Wednesday, June 19, 2024

A Namesake Puts in his Claim


Do you enjoy reading through pages after pages of legal documents and court records? If it weren't for an insatiable curiosity about my ancestors, I certainly would have to answer: "No." However, researching with the motto "no page left unturned" came with a payout for all that dull reading, at least in answer to my question about Clinton Metzger. There was a claim filed in court in Knox County, Ohio, by Joseph Metzger's namesake son which may provide an explanation.

Before we discuss that claim, let's first go back to the senior Joseph Metzger, son of my mother-in-law's second great-grandfather, Michael Metzger. Supposedly, Joseph was father of this Clinton Metzger, at least according to three DNA matches of my husband's account at Yet, I couldn't find any record to affirm that Joseph had a son by that name.

Joseph complicated matters by dying in 1885—before drawing up a will. That left his wife Rachel and all his surviving children without any legal guidance as to how to divide up his property. Dying intestate presented a further problem for this family, for Joseph had been married twice and there were signs that the blended family might not have been on the best of terms.

Joseph's namesake son was appointed as administrator of his estate. In addition to his duties in that role, the younger Joseph apparently had second thoughts about the agreement set out in the court ruling, for he filed a claim, notarized on May 15, 1886, stating that, prior to his father's death, the senior Joseph had had his son tend to duties around the family farm, for which he ought to have been paid, over and above his portion in the inheritance.

It is in reading the names listed in the suit that I begin to see a clear path to answering my question about Joseph's children. Though the newspaper insertion is hard to read, check the names in the transcription below. We'll need to deconstruct this list further.

HENRY METZGER, resident of Terre Haute, Indiana; Charles Metzgar, of Grand Forks, Dakota; and James Metzger and Clinton N. Metzger, of Kingston Center, Delaware County, Ohio, and all creditors interested in the estate of Joseph Metzger, deceased, late of Knox County, Ohio, as heirs or creditors, will take notice, that I have presented to the Probate Court of Knox County, Ohio, for allowance to me against the said estate, certain claims, one of $36.00 and interest from April 1, 1885, and one of $147.32, in all $183.32, for work and labor done by me for said decedent during his lifetime, &c., at his request, and that the testimony concerning said claims will be heard by said Court, on the 24th day of June A.D. 1886, at 10 o'clock, a.m., or as soon thereafter as the same can be heard.

Newspaper clipping above from the Ohio newspaper, The Mount Vernon Republican, published 26 May 1886; image courtesy (see image #2025 for notarized claim dated 15 May 1886, and image #2030 for newspaper insertion and publisher's statement).

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Rachel's Poison Pill


It is my will if any...of my said children shall attempt by resorting to the courts of law to set aside or change any of the provisions of this will, they...shall be...cut off from receiving any part or parcel of my estate and the share or shares of the one or ones who shall attempt to destroy this will or any of its provisions shall go to the one or ones who do not in equal proportions share and share alike.

When Rachel Metzger drew up her will in 1893, she had a delicate balance to maintain. While she was mother of seven of Joseph Metzger's children—six of whom were still living—she was also the mother of an older child by her first marriage. That older half-sister of the Metzger siblings was Mary Houck, by then married to William Bell and a mother in her own right. Perhaps hoping to protect the interests of this only half-sibling of the Metzger household, Rachel felt the need to add what in legal parlance is sometimes dubbed a "poison pill."

In her will, Rachel had originally bequeathed one thousand dollars cash to her eldest child, Mary—an amount equivalent to nearly $35,000 in today's money. Perhaps after the Panic of 1893 and the Depression it ushered in to the American economy, Rachel changed her mind about what she wished to leave as a legacy to her firstborn child. Two years afterwards, as the Depression still wore on, she added a codicil to her original testament, modifying what she was granting to Mary. The new provision granted Mary one half of one share in her mother's estate—which included a three hundred acre farm in Knox County, Ohio—rather than a simple cash payout.

There are likely many ways to read between the lines of this one vignette in the ongoing saga of the Metzger family. Of course, every one of those legatees are now long gone, so there is no way to ask them what the dynamics might have been between Mary and the rest of Rachel's children. But it is quite evident that Rachel sensed some uneasiness in the relationship between some members of her blended family, and sought to diffuse such tensions in case they played out in a battle for the inheritance after her passing.

This uneasiness set the stage for me when I turned to consider what became of Rachel's husband's property after his passing in 1885. Unlike Rachel, Joseph apparently had not prepared a will which included provisions to quell any sibling squabbles. In fact, he didn't prepare any will at all. That, however, doesn't leave us without any guidance in determining what became of Joseph's property. And it is in those other court records that we may spot a prequel to the scene Rachel anticipated at the reading of her own will. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at what shreds of information can be found about Joseph's property after his death.

Monday, June 17, 2024

To Complicate Matters Further


We've been on the hunt to find an explanation why an Ohio man named Clinton Metzger would have descendants whose DNA matches that of my husband. Granted, Metzger is a surname in my mother-in-law's family. The drawback is that for the man claimed to be Clinton Metzger's father—a Pennsylvania-born son of immigrants by the name of Joseph Metzger—we can find no documents to connect him with his supposed son. Now what?

Well, by now, I'm sure you've concluded that before we can get to our answer, we'll stumble upon other details which are sure to complicate matters further. Nothing is ever easy, it seems, when in pursuit of ancestors from the early and mid-1800s. Certainly for Joseph Metzger and his missing connection to Clinton Metzger, that is turning out to be the case.

Consider this one other sticky detail: Joseph Metzger may have been married more than once. If you had wondered, last week when we viewed his 1880 census entry, why a sixty year old man like Joseph would have had an eldest son who was only in his early twenties—or a wife thirteen years younger than he was—this might be the reasonable answer you were expecting.

Turning to an earlier stage in Joseph Metzger's life, this may have been his entry in the 1850 census. Still in Knox County where we had found him in the 1880 census, Joseph's family constellation was comprised of far different names than what we found in the later census record. More to the point, his wife's name was not Rachel, but Mary Ann—likely the unmarried Mary Ann Bechtol of Muskingum County for whom Joseph had made application to marry in October of 1842.

Theirs was a young family in the 1850 census, which can be seen on the continuation page showing six year old John, five year old Henry, three year old Charles, two year old Mary, and baby Catherine. None of those names, of course, represent the supposed son Clinton who is still taunting us with his absence. But having these names as a reference to the possible earlier life of Joseph Metzger will—as you might have suspected—help us out as we continue this search for the explanation of just who Clinton Metzger might have been.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Silence on the Y-DNA Line


Since today is reserved for honoring fathers—at least in the United States—my thoughts have turned to wondering about my own dad. Although he has been long gone, the mystery he left behind still lingers. Just like his father before him, he remains an enigma, even to the people who lived with him.

Though she never got the opportunity to meet him, let alone get to know him, my daughter calls my father "the chameleon." A business man with lots of acquaintances—the type of guy "everyone" knew—I doubt many truly knew him. He seemed to blend in effortlessly with his surroundings, an enigma that no one even noticed.

We, however, thought differently. When I, along with several cousins and siblings, learned that my father's father was not the Irish immigrant he purported to be, we began to suspect—and dig for—another story.

It was almost exactly eleven years ago this week when my brother agreed to meet me at a genealogy conference in southern California—my annual go-to place every June, and a ten-minute drive from his house—to become the willing subject of a specialized DNA test to examine the deep history of something called the patriline. This would tell us the truth about our father's father's father's...well, you get the idea.

We were pretty sure the answer wouldn't be the Irish story my much-older brother had heard his grandfather tell him. Though the signs had been well-hidden, our generation of that family had begun to point to a possible Polish heritage, just by sharing vague memories of what our parents had let slip, and what the older siblings and cousins could remember of their grandparents. That helped, of course, but being so generic, we wanted something pointing us in a more reliably specific direction.

