Friday, June 30, 2023

The Difficulty With DNA


At the beginning of a research project, I first let my brain take in all the possibilities. There can be a lot to consider when the slate is blank and there are plenty of options to explore. With this upcoming month's project to explore what can be discovered about Johanna Flanagan Lee, cousin to my father-in-law's grandmother, I've started laying out the branches on her direct line, filling in all the descendants. And I can't help but wonder if any of them has thought about taking a DNA test.

Even if one of these descendants of Johanna did decide to take a DNA test, checking the ThruLines tool at is simply not an option in this case. The readout for this tree only goes as far back as Anna Flanagan, my father-in-law's great-grandmother and aunt to Johanna. Even though I've entered a place holder in the tree, labeled simply "Flanagan," for Anna's father—and thus, Johanna's paternal grandfather—there are no other DNA testers in the Ancestry pool to show up as a ThruLines match.

There may be an explanation for this dearth of matches on the Flanagan side. For one thing, the very situation Anna found herself in, directly after the birth of her daughter Catherine, meant Catherine would have no full siblings. Anna's husband, for whatever reason, abruptly needed to leave the country and sail to America, leaving Anna and baby Catherine behind in Ireland. Though Anna herself sailed to Boston in search of him, she never found her husband, and never married again, eventually settling in Chicago with the rest of her immigrating Irish family. Perhaps for that reason, family obituaries included niece Johanna among the survivors of the departed: this simply was such a small family as to leave very few names to mention as bereaved relatives.

Despite this situational reason for lack of Flanagan DNA matches, I realize one thing. Among those in my father-in-law's extended family, I apparently have a line of female descendants which would qualify as the matriline leading back to Anna.

Of course, even if I could find a member of that matriline willing to spring for a mitochondrial DNA test, it wouldn't point me back to the originating Flanagan side of the family, but through Mr. Flanagan's unnamed wife onwards to the roots of her mother. And the matriline for Anna's daughters' daughters would not be the same as that of her niece Johanna, who was related to Anna through her father's line.

Likewise, finding any male Flanagan descendants willing to take a Y-DNA test would only work if I could find a descendant of a brother of Anna. If Johanna had a brother, that would help, but I don't even know that much about Johanna yet. Even if I did know who her brother might have been, a Y-DNA test would only help if that brother had sons, who had sons, who had sons....

As it is, the only DNA that might help in this case would be that plain ol' vanilla version: autosomal DNA, the test which reliably points out all those distant cousins in the family, sometimes even up to as remote a relationship as sixth cousins. For my current volunteer test taker, that would mean a match at the fourth cousin level.

That fourth cousin level is very do-able, except for one small detail: this family has what is sometimes called long generations. In other words, the number of years passing between each generation, in this family's case, stretches close to forty years. If Johanna's generations were shorter than this span in Anna's family, that would leave us looking for matches at the level of once-removed or more distant. Since we are approaching those distant stretches where DNA sometimes drops off the testing radar for viable matches, adding those generations "removed" can push us beyond the detectable thresholds necessary to identify genetic matches.

And so, in this quest to find more about Johanna's family, I'll keep looking for DNA matches. But I won't hold out much hope, considering these difficulties. For Johanna's descendants, it's better to keep a closer eye on the paper trail of genealogical matches than the DNA trail of genetic matches.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

About Johanna


A daughter of Ireland who found herself in Chicago: that may be the very one who connects me with the missing links in my father-in-law's Flanagan—and, eventually, Tully—family line, and yet, she herself was not part of his direct line.

Johanna, a Flanagan back in Ireland, married someone with an agonizingly common name—John Lee—and raised her family in Chicago. If it weren't for mentions of her married name—Johanna Lee—in obituaries of her relatives, I wouldn't even have known of her connection to my father-in-law's family. However, when no other clues on that Flanagan family emerged, despite diligent searching, any relative could become the one to help find answers.

Somehow, Johanna was cousin to my father-in-law's maternal grandmother, Catherine Malloy. This relationship was likely through Johanna's father—an as-yet unnamed Flanagan—and Catherine's mother, Anna Flanagan. Where Johanna came from in Ireland I can't yet determine, but I do know that Anna received a letter from Catherine's father in 1848, on the date of his departure for the New World, an ill-fated trip to Boston. The address on the envelope revealed that, at that time, Anna and her infant daughter Catherine lived in Parish Ballyagran in County Limerick.

With Catherine having been born about 1848, Johanna would then be the younger of the two cousins—but not by much. Johanna, at least according to census records in her adopted second home in Chicago, was said to have been born in March of the next year. By the time Johanna's name began appearing in American documentation, she and her husband John were parents of several children. Depending on which source I found for the listing of names, there were up to eight children born to the Lees: William, George, John, Lillian, Edward, David, Deborah, and Mary Elizabeth. David had died as an infant—not uncommon in that time period—and William, mentioned in his mother's obituary as having predeceased her, apparently died in the same year as her passing, 1909.

While I can find small details on this particular collateral line of my father-in-law—such as the Lee family's address in Chicago at 3414 Parnell—the weightier, and thus more helpful, details evade my notice. Johanna's father's name, for instance, would help build a clearer picture of that generation of siblings of Anna Flanagan, Catherine's mother.

However, I don't want to merely focus on that Flanagan connection. For July's rendition of my Twelve Most Wanted for this year, I'd like to learn as much as possible on the descendants of Johanna, herself. Who knows? With all the recent emphasis at about connecting with fellow researchers, perhaps I will find someone willing to share records and remembrances—or even maybe spring for a DNA test from the Flanagan side of the equation.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Taking a Detour

Sometimes, the direct route to an answer isn't the best option, considering current conditions. Perhaps there's a traffic jam. Or construction in the way. For family historians on the road to a better understanding of their roots, that might involve running into the dreaded "brick wall" which brings all research to an abrupt stop.

That's when I prefer taking a detour. The scenic route. The bypass which avoids unnecessary roadblocks. Sometimes, this may not work to help me arrive at the answer to my research question, but often—no matter the end result—it leads to some enlightening information.

That's the process I'll be using for this upcoming month's research project, when we explore the family of Johanna Flanagan Lee, immigrant from somewhere in the south of Ireland to the chill winter winds of Chicago, Illinois. Last January, in selecting my Twelve Most Wanted for 2023, Johanna gained the spot for this coming July's research efforts.

The month of July marks the first of three months in which I'll work on the ancestry of my father-in-law. Three out of his four grandparents were born in Ireland, and certainly all eight of his great-grandparents were from that same country.

For the month of July, however, my goal will not be to work on any of those direct line ancestors. Instead, stuck on a key question about one particular great-grandmother of his, I am going to take a detour rather than a direct route: I will be researching a collateral line.

While that line does have to do with my father-in-law's Flanagan line, it is actually a cousin of his maternal grandmother who will grab our attention this coming month. That cousin, Johanna Flanagan Lee, was mentioned in obituaries as a relative of two known Flanagan ancestors—it's just that I don't know exactly how she is related. Her father, a Flanagan, is a total unknown—so far.

While that may sound like a research dilemma for someone else's family tree, not ours, it comes with a tempting hook: if I can find Johanna's parents, perhaps I can tie that knowledge to what I already know about my father-in-law's direct line, and together, those facts might tease out some leads. If nothing else materializes, at least I can build out Johanna's own family tree and see if it leads to some fellow researchers. Tomorrow, we'll start with what is already known about Johanna, and then determine which direction will be the best to take first.  

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

About Those Millers


There are some genealogical questions for which DNA testing is simply not suited to answer. Filling in the blanks in all the lines of descent from my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather, Mathias Ambrose, is one such instance. Especially when it comes to Mathias' daughter Barbara, whom we can tell from his 1804 will was already married to a Miller, I'm afraid I will have to call off the chase for more information—at least for now.

Here's the problem: Barbara's husband is not named in her father's will. Searching for a woman in that time period—the early 1800s, following her father's death in Bedford County, Pennsylvania—is already a challenge, as women were next to invisible during that time period. Although Mathias did mention the name of one grandchild in his will, that child was not the son of Mr. Miller, whoever he might have been.

Even though Barbara's husband was not named, if he had gone by almost any other surname—Smith or Jones being the obvious exceptions—we might have had more of a chance to discover his given name. But Miller? 

