Saturday, April 30, 2022

Almost a Month


Come this Sunday, it will have been a month since the April 1 release of the 1950 census. The digitized enumeration has already been reviewed by computers able to read that illegible handwriting which seems to have been a job qualification for census workers throughout history. Over the course of this month, in a partnership between the volunteer indexers at and AI tech prowess, an army of real humans has been reviewing the judgment calls of these amazing machines.

How has it been going for them? The task has been divided into three categories. In the simplest, the task for volunteers is simply to check whether the computers read each name correctly. In an amazing number of cases, that has indeed become the correct verdict, no matter how messy the enumerator's handwriting might have been. Another task for volunteers has been to review the document headers. A third segment of the volunteer work is to group names according to households.

So, how is the work going? On the first segment, reviewing names already indexed by the computers, one state has actually been completed: Nevada. Looking at the progress map presented by FamilySearch, it is easy to check how other states are faring.

As of this writing, several states in the west—Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico—as well as Florida are closing in on finishing the last twenty five percent of the task. Montana, Louisiana, and California don't quite have one half of their names confirmed yet. With the exception of Wyoming, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island, which have yet to be added to the indexing project, the rest of the continental United States has not yet reached twenty five percent completion.

That, however, will come soon enough. If you are already a volunteer indexer participating in this once-a-decade project, scrolling down that same link where the progress map appears, you can see a tally of your own contributions. I was surprised to see how many names I had "indexed"—rather, simply confirmed with a quick click of a button—in the past month. The task goes so quickly, it hardly seems possible that I could have done so much. It is really no work at all, but benefits so many of us to have this census confirmed, line by line, for everyone to be able to search fully whenever we need to find details of our family back in 1950.

If you haven't yet gotten over to FamilySearch to volunteer to help, I hope you grab the chance to become part of this mammoth accomplishment. Simply sign in—or create a free account—and click on "Get Involved," then select "1950 U.S. Census" from the drop-down menu to get started. Let's see how quickly we can turn this job around!

Friday, April 29, 2022

What About His Wife?


After spending one solid month exploring the journey of one Nicholas Schneider—soon to become Snider after his immigrant journey to Philadelphia in 1804—I'm ready to fold up the notebook, close the online links and call it quits on this assignment for a while. After all, the research plan was to work on the case of Nicholas' whereabouts as April's selection for my annual goal of researching the Twelve Most Wanted in my family history.

As for those goals, set at the end of last year along with plans for the rest of 2022, there were several I did achieve, just as I had outlined before the start of this year. As for backtracking the journey of Nicholas, Elizabeth, and their children from their final home in Perry County, Ohio, through Maryland to their earliest records in Pennsylvania, we observed a modest success in locating baptismal records, census enumerations, and even tax records. There still remains, though, an insurmountable gap between the 1809 Snider entry in the Adams County, Pennsylvania, tax records and the much smaller family's appearance in the passenger list of the supposed vessel which brought them from Germany to Philadelphia in 1804.

As for 1804, even then I have my doubts. You may have noticed, when I first discussed that discovery, that Nicholas' wife, whom we previously had seen listed as either Elizabeth or Anna Elizabeth, was noted in the passenger records as Anna M. Just in case you hadn't noticed, "Elizabeth" does not begin with the letter "M."

With that, we may—or may not—have a problem. German names being what they are, the first name could have been an honorary name, not a "working name." Nicholas' wife could just as easily been Anna Maria Elizabeth Eckhardt. Seeing her documented so many times simply as Elizabeth gives credence to the possibility that her name had been shortened for functionality in an English-speaking world which had no such naming custom.

That simple research question, though, starts me in a direction which should also be considered: what about Nicholas' wife? What details can be found on her story? While women were especially invisible during that particular era of Elizabeth's life, finding anything more on Elizabeth's life might help clarify just which Nicholas Schneider she might have married. Perhaps finding more on Elizabeth's details could also have helped identify their one surviving child whom they brought with them from Germany all the way to Ohio.

Granted, Catholic baptismal records as we know them now include such details as maiden name of the mother, and may also provide clues in the selection of a child's sponsors. In the early records of the Schneiders' first few American-born children, though, the entries were fairly scant in such traditional details. Even their youngest child, Conrad, born after their arrival in Ohio, was baptized in a newly-formed Catholic parish, barely beyond the years of visitation by missionary priests from the closest diocese several days' journey distant. Though I did learn that Conrad was baptized a twin, the record did not include his mother's maiden name.

So, at the end of the research month, what can we devise for a research plan for the next time we tackle this project? Hopefully by then, more digitized records will become available in the areas I'm seeking. Learning of likely migration trails between the port at Philadelphia and the mission at Conewago in Adams County, Pennsylvania, will help, as well as learning the paths that were taken by migrating Catholic settlers, especially those of the German language.

Applying due diligence in examining tax records of the counties between Adams County and that of Philadelphia may surface some sign of Nicholas' whereabouts in those missing years between 1804 and 1809. But we also need to entertain a level of doubt that the passenger record found of Nicholas and Anna M. Schneider was the only possible sign of these ancestors' arrival.

In addition, since my original goal also included completing the review of all DNA matches linked to Nicholas and Anna Elizabeth, I've got work yet to complete. Of the 209 matches listed on's ThruLines program, I've managed to link about sixty percent of them to our family's tree. While identifying the rest of those Schneider matches in our tree won't tell me specifically where the founding immigrants originated, the process may introduce me to other family members eager to collaborate on pursuing this research goal. Who knows? Perhaps someone else will know where I can get a copy of that typewritten manuscript on the Schneiders' immigrant story—or can identify the resources used to make the assertions of where Nicholas and Elizabeth once lived, before they made the decision to leave their homeland for good. 

As with all research projects in my Twelve Most Wanted plan, there will always be more work to complete after the month is done. I'll revisit Nicholas and Anna Elizabeth again at some point. For now, it's time to move on to another research project with the arrival of a new month. In May, we'll tackle another immigrant ancestor's story from my mother-in-law's roots with the 1830s arrival in Ohio of one Michael Metzger.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

If We Didn't Ask our Grandparents . . .


Face it: if we, as younger adults, never thought to ask our grandparents any questions about their grandparents, the chances are pretty minuscule that such a thought ever entered the minds of the children of our immigrant ancestors. And yet, how did we receive those stories of the rites of immigration passage about our founding ancestors?

Take my current frustration, Nicholas Schneider, third great-grandfather of my husband. I can find all sorts of assertions about where he lived on his way to the land he bought in Perry County, Ohio. I can even find, online, two claim as to the place of his birth in Europe. How such claims can be supported without documentation is something that still eludes me—unless Nicholas was fortunate enough, before his 1856 death, to be peppered with questions by his inquisitive grandchildren.

Still, in pursuit of this month's research goal, I was able to point to paper confirmation of some of the places where the Schneider family—turned Snider almost as soon as they met up with English-speaking bureaucrats—lived along their American migration trail. But not about his origin in Europe; just the fact that he sailed from Emden, Germany.

That, however, does not mean Nicholas Schneider was born in Emden. Sea-going immigrants came from miles around a port, simply to gain passage to the New World. It is highly likely that such was the case for Nicholas, Anna Elizabeth, and their three small children.

Of course, if it was not the case, I'd be delighted to entertain the option of considering some documentation. Any documentation would be helpful—along with a solid proof argument to demonstrate that we are talking about the right Nicholas and Elizabeth.