When my brother's Y-DNA test results came back (he kindly appointed me as administrator of his test), we weren't surprised to learn that the great majority of men sharing his haplogroup descend from Polish ancestors. And yet, as far as matches go, my brother only had two at his testing level of sixty-seven markers. One was at a genetic distance of seven; the closer one was still at a far distance of three. No exact matches.

Match results have stayed that way since my brother tested in 2013. If there are any other men out there who connect at any closer range to this patriline, they certainly haven't decided to spring for a Y-DNA test. Granted, this information, combined with the more common autosomal DNA test and a lot of dedicated traditional genealogical detective work have taught me much about my father, but I am still learning more every day. DNA has been an excellent teacher, even though the original subject has remained silent to his students.

As I look over the many DNA matches I've found, both in my brother's test results and through my own at multiple testing companies, I realize not only how much DNA has taught me about my family, but how powerful DNA is, itself, in shaping who a person is.

I sometimes can't help noticing how, when I do or say something or make a particular choice, how it seems to echo one or other of my parents or, for those grandparents I did know, show me the connection to my relatives, and in turn, how those relatives were connected to their parents and grandparents. The DNA, though recombining in multiple ways, still passes down to us small signatures of what made each of those people who they were. DNA becomes their gift to us.

I sometimes wonder if the people who are most likely to take a DNA test are those for whom their parents—and their ancestors—are a mystery. They test because they don't know. That certainly was the driving force behind our family's collective attempt to discover the hidden story of our patriline.

While my brother's Y-DNA test results may seem to have yielded a deafening silence, on the flip side, that DNA is still speaking quite loudly. Every time I exhibit a tendency that reminds me of my father, it is as if he was still there with me—an eternal reminder of our connection. We are the way we are, in large part, because of our parents' DNA. And despite the frustrating silence from those specialized DNA test results, at least for one day this year, I can celebrate the person we're seeking through that Y-DNA test with a "happy Father's Day" thought.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Are We a Dying Breed?


The other day, I did dog-sitting duties for my daughter's recently acquired puppy while she attended an out-of-town training. Her new canine companion is a Briard, a French breed known for its sheep-herding and protecting tendencies. The Briard comes with a long and fascinating history, depicted in tapestries during the time of Charlemagne, admired by even the dog-hating Napoleon, and recorded in the journals of Thomas Jefferson, who imported Briards from France on his return home from service there as ambassador from the fledgling United States. The French so admired the capabilities of the breed that the Briard was named the official war dog of the French army, serving on sentry duty, pulling supply carts and rescuing wounded soldiers. This had devastating effects on their numbers after both World Wars, when casualties greatly mounted for the Briards in service on the front.

Perhaps the Briard would have been a dying breed, except that certain breed advocates devoted themselves to the cause of resurrecting the Briard to its previous standing. The woman who managed the litter from which our puppy came is such a person. This takes work, just as all breeders would know, but it also takes a special dedication. The less people know about a breed—or even that there is such a breed—the less the public would want to acquire such an animal. Support and advocacy for the breed take an elevated place in such a role of breed advocate.

After a typical busy week of activities in our genealogical society, perhaps it might seem that puppy-sitting an unusual breed of dog might be a radical change of pace—and yes, I did get my workout with this active six month old—but strangely, my thoughts sought out a parallel. I don't know about your local genealogical society, but ours has recently suffered a drastic drop, year over year, in membership. Plus, those of us who remain are not getting any younger—yet the world around us, including those who are curious about their ancestors, keeps changing and doing almost everything differently. Learning to keep up with changes to be vitally relevant to those potential new members around us will be the key to avoid slipping from most popular to most pathetic.

Thinking of this newly-learned lesson of the Briards' history causes me to ask about our genealogical societies: are we a dying breed? What can we do to introduce those around us to the vitality of knowing one's own family's story? How can we better become advocates for this process we enjoy? 

Answering questions like these isn't just about coming up with a quick gimmick that sounds trendy, but digging deeper to discover what resonates with people at specific stages in their lives: newly-weds, new parents, intermediaries helping others in life-changing stages such as parents' downsizing, or even stepping into retirement for themselves. What to do with the time now? Or the now-inherited resources of family memorabilia?

These are life stages in which people may have the kinds of questions for which we as local genealogical societies might provide answers. But we need to know who might be asking. And how they would best receive our answers. Listening to an hour-long lecture in a meeting hall might not be the best venue for giving them the answers they seek.

If the hour-long-lecture model is a dying breed, let it go. But helping people find the story they've been seeking on their family, I'm convinced, will never go out of style. Like the Briard in life after war, that's the kind of rekindled interest we should seek. Our "breed" isn't seeking listeners to sit in rapt muteness before a talking head—no matter how knowledgeable—but a far more compelling journey of personal discovery to find answers concerning our own families. 

Friday, June 14, 2024

So Much More to This Story


Do you ever look for clues when you are stumped on a stubbornly-hidden ancestor in your family tree? Sometimes when I do that, I run into unexpected details that tell me there may be so much more to the ancestor's story than what I was expecting. When it comes to Clinton Metzger, the supposed son of Joseph Metzger, that is exactly what I'm beginning to think.

For one thing, census records for Joseph's household do not support the notion that Clinton was his son. Take the 1880 census entry for then-sixty year old Joseph and his family in Knox County, Ohio. Joseph, born in Pennsylvania to immigrant parents—as we already know, since Joseph's father was my mother-in-law's ancestor—was by then raising five children along with his wife, Rachel. Also in the household was his step-daughter, Mary Houck, whose very appearance in that census tells me that her mother's entry in the 1857 Knox County Metzger marriage record was incorrect in labeling her as "Miss" Rachel Houck. See? There's always more to the story than what appears in one single document.

Those entries in the 1880 census for the five Metzger children—Joseph, Cornelius, George, Joanna, and Albert—provide ages, therefore approximate years of birth to guide us. Thus, we can figure that the junior Joseph was born approximately in 1859, Cornelius in 1861, George in 1863, Joanna in 1866, and Albert in 1871.

Notice, however, that there was no mention of any son named Clinton. Could he have been a son born after the 1880 census? Possibly. Or a son born right after the Metzger marriage and out of the house by 1880? Perhaps. But at this point, there is no sign of any Clinton in this Metzger household.

Incidentally, flipping to the 1900 census where Clinton Metzger appears with his own family, the record shows that he was born about June of 1860, giving enough wiggle room to fit within the approximate birth years of the five in the 1880 Metzger household.

There are, however, other concerning signs popping up when we look on the Clinton side of the equation. Take, for instance, Clinton's own marriage license application in 1881. Scrawled across the header containing his name and that of his bride, Ida Bell, was the admonishment, "Don't publish for 3 weeks." Why? There's surely a story there, as well.

Yet, on the other hand, Clinton's 1900 census entry provides the promising sign: his dad was born in Pennsylvania and his mom in Ohio, just like our Joseph and Rachel.

One sure way to settle this puzzle might be to locate Joseph Metzger's will. Unless there had been a terrible falling out between father and son, surely Clinton's name would appear among the legatees, wouldn't it? Unfortunately, it appears that when Joseph died in 1885—perhaps unexpectedly at age sixty six—he left no will.

That, however, is not the end of the story, for his widow Rachel made sure to leave a will of her own before her passing in 1912. Her will, though simple and direct, was drawn up in 1893, several years before her death, and ultimately included a codicil providing more detail on the daughter from her first marriage. In that document, we can easily glean the names of all her surviving Metzger children: James, Joseph, Cornelius, George, Joanna, and Albert.

No Clinton.

Now what?

Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Quest for Clinton's Roots


Finding an unexpected member of one's family can be unsettling, especially for those of us who have spent years trying to get the details right about our ancestors. Discovering that that newfound relative has descendants who now are on our DNA match list calls for a much closer examination. That's what I'm into now, with the discovery that some descendants of a man named Clinton Metzger claim to be cousins—albeit distant ones—of my husband. Let's see what's already known about this Clinton Metzger so we can delve deeper into his roots. At some point, hopefully the nexus will appear. But first, you know the rules of genealogy: start with what you know.

Here's what I "know" about Clinton Metzger, based on some easy-to-find documentation. Buried in the same county where he made his home—Delaware County in Ohio—Clinton Metzger's headstone made it clear that the man, who died in 1933, was born in 1860. A family man, he sometimes went by the nickname "Clint"—as in the 1900 census—or simply by his initials, C. N. Metzger. Married in 1881 to the former Ida Mae Bell, he was father of six children—three sons and three daughters.

But where he came from or who his parents were, that is the questions. Some helpful researchers years ago had posted burial information for all Delaware County cemeteries on the sorely-missed old website, RootsWeb, on which list Clinton Metzger did make an appearance. But for the column labeled "father," the slot next to Clinton's name was frustratingly blank.

How, then, no less than 104 other subscribers were able to assert that Clinton's father's name was our Joseph Metzger is beyond me. I can find no substantiation for that claim. 

Perhaps, though, that simply means we'll need to dig further to find an explanation.

Image above from the search function at, the result of selecting "Family Trees" for the search term, "Clinton Metzger."

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Too Close for Comfort


What do you do when someone else's research suggests a family connection that hasn't shown up in your own records? That DNA match I've found whose tree claims an ancestor named Clinton Metzger has introduced a nagging problem. As it turns out, this may be a problem which is too close for comfort, at least if I'm assuming this is a case of mistaken identity.

First of all, I have no record of any Metzger by that name, Clinton, in my mother-in-law's tree, and yet someone—wait, make that three someones—matching my husband claims such an ancestral name. What's the explanation?

I thought the best approach to dealing with this would be to face the problem head on: look more closely at the details known about this Clinton Metzger. So today—and, who knows, maybe for the rest of the week—we'll take a look at what can be found online.

Having decided to launch into that question, I ran across some interesting details. Let's just say those details don't exactly help the situation; they may actually compound the problem. Keep in mind that in the background, I'm slowly chugging through generation after generation of Metzger descendants of my mother-in-law's founding immigrant Michael Metzger.

Right now, I'm nearly completed with the line of Michael's son Joseph. My current focus is the line of Joseph's son James. James' middle child, a daughter named Florence, married someone by the name of Delbert Ulrey, a farmer from Morrow County, Ohio. Florence's 1908 wedding took place in Delaware County, the next county over from Morrow County, the same county where she had been born. All this was easily gleaned from their marriage license application.

Though Ulrey may seem like a less-common surname, I hadn't counted on the number of times that name showed up in documents, incorrectly spelled as Ulery. Even in their own application, handwriting of the clerk who completed the form made the surname appear to be spelled that alternate way, though looking at Delbert's own signature, it was clear that the spelling should have been Ulrey, not Ulery.

Though the newly married couple, Delbert and Florence, spent the rest of their life in Morrow County, connections with Delaware County remained. I hadn't counted on just how much those connections did remain, however, until I started looking at records for Clinton Metzger, this DNA match's supposed connecting ancestor.

Just looking at Clinton Metzger's Find a Grave memorial pointed out that sticking point right away. Clinton Metzger—at least, according to Find a Grave volunteers—had a daughter named Ida May. Ida May, in turn, married someone in Delaware County by the name of Ulery.

Yes, Ulery. Check it out for yourself on the headstone for the couple. Ida May married someone named Ernest Gale Ulery.  Not Ulrey.

So now I have Florence Metzger marrying Delbert Ulrey, and Ida May Metzger marrying Ernest Ulery, all in Delaware County. Granted, the two brides were eleven years apart in age, but even in a place the size of Delaware County—twenty seven thousand people at the time—the place was small enough for some people to have noticed, and possibly confused, the two family names.

With that caution in mind, we'll proceed even more carefully as we begin to explore just who that Clinton Metzger might have been, and if—or how—that man connected with my mother-in-law's Metzger family.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Looking for the "F.A.N. Club"


Where are those family and friends, associates, and neighbors when you need them? 

I'm referring to those genealogically-supportive clues, collectively appearing as the "F.A.N. Club" of our elusive ancestors. These were the family members and other friends and associates who traveled with that hard-to-trace immigrant ancestor from their homeland to their new life in America. In the case of my mother-in-law's second great-grandfather Michael Metzger, it appears that his F.A.N. Club numbered, um, zero.

I tried an experiment to see if any other family members might have traveled with him from the Old Country, wherever that might have been. Since Michael, according to later census records of his children, must have arrived in Ohio before the birth of his son John (a.k.a. Johann) in 1824, I thought I'd look for signs of other Metzgers in the subsequent census.

Try as I might, I could not find one Metzger in the 1830 census in Ohio. Not even our Michael and his own family. The reason? Apparently even in German-speaking Ohio, nobody knew just how to spell a surname like Metzger. This gives me pause to consider the supposed German "native tongue" of his son John who, if you remember, ended up moving away from family to settle in a German-speaking town in Indiana. Perhaps his wasn't such a familiar-sounding dialect of German, after all.

As it turns out, Michael was indeed in the 1830 census, under spelling that looks more like "Meichar" than Metzger. Granted, I'm looking at a digitized version of a nearly two-hundred-year-old document, faded ink and all. Some of the lighter strokes of the handwriting likely have faded into oblivion. Perhaps the original was written more like "Metchar." Granted, that was close...sort of.

But what about looking for any other Metzgers in 1830 Ohio? If we can trust that the rest of the state got the spelling right, there were seventeen other families that I could find, at least at—but none of them living close enough to Michael's Perry County for me to be confident of a connection.

Perhaps that supposed F.A.N. Club that Michael traveled with on his journey to America might have been the relatives and acquaintances that settled with him at his first stop in Pennsylvania. After all, two of Michael's children—Joseph and Mary Ann—were born somewhere in Pennsylvania before the family's final stop in Ohio.

I tried the same approach, looking at the 1820 census for mentions of Metzgers in Pennsylvania. This time, there were thirty nine Metzger possibilities according to, including one named Michael in Lancaster County—but not so fast here: this Michael remained in Pennsylvania, buried in the Mennonite Cemetery. Definitely not our Catholic Michael Metzger, for sure.

Granted, many documents from that era may not have been included in records online. Some may not even be in existence anymore. Learning more about church records in Pennsylvania will be helpful to identify just where in Pennsylvania the family had briefly settled. Perhaps, along the way, it will become clearer just who the Metzger family's traveling companions might have been—and where they all came from.

In the meantime, it will be back to building out the Metzger family lines for DNA that I'll continue working on. I've still got to figure out how our Catholic line crossed paths with that mystery Clinton Metzger of those DNA matches. 

Monday, June 10, 2024

. . . Then the Hard Work


It was supposedly the pitiable character Eeyore in A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh who advised, "Brains first, then hard work." Normally, I'd consider that sound advice. Today, after a weekend of frustrating research non-results, I think I'm now stuck on the second part: I'm on the "then hard work"—no brains included.

After stumbling upon several DNA matches who claim relationship to my mother-in-law's family through a line which includes a non-Catholic Metzger, I've been on a hunt to find where this mystery Clinton Metzger might have fallen in the family tree. Though the centiMorgan link is admittedly small, there is a possibility that the match is correctly placed in this line. But where? If Clinton Metzger was truly these DNA cousins' ancestor, his parents weren't who those cousins said they'd be.

