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23andMe Sheds Light on a Family Mystery

My quest to identify my German great-great grandmother never ends. If I am not actively working on the project, it still simmers in the back of my mind.

We inherited such brief information about this woman. My great-aunt (the German woman’s granddaughter) told me in the 1980’s that her grandmother’s name was Katherine Stillenbaugh. She came to America when she was eight years old, and she died at Indianapolis shortly after giving birth in 1865 to her only child, my great-grandmother.

My great-uncle, the informant on his mother’s death certificate in 1961, gave the name of his grandmother as Katherine Stanabaugh.

Both these records date from a century after my second great-grandmother lived. People who never knew her, people with little formal education, created these records.

What is the truth? Who was she? More importantly, who were her people?

Through years of work with the U.S. census and Indiana records, I made a little progress. I learned that there are few, if any, Stillenbaugh or Stanabaugh families in Germany or the US. The one or two I found have no connection to Indiana or a Civil War era woman named Katherine.

I learned that Germans usually spell the female name with a “C” instead of a “K”, as in Catherine, Catharine, or Catherina.

I learned that when you cannot find information about early American women, the standard advice is to follow the men in their lives because the men created more records. My second great-grandfather’s name was Thomas Sherman, a blacksmith from Kentucky.

Sometime during the early 1860’s, he and other siblings resettled in Indiana, south of Indianapolis. When I looked at the names of their neighbors, a found a large German clan named Stilgenbauer, a name some of them Anglicized to Stillabower. The name struck me as so similar to the names I had been researching.

I hypothesized that my Katherine belongs to this German family. Various branches of this group had daughters named Catherine. Is one of them mine?

None appeared to fit the bill exactly. Some seem too old, others too young. Some of the right age were born in America, not Germany. I could find no record of any of them marrying someone named Sherman. It seemed I would never find an answer.

Then DNA testing came along. My father and I submitted our samples, and I began combing the databases looking for matches to Stilgenbauer/Stillabower descendants. Several months ago, I found one, and his family was from Indiana. He works as a genealogy librarian, but he could not identify my Katherine.

This week I uncovered another match to an Indiana Stillabower. With two DNA matches who match each other and us, I am feeling pretty confident that I have found my kin.

Indiana county histories tell me that all the Stilgenbauer/Stillabower descendants claim a common ancestor, Georg Valentin Stilgenbauer (1773-1845) from Bavaria. He must be my ancestor, too.

But where do I fit in? Georg had three sons who settled in Indiana. Jacob (1796-1865), Adam (1801-1863), and Johan Michael (1804-1881) all settled in Brown County.

Jacob’s son, Johan Nicholas (1823-1905), spelled his name as Stillabower. He eventually moved on to the northern edge of Bartholomew County. My great-grandmother was born in April, 1865 just a few miles north of there in Edinburg, Johnson County. Was she Nicholas’ granddaughter? Nicholas did have a daughter named Catherine who was 18 years old in 1865.

But this Catherine did not die in 1865. Instead, she married a man named Long that same year and lived to have a family with him.

So the story still does not match up, but I am getting closer. It may take better scientific skills than I possess to interpret the DNA results that continue to come in. Nevertheless, I hope to resolve this puzzle someday. My great-grandmother’s maternal grandfather was likely one of the Stilgenbauer brothers who settled in Brown County, Indiana.

 

 

A High and a Low

Genealogists continually collect information for their family trees. Some of it makes us happy, some does not. I received a bit of both this week.

 

Whoo Hoo! More Ancestors!

A distant cousin of Norwegian descent contacted me this week to ask about sharing family stories. Of course, I am always delighted to do this. She gave me the link to her family website in return.

I found our shared family tree on her site (http://www.kinstories.com/johnson-kin.html). We both descend from Martha Karoline Dorthea Hansdatter (1841-1900) who lived her life in Norway. My new cousin’s family descends from Martha’s grandson, Helmer Johnson. My line comes through Martha’s youngest daughter, Sofie Sivertsdatter. Both Helmer and his aunt Sofie immigrated to America in the early 1900’s. Sofie sponsored Helmer, who arrived later than she did.