And yet, one assertion on an internationally-recognized genealogy site claims Nicholas was indeed born in Emden, while another one claims the birthplace was Mainz, Germany. What was the proof? An Ancestral File, an Ordinance Index, the IGI, and GEDCOM data.

Hardly my idea of documentation.

How do you proceed in such a case? Born before the turn of the nineteenth century, chances are likely that Nicholas' birth record would only have been acknowledged through baptism in his family's Catholic Church. Not knowing his parents' names—let alone the geographic location—finding a record for such a common surname with so many spelling variations will be a challenge.

And yet, there are some who have written about Nicholas' past as if they were the repository for their ancestors' eager questioning, sitting at the feet of patriarch Nicholas in the early 1800s. One excerpt from a typewritten version which a subscriber shared on—but which I cannot find in its entirety elsewhere—styles Nicholas as a German soldier living in Alsace-Lorraine, sent with the French army to fight Austria. The story goes on to portray Nicholas as the third son of a nobleman who had just died while Nicholas was away at war—hence his impetus for leaving the homeland for America.

I would love to obtain a copy of that manuscript—and no, it is not included in the book collection at—for nothing else but to check for footnotes or at least a bibliography. How do writers come up with this information? Oral history?

The facts as shared in that manuscript might indeed be true, but are they verifiable? If that verification process can be repeated, it can lead us to more information. If not, we are still left staring into a murky void.

And yet, I realize I have left out other possible routes to further information. With one day left to this research goal tomorrow, it will be time to draw up a research plan for the next time I revisit this problem.


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

End of the Line


There is an ebb and a flow to genealogical research. I'm convinced of it. At times, I can rocket through resources, finding document after document confirming the whereabouts of one particular ancestor. Other times? Well, the resources just seem to dry up.

We've spent the last month following the trail of my husband's ancestor Nicholas Schneider. My hope was to discover just where Nicholas and his young family had originated in Germany, but I also promised myself I would document every step of the path that led him to his final resting place in Perry County, Ohio. While I've yet to break through that records barrier before his arrival in Philadelphia in September of 1804, I have at least traced his whereabouts all the way to Mount Pleasant Township in Adams County, Pennsylvania.

That was in 1810, according to the census enumeration of that year. Where were the Schneiders between that census and their arrival in 1804? I wasn't able to place them through any other method, which meant the next resort was to face up to the grunt work part of genealogy.

One of the best ways to find people on a year by year basis during that time frame is to refer to tax records. The down side is that taxes have never been anybody's bright shiny object; we tend to steer clear of such a dismal topic. However, if you are looking for a listing in which your (male) ancestor can appear regularly, year after year, you can't beat the drudgery of reading through tax listings.

And drudgery it is. Such records don't usually appear among those handily-indexed and searchable collections. Now that the pandemic is waning—we all hope—some digitized records previously made available online are now reverting to in-house access only.

However, I found some help through the indefatigable Kenneth R. Marks' website, The Ancestor Hunt, where he posted links to freely accessible tax records from the state of Pennsylvania. Thankfully, Mount Pleasant Township in Adams County, the 1810 home of Nicholas Schneider, was included in that list. I simply had to click through the link and be directed to the digitized pages at (And cheer that the camera icon didn't have that nasty key on top. Yet.)

I began my search with the year 1800, first year included in the collection. It soon became obvious that there were three Schneider men resident in Mount Pleasant Township, but none of them was our Nicholas. Whether Anthony, John, or Conrad "Snider" were kin to our Nicholas, I can't say—though I did go back to check the 1804 passenger list to see if any other Schneiders had sailed with Nicholas. (There were some, but not Anthony or Conrad.)

There was no sighting in the tax records of an entry for Nicholas until the year before the 1810 census where I found him. There in 1809, two lines above where Anthony's entry had been changed to label his "estate," Nicholas showed in an entry of his own. Perhaps he had been there all along, just not showing as the head of a household—but that is something I can't yet determine simply by reading between the lines.

With only two more days before the end of this research project, there are a few other tasks I can tackle, but it's safe to say this project will need to be set aside until I gain better access to record sets which may provide answers. In the next two days, we can discuss what research plans to develop for the next time I visit this family history puzzle.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

How Did You Celebrate DNA Day?


In case you missed it, yesterday—April 25—was National DNA Day, a day commemorating the day in 1953 when scientists Watson, Crick, Wilkins, Franklin, et al, published papers in the scientific journal Nature on the double helix structure of DNA. As if that wasn't enough, the day also recognizes the "completion" of the Human Genome Project—"complete," that is, except for the "remaining tiny gaps" which this year were finally bridged by the Telomere to Telomere consortium, also announced in April. did you celebrate this year's DNA Day? If you were like many people, perhaps you gave it scant consideration unless you were hunting for a DNA test kit bargain. If you were, I hope you found a kit at just the right price.

On the other hand, perhaps, like the Legal Genealogist, Judy Russell, you are eagerly anticipating what will become of the recently-added scientific knowledge gleaned from this latest DNA conquest. 

As for me, I celebrated by plowing through the listing of the two hundred nine DNA matches who share with my husband a most recent common ancestor from the early 1800s named Nicholas Schneider.

Don't think I've completed that chore yet. Perhaps I am slightly better than halfway done. While I had already connected several of the matches to our tree, others required some remedial work before I could line up the match with his or her ancestors. In other words, we are now beyond the ease of reaching for the low hanging fruit on this family tree.

I still find it amazing to think that these two hundred strangers all hold one ancestral couple in common with my husband. The connections span from well over three hundred centiMorgans down to a puny six centiMorgan measurement—the kind that, without a well-documented paper trail, I would otherwise have ignored. 

No matter how many times I repeat this process, I never lose that sense of awe at what these microscopic genetic sequences encode. Add to that the gratitude that we have the tools and the know-how to apply what has been learned to a multitude of promising developments to benefit humankind. 

Sure, DNA helps us find family, and points us clearly to our roots, but this is a story of discovery far more monumental than simply building our family tree. DNA "Day" represents a future with far more beneficial changes than just last week's sale prices. 

Monday, April 25, 2022

Restacking the Readout


Into any genealogical pursuit some tedium can be interjected. At this stage in chasing after the story of Nicholas and Anna Elizabeth Schneider, I've hit that lull. We've traced the Schneiders—most recently having changed their surname to the more Americanized Snider—from their 1818 arrival at their last residence in Perry County, Ohio, back to Emmitsburg, Maryland, then Conewago township of Adams County, Pennsylvania, before the trail fizzled out somewhere short of their port of arrival in Philadelphia.

Stuck at that point, my next research step was to face up to the fact that my husband—courtesy of his mother, the Perry County descendant of not one, but two Schneider sons—has over two hundred DNA matches all leading back to that same couple. Surely one of those two hundred would know a bit more about their founding immigrant ancestors.

Before I can find out by testing the waters with any one of them, though, I wanted to link each match to my husband's tree at The easiest way to do that is to use the ThruLines tool as a progress checklist. The best way to accomplish that, I discovered, required a slight change in the usual process.

Before this puzzle, I had only used the chart version of the ThruLines readout, which shows by default under the tab labeled "Relationships." In that version, DNA matches are aligned according to each match's specific line of descent.


In Nicholas Schneider's case, that meant slip-sliding my way along the chart in a most unwieldy manner, given the challenge of viewing Nicholas' seven children who gave him grandchildren plus the two extra names included by Ancestry which are not actually documented children of Nicholas.

You can see in the snippet of Nicholas' chart on Ancestry's ThruLines that the one screen view includes only two of his children. To see the rest, you need to wrestle with the right arrow icon to slide the readout, one extra child at a time.