And so, I begin speed genealogy, filling out the family tree, one Metzger at a time. While I haven't yet found the answer, I have run across one Metzger descendant who (gasp) left the faith for a wedding ceremony in a Methodist church. It is quite possible I may find more.

This search involves a routine process of moving through each line of descent, step by step. Take one child of Michael Metzger—right now, I'm working my way through the children of Michael's son Joseph Metzger—and methodically register every document where that child's name is found, then repeat the process for each of that child's children. Move down the line, step by step, from oldest to second-born and beyond. Repeat the process for each of those children, down to the present day. When that list is completed, go back to the top and advance to the next child of Joseph, beginning the downhill slide through the generations once again.

Tedious? Yep. But thorough. When I'm done—don't hold your breath; this may take a week or more—I'll have all the children of Michael Metzger's son Joseph documented in my mother-in-law's tree. And then I'll move on to the next child, who at this point has been listed as Mary Ann Metzger, born in Pennsylvania at the end of 1822, just before the family moved on to Perry County, Ohio.

I anticipate gathering another two or three hundred names through this process. This is the kind of hard work which allows me to spot DNA matches far more easily than at the first, when my husband tested back in 2014 and I sat there, stumped and awash in the flood of the thousand-plus names of strangers who were supposed to be kin. There may be brains in genetic genealogy, but for me, it's really the "hard work" part that makes DNA testing workable.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Tracking the Metzger Lines


When I've worked on my mother-in-law's Metzger line in the past, I always could count on the numbers for my biweekly count ratcheting upwards fairly quickly. Why? Almost all of her relatives were Catholic; in the past, that could mean lots of large families to track. 

Now, however, it seems a struggle to document some of the branches of her second great-grandfather Michael Metzger's tree. The documentation just doesn't seem to be there. Perhaps that is a combination of Michael's being a newly-arrived immigrant plus a time frame occurring before listing household names became the routine with the 1850 census.

Still, in the past two weeks, from records in Michael's adopted home in Perry County, Ohio, and the Indiana location of some of his descendants, I've managed to document 301 more names in my mother-in-law's tree. That means I now have 35,346 individuals connected with her, up to the sixth cousin level for DNA matching purposes.

Though I still am unable to push back another generation on this Metzger line—after all, second great-grandparents is not that far back in time—I am working on completing each line of descent while I probe for possible connections to the past. Remembering the F.A.N. Club principle, reaching out to distant cousins for clues, and inspecting all documents for overlooked information have been my next steps. So far, no leads. But we keep on researching, anyhow. The answer is out there somewhere.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Where They Came From


Anyone who is researching immigrant ancestors eventually wants to know where they came from. Naturally, since I've been working on my mother-in-law's Metzger line, I'd like to know, too. But even though Michael Metzger and his wife Apollonia were only her second great-grandparents—so close!—that detail is tantalizingly just outside my reach. And out of the reach of others, too, apparently.

Since I'm the nosy type, I thought I'd hop over to the universal-tree website to see if anyone there had come up with the magic answer which seems to evade me. There was a spot in their tree for Michael Metzger, of course, but whether that entry included any pertinent documentation was another matter.

Like my own approach, I see on the FamilySearch entry that apparently others have also depended on the information provided by Michael's children. His son Henry's death certificate—with information provided by Henry's daughter Manaleta—claims that Henry's parents were born in Switzerland. No city provided, I noted, though inexplicably, the FamilySearch tree also identifies a specific location in Switzerland: Möhlin in the canton of Aargau. No documentation is there to back up that assertion, though a quick peek at the FamilySearch catalog shows several entries for records and information from that canton.

Of course, many of those library holdings are in German, not English—but what would you expect? This might be more of a challenge to research than I was anticipating. If, that is, Michael and Apollonia really did come from the Aargau canton in Switzerland. Maybe they didn't.

Thinking of any other way to determine whether Michael Metzger and his family traveled with any others from their hometown to Ohio, I recalled that Perry County tax records were available online for the time period around their arrival. The Metzgers were in Perry County in time for the birth of their son John in the summer of 1824. The closest tax record I can find to that date is the county's listing of personal property from 1831. Michael is the only Metzger listed in that year's alphabetical entries. If he did travel with neighbors to Ohio, they did not share his surname.

While records from that early time period may be few or incomplete, I'm holding out hope that there is a way to verify those statements about Michael's ancestral home—or at least the names of his parents. His marriage and the birth of at least three of his children should also carry the marks of his origin—somewhere. It's just a matter of continuing the search in more directions.

Friday, June 7, 2024

When Batting .500 Isn't Good Enough


I know there are some family history fanatics out there who are also baseball fans. While they may agree that batting .500 might be a great statistic for a baseball player, when it comes to genealogy, I am more often disappointed when that becomes my research average.

Right now, I'm working my way through my husband's DNA match list for Metzger cousins. He stands in as proxy for my mother-in-law, whose second great-grandfather Michael Metzger links my husband to seventy four other DNA cousins. After tackling that phantom son, John (or Johann) Metzger, my next move was to look at the six matches descending from John's brother Joseph. Supposedly, there are six descendants of Joseph who share a small amount of DNA with my husband.

While I say small—barely more than twenty centiMorgans for the best of them—I realize the combination of genetics and genealogical documentation can provide a more reliable link than such small numbers alone as I saw in those six matches descended from Joseph. However, when I looked more closely at those six matches, I found three of them for whom I could rustle up not one page of paperwork. For this quest, batting .500 wasn't really helpful.

The sticking point came in the listing of the sons of Joseph Metzger. Joseph was apparently married twice, so he had many sons. But the one name asserted to belong to the line of these three DNA matches—Clinton N. Metzger—was a name I could find nowhere in documentation for Joseph's family.

Looking at the problem from the opposite direction—following the line from the match to parents, then grandparents and upwards—I attempted to sketch out possible family trees to see where the trail missed a turn. After all, I've seen several times when a man was mistaken for a brother, or even for a cousin by the same name. In this case, however, I had no luck.

Sometimes, matches at Ancestry's ThruLines appear to be attributed to one ancestral couple when the match might turn out to be through another line in that family. I tried looking for other surnames as I built that quick sketch of a family tree. As it turned out, one of the daughters of this Clinton Metzger happened to marry someone whose mother was a "Rhinehart." Since my mother-in-law also has Rineharts in her ancestry, I looked for an alternate connection through that side of the family, but no clear path emerged.

It is indeed possible for matches hovering around that twenty centiMorgan range to be a mistaken connection. But I'm not quite ready to give up on those three cases quite yet. Once confronted with that impasse, I decided to take a closer look at the many Metzger lines descending from our Michael and his wife Apollonia to build out the lines of descent for each of them. At some point, that will become handy for connecting future DNA matches. Perhaps it will even untangle this maze leading from those three DNA cousins to our most recent common ancestral match in Michael Metzger.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

From Johann to Joseph John


Though unable to find anything further on Michael Metzger's son John—or, as he was called in the German-speaking town where he settled in Indiana, Johann—we'll now turn to the rest of Michael's children to explore any clues about his origin. His possible oldest two children, Gregory and Joanna, apparently didn't marry—but then, I've found very little on them to even confirm that these were two of the foreign-born children of the founding immigrant.

The third child, Michael's namesake son, was my mother-in-law's direct ancestor. I've researched this line closely but have not yet been able to confidently push back to the previous generation through what I've found on this younger Michael's family.

Beyond that is the next-born son, Joseph John Metzger. I've already noticed that six of his descendants are DNA matches to my husband, so I've been working on how they connect to my mother-in-law's family tree. As that work unfolds, I'll share what I find here in the next few days—if, that is, there are any noteworthy discoveries. This Metzger family seems reticent to share any early memories of the homeland for our benefit.

What I do already know about Joseph John Metzger is that he was the first of the Metzger children to have been born after the family arrived in the United States. Specifically, Joseph was born in Pennsylvania, one testimony of the family's stop in that state on their way to their final destination in Ohio.