Over the years the two branches of this family lost touch with one another.

Now I have learned that my new cousin has posted online several generations of Martha’s family, back to the early 1700’s. She has done a tremendous amount of research, and I am glad she has made it available for the rest of us. She has done good genealogical work, sourcing all her information.

 

A Terrible Accident

We received word earlier this week of a tragic death in our family. Justin Robbins (abt. 1980-2019) died all too soon of an accidental gunshot wound. He leaves behind his two young daughters, my husband/tech advisor’s great-nieces.

I always feel a pang when I must enter a death into my genealogy database. A senseless event like this feels even worse. RIP, Justin.

Another Round of House Cleaning

My mother-in-law turned 89 years old this week. She lives in assisted living in another state. We took a long weekend to visit her.

Our trip had two purposes. Of course, we wanted to celebrate her birthday, but we also have the issue of the family home to face.

My father-in-law built that house himself in the 1950’s. It holds tremendous sentimental value for his children and grandchildren. We all had so many good times there. Two summers ago, nearly forty of us gathered in the yard to view a total eclipse of the sun.

Yet even though we all have such fond memories, no one wants to live there. The family must sell.

Local relatives have spent many hours sifting through their mom’s belongings, deciding what to keep, what to donate, and what to discard. They work to make repairs to the home and yard to ready the property for sale. We try to lend a hand whenever we visit.

We put in several hours’ work on this project during our recent trip. My husband/tech advisor and his brother stood in the sun behind the shed sorting their father’s spare lumber and metal. Indoors, I located and organized family papers and photographs. I also weeded out the cookbooks and sewing boxes. My sister-in-law cleaned out the food and scrubbed cupboards. A third sibling will tend to the furniture during her next visit.

We, the genealogists, boxed up the documents and photos and brought them home. We will scan them to make copies for everyone.

Despite the hours we put in over the weekend, much remains to be done, especially in the outbuildings. Next time we visit, we will go out there again to see how we can help.

A Chance To Use My Christmas Gift

Last December my husband/tech advisor gave me a wonderful Christmas gift—a membership in the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), sometimes known as HisGen. He assumed, correctly, that I would like this gift because I have numerous New England ancestors.

So far this year I have enjoyed reading the publications I have received from NEHGS. These include the magazine American Ancestors and the journal The
Register. Both come packed with information of genealogical interest.

Members also have online access to the databases the Society offers. I have spent most of my time this year working on my Nordic ancestors, so I have not used these databases much yet. I would like to find time to dig into them to search for more information on my New England lines.

In addition to its publications and website, NEHGS provides yet another opportunity for me to learn about my American ancestors. They offer webinars. I have now registered for my first one.

This afternoon I will log in for Top 10 Published Resources for Early New England Research. I think I already know what some of these resources might be, but I cannot tick off a list of ten. A webinar pointing me to sources I should use will help me formulate a research plan when I am ready to tackle my New England lines.

So who are these colonial ancestors of mine? They belong to my paternal grandmother, Grace (Riddle) Reed (1896-1976):

  • Her grandmother, Olive Hall (Dunbar) Riddle (1823-1902), was the New Englander. Olive was born at Chatham, MA to Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831) and Rhoda Hall (1784-aft 1850).
  • Benjamin E. Dunbar descended from Robert Dunbar (1630-1696) of Hingham, MA. Surnames of women who married into this Dunbar line include Hathaway, Cole, and Garnet.
  • Rhoda Hall descended from John Hall (abt. 1611-1696) who settled on Cape Cod. Other surnames in this line include Snow, Burgess, Bramhall, and Bangs.

My wonderful Christmas gift provides me with so many ways to learn more about my New England roots. All of those I have mentioned can be used from home. There is one more option. The Society maintains a wonderful library in Boston. Perhaps I will take a trip to use it someday.