Then, too, I have yet to discover where Barbara herself fit into the Ambrose family constellation. True, the tradition was to name one's children in birth order when listing them in a will, so in that case Barbara would appear to have been right in the middle of the birth order, or even among the youngest ones. She was named as the third daughter, but that was after mentioning three sons, so it is hard to tell whether they all were listed strictly in birth order. I tend to think not.

If she was among the younger Ambrose children, my next task would be to search for marriage records in Bedford County, rather than back in Maryland, from where the family had moved. With this month almost over, that will need to go on my to-do list for the next time I explore this Ambrose family. Searching for a Miller without a given name is simply too challenging for that time period. If Barbara and the rest of the Miller family had moved westward, as did her married sisters Elizabeth and Susannah, the chances of locating the right Miller family would decrease even more precipitously.

As for the other sisters, even they present research problems. The start of the problems in finding these descendants grows first from the very handwriting on Mathias' will, which is next to impossible to decipher. Adding guesses to surnames, combined with missing given names for those husbands, compounds the research problem. Perhaps that is the prime reason why there are no ThruLines results for the descendants of those other daughters.

My temptation, seeing how close we are to the close of this month, is to set aside this research project for another year. Among the tasks I'd like to pick up upon my eventual return to Mathias Ambrose's puzzle would be to locate and study the probate records for the administration of his estate. As disbursement of liquidated property would involve signed records of the named Ambrose children having received their portion of the inheritance, I already have seen that some such receipts would actually be signed not by the named daughter herself, but by her husband. If so, that might be a mystery instantly solved for the actual surnames of the husbands—some of whose names may have been mangled phonetically in the will—not to mention, a big reveal for the missing given names of those men. A search like that, however, may take quite a bit of time.

With that, we'll jump ahead to the research project planned for July, and start tomorrow with a brief introduction of the challenge we'll face as we move from my mother-in-law's family lines to those of her Irish-American husband.


Monday, June 26, 2023

DNA and Double Cousins


Thanks to the early 1800s marriage of two Ambrose sisters and two Flowers brothers, several of their descendants among my husband's distant cousin DNA matches show up as far more closely related genetically than genealogically. In other words, according to DNA test results, some distant cousins share more centiMorgans than would be expected for that level of relationship. In one case in his family, the numbers are off the charts.

That is not an uncommon experience, as I've learned. Even here at A Family Tapestry, reader (and blogger) Lisa mentioned that double cousins in the family tree gave her a "boosted DNA relationship." In her case, she was referring to actual double first cousins, descendants of her grandparents and their siblings. In my husband's case, though, Elizabeth Ambrose's marriage to Joseph Flowers produced children of his third great-grandparents. With their double first cousins—children of Elizabeth's sister and Joseph's brother—we need to look to the most common recent ancestors among my husband's fourth great-grandparents.

Last week, I worked on the ThruLines results for descendants of Elizabeth and Joseph, our direct line. This week, I'm starting the same process for the descendants of Elizabeth's sister Susannah Ambrose and her husband, Joseph Flowers' brother. While of Mathias Ambrose's ThruLines DNA matches at Elizabeth yielded us thirty five matches, of Susannah's descendants, we have a smaller number: seventeen matches.

That, of course, represents what Ancestry could find for me through the ThruLines process. Keep in mind, while ThruLines is drawn from DNA test results, it also utilizes information from other subscribers' family trees. If the trees are incorrect, the ThruLines readouts will obviously be less helpful. As Nicole Dyer of Family Locket puts it, "ThruLines is a computer algorithm, not a genealogist." She sees ThruLines readouts as hypotheses, not documented fact.

I like how Roberta Estes puts it: "ThruLines is a tool, not an answer." Thus, I tiptoe very carefully through the handy diagrams which seem to assert exactly how my subject (in this case, my husband) is related to any given DNA match.

In the case of Susannah Ambrose's descendants, that was a necessary precaution. For one DNA cousin, the ThruLines diagram leading through the six generations subsequent to Susannah included boxes which all had dotted lines around each name. That signified that none of those generations were included in my own family tree. Odd, considering that I already have most of Susannah's descendants documented in this family line—until I realized that the entire sweep of that family line belonged not to Susannah's son, but to a son of Elizabeth. Apparently, enough trees on Ancestry disagree with my assessment to convince ThruLines that Susannah was the correct ancestral mother, not Elizabeth.

More puzzling than that was the ThruLines readout for another descendant of Susannah. The first glitch which caught my eye involved the son of Susannah's great-grandson, Robert Henry Dittoe. Robert was born in 1866—at least, according to the date inscribed on his headstone. I'm not sure why, but the information on ThruLines for Robert's son indicated that his date of birth occurred in 1797. Obviously, something is seriously wrong here.

Despite that glitch, the descendant who called that man her grandfather turned out to be labeled as my husband's fifth cousin, once removed. That may make sense, considering the ancestor in common for them was Mathias, father to both Elizabeth and Susannah. But here's the problem: these two DNA cousins share over one hundred centiMorgans.

If you look at any chart on the odds of that happening—for instance, the Shared centiMorgan Project update at DNA Painter—you'll see that by the level of fifth cousin, that chance approaches zero. But this relationship is fifth cousin once removed. Hmmm. Unexpected parental event? I don't think so. I say the finger points more accurately at those double cousins lurking in the background.

Fortunately for those of us researching such DNA scenarios, statistical help is on the way. Over two years ago, The DNA Geek, (aka Leah Larkin), posted a plea for volunteers to upload their data for a project to be done in partnership with the DNA Doe Project to examine real results for descendants of double first cousins. The goal was to produce something helpful for those dealing with DNA test results from either endogamy or pedigree collapse. The response to that plea yielded enough volunteer participation to do a test run and develop a tool, the user interface for which is just now about to be tested in a beta program this month, according to a comment following the original blog post.

In my husband's case, this is one of the more extreme examples of unexpected numbers regarding DNA matches, but there are signs of pedigree collapse elsewhere in that family tree. All the more reason to anticipate the results of that beta test and learn how to put that tool to good use. Whether the results can tease out a pattern in how double cousins and pedigree collapse impact DNA test results remains to be seen. But from what I see of our own family's DNA matches, those are the type of results which do not fit any other mold.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Almost End of Another Research Month


Every month brings a new research challenge, based on my "Twelve Most Wanted" plan drawn up around the New Year. The beginning of the month brings the excitement of possibly finding new information on brick wall ancestors; the last week of the month makes me wonder where all the time went.

Despite the difficulty of this month's challenge to write about the roots and family information on my mother-in-law's colonial-era third great-grandfather, Mathias Ambrose, I have been working behind the scenes on the more routine aspects of research grunt work. Primarily, that has been through the Ambrose-related DNA matches to my husband's own test at

Last week, I mentioned zeroing in on those DNA matches which are one generation closer in connection. These are the cousins who connect through Mathias' daughter Elizabeth as their most recent common ancestor. There were fifty nine Ancestry subscribers descending from Elizabeth who match with my husband, including five who connect with a daughter for whom I have no record.

Pushing back another generation to the ThruLines matches for Mathias, himself, I find it interesting that there are thirty four matches listed specifically for the Ambrose line which goes through Mathias' daughter Elizabeth, versus the fifty nine which match directly with her father Mathias. That lesser number, of course, demonstrates how genetic sequences from some distant ancestors may not be passed down to all their descendants of the same generation.

That count, of course, represents the matches which have already been presented to me through the ThruLines estimates. There may well be others within the universe of DNA matches which will turn out to be related through Elizabeth Ambrose's line that no one has yet been able to attribute to that exact ancestor.

That's where my persistent—but behind the scenes—work on building out the collateral lines comes in. For each ancestor whose genetic material could still possibly show up in the current generation, I am building a tree charting all the lines of descent from each of that ancestor's collateral lines. Yes, that's a lot of work. But just ask me how easily I can spot a connection to a new DNA match, and you'll see the value in the persistence.

In the past two weeks, for instance, I've added another 142 profiles to my mother-in-law's tree. That tree now includes 32,800 documented relatives. Most of the increase this time is owing to working through all the Ambrose DNA ThruLines matches to make sure the lines of descent proposed by Ancestry agree with the documentation I've been able to add to each individual's profile page. (Sometimes, the ThruLines readout does not match up with verification.)

Though I haven't written about this during the past month, I've also been checking on my own mother's tree, particularly to help spot those DNA matches on lines from earlier month's posts. Lately, I've been working on the Tilson lines of descent, the family I wrote about in March. It's no surprise, then, to see that another fifty seven individuals have been added to that tree, which now totals 33,620.

