards in time, Marilyn's own steady handwriting became replaced by labels in a hand I don't recognize. And that is where this research adventure will begin.


Photos: Above, a picture labeled "Marilyn Beverly Sowle 1929" from her first year in Wisconsin; below, a class photo labeled "6th Grade Benjamin Franklin, Miss Zorn, Anaheim, Cal."—a school still in operation in Anaheim, California. Marilyn is standing in the back row, sixth from the left.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Inch by Inch . . .


One of the reasons why I keep checking my research progress is specifically because of that saying: inch by inch, anything's a cinch. I like to see those inches add up. It makes me feel like I'm really accomplishing something—when in reality, all I'm doing is the slow and steady tortoise crawl toward my goal. You know, inch by inch...

Meanwhile, those family trees keep extending upward and outward—outward, because the dynamics of DNA testing require me to be facile with the other guy's family tree. It's those collateral lines which really add to that biweekly count, but they're so necessary to help determine just how I match those distant cousins.

For the past two weeks, I've added 390 individuals to my husband's family tree, mainly because of my research goal this month of finding my mother-in-law's Ambrose roots in late 1700s Pennsylvania. Right now, that tree stands at 21,704 names, most of them belonging to my mother-in-law's side of the family. Even when we begin the next quarter, switching to three months of research goals on my father-in-law's side of the family, this tree should continue to grow, though I suspect not quite so fast, owing to his more recent immigrant roots.

For my own tree, the progress has been less stellar in these past two weeks, mainly because that side of the family was not my current research goal. Still, stuff pops up, and I can't help but try to be even-handed in doing background work on both sides of the family. So adding 130 names to that tree was a pleasant surprise from the past two weeks—an "inch by inch" triumph, in my opinion. That tree is now hovering at 26,112 names.

There is something almost magical about committing to take time at regular intervals to do what amounts to small tasks, when each effort is considered individually. In the aggregate, though, those inch-by-inch tiny tasks can make a big difference. It's just that, due to the slow nature of the pace, we don't think we've made any progress—until we add in the step of tracking our work. It's encouraging to see that progress taking shape.

The tracking part really isn't difficult. Most of the programs I use already have that component built in. I set up a spreadsheet, delineated to indicate the date every two weeks, with cells for each of the main family trees I'm building on Ancestry provides the count for each tree in the "tree overview" summary section of their program. In addition, I track the total count of DNA matches each fortnight at each of the companies where my husband and I have tested, to calculate the increase in how many matches each of us have received over the past two weeks.

While I realize that engaging in genealogical research isn't really about the numbers, making the commitment to keep working at it over the long haul can sometimes bog down into a task with no end in sight. And really, does anyone really ever "finish" their family tree? Yet, by human nature, we find it more encouraging to continue work at a task when we can see that we are making progress. It certainly helps, when we can only squeeze in work "a little here, a little there," to see how much we've accomplished in the long run.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Off the Shelf:
Why Don't Students Like School?


"Form follows function." That's the architectural maxim attributed to Chicago's "Father of Skyscrapers," Louis Henry Sullivan. It may be a concept applied by functionalists to city buildings, but I see it as a useful thought for other endeavors.

I gave that maxim a twirl the other day, on a drive home from a nearby Starbucks, where a local barista years ago had devised a specially-formulated adaptation of their iced, blended summertime coffee drink to accommodate my dietary concerns. Because of that expression of care for the individual customer, I've been a regular at that location ever since.

Not that it's happily ever after; the company's recent move away from plastic straws via reconfigured lids left no way to stir my special icy drink. The form of the new lids may alleviate use of straws, but compound my difficulty in accessing the drink configured to address my other needs. Solution: having to ask for a dome lid so my straw can access the drink appropriately.

Note to self: the form of the dome lid is what follows the function of needing to continually stir the drink. Hence, my sudden realization that Louis Henry Sullivan's maxim was not only meant for skyscrapers.

Perhaps that may seem a trivial application—though if you wish for a cooling coffee drink as you drive through my valley in a hundred-plus degree heat wave, you may change your mind—but there are other tasks which may fare better with a modified form.

Take teaching. Since my family's business—a training company—has, like all others, had to face rapid modifications in order to survive the past fifteen months, we've had to take stock of how that changing situation impacted our deliverables. In other words, is what we are doing now facilitating learning? Does the form of how we conduct classes follow the function of enabling students to learn?

It's a slam dunk to see that classroom instruction, face to face, is a far cry from holding a training event via teleconferencing means. But what do we do about it?

While you and I, in our genealogy world, may not have thought much about how schools function—whether pre- or post-COVID—the way people are designed to learn brings much to bear, when we look at the conferences, webinars, and even local genealogical society meetings we attend. Or design.

The mind is designed to learn in certain ways, and other ways will leave that brain absolutely flummoxed. Even though we as genealogists are not in the business of training rocket scientists—or even elementary students to learn the rudiments of arithmetic—we can certainly help others learn more effectively about how to pursue their family history by applying some of the concepts being explored in the field of education.

The author of the book I'm now reading—Daniel Willingham's perhaps rhetorically entitled Why Don't Students Like School?—bills himself as a cognitive scientist. In other words, he primarily considers how the mind works in his advice about methodology for the classroom. We can benefit by borrowing from his explanations of how working memory functions, and how engaging a student's natural curiosity—but not too far above their current capabilities—may draw more interest in our programs.

In a series of learn-by-experiencing examples, Willingham lays out his case concerning what works best when introducing new material to students. I, with my mind constantly riveted on all things genealogical, can't help but think of how I can explore these concepts and techniques to improve, say, Introduction to Genealogy classes—especially when paired with online venues such as Zoom.

In my own experience, where in-person classes generated rave reviews, my Zoom-eyed view of participants in online sessions seems to border on either an overwhelmed, drink-from-the-fire-hose experience, or the "underwhelm" of nodding attentiveness coupled with lack of any incentive to try for one's self. Makes me want to reach through the computer screen into students' living rooms; though the nodding and smiling say differently, there is such a feeling of disconnect. Minds are not made to work that way.

Perhaps this author is on to something. While we may be stuck, at least for the current time, with the modality of teleconference meetings, we can learn something from the idea that the form of our students' learning follows the function of the mind which they must engage in order to learn.




Friday, June 25, 2021

Unknown Family Members


It is always an eerie feeling to "meet" family members we never knew we had. This week, viewing a family member's disposed-of photograph collection in a local antique shop became my chance to do just that: stare at the faces of people whose stories I knew, but whose acquaintance I had never made.

I don't know about you, but as much as I research family lines, I end up carrying around a rough sketch of each family's pedigree in my head. I can't guarantee that memory is an accurate one, just a working one. And that was a good thing this week, considering I had no clue what I was about to discover when I followed up on something a local high school student had told me: there were dozens of family photographs I needed to see at a certain antique store in town.

