Monday, June 6, 2022

When it Rains . . .


There are times when the deluge of life events can conspire against us. For me, this weekend was one of such times. As is often said, when it rains, it pours. It wasn't just the blowout on the freeway the other night, nor even the feeling of having a lumpy, racing heart rate at the same time as a lumpy, bumpy instantly flat tire. Everything seemed to come together in just the most exquisitely difficult way.

And then, I slept it off. It's kinda tiring, you see (no pun intended). Which leaves little time for that customary three hours of research for my daily posts.

While flat on my back yesterday, mulling all this over, it occurred to me it might be time to take a break from that research schedule. A hiatus of sorts. While I'm not sure I'll just take off entirely and indefinitely, if there is a missing entry in that customary daily schedule, you'll know I'm just taking a break. Or I might just post a snippet on a resource which I've stumbled across in my much-slowed-down research progress. Or not. Just wanted to give the heads up that, right now—here, at least—it's been pouring.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

One of Those Days


Do you ever have one of those days? You know, the kind in which everything you planned somehow doesn't go quite as planned? Well, that's me, today.

This weekend was going to be one of those times to set aside for some celebration and recollection. The college where my husband received his master's degree was hosting a twenty year anniversary celebration of the start of that particular program. They had invited all the alumni and their guests to an afternoon of remembrances on campus, with the sharing of prospective possibilities as they commemorated the changing of the guard from the founding faculty to a new leadership.

It was a beautiful day for a drive to the Bay area, and we certainly enjoyed the program and seeing old friends and appreciated faculty members. We topped off a pleasant day with dinner and were about to head home when my heart condition kicked in again. No problem; we have contingency plans for that—but when, on the last leg of the journey home, passing construction on our city's crosstown freeway, we hit work site rabble, everything got put on hold.

But wait! We have a solution for that. We called our roadside service company. And waited. And began to wonder whether we needed to switch companies. And were informed that the tow truck had already arrived and fixed our tire. And called back again.

Thank God for kids with trucks. Our daughter drove downtown to where we were stranded, waited until the tow company really did show up, and whisked me home to a quieter environment to wait out those pesky health problems.

All that to say, that was not a day to prepare today's post. Definitely not a day to continue chasing those elusive Gordon ancestors—not even for my mother-in-law. Though it's always a time to remember to touch base with everyone, say everything's really okay, and rest up for another day. Tomorrow is another day—hopefully, one with time for some family history research. Until then, if ever you can, steer clear of those hidden road hazards! 

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Off the Shelf:
From Humble Beginnings


When researching family history, I'm always on the lookout for a good story. Sometimes, those stories even come to me prepackaged. A while back, while working on my mother's McClellan line—and entering all the descendants and possible DNA matches into my database—I ran across a fourth cousin to my bookish mother who happened to write his own story. 

Finding a book written by another family member, no matter how distant the relationship, is—for me, at least—an enticing sales proposition. Of course, I had to have a copy of the book. And now, at just the perfect point for sitting at an outdoor cafe for a morning of leisurely reading, I'll be opening the covers of Lamar Jolly's From Humble Beginnings: An Autobiography.

While a number of my distant relatives have enjoyed a successful career in real estate development or other business endeavors, Lamar Jolly's story is somewhat different in that he began with service in the United States Coast Guard. Most of his active duty service was spent as a staff member of the Officer Candidate School on the grounds of the U. S. Coast Guard Academy. The leadership lessons gained from that experience are peppered throughout the book, along with remembrances of key individuals he met who made an impact on the author in his younger years.

While many books by family members are self-published and have a more homespun appearance, such are often the very resources which help us peek inside the life story of relatives we might not otherwise have gotten to know. Page after page in such books, as the tales unwind, we become acquainted with these distant cousins in ways we couldn't glean simply by harvesting facts from vital records or obituaries.

Although not everyone in our family tree may have published a book—or even kept a diary to be passed down through the generations—when we do run across the chance discovery of such a volume, it's time to snatch it up. I'm always glad to make such discoveries, and even happier when I can locate a copy of the book, whether in or out of print.



Friday, June 3, 2022

Back to the Books

The challenge with researching those ancestors born in the 1700s is the lack of widely-distributed digitized records trumpeting their existence. Sure, there are a few notable exceptions to that dilemma—think Family History Library in Salt Lake City, for instance—but for the most part, when seeking documentation of those distant relatives, if it is still available at all, be prepared to pack up and travel to the source.

The source, for most of John Gordon's life, would be the area in Pennsylvania known as the Tenmile Country. Ten Mile is not just a place, however—though there is a community specifically called by that name there—but a region. That region encompasses the state's southwestern counties of Washington and Greene, a location with a decided ambience all its own.

It's an area, at least for my mother-in-law's family, full of family history. That history, claimed by descendants of my husband's fifth great-grandfather, John Gordon, can be hard to come by, especially for a researcher like me, isolated on the opposite side of the continent.

Sometimes, given the challenges of researching that time period and remote location, it helps to have access to books. Books, the way-finders for genealogists of a previous century, still come in handy. I still leap at the chance to snatch up a used genealogy or history book if I can—thus, my serendipitous discovery of, and subsequent ownership of, the book by historian Howard Leckey called The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Families.

I've come back to that book time and again, from inter-library loan days of the nineties to bookstore purchase of just a couple years ago. Now, it looks like I'll be pulling that book back off the shelf once again.