As it turns out, Joseph spent most of his life in Perry County, the same location where his parents had settled and the place where all his siblings—with the exception of Johann—remained in their adulthood. I say "most," though, because a pivot point in Joseph's life was the loss of his wife Mary Ann Bechtol after the birth of their five children.

With a young family yet to raise, Joseph Metzger did what any farmer of that era would have done: quickly found a wife to marry. That he did by 1857, when he and second wife Rachel exchanged wedding vows. The catch was that they were married a small distance removed from his parents' home, in Knox County. And it was likely in that same Knox County where Joseph raised his second, even larger, family of at least seven more children before his 1885 death.

Between all those children, I'm hoping someone researching this Metzger line will have run across some family stories on where this line originated. We'll take a closer look at Joseph John Metzger's line—and DNA matches—tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Letting Dialects Drop a Clue


Can you speak Swabian? Well, neither can I. I suspect a lot of people in the United States wouldn't even realize it if they heard someone speaking that dialect. But if a German-speaking immigrant met another immigrant who spoke Swabian, I suspect the two could somehow find a way to understand each other. Even more important, just knowing there is such a language might guide us in untangling the origin of some Metzger ancestors in my mother-in-law's heritage.

For instance, consider this question: if Johann Metzger's son remembered that the household language of his childhood was German, why was his mother said to have been born in France?

Johann Metzger—or John, as he was listed in American government records—married a woman by the name of Mary Ann Wiest. The wedding took place in Perry County, Ohio, where John Metzger's family had settled at the end of their immigrant journey. The straightforward marriage entry in the county records—in English, incidentally—showed the date of their marriage as August 24, 1852. Though I haven't yet been able to find John Metzger's entry in the previous census, his intended was easily found in the household of Theodore and Cecelia "Weast" in the 1850 census

It was in that census, though it was hard to read the handwriting, where I first gleaned the idea that the Wiest family had emigrated from France. Just to be sure, I followed the family from Ohio to Dubois County, Indiana, after John and Mary Ann's wedding, to see whether that birth designation was repeated in subsequent records. Sure enough, France was the answer for the subsequent census in Indiana, as well as for the following two decades' records. It wasn't until after John's 1896 death, when Mary Ann lived with her eldest son Frank, that he reported her birthplace as Germany.

Was that simply a matter of changing the information to the politically correct designation of the time? I don't think so. Again, reading between the lines, I believe that unexpected birth designation for a German-speaking immigrant can provide us a clue as to the family's origin: the borderland region once known as Alsace and Lorraine, now in France. Their centuries-old borderland disputes make that one location a likely candidate for such mixed messages over the decades, true, but just looking at the history of the dialects spoken in that region over the years can give us an idea of why someone said to have been born in France could actually be a native speaker of a German dialect.

Which is why I began by asking about the Swabian dialect. Years ago, many who lived in Alsace spoke a dialect similar to Swabian, which is a form of high German. Yet, Alsace is considered to be part of France, not Germany. Similarly, what is now the neighboring Lorraine also has a German-speaking population in the northeastern part of the region, known as Moselle.

Just knowing these details about the languages and dialects spoken throughout the history of these two regions can help point us to the possible homeland of the immigrating—and "German" speaking—Wiest family of France, and perhaps, the origin of the Metzger family, as well.  

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

When "I Don't Know" Can't be the Answer


If you ever hope to get past your brick wall ancestor, the phrase "I don't know" cannot be part of your vocabulary. If you want to find those answers, you have to know what you're looking for before you begin a successful search. That doesn't mean you already know the answers, but it does mean you at least need to find a factual toehold before you can grasp the rest of your ancestor's picture.

Thus, before we begin puzzling over the phantom relative I found in my mother-in-law's Metzger line, we need to start with an inventory of what we do know—or at least the details which seem to be most likely facts.

In today's example, that "phantom" family member was a previously unknown son of my mother-in-law's second great-grandfather, immigrant Michael Metzger. In all the records I could find for him, his name was represented as John Metzger, but apparently he also went by the name Johann Metzger—especially after he surfaced far from home in a small town called Ferdinand in Dubois County, Indiana.

Just today, in laying out the facts I've already accumulated on this John (or Johann) Metzger, I learned enough background information to connect some dots in his story line which hadn't previously made much sense to me. For instance, I couldn't understand why, if the man was known in earlier years as John Metzger in records back in Perry County, Ohio, where his family had settled, he would become known as an adult as Johann rather than John. Looking up a brief entry on the town of Ferdinand helped explain, for instance, why his headstone clearly listed his name as Johann: the town was settled mostly by German-speaking immigrants from central Europe.

Since John Metzger had married in Perry County in 1852, I had expected to see his entry in the 1850 census, but so far I haven't located him listed under either given name, John or Johann. The digitized marriage entry was difficult to read on the bottom of the page in Perry County court records, but thankfully a volunteer had posted a clearer copy of that record in his Find A Grave memorial. 

After that point in 1852, John Metzger and his bride, the former Mary Ann Wiest, showed up in Dubois County records in Indiana until the point of their passing, in 1896 and 1917, respectively. Oldest child Frank was born there in 1853, followed by four more sons and one daughter. Interestingly, in all the U.S. Census records which included his name from 1860 through 1880, this mystery relative was listed not as Johann but as John Metzger.

Working from those small points which were the familiar toehold of what little I knew about the man, a picture began to emerge. It took following through on each of John and Mary Ann's children for that picture to take shape. An entry on third-born son William, long after his parents' passing, was the stroke of luck which confirmed his parents' German-speaking heritage: William happened to be included in the expanded section of the 1940 census, which provided the information that the language he remembered speaking in his childhood home was German, not English. Surely that detail echoes back to previous generations as well, reminding me that John's parents also were German speaking residents in their adopted home in Ohio.

Just reading between the lines on those few things that we do know about a supposed "brick wall" ancestor can lead to fresh understanding which, once we think about it, can lead to more clues and, eventually, answers. When we begin a search for a new ancestor, we may presume at first that we don't know anything, but even grasping for the one detail we can say is true can connect us with a corollary piece of information which will help us along our way in that research mode. Each step may indeed be a baby step, but it leads us closer to sketching in the picture of who that mystery ancestor might have been.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Phantom Genealogy


It is an eerie feeling, discovering an ancestor's sibling when none used to be there before. I sometimes feel like I've been researching phantoms in my family tree when those mystery relatives appear. Where there had been no indication of the person's existence, suddenly there he was.

Now that I'm revisiting the family line of my mother-in-law's second great-grandfather, Michael Metzger, this is one detail I'll need to tackle. Though I can explain away the missing family member—Michael apparently had three children born in his European homeland before traveling to Pennsylvania, where two more were born before the final move to Ohio, all before 1825—I still do need to document his existence. The trouble is, while the others dutifully remained with their parents through the entire immigration journey, this one phantom family member did not. With a scenario like that, it could be easy to imagine missing that son entirely.

While Michael Metzger died before the 1850 census—plus, with no sign yet of a will,  no other paper trail to indicate the names of everyone in his household—almost all of his children remained in Perry County, Ohio, where they can be found in that 1850 census listing plus every subsequent decade's record until the last of the Metzger children passed in 1911.

Notice, however, that that is almost all of his children. One son apparently left and headed west to Dubois County, Indiana, shortly after his 1852 wedding in Perry County. I've seen him listed in some records as John Metzger, while others represent his name as Johann, making the search more challenging. If it hadn't been for a volunteer's work on his Find a Grave memorial and eight DNA matches flagged by's ThruLines tool, I would have totally missed this collateral line.

