Saturday, September 30, 2023

Tilsons in One Day


With one day remaining to this month of research, it hardly seems possible that I will accomplish my task. But what can be done if we don't give it our best try, right?

Today's task is to begin the same DNA-matching process at as I've been doing for the past two weeks for other family lines. Only this last-ditch attempt focuses on one surname which will likely become the impossible dream: to place each of my Tilson DNA matches on the right collateral line in my family tree.

Think of it: by the numbers, I've already got forty six matches outlined in ThruLines for my fifth great-grandfather, William Tilson. But William is just the beginning. Though the DNA would most likely not bear out any relationships more distant, it is William's own mother, Janet Murdock, whose genealogy leads us back to the days of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins.

If there is one complaint I have about my fifth great-grandfather, it is that he and his young bride decided to strike it out in the wilderness of southwest Virginia colony, leaving their extended family behind in Plympton, Massachusetts. Of course, if I had any hope of obtaining documentation sufficient to trace this family line any further, it would be back in Massachusetts, not in the wilds of Virginia. And that is where I and the Mayflower Society will be at an impasse—unless they know something I have yet to uncover.

Meanwhile, I thought it might be a nice gesture to organize the Tilson family history a bit more by tidying up my DNA matches. Hence, my rush to do so in this last day of the month, before another research project comes my way.

Surprisingly, despite the distant relationships, I have Tilson DNA matches sharing up to almost sixty centiMorgans with me. Admittedly, there are also plenty on the other end of the spectrum, precariously dangling from the doubtful edge of identical by descent. Still, with ThruLines providing a suggested line of descent based on other subscribers' research, I can follow those lines for myself and check them against documentation. In some cases, ThruLines has been a welcome guide as I sketch out what CeCe Moore used to call a "quick and dirty" family tree for these new-to-me lines.

Besides their longstanding history in the United States, the Tilsons have been fascinating in other ways. From the place where they first shook me off their historic trail—back in southwest Virginia—they had moved on to Tennessee and, reportedly, Kentucky. I've run into other Tilsons in Texas and states beyond. There are numerous Tilson kin, so much so that I need to tread carefully to ensure I'm not mixing up two cousins by the same name. And the family line comes with an instruction manual of sorts: the 1911 Tilson Genealogy, which I've compared with now-available corroborating documentation.

Still, there is only so much that can be done in a day. It isn't because of genies that this is called genealogy. It is not magic we're working when we construct our family trees; it is plenty of grunt work and patience. The Tilson project is likely one I'll need to revisit in my plans for the upcoming year, despite my heroic attempts at finishing the unfinishable today. For tomorrow, we'll be on to another research project featuring a different side of the family.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Pushing the Boundaries


With all the tools family historians now have at their fingertips, it is thankfully quite possible to push back our brick wall boundaries to previous generations. One of those tools I've been using this month has been DNA testing. Specifically, I've been reviewing all the suggestions at based on their ThruLines program.

My goal in the past few days has been to examine all the DNA matches for which ThruLines has indicated my fourth great-grandfather Warren Taliaferro as our most recent common ancestor.

Specifically, I've been checking the twenty one matches who descend from Warren Taliaferro's daughter Mary Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Firth Rainey. Because that daughter who was my direct line ancestor was the youngest of their children, and because she died young, herself, I've been curious to see whether I could reconstruct the family lines of her older siblings. This has become a real challenge, which I hoped could be eased by using a tool like DNA to augment what little I could find in documents from the 1850s when her family was still all together.

Out of those twenty one DNA matches from that specific line of Warren's daughter Mary Elizabeth, fifteen were descendants of my ancestor's next-oldest brother. Named after his father, this junior Thomas Firth Rainey was already well known to me, because at the death of their parents, both Thomas and my direct ancestor, Mary Elizabeth Warren Taliaferro Rainey, had been taken in by their aunt and uncle, and they were listed there in that household for the 1870 census.

Researching young Thomas had been fairly easy. I was able to follow him from his native Georgia, through nearby Alabama where he met his wife, and eventually to Texas, where he settled and raised his family. I was also able to document each of his children, then his wife's death and Thomas' subsequent marriage to her sister and the children born to him from that marriage as well. It is not surprising to see so many of his descendants represented among my DNA matches.

However, what I was really hoping for were DNA matches who had descended from the many other Rainey siblings both Thomas and my second great-grandmother shared. Though an older brother and sister had each died untimely deaths, what had become of their other six siblings?

With the exception of one other Rainey sibling—Sarah, born about 1835—I had been unable to locate documentation explaining what became of them. As with the lack of documentation, the ThruLines tool seemed to indicate that the only other Rainey sibling with a life story to be preserved on paper had also been the only one whose descendants' DNA has since been tested.

That is not to say the others didn't have descendants. They may very well have survived to adulthood—notwithstanding a brutal war that interrupted their younger adult years—and had children of their own. It's just that I can't find any paper trail to explain who those descendants might have been. And, from this quick glance at ThruLines for this ancestral line, it appears that none of the possible descendants of those siblings have chosen to test their DNA, or have enough DNA matching my own results to show up in such a test as the one currently used at

With all the possibilities for why a potential Rainey descendant might not show up as one of my DNA matches, I am certainly appreciative of the fact that at least two of my ThruLines matches did descend from another Rainey sibling: Sarah. Though she married a man with that next-to-impossible surname to research—Smith—I had been able to document the four daughters born to that marriage, as well as the four children born to her subsequent marriage to Hartford C. Fischer. And now, DNA provides the extra confirmation that Sarah was indeed an additional surviving child of Thomas Firth Rainey and Mary Elizabeth Taliaferro.

Granted, these results are gleaned strictly from the ThruLines reports which, along with DNA results, focus on trees constructed by other subscribers—potential mistakes and all. An alternate route would be to return to all those Rainey/Taliaferro ThruLines matches and check the "shared matches" for each distant cousin, to see whether any other descendants materialize. And, of course, there will always be more people testing their DNA in the future; someone in that yet-to-test bunch may turn out to provide me with the answers I'm seeking, enabling me to push those brick wall boundaries out another generation.

For now, with only one additional day left in the month before I launch into a new research project, I'll try my hand at cleaning up the ThruLines results on another surname I've been meaning to tackle: my Tilson line, which eventually leads me all the way back to the Mayflower. Tough assignment for a brief twenty four hours, and one I'll likely revisit in a coming year, as well.  

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Same Surname, Different Ancestor


As I race the calendar to complete research goals before running out of month, I've actually accomplished the task of reviewing all DNA ThruLines results for my fourth great-grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro. Since there are still a couple more days left before we launch into a new project in October, there is one more Taliaferro task I'd like to tackle: that other Taliaferro fourth great-grandfather.

Yes, I am my own sixth cousin. Well, that would be so, if I created a descendancy chart outlining the generations from Warren Taliaferro separate from the generations descending from Zachariah Taliaferro. Warren and Zachariah were brothers, and a grandchild from each of their lines ended up intermarrying. Thus, my pedigree chart contains the same surname in multiple positions—a case of pedigree collapse.

The granddaughter from Warren's line was the ill-fated Mary Elizabeth Warren Taliaferro Rainey. Yes, I know Warren would not generally be a girl's name, but Mary received that elongated name in memory of an older brother, Warren Taliaferro Rainey, whom her parents had sadly lost in his youth. As the last child born into the family of Thomas Firth Rainey and his Taliaferro wife, young Mary became the only possibility for memorializing the now-dead namesake grandchild of the senior Warren Taliaferro.

Young Mary had many other woes. As the youngest child of Thomas and Mary Elizabeth, baby Mary's 1852 birth occurred only six years before her father's death, and eleven years before she lost her mother. She and the next-oldest orphaned child were taken in by a Taliaferro uncle and a Meriwether aunt (yes, another intermarried branch of the family), who put the two Rainey orphans to work in their shop until Mary was old enough to marry off. The match resulting in her marriage must have been a decision made in a family meeting, for Mary ended up marrying her second cousin, Thomas Taliaferro Broyles. Her woes were not over quite yet, though, for shortly after giving birth to her fourth child and only son, she died in 1877.

Perhaps because Mary was never easy for me to find—even her grave site remained a mystery—I am eager to explore the DNA matches descending from Mary's grandfather, my other Taliaferro fourth great-grandfather, Warren. In doing so in the next couple days, I hope to discover some DNA matches who might just help me find the rest of the Rainey family, since besides Mary and her next-oldest brother Thomas, I have not been able to determine what became of the rest of the family. While I may have lost them on the document trail, perhaps the DNA path will point me in a clearer direction.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Speeding Through Details


In what can only be called speed-dating for genealogy, I've been racing through the remainder of my ThruLines connections with DNA matches at Before this month comes to a close, I'm hoping to finish the list of fourteen matches belonging to one daughter of my fourth great-grandfather, Zachariah Taliaferro, by adding each person to the right place in my family tree.