My Finnish DNA Results

Last week I wrote about discovering a close Finnish relative found via a DNA match on FamilyTreeDNA. My new third cousin and I have corresponded this week and plan a phone call soon.

This connection will help me fill in my American family tree with descendants of our common Mattila family. But what else can this DNA match do?

I realized this week that it can help me categorize all my other, more distant, Finnish DNA matches. Many of the Finns have taken DNA tests, and I have lots of matches with Finnish surnames.

FamilyTreeDNA allows me to sort my matches relative to a known match. I can select my new, close match and then run a report listing all the other matches I have in common with the selected match. Then I can run another report of matches not in common with the selected match.

This technique will yield two results. Because my new cousin is a Mattila descendant, the first list will give me the DNA matches belonging to my great-grandfather Alexander Mattila’s family. The second list will show the matches for my great-grandmother Ada Alina Lampinen’s family.

This will save me a ton of work in analyzing my FamilyTreeDNA results. With the lists at my fingertips, I will know at a glance the family line for each Finnish match.

It took me awhile to realize I could do this even though the technique is so obvious. Most of my prior work with DNA has been on my dad’s side of the family. The process does not work so easily there because he has so many double cousins. Most of his DNA matches are related to him in two ways.

With these Finns I have a different story. When I decide to contact any of these matches, already I will know the surnames we have in common. No need to spend time trying to find how we are connected.

My biggest problem will be deciding who to contact first. I have at least 30 predicted 2nd-4th Finnish cousins who have taken DNA tests. When I submitted my DNA sample, I never anticipated finding so many of my mom’s relatives in Finland.

Year of My Finns

An acquaintance of mine wrote a book about serendipity and genealogy. She explained how our ancestors often seem to reach out to us to help us along in our research. I have experienced this phenomenon several times over the years.

It happened again this year. I had decided to investigate my Finnish lineage in 2019 because I planned a spring cruise with a stop in Helsinki. In an amazing coincidence, some unknown Finnish cousins contacted me last fall. They were interested in corresponding with their American cousins. We wrote back and forth for several weeks. These members of my Lampinen family then met me in Helsinki, and we spent a wonderful day talking about our family tree.

I want to believe that our ancestors encouraged the modern-day Lampinen descendants to look for one another.

Since I returned home, I have immersed myself in all things Finnish. I have added many Lampinens to my online family tree.

This week serendipity struck again, this time during my weekly viewing of my DNA matches on FamilyTreeDNA. A new person popped up, a close match. From the person’s English-sounding name, I assumed a connection on my dad’s side of my family.

To verify this, I ran the report that looks for matches in common with my new match. I was surprised to see that they were all Finnish. I thought I knew all my Finnish-American cousins, so I wondered who this relative could be.

I immediately fired off an e-mail message and received a prompt response. Sure enough, we both have Finnish ancestors. My grandmother Martha Mattila (1906-1977) and my match’s grandfather Alex Silberg (1906-1989) were first cousins. My new match and I both descend from the Mattilas through daughters, and consequently neither of us has a Finnish surname.

I hope to exchange some family information soon with my new cousin. If I am lucky, I can get copies of some family photos.

My Finnish family seems to want to claim me this year, the year I just happened to have Finnish research and a trip to Finland planned. I am happy to belong to these people. I have felt comfortable with the Finns and their culture during my visits. I am even told that I look Finnish. Perhaps my ancestors have done their part to encourage me to reclaim this part of my heritage.

The Lampinen Line

Church records in Finland exist for several hundred years back to the time when Finland became a Lutheran country in 1599. A cousin in Finland has used these abundant records to post much of our common family tree to the WikiTree online database.

We share the Lampinen line. Both of us descend from Lampinen daughters. My first Lampinen ancestor was my great-grandmother, Ada Alina Lampinen (1879-1948). The cousin is descended from Ada’s older sister Hendrika Lampinen (1862-1928).

