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.

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