The fourteen matches which connect through Zachariah's daughter Lucy have mostly been a quick study, mainly because I've already laid down so many of the details of each generation through my previous method for connecting matches to my tree. Now, though, I've been using ThruLines as a tool to accelerate confirmation of each match.

Well, let me amend that statement: it had been a quick process of adding DNA matches to my tree, until I hit a roadblock. Just as how it is when you are speeding in real life, zooming down the highway at a high rate of speed might seem just fine—until, that is, something unexpected pops up. Then, you have no time for adequate reaction.

In this case, I had only three more to review of the fourteen DNA matches belonging to Lucy Taliaferro when I suddenly realized something wasn't working out. Could it be possible, I wondered, for a grandchild to not be mentioned in a grandparent's obituary? All the others were mentioned specifically by name, but not this DNA match. What happened?

If I had been plodding through the process of building out this branch of the family tree in my normal, less frenzied fashion, I might have taken the time to consider possibilities. After all, there is a good chance that any of us could run into what would be the reverse of those heart-rending stories of adoptees finding birth parents through DNA. We may know who our parents are, but we may not know who all our parents' children were.

As I worked through the process of connecting my DNA matches to my extended family tree, I had to pause to consider that any family will run into surprises, if we search far and wide enough. Right now, I'm working on matches who are at about the level of fifth cousin to me. Who knows what the personal stories are for these distant relatives. Perhaps the person testing has chosen to do so for that very reason: to find out the answers about parents through that DNA test which were never shared by those who knew.

There will be some DNA matches for whom we may never find the connection. We can guess. In some cases, we can place their name in our tree with a second parent marked simply as "unknown." But in other cases—especially those for whom reaching out and asking would simply not be feasible—a DNA match might better be left, for the time being, in that pile of unknowns. For some, we can guess, but we can't confirm. It's simply not our business.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Cousins in More Ways Than One


When it comes to researching the Taliaferro line, the potential for running across distant cousins can be high. Though the surname seems unusual—and thus, we presume, rare—its longstanding residence in colonial America affords it ample generations in which to leave its mark. It isn't unusual, when I'm attending a genealogy conference or training event, to meet a distant Taliaferro cousin—and by that, I mean relationships as distant as ninth or twelfth cousin, a level only an avid family history enthusiast would track.

In the course of tracking such details, though, I've also discovered that some of my fellow Taliaferro descendants are related to me in more ways than one. In fact, I'm my own distant cousin, due to the colonial habit of intermarrying among family members. As I work my way through my ThruLines results at, I'm realizing some of those DNA matches are also cousins to me in more ways than one.

My fourth great-grandfather Zachariah Taliaferro descended from Richard Taliaferro of colonial Virginia, leaving him in the company of plenty of siblings and cousins—many of whom had descendants of their own. In this end-of-month research goal, I've been cleaning up my ThruLines DNA matches claiming Zachariah as their most recent common ancestor shared with me.

Although Zachariah and his wife, Margaret Chew Carter, had four daughters, only three of them are represented among my ThruLines matches. Besides my direct line descending from daughter Sarah—wife of Ozey Robert Broyles whose father's descendants we had worked on last week—I have fourteen matches descending from her sister Lucy, and another five from next-youngest sister Mary Margaret.

Since Lucy had the larger set of descendants, I began with her list. It wasn't long after I began this task when I began to spot the intermarriages in Lucy's line of descent. In fact, one of my other fourth great-grandfathers was Warren Taliaferro, Zachariah's own brother, whose own descendants figured prominently in intermarriages with other branches of my family, including Lucy's own descendants.

Perhaps that would explain some details I had spotted regarding these matches. While the majority of my DNA matches from my Broyles project last week had a very small count of shared centiMorgans with me, and generally only one segment in common, the matches I've working on this week tend to have a higher centiMorgan count and three to four segments shared in common. I wonder whether the pedigree collapse at that point in the Taliaferro genealogy might be what has resulted in the higher number of segments, since the relationship distance is roughly the same as I saw for the Broyles cousins: from fourth cousin once removed to fifth cousin once removed as a range of relationship.

While this will be a short week, as far as research goals go—and it will be doubtful that I can review each of these nineteen DNA matches before the start of October—I'd like to revisit this goal in the future. That way, I can look at that other fourth great-grandfather, Warren Taliaferro, and see which matches are simply repeats of the names listed for Zachariah's descendants. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

On to the Next


It sometimes seems like a sprint, running through the generations of my family tree—until you add the hazards of DNA testing, which transforms this race into an obstacle course. Adding nicknames or initials to the mix with enigmatic DNA match labels—and then, even further, mixing in a missing generation with the name of a surely deceased grandparent withheld for "privacy" reasons—and it seems the task will never be completed.

But it is—at least for my end-of-month goal to connect all the ThruLines descendants of my fourth great-grandfather Aaron Broyles to their proper place in my family tree. That was just the start, though. I've managed to finish all of the Broyles listings for the siblings of my third great-grandfather, Oze R. Broyles—including a DNA match linking me to the Civil War diarist Emmala Reed.

With only one more week left to wrap up this month's research, though, I'll need to move on to the next ThruLines ancestor quickly. This time, I'll reach back to the second ancestor I had selected for my Twelve Most Wanted this year. Again, the focus will be on another fourth great-grandfather.

As fast as I can work on it, I'll be examining the ThruLines connections to Zachariah Taliaferro, namesake son of my D.A.R. Patriot. True, that work will entangle me with over sixty DNA matches. At the rate I've been going—about one DNA match confirmed through documentation per day—that seems more the work of two full months than one week, but at least I'll get the project going. You can't ever finish unless you first start, no matter how big the task may be.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Initial Response


It's been another week of cleaning up those DNA matches through's ThruLines tool. My goal has been to work on the matches linked with my fourth great-grandfather, Aaron Broyles. I've been able to clear out all but one of the descendants of Aaron's eldest daughter, Jemima—with the one straggler out of the six matches being a case of mistaken identity from a different branch of the extended Broyles family. I've also worked on all but one of the four matches belonging to a different child of Aaron Broyles, his son Cain.

I'll admit, I was hesitant to work on that fourth match for one simple reason: instead of displaying an actual name, the match was labeled with a moniker. Now what? My initial response was to just bypass this match and move on to another part of my end-of-month project.

As with almost anything else in genealogy, what at first may seem like a puzzle—or even a roadblock—can be tackled successfully if taken step by step. The ThruLines tool itself walks us through that very process, if we use the steps outlined for each generation. I've found that so, when I've had to figure out the identity of a match listed only with initials—and I'll admit, some of the tests I administer have been identified only with initials, too—so I decided to take that step-by-step approach with this match, as well.

Starting with Aaron Broyles himself, there were eight generations involved in this pedigree pathway. I had already laid down three of them in my tree, then had worked on two more because of another DNA match. All I had to do was work on the last three generations, including the one labeled with the moniker.

Sometimes, when I work on such matches and they turn out to be labeled with initials, this process can provide a clear indication of the identity of the DNA match, and I can place that person in my tree. The only time that wouldn't work is when the parents were the type who thought it would be cute, or perhaps add to family unity, by selecting names resulting in the same set of initials for each of their children. I've sure been grateful for the families in which the only son turns out to be my DNA match. And this guessing game works far better for families in which the parents are already deceased—and were memorialized in the type of obituary which makes a genealogist's heart sing.

The same process can work almost as well for those matches labeled only with monikers. Initials give us at least one more clue than monikers, though, making monikers a bit more challenging. Still, sometimes that moniker turns out to be a lifelong nickname, which might be found in a high school or college yearbook picture, or in a newspaper article, especially from a sports or social section. I've seen some with a meaning which became more clear, once I discovered specific circumstances of that person's life, like where he or she lived, or a favorite hobby or characteristic.

In this particular case, once I worked the line of descent step by step through the generations from Aaron Broyles to the current time, I realized I had a gift from ThruLines. Each generation's specific descendant checked out, according to confirming documentation, leading up to the match's grandfather. From that point, each of two now-deceased sons had an only child. And because the match's father was deceased, access to his obituary provided the person's name for my tree, and for the DNA connection.

Perhaps we live in an age when almost anything is—or can be—discoverable. This is a risk we need to consider as we leap for the chance to confirm our position in our genetic family tree. With all the information out there, publicly accessible for those who know where to look, initials as a disguising label for a DNA test are hardly the cloak of anonymity we had hoped for.