This is an incremental process which I have been keeping up for years now—ever since that first moment when, eager to see those new DNA test results, the anticipation turned quickly to dismay when the thought struck me, "Who are all these people?!" It may seem a tedious approach at first, but the ease, now, in placing matches in their proper place in the family tree has made it well worth the time investment. 

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Invitation to Connect


If you think of genealogy as a solitary pursuit, you'd mostly be right. After all, there is some truth to those jokes about researching at 3:00 a.m. in pajamas and bunny slippers. Nobody instigates a flash mob at the local cemetery, or arranges a get-together at the government archives. If our research calls us to places like those, we go it alone. At the most, perhaps we'd carpool with a genea-buddy for a special visit to a distant library. But genealogy as a social event? Not the usual image. Except...

There is one aspect of family history research we tend to forget about: the need to have someone to tell when we are bursting with the genealogy happy dance. As solitary as we researchers might be, when it comes to finding the long-awaited answer, we crave the opportunity to share it with others—preferably those others for whom the tale does not induce the dreaded MEGO response (My Eyes Glaze Over).

My personal opinion is that the perfect venue for such sharing is the local genealogical society. A circle of like-minded folk, the local genealogical society is comprised of people with similar objectives: to delve into the past, focused on discovering and understanding our ancestors and their times. However, not all communities have local genealogical organizations, and even in the towns and cities which do, many residents may not even be aware of their existence—or choose solely to avail themselves of research services through nationally-known genealogy companies, and bypass any opportunities to talk with others about their discoveries.

If I had my own way, of course, I'd be advocating for people to get involved with their own local societies, but if that is not always possible, I've noticed what I hope becomes a new trend among those "big box" genealogy companies which bring us so many useful records and other digitized resources.

In the past week or two, I've spotted a few new tabs on my account which indicate that Ancestry, too, is becoming an advocate for connecting researchers. This is good, right? After all, products like DNA tests for genealogy would be far less useful if we didn't have a way to connect with those mystery fourth cousins. For every complaint I hear about "no one in the family" wanting to step up and pick up on our research when we'll eventually need to lay it down, I'd love to see a way offered for subscribers to tempt those reticent family members to at least take a peek at all the fascinating discoveries we are making.

Lately, it seems, is providing ways to take such steps—tiny steps, at first, but tools to help us connect with family and fellow researchers. Take, for instance, this new tab I spotted on the pedigree page of one of my family trees.

Tucked unobtrusively in the top right corner of the screen, along with the more familiar "tree search" bar, is now a tab labeled "Activity." Clicking it produces a drop-down menu containing three choices: Tasks, Changes, and Viewers.

This Activity tab is apparently still in beta mode. When I click open the first option—Tasks—the dialog box indicates, "Tasks are only visible to people you've invited to this tree." This seems to indicate that a subscriber can invite others not only to view the tree—which we've been able to do for quite some time—but collaborate with them, if they catch the vision and want to help chase those elusive ancestors. Behind-the-scenes comments and conversation can then circle around a specific task and the progress being made on that point. The more I think about the possibilities, the more ideas pop up about getting family involved at whatever level they are most comfortable participating. What a useful, yet simple, tool.

While the next option, Changes, helps provide a history of work being done on the tree—seems silly if you are the only one working on your tree, but makes immense sense when coordinating the efforts of several researchers working together—the third option is the one which grabbed my attention the most.

That third option, Viewers, provides a clickable list of every Ancestry subscriber who has taken a peek at that specific tree in the past seven days. There are caveats, of course. If a subscriber decides to turn off that feature on their own end, their name will not show up if they view your tree. That, however, is not the same as having a private tree, for some names show up on this list even if the subscriber maintains a private tree, requiring a polite request to view or discuss specific questions.

For those names which do show up on the seven-day rolling list, one click brings you to their subscriber page. There, you can view the subscriber's member name or moniker, including the date when first subscribed, how recently they have been active on Ancestry, any specific research interests they choose to list, and whether they are willing to help other researchers with specific tasks. Also on that member profile page is their list of trees (and whether public or private), and whether they are a DNA match to you. Along with all that is the ability to send a message to that specific subscriber by simply clicking the tab labeled "message."

Using that new device this past week, I was able to locate a researcher who shares an interest in a particularly challenging branch on my family tree. That was enough to prompt a message, which then started a conversation. Sometimes, all it takes is the means to connect easily.

Hopefully, this set of new tools provided by Ancestry is the first of more such options to come. After all, the concept of family itself implies connection, and what better way to come together than through joint exploration of our own family tree.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Finding the Missing Puzzle Pieces


DNA testing can do wonders for filling in the blanks in a family tree—which is good, since that Flowers and Ambrose branch of my mother-in-law's tree has some missing puzzle pieces.

Mathias Ambrose, third great-grandfather of my mother-in-law, had two daughters who married brothers. I've been spending time taking a long look at all the DNA matches for the daughter in her direct line—her second great-grandmother Elizabeth Ambrose—and that of her sister Susannah. As her proxy, my husband volunteered to take a DNA test at all the major companies used for genetic genealogy testing. We'll take a quick look at what I know about Elizabeth, both on paper and through the DNA test results, today and then take a peek at what we have found about Susannah, beginning next week.

Elizabeth Ambrose, born at the end of 1776 in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, married Joseph Flowers some time before her father's will was drawn up at the end of 1804. There is still a lot to be learned about Elizabeth and Joseph, but one thing I do know: after that year, they moved their family from Pennsylvania to Perry County, Ohio, where the family remained for generations.

As far as I can tell, Elizabeth and Joseph had five sons: John, Joseph, Thomas, Simon, and George Ambrose Flowers. I have been able to follow the lines of each of those sons through to the end of their own lives, thanks to ample documentation available for each of them. 

When I look at my husband's ThruLines readout at, he has DNA matches connected to each of those five sons, which is encouraging. Of those DNA matches, the largest number—thirty one—is attributable to his direct line descending from the fourth son, Simon. Following that, in order from highest to lowest number of DNA matches, are the descendants of John, Joseph, Thomas, and then, finally (and with only one match) George Ambrose. In all, the ThruLines matches total fifty nine.

Where the missing puzzle pieces lie is with another person listed in the ThruLines entry. That descendant is listed by Ancestry as "D5-10 Rebecca Flowers." I'm not sure why the "D5-10" is included with the name, but as I open each match's ThruLines diagram, that code is always present in one form or another.

Who is Rebecca Flowers? And what does "D5-10" mean? Obviously, this is a puzzle, and it belongs to people who match my husband's DNA with anywhere from a sixteen centiMorgan segment upwards to fifty cMs. Granted, sixteen can be a negligible number when looking at matches, but I'd pay attention to a match sharing fifty.

The difficulty in working with Elizabeth's line is that she and her husband were long done with raising their family by the time the 1850 census got around to sharing each of the names in a household. For both the 1850 census and that of 1860, the only people in the Flowers household were the now-aged couple themselves.

That also was a time frame in which obituaries, while sometimes waxing sentimental, did not always include names of survivors—and names of parents were not included, either. True, I could try a test run of searching for a presumed daughter named Rebecca, but the suggested obituary already shared by other researchers, while painting a lovely picture of the dear departed's sainted qualities, does not mention family members. Another research approach, of locating their father Joseph's will, has not yet produced what I believe would be the correct person by that name.

Still, there are some difficulties with simply assuming the five sons paint the complete picture of the family constellation. For one thing, the spacing of birth years of the known children has some wide gaps, suggesting that there might have been some other children I haven't yet found. The gap between John, born about 1804, and Joseph, born in 1811, is one particularly suggestive indicator.

Even more obvious is what we can see when examining the 1830 census. Granted, those early, handwritten census records could be difficult to read, let alone keep the lines straight on each individual family's entry. However, it looks like the Flowers family in 1830 included at least two young women, one perhaps as young as fifteen, the other not quite thirty years of age. If they were part of the family, who were they?

The search is still on for a last will of their father Joseph. In the meantime, it may be worth the effort to test the hypothesis that Rebecca Flowers was really one of the missing daughters of Elizabeth and Joseph—and one of the missing puzzle pieces connecting the couple with their many descendants who have since turned to DNA tests to discover more about their roots. 

Thursday, June 22, 2023

What About Those Double Cousins?