At one point in the task of examining all two hundred nine Schneider matches, I tired of the tedium. Realizing I could toggle from the "Relationship" tab to the one labeled "List," I opted to give it a try. What a relief. I might never go back to the other style again.

From that point, I could isolate the descendants of one specific line, open only that tab, then go through the list, line by line, to inspect supporting documentation before making the decision to connect the match to my husband's tree. 

The first step, though, needed to be a check point, as in the readout, Ancestry unfortunately doesn't differentiate between those matches I've already linked to my tree and those yet to be tackled. So, for instance, I'd first open the down arrow to the right of the Lewis Snider Family Line to reveal all twenty matches who trace their lineage back to Lewis Snider, son of Nicholas Schneider. Then, line by line, I'd open each match's readout to reveal that match's personal profile and see whether the linking icon was completely colored blue (signifying I've already linked the match in my tree), or whether the icon showed just a blue outline.


There were a surprising number of matches already linked, thankfully. But two hundred matches will take some time to review, even if most of the work is already completed. Some lines need a few more generations added before I can even make the connection, requiring the time to double-check even more documentation (rather than simply relying on another person's assertion in their own tree).

Bottom line: restacking the readout from relationship (tree) format to list format helped speed the process along. I was surprised to discover that. After so many years of genealogy research, my mind had learned to visualize relationships in chart form. How many times, in talking with someone about a research problem, had I grabbed some handy scrap paper to sketch out a pedigree chart. And yet, somehow, trying to cling to that format for work on DNA matches seemed clunky.

Perhaps it's the sheer number of descendants which makes the readout function too awkward. Or maybe, rather than visualizing relationships, I just want to cut to the chase and figure out where each person fits in the bigger picture. After all, I'll get to repeat this process over two hundred times before this month is out.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Surprises in the Mail


In this age of online connectivity, it's quite a surprise just to even receive something via "snail" mail anymore. In the past few weeks, and again yesterday, our local genealogical society did receive such a surprise. More than that, it was the unexpected content which made the packages even more of a surprise: photographs, clippings from newspaper articles, and other memorabilia concerning a specific family once resident in our county.

We hadn't asked for such a gift. But I can't say this sort of unexpected arrival was out of place. We are, after all, a society dedicated to preserving the family history of residents of our area. Like any other local genealogical society, though, we are pressed for space—not to mention, funds. What to do to honor such a gift—and the memory of the long-gone people it represents?

As far as I can tell from a cursory study, the principle people mentioned in the contents left no living direct line descendants, just joining those many dubbed the "last leaf on the branch." Yet that, too, begs the question: how did our benefactor stumble upon such personal papers (including, among other things, an original marriage certificate and even a social security card)?

Somewhere out there is—must be—someone who is related to this family. The situation of an only child of an only child can't be a situation repeated over too many generations; somewhere there must be third or fourth cousins who might take an interest in distant relatives like this family. 

I think of the possible ways to share this collection of memorabilia. Like many local societies, we coordinate a "First Families" program in partnership with our county's historical society, where materials donated through the program can be archived. At this point, though, such a method would lock those photos and letters behind pandemic-restricted doors. I'm looking for a way to share which involves people coming to us in a less-restricted way.

The possibility of using the same sort of channels we use for our personal family trees may be the best option. Some of those online portals provide ways to upload items such as photographs, which other members can then retrieve and save for their own records. It's a way to have our "cake" and eat it, too: to share the content someone wanted to pass along while finding a way to keep it safely preserved for future reference.

It is this very project we've begun, starting with this one local family, thanks to the prompting of an unexpected gift received through the mail. While in the past, I've spent time searching for "orphan photographs" to research and return to the subject's descendants, now the photographs have started coming to us. It will be interesting to go through the same process we use to research our own ancestors, yet this time, benefiting the larger community by preserving a piece of local history for all to share.    

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Passing it On


Last February was such a busy time for our family that when it came time to celebrate our anniversary, my husband and I opted to simply enjoy lunch at a favorite local eatery. As we walked in the restaurant door, we spotted some friends we hadn't seen in a while. We stopped at their table and chatted with them before we were escorted to our own seats.

Coming out of pandemic isolation, it was nice to actually see people we knew, face to face, but we moved on and soon focused on our own meal. When it came time to pay the bill, we were greeted with the news that it had already been taken care of. "Anonymously." We had our guesses, but how do you pay back a gesture like that?

Fast forward to this week. Once again, my husband and I were enjoying a late lunch at a local restaurant when we spotted someone we knew coming in the door: a missionary now seldom in town. On this trip home, he wanted to treat his dad to a special dinner. It didn't take us long to realize we had just been given our opportunity. While some gestures come designed with a way to be paid back, others can only be "paid forward" by passing them on. 

This was our chance to pass it on.

I think of the many times we can "pass it on" in the genealogy world. Anyone who has had that spark of a desire to learn how to build a family tree, to ponder which way to chart the travels of their ancestors, to explore tried and true methods for preserving the family stories, has benefited from the generosity of others. We benefited from the people with the know-how who guided us, shared with us the resources, and listened to the excitement of our discoveries. We've benefited from the help of so many others who've scanned records and uploaded them to share on websites, blogs, online trees and other community resources. We grew into the researchers we've become, thanks to the guidance of others who "paid it forward" by investing their experience in our willingness to learn.

At some point, it becomes our chance to pass it on.

To upload an old family photo to our online tree, to post an answer to an online question, to "get involved" by checking census entries, to volunteer at a library's genealogy reference section: each time we take that little step to help someone else with their research, we become the one who is passing it on. We, too, had once benefited from the help of others. From those who helped us to those whom we can help, we become one step in an ongoing chain of sharing by a community which has learned to help itself by paying it forward. 


Friday, April 22, 2022

Following the Usual Route


Retracing our ancestors' steps can be a challenge. It is far easier, in studying their migration route, to know where they finally landed than to know first the place where they launched.

Take my wanderings while chasing the records of my husband's third great-grandfather Nicholas Schneider. It was easy to determine his final resting place. Documents of his last residence showed the same rural county where my mother-in-law spent her childhood. No surprise there. It was only through study of—and puzzlement over—Nicholas' children's records which led me to a hypothesis that the Schneider family migration trail led from Adams County, Pennsylvania, through Emmitsburg, Maryland, and then to their final destination in Perry County, Ohio.

But what location was before that? We've already jumped to the start of the immigration story and the record of Nicholas' young family arriving at the port in Philadelphia in 1804. What became of them between that arrival date and their first appearance in Adams County in 1810?

As I researched the records for the Schneiders' neighbors and associates in Emmitsburg, among the details for that area was the mention of a typical migration path for early-arriving German-speaking Catholics. Not surprisingly, the churches in Emmitsburg and Conewago township, Pennsylvania, were mentioned, but there was one other Catholic location which was included in that migration list: Goshenhoppen.

While you may never have heard the name Goshenhoppen, its mention immediately brought me back to a research project I haven't touched for years: that of my mother-in-law's patriline. That other branch of her Perry County family, I suspected, had once attended a Catholic church called Goshenhoppen.

The last time I had pursued information on what was called the Goshenhoppen records, I was still conversing with fellow researchers via genealogy forums. Back then, not much was digitized or available online. People would breathlessly refer each other to researchers who might have a copy of an index of the Goshenhoppen files, but the sense was that the material was hard to access, if you weren't able to travel to the source.