The truth is out there, as has popularly been said, and yet we suffer a sort of future shock over what might eventually be done with that knowledge. Perhaps we are simultaneously longing to be found yet hoping never to be discovered.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Now you See Them, Then you Don't


To every favorite online resource there will eventually come a glitch. I hold my breath and hope nothing serious ever happens to the websites which hold years of my genealogy research (and make sure to back up my work to desktop-resident programs), but cannot help feeling annoyance when programs don't work as promised. Today was one of those days.

Two of the people in our family-owned company (one of them being me) happened to be on the road for business this morning. As sometimes happens, though, a break in the work flow meant I could take a peek at my progress online with my DNA-matching prowess. I pulled out my laptop, fired up my phone's hotspot and took a break to work on that Broyles ThruLines backlog. After all, fifty-something matches will take some time to whip into shape.

Imagine my surprise when I pulled up the ThruLines readout for my fourth great-grandfather Aaron Broyles to see someone else had whittled those fifty-plus matches down to a mere eleven or so. What happened to the other forty? Poof! They were gone, reminding me of that old saying: now you see them, now you don't.

I wasn't sure what to do with a problem like that. Fervently hoping it was some sort of glitch, either at or on my end, I simply moved on to another part of the Broyles project, attaching marriage announcements and obituaries from my subscription.

Funny, but that function was acting a bit strange, as well. Was it the fact that my phone was choking on the graphics? Running out of time, I set the whole project aside to await my arrival back home.

I assure you I was relieved to see, upon checking at home, that my Broyles ThruLines readout was restored to its original fifty two matches. And, on my home's own wifi connection, showed up without any hesitation. While it's nice to have connectivity on the road, when it comes to online work with my family trees, there is no place like home.

Still, I looked online for any reports of connectivity problems, or any sightings of glitches at Ancestry. Though I couldn't find any such reports from recent days, I did stumble across Ancestry's own Support page article on Fixing Display or Download Problems. Right at the top of their list was one of the most common reasons for display issues: Internet connection problems.

The Ancestry Support page article included several clickable links providing more information on specific download problems, making this a useful page to add to my bookmarked items. If I have to have a problem with a website, the only thing worse is not being able to locate any instructions on how to fix the problem. I'll keep that in mind if I ever try working on my family tree while using my phone hotspot in a cell phone hole again, sure, but I plan to be prepared for more than just one issue. Never know when an unexpected opportunity might arise to work on that family tree.    

Friday, September 22, 2023

At Least it Isn't John Smith


I've run into a problem with this most recent research goal of mine. I'm tidying up my ThruLines suggestions for DNA matches who descend from my fourth great-grandfather, Aaron Broyles. My first step had been to connect the six matches descending from Aaron's son Cain—a small number which should be fairly easy to complete. Right?

Think again. There is one DNA match whose ThruLines chart has me stumped. The line of descent moves from Aaron himself to his son, Cain, and then to Aaron's namesake grandson, Aaron R. Broyles. From there, supposedly, the next generation included a son named William. And there's the problem: I can't find a son named William. In fact, I can't find any sons at all; the younger Aaron had only daughters.

I spent a lot of time poking around all the possible collateral line routes to unearth any clues about the missing William without success. There was no William to be found.

And then, it hit me: what if the trees this ThruLines diagram was drawn upon were based on the wrong Aaron Broyles? After all, I've run into that problem before with the name Aaron Broyles. While having to find multiple Aaron Broyleses might make the possibilities even messier, at least it isn't a John Smith that I'm seeking!

Doing a quick search through records at, I located another Aaron Broyles who happened to have a son named William. Checking the data on my ThruLines match, it gave the same year of birth as the William I had found in this quick search. And this William's middle initial—"H."—made all the more sense once I realized this other Aaron was married to someone whose maiden name was Hays.

It is easy to see how someone could make the mistake. The other Aaron Broyles was born in 1821—the same year, but not the same month, as my Aaron Broyles.

How I'm related to this other Aaron Broyles I don't yet know. I'll have to construct my own tree to determine the connection to the correct ancestral Broyles linking me to this DNA match. Or—who knows?—perhaps extending the family line and vetting it with adequate documentation may point me to another most recent common ancestor shared with this DNA match. In fact, I'll need to confirm every step along that generational journey. There may be yet another unexpected turn to find. 

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Genetic Road Maps


When you consider how many matches the average participant in DNA testing can receive, it becomes mind boggling to think of all the people with whom we connect genetically. I have, for instance, over twenty four hundred people who have tested their DNA at and match me at the level of fourth cousin or closer. And that is just the matches I have at one of the five companies where I have tested.

In the process of reviewing all these matches and finding a place for each of them in my family tree, I inevitably end up adding several more generations of cousins as I chart my way back to the most recent common ancestor we—my match and I—share. That process alone can be a tedious exercise—something I can vouch for, having managed to merely complete one such matching task per day, now that I've started reviewing my Broyles connections. It's the documentation which puts the brakes on the otherwise willy-nilly temptation to go careening down the steep slope of descendancy. 

When you consider how many families in our past generations were composed of multiple children, you realize that documenting each one of them down to the present age can be a mind-boggling process. There are so many points at which to make a wrong turn.

Now that I've taken to using the DNA shortcut to that tedious every-child-in-the-family approach, I realize that tools like Ancestry's ThruLines serve as genetic road maps guiding my progress. I have the starting point, pinpointing my possible DNA cousin through the actual test results. And then I have suggestions, based on computer-guided searches through multiple resources within the Ancestry tree collection, laying out the possible route from where I stand, up through the ancestor I share with my match, then back to the generation of that specific DNA match.

While I appreciate having access to those genetic road maps, the route proposed still needs to be carefully traveled. Why? Because many of the clues pointing the way are drawn from other subscribers' family trees. True, there is a genetic connection, but any tree is only as reliable as the documentation which supported it in the first place. I've got to compare what others assert with a thorough examination of available documentation. I owe that process to myself—and to all the family members who will eventually come to rely on my research.

Thus, the reason for such slow progress, despite the handy genetic road map. Hopefully, by the end of this week, I will have completed confirming the six DNA matches whose ancestor was Jemima Broyles Horton, sister of my third great-grandfather, Ozey Robert Broyles. From there, I will move on to the four DNA-matching descendants of her older brother, Cain Broyles. If there is any time left, perhaps I'll be fortunate to also squeeze in work on the one DNA match each for their siblings, John Taylor Broyles and Edna Broyles.

As for the DNA matches leading to my own third great-grandfather Ozey Robert Broyles, don't think I'll be able to follow that route in the remainder of this month. With thirty nine matches on that line alone, it will be a while before I close out that process. Road map or not, DNA work doesn't proceed well on a speedway.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Aunt Jemima


Yes, I have an Aunt Jemima. Well, technically she was my third great-grand aunt, a sister to my third great-grandfather, Ozey Robert Broyles. The reason I've been paying particular attention to Aunt Jemima this past week is that she was the ancestor of at least six of my DNA matches, according to's ThruLines tool. And yet, maddeningly, I can't find documentation to confirm some of those DNA matches'  lines of descent.

Have you ever run into a problem like that? I've seen other ThruLines results asserting that the way I connect to a DNA match is through a particular line of descent, when in actuality, I discover an entirely different—and thoroughly documented—line of descent connecting my match with our most recent common ancestor.

As I run through this unfinished business of connecting all my Broyles family DNA matches, I've even discovered some ThruLines proposals which lead to distant cousins who are related to me in more than one way. In a case I worked on yesterday—amidst the four earthquake tremors which hit our home in rapid succession—I discovered a DNA match who descended in two different ways from my Broyles ancestors. And there was the catch: I actually have two different Aunt Jemimas in my Broyles ancestry.

The Aunt Jemima I had been working with was listed in ThruLines as the daughter of Aaron Broyles, my fourth great-grandfather. As it turns out, Aaron also had a sister named Jemima—possibly the very person after whom he named his daughter. The elder Jemima, Aaron's sister, was daughter of Adam Broyles—who, as you may have suspected, was also Aaron's father.

This elder Jemima married a man with the rather unremarkable name of Joseph Brown. While surnames like Brown can be the source of great consternation for unassuming family historians, this Joseph saved me some research grief by becoming the patriarch from whom at least two future Georgia governors descended.

The younger Jemima, niece to the elder woman by the same name, granted me the relative ease of research when she chose as her husband a man with a rather unusual name: Grief Horton. It is with six of her Horton descendants that I am currently struggling. What ThruLines asserts is not what I can find through supporting records. Granted, it will take quite a bit more patience and concentration to locate the type of documents which will reveal her female descendants' married names, but I am willing to tough it out and look beyond the usual sources for online records.