When two brothers marry two sisters, the children of those two couples are sometimes called double cousins. In other words, each cousin is related to the other cousins twice, through both sides of their family.

While I've been writing about the roots of my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather, Mathias Ambrose, in the background, I've had a second mission: to place all his descendants in my family tree so I can identify all the family's DNA matches in the right branch of the tree. Of course, that eventually turns into a whack-a-mole game. For each DNA cousin I place in the tree, another one pops up to take its place among the unidentified.

Undaunted, I'll continue the process for the remainder of this month, with one twist: I'd like to focus on the descendants of those double cousins who called Mathias Ambrose their maternal grandfather. That means we'll take a closer look at the children of Elizabeth and Susannah Ambrose, the sisters who married two Flowers brothers in Pennsylvania and then moved to Perry County, Ohio.

My curiosity in this process is to see how the DNA relationship estimates match up to the actual relationships according to documentation. While double cousin situations do not exactly confer endogamy status, my mother-in-law's family is the one with so many multiple relationships that I've come to call that connection "endogamy lite." It goes just a little bit beyond pedigree collapse.

For the remainder of this week, we'll use the opportunity to take a closer look at the family of Elizabeth and Joseph Flowers, and then the family of her younger sister Susannah and husband Henry Flowers. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Getting the Right Grandfather


In focusing this month's research on my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather, Mathias Ambrose, we did learn a few details. June's selection for my "Twelve Most Wanted" taught me some new facts about Mathias.

For one thing, he did not—as I had earlier presumed—live his entire life in Pennsylvania. In discovering his years spent across the border in a British colony to the south—Maryland—I also was led to more information on Mathias' own father, for whom he had been named. If I continue the paper trail another generation further, I'll likely be researching records in Germany, not America.

What I won't be doing, however, is researching another man who was long purported to be our Mathias Ambrose's paternal grandfather. While I am glad I didn't make that wrong turn along the Ambrose patriline, I do want to make note of it here, in case anyone else will be tempted to affix that same name to their own pedigree.

The name once claimed to be Mathias' grandfather was Pierre d'Amboise. In case I ever do continue work on this Ambrose family line, I'm glad to have found an argument against linking the French name to the German family.

The source for this mistaken parental identity was apparently once passed along to the D.A.R., back when applicant records could not be photocopied, but were viewed to verify. For whatever reason, that record was included in the Ambrose family line, according to the explanation, despite the fact that it would pre-date the Revolutionary War Patriot by two generations. After all, our Mathias Ambrose himself was listed as the Patriot.

A man during the appropriate time period, known as Pierre d'Amboise—at least according to documents accessible by 2014—actually lived in northern France, not Germany. Married in 1688, he and his wife had three children. The drawback is that, although one of those children was born after his death in 1694, none of them was named Mathias, as you by now might suspect. 

Now-accessible documents have fixed the date of baptism for Mathias' German-born father—the senior Mathias Ambrose—as February 7, 1696, according to a report on the Ambrose website I've been referring to this month. The christening took place at Brackenheim in Wurttenberg, Germany. No matter how much Pierre might have tried, he would not have been able to be the father of the senior Mathias, born nineteen months later.

The true father? According to that same website, our Mathias' paternal grandfather would again have been named Mathias—or, perhaps, the Latin version of that name, Mattheaus. But that, like all other entries on my mother-in-law's pedigree, will first need to be backed up with some documentation from a church far, far away from where this researcher currently lives.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Which Way Did They Go?


Is it just me, or is it not unusual to have a founding immigrant ancestor's life documents appear in one location while his point of arrival in the New World be a distance removed from that residence? In many of my own family's case, the boat arrived in New York harbor, and that is where the freshly-arrived family settled--sometimes for generations afterwards.

Not so, apparently, for my mother-in-law's ancestors in Mathias Ambrose's family. While his later years were spent in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, a good portion of his adult years had been spent across the border in the British colony of Maryland. Neither place, however, was where the Ambrose family first landed after their trip from Germany. Hence, my question: just exactly which way did they go after their arrival in the New World?

Fortunately for me, someone else has captured the sequence of events on the Ambrose family's arrival and timeline and posted it on a website to share with all. If what was posted on the Ambrose site is correct—and thankfully, several footnotes and a bibliography help lay out the route of discovery—it appears that our Mathias Ambrose's father, also named Mathias, arrived in 1732, landing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

That detail was gleaned not from an original record, but was attributed to a transcription published in an 1876 book called Thirty Thousand Names of Immigrants in Pennsylvania. Despite the 1876 publication date for Professor I. Daniel Rupp's book, I am not concerned too much about access; the book has supposedly been reprinted by the Genealogical Printing Company in 1985. Still, that means locating the book in a library, unless I intend on purchasing the thirty eight year old volume, myself.

Fortunately, there are several libraries in the local area which carry genealogical reference books. The challenge is to determine which one actually has the Rupp book in its holdings. Some libraries do include their collections in the WorldCat system; others do not. I know that from experience, as the thousands of genealogical material our own local society donated to our city's library cannot be found in the WorldCat system; to find those entries, I'd need to know to look at our library's own website.

I tried testing out the system to see whether I could find Professor Rupp's old book. It's a good thing I did a test run. I discovered a few details of interest, the first being that that is not exactly the title the original edition was known by. Back in 1876—er, make that 1856 for the original edition—the title was more typical of that era: A Collection of Upwards of Thirty Thousand Names of German, Swiss, Dutch, French, and Other Immigrants in Pennsylvania From 1727-1776. If I wish to drive to Sutro, the large genealogical library in San Francisco, I can peruse its 583 pages for myself. Better yet, if I opt to purchase an updated copy for myself, it still would be possible—but not under the date provided in the Ambrose site's footnotes.

Frustrated that the details from the WorldCat entry didn't match up with the information on the more modern reprint, I took my search directly to Google, just in case. Thankfully, a single page entry in the website of the Gallia County Genealogical Society in Ohio filled me in on some pertinent details. Although it also stated the original publication date as 1876, the information page provided one useful tip: despite an updated version being published recently, the original is still available online via Internet Archive. And that edition does indicate the 1876 publication date.

Thanks once again to the help of research trailblazers—despite the occasional errors—following the trail can help us verify for ourselves the information provided by others. We can retrace the steps others took, a task which might otherwise have kept us wandering in circles for much longer.

Even so, there is quite a bit more I'd like to uncover about this Ambrose family after their arrival in the New World. Specifically, I'll need to confirm the other lines in Mathias' family, siblings who made up the collateral lines to my mother-in-law's second great-grandmother, Mathias' daughter Elizabeth. These will become the outer reaches of matches from my husband's autosomal DNA test results. Thankfully, now that I have an outline of the whereabouts of the Ambrose family following their arrival in Pennsylvania, I can work on locating the records of those collateral lines.

Monday, June 19, 2023

An "International Romance"


Would spotting an article attributed to The New York Times and featuring your family member tempt you to check it out? How about a World War era story billed as an "international romance" and mentioning that relative by name?

Searching for distant cousins—those relatives we discover while exploring the collateral lines in our family tree—can lead us to some fascinating stories. Now that I'm connecting the relationships between my mother-in-law and the descendants of her third great-grandfather, Mathias Ambrose, I've stumbled upon another such unexpected story.

It all started when I reviewed documents suggested by the "hints" at for John Francis Spearman. Born in 1889, John Francis was connected to Mathias by his paternal grandfather's mother, Elizabeth Ambrose. Elizabeth, in turn, was a daughter of Mathias' oldest son, Jacob. This research routine, which I partially described yesterday, is a practice I engage in simply to help me identify where DNA matches belong in the family tree.

While almost every DNA relative's discovery is accompanied by the usual search for census records as well as birth and death records, occasionally other documents will show up which merit consideration. In John Francis Spearman's case, the first such document which grabbed my attention was his passport application.

Drawn up in August of 1916, Spearman's application caught my eye for one point: the reason he gave for taking an international trip during that time. According to the record, John Francis Spearman was requesting to travel to Germany, oddly enough during a time of war—and not just any war, but one reputed to be among the deadliest global conflicts in history. His reason for traveling during that dangerous time? "To be married."

I could hardly believe my eyes when I read that. This was no time for love and marriage, particularly in Germany. I had to read further.