Revisiting the topic today, thanks to the prowess of search engines, I can see the case is far different. Thankfully. To check for the Schneiders' presence in this potential stopping place for migrating Catholics in the early 1800s, I have many resources open to me.

First, general-purpose website resources like Wikipedia's entry for Bally, Pennsylvania, identify that borough as the geographic location of the parish once called Goshenhoppen, and reveal that Jesuit priest Thomas Schneider established a Catholic mission there in 1741. In seeking clarification over the term "Pennsylvania Dutch," I also gleaned the information about early German-speaking Catholic immigrants that they congregated around the early missions established by Jesuits. Conewago and Goshenhoppen were again mentioned specifically.

Now, access to information in those early Catholic records from the Goshenhoppen parish is far more easily gained. Digitized copies of books about the records are online through university archives. The contents of the registers are compiled in books and microfilms at the FamilySearch library in Salt Lake City. And, I was delighted to find, a transcription of some of the records is now searchable online, thanks to the behind-the-scenes grunt work of Joseph Webb at

Included in the material at this last-mentioned website are searchable files for Goshenhoppen Catholic mission baptisms, marriages, and burials. While the transcriptions are by no means the complete history of the church's sacramental duties, they at least provide a check point for someone seeking way markers for their wandering ancestors' whereabouts.

As for the wanderings of Nicholas Schneider and his family after their arrival in Philadelphia, it looks like the Goshenhoppen hypothesis yielded a negative outcome. Though there was a Schneider family represented in the baptismal records, it does not appear to be the family of our Nicholas and Anna Elizabeth. Sometimes, when we are uncertain about our family's history, we do have to test reasonable guesses. It's just that many times, the answer to our queries will be "No."

From that point, we simply pick up and move on to the next theory. At some point—hopefully—a well-reasoned hypothesis will lead us to an answer.



Thursday, April 21, 2022

Score Another Win for the FAN Club


When struggling to research a mystery ancestor, the one problem with utilizing the "F.A.N. Club" method is that it can be prone to luring us down rabbit trails.

You know me and rabbit trails: I'm game to give anything a try. Who knows whether the path will turn out to be a trailblazer leading me to discover a key unlocking the mystery.

My rabbit trail today began innocently enough: an subscriber sent me a message. Like many messages I receive, this one contained just enough detail to get me curious, but not enough to provide me the tools I need to give an answer.

Since I maintain many more than one family tree on Ancestry, I couldn't at first even determine which tree my correspondent referred to. The writer mentioned she was doing research on behalf of another family member, and had discovered that a certain person in one of my trees was cousin to the great-grandmother of the relative she was helping.

As it turned out, that person was in my mother-in-law's Perry County, Ohio, family line—a scramble of intermarried surnames, cross-connected from generations back. Not a specific ancestor on my mother-in-law's direct line, the person in question was married to someone in her collateral line.

I looked at the surname involved—Elder—and realized I owed myself some work on that line. In fact, that person's grandfather was a Perry County settler who had been born in Maryland, not unlike the Schneider line I've been working on this month. Feeling that reminder about "birds of a feather" flocking together, just as I had on Tuesday, I wondered again about that helpful F.A.N. Club concept: the fact that our ancestors often made decisions about life in relation to the community they've grown close to. Family, business and social associates and neighbors made a significant impact on our ancestors' decisions—including their decision to pick up and move to a strange new location far, far away.

This is where today's rabbit trail journey began. I picked up the trail with Teresa Elder, mother-in-law of the individual mentioned in that message I received. Teresa was born about 1838 in Ohio, likely spending her entire life in Perry County. Her father, though, was from Maryland. What was his story? Could he have also come from the same place as our Nicholas Schneider?

It never hurts to look, I always tell myself, and dove in to James Elder's story. Though he was in Ohio by 1828—witness his marriage to Mary Lynch in January of that year—James was born in Maryland. Despite having a birth year estimated to be in 1800, James Elder was flagged as a hint by Ancestry for the 1800 census. While I know that surely, such an entry would be for a head of household, not a newly-arrived infant, I couldn't help myself: I took a look.

Sure enough, there was an entry in the 1800 census in Maryland for someone named James Elder. Unsurprisingly, that was the name of the head of household for a family comprised of five sons and one daughter. What was most interesting, though, was the residence listed for this family: Emmitsburg, same place where we had found the Schneider family before their move to Perry County.

If there was one other Perry County family in Emmitsburg, could there have been more? I scoured the pages of names listed in that 1800 census and discovered several households with another familiar surname: Flautt.

What I haven't yet mentioned about the Schneider family—soon to become known as the Snider family in Perry County—was that in subsequent generations, the Sniders became business partners with members of the Flautt family. This was an association reaching far back through the generations. What could I learn from a detour into the Flautt family history?

A lot, apparently.

In exploring the links listed at for the Flautt family—and filling in the blanks on the collateral lines in my mother-in-law's family tree as I went—a hint popped up, mentioning one of the inventions patented by a Flautt ancestor: the "Flautt Churn." A photograph of this butter churn was posted to Ancestry by a subscriber. I noticed the photograph was obtained from a book, The Flautt Family in America, written by Mrs. Frank Stough Schwartz.

That, of course, was an invitation to see whether I could find a digitized copy of such a book. Sure enough, it has been uploaded to Internet Archive. And the rabbit trail became even more ensnaring.

From the book, I gleaned details on the interconnected Catholic parishes such as Conewago in Adams County, Pennsylvania, and Emmitsburg churches in Frederick County, Maryland, as I followed the life of Flautt progenitor Joseph Flautt from his earliest American records in 1769.

Much as Nicholas Schneider had done, Joseph Flautt sold his properties in Adams County, Pennsylvania, and followed his sons to Emmitsburg, a "growing Catholic settlement" on the road to Baltimore. From this resource, I gleaned titles to other history books on the area, the growth of Catholic settlements in the region, and histories of the Flautt family and related lines.

A detail which grabbed me, from page 34 of the book, came from a letter sent by a Flautt descendant to the book's author: "Some one along the way has told us that we came from Alsace-Lorraine."

And later, from page 104, reporting on a 1903 letter from a Flautt descendant:

Our people came from the German side of the Rhine whilst some of them came from the French side and those of the German side spelled their name Flautt as correct for the Germans and Floyd for the grandfather moved across from France to the German side and they would spell his name Flautt whilst these remaining in France spell Floyd.

Reading history books drawn up in earlier years certainly serves to widen our perspective. Just following the history of another family among Nicholas Schneider's F.A.N. Club associates in Maryland and Pennsylvania helped direct me to additional resources, not to mention clues about his European origins. But there are still questions.

If Nicholas Schneider and his supposed F.A.N. Club arrived in Perry County from Emmitsburg, Maryland, and before that, from Adams County, Pennsylvania, I still have to wonder: where did they live before then? After all, the Schneiders arrived in the New World at the port of Philadelphia. Where were they before that point in Adams County, Pennsylvania?   


Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Let's Make a Match, DNA Style


Quick DNA question: What does it take to make a DNA match?

Simple answer: Two family members who are willing to test their DNA.

The catch: You never know who those distant cousin matches will be until both you and they test.

When I first began mounting that genetic genealogy learning curve, that question gave me grief. Here I was, with an account at the three major DNA testing companies of that time, filled with matches whom I couldn't place on my family tree. Admittedly, they were mostly fourth cousins, meaning that both they and I needed to have a pedigree chart completed to at least the level of third great-grandparents on all branches.