In the meantime, the slow slogging reminded me that sometimes, what online services assert is the right relationship may not always be so. Or there might be verifiable alternates. Or maybe both versions will turn out to be correct, as in the case of the doubly-related DNA match I've discovered.

While there may not be many Aunt Jemimas out there nowadays, there were at one point. Even for two hundred year old ancestors, we still need to keep our Aunt Jemimas straight. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

When Lightning Strikes
and Earthquakes Hit


Some things you never expect to happen...and then, they do. This will be one of those posts which has to happen quickly because of the risk of one unexpected event occurring, yet while I'm racing that risk, I'm in the process of discovering the likelihood of another unexpected event unfolding. These sorts of things occurring may be far more like when lightning strikes twice than I had ever thought possible.

I'm writing quickly because tonight we have been experiencing a cluster of earthquakes hitting within thirty miles of our home—closer than usual for this New York transplant in California. This is not the time when I'd like to be lolling around at my desk with the luxury of electricity powering my worldwide Internet connections. 

When I came home earlier this evening, my California-born daughter asked if anything had hit the side of the house. New York native me: I thought that was an unusual question to ask. Until, that is, I was sitting at my desk, preparing to write this post. The desk under my resting arms vibrated after a sudden jolt—and then I clearly understood what my daughter had been asking. We were having an earthquake. Another one.

Despite living in a place having the reputation of someday "falling into the ocean," it is not an everyday occurrence when we find ourselves rocking or rolling—literally—but we do know how to click on to the U.S. Geological Survey's Earthquake Map to see where the activity is happening. Clue: it happened—so far, four times today—beginning with the first crack my daughter heard, all clustered in one place not far from our home.

Meanwhile, I had been continuing my research plan, confirming several of the DNA matches showing on my ThruLines readout for descendants of my Broyles line. These match confirmations take time, at least for those who wish to also include documentation to demonstrate the actual family connection. I was working on one particular Broyles fifth cousin, when I noticed that, after her father's death, her mother had remarried. It was the surname of the next husband which caught my eye: an unusual surname someone in my local genealogical society has been working on for years.

This is what I like to think of as a genealogical lightning striking: the rare chance that someone else in my society might also be researching a family line I'm connected to. After all, it wasn't that long ago when I discovered that the ex-husband of one of my distant cousins ended up marrying a society member's sister. I would never have known that if we didn't make a habit at our society of keeping up on each other's research progress.

While we love to keep in touch over our latest family finds, we never actually expect to discover that we, ourselves, are related! Yet, with this new discovery tonight, I might be witnessing lightning striking the same place twice. And if this California ground ever stops shaking, perhaps I'll get a chance to compare notes over coffee again with a fellow genealogical society member.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Learning About the Katy


If it weren't for the consistent pursuit of my family's story over the generations, I doubt I would have learned as much about history as I have. Add to that geography, economics, and human hopes and dreams, fulfilled or dashed. Learning about the life of others in the family eventually means learning about Life, itself.

With the last of my research goals abandoned for lack of material allowing me to continue that track, I'll be dedicating the upcoming two weeks to reviewing the loose ends left behind from previous months' goals. First on my list is a review of DNA matches in my ThruLines results for the Broyles family line. While that may seem a simple assignment, I hardly expected I'd be learning about a train line with a claim to fame of going against the grain. This is what I learned about the railroad line known, over a century ago, as "the Katy."

Apparently, unlike other lines known for shipping goods and passengers across the continent, connecting east and west, the Katy was part of a company which became known as the first railroad to enter Texas from the north. The "unconventional north-south network" of the Kansas-Texas division (the K-T, or "Katy" for short) of the Missouri Pacific Railroad owed its roots to a formation designed to build a supply network connecting frontier military posts in the midwest with port cities in the south. The dream was to eventually expand to a rail system stretching from Chicago to New Orleans.

Before 1870, the U.S. Congress had passed acts promising land grants to the first railroad to complete a route through the Neosho Valley to the Kansas border. Though the Katy line was the first to do so, they never received the promised land due to other restraints. However, the company continued its push southward, completing a route to the Texas border by 1872, and incrementally beyond that to several other Texas cities by the early 1900s.

All this I would never have known, had it not been for a newspaper report involving one of my Broyles line DNA matches' ancestors. On Friday evening, July 12, 1907, the Parsons, Kansas, Daily Eclipse carried the story:

Second section of Katy freight No. 414 went into a weakened culvert about three-quarters of a mile north of Colbert yesterday morning about 5:10 as a result of which the entire crew of five men were more or less injured, one very seriously.

Despite the seemingly offhand comment, "more or less," reading beyond the first paragraph did indeed spell out the story more clearly. The train was "running light"—consisting of only the engine and caboose—and had just passed Colbert in what was then "Indian Territory." The conductor had just received a "slow order" regarding two approaching bridges upon which construction work had recently been done. The train safely crossed the first. However, in attempting to slowly cross the second, after the engine cleared the area, the construction gave way, leaving the caboose crashing down almost on end.

It was there in that falling train car that brakeman Horace Maxwell Rolater was thrown to the floor of the caboose, knocked unconscious as the fall fractured his skull and caused internal injuries. By July 17, the next edition of the weekly Parsons newspaper reported that Rolater had died the evening of the day following the crash. By then, he had undergone surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain in hopes that would improve his chances of survival. He never regained consciousness.

Horace's father, who lived in Oklahoma, was present at the time of his passing. Not much else was said about the man who lost his life due to construction issues along the route he took that last work day. The newspaper did mention that Horace left a wife and two children—a boy and a girl—but they remained nameless. The only other comment provided by the article was that it was believed Horace Rolater was not a member of any Brotherhood or fraternal order, most likely meaning that there would be no help in providing his funeral and burial expenses—a hard burden for a young widow to bear unexpectedly.

While Horace Rolater was not anyone my family knew personally—he would have been my grandmother's third cousin—stories like this implore me to look further. Of course, you know there had to be more to this story, for the only reason I found it was because one of my DNA matches is a descendant of one of Horace Rolater's children.

Those children were indeed quite young when they lost their father—a devastating thought to consider, never mind live through. Horace's son was not quite five years old—an age in which a missing father might not be much more than a fuzzy memory. His daughter, still only one year old, would likely only have experienced the sudden sadness enveloping the home, not actually remembered the father she had lost.

Stories such as this are ones which cause us to stop and consider, no matter how far removed we are from the actual relative. They belong to the life history of another branch of the family, true, but they also belong to the tapestry of what makes our extended family what it is, even now. They remind me how important it is to capture those memories for the others who share those roots with us. They are all part of our fabric of life.



Sunday, September 17, 2023

Keeping on Track With D N A


The larger the family tree grows, the more ways we need to organize our approach to systematically research all branches. Unless the goal is to only learn about one surname in the family tree, we face a multiplying spread of unidentified ancestors if we don't develop a system.

For the most part, since I've decided to include research on all collateral lines—in other words, the siblings of each of my direct ancestors—that has become a helpful approach to overcome two potential pitfalls in genealogy. One is the "brick wall" ancestor—that great-great whoever who becomes the roadblock in research progress due to lack of information. The other is that overwhelming dazed sense, in looking at the avalanche of DNA matches and realizing that none of the names look familiar: who are all those people?!

Doing an end run around the brick wall ancestor became far easier, once I learned to look to siblings to unlock the puzzle. Sometimes, it's the kid brother whose life story makes it into the tell-all obituary when older sister's prim and proper generation didn't have much to say at her passing.

It's the DNA approach, however, which took much more effort to snap into shape. I did develop a system to work through all the descendants of collateral lines, so I could pin those DNA matches into my family tree. Let me tell you, when working with large families with many children who do likewise in the next generation, that process, though thorough, can be tedious.

That's why I've developed a second, faster approach to provide information up front as needed. Rather than researching every single line of every sibling in each generation, I've used my DNA matches as my guide. In particular, I'm working with the ThruLines matches at and the Theory of Family Relativity at MyHeritage. Yes, of course, that leaves big gaps in my tree; I'm only working on those who have tested their DNA and have posted enough of a family tree to grant me a toe-hold on finding our ancestral nexus.

With that process, I'll be taking the next two weeks to double check on family lines which I had long ago meant to complete—namely, the three maternal lines I mentioned in yesterday's post: Broyles, Tilson, and Taliaferro. My starting point will be to examine the ThruLines for those specific ancestral surnames.