As it turned out, John Francis Spearman—born in Steubenville, Ohio, so obviously a United States citizen—had been serving in Germany as part of the Red Cross since the outbreak of the war. He was a physician and surgeon, according to a later application for a reciprocal license from the state of Wisconsin. That later document provided his dates of service in Germany as August of 1914 through November of 1915. The fourth page of that occupational application even included a photograph of Dr. Spearman in his uniform, including Red Cross armband.

This second trip to Germany was not just a return to service at the war front. As he explained in a letter included with his passport application, Spearman was engaged to marry a German woman, and the date for the wedding was approaching that fall. As the certificate of marriage, issued by the American Consulate at Breslau, Germany—now part of Poland, known as Wrocław—indicated, Spearman's bride-to-be was Marie Hedwig von Raczeck, a resident of Preiswitz (now also part of Poland). 

A 1915 newspaper article published in Topeka, Kansas—home of John Francis' cousin—filled in the blanks on the romance with details which supposedly originally appeared in The New York Times. Apparently, when Dr. Spearman stepped up for wartime service with the Red Cross in Germany, he knew little German. At his post in the foreign country, a local volunteer nurse by the name of Marie was assigned to serve as his interpreter, not only on rounds but also as his assistant when writing up case histories. As the newspaper article observed, "From history to romance proved only a short step."

Of course, having discovered such an unusual story concerning one of my mother-in-law's distant cousins, I wanted to learn more—at least to discover what became of the couple. I did locate a 1920 census entry for John F. and May Spearman in Illinois—Marie went by the nickname May—but not long after, the young couple must have divorced. That, at least, was what was indicated on her death certificate in Pennsylvania in 1924, making that international romance a short-lived loved story. She was only thirty when she succumbed to a suspected heart ailment.

As for John Francis Spearman, his, too, was a short-lived story, for only a couple years later, he died at the age of thirty six. With what seemed like barely a blip on the radar of life, theirs was a story which, having discovered it, left me wondering how to read between the lines in this family history vignette.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

How Close is Close Enough?


DNA can be a powerful tool in confirming one's place in a pedigree chart—and likewise for assembling the descendants of collateral lines. But even the best tool has its weaknesses; the reach of autosomal DNA in confirming relationships loses its strength, the farther the connection stretches between distant cousins.

Despite that risk, I've been working behind the scenes to assemble a diagram of the descendants of Mathias Ambrose's children. The end goal is, for each collateral line to my mother-in-law's direct ancestor, her second great-grandmother Elizabeth Ambrose, to add all the brothers and sisters of Elizabeth's generation in our family tree. There may be a problem with that, though: how close is close enough for two distant cousins to share enough DNA to show up as a match?

Apparently, it is indeed possible to make such a DNA connection, albeit not as often as with closer relatives. Keep in mind, I couldn't test my mother-in-law, herself, but I have tested her son. That, of course, removes us one additional generation from the target ancestor, but despite that, there are a few matches for us to examine.

The first match I checked was a descendant of Elizabeth's oldest brother Jacob. According to the Ambrose website I've been following, Jacob and his wife, Esther Shock, had at least three children whose names I've been tracing: Mathias, Jacob, and Elizabeth. That DNA match descended from Jacob's son Mathias, and shares one fifteen-centiMorgan segment of DNA with my husband. Not much, but at least there's something to connect them genetically as well as genealogically.

The routine I follow when working on collateral lines is to confirm connections through documentation as best I can. For each of the three children of Jacob and Esther I mentioned, I'm now in the process of listing and documenting each of their children—Jacob's grandchildren. Then, from oldest to youngest grandchild, I push forward another generation, and repeat the process.

The idea with this system is, as thoroughly as possible, to construct each collateral line's family tree. The hope is that it will enable me to put DNA matches in their proper place with a bit more ease. Who knows? Perhaps this will prompt the ThruLines mechanism to pick up a few more possible relationship hints at Ancestry, speeding up the process of identifying matches in my tree.

One of the side benefits of going step by step through the descendants of all collateral lines is the surprising stories I come across in the process. Distant cousins can turn out to be the most interesting people. In this same line of Mathias' son Jacob Ambrose, I recently ran across one such vignette. I'll save that one for tomorrow's post.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Technology and Tantrums


What a long way we've come in the pursuit of our family history. The face of genealogical research has forever changed, once it was married to today's ever-changing technological prowess. And yet...when that technology doesn't keep working the way we've come to expect it to do, some of us (insert me here) experience tantrums.

True confession: I can get pretty ugly when I can't get the accustomed fantastic result at the click of a mouse. And last night would be no exception. This latest experience had me holding my breath almost the same as I did about two weeks ago, when I discovered a routine Microsoft update actually fried my PC's guts.

Not to worry, I thought: I have my trusty Mac to take its place. But think again: I soon discovered that, on my Apple computer, while I could sign in to my Blogger account just fine and write daily posts, what I couldn't do was respond to any reader comments. I'm still talking, you see—it's just that nobody can hear me.

Perhaps that wasn't enough to jar my stoic reserve. But yesterday may at least have scraped the surface. Signing in to my Blogger account as usual, the unfortunate sign that greeted my routine entry was not what I expected: instead of the readout with the usual listing of all my previous posts, there was an absolutely blank slate. As if to apologize for the unexpected display, Google added the afterthought, "Something went wrong."


Well, there's more than one way to hack into an account, even if it is your own. I found a back door to pry open and saw my usual listing of posts there, just as always. What a relief, I thought—until I tried to post a new entry. It was as if the program folded its arms and sternly barked, "You can't do that!"

I'm trusting that this is some sort of online glitch and that things will return to normal. Hopefully, this post will fly in the early hours of the morning and everything will return to the rosy normal we genealogists love to use. If not...well, you won't be reading these words, and I will still be tearing my hair out with technology tantrums.

All we can do is wait and see.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Following the Trail One Step Further


Since we've found resources on the Ambrose family from the then-newly-formed Frederick County, Maryland, would it be possible to trace that family back yet another generation?

Since Frederick County was formed in 1748 and my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather Mathias Ambrose apparently received land there from his father in 1759, surely that family would be mentioned in some history books about the earliest years of the county.

That, at least, was my thinking—not to mention, cause for my excitement when I discovered that one such book, History of Frederick County, Maryland, with the promising subtitle beginning, "from the earliest settlements," was available and searchable online at

And yet, no Ambrose. Not, at least, from the search function set to use on the volumes accessible at But you know I can't give up on this quite yet.

Checking back to the Ambrose family history website, I could see the information gathered there: that the senior Mathias, for whom our Mathias was named, was born in Germany early in 1696, and that he emigrated from his homeland in 1732. While he landed in Philadelphia, his naturalization record was drawn up eleven years later and one state removed from the colony of his arrival, in Maryland.

The senior Mathias Ambrose was married more than once. Mathias' second wedding apparently occurred within a year after his arrival in Philadelphia, and that, too, occurred in Maryland, not Pennsylvania.

It was his second wife, Maria Catherine Spohn, who became mother of the junior Mathias and his three brothers and younger sister Maria Barbara.

With the notes provided in the Ambrose family history website, I intend to retrace that research journey and replicate the documentation used to verify those dates. This trailblazing information points me in the right direction to find not only my Mathias Ambrose's parents, but his paternal grandfather, as well. 

Better than that, this online resource has also pointed out an error in the claimed pedigree of this Ambrose family—a point I'd like to review when we return to the Ambrose family topic next week.  

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Letting History Determine the Address


Studying the address where my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather once lived might seem a straightforward process—until we realize that the location given relied greatly on who was in control of rewriting history. 

We've discovered the possibility that Mathias Ambrose, my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather, lived in Maryland with the father he was named after, before moving to Bedford County, Pennsylvania. But did he and his parents really move from one state to the other? Depending on whom we might have asked, had we been living in the region in the 1700s, the answer for this ancestral location might have been Pennsylvania or Maryland. This is where we need to consult history before deciding on our ancestors' residence.

This confusion over location actually dates back to the early 1600s and involved not only the crown of England as the governing power behind the establishment of the colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland, but two other countries as well. Already in the area were the Dutch, who wanted to extend their land holdings in the New World beyond New Amsterdam (now New York City). Also, only a few years after that in 1638, the Swedish established a colony near Delaware Bay.