Sure enough, as I mentioned yesterday, there were indeed probably close on to one hundred photographs to sort through. Fortunately, many of them were labeled. The next step meant I would have to accurately recall just how each name fit into the family tree. Of course, everyone in this family line is now long gone, so there was no one to answer questions with a quick phone call. All I could remember was the stories my mother-in-law told me, years ago when I tried researching her family line.

Granted, her story was somewhat different from the norm. This made research a bit more challenging during those pre-Internet years, but not impossible. At least I could catalog the stories—stories like how the Sowle family arrived in southern California, instead of staying close to home in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Or stories about how so many members of this family in California died within a short period of time, leaving the rest reeling from the continual devastation. Those stories one doesn't forget.

There was one thing, though: I had no way to fill in the blanks between each sad story. No connector. No life-as-usual between tragedies. I realized, as I flipped through the photos this week, I needed to go back and sketch in the details on name after name. After all, photos are usually a token of the happy times a family shared. Hence, the impromptu project squeezed into the end of this month.

As we go through the photos together next week, I'll take a walk through the generations to help connect the dots. We'll start with the woman whose steady handwriting was the key that connected so many of the photos with names, dates, and details: Marilyn Sowle Bean. The easy next step is to flip through some newspaper articles about her parents' early years that led to their move to California. Then the most helpful step, as I puzzle over whether I should go back and retrieve more of those photos—I left several behind at the antique store—is to weave the family lines together to connect unknown names like "Aunt Jo" or "Art and Shirley" to Marilyn's story. These are the unknowns among Marilyn's family members who still have me stumped.

One thing I realized as I flipped through all those photos: while I may no longer need to own those pictures, I can be fairly sure there is some descendant out there who would love to have a copy. And that alone makes an excellent reason to share the stories and photos of people who have long since left us behind. Hopefully, passing along the word, someone else may stumble upon these posts and find just the photo they were seeking.  

Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Rest of the Gift


Just over a month ago, I shared a story about an unexpected message I received from a student at a local high school who had found something of interest to me. This student, hanging out with some friends, had ventured into an antique store in town, where he stumbled upon several photographs for sale. 

Since this student had an interest in genealogy, he thumbed through the photos to see if he could find one with a name or any further information written on it. There were stacks of snapshots, mostly from the 1950s onward, hardly of the type which would qualify as antiques. They were clearly from someone's family photo collection which ended up in the store due to some family misfortune.

Several of the photos were carefully labeled in the same steady handwriting, including one which showed the inscription, "Gregory Earl Bean/First Birthday/March 6, 1952."

Of course, if I had thought to stop in at an antique shop in my own city to look for photographs—instead of traveling nearly one hundred miles away to find suitable rescue project candidates of my own—I would have instantly recognized my mother-in-law's handwriting. But of course I didn't; that would be too easy.

Thus it was that it took a high school student's diligence at, first, deciding to purchase the photograph, then taking it home and searching through records at to see if he could locate any information on someone by that name and birth date, and finally, reaching out to return it to a family member.

The rest of that story I shared with you in a post almost exactly a month ago, when I met up with the student and gratefully received this photo from him.

The photo was a companion piece to the one already in my possession, which I used, years ago, to introduce a series on this one-year-old's life story, beginning with this post here.

Enjoying a morning's coffee with this exceptional student and his mother, I learned one further detail about what that student saw when he found this photo: there were more photos still remaining at the antique store. A lot of photos.

I promised myself I would get to the shop to take a look for myself. I had a pretty good idea of what had happened. My mother-in-law lived with her daughter and her daughter's husband. After my mother-in-law passed away, of course her daughter was in no hurry to dispose of her possessions, and likely lingered over these tokens of past memories.

And then, unexpectedly, the daughter died, too. It then became her much older husband's task to decide what to do with the memories of someone else's family. He apparently opted to do nothing...until he, too, died. His children, from a previous marriage, likely had no idea who all these people were in that stack of photos. All they knew was that someone had to clear out a lot of possessions from a home, likely without the convenience of much time to consider best options.

That is probably the same type of story that gets played out in every city across America, year after year. Any estate liquidator probably has a set sequence to follow in such cases. Somehow, because they can sell as curiosities, such ephemera end up in antique stores where a chance customer may find a picture that just strikes her fancy, and the sale is closed. A family's treasure becomes a stranger's curiosity.

I eventually made my way across town to visit that antique store. In preparation, a friend of mine happened to know one of the women affiliated with that shop, and before I could do so, she stopped by to take a peek at the photos herself, and to pave the way for the photos to be held for me.

On the appointed day, we went together, along with my daughter, to view all the photos. The main goal was to determine which photos I might still want to have. Even though I knew this family so closely, I was surprised at the number of photographs that were in the collection. 

The photos had all been removed from any albums, and were just contained in boxes. Many were black and white snapshots. Some were color photos, of which several were faded by time. So many included my mother-in-law's steady handwriting in notes on the reverse.

Some of the photos were duplicates of those I already owned, or were additional snapshots of the events in my own collection. As we flipped through the photos one by one, the scenes shifted from pictures of the 1950s to earlier decades. My mother-in-law's handwriting became replaced by notes written by others, by strangers. Some of the names I could place within the extended family tree, introducing me to faces I had never seen—faces of people whose stories I recalled from years of reminiscing with that family.

As my friend and I flipped through the pictures in the boxes, my daughter turned her attention to older photographs placed strategically around the shop—CdVs which were the type I like to find in my own photo-rescuing missions. She pulled one down from a shelf to read the label; it turned out to be a family member. We ended up scouring the entire shop to see what other portraits had been placed as "decoration" from this family.

At the conclusion of this mission, not only did I find some keepsakes, but I decided to add some photos to the purchase pile which were a mixture of names I knew and stories I didn't know. If I am going to be an orphan photo rescuer, I may as well share stories of the rescued photos from my own family. Who knows? Perhaps some distant cousins of this long-gone family will stumble upon one of the posts in the next few days and wish to receive these mementos from their past, as well.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Family Bibles, D. A. R.
and Other Pathfinders


Before I forsake further recounting of this month's research goal—confirming information on Elizabeth Ambrose Flowers' parents—as slipping into the realm of genealogical sausage-making, there is one more observation to make. In the face of a dearth of accessible records for Mathias Ambrose's late-1700s time frame and final residence in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, I am certainly grateful for those "pathfinders" who have shared what records they were able to assemble.

One of such pathfinders is the group of families who were dedicated to keeping records of their own family's births, marriages, and deaths in the form of a family Bible. Sometimes passed down through the generations, such entries may turn out to be the only record of these events. The willingness to share what essentially is a gift passed down through generations qualifies as a genealogical kindness, in my opinion. Tax records or census records may show us who lived where and when, but they don't necessarily demonstrate relationships; they don't connect generations. Barring wills—complete with explicit identifications not only of names but relationships—documents from that early era of national history lack the very essence of what we family history researchers seek. I so appreciate those families conscientious enough in their care of the family Bible to benefit future generations.