Starting that process today, I managed to add seventy more names to my mother's tree, most of them in one day of work. Though my own family tree has languished in the last several months while I focused on my father-in-law's Tully and Flannery lines, the count for my own tree has started to grow. Total count for documented ancestors and related lines is now at 33,977.

Because I had spent so much time working on my father-in-law's lines for the past three months, of course there was much progress there. In the last two weeks, I added 221 more documented individuals to that tree, which now stands at 34,019 names.

As I wrap up the last two weeks of September, and before springing into research on my own father's lines for the last three months of the year, I'll be focusing on the ThruLines results for my Broyles, Taliaferro, and Tilson lines. With each DNA match listed in that program, I'll then work through the documentation to confirm those ThruLines suggestions—or reject them, as sometimes happens, once a problem manifests itself through conflicting records. This can become a multi-generational process for each DNA match, but it can also become a deep and wide procedure, as the research stretches not only from founding immigrant ancestor to present time, but also through each sibling's line of descent over the generations.

Since I've saved way-markers for my more thorough but plodding family-wide sweep through the generations, I'll always be able to return to the places where I left off that process. In the meantime, though, since I have a limited two weeks for this catch-up period, I'll keep on track more quickly by focusing on what the DNA matches show me on specific lines of interest. When that two week test run is completed, I'll take another look at the results and see whether it will be worthwhile to pick three more surnames for this fast-track approach before the year is out.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Looking Back


One problem with plans is that they always seem to point our attention to the future. Sometimes, we need to reserve time for looking back.

Take my current annual plan for family history research, which I call my Twelve Most Wanted. Each month, I set aside time to focus on researching one ancestor. Along with some specific research goals—usually questions arising from what I was unable to resolve the last time I tackled that ancestor's story—the goal was to push forward, er, backwards in time enough to be within sight of the preceding generation's details.

Usually, such plans meant I had far more to do in one month than I calculated during my annual planning session during that dreamy time between Christmas and Epiphany. I generally left each month with a to-do list to get me started for the next time I visited that research topic. This month, unfortunately, has not been quite the same. And, as I look at the topics I've selected for the final quarter of this year, I realize I may be up against the same dilemma for each of the next three months, as well.

What to do with the extra time? After all, we were only halfway through this month when I realized there is very little more that I can devote to the Tully and Flannery lines, despite all the additional time remaining.

That's when I realized the problem with goals: they always push us forward. What is needed is to fold in a regular time of review, a feedback loop, of looking backward at what's already been accomplished, to see whether any additional adjustments need to be made.

For instance, during each month's iteration of the Twelve Most Wanted, behind the scenes I am churning out a corollary goal: document the lines of descent for that particular ancestor. This I do for purposes of connecting DNA matches to my family tree, but it takes time to complete each line. Sometimes, by the end of the month, I mark my stopping point with the best of intentions to return to the task. Often, those markers lay neglected where I parked them at the close of that month's research effort.

This reminds me that, inside any research plan, time should be allotted for returning to review progress on old goals. Checking to see whether anything else could be added, or any loose ends tied up, should become part of the routine as I move through each month's research goal.

I certainly have a lot of incomplete goals to revisit. Remember that unfinished business on my Tilson line? I'm still working on adding all the descendants of my fourth great-grandfather, Peleg Tilson. The same could be said about the cousins in my Broyles line, about whom someone asked me just the other day. And, of course, my Taliaferro line—which reaches even farther back into the colonial history of this country—needs continued attention, as well. And these were only the first three months' worth of this year's research plans. There is far more yet to review.

I think it is safe to say there is plenty to review before Ancestor #10 gets released for the upcoming month's project. Let's take the upcoming two weeks to revisit these three ancestors from the beginning of the year to see how progress has fared.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Pet Peeve


For the past several days, I've been mulling over the options regarding my latest research dilemma. While I had so carefully laid out my research plans for the entire year—my Twelve Most Wanted, a plan set at the beginning of January—this month with my father-in-law's Tully line, I find myself running short of plan. With half a month yet to go, I have absolutely no further material to help me find answers. And that dilemma—reaching all the brick wall ancestors in each family line—is becoming my latest pet peeve, as we'll see as we launch into the goals for the last quarter of this year.

While casting about for a viable alternative approach, I returned to my trees at to snag screen shots of the fan view beta option which recently popped up on my account. What should greet my bleary eyes upon pulling up the site again but a screaming green banner announcing, "Know Your Pet DNA by Ancestry is here."

Now, before you jump on the bandwagon headed in either direction—yay or nay—let me share a little story. 

It was years ago when I first tried talking one of my paternal cousins into springing for a DNA test. I was particularly stuck on my father's line—a perennial complaint of mine, thanks to my grandfather's silence about his true roots—and hoped that having another DNA participant on my father's side might help.

My cousin had plenty of questions, which I was careful to address. I was beginning to feel worthy of being sainted for my patience—or at least worthy of a sale on my proposal to have her test—when she suddenly confessed that she actually knew quite a bit about genetic genealogy.

The only difference between what she knew and what I knew? She did her testing on horses. She was a horse breeder, and DNA testing was an important way to verify that the right family lines were involved in the pedigree.

I've since heard similar stories from people who are dog breeders, as well. We think of DNA as the domain of our own genealogical endeavors, but DNA testing is apparently something used in a number of domains.

Thus, when Ancestry introduced their own DNA tests for pets this week, I wasn't surprised. There are many people who care very much for their pet, perhaps seeing that pet more as part of their family than simply an animal companion living in the same house. I'm curious to see how this offering resonates with the current market, though. Verifying a purebred line for which a customer may have paid highly is one thing; curiosity about the roots of a pet rescued from the pound may not be as compelling. I think seeing how this product fares may be more revealing about us as a culture than it will be about the pet for whom we laid down the purchase price.

Rather than stare at the neon green ribbon across my computer screen, though, I hope the anticipated big change heralded on a banner on the DNA page (for humans, that is) will live up to its hype. "Even more precision in the coming weeks" hopefully wasn't delayed due to this other product launch. I'd much rather have more information on my father's mysterious roots than know that Fido was merely a mongrel, after all.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Release Your Research Skills
Out Into the Wilds


After years of enjoying the speedy success of researching our roots using the commercial entities I sometimes refer to as genealogy "big box" stores, it seems our research muscles are atrophying. With the "easy" family history details which show up regularly in computer-searchable census enumerations and other digitized vital records, we forget how to release our research skills out into the wilds and wildernesses of real life paper. This week brought an occasion to reacquaint myself with the fact that there are plenty of resources out there which are not locked away in the computer world of genealogy city lights and subdivisions.

Like many other groups, our local genealogy organization coordinates what we call "Special Interest Groups." These are smaller circles of members who get together to focus on one particular aspect of our family history research. We are probably the only society outside the state of Tennessee which hosts a Tennessee Special Interest Group, but that's just a research interest several of us share.

This week was our monthly gathering and, as usual, the conversation was lively. Several of us are researching the historic Washington County, and one member had brought several photocopies of pages from a book she had found years ago. The book, unimaginatively entitled History of Washington County, Tennessee, contained biographical sketches of several of this member's ancestral families.

The question was: how to locate a copy of this book once again? This member had only stumbled upon it year ago at a library while visiting a friend in Southern California. Since that is a trip of over three hundred miles, she was not likely to return, simply to look at the book once again.

I thought I'd try my hand at helping her locate another copy. My first stop: Internet Archive, where both staff and volunteers have uploaded an impressive amount of written material over the years—but there was no result for my search there. Taking the cue from the location of the library where the woman had first found the book, I went to the library's online catalog to see if the book was still in circulation there. It was—a good sign.

Confirming the book's title, and now from the catalog also gleaning the date of publication and name of the authors, I had more details to lead me toward the next step in my adventure. The "authors" turned out to be a genealogical organization back in the area of current-day Washington County called the Watauga Association of Genealogists. I found an online entry explaining the history of the group. Then I headed to the Association's own website to see whether they still sold a version of their book, since it was published in 1988—not quite to the point of being in public domain, but hopefully not too long since their last printing—but they did not.

Next step in the exploration: check to see which libraries closer to home might have the book in their collection. Enter to discover that a Family History Library nearby did indeed have a copy of the book.

That, however, was not all. WorldCat also pointed me to other books with similar titles. I realized I might as well make note of these other potential resources for our Washington County research, so I saved that listing as well. One of the books on this topic was a more recent publication, and while I thought I'd be interested in buying that one, sticker shock prevented me.