In the midst of that, the ill-fated English king, Charles I, granted Cecil Calvert a charter for land along the Chesapeake Bay. While perimeters were noted in the charter, arriving colonists weren't specific about mapping out the territory. This eventually had an impact on the charter given, years later, to William Penn by King Charles II. Meanwhile, Cecil Calvert's son, Charles, had no objections to the establishment of Penn's colony, as long as it was situated north of Maryland's border on the fortieth parallel.

Apparently, it wasn't exactly a clearly-defined boundary, as the parties realized only a few years after William Penn was granted his charter in 1681. The two men took the issue to court, back in England, which case was temporarily decided by a compromise: redraw the borders to the two colonies. From that point, the boundary dispute continued with yet more appeals to subsequent monarchs. With Charles Calvert's death in 1715 and William Penn's in 1718, the dispute was carried forward by their heirs.

By the early 1700s, tensions had erupted further. This was where surveys and mapmaking skills pointed out the obvious: the original charters had some nebulous details, and the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland needed to be clarified. 

While the dispute continued in court, on the ground in the colonies, the boundary issue incited conflict. The boundary claimed by Pennsylvania reached farther to the south into Maryland, while the Maryland claim pushed the boundary between the colonies even farther north than Philadelphia, and just below Lancaster.

Like one giant domino effect, the overarching colonial boundary dispute also precipitated disputes over property rights and even law enforcement and legal jurisdictions. A series of violent incidents prompted conflicts in the region in the 1730s, resulting in the actual deployment of military forces in Maryland in 1736, with Pennsylvania's like response in the subsequent year. The armed conflict was called to a halt by yet another monarch, Britain's King George II, in 1738—the same year in which our Mathias Ambrose senior had left Pennsylvania's Lancaster County and shown up in the far western reaches of Maryland in what eventually became Frederick County.

What I would love to know is whether Mathias Ambrose's move was prompted by hostilities, or even if, perhaps, he was called to military duty during that colonial conflict—which has since come to be called Cresap's War. After all, with the vagaries of the borders—did Mathias live in Pennsylvania or Maryland when he moved to his new home?—the hostilities definitely had to have an impact not only on his official location, but on his family.

If any of this boundary dispute story sounds vaguely familiar to you—or even if you have never heard of Cresap's War—there is one detail about the resolution of this dispute that you have surely heard about. After failed attempts by colonial surveyors to accurately determine the line dividing the two colonies, the heirs of Penn and Calvert agreed to replace the colonial surveyors with a team from England. 

A contract was signed with a British survey team in 1763. Once they arrived in the North American location and following meetings with the local government officials assigned to the task, the team began work on surveying, then reporting back to the local commission, then placing monument stones, providing maps and final reports to local officials, before returning to England in 1768.

By that time, the elder Mathias Ambrose was a well established property owner in Frederick County, who had gifted his namesake son property at that same location—a place which by 1768, thanks to the resolution provided by those two English surveyors, was officially declared to be part of the colony of Maryland.

This story wasn't only about my mother-in-law's third and fourth great-grandfathers, of course. The solution to that century-long boundary dispute established the border for what subsequently became five separate states in our country: not only Pennsylvania and Maryland, but Delaware, New Jersey, and—eventually—West Virginia. And the name of those surveyors' results is still oft-repeated even today.

Those two surveyors' names? Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. Their end result? Known since then simply as the Mason-Dixon Line.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Following the Monocacy Trail


If Frederick County, Maryland, was indeed the place where Mathias Ambrose's father was buried, it certainly would also be a place where records on this third great-grandfather of my mother-in-law could be found. Let's see what we can learn about this senior Mathias Ambrose.

Looking first to the Ambrose family history website, we find information on the senior Mathias' arrival in the area. Apparently after immigration, Mathias and his second wife had first settled in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. Baptismal records for four of the elder Mathias' sons led researchers to speculate that Mathias had moved from the area by about 1738. Their new home? Near a now-lost settlement accessed along the Monocacy Trail following the Monocacy River area of Maryland.

Land records in 1738 confirmed the presence of someone named Mathias Ambrose, likely our Mathias' father. By 1759, the senior Mathias, having acquired several other parcels of land, was noted to have deeded one parcel each to three sons: Jacob, Henry, and Mathias. All three sons sold the land they received by 1761.

In the elder Mathias' will in 1782, he made note that he was giving the entirety of his land holdings to one daughter and her husband, Catherine and John Weller. In excluding the other Ambrose children, their father explained that he had already made provisions for them. The land received by the younger Mathias in 1759 would presumably be the transaction his father was referencing in his will.

Whether our Mathias took the money from his 1761 land transaction and moved directly back to Pennsylvania at that time, I can't yet say. There may yet be more records on the younger Mathias' family to be found in Frederick County, for which I'll be searching.

However, there was one other wrinkle in the story of the Ambrose move from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to Frederick County, Maryland, that might be helpful to take into consideration. Tomorrow, we'll delve into the history behind the the place where the Ambrose family had settled, and the events occurring there right during the time the family had decided to make that area their new home.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Apple's Church Cemetery


Sometimes, a walk through the old church cemetery does wonders for filling in blanks in the family tree. Now that I've discovered what might have been the church and hometown connection for my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather, Mathias Ambrose, that is exactly what I wish I could do now. Unfortunately, since I am in California and the church in question is in Maryland, that is not a visit I'll be doing any time soon. Still, that doesn't stop me from taking a virtual walk through the cemetery.

Since we learned yesterday that Mathias Ambrose had at least two daughters baptized at a place called Apple's Church, I pulled up the church's cemetery entry on Find A Grave. Though the entry was listed for Apples United Church of Christ, I already knew from learning about the church's history that the location had served as a meeting house for more than one denomination—hence the previous designation as Apples Lutheran and Reformed Church.

In the mid 1700s, apparently there weren't enough settlers to establish one specific church, and since there were likely not many ministers of either denomination in the sparsely-settled region of western Maryland then, the school trustees set up an arrangement whereby two different denominations would alternate use of the school building which had recently been established, thanks to a deed from local property owner Peter Apple. Since that time over two hundred years ago, other denominations have claimed use of that location, and even the cemetery is sometimes known by the alternate name of Apples Reformed Church Cemetery.

Regardless of the name, the question burning in my mind was: were there any Ambrose relatives buried in that cemetery? I put Find A Grave to the test with that search query, and was rewarded with six names:

Curiosity got the best of me, and I had to cross-check those names with the Ambrose website to see whether any were close relatives of our Mathias Ambrose. Of course, the one by that same name who died in 1784 couldn't have been our Mathias, as we already discussed his will in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, dated 1804. Elizabeth, too, had the same name as our Mathias' daughter—and my mother-in-law's direct line ancestor, her second great-grandmother who died in Ohio—so perhaps this one, who died so young, might have been whom our Elizabeth was named after.

Bit by bit, this exploration—thanks to a virtual walk through a cemetery in Maryland—painted a picture of the family constellation for our Mathias Ambrose's relatives. Most importantly, though, it gave me confidence that this was the location where our Mathias had settled before moving to Pennsylvania in his later years.

Monday, June 12, 2023

Apple's Church


Following the clues of trailblazing researchers can turn out to be helpful—if the trailblazer truly can find the way to the right genealogical answer.

Right now, lost without any sign of which research direction to take on my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather Mathias Ambrose, I'm open to suggestions. One researcher who had shared her Ambrose material online—Pat Asher—pointed me in the direction of Maryland. After all, Mathias Ambrose's residence in 1800 in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, wasn't far from the border with Maryland, so the possibility made sense to me.

The Ambrose website indicated that Mathias Ambrose himself might have been married in Frederick County, Maryland, and according to that same website, at least one of his daughters was baptized there. In fact, the church was listed in the website as Apple's Lutheran and Reformed Church.

I am always cautious in using online trailblazers, though, and a church name like that caused me to hesitate. I definitely wanted to check out that information for myself. That's what led me to discover that the location given for the church—in Thurmont, Maryland—was the present name for a town formerly known as Mechanicstown. While doing that double-checking, I also learned a few more details about that church.

Apple's seemed to be an unusual name for a church. Normally, you'd expect perhaps the name of the location—like Mechanicstown Lutheran, for instance—and I couldn't think of any Maryland town called Apple.

In addition to that doubt, I also got to thinking about the denominational designation, Lutheran and Reformed. I knew there was a Reformed church, and of course, that there was a denomination called Lutheran. I just hadn't heard about any mergers between the two entities.