Another group we seldom think of as pathfinders is the Daughters of the American Revolution. While we rightly recognize the D.A.R. as a lineage society—perhaps the most recognizable name among such organizations—due to their willingness to share the one hundred and thirty years worth of genealogical documentation of which they have become caretakers, they, too, have become valuable pathfinders. Their stewardship of this national treasure has made it possible for any researcher to find records—often privately held, such as the family Bibles I mentioned earlier—from an era in which ancestors' life trajectories might not have come to the attention of the catalog-keepers of life we've become accustomed to in our more modern time frame.

There are, of course, other pathfinders who have done their small part to make a difference for the rest of us researchers. I think here of the many volunteer posts, ever since we've had computerized communication: from the days of media such as "listservs" and electronic bulletin boards, to the more widely-organized websites such as the erstwhile Rootsweb or the GenWeb network. Even the more official establishments, such as, have been inventive in the ways they can share resources of yesterday's pathfinders—for instance, in their digitizing of both published and unpublished genealogy manuscripts, which can be found through their search mechanism online under "books."

It is through these scattered mentions online of the Ambrose family that I've been plodding, over the past several days. It's likely that that process will continue for the rest of this month—hence, the risk of falling into the realm of "genealogical sausage-making." Besides this, thanks to the documentation at D.A.R. for the lines of two Ambrose descendants, I'm checking the lists and verifying what's been listed with supplemental documentation from other website resources.

For one thing, I'm hoping the process will reveal potential DNA cousins who are not doubly-related through the Flowers line—in other words, not descendants of either Elizabeth or Susannah, Mathias' daughters who married Flowers brothers. But, just like my exploration into the collateral lines of the Ijams family last month where we found that tell-all will of the rich uncle, I'm hoping to find some cross-referencing documentation within the Ambrose family, as well. We can look, but of course we can't guarantee that looking will lead to finding.

I'll spare you all the details while I grind through that genealogical sausage-making. In the meantime, an unexpected genealogical adventure has found its way to my door, and I'd like to take the next few days to explore that story. The tale will lead us, thanks to the discovery of some photographs in an antique store, to review and augment some stories I've shared at A Family Tapestry from several years ago. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Cruising the Neighborhood


Some tasks are better accomplished in person. Research is no exception to that observation. When it comes to locating potential ancestors who lived in the early 1800s, the most complete search may only be done in person, cruising the neighborhood, so to speak—if we can determine just where that "in person" work should be done.

For Mathias Ambrose of Bedford County, Pennsylvania, his apparent last days were lived after he signed his will on October 11, 1804. Fortunately for us, a generous research angel posted a digital copy of that will at, so we can glean the names of all Mathias' descendants. Following those cues, however, is proving more difficult from our long-distance vantage point than we might have guessed.

Not everything is posted online, as every researcher comes to realize at one point or another. Barring the ability to hop a plane and fly cross country, the other option is to try and read between the lines of the documents which are currently accessible online.

For Mathias' oldest son, Jacob, we saw yesterday that there were some data points which we could glean. But when we try to follow the trail of Mathias' two other sons, John and namesake Mathias junior, we don't do quite so well. To complicate matters, eldest son Jacob apparently named a son after his father Mathias, as well as another son after himself. With the broad age estimates of those early census formats, great care needs to be taken to ensure we are not confusing any of the named-after descendants of the elder Mathias.

While Mathias' son John seems to have disappeared from census records shortly after his father's passing, there were signs of the younger Mathias. The 1810 census record for Pennsylvania's Bedford county reveals a household for a Mathias "Ambroser" which included one male and one female within the age bracket labeled twenty-six through forty-four, putting this Mathias birth year anywhere from 1766 through 1784. Included in that couple's household were three girls and a boy under ten years of age, and one older boy between the ages of sixteen and twenty five.

And yet, after the 1810 census, there was no sign of any Ambrose men other than the eldest brother Jacob and, eventually, his sons. I tried different resources to flush out any sign of other Ambrose family members. I searched at for marriage records in Bedford County, simply under the surname Ambrose, and then using its many variants. I tried, also, searching through Find A Grave for any burials linked to that same surname in Bedford County with no results in that time frame. A third attempt was to search for any Ambrose settlers arriving in Perry County along with their married sisters Elizabeth and Susannah, but found no results to that query, either.

There were a number of hints on indicating that this Mathias may have retained one of the other versions of his surname that had been applied to some of the records in Bedford County—Ambrosier, for instance—and migrated to another county in Ohio. That certainly could be possible, considering the disappearance of that name from census records in Bedford County. I would be interested to see whether any descendants of that potential branch would show up in DNA tests. Barring the discovery of any other records to connect the younger Mathias in Bedford with the supposed one in Ohio, that might be the only way to validate such a conjecture.

As for the rest of Mathias Ambrose's family back in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, I suspect the most promising way to further this line of research will have to be by a rubber-meets-the-road approach. In other words, going in person to the repositories of any records still remaining from that time period, reading through the documents, line by line as has been done by researchers for all those years before the wonder of computer-assisted searches made our quest so streamlined. Some things never change.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Lurking Behind Collateral Lines


The idea is simple: when details we seek on a far-removed ancestor don't neatly materialize, snoop around the rest of the family's records to see whether we can retrieve any intel. We may not be uncovering any proof that Mathias Ambrose was the right identity for the father of our two Ambrose sisters who married Flowers men, but getting to know the entire family better may serve our research purposes. We'll take a look this week at the Ambrose collateral lines in old Bedford County, Pennsylvania, to see what clues might be lurking in the paperwork.

Fortunately for our purposes, we noticed last week that one of Mathias' sons—Jacob—had his lineage documented through the Patriot records at the national Daughters of the American Revolution. While the data posted online for that second generation are sparse, it is worth taking a look. This rudimentary trailblazing guide may provide us enough of a clue to get us started.

Two D.A.R. members descended from Mathias' son Jacob, both of them from Jacob's daughter—another Elizabeth—who married Francis Spearman in 1821. From these two members' lineage reports at the D.A.R. website, we also learn that Jacob Ambrose was born approximately 1767 and married Esther Shock about 1790.

If Matthias had written out his will listing his three sons in birth order, we can assume that Jacob was his firstborn son, despite the fact that, of the three, he was the only son not named as executor of Mathias' will. Perhaps because of his own family affairs, his father judged him too distracted to attend to the financial needs of his mother after Mathias' passing—or, if Mathias had, as several men did in that era, married twice, perhaps Mathias' wife Barbara was not Jacob's mother. These, however, are all speculations to be explored, not facts yet to assert.