I stopped beating myself up over not being able to place these cousins on the right family twig when I realized there were gaps in our family's story. Let's rephrase that: back then, there was a lot that was missing from the picture. That was what first motivated me to study the collateral lines of my ancestors, and to religiously add them to my family tree.

More than that, though, was the realization that you can't have that magic match—you know, the one who will reveal all the answers about your brick wall ancestor—until the descendant of your brick wall ancestor coincidentally decides to test. If that cousin doesn't test, the two of you will never have a match.

Since that is all out of our own hands—well, except for those wunderkinds who actually know all their fourth cousins—there is nothing we can do to control such an outcome. That's when I let it all go. I stopped berating myself over not being able to connect matches, and started building this mammoth, oversized tree.

On the flip side, with the advent of's ThruLines tool, I see that scenario stood on its head. Take my current research goal of examining the roots of Perry County, Ohio, settler Nicholas Schneider. If I check my husband's DNA matches using ThruLines, I can look up his third great-grandfather Nicholas and see just which of his many children's lines produced DNA matches for my husband's account.

It is interesting to see the variance in how many DNA matches are yielded by each child of Nicholas and Anna Elizabeth. Unsurprisingly, since my husband descends from two of Nicholas' sons—Jacob and Simon—of course there will be DNA matches connecting us back to those founding immigrant ancestors. As of this writing, there are seventy eight people descending from Jacob Snider who match with my husband. Of Simon's descendants, thirty nine are his DNA matches.

The universe of Snider matches is not limited to descendants of those two sons. As we observed on Monday, there were at least five other children who could have been ancestor to my husband's Snider matches: Lewis, Joseph, Mary, Peter, and Conrad. Yet, how varied are the counts for each of those lines' matches. While there are twenty matches claiming Lewis as their ancestor, there are only four tracing back to Joseph. Mary had ten, Peter claimed thirty three, and Conrad nineteen.

Was this just a function of one progenitor having more children than the others? That hardly appears so. I think, once again, it all goes back to that definition of a match: maybe more of Jacob's children decided to test their DNA than the others. I don't suppose there would be any way to predict this. There certainly is very little control we could have over such a result. Our matches are a gift over which we have little influence, past the first couple generations of our own family line.

Of course, then there are the puzzlers...the ones whose ancestral connection leads to a person not found in our third great-grandparents' paper trail. And I'm not necessarily talking about what has politely but awkwardly been labeled "Non-Parental Events." I'm simply referring to people who do share our DNA, but not the same vision of our joint family tree.

In this particular Snider case, my husband has two DNA matches who claim ancestors supposedly the children of Nicholas and Anna Elizabeth. Only, they weren't. Not, at least, as far as I can see. For such instances, there are two options: search to see whether I've missed something, or study that ThruLine proposed line of descent to discern just where that match's tree might have crossed branches.

That, of course, may require a little tree-building exercise. Do you ever find yourself building out a proposed tree for a DNA match like that?  

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Reflecting on Eight Greats


Let's take a break from zeroing in on the particulars of Nicholas Schneider's early life in Germany. While I gather my wits and, behind the scenes, rehash what other researchers have already asserted about Nicholas and his wife Anna Elizabeth Eckhardt, it might help to turn our thoughts to the ever-instructive concept dubbed the "F.A.N. Club."

The acronym stands for Family, Associates, and Neighbors. The thought behind this concept is simple: rather than striking out on their own as individuals, people tend to do things in groups with the people most familiar to them. While sometimes the groups are composed of friends, and other times represent families or close-knit communities, people in past eras found it safer, wiser, and more supportive to undertake significant projects with a support group.

I bring that concept up simply to recall one thing I've noticed about the settlers of Perry County, Ohio: they certainly seemed to be a tight-knit circle of communities. More importantly, I have noticed a good number of the early settlers had two details in common. One was that they were devoted to the Catholic faith. The other was that several seemed to have traveled to Ohio from an oft-disputed region of Western Europe. Sometimes claimed by the French, other times by the Germans, Alsace-Lorraine, as it once was called, produced a number of subjects who decided to leave for good—and ended up in Perry County.

We already know from the passenger records found for Nicholas and Anna Schneider that their vessel sailed from Emden, Germany. Granted, immigrants from all over the region would travel to a port city on their way to the New World, so it is absolutely probable that the Schneiders did not originate in Emden. But I have my doubts about one location proposed by others researching this family: the city of Mainz. Checking a map, I discovered the distance from Mainz to the port at Emden is about the same as a trip from my home in northern California to Los Angeles: a drive on the interstate of over five hours.

Instead of staring at that brick wall right now, what if we switched our approach momentarily to compare the eight great-grandparents of my mother-in-law? All eight had roots originating in Europe, and all eight ended up in Perry County, Ohio. Could some commonality have drawn them to the same location?

Besides the two Snider lines in my mother-in-law's roots, the other surnames included two Gordon lines (yes, related), plus Flowers, Stine, Metzger, and Mutter (or Mooter). While Gordon does look suspiciously like a Scottish surname, others who knew the founding immigrant ancestor said he spoke with a thick accent, causing some to wonder if he were actually German. Flowers, too, is a line which has me stumped—possibly French, possibly German, almost certainly not English. Stine was likely Stein in the homeland, wherever it was. And Metzger and Mutter originated in Switzerland.

While that seems, overall, to point strongly to German possibilities for the Schneiders' origin, I am still wondering about those borderlands. If DNA companies like Ancestry are still struggling to delineate ethnic identities in border regions—if, indeed, it would even be possible to definitively do so—would an origin such as Alsace-Lorraine throw them off?

It occurred to me to take a peek at the newly-released SideView™ technology at After all, though this recent development can't specifically say which side of their readout represents the test-taker's father, and which is the mother's results, I have it rather easy in this case. My mother-in-law married a man whose eight greats all came from Ireland. Other than a surprise sliver of unexpectedness (one percent attributed to Wales), my father-in-law's results would plainly reveal which side of the circle was his projected ancestry.

Let's take a look:

What we see on the left of this diagram, labeled "Parent 1," would be the hypothesized geopolitical origins of my mother-in-law. As you might have guessed, knowing Parent 2's origins in Ireland, the yellow on the left side also represents some Irish roots for my mother-in-law. The large bright-green segment is the color code Ancestry labels "England and Northwestern Europe." Yep, that gray zone of indeterminable ethnicity is now painted green. Almost as if to pacify our inquiring minds, the next greenish color bar represents "Germanic Europe," and the final sliver on my mother-in-law's readout is for France.

While one might presume that such a readout infers that one ancestor bestowed the French heritage and another ancestor was the source of the German ancestry, it is possible that the unclearness of the readout could also be due to as-yet unrecognized ethnic groups sandwiched in between those disputed borders. Whoever such people were, they might have been surviving in spite of their overrun borders—and yet somehow genetically influenced by these same ongoing pressures.

Not that all from that region had flocked to one single location in central Ohio, but it is quite possible that the word had gotten out, spreading from the earlier settlers from that homeland to guide the later arrivals. While that doesn't give us a definitive answer to our question of where Nicholas Schneider originated in Germany, it at least suggests we narrow the scope of possibilities to the western border of what we now know as modern-day Germany.


Image above: Example of's newly-released SideView™ technology, showing the estimated geopolitical origins of immigrant Nicholas Schneider's great-great-granddaughter.    

Monday, April 18, 2022

But What if That Wasn't Your Ancestor?