So far, I've worked my way through seven of those eight DNA matches, and the lines all lead back to this same Metzger ancestor. I keep pinching myself to make sure I have not fallen asleep or daydreamed my way into imagining this connection. But the paper trail holds out. The DNA told the real story. It's time to learn more about this phantom relative Johann Metzger's story and try to discover why he left the rest of the family in Ohio to strike out on his own in Indiana.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Letting DNA be the Guide


Collateral lines are the key to figuring out that multitude of DNA matches, but what happens after discovering a previously-unknown additional child of that shared ancestor? With this month's research focus on my mother-in-law's Metzger line, that is exactly what I'll be tackling.

Michael Metzger, my mother-in-law's second great-grandfather, immigrated to the United States along with his young family. Best I can tell, they arrived in Pennsylvania before the birth of their son Joseph in 1819. Then within the next five years, they moved once again, this time to Ohio, where the family's journey ended.

The problem is, there were apparently children whose identity seemed to slip through the cracks in those early years, and only showed up on my genealogy radar a couple years ago, when I last focused on this family line.

Fortunately for me, descendants of one of those mystery children have shown up on my husband's DNA matches at

All told, my husband has seventy four DNA matches at attributed via ThruLines to Michael Metzger's descendants. Thirty four of them trace back to Michael's namesake son, Michael junior, my husband's direct line. Another six are supposedly descendants of Joseph, that first American-born child of the Metzger family. A daughter Elizabeth has seven descendants who match my husband, and another son, Jacob, yielded nineteen matches.

That mystery child, though, actually became the line from which eight more DNA matches descend, a hopeful sign that I did indeed miss another child in the Michael Metzger family line. The closest of those matches, a fourth cousin once removed, matches my husband with forty seven centiMorgans—not a large number, but reasonably within the range determined by Blaine Bettinger's Shared centiMorgan Project interactive version at DNA Painter.

Of course, there are other possible relationships that can also match at the same level, but at the beginning of a research project, this sounds like a promising sign. What we'll need to do first is review the information already gathered on this possible son of Michael Metzger, then see what else can be found about this man's family history. Along the way, I'll be working on the other DNA matches descending from this same son, to see what else can be learned from those lines of descent. There are still so many loose ends to tie up concerning this son who left the Metzgers' Ohio home to build a life of his own, far from the rest of the family.

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Revisiting a Metzger Mess


It's a new month, and hopefully a time to view an old research problem with fresh eyes. This month's focus regarding my Twelve Most Wanted for 2024 will be the family of founding immigrant Michael Metzger, my mother-in-law's second great-grandfather who eventually settled in Ohio. Not that I haven't worked on this family before—they had stumped me back in 2022—but this time, I hope to take a different approach.

A main focus will be to revisit all my husband's DNA matches related to the Metzger line—of which, thankfully, there are many—to learn about the descendants of the collateral lines in this family group. Apparently, when I last worked on this line, I had missed some of Michael Metzger's children. Aware of that possibility happening again, I want to review my work from two years ago to check for completeness, as well as thorough documentation. And, of course, to review those DNA matches at each company where my husband has tested.

One challenge with this month's research focus is that Michael Metzger was a far more recent immigrant to this country than, say, the Ijams line we examined last month. Michael, born sometime in the 1780s, did not arrive in America until just before the 1819 birth of his son Joseph. My question is: what was his country of origin? Different possibilities have been suggested by various researchers—either Germany or Switzerland—and I'd like to find some solid confirmation of this.

We'll start this month's exploration on the immigrant Metzger family with a review of current DNA matches tomorrow, then look at what has already been confirmed about Michael Metzger next week.

Friday, May 31, 2024

Was Hoping for a Photo Finish


It's the last day of the month, and what can I say now? I was hoping for a photo finish, pulling up the probate records for my mother-in-law's eighth great-grandfather Richard Cheyney at the last moment, but no: it won't be possible quite so soon. Some things take time in the family history research world.

Looking back at this month's research challenge, I can't say I'm entirely disappointed at overall progress. This missing record will be added to my planning list for next time, whenever that next time will materialize for future lineups on my Twelve Most Wanted. And that's okay. Each year, as long as I keep pushing backwards through the generations, targeting research goals and being open and flexible to where the documents will lead me, I'll make progress. 

Considering we started this month by working on my mother-in-law's fourth great-grandfather, William Ijams, we did work back a few generations. Not only did we look at William's direct paternal line, but we took time to examine some points about those hard-to-find colonial women who married into William's patriline. And from those discoveries—especially when I could locate wills detailing collateral lines—I've been working on their descendants whose DNA might put them in my. husband's list of (admittedly very distant) DNA cousins.

Tomorrow brings a new month, and with it a new research project, as we jump to the sixth of my Twelve Most Wanted for 2024, and the third ancestor linked to my mother-in-law. Every month's project is a new research adventure. While William Ijams' ancestors kept us on this North American continent far longer than I—and certainly my mother-in-law—ever anticipated, with tomorrow's project, we may find ourselves looking for passenger ships' records sooner than we thought.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Another Generation, Another Puzzle


As this month draws to a close, it's time to wrap up all that can be found on the ancestry of William Ijams, fourth great-grandfather of my mother-in-law. In this past month, we've worked on tracing his ancestry to his parents, John Ijams and Rebecca Jones, then moving further in the Ijams line. John's father, also named William, had married another colonial Maryland resident, Elizabeth Plummer, yet finding any record of her father, Thomas Plummer, has not been something I've been able to achieve in this past week. However, before the end of this month, I also want to step back yet another generation to this William's father, and examine what can be found on that elder William's wife.

This goal, however, may generate another puzzle. Following these Williams in Anne Arundel County has been challenging, not only because we are looking for documentation in the 1600s and very earliest years of the 1700s, but also because Anne Arundel apparently suffered a courthouse fire. While many county residents supposedly voluntarily brought in their own copies of the lost records to be preserved after the fire, I have yet to find such records retained by the government—though I've found mention of them in one book by a Maryland researcher.

This eldest William Ijams—or Eyams, or Iiams, as the surname was alternately recorded—had married another colonial resident by the name of Elizabeth Cheyney. This Elizabeth, at least according to Harry Wright Newman in his 1933 book, Anne Arundel Gentry, was daughter of Richard Cheyney, and was born  about 1652. The Newman book made mention of a record, re-filed after the courthouse fire, referencing a deed of gift conveyed in 1674 by Richard Cheyney to William Iiams and Richard's daughter Elizabeth, specifically mentioned as "now wife of William Iiams." 

Finding such records for Richard Cheyney, however, is another matter—even with the help of FamilySearch Labs' Full Text search. I was able to locate a will drawn up in Anne Arundel County on March 6, 1685, for someone by that name, which looks promising. But I can't be sure. The will named sons Richard, Thomas, and Charles, along with mention of three daughters. Unfortunately, while identifying daughters Mary and Anne may be helpful to other descendants, seeing that third daughter listed as "Eliza" rather than Elizabeth causes me to wonder whether this is the will for the right parent of our William Ijams' wife Elizabeth. 

Granted, the mention in the Newman book of the re-filing of the deed of gift seems to tie the names into one neat family bundle, but I'd prefer to find further documentation to confirm the author's assertion. At least it might help to guide me in determining that I had located the correct Richard Cheyney's will. The only consolation in that will was the discovery that, while none of the daughters were identified by their current full names, the mention of "my son in law John Jacobs" indicates the possibility that either or both of the other two daughters might also have been married at the time their father's will was drawn up. Whether that was so, and what their married names might have been, however, is left for me to uncover.