Just as Mathias' will had been labeled as being drawn up in Dublin Township in Bedford County, we can find signs of his son Jacob in the same vicinity. In the 1830 census, we can see Jacob "Ambross" and his brother Mathias listed, as well as a Jacob junior, presumably the elder Jacob's son. At the end of the Dublin Township listing for the 1820 census, Jacob shows up as an "Ambrosher"—though not his brothers. And in 1810, the first census after his father's passing, Jacob "Ambroser" has an entry just above that of his wife's likely relative, Jacob Shock.

In that earliest census, Jacob has a household of five children, with two under ten years of age, the other three under fifteen. Jacob and his wife Esther are both listed in that wide age category of twenty six through forty four. With the D.A.R. applicant's estimate that Jacob was born in 1767, that would put him at the upper side of that age range.

Moving to an earlier census—the 1800 enumeration taken before Jacob's father's death—not only could we find Jacob "Ambrosey" but on the same "Dublin and Airs" Township record, the names of the two Flowers brothers who married Jacob's sisters Elizabeth and Susannah: Joseph and John. Of course, the women would not have their names mentioned in that early census record, but it is encouraging to see their households listed, including one male and one female at about the age of twenty five. Moreover, the recap listing all Dublin Township households in alphabetical order includes not only these two Flowers men, but their other brother Thomas, as well as their father Henry.

While it is encouraging to see not only these records indicating the presence of Mathias' son Jacob, but that they are in some cases coupled with the evidence of Joseph and John Flowers' residence in the same vicinity strengthens the case that we are talking about the same family here.

However, there are some signs making me wonder whether pursuing any further information on Jacob would provide us more details on our Flowers kin. For one thing, seeing the eldest son Jacob not appointed as executor makes me wonder why. Then, too, the likelihood that Jacob would turn out to be a beneficent "rich uncle" mentioning Elizabeth's or Susannah's children in his own will is fairly slim, considering he had his own family to rivet his attention elsewhere. While it was fortunate to find even sparse records in the D.A.R. files concerning this Ambrose relative, we may find other tokens in support of the Ambrose-Flowers relationships elsewhere in the extended family. Let's see what can be found for the other sons.


Sunday, June 20, 2021

Weaving Those Family Tapestry Strands


Sometimes, we can get tangled up in those multiple, intermarried family lines. This weekend's family tree project reminded me why the symbol of weaving a family tapestry has always resonated with me: working on some parts of my family's tree really does remind me of a process of weaving. Those strands don't just connect for one single moment in time, but I find some family lines weaving in and out of the family picture, generation after generation. 

In preparation to delve into the collateral lines to wrap up this month's research quest—discovering more about Elizabeth and Susannah Ambrose's ancestors—I thought I'd go back and tidy up the lines already in place in my mother-in-law's family tree. Talk about an all-day project!

While the will of Matthias Ambrose—the Ambrose sisters' likely father—named several children, the only ones I've already researched have been those two sisters. Next week, we'll see what can be discovered about the others, now that I know their identity, but the weekend seemed a quiet time to look at Susannah's own line of descent. 

It didn't take me long to see that several Perry County, Ohio, family lines have intermarried. Again and again. Many of those lines are also associated with my mother-in-law's direct line, so that means I've unwittingly placed the same names in more lines than one. In other words, here we go with more weeding out of duplicate entries. That growing family tree only looked like it was getting bigger, when in actuality what it really needed was some pruning.

While using the function of the alphabetical listing of all individuals in the "Tree Overview" summary section can help with this process, it can become rather cumbersome when the tree grows to thousands of entries. I find it a better approach to use the "find duplicates" process through my desktop-resident program (I use Family Tree Maker).

Even so, it is not an automated process. I've noticed that, with some duplicate entries, the one entry had the individual as child of specific parents, but listed no spouse or descendants, while the other entry for the same name might have included only the reverse. Then comes the double-check to make sure those parents would be the right ones to claim what essentially becomes their grandchildren, if the individual in question was truly a duplicate and not a name twin.

The whole process reminds me that considering all the collateral lines in a family tree can seem like a weaving process, especially for families in small, isolated towns. It's fascinating to watch the surnames reappear in the strands of subsequent generations, realizing I've already seen their connections from prior segments of the family's history. In a way, the story keeps repeating itself through theme and variation, as the threads recede to the other side of the fabric, but then re-appear somewhere down the timeline in what, if I pursue the line long enough, may seem like a never-ending tale.

And really, don't we all need to remember that the diagram of our family tree is only a representation of a part of that human tapestry? Seeing our many unknown distant cousins through DNA matches reminds us of how interconnected we all really are, even if we aren't yet conscious of it. The truth of the matter is that the collateral lines of our pedigree weave themselves into the pedigrees of others we don't even know—distant cousins for whom our lines' surnames only become a blip of thread coloring their tapestry for only the briefest intersection in time. We are all part of that ever-enlarging tapestry, trying to determine our part in the picture.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Warming Up to "Hybrid"


California is now officially "open"—at least, according to official governmental wording, releasing those compliant enough to have gotten their vaccine from bundling up in those unyielding face masks. And just in time: concurrently, we are now enjoying the sudden arrival of summer—yes, a tad bit early—with hundred-plus degree weather.

This makes me so thankful that our local genealogical society's board opted not to jump ahead of the governor's official announcement by planning a face-to-face meeting before the official word was out. Poor form. Besides, we'd otherwise be hosting a potluck in the park for any of our members willing to brave the sweltering heat along with any lingering coronavirus germs lurking in the shadows.

Our society takes a summer break from our monthly meeting schedule. The idea was originally supposed to be because any researcher still in the game would, of course, rather be out wandering cemeteries during the summer months, looking for headstones—or, in the respite of governmental air conditioning, retrieving those coveted copies of vital records for that erstwhile mystery ancestor.

Perhaps that summer break idea is still a good one—despite the fact that last year, hunkered down in the midst of pandemic isolation, our board added one additional monthly event, strictly for an online activity. At least this year, it will allow all of us the opportunity to watch what happens when people return to normal. Meeting face to face, indoors, with others who might be sharing the same health risks, will be what the whole world will be doing. We will watch from a distance, with an eye to seeing whether the shift in this new normal escalates case numbers, or whether precautions now in place will mitigate the risk.

By the time we return to our meeting schedule, this fall at our genealogical society, we will have the advantage of hindsight earned at others' expense. Even if the world endures this new phase swimmingly, though, we at local genealogical societies will have one other hurdle to contend with: members have discovered the relative ease of meeting at home via teleconferencing. No fussing over outfits to choose, or traffic to jostle, or even the concerns some have with driving after dark: those pluses on the side of online meetings are a strong selling point for converting to all-virtual.

On the flip side, not only would return to in-person meetings mean assuming the post-pandemic risk of lesser—but still present—infection, but a call to consider two other groups impacted by this back-to-normal scenario.