For that part, neither could I find any explanation for such an organization. I did, however, locate some local history information which turned out to be helpful. An Internet search can be good for extracting those hard-to-find little websites.

My first glance at an explanation for this church's existence came from a website called German Marylanders, a group I would otherwise have never known about. In an entry posted at that site, drawn from a book by local historian George Wireman called Gateway to the Mountains, I discovered that a local property owner named Peter Apple had donated land for a schoolhouse there.

The deed for this transaction named three trustees, including a man called Mathias Ambrose. Given that the deed was dated in 1760, it is more likely that the man named was not our Mathias Ambrose, but his father.

While the history provided in this website seemed interesting, I wanted to look further for more information. I found another site with similar details, plus some digitized copies from the actual baptismal register, and, looking even further, a copy of a book which gave an original spelling for the landholder's name as Peter Appel.

The book, which I found courtesy of, was called, simply enough, Baptismal Records of Apple's Church (Lutheran and Reformed). There, on page five, author Elizabeth Kieffer added an explanation to Dr. E. E. Higbee's original 1857 transcription of the church's records, including the history of how Apple's Church evolved over the decades.

Once assuaged of that nagging doubt concerning the church's name, I returned to FamilySearch where I discovered there were several other resources for perusing the names in the church's records. Some, of course, were listed in the FamilySearch catalog, but only viewable in person. Some referred researchers to another resource online, the Maryland Church Records collection. But what I found most useful was the FamilySearch wiki's Maryland Church Records Digital Folder Number List.

From that list, I clicked through to every link which included images or transcriptions for Apple's Church records. Granted, some of the microfilmed records were a hodgepodge of many smaller resources and I had to hunt and peck to find what I wanted—like this transcription of baptismal records including Mathias' daughter Barbara, born in June, 1774.

While so far, I've only located two of Mathias Ambrose's children—Barbara and her sister Magdalena—I've also learned about some other Ambrose relatives attending the same church. Included in that discovery would be Jacob, Philip, Heinrich, and Johannes Ambrose—who are they? These are names to be added to my list of questions to be answered the next time I tackle this Ambrose research puzzle. Every discovery has the potential to lead to more information.

The search did produce a substantial list of resources to check further, all thanks to the start granted by a trailblazing researcher's website and following a chain of connected references. Granted, some discoveries yielded transcriptions, not actual handwritten records. There is a chance that some copy errors might be made. But for now, this is a first step in not only pushing back to previous generations, but gathering more documentation for this Ambrose family's history.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

In DNA's Murky Middle


With Mother's Day approaching last month, my one-track mind secretly hoped that many people would get the idea to give their mother a mitochondrial DNA test. The more tests taken, the greater the possibility that I would finally find a match to my own matriline. This month is no different. Since Father's Day will soon be here, so also will be those sales for Y-DNA tests. Hopefully, that will mean more DNA matches on my father-in-law's patriline, just in time to start researching some of his Irish roots next month.

Right now, though, my research focus is on the big, murky middle of DNA test results. Somewhere smack-dab in the middle of my mother-in-law's pedigree chart lies the most recent common ancestor whom I'm hoping will be claimed as someone else's ancestor, as well. 

In my mother-in-law's Ambrose line—the one I'm researching this month—it would require a long, hard look at the family tree to locate a DNA test volunteer who would qualify to reveal results on either the Ambrose patriline or the matriline of Mathias Ambrose's daughter, my mother-in-law's direct ancestor. This line goes from my mother-in-law to her father, up through that patrilineal for three generations, then jumps to that ancestor's matriline for one generation to arrive at Mathias Ambrose's daughter Elizabeth. A zigzag line of ascent like that can only rely on autosomal DNA to reveal genetic matches.

Plus, we're looking at a potential DNA connection with her third great-grandfather. Still, even though the connection is so far away, there are a few matches showing up. And for those few, I am documenting those lines of descent. Thus, I'm beginning to trace the collateral lines of Elizabeth Ambrose, who became the wife of Joseph Flowers.

That is slow going, though, due to difficulty identifying the right people who would be Elizabeth's collateral lines—her brothers and sisters. Knowing, thanks to his will, that Mathias Ambrose had a daughter named Barbara may be helpful, but discovering that her married name became Miller—with no husband's given name in sight that I can find—has me stuck in much the same spot where I was two weeks ago.

Still, I'm making progress—a bit. In the past two weeks, I've been able to add 347 people to my mother-in-law's tree. That means the tree now includes 32,658 individuals whose entries include ample documentation. But there could have been more, if I could have located more documents from early 1800s Bedford County, Pennsylvania. Thankfully, I still have almost three full weeks left to work on this research goal.

In the meantime, various unplanned discoveries of connections on my own family lines led to some work on my mother's family line. An unexpected sixty three people were added to my own tree in the past two weeks, thanks to those developments. Right now, that tree has grown slightly to a new high of 33,563.

While the challenge of researching family history so far removed from our current day is definitely there, I'm hoping my mother-in-law's tree will continue that slow growth process. We'll keep chipping away at this Ambrose family tomorrow. Sometime progress is only made when we stick to the work step by step.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

The Strengths and Weaknesses
of Local Societies


Sometimes, our strongest suits can also turn out to become our greatest weaknesses. This past week, I had two experiences which prompted some meditation on that paradox. Both kept calling me back for later reflection. And both grew out of meetings with our local genealogical society.

Local genealogical societies are facing a thrive-or-demise turning point. Those who are involved in  leadership of these societies have seen that situation looming for years. The pandemic has not helped—although, hey: our meeting attendance numbers could have done a deep dive now without that worldwide excuse. As "next gen" genealogy advocates have been telling us, what we do as societies needs to keep better pace with the world's changes and family history practitioners' current needs.

Many local genealogical organizations began with a worthy mission: to preserve their locale's history, particularly through the use of locally-generated records. When many local government agencies in the past century may have viewed that "outdated" paperwork as an encumbrance—and I know; our county's record storage was, in some cases, abysmal—genealogical societies made it their mission to catalog, index, or transcribe the information gleaned from those crumbling, decaying records.

That's where our strength came in. We burrowed deep into the catacombs of government, church, and other organizational records and extracted material that we could then network with others to share with those seeking answers concerning their family's past. With the advent of technological aids, we became even more proficient at preserving and passing along what we had rescued. Our freedom-of-information spirit predated that of this era's government-mandated legislation. We were among the forerunners of preservation programs, even if we were more like mom-and-pop enterprises than big-business powerhouses.

We—and I use that term quite generally—were some of the first to marry the ideas of historic preservation and cutting edge technology. Some of us, standing on the shoulders of those local organizations, coalesced with other organizations and the promise of new tech to try out fresh ideas: why not copy actual records and enable access to those records using computers? Why not encourage networking of family tree discoveries?

Eventually, the best and brightest of us assembled information domains—unparalleled and widely-accessible opportunities for researchers to access what they had been seeking (in some cases, for years). But with that strength, the unspoken question became: why rely on local organizations to continue making document search-and-rescue a cornerstone of their mission? The strength of our best and brightest, while helpful in unparalleled magnitudes, became the weakness of those whose shoulders they once stood upon.

That same aggregating process followed in the realm of genealogical education. If local societies included education and training in their mission, the organizing and aggregating efforts of bigger entities could, of course, do things faster, bigger, better. Why pay $25 for yearly dues to a local genealogical society when you could enjoy world class training resources for a full twelve months, accessible twenty four hours a day online, for barely more than the cost of local membership?

The bottom line becomes: the strengths we once had have inspired the bigger and better innovations made by others, carving out the core of our mission and leaving us less effective, less pertinent. Why bother having a volunteer-operated local genealogical organization at all? There will always be someone else who can offer the same services our local missions statement addresses for less cost and better coverage.

The answer to that question, thankfully, was the gift I received this past week from the words of members at two local society meetings. Let me describe these two very different gatherings and what happened to provide such inspiration.

The first was an impromptu gathering of about twenty of our local members. The meeting came about because one member who recently joined our society felt the need to meet other members face to face. She  had joined our organization after we had been through nearly three full years of online meetings due to precautions required by the pandemic. Seeing thumbnail-sized pictures of each attendee's face was not enough for this woman; she wanted to meet in person, and asked our board to put together something—anything—to allow new members to get to know our regulars.

Since our organization traditionally takes the summer months off from our meeting schedule, we decided last week would be a good time to beta test her idea. Flash meeting: we sent out an email blast to let members know the date, time and place and gathered for coffee, come whoever may.