Thankfully, a reference to where the probate documents were filed was included at the close of the Cheyney will for future follow-up. Incredibly, the date listed for that set of documents was during the year of 1726, long after Richard Cheyney's will was drawn up. If Richard's daughter Eliza was one and the same as our Elizabeth, wife of William Iiams, hopefully the probate records will indicate the woman's true identity. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Learning About a Quaker Community


Discovering a new twist in the family faith—in this case, the Quakers—was so unexpected to me that I had to dig further to learn about this religion and how to research its adherents. Elizabeth Plummer, my mother-in-law's sixth great-grandmother, was apparently raised in the Quaker community of West River in Maryland, as we discovered last week

Naturally, I wanted to read up on what was known about that colonial settlement, since I now know it was linked to our family. Elizabeth's father—so far, identified either as Thomas Ploummer or Plummer—and his wife Elizabeth (yes, another Elizabeth!) were members of that community, according to Harry Wright Newman's book, Anne Arundel Gentry.

Checking for additional information online on that community, the first discovery I found was a timeline labeled as the history of the "burial ground," but it included a much broader view of the community in general, an informative read for someone who has never researched Quaker ancestors in the past. From there, I headed to the FamilySearch wiki for further guidance on how to proceed with research. There, the wiki article on the Society of Friends led me through a brief history, plus an overview of available resources. 

For those just beginning their discovery of Quaker ancestors, the wiki recommended a book, Our Quaker Ancestors, written by Ellen Thomas Berry and David Allen Berry, which happens to be searchable through Google Books. Since I wanted to go for the gusto, I also spotted the wiki's recommendation to check out the website, where I did find an entry for the history of that particular community over the centuries.

It was fortunate to find that website, for it provided dates to help track the morphing identity of the community. Even so, I'm still confused, as some other articles seem to indicate differently.

For instance, indicated that what was once West River was later known as the Sandy Spring meeting place. Yet, when I check a website showing the history of the Sandy Spring community itself, it claims the location to be "one of the oldest" Quaker meeting places, but its records date to only 1753, long after Elizabeth Plummer's parents were there. To add to the confusion, another community—the Third Haven Meeting House in nearby Talbot County, Maryland—identifies as the oldest surviving Friends meeting house. At least that meeting house dates to 1684.

It helped to find a timeline for the Sandy Spring meeting house. Apparently, that was attributed as an outgrowth of the West River meeting house. It might be useful to trace the genealogy of the later location's families, for the timeline mentions intermarriages between families of the two meeting locations, a reasonable outgrowth of a growing religious movement of that time period. According to one FamilySearch wiki article, Quakerism had grown to become the third largest religion represented in the British colonies, a significant and widespread movement. No wonder, once my family tree reached back that far in time, I had run into Quaker ancestors. It might be far more surprising to not have discovered such a connection in the early 1700s.

Seeking sources for genealogically significant records becomes my next task, and yet, finding records combining Quaker meetings with the right meeting house location—in Anne Arundel County in my particular case—may also be a challenge. One six-volume resource, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, seems to contain records of meeting house proceedings in every state but Maryland.

A FamilySearch blog post from 2016 pointed me to another source for Quaker records. No surprise, it's, but the story of how Ancestry obtained the records made for an interesting read. I love stumbling upon the history of a history resource. Indeed, turning to the Ancestry card catalog and entering the keyword "Quaker" brought up seventy resources. And I wouldn't be surprised to find even more.

All this means, of course, is that I have my work cut out for me, if I plan on finding anything more on Elizabeth Plummer's parents in Quaker records. Unlike the established church, Friends did not practice any sacrament of baptism, so I won't likely find any such verification of births in the family. But the meeting records may contain so many more details that it would be worth the effort to gain this small peek at life among the Friends in early eighteenth century Maryland.

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

When It's Not There


When we find a specific detail about an ancestor's life, of course we first want to locate a document to verify the assertion. Last week, I encountered information through Harry Wright Newman's book, Anne Arundel Gentry, which indicated that a deed verifying the relationship of Elizabeth Plummer not only to her father Thomas, but also to her husband William Iiams had been destroyed by a courthouse fire. Not to worry, though—at least, according to the Newman book—for many of the records destroyed in the 1704 fire were re-recorded when residents voluntarily brought in their own copies to again be noted in the court documents.

But when I headed to the FamilySearch Labs' Full Text search to locate such a record, I wasn't able to find anything quite like the quoted document from the Newman book. This means finding alternate ways to locate the alleged document, if possible. If it is not available through FamilySearch, then another possibility could be the Maryland Archives. Besides that, someone posted a copy of a will pertinent to Elizabeth's own family on Ancestry. As the Newman book mentioned Elizabeth Plummer Iiams' death as occurring in 1762, that became my next goal to locate. Again, no results for my search.

Using other researchers' writings as a guide to locate documents can work to our benefit, and there are other resources out there for locating these collateral lines connected to our William Ijams (or Iiams) family. Even the extensive notes attached to the Find A Grave memorial for Thomas Plummer, Elizabeth's father, provide a guide of the book and page numbers for records of interest, which may be findable through the Maryland Archives.

I'll be gathering more of these hints to compose a to-do list for my document hunt. Somewhere, those records should be findable. It's just a matter of determining which repository has the actual document. Hopefully, somewhere, the records I need will be findable online. After all, it's a long way to Maryland—unless I can do my research "travel" virtually.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Memorial Day in
Small Town America


Driving through a small town in Kansas over the Memorial Day weekend is decidedly different than what would be experienced back home. In my case, back home is a city of over three hundred thousand people. Saint Marys, on the other hand, boasts a head count less than one percent of that size. With that disparity in population counts, you'd think there would be more manpower fueling the drive to decorate for the holiday weekend in a place much larger than Saint Marys, but I doubt that is the dynamic behind the difference.

All along the main street this weekend, there were flags posted from the tip of utility poles. The festive look, combined with the historic buildings in the diminutive downtown area, made for the quintessential Americana look. Nostalgia and commemorations go hand in hand in this type of tableau.

There is no other reason than family connections that would call me to a place halfway across the continent from the city I now call home. This, of course, reminds me of the importance of remembering and celebrating such ties. While our extended family has very little in the number of relatives whose service to country resulted in the ultimate sacrifice, a day like today eventually turns to thankfulness for not only those who served in the military, but for the connections each of us share with our extended family. Being together on a holiday like this seems additionally special.

Whether your town went all out in a coordinated effort to decorate for Memorial Day or remained about as enthusiastic as some larger cities seem to be on this day, I wish you a time to appreciate family in all its forms—from those whose lost lives we commemorate for their sacrifice, to those who served and are still with us. And let's celebrate having each other as supportive family for all the struggles we each face in life.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Ancestry, Descendancy, or Both?


When I first walked into the Sutro Library—billed as the largest genealogical collection west of Salt Lake City—the first reference book I pulled off their shelves outlined the descendants of the founding Taliaferro settlers in America. I found that book years ago, and the book's format was not a rare one. Today, however, those pursuing their family history are far more likely to draw up a pedigree chart outlining the ancestors of one particular individual. (Remember the instruction in beginning genealogy classes, "Start with yourself"?) But with the advent of genetic genealogy, those mystery DNA cousins prompted me to do a hybrid approach: first, trace my ancestry. Then, identifying a founding ancestor, reverse course and plot the lines of all that ancestor's descendants back to the current date.

Now that I'm working on the DNA matches connecting my husband—the subject testing on behalf of my mother-in-law's family history—to the line of the earliest William Ijams, I've seen quite a jump in the number of names in that family tree. I checked once again, since it is time for my biweekly progress report, and saw that the past two weeks brought 214 newly-identified relatives to my mother-in-law's tree. That family tree now contains 35,045 documented individuals—and counting, as there are many more to document before the end of this month.

While pushing back through history one generation at a time can add to a family tree, adding the collateral lines to each generation can make for a very bushy tree. It's a matter of deep versus wide, depending on which research approach you choose—or, in my case, deep and wide, all in the same tree.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Context Before Relationship


Not all jokes are funny anymore.