One group that will need to be considered—at least in our group's case, and perhaps in the case of other societies, as well—is the set of new members we've acquired in the past year from out of town. In a normal, pre-pandemic year, we wouldn't have had to consider this element, but once we began offering online meetings, people from anywhere were welcome to join our meetings, simply because they can. The world is now our new membership field, and anyone sharing our organization's goals can connect with us online. We can't just unplug them and forget their existence; they've already sprung for membership and are just as much members as our local dues-paying members.

The second group which we need to consider is that important set of speakers willing to present to local genealogical societies. In the past, these were limited by our group's budget, but our choices were also restricted to those speakers willing to travel to our city to meet with us.

Now? We can contract with qualified speakers from any place where there is an Internet connection. Our society no longer is restricted to finding speakers in town. We have had several speakers who live far beyond reasonable drive time. I've heard of one group near us who hosted a speaker from Australia. Even though we're beyond the pandemic, there may be some speakers who won't want to return to in-person presentations.

With all these newfound freedoms, running a successful society meeting has taken on a burst of ingenuity. It's hard to step back to the old "normal" after a year of successful experiments. Some society board members I've discussed this with admit they will try to bridge these two worlds—pre- and post-pandemic—by going "hybrid."

While the term "hybrid" for a meeting concept may still be foreign to some, that lingo may be picked up by more people within the next few months, as we revert to "normal." Generally speaking, the term is applied here to meetings which simultaneously are offered in both venues: face-to-face and online. It sounds like a relatively easy process: just have a laptop or camera available to catch the speaker's face and presentation slides for those watching from home. But from those who have had to play to two different audiences at the same time, the comments I hear are that "hybrid" events have their own set of challenges.

Anyone who has honed the skills necessary for playing to a live audience instinctively watches for certain nonverbal cues from the audience. Actors on stage, for instance, have that sixth sense—and teachers standing up in front of classrooms need that same set of skills.

On the opposite end of that spectrum would be those who need to communicate with an audience, yet necessarily need to be separated from that very set of people they need to reach. Radio announcers come to mind here, an experience with which I'm personally well acquainted.

Taking a speaker who has honed the one set of skills, and removing that speaker from the accustomed audience to present in the opposite sphere chips away at that speaker's ability to be tops in effectiveness. Granted, some speakers have learned to develop both skill sets, but not many. And yet, when a society decides to design a hybrid form for their future meetings, they are expecting all their speakers to have the skill and energy to draw out the best in both audience sets—requiring the employment of two very different presentation skill sets.

As for what we will do in our own society, come next fall, for the "hybrid" dilemma, we're not yet sure. We have several members who are more than ready to return to yesterday's status quo for in-person meetings. But we equally have others who are satisfied with the new normal, too. And our newfound, out-of-town members have no choice but to watch online—or not at all.

The choice of how to move forward for genealogical societies may seem, on the surface, to be an easy decision, once everyone is ready to return to their previous mode of meeting. But underneath the surface, there may be technicalities and tensions we haven't—at least until this point—explored in any detail. This may be a choice which deserves more consideration than we'd thought it would require.   

Friday, June 18, 2021

Circling Ambrose

Do you ever find yourself, locked in a struggle with an unrelenting brick wall ancestor, feeling as if you are going in circles? That might be a sign to readjust your research plan.

That's me and Mathias Ambrose right now. I'm looking for definitive evidence showing who my mother-in-law's second great-grandmother Elizabeth, wife of Joseph Flowers, could claim as her father. Was it really Mathias Ambrose of Bedford County, Pennsylvania?

I've got tidbits like the nearly undecipherable chicken scratch outlining his last wishes, back in 1804. Oh, it shows he had a daughter named Elizabeth "Flower," all right, but I'd really like to have learned a bit more about Mathias and his family before that 1804 snapshot of his family history.

The difficulty lies not only in the slight change in spelling for his daughters' married names—both Elizabeth and her sister Susannah married "Flower" men—but in the way Mathias' own surname was recorded. Census records in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, show him, as well as two of his sons, under the surname variation Ambrosy in 1800 and Ambroser in 1790.

It would be handy to just conjure up some marriage records online for Elizabeth and Susannah, but guess what: "Mother Bedford" county records only reach back to 1852 for marriages. Even trying to confirm Elizabeth's parents' names through her own death record doesn't reach the threshold for such information; she died in Ohio in 1864, long before the state kept such details.

Perhaps it's just me, being picky about such details, but I would sure like to find a second way to verify that we have the right chain of events. After all, there could have been another Elizabeth, daughter of Mathias Ambrose who married another Flowers man in Pennsylvania. Or a Flower who married an Ambrosy who was not our couple at all. You get the drift.

My first research instinct is to explore all the collateral lines. There are, in this case, many to choose from. And yet, in those early years in such a large frontier territory, records seem sparse and inaccessible.

However, though we won't see much sign of his eight daughters during that era, we already are seeing evidence of Mathias' three sons, Jacob, John, and Mathias, in Bedford County records. Add to that the fact that the only records linked to D.A.R. Patriot Mathias Ambrose descend from his son Jacob. There certainly should be some clues we can glean through visiting this collateral line.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Seeking Genetic Verification


Researching distant family relationships like my mother-in-law's possible third great-grandfather Matthias Ambrose may present multiple hazards upon the paper trail. There is a gap between the earliest point at which we found Elizabeth Flowers, Matthias' likely daughter, reportedly in Ohio by 1814 and the date of his will, back in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, in 1804.

Granted, we already knew that Elizabeth and her sister Susannah married two Flowers brothers and that both families had migrated to the same Ohio location, but finding the surname "Flower" mentioned for both his daughters in Matthias' will still wasn't enough to persuade me that the search for Elizabeth's father was over. I've seen stranger coincidences.

What if we can use another way to confirm what we've found on the paper trail? That was my question today, when I delved into results from my husband's DNA test at

Usually I examine DNA results using a different approach—searching all matches by specific surname—but for today, let's play with the tool at Ancestry DNA called ThruLines™.

As it turns out, there were multiple DNA matches under the tile for my husband's suggested fourth great-grandfather, Matthias Ambrose. Normally, when I use this tool (which isn't very often), I use the "relationship view" rather than the "List" option.


Because of the number of matches for all Ambrose lines—and also due to some complicating factors which we'll discuss below—this time, I chose to examine the match results by list form. This provided a more manageable readout, as there were several descendants of Matthias Ambrose, for each of which the DNA matches were sorted.

Six children of Matthias Ambrose were represented in that readout, causing me to revisit Matthias' will and the listing of all his children. Keep in mind that his will named three sons, possibly six married daughters, plus two yet unmarried as of 1804, so the six DNA groupings at Ancestry lack any connections to the other lines, at least up to this point. (Because the ThruLines™ process relies so heavily on subscriber-posted trees, there are any number of reasons why the other lines aren't represented in this tool's list of Ambrose matches.)