So, the family tradition is that your ancestor was the son of a landed nobleman but, due to the immense bad luck of not being born the eldest, was aced out of a fabulous inheritance and, in a huff, gathered up his meager belongings and headed for the land of promise.

How do you prove a story like that?!

I realize there are some intrepid researchers who have done exactly that: traced their family line back to the parents of that unfortunate second- or third-born son. In the case of Nicholas Schneider, though, I doubt that will become the story of this researcher—at least, not within the next two weeks.

Granted, the story handed down through the Schneider family line has the makings of true romance. Caught up in the continual wars of the European rulers, Nicholas found himself an injured soldier behind enemy lines who, while being nursed back to life, fell in love with his caretaker, whom he eventually married.

To document such a story requires finding multiple records from the late 1790s and early years of the next century up through 1804. A record of military service would be a nice touch, but if nothing else, at least some verification of a marriage between Nicholas Schneider and Anna Elizabeth Eckhardt is called for. However, given the destructive nature of war, it is far more likely that such paperwork has long since gone up in smoke, though I am game to try such a search.

Fortunately—at least for those of us chasing tokens of our ancestors' lives—there are other ways to infer connection between family members, despite the lack of adequate documentation. Prime among them are the clues offered us by matching patterns in the DNA of distant cousins. As you might have suspected from a good Catholic like Nicholas, he and his wife offered us many descendants from which to compare genetic signatures.

According to my count—and I admit, I may be missing some Schneider children—Nicholas and Anna Elizabeth had at least seven children who left descendants: Jacob, Lewis, Joseph, Maria (Mary), Simon, Peter, and Conrad.

In addition, because the Schneiders—soon to become the Sniders—settled in Perry County, Ohio, their many children and grandchildren became interwoven into a community which eventually saw many of them related in more than one way. Complicating matters on my part—although perhaps for the better—Nicholas and Anna Elizabeth were not only my husband's third great-grandparents, but also his fourth great-grandparents. Thus, my husband matches descendants from both the eldest son Jacob, and a much-younger son Simon.

Of course, those are not the only ones providing him with current day DNA matches in this Schneider line; any of Nicholas and Elizabeth's other children would also point us back to the same Most Recent Common Ancestors. Either way, the Schneiders' genetic material amply reaches down to current day generations, for my husband now has 209 DNA matches on's Thru-Lines descending from that very couple—up one additional match from last week.

This week, while puzzling over just how to trace the documentation trail in Germany before 1804, we'll take a look at what can be learned by those two hundred plus DNA matches. In the meantime, ever mindful of the chance that family legends may be just that—stories which defy proof—we'll watch for alternate narratives to our Schneiders' ancestral origins.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

A Day of Reflection


For many, today represents a Resurrection Day. Some celebrate with traditional gatherings which have remained the same as those repeated over generations. Others have shed those customs and made the day new in their own way. For me, it has become a day of reflection, a day of introspection.

In whatever way you choose to greet this day, may you have the opportunity to share that with the family and close friends who mean the most to you.

Above: "Vita Liljor" from the artwork of Swedish artist Anders Zorn (1860-1920); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Finding a Place for Every DNA Cousin


It seems so rewarding to be able to look at the DNA matches of distant cousins and almost immediately plug them into my family history database. I wasn't just joking or trying to be clever when I mentioned last week that working on DNA matches reminds me of business consultant Jim Collins' analogy of pushing a flywheel

Fortunately, I've moved from the impossible grunt work of wondering "Who are all these people?!" When I first sent in my family's DNA tests in 2014, it seemed the best matches I got were no better than fourth cousins. Now, no matter how distant, I'm better equipped to find a place for each match in my family tree.

That is not surprising, though, when you consider all the collateral lines I've added to each tree. I have one combined tree for my parents, and another tree blending the lines of my in-laws. Just in the past two weeks, I've added 115 documented individuals to my parents' tree, and—now that I'm back to researching my mother-in-law's Catholic families—402 have been added to my in-laws' tree. That means my parents' tree is up to 28,280 individuals, and my in-laws' tree at 26,835 is not too far behind.

Although the bulk of our DNA matches are still distant cousins at best, there is plenty of work yet to do. I have, for example, 2,199 matches at fourth cousin level or closer but 35,317 distant matches in total at While I will likely never scratch the surface of that larger category, the group of first through fourth cousins is gradually getting sorted into a manageable collection of relatives.

The secret—if you can call it that—has been unfolding over the past seven years. Over those years since we first tested, for each generation of my direct line ancestors, I added their siblings. Then I added their spouses and children. Eventually I worked my way back down to the present in each line of descent. "Simple" as that.

Now, when a DNA match at Ancestry provides a "common ancestor" hint that I can confirm through my own research, I add it to my tree. Often, though, I find that matching cousin is already listed in my tree—or at least a parent's name is there. Even unlinked trees—at least the ones containing more than simply buttons labeled "private"—can give enough information to guide me to a hook dangling in my own tree.

With my research goal this month—working on my mother-in-law's Schneider line from Pennsylvania through Maryland and on into Perry County, Ohio—this will be the opportunity to complete work on the Thru-Lines for Nicholas and Anna Elizabeth and all their descendants. After all, with 208 DNA matches from that couple alone, that information will lead me to a fuller family history story, as well.

The goal is certainly to keep working on this same process. There are so many more lines to add than just the Schneiders and their related Snider and Snyder lines. While that may seem like a great deal of work up front, in the end it makes the overall DNA process much easier. I can see that already. That backlog of mystery cousins is dwindling. Even more encouraging: since these trees are public at, perhaps others will find that the information contained there will help them connect some DNA cousins to their own lines, as well. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

Finding the Fortune


Sometimes, stumbling upon stories held dearly as family traditions can be a boost to our research. Other times, finding such legends can become research stumbling blocks. It all depends on whether the details can be verified—but even then, who's to say the legend didn't guide us to a coincidentally "supportive" record while steering us away from a more likely clue?

From an earlier era of online genealogy—think listservs and forums and the email exchange of GEDCOMs with inquiring cousins—I had read that before Nicholas Schneider and his family had emigrated from his German homeland, he had served as a soldier in the Napoleonic wars. In fact, according to one story, that was how he met his future wife, Anna Elizabeth Eckhardt.

Just how I am supposed to find documentation for such a story, I'm not yet sure. But I know one thing: Nicholas and Anna Elizabeth Schneider did arrive in the New World sometime after their oldest son Jacob's 1799 birth

As we've already seen from their subsequent children's birth locations, the Schneider family lived for a while in Pennsylvania, and then in Maryland, before purchasing property and settling in Perry County, Ohio. The oldest child I could find who was born in Pennsylvania was their daughter Catherine, who arrived there about 1805.

Those two dates, then—1799 and 1805—mark the time frame for the Schneiders' possible immigration. It would be prudent to guess that the family arrived in Pennsylvania from Germany, but without documentation, it would be simply that: a guess.

Thankfully, just as that old web page sharing the Schneider family traditions had mentioned, I was able to track records showing the family sailed from Emden, Germany, on a ship called the Fortune, arriving at port in Philadelphia in 1804. That discovery, however, I couldn't have accomplished without the generous sharing of records by other family researchers, plus the foresight of organizations with the mission of digitizing old documents.

A hint at had mentioned that there was an entry for a Nicholas Schneider transcribed in an old genealogy book, Names of Foreigners Who Took the Oath of Allegiance to the Province and State of Pennsylvania, 1727-1775, with the Foreign Arrivals, 1786-1808. Of course, if I had lived closer to Pennsylvania—like, maybe, across the state border in Emmitsburg, Maryland—it might have been a small matter to access the microfilm of such information at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission's Archives, but this was not such a time. 