Our most recent common ancestor, Matti Lampinen, lived in Karelia in eastern Finland near Lake Pielinen. Lush forests surround the lake. Today, Koli National Park covers much of the area.

Matti’s paternal forebears lived around this lake for as far back as we know. They likely engaged in forestry and slash-and-burn farming. Despite the gorgeous setting, life here seemed anything but idyllic, and many of the Lampinens died young.

As we have searched the church records, my cousin and I have put together this line of Lampinens, beginning with Ada and Hendrika’s father, our common ancestor Matti Lampinen:

  1. Matti Henricsson Lampinen (1835-1894).
  2. Henric Mårtensson Lampinen/Lambin (1806-1837). Henric died of typhoid fever when his son Matti was not even two years old.
  3. Mårten Mårtensson Lambin (1769-1808). Mårten died of an unspecified fever when his son Henric was an infant.
  4. Mårten Mattson Lambin (1730-1772). Again, this father died of an unspecified fever, leaving behind a young son.
  5. Matts Lambin (1702-1765). Finally, this father lived to see his son grow up.
  6. Paul Lambinen (?-1739). This father lived long enough to see a grandchild.

We still need to locate birth information for Paul Lambinen. If we are lucky, we will be able to identify his 17th century parents.

People tell me that Lampinen is a common surname in Finland. The name means pond. I wonder how many of the other Lampinens originated in the same area as mine. Perhaps we are all related.

I keep working to get as much of this tree posted to WikiTrees I can since my cousin started it there. By putting the information out, I hope we can find more descendants of the Lampinen line.

The Finns, Round Three

A recent visit to Finland and a meeting with my third cousins there made me keen to fill out more of my Finnish family tree. I had worked hard on it twice before, but neither time did I exhaust all the research I could do. I started with my Finnish ancestry when I first set up a genealogy office in the 1980’s. I later returned to this line of research before I took a trip to Finland in 2014. Despite this effort, I knew I could do more.

I had begun my initial search with my immigrant great-grandparents, Alexander Mattila and Ada Alina Lampinen. That time I collected American records like naturalization papers, birth and death certificates for children born in the United States, and census records as they became available. I gathered quite a bit of information not only on my great-grandparents but also on several of his sisters who immigrated around the same time. This gave me a running start at learning more about their families in Finland.

Family Search has digitized many Finnish church records. This source enabled me to compile some short family trees before the Finland trip five years ago. I found the research slow-going due to my unfamiliarity with both the Finnish language and the script used in the 1800’s. My husband/tech advisor helped me with this task. He powered through my family tree back through the 18th century and pulled copies of all the documents he found. I ran out of time to process it all before our trip. Since then, much of it has been in a manila folder awaiting further action.

Now I have connected with a Lampinen cousin who has posted much of our shared family tree on WikiTree, a free site for genealogical collaboration. Right away I joined this site so I could work with her. This summer I dug out the 2014 folder and turned my attention again to the Lampinen records. Item by item, I am listing them as sources in my online tree and adding information where I can to my cousin’s Lampinen tree on WikiTree.

The public site also offers the option to add DNA test results. My direct maternal line is Finnish, and I have taken an mtDNA test. I am hesitating on whether to share my test on this site. I know that once I put it out in the public arena there will be no clawing it back. I have no strong incentive to share it because I have no mystery Finnish ancestors to identify. The church records have enabled us to extend my family lines without needing DNA clues. I suppose I will wait for someone less fortunate to contact me with a share request.

I still have a thick stack of documents to work through this year. I hope to compile it all and create a fan chart of my Finnish ancestors in time for Christmas. Most years I write an ancestor character sketch for distribution to relatives, but the type of research I am doing this summer yields few family stories. A distilled family tree taken from pages and pages of documents will allow everyone to see our roots at a glance. Preserving this information in a non-digital way can help ensure its survival.

An Exchange of Health Histories

Look at your family tree and you will see many of the health problems that will affect you someday. We all have heard this common wisdom.