All told, as of this date, there are sixty four people who have taken a DNA test at Ancestry who match my husband's results, and who also have Ambrose in their posted tree there. Not surprisingly, the largest number of Ambrose descendants were clustered into the line descending from Elizabeth (thirty two), followed by Susannah (fifteen).

Considering that Matthias Ambrose represents a fourth great-grandfather to my husband, the likelihood that any fifth cousins (if extending both lines of descent equally through the generations) would share his genetic readout is fairly slim. Just taking a quick look at the interactive Shared centiMorgan Project at DNA Painter reveals a likely range of shared cMs from zero to 117, with an average hovering around twenty five. The key point here is, those who "share" zero will obviously not show up as matches at all. It may not be possible, at this genetic distance, to confirm relationship via DNA.

Then, too, the smaller numbers may border on the unreliable. Various DNA experts warn against reading anything genealogical into numbers below ten centiMorgans. Or twenty. Or fifty. In the earlier days of utilizing genetic genealogy, I've even heard some instructors assert it is not worth a researcher's time to consider any matches under one hundred cMs.

Just taking two possible Ambrose matches as examples, we can see the wide variance at this distance of relationship. Using one of the other likely Ambrose lines—I chose Susannah, the second largest group, as Elizabeth was my husband's direct ancestor—I sampled two matches to my husband who were each estimated by Ancestry to be his fourth cousin, once removed. One match had eight centiMorgans in common with my husband, contained in only one segment—a quite predicable scenario. On paper, that match turned out to be a fifth cousin, once removed.

A second example, also estimated to be a fourth cousin, once removed, shared 148 centiMorgans with my husband, a considerably larger count. That number was spread out over eleven discrete chromosomal segments. Yet again, on paper, that match turned out to be a fifth cousin, once removed.

And here's that other issue I mentioned earlier. The difficulty in relying on the two Flowers wives may be obvious: not only were their descendants all related through their Ambrose ancestor, but also through their Flowers ancestor, since two brothers married two sisters.

Furthermore, because I know the rest of this family's story—they all settled in Perry County, Ohio, and remained there for well over one hundred years in a small, tightly-knit community—the number of other intermarriages between the community's families cause estimating relationship levels merely on the basis of shared centiMorgans difficult. While a study of Perry County's descendants is not an example of endogamy, it certainly approaches something a bit beyond mere pedigree collapse. I like to call it "endogamy lite."

However, excluding the two sisters' lines, the centiMorgan range for the non-Flowers matches was between six (the bottom number Ancestry will show) and twenty one. That lower end barely slithers beyond unreliable, although the higher side of the range might be somewhat helpful, but only in combination with some carefully-executed traditional genealogical research methods.

The fact that the Flowers-related matches also begin at that same doubtful six centiMorgan level may be telling. The fact that the upper end of the Flowers match range reaches to 388 centiMorgans for what relationship, by necessity of genealogical distance, should be beyond fourth cousin, tells us something else is going on, as well. There are likely so many other genetic connections represented in these matches that it tells us one thing above all: when using DNA testing at a relationship distance like this, proceed with caution.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Because we Can:
Chasing the Bright and Shiny


With searchable digitized documents from the past two centuries ready to appear before our eyes at the mere click of a mouse, is it any wonder the avocational genealogist becomes plagued with what we call Bright Shiny Objects?

My latest genealogical realization is that questions beget questions. Having discovered that, in the frontier Pennsylvania county where my mother-in-law's ancestor Mathias Ambrose drew up his will in 1804, there resided yet another Ambrose man, you know I couldn't just let that fact rest in peace. I had to chase that Bright Shiny Object.

It didn't take me too long to discover that "Frederick" Ambrose—or Ambross or Ambrosia, as various tax records rendered his surname—might actually have been named, in that traditional German manner, Johann Frederich Ambrose.

Far more interesting than that detail was the discovery that Frederick Ambrose had been in the vicinity of Bedford County, Pennsylvania, since at least 1790, when he showed up on the census there.

Of course, the question that evolved from all this information was, "Could Frederick Ambrose have been related to Mathias Ambrose?" After all, what brought Mathias to Bedford County before he drew up his will there in 1804? Could he have moved with family? Or was this just a coincidence?

Finding Frederick Ambrose's memorial on Find A Grave inspired another question. The photo of his headstone happened to include a very specific marker, designating a veteran of the American Revolutionary War. That meant another chase after the Bright and Shiny, paying off when I found his entry at the website of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

While I was in the vicinity, you know I couldn't just stop at one search. Still wondering whether—and how—Frederick might have been connected to Mathias, I checked to see whether there were any Patriot entries for Mathias. 

There was this one possibility...

Containing sparse details for a man by the name of Mathias Ambrose in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, who just happened to have a wife with the same name as the one indicated on our Mathias' will, it certainly appeared to be a promising possibility in my opinion. Still, it didn't provide any answers to my question about that other Ambrose man in Bedford County—especially if the D.A.R. entry for Frederick mentioned him as having been in Westmoreland County, not Bedford.

That little detail, as it turned out upon closer examination, was the location of his death. The D.A.R. file indicated that his residence had also been in Bedford County.

With a little online searching, it was possible to find genealogical assertions that Mathias and Frederick were brothers—a most reasonable explanation for their residential proximity. Still, I have more questions lingering. Why, for instance, can I find records for Frederick in Bedford County, but not that many for Mathias? Was Frederick the pioneer trailblazer, and Mathias the one who followed, much later, in his brother's footsteps?

The wonder of the Internet and the search engines which coax it into divulging its contents mean we can pry into the farthest reaches of this cyber-universe for answers. While the major genealogical websites might not carry all the digitized documents which provide the answers we seek in this particular research problem, there are many other pockets of information there to be found, whether provided by regional agencies or by genealogy angels. There is much to glean as we follow the trail of the Bright Shiny, seeking answers.

There was, however, yet another venue to be pursued. Unlike those documents of centuries ago, written by hand on now-crumbling paper, there is another catalog of details to be accessed: the record stored in our own genes. Though the number of generations between Mathias Ambrose and our current generation may be many, it is not beyond the reach of DNA probabilities.

One last stop on this route to the Bright Shiny was to visit the Thru-Lines listings for my husband's DNA test at While the amount of genetic material held in common with the matches sharing the Ambrose ancestry border on the minimum side of the acceptable range, there are several solid connections available within that group for us to evaluate. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Getting to Know the Territory


Researching our family history is not only about names and dates. In pursuit of our ancestors, we also need to hold firm to a sense of place: where our ancestors lived, and what it was about those places which shaped our ancestors into who they became.

Familiarizing ourselves with the place where Elizabeth and Susannah Ambrose lived before their marriage to the two Flowers brothers in my mother-in-law's family means exploring the location where their father, Mathias Ambrose, filed his last will.