I took that wordy title—yes, with every word intact—to Internet Archive to see whether any forward thinking person had uploaded a digitized version. In fact, someone had. The boost at Internet Archive, of course, is that the book is now completely searchable, so I put the program through its paces to find an entry for Nicholas and Anna Schneider and their son Jacob.

But that's a transcription of a supportive record. What about the actual ship's passenger list? As it turns out, yet again, some kind soul had chosen to be generous and upload the scanned picture of the Fortune's passenger list. The vessel, sailing from Emden, Germany, to Philadelphia, had its paperwork dated September 26, 1804. Tucked toward the bottom corner of the listing of passengers was a box for Nicholas, Anna, and Jacob, plus two unnamed Schneider children who, according to the book mentioned above, had died during the voyage.

Whether I'll ever be able to substantiate those other stories of Nicholas' wartime escapades—or even his story of romance while injured during his military service—I can't say. This, at least, is a start to the goal of an unbroken paper trail from Nicholas Schneider's last years in Perry County, Ohio, back to his arrival in Philadelphia with his wife and young son.

Image above from the passenger list of the ship Fortune, dated September 26, 1804, sailing from the port at Emden, Germany, and arriving in Philadelphia; image courtesy of an Ancestry subscriber posted April 4, 2009, at

Thursday, April 14, 2022

a Researcher's Indispensable Friend


The more I delve into family history, the more I realize that maps are a researcher's indispensable friend. Here's why: remember the Schneider family I've been researching? After that German immigrant family arrived in the New World—and long before their move to Perry County, Ohio, before 1820—they lived in both Pennsylvania and Maryland.

My, I thought upon learning that, how very mobile they were, for an era in which travel presented so many hazards and few conveniences. After all, the width of a state such as Pennsylvania would try any traveler's patience. Add to that the fact that the Schneider family detoured to take in a residency in yet another state, and I begin to wonder about the accuracy of family assertions.

Once I discovered the family history web page posted by a distant cousin in 2008, I found some clues regarding the Schneider travels. Now, instead of searching for Schneider—or Snider, or Snyder—in Pennsylvania, I learned to look for the family in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Add to that the clue to look not only in the broad region of Maryland, but to look specifically in Emmitsburg. That's where I spotted something only a study of maps could have revealed.

As it turns out, Emmitsburg is located less than a mile south of the state border—a critical distance realized by students of the much-later Civil War battle at Gettysburg, which was located just on the other side of the Mason-Dixon line. Predating all that, back during the time period in which Nicholas Schneider was moving his family residence, he likely traveled little more than twenty miles distance.

What is also interesting about the move was the significance of church locations in and around Emmitsburg. The town is now the location of two Catholic pilgrimage destinations, which got their start only a few years prior to the Schneiders' arrival. One of those sites is where Elizabeth Ann Seton founded the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph in 1809. The other, established in 1805, is the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.

While national recognition of those two religious sites occurred long after the Schneiders' residence there, their establishment during the time period in which Nicholas and his family arrived at Emmitsburg gives an idea of the religious atmosphere of that time period. Being a devout Catholic, perhaps this mattered deeply to Nicholas, especially if he knew he had to leave his family while attending to military duties.

But did he leave for the just-declared War of 1812? After all, by that point, he would have been forty six years of age. Though it would be hard to determine—from our perspective, two hundred years later—just what the reason was for the Schneider family's move from Pennsylvania to Maryland during 1812, I discovered one other family tradition regarding Nicholas which may lend credence to the possibility that he served in some capacity for that war.


Map above, showing current driving distance between Emmitsburg, Maryland, and Conewago Township in Adams County, Pennsylvania, courtesy Google Maps.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Checking the Precise Date


When did the War of 1812 begin?

I realize that question is somewhat like asking, "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?" Although there's actually a twist to the original riddle, the answer to that question seems self-evident.

However, I do have a reason for wondering about the precise date for the start of the War of 1812: the unexplained disappearance of Nicholas Schneider at a time when one would most expect a father's presence at his child's baptism. Born on April 22, 1812, Maria Augusta Schneider was baptised nearly two months later, an unusual gap in time. And by the time of that June 20 event, the only parent listed in attendance at the Conewago Chapel event was Nicholas' wife Elizabeth.

We've already followed the Schneider family's trail well into the future—Nicholas died in Perry County, Ohio, about 1855—so his absence at his daughter's 1812 baptism in Adams County, Pennsylvania, wasn't due to his tragic loss. But there was that other incident occurring in 1812 which got me wondering: could Nicholas, at his age, have served in the War of 1812?

Thus, the search for some precise information. Thanks to the ample resources online regarding that American struggle, it was easy to discover that the United States declared war against Great Britain on June 18, 1812.

While a June 20 baptism would have followed such a declaration by a mere two days, we need to disabuse ourselves of any notion stemming from a modern way of thinking. With no cell phones, Internet access, or even newswire services accessible to them, it is doubtful that the folks in Adams County, Pennsylvania, would even have been aware of the momentous events that unfolded barely forty eight hours preceding their celebration of the baptismal sacrament.

So what could have caused Nicholas' absence at his daughter's baptism? Once again, a modern mind might wonder whether the couple had separated, but that would not be as likely during that time period. If the declaration of war, half a state's length away from the Schneider home, had occurred two days prior to the baptism, it was not likely the cause of his absence—but another military reason might come into play.

Since the Schneider family lived in Pennsylvania, I wondered whether Nicholas was serving with the state militia at the time. Thankfully, there are many online resources available to check for Pennsylvania—for the state in general, or the war in particular.

There was, however, that other little detail which had puzzled me in researching the migration trail of the Schneider family: the assertion by some descendants that the family had, at one time, lived in Maryland. While one resource mentioned that the trail led from Maryland first, then subsequently to Adams County, Pennsylvania, there was that simple detail of the place of birth for two of the younger Schneider sons: Maryland.

Could the Pennsylvania militia have been on alert that the war was soon to unfold? Or could the Schneider family have already been planning to remove to Maryland, leaving Elizabeth and her newborn child behind while her husband and oldest sons prepared a new home in Maryland?

Knowing the challenge of searching for a surname like Schneider—in addition to being misspelled, often anglicized to either Snider or Snyder—I resorted to searching for Nicholas by his first name and using the letter "S" and a wildcard symbol "*" for the surname. Using that search technique, I scoured a listing of all service records for the War of 1812 at On the third page of seven in the resulting readout, I located one sole possibility by the name of Nicholas Snider: a lieutenant who served in Henry Stembel's regiment of the Maryland Militia.

Could our German immigrant Nicholas have served as a lieutenant for the Maryland Militia during the War of 1812? Though that is the only listing for the name I could find, I could not access any further information on that man's service, or even any additional information on the man who led the regiment.

On the other hand, the next child born to Nicholas and Elizabeth was a son—Simon—born not in Pennsylvania, but in Maryland. Still, Simon's December 3, 1813, arrival seems too soon for a family with an absent dad, away for military maneuvers. Yet, there were two details about the family during that timeline that give me pause to wonder. The first is a little fact I stumbled upon while researching the Conewago Chapel in Pennsylania and the family's likely residence in Maryland. The second has to do with what, to me, is an as-yet unsubstantiated claim about Nicholas' own past, long before he and his bride immigrated to America.  