Meanwhile, since another topic in our Tennessee meeting was the family photos shared in those ubiquitous "Images of America" books, I promised to bring what I thought was my copy of the Washington County book published by the printer, Arcadia Publishing. However, I was mistaken; instead, I had their book, Erwin and Unicoi County. Close, but not the same location. So I went to Arcadia Publishing's own website and looked up all the titles they offer on Tennessee topics. There are pages and pages of resources—even more books to follow up on, check reviews, and possibly purchase.

The conversation in our meeting moved next to resources for finding old letters, journals, and other memorabilia from bygone years in Tennessee. Archives were a main topic—and another one which nudges us off the grid of big-box genealogy subdivisions into the wilds of our own exploration. There can be lots to find in these off-the-beaten-path resources for historic material. Using ArchiveGrid or the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (NUCMC) at the U.S. Library of Congress may—if you're lucky to have the right ancestors and the knack of finding usable material—lead to more information on your family.

After our meeting, I realized it felt good to flex those research muscles and go outside the box and off the grid to search for material I was seeking on my family's roots. There is plenty of material out there. It just takes far more persistence and know-how than simply sitting at a computer being spoon fed "hints" from a subscription service. Yes, these are the wilds of genealogical research, but sometimes we need to feed that sense of research adventure and strike out on our own.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

A Pause in the Interim


While I am casting about for a new topic to research in the short period leading up to writing next month's goal, I had a thought I'd like to share. Perhaps, in this interim, you might have some thoughts on the same situation—in which case, I'd love to hear them.

I often reflect on the state of local genealogical societies, especially considering what is to become of these small but vital groups. It may seem that "big box" commercial entities have become the be-all, end-all which are swallowing up these small organizations. After all, there is so much that can be obtained online to support building that family tree. Why need a local group? Where can such a small group fill in the gaps?

Of course, if you've been reading here at A Family Tapestry for any amount of time, you know I'm a strong supporter of local genealogical groups. Perhaps it took coming through a devastating pandemic to open my eyes to exactly why local groups are needed, but to me it is crystal clear that we in local organizations provide the human element. We are the ones filling in the gaps where people want feedback—someone else to rejoice with us in our research victories, cry at our losses, come alongside us when we are all tackling a new research challenge.

There is, however, a glitch in all this celebration of local societies. And I can best describe that with a story. 

In our local group, which only weathered the pandemic through the help of online meeting technology—hello, Zoom!—we have nonetheless had other organizational problems. Not the least of these has been the difficulty finding anyone willing to step up and volunteer to be part of leadership on our board of directors.

As we have turned our attention back to in-person meetings in the last several months—a move warmly received by our membership—we tried a new type of meeting. This one, called simply "Coffee and Conversation," is a monthly chance to get together and just talk genealogy. No agenda. Membership-driven topics of discussion. Free flow of sharing ideas, resources, and crowdsourced problem-solving. An hour that lets our members shine without pressure of preparing presentations.

This past month, the topic turned to finding old high school yearbooks. One member mentioned that he had found a copy of his school's yearbook for his year of graduation, which inspired him to put his research skills to work discovering what had became of all his former teachers.

"What year?" someone in the crowd asked. "Fifty nine" was the reply.

Another member fist-bumped the man who graduated in fifty nine. Another one said he beat them both by two years. "Fifty seven!" Meanwhile, the woman sitting next to me said, almost to herself, "Fifty five."

It was interesting to listen to the group share their remembrances of the "good old days"—especially when it came to local history—but one thought was not lost on me. These are members of a group meeting in 2023—a group which is having trouble finding candidates to run for officers in our board for the year 2024. 

Yes, I did the math. And the numbers opened my mind. Our members have been there, "done that," for decades. They've served on the hospitality committee, or as newsletter editor, or even as president. Again and again, in many cases. And next year, they are not the ones we need to look to when it comes to filling the positions which will lead our organization into the future.

The people we need for those spots are the ones who weren't even born in 1955, let alone graduated high school then.

The question, then, is how to find them. I'm not totally sold on some suggestions which have been floated by other bloggers. Making the exterior of anything shiny has never been the answer to truly keeping a house in order. Finding college student volunteers to serve in exchange for class credit, or high school students writing essays for a scholarship competition may be commendable outreaches, but those are not where we will find committed, long-term members willing to volunteer over the long run.

My hunch is to go back to basics and remember what it was that got us started as members of our own local association. In my case, it was the invitation of a genealogy friend which got me to my first meeting. A connection with a friend and a sharing of a mutual interest. The people element combined with the purpose equation.

Another thought is to think of when we first turned our thoughts to belonging with a group of like-minded people. For many of the members in our group, it was when they gave their first serious thought at retiring from a full-time occupation: then what? Some people make golfing their new full-time job. Others embark on a journey to discover new hobbies they hope they'll learn to love. But retirement is often the spark that gets some people saying, "I always wanted to look into my family history, and now I have the time to do it." I know that is what the students in my beginning genealogy classes tell me.

If you graduated high school in fifty-anything and are still working hard as a volunteer with your local genealogical society, that is great! I hope you will be able to keep up your service for many years to come. But if you were a graduate of the seventies, or the eighties, or even more recent than that, I hope you are ready to step up and try your hand at making your local genealogical society everything that it can be.

And when you do, bring your friends with you. Almost everything is more fun when you do it with your friends. I know genealogy is.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

At the Trail's End


The positive aspect about plans is the way they keep us on the straight and narrow research trail in accomplishing goals. If you plan things like I do, though, there is usually more plan than month in which to complete it. This month, however, is quite the opposite. Though I've had good intentions, my plan to learn more about my father-in-law's great-grandparents, Denis Tully and Margaret Flannery, yielded me little.

Instead, I hit a snag: a detour into an entirely new branch of the Tully line. That unexpected turn came when I discovered Denis and Margaret may have had a son I never knew about. That son, also named Dennis, was the ancestor of more than eight DNA matches for my husband. This was someone I couldn't simply ignore. Never mind the lack of documentation, either back in his native Ireland or in his immigrant home in Ontario, Canada.

At this point, I've nearly completed as much as could be found on the many descendants of Dennis Tully and his wife, Margaret Hurley. In addition, I've linked those eight ThruLines DNA matches to my husband's tree and found three more matches within those at Since then, I've combed through his matches at three other companies: MyHeritage, Family Tree DNA, and 23 and Me. Through that research journey, I've confirmed at least one more DNA match at MyHeritage and am still watching for others.

Yet that original goal—to learn more about Dennis Tully's parents in the Tully and Flannery lines—has brought me no closer than I was when I started. With a little over half a month remaining, I've run out of plan before I've run out of time. I could jump ahead to my goal for October, moving into the last quarter of the year, which I usually devote to my own father's difficult-to-research Polish lines. Or I could try exploring another avenue which needs attention.

The down side to relying on monthly plans is that if those plans run short of month, I'm quite out of practice being spontaneous. Where is the allure of those rabbit trails when you need them to be beguiled? 

Monday, September 11, 2023

The Tortoise Approach


Perhaps change is in the air. Along with the shifting seasons, I'm spotting signs of more than just beta tests at In fact, there's quite a buzz about the banner heading AncestryDNA's landing page—something I've unwittingly bypassed since I sign in directly to the option to view my matches or latest ThruLines update. Superimposed upon what appears to be a map of the world's reference panels, the banner heralds: "Coming soon: AncestryDNA results will be updated with even more precision in the coming weeks."

Coming weeks? How long will I have to wait to see this? I fervently hope I've missed seeing that banner for quite some time. I'm not sure I can wait that much longer. Sometimes, I feel more like the hare in the fable, chafing at the starting line to be off and running, rather than the plodding tortoise, sure to never win the race to find my ancestral answers.

While several genea-bloggers are surmising the latest heralded changes at Ancestry will relate to ethnicity estimates, I'm frankly not all that concerned about those data points. As I work, match by match, to pinpoint the place on my family tree where each DNA cousin belongs, I'm hoping for far more useful data for such a task. Remember, I'm stuck with this extra member of my father-in-law's family—Irish immigrant Dennis Tully, who is the apparent ancestor of more than eight of my husband's DNA matches. If there was any way, through DNA technology, to speedily determine whether he was the actual, bona fide son of our Denis Tully and Margaret Flannery, rather than being another relationship, that is the stuff of which I'd be most appreciative. As far as I can see, there is no other way to find documentation showing the correct relationship.

Between the latest beta tests and banners promising good things to come, the news certainly is being heralded on social media. Anticipation is fun, yes, but the end results will fully tell the tale. Yet, looking back over the last nine and a half years since buying my first DNA test kit, the ease with which I can determine where to place each cousin in my tree has greatly increased. I'm in awe over how much I've learned about family connections through this tool of genetic genealogy.