Thanks to an Ambrose researcher who was willing to digitize and share Mathias Ambrose's will on Ancestry, we now know the will was filed in Dublin Township in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. Furthermore, based on the title affixed to that document uploaded at, we also know that the Ambrose family had something to do with a place there called "Brothers Valley."

That was then, however. Now, we need to learn how that translates into today's terms.

My first step, when my research leads me into unfamiliar territory—literally—is to take a brief tour of what can be discovered online about that location. Reading a quick overview of Bedford County, Pennsylvania, tells me right away that the state of Pennsylvania is unlike any other state I've researched so far—at least, as far as geopolitical boundaries go.

The entry at Wikipedia for Bedford County informs us that Pennsylvania law has created four different types of incorporated municipalities. In addition to the cities, a category with which we are all familiar, Pennsylvania also has what they call boroughs and townships. The fourth category of incorporated municipalities turns out to be an outlier, as there is only one such case in which a municipality is identified simply as a town.

Now knowing that, we have the vocabulary to deal with those labels of boroughs and townships. But looking for Dublin Township in Bedford County yields us a null set—until we remember the history of Bedford County, which was not formed until 1771, and from which several other counties were carved in the subsequent eighty years.

"Old Bedford County" yielded up some of its territory to form Somerset County in 1795. Though I am still at a loss to determine what became of the Dublin Township where Mathias Ambrose drew up his last will, it is from this newer county that we can locate the "Brothers Valley" township from the label affixed to the digitized will posted at

Even so, it takes some delving into local history to clarify that "Brothers Valley" label—but in doing so, we may glean some possible explanation for why Mathias Ambrose found himself settling, with his large family, in this frontier region of southwest Pennsylvania in the late 1700s. Thankfully, persistent googling combined with that genealogical "giving back" spirit yield us some helpful information on "Brothers Valley."

From a local history book transcribed and posted within the Pennsylvania GenWeb site, we learn that the earliest settlers in the region included several Germans who were members of the German Baptist church, or "Dunkards." These immigrants called themselves "Brethren" and, in time, dubbed their home, in German, "Brothers Valley," while the English-speaking settlers called the area "Stony Creek Glades."

The territory of this early township stretched far beyond what one might expect, reaching into what now is part of Somerset County, as well as portions reaching into present-day Cambria County.

Among the earliest settlers in this Brothers Valley settlement was one man by the name of Frederick Ambrose. While I can't yet determine whether there was any relationship between Frederick Ambrose and Mathias Ambrose, it is possible to find early signs of Frederick's residence there through digitized tax records showing his name as "Fredrick Amboss" in 1782, and "Frederick Ambrosia" in 1785.

There is much more to do before we can connect these different Ambrose men—including all the spelling permutations offered in handwritten documents of that era—but this initial discovery of local history opens up possibilities regarding where Mathias and his family may have originated, and what religious persuasion they adhered to.

As for "Brothers Valley," that term did not yield much in my search efforts. For yet another reason confirming the necessity of learning more about the territory where ancestors settled, I uncovered a story which explained my research problem. Over the years, and for an as-yet unexplained reason, the term "Brothers Valley" morphed, with the removal of the single space between the two words, to become the name the jurisdiction is known by today: Brothersvalley Township.

When it comes to computerized searches, even an empty space counts for something.

Monday, June 14, 2021

In the Year of Our Lord
One Thousand Eight Hundred and Four


While this year—so far—has not presented many opportunities for the kind of genealogical research where we head to the courthouse to look up records for ourselves, that spirit of sharing, of giving back or "paying it forward" that I mentioned last week has turned out to be helpful.

Case in point for my research goal this month to determine the parents of Elizabeth Ambrose Flowers, my mother-in-law's second great-grandmother: the will of her likely father was shared by another researcher on

Just to confirm the details, let's take a closer look at what was written in that 1804 document. First, as customary for that time period, the document began, 

In the Name of God Amen I Matthias Ambrosser of Dublin Township Bedford County and State of Pennsylvania being weak in body, but of sound & perfect mind and Memory, Considering the uncertainty of this mortal life, do make & [? - covered by ink blot] this my last will & Testament, in manner and form following.

The document, drawn up in the most compressed of presentations, included Matthias' surname as Ambrosser, rather than Ambrose. However, the text indicates the same county we had already discovered—Bedford County in Pennsylvania—and the Dublin Township we had noted from some early census records for both the Ambrose and Flowers families.

We are fortunate that the will provided the customary listing of heirs, specifically including names of descendants. Furthermore, it certainly goes in our favor that this man drew up his last will after the marriage of the two daughters in question, Elizabeth and Susannah. And that is the key we were hoping for in this search. The will lists both Elizabeth and Susannah with the surname "Flower," close enough to the surname of the two Flowers brothers who married these two Ambrose sisters.

The will thus becomes a resource to list not only the names of Matthias' children, sons and daughters, but confirm the married names of those older daughters, as well. The date of the will—October 11, 1804—provides the guideline of the date before which those marriages should have taken place. In addition, we can see that the surname of the younger unmarried daughters, unlike Matthias' listing as Ambrosser, was written as Ambross.

The subscriber who originally uploaded the digitized version of the Ambrose will provided a heading, "1804 Dublin Twshp Brothers Valley Bedford." It will actually be informative to review information about that location, Brothers Valley, to see if we can glean any more details about this Ambrose family who settled in that southwest corner of Pennsylvania in the early years of its statehood. We'll take a look at what can be found about Brothers Valley, tomorrow.

Above: Copy of 1804 will of Mathias Ambrosser as shared online by an subscriber from "Bedford County Historical Records."

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Working the Plan


The advice to develop a research plan is wisely heeded by anyone pursuing the secrets of their family history, but there is a corollary to that advice: a plan only helps if you actually implement it. You need to work that plan.

Over the years, I've added specific research protocols to develop my own system. I have a yearly planning time—during that quiet time between Christmas and New Year's Day—to lay out my overarching research goals for the upcoming year.

That, however, is not my only set of goals. Once I opted to put DNA testing to work on my genealogical puzzles, that decision presented another set of research requirements to follow up on. After all, what's the use of spending all those hard-earned dollars on DNA tests, if we don't make the results work hard for us in return? And voilĂ ! Another system developed to periodically check those latest DNA matches at the five companies where I have our family's test results.

A third system evolved from that same situation: in order to figure out who all those mystery fourth cousins actually are, I needed to find a place for them in my family trees. Thus began the long process of adding all the collateral lines for each generation in our family trees. Hence the sky-high numbers I mention every two weeks in my tally report.