Image above from the baptismal records of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, located in Conewago, Adams County, Pennsylvania; image courtesy

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

In a Hand to Try the Patience of a Saint


Reading through the two hundred year old pages of baptismal records may require the patience of a saint. That was the first thought that occurred to me when, seeking any token of the Nicholas Schneider family's presence in Adams County, Pennsylvania, I found this:

Legible? Hardly. I am convinced it is merely through wishful thinking that I discerned the Latin version of the words Joseph, son of Nicholas and Elizabeth "Sneider" in the records of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus—otherwise known as the Conewago Chapel. If that was indeed what I read, I was looking at the baptismal record of a son born on February 12, 1807, in Pennsylvania.

"Our" Joseph, son of Nicholas and Elizabeth—the Sniders who surfaced in Perry County, Ohio—may not have been born quite so early. Consider this additional discovery found in the Conewago records, in a mercifully far more legible entry than the previous one.

Dated March 25, 1810, with a birth occurring the preceding February, this entry regarding one Aloysius Joseph, son of Nicholas and Elizabeth "Shnider" causes me to wonder. Does this mean the couple's original son Joseph may have died, but the given name Joseph was so important to the couple that they wanted to give a subsequent son the same name? Or could we be looking at a parish with not just one Schneider couple named Nicholas and Elizabeth, but two?

The promising shred of information in these two difficult to read entries is that there was, indeed, a couple named Nicholas and Elizabeth attending the Conewago Chapel, no matter which way their surname was spelled.

A subsequent discovery helped encourage me to slog through the records even further. For the next Schneider record found, the 1812 entry named our couple's next-born daughter, listed here as Maria Augusta.  

There was, however, one problem with this entry: there was no mention of Nicholas. Likewise, there was only one entry provided where the godparents would usually be named—for a "matrona" named Catherine Gibbons. What happened to Nicholas?

Since we already know that Nicholas hadn't died—at least, not quite yet, since he subsequently moved with his family to Ohio before 1820—I wondered what might have caused his absence. Of course, a date like 1812 could eventually slap a researcher in the face, and that is exactly what pushed me onto my next research rabbit trail: what about the War of 1812? Was Nicholas involved?   

Monday, April 11, 2022

Piecing the Story Together


It is not likely, the further back in time we research our family's history, that we will find the details presented to us in one neatly-bound packet. Sometimes, we learn the details a little here, a little there. It is then our task to piece that story together. That is exactly what is unfolding as I seek verification for the travels of Nicholas and Elizabeth Schneider and their migrating family.

We've already discovered that, of their many children born on two continents, the only ones consistently reporting the same place of birth were the youngest—Conrad in Ohio—and Lewis, the family's 1809 addition in Pennsylvania. What, then, of that report I found online of the family's move to Emmitsburg, Maryland—and then to Adams County, Pennsylvania?

Thanks to a long-standing corroboration with distant cousins connected to the Perry County, Ohio, Snider family, I already knew of one resource for baptismal records which might help pin down some dates. Nicholas and Elizabeth were Catholics, and the place where they settled in Ohio—near a small town eventually called Somerset—just happened to claim the first Catholic church established in the state

While records of itinerant priests of those early days might be understandably lacking in clarity or even organization, it was possible for a team from the eventually-established diocese of the area to transcribe those historic records and offer the results online. From that resource, we learn not only that Conrad Snider was baptised there on May 13, 1819, but that he had a twin named Andrew.

When the family first arrived in Ohio cannot be gleaned from that record—the church's original chapel was dedicated in 1818—but it was likely after the estimated date of 1814 that we found last week, provided in the Snider family history posted online.

Since both the online Snider family tree and reports of Nicholas' son Lewis' 1809 birth pointed to Pennsylvania, my next step was to locate any possible record of the Schneider family in the 1810 census. Granted, the search would require checking for at least three spelling variations, and would also be limited to solely naming the head of household, but perhaps this was just my lucky day.

Sure enough, there was a "Nicholass Snyder" located in Adams County, Pennsylvania, in 1810. It was hard to confirm from the head count whether this was our Nicholas' family, but the two boys under ten and one more under fifteen—plus what appeared to be a mom and young daughter—seemed a promising list. That could have been sons Jacob, Lewis, and baby Joseph, plus daughter Catherine.

The most promising way to find more details on the names of family members back in 1810—especially for Catholic families—would be to look for baptismal records. As it turns out, Adams County was location of a church called the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus—otherwise known as the Conewago Chapel. Established in the late 1780s, its baptismal records from 1790 through 1815 can be found online at FamilySearch (at least currently).

We'll take a look, tomorrow, at what can be found in those records regarding any possible matches with our Schneider family.

Image above: "Nicholass Snyder" entry found in the 1810 U.S. Census from Adams County, Pennsylvania; image courtesy

Sunday, April 10, 2022

D N A : Getting the Flywheel Going


     Picture a huge, heavy flywheel—a massive metal disk mounted horizontally on an axle, about 30 feet in diameter, 2 feet thick, and weighing about 5,000 pounds. Now imagine that your task is to get the flywheel rotating on the axle as fast and long as possible.
     Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward, moving almost imperceptibly at first. You keep pushing and, after two or three hours of persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn.                                                                ~Jim Collins in Good to Great


In his best-seller Good to Great, business consultant Jim Collins compares the monumental effort of starting and sustaining a project or business with that of fighting against inertia to physically push-start a massive flywheel.

I'm not sure why, but in thinking about the progress I've made lately in sorting my DNA matches, Jim Collins' flywheel description came to mind. At first, pushing with all the mental fortitude my determination could muster, it seemed like the collective mass of all those matches would barely budge beyond the starting point. Progress was indeed imperceptible. All the hours of instruction from some of the most notable pioneers in genetic genealogy, all the effort trying to sort and search for clues still left me scratching my head about those thousand mystery cousins, wondering, "Who are all those people?"

And yet, now—nine years after submitting my first DNA test kit—I turn around and look at that impossible-to-move flywheel and realize it is almost moving itself forward with barely any effort on my part. Why? Along with that near-impossible yet continuous push invested at first came consistency of effort and smarter use of newer tools. Most important, the bottom line: every match once connected helps make the next connection just a little bit easier. Though we can't sense it at first, the flywheel begins, imperceptibly but exponentially, to work for us.

I sometimes like to compare the process to seeking that proverbial needle in the haystack. Instead of looking for the needle, though, I focused on sorting the hay. I sorted those collateral lines for each generation, strand by strand, into the family tree database; that was my continual, sustained push on the flywheel. Eventually, that needle came into view, and nearly sorted itself into the right slot.

Using the tools available at many of the genealogically-focused DNA testing companies streamlines this sorting process. Leaving notes on research progress, color-coding family lines, or tagging matches within the collateral lines of the family tree help show us how far we've progressed. When I scroll through my DNA matches at now, those round blue icons of connection remind me of just how much progress I've made. The more of those tokens I see, the more encouraged I get; the flywheel is almost moving of its own accord now.

True, there are many who are only now just starting out. You may be one of them, staring at your thousand-plus DNA strangers and wondering, "Just who are all these people?!" Start with your closest matches and begin that sorting process: first, separating maternal from paternal side, then identifying who likely matches each of your grandparents. The more you identify, the easier it will be to spot shared matches. Click those icons to mark those matches in your tree; the increased show of color will serve to encourage you to keep at it. And like suddenly realizing that you did it—the persistent, overall accumulation of effort in getting that flywheel moving—you'll realize that what seemed like such an impossible task at first is now a far easier prospect than you'd ever dreamed.


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