I had a rare opportunity to do so last month when my Baltic cruise included a one-day stop in Helsinki. My relatives in Finland were eager to get together.

We spent the morning in a conference room at the new Oodi Central Library. There we compared family photos and swapped stories. One of my cousins also thought to bring up the idea of illnesses that might run through our Lampinen heritage.

None of us carries the Lampinen surname today, but we all descend from Matti Lampinen (1835-1894) and Anna Miettinen (ca. 1832-?). This couple was of Karelian stock and lived in eastern Finland.

Karelians have well-documented histories of heart disease. The cousins reported that many in their families suffered from this. The same is true among my Finnish relatives in the United States.

The cousins also told me that members of the small Karelian population tended to marry one another, and this in-breeding resulted in the prevalence of allergies and asthma among these people. I also see this tendency toward allergies in descendants of my Finnish great-grandparents.

Looking at my extended family tree confirmed some of the health predispositions I had already observed in my small group of Finnish-American relatives. I added the information about heart disease and allergies to my family health history when I returned home. I also sent it around to my American cousins.

Not everyone has the good fortune to compare health notes with distant relatives. I am glad one of the cousins I visited that day wanted to trade this type of information. All of us now know more about what lies in our genes.

The Trip—Part 4

Our recent Baltic cruise ended with two stops in one of my favorite countries, Germany. Both locations had genealogical significance for my husband/tech advisor. He was eager to see the ports of Rostock and Kiel and the surrounding countryside.

His mother’s German family originated in various areas of Germany including the coastal states of Mecklenburg and Schleswig-Holstein. He continues to work to locate precise information about his ancestors who probably lived there several hundred years ago.

In Mecklenburg, we docked in the old Hanseatic port city of Rostock. There we toured Schwerin Castle. It sits alongside a beautiful lake, and we had the opportunity to view the building from the water. Inside, we saw only part of the interior because the remainder had suffered water damage from rain the day before. Not only does this building serve as a museum for historic Mecklenburg, but it also houses the local parliament. We found it to be a busy place.

After our tour, we took an open-air tram to a restaurant. Later, we enjoyed some free time for shopping and ice cream. As we walked around the old city center, we wondered whether any ancestors had ever visited Rostock.

Our ship docked the next day in Kiel, the capital of Schleswig-Holstein. The city had close ties with the Vikings and the Kingdom of Denmark from the Middle Ages until the nineteenth century. Although it was heavily bombed in World War II, it has now been completely rebuilt.

We visited the Kiel area on a sunny Sunday, traveling by bus and by ferry. This gave my husband/tech advisor a great opportunity to view the lands of his ancestors. Most places in Germany close on Sundays, and we found that the Kiel area follows this practice. We were glad we had done our German souvenir shopping the previous day.

This region provided us with some of the great German food that we love. We stopped for lunch at a modern-looking, family-owned place where we had beer, wine, and schnitzel. No one will forget this meal after a young waitress spilled an entire tray of beers on one unfortunate woman’s head. The good-natured victim was very gracious, saying that she had always wanted to try a beer shampoo. After we got her cleaned up and had eaten our meal, we all enjoyed some schnapps. To our delight, the proprietors gave us additional bottles of schnapps to take home.

Later in the afternoon, after our ferry ride, we had the opportunity to stop for coffee and German pastry in a small shop. Boarding the bus again, I began to eye the clock. Our all-aboard time for the ship was 3:30. To my relief, the bus rolled up to the terminal at 3:26.

I needn’t have worried. Eco-terrorists had our ship hemmed into the harbor. It took the German police 6 hours to clear them out. Our waiter at dinner said this had never happened before, but I wonder whether it will become a regular occurrence at the German ports. It would be a shame if the ships had to stop visiting there.

Stops in Mecklenburg and Schleswig-Holstein provided us with the opportunity to see the lovely, lake-filled area of northern Germany. We wondered, as we always do, how our ancestors could bear to leave such a place. We know that economics or war always gave people the reason to leave, but still it must have been a hard thing for them to do.