Despite having a deep drop in membership since the beginning of the pandemic (except for picking up several long-distance members thanks to online meetings), nearly twenty highly-energized members showed up at the appointed time to get re-acquainted with each other and meet our newest members. The agenda was open; no official speakers or topics. No one even needed to talk about genealogy.

Out of that session came such a burst of energy—and a volley of great ideas. What if we tried this new activity? How about participating in this specific local event as a community outreach? And, surprise: did your family come from that same town in Oklahoma? Or marry someone with my family's surname?

The meeting also became a time for true confessions. Members shared that desire to learn more about their roots, something they discovered from the very first moment, as some put it, that the "bug" bit them to delve into researching their own family. Finding a document or getting a chance to travel to an ancient homeland might have been the initiating call, but when Life happens, these members noticed, sometimes the symptoms from that bug's bite wax and wane. They always could count on the desire coming back at the right time—and knowing that our organization would always be there to inspire and shape them, once they had that opportunity to renew their research passion.

Organic growth, as I've learned from a different field of inquiry, can be the best kind of organizational development. And this non-organized event became the Petri dish for some beneficial growth and badly-needed dose of administrative energy for our burned-out board members. Our members took ownership of their own organization and, while still shunning those dreaded mantles of responsibility, were quite pleased to offer their ideas and assistance. We all realized we needed that boost. We needed to take back one of our organization's true strengths from those echoes of the pandemic still taunting us: the strengths of our members. Our organization evolves—and thus, ultimately informs our mission statement—according to the current needs of the members who continue to bring it into existence. 

Organizations are a living, breathing entity. That is their strength. The more we realize that need of organizations to morph to fit the form of the people who power it, the better we become at continuing to grow our own local society. Just like those living, breathing organizations, though, we need to realize one additional weakness: organizations, like individuals, can die. And that became the second of the inspirations I gained from last week's society engagements.

The week started off with our society's monthly board meeting. We have a cordial board composed of long-standing members who are, at this point, frankly burned out with the roles they've taken on behalf of the organization. Though we can write off that problem with excuses like "the pandemic" or "nobody steps up to run for office"—I'm sure your group has a long list of such mantras—the fact is, whether through forced attrition (the only reason one president "stepped down" from her office was because she unexpectedly died during her service) or a strictly-enforced term limits policy, without willing members, the organization will die. That is our weakness.

That thought apparently weighed heavily on one of our board members who, at last week's board meeting, expressed that concern. In our group's case, that is a gravely heavy concern. We have a term limits policy outlined in our bylaws, instituted by a previous administration which sought to use that stipulation as a way to force members to take their turn at the helm. In normal years, the usual influx of new members, year after year, might have provided the willing talent to step up to those board positions and thus avert any organizational demise. But not with the last three years our group has been having.

In a heartfelt outline of concerns, this board member's bottom line was: "I don't want to see this group die." This group is important to members, enough for those who can to push the limits to make happen the efforts needed to preserve stability through rough times.

While the thoughts expressed were cogent—and the feelings genuine and resonant—that episode in our recent board meeting ricocheted through my mind in the following days for yet another reason. Having stepped up to share feelings on the meaning and importance of the group, that board member staked a claim of joint ownership: an intention to do what it takes to allow this organization to continue so others in the future can, at some point, become part of us when the connection is right. When the "bug" bites and the need to learn or to share or to contribute finds its right time and place, we still need to have that living organization there to meet those renewed members.

That claim of joint ownership—being a part of what gives a group a future—is itself an expression of strength. It is a sign that someone thinks this organization needs to continue not only having a reason to exist, but an imperative to fill a needed role that others, too, will value. It is a pledge for the future, that others will agree with us that it's important to keep the organization alive, not just to drag existence further into the future, but because the organization becomes a symbol of the integral essence joining the organization's purpose with our individual meaning. When a group's meaning is married to what helps us as individuals thrive and self-actualize, that infuses the organization with the strength it needs to continue. 

Friday, June 9, 2023

Some Things Never Change — Others Do


When we reach far back into our family's history, we may assume that some things never change. The name of the town where our great-grandparents grew up still sports the same name, right?

Not necessarily so. Now that I've discovered that the family of Mathias Ambrose—my mother-in-law's third great-grandfather—might not always have lived in Pennsylvania, I'm ready to go searching for him in the place where his children were said to have been baptized: Thurmont, Maryland.

But not so fast. When we delve into the history of our ancestors, we also need to heed the history of the places where they lived. Thurmont, in Frederick County, Maryland, is a prime example. As it turns out, if Mathias Ambrose lived in Frederick County at all, he most certainly couldn't have lived in Thurmont. Why? Thurmont was originally known as Mechanicstown.

Mechanicstown was a town incorporated in 1751, but some records seem to indicate the place was settled by German immigrants in the mid 1740s—in some cases, before the formation of Frederick County, itself. It wasn't until 1893 that the town's name officially changed to Thurmont—long after Mathias Ambrose's passing around 1804.

Whether the Ambrose family was among those early German settlers of the colonial Maryland region which eventually became known as Thurmont, I can't yet say. However, just by thinking through the details, if any of the Ambrose children were baptized in Maryland, rather than in Pennsylvania, the dates were likely to be far back in the 1700s. After all, some of Mathias' children were mentioned in his will as married, and at least one grandchild was indicated. I'd guess at least twenty years had passed since the family had been in Maryland, by the time of his passing.

Whether looking for Thurmont or Mechanicstown, what I need to do next is locate the resource mentioned in the Ambrose website: records for a place known as Apple's Lutheran and Reformed Church. Turns out, there are books which may be of help with that. We'll look into that further next week.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

When Staring Isn't Impolite


It sometimes takes staring for a long time at a document's details before the facts actually sink in. Right now, I'm working on my mother-in-law's relationship to other DNA matches whose most recent common ancestor was Mathias Ambrose, a man who died about 1804. Let's just say finding documentation on the man, himself, has been challenging—let alone any records for the names of each of his children. Other than Mathias' will, I've come up with absolutely zero for supplemental documentation. But staring at the details long enough can sometimes can bring a family history story into focus.

Yet, incredibly enough, there are at least sixty seven DNA matches displayed at Ancestry's ThruLines connecting with my mother-in-law's proxy—her DNA-tested son. Of those sixty seven, fifteen of those matches reach back to siblings of her direct line ancestor, Mathias' daughter Elizabeth (other than the sibling whose marriage yielded double cousins for the next generation). The problem? Those fifteen are descended from the children of Mathias for whom I have absolutely no record other than their name in their father's will.

So, who is identified in these DNA matches? Ten matches lead back to Mathias' daughter Barbara, the one whose married name—Miller—is a surname claimed by so many others as to make the search even more challenging. Besides Barbara, four matches connect us with Mathias' namesake son, and one with the son he named Jacob.

Not having found any documentation for these other children, I pulled up the work of a long-time Ambrose researcher which has been posted online. There, I could check a footnoted paragraph about each of these children which provides somewhat of a guide to us. From that record, I clicked through to see what this researcher had found on Mathias' daughter Barbara, the one who had married a Miller.

Answer: not much. But in the process of looking, I noticed something I hadn't realized before. While Mathias had drawn up his will in Bedford County, Pennsylvania—and while he and his sons had their names show up in tax and census records there—Barbara was apparently born in Maryland.

In fact, a church record mentioned on that Ambrose website indicated Barbara was baptized on August 21, 1774, in a Lutheran and Reformed Church in a Maryland town called Thurmont.

Looking further, I noticed that older brother Jacob also had been born in Maryland. According to this website, Jacob was born there in 1767. Perhaps this was a clue worth looking into.

Lest anyone think Mathias Ambrose had caused his large family to endure a massive trek across the frontier, a mere look at a map will help dispel that notion. Ayr Township, the place where Mathias had lived at the turn of that century, while formerly in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, is now part of Fulton County. And the place now known as Thurmont is just over the state line in Maryland. In all, the trip between the two locations is just under sixty miles.

Whether that trip could easily be made during the late 1700s, I can't yet say. But that quick look at the maps tells me it was at least a possibility. And with that possibility comes the realization that, if I couldn't find records on Mathias' children in Bedford County, a smart place to look next would be to start staring at the records in the northern portion of Maryland's Frederick County, where Thurmont is located.

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