Granted, genealogy books can contain errors, but it's the trailblazer aspect I'm after at this point. I can double-check for errors once I've been pointed in the right direction to locate actual documentation. Right now, my task is to trace the lines of descent of John Gordon's nine children and compare those to the ancestral lines of the 165 DNA matches showing on my husband's ThruLines® readout at

Right at the start, exploring the descendants of John Gordon's daughter Elizabeth tells me I need to search for some documentation. Sure, the Leckey book tells me John's daughter Elizabeth was born in 1761 and eventually married Christopher Guseman. And yes, from there I can see that their daughter, also named Elizabeth, married James Wells and had children, as well. But from the daughter of the next generation, I can't piece together any record corresponding with what these DNA matches assert.

I like to confirm DNA matches at Ancestry, especially given their system now for linking and identifying. However, it means very little to assert that two people are connected through a specific line of descent, if there is no record to confirm the names and dates claimed for these relatives. That, as it turns out, is my particular struggle. Especially in a family known to have intermarried, believing that a DNA match is proof alone that a pedigree chart is correct gives me little solace. I want to see the paper trail.

Yes, books are helpful—as a guide. But at some point, though we consult such books as these, we do need to turn to available records to bolster our claims. With all these multiple generations of Gordons, there is more than one way to find our way back to that fifth great-grandfather, John Gordon.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

A Far - Reaching
Most Recent Common Ancestor


Introducing the use of DNA into family history pursuits interjects new-to-us terms such as "Most Recent Common Ancestor." When I first heard that term's acronym—MRCA—bandied about, I thought someone was talking about a new pandemic. Not so: the new quest, in genetic genealogy, is to find the closest ancestor held in common between a DNA test-taker and his matches on the same family line. That's what finding the MRCA is all about.

In my husband's case for this month, the work of finding that Most Recent Common Ancestor has already been done. He is John Gordon, born somewhere—the jury is still out on whether he originated in Scotland or Germany, two very different options—about 1739. That, at least, is the date given on his memorial erected at the Gordon Cemetery in Greene County, Pennsylvania.

John Gordon was my husband's fifth great-grandfather. And that's the sticking point I'm musing over today. When most people take a DNA test for genealogy purposes, they likely hope to find cousins somewhat closer than fourth cousins—certainly not sixth cousins or beyond. Working with connections of that closer sort, a MRCA might be, say, a second great-grandparent, a far more easily researched proposition.

Working with the present-day descendants of a fifth great-grandfather, however, means not only that we and our DNA-matching cousins have done the research work to push the generational boundaries of our pedigree chart out sufficiently far. It also assumes there will be enough genetic material to share between sixth cousins. In many cases, that possibility approaches zero. Depending on the testing company used by the two potential matches, sixth cousins may find each other about eleven percent of the time, if testing at AncestryDNA, or below two percent of the time, if using Family Tree DNA. That's quite a spread of possibilities.

Put another way, the likelihood of sharing no detectable DNA with a sixth cousin approaches ninety percent, according to a research team at Cambridge University.

By now, you are getting my point about such distant MRCAs. So, how do we proceed in letting DNA guide us through our spring-cleaning research task this month with the line of John Gordon?

Incredibly, it appears that fifth great-grandfather John Gordon must have had some persistent genes. Of course, a little pedigree collapse doesn't hurt the equation, either. The Gordon line is one in which various members of what was once a very large family have intermarried over the generations. In my mother-in-law's case, that meant two of her great-grandparents—one on her maternal side, the other on her paternal side—were both descendants of that same John Gordon.

The end result, at least as far as my husband's sixth cousin DNA matches are concerned, is that the highest connection is a match who shares thirty centiMorgans with him—all within one single segment. If you're wondering what the odds are of that happening, it turns out there is indeed a three percent relationship probability for such a scenario. A stretch, indeed.

So, despite such a far-removed MRCA as we've found in John Gordon, it looks like I'd better get busy comparing notes on those Gordon DNA matches. As it turns out, there are no less than 165 such matches, according to Ancestry's ThruLines® readout. John Gordon's reach has indeed gone far and wide.


Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Spring Cleaning on the Gordon Line


With temperatures this week promising to hover in the nineties, it doesn't seem much like spring around here. Despite the unofficial start of summer vacation with the holiday weekend just past us, I'm going to abide by the official designation: summer can't claim us for another twenty days. That's my story and I'm sticking with my plans to do one final round of genealogical spring cleaning on my mother-in-law's family tree.

This month, it's her Gordon line which will be my focus for my Twelve Most Wanted ancestors of 2022. Of all the lines in her tree, this is the one I've managed to push back the farthest in research.

Putting this in perspective, founding immigrant John Gordon would be my husband's fifth great-grandfather, a patriarch bequeathing him 165 DNA matches on his ThruLines at For those matches at the sixth cousin level, yes, there are many weakly connected relatives with centiMorgan counts dropping far below the preferred rock-bottom of twenty—but there are surprisingly a few measuring up to thirty centiMorgans in a single segment, something I wouldn't have expected for such a distant relationship.

My goal in incorporating DNA information into my family's trees was to fill in as many collateral lines as possible for each generation. In a way, that means producing the kind of family diagram known as a descendancy chart—only I'm not doing it for one line of descent. I'm just adding Gordon to that list.

As for that Gordon line, this month we'll review who John Gordon, the founding immigrant, was. We'll take a brief tour of what we already know about some of his descendants—at least, the ones who migrated west through Pennsylvania and onward to Ohio, especially Perry County, the place my mother-in-law once called home. And we'll assess what else needs to be done with the many gaps in that line of descent.

When we're done with the month, I can't say we'll have an entirely spruced up tree. I certainly can't say I'll have slogged through all those ThruLines matches. But as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And there's a lot that needs to be gained in this sizeable Gordon family.

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