At this point, I've completely connected each of the eight ThruLines matches for this Tully line—the largest DNA test-taking set of all the descendants of Dennis Tully's supposed parents, Denis and Margaret Flannery Tully. Within the remainder of the DNA matches at, I've also spotted three or four additional candidates for this line and placed two of them in the tree, as well. Next task will be to move on to the other DNA companies where my family has tested, to spot matches descending from this same Dennis in those companies' matches, as well. And matches who may not show up in my husband's test might be part of the test results for either of my two sisters-in-law.

More discoveries await, I'm certain. All it takes is more work—plodding work to examine matches not yet aligned with Side View wizardry or through other tools. A tortoise approach for sure. New tools may redirect those efforts into slam-dunk answers with the new and improved hare approach, but I know I can figure out many of these puzzles with old-fashioned sheer effort, as well.

Still, I'm glad for those speedy short-cut tools. The more we can accomplish in less time, the more liberty we'll have to move on to even more amazing discoveries. In a few weeks. With the next update. In the meantime, perhaps I can make it to the finish line before the hare makes its next appearance. You know the old saying about slow and steady....

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Beta Bait


It was the indefatigable Debbie Kennett who first brought my attention to it: beta tests are's way of gauging customer response to their changes. On her, ahem, not-Twitter account, she shared a link to an article describing the technology behind the inquiries behind the beta tests.

Yes, I know that's a mouthful. But here are a few takeaways I gleaned from the linked article. Posted on the website of Statsig, a feature management and experimentation platform now being used by Ancestry, the article explained, "Ancestry's roadmap includes a mandate that every new feature has to be delivered via experimentation."

Thus, perhaps, the explanation regarding the multiple beta offerings appearing in the last several months, as the article itself indicated. The Statsig tools help the Ancestry team analyze how each beta offering functions and, bottom line, is received, even by sub-segments of their customer base.

Perhaps hidden within all that analysis is the reason why some beta offerings seem to simply disappear. That was apparent when I first read articles about the latest offering I've mentioned—that of the Fan View options—where the array of features shrunk from several to just one in a matter of days.

Then, too, bloggers have shown signs that multiple beta offerings are swirling about at the same time. Just when I spotted Marian Wood's recent post—and thinking it was yet another dissection of the Fan View beta—I realized Ancestry's beta world is operating on multiple planes of digital existence: you may receive one beta while I get to check out another.

Just as quickly as the Fan View beta morphed from one multi-faceted version to a single option—choose it or don't—I realized I better not bank on having that option around for the long term. Though it isn't anytime near my year-end reverie on my Twelve Most Wanted for next year's research plans, I figured I better jump on the chance to capture the visuals I think will help me in planning, in case that chance disappears entirely.

Today, I took a snapshot of the Fan View for each of my sixteen second great-grandparents. The idea is to spot at a glance where I need to focus future research efforts. Of those sixteen, some pictures produced painfully obvious diagrams, like this one for Sarah Catherine Laws, from my maternal grandfather's family.

Each of the sixteen snapshots show the work I have cut out for future research projects. Each diagram looks different. Take, for instance, this Fan View for Mary Elizabeth Rainey, from my grandmother's heritage, pointing out a quite lopsided research path.

Now that I have each of the sixteen views laid out—and preserved on my own system, just in case this beta test doesn't seem to resonate with Ancestry subscribers or the company's management—I have a clearer picture of just where I need to apply future work. My next step will be to employ this same routine to capture similar views for each of my husband's second great-grandparents, as well.

Then, hopefully, I'll be better equipped to decide where to apply my research efforts for the upcoming year. And if any further beta tests come my way with complementary tools and resources, I'll be thrilled to explore just how they might amplify my efforts.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Looking Forward


Fall is in the air—and in those delicious promos for pumpkin spiced lattes. Around here, daytime temperatures are still reaching into the nineties, but people are ready for a change.

I can't say I'm in any rush to dispense with the seasonable weather, but the coolness in the morning—and a few other signs—have put me in the mood to look forward to a new year.

Yesterday's message from which gifted me with the beta version of their new "fan view" has certainly been part of the reason I'm looking forward to the upcoming year. Frankly, work on my father-in-law's Irish roots, mired in the murky midst of a century lacking existent records, has put a damper on my research enthusiasm. And looking forward to the last quarter of the year, when I devote time to puzzling through my own father's unfathomable Polish roots, comes with that same dread of unsuccessful forays. I need something new to look forward to, and the fan view beta has given me that first glimpse of something—hopefully—yet to come.

Here's the main reason I'm looking forward to using the fan view: it will help me find some fresh candidates for my Twelve Most Wanted for 2024. Yes, I warned you: I'm already looking forward to a new year. My approach—and quickly, just in case Ancestry yanks its beta version of this fan chart option—is to take all of my most distant known ancestors and draw up charts using each of them as the home person.

I could take, for instance, my second great-grandparents and create that fan view chart for each one of them. Then, looking at who is missing in the generations beyond, formulate my plan for filling in those blanks. For the family lines in which the blanks don't appear until generations after that point, I simply use that later great-grandparent as the home person for the fan chart. In some cases—for instance, in my mother's and my mother-in-law's family lines—that home person could be someone born in colonial times.

Wherever those ancestors fall on the timeline of generations, the visual of who's there and who's missing is quite helpful—and is somehow more obvious to me than looking at a horizontal pedigree chart. I'm having quite a bit of fun with this already, but I think it will offer up some viable alternatives for me to research next year. It will certainly pinpoint some of the lines I've neglected over the past years.

I may not be much for pumpkin spiced lattes, myself, but that encouraging feeling of looking forward to a new challenge does provide inspiration—and energy. And to think it was all thanks to a simple experiment in a beta version of an idea that really isn't anything new. Just different. Like changing seasons. And different coffee flavors. 

Friday, September 8, 2023

Seeing Things Differently


A well-trained eye has become accustomed to gleaning minute details from maps or other diagrams. In our case as family historians, pedigree charts become our familiar domain. We know how to read them and what to look for. And yet, I find it refreshing to be able to rearrange the order of a chart, because it provides a new way to view research progress. When the diagram is rearranged, it allows us to see things differently. And sometimes, that leads to helpful discoveries.

Yesterday, when I opened up my tree to make additions to my father-in-law's new Tully line, up popped an announcement about a different type of family tree: a fan chart.

Ancestry is adding an additional option of seeing your pedigree chart in what they call "fan view." Of course, this is a beta offering, so not everyone will see this immediately in their account. In fact, I'm apparently the new kid on the beta block, as others have already written about this beta offering. It was only a few days ago when Ancestry's fan view test included even more options than what I can access now—options which I hope Ancestry will eventually include in their final version, such as extending the view from five generations to seven, and setting the chart so that it can be easily printable at a size which is legible. After all, I'd love to share my work—without having to bring along a magnifying glass when I show it off.

Granted, there are other genealogy programs, both online and in desktop-resident options, which already offer the option of viewing our work in fan chart arrangement. For some of those, I am already a subscriber. However, since Ancestry is where I do the bulk of my family history research, I am glad for this latest development.

New toys demand time for play, and I did experiment with printing the charts—both my parents' tree and that of my in-laws. I was surprised to see, in working with my own parents' lines, that there were no blanks among the generations. I've had so much trouble researching my paternal side, especially the Polish ancestry, that I was sure I would find gaps. That was an encouraging discovery—even though I could have seen the same thing, looking at the traditional pedigree chart (I prefer using the horizontal version). I guess looking at things differently can also be encouraging.

What I found most useful in this new fan chart offering is the option of going to a specific individual—say, an ancestor outside the five-generation parameter currently offered in this beta version—then, on the person's profile page, selecting "view in tree." From that vantage point of the specific individual, I can then select "fan view" and see that individual at the central position in their own fan display.

Here, for example, is the fan view visually demonstrating what I currently have added to the line of my second great-grandfather, Thomas Taliaferro Broyles. You can see, even in this chart, Ancestry has automatically added suggestions for the ancestors I haven't yet confirmed, including clickable green tabs with hints. The other uncolored slots show me at a glance where I need to focus my research in the upcoming year. 

If Ancestry decides to include this fan view option in their ongoing offerings, I hope the several iterations of the idea that were originally developed will be included in the end product. Color coding to show which ancestral lines need the most work—greater need for work represented by more intense shade of the color code for larger number of hints—could help pinpoint where to direct research efforts. So would the ability to expand the chart to include more generations.

At a glance, the fan view option gives us another way to not only see what work is still needed, but aesthetically reward us for what we've already accomplished. I certainly appreciate the opportunity to print and share what I've been working on. And who knows? Maybe the family and friends who see it might be encouraged to try their own hand at finding their ancestors, too. 