A while back, someone shared a joke with a group I was in. I didn't get it. Not because I lack a sense of humor; it was likely because the story line referred to some celebrity I know nothing about. I didn't know the context behind the joke's story line. I missed a chuckle, but spared everyone the monotony of a post-mortem on a now-vanished moment of mirth.

From that fleeting experience, I realized something: context is king if you want to function in any social circles. It doesn't matter whether you belong to a D&D gamers' group or a grandmother's knitting circle. If you don't track what's new and upcoming in that interest group, you likely also don't have a basis for ongoing relationship. Not only are the jokes not funny, the gossip is meaningless, and the heart-to-heart confidences might never make their necessary appearance.

I kept thinking about that moment of the missed joke for quite a while. During that time, I had been meeting with various genealogical groups in my region, noticing the differences in membership composition. While the "personality" of each society might have been different—some more eager to ask questions after presentations, some more focused on research techniques or relevance to local history—there was one inescapable solidarity: this is primarily the domain of those retired enough to spare time for family history pursuits. And that's a particular shared context.

Those of us in genealogical societies have been at it for quite some time. Those who choose to join us are more likely to first size us up with the conclusion that they can easily become one of us. Why? The context resonates. In other words, they are examining the context of our group—the topics we discuss, the terms we use, the comparisons we make. If they understand the terms we use, the way we think, the buzz words we resort to, that puts them at ease and they will feel more comfortable envisioning themselves becoming part of our group.

If not? I'm beginning to wonder whether it is really the terminology of genealogy—the pedigree charts, the family group sheets, the third-cousins-twice-removed—that keeps potential new members from joining genealogical organizations. Could it actually be something else—like the social context, itself?

Perhaps those genealogy programs which focus on discovering the roots of current celebrities are not far off base. Those for whom names like Ciara or Jesse Williams resonate will not be attracted to our local society if we don't learn to talk the talk like Dr. Henry Louis Gates has done. If we want a different membership in our group, we need to talk like the people we want to join us.

Membership in an organization is a form of relationship. Before new people will join a group, they need a positive feeling that their context is the same as our context—talking the same language, sharing the same day-to-day concerns, even laughing at the same jokes. Changing the name of our group from Washington County Genealogical Society to Washington County Genealogical Association does not provide that context. What does is when new eyes look at the current group and see themselves in our membership.  

Friday, May 24, 2024

Forsaking the Faith


I'm not sure why, but it is always surprising to me, when researching the story of a family which staunchly supported one particular religion over the years, to discover that that belief was not as resolutely adhered to by one's ancestors—nor by one's descendants. As I wander through the generations in my mother-in-law's decidedly Catholic family, I've been surprised to learn that her fourth great-grandfather, William Ijams, was more likely an adherent to the Methodist way of John Wesley. Yet, now that I've traced William's ancestors from his father John to his father William, I now find a new twist: a wife who married into the established Church of England, forsaking the faith of her Quaker parents.

This William's wife, born Elizabeth Plummer, was the namesake child of another Elizabeth. A typewritten note signed by Harry Wright Newman and inserted into his book, Anne Arundel Gentry, explained that Elizabeth Plummer's mother, while often listed under the name Yate, was actually George Yate's step-daughter. She was born a Stockett, a detail we hopefully will cover before the end of this month, a surname which made its appearance in another branch of the Ijams extended family.

Elizabeth Stockett's daughter, Elizabeth Plummer, married William Ijams on August 27, 1696, presumably in Anne Arundel County, part of then-colonial Maryland. Two years later, according to the Newman book,  she was baptized as an adult at All Hallow's Church. Her parents, as Mr. Newman noted, had raised her as part of the Quaker community of West River.

William and Elizabeth Plummer Ijams went on to raise a family of at least nine children themselves, as we've already mentioned. But of Elizabeth's own origin, we might not have known much at all, owing to a fire which destroyed many of the documents at the "State House." Thankfully, William and Elizabeth—as well as many other residents of the region—voluntarily brought their own copies of records such as this deed from Elizabeth's father, mentioning the relationship between Elizabeth, her husband William, and her father, Thomas Plummer.

That, at least, is a story conveyed in the pages of the Newman book. You know what the next step will be for us: to locate the document through the FamilySearch Labs' Full Text search. Because now, we can. If it's there.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

May: a Month of Mishaps


Times like this compound challenges faced by those of us bloggers who have committed to posting on a daily basis. If you thought today—after missing my chance yesterday—would be the big reveal for the details on the will of the founding Ijams ancestor in my mother-in-law's line, think again. Yesterday? My mind was too befuddled to think clearly enough to read anything, let alone handwritten documents drawn up in 1703.

But that was yesterday's excuse. Today? Well, if I'm lucky, I'll escape from the Denver airport before midnight, if our connecting flight arrives to whisk us away to Kansas City. This time, thankfully, the event is a joyful one: the wedding of a Stevens cousin's granddaughter, a time for family from across the country to gather together for a family reunion of sorts. 

If we get there, that is. While our consolation prize is that we finally get a much-delayed plane to fly in, the drawback is that we still aren't sure the craft is mechanical-issue free. What a dilemma.

So, about that will: the last testament of the founding immigrant William Ijams—or Eyams, as Harry Wright Newman painted him—was supposedly presented in court in 1703. You know my first stop was to check for a copy through the FamilySearch Labs' Full Text search. Unfortunately, despite searching for all the spelling variations I've already encountered—Ijams, Iiams, Jiams, and even Eyams, and even just looking for a William with wife named Elizabeth—there was no sign of any such document. While my mother-in-law's seventh great-grandfather may well have died when Mr. Newman reported it in his book, it looks like I'll have to come up with some other creative search ideas if I am to find the actual will.

Meanwhile, we've bypassed the other side of two Ijams generations, the wives of the elder and the younger William Ijams. Since I've spotted information on their two families during my explorations, we may as well round out the month by noting something about the two Elizabeths who married those Williams: Elizabeth Plummer, wife of the younger William Ijams, and Elizabeth Cheyney, wife of the founding immigrant ancestor.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

A Process Break


There are some moments when the mind cannot tolerate staying focused long enough to trace even the most obvious of family relationships. This is one of those times.

Yesterday afternoon, I had to say a difficult goodbye to my longstanding companion and self-proclaimed "senior editor" of A Family Tapestry, Luke. Though I knew the day would eventually come, it was still  more difficult than I anticipated it would be. 

If you have been following along here from nearly the beginning, you may have recalled meeting Luke at the wrap-up of the year when I began blogging. He had often been at my side, inspecting my commentary as it crossed the computer screen. In this past year when life became more difficult for him, he still remained in his special spot next to my work space. It's hard to take my seat to write and realize his place is empty.

After that final goodbye, I gave some thought to the pets of our ancestors, and wondering if we would understand our relatives better if we knew more about their pets (if they had any). I can still clearly remember my mother's stories about her childhood pet, a black Scotty named Jo-Jo, and all the trouble his stubborn tenacity could land him in. But even trying to divert attention to family stories right now just doesn't measure up to the need of the moment.

I know so many of us who pursue our family history are also fond of our pets. In online meetings, I sometimes see the swish of a telltale tail across the screen as someone's cat jumps up on the table--expectedly or not. They are in our lives, and in their small way make our lives more pleasant, more enjoyable--but they are gone in such a short while, no matter how much we might miss them.

If that is the case for us, I'm quite sure those who filled our past generations might have known such attachments, as well. And yet, those dearly held feelings often turn out, in the long run, to be as ephemeral as the trinkets of life accumulated in a junk drawer. Could that ever be something to share about an ancestor? To write down as part of that relative's story? How do you trace something as fleeting as feelings?

Sometimes, people ask the question, "But what should I write?" The answer always is, "Write what you know." Even if, today, that is all I know.

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