All that resulted in some encouraging progress these past two weeks on my husband's family tree. For one thing, this month's research goal of focusing on my mother-in-law's Flowers and Ambrose roots brought a large number of added cousins to her part of the tree. Those additional 323 names can mostly be attributed to the work on my mother-in-law's roots, although a sizable portion of that number came from applying that third system—adding to the collateral lines—to update my father-in-law's roots, as well. All told, that tree now has 21,314 documented family members.

While the past two months have seen research goals devoted to work on my mother-in-law's tree, I kept working on that third system for my own family tree, as well. It's a plodding approach in which I sweep systematically through every family line, keeping careful track of where I leave off at the end of each session. I try to be even-handed in that I work on all four branches of our family trees: my in-law's two sides, as well as the sides for each of my own parents.

Despite focusing mainly on my mother-in-law's family this month, I was able to add seventy four documented individuals to my own tree in the past two weeks, leaving that tree at 25,982 names. Progress on my tree will likely remain slow throughout the summer, as I turn from research goals involving my mother-in-law to that of her husband in July. I will again pick up the research tasks for my own family in the last quarter of this year with a focus on my father's lines.

The three systems woven into these research plans help to keep up the steady progress. Progress, in turn, begets encouragement—and we all can use some research encouragement from time to time. As simple as a research plan may seem, though, it does require persistence to bring results. That old saying, "Plan your work, but work your plan," must have been spoken by the voice of experience.  

Saturday, June 12, 2021

"Do You Recognize Them?"


Quietly last month—or maybe even earlier, considering the stealth approach—a question appeared on the DNA Matches page on "Do you recognize them?" the question asked of DNA test administrators. 

If there was any fanfare for this arrival, I missed the hubbub. I thought it was a silly question to ask. After all, the only thing to do with my two thousand first through fourth cousins was tap dance as fast as I could to identify them and connect their results to my family tree. Of course I couldn't recognize them—until I figured the puzzle out, and then I could.

If putting everyone in their pedigreed place wasn't enough genealogical incentive, the other recent quiet addition to the DNA toolbox—that connection icon—had kept me busy enough over the past year, just trying to link cousins to their collateral lines.

So I basically ignored the question. Until yesterday.

I guess I couldn't stand the suspense any longer and had to see what happens when I click through and answer that question, "Do you recognize them?" In my case, I just picked one of the matches which already featured last year's connection icon—to which entry I had handily already affixed notes detailing the exact relationship—and answered, "Yes."

Of course, if I had chosen the other route—"Learn More"—I would have immediately been taken to the same screen you'd see if you simply clicked through on your DNA match's name.

The "Yes" result, however, led to a series of questions. First was the query concerning which side of my family this DNA match belonged: maternal, paternal, or both. For those in doubt, there was the fine print underneath, offering the choice, "I'm not sure."

Once that was responded—most of my matches seem to be for my mother's side, and the same goes for my husband's DNA list—the next question inquired about the exact relationship. A few clickable choices are offered up, though for almost all of them I worked on, the first round didn't present the choices I needed. Below that was the option, "Show more possible relationships," which I seemed to devour voraciously in my series of attempts.

What was interesting to notice about these relationship possibilities was the percentages appended to the left of each choice. The relationships with higher likelihood of occurring were listed toward the top, and the numbers decreased from there, once I extended the drop down menu. Isn't it just like me—and those I love—to end up in the outlier categories?!

I suspect the percentages were the same as those featured in The Shared cM Project 4.0 Tool beta at DNA Painter, with the relationship probabilities the work of Leah Larkin at The DNA Geek.

Once I completed the brief survey for each of the DNA matches I've already identified—which I had coded with the Ancestry connection icon—the entry for each cousin reverted to the green "View Match" button on the far right side of the cousin's entry.

A corollary to that exercise shows up in the "groups" drop down selection, where matches directed to mother's or father's side now display as a tally.

Of course, this still has me scratching my head, not so much wondering why my dad's side lags my mom's by so much—I already can credit my mystery paternal grandfather for that sign—but why the same pattern is replicated in my husband's DNA results as well (the numbers showing in the above example).

Once I discovered this handy new device at Ancestry DNA, I searched to see if anything had been written up on the feature. While I couldn't find any blog posts at Ancestry detailing this new development they've implemented, once again, my fellow blogger in New Zealand, Fiona Brooker of Memories in Time, was quick to spot and thoroughly describe what to expect with this change. (Not surprising, as she's beat me to the punchline before.)

While I'm not yet clear on what the benefit might be for this upgrade, I'm happy to participate and provide any data. Hopefully, Ancestry will, in turn, use what's gleaned from this development to implement even more tools to help us ultimately fill in those mystery blanks in our family trees. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Reconnecting With Old Resources


Long before the advent of genealogy giants like or, which brought online the very documents we seek in our family history quest, researchers had to go to the source to locate the necessary records to verify names, dates and events. Perhaps it was because of the time and effort required that the genealogy community back then developed a cooperative attitude about sharing what they found.

Thus sprang up little pockets of genealogical information in those early years online. Early adopters of email at—remember that?—might have used their personal space to post rudimentary versions of their family tree. Same with GeoCities and other early personal spaces. 

One such virtual collection which struck a resonant chord with the genealogical community was the free website Rootsweb. There, people could upload their GEDCOM file, as well as create free "pages" of information to share with other researchers. In addition, the site hosted forums where people could post queries or connect with those pursuing the same roots.

While much of that original Rootsweb site has, by necessity of both economics and technology, been dismantled (or at least frozen in place), there are thankfully elements of the original site which can still be accessed. I say thankfully because long ago, when I last passed down this Flowers and Ambrose research pathway, I ran across a prodigious collection of one researcher's work, all posted online at Rootsweb.

I wanted to see what could still be found of this Ambrose researcher's work, so I did a search of the Internet to see what remained. Thankfully, there is still much there

There were a few reasons why I wanted to reconnect with this researcher's work. For one reason, I was wondering about the discrepancy I mentioned yesterday, about the 1800 census record entry in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, for a Mathias Ambrosy. Not Ambrose, you'll notice, but Ambrosy.

According to Pat Asher, the one who so long ago posted all that material on the Ambrose family online, the surname made its appearance in several forms, including Ambrossi and Ambrosey. Likewise, another Ambrose researcher posting on the Rootsweb freepages mentioned some spelling variations.

While that may be reassuring to read, of course I will need to do my own work to verify these other researchers' assertions, as tempting as it may seem to simply accept such statements and believe we have found the right Pennsylvania location for our Flowers and Ambrose trysts. Marriage records, for one, would prove helpful. But until I can locate copies of Joseph's marriage to Elizabeth, and her sister Susannah's marriage to Joseph's brother, there is still one other research route we can take: the Ambrose daughters' father's will.

That, thankfully—and in that long-ago spirit of sharing among researchers—has also been made available through the thoughtfulness of another researcher. We'll examine that document next week, both in its original version and through a transcription of the pertinent sections.

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