Thursday, September 7, 2023

When Parts of the Story are Missing


Researching a less-familiar family line can feel somewhat like finding your way down a dark hallway, blindfolded. That's the feeling I'm left with, once I entered the line of Dennis Tully's grandson, Frederick Hugh Kane. It's been that thin line of hockey connecting each of Frederick's children—and, eventually, leading me to them.

The key to finding each of these children was taking a leap into the dark and locating an obituary for at least one potential child. Then, using the names of that person's siblings listed in the obituary, branching out to locate more documentation on the next sibling. Once again, step by step, comparing names to move to another sibling, until I complete the family constellation. 

It hasn't been easy. The last sign I could find of Frederick Hugh Kane—other than his own Find a Grave entry—was his appearance in a few census records. In 1911, he appeared in his parents' home in Perth County, Ontario. At that point, he was twenty one and single. Ten years later—though with no sign of any marriage record—he was not only married to Lillian, but was father of three: baby Frederick and daughters Mary Ethel and her mama's namesake, eldest child Lillian Ruth.

From that point, the elder Frederick's next appearance in 1931 was as a married man, yet in the household of his sister Ethel and her husband, Frank Harkin. No mention of Frederick's wife or children, at least in that household. Frederick's burial in 1954 was the next record I could find for him, buried alone, but in the same cemetery as that of his sister Ethel.

Meanwhile, from the obituary of one of Frederick's children, John, I learned that their mother had moved them to Toronto when John was about twelve. Since he was born in 1925, that meant his mother moved the family in 1937—several years after her husband appeared in his brother-in-law's household for the 1931 census.

There is a story missing here, of course, but likely not one I'll be able to access. While there is always a need to be discreet with family details—although some governmental entities divulge more documents with the public than others—it is the continuing story of the DNA connection which I'm seeking.

I could likely fill in the blanks in my own mind as to what became of that family. But now that I've found the obituaries for far more children than those whose names appeared in that most recent publicly shared census enumeration, I've begun piecing together the family constellation. And that's really all I had been seeking: a way to confirm where DNA matches belong in our family tree.

Genealogy, for me, has always functioned somewhat like an algebra equation. When I find myself missing a key detail—the "x" of the equation—I simply have found ways to re-arrange the known facts to isolate the variable. When the known facts are readily accessible—and we all know which states or provinces share more than the others—we can pencil in that algebraic genealogy calculation quite handily.

There are other realms, however, where even if we are missing the documentation, we can read between the lines and guess what might have occurred. And that is where discretion comes in. Perhaps there are parts of the story which are better laid to rest, for the peace of mind of those who remain, if for no other reason. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Running in the Family


From time to time, when I hear people discussing members of a family, I'll hear the phrase, "It must have run in the family." Perhaps it is in comparing pictures of siblings, or meeting someone's parent or child, that the similarities can jump out unexpectedly.

In piecing together a family tree, researching collateral lines can be just as helpful. Though we may not see those ancestors face to face—or even in photographs—learning something about their siblings can help guide us in our search to fully understand the family. Once we learn about an ancestor's siblings, we start to get those "aha" moments when we realize there are traits which run in that family.

Take the ice hockey player, "Red" Kane, I mentioned yesterday. I've been working on that family's tree longer than I had expected, simply because I haven't been able to locate adequate documentation. And yet, stepping forward into the unknown anyhow, I began to spot some similarities popping up in the possible members of that family.

It actually wasn't Red Kane himself whom I first found in my search, but a brother. Thanks to a hint at Ancestry as I stumbled about online, I found a border crossing for Red's brother John. Though whoever filled out the border crossing paperwork in 1945 got his name partially wrong—John Birchman Kane instead of John Bertram Kane—his birthdate and the name of his mother Lillian confirmed this was the right sibling.

The place he was destined for in 1945 was what caught my eye: the San Francisco Hockey Club at the Winterland Arena. I got the feeling he wasn't traveling across the continent from his native Stratford, Ontario, for the mere purpose of visiting a tourist attraction. He was going on business.

It wasn't until the other end of his life when I found the rest of the story. In his obituary, I picked up a few of the missing details from the earlier portion of his life. For one thing, John B. Kane went by the nickname Jeff (though the only mention of a hockey player by that name was for one season with the San Francisco team during the 1945-1946 season).

John was one of eight siblings who survived to adulthood. According to his obituary, John, like his brothers, "excelled in hockey." His obit noted that he played semi-pro in both San Francisco and Indianapolis, before returning home to Canada to play for the Toronto Winged Wheelers. Now that I've found that information for both John and his brother Francis, perhaps that trait, running in the family, may help guide me to the rest of the brothers.

It was the obituary which also helped fill in some of the blanks in John's own life, especially the many places where he lived, and the family members who remained—and may potentially be among my husband's DNA matches whom I've yet to place correctly in the family tree.

But following these traits and personal history turn out to be helpful in yet another way. Like piecing together colored slivers into a mosaic to make sense of the bigger picture, it is such glimpses of each family member's lifetime which helps me paint the picture of the larger family descended from our Dennis Tully, the immigrant from County Tipperary who settled in Canada. And this family in particular presents me with a challenge: there are several pieces of their picture which are still missing.

Prime among the missing puzzle pieces is what became of Dennis Tully's own grandson, the man who supposedly was father of these Kane brothers who lived and breathed hockey. Until I began finding obituaries for any of John's siblings, I had no idea what became of Frederick Hugh Kane. But now, at least I know he was out of the picture, according to this obituary, when his mother moved her children to Toronto when John was about twelve.

I'll do the math, of course, and keep looking for more documentation, but I'll also take my cue from the fact that hockey runs in this family's blood. Detail by detail, across all eight of the siblings who survived to adulthood, what I can find hidden between the lines may, in the aggregate, be what leads me to the answers I'm seeking on this family line. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Looking for
the Stories Behind the Ancestors


Granted, not many of us know our own third cousins, personally. But this month, in researching the descendants of a newly-discovered branch of my father-in-law's Tully family, I found one I wish I had gotten to know. 

Dennis Tully, that Irish-born Canadian immigrant whose descendants showed up in my husband's DNA matches, unexplained, had a large family which included several daughters. One of them, named Johanna but preferring to go by Hannah for short, married a man by the name of Hugh Kane. They, in turn, settled in Stratford, Ontario, where they had a somewhat smaller family than the Tullys' own, the oldest of which Hugh and Hannah named Frederick Hugh Kane.

Frederick eventually married a Stratford gal named Lillian, from which followed at least eight children that I could find, with the last two being twins. While I have yet to determine part of their family story—Lillian seemed to be the strong influence in this household—I noticed a theme developing in the siblings' stories. They were all active—and one skill that they liked in particular was ice skating.

No surprise, here; they're Canadian. Plenty of opportunities to practice their hobby, eh?

I began seeing this trend as I read through the siblings' obituaries. When I got to one in particular, I found myself wishing I had had the opportunity to meet him in person. The memorial styled him as someone with roots in Canada, but there was so much more to say about the man. He was apparently a great storyteller, "never met a stranger" and "could learn everything about a person in the course of an elevator ride." Credited with "silent generosity," he served on his adopted city's parks and recreation board for eighteen years, after which the city named a park in his honor. At the close of the obituary, where typical "in lieu of flowers" statements are inserted, this one was different: "that you would do one spontaneous, unsolicited act of kindness for someone."

This Tully descendant alone, of all his siblings in the Kane family, had left Canada and settled in Texas, which might have explained the border crossing documents I was able to find. As it turns out, there was a reason for that, and it had to do with his love of skating. Actually, that love of skating brought him to cities across the North American continent, places like Detroit, Saint Louis, Tulsa, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Vancouver--as well as the Fort Worth area, where he eventually settled. As a professional ice hockey player, Francis J. Kane—or Red Kane, as he came to be called—played in 447 games from 1943 through 1951. While most of his games were played in the minor leagues, he did play for the major league Detroit Red Wings.

It was fun to find so many details about the life of this third cousin. More than just building out a family tree with bland names, places, and dates, I've always wanted to include the stories that seem to bring these people back to life again. Newspapers are one way to attempt getting the bigger picture, but sometimes that resource is as limited as the editorial policy in place in an ancestor's hometown paper. Granted, it is not every day that we find write-ups in Wikipedia under our relative's name—but sometimes, that rare occurrence can provide information as well as links to other resources about that family member. Sometimes, just googling the family member's name, or looking through old history books at Internet Archive can also provide resources for those stories we crave.

When we do find those unexpected stories, what a treasure they are. At the slightest hint that they might be out there, it's worth taking the time to go take a look. 

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